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A Mysterious Leaf Disease Is Killing Beech Trees—and It's Spreading
If you've seen lovers' initials carved in a tree, it's probably a beech. The iconic species—known for its smooth, delicate bark—is not just a favorite canvas for bark carvers, they provide shelter and food for a large range of wildlife, including birds, squirrels and bears.
But scientists are raising flags on a mysterious, deadly and rapidly spreading beech leaf disease that's been described as "an emerging forest epidemic."
The disease (Fagus grandifolia) was first discovered in 2012 on beech trees in northeast Ohio and has since spread to forests in 10 counties in Ohio, eight counties in Pennsylvania and five counties in Ontario, Canada, according to a study published last month in the journal Forest Pathology.
Early symptoms of the disease are characterized by dark green banding on the leaves between the veins. Later symptoms are characterized by solidly darkened leaves that are shrunken and crinkled. The symptoms then seem to progress through the buds, causing them to fall off and produce no new leaves. The affected tree eventually dies.
Beech leaf disease symptoms include dark banding between the veins in early stages, followed by crinkling leaves. Forest Pathology, Ohio State
As the North American beech is native to the eastern United States, the researchers "fear this disease has the potential to drastically alter the Eastern deciduous forests of the United States on its own and through potential compounding disease effects," the study states.
The study was authored by researchers and naturalists from Ohio State University and metroparks in northeastern Ohio.
"It's hard at this point to say where this disease will go, but it has all the hallmarks of something like emerald ash borer or sudden oak death, threats to trees that start slowly and quickly pick up speed. We seem to be in that rapid expansion phase right now," senior researcher Pierluigi "Enrico" Bonello, an Ohio State professor of plant pathology, said in a university press release.
For instance, in one Ohio county the disease advanced at 1,250 acres a year between 2012 to 2016 alone, according to the press release.
These startling tree deaths could also come with a heavy price tag, per the release:
"If just half of American beech trees in Ohio were lost, it would come at environmental costs of approximately $225 million, according to an estimate in the new paper that takes into account various factors, including the trees' role in removing carbon from the atmosphere, maintaining biodiversity, furnishing habitat for wildlife, aiding in water purification, providing aesthetic and recreational value as well as other ecosystem services."
The study also warns that the disease could affect foreign species as symptoms were found in European and Asian beeches in nurseries in northeastern Ohio.
Scientists are not sure what's causing beech leaf disease, but Ohio State University researchers suggested that a microbe rather than an insect could be the culprit.
"We're really not 100 percent sure that it's a microbe causing this, but the symptoms resemble those of other plant diseases caused by microorganisms," graduate student Carrie Ewing and lead author of the new paper said in the press release. "There are no infestations or boreholes, or chewing of the leaves like you'd typically see if the disease was caused by an insect."
Major efforts are underway to determine the causal agent. Molecular techniques are being used to determine if there are any microbial differences between affected and unaffected beech trees.
Other researchers have suggested that a nematode could be to blame.
Unfortunately, there is no record of beech trees that have developed a resistance or have recovered from the disease, according to Constance Hausman, an ecologist with Cleveland Metroparks and one of the authors of the paper.
"Beech trees are a significant food and habitat resource for wildlife. We can't treat or manage our beech forests effectively if we don't know what is causing the decline," she said in the press release.
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'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.