Conservation Science News March 21, 2014Leave a Comment
Focus of the Week – US fishermen throw back 20% of their catch…injured or dead- Oceana report; Only half the story- Saving Seafood
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Focus of the Week– US fishermen throw back 20% of their catch…injured or dead- Oceana report; Only half the story- Saving Seafood
Over the side with these. Reuters/Alister Doyle
Each year, the 41 Alaskan trawlers licensed to sift the seas for flatfish—such as flounder and sole—haul back around $6 million worth of fish. Boat space is limited, so fishermen save it for only the priciest fish. That means the less-valuable fish go back over the side, along with the hundreds of other sea creatures that these fishermen can’t sell back on land, because they’re funny-tasting, too small, simply wrong kind of fish, or even an endangered species. By the time they’re tossed back, many of these animals are already dead (pdf, p.7). Just how destructive is this practice?
A new report by Oceana (pdf), an NGO concerned with ocean wildlife conservation, estimates that these Alaskan flatfish trawlers are throwing back around $17.7 million worth of fish a year. That’s right: nearly three times the value of what those fishermen actually sell.
What gets cast back into the Gulf of Alaska, dead or alive. Oceana
Alaska, alas, is not an outlier. Oceana calculates that, all told, 17-22% of what all US fisheries haul up is discarded as bycatch, which is what the industry calls the fish that are thrown back, dead or alive. That adds up to a minimum of 2 billion pounds chucked back each year—or about 4.5 ounces for every pound of seafood the average American eats. Here are some of the startling figures from Oceana’s report:
- The $90 million Northeast Bottom Trawl fishery discards 35% of its catch. 50 million pounds of fish are thrown back each year.
- The $13.8-million Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline fishery discards 66% of its catch. More than 400,000 sharks were thrown back in a single year.
- The $450,000 California Set Gillnet fishery discards 65% of its catch. The fishery caught 94 baby great white sharks in a five-year period. Around half of them were dead on arrival.
- The $314-million Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery discards 64% of its catch. Thousands of sea turtles die trapped in nets each year.
Why is this happening? To keep up with surging global seafood consumption, the fishing business has industrialized, harnessing increasingly powerful engines to drag bigger nets farther, faster. That has collapsed and threatened the populations of America’s favorite fish species, including Atlantic cod and Pacific halibut.
The depletion of those standbys has encouraged still more industrialization. To catch rarer species, fishermen must travel farther, and cast those bigger nets many more times to land the same number they once did. Boats now rake the sea with trawl nets as wide as football fields, says Amanda Keledjian, one of the report’s authors. And longlines—ropes with thousands of baited hooks attached—can trail 50 miles behind boats. It’s probably no coincidence that seven-eighths of the species targeted by the Southeast Snapper-Grouper fishery—which has the highest discard rate—are currently overfished. The rarer the target species, the more bycatch dies at sea. This not only further endangers vulnerable species; it also has dire economic consequences. One fishery’s bycatch is oftentimes another fishery’s prize catch.
Take for example bluefin tuna, whose stocks are in such precipitous decline that Japan—the fancy fish capital of the world—just announced that it’s slashing its catch limit on juveniles by half. The species’ rarity means it’s pricey; Japan paid around $10 per pound on US Atlantic bluefin tuna last year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service data
Protecting juveniles is vital to preventing their numbers from shrinking further, which is why regulations in Japan, the US and other places prevent their capture. But those laws do little if juveniles don’t survive long enough to reproduce. The vessels in the $52-million Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Longline fishery threw back twice as many bluefin tunas as they were allowed to keep (presumably due to rules banning capture of juveniles), says Oceana—disquieting given generally high mortality rates (pdf) for longline-caught bluefin tuna.
Pacific halibut offer an even more vivid example. The stocks of these valuable fish, which can grow up to eight feet (2.4 meters) and spoil slowly, have plunged in the last decade—even in the Gulf of Alaska, the nursery ground for the species. The authorities forbid Alaskan flatfish trawlers from keeping the halibut they bring aboard as bycatch for fear that allowing them to sell the species would lead to their targeting it. The problem is, an estimated 40-70% halibut die in the process of being snared as bycatch and discarded.
That worsens the halibut shortage and robs Alaskan halibut fishermen of at least around $13.5 million annually, according to Oceana estimates. The damage it does is potentially far greater, though; as Alaskan halibut fishermen point out, the dwindling sizes of the halibut population because that trawlers reporting the same weight in bycatch each year are actually killing more fish.
This hidden overfishing perverts ecosystems. For example, imploding Atlantic shark populations allowed an explosion of cownose rays, which then gobbled up the region’s valuable bivalve populations, making clam chowder pricier. Overfishing ultimately risks causing what scientists call “ecosystem flips“—big population shifts that alter the ecosystem permanently.
Unlike the nine US fisheries that Oceana highlights, many fisheries are taking steps to reduce bycatch and diminish bycatch mortality.
This largely comes down to initiative, though. Federal law devolves fishery management—including conservation—to eight regional agencies. So economic priorities, reporting protocols and enforcement vary widely, even as the species they aim to manage span the various regions. Oceana reports that fewer than five percent of US fisheries document bycatch in line with federal standards, making it hard to gauge the urgency of adopting more sustainable practices in a single region, let alone across several.
