Beavers Benefit Bare Banks

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 19, Issue 13

Often thought of as vermin, beavers have been trapped and shot, while their dams have been destroyed by dynamite and bulldozers. However, the dry climates that have caused droughts throughout the West have brought beavers back to the forefront of landscape preservation.

By creating their dams, beavers raise the water table along rivers, which supports the tree and plant growth that stabilizes banks and prevents erosion. The dams also contribute to improved fish and wildlife habitats and encourage richer soil to develop. However, in the dryer parts of the country that have been suffering from severe droughts, the most beneficial contribution of beavers is the water their dams collect.

Before beavers were considered pests, the tens of millions of semi-aquatic rodents that dwelled in North America formed an integral part of the hydrological system. Jeff Burrell, a scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bozeman, Montana, described how important the beaver once was for environmental stability. He said, “The valleys were filled with dams, as many as one every hundred yards. They were pretty much continuous wetlands.”

However, by 1930 the beaver population dropped to less than 100,000—most of which dwelled in Canada—because of fur trapping. Since then the number of beavers has bounced back to an estimated 6 million, and an appreciation for beaver dams has begun to grow.

Lately, hydroelectric and reservoir dams have been heavily criticized because of the extensive changes they cause to the natural environment. The benefits of beaver dams, both natural and artificial, have, subsequently, become an attractive alternative. In fact, the demand for natural damming has risen so much over recent years that government agencies sponsor workshops on the West Coast to train wetland workers on how to attract beavers.

Burrell claimed that as long as beavers are able to help, we should take advantage of the resource. He said, “We can spend a lot of money doing this work, or we can use beavers for almost nothing.”

Beavers are the ecosystem’s natural engineers. Each time a family of beavers moves to a new territory, it begins a new dam in order to create a pond and shelter. As the water trapped behind the dam increases because of the buildup of twigs, mud, and stones, the entrance to the beaver’s shelter becomes submerged underwater and thus is protected from predators.

The new pond nourishes nearby willows, aspens, and other trees, as well as providing a safe place for fish that require slow-moving water. Land creatures such as deer, elk, and songbirds benefit from the grasses and shrubs that grow as a result of the pond.

The greatest benefit of the pond, however, is the increased levels of underground water. The boosted water supplies would considerably lower the groundwater costs for farming. Cheaper water preservation will be crucial going forward, especially in areas suffering from drought. Burrell claimed, “People realize that if we don’t have a way to store water that’s not so expensive, we’re going to be up a creek, a dry creek. We’ve lost a lot with beavers, not on the landscape.”

The danger of allowing beavers to dam streams freely is that their damming may cause floods in residential and urban areas; if unchecked beavers can be destructive to ecosystems that are not already short of water. Therefore, it is important to only encourage beaver activity in areas that need help managing and retaining water.

Beaver activity has been increased in arid climates such as those found in Arizona. However, the consequences of doing so are largely unknown. Julian D. Olden, an ecologist at the University of Washington, discovered that beaver ponds made in Arizona proved to be ideal habitats for invasive fish, such as carp, catfish, and bass, which will eventually overrun the native species. He concluded, “There’s a lot of unknowns before we can say what the return of beavers means for these arid ecosystems. The assumption is it’s going to be good in all situations, but the jury is still out, and it’s going to take a couple of decades.”

It appears clear that beaver activity is not recommended in all situations, but the positives of allowing beavers to dam water supplies in low-water-areas seem to outweigh the negatives. As mentioned by Olden, the overall consequences will only be able to be gauged after a large amount of time has passed. Until then, all we can do is hope that the positives continue to outweigh the negatives.

Marine Mammals: a Military Defense

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 19, Issue 12

When you think about military operations and tactics, a wide array of technological systems and machinery probably come to mind, but were marine mammals on your list? Many military forces across the globe, including the US Navy, have been training marine mammals for some time. Since the 1960s, the US Navy has been training sea lions and bottlenose dolphins to not only search for underwater mines and trespassers but to also search for lost equipment. The Russian navy and later the Ukrainian navy also trained bottlenose dolphins for similar work.

