Protecting One of Earth's Greatest Treasures
This week one of the greatest natural treasures on Earth was protected. The giant sequoias are direct descendants of the enormous trees that once covered North America and loomed over dinosaurs in vast forests of fern and evergreen. Now they survive in just one small redoubt, the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
By the time modern man first encountered the giant trees, only sixty-odd scattered groves remained. Our first response was awestruck incredulity. Our second was to start cutting them down. The wood wasn't good for much. Since it was too fibrous and brittle for construction, most of it became shingles, stakes and matchsticks. The plundering lasted for decades, with one lumber company felling an estimated 8,000 trees in the Converse Basin alone. Soon, nearly a third of the giant sequoias were gone.
In fairness, it's difficult to imagine the mindset of a 19th century lumberman. We can more easily understand why over 1 million people would sign a petition to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 demanding that something be done to protect the trees (that's about one in 80 Americans, at a time when signing a petition required more than a mouse click). Little wonder that a fledgling conservation group called the Sierra Club adopted the giant sequoia for its first official seal and for every logo to this day. The word iconic has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, but no adjective better suits these majestic trees.
Thankfully, something was done. Eventually, about half of the remaining giant sequoias wound up under the protection of the National Park Service, in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Finally, these trees would be safe from logging.
Most of the remaining trees, however, were in Sequoia National Forest, which was (and still is) managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service was accustomed to managing trees and other natural resources as commodities, and the giant sequoias were no exception. Some logging of giant sequoias continued well into the 20th century. Almost as alarming, though, was the aggressive logging of other tree species in giant sequoia forests, which severely harmed the unique ecosystem on which the giant sequoias depend.
President Clinton's creation of Giant Sequoia National Monument on April 15, 2000, was designed to change that. The new national monument held most of the giant sequoia groves not already under federal protection. Although most national monuments are managed by the National Park Service, this one, which had been carved out of Sequoia National Forest, was placed under the authority of the Forest Service, but with a key provision:
No portion of the monument shall be considered to be suited for timber production, and no part of the monument shall be used in a calculation or provision of a sustained yield of timber from the Sequoia National Forest. Removal of trees, except for personal use fuel wood, from within the monument area may take place only if clearly needed for ecological restoration and maintenance or public safety.
The Forest Service was given three years to develop a plan for managing the new national monument. But when the plan was finally unveiled, under the Bush Administration, it didn't take the intent of the proclamation to heart. The Forest Service wanted to allow 7.5 million board feet of timber, enough to fill 1,500 logging trucks, to be removed from the monument each year.
Because the Forest Service's plan was so obviously at odds with the intent of the monument proclamation, the Sierra Club and five other groups, as well as the California attorney general, challenged it in court. More than two years later, we won. Judge Charles R. Breyer of the United States District Court for Northern California found that "the Forest Service's interest in harvesting timber has trampled the applicable environmental laws." Judge Breyer added that the monument plan was "decidedly incomprehensible."
The Forest Service was told to start over and try again.
Now, after six years, hundreds of thousands of public comments, and countless hours of hard work, the U.S. Forest Service has finally released a management plan for Giant Sequoia National Monument that doesn't default to cutting trees down. That's a significant departure from the Bush administration's practice of logging without limits.
Like the National Park Service, which has done a stellar job of managing its own giant sequoia forests, the new plan clearly states that the Forest Service will give priority to using fire (instead of chain saws) as a means of keeping the forests healthy (giant sequoias are resistant to fast-burning fires, which are essential to the giant sequoia ecosystem). It also spells out more clearly when trees may be removed for ecological and safety reasons. No giant sequoias greater than 12 inches in diameter can be cut, and then only as a last resort. The new plan even recommends the creation of a new 15,110 acre Moses Wilderness Area, which will be important as plants and wildlife adapt to climate change.
Is it perfect? No. There's still the possibility that some exemptions and loopholes could allow too much logging in the wrong places in the name of fire prevention. We look forward to working with our members, volunteers, scientists and the Forest Service to address those concerns.
But under this plan for the Giant Sequoia National Monument, it's at least possible that the U.S. Forest Service will finally treat the surviving giant sequoias like the irreplaceable treasures they are, using the same tools for ecological restoration that have worked so well in the neighboring national parks. We will remain vigilant to assure that this possibility becomes a reality and that these mighty forests are finally restored to health.
We've spent more than a century working to protect all of these forest giants. But for trees that have watched the seasons change for thousands of years, and for a species that's adapted and endured for millennia, these perilous decades have been only the merest wink of time. Let's hope their patience pays off.
You can thank the U.S. Forest Service for improving their plan and encourage them to make it even stronger here.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.