It also means the death-by-bycatch problem is worse than many realize—something that finicky American consumers, and not just regulators, would do well to note. You can understand why fishermen go after premium species; those are the ones that Americans deign to eat. Decades of serving these narrow tastes forced fishermen to dig through a haystack for a tiny diminishing number of needles. If we ate a little more of that haystack, it would make life a lot easier for fishermen and fish alike.
Oceana released a report calling out nine U.S. fisheries for allegedly wasteful practices producing harmful levels of bycatch. But the report only tells half of the story.
WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – March 20, 2014 – Today, Oceana released a report and accompanying press release, Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in U.S. Fisheries, which calls out nine U.S. fisheries for allegedly wasteful practices producing harmful levels of bycatch. But the report only tells half of the story. Bycatch remains one of the top concerns of US fisheries management from coast to coast, and several prominent fisheries, aided by contributions from concerned members of the industry, government officials, and conservation groups, have made great strides in reducing bycatch and creating more sustainable marine resources.
Animals losing migratory routes? Devasting consequences of scarcity of ‘knowledgeable elders’
(March 20, 2014) — Small changes in a population may lead to dramatic consequences, like the disappearance of the migratory route of a species. Scientists have created a model of the behavior of a group of individuals on the move (like a school of fish, a herd of sheep or a flock of birds, etc.) which, by changing a few simple parameters, reproduces the collective behavior patterns observed in the wild. .. One hypothesis is that, although the overall number of Mediterranean tuna has not changed, what has changed is the composition of the population: “The most desirable tuna specimens for the fishing industry are the larger, older individuals, which are presumably also those with the greater amount of knowledge, in other words the knowledgeable elders.” concludes De Luca. Another curious fact: what happens if there are too many knowledgeable elders? “Too many know-alls are useless,” jokes De Luca. “In fact, above a certain number of informed individuals, the group performance does not improve so much as to justify the “cost” of their training. The best cost-benefit ratio is obtained by keeping the number of informed individuals above a certain level, provided they remain a minority of the whole population.”
….. > full story
G. De Luca, et al Fishing out collective memory of migratory schools. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 2014; 11 (95): 20140043 DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0043
Geographers create ‘easy button’ to calculate river flows from space
(March 18, 2014) — The frustrated attempts of a graduate student to quantify the amount of water draining from Greenland’s melting ice sheet led him to discover a new way to measure river flows from outer space. The new approach relies exclusively on measurements of a river’s width over time, which can be obtained from freely available satellite imagery. … > full story
(March 18, 2014) — Scientists found that 7,000 years ago, the Caribbean fighting conch contained 66 percent more meat than its descendants do today. Because of persistent harvesting of the largest conchs, it became advantageous for the animal to mature at a smaller size, resulting in evolutionary change. … > full story
New statistical models could lead to better predictions of ocean patterns
(March 18, 2014) — The world’s oceans cover more than 72 percent of the earth’s surface, impact a major part of the carbon cycle, and contribute to variability in global climate and weather patterns. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri applied complex statistical models to increase the accuracy of ocean forecasting that influences the ways in which forecasters predict long-range events such as El NiDo and the lower levels of the ocean food chain. … > full story
Tracking endangered leatherback sea turtles by satellite, key habitats identified
(March 19, 2014) — Most satellite tagging studies of leatherbacks have focused on adult females on their tropical nesting beaches, so little is known worldwide about males and subadults, the researcher point out. But now, tagging and satellite tracking in locations where leatherbacks forage has allowed the scientists to get a much richer picture of the leatherback’s behavior and dispersal patterns on the open ocean. … > full story
The research evaluated a cover crop rotation using red clover (shown above), frost-seeded into winter wheat in March, and winter rye, planted after corn was harvested in the fall.
True value of cover crops to farmers, environment
(March 19, 2014) — Planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops — widely agreed to be ecologically beneficial — is even more valuable than previously thought, according to a team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists. The research quantified the benefits offered by cover crops across more than 10 ecosystem services. Benefits included increased carbon and nitrogen in soils, erosion prevention, more mycorrhizal colonization — beneficial soil fungus that helps plants absorb nutrients — and weed suppression…. Trade-offs occurred between economic metrics and environmental benefits, ….The planting of cover crops already is accepted as an environmentally prudent practice. It is so beneficial, in fact, that the National Resource Conservation Service last month set a goal to increase the acres planted nationally in cover crops from the current 2 million to 20 million by 2020…. full story
Meagan E. Schipanski, et al. A framework for evaluating ecosystem services provided by cover crops in agroecosystems. Agricultural Systems, 2014; 125: 12 DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2013.11.004
Lindsay Fendt March 21, 2014
A green heron sits on a log in Costa Rica’s Tortuguero canals. Tortuguero is among the 30 percent of threatened ecosystems identified by CATIE and the IUCN.
Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times
Some of Costa Rica’s ecosystems could be on the verge of disappearing, says a new study released at the Mesoamerican Protected Areas Congress, held this week in San José. The report was issued by Costa Rica’s Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in coordination with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
By analyzing environmental degradation in 42 different areas between 1960 and 2010, researchers determined that 30 percent of Costa Rica’s ecosystems are in danger of losing their useful attributes such as providing drinking water or fighting climate change.