But what makes marine mammals so skilled at these tasks? Marine mammals exhibit many abilities that make them superior to even some of the most sophisticated military equipment available today. For starters, cetaceans (a group of animals including whales and dolphins) have incredible echolocation. With echolocation, cetaceans can send out sound waves that bounce off objects in the water, letting the animals know what is ahead. Their echolocation is far better than any available technology, especially since bottlenose dolphins can work in noisier areas than today’s technology can handle. They can even use this ability to distinguish different types of metals, which is very useful in terms of the military’s needs. Dolphins also possess one of the best memories of any animal, making them very easy to train.

Sea lions also possess some very useful abilities. The California sea lion is often trained by the US Navy to detect objects in the water. They have great eyesight and can quickly tell when something is not supposed to be there, like lost equipment or mines. They are also amphibious, which means they can function both on land and on water. This makes them very easy to train and they can be brought up on boats when needed, making them more valuable to the Navy than most other marine mammals.

Although bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions make great military animals, there are some marine mammals that do not make the cut. In 2017, Russia tried to train beluga whales to perform the same things as the bottlenose dolphins and sea lions do. However, belugas cannot handle being in the Russian waters’ lower temperatures for long periods of time.

Since the introduction of marine mammals into military operations, there has been quite a bit of success. They were used back in the Cold War by the Soviet Union to detect anything suspicious or to find lost objects like torpedoes. They have also been known to be used by the US Navy in both Gulf Wars and during Operation Enduring Freedom, in which President George Bush announced airstrikes on Al Qaeda and the Taliban shortly after the terrorist strike on September 11, 2001. Since these operations, military forces around the globe continue to train these incredibly smart animals to help military programs run smoothly and more efficiently. And next time there is any conversation about military personnel and their astonishing jobs, you can add marine mammals to the list!

Sources:

“Dolphins In Defence: How Marine Mammals Are Used By The Military.” Forces Network, 29 Apr. 2019, www.forces.net/news/dolphins-defence-how-military-uses-marine-mammals.

Lee, Jane J. “Military Whales, and Dolphins: What Do They Do and Who Uses Them?” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 3 May 2019, news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140328-navy-dolphin-sea-lion-combat-ocean-animal-science/.

GMOs May Help Feed the World

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 34

When shoppers see the term “GMO” on an item at their local grocery store, they usually stay away. GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism, tends to bring a negative connotation and an image of an overly-inbred vegetable that has spent its entire lifespan in a lab. In reality, a GMO is just an organism whose DNA has been altered for some reason. These reasons can include increased crop yield or even increased nutritional value.

This is where Crispr comes into play. Crispr is a technique for gene-editing that scientists have applied in selective breeding to change the DNA of many organisms. The CRISPR method begins with an identified trait that scientists believe shows some aspect of an organism that is desirable. For instance, the desired trait could be larger fruit or less fat. They then identify the trait within the DNA sequence of the organism they want to change. Using a restriction enzyme, which acts as a pair of “scissors” for DNA sequences, the desired DNA sequence of the organism is cut and guided to the right location by a developed piece of RNA. Once the DNA is cut, a new trait can be introduced into the DNA or the existing trait can be modified. Then, the DNA repairs itself and the guide RNA and restriction enzyme are removed. Once this occurs, the organism can be bred with other compatible organisms and the new DNA sequence can be passed on to future generations.

The advances in agriculture and other sciences that have resulted from the CRISPR method are tremendous. Farmers have been able to use GMOs engineered to be more resistant to pesticides or produce pesticides themselves. In Hawaii, disease-resistant papayas have been developed. Additionally, scientists have been developing cacao more resistant to West African viruses, bananas more resistant to deadly fungus, rice more resistant to harsh climates, and wheat lower in gluten. GMOs are even allowing crops to be grown where so many have faced famine in order to feed a growing population.

