A bill allowing hunters and private contractors to kill up to 90 percent of the state's wolves passed the Idaho House on Tuesday.
The measure also passed the Idaho Senate last week, which means that the fate of around 1,000 wolves now lies with Republican Gov. Brad Little.
"If this horrific bill passes, Idaho could nearly wipe out its wolf population," Andrea Zaccardi, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) senior attorney, said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "Unless we can stop this from becoming law, decades of progress towards wolf recovery will be lost."
The bill, which is supported by the agricultural industry, expands wolf-killing methods, such as using night-vision equipment and hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, The AP reported. The bill also allows the state to hire private contractors to kill wolves and increases the amount of money provided from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control board from $110,000 to $300,000.
Ultimately, the bill allows the state to whittle down its wolf population to 150, the lower limit on state wolves earmarked by Idaho's 2002 wolf conservation and management plan. However, Idaho's wolf population has hovered around 1,500 for the past two years.
The bill's proponents argue that wolves harm livestock and wildlife. Cattle and sheep ranchers claim wolves cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars because they either kill animals outright or scare them to the point of losing weight.
"We have areas of the state where the wolves are having a real detrimental impact on our wildlife," House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who co-sponsored the bill, told The AP. "They are hurting the herds, elk and deer. This allows the Wolf (Depredation) Control Board and others to control them, also, which we have not done in the past."
However, environmentalists and animal-rights advocates challenge this view. About 12 conservation groups, including CBD, sent a statement to Gov. Little urging him to veto the bill. A study in Yellowstone National Park found that wolves improve the health of ecosystems, the groups said. They argued that wolves also benefit elk and deer herds by killing diseased animals as well as coyotes, who are bigger threats to livestock. Wolves kill less than one percent of the state's livestock, and elk numbers are above the population target in most of the state, CBD pointed out.
"Governor Little has a duty to protect Idaho's ecosystem and wildlife tourism economy — both of which desperately need wolves," Amanda Wight, program manager of wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "Science, ethics and the Governor's own Fish and Game Commission's position all indicate without a doubt that Gov. Little must veto this bill, which puts an estimated 83-90% of Idaho's wolf population in the crosshairs of trophy hunters, trappers and private contractors using the cruelest methods imaginable. America's wolf families do not deserve to be barbarically gunned down in their dens, shot from helicopters and airplanes, or strangled in snares — all methods this bill allows. We cannot allow hate to win."
Gray wolves have a fraught history in the U.S. They were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the start of the 20th century. When they were finally granted Endangered Species Act protections in 1974, there were only hundreds left. Wolf populations have recovered somewhat since then, but are still missing from about 70 percent of their potential habitat.
Despite this, gray wolves lost their endangered species protection in Idaho, Montana and portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah in 2011 and in all lower 48 states in 2020. Since regaining control of wolf management, Idaho has allowed increasingly aggressive wolf-control measures. The state doesn't place a yearly quota on the number of wolves that can be killed, and in March extended the hunting season to year round in most of the state. Approximately 500 wolves have been killed a year for the last two years, The AP reported.
Opponents of the new bill say it could return Idaho's wolves to federal management if wolf numbers decline to 100.
"If the bill becomes law, there will be no margin for error," environmental advocates said in their letter to Gov. Little. "Conservationists stand ready to compel an Endangered Species Act listing if viable wolf populations aren't sustained in the face of these heavy-handed new methods."
By Reynard Loki
The exact origin of the coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which started the COVID-19 pandemic, is still unclear. Early reports suggested that the virus jumped from an animal to a human at Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a "wet market" that sells live animals. On March 30, the international team of scientists assembled by the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report of their recent visit to Wuhan to investigate the source of the virus and confirmed the "zoonotic source of SARS-CoV-2."
"Evidence from surveys and targeted studies so far have shown that the coronaviruses most highly related to SARS-CoV-2 are found in bats and pangolins, suggesting that these mammals may be the reservoir of the virus that causes COVID-19," the WHO report states. "In addition to these findings, the high susceptibility of mink and cats to SARS-CoV- 2 suggests that additional species of animals may act as a potential reservoir. … Several samples from patients with exposure to the Huanan market had identical virus genomes, suggesting that they may have been part of a cluster."
Virologists believe that these sites, which bring together a variety of live animals into close contact with humans, are ideal places for this sort of interspecies viral transmission. In 2002, for example, scientists identified the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus in Himalayan palm civets, a small mammal, in wet markets in Shenzhen in southern China. SARS-CoV-2 is a strain of SARS.
"While there remains a need for more investigation, we are not surprised about the wildlife origin referenced in the report and we know enough to act now to reduce risks of future zoonotic pandemics," said Dr. Christian Walzer, chief global veterinarian of the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a press statement. "Some 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases reported globally are zoonoses, causing about 1 billion cases of human illness and millions of deaths every year. Of the more than 30 new human pathogens detected in the last three decades, 75 percent have originated in animals. Importantly, research has shown zoonotic-origin pathogens increase along the supply chain from source to market."
Wet markets are "unique epicenters for transmission of potential viral pathogens, [where] new genes may be acquired or existing genes modified through various mechanisms such as genetic reassortment, recombination and mutation," according to a paper written by a team of microbiologists from the University of Hong Kong and published in the journal Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases in 2006. They add that these markets, "at closer proximity to humans, with high viral burden or strains of higher transmission efficiency, facilitate transmission of the viruses to humans."
"Once you walk into one of these places, it's quite obvious why they're called wet markets," said Jason Beaubien, NPR's global health and development correspondent, on the radio station's "Morning Edition" show last year. "Live fish in open tubs are splashing water all over the place. The countertops of the stalls are red with blood as fish are gutted and filleted right in front of the customers' eyes. There are live turtles and crustaceans climbing over each other in boxes. Melting ice adds to the slush on the floor. So things are wet."
In January, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Fred Upton (R-MI) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to address the public health risks posed by wildlife markets, called the Preventing Future Pandemics Act (H.R. 151). The bill "prohibits importing, exporting, purchasing, or selling live wild animals in the United States for human consumption as food or medicine."
It also directs the Department of the Interior to "hire, train, and deploy at least 50 new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement attachés around the world." Additionally, the bill obliges the United States to work with other members of the United Nations toward instituting a global ban on commercial wildlife markets and enforcement of wildlife trafficking laws. A companion bill, S. 37, was introduced into the Senate by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Cornyn (R-TX).
"For the sake of our health, our economy, and our livelihoods, preventing the next pandemic before it starts is perhaps the most important thing we must do," said Rep. Quigley. "We were thrilled with the robust, bipartisan support the bill received last year and we're committed to building on that momentum to see this bill become law."
In addition to their threat to public health, wet markets are sites of extreme pain and suffering for so many animals. "Wild animals sold in commercial wildlife markets endure extreme stress and unsanitary conditions before being slaughtered," according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit based in Cotati, California, that works to pass state and federal legislation supporting animal rights. "As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, our continued exploitation of animals and our environment is fueling the next pandemic. Shutting down commercial wildlife markets—and the international wildlife trade—is critical both to reducing the risk of novel zoonotic disease and animal suffering."
"We must acknowledge the basic tenet that the more we destroy and intrude on nature, the more likely zoonotic spillovers will occur," said Dr. Walzer. "Zoonotic spillover events and subsequent outbreaks are inevitable, as the interfaces between wildlife and humans increase, primarily due to deforestation and agricultural expansion."
The cruelty to animals witnessed at wet markets points to a deeper, ethical concern about how we view and treat other species. In November 2020, during an interview with Euronews, Jane Goodall, the renowned British primatologist and ethologist, said that "we, in part, brought [COVID-19] on ourselves by our disrespect of nature and our disrespect of animals."
She added, "We push animals into closer contact with humans. We hunt them, eat them, traffic them, sell them as exotic pets around the world, we put them in factory farms in terrible close conditions and all these situations can lead to an environment where a pathogen, like a virus, can jump from an animal to a person, where it may cause a new disease like COVID-19."
Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy's Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. Learn about the importance of organic hemp oil, why it's better for the environment, and which CBD companies actually make trustworthy products with sustainable farming processes. Use our curated list to find the best organic CBD oil that's better for you and the environment.
