Sunday, November 29, 2015

EPA Revokes Approval of Dow's 'Enlist Duo' Herbicide Because of High Toxicity

WASHINGTON— In response to litigation by conservation groups, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will revoke approval of the herbicide “Enlist Duo” after  determining that its combination of chemicals is likely significantly more harmful than initially believed. Approved by the agency just over a year ago, Enlist Duo is a toxic combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D that Dow AgroSciences created for use on the next generation of genetically engineered crops that are designed to withstand being drenched with this potent herbicide cocktail.  

The action resolves a year-long legal challenge filed by a coalition of conservation groups seeking to rescind the approval of the dangerous herbicide blend. The EPA had approved use of Enlist Duo in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and had intended to approve it in additional areas in the near future.

The reversal came after the EPA’s failure to consider the impacts of Enlist Duo on threatened and endangered plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act was challenged by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, on behalf of Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Working Group, the National Family Farm Coalition and Pesticide Action Network North America. The Endangered Species Act requires that every federal agency consider the impacts of its actions on our nation’s most imperiled plants and animals and seek input from the expert wildlife agencies before plunging ahead, which the EPA had refused to do. 
“With this action, EPA confirms the toxic nature of this lethal cocktail of chemicals, and has stepped back from the brink,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife. This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

Dow created Enlist crops as a quick fix for the problem created by “Roundup Ready” crops, the previous generation of genetically engineered crops designed to resist the effects of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Just as overuse of antibiotics has left resistant strains of bacteria to thrive, repeated use of Roundup on those crops allowed glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” to proliferate, and those weeds now infest tens of millions of acres of U.S. farmland. Enlist crops allow farmers to spray both glyphosate and 2,4-D without killing their crops, which they hope will kill weeds resistant to glyphosate alone. But some weeds have already developed 2,4-D resistance, and the escalating cycle of more toxic pesticides in the environment will continue unless the EPA stops approving these chemicals, and USDA stops rubber-stamping new genetically engineered crops.

“The decision by EPA to withdraw the illegally approved Enlist Duo crops is a huge victory for the environment and the future of our food,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety's senior attorney. “We will remain vigilant to ensure industry does not pressure the agency into making the same mistake in the future.”
“This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the EPA taking this important action to protect people, rare plants and animals from Enlist Duo,” said Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we gather with our families for the holiday feast, we can all breathe a little bit easier knowing that the EPA has protected our food from being drenched with this poisonous pesticide cocktail.”

Judy Hatcher, executive director of Pesticide Action Network, said: “EPA is taking a step in the right direction, but Enlist Duo shouldn’t have been given the green light in the first place. Too often, GE seeds and the herbicides designed to accompany them are rushed to market without thorough evaluation of their real-world impacts on community health and farmer livelihoods.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

Photo: SpaceX

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

"It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan."

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

"The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating office of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We're honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.
A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low- Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Oil Spill Money Going to Help Alabama Artificial Reef Plan

A brainstorming session involving the Alabama Marine Resources Division, Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Alabama Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) resulted in significant implications for those who love to fish in Alabama’s saltwater environment.
The three entities concluded that their combined efforts could best be used to develop a long-term plan for Alabama’s world-renowned artificial reef program.
“Alabama’s Marine Resources Division has been a leader for decades with inshore and offshore artificial reef systems,” said AWF Executive Director Tim L. Gothard.  “The Alabama Wildlife Federation firmly believes that properly engineered artificial reefs provide ecological benefits and unique fishing opportunities for anglers – a true win-win. We were glad to partner with the Marine Resources Division and Coastal Conservation Association-Alabama to compile the Alabama Artificial Reef Plan and promote this beneficial investment of oil spill-related dollars.”
Those oil-spill related dollars that Gothard noted come in the form of grants recently announced by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) that will provide $12.5 million for habitat enhancement along the Alabama Gulf Coast. NFWF’s three-year plan is phase one of a larger 10-year artificial reef program that Marine Resources developed in conjunction with the AWF and CCA-Alabama. Visit for more information.
“We designed a 10-year plan with $42 million in projects,” Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship said. “This NFWF project gives a good start on that 10-year plan. We’ll continue to look for funding after the first three years. We’re hoping to use the research component of this project to show the benefits of artificial reefs, that it produces fish and leads to a positive net ecological benefit that will help us seek additional funding down the road.”
The NFWF funding will be used for a variety of projects in three areas: offshore, nearshore and inshore.
“Starting with offshore, it includes money to sink two ships, one in 2017 and one in 2018,” Blankenship said. “It also includes funding to put down 140 of the 25-foot tall pyramids. We will put down a couple of those larger pyramids at each site to mimic a larger vessel. We plan to put about 600 regular pyramids in the reef zones we’re creating in the Gulf of Mexico within 9 miles of the shoreline. We are still working to have this area permitted by the Corps of Engineers.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now requires cultural resource surveys to search for any shipwrecks or other historically significant bottom features.

