Hat-tip to the legendary Stephen Wusso and Grist
Archive for July, 2007
It’s a Small World: Google Earth Outreach
July 27th was a dirty day for Big Coal in North Carolina. The Environmental Integrity Project’s report ranked North Carolina among the “dirtiest dozen” states for air pollution from coal-fired power plants and pinned three plants in North Carolina as among the fifty worst carbon dioxide emitters. Of the nation’s 378 large-scale coal-fired power plants, two of Duke Energy’s North Carolina plants made the top fifty list.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Environmental Integrity Project’s report or want to check out the “dirtiest dozen” list click here.
No ecosystem scarred by mountaintop removal will ever retain its original beauty or bio-diversity.
Reclamation is generally a joke.
And not a single inch of Appalachia should ever be subject to the shame of being strip-mined.
However, scientists and foresters are using one post-mine land use that I think is very interesting, and could at least help us regain some of Appalachia’s lost forest cover to help combat global warming by recycling enormous amounts of Carbon Dioxide. That is reforestation using a new blight-resistant hybrid of the nearly extinct American Chestnut Tree.
Some brief background;
The Chestnut Tree was the dominant canopy tree of the Appalachian region, ranging from Maine to Mississippi and East to the Ohio Valley. It grew up to 150 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. A blight, a fungus from the American Chestnut’s Asian counterpart, was first discovered in New York City in 1904. The blight ruptures the bark of the tree, destroying its ability to grow large or robustly, and it killed nearly all of the existing specimens over the course of just a few decades. Learn more here, or from the American Chestnut Foundation website.
So, fast-forward to 2007, when scientist have learned that the loose soil of previous mine sites is at least good for something besides looking ugly – planting American Chestnuts!
Well, its actually a hybrid between the Chinese and American Chestnuts. The tree is “100% blight resistant” and “94% American,” and it is flourishing in Appalachia.
Coal-mining industry employees, university researchers, schoolchildren and other volunteers led by Case’s foundation have planted more than 3,000 chestnuts in seven Appalachian states, Kempthorne said. That’s helping turn around the fate of the “spreading chestnut tree” in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1840 paean to the village blacksmith.
“The coal fields of Appalachia match up almost perfectly with what once was the natural range of the American chestnut,” Kempthorne said. “We have discovered that chestnuts grow twice as fast on the loosely packed soils commonly found on reclamation sites. This bodes very well for what is about to occur.”
I hope that interested parties continue to look for ways to constructively use abandoned mine land. I’d also like to say that we’ve got PLENTY of land deforested and destroyed by mountaintop removal and strip-minung – roughly a million acres – that we shouldn’t have to create any more. Lets use what we’ve got.
Historically, the coyote’s range was restricted to the Great Plains area, but today the coyote can be found from Alaska to Central America, as far west as the Los Angeles city limits, and as far east as the Atlantic Ocean.
The coyote (Canis latrans) weighs around 40 pounds and is larger than its western cousin, which is one of the reasons many believe it to be a wolf/western coyote hybrid.
As the coyotes moved east during the 20th century, a northern and southern strain appeared, possibly because of hybridizing with different species of wolf in the north and south.
When the wolf was extirpated from the East in the 1800s, an ecological void for a top predator was left unfilled. However, prey, especially deer and turkey, were scarce.
Once those species began to be reestablished in the mid 20th century, the coyote’s eastward encroachment became pronounced.
“Their growth literally followed the growth of the deer herd,” said Eric Richmond, West Virginia wildlife manager.
The coyote spread along two routes, one across the Great Lakes area and another along the Gulf Coast. Those two strains of eastern coyotes converged in West Virginia and Virginia about 30 years ago.
While coyotes may be similar to dogs, their tracks do look different. A coyote track is shaped like an oval and the toenails are close and curve inward. Dog tracks are typically round and the toenails point outward.
The coyote is a very versatile predator. West Virginia DNR biologist Jeff McCrady said that while he was working in the western U.S. early in his career he was amazed by the different types of coyote crop damage.
“They were eating farmer’s watermelons. They would get it open, stick their heads right in and eat the insides right out,’’ he said.
According to an American Sheep Industry Association report, coyotes are a major factor in lamb mortality in the East. In Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio, coyote depredations accounted for 1.5 percent to nearly 2 percent loss of the annual lamb crop between 1990 and 1999, the report said.
