Conservation Revolution Begins with One Man's Trek West
By Chip Ward
My home sits at the gateway to a national park in Utah, a source of envy among tourists who gather along Capitol Reef’s “scenic drive.” But after 40 years of living in one desert or another, I know firsthand that America’s iconic desert landscapes, places like Monument Valley and Arches National Park, are the exceptions, not the rule. The rule is that we dig up, dump on, dam, bomb, drill, over-graze and otherwise abuse our deserts, most of them public lands owned by you, the taxpaying citizen. Generally, our management of the nation’s public lands is a disgrace and deserts are exhibit A.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
But let’s skip the grim survey of how humans are overloading the carrying capacity of our original earthly Eden that usually opens a report like this. The intent of such a recitation of folly is to compel the reader’s attention by underlining the dire importance of the topic at hand. But I assume you understand by now that you woke up this morning on an overheated planet of slums threatened by ecological collapse.
So instead, let’s get right to the point: what do we do about it? How do we begin to heal the wounds?
The crises we face and that our children and grandchildren will endure long after we leave them invite a visionary response. On the other hand, the world is already awash in well-intentioned tinkerers. Yet dysfunction and destruction still reign. Maybe it’s time to leap to a new paradigm.
Enter John Davis and Trek West. At this very moment, Davis is walking, biking, paddling and horseback riding 6,000 miles through a chain of mountain ranges that stretches like a spine across North America from the Sierra Madres of Mexico through the Rockies of the American West up into Canada. He started this winter in the Sonoran desert we share with our southern neighbor and has been heading northward for months. He will cross many of our most treasured national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, the ones that tourists love, but his trek is no sightseeing adventure.
Davis and his Trek West partners along the route are advocating for what they call “landscape connectivity” on a continental scale. Two years ago, Davis trekked from Key West to Quebec, 8,000 human-powered miles. Same theme: conserve and connect.
A Conservation Revolution
Gone are the days when conservation was all about bullets, hooks and cameras. Fishermen and hunters are still an important constituency in the conservation community, but birdwatchers now outnumber them. Ecological criteria increasingly frame any debate about how to heal degraded habitat. What the nineteenth century naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir knew intuitively—that everything in the universe is “hitched to everything else”—has been confirmed beyond doubt by hard science.
Davis is one of the founders of a new school of thought called conservation biology. Its proponents argue that it is not faintly enough to preserve scenic rock and ice parks and isolated islands of wildlife. Wild creatures need room to roam so they can find the necessary water, food and mates. In the long run, many of America’s wild creatures from salamanders to bears will survive only in Disney movies if we box out genetic diversity, block migration routes, destroy nesting grounds and save only carefully preserved, isolated populations of a species. Connectivity is the keel of an emerging conservation ethic for helping to heal this country.
John Davis envisions an unbroken chain of wild lands spanning North America from Mexico to Canada. When completed, a necklace of “core” areas, including national parks, wildlife reserves and protected wilderness areas will be linked together and buffered by national forests and private lands. Creatures now boxed into wild islands surrounded by a sea of development will have room to roam.
A connected landscape will be more resilient as climate change puts further stress on creatures and their habitats. Already species from birds to mammals are responding to warming temperatures by moving northward if they can, or to higher ground if they can’t migrate horizontally. The famed scientist and conservationist E.O. Wilson called the project to link together America’s wild lands the most important conservation initiative in the world today.
After trekking through the habitat of the last remaining jaguars on the continent, Davis ran into the new wall designed to keep illegal Mexican migrants out of the U.S. It is, he pointed out, a far more effective barrier against wildlife migration than the human version of the same and so is lobotomizing the border ecosystem we share with Mexico. As for Davis, he easily climbed it in less than five minutes and was on his way.
Backpacks Meet Cowboy Hats
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Although pushing 50, Davis has the trim, muscular build of a professional athlete—and he’ll need every toned muscle he has to complete his quest. The day before I met him in Escalante, UT, he had been surprised by a lingering bout of spring weather and found himself pushing his bike through 10 miles of deep snow on top of Utah’s Aquarius Plateau. The next week, he planned to paddle through Desolation Canyon, one of the most spectacular river passages on the planet. But when I encountered him, he was taking a break and making a pitch for connectivity before a gathering of federal land managers, concerned local citizens and ranchers who share the watershed of the Escalante River.