Researchers found the largest amount of environmental degradation in the country’s northeastern plains, including in the Caribbean tourist hub of Tortuguero. According to researchers, most of these problems can be attributed to the loss of forest cover.
The IUCN – which creates the Red List of Threatened Species – initiated the research as part of an initiative to create a Red List of Ecosystems. The IUCN hopes the list will be used as a risk-management tool to protect endangered ecosystems.
March 21, 2014
Bruce Herbold, Donald M. Baltz, Larry Brown, Robin Grossinger, Wim Kimmerer, Peggy Lehman, Charles (Si) Simenstad, Carl Wilcox, and Matthew Nobriga
Josué Medellín-Azuara, Richard E. Howitt, Ellen Hanak, Jay R. Lund, and William E. Fleenor
Diversity in UK gardens aiding fight to save threatened bumblebees, study suggests
(March 19, 2014) — The global diversity of plants being cultivated by Britain’s gardeners is playing a key role in the fight to save the nation’s threatened bumblebees, new research has revealed. “Urban gardens are increasingly recognized for their potential to maintain or even enhance biodiversity,” Dr Hanley said. “In particular, the presence of large densities and varieties of flowering plants supports a number of pollinating insects whose range and abundance has declined as a consequence of agricultural intensification and habitat loss. By growing a variety of plants from around the world, gardeners ensure that a range of food sources is available for many different pollinators,” an author notes. … > full story
Natural and social scientists develop new model of how ‘perfect storm’ of crises could unravel global system
This Nasa Earth Observatory image shows a storm system circling around an area of extreme low pressure in 2010, which many scientists attribute to climate change. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”
The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.
It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:
“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”
By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, andEnergy.
These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”
MARCH 18, 2014 Justin Gillis NY Times
Early in his career, a scientist named Mario J. Molina was pulled into seemingly obscure research about strange chemicals being spewed into the atmosphere. Within a year, he had helped discover a global environmental emergency, work that would ultimately win a Nobel Prize. Now, at 70, Dr. Molina is trying to awaken the public to an even bigger risk. He spearheaded a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, which released a stark report Tuesday on global warming. The report warns that the effects of human emissions of heat-trapping gases are already being felt, that the ultimate consequences could be dire, and that the window to do something about it is closing. “The evidence is overwhelming: Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising,” says the report. “Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.”….. In a sense, this is just one more report about global warming in a string going back decades. For anybody who was already paying attention, the report contains no new science. But the language in the 18-page report, called “What We Know,” is sharper, clearer and more accessible than perhaps anything the scientific community has put out to date. And the association does not plan to stop with the report. The group, with a membership of 121,200 scientists and science supporters around the world, plans a broad outreach campaign to put forward accurate information in simple language…..
By Joe Romm on March 20, 2014 climateprogress.org
The world’s largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has issued an uncharacteristically blunt call to action on climate change. The must-read new report by the AAAS’s Climate Science Panel, “What We Know” has several simple messages [see below]…. Kudos to the AAAS for this report. They join the US National Academy of Sciences and the U.K. Royal Society in producing a new, highly readable climate report, though the AAAS has done a better job of bluntly laying out the risks.
Bottom line: If a generally staid, consensus-oriented body like the AAAS is alarmed, then we all should be. As climatologist Lonnie Thompson explained back in 2010: Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.
What we know:
THE REALITY, RISKS AND RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems. The scientific community has convened conferences, published reports, spoken out at forums and proclaimed, through statements by virtually every national scientific academy and relevant major scientific organization — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — that climate change puts the well-being of people of all nations at risk.
Surveys show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant scientific disagreement.[i] Thus, it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real. Moreover, while the public is becoming aware that climate change is increasing the likelihood of certain local disasters, many people do not yet understand that there is a small, but real chance of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts on people in the United States and around the world.
It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred. Nor are we seeking to provide yet another extensive review of the scientific evidence for climate change. Instead, we present key messages for every American about climate change:
1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now. Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. This agreement is documented not just by a single study, but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from surveys of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed studies, and public statements issued by virtually every membership organization of experts in this field. Average global temperature has increased by about 1.4˚ F over the last 100 years. Sea level is rising, and some types of extreme events – such as heat waves and heavy precipitation events – are happening more frequently. Recent scientific findings indicate that climate change is likely responsible for the increase in the intensity of many of these events in recent years.
2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts. Earth’s climate is on a path to warm beyond the range of what has been experienced over the past millions of years.[ii] The range of uncertainty for the warming along the current emissions path is wide enough to encompass massively disruptive consequences to societies and ecosystems: as global temperatures rise, there is a real risk, however small, that one or more critical parts of the Earth’s climate system will experience abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes. Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system.
3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.
Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk, and foreclose options to address the risk. The CO2 we produce accumulates in Earth’s atmosphere for decades, centuries, and longer. It is not like pollution from smog or wastes in our lakes and rivers, where levels respond quickly to the effects of targeted policies. The effects of CO2 emissions cannot be reversed from one generation to the next until there is a large- scale, cost-effective way to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Moreover, as emissions continue and warming increases, the risk increases.