What is Organic CBD Oil?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it's one of the hundreds of cannabinoids found within cannabis sativa plants. This plant compound is believed to have many potential health and wellness benefits, including support for anxiety, stress, sleep, and chronic pain.
Since CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, it contains only trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis plants). Instead, the effects of CBD are much more subtle and promote a general sense of calm and relaxation in most users.
The most important (and prominent) certification for organic products comes from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). What exactly does this certification entail? Essentially, a label indicating that a product is "USDA Organic" or "Certified Organic" means that at least 95% of the ingredients are obtained from organic sources.
For hemp to be considered organic by the USDA, it must be grown without the use of industrial solvents, irradiation, genetic engineering (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, or chemical fertilizer. Instead, farmers rely on natural substances and mechanical, physical, or biologically based farming techniques to cultivate healthy and organic crops.
Choosing an organic CBD oil without additives is important because it indicates that a product is both safe to use and better for the environment. CBD extracted from an organic hemp plant is more likely to be free from pesticides, heavy metals, and other harmful toxins. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of the plant extract without worrying about any additional and unwanted compounds. Organic CBD is also a better choice for the environment, as it is grown using more sustainable farming practices that help preserve and protect land and water resources.
Our Top Organic CBD Oils
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall Organic - Spruce Lab Grade CBD Oil
- Best Organic Full Spectrum - Charlotte's Web Original Formula
- Best USDA Organic - Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil
- Best Organic Flavor - R+R Medicinals Fresh Mint CBD Tincture
- Best Organic Broad Spectrum - Joy Organics CBD Oil
- Best Organic CBD for Stress - Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body
- Best Organic CBD for Sleep - NuLeaf Naturals CBD Oil
- Best Organic Satisfaction Guarantee - CBDistillery Relief + Relax
How We Chose the Best Organic CBD Oils
To create our list of the best organic CBD oil, we compared brands and products on a number of different criteria. These included:
- Hemp Source - We chose brands that use organic hemp grown in the U.S. and that follow natural and organic farming practices.
- Natural Ingredients - Each of the products on our list were examined to see if they used organic and natural ingredients for things like flavoring and carrier oils.
- Strengths - We looked for organic CBD oils that provide different concentrations of CBD to choose from, depending on your needs.
- Lab Testing - All of the CBD products we recommend must undergo independent third-party lab testing and provide access to those results.
- Certifications - In addition to USDA organic certification, we also looked for seals from the U.S. Hemp Authority, U.S. Hemp Roundtable, B-Corp, and other industry standards.
A note about USDA organic certification: before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, no hemp-derived products could be dubbed as "certified organic" as the hemp plant and its extracts were still categorized as a Schedule I Controlled Substance.
Due to the fact that industrial hemp has only recently become an agricultural crop, very few CBD oils are USDA certified organic. Many CBD products contain hemp extracts from plants that were grown organically, but may not be federally certified yet. Where necessary, we researched each brand's growing and harvesting practices to determine if they follow organic and natural cultivation methods, even if they are not fully certified by the USDA.
8 Best Organic CBD Oils of 2021
Best Overall: Spruce Lab Grade CBD Oil
Spruce CBD is well-known for its potent full spectrum CBD oils that provide many of the additional beneficial phytocannabinoids found in hemp. This brand works with two family-owned, sustainably focused farms in the USA (one located in Kentucky and one in North Carolina) to create its organic, small product batches. This tincture contains 750mg of CBD, but they also offer a max potency Spruce CBD oil that contains 2400mg of full-spectrum CBD extract.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 25 mg CBD per serving
- Source - North Carolina and Kentucky
Best Full Spectrum: Charlotte's Web Original Formula
One of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for years. The company is currently in the process of achieving USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 50 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavors like chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist. We love Charlotte's Web Original Original Formula because it is made with U.S. Hemp Authority Certified CBD and organic extra virgin olive oil.
Best USDA Organic: Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil
Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil uses USDA organic hemp grown on Kentucky farms and USDA organic MCT coconut oil. What makes Cornbread Hemp unique is that they only use hemp flower to create their CBD extract, resulting in a cleaner, purer product. Vegan and non-GMO, this organic CBD oil provides all of the secondary cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids of hemp without any preservatives, flavorings, seeds, or stems.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 50 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Kentucky
Why buy: We love Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD oil because it is made using USDA certified organic hemp flowers to create a top-notch CBD oil packed with beneficial plant compounds. Use this oil in the evening to relax and to help you fall asleep.
Best Organic Flavor: R+R Medicinals Fresh Mint CBD Tincture
R+R Medicinals Organic Full Spectrum Hemp Extract comes in a great introductory strength for new CBD users and a delicious fresh mint flavor. Made with organic full spectrum hemp extract, organic MCT coconut oil, and organic mint flavoring, this CBD oil is USDA certified organic for a product you can trust. It also contains over 2 mg of the secondary cannabinoids, like CBC, CBG, THC, CBN, and CBDv, that can help provide the fullest effect.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 16.67 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Best Organic Broad Spectrum: Joy Organics CBD Oil
For those concerned about THC, Joy Organics CBD oil makes a great option. This formula is USDA certified organic and is made with organic broad spectrum hemp extract and organic olive oil for a natural, THC-free product. It's also certified by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable and third-party lab tested for purity. If you prefer, you can also find Joy Organics CBD Oil in several additional flavors, including Tranquil Mint, Summer Lemon, and Orange Bliss.
- CBD - Broad Spectrum
- Strength - 30 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Best Organic CBD for Stress: Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body
Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body CBD oil offers an organic, natural supplement that could help support your body's response to stress and inflammation. USDA certified organic, non-GMO, vegan, and gluten-free, this CBD oil is also doctor-formulated using 100% organic hemp grown in Colorado. It can provide 21 mg of cannabinoids like CBD, CBL, and CBG per serving. Plus, Plant People is a certified B-corp and certified Climate Neutral as they plant a tree for every sale.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 21 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We love Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body formula because it provides a doctor-formulated and USDA organic way to help you manage stress and inflammation while promoting overall wellness. We especially like that the brand is Climate Neutral certified, making this organic CBD oil good for you and the earth.
Best Organic CBD for Sleep: NuLeaf Naturals CBD Oil
NuLeaf Naturals sources its CBD extract from organic hemp plants grown on licensed farms in Colorado. Their CBD oils contain only two ingredients: USDA certified organic hemp seed oil and full spectrum hemp extract. NuLeaf Naturals uses the same proprietary CBD oil formula for all of its products, so you get the same CBD potency in every tincture (30 mg per mL), but can purchase different bottle sizes depending on your needs.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 30 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We love NuLeaf Naturals CBD oil because of its simplicity. With only two ingredients and one consistent strength, this oil makes it easy to know exactly what is in it and how much CBD you will get with each serving. Take NuLeaf Naturals CBD oil in the evenings to relax and enjoy a full night's sleep.
Best Organic Satisfaction Guarantee: CBDistillery Relief + Relax
All CBDistillery products use non-GMO and pesticide-free industrial hemp that's grown using natural farming practices on Colorado farms. Their hemp oils are some of the most affordable CBD products on the market, yet they still maintain a high standard of quality. CBDistillery has a wide variety of CBD potencies across its product line. We also love that they offer a 60 day money back guarantee so that you can try their CBD oil risk free.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 33 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We recommend CBDistillery Relief + Relax CBD oil as a great way to start your day and promote a sense of calm and wellness throughout. The brand is certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority, the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, and the National Hemp Association for their natural, reliable CBD extracts.
The Research on Organic Hemp Oil
What does the science say about organic CBD oil? There is evidence that CBD can help for certain conditions, specifically things like anxiety, sleeplessness, and pain. In fact, CBD taken for anxiety may have fewer side effects than certain prescription anxiety medications. However, as hemp and CBD remain unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it is vitally important to do your research and choose high-quality and safe products.
Using organic CBD oil is an easy way to help ensure that you can enjoy the health and wellness benefits of CBD while avoiding any potential toxins or synthetic chemicals.