The Escalante River Watershed Partnership (ERWP) is the unwieldy name for a grassroots coalition whose aim is to restore the river’s degraded ecosystem. The rugged network of high desert canyons that drain into the remote Escalante River have been eroding for years thanks to overgrazing by cattle. They are also choked with tamarisk and Russian olive trees.
Tamarisks are an invasive species that suck up precious ground water, while filling in springs and seeps that are the only water sources for many bird and animal species. The tall, feathery plumes of the tamarisk have taken over hundreds of miles of riverbank in the West. “Tammies” also salt the surrounding soil when they shed their leaves, killing native plants that might otherwise compete. A beetle was imported from Eurasia to eat the tammies and was unbelievably successful. As a result, those thick hedges that still block riverbanks are now dead-dry and ready to ignite. If not cut back, they will burn or regrow. Russian olive trees also crowd stream banks and add needle-like thorns to the unpleasant mix.
The diverse stakeholders in the ERWP may not share John Davis’s grand vision of an ecologically whole and “rewilded” continent, but they are intent on sewing together and rewilding their pieces of the torn fabric of American life. As any effective organizer knows, you start where there is common ground—or where there are common weeds.
Ranchers, rangers, biologists, hikers and back-country guides are in many ways competing constituencies, but it turns out they all share the goal of clearing riparian (wet) canyons of those suffocating tammies. The scientists survey the ground and identify targets. Grants are written to bring in volunteers to do the fieldwork. Last week, a dozen Great Old Broads for Wilderness, mostly outspoken middle-aged women, spent a week clearing unwanted brush as a service project.
As biologists monitor progress and the group discusses issues that arise, inevitably the damage done by grazing cows comes up. It couldn’t be a more awkward topic. After all, ranchers are in the room. Cattle ranching in these desert landscapes is a marginal activity. Those ranchers depend on federal grants, tax breaks and access to public land to make it work. But cows erode stream banks and silt the water, short-circuit forest succession by eating seedlings, and contaminate fresh water with their voluminous poop that also spreads cheatgrass and weeds.
The hope is that eventually the EWRP will become a platform for a public airing of difficult issues like where cattle should be allowed to graze on public land and how many and when.
A Roadkill Extravaganza
Those awaiting Davis’s Trek West presentation this particular day in this particular corner of Utah have already found a scale that seems to fit the desperate needs of our landscape, state, country and planet. Most of us who believe in change are caught between the seeming futility of small-scale actions—like recycling our trash or using more energy-efficient light bulbs—and the impotence we experience when we push for large-scale change like climate legislation in Congress or international treaties to limit atmospheric greenhouse gases.
On the one hand, too little; on the other, too late. There does, however, turn out to be a middle scale between individual action and national or global campaigns that works well and makes sense: the community. That’s the place where people can best embrace their roles as citizens, face off, share, contend, cooperate, create, learn from and empower one another.
Watershed partnerships harken back to an old ideal. John Wesley Powell, the one-armed general and Civil War hero who later explored the Colorado River and its tributaries, was the first person to grasp and publicize the aridity rather than fecundity of significant parts of the American West. He argued that practices and policies developed for wet Eastern lands were inappropriate for the drier West. He advocated for governance around watersheds where local stakeholders committed to living within the limits they knew firsthand could come together and plan. That’s what I’m observing this morning in Utah. In twenty-first-century terms, think of it as ecological citizenship.
Davis claims he is shy and a poor presenter, but it turns out that he is quietly charismatic. The case he makes for corridors is practical. His listeners know that he is trekking across a landscape that is not your grandfather’s Wild West. The wide-open spaces where the antelope once roamed are now fragmented by a zillion roads featuring SUVs with flattened animals on their bumpers. Davis says that, on his most recent journey, he’s already seen at least 1,000 crushed, dead creatures. It’s been a roadkill extravaganza.
