Conservation Science News January 16, 2015



Focus of the Week – Nearly half of systems crucial to stability of planet compromised; Human activity has pushed Earth beyond 4 of 9 planetary boundaries










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Focus of the WeekNearly half of systems crucial to stability of planet compromised; Human activity has pushed Earth beyond 4 of 9 planetary boundaries


Almost half of the processes that are crucial to maintaining the stability of the planet have become dangerously compromised by human activity. …Credit: © daizuoxin / Fotolia

Nearly half the systems crucial to stability of planet compromised

January 15, 2015

Almost half of the processes that are crucial to maintaining the stability of the planet have become dangerously compromised by human activity. That is the view of an international team of 18 researchers who provide new evidence of significant changes in four of the nine systems which regulate the resilience of the Earth. One of the systems which has been seriously affected is the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle which is essential to all life, and is particularly important to both food production and the maintenance of clean water. “People depend on food, and food production depends on clean water,” says Prof. Elena Bennett from McGill’s School of the Environment who contributed the research on the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle to the study. “This new data shows that our ability both to produce sufficient food in the future and to have clean water to drink and to swim in are at risk.” The research fixing new planetary boundaries (which represent thresholds or tipping points beyond which there will be irreversible and abrupt environmental change) was published today in the journal Science. It suggests that changes to the Earth’s climate, biosphere integrity (a concept covering loss of biodiversity and species extinction), and land-system (through deforestation for example) represent a risk for current and future societies. The fourth process which has become significantly compromised is the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle, which affects both the water we drink and our ability to produce food….

Key points:

  • The concept of planetary boundaries has been updated with new assessments and quantifications.
  • Climate change and biosphere integrity identified as core planetary boundaries. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state.”
  • Four boundaries are assessed to have been crossed, placing humanity in a danger zone: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction), land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (fertiliser use — phosphorus and nitrogen).
  • Crossing boundaries raises the risks to current and future societies of destabilising the Earth System — the complex interactions of land, ocean, atmosphere, ice sheets, life and people.
  • Internationally agreed upper climate limit of 2 degrees lies beyond the climate change boundary: which makes 2 degrees a risky target for humanity, and therefore an absolute minimum target for the global climate negotiations.

Nine planetary boundaries

  1. Climate change
  2. Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)
  3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
  4. Ocean acidification
  5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
  6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)
  7. Freshwater use
  8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
  9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

Will Steffen, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockström, Sarah E. Cornell, Ingo Fetzer, Elena M. Bennett, R. Biggs, Stephen R. Carpenter, Wim de Vries, Cynthia A. de Wit, Carl Folke, Dieter Gerten, Jens Heinke, Georgina M. Mace, Linn M. Persson, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, B. Reyers, and Sverker Sörlin. Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 15 January 2015 DOI: 10.1126/science.1259855



Clmate change: A severe drought plagued a third of Queensland, Australia in 2013. Destabilizing the global environment could make Earth less hospitable for humans. (David Gray/Reuters)


Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’

By Joel Achenbach Washington Post January 16 2015


At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a “safe operating space” for human beings. That is the conclusion of a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world. The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries.” They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean. “What the science has shown is that human activities — economic growth, technology, consumption – are destabilizing the global environment,” said Will Steffen, who holds appointments at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Center and is the lead author of the paper.


These are not future problems, but rather urgent matters, according to Steffen, who said that the economic boom since 1950 and the globalized economy have accelerated the transgression of the boundaries. No one knows exactly when push will come to shove, but he said the possible destabilization of the “Earth System” as a whole could occur in a time frame of “decades out to a century.”


The researchers focused on nine separate planetary boundaries first identified by scientists in a 2009 paper. These boundaries set theoretical limits on changes to the environment, and include ozone depletion, freshwater use, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms. Beyond each planetary boundary is a “zone of uncertainty.” This zone is meant to acknowledge the inherent uncertainties in the calculations, and to offer decision-makers a bit of a buffer, so that they can potentially take action before it’s too late to make a difference. Beyond that zone of uncertainty is the unknown — planetary conditions unfamiliar to us. “The boundary is not like the edge of the cliff,” said Ray Pierrehumbert, an expert on Earth systems at the University of Chicago. “They’re a little bit more like danger warnings, like high-temperature gauges on your car.“….Pierrehumbert, who was not involved in the paper published in Science, added that a planetary boundary “is like an avalanche warning tape on a ski slope.” The scientists say there is no certainty that catastrophe will follow the transgression of these boundaries. Rather, the scientists cite the precautionary principle: We know that human civilization has risen and flourished in the past 10,000 years — an epoch known as the Holocene — under relatively stable environmental conditions. No one knows what will happen to civilization if planetary conditions continue to change. But the authors of the Science paper write that the planet “is likely to be much less hospitable to the development of human societies.”

The authors make clear that their goal is not to offer solutions, but simply to provide information. This is a kind of report card, exploiting new data from the past five years….


…Humanity may have run into trouble with planetary boundaries even in prehistoric times, said Richard Alley, a Penn State geoscientist who was not part of this latest research. The invention of agriculture may have been a response to food scarcity as hunting and gathering cultures spread around, and filled up, the planet, he said. “It’s pretty clear we were lowering the carrying capacity for hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago,” Alley said.

There are today more than 7 billion people, using an increasing quantity of resources, turning forest into farmland, boosting the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and driving other species to extinction. The relatively sudden efflorescence of humanity has led many researchers to declare that this is a new geological era, the human age, often referred to as the Anthropocene….


….The Earth has faced shocks before, and the biosphere has always recovered. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the planet apparently froze over — becoming “Snowball Earth.” About 66 million years ago, it was jolted by a mountain-sized rock from space that killed half the species on the planet, including the non-avian dinosaurs. Life on Earth always bounced back from these shocks. “The planet is going to take care of itself. It’s going to be here,” Richardson said. “There’s a lot of emotion involved in this. If you think about it, the American ethic is, ‘The sky’s the limit.’ And here you have people coming on and saying, no it isn’t, the Earth’s the limit,” she said. Technology can potentially provide solutions to many of the environmental problems we face today. But technological innovations often come with unforeseen consequences. Pierrehumbert said we should be wary of becoming too dependent on technological fixes for global challenges. “The trends are toward layering on more and more technology so that we are more and more dependent on our technological systems to live outside these boundaries,” he said. “It becomes more and more like living on a spaceship than living on a planet.”







REUTERS/Damir Sagolj A fisherman walks towards his boat in Khao Lak, Phang Nga province . His way of life, along with the sea, is on the brink of extinction.

Humans Are Damaging The High Seas — Now The Oceans Are Doing Harm Back

The Economist Jan. 13, 2015, 1:32 PM

About 3 billion people live within 100 miles (160km) of the sea, a number that could double in the next decade as humans flock to coastal cities like gulls. The oceans produce $3 trillion of goods and services each year and untold value for the Earth’s ecology. Life could not exist without these vast water reserves–and, if anything, they are becoming even more important to humans than before.Mining is about to begin under the seabed in the high seas–the regions outside the exclusive economic zones administered by coastal and island nations, which stretch 200 nautical miles (370km) offshore. Nineteen exploratory licences have been issued. New summer shipping lanes are opening across the Arctic Ocean. The genetic resources of marine life promise a pharmaceutical bonanza: the number of patents has been rising at 12% a year. One study found that genetic material from the seas is a hundred times more likely to have anti-cancer properties than that from terrestrial life. But these developments are minor compared with vaster forces reshaping the Earth, both on land and at sea. It has long been clear that people are damaging the oceans–witness the melting of the Arctic ice in summer, the spread of oxygen-starved dead zones and the death of coral reefs. Now, the consequences of that damage are starting to be felt onshore. Thailand provides a vivid example. In the 1990s it cleared coastal mangrove swamps to set up shrimp farms. Ocean storm surges in 2011, no longer cushioned by the mangroves, rushed in to flood the country’s industrial heartland, causing billions of dollars of damage. More serious is the global mismanagement of fish stocks. About 3 billion people get a fifth of their protein from fish, making it a more important protein source than beef. But a vicious cycle has developed as fish stocks decline and fishermen race to grab what they can of the remainder. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a third of fish stocks in the oceans are over-exploited; some estimates say the proportion is more than half (see chart). One study suggested that stocks of big predatory species–such as tuna, swordfish and marlin–may have fallen by as much as 90% since the 1950s. People could be eating much better, were fishing stocks properly managed.

The forests are often called the lungs of the Earth, but the description better fits the oceans. They produce half the world’s supply of oxygen, mostly through photosynthesis by aquatic algae and other organisms. But according to a forthcoming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; the group of scientists who advise governments on global warming), concentrations of chlorophyll (which helps makes oxygen) have fallen by 9-12% in 1998-2010 in the North Pacific, Indian and North Atlantic Oceans.
Climate change may be the reason. At the moment, the oceans are moderating the impact of global warming–though that may not last (see box on page 54). Warm water rises, so an increase in sea temperatures tends to separate cold and warm water into more distinct layers, with shallower mixed layers in between. That seems to lower the quantity of nutrients available for aquatic algae, and to lead to decreased chlorophyll concentrations. Changes in the oceans, therefore, may mean less oxygen will be produced.
This cannot be good news, though scientists are still debating the likely consequences. The world is not about to suffocate. But the result could be lower oxygen concentrations in the oceans and changes to the climate because the counterpart of less oxygen is more carbon–adding to the build-up of greenhouse gases. In short, the decades of damage wreaked on the oceans are now damaging the terrestrial environment.

The oceans exemplify the “tragedy of the commons”–the depletion of commonly held property by individual users, who harm their own long-term interests as a result. For decades scientists warned that the European Union’s fishing quotas were too high, and for decades fishing lobbyists persuaded politicians to ignore them. Now what everyone knew would happen has happened: three-quarters of the fish stocks in European waters are over-exploited and some are close to collapse The salient feature of such a tragedy is that the full cost of damaging the system is not borne by those doing the damage. This is most obvious in fishing, but goes further. Invasive species of many kinds are moved around the world by human activity–and do an estimated $100 billion of damage to oceans each year. Farmers dump excess fertiliser into rivers, which finds its way to the sea; there cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) feed on the nutrients, proliferate madly and reduce oxygen levels, asphyxiating all sea creatures.
In 2008, there were over 400 “dead zones” in the oceans. Polluters pump out carbon dioxide, which dissolves in seawater, producing carbonic acid. That in turn has increased ocean acidity by over a quarter since the start of the Industrial Revolution. In 2012, scientists found pteropods (a kind of sea snail) in the Southern Ocean with partially dissolved shells. It is sometimes possible to preserve commons by assigning private property rights over them, thus giving users a bigger stake in their long-term health. That is being tried in coastal and island nations’ exclusive economic zones. But it does not apply on the high seas. Under international law, fishing there is open to all and minerals count as “the common heritage of mankind”. Here, a mishmash of international rules and institutions determines the condition of the watery commons. The high seas are not ungoverned. Almost every country has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which, in the words of Tommy Koh, president of UNCLOS in the 1980s, is “a constitution for the oceans”. It sets rules for everything from military activities and territorial disputes (like those in the South China Sea) to shipping, deep-sea mining and fishing. Although it came into force only in 1994, it embodies centuries-old customary laws, including the freedom of the seas, which says the high seas are open to all. UNCLOS took decades to negotiate and is sacrosanct. Even America, which refuses to sign it, abides by its provisions. But UNCLOS has significant faults. It is weak on conservation and the environment, since most of it was negotiated in the 1970s when these topics were barely considered. It has no powers to enforce or punish. America’s refusal to sign makes the problem worse: although it behaves in accordance with UNCLOS, it is reluctant to push others to do likewise….

