More than 700 threatened animal species hit hard by climate change


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Tropical marsupials, such as the bushtail opossum, are most likely to be negatively impacted by climate change. 
Jenna Ladd | February 16, 2017

The changing climate has had a significant negative impact on 700 mammal and bird species according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change.

While the majority of existing research focuses on the impact climate change will likely have on animal species in the future, new research suggests that the future is now. Researchers performed a systematic review of published literature and found that 47 percent of land mammals and 23 percent of bird species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species have already been been negatively effected by climate change.

At present, the IUCN reports that only seven percent of mammals and four percent of bird species are threatened by the warming planet.

The study found that climate change is impacting animals on every continent. In general, animals that breed more slowly and live in high altitudes are suffering the greatest losses. Mammals with a more specialized diet are most profoundly effected due to regional vegetation change. For birds, species with small dispersal distances and longer generation lengths are most at risk.

The article read, “Our results suggest that populations of large numbers of threatened species are likely to be already affected by climate change, and that conservation managers, planners and policy makers must take this into account in efforts to safeguard the future of biodiversity.”

Those animals belonging to taxonomic orders which have been most extensively studied showed the most significant trend. Michela Pacifici of the Global Mammal Assessment program at Sapienza University of Rome is the report’s lead author. He said,

“We have seriously underestimated the effects of climate change on the most well-known groups, which means those other groups, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants, the story is going to be much, much worse in terms of what we think the threat is from climate change already.”

Animals that live in tropical regions, like primates and marsupials, are at the highest risk because they have adapted to that biome’s climate, which has been relatively stable for thousands of years. The study said, “Many of these [animals] have evolved to live within restricted environmental tolerances and are likely to be most affected by rapid changes and extreme events.”

Just two orders of mammals, rodents and insect-eaters, were found to have benefited from climate change. Generally, these animals thrive in a variety of climates, breed quickly, and can burrow to protect themselves from changes in weather.

One of the study’s authors, James Watson, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia, said climate researchers should shift their focus to present-day.

“It’s a scientific problem in that we are not thinking about climate change as a present-day problem, we’re always forecasting into the future,” Watson added, “When you look at the evidence, there is a massive amount of impact right now.”

Iowa Falls family honored with sustainable agriculture award


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Wetlands can improve water quality and create habitat for wildlife on Iowa farms. (Scott Smithson/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 10, 2017

John and Beverly Gilbert were honored with the 2017 Practical Farmers of Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award at last month’s Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference.

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to “strengthening Iowa farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing.” Each year PFI offers the Sustainable Agricultural Achievement Award to an individual or couple that demonstrates a strong commitment to practicing sustainable agriculture and sharing that knowledge with others, all while fostering community.

John and Beverly Gilbert of Iowa Falls keep a 770-acre farm featuring corn, soybeans, oats, hay, and some annual crops for forage. The family also milks 50 to 60 Brown Swiss cattle and keeps pastured-raised, antibiotic-free pigs that are sold to Niman Ranch.

The Gilberts’ farm borders Southfork stream, a tributary of the Iowa River. They have taken many measures to improve water and soil quality on their land including stream buffers, extensive grass headlands and waterways, and terraces. The farm also features woodland areas, a prairie marsh remnant, and a restored shallow wetland, all a part of the Gilberts’ conservation efforts.

John said, “The mindset has gotten so focused on raising corn and beans that not many understand the potential of this landscape to support people. I have long thought that if we can’t replace the number of people we have farming, there are serious problems ahead for society.”

Wendy Johnson, PFI board member and farmer near Charles City, commended the recognition of the family. She said,

“Their farming system, management and decision-making encompass all that is or should be good about Iowa: its air, water and soil. They protect these elements alongside creating a viable farming business for multiple families. Their farm is what PFI means to me: a sustainable farm on all levels.”

Risk of extreme wildfires to increase as climate warms ​finds study


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The US experienced a much higher proportion of fire events turning into disasters than any other country in the study. (Lotus R/ Flicker)
Jake Slobe | February 8, 2017

The likelihood of extreme wildfires, or “megafires,” across the world is expected to increase as global temperatures continue to rise, a new study says.

