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Our Daily Planet: CA Salmon Fried on Pot, Park Freeloaders, Climate Diplomacy Changing, Icebergs, Meteorologists Talk Climate, WHM Month Flashback
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Monday, March 19th, 2018

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The Eel River in California is clogged with runoff from marijuana farms.  
Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount, Washington Post
Pot Farms In CA Leave Salmon Smoked

In northern California, the land of thousand-year-old redwood trees and streams struggling to hold on to dwindling salmon and steelhead populations, which used to be ground zero in the controversy around logging, there is a new threat to the rivers in the region -- marijuana.  The Washington Post explains how marijuana is transforming Humboldt County in Northern California.  The south fork of the Eel River runs through marijuana plantations that have grown tremendously since the plant's sale was legalized in California for medical purposes in 1996, and with recreational sales now legal as of January, the growth is only expected to increase. Each plant needs as much as 6 gallons of water a day during growing season.

The south fork of the Eel River, protected by state and federal law, is now the color of dull copper.  Silt clouds the river's current as it runs through valleys heavy with marijuana farming, which both draws water from the river and fills it with runoff. New California regulations seek to address water use -- runoff will be measured now, and growers fined sharply for violations. In addition, eventually, marijuana farms must also collect water during wet months in water tanks or ponds for irrigation use in the dry growing season, rather than drawing down the rivers and streams.  But there are many growers who prefer to continue to sell into the black market to avoid regulations and state taxes.  This is not a new problem -- pot has been grown here for decades.  But there are now nearly 70,000 small pot farms across the state -- only about 1% have state permits so far -- that have been another demand for increasingly stressed water supplies.  And in the past, periods of drought exacerbated the problem, bringing salmon and steelhead populations to new lows. 

Why This Matters:  Environmentalists and the timber industry went to war over these salmon streams, and after timber harvesting was curtailed, the environmentalists hoped the salmon would start to come back.  But climate change and pot growers have made that nearly impossible.  “Salmon Creek no longer has any salmon in it because there is so much dirt at the bottom,” said one leader of the group Friends of the Eel River. “If we lose them in the south fork, then we lose them in the Eel, and if we lose them in the Eel, then we lose them in the region.”  Without enforcement of the state's new regulations against the illegal pot growers, the salmon in Northern California could be toast.  
Mother Jones video from 2013 showing the extent of the problem then using Google Earth.


Graphic: KXRO News
Zinke Blames Park "Freeloaders" For Proposed Fee Increase

Last fall, the Department of Interior proposed to raise the fees for entry into the most popular national parks to nearly 3x their current levels, the largest increases in the history of the parksIn testimony before Congress last week, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke said the proposal is still under review, but he defended it -- saying that the parks are being "loved to death" and need repairs.  

Specifically, he attributed the entry fee increases to the fact that many people are eligible now to enter these parks for free, including children, military members, and disabled people. 

"When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload, there's not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door," Zinke said. "So, we're looking at ways to make sure we have more revenue in the front door of our parks themselves."

Zinke said he would not During a five-month peak-season at each of the 17 parks, the entrance fee would be $70 per vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person. All of the funds would be used to improve facilities, infrastructure, and visitor services, with an emphasis on deferred maintenance projects. The peak season for each park is defined as the busiest contiguous five-month period and would be:

  • May 1-September 30 for Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Denali National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park
  • June 1-October 31 for Acadia National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park
  • January 1-May 31 for Joshua Tree National Park
Why This Matters:  I (Monica) was fortunate to get to visit Joshua Tree NP last week and it was quite busy -- a testament to the American public's love of the outdoors. But millions of Americans will not be able to afford to visit these iconic American parks if the fee increases go forward.  A poll commissioned by the Outdoor Alliance For Kids found that nearly two-thirds of 1,000 Americans surveyed are less likely to visit a national park if the admission cost does in fact increase. The National Park Service reported that in 2016, 331 million park visitors spent an estimated $18.4 billion while visiting lands across the country, supporting jobs, labor income, and overall economic output. The spending was the highest in history.  The fee increase will be bad for business too.  Seems like a bad idea all around.  And a particularly insensitive thing for Secretary Zinke to say given that he has reportedly spent huge sums on business travel and office upgrades.  

 Climate Change

State Department's Arctic and Climate Diplomacy Goes On - For Now

The State Department has continued to participate in talks with other Arctic nations, and in climate negotiations, despite the U.S.'s stance to pull out of the Paris Climate agreement, and turmoil at the State Department under former Secretary Rex Tillerson.  Reuters reported last week that the U.S. continues to send delegations to the Arctic Council, which works to protect the rapidly-warming region, and to talks drafting the rules for the Paris agreement. Representatives from other nations involved with those talks and organizations told Reuters they had been pleased with the work of U.S. officials.

The U.S. sent a 40 person delegation to talks in Bonn in November to help draft rules of the road for the 200 participating nations. It was a smaller delegation than Washington had sent to past meetings, but it still won praise from fellow delegates for its work.For example, at the Bonn meeting, a U.S. climate negotiator for the State Department co-chaired discussions on how to ensure that the pledges by signatories are comparable and use the same accounting standards - a point seen as critical to the success of the accord.