The biggest failure, though, is in the regulation of fishing. Overfishing does more damage to the oceans than all other human activities there put together. In theory, high-seas fishing is overseen by an array of regional bodies. Some cover individual species, such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT, also known as the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna). Others cover fishing in a particular area, such as the north-east Atlantic or the South Pacific Oceans. They decide what sort of fishing gear may be used, set limits on the quantity of fish that can be caught and how many ships are allowed in an area, and so on. Here, too, there have been successes. Stocks of north-east Arctic cod are now the highest of any cod species and the highest they have been since 1945–even though the permitted catch is also at record levels. This proves it is possible to have healthy stocks and a healthy fishing industry. But it is a bilateral, not an international, achievement: only Norway and Russia capture these fish and they jointly follow scientists’ advice about how much to take.

The Economist

There has also been some progress in controlling the sort of fishing gear that does the most damage. In 1991 the UN banned drift nets longer than 2.5km (these are nets that hang down from the surface; some were 50km long). A series of national and regional restrictions in the 2000s placed limits on “bottom trawling” (hoovering up everything on the seabed)–which most people at the time thought unachievable. But the overall record is disastrous. Two-thirds of fish stocks on the high seas are over-exploited–twice as much as in parts of oceans under national jurisdiction. Illegal and unreported fishing is worth $10 billion-24 billion a year–about a quarter of the total catch. According to the World Bank, the mismanagement of fisheries costs $50 billion or more a year, meaning that the fishing industry would reap at least that much in efficiency gains if it were properly managed. Most regional fishery bodies have too little money to combat illegal fishermen. They do not know how many vessels are in their waters because there is no global register of fishing boats. Their rules only bind their members; outsiders can break them with impunity. An expert review of ICCAT, the tuna commission, ordered by the organisation itself concluded that it was “an international disgrace”. A survey by the FAO found that over half the countries reporting on surveillance and enforcement on the high seas said they could not control vessels sailing under their flags. Even if they wanted to, then, it is not clear that regional fishery bodies or individual countries could make much difference. But it is far from clear that many really want to. Almost all are dominated by fishing interests. The exceptions are the organisation for Antarctica, where scientific researchers are influential, and the International Whaling Commission, which admitted environmentalists early on. Not by coincidence, these are the two that have taken conservation most seriously….

Countries could do more to stop vessels suspected of illegal fishing from docking in their harbours–but they don’t. ….According to David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary who is now co-chairman of the Global Ocean Commission, the current mess is a “terrible betrayal” of current and future generations. “We need a new approach to the economics and governance of the high seas,” he says. That could take different forms. Environmentalists want a moratorium on overfished stocks, which on the high seas would mean most of them. They also want regional bodies to demand impact assessments before issuing fishing licences. The UN Development Programme says rich countries should switch some of the staggering $35 billion a year they spend subsidising fishing on the high seas (through things like cheap fuel and vessel-buy-back programmes) to creating marine reserves–protected areas like national parks.

Others focus on institutional reform. The European Union and 77 developing countries want an “implementing agreement” to strengthen the environmental and conservation provisions of UNCLOS. They had hoped to start what will doubtless be lengthy negotiations at a UN conference in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. But opposition from Russia and America forced a postponement; talks are now supposed to start by August 2015. Still others say that efforts should be concentrated on improving the regional bodies, by giving them more money, greater enforcement powers and mandates that include the overall health of their bits of the ocean. The German Advisory Council on Global Change, a think-tank set up by the government, argues for an entirely new UN body, a World Oceans Organisation, which it hopes would increase awareness of ocean mismanagement among governments, and simplify and streamline the current organisational tangle. According to Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2009, to avoid a tragedy of the commons requires giving everyone entitled to use them a say in running them; setting clear boundaries to keep out those who are not entitled; appointing monitors who are trusted by users; and having straightforward mechanisms to resolve conflicts. At the moment, the governance of the high seas meets none of those criteria. Changes to high-seas management would still do nothing for two of the worst problems, both caused on land: acidification and pollution. But they are the best and perhaps only hope of improving the condition of half of the Earth’s surface.



Fish auction at a port in the Chinese province of Guangdong. Credit: Image courtesy of Leiden, Universiteit

Sustainable approach for the world’s fish supply

January 14, 2015 ScienceDaily

China’s booming aquaculture industry is increasingly dependent on fishmeal made from wild-caught fish, a practice that depletes wild fish stocks. A new study conducted by institutions including Leiden University and Stanford offers a more sustainable path. The study appeared in the journal Science on 9 January.
The researchers propose recycling the waste by-products from seafood processing plants as feed for farm-raised fish. This would provide from one half to two-thirds of the amount of fishmeal currently needed by Chinese fish farms. The study was conducted by a research team led by postdoctoral fellow Ling Cao and Professor Rosamond Naylor from Stanford University. The team also included staff from Leiden University (PhD student Patrik Henriksson) and University of Wollongong, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Shanghai Ocean University. China is the world’s leading producer, consumer and processor of fish, contributing one-third of the global supply. China’s fish production has tripled in the past 20 years, and about three-quarters of its supply now comes from fish farms. Yet the industry still places huge pressure on wild fisheries as its demand grows for fishmeal and fish oil made from wild-caught species. How China develops its aquaculture and aquafeeds sector can thus tip the balance of global seafood availability (ocean fish, crustaceans and shellfish). “There is a clear opportunity for positive change, but the economic and regulatory incentives for such change are not yet in place,” said Naylor, the William Wrigley Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford….


L. Cao, R. Naylor, P. Henriksson, D. Leadbitter, M. Metian, M. Troell, W. Zhang. China’s aquaculture and the world’s wild fisheries. Science, 2015; 347 (6218): 133 DOI: 10.1126/science.1260149



Renewable resources reach their limits

Posted: 14 Jan 2015 11:04 AM PST

Landscape ecologists and plant ecologists analyzed the production and extraction rates of 27 global renewable and non-renewable resources together with economists and sustainability scholars. They examined 20 renewable resources, such as maize, rice, wheat or soya, which represent around 45% of the global calorie intake according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as well as animal products, such as fish, meat, milk and egg. For 18 of these renewable resources the annual growth rate (for example the increase in meat production or in fish catch) reached its peak — the peak-rate year — around 2006 a few years ago….


Seppelt, R., A. M. Manceur, J. Liu, E. P. Fenichel, and S. Klotz. Synchronized peak-rate years of global resources use. Ecology and Society, 2014 19(4): 50. DOI: 10.5751/ES-07039-190450



Hello people, goodbye soil: Humans erode soil 100 times faster than nature

Posted: 07 Jan 2015 12:07 PM PST

In North America, European colonization and agriculture led to as much soil loss in just decades as would have occurred naturally in thousands of years, new research shows. Scientists have, for the first time, precisely quantified natural rates of erosion in ten US river basins to compare with modern ones…But accurately measuring the natural rate of erosion for a landscape — and, therefore, how much human land use has accelerated this rate — has been a devilishly hard task for geologists. And that makes environmental decision-making — such as setting allowable amounts of sediment in fish habitat and land use regulation — also difficult…”This study help us understand how nature runs the planet,” he says, “compared to how we run the planet.” And this knowledge, in turn, can “help to inform land use planning,” Bierman says. “We can set regulatory goals based on objective data about how the landscape used to work.” Often, it is difficult to know whether conservation strategies — for example, regulations about TMDL’s (total maximum daily loads) of sediment — are well fitted to the geology and biology of a region. “In other words, an important unsolved mystery is: “How do the rates of human removal compare to ‘natural’ rates, and how sustainable are the human rates?” Rood asks. While this new study shows that erosion rates were unsustainable in the recent past, “it also provides a goal for the future,” Rood says. “We can use the beryllium-10 erosion rates as a target for successful resource conservation strategies; they can be used to develop smart environmental policies and regulations that will protect threatened soil and water resources for generations to come.


L. Reusser, P. Bierman, D. Rood. Quantifying human impacts on rates of erosion and sediment transport at a landscape scale. Geology, 2015; DOI: 10.1130/G36272.1




A breakthrough approach to addressing the causes of biodiversity loss

Posted: 13 Jan 2015 11:52 AM PST

A simplified framework of the interactions between nature and people could potentially change the manner in which biodiversity assessments will be conducted in the future. This framework will go one step further than the previous large-scale environmental assessments in that it will embrace different disciplines and knowledge systems. In doing so, it is also expected to stimulate new thinking and thus provide new contexts for discovery. Known as the “conceptual framework” of IPBES, it is publishing January 13th in the open access journal PLOS Biology. The framework is the first public product of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES), a body that aims to track the ecological health of the planet and help avert catastrophic change in ecosystems….Undoubtedly, the ability of the conceptual framework to provide new insights will be tested as IPBES undertakes its first assessments. Despite the outcomes, this model might have implications for the ways in which we will do science in the coming years, as it emphasizes the need for convergence of different principles and knowledge systems to solve concrete practice and policy problems.


Sandra Díaz, Sebsebe Demissew, Carlos Joly, W. Mark Lonsdale, Anne Larigauderie. A Rosetta Stone for Nature’s Benefits to People. PLoS Biology, 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002040



Rise in mass die-offs seen among birds, fish and marine invertebrates

Posted: 12 Jan 2015 03:13 PM PST

An analysis of 727 studies reveals that there have been more instances of rapid, catastrophic animal die-offs over the past 75 years. These mass kills appear to have hit birds, fish and marine invertebrates harder than other species. At the same time, the number of individuals killed appears to be decreasing for reptiles and amphibians, and unchanged for mammals. Such mass mortality events occur when a large percentage of a population dies in a short time frame. While the die-offs are rare and fall short of extinction, they can pack a devastating punch, potentially killing more than 90 percent of a population in one shot. However, until this study, there had been no quantitative analysis of the patterns of mass mortality events among animals, the study authors noted. “This is the first attempt to quantify patterns in the frequency, magnitude and cause of such mass kill events,” said study senior author Stephanie Carlson, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. The study, published Monday, Jan. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of San Diego and Yale University. This study suggests that in addition to monitoring physical changes such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, it is important to document the biological response to regional and global environmental change. The researchers highlighted ways to improve documentation of such events in the future, including the possible use of citizen science to record mass mortality events in real time…..Funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation helped support this research.


