Obama Permanently Protects Alaska's Bristol Bay From Oil and Gas Development
In a victory for fisheries, recreational sportsmen, Native tribes, wildlife, local communities and the environment, President Obama Tuesday put Alaska’s Bristol Bay area permanently off limits to oil and gas development under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953, something those groups had been seeking for decades. "Alaskans have been fighting to preserve Bristol Bay for decades. Today, we got it done," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
Previously, the president or Congress had extended temporary protection to Bristol Bay since leases for potential development were sold to oil companies in 1986. Opposition became especially strong after the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989, spilling million of barrels of oil and causing untold damage to the environment, and the leases were bought back by the government in the ’90s.
"The president’s announcement is a victory for the people of Bristol Bay, who for more than 30 years have worked to secure their fishing grounds and ensure that their cultural heritage will continue to thrive for generations,” said Marilyn Heiman, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's U.S. Arctic Project. “It also means that the region’s incredible fishing, wildlife and cultural values are permanently protected in one of America’s iconic marine habitats.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts is a member of the Fish Basket Coalition, a partnership of fishermen, commercial fishing businesses, residents, Native tribes and environmental groups founded to protect the bay and the surrounding Bering Sea area from oil and gas exploration. About the size of New York state, the Bristol Bay region is one of the nation's most prolific fishing grounds, providing about 40 percent of the seafood caught in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the region's potential for oil and gas discovery is low, with an estimated $7.7 billion in 25-40 years of production. But its commercial fisheries produce about $2.5 billion a year, yielding wild sockeye, chinook and coho salmon, halibut, pollock, sablefish and king red crab.
“We have great fisheries in Bristol Bay worth billions of dollars because we have protected our fishing grounds and our spawning beds from mining in the headwaters and oil and gas rigs in the ocean,” said Robin Samuelsen, chairman of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. “Our fisheries bring economic benefits to our people and have sustained a way of life for thousands of years.”
“With the removal of Bristol Bay from the federal offshore oil and gas leasing program in perpetuity, we have more certainty that our waters will be safe for the sustainable fisheries that make our jobs possible and provide a renewable economy,” said David Harsila, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association. “This has been a long time coming, and Bristol Bay fishermen are breathing a collective sigh of relief.”
While Bristol Bay's fisheries provide the region's economic lifeblood, it's also an area of stunning scenic beauty and home to many species of seabirds and marine animals, including beluga whales, gray whales and Pacific walrus. So environmental advocates were rejoicing as well.
"We applaud President Obama for this bold action to protect some of America's most bountiful waters," said Dan Ritzman, Alaska program director for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "These waters are vital for an abundance of wildlife, including salmon and whales. Thanks to the President's leadership and decades of work by the local community, tribal organizations and the seafood industry, this area has finally received the protection it deserves. The president's action is especially important in the face of a changing climate. Keeping dirty fuels and the climate pollution they produce in the ground will benefit us all, but especially the people of Alaska whose home is already warming at twice the rate of the lower 48 states. Putting these waters, and others in the Arctic Ocean, off-limits to new dirty fuel development will help preserve Alaska's unique natural wonders and the traditions, economies and wildlife they support."
And when Republicans inevitably scream about the President's dictatorial overreach, keep this in mind: in 1960, President Eisenhower used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently withdraw an area off Key Largo, Florida to gas and oil development, and in 1969, President Nixon did the same for a coastal area off Santa Barbara, California.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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