Friday, April 16, 2021

Loose Feathers #797

Bald Eagle / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

Climate change and environmental politics

  • A new study finds that the overuse of DDT has had consequences over multiple generations, as the granddaughters of women exposed to DDT are more likely to have an array of medical conditions associated with the pesticide.
  • DDT has also been in the news in California after a survey discovered hundreds of thousands of barrels dumped off the coast of Long Beach.
  • Conservationists are trying to find ways to reduce the damage from border wall construction, potentially removing some barriers like the one blocking the San Pedro River. Tracking studies show animal movements being stopped by the wall in both the US and Mexico.
  • Theoretically all new cars sold in the US could be electric by 2035.
  • Abandoned, unplugged oil and gas wells emit greenhouse gases and threaten local groundwater, but it is difficult to get companies to take responsibility for fixing them.
  • The American Jobs Plan can be more sustainable by following these suggestions, which include keeping new development within the existing footprint of the built environment and adding things like wildlife corridors and bird-safe glass to new or repaired infrastructure.
  • Republican governors are already working to prevent any progress on climate change with delay tactics coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
  • Pledges of "net-zero" emissions from fossil fuel companies are another delay tactic.
  • Since greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere, it could take several decades to see improvements from cutting emissions.
  • The Southwest is likely to face a severe drought this year after a record-setting fire season last year.
  • Microplastics can remain airborne long enough to be blown around the globe, even into the remotest areas.
  • A new agreement seeks to reduce the massive carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Loose Feathers #796

Blue-winged Teal / Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

Climate change and environmental politics

  • The Mauna Loa Observatory recorded carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at more than 420 parts per million for the first time ever. The new record means that the Earth is halfway to doubling pre-industrial carbon levels, which would cause a global temperature rise between 2.3 and 4.5°C.
  • Politicians have largely avoided the subject of how to manage the retreat from the coastlines made necessary by sea level rise, and some places are still developing vulnerable coastal real estate. 
  • Because the national monument designation was stripped from most of Bears Ears early in the Trump administration, the site has had a boom in visitation without the resources to manage it.
  • Hurricane Zeta nearly wrecked Transocean Deepwater Asgard, a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which would have caused a spill larger than the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
  • Japan has set a more ambitious goal under the Paris treaty of a 40% cut in carbon emissions by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2050.
  • One third of Antarctica's ice shelves could collapse if there is 4°C of warming.
  • Beach Sweeps coordinated by Clean Ocean Action have been finding lots of discarded PPE in addition to the trash that they normally collect. Plastic makes up 72% of trash collected during cleanups.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Loose Feathers #795

Greater Sage-Grouse / Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • A new report named tropical forests like those in Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Colombia as the most likely to host the 80% of species that have not been described.
  • Native oaks are the best trees for supporting wildlife, from insects to birds to mammals, so people should plant more of them instead of ornamental trees.
  • Kelp forests are collapsing off the coast of California since they have been hit by a combination of marine heat waves and a boom in purple sea urchins that make it impossible for the forest to regenerate.
  • Loss of forests continued at a high level in 2020. The loss of 4.2 million hectares of primary tropical forests is especially concerning since it released 2.64 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Fireflies are in decline, and many species have been studied so little that their status is unknown. Major causes include light pollution, loss of habitat, and poor water quality.
  • Grizzly Bears often appear on hiking trails because they prefer a gradient and pace similar to those of humans.
  • The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned BLM to protect the last remaining habitat for Tiehm’s Buckwheat from a proposed lithium mine.
  • An interview with the person who runs the @PicPedant account describes how to spot fake or misleading wildlife images (some of which may involve animal abuse).
  • Here are some tips on how to identify and kill invasive Spotted Lanternflies.

Climate change and environmental politics

  • Pledges of net-zero emissions may not be that effective when calculating and offsetting emissions are voluntary and if there is not enough capacity to meet the demand for offsets. 
  • Offset programs like the Trillion Trees initiative are also problematic when rainforests are turning into savannas in response to climate change.
  • This year Kyoto had its earliest peak cherry bloom on record on March 26. Even though the previous record was set in 1409, the peak bloom date had been relatively stable until the past hundred years when they have steadily gotten earlier.
  • The oil industry has a long history of supporting white supremacy, from segregating workplaces to racist violence. The discriminatory models from the US were then replicated in other countries.
  • The Biden administration is planning a major expansion of offshore wind energy along the Atlantic Coast.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Loose Feathers #794

