Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

The Dogwood Alliance, an amazing organization that works to hold corporations accountable for the impact of their industrial forestry practices on the forests and communities of the South, is launching a new campaign. Read more in the following blog post from Dogwood's Organizing Director, Eva Hernandez.

DOGWOOD KICKS OFF NEW CAMPAIGN AND WEBSITE

Check out the new campaign website: www.nofreerefills.org!

Will you help us kick off the national Fast Food Packaging Campaign? The Southern US is the largest paper producing region in the world. Packaging is the #1 paper product from our forests, led by the fast food industry.

Will you send a message to the fast food CEO's having the biggest impact on our forests? Click here to send your message.

While you're there you can let the CEO's know that they should a) use more post-consumer recycled paper; b) use less; and c) stop using paper for packaging from endangered forests.

We have been on the road the last couple of weeks holding press conferences and community meetings to let kickoff the campaign. We've met some great people, gotten some good media, taken some great photos and videos, and worked with awesome volunteers. No matter where we are, one thing always rings true-Southern forests are too important to be wasted for fast food packaging.

You can tell the biggest Fast Food chains to stop buying their packaging from Southern forests. We identified the top offenders and they are... Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silvers, Pizza Hut, A&W, McDonalds, Wendy's, Quiznos, Jack in the Box, and Bojangles.

Tell the 11 Fast Food Junky CEO's to stop trashing Southern forests for chicken buckets, burger boxes and to-go containers.

Click here to send your message today!

While you're there you can check out the new website and find more info about the campaign, including a downloadable report linking the top offenders to Southern forest destruction at www.nofreerefills.org.

Why fast food? Because Southern forests are too important to be wasted for fast food packaging.


Bret at the Big Chicken · Fast Food Chains are buying packaging from Southern forests
· 15% of landfill waste is fast food packaging
· The average American throws out 300 lbs. of packaging waste every year

Our fast food lifestyle is burying us in an avalanche of excessive packaging and waste. Every year millions of pounds of food packaging waste litter our roadways, clog our landfills and spoil our quality of life.

Southern forests, the jewel of the American landscape, are being destroyed to bring you fried chicken, burgers and fries, and super-sized convenience in a glut of wrappers, boxes and cups. Simple choices and creative solutions can reduce the excess and destruction while still allowing us to enjoy the level of convenience we have come to expect.

Join Dogwood Alliance in challenging corporations to change their habits. Our forests are too important to be wasted for disposable packaging. With nearly 100 paper packaging mills in the South, the packaging decisions of these corporations have a tremendous impact on our forests.

Take action today!

http://www.democracyinaction.org/da/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24343&t=nofreerefillsAction.dwt

For the forests,

Eva Hernandez
Organizing Director
Dogwood Alliance

 

On Thursday, April 17 we loaded fourteen of us into a van and a car and drove up to Vicksburg for a hearing on the Yazoo Pumps project. Vicksburg is a 3.5 hour drive from New Orleans, so we were prepared for a long day, though I don’t think any of us expected it to be as long as it was.

The public hearing started at 7pm at the Vicksburg Convention Center. As our group sat down, one of our members was tapped on the shoulder by a pumps proponent and told that she wasn’t welcome at the hearing and should leave! It’s that kind of attempted intimidation by proponents that has kept more locals from speaking out against this project.

The EPA kicked off the hearing with a brief presentation on why the Yazoo Pumps project is so damaging, followed by a representative from the Corps who tried to convince everyone the project is sound by using some fuzzy logic. Then it was on to the elected officials.

Governor Haley Barbour’s representative made a comment that people from outside of the Delta region should not be influencing the process because locals wanted the project built. However, if the project were built, those of us living downstream would have to deal with the impacts of losing wetlands that store flood waters and filter water pollutants such as fertilizer and pesticides. It’s also troubling to hear that Mr. Barbour believes that outsiders should not have a say on a in this project given that Mississippi politicians lobbied to get the entire cost of the project paid for by federal taxpayers.