Hemp is a unique plant, not only for its rich cannabinoid content, but because it is a bioaccumulator, and has the ability to absorb a wide variety of components in the soil. This trait means that hemp can help the environment through the remediation of green spaces, but it poses great risks when it comes to the creation of CBD products derived from hemp.
Because hemp has a high capacity for compound uptake, this means that the plants can retain harmful chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals, and other residual solvents. This is especially true when it comes to synthetic chemicals that are more toxic to humans, and difficult to remove once they have been absorbed by the hemp plant.
Organic farming practices help reduce the risk of hemp crops absorbing harsh chemicals that may later end up in CBD oil after extraction. When you're taking CBD as a wellness supplement to help alleviate your symptoms or improve your overall well-being, the last thing you want is to ingest compounds that might negatively outweigh the benefits of CBD. This is an important reason to look for third party lab test results when shopping for CBD products since these certificates of analysis can show the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of a hemp extract, as well as test results that search for the presence of any residual solvents. If you choose a non-organic CBD oil, you will need to rely even more on the independent lab test results to make sure the product is safe.
In addition to creating a better end product, organic farming practices are also better for the environment. Sustainable and organic farming methods may reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. The use of natural pest deterrents as opposed to chemical pesticides is also better for nearby animal populations and ecosystems.
How to Choose CBD Oil for You
When shopping for an organic CBD oil, you can look for certain key ingredients and certifications to find the best options. Here are some tips on how to compare and choose the right organic CBD oil.
What to Look For
Start by looking for the following pieces of information when considering any CBD product:
Make sure you know if the product uses full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate hemp extract. Full spectrum CBD contains all of the natural phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and fatty acids found in the hemp plant, including THC. This may produce a fuller result through the entourage effect. However, if you are concerned about THC, or are subject to a drug test, broad spectrum and CBD isolate products offer a great alternative.
Always check to see how much CBD the product contains. This is measured in milligrams per container and milligrams per serving. A single serving for CBD oil is typically 1 mL, and most brands offer recommendations for measuring and dosages.
The source of the hemp used to extract CBD is vitally important. We recommend choosing brands that use organic and naturally-grown hemp raised in the U.S.A. for safety standards. This is the quickest way to ensure that the CBD itself is pure and free from pesticides or other harmful compounds.
We only recommend CBD oils and products that are subject to independent third-party lab testing. This is a crucial step that verifies both the safety and purity of the oil as well as the potency of the CBD per serving. Look for brands that give you easy access to the lab test results for every product they sell.
How to Read Labels
Here are the primary things to look for when reading the label on a CBD oil or product:
- Type of CBD - The label should clearly state whether the product contains full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate hemp extract. If it is broad spectrum or isolate, look for a mark that tells you it is "THC-free."
- Certifications - Certain brands will include seals of approval to show that their product is USDA-certified organic, non-GMO, made in the U.S.A., or U.S. Hemp Authority certified.
- Other Ingredients - Check the ingredients list for anything in the product besides the CBD extract. This typically includes a carrier oil, like MCT or hemp seed oil, but can also include flavorings or botanicals. Make sure they are all-natural and that you are not allergic to any of them.
- Test Results - Most brands include a QR code on the packaging or the label of their CBD product that you can scan to view the third-party test results. This is a key way to know if a brand is trustworthy and whether their CBD is safe to use.
How to Use
Organic CBD oil is used just like any other CBD oil tincture, and is primarily ingested using a dropper to measure out the correct dose. Many brands recommend that you take the CBD oil sublingually by placing the CBD tincture under your tongue for 30 seconds or so before swallowing to aid in absorption. You can also add CBD to food and beverages, though some argue that this lessens the effect.
Some of the most common wellness advantages that people seek from organic CBD include:
- Chronic pain relief
- Anti-anxiety effects
- Better sleep
- Improvements in mood
- Internal balance and regulation
If you take organic CBD for help with sleep, take the recommended amount about an hour before bed. If you are taking it for anxiety, you can take one dose in the morning and another in the evening to help promote a sense of calm throughout the day. As with all CBD products, we recommend that you start with a lower dose and gradually increase it to achieve the desired effects rather than starting with a high dose.
Safety and Side Effects
CBD, while generally well-tolerated and safe for adults, can produce side effects in certain people. These are generally very mild, but can include things like nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, and irritability. CBD may also interact with certain prescription drugs, especially blood thinners and statins. If you take a prescription medication, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting CBD.
CBD has the potential to help with a number of health and wellness concerns, especially anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. To make sure that you choose the right option, go with the best organic CBD oil without additives from a brand you trust. Use our list to help you get started and find the natural relief you need.
Melena Gurganus is the Reviews Editor at EcoWatch. She is passionate health and wellness and her writing aims to help others find products they can trust. Her work has been featured in publications such as Health, Shape, Huffington Post, Cannabis Business Times, and Bustle.
By Reynard Loki
There is one main U.S. law that governs the management of marine fisheries in federal waters: The Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Originally intended to address the concern over foreign fisheries operating near U.S. waters, the MSA, which was passed in 1976, extended the nation's exclusive fisheries zone from 12 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline. The law was amended in 1996 and 2007 to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, establish annual catch limits, put accountability measures in place, strengthen the use of science through peer review, and ensure the overall sustainability of the fishing industry.
Since it was passed, and through past bipartisan reauthorizations, the MSA has notched up many successes, including the rebuilding of at least 40 fisheries stocks — some of which were on the verge of collapse — in the last two decades. "Under the MSA, we are ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks, which strengthens the value of fisheries to our economy and marine ecosystems," according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce that is responsible for the stewardship of U.S. ocean resources and their marine habitats.
But a new report has found that the nation's fishery managers are failing in their duty to protect designated "essential fish habitat" (EFH) as required by the MSA. Released in April by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group headquartered in New York, the report is based on a detailed review of how each of the eight federal regional management councils has administered the MSA's requirement to minimize the negative impact of fishing on EFH.
"We found that councils have generally not used the law's habitat protection requirements to significantly reduce commercial fishing's ongoing adverse effects on fish habitat and marine ecosystems," write the report's principal authors, Brad Sewell, the senior director in the Oceans Division of NRDC's Nature Program, and Molly Masterton, a staff attorney in the Oceans Division of NRDC's Nature Program. They point out that these ocean ecosystems provide habitat for up to "80 percent of life on Earth," including fisheries that "feed and provide jobs to millions of people."
But destructive fishing practices destroy marine habitats, kill countless unintended species in their massive, indiscriminate hauls ("bycatch"), and pull so many individual animals from the seas that nature cannot replenish their numbers fast enough ("overfishing"). Global bycatch may amount to as much as 40 percent of the world's catch, and includes a myriad of species — many of them endangered — that fishing fleets are accidentally catching and inadvertently killing. Fishing nets kill hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and water birds every year.
"In some cases, councils have simply protected very little habitat, including particularly important or vulnerable habitat, from bottom trawls, the fishing gear most widely recognized as causing harm," write Sewell and Masterton. "In other cases, councils have primarily closed very large, generally deep-sea, areas to potential future bottom trawling, protection that provides important but limited benefits. We also found that the councils have protected virtually no habitat from all commercial fishing gear or all fishing impacts using the EFH requirement, the strongest level of EFH protection."
Unsustainable and destructive commercial fishing is just one of the many threats that the world's oceans and their inhabitants must face. A range of human activities — and the byproducts of those activities—are an ever-present and increasing danger to marine species and ecosystems, including oil and gas drilling and exploration, coastal development, the wildlife trade, ship noise, tourism, plastic pollution, global warming, loss of sea ice and ocean acidification.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a free "Seafood Watch" guide to help consumers make more responsible seafood decisions. But an even better idea is to simply leave seafood off of our plates. "A shrimp cocktail is not worth the life of a sea turtle," said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit based in Tucson, Arizona, that supports the implementation of lifesaving "turtle excluder devices" in shrimp trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. "We have to do more to protect these extraordinary creatures before it's too late. Devices to exclude sea turtles from shrimp nets just make sense."
