Nov 01 2010

Hot Topics This Week

The black-footed ferret hunts prairie dogs

A judge’s ruling stops a town from poisoning a colony of prairie dogs because they’re a food source for the black-footed ferret.

In 2006, a rancher named Larry Haverfield refused to poison the prairie dogs on the 10,000 acre ranch he owns in Logan County, Kansas.  He also refused to allow county workers onto his land to let them poison the prairie dogs, despite his neighbors’ anger.  His reasons were that even though he didn’t like the prairie dogs personally, he knew they were food for animals like the black-footed ferret, the most endangered animals in North America, a colony of which were released on Mr. Haverfield’s property.  In 2008, Logan County sued Mr. Haverfield, invoking a law from 1901 that allowed them to enter private property to poison the prairie dogs without the owner’s permission.  Now, a district judge has ruled against Logan County and found that the Endangered Species Act takes precedence over the 1901 state law the County was referring to.  Judge Lively stated that the exterminating all the prairie dogs on the property would also exterminate all the black-footed ferrets on the property, thus violating the ESA.  The ferrets, which were thought to be extinct in the 1970s, both live in the prairie dogs’ burrows and eat the prairie dogs themselves.  Therefore, areas with high prairie dog populations are ideal places to reintroduce the ferrets into the wild.  Prairie dogs, however, are considered a nuisance because they clear the tall grass that ranchers would use to graze their cattle on.  Poisoning and shooting the dogs are considered common means of controlling their population and the vast majority of ranchers employ these methods to keep the “pests” off of their property.  With Mr. Haverfield’s decision, conservationists have truly gained a unusual and invaluable ally.

The EPA has announced the first national fuel and emissions standards for heavy vehicles, part of a “bite-sized” approach to climate change the Obama administration is now pursuing.

The new standards will divide heavy vehicles into three different categories based on weight and intended use and apply different standards for each category.  The combination tractor category will require a 20% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption between the 2014 and the 2018 model years.  For heavy duty pickup trucks and vans that run on diesel, a 15% decrease will be required for the same time period.  A 10% decrease is required for heavy duty pickup trucks and vans that run on gasoline and for vocational vehicles between 2014 and 2018.  The EPA has stated that the new standards will result in savings of around $41 billion for truckers and businesses through reduced fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicles.  Environmental groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists have applauded the decision while emphasizing that this is only the first step on the road to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.  This move came at the same time that the administration approved the largest ever solar project, proposed for federal land in Southern California.  Both of these moves are part of the “bite-sized” approach the Obama administration is taking toward climate change since their sweeping cap and trade bill was dropped in the Senate.

Intense growth in desert conditions combine to create severe environmental problems in Dubai

Dubai has long been known for its outrageous building projects and rapid growth.  They’re the home of the man-made palm islands (literally islands created in the shape of a palm tree), the world’s tallest building, and even an indoor ski slope. According to some sources, a quarter of the construction cranes in the world were employed in Dubai.  Now, however, the results of that rapid growth and intense use of water (mostly from their desalination plant) has wrought havoc on the local environment.  Purifying sea water has increased the salinity of the Persian Gulf to 47,000 parts per million from 32,000 ppm in 30 years, which experts say could start to affect marine life.  Furthermore, sewage treatment plants have had trouble keeping up with the increasing demand created by buildings that had water and electricity put in without concern for environmental standards.  At one point last year, raw sewage seeped into the Gulf and contaminated the most popular beach in Dubai, most likely caused by overloaded treatment plants illegally dumping sewage into the storm drains.  Dubai is starting to deal with this by increasing public awareness, increasing treatment plant capacity, and monitoring water quality more closely.  As far as slowing growth, economic concerns will probably accomplish that far more than environmental ones.

Update: A great article on the Navajo nation’s efforts to change from their reliance on coal to wind and solar.  This is partially motivated by the EPA’s new proposed regulations on the Four Corner Power Plant.  In 2005, a different coal plant on Navajo land had closed rather than retrofit in accordance with the EPA’s requirements.  Another great article on the first “green” candidate on the presidential ticket for the Navajo territory.

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