The best part of the hearing was the great diversity of people opposed to the pumps. By my count, 34 people testified in opposition to the pumps, including students, scientists, social justice groups, representatives from hunting and fishing groups, environmental groups, land trusts, and many local citizens who understand that what the Delta needs is better education, infrastructure, and health care, not a pork project that will only benefit a small number of landowners. Attending the hearing was well worth the long drive we had back home, arriving in New Orleans well after 3 am.

The Yazoo Pumps is one of the most wasteful, environmentally destructive taxpayer-funded projects ever conceived. Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt called it the "most cockamamie" project that he had ever heard of. A retired head of the EPA wetlands division recently said, “over my 24 years at the EPA, I never reviewed a project that would do more damage than the Yazoo Pumps project.” There are various estimates of how many acres of wetlands the project would drain which range from 67,000 to over 200,000. No matter which estimate you believe, the destruction would be massive.

Now it’s your turn. If you haven’t sent a comment to the EPA in support of a veto, please do so now by clicking here. Help us achieve what could be one of the most pro-environment decisions to come out of EPA in a long time.

Dump the Pumps!

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

 

I just got back from a public hearing on the Richton Salt Domes project on April 10, and the turnout was incredible. Somewhere between 250 and 300 Mississippi coast residents turned out to speak out against this destructive pork project. There were landowners, fishermen, industrialists, scientists, environmentalists, and many more people who wouldn’t fit into any category, but are concerned with the proposed project nonetheless.

In early 2007, the DOE made final its plans to store 160 million barrels of oil in Richton, an amount equivalent to roughly two weeks of U.S. oil consumption. In order to create a storage cavern, the DOE would hollow-out salt domes by dissolving them with fifty million gallons a day of fresh water from the Pascagoula River. The hyper-saline solution would then be discharged four miles south of Horn Island in the Mississippi Gulf, creating a dead zone where most sea life could not survive the low-oxygen, salty conditions. In addition, the project would rely upon 330 miles of pipeline to transport oil, water, and brine, and the DOE’s acknowledges that there will be numerous spills. Their own projections predict that there would be 56 brine spills that could harm the PascagoulaRiver, its tributaries, and connected wetlands.

There were a number of great speakers who gave public comments, though, for me, the most inspiring speaker on Thursday night was an 80 year-old retired school teacher from Biloxi who skipped celebrating her birthday because she said the public hearing was more important. There was not a single person there who spoke in favor of the salt domes project. After the impressive turnout, I hope the DOE and the politicians such as Governor Barbour who have pushed this project are starting to get the message. This movement to save the Pascagoula is only growing.

You can check out some photos the Sun Herald took here.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources.

 


On April 1st Tulane’s Environmental Action League joined thousands of people around the world in a day of protest against the fossil fuel industry. Fossil Fools Day, organized by the Energy Action Coalition and a number of other international environmental groups, boasted protests, acts of civil disobedience, green job rallies, and a ton of media hits.

In comparison to the people that blockaded the entrance to the Citibank Headquarters in New York, our event was relatively low-key (and incarceration free). We organized a photo petition to protest Entergy’s proposed Little Gypsy refitting, a project that will convert a natural gas-burning plant to a coal and petroleum-coke burning plant. Our petition focused on Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard’s comment regarding global warming that “Mankind is headed toward a crisis of Biblical proportions.” People passing by our table on campus could pose with his handsome mug, telling Leonard to “stop talking out both sides of your mouth” and not refit Little Gypsy.


Of those that dared to approach and find out why we had a man’s face plastered to a wall, the majority were shocked to hear about the refitting. The general consensus was that coal is a fuel of the past and something that we should be moving away from, not toward. Not many people in Louisiana expect to hear glowing stories of green, clean energy, but for a state that’s on the front lines of global warming, a switch to coal seems like a bit much this late in the game. The potential consequences of the refitting (increased greenhouse gas emissions, more mercury in our waters, and a hefty price tag that the rate payers will probably be saddled with), made most people eager to snap a photo with the Entergy CEO. Overall, the event was a success, and we got a lot of great pictures to send to Mr. Leonard.