“The level of surveys required by the Corps of Engineers is very costly,” he said. “The surveys include side-scan, sub-bottom profiles and magnetometer surveys that look for metal in shipwrecks and other material. That has been the hold-up. This should help us do those surveys and get those reef zone permits processed and moving forward rapidly.”
Included in those nearshore plans is a proposed juvenile fish habitat zone of about 40 acres south of Sand Island Lighthouse. The area would provide a haven for juvenile fish to escape predation.
“We would use low-relief material, like rocks from basketball size to softball size,” Blankenship said. “This would give those red snapper from age zero and age one some cover during that transitional period before they recruit to the larger reefs. Hopefully that will help get those age zeros some protection and increase the recruitment.”
Another project involves the nearshore Minton Reef Zones south of Gulf State Park Pier and south of Perdido Pass, which will get more of the 6-foot pyramids and “eco-reefs” designed to be deployed in areas with soft bottoms.
Blankenship said the inshore plans include replenishing about 10 existing reefs with new material.
“A lot of those reefs that were built 15 or 20 years ago have settled or have silted in, and they are in need of new material," he said. “We also plan to build at least two new reefs. One will be a fairly large reef off Point Clear that is a relic oyster reef. We haven’t decided on the other reefs, but we’re looking at areas in Mississippi Sound that would be suitable. We’re looking for places with harder bottoms. If we don’t find suitable hard bottom, we’re experimenting with the eco-reefs that won’t sink up. If those turn out to be beneficial, it really opens up the opportunities to use eco-reefs in areas where we previously couldn’t build reefs because the bottom was too soft.”
Blankenship said the eco-reefs use a piling surrounded by limestone rock. Discs are attached around the piling at varying depths to provide cover for juvenile fish and other sea life. Depending on water depth, Blankenship said from three to five discs could be attached to the piling.
“The eco-reefs have proven to be effective in the Minton Reef Zone, so now we’re looking to see if they are effective in waters like Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay,” he said.
As for the ships that will be deployed as artificial reefs in 2017 and 2018, Blankenship said vessels similar to The LuLu, a 271-foot retired coastal freighter that was sunk 17 miles south of Perdido Pass in 2013, would be ideal.
“We’ll have to see what kind of vessels are on the market,” he said. “We’ll be looking for something between 200 and 300 feet. We hope we can find something like The Lulu that will last for decades or like the Liberty ships that were sunk in the 70s and are still providing habitat for a variety of reef fish.”
Blankenship said the NFWF funding also provides money to take advantage of “materials of opportunity.”
“As we get pipe or culvert or other material donated from construction sites, we will have money available to deploy that material as reefs,” he said. “We want to encourage companies or individuals who have these types of material to contact us (251-968-7576 or 251-861-2882) so we can stage that material at our facility in Gulf Shores and deploy the reef material both inshore and offshore.”
Blankenship said Marine Resources would contract with the University of South Alabama Marine Sciences to perform much of the research work funded through the NFWF grants. One of the research projects involves comparing the change in biomass for areas after adding artificial reefs to natural bottom without any structure.
“We’ll have the opportunity to do some studies on areas that have no reefs at all,” he said. “We’ll do a pre-deployment survey and then monitor the new reefs that were deployed over the course of three years to see how the biomass grows around those reefs. We think we will be able to provide definitive information that artificial reefs increase biomass and have a net positive ecological effect.
“We’re excited to partner with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in this extremely important project. I’m very thankful that Governor Bentley and Commissioner (N. Gunter) Guy saw the benefit in this type of work and provided the funding.”
PHOTOS: (Marine Resources) Pyramid reefs of different sizes will be used in the artificial reef enhancement program funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Nearshore reefs will use different configurations to benefit the saltwater ecosystem along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

There Is No Good Way to See Syria and The Hell Which Has Become

As my daughter sits upstairs practicing Christmas songs on her flute, I'm filled with the love I feel for her, and a general gratitude that I am in a place where this peaceful moment is possible. This feeling fills me with empathy for those not so lucky. 

I, like many people in the US, have a myriad of feelings and responses to the crisis in, and now about and out of, Syria. 