As coyote populations increase, they begin preying more heavily on livestock, lambs especially, but also calves. That depredation increased significantly between 1990 and 2000, especially in Virginia and West Virginia, the report says.
According to the sheep association, measurable levels of coyote depredations on cattle in the Carolinas began to be detected around 2000.
The eastern coyotes’ staple prey are white tailed deer, rats, mice, rabbits, groundhogs, grouse, turkey, chipmunks, fruits, and berries, and they also consume a lot of feral cats and the occasional house cat.
While hunting, I’ve seen fresh-coyote-killed fawns which, at first glance, appear to have been shot by a hunter, field dressed and left to rot. Close inspection, however, tells something about coyote behavior. After killing a deer, the coyotes rip open the bellies and devour the intestines and other vital organs and stick their heads inside the chest cavity to devour the lungs and heart. They leave will their bellies full of organs, but return later to consume the meat.
While many may not like the coyotes preying upon game species, it does fill a predator void left absent by wolf extirpation and plays a key role in controlling pests such as rats and mice.
Coyote hunting and trapping laws are very liberal in virtually all states the coyote inhabits, but efforts to control populations have largely been unsuccessful despite a lack of protection for the animal, as well as the occasional posted bounties. Although the eastern wolf was wiped out rather quickly in the 18th and 19th century, our modern society is unlikely to have a repeat canine extirpation. Not only do fewer people wield firearms outdoors than in the days of our forefathers, but game populations are now controlled. Both the shooting of wolves and a significant decline in the wolf’s prey were factors in the wolf’s extirpation.
Coyotes can live virtually anywhere. They are at home in forests, on farms, craggy mountains, deserts, swamps and even in urban areas.
In the South, coyotes begin breeding in February, while farther North the breeding season begins in March. Coyotes are thought to mate for life and even use the same dens each year. The gestation period is 63 days and litters average around a half-dozen pups. The female gives birth in the den and the male brings food to the female and later for the young once they have been weaned. The young usually leave the den in November.
There is little reason for people to fear coyotes as they are timid and shy.
“I don’t see them as a problem,” Richmond said. “The word predator has a negative connotation and we view the coyote as a predator differently than we do other predators, such as hawks and owls. They are part of our flora and fauna and I think we should learn to appreciate them.”
They usually avoid humans, but once they become acclimated to interacting with humans, problems increase.
According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the following are important facts to remember when dealing with coyotes near the home:
• Do not feed coyotes. When coyotes begin associating humans with food they loose their natural fears and may become dangerous.
• Eliminate water sources. These areas attract rodents, birds, and snakes which the coyote will prey upon.
• Position bird feeders so coyotes can not get to the feed. Coyotes may also be attracted to birds and small mammals that have been lured in by the feeder.
• Do not discard edible garbage. Coyotes are opportunistic and will eat any table scraps.
• Secure garbage containers. Use trash barrels with lids that clamp down tight even when tipped over.
Do not place trash cans out the night before scheduled pick up. Placing cans out the morning before pick up will give coyote less time to scavenge, as they will not have cover of darkness.
• Do not leave barbecue grills outside and uncovered, the smell of the grill and the contents of the grills’ drip pan attracts coyotes.
• Feed pets indoors whenever possible. Remove any leftovers if feeding outdoors. Store pet food in an area not accessible to other animals.
• Clear brush and weeds from around the property. This deprives coyote prey (small mammals and birds) of protective cover and deters the coyote from hunting around your property.
A fenced yard may help deter coyotes. The fence must be at least 6 feet high. Preferably, the bottom of the fence should extend 6 inches below ground level.
“Ginny,” the West Virginia northern flying squirrel (glaucomys sabrinus fuscus) is a charming, big-eyed, nocturnal creature that lives only in the high Allegheny Mountains — in seven counties in West Virginia, and one county in Virginia.
At night, Ginny and her family glide from the trees to the moist forest floor, where they feed on underground fungi. By day, Ginny nests and raises her young in mature hardwood and spruce forests. Her special home is the beloved Blackwater Canyon, West Virginia’s scenic crown jewel.
Ginny is a relic of the last Ice Age. When the glaciers retreated, Ginny’s ancestors were isolated on the high mountain ridges. Like many West Virginians (human and otherwise), Ginny evolved a remarkable lifestyle, surviving in a demanding and specialized habitat.
