How the Government Shutdown Could Impact the Nation’s Environment
A partial government shutdown continued for a third day Monday as legislators left the capital for the holidays, CNBC reported Monday. The shutdown is due to an impasse between President Donald Trump and Congress over $5 billion in funding for Trump's border wall, a construction project that would have devastating consequences for wildlife in the region.
In the meantime, the shutdown is impacting about one-fourth of the federal government, meaning some 800,000 staffers will either be furloughed or asked to work without pay over the holidays, The Weather Channel explained. The shutdown will now last at least until Thursday, when the Senate returns after Christmas, and could drag into the New Year, when the new Congress's session begins Jan. 3, CNBC reported.
Here are some of the key ways the shutdown could impact the nation's environment.
#shutdown 😑 our #NationalParks are affected too. All the services we take for granted. Employees have to go to work… https://t.co/aQf8hKCcCe— Chhaya Néné (@Chhaya Néné)1545671586.0
For the most part, the nation's parks and monuments will remain open, but unstaffed, meaning toilets, campgrounds and gift shops will be closed. This could also have major consequences for the safety of visitors and the health of the parks.
Operations director of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides Haley Woods told The Guardian she was not sure if there would be enough staff to keep roads clear if it snows in the park. And co-owner of Cliffhanger Guides Seth Zaharias, who leads climbing tours in Joshua Tree National Park, told The Guardian he was worried about the damage unsupervised visitors could do if the shutdown drags on.
"It's going to come down to environmental degradation. It's going to be trash; it's going to be human waste; it's going to be people driving around on the land," he said. "We expect to have about 100,000 people out there in the park during the holiday season, so if 0.1 percent do stupid things, that could have a big impact."
2. Climate and Weather:
The NWS will continue to operate 24x7 through the government shutdown to provide reliable forecasts and warnings. O… https://t.co/2wbyBLq6s4— NWS WPC (@NWS WPC)1545484993.0
Some 3,600 forecasters with the National Weather Service (NWS) will be required to work without pay, according to The Weather Channel. They are some of the workers considered essential for public safety by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Grist explained, but the requirement puts additional stress on these workers even as they try to keep us safe.
"All I can think of is 'what happens if my car breaks down on the way to work' or 'what if I get really sick and have to go to the hospital?'" NWS forecaster in Mobile, Alabama Morgan Barry told Grist, explaining how a lack of pay might impact her.
Outside of essential warnings about extreme weather events, however, the shutdown could have long-term consequences for the ability of scientists to better understand climate change. Research funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the National Science Foundation will be put on hold, and NASA and NOAA won't be able to share data and updates during the shutdown, AccuWeather explained.
If the shutdown persists, he told Grist, it "could tank the project, or put it off for a full year, even if we eventually get approved for funding. The stress is a background cloud that is always there, and this makes the cloud a little darker," he said.
3. Environmental Protection
.@EPA to remain open next week in the event of a shutdown, per email to staff this evening. The agency has “determ… https://t.co/irnEPDrs7V— Kevin Bogardus (@Kevin Bogardus)1545346642.0
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has enough carryover money to keep most of its around 1,400 staff members working for a limited amount of time, so most agency operations will not be massively impacted unless the shutdown drags on for more than two weeks, Bloomberg Environment reported.
However, the shutdown plan includes some restrictions on travel that could slow down the ability of staff members to inspect polluting facilities or approve wetlands for protection, former EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Stan Meiburg told Bloomberg Environment.
Any shutdown leads to "sluggishness, delays, and general pileups," he said.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.