environmental restoration

EPA gives $30 million to Puget Sound; but warming-related acidity attacks the food chain

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it's awarding $30 million to efforts to restore Puget Sound. Sounds like great news -- except that it was completely overshadowed by extraordinarily sobering new science unveiled today: Acidity levels in the Sound, driven by the same processes that are unnaturally warming the planet, appear to be dissolving the shells of oyster larvae. And the weak acid is killing plankton at the base of the food chain -- the one that provides sustenance for creatures all the way up to orcas. And people. 

Imagine a world without oysters. It means a lot more than just forgetting about oysters Rockefeller. Oysters are a basic part of the ecosystem, a big part of the processes that make the ocean what it is.

And then, given the news about the plankton, start considering a world without most forms of sea life that we currently know. It's not a big leap. Even for someone who has chronicled bad environmental news for more than two decades, this is an extremely grave development. 

Folks, this is really significant news. News reports from the Seattle Times, seattlepi.com and the Puget Sound Business Journal -- the early accounts that already are on line, at least* -- seem to count this as just one more strike against the Sound. But it's more. We're talking about harmful changes across the ecosystem at the cellular level. This is huge -- and hugely depressing -- news.

"The Everglades is a test -- if we pass, we may get to keep the planet"

The quote in the headline about the Everglades being a test of our will to restore the Earth comes to mind as Everglades advocates gather in D.C. to try to give their cause some extra oomph at this time of tight government budgets. Today the Obama administration had some really good news for 'Glades campaigners: Some 5.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail will be raised to restore more-natural water flows into Everglades National Park.

It's a step that was called for waaaay back in the early 1990s when I broke a story on a group of federal scientists advising the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about what would constitute a credible stab at Everglades restoration. (1993 being the dim mists of antiquity, Web-wise, I can't find that news story or the report that inspired it. But I did locate a similar document from 1996 by the same "Everglades Science Subgroup" that advised the Corps. It's also discussed in a book  by Judith Layzer.)

Since the early '90s, the effort to rescue the Everglades from agriculture and development has emerged as the biggest ecosystem-restoration project ever attempted on the planet. It's long been a rarity, an environmental issue that enjoys bipartisan support. It remains a cause for both sides of the aisle, with the two-day "Everglades Summit" that kicked off today co-chaired by, among others, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

They call it Fubar, and it shows how restoring forests creates jobs

Fubar is the name of a stream on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island, and apparently it's appropriately named. FUBAR, of course, is an acronym meaning "Fouled up beyond all recognition," or something pretty close to that, anyway.

It's the central scene in a news story by Mary Pemberton of the Associated Press outlining how restoration efforts in the national forests are helping restore jobs in places let down by the timber industry across the West:

Forest restoration is occurring all over the West, said Mary Mitsos with the National Forest Foundation, a Montana-based group. Efforts in Montana, Alaska, Washington and Oregon involve repairing watersheds to encourage healthier fish runs. In Arizona and New Mexico, restoration is more about forest thinning to lessen the danger of wildfires.

At Fubar Creek, soil washed into the waterway from clearcuts upslope, filling it in and causing the water to go all over the place, including a nearby road.  The restoration there in the Tongass National Forest and elsewhere in southeastern Alaska added $8.4 million and 150 jobs to the economy in 2007, according to a study by The Nature Conservancy.

Pemberton quotes Marnie Criley, coordinator of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee:

People are getting to know each other and not automatically hating each other because this person is a timber person and this person is a conservationist. A lot of trust-building has been going on.

We should point out that this is not a new trend. In fact, we wrote about enviros making peace with loggers and agreeing to some logging in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest back in 2004.

Nor does this mean peace is breaking out in the War In the Woods.