Ginny has been on the federal Endangered Species List since 1985. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff say they have had no funding to establish and implement a proper recovery plan for Ginny and her species under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2006, top officials at Fish and Wildlife announced a fast-track “de-listing” proposal for Ginny. Their plan is to strip all federal endangered species protection from the West Virginia northern flying squirrel.
To add insult to injury, just as the public comment period on their plan was beginning, Fish and Wildlife officials said they would “withhold” more than 2,000 pages in their files relating to their “Strip the Squirrel” plan from any public inspection!
Just what kind of hanky-panky is going on at the Fish and Wildlife Service?
Well, it looks like hiding documents about agency plans for Ginny may be part of a larger, national problem.
The March 2007 issue of Sierra magazine reports evidence suggesting that political appointees in the Department of the Interior are subverting the species protection mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Here’s how the Beltway’s “culture of secrecy” is playing out in West Virginia:
Seven months ago, the “Save Our Squirrel” Coalition asked for the documents that Fish and Wildlife relied on in preparing its plan. Fish and Wildlife released some documents, but it also filed an official response saying that the public could not see 2,325 pages in the agency’s files.
Fish and Wildlife officials say these pages are secret, because the documents are “pre-decisional.” That means the documents show what people in the agency have been doing and thinking since the governmental process started — out of the public view — more than three years ago.
Excuse me? This isn’t national security. What can be so secret about a squirrel?
And what is so wrong with the public knowing what our employees are thinking and doing?
Of course, we don’t have to see any secret documents to realize that the “Strip the Squirrel” plan is illegal and absurd. Fish and Wildlife admits it has no idea how many squirrels there are. The acknowledged threats to Ginny and her habitat are growing, not shrinking. The documents that have been released suggest that the meager scientific data have been “cherry-picked” and mischaracterized, to support an unjustified but predetermined conclusion. (Does that sound familiar?)
The record also shows that the service’s “fast track” protection removal process for Ginny began confidentially, long before the plan was publicly announced last year. In the past, other species’ suitability for “de-listing” has been publicly studied and assessed over a number of years. (There’s more trouble brewing — we’ve just learned that Fish and Wildlife is doing an in-house de-listing review for at least three more high-mountain West Virginia forest species.)
Fish and Wildlife claims we can trust the Monongahela National Forest to protect Ginny, even without endangered species protection, but the new Mon Forest Plan authorizes a substantial increase in logging in squirrel habitat — what kind of protection is that?
Federal endangered species protection for Ginny is crucial. The teachings of the spirit, science, law, common sense, and pure self-interest are agreed: we must protect this rare, high-mountain “signature species” of the West Virginia Highlands.
Spiritually, we are partners with Ginny in the Creation — and our human species has a special duty of stewardship. Legally, our democratically enacted and well-settled law, the Endangered Species Act, demands continued protection.
Selfishly, the Allegheny Highlands are among West Virginia’s great natural resources and sustainable development engines. Federal legal protection for Ginny helps preserve the beauty, the clean water, the clean air and the diverse wildlife of the region.
Most important, more than 20 years of experience proves that there is plenty of room under endangered species protection to accommodate all reasonable private business and public needs.
The “Save Our Squirrel” Coalition is confident that the illegal, improper, and unwise Fish and Wildlife de-listing plan must and will founder on the shoals of public opposition on every front — scientific, legal, and civic. West Virginians and our allies will not knuckle under to Beltway machinations.
Meanwhile, Congress should immediately investigate the “Strip the Squirrel” document cover-up — along with all other improper influence and mismanagement in enforcing and defending the Endangered Species Act.
For information on how you can help Ginny, the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, go to www.saveblackwater.org; or call (877) WVA-LAND.
Rodd is director of Friends of Blackwater.
I am the wife of a recently disabled coal miner, and offer my opinion on the (Clean Coal) campaign.
Coal is filthy, and in more ways than one.
I was insulted when (West Virginia) allowed the workers’ compensation laws to be changed so coal companies don’t have to pay when a miner is injured. The state left huge loopholes so coal companies can deny injured workers treatment as well as payment to take care of their families while off work injured.