Samuel B. Fey, Adam M. Siepielski, Sébastien Nusslé, Kristina Cervantes-Yoshida, Jason L. Hwan, Eric R. Huber, Maxfield J. Fey, Alessandro Catenazzi, and Stephanie M. Carlson. Recent shifts in the occurrence, cause, and magnitude of animal mass mortality events. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1414894112



aA skidder picks up cut trees and drags them downhill. Credit: Image courtesy of Michigan Technological University

Salvaging the ecosystem after salvage logging

Posted: 09 Jan 2015 01:44 PM PST

After a forest fire burns a large swath across timberlands, logging companies often are not far behind. They come in to do what is called salvage logging — salvaging the timber that has not been completely destroyed by the fire. It sounds like a good idea, since even the timber from burned trees can be used for lumber. …For over a decade, Joseph Wagenbrenner, assistant professor in Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, has been examining salvage logging at four forest fire sites in Montana, Colorado and Washington. He and his research team studied the effects of salvage logging on the ground cover, soil compaction, sediment in water runoff and regrowth of vegetation, compared to control plots that were not logged after a fire. Specifically, they looked at the impact of various salvage logging practices, including the trails made by the most commonly used equipment: feller bunchers — heavy machines that drive uphill, cutting and piling up trees — and skidders, which pick up the piles of trees and drag them back downhill. They found that the amount of sediment in runoff water increased measurably on the smaller plots, but the increase was not consistent on larger tracts of land. The amount of sediment running downhill and the compaction of the ground was greater where the feller bunchers and skidders were used. The more firmly compacted ground becomes, the less water can soak in and the more runoff and erosion can occur. Wagenbrenner and colleagues published results of the US Forest Service-funded study in the January 2015 issue of the journal Forest Ecology and Management. Why is sediment an issue? It can cause flooding, when streams and reservoirs get clogged. At one of the study sites, where the Hayman fire burned 140,000 acres of the Pike-San Isabel National Forest in central Colorado, the sediment runoff was so bad that one of the main reservoirs serving Denver had to be dredged. Sediment can also damage fish habitat, raising water temperature and killing food sources. And it fills pools and streams with organic matter that is hard for water treatment plants to process, Wagenbrenner explains. Sometimes salvage logging operations leave the small branches and treetops on the ground. This material, called slash, helped ameliorate the erosion and sediment problem, the researchers found.

His team’s recommendations for best management practices for salvage logging include:

  • Leave slash on the ground
  • Break up long feller-buncher and skidder trails with “water bars” — mounds of dirt that slow and divert runoff.
  • Decompact the soil after heavy equipment is used.
  • Consider replanting vegetation, which works better than slash because it roots in the soil.


Joseph W. Wagenbrenner, Lee H. MacDonald, Robert N. Coats, Peter R. Robichaud, Robert E. Brown. Effects of post-fire salvage logging and a skid trail treatment on ground cover, soils, and sediment production in the interior western United States. Forest Ecology and Management, 2015; 335: 176 DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2014.09.016



New restoration focus for western dry forests

Posted: 14 Jan 2015 07:16 AM PST

The most significant current threat to western dry forests is from insect outbreaks and droughts, not wildfires, research shows. Historically abundant small trees offer the greatest hope for forest survival and recovery after these events, authors say.

Key findings:

  • Over the last fourteen years, insect outbreaks have impacted 5 to 7 times more dry forests than have wildfires.
  • Historically, dry forests had large trees, but were numerically dominated by small trees, 52-92% of total trees.
  • The variable structure of past forests provided bet-hedging insurance against multiple disturbances and continued persistence.
  • Removing most small trees for modern restoration treatments may reduce the resilience of these forests.


William L. Baker, A. Williams. Bet-hedging dry-forest resilience to climate-change threats in the western USA based on historical forest structure. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2015; 2 DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2014.00088


These beautiful maps show how much of the U.S. is paved over.
When you strip everything off a map except the roads, most of the U.S. is still clearly recognizable. In a series of maps of every state, and the country as a whole, Boston-based design firm Fathom took away mountains, rivers, and place names to demonstrate how well we can be defined by pavement. Fast Company


Roller coaster geese: Insights into high altitude bird flight physiology and biomechanics

Posted: 15 Jan 2015 11:22 AM PST

A study of the migratory biology of bar-headed geese, during their high altitude flights across the Tibetan plateau and Himalayan Mountains, has revealed how these birds cope with flying in the relatively low-density mountain atmosphere. The study shows that the geese perform a ‘roller coaster’ ride through the mountains, tracking the underlying terrain even if this means repeatedly shedding hard-won altitude only to have to regain height later in the same or subsequent flight.


Environmental health benefits inspire people to cut back on electricity

Posted: 12 Jan 2015 12:46 PM PST

Telling people how much pollution they could prevent inspires them to save more energy than touting cost savings, researchers report. The study also found that the environmental message was especially effective in changing the behavior of people with children living in the home — they reduced their electricity use a whopping 19 percent through the exercise of the study.


Tiny Parasite Threatens Native Plants

KQED Science | January 12, 2015 | Daniel Potter

Professor Wolfgang Schweigkofler holds up a culture of Phytophthora tentaculata at Dominican University in Marin County. Experts there have spent years studying ways to fight Sudden Oak Death and are now turning their attention to P. tentaculata. (Daniel Potter/KQED)

Twenty years ago, scores of trees began visibly dying off around the Bay Area, in what turned out to be the advent of Sudden Oak Death. The cause was a microscopic parasite, Phytophthora ramorum.

Phytophthora comes from Greek and means “plant destroyer.” (It’s pronounced fie-TOF-thur-uh.) Of its many relatives, perhaps the best known is Phytophthora infestans, noted for causing the Irish Potato Famine. Though sometimes classified among fungi, they’re actually part of a distinct group known as “water molds.” An ominous federal report five years ago warned of another Phytophthora species that had not arrived yet in North America. If it were to appear, the report said it “would likely cause severe economic impacts to the nursery trade, as well as environmental impacts on native species.” Then in the fall of 2012, it showed up at a nursery in Monterey County. “We were like, what the heck is this?” says state plant pathologist Suzanne Latham. She identified it through DNA testing as Phytophthora tentaculata. All the plants in the nursery were destroyed, Latham says, “and we thought we had an isolated detection.” Then, about a year ago, P. tentaculata showed up again, this time outside the confines of a nursery….The plants included a shrub called toyon and a subshrub called sticky monkey flower. Both turned out to be hosts of P. tentaculata, which, unbeknownst to workers, was quietly hitchhiking into the site.

As a soil-born pathogen, tentaculata attacks and rots plant roots. Infected plants look “water-stressed,” meaning the parasite can masquerade as effects of the drought. It can spread by drifting in water, or with help from people: in contaminated potting soil, perhaps, or in dirt on workers’ boots or tools, or in the treads of truck tire…Tentaculata has also shown up at nurseries in Monterey, Santa Cruz, Placer and Butte counties, elevating concerns in the industry over the potential spread of tiny invaders. “Everybody’s a little paranoid now,” says Diana Benner of Watershed Nursery in Richmond…








NOAA: 2014 was Earth’s warmest year on record

December 2014 record warm; Global oceans also record warm for 2014

January 16, 2015

The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2014 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA scientists. The December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was also the highest on record.
This summary from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making….



Carbon dioxide levels measured atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa from early December 2014 to early January 2015, when they jumped above 400 ppm. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

2015 Begins With CO2 Above 400 PPM Mark

Published: January 12th, 2015 By Andrea Thompson

The new year has only just begun, but we’ve already recorded our first days with average carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million, potentially leading to many months in a row above this threshold, experts say.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography records of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels show that Jan. 1 was the first day of the new year above that concentration, followed by Jan. 3 and Jan. 7. Daily averages have continued at this level or higher through Jan. 9, though they could continue to dance up and down around that mark due to day-to-day variations caused by weather systems. But even with those fluctuations, 2015 will likely see many months above 400 ppm, possibly starting with the very first month of the year. “…. The 400 ppm mark was first passed on May 9, 2013. In 2014, it happened two months earlier, in March. The average CO2 concentrations for March, April and June 2014 were all above 400 ppm, the first time that has been recorded. The peak CO2 measurement of 2014 was just shy of 402 ppm in May….



Major changes underway in the Arctic portend trouble for the rest of us. 

For the little auk, ice’s retreat is a warning

One bird becomes a sentinel for global warming

By Marianne Lavelle
Jan. 12, 2015
The Daily Climate

The Antarctic has its penguins, but the Arctic is home to a small black-and-white tuxedoed bird that can fly as well as swim. And the little auk, also known as the dovekie, is serving as sentinel of global warming. Adult body mass fell 4 percent – a potential problem for a bird about the size of a quail. Marked sea-ice retreat has profoundly altered the feeding habits of little auks in Russia’s Franz-Josef Land, an archipelago that is their northernmost breeding ground, a research team reported today in Global Change Biology. The islands have been virtually ice-free each summer since 2005. Using miniature electronic tags, the scientists showed that the smallest of the European auks, members of the puffin family, were losing their main prey, lipid-rich zooplankton. The birds adapted by shifting to new foraging spots at the front of melting glaciers, where zooplankton become stunned by cold and osmotic shock. Little auk chick growth rates thus stayed steady, but adult body mass fell 4 percent compared to 21 years ago – a potential problem for a bird about the size of a quail.  The international team of researchers, including scientists from CEFE, France’s largest ecological research institute, and from National Geographic, say their study underscores the difficulty of predicting the impact of the rapid climate change underway in the complex ecosystems at the world’s poles….




A new study reveals a vast network of little-understood rivers and streams flowing on top of the ice sheet in Greenland that could be responsible for at least some of the world’s sea-level rising. Credit: Image courtesy of City College of New York

Greenland meltwater contributes to rising sea levels

Posted: 13 Jan 2015 08:16 AM PST

As the largest single chunk of melting snow and ice in the world, the massive ice sheet that covers about 80 percent of Greenland is recognized as the biggest potential contributor to rising sea levels due to glacial meltwater. Until now, however, scientists’ attention has mostly focused on the ice sheet’s aquamarine lakes — bodies of meltwater that tend to abruptly drain — and on monster chunks of ice that slide into the ocean to become icebergs. But a new study involving City College of New York scientist Marco Tedesco and a UCLA team reveals a vast network of little-understood rivers and streams flowing on top of the ice sheet that could be responsible for at least as much, if not more, sea-level rise as the other two sources combined….



