Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

Wind power is supposed to be good, allegedly a no brainer for environmentalists. The main reason for this support is wind energy has a very small carbon footprint which helps solve the global warming crisis. Currently scientists report that if we do nothing to slow global warming 50% of all species on the planet could perish by the year 2100. So, it may be confusing when people hear that environmentalists are disputing a wind project. How can this happen?

General consensus agrees that the controversy over wind power started with the ill placed wind project at Altamont Pass, CA in the 1970’s. The turbines were small, very fast, and placed in the worst location possible: a migratory bird path and home to prey animals for raptors. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that the Altamont Pass Wind Farm is the deadliest wind farm in the country responsible for approximately 1000 bird collision deaths each year.

The problem persisted for more than 20 years before a reasonable solution was adopted in 2005 by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. They passed a well developed bird management plan demanding that the 100-200 oldest and deadliest turbines be replaced with more technologically advanced turbines that were higher off the ground, very slow, and easier for the birds to avoid. The design of turbine towers have been made more bird friendly by exchanging the latticed towers with smooth ones that the birds can not perch on. In addition, half the turbines must be switched off during migration periods to allow spaces between the turbines.

Many hard lessons were learned from Altamont pass, aka do not create a solid wall of turbine blades and avoid high migratory bird routes. Other advancements include electromagnetic devices which warn bats away from the turbines. The photo above contains not a broken wind turbine but a unique solution to migratory birds. When migration begins a switch allows the turbine to bend down, minimizing the potential for collisions. The blades of the wind turbines on the Galapagos Islands are painted bright colors to increase the contrast from the background. These are all steps in the right direction. After all, we are switching to clean renewable energy to save species, not sacrifice them.

 

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.

 

The New Year brings with it ample opportunities to make resolutions and to ponder the road less traveled. There are the traditional resolutions to lose weight, get in shape, get more organized, and to manage time more effectively (all of which I have made for 2008 as well by the way). I want to propose, both to myself and to those reading this, that this year another resolution be considered and adopted. This year resolve to make 2008 a Florida Year.

And what is this “Florida Year” you ask? I propose that 2008 be a year in which all of us fall in love with, or renew our passion for, Florida. Florida history, Florida culture, Florida’s odd and eccentric ways and people, and most of all Florida’s great outdoors and wild places all offer opportunities to connect to the place that we live in and discover more about the world around us.

A sense of place grounds us to our communities, our families, and our region. Whether you’re a fifth generation Floridian as my wife is, or you just rolled across the Georgia border in search of sunshine and the Florida Dream, connecting to Florida offers adventure and an opportunity to find magic in what others merely see as backdrop or scenery.

In 2008 get out there. Get out on the rivers and bays, get out on the trails and dirt roads. Look for where the paved road ends and seek out places where you need a map or a trail guide to find your way home. There is something intoxicating about seeking out that next bend in the river, that next curve of the trail and seeing something new and never known to you before. When the road shifts from paved to dirt you are heading in the right direction.

We are blessed in the Tampa Bay region with numerous places to, from the pocket parks in Tampa along the Hillsborough River to the backcountry of Colt Creek State Park in Polk County, get out there and reconnect with Florida and with nature. Public lands are sacred treasures and they provide places of sanctuary for wildlife to live and places for us to nourish our souls. Open spots on the map, those amazing greenspaces devoid of roads, houses, malls, and development, should serve to draw us in to learn what is there and what we have been missing.

A Florida Year is a year of exploring, enjoying, and protecting all things Florida. Once you get out there and see the woods, the rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico the next step is to spend some time being a voice for places that have given so freely to those who seek them out. Naturalist and writer John Muir realized in 1892 that to get Californians to fall in love with the Sierra Nevada range he needed to get folks out there to climb the mountains and swim the creeks. Once they tasted the earth and saw the sunsets they would be connected to preserving those places. That realization led to the founding of the Sierra Club.

I hope to lose some weight this year, and I surely could be better organized. With that said my strongest and most important resolution is to fall in love again with Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, and to share this love and passion with others. We love what we know, and we work to protect what we love.

So, make 2008 a “Florida Year” and think about connections and place. Ponder the wonders of the Gulf of Mexico, and the magic of all things wild and free in Florida. Get out there and find the pathways that are in your heart, and under your feet. That is a resolution worth keeping.

Joe Murphy is the Florida Programs Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.