The majority of the people we talked to were students. It seems fitting that my generation have a loud voice in current energy choices. While everyone will suffer from the most immediate impacts of coal burning, such as air and water pollution and the potential financial repercussions of a carbon tax, it will be us and our children that will bear the brunt of the consequences of fossil foolery.

Laney White is a Tulane Junior and a GRN intern working on Global Warming

 

A quick update from Charlotte, NC for everyone. Yesterday, about 20 activists and I demonstrated outside the Lowe's Corporate Headquarters with banners and fliers calling on Lowe's to live up to their corporate environmental policies by no longer selling unsustainable cypress mulch. We wanted to make sure Lowe's employees knew about the destruction their company is causing and feel the pressure to stop! And we decided to have a little fun with it too by bringing along all the fixins for a crawfish boil (crawfish and crawfishermen love the cypress swamps). It was a great success. Check out more photos on flickr.

Thanks to everyone who came out to Save Our Cypress!

There were newspaper folks, cops, Lowe's security, and lots of Lowe's employees (unfortunately no one took us up on our offer for free crawfish). The HQ is a giant compound complete with guard booth and all, so we were situated at the end of the driveway (on public property) so that everyone leaving work from Lowe's could see us. We handed out hundreds of fliers and you couldn't miss our banners. The message was clear- Lowe's is violating its own corporate rulebook by continuing to sell unsustainable cypress mulch.
All those buildings on the horizon are the compound! Look at the cars who can't ignore us.


A small group of us attempted to peacefully enter the compound in order to deliver thousands of petition postcards to Lowe's. Despite representing thousands of people, from radical students to suburban gardeners, we were turned away at the gate. I'm determined to deliver them before I go home though! You can help get the message directly to Lowe's by picking up your phone and making a call right now. The phone number and talking points are available at http://action.healthygulf.org/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=490.

Many thanks to Josh and his huge crew from Guilford University for making the drive. Thanks to John and the UNC-Charlotte Earth Club for everything (including housing me for the last couple days).And much appreciation to Shannon for all the great photos!

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network, a proud member of the Save Our Cypress Coalition.

 

Ok….I admit it. I’m the world’s most reluctant flyer. I’m a man of the earth and the rivers. I leave the sky to the birds. I usually find a reason to drive across the great state I call home, and across the Gulf region for meetings and gatherings. My GRN compatriots are well aware of my reluctance to enter the big metal tubes that shoot across the sky that fly from one uncomfortable airport to another.

With that said, I was intrigued when Southwings offered to take me up over the Nature Coast of Florida to see some the wild and special sections of the region. Protecting Florida’s Nature Coast is one of the top priorities for the GRN. Having the view of the swallow tail kite or the osprey seemed invaluable. With great reluctance, and not a little fear, I agreed to go up with Southwings and put flight to our conservation agenda.

I met Caroline Douglas and Hume Davenport of Southwings at the Gainesville Airport on a crisp, clear day. A good day for flying if there is such a thing. I got to the airport earlier and learned that pilots like to tell a lot of jokes about crashing planes, particularly to folks like me who clearly were out of their element.

Not only am I not the most eager flyer, I’m also not the smallest guy in the world so I was not looking forward to 3-4 hours in a small plane. Caroline and Hume did a great job putting me at ease, and as we pulled out the maps and started charting our trip I began to feel a little excitement as it displaced the raw terror of leaving the earth and challenging gravity.

As soon as we zoomed into the sky I was a new man. I have never seen Florida from a small plane flying at a low altitude. It was transcendent. Now I know why people love to fly small planes. Seeing the braided rivers, the vast coastal plains, the pine and cypress, and the transitions from upland to coast all at once in one visual moment was incredible. There is true magic where the land meets the sea. To see it from the air……truly uplifting.

We flew from the Hernando/Citrus region all the way to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. We saw the best and the worst of the Nature Coast. The vastness and the shear wilderness along that coast is truly magnificent. The threats are daunting, but the opportunities for conservation and restoration are incredible. Seeing it all from a small plane is truly an effective way to see the story unfold below you.