Credit: Photo by Robert Kopp

Correcting estimates of sea level rise

Posted: 14 Jan 2015 11:05 AM PST

The acceleration in global sea level from the 20th century to the last two decades has been significantly larger than scientists previously thought, according to a new study. Previous estimates of global sea-level rise from 1900-1990 had been over-estimated by as much as 30 percent, researchers suggest. “What this paper shows is that sea-level acceleration over the past century has been greater than had been estimated by others,” said Eric Morrow, a recent Ph.D. graduate. “It’s a larger problem than we initially thought.” The acceleration in global sea level from the 20th century to the last two decades has been significantly larger than scientists previously thought, according to a new Harvard study. The study, co-authored by Carling Hay, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS), and Eric Morrow, a recent PhD graduate of EPS, shows that previous estimates of global sea-level rise from 1900-1990 had been over-estimated by as much as 30 percent. The report, however, confirms previous estimates of sea-level change since 1990, suggesting that the rate of sea-level change is increasing more quickly than previously believed. The new work is described in a January 14 paper published in Nature. ….Previous estimates had placed sea-level rise at between 1.5 and 1.8 millimeters annually over the 20th century. Hay and Morrow, however, suggest that from 1901 until 1990, the figure was closer to 1.2 millimeters per year. But everyone agrees that global sea level has risen by about 3 millimeters annually since that time, and so the new study points to a larger acceleration in global sea level. “Another concern with this is that many efforts to project sea-level change into the future use estimates of sea level over the time period from 1900 to 1990,” Morrow said. “If we’ve been over-estimating the sea-level change during that period, it means that these models are not calibrated appropriately, and that calls into question the accuracy of projections out to the end of the 21st century.“….


Carling C. Hay, Eric Morrow, Robert E. Kopp & Jerry X. Mitrovica. Probabilistic reanalysis of twentieth-century sea-level rise. Nature, January 2015 DOI: 10.1038/nature14093



The Antarctic ice sheet is a sleeping giant, beginning to stir

By John Abraham & January 14, 2015

In a paper I just published with colleague Dr. Ted Scambos from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, we highlight the impact of southern ice sheet loss, particularly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet on sea-level rise around the world….



Mountain system artificially inflates temperature increases at higher elevations

Posted: 12 Jan 2015 11:13 AM PST

While the western US has warmed, recently observed warming in the mountains of the Western US likely is not as large as previously supposed, researchers suggest….results, published Jan. 9 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, show that sensor changes have significantly biased temperature observations from the Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) station network.
More than 700 SNOTEL sites monitor temperature and snowpack across the mountainous western U.S. SNOTEL provides critical data for water supply forecasts. Researchers often use SNOTEL data to study mountain climate trends and impacts to mountain hydrology and ecology. Oyler and his co-authors applied statistical techniques to account for biases introduced when equipment was switched at SNOTEL sites in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. His revised datasets reduced the biases to reveal that high-elevation minimum temperatures were warming only slightly more than minimum temperatures at lower elevations.

“Observations from other station networks clearly show that the western U.S. has experienced regional warming,” Oyler said, “but to assess current and future climate change impacts to snowpack and important mountain ecosystem processes, we need accurate observations from the high elevation areas only covered by the SNOTEL network. The SNOTEL bias has likely compromised our ability to understand the unique drivers and impacts of climate change in western U.S. mountains.”


Jared W. Oyler, Solomon Z. Dobrowski, Ashley P. Ballantyne, Anna E. Klene, Steven W. Running. Artificial Amplification of Warming Trends Across the Mountains of the Western United States. Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL062803



How changes in precipitation could hit birds hard

By Sharon Wootton Jan 11 2015

Call it climate change, global warming or a conspiracy by scientists to assure long-term research work — or disagree over the whys and hows — weather patterns are changing and the effect can be seen in wildlife species.

Most of the research has been on the effects of warmer temperatures, when some species can be pushed to higher elevations or higher latitude. Another factor, however, is entering the discussion: precipitation.

Results from Oregon State University research of a 32-year period suggest that birds in western North America may be more affected by regional precipitation changes than by warming trends. The results were published in Global Change Biology. The study suggests that if climate change results in winters with less precipitation, there will be a spring drying effect so that populations of drought-tolerant species will expand and birds that rely heavily on moisture could decline…..

In the Southwest, a recent study suggests that drought conditions are delaying nesting by two weeks or more for some Sonoran Desert bird species. Delayed nesting makes it more difficult to maintain their numbers even if they if adapted to low-rainfall areas. The research was done by Point Blue Conservation Science
and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“To understand how late the delay is, it would be like if the robins nesting in your yard, who typically begin nesting in late April, did not begin to nest until nearly Memorial Day,” says Chris McCreedy, Point Blue ecologist and the study’s lead author. The findings also show that some Sonoran Desert species sometimes forego breeding entirely during extreme drought




Superstorm Sandy satellite image from Oct. 29, 2012. The largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Sandy is part of a spate of off-the-charts extreme weather events in recent years.


Global Warming Linked To More Extreme Weather And Weaker Jet Stream

by Joe Romm Posted on January 15, 2015 at 4:22 pm

We have seen a quantum jump in extreme weather events in the Northern Hemisphere in the last several years. Droughts, deluges, and heat waves are increasingly getting “stuck” or “blocked,” which in turn worsens and prolongs their impact beyond what might be expected just from the recent human-caused increase in global temperatures. A growing body of research ties that unexpected jump to a weakening of the jet stream — in particular to “more frequent high-amplitude (wavy) jet-stream configurations that favor persistent weather patterns,” as a new study puts it. Much of this new research ties the weakening jet stream to “Arctic amplification (AA) — defined here as the enhanced sensitivity of Arctic temperature change relative to mid-latitude regions,” in the words of the new study, “Evidence for a wavier jet stream in response to rapid Arctic warming” by Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus. But that is no by no means a universally accepted explanation. I’ll review some of the evidence in this post….

….Not every study comes to the same conclusion as NOAA, PIK, and Francis (see, for instance, here). One 2014 study claims to “disconfirm the hypothesis that deep tropospheric warming in the Arctic during OND [October, November. December has resulted substantially from sea ice loss.” But as Francis explained to me, the authors of that 2014 study “state that the first link in the ‘chain’ connecting rapid Arctic warming with a wavier jet stream, as proposed in our 2012 paper, is sea-ice loss — but in fact it is Arctic amplification (Arctic warming faster than mid-latitudes). While sea-ice loss is one of the factors contributing to Arctic amplification (AA), it is certainly not the most important factor — only 20% according to this study.” Francis also points out “their modeled response to sea-ice loss is presented as time-averages, so any signal of jet-stream wave amplification will not be detected unless the ridge/trough system occurs in the same place every time, which it often does not.”

Clearly the interactions between global warming and Northern Hemisphere weather are complex. We still have much more to learn about “Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather,” as made clear in a recent Nature Geoscience paper (with that title) written by several of the leading researchers in the field, including Francis.

But the evidence is mounting that we have entered a new regime of extreme weather thanks to our as-yet unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gas. The latest 2015 study, by Francis and Vavrus, concludes:

These results reinforce the hypothesis that a rapidly warming Arctic promotes amplified jet-stream trajectories, which are known to favor persistent weather patterns and a higher likelihood of extreme weather events. Based on these results, we conclude that further strengthening and expansion of AA in all seasons, as a result of unabated increases in greenhouse gas emissions, will contribute to an increasingly wavy character in the upper-level winds, and consequently, an increase in extreme weather events that arise from prolonged atmospheric conditions.


Evidence for a wavier jet stream in response to rapid Arctic warming

Jennifer A Francis and Stephen J Vavrus 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.
10 014005 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/1/014005

Received 4 November 2014, accepted for publication 11 December 2014 Published 6 January 2015


New metrics and evidence are presented that support a linkage between rapid Arctic warming, relative to Northern hemisphere mid-latitudes, and more frequent high-amplitude (wavy) jet-stream configurations that favor persistent weather patterns. We find robust relationships among seasonal and regional patterns of weaker poleward thickness gradients, weaker zonal upper-level winds, and a more meridional flow direction. These results suggest that as the Arctic continues to warm faster than elsewhere in response to rising greenhouse-gas concentrations, the frequency of extreme weather events caused by persistent jet-stream patterns will increase.



Corrosive Seawater, Not Low pH, Implicated as Cause of Oyster Deaths

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Rob Painting

Because of the geologically-rapid emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by human industrial activities, and the subsequent dissolution of this CO2 into the global oceans, ocean pH and carbonate saturation state are currently declining in tandem – a process known as ocean acidification. Over geological timescales, however, ocean pH and carbonate saturation (corrosiveness) tend to become disassociated. This explains why the ancient oceans were highly saturated with carbonates and therefore conducive to calcification (calcium carbonate shell formation) at times of high CO2 in Earth’s past even though ocean pH was lower than it is today.  Waldbusser et al (2014) conducted a series of experiments with oyster and mussel juvenile life stages (larvae) which enable them to distinguish between the individual responses to carbonate saturation and ocean pH, something not done in typical ocean acidification laboratory experiments The authors surprisingly found that, except at extremely low concentrations, ocean pH by itself had little impact on larvae growth. As expected though, low carbonate saturation was very detrimental to larvae growth and thus survival. This work implicates carbonate undersaturation as the key mechanism responsible for the large-scale die-off of oyster larvae along the North American Pacific coastline over the last decade….

As carbon dioxide today dissolves into seawater a number of chemical reactions take place. Some of the CO2 remains in an dissolved form (less than 1%), an amount (less than 1%) reacts to form carbonic acid, the concentration of hydrogen (hydronium) ions in seawater increases (lowering pH), and the abundance of carbonate ions decreases as they react with some of the extra hydronium ions to form bicarbonate. This last reaction also lowers the carbonate saturation state (Royal Society Report [2005]). These changes in ocean chemistry represents a challenge to marine life as maintenance of internal biological processes, such as acid/base balance, at juvenile life stages can be highly dependent on the state of the surrounding seawater and some of these processes are critical to growth and survival. 