As things evolve, it is obvious the spilling of blood, the spilling out of Syrian refugees, of Jihadists, of the flow of displacement of people, and violence is inevitable. The concept that containment is possible, even if that were the desired goal, has slipped into the past of wishes.

I admit, as it goes with most people, my awareness of the flow only grows as the tide reaches our shores, and those of our closest allies. I am now, however, thankful for the pain of awareness. Better to see it, to know, than remain shielded and oblivious. 

Everything is global now.      

A picture speaks a thousand words. In this case, a picture speaks an eternity of the Hell raging in Syria.

This is very simply a gallery of some images of the "situation" in Syria. It is important to understand in a non sterile format what is actually happening. The only conclusion drawn herein is that we must see.

Then we can ask the questions.
Do we want to help?

Why is this happening?
Can we take the risk?

First at least understand why we need to ask.

But understand also, as people complain that the attacks in Paris have captured our attention to the neglect of other "situations," there are, unfortunately, "situations" raging across the globe. 

And the trend is currently upwards.

Conflict creates an energy and osmosis will push that energy toward calmer waters. How long can we hold back the flood? Or is it possible to stop the reign of terror?

A Syrian rebel sniper in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo province.

Checkpoint at Damascus' edge; the capital is ringed by restive towns. Jan. 14, 2012. Photo taken by VOA Middle East correspondent Elizabeth Arrott while traveling through Damascus with government escorts.

The article on the Syrian crisis linked in the above tweet is from several months ago. Follow the link and then imagine how the escalation of violence and passage of time has increased the misery.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Traveler With Hundreds Of Illegal Tamales Caught At LAX

CBP officers seized 450 pork meat tamales at LAXU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialists assigned to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) seized 450 prohibited pork meat tamales discovered inside the luggage of a passenger arriving from Mexico, on November 2.

The passenger, who was referred to agriculture examination, marked “YES” on the customs declaration about bringing food, but when asked if the food declared contained any pork meat products, a negative verbal declaration was given. 

Upon inspection, CBP agriculture specialists found 450 pork meat tamales wrapped in plastic bags.

“Although tamales are a popular holiday tradition, foreign meat products can carry serious animal diseases from countries affected by outbreaks of Avian Influenza, Mad Cow and Swine Fever," said Anne Maricich, CBP Acting Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles. “Every day CBP agriculture specialists prevent the intentional and unintentional introduction of harmful pests and foreign animal diseases into the U.S.”

Traveler fined $1,000 penalty for smuggling illegal tamales The traveler was assessed a $1,000.00 civil penalty for commercial activity with the intent to distribute. 

The pork meat tamales were seized and destroyed under CBP supervision.

(in a back room with chips?)

CBP enforces U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) regulations on importing meat and meat products. The best source for the current disease status can be found starting on page 19 of the APHIS website.

During fiscal year 2014, CBP agriculture specialists nationwide issued 75,330 civil violations and intercepted 1,623,294 animal by-product, meat and plant/soil quarantine products.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sat #BhamNov21 Mural of Watercress Darter (@EndangeredOcean @TierraMussel @TooSphexy) Unveiling Celebration

East Lake Painting Part of National Endangered Species Mural Project
The Center for Biological Diversity on Saturday will host a celebration for a new 15-by-30-foot mural in the East Lake neighborhood in Birmingham, the fourth in a multi-city national endangered species mural project highlighting threatened wildlife. The project aims to use art in public spaces to increase awareness of regional biodiversity. 
Watercress darter
Watercress darter photo courtesy USFWS.

The Birmingham mural will feature the watercress darter, a small, brilliantly colored endangered fish that is only found in the Birmingham metropolitan area. The mural is being painted this week on the wall of the soon-to-be-opened Lake Cottage Books. 

The public reception and unveiling will include music by the Oxy Morons, face-painting by Starshine Faces and crafts led by artists from the University of Montevallo art department.

Artist Roger Peet, the Magic City Mural Collective and Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center, along with local environmental groups and universities

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
7769 2nd Avenue South, Birmingham, East Lake Neighborhood

Protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1970, the watercress darter is now known to occur in only five limestone springs in the Birmingham metropolitan area. Urban development and water pollution continue to threaten the fish, and many organizations are working to protect it. 

The Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species mural project is spearheaded by Portland, Ore., artist Roger Peet, who is teaming up with local artists to bring endangered wildlife to public spaces around the country. The project aims to promote a deep affinity for the natural world and the wild creatures that help define it, and features species that are unique to their regions. Birmingham was selected as the site of darter mural because Alabama is a world hotspot for freshwater animal diversity, and the Center is working to protect hundreds of Alabama species from extinction.

