'Sick Joke': House Agriculture Committee Advances Farm Bill Attacking Environment, Endangered Species
The House Agriculture Committee passed H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill, Wednesday on a party-line basis. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), includes dozens of poison-pill riders that would gut fundamental environmental safeguards.
Most significantly it would completely exempt the use of pesticides from the Endangered Species Act, effectively dooming hundreds of endangered species to extinction and making it legal to kill any endangered species with a pesticide at almost any time.
"This Farm Bill is a sick joke. It gives polluters and special interests the keys to the castle, while environmental safeguards are thrown in the ditch," said Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Farmers don't want to poison our waters, kill our wildlife, and reduce our national forests to clearcuts. This is another low for this Congress, which is already the most anti-conservation in history."
The next step for this legislation is consideration by the full U.S. House of Representatives in the following weeks.
In addition to the broadest attack on the Endangered Species Act in 40 years, the legislation weakens Clean Water Act protections from pesticides and includes a sweeping forestry title that would gut protections for forests and eliminate many safeguards within the National Environmental Policy Act.
The bill's attacks on the environment include the following provisions:
- Section 9111: Completely exempts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from the requirements of the Endangered Species Act allowing the agency to ignore impacts of toxic pesticides on endangered wildlife.
- Section 9118: Eliminates all protections under the Clean Water Act when toxic pesticides are sprayed directly into rivers and streams.
- Section 8303: Guts the consultation process required by Endangered Species Act on national forests by allowing the U.S. Forest Service to rubber-stamp project approvals without consulting with expert wildlife scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about whether a project would put endangered species in jeopardy of extinction.
- Section 8107: Doubles the allowed acreage for "categorical exclusions" under the National Environmental Policy Act from 3,000 to 6,000 acres per project, allowing the Forest Service to approve clearcuts under the guise of controlling insects and disease outbreaks in national forests.
- Section 8311-8321: Eliminates public engagement, environmental review of most Forest Service logging projects by creating 10 new categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act for projects up to 6,000 acres in size.
- Section 8503: Guts the "extraordinary circumstances" protections under the National Environmental Policy Act, allowing the Forest Service to approve destructive projects without further review even if sensitive species are present or the project is within a wilderness area.
"This farm bill should be called the Poisoned Waters and DDT Restoration Act. If it becomes law, Americans can look forward to our water and wildlife being poisoned by pesticides for the rest of our lives," said Hartl.
Senate Republicans Push Attacks on Endangered Species, Clean Water Under Guise of Farming https://t.co/xywqdzt9N5… https://t.co/kDXExWHUoF— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518010616.0
By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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