While internal acid/base regulation is highly important, of equal concern for calcifying marine life (creatures that form calcium carbonate-based shells or skeletons) is the decline in the abundance of carbonate ions as these are one of the ‘building blocks’ of the calcification process. A reduction in carbonate ions increases the amount of energy the calcifier has to expend in biological control of calcium carbonate formation and, in worst case scenarios, when carbonate ion abundance drops too low (undersaturation), the carbonate shell can begin to dissolve. In other words, seawater can become physically corrosive to calcium carbonate-forming marine life when a point of carbonate undersaturation is reached. Because the dissolution of carbon dioxide into seawater is simulated by bubbling CO2 into aquariums in most laboratory experiments, these experiments make it impossible to disentangle the underlying mechanisms through which ocean acidification is affecting marine life….




U of I soil scientist Ken Olson measuring O’Bryan Ridge gullies.Credit: Image courtesy of University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Rescuing farmland after a flood

January 14, 2015 ScienceDaily

When levees fail, either naturally or as an intentional breach, as was the case on the Mississippi River in 2011, an orchestrated effort is made to remove or repair flood-damaged homes and other structures. A University of Illinois soil scientist believes that an equivalent effort should be coordinated to assess soil damages, including how flooding has affected soil productivity and land used for agriculture. “The United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River Commission, and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service should develop an agreement to immediately update the soil survey maps, conduct a land scouring and deposition survey (commonly done now by USDA, NRCS), and create a soil conservation plan to ensure a rapid federal response after every levee breach and subsequent flooding event,” said Ken Olson.
“This should be part of the federal government emergency response to a natural disaster. Disaster and emergency relief funds are now being used for restoration and repair work, including opening drainage and road ditches by removing sediment, levee repairs, crater lake filling, restoration of land-scoured areas adjacent to the levee breaches, and sand deposit removal from fields next to the crater lakes…Olson said that if the soil survey is immediately updated after every levee breach and subsequent flooding event the damage assessment will help agency technical staff, local leadership, and farmers. They would then have the information they need to make decisions and develop strategies to return the gully field lands to agricultural production or alternative land uses and to address future flood events. “With the increase in extreme weather events, there is an increased likelihood of future use of the New Madrid Floodway to manage Mississippi River flooding,” Olson said. “The soil damages and gully fields on O’Bryan Ridge will happen again and require more costly restoration.” Olson cautioned that the current repair and restoration efforts are restoring some of the lost soil productivity and production capacity but restoration efforts won’t prevent a repeat of the 2011 soil damages….


K. Olson, J. Matthews, L. W. Morton, J. Sloan. Impact of levee breaches, flooding, and land scouring on soil productivity. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 2015; 70 (1): 5A DOI: 10.2489/jswc.70.1.5A


Galápagos waters preview future for corals.
Science News

The Galápagos Islands, known for inspiring evolutionary looks backward, may also offer a glimpse of what’s ahead for coral reefs — and the view is bleak….



Climate Stories Project

January 14th, 2015 | by Jason Davis World Wildlife Fund

Climate Stories Project (CSP) is a forum for sharing stories about personal and community responses to climate change. CSP provides an important opportunity to openly and honestly discuss climate change on a personal and community level: what current changes are we seeing in the environment around us? What are our emotions in response to climate change? What are our fears and hopes for the future? What solutions are we practicing? By sharing stories about our responses to this global issue, we gain courage and strength in the difficult but vital work of changing societal attitudes about climate change and building an equitable and just society. CSP gathers and shares video and written stories from people around the world who are detailing first-hand accounts of climate change impacts and the strategies by which communities are adapting. The stories are shared here and on the website, where visitors can listen to climate stories, interact with a global map, and add their own written, audio, or video story. An important feature of CSP is the ability of participants and visitors to make connections between their local observations and responses to climate change and those of diverse people from around the world.

Featured Story

This week’s featured story is centered on Charlie Dennis from Cape Breton, Canada. Please listen below as Charlie describes the various changes he has noticed in his community as a result of climate change.

We look forward to sharing more climate stories on ClimatePrep in the weeks to come, and hearing from you about your own stories of personal and community responses to climate change. To share your story and support Climate Stories Project, please visit us online at or contact the director Jason Davis at






Exceptional Drought Expands In Sacramento Valley, Sierra Nevada

 Ed Joyce  Capitol Radio Thursday, January 15, 2015 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink

The drought update reflects the lack of rain and snow in January. The December 2014 storms have had a positive effect in some areas of California, but a dry January have expanded the drought in other regions. The report released Thursday shows that the December storms have benefitted west-central California, reducing the level of severe drought (D2 on the graphic) in Marin, Sonoma, San Francisco, and northernmost San Mateo Counties. But for the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra Nevada, the worst level of drought (“exceptional”) expanded.  “Following a month of subnormal precipitation, exceptional drought (D4 on graphic) has been brought back into part of the Sacramento Valley from Sacramento, Yolo, and western El Dorado Counties northward through Butte County,” the report stated. “Reservoirs near and north of this region are still above their levels at the start of the current wet season, but water-year-to-date totals have dropped back to near average and 24-month precipitation totals are among the lowest 2 to 10 percent of historical occurrences.” The exceptional drought also expanded “along and east of the central and southern Sierra Nevada, eastward past the ridge line to include the eastern slopes of the range from Inyo County, California northward through Douglas County, Nevada.” The report said the Sierra Nevada snowpack is “well short of the historic mid-January average in the central and southern parts of the range due to subnormal winter precipitation combined with abnormal warmth.Since October 1, 2014, precipitation totals are 3 inches to locally over a foot below normal from the slopes of eastern Fresno and adjacent Inyo Counties northward through eastern Nevada County,” the drought summary stated….



Drought fears return with signs of 4th straight dry year

By Kurtis Alexander SF Chronicle Updated 7:36 am, Friday, January 16, 2015 =

The December rain was but a cruel tease for California. The storms that brought some of the biggest downpours of the decade have given way to a dry January and renewed fears that California will languish in yet another parched year.

“Californians should brace themselves for a fourth year of drought,” said Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources. “We need a lot more rain and snow to pull us out of this drought, and unfortunately very little is on the horizon.”
State drinking water supplies remain far below normal. Farms are hard up for water. So are fish, mountain lions and bears. And Mother Nature doesn’t seem to want to cooperate as forecasters raised the possibility this week that parts of the state, including San Francisco, could see a January without rain for the first time in recorded history. On Thursday, state and federal water officials gathered in the capital to sound the alarm, noting that they’ve taken steps to combat three dry years — through emergency conservation mandates and money for new water projects, for example — but that more action will be needed.

“We must ask every Californian to help use water sparingly,” said Cowin, who was joined in Sacramento by executives with the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies. Grower Teresa Kurtak, like many in the agriculture community, is already dealing with a lot less water. Last year, she and her partners at Fifth Crow Farm in rural San Mateo County ran their pump all hours of the night to siphon what little they could from low-flowing Butano Creek, their sole source of water. She’s resigned herself to another year of doing the same. “The creek is higher now, but it’s not normal for this time of year. It’s actually low for January,” said Kurtak, who is preparing her 80 acres largely for salad greens and strawberries. “We may just have to plant things and throw them away if there’s not enough water.”

Very little rain in forecast

Federal forecasters said this week that they don’t expect significant rainfall in California in the short term. The Bay Area is forecast to see only light rain at best over the next two weeks. The first likelihood is Friday night or Saturday morning.The longer-term forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released Thursday, remains dubious. The odds favor slightly above-average precipitation through April in Southern California, but call for equal chances of wet and dry weather in the north. A month ago, water officials had hoped the state would be better off. The December rain put the state in an improved position over the previous season and prompted many communities, at least briefly, to feel a bit more secure about their water supplies. The city of Santa Cruz last month lifted its mandatory water restrictions, arguably the tightest in the state. The East Bay Municipal Utility District recently tabled a proposal to buy additional water — and pass the expense on to customers in the form of higher rates.

Allocating more water

On Thursday, the State Water Project, which provides water for about two-thirds of California residents, followed suit. It bumped up its projected water deliveries to cities and farms this year from 10 to 15 percent of what was requested. The allocation, however, is still a lot less than what municipal water departments and irrigation districts normally receive from the state. The Central Valley Project, run by the federal government, is similarly expected to rein in its water deliveries, though exactly how much water it will offer won’t be estimated until next month. Outdoor watering restrictions remain in effect for California households, including bans on hosing down driveways and overwatering lawns. The mandates, which come with fines of up to $500 for violators, will probably be extended after their April expiration, state officials said. Gov. Jerry Brown is still asking Californians to voluntarily cut overall water use by 20 percent. Many communities have mandatory reductions in place. State leaders also have begun allocating money from last year’s voter-approved Proposition 1, the $7 billion measure that will go to boosting recycled water use, cleaning up contaminated watersheds and increasing water storage.
California’s Fish and Wildlife officials said Thursday that the state will continue to assist animals in the wild that have suffered because of the drought. The agency has already rescued fish from 25 dried-up watersheds, Director Chuck Bonham said, as well as dealt with thirsty mountain lions and bears that have expanded their range, often into cities and towns, in search of water.

“If you are going to ask me how California’s fish and wildlife are doing during the drought, my answer is not so well,” Bonham said.
While California rainfall totals remain mostly above average for the season because of December, the state and federal reservoirs that hold much of California’s potable water remain very low, as does the amount of snow in the Sierra that fills those reservoirs.
On Thursday, statewide snowpack measured just 36 percent of average for the date while the state’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, hovered below two-thirds of their normal capacity.
…Even if rain doesn’t come soon, the rainy season is still less than halfway over and relief could be around the corner, said forecaster Steve Anderson with the National Weather Service.
No need to panic yet,” he said. “We may have to write off January and wait for February, March and April, when we typically do get rain.”





Snow Geese at Cosumnes Preserve; January, 2015; Point Blue staff photo

Birds weathering lack of storms

Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 12:15 am By Andrew Creasey/

It’s been a roller coaster ride the past couple months for migratory birds in the Sacramento Valley. December’s heavy rains helped ease some of the concerns about the health of migratory birds heading into the season, but some of those worries are starting to resurface as a dry January is erasing the habitat gains made last month.
Each year, millions of ducks, geese and swans fly into the Sacramento Valley to use habitat and food from flooded rice fields and wildlife refuges. But this year, a lack of water resulted in significant decreases to habitat space, prompting fears that overcrowding in areas where water was available would lead to disease outbreaks and food shortages.
There are no population numbers yet, but Mike Wolder, supervisory biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, spent last week in a plane and on the ground conducting population surveys. “There’s no question there’s plenty of birds,” Wolder said. “The rains helped a lot. They were able to get more water on the rice fields, and it allowed us to flood wetlands in the Sutter and Yolo bypasses, which were sitting there dry.” So far, disease outbreaks have been minimal. There have been no instances of botulism, but Wolder said there are some cases of avian cholera mortality. The outbreaks are concentrated mostly in the Sutter and Yolo bypass areas, but it’s nothing Wolder considered a major concern. More troubling is the dry start to January. “The habitat base is re-shrinking,” Wolder said. “One of the biggest questions we had at the beginning is if there is going to be a point where the food runs short, and, if so, when will that happen.” Wolder said that remains a possibility. The food production per acre was below average, due to dry tracts of wetlands and a reduction in the amount of rice planted this year. “Generally, I think we will make it OK, but the year isn’t over yet,” Wolder said. The December rains caused rice fields that were not intentionally flooded to fill with water, but now those levels are receding, said
Paul Butter, manager of environmental affairs for the California Rice Commission. The commission used to have a waterbird habitat enhancement program that required participating growers to put their boards, which hold in water to flood the fields during the growing season, back in after harvest. But the program is being phased out. “Ironically, this would have been the most ideal year for a strong board-in program,” Buttner said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the contracts for that program have expired.” Mark Biddlecomb, executive director of the western region of Ducks Unlimited, also said the amount of rainfall in the next few months will be crucial to the health of the waterfowl.