The research, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, uses satellite data to identify the 500 most extreme wildfires in recent years. Almost a third of these mega-fires caused deaths, burned down homes, or were declared a disaster by a national government.

Using climate change projections for the middle of this century, the study predicts there will be a 35% increase in the days with a high danger of fire across the world. Some regions will see even larger increases, say the researchers, including western states in the US, southeastern Australia, the Mediterranean and southern Africa.

The study uses satellite data collected by imaging instruments aboard two NASA satellites, Terra and Aqua. Using this data, the researchers identified more than 23 million wildfires globally between 2002 and 2013. While the most severe fires are often loosely dubbed “megafires”, the researchers went a step further by identifying the 500 most extreme wildfires to carry forward for their analysis.si

Of the 500, 22 were ruled out as they were caused by volcanic eruptions or industrial fires. With the remaining 478, the researchers assessed which ones could be classed as “disasters.” There are many definitions of wildfire disasters, the researchers note, many of which focus on the economic impacts – but there is no consistent global database for this. So the researchers based their definition on whether an emergency was declared or the fires caused death or loss of property. For this, they used national disaster databases, news reports and internet searches.

96%  of these disastrous mega fires occurred during periods of unusually hot and/or dry weather, the researchers say.

 

The study projects how the Fire Weather Index (FWI) – an estimate of wildfire risk based on weather conditions and how dry the landscape is – will change the world in future. They look specifically at the changes in “high” fire danger under a climate change scenario where global CO2 emissions aren’t curbed.

 

Congressman Chaffetz to kill House Bill 621 following public opposition


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The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017 proposed selling off an area of public lands equal to the size of Connecticut across ten western states. (Bureau of Land Management/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 3, 2017

House Republicans are expected to throw out a bill on Friday that would have sold off more than 3 million acres of federal public lands.

Environmental conservationists and hunters joined forces to oppose House Bill 621 after Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz announced it last week. The bill would have ordered the Department of Interior to immediately sell off 3.3 million acres of “disposable” land across ten western states, claiming that the land served “no purpose for taxpayers.”

Jason Amaro is a sportsman with the south-west chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He said, “Last I checked, hunters and fishermen were taxpayers. That word ‘disposal’ is scary. It’s not ‘disposable’ for an outdoorsman.” Public lands in the Western U.S. provide habitat for elk, gray wolves, and grizzly bears, a vast playground for outdoor enthusiasts, and can be leased out for timber, oil, and gas extraction. The Wilderness Society values the national outdoor recreation economy at just over $646 billion.

Chaffetz said he feared the bill “sent the wrong message” on Thursday and pledged to rescind it on Friday. The Tea Party Republican commented below an Instagram photo of himself wearing hunting gear outdoors. He said, “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.” Chaffetz’s comment came after many opponents of the bill overwhelmed his Instagram account with comments asking him to “#keepitpublic” and “say no to HR 621.”

Although President Trump is in favor of utilizing more public lands for oil and gas extraction, he has stated that he is opposed to selling off federally owned lands. In an interview with Field & Stream, he said, “I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.” The President is also opposed to giving states ownership of public lands. He added, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”

Climate change could dramatically alter mountain habitats


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Wyoming’s Grand Tetons south of Yellowstone near Jackson Hole. (flickr)
Jake Slobe | February 1, 2017

Mountain regions of the world are under direct threat from human-induced climate change which could radically alter their fragile habitats, warn an international team of researchers.

The international study, which spanned seven major mountain regions of the world, revealed that decreasing elevation – descending a mountainside to warmer levels –consistently increased the availability of nitrogen from the soil for plant growth, meaning that future climate warming could disrupt the way that fragile mountain ecosystems function.

The researchers also found that the balance of nitrogen to phosphorus availability in plant leaves was very similar across the seven regions at high elevations, but diverged greatly across regions at lower elevations. This means that as temperatures become warmer with climate change, the crucial balance between these nutrients that sustain plant growth could be radically altered in higher mountain areas.

They also found that increasing temperature and its consequences for plant nutrition were linked to other changes in the soil, including amounts of organic matter and the make-up of the soil microbial community.

These changes were partly independent of any effect of the alpine tree line, meaning that effects of warming on ecosystem properties will occur irrespective of whatever shifts occur in the migration of trees up-slope due to higher temperatures.

