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Gold Mine Near Yellowstone Blocked By Montana Court

Last week a state court judge in Montana invalidated a permit that would have allowed Lucky Minerals, a Canadian mining company, to develop a gold mine on private land north of Yellowstone National Park.  The Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Earthjustice sued the State of Montana to invalidate the permit, which would have allowed the mining operations to begin in July, despite the fact that the permit did not consider the drilling’s impact on water quality and wildlife.  Lucky Minerals intends to appeal the decision, their CEO told the Associated Press, but unless and until the decision is reversed, the company is barred from exploration.

  • “Lucky Minerals should have learned by now that our community will not rest until our irreplaceable wild places are safe from industrial gold mining,” Park County Environmental Council Executive Director Michelle Uberuaga said in a press release, according to Ecowatch. “We will win because local residents, businesses, and elected officials are united to protect our natural resources and local economy against this threat.”
  • “This ruling ensures that Lucky Minerals can’t harm clean water and native wildlife at the gateway into Yellowstone National Park under cover of a license that was never legally issued in the first place,” said Jenny HarbineEarthjustice attorney in a statement. 

This comes as the federal government has also permanently removed all federal land in the area near Yellowstone National Park from lease sales.  First then-Secretary of Interior Zinke barred mining on public lands near Yellowstone for 20 years in October 2018, and Congress then made it permanent in March when Congress passed a massive, bi-partisan public lands bill andPresident Donald Trump signed it into law.

Why This Matters:  It is National Parks Week and this is fantastic news for the crown jewel of U.S. National Parks.  Good for Congress and the President for protecting Yellowstone from the scourge of mining.  As a young lawyer, I (Monica) worked on behalf of President Clinton to end a previous effort by a Canadian mining company to mine for gold on federal land near Yellowstone.  There are reportedly gold deposits worth billions in the mountains near Yellowstone, but any mining operation in the Park’s watershed could prove disastrous given the groundwater connectivity with the Park and its seismic tendencies. No matter how much gold is in those hills, Yellowstone National Park is priceless.  And that is one thing that people across the political spectrum in the U.S. can agree on.  #EarthDay

What You Can Do:  Get out and enjoy a National Park before the week’s end next Sunday, April 28!  To learn more about National Park Week’s special events and activities, click here.  And take the National Parks Tuesday Trivia Challenge here tomorrow.

Sealing the “Deal for Nature”

A new study published Friday in the journal Science Advances lays out a strong case and a game plan — called the Global Deal for Nature — that will BOTH stabilize climate and ensure that species and ecosystems will be preserved in the near future.  This study argues that by protecting “30 percent of the Earth by 2030—an ambitious but achievable goal that will rely on conserving areas with significant biodiversity and engaging in meaningful collaboration with local and indigenous communities” and by maintaining “another 20 percent of the planet in climate stabilization areas, or areas that remain in a natural state,” we can achieve the climate stabilization and prevent the world’s ecosystems from unravelling.  According to the study, time is not on our side:

  • “Climate models show that we are approaching a tipping point: If current trends in habitat conversion and emissions do not peak by 2030, then it will become impossible to remain below 1.5°C.”
  •  “Similarly, if current land conversion rates, poaching of large animals, and other threats are not markedly slowed or halted in the next 10 years, ‘points of no return’ will be reached for multiple ecosystems and species.”
  • If the global climate temperature increase does not remain below 1.5C, then “degradation of the natural environment also diminishes quality of life, threatens public health, and triggers human displacement because of lost access to clean drinking water, reduced irrigation of important subsistence crops, and exacerbation of climate-related storm and drought events.”

Most importantly, the study provides policy recommendations that are grounded in science for both nature and climate objectives that are mutually reinforcing and recommends time-bound milestones and targets to achieve the objectives, and it introduces breakthrough technologies for monitoring progress.  This study will also help to provide an impetus for the adoption of new conservation targets at the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity to be held in China in October 2020.

Why This Matters:  This study is significant for two reasons.  First, it recognizes that we cannot solve the two great environmental crises we face today separately — they are inextricably linked.  In other words, if we work to reduce climate change, we can stave off another mass extinction event, and by saving species and their habitat, we can make significant inroads toward meeting the targets we set to hold climate change in check. The second reason is that the study does more than just provide a theoretical answer — instead, according to one of its authors, it “is the first science-based plan with clear milestones on why it’s vital to achieve these goals and how it could be done” including milestones and targets that are global.  “Every morsel of food, every sip of water, the air we breathe is the result of work done by other species. Nature gives us everything we need to survive,” says National Geographic’s Enric Sala, another author.  Now, all we need to do is protect nature as if our lives depend on it because they do.  #EarthDay

What You Can Do:  Sign a petition calling on world leaders to support the Global Deal for Nature to protect and restore 30% of the Earth’s lands and oceans by 2030.

