By Tom Weis
Day 27—If you asked me a year ago if I pictured myself sleeping outside in winter-like conditions in a horse pasture behind a gas station in northern Nebraska after pedaling eight straight hours, two and a half of them in the dark cold on a road with almost no shoulder to a town too small to have an inn, I would have told you no. As much as I enjoy riding bikes, I don’t really want to be out here. I want to be home, close to my loved ones. Every day proves a challenge, physically, mentally and emotionally. But some things are more important than one’s personal comfort. Since President Barack Obama won’t do his job (protecting America from international thugs like TransCanada), the American people are going to have to do it for him. That’s why I’m out here pedaling the 1,700-mile proposed pipeline route, and why we need reinforcements, and help. As the saying goes, democracy is not a spectator sport.
Fortunately, the gas station I slept behind had a diner inside with great food, so it didn’t take long to warm up and feel rejuvinated. Then the one-on-one meetings began. First were ranchers Teri Taylor and John Harter. John and Teri had called others, and soon the dining room was full of opponents of Keystone XL—Todd Cone, Terry Frisch, Byron Steskal, Lynda Buoy (thanks for breakfast) and Myrna Stewart, each with their own compelling personal story to share (look for their interviews to be posted on YouTube soon). Each in their own way shared with me the underhanded ways in which TransCanada has dealt with them and how this pipeline proposal has turned their lives upside down. If Obama goes the wrong way on this, Todd plans to erect a monument to memorialize the individuals in the Obama administration and Nebraska State Senate who contaminated Nebraska’s water. Such a Monument of Shame should be erected in every state Keystone XL threatens. Nebraskans are rising up against this travesty.
Later, after taking a group photo with the trike, we heard a loud hissing sound, with all eyes going to the rear tire. Probably a burr from the field had punctured the tube and it was just waiting for an audience before going comically flat. A good laugh was had by all, only problem being now I had to get it fixed and I was already behind schedule. Right about then, the owner of Rock County Tire, Brent Giles, drove by the lot. His friends flagged him down and he cheerfully fixed the tire in almost no time as I finished packing up my gear. Thanks so much, Brent. Then it was back on the road, where I did a roadside interview with Karl Connell, who gave me an earful on TransCanada’s shenanigans. A short while later I stopped into The Atkinson Graphic for a quick interview. Just as the reporter was about to take a picture of the trike, three young boys walked up to admire it and shared with me how they were against the pipeline proposal. So the picture included all four of us.
Hopped back on the Cowboy Trail (a bike/pedestrian trail closed to motorized vehicles), for what will probably be my only car-less stretch of the whole ride, soaking up every tranquil moment. Adding to the day’s beauty were two hawks who flew with me for short stretches. Ended the 40-mile day shortly after dusk in O’Neill, where I met up with Karl, Susan Loebbe and Ernie Fellows, who were on their way to Lincoln to testify (for the second time in three days) in the Special Session devoted to Keystone XL. Look for their interviews here soon. Am finally getting this all written down at 1:00 a.m., when what I want most is sleep. Some things just have to wait.
How fitting that the man who headed South Africa’s Truth Commission has taken such a strong interest in Keystone XL. Check out this powerful editorial by Desmond Tutu, The Devil in the Tar Sands.
For more information, click here.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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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.