Archive for the 'Land Use' Category

Oct 22 2012

When is Patent Law like Environmental Law?

Published by under Land Use,Miscellaneous

Edge of a field of corn, via wikimedia

The answer: whenever Monsanto is involved. And now the company is heading to the Supreme Court.

Perhaps the most hated corporation in existence, Monsanto is a huge organization, best known for creating, selling, and, most importantly, patenting genetically engineered crops (GE crops) that are resistant to Monsanto’s brand of herbicide, Round-up. Commonly known as “Round-Up Ready” crops, Monsanto’s seeds include corn, alfalfa, and soybeans and are so widely used that pretty much everything we eat contains at least some GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms).

GE crops have several environmental implications. First, having crops which are resistant to toxic herbicides like Round-Up allow farmers to use more of them on their crops. This means that there’s more pesticides that can get swept up in stormwater runoff and end up in the water supply, causing havoc.

Second, because seeds are passed on very easily by pollinating animals, so-called “super weeds” are beginning to pop up unintentionally that are also resistant to herbicides. Stronger and more potent herbicides are needed in greater amounts in order to get rid of these, compounding the runoff problem and potentially removing a tool in the fight against invasive species. The same is happening with Monsanto’s line of pesticide resistant crops, where the very bugs the pesticide is targeting are becoming resistant as well (isn’t evolution wonderful?).

While these are very serious problems, the reason Monsanto is so reviled is more a result of the way it treats farmers. Because the genes themselves are patented, Monsanto is allowed to prosecute patent infringement rigorously and it does so to great effect. Monsanto has also been accused of harassing and intimidating farmers into settling rather than pursuing their cases, which usually works because of the incredible resource disparity between local farmers and a huge conglomerate like Monsanto. Of the cases that have made it to court (11 out of 145 according to Monsanto’s website) every single one has been decided in Monsanto’s favor. Continue Reading »

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Oct 19 2011

Feed the World, Save the Environment?: A New Plan for Increasing Agricultural Yield Without Trashing the Planet

Published by under Land Use

Dryland Agriculture in Palouse Hills, Washington, by Chris Devaraj, via wikimedia

An international group of scientists, hailing from the US, Sweden, Germany, and Canada, has released a report setting out a plan for feeding the projected global population of 9 billion people…while also protecting the environment from the devastating effects of agriculture.  The article, entitled “Solutions for a Cultivated Planet” will be published in the October 20th issue of Nature (online version is here, behind a paywall) and will set out five key factors: boosting productivity on low-yield farms, raising water and fertilizer use efficiency, reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and stopping the conversion of tropical rainforest to farmland.  Their plan would require a coordinated, global, effort toward these goals, which sounds like a pipe dream.  However, the significance of this report is that, for the first time, researchers have shown that it is possible to feed the growing population and at the same time keep a habitable planet.

Agriculture has always been regarded as the biggest threat to the environment while at the same time being the most necessary undertaking for human survival in our modern world.  As it exists today, agriculture has allowed humans to live and flourish without having to grow their own food or even live near a farm.  But with increasing use of chemicals on our crops to increase food yield, the conversion of open land and forests to farmland, and agriculture’s high contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, feeding ourselves is taking a huge toll on water quality, climate change, energy availability, and water supplies.  What’s more, a third of all crops go for non-food products such as feed for livestock or biofuels, which means that a lot of this harm is not even going towards the production of human calories.

The plan as laid out in “Solutions for a Cultivated Planet” would call for an increase in food yield that would go toward human consumption.  This means a change in diet; meat production uses up a lot of food that could go directly to humans.  It also means reducing food waste, not just at the consumer level but also at the growing and shipping stage, and increasing efficiency in water and fertilizer use.   At the same time, the researchers call for a halt to expanding farmland into forests and other wild spaces, especially rainforests, by providing economic incentives for farmers to keep such places intact.  This would provide a big environmental benefit without cutting very much into production or economic well-being.  Finally, the researchers suggest closing gaps in yield between the highest producing agriculture countries and those that aren’t living up to their potential, such as parts of Eastern Europe and Africa.  If such a wide-reaching, comprehensive plan could be put into place, we might avoid the intense crises that will arise when our population outstrips the amount of agriculture our planet can sustain. Continue Reading »

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Mar 02 2011

Alien Invaders: Drawing Awareness to the Problem of Invasive Species

Published by under Animal,Land Use

Kudzu on trees in Atlanta, Georgia, via wikimedia

Most of the time, environmentalists work to protect species from things that threaten their existence.  However, in certain instances those threats can come from other species that have been imported into the area. The problem is big enough to warrant a whole week devoted to promoting awareness of invasive species. Invasive species can come in many shapes and sizes and types.  There are plants that are invasive such as the Kudzu vine, which is sometimes called “the vine that ate the South”.  Native to China and Japan, it grows over any stationary object, including other plants, choking them of sunlight and air.

Another invasive species that is causing a lot of concern recently is the Asian Carp. This large, prolific fish has already become the most prevalent fish in some areas of the Mississippi River and was recently found in the Illinois River, which connects to the Great Lakes. This has created a lot of concern in the region that the Asian Carp and its voracious appetite could devastate the already fragile Great Lakes ecosystem. To learn about other invasive species being fought across the country, see this list of the 100 most disruptive invasive species or check out some of the articles below. Continue Reading »

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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. Continue Reading »

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Oct 26 2010

In Brief: Environmental and Animal Law on the Ballot

The 2010 midterms are not just for choosing which person to send to Washington, they also contain some interesting new propositions that may become law in several states.  In honor of election day, here is a quick and dirty look at some of the biggest proposed laws on the ballot for 2010 as they relate to environmental and animal law.  Check back after November 2 for the outcomes on each of these initiatives.

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