By making informed choices now, we can reduce risks for future generations and ourselves, and help communities adapt to climate change. People have responded successfully to other major environmental challenges such as acid rain and the ozone hole with benefits greater than costs, and scientists working with economists believe there are ways to manage the risks of climate change while balancing current and future economic prosperity.
As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change. But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.
Scientists have known for decades that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting, but they may have underestimated just how much water the second-largest ice sheet on the planet is shedding. New research indicates that a key section of northeast Greenland thought to be stable is actually dumping billions of tons of water into the ocean annually after a barrier of ice debris that had blocked its flow finally gave way. “We’re seeing an acceleration of ice loss,” Michael Bevis, professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University and co-author of a new study on Greenland’s melting ice sheet, told USA Today. “Now, there’s more ice leaving than snow arriving.” The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, included the work of an international team of researchers from Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.S. and China. According to AFP, the team measured the thickness of Greenland’s ice using four satellites and a network of 50 GPS sensors along the island’s coast. The monitors calculate the size of the Greenland ice sheet using Earth’s natural elasticity. When ice melts, it relieves pressure on the land underneath it, causing the ground to rebound just slightly. The monitors can sense these small changes. The data showed that between 2003 and 2012, the northeast region of Greenland’s ice sheet retreated 12.4 miles following a three-year stretch of particularly high temperatures. The melting ice dumped 10 billion tons of water into the ocean every year during that time. According to researchers, the island is estimated to contribute .5mm to 3.2mm (.012 inches to .13 inches) to the annual rise in global sea levels….
Plankton make scents for seabirds and a cooler planet
M. S. Savoca, G. A. Nevitt. Evidence that dimethyl sulfide facilitates a tritrophic mutualism between marine primary producers and top predators. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; 111 (11): 4157 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1317120111
Ocean’s carbon budget balanced: Supply of food to midwater organisms balanced with demands for food
Sarah L. C. Giering, et al. Reconciliation of the carbon budget in the ocean’s twilight zone. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13123
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY 9:52 a.m. EDT March 19, 2014
(Photo: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory/Scripps Institute of Oceanography)
One of the planet’s top dipsticks is in trouble. The “Keeling curve,” the most famous measurement of the world’s rising levels of carbon dioxide for the past six decades, is in jeopardy from funding shortfalls. The Keeling curve, run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, is the longest continuous record of carbon dioxide measurements on the planet. The measurements were begun in 1958 by Scripps climate scientist Charles David Keeling and are taken near the top of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Keeling died in 2005, and his son, Ralph, is now the keeper of the “curve.” A physicist himself, he says the ongoing measurements at Mauna Loa are on the “cutting edge of discovering what we’re doing to the planet.” Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the greenhouse gas responsible for most of the warming attributable to such gases, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth System Research Lab, which also measures carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa and other locations…..
Goldilocks principle: Earth’s continued habitability due to geologic cycles that act as climate control
Los Angeles Times March 17 2014
By Tony Barboza
The Rocky Mountain wildflower season has lengthened by over a month since the 1970s, according to a study published Monday that found climate change is altering the flowering patterns of more species than previously thought. Flowers used to bloom from …
Researchers take on fighting disastrous consequences of extreme changes in climate before they occur – SCENARIO PLANNING
(March 18, 2014) — How can communities dodge future disasters from Mother Nature before she has dealt the blow? Researchers are taking a unique approach to the issue and gaining input and support from community stakeholders. Daniel Murphy, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of anthropology, will present findings on March 20, at the 74th annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SFAA) in Albuquerque, N.M. The presentation reveals an innovative, interdisciplinary research technique for approaching climate change vulnerability that’s called Multi-scale, Interactive Scenario-Building (MISB). The project focuses on two geographic case studies: Big Hole Valley in Montana — a high-altitude ranching valley — and Grand County in Colorado — a resort community west of Denver and south of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The researchers conducted a series of one-on-one interviews at those sites to get an array of community contributors thinking and planning for future ecological hazards, and to consider the impact of those decisions. The researchers posed three scenarios involving future drastic climate changes. The one-on-one interviews involved around 30 people for each region, ranging from ranchers to teachers, small business owners, hunting guides, county planners and representatives from federal and state agencies. Ecologists on the research team would then predict the impact of the suggested planning. The three possible scenarios were:
- Some Like it Hot — Describes years and years of consistent summer drought.
- The Seasons, They’re a-Changing – Describes changes in seasonality, such as significantly increased rainfall in the spring.
- Feast or Famine — Describes big swings in temperature and precipitation between years…..
….”Flood irrigation, for example, has environmental impacts that are really, really good. So, we looked at the impact of stopping flood irrigation and switching to center pivot irrigation. It could rob the groundwater, it would evaporate off the soil and it wouldn’t go back into the river, so river levels would go down and stress the fish. So in examining that scenario, ranchers could see how this feeds back and that’s the iteration,” says Murphy. Murphy adds that one of the major concerns in Grand County, Colo., is also water, because much of the snow melt there feeds into a lake that’s a reservoir for Denver’s water. “Ranchers, irrigators and home owners are concerned about rising water prices if there is less snow, so that was a conflict that seemed to emerge there.” Murphy says that in both Grand County and Big Hole Valley, the second scenario was perceived as an opportunity, because despite any temperature increases or other issues, it involved continuous rain in the spring…..
