Thursday, November 29, 2007
San Francisco Chronicle
Nearly one-third of the nation's bird species are in need of immediate help or they could disappear forever, according to two leading conservation organizations that for the first time have joined to produce a national "watch list" of winged wildlife.
Of the 217 bird species placed on the list by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, 50 are found in the Bay Area. That includes the California clapper rails nesting above tidal marshes, coastal sooty shearwaters and Western sandpipers that run on sandy beaches.
Also on the list are Clark's grebes, sanderlings, snowy plovers, black turnstones and rare marbled murrelets. Those species are among the nearly 2,700 birds that have been killed or injured by toxic fuel since a spill in San Francisco Bay three weeks ago.
"These imperiled birds are sending us a message that the environment we share with them is in trouble. When we improve habitat, the birds improve. If we damage habitat, they decline," said John Flicker, president of the 115-year-old National Audubon Society, which advocates for the roughly 700 breeding species found in the United States.
"For watch list birds, the clock is ticking. Many will slide into extinction if we don't take action," he said.
Some of the most serious threats to America's birds are the harmful effects of invasive species, such as cowbirds that take over nests; development and agricultural expansion that destroy feeding and breeding territory; and global warming, which raises sea levels and changes ocean conditions, according to bird scientists.
Of the 217 birds on the watch list, 98 are categorized as "red," indicating most at risk of extinction. The other 119 are categorized as "yellow," which means the species is "seriously declining or rare." The watch list was released Wednesday.
California had 73 species on the list and 22 in the red category. All of Hawaii's 39 imperiled species were put in the red category. Of the 50 Bay Area birds on the list, 14 were in the red category.
The list is a synthesis of the known science regarding population size, range, threats and population trends.
The groups that prepared the list want other organizations and government agencies to use it to decide which birds need better protection under the Endangered Species Act. They also want more money for recovery programs and better management of threats within the birds' ranges.
"We need to use every tool at our disposal, from private action to the Endangered Species Act," said George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy, which was founded to further protect declining bird populations. "The United States is going greener, and birds are nature's best ambassadors for this new environmental ethic."
Efforts should be made to eradicate invasive species, eliminate the worst pesticides, combat global warming and plan appropriate development, Fenwick said.
Recent measures taken to help birds include California's law that bans the use of lead shot in condor territory. New protections also have been passed to limit the threat that dogs and people pose to snowy plovers that nest on parts of the state's coastline.
Bird watching is a popular pastime in the United States - an estimated 60 million people show an interest in birds, a figure larger than the membership of AARP, according to the American Bird Conservancy.
Yet since the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the Endangered Species Act has been underfunded, and in recent years government officials have added only a few species to the protection list, said Greg Butcher, Audubon's director of bird conservation.
"San Francisco Bay has many important bird areas. We're encouraging people to go out and improve the habitats that are there. Plant natives, pull out invasive, improve your own backyard," Butcher said. "Even city dwellers share the need for clean air and clean water with birds. It turns out that what's good for birds is also good for people. When birds are out of kilter, nature is out of kilter."
Read about the watch list:
Species status: Declining or rare
Of the 217 bird species placed on the list by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, 36 of the 50 found in the Bay Area are on the list of seriously declining or rare species:
Source: National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy
E-mail Jane Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is A Bioeconomy fueled by Biorenewables, Sustainable?
U.S. farmers should curb fertilizer runoff: study
Enforce Fertilizer Runoff Laws: Report
Conventional plowing is 'skinning our agricultural fields'
The United States has embarked on an ambitious program to develop technology and infrastructure to economically and sustainably produce ethanol from biomass. Corn stover, the above-ground material left in fields after corn grain harvest, has been identified as a primary feedstock. Stover and other crop biomass or residue is frequently referred to as "trash" or a waste, implying it has minimal value. However, when returned to the land, this carbon-rich material helps control erosion, replenishes soil organic matter, and improves soil quality. Organic matter in the soil retains and recycles nutrients and improves soil structure, aeration, and water exchange characteristics. In addition, organic matter is the energy source for the soil ecosystem.
"Sustainable biofuel production will require that the functions of organic matter in the soil be addressed before crop residue is removed from the land," states Doug Karlen, USDA-ARS soil scientist at the National Soil Tilth Laboratory at Ames, IA.
Dave Lightle, USDA-NRCS agronomist with the National Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, NE says, "To date, projected sustainable harvest levels have been calculated by reducing total stover production by amounts needed to keep soil erosion losses within accepted limits."