 

The other day, I was looking through the New Orleans Corps of Engineers Website, exploring their Regulatory Department. This is the department that is supposed to enforce the Clean Water Act by making sure our nation's waters and wetlands are not unnecessarily harmed by those that want to dredge, fill, or develop them. However, it becomes very obvious that the Corps thinks that it their primary role is to grant permits, not necessarily protect our wetlands. This is made obvious by their permitting FAQ, that states:

 

Q. Why should I waste my time and yours by applying for a permit when you probably won't let me do the work anyway?

A. Nationwide, only  three percent of all requests for permits are denied. Those few applicants who have been denied permits usually have refused to change the design, timing, or location of the proposed activity. When a permit is denied, an applicant may redesign the project and submit a new application. To avoid unnecessary delays pre-application conferences, particularly for applications for major activities, are recommended. The Corps will endeavor to give you helpful information, including factors which will be considered during the public interest review, and alternatives to consider that may prove to be useful in designing a project.

So, the Corps approves 97% of all of the permits that they see! And they seem very proud of this fact. Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps is supposed to first, and foremost, avoid unnecessary wetland impacts, and I don't see how a 97% permit approval rate reflects this. This demonstrates that the Corps is in serious need of reform--the agency that is in charge of repairing our disappearing Gulf Coast wetlands is at the same time facilitating their destruction, one permit at a time.

Matt Rota is the GRN Water Resources Program Director

 

I recently received a great email from Tim at DWY Landscape Architects, and I wanted to share it with y'all. It's an auspicious way to start off the new year, and this shows that the message and practice of cypress sustainability is becoming commonplace throughout the Gulf.

"Dan, was just listening to Joe Murphy on WSLR and found your website. I wanted to give you some good news, as it may be few and far between now-a-days. I work at a small landscape architecture firm, and one of my roles is to enforce and modify the landscape guidelines for a large upscale community in Manatee county called The Concession. We have devised an extremely florida friendly palate of plants as well as mulch types that can be used by developers. We are eliminating Cypress mulch completely. Much of what we have enforced was the use of pine straw mulch in all buffer areas. We are talking about very large lots and tons of mulch per home. Some homeowners are complaining that the pine straw is fading in just a couple of months and needs to be replaced frequently, so I have looked at some alternates that have a darker richer color, lasting longer, which will appeal to this type of clientele. We have found some nice blends at Forestry Resources in Ft Myers (www.gomulch.com). I would be open to any suggestions. Our firm is also responsible for the guidelines at The Founder’s Club here in Sarasota which has developed a similar sustainable approach to landscape design.

So some good news! I wish you all luck on your mission, it’s a noble effort."

Thanks Tim! It's exciting to see that people are truly exploring sustainable alternatives to cypress mulch, and this shows that different mulching needs can be met with various options, none of which deplete our natural wetlands. Cypress swamps provide valuable habitat for wildlife, important water filtration, and protection from storms and flooding.

As gardening season starts up again here in the Gulf South, it's important that landscape architects, landscapers, homeowners, gardeners, and consumers everywhere avoid cypress mulch. The quickest way to accomplish that goal nationwide will be to convince Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart to stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch. The best place to start making a difference is in your own yard. So, if anyone has suggestions about good alternatives to cypress, great mulching advice, or anything else you'd like to share, please leave us a comment.

Dan Favre is the GRN Campaign Organizer.

 

I just came across this study released last November by the University of Illinois on corn-based ethanol in Illinois and the United States. Some of the components of the report are quite wonky, but the section on ethanol politics and policy was very interesting.

As the author of the report, David Bullock, writes:

“This irreversibility of bringing factors into ethanol production causes the subsidy policy to act like a political ratchet. It is easy enough politically to cause the subsidy to go up: corn farmers and ethanol producers influence their congressional representatives, and everyone refers to energy self-sufficiency and rural job creation. But once in place, it may well become politically infeasible to bring the subsidy back down. For, after the economy is finished building new ethanol factories, in response to the subsidy, what then? We’ve already argued that when the building process is through, many ethanol factories will not be making large profits.”


He later states:

“By supporting the ethanol industry, are federal and state governments promoting a policy—indeed creating an entitlement—that will be later politically impossible to rescind?”

If Bullock is correct, we may be creating an entire new political entitlement that has very negative implications for our nation's rivers and oceans.

I am very concerned with corn-ethanol subsidies due to the water impacts of ethanol. The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused largely by nitrogen runoff from farm fields. Increased corn production to feed the ethanol boom will require the application of large quantities of fertilizer - some of which ends up in the Mississppi River and causes the Dead Zone when the nitrogen pollution reaches the Gulf.