“Mother Nature provided us some relief in December that made it better than would have otherwise,” Biddlecomb said. “But without more rains, the populations will get more concentrated, and early concerns could come back into play.”









How grazing could restore California’s grasslands

Jason G. Goldman | 09 January 2015 CONSERVATION

Herbivores, as you well know, eat plants. Some herbivores eat so many plants and so rapidly that they might as well be thought of as biological lawnmowers. But there’s a problem when biological lawnmowers meet invasive grasses. Together, the two can overwhelm native grasses, making them nearly impossible to restore. Indeed, the conversion of California grasslands from ones dominated by native, perennial bunchgrasses to ones dominated by exotic annual species is considered an “ecologically significant biological invasion.” The invaders suppress the natives both as seedlings and as adults, but that’s not all. They alter the ecosystem’s response to disturbances, cause changes in soil carbon and other nutrients, cause changes in the community of soil microbes, and alter the profile of water in the soil. When combined with endless grazing by cows and other livestock, it’s no wonder that the native grasses can’t compete.

But Carlene Henneman, Nathaniel E. Seavy, and Thomas Gardali, researchers with Point Blue Conservation Science, have a plan. The idea is to sync the timing and intensity of grazing to the exotic annuals cycle, allowing the native perennials as much time to grow and seed as possible in between periods of grazing. While that all makes sense theoretically, the usefulness of the approach hasn’t actually been subject to much testing. So that’s what the researchers did, at a place called TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California, south of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The ranch is home to some 800 acres of grassland (dominated by exotic annuals), and 100-150 head of cattle. From 2008 to 2011, the cattle were left to graze the land as they wished. But then in 2011, the researchers instituted their experimental grazing schedule.
According to the experimental paradigm, the density of cattle was increased by subdividing the grazing area into sub-units. The cattle were allowed to graze in one area for a specified period of time (between one day and one week), and were then shifted to the next area. Each paddock therefore received between 70 and 120 days of rest in between grazing periods. This went on for two years. In July of 2011, 2012, and 2013, the researchers surveyed for native grasses.

The proportion of “vegetation survey units” that included native grasses at all increased from 8% in 2011 to 80% in 2013. The surface area covered by native grasses remained small throughout the study (less than 5%), but increased significantly over time. In 2011, the researchers spotted only single, dispersed, individual grasses from among the native species. By 2013, they found a number of small but dense patches, each containing multiple individuals.

The gains made by the native grasses were meager, but promising. The results convincingly suggest that switching from season-long open-ended continuous grazing to a more rigorous planned schedule will facilitate the restoration of California’s grassland. The researchers caution that the generalizability of this sort of plan is somewhat restricted. Grazing effects also depend on other variables, such as weather patterns, soil quality, and so on. “Therefore,” the researchers argue, “grazing management must take an adaptive approach,” with the particulars of the scheduled grazing paradigm altered to fit the unique demands of any given ranch.


Source: Henneman C. & Seavy, N., & Gardali, T. (2014). Restoring Native Perennial Grasses by Changing Grazing Practices in Central Coastal California, Ecological Restoration, 32 (4) 352-354. DOI:



Joe Rosato Jr. A cow ambles across the 1,800 grasslands of TomKat Ranch in San Mateo County near Pescadero.

Pescadero Ranch Finds Success With Experimental “Planned Grazing Schedule

For the last three years, ecologists at the TomKat Ranch in San Mateo County have experimented with a feeding system that attempts to mimic grazing patterns of herds that once fed along the Great Plains.

By Joe Rosato Jr. NBC Bay Area Tuesday, Jan 13, 2015 • Updated at 11:20 AM PST

The two-dozen or so bovines were too busy munching grass, rubbing on trees, and wallowing in dirt to reflect on the fact they might be the future of cattle ranching. Possibly the only part of the experience that might have registered was that each day found them shuffling to a new pasture on San Mateo County’s verdant TomKat Ranch. “It’s an art as much of a science,” said Wendy Millet, manager of Pescadero ranch.

For the last three years, ecologists at the ranch have experimented with a feeding system known as a “planned grazing schedule,” which attempts to mimic grazing patterns of herds that once fed along the Great Plains, by constantly moving the cattle through TomKat ranch’s 1,800 acres. “They’re really only on a pasture for say a day,” said Carlie Henneman, an ecologist with Point Blue Conservation, “and then they’re moved off.” By constantly moving the grazing cattle, the grasslands are allowed to rejuvenate and grow back. It’s a contrast to most ranching operations which allow cattle access to a swath of pastures without targeting specific lands. “We try to move them regularly,” Henneman said, “so that we’re giving each plant time to rest so it can grow bigger and stronger.” The plant siesta seems to be paying off: As part of a three-year study, ecologists have recorded a resurgence of some of the ranch’s perennial grasses.

“What we found is that the percent of perennial pastures where we found perennial grasses increased by 72 percent over those three years,” Henneman said. “We really think that was due to grazing practices.”

Henneman said perennial grasses, which grow year-round, are able to feed the livestock even when annual grasses die. They’re also more resistant to drought. During last year’s dry spell, Henneman said, perennial grasses were the only green plants visible on the entire ranch. And as an environmental bonus, she said, perennial grasses are able to draw more carbon from the atmosphere than other grasses. “So it’s showing how you can have a sustainable ranching operation while also promoting nature,” Henneman said. The grass study fits in nicely with the mission of TomKat Ranch, a working cattle ranch that also serves as a sort-of laboratory for sustainable farming techniques. The ranch, which holds classes, seminars and workshops for other farmers, hopes the strategy of “planned grazing” will catch-on. “It’s gonna hopefully lead to a big change in how people are grazing,” Millet said.


Download or view a one-page summary of the scientific publication here.

Henneman, C., N.E. Seavy, & T. Gardali. 2014. Restoring Native Perennial Grasses by Changing Grazing Practices in Central Coastal California. Ecological Restoration, 32:352-354.


Eco-friendly solution to rising seas in St. Petersburg? Fake islands

Charlie Frago Monday, January 12, 2015 10:54pm ST Petersburg

Man-made, eco-friendly barrier islands made of organic materials like planted rock piles, sea grass or mangroves — a living breakwater — would protect the city against storm surges associated with higher sea levels. They would also smooth out an often choppy basin, making for an easier ride for kayakers and small watercraft enthusiasts. That was the pitch by AECOM, the global consultant hired to come up with a long-term waterfront plan, delivered at a meeting Friday to the City Council and the Community Planning and Preservation Commission. ….New York City has embarked on a similar project in Staten Island, but not a lot of other such breakwaters have been built, potentially putting St. Petersburg on the cutting edge of environmentally creative solutions to rising seas, the consultants said. Details, including how much it will cost, aren’t available yet. On Friday, consultants showed a map of the waterfront with green squiggly blobs resembling caterpillars representing breakwaters and looking like tiny barrier islands. …Still, a general picture emerged Friday of a string of islands and other barriers along unprotected stretches of the waterfront made up of underwater breakwaters of sea grass, rock piles and other measures to dissipate wave energy far from shore. “They won’t all be 8-foot islands,” Sechler said. “Some will be underwater, others barely at water level.” The idea is to reduce the potential damage of storm surges, but consultants were careful not to present the plan as a fail-safe against global warming and extreme weather. “We wouldn’t want people to get the idea that we’re using sea grass to stop a hurricane. That would be laughable,” Sechler said….




Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Determines Expanded Polystyrene Foam Not Recyclable
Mayor’s Office Press Release [Congratulations to my sister, Debby Lee, who is a grassroots leader in this successful campaign!]
NEW YORK January 8, 2015 – The de Blasio Administration today announced that
as of July 1, 2015, food service establishments, stores and manufacturers may not possess, sell, or offer for use single service Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam articles or polystyrene loose fill packaging, such as “packing peanuts” in New York CityAfter consultation with corporations, including Dart Container Corporation, non-profits, vendors and other stakeholders, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), has determined that Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Foam cannot be recycled, which led to the ban. DSNY also determined that there currently is no market for post-consumer EPS collected in a curbside metal, glass, and plastic recycling program. As a result of the ban, manufacturers and stores may not sell or offer single-use foam items such as cups, plates, trays, or clamshell containers in the City. The sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging, such as “packing peanuts” is also banned….

…”This landmark decision to ban toxic and polluting styrene foam products is a huge grassroots victory for our children and our communities,” said Debby Lee Cohen, Director/Founder of Cafeteria Culture, founded as Styrofoam Out of Schools. “We applaud Mayor de Blasio for his longtime dedication to eliminating styrene foam, bringing us one step closer to becoming a zero-waste, climate-smart city!”



Pope on climate change: Man has ‘slapped nature in the face’

By NICOLE WINFIELD January 15, 2014 Associated BOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Thursday he is convinced that global warming is “mostly” man-made and that he hopes his upcoming encyclical on the environment will encourage negotiators at a climate change meeting in Paris to make “courageous” decisions to protect God’s creation. Francis has spoken out frequently about the “culture of waste” that has imperiled the environment and he elaborated en route to the Philippines. While there, Francis will meet with survivors of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, which the government has said was an example of the extreme weather conditions that global warming has wrought. “I don’t know if it (human activity) is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face,” he said. “We have in a sense taken over nature.”….


West Coast electric highway now serves thousands of electric car drivers.

January 12, 2015 Christian Science Monitor

The so-called electric highway in Washington and Oregon state now has one of the largest and most useful concentrations of DC fast-charging stations. These DC quick-charging stations allow electric car battery packs to recharge up to 80 percent of capacity in half an hour or less.