Earth Day Starts in Your Own Back Yard

By Raleigh Kitchen, Membership and Outreach Manager, St. Simons Land Trust

Earth Day is usually associated with big demonstrations, laudable corporate commitments and remarks by national figures encouraging us to keep persevering in the fight for our planet. Those are all important actions, but we can’t forget that the most impactful things we can do to ensure a brighter future for planet Earth begin in our own communities.  Volunteering to build trails, cleaning up trash, and ensuring that wildlife habitats are protected are actions we can all take to bring large scale themes like climate change, biodiversity conservation, and sustainability to our own backyards.

The St. Simons Land Trust is an organization providing ways for people to do just that. Located on St. Simons Island, Georgia, our mission is to preserve the island’s natural and scenic character and enhance quality of life for present and future generations. We do this by acquiring highly developable or ecologically-vulnerable land, managing it with the utmost care, and providing passive recreation, educational outreach, and volunteer opportunities to the community.

The St. Simons Land Trust was founded in 2000 by a small but motivated group of community members. Their concern? Over-development. Who would ensure that wild maritime forests, natural green spaces, and historical and culturally significant properties would remain protected for their children and grandchildren? Over the last nineteen years, the Land Trust has protected more than 1,000 acres of land on an island rivaling the size of Manhattan. Our incredibly generous membership base of nearly 1,400 households and businesses, as well as those who have donated invaluable time and expertise, are who keep our mission moving forward and help us achieve our goals.

We cherish our precious barrier island and the unique wildlife and ecosystems that call it home. Part of our role is encouraging people who live and visit here to find a collective purpose in conserving St. Simons Island. Whether those people consider themselves conservationists or not, the notion that you and your neighbors have a shared bond through nature is a powerful thing.

This Earth Day we encourage you to start at home and join an effort in your community that is making a difference—and if one doesn’t exist, talk to your neighbors and start one! Or find a land trust like ours that is close to you. Volunteer opportunities are endless. It’s easy to see the big actions taking place around the globe and feel like there’s not much we can do. But sometimes the most impactful work involves each of us doing our part in our communities to ensure that the spirit of Earth Day lasts all year long.

Come take a virtual stroll through St. Simons:

One cool thing: Ralph Lauren unveils sustainable version of iconic polo

As USA Today reported, Polo Ralph Lauren on Thursday launched a version of its iconic polo shirt made entirely of recycled plastic bottles and dyed through a process that uses zero water. David Lauren, the youngest son of the company’s founder and its chief innovation officer, told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement that the new shirt is part of a broader strategy of fresh environmental goals throughout the manufacturing process. The shirts went on sale this week, just in time for Earth Day!

California bans sales of rabbits at pet stores to prevent abandoned Easter bunnies

Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Californians will have to stick to Peeps bunnies for their Easter celebrations as they will no longer be able to buy real bunnies at a pet store. As the Mercury News reported, “California became the first U.S. state to pass a law aimed at stemming a post-holiday deluge of maturing rabbits being abandoned or euthanized. The legislation, which took effect in January, prohibits retail shops from selling commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits. The idea is to encourage adoption of rescued animals and to crack down on the sale of pets from “puppy mills,” “kitty factories” and “bunny bundlers.””

Rabbits that are purchased from pet stores as impulse buys before Easter are especially susceptible to abandonment and euthanasia. As Anne Martin, the executive director of the House Rabbit Society a non-profit that rescues rabbits and places them in foster care, told the Mercury News, “In the one to three months after Easter, we traditionally see a spike in shelter rabbit intakes.” She added that in Northern California alone, thousands of stray and unwanted rabbits end up in the municipal shelter systems, and the majority of these rabbits are under a year old.

In light of California’s decision, legislatures in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are considering similar bills. Dozens of cities, from Boston and Chicago to Salt Lake City already have local ordinances on the books.

Why This Matters: Animals aren’t toys and becoming a pet owner is a serious responsibility and also a financial commitment–these are some things to consider before adopting any pet. But if you’re looking to get your bunny fix, check out these adorable videos.

New study underscores the need to make rare earth metal use more sustainable

Chinese laborers work at a rare earth mine. Photo: Reuters

The supply of rare earth metals necessary for building solar panels and wind turbines might not be able to keep pace with growing global demand spurred by the growth in renewable energy technology. We don’t recycle these metals and their extraction is rife with human rights abuses. As Phys reported, a new study, commissioned and funded by the non-profit EarthWorks, “shows that as demand for minerals such as lithium and rare earths skyrockets, the already significant environmental and human impacts of hardrock mining are likely to rise steeply as well. In a companion white paper, Earthworks makes the case for a broad shift in the sector towards more responsible minerals sourcing.”