On the other hand, some people wonder if GMO foods are safe and healthy to eat. Genetic engineering is a relatively new development. As a result, research on the long-term health effects of GMO foods is limited. GMO foods still have to meet the same safety requirements as foods grown from non-GMO seeds but critics suggest there’s more to be concerned about. Some people worry that GM foods may be linked to allergies, antibiotic resistance, or cancer. Others suggest these concerns are unfounded.

The CRISPR method though is so much more than making a tomato look more red or a mushroom-less spotted. It is helping combat diseases without the use of pesticides, boost beneficial nutrients, increase tolerance to heat, cold, and drought, and increase crop yield. GMOs can help us find sustainable ways to feed people and help make us healthier through scientific advancement.

Source:

Niiler, Eric. “Why Gene Editing is the Next Food Revolution.” National Geographic. National Geographic. August 10, 2018. Web. August 12, 2018.

https://www.healthline.com/health/gmos-pros-and-cons, October 5, 2016 — Written by Treacy Colbert

Sixth Circuit Court Agrees to Hear Challenges to WOTUS

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 10

On February 22, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth District agreed to hear consolidated arguments against the Waters of the United States rule. This comes after the injunction made by the court last year, that postponed challenges against the rule until various legal issues could be solved.

This development comes after the same district court heard arguments for and against consolidating the various cases against the WOTUS rule on December 8 of last year. Those in favor of implementing the rule argued that consolidating the cases and having the Sixth Circuit review them as one would streamline the process to a final ruling. Those against the rule wanted the individual federal district courts to each review the cases, so that the rule could undergo more scrutiny. This new ruling means that the Sixth Circuit will be the only court making a decision for now.

The National Law Review reported that the court cited its ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA in its decision to hear the challenges. The ruling of the 2009 case set precedent for the Sixth Circuit reviewing cases on the affecting of granting and denying permits. The court decided that since these new cases will directly impact permitting rules, and therefore it has jurisdiction over the arguments on the WOTUS rule.

Despite disagreeing with the Sixth Circuit’s decision in National Cotton Council v. EPA, Judge Richard Allen Griffin agreed with the court’s decision this time, due to the precedent set by the previous case, reported KTIC Radio.

“I concur in the judgment holding that we possess subject-matter jurisdiction in this case; thus, I join in denying petitioners’ motions to dismiss. However, I do so only because I am required to follow our precedentially-binding decision, National Cotton Council of America v. U.S. E.P.A., 553 F.3d 927 (6th Cir. 2009). Were it not for National Cotton, I would grant the motions to dismiss,” he wrote.

Paul Beard, a California attorney with Alston and Bird’s environment, land use and natural resources practice group, said that the court had reached the wrong decision. He stated that this ruling will bring the challenges to the Supreme Court faster, as well. However, he did not express optimism at his view on how the rule will be decided.

“With Justice Scalia’s untimely passing, the court’s 5-4 balance in favor of robust review of sweeping environmental rules like the WOTUS rule is no more,” Beard said.

The National Law Review also reported that this decision is significant because of recent event in the Eleventh District Court. There, 11 states were attempting to overturn a decision by a Georgia district court that had a concurring opinion with the Sixth Circuit’s decision. The final decision for that had been put on hold until the Sixth Circuit made one.

Sources

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/02/22/sixth-circuit-claims-jurisdiction-to-hear-merits-of-challenge-to-epa-waters-of-the-united-states-wotus-rule/

http://www.natlawreview.com/article/sixth-circuit-agrees-to-hear-challenge-to-clean-water-act

http://kticradio.com/agricultural/sixth-circuit-court-to-hear-wotus/

Supreme Court Blocks Power Plant Regulations

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 8

The Supreme Court delivered a severe blow to President Obama’s climate change plans when it blocked new regulations on coal-fired power plants on February 9. According to the New York Times, the decision is the first time the court has ever blocked a regulation before it has been reviewed by a federal appeals court. The fact that they put off the decision means the court probably has some skepticism about the new regulations.