Already installed murals include the mountain caribou in Sandpoint, Idaho; the Arctic grayling in Butte, Mont.; and the monarch butterfly in Minneapolis, Minn. Additional murals are planned of the Ozark hellbender in St. Louis, Mo.; the white fringeless orchid in Berea, Ky., and the pink mucket mussel in Knoxville, Tenn.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cheaha State Park Hosts "Bigfoot Bio Bash" Conservation Festival Nov. 21 --- (#BhamNov21)

Cheaha State Park is hosting “Bigfoot Bio Bash,” a conservation festival Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Highlights of the festival include a 5K trail race and 1-mile fun run, conservation exhibits, the opening of a new trail and storytelling by some of the best “tellers” in the Southeast.

The festival will have something for all ages and includes exhibitors, guided hikes, archery instruction and live birds of prey.

Cheaha’s newest trail, the Bigfoot Trail, will be unveiled at the festival. The trail highlights a partnership with Leave No Trace, an organization that encourages people to protect the outdoors by enjoying it responsibly. The trail emphasizes the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace:
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Cheaha State Park is hosting Alabama’s Eighth Annual Tellabration at Bald Rock Lodge from 1 to 3 p.m. Alabama’s best storytellers will entertain with spooky, humorous, thought-provoking, and just plain fun stories. This event is part of the International Tellabration, a worldwide event devoted to storytelling that always takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

A registration fee is required for the 5K and 1-mile fun run, but all other events are free with park admission. Food vendors will be on-site and Cheaha’s restaurant will be open as well.

Bigfoot Bio Bash is presented in cooperation with the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce. Visit for additional details about the event.

The Alabama State Parks Division operates and maintains 17 state parks encompassing approximately 48,000 acres of land and water. These parks rely on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit

NASA Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.

MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the Nov. 5 issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

“Mars appears to have had a thick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Understanding what happened to the Mars atmosphere will inform our knowledge of the dynamics and evolution of any planetary atmosphere. Learning what can cause changes to a planet’s environment from one that could host microbes at the surface to one that doesn’t is important to know, and is a key question that is being addressed in NASA’s journey to Mars.”

MAVEN measurements indicate that the solar wind strips away gas at a rate of about 100 grams (equivalent to roughly 1/4 pound) every second. "Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time," said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "We've seen that the atmospheric erosion increases significantly during solar storms, so we think the loss rate was much higher billions of years ago when the sun was young and more active.”

In addition, a series of dramatic solar storms hit Mars’ atmosphere in March 2015, and MAVEN found that the loss was accelerated. The combination of greater loss rates and increased solar storms in the past suggests that loss of atmosphere to space was likely a major process in changing the Martian climate.

The solar wind is a stream of particles, mainly protons and electrons, flowing from the sun's atmosphere at a speed of about one million miles per hour. The magnetic field carried by the solar wind as it flows past Mars can generate an electric field, much as a turbine on Earth can be used to generate electricity. This electric field accelerates electrically charged gas atoms, called ions, in Mars’ upper atmosphere and shoots them into space.

MAVEN has been examining how solar wind and ultraviolet light strip gas from of the top of the planet's atmosphere. New results indicate that the loss is experienced in three different regions of the Red Planet: down the "tail," where the solar wind flows behind Mars, above the Martian poles in a "polar plume," and from an extended cloud of gas surrounding Mars. The science team determined that almost 75 percent of the escaping ions come from the tail region, and nearly 25 percent are from the plume region, with just a minor contribution from the extended cloud.

Ancient regions on Mars bear signs of abundant water – such as features resembling valleys carved by rivers and mineral deposits that only form in the presence of liquid water. These features have led scientists to think that billions of years ago, the atmosphere of Mars was much denser and warm enough to form rivers, lakes and perhaps even oceans of liquid water.

Recently, researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed the seasonal appearance of hydrated salts indicating briny liquid water on Mars. However, the current Martian atmosphere is far too cold and thin to support long-lived or extensive amounts of liquid water on the planet's surface.

"Solar-wind erosion is an important mechanism for atmospheric loss, and was important enough to account for significant change in the Martian climate,” said Joe Grebowsky, MAVEN project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “MAVEN also is studying other loss processes -- such as loss due to impact of ions or escape of hydrogen atoms -- and these will only increase the importance of atmospheric escape.”

The goal of NASA's MAVEN mission, launched to Mars in November 2013, is to determine how much of the planet's atmosphere and water have been lost to space. It is the first such mission devoted to understanding how the sun might have influenced atmospheric changes on the Red Planet. MAVEN has been operating at Mars for just over a year and will complete its primary science mission on Nov. 16.