While there are many legitimate questions about whether corn ethanol is even a wise alternative fuel, any solution should solve a problem, not simply shift a problem elsewhere. It seems that corn ethanol subsidies may be shifting a problem onto the people of the Gulf of Mexico in the form of the Dead Zone.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources

 

Our members who took action on the recent Yazoo Pumps alert have all received a surprise in the mail. It seems that the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg is sending a response letter to everyone who took action, stating that "project opponents" have been publishing misleading information about the project, and that the Yazoo Pumps project will actually improve the environment and lead to increased wetlands.

Unfortunately, the true impact of the Yazoo Pumps is anything but positive and the Corps has been trying to put an upbeat spin on one of the greatest boondoggles ever conceived. Independent government agencies that have reviewed the Yazoo Pumps project have concurred with our assessment that the project would destroy a staggering amount of wetlands and important wildlife habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently stated very diplomatically, "We're concerned that the negative impacts of this project on fish and wildlife is larger than the Corps acknowledges."

Over 540 independent wetland and aquatic scientists from throughout the country have also determined that the Yazoo Pumps would lead to tremendous wetland loss and that the Corps will be unable to mitigate for that loss. In a recent letter in The New York Times, the former Director of the EPA Wetlands Division wrote, "Over the course of my 24 years at the Environmental Protection Agency, I never reviewed a proposal that would do more damage to the environment than the Yazoo Pumps project in the Mississippi Delta."

It is unfortunate that the Army Corps is taking this unusual step of trying to promote this project that would destroy more wetlands than are lost to development in the entire country in one year. It is important that we keep the pressure up to stop this project and fight the misleading spin coming out of the Corps of Engineers public relations office. If you have already taken action, please take a moment to forward the alert on to five friends, family, or colleagues who care about the health of our Gulf as well.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources for the Gulf Restoration Network

 

This story comes from the Picayune Item in Mississippi and is just unbelievable.

Apparently, a small wastewater treatment plant that serves a subdivision has been failing at least since Katrina. The sewage is going directly into a popular stream for canoing and swimming called Hobolochitto Creek, also called Boley Creek by locals.

Untreated sewage can cause all sorts of illnesses from viruses to parasites, and I would not recommend anyone swim in the Hobolochitto. What makes this story particularly infuriating is that the state has apparently known of these problems, yet nothing has been done. Discharging untreated sewage is a direct violation of the Clean Water Act and is also a major human health risk. The area in question got hammered by Hurricane Katrina, and I understand that it takes time to fix these problems. However, it is not more than two years since Katrina and the permissive attitude of the local and state governments in this case is quite troubling. At the GRN, we are working to make sure that states enforce the laws we have that exist to protect the public. This example demonstrates that the State of Mississippi has a long way to go yet.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources for the Gulf Restoration Network

 

I had the occasion recently to hear Carl Hiaasen speak over on the east coast of Florida. He, as usual, was funny and inspiring and he spoke about the absurdities and beauty that are all things Florida. One thing he said stuck with me and I am reminded of it this week as I consider the plight of manatees in Florida.

A few years ago my wife and I took our niece canoeing on the WeekiWacheeRiver in Florida’s NatureCoast. We spent an incredible day floating along the river, paddling over crystal clear waters. We saw alligators, otters, and all types of birds. My niece was enthralled with the nature and the wildlife, and was full of questions. Her pure and undiluted joy in seeing all things wild was inspiring and contagious. It did our old hearts good to be reminded of the wonder and magic all around us.

As we paddled back towards the boat launch we came upon a manatee with a calf that was feeding in the shallows. My niece had never seen such a creature, and it was almost as large as our canoe! She was awed by the gentle giant and her calf as they swam, ate, and floated near us. Eventually she noticed the crisscrossed and deep scars along the back of the mother manatee. They were an ugly and violent reminder that manatees in Florida face ever present danger from boat propellers. Eventually my irrepressible niece grew quiet and pensive.

I would have given anything that day to have had the lobbyists for the marine industry, the dock builders, the coastal developers, and their apologists and hired hacks out there on the water with us to answer my niece’s questions about why that manatee was so horribly scarred and disfigured. All those who argue that manatees are not imperiled in Florida, all those who argue that a human’s right to go faster in their boat or to build yet another water front condo with yet another dock is more important than the very survival of manatees as a species should have had to explain to my niece what those scars meant.

When I heard Carl Hiaasen speak recently he talked about the intrinsic ability of children to understand the difference between right and wrong. It was part of his inspiration for the book and movie Hoot. Kids, when presented with a fair summary of the facts, understand that it is wrong to destroy burrowing owls for more strip malls, and wrong to bury gopher tortoises alive for more subdivisions. Somewhere along the way adults learn to rationalize and justify. As I get older I more strongly believe that kids have this right.