According to Fox News, the new regulations would have required carbon-dioxide emissions at plants to be cut by one third by 2030. Republicans had called the regulations an “unprecedented power grab”, noting that the implementation would have been extremely costly. The plan included closing some power plants and increasing production of wind and solar energy.

“We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues,” Attorney General of West Virginia Patrick Morrisey said.

Supporters of the regulations stressed the importance of combating climate change. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli was among them.

“Climate change is the most significant environmental challenge of our day, and it is already affecting national public health, welfare and the environment,”Verrilli wrote to the Supreme Court.

Although the rules would not go into effect until 2022, many states argued they had already diverted resources or spent money in preparation for the regulations. A few companies already blamed the new rules for them declaring bankruptcy. A group of utilities told the New York Times, “Some of the nation’s largest coal companies have declared bankruptcy, due in no small part to the rule.”

Environmentalist groups and solar and wind power companies pointed to other factors as the reason for coal’s recent decline.“These changes include the abundant supply of relatively inexpensive natural gas, the increasing cost-competitiveness of electricity from renewable generation sources such as solar and wind power, the deployment of low-cost energy efficiency and other demand-side measures, and increasing consumer demand for advanced energy,” a coalition wrote.

This decision by the Supreme Court is not the last choice on the case. They will begin to hear arguments on June 2, which is relatively quick compared to previous cases.

Sources:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/02/09/supreme-court-puts-obamas-power-plant-regs-on-hold.html

Obama Vetoes Attempt to Overturn Clean Water Rule

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 6

 

2016-02-08_12-19-30

President Obama vetoed a bill that would have blocked the Clean Water Rule on January 19, reported USA Today. The bill, which was proposed by Republicans last year, would have repealed EPA definitions of what constitutes federally regulated waters.

“Because this resolution seeks to block the progress represented by this rule and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty and clarity needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water, I cannot support it,” Obama said in a message to Congress.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, said that bill was a necessary step against a “blatant power grab by the EPA,” reported the Washington Times. Many Republicans shared Ernst’s sentiment that the definitions put forth by the EPA were too broad.

Supporters of the rule argued that these definitions allowed for the government to oversee waters that people may not ordinarily think could lead to drinking water. Obama addressed this in his message to Congress, stating, “Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable. Pollution from upstream sources ends up in the rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and coastal waters near which most Americans live and on which they depend for their drinking water, recreation, and economic development.”

Republicans used a seldom used law, known as the Congressional Review Act, to propose the bill, according to USA Today. The Congressional Review Act allows for Congress to overturn laws made by federal agencies if they can pass a bill in both houses. The bill achieved this when it passed in the House of Representatives last month, receiving votes from every Republican member and three Democrats.

The veto, however, is likely to kill the bill entirely, as Republicans lack the two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto. Congressional Republican remain determined to repeal the rule. According to USA Today, Ernst said she would continue to look for ways to undo the rule.

“We all want clean water,” Ernst said. “This rule is not about clean water. Rather, it is about how much authority the federal government and unelected bureaucrats should have to regulate what is done on private land.”

The Clean Water Rule also remains in the court system, and it has already been overruled by two courts. Republicans are optimistic that it will eventually be overturned, reported the Washington Times.

Sources:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jan/19/obama-vetoes-measure-blocking-epas-new-rule-waterw/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/19/obama-vetoes-attempt-kill-clean-water-rule/79033958/

New Mexico to Sue EPA Over Mine Spill

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 5

New Mexico announced on January 14 that it intends to sue the EPA over last year’s mine spill that contaminated the Animas and San Juan Rivers, reported the Washington Times.  New Mexico will be the first state to sue the EPA over this event.

In August, an EPA cleanup crew tasked with draining the Gold King Mine in Colorado unleashed millions of gallons of contaminated water into the nearby rivers. The yellow plume of water made its way through rivers in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, causing many farmers to close their taps and a temporary shutdown of drinking water supply.

