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Archive for May, 2013

Farm Bill Fiasco: What Now?

(May 14)

Huffington Post

By a vote of 15-5, the U.S. Senate Agricultural Committee finally approved the 2013 Agricultural Reform Food and Jobs Act otherwise known as the farm bill. It will go to Congress for a vote as early as next week. This massive bill, expending roughly $100 billion annually, helps define America’s food and farming landscape — what gets planted, what we eat, and what it costs — yet the consumers, farmers, and workers most affected have no voice in how that money is spent.

Corporate control over our food and farming is profound, and must be checked. With four corporations controlling 50 percent or more of most major commodities and meat production, and running the supermarkets most Americans shop in, big food has the economic and political clout to dictate farm bill policy.

Produce Industry’s Food Safety Push Takes Toll on the Environment

(May 10)

Scientific America

A coalition of farmers, growers and processors in California created a new set of bacteria-minimizing standards designed to eliminate potential sources of contamination by mandating that crop sites be cleared of vegetation and kept a certain distance from wildlife and natural bodies of water. Unintended consequences such as soil degradation and river and stream pollution have risen from the 2006 regulation in addition to ineffective results of reducing food-borne illnesses. Researchers discovered that the new farming practices have further de-incentivized growers from farming in ways that take into account the importance of natural systems of resource cycling and plant regeneration. Instead, many have cleared land of native vegetation, erected fences and laid poison to deter the presence of wildlife. As a result of growers’ attempts to control for all potential variables on crop sites, farmed areas have become not only uninhabitable for wildlife but also more vulnerable to climate change.

New Study: As Climate Changes, Boreal Forests to Shift North and Relinquish More Carbon Than Expected

(May 10)

Environmental Research Web

A new Berkeley Lab research maps how Earth’s myriad climates – and the ecosystems that depend on them – will move from one area to another as global temperatures rise. The approach foresees big changes for one of the planet’s great carbon sponges. Boreal forests will likely shift north at a steady clip this century. Along the way, the vegetation will relinquish more trapped carbon than most current climate models predict. The research is published online May 5 in the journal Nature Geoscience. The Berkeley Lab research suggests the planet’s boreal forests won’t expand poleward. Instead, they’ll shift poleward. The difference lies in the prediction that as boreal ecosystems follow the warming climate northward, their southern boundaries will be overtaken by even warmer and drier climates better suited for grassland.

Climate Milestone: Earth’s CO2 Level Passes 400 ppm

(May 9)

An instrument near the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii has recorded a long-awaited climate milestone: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere there has exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 55 years of measurement—and probably more than 3 million years of Earth history. Two independent teams of scientists measure CO2 on Mauna Loa: one from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the other from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The NOAA team posted word on its web site this morning before dawn Hawaii time: The daily average for May 9 was 400.03 ppm. The Scripps team later confirmed the milestone had been crossed.

Forest Service Gets New Wildfire Tool in Time for Season

(April 24)

Climate Central

With much of the West mired in drought conditions heading into the summer, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing for what could be another damaging wildfire season. This year, firefighters will be armed with an updated tool to help them battle fires with the precision of special forces on the battlefield. The instrument, known as the “Autonomous Modular Sensor,” or AMS, can help the Forest Service detect wildfires and conduct post-burn assessments. While similar devices have been in use for several years, scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., working with the Forest Service, recently deployed a new version with expanded capabilities that will allow firefighters on the ground to request overflights during the day, when wildfires tend to be most active. Previously, such flights were conducted at night due to the limitations of the older generation instrument.

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The Case of the Disappearing Dilbit: How Much Oil Was Released in 2010 Pipeline Spill?

(May 6)

Inside Climate News

A key piece of data related to the biggest tar sands oil spill in U.S. history has disappeared from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, adding to confusion about the size of the spill and possibly reducing the fine that the company responsible for the accident would be required to pay. Sometime in March, the EPA’s website for the accident stopped showing how much oil has been collected at the site—1,149,460 gallons at last count. Web archives show that number was deleted between March 9 and March 27.

U.S. Food Production Shifts North, along with Infrastructure to Move It

(May 6)

Scientific America

The epicenter of agricultural production has moved north and west over the past half-century, and that trend will likely continue at an accelerated pace due to global warming, a new study finds. Published yesterday in the online version of the journal Nature Climate Change, the study depicts how such a shift could put new strains on U.S. infrastructure, as rails and trains replace riverboats as the primary mode of agricultural transportation.

Gulf Oil Spill: Mental Health Impacts On Affected Communities Should Be Considered, Researcher Argues

(May 6)

Huffington Post

It’s been three years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and forever changing the way the world views the Gulf Coast. While the $4 billion verdict against BP has finally been handed down as justice for damages, it’s not going to help many of the people directly impacted by the spill’s impacts. It’s time for a reminder of the long-term impacts accompanying technological disasters — and for the development of a better system for addressing the mental well-being of coastal residents and their communities after these all-too-frequent events.

Wildfire Interactive Helps Track the Springs Fire Blaze

(May 4)

Climate Central

With the weather lending a helping hand, officials were cautiously optimistic that the raging fire, called the Springs Fire, near Los Angeles was being brought under control as of late Saturday. Firefighters reportedly had contained more than 50 percent of the fire, as they were aided by calmer winds and cooler temperatures, and Sunday’s forecast had a 20 percent chance of rain.

The Springs Fire started right as a new outlook by the National Interagency Fire Center released its wildfires outlook, which highlighted how fire season may come early this year in the West, thanks to ongoing drought conditions and increasing temperatures. The NIFC predicted that major wildfires in California could begin as early as May, nearly a month ahead of schedule. Wildfire season is also expected to come early in southern Oregon and Washington, as well as in the central Rocky Mountains and parts of the Southwest.

Partners Celebrate Conservation Success at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

(May 3)

The Nature Conservancy

Partners engaged in projects that will restore about 2,500 acres of marsh in the western Lake Erie basin gathered Friday to celebrate the successful completion of the first major task – turning a 100-acre former wheat field into a coastal marsh. While wading birds enjoyed new feeding areas in the background, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur cut a ribbon over one of the earthen levees that help maintain this newly created wetland. The project, funded through a $1.3 million grant awarded by NOAA in 2011, will involve 500 acres of wetland restoration. The first phase includes about 100 acres of restored wetland, new pumps and water control devices and fish ladders that allow most fish to enter the wetland but can also be used seasonally to block troublesome species such as carp.

Sequestration pushes conservation agency toward ‘breaking point’

(May 2)

Greenwire via Red Lodge Clearinghouse

Sequestration has affected the federal government’s ability to put in place conservation measures on farmland, according to several organizations that work closely with the Agriculture Department. The effects of the across-the-board spending cuts on farmland conservation programs, which have already taken large cuts in the last several budget cycles, have been lost amid all the talk about furloughs to meat inspectors and reductions in farmers’ subsidies, they say. The groups worry that the next round of budget cuts could bring the programs, which include the popular Conservation Stewardship Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, past their breaking point.

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