Most estimates of the amount of crop residue that can be sustainably harvested consider only erosion as a constraining factor, without considering the need to maintain soil organic matter. Recently Jane Johnson and her coworkers at the USDA-ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory at Morris, MN, reported estimates of the minimum biomass input needed to maintain soil organic matter.
Wally Wilhelm, USDA-ARS scientist with the Agroecosystems Management Research Unit, Lincoln, NE, and his team compared the amount of stover needed to replenish soil organic matter and control water and wind erosion under a limited number of production conditions—continuous corn and corn produced in rotation with soybean with moldboard plow or conservation tillage practices. The amount of stover needed to replenish soil organic matter was greater than that required to control either water or wind erosion in the ten counties (in nine of the top eleven corn production states in the U.S.) investigated. This outcome emphasizes the need to further evaluate the validity of widely circulated estimates of U.S. cropland capacity to sustainably supply feedstock for the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry.
The article appears in the November-December 2007 issue of Agronomy Journal and was the basis of a poster presentation titled "Soil Carbon Needs Limit Biomass Ethanol Feedstock Supply" at the 2007 American Society of Agronomy meetings in New Orleans in November 2007. This research contributes to the USDA-ARS Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP) goals and was funded by the USDA-ARS and USDA-NRCS agencies.
The authors conclude that there is a critical need to gather additional high-quality replicated field data from multiple locations to confirm their calculations and to expand the computations to a broader range of cropping systems before major decisions are made about the percent of stover that can designated for biomass energy production. In addition, they state that an extensive effort is needed to expand development of existing crops, discover and develop unconventional crops, and create and deploy advanced cropping systems that exploit the potential of all crops so that biomass production can be greatly expand to provide a sustainable supply of cellulosic feedstock without reducing soil organic matter, thus undermining the productive capacity of the soil.
The 2012 farm bill could provide major motion in this direction, while achieving most of the other goals that have come up around the farm bill in past cycles. Instead of a politics of win/lose, of scarcity and zero sum, we would need a politics that addresses causes rather than symptoms and creates multiple, interlocking benefits.
Soil organic matter
Often called humus, soil organic matter is usually about 58 percent carbon by dry weight. Plants capture carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. This plant material, traveling through complex food webs both above and below ground, is broken down and eventually some of it forms soil organic matter.
In temperate zones, this soil organic matter can last for generations, unless it is exposed to air and microbes that can rapidly oxidize the carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide. This reaction is much like combustion: carbon and oxygen are combined into carbon dioxide, releasing energy.
In tropical areas, soil organic matter tends to oxidize more rapidly because of the higher temperatures.
Perennial grasslands in temperate zones have the greatest capacity to form and store soil carbon. Much of these black, carbon-rich prairie soils were plowed in the last two centuries and have released much of their carbon into the atmosphere. In the last generation or two, alternative agriculture practitioners on all continents have discovered how to restore organic matter to their soils through management. A key principle is to keep the soil covered with plants and plant material, which feeds the soil microbes that create humus.
The methods of increasing soil organic matter have been well demonstrated by various practitioners of alternative agriculture, including managed grazing, pasture cropping, no-till, and organic. No new technology is required. With soil organic matter as the primary direction of our farm policy, we would:
Take excess carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is dangerous, and put it back in the soil where it belongs, and where it will enhance every aspect of our lives. Much of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been released from our soils via tillage, chemical applications, and exposure (and it's still going on). In the atmosphere, this carbon contributes to greenhouse warming. If we can get it back into the soil, using free solar energy, we will be able to grow food with fewer inputs and stabilize our climate.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
LONDON (Reuters) - Weather-related disasters have quadrupled over the last two decades, a leading British charity said in a report published on Sunday.
From an average of 120 disasters a year in the early 1980s, there are now as many as 500, with Oxfam attributing the rise to unpredictable weather conditions cause by global warming.
"This year we have seen floods in South Asia, across the breadth of Africa and Mexico that have affected more than 250 million people," said Oxfam's director Barbara Stocking.
"This is no freak year. It follows a pattern of more frequent, more erratic, more unpredictable and more extreme weather events that are affecting more people.
The number of people affected by disasters has risen by 68 percent, from an average of 174 million a year between 1985 to 1994 to 254 million a year between 1995 to 2004.
"Action is needed now to prepare for more disasters otherwise humanitarian assistance will be overwhelmed and recent advances in human development will go into reverse," Stocking said.
