Hurricane Florence Flooded Poultry Operations Housing 1.8 Million Birds, Investigation Finds
The heavy rains and high waters after Hurricane Florence flooded 35 industrial poultry operations in North Carolina housing an estimated 1.8 million birds, according to a new investigation by Waterkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The analysis details how the swine and poultry industry, in the absence of smarter regulation, is not only repeating mistakes, it's compounding them. For instance, 18 of the industrial swine or poultry operations either surrounded or inundated by Florence floodwaters were flooded by Hurricane Matthew, in 2016. And of the 35 industrial poultry operations confirmed flooded, nine were new operations that had been built following flooding by Hurricane Matthew.
The groups released an interactive map, available here, showing the location of industrial animal operations in the state where waste pits or piles were either flooded, breached or surrounded by floodwaters after Hurricane Florence. The new report is an update to the Fields of Filth investigation the groups produced in 2016, and the follow-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, when EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance documented 36 swine and poultry operations hit by flooding.
Flooded poultry operations pose a significant environmental threat, as poultry operations are North Carolina's largest and fastest growing source of nutrient pollution, according to a 2017 report from the state's Department of Environmental Quality. North Carolina's poultry industry produced 56.6 million pounds of plant-available nitrogen in 2014, according to the state's report. That was three times as much nitrogen that year as the state's swine industry, which is second in size nationally only to Iowa's. North Carolina's poultry produced 79.8 million pounds of phosphorus in 2014, six times more phosphorus than the swine industry.
The North Carolina poultry operations that flooded during Hurricane Florence generated an estimated 22,525 tons of waste a year, according to EWG.
The groups will be doing regular testing of water quality in the coming months, and anticipate releasing a followup report in 2019.
"There's no permitting system for poultry in North Carolina, so the state doesn't know where these operations are located," said Christian Breen, a field investigator with Waterkeeper Alliance. "No one did the due diligence to say, 'Is this really a good place to build them?'"
Soren Rundquist, director of spatial analysis at the Environmental Working Group, said that through his work examining satellite images and geotagged aerial photographs following Hurricane Florence, "I've already located hundreds of poultry operations that have been built in North Carolina since Hurricane Matthew hit. Despite the overwhelming evidence that allowing new facilities to be built will result in more flooding and more pollution, regulators are turning a blind eye to the problem."
Waterkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Working Group used geotagged aerial photographs, high-resolution satellite imagery, a state database of hog operation locations and an earlier Waterkeeper Alliance investigation of poultry locations using satellite imagery to identify hog and poultry operations. The groups used an algorithm based on the state's formula to estimate the number of animals the operations house.
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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.