New Mexico Environment Department cabinet secretary Ryan Flynn said the state heard about the spill not from the EPA, but from the Southern Ute Tribe. He claimed that the EPA has not cooperated with state and local agencies to manage the fallout from the spill.

“From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” he said.

According to ABC News, the EPA is well aware of New Mexico’s intent to sue. Spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said that the EPA is reviewing the state’s plans to sue.

“EPA is working closely with the states to develop a long-term monitoring plan to evaluate potential environmental impacts from the spill and will be meeting with representatives in early February,” St. Clair said. “EPA is also reimbursing state and local agencies for response-related costs associated with the spill.”

In addition to the EPA, the state also plans to go after Colorado and the owners of the mines involved in the incident, according to ABC News. Flynn said that Colorado was less than cooperative when New Mexico asked for information on the spill’s effects on the Animas River watershed. According to Flynn, Colorado asked for about $20,000 for a public records request in response to New Mexico.

Larry Perino, a reclamation manager for Sunnyside Mine, has stated that its owners will “vigourously” defend themselves from legal action. He said that the mine was not involved in the spill and thus has no responsibility for its effects. However, Colorado-based San Juan Corp., who owns the Gold King Mine, claims the buildup of wastewater in Gold King is a direct result of a 1990s project in Sunnyside Mine, reported ABC News. Canada-based Kinross Corp., who owns Sunnyside, disputes these claims.

The Navajo nation said that it may too sue the EPA, although no formal has been filed, reported ABC News. Many of the nation’s farmers were forced to close their taps to a very important source of fresh water due to the spill, leading to concerns about economic as well as environmental effects.

Sources:

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/apnewsbreak-mexico-sue-epa-mine-spill-36293032

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jan/14/new-mexico-sue-epa-over-toxic-gold-king-mine-spill/

New Version of Assessment Tool Makes Monitoring Wetlands Easier

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 4

Pennsylvania State University researchers have modified an already existing wetland assessment tool to make it faster at while maintaining accuracy. The tool, known as the Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQI), saves time and could benefit wetland monitoring strategies, reports Phys.org.

Penn State’s wetland research center, Riparia, has been developing tools for monitoring and assessing wetlands since the 1990s. The original FQI was used to monitor prairies, but researchers discovered that it could be used for wetlands as well. The only downside was that it required the user to have a list of all the plants in a given wetland.

“We have heard from individuals monitoring wetland quality that the FQI was too time-consuming and that the field technicians didn’t always have the botanical knowledge to accurately identify all the plants in an area,” Sarah Chamberlain, senior research assistant at Riparia, said.

To solve this problem, the Chamberlain and Robert Brooks, the founder of Riparia, used an abridged list of a wetland’s dominant species to speed up the process. They tested their new “rapid model” against 87 different wetlands. Using the new model proved to be just as accurate as using the older, slower model in predicting a wetland’s quality.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide tools that states can use to easily monitor wetlands, which will hopefully assist with the preservation of these unique and special areas in the future,” Chamberlain said.

The researchers also developed a free online calculator for assessing a wetland’s quality. Users simply input a list of plant life in an area, and the calculator gives an objective quality assessment of the wetland. This tool can also be used to monitor the quality of other habitats, such as highlands. It can be found here.

Research for this tool was funded by the EPA. Work on the tool was also done in collaboration with other states through the Mid-Atlantic Wetlands Workgroup.

Source:

http://phys.org/news/2016-01-rapid-version-tool-easier-wetland.html#jCp

House Votes to Repeal Waters of the U.S. Rule

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 3

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on January 13 to overturn the Waters of the United States Rule on the Clean Water Act. The resolution of disapproval passed by a vote of 235-166 and is now headed to the President Obama’s desk, reported The Hill.