As these threats continue, Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization based in Washington, D.C., has sounded an alarm bell to call attention to ongoing challenges to the MSA. "Unfortunately, there have been attempts [to] weaken the very law that has improved fisheries in the U.S. A number of bills have been introduced that would extend deadlines for rebuilding stocks, relax [annual catch limits], loosen [accountability measures], and hinder the ability of the scientific advisors to provide sound scientific recommendations," the group wrote in 2018. "These changes, if implemented, would undermine significant progress in fisheries management over the last 42 years. … Since 2009, Congressional attacks on the MSA have steadily increased, with a chorus of opponents calling for changes."
In 2018, for example, the House of Representatives passed the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023), to include the priorities of recreational fishers in the MSA's reauthorization, a move that marine conservationists opposed. "H.R. 2023 would undo many of the conservation gains made over the past 10+ years in ending overfishing and rebuilding depleted stocks by removing or loosening the requirement of setting scientifically-based catch limits," argued the Marine Fish Conservation Network, a nonprofit group based in Arlington, Virginia, dedicated to sustaining fish populations. "The Modern Fish Act inserts too much uncertainty into the fisheries management process by adversely changing catch limits and how they are applied, muddies the waters between state and federal management, and allows political and economic considerations to override science in management decisions."
In December, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, and fellow subcommittee member Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) released the draft bill to reauthorize and update the MSA. In addition to addressing the current needs of sustainable fisheries and coastal communities that depend on healthy marine environments, the bill also tackles a threat multiplier for oceanic ecosystems and something that the Biden administration has made a main priority: climate change.
"This draft includes important and timely updates to the MSA as well as provisions to strengthen communities and support those whose lives and livelihoods depend on healthy oceans and fisheries," said Reps. Huffman and Case. "With the growing impacts of climate change, difficulties due to the ongoing pandemic, and rapidly evolving needs in fisheries management and science, amending and reauthorizing the MSA remains a top priority. We're looking forward to the next phase of this process and receiving constructive commentary to inform and shape the bill's introduction [in 2021]."
Oceana has launched a public petition urging Americans to tell Congress to support the MSA, in which they warn, "Our oceans are under attack. Past attempts by members of Congress to weaken the [MSA] … have threatened to undermine years of successful work to rebuild and protect the health of America's fisheries. … Rollbacks that take aim at cornerstone conservation safeguards and statutes such as the MSA put our oceans at risk."
Putting the oceans at risk is illogical, unethical and ultimately self-defeating. Marine biologist Sylvia Earle, who in 1990 became NOAA's first female chief scientist, finds a direct connection between the health of the Earth's marine ecosystems and humanity's survival: "We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on it. Because they do."
Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy's Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, AlterNet, Counterpunch, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
By Lisa Schulte Moore
Agriculture has not been a central part of U.S. climate policy in the past, even though climate change is altering weather patterns that farmers rely on. Now, however, President Biden has directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy.
As a scientist focusing on agricultural land use and adviser to several farm organizations, I have the privilege of working alongside farmers who have figured out how to do just that. I am enthusiastic about farmer-led solutions to climate change. What does this look like?
USDA is committed to working with farmers and landowners to make climate smart practices work for you in a market-o… https://t.co/Q5wAeGAs1R— Secretary Tom Vilsack (@Secretary Tom Vilsack)1619109859.0
Restore Strips of Native Plants Around Farm Fields
Plants remove carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, and soil can soak up carbon and store it. These abilities are key to climate solutions that crop farmers can readily deploy today.
Seeding narrow strips of land within and around crop fields with native plants is an effective and affordable way to make farming more climate-friendly. Iowa State University's STRIPS Project has shown that this technique reduces erosion and nutrient loss from soil and supports birds and insects.
Prairie strips can reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide emissions vary widely across agricultural landscapes and over time, but the largest contributions are associated with poorly drained croplands.
Nitrous oxide forms under anaerobic conditions – environments without oxygen, such as low-lying wet areas of farm fields, where it is produced by soil microbes. The easiest way to keep it from forming is to avoid fertilizing these areas, which amounts to feeding the microbes.
Prairie strips help reduce nitrous oxide emissions by soaking up nitrogen fertilizer that runs off of adjacent cropland. They also can store carbon in soil in two ways: by trapping sediment moving down slopes, and by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and storing this carbon in plant roots and soil.
Prairie strips are among the least expensive conservation practices available to farmers. This is especially true if the land they occupy is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of production and conserve it for other purposes.
Installing prairie strips has qualified for Conservation Reserve Program funding since 2019. Colleagues and I estimate that via this route, they cost US$8 yearly per acre of cropland treated. A recent survey found that about half of Iowa farmers were willing to install prairie strips if they could access federal funds.
On April 21, 2021, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the agency will expand Conservation Reserve Program enrollment and offer higher payment rates for participating. The department is also creating a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive to promote strategies that sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I hope this measure will promote national awareness of prairie strips, which today are known mainly in Iowa and neighboring states.
Turn Soggy Spots Into Wetlands
Since nitrous oxide emissions come mainly from wet zones, letting these areas remain as wetlands is another climate-smart strategy. Soggy areas tend to yield poorly in most years, and farmers rarely recoup their investment in cropping them. However, wetlands can be troublesome to farm around, which is why many farmers try to drain and farm through them.
But healthy wetlands also provide benefits: They sequester carbon, store and filter water and provide crucial habitat for mammals, birds, frogs and other organisms. The Agriculture Department's new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive will support wetland restoration on agricultural lands.
Another USDA initiative, the Farmable Wetland Program, pays farmers to take previously farmed wetlands and buffer areas out of production for 10 or more years. Enrollment is currently capped at 1 million acres. A climate-smart agricultural policy could expand the program by removing the acreage cap and boosting incentive payments.
Promote Perennial Crops, Especially Grasses
All crops are not equal when it comes to mitigating climate change and conserving the environment. Perennials – including various types of grasses, shrubs and trees – provide more ecological benefits than annual crops like corn, wheat and soybeans. But they receive less government support.
Just like annual garden plants, annual crops must be replanted every year. Perennial crops live for multiple seasons, so raising them requires fewer climate-warming inputs, such as fertilizer and fuel to power tractors. These crops develop deep roots that soak up water in soggy spots and help stabilize soil on sloping land.
Many fruits, vegetables and forage crops are perennials. Examples include apples, alfalfa, grapes and asparagus. Researchers are working to develop perennial versions of grains, legumes and oilseeds such as sunflowers.
There are many opportunities to expand cultivation of perennial crops. Grasses and forbs – flowering plants with stems and leaves, such as bee balm – are less expensive to establish and grow than woody crops like willow, and offer farmers more management flexibility.
I direct a transdisciplinary team called C-CHANGE, funded by USDA, that is working with farmers to create and expand market-based value chains for perennial grasses. We are helping farmers plant mixtures of native perennial grasses and forbs to build soil health where it has been eroded and protect environmentally sensitive areas.
The grasses can ultimately be harvested and processed in biodigesters – devices that break down organic materials to produce energy – along with manure or food waste. This cycle will yield electricity or biomethane from renewable sources that can displace fossil-based energy sources on or off of farms. It also will produce liquid and solid materials that can be used as organic fertilizers, along with other valuable products.
Replacing fertilizer made from synthetic nitrogen is important for the climate because making it consumes enormous quantities of natural gas and releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane is another powerful greenhouse gas, 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Biodigestion is widely used in Europe but underdeveloped in the U.S. We expect that the value chain we're creating will embed it in a larger cycle that creates a market for protective perennial crops, reduces fossil fuel use and returns carbon to the soil.
The Agriculture Department's Rural Energy for America Program provides grants and loans that can be used to support biodigester construction on farms. Expanding this program, which currently is funded at $50 million yearly through 2022, and making biodigesters a priority, is another climate-friendly opportunity.
When I think of climate-smart agriculture, I picture farmlands with lots of perennial vegetation smartly integrated as prairie strips, wetlands and crops. Federal policies and programs that can make such landscapes a reality are already in place. With concerted efforts and investments, they could be expanded to achieve a pace and scale that will help address climate change.
Lisa Schulte Moore is a professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University.