Stanford professors urge withdrawal from fossil fuel investments

Faculty members call on university to recognise urgency of climate change and divest from all oil, coal and gas companies

• Read the Stanford professors’ letter

January 12, 2015 The Guardian UK

Three hundred professors at Stanford, including Nobel laureates and this year’s Fields medal winner, are calling on the university to rid itself of all fossil fuel investments, in a sign that the campus divestment movement is gathering force. In a letter to Stanford’s president, John Hennessy, and the board of trustees, made available exclusively to the Guardian, the faculty members call on the university to recognise the urgency of climate change and divest from all oil, coal and gas companies. Stanford, which controls a $21.4bn (£14.2bn) endowment, eliminated direct investments in coalmining companies last May, making it the most prominent university to cut its ties to the industries that cause climate change. Months later, however, the university invested in three oil and gas companies. Campus divestment campaigns have spread to about 300 universities and colleges over the last few years, but are largely dominated by students. The Stanford letter was initiated by faculty, and signed by the first female winner of the prestigious Fields prize in mathematics, Maryam Mizarkhani, as well as the Nobel laureates Douglas Osheroff and Roger Kornberg, Paul Ehrlich, a population analyst, Terry Root, a biologist and UN climate report author, and others – 300 faculty members in total. The letter calls on Stanford to pull out of all fossil fuel investments, not just coal. “The urgency and magnitude of climate change call not for partial solutions, however admirable; they demand the more profound and thorough commitment embodied in divestment from all fossil-fuel companies,” the letter says. “The alternative – for Stanford to remain invested in oil and gas companies – presents us with a paradox: if a university seeks to educate extraordinary youth so they may achieve the brightest possible future, what does it mean for that university simultaneously to invest in the destruction of that future? Given that the university has signalled its awareness of the dangers posed by fossil fuels, what are the implications of Stanford’s making only a partial confrontation with this danger?”…




Cargo Bikes Breaking Thru Everywhere, Even Department Stores In The UK

January 12th, 2015 by Cynthia Shahan
The Danish and the Dutch are at the forefront of serious bicyclists — mom, pop, grandma, grandpa, grandchildren, and the whole family bikes. The European Cycle Logistics Federation (ECLF) even reports that a quarter of families with two children in Copenhagen own cargo bikes. The use and sales of cargo bikes are on an incline in these countries. Well, they are in the US as well — we just don’t have nearly the market penetration. StillUPS, in some US states, has started using cargo bikes to save money, to save the environment, and to operate with more flexibility during the holiday season. Whole Foods is using cargo bikes for transport in Brooklyn, NYC. And many families are starting to use cargo bikes. Cargo bikes are revitalizing cities in Germany as well — as the country’s companies get serious to offset city congestion and pollution. The revitalization and staying power of the cargo bike is growing, and the latest sign of that is that a popular department store in the UK now sells them…..










Obama planning new rules on oil and gas industry’s methane emissions

January 14, 2015 NY Times

In President Obama’s latest move to tackle climate change, administration officials will announce plans this week to impose new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane…


Estimated social cost of climate change not accurate, scientists say

Posted: 13 Jan 2015 08:14 AM PST

The ‘social cost’ of carbon dioxide emissions may not be $37 per ton, as estimated by a recent US government study, but $220 per ton, experts report….



Fracking wells run day and night off Jack and Shafter avenues in Shafter, northwest of Bakersfield. José Luis Villegas

Study: California using fracking in up to half of new wells

By Jeremy B. White Sacramento Bee 01/14/2015 1:34 PM

Hydraulic fracturing unlocked oil at about half of the new wells launched in California over the last decade, and the practice will likely expand in a chunk of the San Joaquin Valley, according to a new study required by the 2013 law to regulate the practice. Few topics have galvanized environmentalists in California like the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an extraction process that involves blasting a mix of chemicals and water underground. Two years ago, California enacted broad regulations of the practice with a law that, while falling short of the outright moratorium sought by many environmentalists, requires a series of independent scientific studies. The first of three studies, authored by a quartet of scientists, was released Wednesday. It presented a broad overview of hydraulic fracturing in California, while steering clear of the public health and environmental implications that recently led New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to prohibit fracking in his state. That analysis will be part of a subsequent report. Of the 300 or so new wells being bored each month over the last decade, Wednesday’s study found, between 125 and 175 of them were stimulated using hydraulic fracturing. Well operators have used the practice in 96 of California’s 500 oil fields. But fracking has produced only about one-fifth of the oil streaming out of California because it tends to be less efficient than other extraction methods




Chickens roam free on Paul Hain’s organic farm. Hain belongs to the Farm Bureau, but he didn’t agree with its support for drilling. (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles Times)

Election win puts rural San Benito County on anti-fracking map

By Julie Cart LA Times Nov 29 2014

Little San Benito County ‘managed to give big oil a black eye,’ a landowner says of anti-fracking win If you were plotting the epicenter of a daring trend or gathering the vanguard for a revolutionary charge, San Benito County might not be the first place you’d start. One of the state’s smallest counties, it’s a retro snapshot of turn-of-the-century rural California: agrarian, stoic, striving. But after a stunning election victory, residents of this farming region find themselves on the sharp edge of a growing movement to ban hydraulic fracturing via local voter initiatives. Fracking opponents here were vastly outspent by oil companies that fought a measure to ban well stimulation techniques such as fracking, acidizing and steam injection, along with conventional drilling in some areas. With just $130,000, the homegrown campaign managed to draw 57% of San Benito County voters to the polls in a low-excitement midterm election. They held off oil companies that spent nearly $2 million opposing the initiative…. Third-generation cattle rancher Joe Morris is a longtime member of the Farm Bureau, the Cattlemen’s Assn. and the Chamber of Commerce. He split with all those groups in his support of Measure J. “They were pounding away with lie after lie after lie about the initiative itself. That seemed unconscionable,” Morris said. Paul Hain, an organic farmer and a Republican, said he has been in the Farm Bureau for years, but he didn’t agree with its support for drilling. “I told the board, ‘You guys are a bunch of stooges for big oil.’ I’m not real popular right now. They hitched their horse to the wrong wagon here.”



Farmer John Diener stands on one of the cisterns on 640 acres of his agricultural land which is part of an Integrated On-Farm Drainage Management system to collect water which contains high levels of salts, as seen near Five Points Calif., on Tuesday Jan. 6, 2015. An above ground sprinkler system helps to leech salts from the top soil enabling the growth of salt tolerant crops.

San Joaquin Valley farmers reach secret deal in water dispute

Carolyn Lochhead January 11, 2015 SF Chronicle

A staggering economic and environmental problem festering for three decades in the southern San Joaquin Valley would be addressed by a secret deal reached between the Obama administration and farmers – one that is sounding alarms for Bay Area lawmakers. The deal would retire 100,000 acres of farmland damaged by salt and selenium in the Westlands Water District, an arid, 600,000-acre patch of farms running along Interstate 5 from Mendota in Fresno County to the Kings County town of Kettleman City. About 600 farms there produce $1 billion in food each year. Congress agreed in 1960 to bring water to the area with the promise that the government would build a drain for the toxic brew that leaches from the mineral-rich soil. The drain was only partly built, due to opposition from the East Bay communities where the water was to be dumped. Instead, the drain stopped at a place called Kesterson, where federal officials turned the ponds into a national wildlife sanctuary. In 1983, drainage water contaminated by salt, boron and selenium caused an environmental catastrophe there, killing thousands of birds and fish and causing grisly deformities among chicks.

The drain was closed, but decades of litigation followed in which Westlands sued the government for failing to provide farmland drainage. The courts have agreed that the government has an obligation to fix the problem, and the Obama administration and Westlands have now agreed on a plan.

Details of the deal between Westlands and the federal Bureau of Reclamation have not been revealed to members of Congress, who would have to approve it. But according to a short “principles of agreement” document that has been made public, the deal would forgive $342 million in federal debt that Westlands owes for construction of the 1960s extension of the Central Valley Project to deliver water to the San Joaquin Valley farms.

In return, taxpayers would be relieved of an estimated $2.7 billion obligation to remove the contaminated water that results from the irrigation. Resolution of the drainage problem would be left to Westlands farmers.

Westlands would not have to retire any land beyond what it has already taken out of production because of salt buildup, even though federal agencies have recommended retiring more than 300,000 acres, or half the district, on the grounds that the only way to end the drainage problem is to stop irrigating the land. Critics think Westlands should be required to retire much more land if taxpayers bail out its debt.The more land is irrigated, the more pollution is produced, “at which point you need to treat the water in some way that’s very expensive,” said Michael Wara, a Stanford University law professor and former geochemist. “Or you cause Kesterson Wildlife Refuge 2.0.” …






The auto industry is showing off its sleek new designs at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Chevy Bolt electric car could be ‘the first mass-market EV success’

By Jerry Hirsch and Brian Thevenot LA Times January 13, 2015

  • Chevy Bolt to get 200 miles on a single charge, ‘breaks the barrier on range anxiety,’ GM executive says
  • Chevy Bolt to sell in low $30,000s, after government incentives, and travel up to 200 miles on battery charge
  • Chevy Bolt could transform the prospects for widespread adoption of electric cars

For years automakers have failed to make an electric car with the two qualities most drivers demand: a long driving range and a low sticker price.

Tesla Motors addressed half of the equation with its Model S, a sport sedan that travels 265 miles on a charge — but costs about $80,000. Other automakers tackled the other half, with electrics that are economical but go only about 80 miles between lengthy charging sessions. Now General Motors, in a dramatic model debut in Detroit, says it has unlocked the magic formula. Its Chevrolet Bolt concept car will travel 200 miles between charges and sell in the low $30,000 range, after government incentives, GM executives said. The spacious four-door hatchback will go on sale in 2017. If the automaker can deliver, the Bolt could transform the prospects for widespread adoption of electric cars. The Bolt could be “the first mass-market EV success,” said one industry veteran. “A 200-mile EV range at about $30,000 in a crossover body shape is a killer combination,” said John Krafcik, president of auto shopping company TrueCar Inc. and former chief executive of Hyundai Motor America. “You are looking at annual sales of 100,000 vehicles.” The Bolt’s range more than doubles that of Nissan’s Leaf, the bestselling battery electric car, along with similar offerings from most major automakers. The car could help quell widespread skepticism about the future of electric cars, especially during a time of plummeting gas prices. Tesla has promised a model with a Bolt-like price and range for years. But the automaker’s next offering will be the repeatedly delayed Model X sport utility vehicle, now expected to launch late this year, for about the same price as the Model S. The affordable Model 3 is still years away. Tesla said it welcomed the Bolt concept, which debuted Monday at the North American International Auto Show….


20 percent of California’s oil, natural gas comes from fracking.