Oxfam wants the UN conference on Climate Change in Bali in December to agree a mandate to negotiate a global deal to provide assistance to developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change and reduce green house gas emissions.
(Reporting by John Sinnott, Editing by Elizabeth Piper)
Ah, summer in the mountains: Bone-dry sequoias scraping the clear blue sky, bare-dirt trails winding beneath them, birds twittering in the sunny calm. Tourists in shirt sleeves.
But wait - what's that the calendar says?
It's the end of November?
And it's what? Ski season?
Even a way-cool boarding dude could be forgiven for making the mistake. With temperatures high and snowfall nonexistent of late, you had to hunt pretty hard in the Sierra Nevada this weekend to find enough white stuff to carry a leaf, let alone a snowboard or ski.
Yes, a smattering of ski resorts including Northstar and Sugar Bowl were open on what is traditionally the longed-for Thanksgiving kickoff of the season. Practically all, though, just offered ice skating, low-level tubing or beginner slopes near the bottom of a hill. Thrill runs were short in supply.
But hold on. There was at least one sort-of Valhalla to be found for those who searched the hardest - and it was known as the awesome land of Boreal. OK, so it's really just Boreal Ridge ski resort.
But tell that to guys like Kyle Velo.
He drove up from San Jose Saturday morning after hearing that Boreal's snow-making machines had conjured up three actual snow runs. And the minute his eyes lit on that wide-open plain of 14-inch-deep ivory between boundless stretches of bare dirt and trees he dashed up the hill with his snowboard, goggles and underwear.
On a dare, Velo, 22, snowboarded in nothing but his boxer shorts, this being the first real weekend of the season and all things being fresh and possible. In a rad sort of way. "All right, so as soon as I started, they threw me off the mountain and made me put on some shorts," he said, panting from a bumpy run down the jumping hills. "But this is the most awesome place ever!"
Velo rakishly hooked a thumb into the waistband of his blue basketball shorts, which, slid halfway down his hips, displayed hefty swaths of skin around his obviously torn boxers.
"I dared him, told him I'd pay his lift ticket if he went on in his underwear," giggled his friend Christina Valentine as another pal rubbed a snowball all over Velo's bare chest just to watch him shiver in the 45-degree chill. "Didn't think he'd do it."
So wasn't it too cold skiing in your near-altogether? Velo was asked by nearly everyone he met. And didn't it hurt when you fell down with no padding?
"Nope," he said with a disjointed grin. "I'm drunk. Jagermeister cures all."
Among the hundreds of others hitting Boreal's very short and hard-packed, but truly snowy, runs Saturday were the usual gaggle of avid boarders, a man in a gorilla suit and moms and dads towing tots behind them on skis. Depending on how many kids were in tow, the short length of the slopes was a bit of a blessing, several said.
"I've got two kids up there right now on snowboards, and with the runs like this I can keep a good eye on them," said Chris Chong of San Francisco. "They can't go too far like this."
There was also at least one filmmaker braving the not-so-scary drifts.
At least that's what 5-year-old Mimi Nguyen of San Jose said she was, despite no evidence of a camera anywhere.
Mimi stood with her equally young cousin in line at the kiddie-tubing carousel - which is like a pony ride with slowly revolving poles, only with inner tubes instead of ponies attached to the tethers - and squinted seriously at the lucky kids going round and round in the tubes.
"I'm making a movie, and I'm in the snow, and I'm the hero," she said as her aunt Noel Nguyen cocked her head to assess the creative young mind in action. "It's a really serious movie."
So where was her camera? Mimi was asked. Face as solemn as a nun, she made a circle with her fingers and peered through it - filming, as it were.
Well, then, who will she save in this movie? Mimi was asked. She rotated her finger camera until it lit on her cousin, and her face lit up.
"I'm saving her!" she piped.
A couple of snowballs and laughing fits later, Mimi lay giggling in one of the carousel inner tubes, going round and round, filmmaking forgotten. Until the next snowball, that is.
Farther up the Sierra Nevada, the Heavenly and Squaw Valley ski fields also opened low runs this weekend, as did Royal Gorge and Kirkwood. Most slopes are expected to be open by Christmas.
"It's a pretty awesomely nice day to get going even if there's not much snow," said Jennie Bartlett, Sugar Bowl spokeswoman. "And just wait - by early December this mountain will be covered."
-- Check out the Snow Report page with weather updates, resort profiles and features stories: sfgate.com/sports/skiing/
E-mail Kevin Fagan at email@example.com.