Yields of several major crops are likely to be seriously affected by rising temperatures, scientists say, with spells of extreme heat posing the greatest risk.
Mar. 21, 2014 — Time may be running out for some Olympic Winter Games host locations – including the 2014 host, Sochi (Russia) – according to an article. Researchers have analyzed two climatic indicators – … full story
Extreme and Exceptional Drought Continues in California http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
GPS also helps analyze global water resources
(March 19, 2014) — WaterGAP is a hydrological model used to model water shortage, groundwater depletion, and floods and droughts over the land area of the globe. The Frankfurt hydrologist Professor Petra Döll has examined how good a fit this model provides, using GPS observations and data from the GRACE satellite, which measures the gravitational field of the Earth. The study indicates that WaterGAP needs to be modified. … > full story
Workers plant grapes in the rolling hills of Templeton, near Paso Robles in parched Central California. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle Buy this photo
Melody Gutierrez SF Chronicle
Updated 7:27 am, Saturday, March 15, 2014
SACRAMENTO – Zinfandel will flow like the water once did in Paso Robles this weekend. Bottles will pop open during a wine festival as rigs drill deep across the city to find a resource whose scarcity threatens Paso Robles to its core: water. How scant has the crucial underground water supply become around the San Luis Obispo County city? Sue Luft can tell you anecdotally. The water levels in wells that feed homes and wineries around her 10-acre property just south of Paso Robles have dropped 80 feet in some areas, leaving many with no choice but to take out loans to drill farther down. Luft calls it a “race to the bottom.” Casting blame for depleting underground supplies is at the center of a bitter debate about who, if anyone, should be monitoring withdrawals.
Groundwater is loosely regulated in California, but that could change. Years of dry conditions have lawmakers looking at groundwater in ways once considered too politically risky.
In many areas across the state, property owners – who have a right to the water under their land – don’t have to disclose how much they use from shared basins. Those who oppose groundwater regulation consider it government overreach. “The drought is being used as a political mechanism to take away property rights,” said Cindy Steinbeck of Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles. “We are in a serious drought, but that doesn’t mean individual landowners should have to give up what is theirs by law.”
Groundwater has been regulated in vastly different ways from other water sources. California requires permits and licenses to take water from streams, rivers and lakes, but no such process exists for groundwater. Surface water and groundwater are treated differently in state law in a way that resource experts say makes little sense, given that one affects the other.
“California has the least structure and fewest requirements (compared with any other) state,” said Andrew Fahlund, deputy director of the California Water Foundation. “The system has survived up to this point because we weren’t facing a significant crisis.” Eighty percent of Californians rely on groundwater for at least a portion of their drinking water, while some cities and rural areas exclusively use groundwater. ….
With scarce water this season, wildlife refuges may not be able to attract marsh-nesting tricolored blackbirds, forcing many more birds to nest in farm fields. SPECIAL TO THE BEE
By Mark Grossi The Fresno BeeMarch 15, 2014
A single colony of 80,000 tricolor blackbirds filled a Tulare County farmer’s field with nests and eggs a few years ago shortly before harvesting blades were scheduled to level the crop.It would have been an ugly killing field if not for a delay negotiated between the farmer and Audubon California. The financial settlement saved one-third of Earth’s dwindling population of tricolored blackbirds. But California’s epic drought may prevent such heroic ag-conservation alliances this year. And the tricolored blackbird finally may be pushed to long-dreaded protection under the Endangered Species Act.
With scarce water this season, wildlife refuges may not be able to attract these marsh-nesting birds this spring, forcing many more tricolored blackbirds to nest in farm fields.
Farmers may not be as willing this year to delay precious dairy feed crops, such as wheat. The price of water and feed have skyrocketed, so farmers will need timely harvests for peak prices to make ends meet. Many tricolored blackbird colonies — sometimes tens of thousands — have been inadvertently wiped out in farm fields, biologists say. It just adds to the stress of a songbird that has been on the verge of federal protection since the 1990s. Nearly all tricolored blackbirds live in California — an estimated 3 million of them in the 1930s but only about 250,000 just a few years ago. A bird count in April will reveal how bad the situation has become, experts say…..
By Peter Fimrite SF CHroncle Updated 6:30 am, Friday, March 21, 2014
Tens of thousands of squiggling salmon fattening up on bugs and other nutrients on flooded cropland in the Sacramento Valley could soon provide a solution to the long-running dispute over who should get the bulk of California’s diminishing supply of water: farms or fish. There appears to be a way to satisfy both. Researchers from UC Davis flooded rice paddies on a 1,700-acre farm in nearby Woodland (Yolo County) and converted the fields into wetland fish habitat, much like the vast marshlands that once covered the state’s inland valleys during the winter. The idea is to give young chinook salmon a spot where they can rest and feed as they migrate through the Yolo Bypass and into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. It is a strategy that Asian countries have long used between planting seasons. The three-year experiment has resulted in a dramatic increase in the size of migrating juvenile salmon every winter of the experiment, according to the researchers, the state Department of Water Resources, and the fisheries conservation groups Cal Trout and Trout Unlimited. Fish migrating from the fields toward the Sacramento River also had an astonishingly high survival rate, researchers said. The study, known as the Nigiri Project, offers the most compelling evidence yet that it is possible to develop a water-delivery system in California that benefits both fish and farms, said Jacob Katz, a biologist and regional manager of Cal Trout. “The idea that we can get the most benefit from every drop of water is what this project is all about,” Katz said. “We are trying to create a system that mimics the natural system and allows for more efficient use of water all the way around. That synthesis is the future of California.” The floodplain project, on 20 acres at Knaggs Ranch north of Woodland, was the first involving farmers, environmentalists, scientists and state water resources officials working together to improve water resources and conservation….