This week the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) is voting on whether or not to downlist the manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.” I think that decisions need to be made with the best available science, and that wildlife management is a complicated and challenging endeavor. I hope that the FFWCC Commissioners have listened to the thousands of Floridians who have contacted them urging them to not weaken protections for manatees.

With all that said at the end of the day each of those Commissioners will have to look into their own hearts and ask themselves whether a species’ survival is more or less important than the recreational pursuits of humans. I know how my niece would answer that question.

Joe Murphy is the Florida Program Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network

 

As Hanukkah hits, it's time to gear up for holiday gift-giving. I know your local newspaper and favorite magazine have all suggested that you support their advertisers, but what's an environmentally aware, Gulf-minded shopper to do?

Well, your friends at the GRN thought we should go ahead and cash in, I mean weigh in with a few thoughts of our own.

Maybe it's elitist, as a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts found the average amount of time Americans spend reading is now at an all time low, but we love books here at the GRN. If you remember back over the summer, we threw some book reviews your way recommending some Gulf-centric reading. Here's a recap:

The Most Important Fish in the Sea - H. Bruce Franklin treats us to a treatise on menhadan, a deceptively fascinating book about a small, oily fish most people have never heard of, yet our ecological future in the Gulf may rely on.

Fateful Harvest by Duff Wilson is the true story of Patty Martin, mayor of a small Washington farming town, and how she and a small group worked with the author (and Pulitzer Prize finalist) to let the public know about the hidden toxins found in some common commercial fertilizers.

Pinhook by Janise Ray
wonderfully mixes ecology, history and culture into the exploration of the beautiful wilds of Florida.

The Swamp by Michael Grunwald follows the story of a paradise lost and how the Everglades ecosystem, once a river of grass that stretched across south Florida, was slowly overrun by developers, politicians, and the Army Corps of Engineers – the same agency that is now attempting to restore the ecosystem.

The Wilderness Coast and The Sea Brings Forth by Jack Rudloe both document Jack's adventures with his wife as they explore the Gulf Coast of Florida while they operate the Gulf Specimens lab in Panacea, Florida.


And to this list, I'll add a couple recent releases:

For the culinary enthusiast in your network, famed New Orleans chef/restaurateur (and GRN board member) Susan Spicer has put out Crescent City Cooking, a great first cookbook that props open the kitchen door and lets you slowly figure out the secrets to some of her best-loved dishes.

Like the environment but turned off by the 'eat your vegetables they're good for you' approach of many environmentalists (save the GRN, of course)? Ken Wells serves up lots of laughs, ludicrous political shenanigans and colorful characters along the 'Cajun Coast,' as he subtly educates you and inspires you to action for Louisiana's coastal crisis in Crawfish Mountain. Listen to an NPR interview with Ken here.

Oh, and if you don't like books - here's two more suggestions:

  • The fine folks at Alternative Apparel are donating a percentage of their sales from their sustainable, Alternative Earth clothing line to the GRN - softest shirts you've ever worn!
  • Give gift memberships to the GRN! Who really needs another knick-knack to dust, or something that requires extensive wrapping? 4 quarterly newsletters and a healthier Gulf? Who wouldn't want that?

So, there's our $.02 on holiday gift giving - good luck this season and enjoy the family, friends and food!

Aaron Viles is the GRN's Campaign Director

 

Saturday was awesome... it was my first protest! We got about a dozen people together, held one really big banner and a bunch of posters.


We started at Lowe's where my roomie (Ian) and Leslie went inside and tried to purchase mulch as suggested in some of the literature you guys sent us. Leslie then presented the manager with an info packet containing the letter and stuff. Natalie's boyfriend filmed this, and they were not well received. While they were inside doing that we all handed out flyers, did some postcarding, and just tried to create awareness about the issue by talking to people. We were asked to leave, but about that time a woman from the news showed up and got some footage of us as we walked beside a major road with our banners.

Leslie did an interview with her and I guess we were on the news (NBC 15). We walked through the busiest intersection in Mobile to get to the next stop, Wal-Mart. The reply there was that cypress mulch has already been bought for this year, but supposedly will not be purchased from nonsustainable sources as of next year. The manager said we could quote him on it, but we didn't get his name. I'm sure I could find out his name, because I remember his face. Anyway we were asked to leave Wal-Mart and kept walking to Home Depot. There the manager was super nice and from Cali and liked that we were doing something. He said he would definately tell the people above him that locals were concerned with this issue. I think overall we got out there made some noise and just basically got asked to leave places a lot. Ha-Ha!! We know it had an impact!


Christin is a student at University of South Alabama and a GRN volunteer in Mobile.

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