The study’s lead author, Elsa Dominish, Senior Research Consultant at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures explained that “We must dramatically scale up the use of recycled minerals, use materials far more efficiently, require mining operations to adhere to stringent, independent environmental and human rights standards, and prioritize investments in electric-powered public transit….If manufacturers commit to responsible sourcing this will encourage more mines to engage in responsible practices and certification.”

If we continue on a business as usual trajectory, the discrepancy between supply and demand of rare earths will skyrocket in the coming decades. Motherboard helped put this into perspective:

Graph depicting global critical metal demand for wind and solar panels, between 2020 and 2050, compared with the 2017 level of annual metal production (2017 = 1).

 

Why This Matters: There’s a deep sense of urgency to transition our economy to emissions-free renewable energy if we’re to have a shot at averting the worst repercussions of climate change. However, as we work toward a more sustainable future, we can’t build it on the backs of abused workers and environmental destruction in foreign countries. Companies have an opportunity right now to set a precedent for sustainable use of rare earth minerals and they should show leadership and help create solutions.

Earth Week Exclusive Interview With Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana

Andy has led Oceana since 2003, and since that time it has grown to be the largest international conservation organization fully dedicated to protecting the oceans. 

ODP:  Nearly one billion people around the world woke up hungry today.  And the number of people on the planet keeps growing.  You believe that the ocean can play a bigger role in feeding the world.  How so?

AS:  Millions of people around the world already rely on the oceans for sustenance. If properly tended and cared for, oceans could provide a nutritious meal for a billion people, every day. But right now, we are headed for about half that by 2050. If we implement proven management measures, we can increase the global fish catch which results in more healthy seafood meals available every day.  And not only is wild-caught fish an accessible protein to millions of people, but it is also healthy! Studies have found that switching from red meat to seafood reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and provides numerous other nutritional benefits. At Oceana, we like to call fish the “perfect protein,’ which is also the title of my book.

ODP:  What are the keys to restoring wild fisheries? 

AS:  The oceans are vast and figuring out where to start can be tricky. But fortunately, just 29 countries and the EU control over 90 percent of the world’s fish catch. We work on policy changes in these key countries to maximize our global impact. Every coastal country has exclusive control of the water 200 nautical miles off its coast, so it is in the country’s self-interest to set rules and laws to increase the amount of fish they can eat and sell.  The first step to rebuilding is to stop overfishing. Oceana does this by campaigning to get governments to set and enforce scientific quotas, reduce harmful subsidies, and stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Stopping overfishing combined with reducing bycatch, protecting habitat, curbing pollution and promoting transparency will lead to more abundant oceans.  One example of this strategy working is an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2006 that strengthened science-based catch limits. In 2000, U.S. stocks were overfished at rates of nearly 38 percent. In 2015, after the amendment was put in place, only 16 percent were still being overfished. The science is clear: when regulations are put in place and followed, the fish come back.

ODP:  When it comes to climate change, why are fish a better choice than meat?

AS:  Worldwide, livestock accounts for over 15 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is a substantial contributor to these emissions and you know who produces methane? Cows and other livestock. Do you know who doesn’t?  Fish. Every time somebody chooses a seafood meal in the future, they are not choosing a hamburger. Rebuilding ocean abundance, therefore, helps stop climate change.

ODP:  So if we as a planet invest in ending overfishing, what is the upside potential?

 AS:  In addition to the positive impacts it has on hunger, climate and health, restoring fish populations also helps to address biodiversity loss on land and in the water. Agriculture is a big driver of biodiversity loss in the land. Why? Because we cut down forests to plant corn and soybean fields. That means an abundant ocean helps protect biodiversity on the land. Wild fish is also one of the most cost-effective forms of protein and requires the least amount of fresh water for production, ranking even below legumes.  Sometimes people say to me “this doesn’t make sense, you’re trying to save the fish, so we can eat them?” But in the ocean, there is no war between the goal of feeding people and rebuilding nature. When we rebuild fisheries, we restore healthy oceans and create more food. It’s good for those who live in the sea and those who live on the land.

ODP:  Throughout your career, you have always aimed high and Oceana has consistently “punched above its weight” in terms of impact.  What is the secret to this success?

AS: Every action Oceana takes is connected to a strategic, directed campaign that has the goal of protecting the oceans. Oceana uses a country-by-country approach to run campaigns that lead to national policy outcomes within a 3 to 5-year timeframe. We resist the common urge to spread ourselves thin across too many objectives, and we stay accountable for our goals. This strategy is designed to lead us to real ocean victories and it has done exactly that. We have secured over 200 victories since our founding in 2001.