Kale Williams and Kurtis Alexander SF Chronicle Updated 8:17 am, Friday, March 21, 2014
The arrival of spring Thursday ushered out the third-driest winter in Northern California history, leaving behind parched hills, shallow reservoirs and a higher-than-usual threat of fire.
But even as hope dims for a March miracle storm, climatologists say weather conditions could change this year if an El Niño takes shape. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niño watch this month, citing a 52 percent chance of Pacific Ocean waters warming and creating – possibly – a wetter-than-average winter. Historically, El Niño conditions have been associated with the state’s biggest rain years, including the winters of 1997-98 and 1982-83, which brought fatal mudslides to the Santa Cruz Mountains and devastating surf to the Southern California coast. In 1997-98, San Francisco was pounded by a record 47.2 inches of rain. But while El Niño boosts the odds of rain, it provides no guarantees, especially if the ocean warming isn’t extreme.
“If it’s only in the weak to moderate category, it doesn’t really make me convinced that things will turn around,” said state Department of Water Resources climatologist Mike Anderson, who plans to monitor the telltale phenomenon as fall approaches. “We’ve still got a long, hot summer to go.”
By MICHAEL WINESMARCH 16, 2014
Under restrictions, a Mumford, Tex., farm on the Brazos River could not draw water from it, while cities and power plants could. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times
MUMFORD, Tex. — Across the parched American West, the long drought has set off a series of fierce legal and political battles over who controls an increasingly dear treasure — water….Residents of the arid West have always scrapped over water. But years of persistent drought are now intensifying those struggles, and the explosive growth — and thirst — of Western cities and suburbs is raising their stakes to an entirely new level.
In southern Texas, along the Gulf coast southwest of Houston, the state has cut off deliveries of river water to rice farmers for three years to sustain reservoirs that supply booming Austin, about 100 miles upstream. In Nevada, a coalition ranging from environmentalists to the Utah League of Women Voters filed federal lawsuits last month seeking to block a pipeline that would supply Las Vegas with groundwater from an aquifer straddling the Nevada-Utah border.
In Colorado, officials in the largely rural west slope of the Rocky Mountains are imposing stiff restrictions on requests to ship water across the mountains to Denver and the rest of the state’s populous eastern half. Fearing for their existence, Colorado farm towns on the Arkansas River have mobilized to block sales of local water rights to Denver’s fast-growing suburbs. In Arizona, activists and the federal government are fighting plans to tap groundwater used by a vast housing development — a move that would reduce the water level of a protected river. Kansas accuses Colorado and Nebraska of allowing their farmers to divert Kansas’ share of the Republican River, which flows through all three states. A similar dispute between New Mexico and Texas is before the United States Supreme Court.
California, in the midst of a major drought, so far has witnessed but a few local skirmishes. In January, environmentalists and sport fishermen sued to halt the drilling of hundreds of new groundwater wells sought by Central Valley farmers, saying more pumping would lower stream levels. That may not last long, said Stuart Somach, a Sacramento water-rights lawyer. California farmers have long grumbled about big-city designs on their water; Northern California has long grumbled about being the spigot that supplies most of the water to the dry south.
“We’re very close to the time that people are going to start staking out rights. We’re right at the cusp,” Mr. Somach said. “If this drought persists, depending on how state and federal agencies react, you’re going to get some real conflicts going.” Actually, the laws that govern most of the West’s water seem tailor-made for fighting. In many places, the rules for owning or using groundwater are still in flux: In Texas, landowners own the groundwater beneath their property, but a neighbor pumping groundwater from the same aquifer can siphon it away without penalty. The Arizona court battle over a proposed housing development hinges on the still-murky question of whether the state can allow the builder to pump groundwater that sustains a river that is under federal control. In contrast, the prevailing law on rivers and streams is all too clear: The earlier someone stakes a claim on a stretch of water, the more bulletproof that owner’s right to it. “If you’ve got the oldest claim on that river, you get to use that water regardless of what you’re using it for — agriculture, industry, whatever,” said Gabriel Eckstein, a professor at Texas A & M University School of Law and a lawyer with Sullivan and Worcester. “That’s regardless of whether you’re doing it efficiently, regardless of whether it’s the highest use.” In the rural West of days past, when even arid climes held enough water for everyone, that principle worked well. In the booming West of today, it is increasingly a recipe for conflict
Kevin Fagan SF Chronicle Updated 7:45 am, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 Firebaugh, Fresno County —
Quietly whirring away in a dusty field in the Central Valley is a shiny solar energy machine that may someday solve many of California’s water problems. It’s called the WaterFX solar thermal desalination plant, and it has been turning salty, contaminated irrigation runoff into ultra-pure liquid for nearly a year for the Panoche Water and Drainage District. It’s the only solar-driven desalination plant of its kind in the country. Right now its efforts produce just 14,000 gallons a day. But within a year, WaterFX intends to begin expanding that one small startup plant into a sprawling collection of 36 machines that together can pump out 2 million gallons of purified water daily. Within about five years, WaterFX company co-founder Aaron Mandell hopes to be processing 10 times that amount throughout the San Joaquin Valley. And here’s the part that gets the farmers who buy his water most excited: His solar desalination plant produces water that costs about a quarter of what more conventionally desalinated water costs: $450 an acre-foot versus $2,000 an acre-foot. An acre-foot is equivalent to an acre covered by water 1 foot deep, enough to supply two families of four for a year.