I find it very insulting that 12 men were allowed to die at Sago because the coal company didn’t make sure their self-rescuers worked properly.
I find it insulting that two men died at Aracoma because the company was allowed to bring their fresh air up the belt line that transports the coal. That was a shortcut to save money and time.
The company was also allowed to disconnect the water lines and other fire suppressants… Believe me, black lung is still around, and my husband got that free of charge. So let’s remember: Coal is filthy to workers and communities.
Coal River, WV
The Coal Mountain Crime War is getting out of control, much like the Bush- Cheney war. If Appalachian Voice will cover the current WV coal war, it will help us even more than any of our newspapers … I don’t remember anything like this since the Buffalo Creek War of 1972… I returned to West Virginia shortly afterward to help with the battle to save our mountains, rivers and small towns.
(In response to an inquiry), West Virginia has not attempted to estimate the number of persons downstream from high hazard potential dams. If the estimates were made, only state totals may be available due to security concerns. As to your questions about Buffalo Creek, there is much the state and federal governments have done to prevent another disaster ..
The state and Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) required many safety repairs immediately after Buffalo Creek in 1972. …(These include) spillways, construction of buttresses, and installation of proper embankment drainage. Coal dams that the owners were unwilling to repair were breached or had the reservoirs filled with solid material to eliminate water impoundment. After more than 30 years of effort, coal related dams should all meet the current safety standards, and they are monitored closely through MSHA and DEP inspections…
Env. Enforcement &
601 57th Street SE
Thirty seven years ago, American rivers were still catching fire and city dwellers had to choke through a pall of smoke just getting to work.
Fed up with unregulated pollution, millions of Americans joined together on Earth Day and demanded that air and water pollution be cleaned up. The environmental movement was one of the most successful in history, and it produced a national consensus that has become a bedrock political fact of life.
An overwhelming majority of Americans now believe that environmental protection and conservation is a top priority, even at the expense of domestic energy development or unemployment. In a March, 2007 Gallup poll, for example, a representative sample of Americans were asked which should be given priority: energy production at home or environmental protection? Energy came in at only 34%, and environment was a strong 58%.
Yet in Appalachia, the coal and utility industries have yet to learn the consequences of flying in the face of public opinion. When the balance sheets are tallied up, a price will be paid by industries that have forgotten the people.
America’s coal companies and their political supporters continue to push for the creation of a massive coal synthetic fuels industry. This time, they say, it would be a real industry, not the half-baked “spray and pray” operations that have legally but unethically siphoned off billions in tax dollars for bogus “synthetic” fuels projects.
Recently, a handful of Appalachian congressmen have formed a “coal-to-liquid coalition” to fight for tax incentives and government mandated use of synfuels.
Legislation pouring billions of dollars into this unworthy enterprise has been introduced. Eight coal-to-liquid plants are in the planning and construction phase, including one in Mingo, WV, and dozens more are contemplated.
The environmental impacts of coal synfuels alone should be more than enough reason to stop this dinosaur in its tracks. Along with at least twice the C02 impact of petroleum, coal synfuels are also made up of carcinogenic co-products like benzene. Expanded production would also worsen the effects of mountaintop removal mining and have drastic impacts on water supplies. Coal synfuels use three to five gallons of water for every gallon of fuel produced.
As if all these environmental costs weren’t enough, the up front capital costs of synfuels at over $6 per gallon of annual capacity are far higher than alternatives, such as agriculturally based biofuels at a comparable $1 to $3. The cost of a gallon of coal synfuel will have to be far higher than gasoline today in order to compete, especially in the unlikely event that the “carbon capture” technology is ever deployed.
Coal synfuels supporters seem to take a perverse pride in the historical fact that the Germans developed the coal hydrogenation and liquefaction processes to fuel Nazi conquests in World War II. Yet most reasonable people would agree that this technology from the past deserves to stay there, and not become part of America’s energy and environmental future.
Conservationists, turkeys and turkey hunters alike have lost a great friend.
Wayne Bailey, one of a handful of people who brought the wild turkey back from the brink of disaster, died Feb. 27 in his Danville, Va. home after a long battle with cancer.
Bailey, who was born in 1918 at Rock, W.Va. is known to many as “the godfather of modern turkey management.”