January 15, 2015 SF Chron

About 20 percent of California’s oil and natural-gas production uses hydraulic fracturing – with almost all of it happening in one corner of San Joaquin Valley – according to the most authoritative survey yet released of fracking in the Golden State.





Key Concepts in Climate Change Adaptation
The World Wildlife Fund has developed a Climate-Smart Conservation learning resource, WWFAdapt, aimed at conservation practitioners. Five quick (2-9 minute) modules take the learner through key concepts and terminology needed for applying climate-smart conservation principles


Managing Drought– Presentation VIDEOS

From the Public Policy Institute of CA Conference, Jan. 12, 2015

California’s historic drought is revealing strengths and weaknesses in how we manage our precious water resources. At this half–day event—coinciding with the beginning of a new legislative session—participants will examine Australia’s millennium drought, consider climate change and future droughts in California, look back at lessons from 2014, and look forward to policy priorities for 2015. This event is made possible with funding from the California Water Foundation, an initiative of the Resources Legacy Fund.



The King Tides are Here
San Francisco Bay NERR is once again working with the California King Tides Project to encourage people to photograph extreme high tides flooding landscapes they love. The dramatic and often beautiful images start conversations about how our coast will be affected by sea level rise and what we can do now to prepare. Upcoming dates for predicted king tides are December 21-23, January 19-21, and February 17-19


Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Resources and Workshop Presentations

CA Climate Commons, CA Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (or TEK) refers to the evolving knowledge acquired by indigenous and local peoples over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment. This knowledge is specific to a location and includes the relationships between plants, animals, natural phenomena, and the landscape that are used for lifeways, such as hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture, and forestry. TEK is an accumulating body of knowledge, practice, and belief, that encompasses the world view of indigenous people which includes ecology, spirituality, human and animal relationships, and more. TEK has become increasingly recognized as being valuable for natural resource management, including adaptation to climate change. Below is a set of resources that were compiled for an LCC training workshop on traditional ecological knowledge held in Sacramento, CA in September 2014. You may also learn more about the workshop in this article.

Available Presentations:





Environmental Communication:  More Than a Message  January 28, 2015
Moss Landing Marine Laboratory
Even the strongest message won’t deliver itself! Learn how the pros plan their campaigns, measure their accomplishments, and do it even better next time. The More Than a Message training provides big concepts and practical tips you need to plan and carry out your effort.  Click here for more information.



The Western Section of The Wildlife Society 2015 Annual Meeting

January 26-30, 2015 — Vineyard Creek Hyatt, Santa Rosa, CA

Conservation through Collaboration

Featuring a Point Blue Conservation Science
keynote and panel on climate-smart conservation through collaboration on January 28, 2015—with Ellie Cohen, Melissa Pitkin, Dr. Jaime Jahncke, Geoff Geupel, Dr. Kristy Dybala, Catherine Hickey, and Wendell Gilgert.

Click here for the 2015 Annual Meeting website.


CA Rangeland Conservation Coalition 10th Annual Summit – Collaborative Conservation for Rangelands

February 3, 2015 Sacramento, CA         
A group of speakers will share their experiences, successes and challenges of collaborative conservation initiatives across the US. Although different in their geographic scope, goals and composition, these partnerships have been able to restore trust and work together to achieve their common goals for the land and for the ranching community. Click here for more information. 





Water 101 Workshop February 5-6, 2015 West Sacramento, CA
The Water Education Foundation is hosting a day-a-half course that offers the opportunity to learn California water basics, hot topics, and water district board member governance. This workshop is open to those interested in learning about the history of and the management structure of water in California, and about the key water issues facing the state – including the ongoing drought, the new groundwater law, and the 2014 water bond.

Click here to learn more.






CHARG- Coastal Hazards Adaptation Resiliency Group- SFBay- to Co-host the 2015 BAFPAA Annual Conference

Thursday February 19, 2015 8:00am-5:00pm (Reception to follow) Elihu M. Harris State Building, 1515 Clay St, Oakland

Please join us for an exciting and informative day-long conference co-hosted by CHARG and BAFPAA. The focus will be on:

  • Adapting to Climate Change
  • Visioning Bay Area Resiliency
  • Mapping and Data Tools
  • Permitting Agencies’ Alignment

Cost: Nominal fee for lunch

Online registration will be available soon at

Questions: Ellen Cross, CHARG Facilitator 510.316.9657


UC Berkeley presents

Science for Parks, Parks for Science, in partnership with National Geographic Society and National Park Service, and with media partnership from KQED

March 25-27, 2015 at UC Berkeley
Take advantage of the early bird discount and register by January 25!

This meeting convenes leaders to launch a Second Century of stewardship for parks, 100 years after the gathering by Stephen Mather and Horace Albright at UC Berkeley that called for creation of the National Park Service. The program 
features a keynote speech on the mission of parks by Edward O. Wilson; plus 16 plenary lectures by leading natural, physical, and social scientists; strategic conversations on:

  • Stewardship in a Changing World (de-extinction, re-wilding, forced migration and genetic engineering, restoration and more)
  • Mission of the NPS and its relevancy today
  • Engaging People in Parks
  • The Future of Science for Parks, Parks for Science

and 100 accepted speakers in concurrent sessions on Friday March 26, with posters presented Thursday March 24 and Friday March 26.  Click here to see the full schedule. 



Bringing Science and Managers Together:
California Landscape Conservation Workshop

APRIL 21-22, 2014  UC Davis Conference Center

The CA LCC is excited to announce the first annual California Landscape Conservation Workshop! This workshop will bring scientists and managers together to share climate-smart conservation results and lessons learned across the California landscape. Activities will engage participants in building collaborative partnerships for resilient California landscapes. Stay tuned for an upcoming call for sessions and more information.






2015 California Climate & Agriculture Summit  March 24 and 25, 2015
UC Davis Conference CenterCall for Workshop and Poster Presentations   


INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE  Abstract submission deadline is 1 November 2014 


ABSTRACT SUBMISSION (through November 1, 2014) and REGISTRATION (through January 25, 2015) NOW OPEN for Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century – A 2.5-day Summit at U.C. Berkeley March 25-27, 2015 convening natural and social scientists, managers and practitioners — 100 years after historic meetings at U.C. Berkeley helped launch the National Park Service — to rededicate a second century of science and stewardship for national parks.  This summit will feature visionary plenary lectures, strategic panel discussions on current controversies, and technical sessions of contributed paper and posters.   Keynote Speaker: E. O. Wilson.  Distinguished Plenary Speakers and Panelists include David Ackerly, Jill Baron, Steven Beissinger, Joel Berger, Edward Bernbaum, Ruth DeFries, Thomas Dietz, Josh Donlan, Holly Doremus, Ernesto Enkerlin, John Francis, David Graber, Denis Galvin, Jane Lubchenco, Gary Machlis, George Miller, Hugh Possingham, Jedediah Purdy, Nina Roberts, Mark Schwartz, Daniel Simberloff, Monica Turner, & Jennifer Wolch.


National Adaptation Forum– Call for Proposals
May 12 – 14, 2015 in St. Louis, MO

The National Adaptation Forum is a biennial gathering of the adaptation community to foster information exchange, innovation, and mutual support for a better tomorrow. The Forum will take place from May 12 – 14, 2015 in St. Louis, MO. 
Proposals are being accepted for Symposia, Training Sessions, Working Groups, Poster Presentations, and a Tools Cafe. 

Click here for more information.


Ninth 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)


Climate Adaptation and Resilience Specialist

National Wildlife Federation Washington, DC

Online Application Available at:

The National Wildlife Federation is looking for a Climate Adaption and Resilience Specialist to work to achieve NWF’s conservation goals through promoting the incorporation of climate considerations into conservation and natural resource management, and in community resilience efforts. This position will be involved in developing and applying new and emerging approaches to climate change adaptation for ecosystem and biodiversity conservation, and in promoting the use of natural infrastructure approaches to reduce community risks from climate-related hazards. The Climate Adaptation and Resilience Specialist will provide organizational leadership and serve as manager on selected projects and programs, including a post-Hurricane Sandy coastal resilience project being carried out in collaboration with the State of New Jersey. The position will be responsible for providing needed technical, scientific, and policy analysis and advice through written products as well as oral presentations. The position will also be responsible for identifying and pursuing foundation and government funding opportunities.


San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust | Executive Director

An excellent opportunity for the right person and we would greatly value your distribution of the announcement to your networks and contacts as you feel appropriate.  The position is also posted on our website. In case you missed it, last November, we announced that [Dave Koehloer] plans to step down in June of 2015.







Dinosaurs wiped out rapidly in Europe 66 million years ago

Posted: 13 Jan 2015 09:12 AM PST

The well-known theory that an asteroid suddenly killed the dinosaurs is based almost entirely on fossils from North America. A new study shows that dinosaurs — and other continental vertebrates — remained diverse in Europe up until the asteroid impact, 66 million years ago. This is strong evidence that dinosaurs and many of their contemporaries went extinct rapidly and simultaneously all across the globe.


The [Pope] Francis climate change freak-out

Religion News Service


January 13, 2015


Word that Pope Francis will be issuing an encyclical on climate change in the coming months has occasioned unprecedented agita from conservative Catholic writers.



Can Monsanto Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change?

—By Tim McDonnell Mon Jan. 12, 2015 1:13 PM EST Mother Jones


At the world’s most reviled agriculture company, a big change is taking root that could help farmers—both in the US and around the world—adapt to climate change. As we reported in November, executives at Monsanto are plotting a major move into data and information services within the next decade. The company is working with Bay Area data gurus to provide super-accurate weather updates and farming advice to growers via their smartphones. These new services can help farmers better predict climate trends that have been shaken up by global warming—in the last couple decades, according to Monsanto, corn production belts in the US have migrated about 200 miles north. And they can help farmers make more efficient use of water and potential pollutants like fuel and fertilizer. But some agriculture experts have raised concerns about whether Big Ag companies will responsibly manage farmers’ proprietary data like yield sizes and seed choices; at the same time, as my colleague Tom Philpott noted, Big Data could potentially give an outsized advantage to giant, monoculture farms, to the detriment of small farms and the environment.

Last week I talked with MSNBC’s Tony Dokoupil about whether Monsanto’s climate adaptation products are a bright spot on the company’s dark reputation….


Environment, not genes, dictates human immune variation, study finds

Posted: 15 Jan 2015 10:47 AM PST

A study of twins shows that our environment, more than our heredity, plays the starring role in determining the state of our immune system, the body’s primary defense against disease. This is especially true as we age, the study indicates.


















Ellie Cohen, President and CEO

Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)

3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954

707-781-2555 x318  | Follow Point Blue on Facebook!


Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.


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