Thanks so much, Andy, for helping us kick off our special Earth Week content with a deep dive into seafood, fish and ocean conservation.  Andy’s book on this topic is indeed called The Perfect Protein, and we hope our readers will check it out, and don’t miss the recipes at the end!

Marine Species in the Pacific Are Climate “Migrants”

Giant green and starburst anemones.  Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez, The Washington Post

The Pacific Coast of Northern California is finding a new sort of climate refugee washing up on its shores and inhabiting its bays and coastal waters — species that have shifted their migratory patterns and habitat due to warming ocean waters throughout the Pacific. According to The Washington Post, scientist attribute these weird new sitings to two specific forces — warming Arctic waters that spread farther south than usual five years ago and then an El Niño two years ago that further warmed the water on the Coast — and together they formed “an ocean heat wave whose real-time and lingering effects may have permanently scrambled California’s coastal ecosystem.” What are some of the impacts today? The Post reported that,

  • Non-native species such as starburst anemones, a species found commonly in Mexico, are gradually killing off the native giant green anemones.  
  • Five times as many whales have been seen in San Francisco Bay as in a normal year, and they are staying much longer too — more than a month.  And in a first, there a grays and humpback whales can be seen in the Bay at the same time — both usually do not linger there but instead swim by quickly on their way to their Bering Sea feeding grounds.
  • A hoodwinker sunfish washed ashore last month in Santa Barbara — no one has seen one of these fishes in the Northern Hemisphere for more than a century.

In a report in Nature last month, researchers cataloged the weird and unusual sightings — they identified 67 marine species that are now pushing the northern boundary of their commonly known habitat, and of those, 37 species were landing in northern coastal areas they had never been seen in before.  The scientists conducting the research believe that some of those species have settled in and will stay in their new northern home.  The changes are not all goodwhales are migrating closer to the coastline in search of food, but this has increased the risk that they will be hit by ships or entangled in fishing gear — 11 have been killed so far this year.  Also concerning is the number of skinny gray whales they are seeing — climate change may be pushing their food source, krill, outside of their migration routes.

Why This Matters:  The bottom line is that these prolonged marine heatwaves and the resulting dispersal of warm ocean water are causing long-term shifts in the composition of animal communities in coastal northern California.  The entire ecosystem is transforming in a very short period of time.  This is yet more evidence that climate change has already started to impact us in marked ways we can observe today.  And it has only just begun.  The more the waters warm, the more scientists expect to see additional tropical species migrating farther north than ever before.

To Go Deeper:  Read the entire Post story and enjoy the beautiful photos.

Heroes of the Week: The Cathedral Savers

This week the tragic fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral was juxtaposed with the House Resources Committee field hearing on the damage oil and gas drilling is doing to our own priceless American cultural heritage in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.  At Notre Dame, the stories of the heroism shown by Father Jean-Marc Fournier who guided firefighters through the labyrinth inside the historic building to save as much precious art and as many religious artifacts as possible, including sacred objects such as the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus, the tunic of Saint Louis and a piece of wood and a nail believed to have been part of the cross used in the crucifixion. The Father and the firefighters had help as workers from the City of Paris and the Cathedral formed a “human chain” to ferry artworks out of the building as quickly as possible.  Father Fournier ultimately went back into the knave of the church as the fire became much more dangerous and retrieved the Blessed Sacrament and said one last benediction for the church.

Here at home, Pueblo Indians Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres was battling to save a historic landmark for his people, who have lived and worshiped in the area inside and surrounding Chaco Culture National Historic Site in New Mexico for more than a thousand years.  Like Notre Dame, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Trump Administration intends to allow oil and gas drilling within a buffer zone of the Historic Site that was created by President Obama to protect additional cultural resources outside its boundaries.  Torres testified to Congress this week requesting that Congress put pressure on the Department of Interior to block the oil and gas leases proposed — and unlike the fire — this threat is happening on purpose.  The loss of either of these World Heritage sites would be a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.  We salute these men who are unselfishly dedicated to preserving them.  

One Deep Thing: A Presidential Address From Under The Sea

Some leaders will go to the depths to make a point.  And we don’t mean our own President.  The President of Seychelles, Danny Faure, gave a live address on Sunday from a mobile glass dome more than 400 feet beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean.  Why?  He wanted to send a clear message to everyone watching that our oceans badly need protection and us humans need to do a better job of it. In the first live Presidential address underwater by any world leader, President Faure said, “The sea has a special relationship with all of us,” and described his location as “the beating blue heart of our planet.” He went on: “It keeps the planet alive. It keeps us alive, and it is clear to me that it is under threat like never before.”  So true.  And what a way to make the point.