Disclosure statement: Lisa Schulte Moore has received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bia-Echo Foundation, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, Walton Family Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Iowa State University, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, USDA Forest Service, National Science Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 11th Hour Project, Bayer Crop Science, The Nature Conservancy, Syngenta, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, DuPont-Pioneer, Renewable Energy Group, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Ornithological Union, and Iowa Native Plant Society. She is on the boards of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and Iowa Wildlife Federation, and advises Iowa Smart Agriculture.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Emily Ury
Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged. Permanent flooding has become commonplace on this low-lying peninsula, nestled behind North Carolina's Outer Banks. The trees growing in the water are small and stunted. Many are dead.
Throughout coastal North Carolina, evidence of forest die-off is everywhere. Nearly every roadside ditch I pass while driving around the region is lined with dead or dying trees.
As an ecologist studying wetland response to sea level rise, I know this flooding is evidence that climate change is altering landscapes along the Atlantic coast. It's emblematic of environmental changes that also threaten wildlife, ecosystems, and local farms and forestry businesses.
Like all living organisms, trees die. But what is happening here is not normal. Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously, and saplings aren't growing to take their place. And it's not just a local issue: Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida. Huge swaths of contiguous forest are dying. They're now known in the scientific community as "ghost forests."
Deer photographed by a remote camera in a climate change-altered forest in North Carolina. Emily Ury / CC BY-ND
The Insidious Role of Salt
Sea level rise driven by climate change is making wetlands wetter in many parts of the world. It's also making them saltier.
In 2016 I began working in a forested North Carolina wetland to study the effect of salt on its plants and soils. Every couple of months, I suit up in heavy rubber waders and a mesh shirt for protection from biting insects, and haul over 100 pounds of salt and other equipment out along the flooded trail to my research site. We are salting an area about the size of a tennis court, seeking to mimic the effects of sea level rise.
After two years of effort, the salt didn't seem to be affecting the plants or soil processes that we were monitoring. I realized that instead of waiting around for our experimental salt to slowly kill these trees, the question I needed to answer was how many trees had already died, and how much more wetland area was vulnerable. To find answers, I had to go to sites where the trees were already dead.
Rising seas are inundating North Carolina's coast, and saltwater is seeping into wetland soils. Salts move through groundwater during phases when freshwater is depleted, such as during droughts. Saltwater also moves through canals and ditches, penetrating inland with help from wind and high tides. Dead trees with pale trunks, devoid of leaves and limbs, are a telltale sign of high salt levels in the soil. A 2019 report called them "wooden tombstones."
As the trees die, more salt-tolerant shrubs and grasses move in to take their place. In a newly published study that I coauthored with Emily Bernhardt and Justin Wright at Duke University and Xi Yang at the University of Virginia, we show that in North Carolina this shift has been dramatic.
The state's coastal region has suffered a rapid and widespread loss of forest, with cascading impacts on wildlife, including the endangered red wolf and red-cockaded woodpecker. Wetland forests sequester and store large quantities of carbon, so forest die-offs also contribute to further climate change.
Researcher Emily Ury measuring soil salinity in a ghost forest. Emily Bernhardt / CC BY-ND
Assessing Ghost Forests From Space
To understand where and how quickly these forests are changing, I needed a bird's-eye perspective. This perspective comes from satellites like NASA's Earth Observing System, which are important sources of scientific and environmental data.
Since 1972, Landsat satellites, jointly operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, have captured continuous images of Earth's land surface that reveal both natural and human-induced change. We used Landsat images to quantify changes in coastal vegetation since 1984 and referenced high-resolution Google Earth images to spot ghost forests. Computer analysis helped identify similar patches of dead trees across the entire landscape.
A 2016 Landsat8 image of the Albemarle Pamlico Peninsula in coastal North Carolina. USGS
Google Earth image of a healthy forest on the right and a ghost forest with many dead trees on the left. Emily Ury
The results were shocking. We found that more than 10% of forested wetland within the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was lost over the past 35 years. This is federally protected land, with no other human activity that could be killing off the forest.
Rapid sea level rise seems to be outpacing the ability of these forests to adapt to wetter, saltier conditions. Extreme weather events, fueled by climate change, are causing further damage from heavy storms, more frequent hurricanes and drought.
We found that the largest annual loss of forest cover within our study area occurred in 2012, following a period of extreme drought, forest fires and storm surges from Hurricane Irene in August 2011. This triple whammy seemed to have been a tipping point that caused mass tree die-offs across the region.
Should Scientists Fight the Transition or Assist It?
As global sea levels continue to rise, coastal woodlands from the Gulf of Mexico to the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere around the world could also suffer major losses from saltwater intrusion. Many people in the conservation community are rethinking land management approaches and exploring more adaptive strategies, such as facilitating forests' inevitable transition into salt marshes or other coastal landscapes.
For example, in North Carolina the Nature Conservancy is carrying out some adaptive management approaches, such as creating "living shorelines" made from plants, sand and rock to provide natural buffering from storm surges.
A more radical approach would be to introduce marsh plants that are salt-tolerant in threatened zones. This strategy is controversial because it goes against the desire to try to preserve ecosystems exactly as they are.
But if forests are dying anyway, having a salt marsh is a far better outcome than allowing a wetland to be reduced to open water. While open water isn't inherently bad, it does not provide the many ecological benefits that a salt marsh affords. Proactive management may prolong the lifespan of coastal wetlands, enabling them to continue storing carbon, providing habitat, enhancing water quality and protecting productive farm and forest land in coastal regions.
Emily Ury is a Ph.D. candidate in Duke University's Program in Ecology.
Disclosure statement: Emily Ury received funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the North Carolina Sea Grant. Additional support for this project came from the National Science Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated that a median average of 234,012 birds were killed by land-based wind turbines a year as of 2017. While that number is far fewer than the 599 million killed by glass buildings and the 2.4 billion killed by cats, it is not nothing. Further, the American Bird Conservancy warns it could climb to five million a year if wind power increases to provide 35 percent of U.S. electricity.
Now, at least one wind energy company is trying to compensate for the damage it might cause. Avangrid Renewables is working with federal wildlife officials and the Oregon Zoo to breed endangered California condors to replace any that might be killed by its turbines, The Associated Press reported Monday.
"We see this as a win for condors," Amy Parsons, Avangrid's operations wildlife compliance manager, told The Guardian.
Specifically, Avangrid seeks to offset any damage done by its Manzana wind power project, a 126-turbine wind farm in the Tehachapi mountains northeast of Los Angeles. The turbines have 252-foot diameter blades, which might pose a threat to the birds that have a 9.5 foot wingspan.
The farm has been open since 2012, and since that time there are no records of any condors being killed there. However, the company estimates that as many as two adult condors with two chicks or eggs each may be killed by the turbines in the next 30 years, according to The Associated Press.
To offset this, the company will provide more than $500,000 in funding to breed six condors over three years at the Oregon Zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation.
"We're prepared to start this condor mitigation effort as early as this spring," Oregon Zoo condor recovery lead Kelly Flaminio told The Associated Press. "Our zoo already nurtures the second-largest breeding population of condors in the nation."
Once raised, the condors will then be released into the wild. California condors were nearly driven to extinction by the 1980s because of hunting, habitat loss and poisoning from lead bullets left in the animals they scavenged from, as EcoWatch reported previously. A breeding program has helped their populations to recover, however, and there are now more than 300 in the wild and 500 worldwide.
If no condors are killed by Avangrid's turbines, then the wild population will simply increase by six, Flaminio told The Associated Press. However, some conservationists argue that the company's plans do not go far enough.
The plan "should provide funding to raise a minimum of 30 condors to 1.5 years of age when they are released into the wild." the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in comments to the FWS.
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By Tara Lohan
Atlantic salmon have a challenging life history — and those that hail from U.S. waters have seen things get increasingly difficult in the past 300 years.
Dubbed the "king of fish," Atlantic salmon once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the United States and ranged up and down most of New England's coastal rivers and ocean waters. But dams, pollution and overfishing have extirpated them from all the region's rivers except in Maine. Today only around 1,000 wild salmon, known as the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment, return each year from their swim to Greenland. Fewer will find adequate spawning habitat in their natal rivers to reproduce.