In shift, Exxon Mobil to report on risks to its fossil fuel assets. NY TIMES March 22 2014
On Thursday, a shareholder group said that it had won its biggest prize yet, when Exxon Mobil became the first oil and gas producer to agree to report on the risks that stricter limits on carbon emissions would place on their business…..
By Jeff Spross on March 21, 2014
New data shows a plan submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council for regulating existing power plants would cut even more carbon emissions than previously thought…..
Farmland prices have soared to all-time highs in recent years. Wall Street’s move onto farms comes at a time of severe ecological flux that will be exacerbated by climate change.
—By Tom Philpott | Fri Mar. 14, 2014 3:00 AM GMT Mother Jones
Where’s the money? FuzzBones /Shutterstock
In a couple of posts last fall (here and here), I showed that corporations don’t do much actual farming in the United States. True, agrichemical companies like Monsanto and Syngenta mint fortunes by selling seeds and chemicals to farmers, and grain processors like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill reap billions from buying crops cheap and turning them into pricey stuff like livestock feed, sweetener, cooking oil, and ethanol. But the great bulk of US farms—enterprises that generally have razor-thin profit margins—are run by independent operators. That may be on the verge of changing. A recent report by the Oakland Institute documents a fledgling, little-studied trend: Corporations are starting to buy up US farmland, especially in areas dominated by industrial-scale agriculture, like Iowa and California’s Central Valley. But the land-grabbing companies aren’t agribusinesses like Monsanto and Cargill. Instead, they’re financial firms: investment arms of insurance companies, banks, pension funds, and the like. In short, Wall Street spies gold in those fields of greens and grains.
Why are they plowing cash into such an inherently risky business with such seemingly low profit potential? For Wall Street, farmland represents a “reassuringly tangible commodity” with the potential for “solid, if not excellent, returns,” the Oakland Institute notes—something clients are hungry for after being recently burned not long ago by credit-default swaps and securities backed by trashy mortgages. As the saying goes, you can’t make more land; and as the Oakland Institute notes, “over the last 50 years, the amount of global arable land per capita shrank by roughly 45 percent, and it is expected to continue declining, albeit more moderately, going toward 2050.”….And Wall Street likes a good bubble. Farmland prices have soared to all-time highs in recent years, pushed up by the government-mandated corn ethanol boom. The average per acre price of Iowa land surged about 60 percent in real terms between 2007 and 2012, and rents have jumped in lockstep. The report notes that over the next 20 years, nearly half of US farmland—about 400 million acres—will be up for sale as our aging base of farmers moves into retirement. So far, Wall Street cash is moving onto US farms like a stream; financial firms own just about 1 percent of total acreage, and most farmland is still bought by farmers, not institutional investors, the report states. But as more prime land enters the market, the hot money could soon flow like a gusher. By mid-2013, farmland was such a hot commodity that institutional investors were complaining of a tight market for prime farmland—that is, they had more money committed to buying farmland than they could find attractive deals for. But the supply of prime farmland for sale will expand as farmers retire in the coming decades, and Wall Street looks poised to move into the market. And of course, you don’t have to take on the risk of farming when you buy farmland; you can also collect rent checks from the people who take on that risk. According to this USDA report, nearly 40 percent of US farmland acres are rented, and in the ag-heavy regions of farm states such as Iowa, Illinois, and California, the number tops 50 percent. …
Mar. 21, 2014 — Carbon trading markets that attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions have met with mixed political and policy success around the world. But each new attempt offers lessons that will make new markets … full story
Wind farms can provide society a surplus of reliable clean energy
(March 20, 2014) — Researchers have found that the wind industry can easily afford the energetic cost of building batteries and other grid-scale storage technologies. However, for the solar industry, scientists found that more work is needed to make grid-scale storage energetically sustainable. … > full story
By CORAL DAVENPORT NY Times March 19, 2014
President Obama and two advisers will inaugurate a website on Wednesday that will try to turn scientific data about global warming into mapped digital presentations.
WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT 2014 Conference
North (SF) Bay Watershed Association Friday, April 11, 2014 NOVATO, CA 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM PDT
The conference will bring together key participants from around the North Bay to focus on how we can work together to manage our water resources.