So, what to do? He shows pictures of a landscaped underpass in nearby Kanab, UT, constructed at a deer crossing where at least 100 deer a year were being hit by cars. Every year about 10 percent of the local herd was becoming roadkill along with foxes, turkeys and the occasional bobcat. The underpass cost $2.6 million, which is hardly chump change in this neck of the woods, but each deer-car collision costs, on average, $6,600. Do the math, he tells them. Making the landscape permeable for animals seeking food, mates and water keeps them healthy and pays for itself soon enough.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The Wolf at the Door
Ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers who serve them view John Davis skeptically. For one thing, he’s been frank about the need to reintroduce wolves across Western ecosystems, given the “keystone” role they play in shaping a healthy landscape. In case you’re not a Westerner, you should know that the subject of wolf reintroduction is a political third rail in much of our region. It’s an idea that would stun and appall our grandfathers, who killed wolves on their lands to leave more deer and elk for hunters and make meadows safe for cattle.
Ecologically, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has been an unqualified success. Since wolves were returned to that landscape, elk are no longer bunching up and munching down in stream-fed valleys until they are silted, eroded and devoid of other wildlife. The wolves thin the elk herds and move them, which, in turn, allows willows, aspens, beavers, birds and a more biodiverse landscape to thrive. Their success in Yellowstone has confirmed the insights of conservation biologists, giving them credibility and authority. Cowboys fear that, having pushed aside elk, conservationists will go after their cows next.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, elk hunters, cowboys, gun-nuts and tea-hadi politicians have worked themselves into an anti-wolf frenzy. Western state legislators have introduced several bills designed to limit and control wolves even if they haven’t seen one in their area for 100 years. They want to trade the wolves’ endangered status under the law for licenses to hunt them. A few days after Davis met the watershed group, the Obama administration caved in to this eco-political hysteria and agreed to remove endangered species protections from wolves. This backlash against reintroduction has been painful for advocates like Davis.
A Greater Canyonlands National Monument Moment?
The decision to lift wolf protection is consistent with the Obama administration’s disappointing record on Western environmental issues. Nevertheless, conservation advocacy groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Sierra Club are urging the president to take a cue from Bill Clinton’s example. Back in 1996, he created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument under the Antiquities Act that allows presidents to set aside natural and archaeological treasures. Now, the conservation groups want Obama to do something similar on an even grander scale and create a Greater Canyonlands National Monument from some of the healthiest wild lands in southern Utah.
A few days later, Davis addressed the need for such a monument at a forum in Moab, UT. Our state has about 9 million acres of quality wilderness land ready to be designated and protected as such. That’s a lot of core area for John Davis’s conservation vision, a lot of possibility for connectivity. But the public debate about wilderness designation has been stalemated for decades. Utah Republicans in particular resist more steps to formally protect wilderness areas even though the public overwhelmingly supports it.
They are wedded to traditional mining and grazing interests and like to portray themselves as victims of a bullying federal government that wants to jam national monuments and formally designated wilderness areas down their throats. But Clinton’s creation of the new monument has proven a boon for Escalante’s economy. In the 12 years since it came into being, the populations of surrounding Kane and Garfield counties have grown by eight percent. Jobs rose in those years by 38 percent and per capita income by 30 percent. Adjoining counties whose economies are oriented towards gas and oil lagged far behind.
President Obama’s appointment of Sally Jewel, former CEO of REI, a chain of outdoor gear and clothing stores, may signal a shift away from ranching and mining as the dominant voices on the Western political stage. Jewel understands firsthand that recreation and tourism have become powerful economic engines here.
A presidential initiative alone will hardly begin to settle all the questions we face about how to make peace with the land that holds us in its embrace. But designating another monument here could be a catalyst for an ever-expanding idea of grassroots stewardship of America’s wild lands.
The Escalante watershed partnership was formed in the wake of Clinton’s catalytic act. At that time, the Clinton administration took another experimental step. It gave stewardship of Grand Staircase Escalante to the controversial BLM instead of the National Park Service. That was a first and undoubtedly a concession to Utah’s politicians who would rather deal with the traditionally compliant, pro-mining, pro-grazing BLM than the stricter National Park Service. Clinton gambled that the move might instill a missing environmental ethic in that bureau.
The results on that are not yet in, but there is no question about one thing: Clinton’s creation has been a catalyst for grassroots political activity. When monument status was a done deal, the river’s stakeholders decided the time had finally come to practice that awkward dance of mutuality among conservationists who want to save the land, ranchers who want to use it and federal land managers charged with sorting out what exactly to do. John Davis is clearly on the side of conservation.