Why This Matters:  All the U.S.'s constructive participation in these important international forums for dealing with climate change will likely end under the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, once he is confirmed.  As ODP reported last week, Pompeo is a climate skeptic, to say the least, while Tillerson believes that climate change is real.  And as former U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern told ODP back in January, that 2018 is a crucial year for implementing the Paris Agreement, not to mention for the Arctic due to unprecedented warming.  The Trump Administration could now be taking climate policy off "autopilot" from the course set by the Obama Administration.  Senators should question Pompeo hard on what he intends to do about it as Secretary of State.



Arizona meteorologist Amber Sullins explains why communicating climate change to her audience matters. Video: Bloomberg
How Meteorologists Are Communicating Climate Change in Red States  

Meteorologists haven't traditionally waded into politics but many of them can't ignore certain politically-charged subjects when explaining local weather patterns to their audience. Climate change is altering our planet and making certain US cities hotter, drier, and is altering rain patterns in others. Some tv stations have discouraged climate talk but many meteorologists say that they can no longer ignore the issue in their coverage. 

As Grist reported, "In Arizona, Amber Sullins, five-time Emmy Award Winning ABC 15chief meteorologist, builds her climate change stories and information with her key demographic in mind: women aged 25 to 54. “I leave out things people can’t connect with like sea ice,” she says. “Instead, I focus on what my viewers care about: their children, their finances.” Check out Amber's story in the video above. 

In 2010 a group of meteorologists joined together with Climate Central, George Mason and Yale universities, NASA, the NOAA, and the American Meteorological Society to start a pilot project that explores how broadcast meteorologists could better communicate climate change. The result was the launch of Climate Matters which is a full-time, national program that helps meteorologists better talk about climate change with their audiences. 

Why This Matters: As Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist at Denver7 puts it, "We are as close to a scientist as most Americans will ever get. People invite us into their living rooms. We have a responsibility to educate them on the facts.”  While Americans are relying less on television for their news, local news is still the number one source of news for most people. Because of this, local meteorologists are integral in communicating climate science to our nation. 


Icebergs (and vital nutrients) Right Ahead!

Most people think of icebergs as solid masses of ice floating in the sea but science is coming to understand that they're actually islands that promote marine life, suck carbon dioxide from the air and change as they cross the world's oceans. Icebergs originate on land and begin as pieces of glaciers that have trapped sediment and airborne particles in their layers of snow and ice.

Knowledgeable Magazine describes that by the time a chunk of glacier falls into the sea, it is packed with minerals and nutrients from the land — and this enshrined rubble is one way icebergs transform the oceans. As ocean currents carry the berg through its life, it slowly melts, sprinkling iron and other nutrients into the waters around it. These minerals fertilize the tiny photosynthetic plankton that live off sunlight and form the foundation of the marine food web.

A team of British scientists have learned that this fertilization could trail more than 600 miles behind the iceberg — with chlorophyll levels in the iceberg's wake spiking as much as 10 times typical levels. 

Why This Matters: Scientists are also coming to discover that icebergs spur significant carbon sink activity in the world's oceans. Estimates suggest that fertilization by icebergs drive as much as 20 percent of the carbon sink activity in the Southern Ocean. To get a better idea of how this works take a look at the graphic below: 

Graphic: K.L Smith Jr. et al/Annual Review of Marine Science 2013
The world's ice sheets are melting more quickly than previously thought and this is going to affect the formation of icebergs and alter their fertilization and carbon sink abilities. The full effect still isn't clear but it's one more factor we're going to have to think about as our planet warms. 


Women's History Month Flashback: Maria Mitchell

Smithsonian Magazine gave us a good reminder that some of America's first astronomers were women. "In 19th-century America, you might expect that most women were shut out of the sciences—including astronomy. But it wasn’t quite that simple. By many accounts, some educated girls in the early 1800s were actually encouraged to watch the stars and planets, an observation process known as “sweeping the sky.” In those days, you might say, astronomy didn’t yet have a gender"

Maria Mitchell (pronounced Ma-rye-a) was born in 1818 and was one of the first professional female astronomers. Under the guidance of her father, eventually became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1847, the prince of Denmark awarded the 29-year-old Mitchell a medal for reporting a comet that was too far away to be seen without a telescope (the comet became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”). 

When Mitchell was a child there were virtually no jobs for scientists and astronomy was seen as a "feminine" hobby that was encouraged in wealthy women. Luckily, her father was a teacher and astronomer and encouraged Mitchell's studies. She became so versed in astronomy that in 1865, the brand-new Vassar College hired Mitchell as its first astronomy professor and director of its observatory. 

Why This Matters: Mitchell's story shows that social progress for women wasn't always linear. In fact, toward the end of her life jobs started becoming available in the sciences and women were no longer encouraged to pursue studying them. She refused to stand by idly and in 1872 Mitchell "helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Women. She was the president for two years, and served in other capacities until the year before she died, in 1889." She's remembered for famously saying in one of her lectures, "For women there are, undoubtedly, great difficulties in the path, but so much the more to overcome.”
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