- Mark Cowin, Director, CA Department of Water Resources
- Jared Huffman, U.S. Congressman, California 2nd District
- Felicia Marcus, Chair, State Water Resources Control Board
For more information or questions contact: Elizabeth Preim-Rohtla North Bay Watershed Association firstname.lastname@example.org 415-945-1475
Stanford experts from a range of disciplines will discuss the interconnections and interactions among humanity’s need for and use of climate, energy, food, water, and environmental resources…..
April 22-24, 2014 Yosemite Valley, CA
This workshop is focused on developing an integrated view of the physical landscape, climate effects, hydrology and fire regimes of the Sierra Nevada.
Research Posters: Call for abstracts will occur in January. Visit the Sanctuary Currents Symposium website for updates and information: Sanctuary Currents Symposium
Scenario Planning toward Climate Change Adaptation (pdf) WORKSHOP May 6-8, 2014 NCTC, Shepherdstown, West Virginia
This overview course will introduce the core elements of scenario planning and expose participants to a diversity of approaches and specific scenario development techniques that incorporate both qualitative and quantitative components.
29 – 30 MAY 2014 U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, USA
North America Congress for Conservation Biology Meeting. July 13-16, Missoula, MT. The biennial NACCB provides a forum for presenting and discussing new research and developments in conservation science and practice for addressing today’s conservation challenges.
July 21-23, Washington, DC.
First Stewards will hold their 2nd annual symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian. This year’s theme is
“United Indigenous Voices Address Sustainability: Climate Change and Traditional Places“
99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America
Sacramento, California August 10-15, 2014 http://www.esa.org/sacramento
California Adaptation Forum
August 19-20, 2014. SACRAMENTO, CA
This two-day forum will build off a successful National Adaptation Forum held in Colorado in 2013. The attendance of many California leaders there underscored the need for a California-focused event, which will be held every other year to complement the biennial national conference. To register go to: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/886364449
Call for Session Proposals — Due: March 20, 2014
This forum is designed to create a network of climate adaptation leaders who have a strong commitment to addressing climate risks.
Proposal session categories include:
3) Implementation Strategies
4) Monitoring and Evaluation
5) Innovation and Technology
6) Communication and Stakeholder Engagement
7) Funding, Financing and the Economics of Adaptation
Click here for more information.
International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) World Congress meeting, July 9th 2015
Coming to Portland, Oregon July 5-10, 2015! The symposium, which is held every four years, brings scientists and practitioners from around the globe together to discuss and share landscape ecology work and information. The theme of the 2015 meeting is Crossing Scales, Crossing Borders: Global Approaches to Complex Challenges.
JOBS (apologies for any duplication; thanks for passing along)
- Adélie penguin work on Ross Island, Antarctica for the 2014-15 season (~Nov. 15 – Feb. 1)- applications due by end of March.
- Rangeland Watershed Initiative Partner Biologist
- Snowy Plover Seasonal Biologist
- Sierra Nevada Bird Monitoring Positions
- Conservation Internship and Graduate Student opportunities
- Grant and Science Writer
- Planned Giving Manager
- Chief Financial Officer
Point Blue Conservation Science, founded as Point Reyes Bird Observatory and based in Petaluma, California, is a growing and internationally renowned nonprofit with over 140 staff and seasonal scientists. Our highest priority is to reduce the impacts of accelerating changes in climate, land-use and the ocean on wildlife and people while promoting climate-smart conservation for a healthy, blue planet. Point Blue advances conservation of nature for wildlife and people through science, partnerships and outreach. Our scientists work hand-in-hand with wildlife managers, private land owners, ranchers, farmers, other scientists, major conservation groups, and federal, state, and local government agencies and officials. Point Blue has tripled in size over the past 12 years in response to the ever–increasing demand for sound science to assess and guide conservation investments in our rapidly changing world. At the core of our work is innovative, collaborative science.
Studying birds and other environmental indicators, we evaluate natural and human-driven change over time and guide our partners in adaptive management for improved conservation outcomes. We publish in peer-reviewed journals and contribute to the “conservation commons” of open access scientific knowledge. We also store, manage and interpret over 800 million bird and ecosystem observations from across North America and create sophisticated, yet accessible, decision support tools to improve conservation today and for an uncertain future.
This is a pivotal moment in the history of life on our planet requiring unprecedented actions to ensure that wildlife and people continue to thrive in the decades to come. Working from the Sierra to the sea and as far away as the Ross Sea (Antarctica), Point Blue is collaboratively implementing climate-smart conservation. Read more at www.pointblue.org.
- OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
NY Times SCIENCE VIDEO March 15, 2014
As government financing of basic science research has plunged, private donors have filled the void, raising questions about the future of research for the public good.
By JEREMY RIFKIN NY TIMES March 16 2014 OPINION
As production costs plummet, the future lies with nonprofits.
Titanium clubs can cause golf course fires
(March 19, 2014) — Titanium alloy golf clubs can cause dangerous wildfires, according to scientists. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to new findings. … > full story
March 24, 2013 8:00 AM
Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic, a mother of three, wondered what all the easy access to smartphones and tablets was doing to her kids’ brains. So she talked to developers of children’s media and researchers to find out. Host Rachel Martin speaks with Rosin about her latest article, “The Touch-Screen Generation.”….
A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.
Hanna Rosin Atlantic Monthly March 19, 2014
Ellie Cohen, President and CEO
Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954
Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.