Making the Imaginary Real
The Trek West sponsors recognize that there may never be some grand national initiative to accomplish their vision, nothing like the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Act, or the other signature environmental legislation of the 1960s and 1970s. If our troubled public lands are rescued, it’s likely to happen in a piecemeal fashion, as local and regional groups work to improve their own backyards. The folks who gather in Escalante don’t claim to have all the answers. They are not here to spread the truth and save the world. They belong to no ideology or movement. They’re just working on their piece of the puzzle, experimenting and learning as they go. Rivers being the arteries of the land, it makes sense to start there.
An existing constituency almost always trumps an imaginary one. You can make a case, for example, that a change in land use practices and policies would benefit more people, boost the local economy and be healthier for wildlife, too, but those imaginary winners can't compete with cattlemen who are real, well organized, and have been active in the political arena for many years. They have established close relationships with local politicians who depend on their support. Because they were there first, they wrote most of the rules and those favor their uses of public land.
The trick for conservationists who want change is to make that imaginary constituency real, to bring a new set of stakeholders together and find ways to empower them. That may not be the intention of those who gathered in Escalante for the watershed partnership, but it’s what is happening nonetheless—and John Davis is a catalyst.
According to the prevailing belief, growth should always be the bottom line. Trek West expresses an alternate vision that aims instead to translate ecological principles and criteria into actual designs on the ground. That’s not simply a matter of making better maps. Those of us who live within the iconic Western landscapes so treasured by all Americans understand that maps, charts and spreadsheets do not adequately measure or describe this inspiring and awesome place where we live. We experience the land sensually. Perhaps that is the ultimate message John Davis is delivering as he treks across the continent’s wild spine. He is making sense of the land one footfall at a time, listening to it, watching it and feeling it as he goes. So, reconnect landscapes, yes, but also connect head and heart.
Davis’s quest is heroic, but his testimony is simple: when we learn from the land we lean towards wholeness.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.
By Dirk Lorenzen
2021 begins as a year of Mars. Although our red planetary neighbor isn't as prominent as it was last autumn, it is still noticeable with its characteristic reddish color in the evening sky until the end of April. In early March, Mars shines close to the star cluster Pleiades in the constellation Taurus.
A Landing Like a James Bond Movie<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MDU5MDQ2Nn0.aLE-s5r9YhoJs40XbavhUwUXdY97iykXqo0OO0S5eso/img.jpg?width=980" id="19fa1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c758d3cd0d3e11fbd5290bb95da86396" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="700" data-height="394" />
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (shown in artist's illustration) is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to Mars. Ingenuity, a technology experiment, will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will arrive at Mars' Jezero Crater with Ingenuity attached to its belly. NASA<p>The highlight of this year's Mars exploration is the landing of the NASA rover "Perseverance" on February 18. Once the spacecraft enters the atmosphere it will be slowed down by friction. The heat shield will surpass 1,000 degrees Celsius. Later, parachutes will deploy to slow it down even more. Roughly two kilometers above the planet's surface, a sky crane comes into play. Four thrusters keep the crane properly oriented.</p><p><span></span>The rover is connected to the crane by nylon tethers. Upon approach of Mars' surface, the sky crane will lower Perseverance down about 7 meters. Once the rover has touched down, the tethers are cut and the sky crane flies off to land somewhere else on the surface.</p><p>Entry, descent and landing takes just seven minutes – the so-called seven minutes of terror. The flight team can't interact with the spacecraft on Mars. Experts have to sit and watch what's happening more than 200 million kilometers away. Radio signals from the spacecraft need about 11 minutes to travel in one direction. When the control center in Pasadena, California receives the message that entry has begun, Perseverance will already be on the ground. There is only one chance for a smooth landing. Any error could mean the mission is lost. The audacious sky crane maneuver would be a great feat in any action movie. But NASA knows how to do it – the Curiosity rover landed with a sky crane in 2012.</p>