That's left Atlantic salmon in the United States critically endangered. Hatchery and stocking programs have kept them from disappearing entirely, but experts say recovering healthy, wild populations will require much more, including eliminating some of the obstacles (literally) standing in their way.
Conservation organizations, fishing groups and even some state scientists are now calling for the removal of up to four dams along a 30-mile stretch of the Kennebec River, where about a third of Maine's best salmon habitat remains.
The dams' owner — multinational Brookfield Renewable Partners — has instead proposed building fishways to aid salmon and other migratory fish getting around dams as they travel both up and down the river. But most experts think that plan has little chance of success.
A confusing array of state and federal processes are underway to try and sort things out. None is likely to be quick, cheap or easy. And there's a lot at stake.
"Ultimately the fate of the species in the United States really depends upon what happens at a handful of key dams," says John Burrows, executive director of U.S. programs at the Atlantic Salmon Federation. "If those four projects don't work — or even if just one of them doesn't work — you could basically preclude recovering Atlantic salmon in the United States."
The best place for salmon recovery is in Maine's two largest watersheds.
"The Penobscot River and the Kennebec River have orders of magnitude more habitat, production potential and climate resilient habitat" than other parts of the state, says Burrows.
The rivers and their tributaries run far inland and reach more undeveloped areas with higher elevations. That helps provide salmon with the cold, clean water they need for spawning and rearing. Smaller numbers of salmon are hanging on in lower-elevation rivers along the coastal plain in Maine's Down East region, but climate change could make that habitat unsuitable.
"There's definitely concern about how resilient those watersheds are going to be for salmon in the future," says Burrows. "To recover the population, we need to be able to get salmon to the major tributaries farther upriver, in places where we're still going to have cold water even under predictions with climate change."
One of those key places is the Penobscot, which has already seen a $60 million effort to help recover salmon and other native sea-run fish. A 16-year project resulted in the removal of two dams, the construction of a stream-like bypass channel at a third dam, and new fish lift at a fourth. In all, the project made 2,000 miles of river habitat accessible.
Veazie dam on the Penobscot River is breached in 2013 as part of a river restoration project. Meagan Racey / USFWS
While there's still more work to be done on the Penobscot, says Burrows, attention has shifted to the Kennebec. The river has what's regarded as the largest and best salmon habitat in the state, especially in its tributary, the Sandy River, where hatchery eggs are being planted to help boost salmon numbers.
"That's helped us go from zero salmon in the upper tributaries of Kennebec to getting 50 or 60 adults back, which is still an abysmally small number compared to historical counts," says Burrows. "But these are the last of the wildest fish that we have."
The Sandy may be good salmon habitat, but it's also hard to reach. Brookfield's four dams stand in the way of fish trying to get upriver.
At the lowest dam on the river, Lockwood Dam in Waterville, there's a fish lift — a kind of elevator that should allow fish that enter it to pass up and around the dam. But if fish do find the lift — and only around half of salmon do — they don't get far.
"It's a terminal lift," says Sean Ledwin, division director of Maine's Department of Marine Resources' Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat. "The lift was never completed. So we pick up those fish in a truck and drive them up to the Sandy River."
That taxi cab arrangement isn't a long-term solution, though, and was part of an interim species protection plan.
Only the second dam, Hydro Kennebec, has a modern fish passage system. But how well that actually works hasn't been tested yet since fish can't get by Lockwood Dam. As part of a consultation process related to the Endangered Species Act, Brookfield has submitted a plan proposing to fix the fishway at Lockwood and add passage to the third and fourth dams.
But federal regulators found it inadequate.
"Brookfield's proposal was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee [which oversees hydroelectric projects] and all the [federal management] agencies," says Ledwin. The company now has until May 2022 to come up with a new plan.
State scientists aren't convinced Brookfield's plan would work either.
"We have really low confidence that having four fishways would ever result in meaningful runs of all the sea-run fish and certainly not recovery of Atlantic salmon," says Ledwin. "We don't think that it's going to be conducive to recovery."
In addition to considerations related to the Endangered Species Act, Shawmut Dam, the third on the Kennebec, is currently up for relicensing, which triggers a federal review process by FERC.
And at the same time the Maine Department of Marine Resources has drafted a new plan for managing the Kennebec River that recommends removing Shawmut Dam and Lockwood Dam. A public comment period on the proposed plan closed in March.
Brookfield isn't happy with it and responded with a lawsuit against the state.
It was good news to conservation groups, however, which would like to see all four of the dams removed if possible — or at least a few of them.
"There's no self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon anywhere in the world that we know of that have to go by more than one hydro dam," says Burrows. He believes that having Brookfield spend tens of millions of dollars on new fishways will just result in failure for salmon.
Atlantic salmon parr emerging from a stream bed in Maine. E. Peter Steenstra / USFWS
It's partly a game of numbers. Not all fish will find or use a fishway. And if you start with a low number of returning fish and expect them to pass through four gauntlets, you won't be left with many at the end.
"If you're passing 50% of salmon that show up at the first dam, and then you've got three more dams passing 50%, that means you're left with only an eighth of the population you started with by the end," says Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "You can't start a restoration program where you're losing seven-eighths of the adults before they even get to their spawning habitat."
And getting upriver is just part of the salmon's journey. Juvenile salmon face threats going downstream to the ocean as well, including predation and warm water in impoundments. They also risk being injured or killed going through spillways or turbines. Only about half are likely to survive the four hydro projects.
Atlantic salmon, unlike their Pacific cousins, don't always die after spawning, either. So some adults will also make the downstream trek, too.
"Just looking at our reality, at least two dams need to go, hopefully three, and it would be amazing if all four would go," says Burrows.
The fate of Atlantic salmon hangs in the balance, but so do the futures of other fishes.
The Pacific coast of the United States is home to five species of salmon. And while the Atlantic side has just the one, it has a dozen other native sea-run species that have also seen their habitat shrink.
"Those dams are preventing other native species like American shad, alewives, blueback herring and American eel from accessing large amounts of historic habitat," says Burrows.
Ledwin says removing dams on the Kennebec could result in populations of more than a million shad, millions of blueback herring, millions of eels and hundreds of thousands of sea lampreys.
"The recovery of those species would actually help Atlantic salmon as well because they provide prey buffers and there are a lot of co-evolved benefits," he says.
Salmon are much more successful at nesting when they can lay their eggs in old sea lamprey nests, explains Bennett. "But sea lamprey are not good at using fish lifts and we've essentially blocked 90% of the historic sea lamprey habitat at Lockwood dam. We need to get those fish upstream, too."
Dam removal advocates don't have to look too far to find an example of how well river ecosystems respond when dams are removed.
The removal of the Edwards Dam on the lower Kennebec River in 1999 and the Fort Halifax Dam just upstream on the Sebasticook in 2008 helped ignite a nationwide dam-removal movement. It also brought back American shad, eel, two native species of sturgeon and millions of river herring to lower parts of the watershed.
Alewives returned by the millions after the Edwards and Ft. Halifax dams were removed. John Burrows / ASF
"We've got the biggest river herring run in North America now due to the dam removals," says Ledwin. "And the largest abundance of eel we've ever seen on the lower Kennebec."
The resurgence of native fishes helps the whole ecosystem. When they returned, so too did eagles, osprey and other wildlife.
"When people see all those fish in the river and the eagles overhead, it just kind of blows their minds because they never realized what had been lost for so long in our rivers," says Burrows.
Rebuilding key forage fish like herring also benefits species that live not just in the river, but the Gulf of Maine and even the Atlantic Ocean. The tiny fish feed whales, porpoises and seabirds. They're also used for lobster bait and can help rebuild fisheries for cod and haddock, which has economic benefits for the region, too.
"We have to rebalance the scales if we want to have marine industries and commercial fishing industries and if we want the ecological benefits of what sea-run fisheries do for us," says Bennett.
The Path Ahead
The process to determine whether any — or all — of the four Kennebec dams that stretch from Waterville and Skowhegan are removed will take years, a diverse coalition, financial resources and agreements to meet the concerns of communities and the dam owner.