We saw loggers clear cutting cypress for mulch below us. We saw the stagnant and polluted pools of effluent leaving the Buckeye pulp and paper mill as the Fenholloway River suffered through another day of slow death below us. And yet we saw miles and miles of endless and undeveloped coastlines, and thousands of acres of wild places still untouched and pristine. Tragedy and hope laid out in a vast mosaic below us in every direction.

I’m not rushing to the airport anytime soon, but I will gladly fly with Southwings again and we are honored to have them as a partner in our efforts to protect Florida’s Nature Coast. I look up to the sky and envy the swallow tail kite and the osprey, and know now why they float majestically across a sun swept sky.

Stay tuned for more blogs and updates about future and upcoming adventures of GRN as we take to the ground, the rivers, and now the sky to protect and preserve one of Florida’s last great frontiers.

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

 

Unless you're a frequent reader of this blog, or read about pogies in this recent coverage or editorial on the issue in the Galveston Daily News, you've probably never heard of menhaden, but this small, oily fish is one of the most critical components of the Gulf's marine foodweb. Some call them shad, or pogies, and if you're a fisherman you've probably called them bait.

Whatever the name, menhaden school in huge numbers in Gulf coastal waters, filter feeding on algae and providing food for brown pelicans, dolphins, sharks, red drum and lots of other marine wildlife.

Gulf menhaden is also big business for two companies. Omega Protein and Daybrook Inc. spot the schools of menhaden with planes, and send their boats to encircle entire, massive schools with purse seines - catching the menhaden and whatever is feeding on the school.

Despite the huge volume of menhaden coming out of the water, that billion pounds doesn't really turn into much economic activity. Omega had gross revenues of only $157 million in 2007 from their roughly 750 million pounds of our common resource.

Meanwhile, the industry hides behind a relatively low estimate of bycatch PERCENTAGE of one percent. Of course one percent of one billion is still ten million pounds of gulf marine life that's being wasted. Basically everything that eats menhaden could be getting caught up with the pogies: red drum, specks, tarpon, tuna, swordfish, and all the non-game species, brown pelican, dolphin, sea turtles, etc.

One marine scientist estimates the menhaden fleet catches close to one million sharks a year! Check out this article on shark bycatch which hints at the trouble this industry could be causing. In addition, every shark population in the Gulf is currently overfished, such as black tips and spinners, and one species, dusky, is a candidate species of the endangered species act.

Gulf menhaden is the second largest fishery by weight in the country, and unbelievably, operates without any catch limits - whatever the planes can spot, and the boats can catch within their 6 month season, will be turned into chicken feed and a host of other industrial products.

As a comparison, the largest fishery by weight in the country, Alaskan pollock, has its own federal law that lays out all sorts of controls, the North Pacific Council sets an annual catch limit based on an annual stock assessment, pretty much the entire fleet caries observers on board to watch the industry's bycatch, and they can't use airplanes.

TOMORROW, Texas is considering a catch limit for this fleet. Please take a moment and tell the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission 'good job,' and ask them to take a few more steps to save the bait. http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=23018

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 

Since its creation in 1775, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed 11,000 miles of navigation channels, built 8,500 miles of levees and floodwalls, raised 500 dams, and deepened more than 140 ports and harbors. As is the case for most Americans, my very life depends on the abilities of the Corps. In a recent editorial in The New York Times, Alex Prud’homme wrote about how over a year ago the Corps admitted that 122 levees around the country are at risk of failure. Prud’homme says, “These levees were designed poorly and built of whatever material was close at hand — clay, soft soil, sand mixed with seashells. Tree roots, shifting stones and rodents weaken them further. The land the berms are built on often subsides, while the waters they restrain constantly probe for weak spots.” That’s exactly what happened in New Orleans, where the commander of the Corps admitted a “design failure” led to the breach of the 17th Street Canal. Still vulnerable to a heavy rain, we are all more than eager to support measures to repair these levees as quickly and safely as possible.