Life on Mars?<p>Scientists want to use Perseverance to explore whether there is or ever has been life on Mars. Today the planet is a hostile environment – dry and cold with no magnetic field shielding the harsh radiation from space. Life as we know it can't survive on the Martian surface right now. But billions of years ago, Mars was hotter and wetter and had a shield against radiation. So it is at least plausible that simple microbes developed there. Maybe they live in the soil now, one or two meters below the surface. Perseverance will collect samples to find out. A future mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will pick up the samples and return them to Earth. But this won't happen before 2030.</p>
The Long Wait for James Webb<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2OTM1MDUzNX0.0Jmw-vIz6zuOa7eNsVX2oVzc0L6AFp05cAs4QbzdK6c/img.jpg?width=980" id="9cf3e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d46a2f73a4a2e32a9775087750c92431" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="700" data-height="394" />
The Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting the Earth for more than 30 years. NASA<p>The Hubble Space Telescope's images of planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies are legendary. The cosmic eye, launched in 1990, is likely to fail towards the end of this decade. The James Webb Space Telescope will be its successor. It is scheduled to launch on October 31 with a European Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.</p><p><span></span>The launch date is about 14 years later than planned when the project began in 1997. At almost $10 billion (€8.2 billion), the telescope is more than ten times as expensive as originally conceived. Its namesake James Webb was the NASA administrator during the height of the Apollo project in the 1960s.</p><p>Astronomers expect completely new insights from James Webb Telescope images, such as how the universe came into being, how it developed and how galaxies, stars and planets are formed. The instrument will observe the earliest childhood of the cosmos and photograph objects that already existed in the universe 200 to 300 million years after the Big Bang. James Webb, as the experts call the telescope for short, may even provide information about possibly inhabited exoplanets – planets like ours orbiting stars other than the Sun. </p>
A Sensitive German Camera<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTE0MzY3Mn0.o3aPaW5t0MFkEgeJl0HQ1V9lz6WDxKVGXyYWvpfoYyk/img.jpg?width=980" id="6ff49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="187458ae2291c2aeb3bd36bc1ed777e0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="985" data-height="657" />
The fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield and unitized pallet structures that will fold up around the telescope for launch. NASA<p>The mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope is 6.5 meters in diameter and consists of 18 hexagonal segments. The entire instrument unfolds in 178 steps over a period of several months. Only then – probably in the spring of 2022 – will we see its first images.</p><p>Many communication or reconnaissance satellites only unfold in space. However, not every micrometer is as important as with this telescope. </p><p>NIRSpec, one of the four cameras on board, was built at Airbus in Ottobrunn near Munich. It is made of an unusual material: ceramic. Both the basic structure and the mirrors are made of this very light, hard and extremely temperature-insensitive material. With good reason – the large camera has to withstand a lot in space. It is cooled to around -250 degrees Celsius in order to register the weak infrared or thermal radiation from the depths of space. Plastic or metal bend and lead to blurred images. Ceramic, on the other hand, remains in perfect shape.</p><p>The NIRSpec instrument will examine, among other things, emerging stars and distant galaxies. The ceramic camera is incredibly sensitive – it could register the heat radiation from a burning cigarette on the Moon. Thanks to this precision, astronomers will get completely new insights into the cosmos with the James Webb Telescope and NIRSpec.</p>
No Flight to the Moon but to the ISS<p>It's not very likely that the Orion spacecraft from NASA and ESA will start its maiden voyage to the Moon before the end of 2021. As part of the Artemis-1 mission, it will remain in space for four weeks and will orbit the Moon for a few days. There will be no crew on board for the first flight, but two dummies from the German Aerospace Center, which use thousands of sensors to measure the conditions that human beings would be exposed to. The Orion capsule comes from NASA, while the ESA supplies the service module. The service module, which is being built by Airbus in Bremen, provides propulsion, navigation, altitude control and the supply of air, water and fuel. After problems with an engine test in mid-January, the new NASA large rocket Space Launch System (SLS), with which Orion is supposed to be launched, is unlikely to be operational until early 2022.</p><p><span></span>Matthias Maurer from Saarland is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in October. The flight will be in a Crew Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral. Maurer will live and work in the orbital outpost for six months. He is currently training to work on numerous scientific experiments. Maurer will be the twelfth German in space.</p><p>So far, Germany has only sent men into space. In mid-March, ESA will start the next application process for astronauts. A few years ago, the private initiative Die Astronautin ("She is an astronaut") showed that there are numerous excellent female applicants.</p>