"These things come down to compromise, so there may be situations where one of those dams might not be a candidate for economic or social reasons," says Burrows. "But it will be interesting to see if in the next couple of years we can get to a place where we can have meaningful conversations with federal agencies, the dam owner and continue to engage the communities about the potential of removal at some of these sites."
And if removal of the four dams did happen, it wouldn't open up the river all the way to its headwaters. Another nine dams still lie upstream in the watershed that obstruct fish passage.
"Some of those are major dams in terms of power, production and economics," says Burrows. "So we're not calling for those to be removed."
The four lower dams provide just 46 megawatts of power — enough to supply about 37,000 homes and 0.43% of the state's annual electricity generation. It's a small amount of power relative to the damage they cause sea-run fish, says Bennett.
"By comparison we expect to add 1,200 megawatts of solar generation in the next five years," he says. "So these four dams aren't particularly important in our climate fight." And removing them would open up substantial amounts of habitat to aid salmon recovery that seem worth the tradeoff in lost power.
That's not the case, he says, for the nine larger dams upstream.
"We need those dams. We need hydroelectric power in Maine," says Bennett. "But we made big mistakes in our past use of our rivers. And we went way overboard in favor of hydroelectric power at the expense of fish."
Outside of the rivers, Atlantic salmon still face a tough road. Climate change is warming ocean temperatures, changing salinity and altering food webs. But having so many unknowns in the marine environment in the coming decades provides more reason to focus efforts on restoring rivers where scientists already know what works, says Burrows.
And if that's done right, the benefits will extend far beyond salmon.
"It's not just about salmon — it's about these other native fish, it's about the wildlife, water quality, economic opportunity for ground fishermen and lobstermen, and more sustainable forms of recreation and community development," says Burrows. "If we remove a dam or two here and rebuild these fish populations to pretty big levels that really impacts a whole bunch of different parts of society. That's what we want to try to do here on the Kennebec."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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A young male, OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from an area southeast of Mount Hood, Oregon, to California's central Sierra Nevada mountain range, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced Friday. The agency said he traveled farther south into California than any previous collared wolf. His trek is also the longest tracked journey of any gray wolf during the last century, The Guardian reported.
"OR-93's historic trek so far south into California's central Sierra Nevada is thrilling news for wolf recovery throughout the West – and underscores that species recovery is not isolated to separate states; what happens in the Northwest greatly affects the success of wolves in other states, and vice versa," California Program Director at Defenders of Wildlife Pamela Flick said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch.
OR-93 hails from Oregon's White River pack, according to the CDFW. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs fitted him with a tracking collar in June 2020 within his home territory. At some point he left the area, likely in search of new territory and a mate. He reached California's Modoc County by the beginning of February; by the end of the month, he had traveled to Alpine County, between trans-Sierra State Highways 4 and 108. He then passed into Mono County. This put him just east of Yosemite National Park and marks the first time a wolf has been known to approach the park in more than 100 years, The Associated Press reported.
The wolf is the 16th one to travel into California, and most have hailed from Oregon. However, this journey is notable from a conservation standpoint for two reasons. For starters, OR-93 is the first wolf from the White River pack to enter the state, which is important for the population's diversity.
"As the first known member of the White River Pack from western Oregon to disperse into California, OR-93 also importantly brings the potential for increased genetic diversity to our state," Flick said. "We look forward to watching the journey of California's newest wolf, and we will continue to welcome gray wolves back to their historical home in the Golden State."
OR-93's epic journey also places him in a habitat with enormous potential for wolves.
"We're thrilled to learn this wolf is exploring deep into the Sierra Nevada, since scientists have said all along this is great wolf habitat," Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in an email to EcoWatch. "He's another beacon of hope, showing that wolves can return here and flourish as long as they remain legally protected."
California's wolves were eradicated in the early 20th century following a concerted campaign by the livestock industry. The first wolf to return to the state in 2011 included another Oregon wolf, named OR-7. There are now fewer than a dozen wolves living in California, including the Lassen pack, which has produced pups every year between 2017 and 2020, according to CDFW. Another pair of wolves has also been spotted in Siskiyou County, and scientists think they will produce pups this spring.
While the Trump administration removed federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, they remain listed as an endangered species within California. CDFW Spokeswoman Jordan Traverso told the San Francisco Chronicle that OR-93's incredible journey proved the protections were working.
"We have a burgeoning population," she told the Chronicle. "It's exciting."
However, not everyone shares her excitement. The presence of wolves in the state has concerned ranchers.
"There are diverse constituencies with varying viewpoints — we do our best to walk that tight rope," Traverso told the San Francisco Chronicle.
There have been some wobbles on that walk. The seven-member Shasta pack, the first wolf pack to be discovered in California in almost 100 years, disappeared months after being found in 2015, the CBD said. The disappearance followed the pack's implication in two livestock casualties, and there are concerns they may have been poached.
Defenders of Wildlife called for more strategies to reduce livestock and wolf conflicts as wolves' California presence increases. Meanwhile, OR-93's success in the state will likely depend on more personal matters.
"Given the time of year, we assume OR-93 has traveled such a long way in search of a mate," CBD's Weiss said. "I hope he can find one."
By Jacob Carter
On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it will be rescinding secretarial order 3369, which sidelined scientific research and its use in the agency's decisions. Put in place by the previous administration, the secretarial order restricted decisionmakers at the DOI from using scientific studies that did not make all data publicly available.
This order potentially prevented the use of studies, for example, that included data on endangered or threatened species' locations or data about individuals' health, which cannot be made publicly available. With the order rescinded, scientists and decisionmakers can now once again bring the best available science to help inform decisions and continue to make progress on protecting endangered species, people's health, and our country's natural resources and cultural heritage.
Science Rising at Interior
The rescinded secretarial order is not the only notable victory we have seen from the DOI recently. The Biden administration has moved swiftly to restore consideration of climate change in its decisions, reverse assaults on our public lands, and taken actions to protect our nation's wildlife. These decisions, unlike many made at the DOI over the past four years, have been informed by science—and President Biden's pick to lead the DOI, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, has promised in her confirmation hearing to continue to make decisions that are guided by science.
Saving Migratory Birds
One of the parting gifts of the prior administration was a reinterpretation of a long-standing rule that protected migratory bird species. For decades, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) had protected migratory bird species, which are in decline in the US, by allowing the DOI to fine industries that failed to take proper precautions to protect migratory birds. For example, not placing proper netting over oil pits, which can result in the death of migratory birds. The rule, however, was reinterpreted by the prior administration such that industries could only be fined if bird deaths were "intentional" and not if they occurred incidentally due to a lack of precautions.
The prior administration, in its final days, also eliminated protections for the northern spotted owl, which is currently listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a threatened species. More than 3 million acres of the owl's habitat were removed from protection to pave way for timber harvesting. Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, stated that she had received "…several calls from wildlife biologists who are in tears who said, 'Did you know this is happening? The bird won't survive this."
The Biden administration, following the best available science, has delayed the implementation of both rules.
Restoring Public Lands
In 2017, two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante of Utah, were reduced in size by some two million acres, the largest reduction of federal land protection in our nation's history. Later, internal emails at the DOI would show that these actions were not a product of following the best available science, and were instead guided by a push to exploit oil and natural gas deposits within the boundaries of the protected land. In particular, the decision did not consider the archaeological importance of the protected lands or their cultural heritage. Sidelining these facets of this decision is likely what prompted a review of the reductions by the Biden administration.
Bringing Science Back Across the Administration
Beyond the Interior department, the Biden administration has taken quick steps to bring science back to the forefront of decisionmaking across the federal government. In January, President Biden signed a presidential memo to strengthen scientific integrity and evidence-based decisionmaking. The memo, among many other positive steps for science, has initiated a review process on scientific integrity policies that should be finalized toward the end of the year. Given the unprecedented number of times we documented political interference in science-based decision-making processes over the past four years, such a review, and the subsequent recommendations arising from it, are clearly warranted.
The Biden administration also has formed multiple scientific advisory groups to help make choices informed by the best available science to protect public health and our environment. This includes advisory groups on critical issues such as scientific integrity, COVID-19, and environmental justice. The administration also is moving quickly to appoint qualified leaders at science-based agencies and has asked the heads of agencies to expeditiously establish scientific integrity officials and chief science officers.