 

To accommodate the urgency of our situation, federal, state and local agencies have created an alternative process to the normal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). Unfortunately, these alternatives to the law that requires federal agencies to study the environmental effects of their actions through an interdisciplinary environmental planning process are not all New Orleans needs. To repair these levees, the city requires enough dirt to fill 20 Superdomes (for those of you not familiar with the Saints’ home—that’s 30,590 Olympic-size pools of clay)! One GRN member at the recent New Orleans Home and Garden Show suggested that the Corps go into the Dome after a monster truck rally and get the dirt. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if the Corps has any connections with the Monster Truck circuit, and is instead, entering devastated communities like St. Bernard Parish to dig 20-foot deep “borrow” pits. A St. Bernard resident asked that the Corps devise an alternative that does not call for “cannibalizing the very land the levees are to protect.”

At the Gulf Restoration Network, we are working very hard to ensure that neither sound science nor real public participation are sacrificed within this process. Matt Rota, Director of our Water Resources Program, has endured countless Corps’ meetings, while other staff and interns have tracked the process extensively. Yesterday, along with other environmental group representatives, we spoke with Horst Greczmiel, the Associate Director for NEPA Oversight from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality about some of our concerns. Today, at 4:30 pm, we will meet with Mr. Greczmiel and representatives from the Corps at the USACE New Orleans district headquarters at 7400 Leake Avenue. This meeting is open to the public, so although this is short notice, we ask that GRN members attend and participate. We are dedicated to protecting our best natural storm defenses—our wetlands—and will seek a commitment that neither the Corps nor contractors hired by the Corps will enter wetlands for borrow. We represent concerned citizens of the Gulf Coast and will work to ensure their meaningful involvement in the hurricane protection planning process. And finally we are devoted to a healthy Gulf and ensuring that the agency responsible for its protection and restoration is more relevant, ready, responsive, and reliable.

Megan Milliken is a Natural Storm Defenses Intern for the Gulf Restoration Network.

 


We had an awesome weekend of outreach and advocacy on the Save Our Cypress Campaign, February 28-March 2, at the New Orleans Home and Garden Show. The Gulf Restoration Network is still working hard to stop Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot from selling this precious natural resource. You might ask yourself, why is an environmental advocacy organization that works to protect the coast going to a home and garden show? I know I did, at first. And then I realized there’s no better way to reach the people who are the most crucial in shaping corporate behavior: the consumers.

So many of the gardeners we spoke to use cypress mulch because they were not aware of its impact on one of our best natural storm defenses. They also didn’t realize that the majority of cypress mulch is no longer a byproduct of lumber production but now comes from large cypress clear-cuts of undersized cypress trees. We were able to demonstrate several of the sustainable alternatives to cypress mulch with our new educational resource, the Mulch Matters kit, featured above. The volunteers who came out to table got almost 450 postcards signed to ask Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot not to sell cypress mulch, and educated even more people on why they shouldn’t garden with it. They did an amazing job of getting the word out. Here are a few of their reactions to their experience at the Home and Garden Show:

I really enjoyed tabling at the Home and Garden Show. I believe that those are the people that we need to target. I would reach out by asking if anyone used mulch in their garden and many of them would enthusiastically respond "Yes! Cypress mulch" and then I would explain why that is a bad choice and demonstrate the alternatives. Dan's idea of having the pine and eucalyptus bark displayed worked great! Many of them vowed to reconsider the next time that they decided to buy mulch and to alert their local stores to the problem. Thanks for the chance to make a difference.

-Alyssa Denny

This was my first experience volunteering with the GRN and it was very positive. Although I am somewhat shy, I was able to get over it and attract people to the table, just by smiling and asking them if they knew about cypress mulch. Once I got their attention, most people were interested to learn about our project and supported it. Nearly everyone can accept that the cypress forests are critical to wetland habitat and protection of the gulf coast from flooding and loss of land.

I think it's just as important to educate people not to use cypress mulch as it is to get stores not to sell it. Many folks had no idea that the mulch comes from whole trees and forests. Most believe the myth that the cypress will not attract termites - that is why they want to use it. Hopefully we can continue this education at future events.