Two Lunar Eclipses<p>Even if there is no flight to the Moon, sky fans are looking forward to two eclipses this year. On May 26, there will be a lunar eclipse between 9:45 and 12:53 UTC. From 11:10 to 11:28 UTC, the Moon will be completely in the Earth's shadow. It can then only be seen in a copper-red light. This is sunlight that is directed into the Earth's shadow by the Earth's atmosphere – reddish, like the sky at sunset. This eclipse can be observed throughout the Pacific, and will be best viewed in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Antarctica. In Europe, the Moon will be below the horizon and therefore the eclipse will not be visible.</p><p>This also the case for the partial lunar eclipse on November 19. From 07:18 to 10:47 UTC, the Moon will be partly in the shadow of the Earth. In the middle of the eclipse (around 9:03 UTC) 98% of the Moon will be eclipsed. The spectacle will be best seen in North America, Greenland, East Asia and much of the Pacific, such as Hawaii and New Zealand.</p>
Two Solar Eclipses: One Annular, One Total<p><span>In 2021, the Moon will pass right in front of the sun, twice. On June 10, the moon will be nearly in the furthest point of its elliptical orbit around Earth. So it will be too small to cover the sun completely. In the middle of this eclipse, an annulus of the sun will remain visible. The sun's ring of fire appears between 9:55 and 11:28 UTC for a maximum of four minutes – but it will only be visible in the very sparsely populated areas of northeast Canada, northwestern Greenland, the North Pole and the far east of Siberia.</span></p><p>In the North Atlantic, Europe and large parts of Russia, an eclipse will be seen at least partially. Between 8:12 and 13:11 UTC, the Sun will appear like a cookie that has been bitten into as the Moon covers parts of the bright disk. In some places, the eclipse will last about two hours. In Central Europe, a maximum of one-fifth of the sun will be covered.</p>
Dark Sun Over Antarctica<p>The celestial event of the year will be a total solar eclipse on December 4. In a 400-kilometer-wide strip, the New Moon will cover the sun completely. For a maximum of one minute and 54 seconds, day will turn to night. For that short time, the brightest stars can be seen in the sky and the flaming solar corona can be seen around the dark disc of the Moon.</p><p><span></span>Unfortunately, hardly anyone will get to see this cosmic spectacle because the strip of totality only runs through the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic. From 7:03 to 8:04 UTC the umbra of the Moon moves across the Earth's surface – and perhaps some ships' crews will enjoy the solar corona.</p><p>Only during the few minutes of totality is it possible to look safely at the Sun with the naked eye. During the partial phase or in the case of an annular eclipse, suitable protective goggles are necessary to watch the spectacle. Normal sunglasses are not safe. Looking unprotected into the sun can lead to severe eye damage or even blindness.</p>
Two Giant Planets in Northern Summer and Southern Winter<p>Venus, our other neighboring planet, will be behind the sun on March 26. It is not visible for the first few months of the year. From the end of April through Christmas, it will be visible as an evening star in the sky after sunset. The planet, shrouded in dense clouds, is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. The best visibility will be from September to December.</p><p>The giant planet Jupiter is in its best position of the year on August 20. It then shines in the constellation Capricorn, only disappearing from the evening sky at the beginning of next year. The ringed planet Saturn is also in the constellation Capricorn and can be observed particularly well on August 2. </p><p>Jupiter and Saturn are the stars of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and those of the long winter nights in the Southern Hemisphere. They are in the same area of the sky, almost forming a double star with Jupiter being the brighter of the two.</p>
Shooting Stars in August and December<p>There are certain periods when the Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet and shooting stars are much more likely than on other nights. Many small stones and dust particles are scattered on comet orbits, which light up the Earth's atmosphere for a moment when they enter.</p><p>The Perseids are particularly promising: August 9-13, a few dozen meteors (the technical term for shooting stars) will scurry across the sky per hour. The traces of light will seem to come from the constellation Perseus, near the striking celestial W of Cassiopeia. The Geminids – meteors coming from the constellation Gemini – will be similarly exciting with up to 100 shooting stars per hour, December 10-15.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
- 10 Best Books On Climate Change, According to Activists - EcoWatch ›
- New and Recent Books About Hope in a Time of Climate Change ... ›
By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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