Public Opposition Helps Postpone Sale of Gas Drilling Leases in National Forest
The Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have said they are delaying the June 14 sale of gas drilling leases on almost 43,000 acres of public lands in the Talladega National Forest, a proposal which has sparked widespread and vigorous opposition from local citizens and some elected officials. Following a story that broke in the Washington Post on June 8, the agencies issued a press statement announcing they would delay the lease sale to allow time for public engagement, including public informational meetings.
Wild South, Friends of the Talladega National Forest and concerned citizens in Alabama have collected more than 7,000 signatures over the past few weeks from people opposed to the sale of oil and gas leases in Alabama's National Forests. The signatures were submitted this week to the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM with a plea to remove all Alabama National Forests parcels from the lease sale.
It was unclear as of June 8 when public meetings would be scheduled, or whether the BLM would re-schedule the lease sale.
Following is a statement from Southern Environmental Law Center's (SELC) Keith Johnston:
"This is welcome news from the BLM and the Forest Service. It recognizes how concerned people are about the potential environmental harm from leasing and drilling on these public lands. It ensures the public will have an opportunity to be heard and that the agencies can fully study the impacts of these potential leases."
On April 16, SELC submitted a formal "letter of protest" to the BLM on behalf of Wild South and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) saying the agency was improperly relying on an outdated environmental analysis performed by the Forest Service in 2004. Among other deficiencies, this stale analysis fails to assess the environmental impacts of drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking."
Prior to the letter, local citizens and elected officials were not aware of the proposed lease sale, and had no opportunity for public comment. The Talladega National Forest is a source of clean drinking water for numerous communities, including Anniston and Jacksonville, Ala. In 2009, the Forest Service estimated about 600,000 visits a year to the forest by hikers, hunters, anglers, horseback riders and others who seek out the forest's exceptional recreational opportunities.
On May 31, SELC, on behalf of Wild South and NRDC filed a "notice of intent" to sue the two agencies under the Endangered Species Act, asserting the leasing and future drilling in the Talladega would likely harm numerous federally listed threatened and endangered species, including the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, the Indiana Bat and several fish and mussel species.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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