Today, the nation’s turkey population is estimated at five million birds, but when Bailey became a West Virginia biologist around the end of World War II, that number was a scant 129,000 and those turkeys were mostly in remote mountain areas.
Bailey is one of only a handful of people who made that reversal possible.
In the 1950s, the turkey was in serious decline across the East, due to poor management. Bailey not only conducted a landmark 10-year study on turkey population dynamics that has become a Bible for turkey biologists, but he was also a pioneer of live-trapping wild turkeys and introducing them elsewhere to restore populations.
Bailey had difficulty trapping birds at first, but he persevered. He was one of a handful of pioneers developing the “rocket net” technique for trapping a flock of turkeys. The rocket-net device shoots a large net over a flock drawn to bait, allowing biologists to catch them and release them elsewhere.
He was also willing to fight for his beloved wild birds. All that sounds simple today, but it was a difficult undertaking for Bailey. He had to develop a method to catch large numbers of turkey, and, in addition, he had to fight political battles (which went all the way to the governor’s office) to do it. At the time, West Virginia had invested large sums of money in game farms (as had other states), which were dismal failures. Farmed-raised animals, including turkey, had little success in the wild, but making politicians realize that was a difficult undertaking for Bailey. It took decades to overcome that game-farm mentality, but Bailey won.
He was more than a fighter, he was also a diplomat for the wild turkey and used his expertise and personal charm to marshal resources for turkey-restoration projects.
Bailey remained in West Virginia long enough to see the fruits of his labor, a viable population and the state’s first spring gobbler season in 1966. As word of Bailey’s success spread to other states (as did numerous turkeys that crossed state lines after stocking), other states followed suit. Bailey helped with turkey restoration in other states, including: Ohio, Illinois, New Hampshire, Vermont and Pennsylvania. He is also responsible for habitat improvements for wild turkeys and other wildlife on more than a million acres of public land in West Virginia alone.
In the early 1970s, he took a similar job in North Carolina, which at the time had only an estimated 2,000 turkeys and was well entrenched in the game-farm mentality. Bailey’s arrival there literally marked the reversal of the North Carolina turkey’s decline. He fought more battles there as he worked to abolish the traditional fall season and replace it with a spring, gobblers-only season. Hunters were furious about the loss of a strong tradition and, among turkey hunters at least, Bailey was one of the most-hated men in North Carolina. Today, the wild turkey has been re-established in all of North Carolina’s counties. The animosity is gone and Bailey is considered a hero.
Bailey’s contributions weren’t limited to his day job. He was a founding member of the National Wild Turkey Federation (in fact, he was the first charter member), a member of the federation’s first Advisory board in 1973, a member of the federation’s the first technical committee in 1975, and the first recipient of its Conservationist of the Year Award in 1978.
“Wayne Bailey was a pioneer in modern turkey restoration and thanks to his relentless efforts the successful comeback of the wild turkey was possible,” said Rob Keck, CEO of the turkey federation. “It wasn’t only his work in the field that aided in the restoration of the wild turkey, but his work with the NWTF during its early years was instrumental in the success of the organization today.”
.James Earl Kennamer, the turkey federation’s senior vice president of conservation programs, said Bailey has inspired a legion of turkey biologists.
“We have lost a giant in the field of wildlife management. Not only was Wayne a mentor to me, but to so many others involved in the NWTF and with the wild turkey,” he said.
Bailey wrote more than 100 earth-shattering studies and scientific papers. He was a prolific outdoors writer as well. One of his best known, more lyrical works is “Wayne’s Turkey World: Sixty Years of Hunting.”
Curtis Taylor, one of the nation’s top turkey biologists, might have chosen another career had it not been for Bailey’s remarkable work and passionate personality. As a 15-year-old boy, Taylor met Bailey for the first time. That meeting would change his life.
“He had a tremendous influence on me as far back as when I was 15 years old and asked to accompany him and several other DNR biologists to a sportsmen’s meeting in McDowell County,” Taylor said. “I read everything he wrote from high school through undergraduate school and on through graduate school. He made turkeys my passion and was a major reason I chose this profession.”
As if his lifetime of remarkable wasn’t enough for science, Bailey will continue to contribute after his death as he donated his body to be used in studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Bailey is survived by his two daughters, Cheryl Hardy and Janice Nicowski and a son, Emmett Bailey, along with three grandchildren and five great grandchildren.