Rather than use short-term experiments, the research team used gradients of elevation in each mountain region spanning both above and below the alpine tree line.

Nearly 140,000 gallons of oil spill from Iowa pipeline


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Heavy snowfall in northern Iowa early this week complicated diesel oil clean-up efforts in Worth County, Iowa. (echoroo/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 27, 2017

Nearly 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel erupted from a broken pipeline onto an Iowa farm earlier this week.

The pipeline, located in north-central Worth County, was first discovered to have ruptured on Wednesday morning. Since then, clean up crews have managed to remove roughly 18 percent of the petroleum product despite high winds and heavy snowfall, according to a Thursday morning interview with Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Jeff Vansteenburg. Vansteenburg said that the diesel fuel and contaminated snow are being taken to a facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota while the remaining contaminated soil will be moved to a landfill near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Vansteenburg reported that the diesel fuel did not reach the nearby Willow Creek and wildlife reserve. The cause of the leak is still under investigation.

Magellan Midstream Partners, an Oklahoma-based company, owns the pipeline, which stretches through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Last October, another pipeline operated by Magellen Midstream Partners ruptured and released anhydrous ammonia, resulting in the evacuation of 23 homes and the death of one person near Decatur, Nebraska. The company was also fined over $45,000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 after roughly 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into a Milford, Iowa creek.

The Worth County spill is the largest diesel fuel spill since 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Since 2010, 807 spills have been reported to the administration causing an estimated $342 million in property damages and spewing 3 million gallons of refined oil products into the environment.

President Trump signed executive actions on Tuesday reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Ed Fallon is the director of Bold Iowa, an organization fighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipeline projects. Fallon said, “We’ve been saying all along it’s not a question of if a pipeline will leak, it’s a question of when and where and how bad it will be.”

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is charged with regulating pipelines in the U.S. Inside Energy reported last year that the agency is underfunded and understaffed. It read,

“According to PHMSA, the agency has 533 inspectors on its payroll. That works out to around one inspector for every 5,000 miles of pipe. A government audit in October [2016] found that that PHMSA is behind on implementing new rules. It has 41 mandates and recommendations related to pipeline safety that await rulemaking.”

A 2016 report by Inside Energy provides a map of all the oil pipeline spills reported since 2010.

Climate change to decrease average number of mild weather days


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Residents enjoy pleasant weather at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Louis/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 24, 2017

The first of its kind, a recent study found that climate change is likely to decrease the number of “nice weather” days worldwide.

The authors of the study, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and Princeton University, define “nice” or “mild” days as those days when temperatures are between 64 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, dew points are below 68 degrees Fahrenheit and less than half of an inch of rain falls. Currently there are an average of 74 nice days globally per year, but that number is likely to drop to 70 in the next twenty years and to 64 by 2081.

Karin van der Wiel is a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and lead author of the study. She said,

“We used a climate model to simulate the current climate. In that simulation we counted the number of mild days. Then, we increased greenhouse gases in the climate model to simulate the future effects of climate change. This leads to increasing temperatures, changes in humidity, changes in precipitation over the whole world and with very specific patterns. In this new, future climate, we counted the number of mild days again. We could then calculate the change — increase or decrease — of mild weather days for each location globally.”

Not all corners of the Earth will be affected equally, however. Tropical regions are expected to lose the most nice days, with some areas losing up to 50 per year by the end of this century. Meanwhile, London is expected to gain 24 nice days each year.

Predictions for Cedar Rapids, Iowa mirror global averages. Eastern Iowa currently enjoys 76 nice days annually; researchers say that number is expected to drop to an average of 72 between 2016 and 2035 and to 66 each year between 2081 through 2100.

Frequent high humidity makes it tough for Iowa to meet the pleasant weather criteria outlined in the study. Absolute humidity has risen by 13 percent during the summer months in Des Moines since 1970, according to Iowa State climate scientist Gene Takle. Increased humidity also contributes to the extreme rain events that have plagued Iowa in recent years.

van der Wiel said, “Mild weather is something everyone knows, experiences, and has memories of,” she continued, “Our study shows that human-caused climate change is going to lead to changes in mild weather all over… The changes are happening now, and where people live.”