In addition to rescinding the secretarial order at DOI, the Biden administration has also rescinded several other anti-science actions taken over the past four years. Among the many anti-science executive orders reversed by President Biden are an order that directed agencies to arbitrarily cut their advisory committees by one-third and another that required agencies to cut two regulations for every new regulation they issued.
There has been a lot of progress for science-based decisionmaking over the past six weeks, with more expected as qualified individuals are appointed to head science-based agencies. And yet we know through our research that every administration has politicized science-based decisionmaking to some extent.
We will continue to watch, demand, and ensure that science guides the critical decisions being made by the Biden administration. Our health, our environment, and our safety depend on it.
Jacob Carter is a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Reposted with permission from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
When the Trump administration delisted gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act, it triggered a Wisconsin law requiring the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to hold a wolf hunt from mid-October through February, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The DNR originally said it would wait until November 2021 to prepare a hunt, but hunting advocates sued to speed up the process, and last week a judge ordered the board to prepare a February hunt. This prompted the DNR to set a quota on Monday of 200 gray wolves that can be killed before the end of the month.
Wildlife advocates oppose the move, pointing out that the rushed hunt will take place during the wolves' breeding season.
"You remove one, you're essentially destabilizing and killing the entire pack," Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife Executive Director Melissa Smith told Public News Service. "So, we expect this to be pretty detrimental to our wolf population."
The federal delisting of wolves officially went into effect in January. In December, the DNR said it would wait until November to set a hunting quota, arguing that it needed more time to make a scientifically sound plan and consult with tribes and the public, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. In late January, the state's Natural Resources Board rejected a push from Republican lawmakers to speed up the quota, Wisconsin Public Radio reported at the time.
However, Kansas-based group Hunter Nation sued the state to start the hunt this winter. It argued that delaying the hunt violated hunters' constitutional rights, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Circuit Judge Bennett Brantmeier ruled in the group's favor. While Wisconsin is appealing this decision, the Natural Resources Board still voted Monday to authorize a February hunt.
The hunt will allow the killing of 200 wolves that aren't on tribal reservations, according to the DNR website. The hunt will last from Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, and hunters can apply for a permit between Feb. 16 and Feb. 20. The state will issue 4,000 permits, the Wisconsin State Journal reported, which is twice the number that staff recommended.
The department said it based the quota on the best available science, without intending to increase or decrease the state's wolf population. However, DNR members said they would have made a more accurate decision given more time. They also did not have a chance to fully consult with tribes or gather public input.
"Was there more we would like to do? Yes," Keith Warnke, administrator of fish, wildlife and parks for the DNR, told Wisconsin Public Radio. "Are we confident and comfortable with the quota recommendation we made? I think... we would have been more confident and more comfortable had we taken more time."
There are currently 1,195 wolves in Wisconsin, according to DNR. The last time the state managed the population, it set a quota of 350 wolves in 1999 and last updated it in 2007, wildlife advocates point out. Indigenous groups also argue that wolves are sacred to their communities, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. On the other side, those who support hunting argue that wolves are a threat to livestock and rural residents. But wildlife advocates counter that hunting is not the solution to human and wolf conflicts.
"Indiscriminate killing of wolves actually increases conflicts and spreads deer disease like CWD, so the special interests like the farm bureau and sportsmen's groups are not only doing a disservice to themselves pushing an early wolf hunt but may cause the wolf to be relisted again," Northern Wisconsin resident Britt Ricci said in a Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife statement.
Fear of new federal protections are partly behind the push for a hunt this winter, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The Biden administration has called for a review of the Trump administration's agency rules, including the delisting of wolves.
"And so, they want to rush and try to kill as many as they can in a short time as possible during a sensitive breeding season," Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf's Smith told Public News Service.
By Brett Wilkins
A coalition of environmental advocacy groups on Monday threatened to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to ensure that Trump-era development permits "will not jeopardize endangered species and critical habitat across the country."
The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, and other groups filed their formal notice to the Biden administration regarding Nationwide Permits reissued during the final days of Donald Trump's presidency.
At issue are 16 permits that, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, "will allow hundreds of thousands of discharges of dredged or fill material into the nation's waters and wetlands from oil and gas development, pipeline and transmission-line construction, and coal mining."
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have previously found that these activities—which are approved with little or no environmental review—threaten iconic species including whooping cranes, Florida manatees, and the hundreds of migratory birds that need wetlands to survive," the center said.
We just launched a lawsuit with allies over the Army Corps' failure to ensure Nationwide Permits reissued during Tr… https://t.co/jSrfeqE9DE— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1612812063.0
Last May, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Endangered Species Act when it issued Nationwide Permit 12, which allows companies to construct energy projects—including the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline—at water crossings.
"Rather than comply with a court order to ensure that endangered species are protected from further death and destruction, the Trump administration doubled down on its original violation by issuing even weaker Nationwide Permits with fewer protections for these species," Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel for Waterkeeper Alliance, said in a statement.
"It's long past time for the Corps to rethink its approach to dredge-and-fill permitting and to ensure that these activities will not put endangered species or their habitat in jeopardy," Estrin added.
Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that the Trump administration "flagrantly violated bedrock environmental laws when it reissued the Nationwide Permits, without regard for the people, places, or wildlife that are affected by this deeply flawed program."
"I'm hoping President Biden will prevent the Corps from continuing to use the permits to rubber-stamp major projects like oil pipelines that leak and spill, degrading the clean water that people and wildlife need," added Margolis.
On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order revoking Keystone XL's permit and calling for a review of the 15 others.
"While the groups are hopeful that this process will result in important changes to the program, if the Corps continues to ignore its duty to properly account for the harm Nationwide Permit activities pose to species, then litigation may be necessary," the coalition said in its statement.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By the end of Tuesday, the second day of the hunt, 82 wolves had been killed, The Associated Press reported. As of Wednesday morning, 135 had been killed, exceeding the quota, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
"Wisconsin's actions offer a tragic glimpse of a future without federal wolf protections," the Wolf Conservation Center tweeted in response.
President Donald Trump's delisting of gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act triggered the hunt. The DNR originally set a quota of 200 wolves to be killed between Feb. 22 and Feb. 28. Of the 200, 81 were allocated to the Ojibwe Tribes in accordance with treaty rights, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Hunters killed about half of the remaining 119 by Tuesday morning and 69 percent by Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press reported. By Wednesday morning, hunters exceeded the quota by 16 wolves.
Hunters also exceeded the quota set for three of the state's hunting zones, according to DNR. They killed 33 of an 18-wolf quota in zone 2, located in the northeast; 24 of a 20-wolf quota in zone 3 located in the center; and 30 of a 17-wolf quota in southern zone 6. The hunt ended Wednesday at 10 a.m. CT in the most depleted zones and will end at 3 p.m. CT for the remaining half.
The hunt is the state's first since 2014, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. After wolves were returned to state management under Trump in January 2021, Wisconsin intended to plan a hunt for November 2021, arguing that it needed the time to study the population and consult with Native American tribes and the general public. However, pro-hunting group Hunter Nation sued the state to start the hunt earlier in the year, with a judge ruling in their favor. This past Friday, an appeals court dismissed the Wisconsin DNR's appeal, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
"The reckless slaughter of 135 wolves in just three days is appalling," said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Sound science was ignored here in favor of catering to trophy hunters who were all too eager to kill wolves even at the height of breeding season. It will take years for Wisconsin's wolf population to recover from the damage done this week. And without federal protections, this bloody spectacle could easily play out in other states."
The hunt killed about 12 percent of Wisconsin's wolves, which last numbered between 1,034 and 1,057 according to 2020 DNR data.
Other conservation groups also raised concerns about the rushed hunt. At the same time, Indigenous communities criticized the lack of consultation. The state is required by law to consult with tribes on resources management.
"This hunt is not well-thought-out, well-planned, totally inadequate consultation with the tribes," Peter David, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission wildlife biologist, told Wisconsin Public Radio. "And maybe the biggest concern of all is that this season is not so much a hunting season as it is a killing season. No justification, really, was given for what was the legitimate purpose other than killing wolves."
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