Song Sparrow / by me

Birds and birding news

  • A Ring-billed Gull in Cleveland turned out to be the oldest Ring-billed Gull ever recorded after a partial band number was determined from photographs. It was 28 years old and had been banded at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto.
  • A new species of mihirung, Dromornis stirtoni, was found in Australia. The new species is the largest member of the extinct family Dromornithidae, which is related to modern waterfowl or gamebirds.
  • Atlantic Puffins are in decline because of a lack of prey, which causes chicks to starve.
  • Ornithologists split two new species, the Xingu Screech-Owl and Alagoas Screech-Owl, out of the Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl complex in Brazil. Both have small ranges and are threatened by fires and forest fragmentation.
  • The Bald Eagle population in the Lower 48 states has quadrupled since 2009, with 316,700 individuals and 71,400 nesting pairs as of 2019.
  • However, some Bald Eagles have been dying of a neurodegenerative disease caused by cyanobacteria growing on invasive Hydrilla. Herbicides used to control Hydrilla may contribute to the problem if they contain bromide.
  • Three species were added to the ABA Checklist recently: Hooded Crane, Northern Giant-Petrel, and Mitred Parakeet.
  • Irregular water releases from upstream dams along the Mekong River threaten birds that nest along the river, especially ground-nesting birds.
  • The Iberá Seedeater does not interbreed with closely related species even though they share most of their neighbors' genomes and live in the same area.

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • An update to the IUCN Red List classifies the African Forest Elephant as critically endangered and the African Savanna Elephant as endangered. Both had previously been considered vulnerable in the previous update. The ivory trade is a major threat to both species.
  • Patagonia is one of the most important breeding grounds for Blue Whales, but the whales there have to dodge numerous boats that tend the area's salmon industry.
  • A survey in Hawaii found 13 new moth species as well as one that had been considered extinct.
  • A pair of dolphins was filmed swimming in the East River in New York City.
  • Every invasive tree in North America was introduced as an ornamental and many harm insects and the wildlife that depend on them.
  • The history of whaling restrictions shows how empathy can be a motivating force for conservation even when it is seen as extreme or at odds with scientific standards.

Climate change and environmental politics

Friday, March 19, 2021

Loose Feathers #793

Wood Duck / Photo by T. Kersten/USFWS

Birds and birding news

Science and nature blogging

Biodiversity and conservation

  • According to a new study using whaling records, Sperm Whales learned how to evade whalers and communicated the information with each other.
  • At this time of year, many amphibians need to cross roads to find vernal pools for breeding, so volunteers try to keep them from getting crushed by cars.
  • Researchers identified parts of central Arizona and New Mexico that could support up to 150 Jaguars. The area is not currently designated as critical habitat because the species has only been recorded south of I-10.
  • A Sri Lankan tree species was considered extinct until one was discovered in 2019. Now that individual tree is threatened by a road project. Three of the five "extinct" plants on Sri Lanka's 2012 red list have since been rediscovered, but another 177 plant species are still threatened or possibly extinct.
  • Saint Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland. Instead they were eliminated in the last Ice Age and never made it back.
  • Sea-level rise is killing forests along the Atlantic coast.

Climate change and environmental politics

  • The Biden administration is considering a carbon tariff on goods coming from countries that are not doing enough to reduce carbon emissions.
  • To be effective, the EPA needs to be restaffed and end arrangements that allow states and industry to block enforcement.
  • Property owners in the Hamptons are fighting an offshore wind farm because the cable connecting it to a substation would pass through their town. Long Island is also the focus of a fight over flood insurance, which needs to be adjusted to account for sea-level rise.
  • Bottom trawling releases a gigaton of carbon from the seabed each year, which is roughly equivalent to global aviation. The amount could be reduced by protecting more of the ocean.
  • North America was the only continent whose air quality declined in 2020 due to western wildfires.
  • One of the challenges in switching to carbon-free energy is obtaining necessary elements like lithium without causing additional environmental damage. One proposed lithium mine in Nevada would pollute local groundwater and disturb vulnerable species, while another would destroy 70% of a rare plant's range.
  • Biofuels should not be part of a carbon-free transportation system because they are inefficient and stall the replacement of internal combustion with electric vehicles.
  • Researchers found microplastics in 53 waterways that flow into the Delaware Estuary. Among the main contributors are plastic fibers from synthetic clothing.
  • Deb Haaland was finally confirmed and sworn in as Interior secretary. She is the first Native American cabinet secretary and supports the 30x30 plan for biodiversity conservation.
  • The Keystone XL pipeline might be dead, but activists are still trying to stop another cross-border pipeline known as Line 3.