Sincerely,

Zé daLuz


If you’re interested in teaching people about the sustainable alternatives to cypress mulch, whether you’re a gardener or a concerned citizen, contact Amy Medtlie at amy@healthygulf.org to find out how you can get your hands on a Mulch Matters kit.


Amy Medtlie is an Outreach Associate for the Gulf Restoration Network.

 

Ahh, pine straw in the flower beds. I knew I certainly wouldn’t find cypress mulch at Vivian Todd’s house, but it’s still nice to see sustainable alternatives to cypress mulch actually in use. Mrs. Todd is the incoming-president of the Magnolia Garden Club in Beaumont, TX, and she has been an outspoken opponent of unsustainable cypress mulch since she first started learning about it through the Garden Club of America and our emails.

I was pulling up to Mrs. Todd’s house at the end of my week long tour through Texas to inform folks about the destruction caused by cypress mulch, about the sustainable mulch alternatives that exist, and about how they can get involved by calling on Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart to stop selling cypress mulch. Last week, I spoke with native plant lovers, student activists, reporters, a building contractor, and gardeners, and all of them understood how important and easy it is to save cypress forests of the Gulf.

As I was setting up the Mulch Matters Kit in the dining room, members of the garden club started pouring. Eventually, around 20 ladies settled in the living room to hear more about the cypress forests of the Gulf. When I got to talking about mulch and sustainable alternatives to cypress, other folks started to chime in as well. It turns out that most of them had been using sustainable alternatives all along, often even before they knew about the dangers of cypress mulch. Here are a few of the options that came:

Pine Straw- Stays in place well, very attractive, and renewable. You can rake pine needles from your yard, or buy them at a store after they’ve been raked up from the floor of a pine plantation.

Pine Bark Mulch- Lasts a long time, comes in nuggets or shredded form, and is a by-product of timber milling. Pine bark is made from the scraps of trees that are turned into lumber, turning a waste product in a beneficial mulch.

Eucalyptus Mulch- Farmed for mulch, very aromatic, insect resistant, and looks similar to cypress. If it’s the aesthetics of cypress you like, this is your substitute! Plus, it helps keeps bugs and weeds away very well.

Melaleuca Mulch- Made from an invasive species that is being removed from Southern Florida swamps and the mulch least favored by termites. Melaleuca trees are overtaking swamps in Florida and massive removal efforts are underway. One great way to dispose of the trees is to heat treat them to kill any seeds and grind them up for mulch.

Recycled Yard Waste- Free and easily available! Don’t throw away those leaves and then go buy mulch at the store. Some of the best mulch out there is right in your backyard, you just have to collect it.

Other creative choices include: sugarcane bagasse, recycled pecan shells, gravel and rocks, recycled newspapers, and many more!

The women in the Magnolia Garden Club aren’t just good gardeners though, they also understand strategy and what it takes to make an even larger impact. Members of the conservation committee had already participated in the Save Our Cypress Day of Action in November 2007, and after hearing the talk, they were fired up for more.

Everyone in the room signed postcards to Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart asking them to stop selling cypress mulch. The Magnolia Garden Club is taking the message to all of their members and also enlisting other garden clubs in the area to join the cause. They’re speaking with their local nurseries and the managers of the local Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart outlets. Some folks were especially excited when I told them that I had the emails and insider phone numbers for the CEO’s of the big companies!

Please join the Magnolia Garden Club, gardeners throughout Texas, and the countless other students, moms, activists, conservationists, hunters, and others who care about cypress in calling for an end to the destruction caused by cypress mulch being sold at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart.

To get started, you can send an email, make a phone call, or deliver a letter to your local manager. Also, make sure to tell your friends! If you’d like to use a Mulch Matters Kit to educate your club and inspire action, or if you have any other ideas you’d like help implementing, please contact me at dan@healthygulf.org.

To convince these giant companies to take the steps necessary for protecting the Gulf’s cypress, a huge coalition of diverse individuals and groups must call on them with one voice: Save Our Cypress!! After traveling last week in Texas, I’m more confident than ever. Join us!

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer at the Gulf Restoration Network.

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