The resolution, originating from Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa, was already passed in the Senate as of November and needed House approval to go forward. The Congressional Review Act allows for Congress to overturn an agency rule only if both chambers pass a resolution of disapproval such as this one, Bakken.com reported. In addition to overturning the rule, implementation of this resolution would prevent the creation of any rule substantially similar to the Waters of the U.S. Rule in the future.

Supporters of the resolution and opponents of the rule claim that the Waters of the United States Rule gives too broad definitions as to what the federal government can regulate. Many are concerned that the rule will result in farmers having to pay huge fines to access waters on their own properties and that even the smallest ditch will fall under federal regulation.

“The federal government shouldn’t be regulating every drop of water,” said Bill Shuster, a representative from Pennsylvania. “Just about every wet area in the country is open to federal regulation under this rule. The rights of landowners and local governments will be trampled.”

Supporters of the rule are concerned that a repeal of this rule will confuse what waters can and cannot be regulated. They are also concerned that a lack of regulation will lead to a drop in environmental standards when it comes to clean water. The EPA has stated that the rule is necessary to clarify what constitutes a federally regulated waterway and that it is consistent with the rest of the Clean Water Act, reported The Hill.

“The question is what, where and how do we protect the waters of the United States?” said Peter DeFazio, a representative from Oregon.

President Obama has already promised to veto the resolution when it comes to his desk, reported The Hill. When the Senate passed the resolution in November, the White House made a similar statement, threatening to veto it should the House pass the resolution.

Sources:

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/265734-house-votes-to-overturn-obamas-water-rule

bakken.com/news/id/250626/house-passes-waters-of-the-united-states-resolution-of-disapproval/

 

 

EPA Looks into Los Angeles Gas Leak

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 2

The EPA opened an investigation into a natural gas leak from an underground pipe in Los Angeles. ABC News reported that the company responsible, Southern California Gas Company, knew about the leak as far back as October 23.

Residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood have complained about feeling nausea, dizziness and headaches as a result of the smell of the mercaptan used to signal a leak. The California Air Resources Board estimated that 1,200 tons of the natural gas is entering the air every day.

“It’s very scary and you know don’t know what the long-term effects are going to be,” Porter Ranch resident Laurie Cherny said.

The company sated that although some people may be sensitive to the mercaptan, the leak itself did not pose a threat to public safety, as the well is located a mile away from and 1,200 feet higher than the closest home.

The Los Angeles City Attorney, as well as some residents of the area, have filed a lawsuit against the gas company, according to ABC News. Lawyers for some of  the residents released an infrared video that appears to show large amounts of methane in the gas cloud over the area.

On December 18, the EPA sent an information request to SoCal Gas. EPA officials are now working with state and local regulators to find a way to stop the leak. A letter from the EPA said the agency is standing by and ready to help in any way it can if requested as a result of the investigation.

In response, SoCal Gas has been withdrawing gas at twice its normal rate for several weeks from the Aliso Canyon Facility, where the pipe is located. Spokeswoman Anne Silva said this will lower the pressure pushing gas through the leak.

“As a result of these withdrawals, which are metered, the reservoir has gone from being 93 percent full, before the leak, to at most 58 percent full, ” Silva said.

On December 28, officials from SoCal Gas said they had found the leak and were in the process of fixing it. The process could take until late February to complete. So far the company has placed over 2,200 families into temporary housing while another 3,000 are in the process of relocation, reported ABC News.

“We understand the leak has created concerns, heightened awareness and public urgency,” the company said. “SoCal Gas has the same urgency and our highest priority is to safely stop the leak as quickly as safety will allow, support the affected customers, and reduce the amount of natural gas emitting into the environment during this unfortunate situation.”

Sources:

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/epa-probes-porter-ranch-natural-gas-leak/story?id=36052183

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/lawsuit-alleges-huge-release-methane-poses-threat-los/story?id=35676695

http://www.dailynews.com/environment-and-nature/20151229/epa-opens-probe-into-porter-ranch-gas-leak