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Earth Matters: New laws mean more killed wolves, journalists push more and better climate coverage

(Earth Matters is a weekly series featuring climate and other environmental stories.)

covering climate now

Back in 2019, the Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, The Guardian, and WNYC established Covering Climate Now, a collaborative effort to improve the frequently pitiful attention all too much of the media gives to the climate crisis. This important project now has 460 partners. Their latest effort focuses on helping journalists effectively cover COP26, the crucial climate summit coming up next month in Glasgow, Scotland. CCN labels it “;one of the most important diplomatic meetings in history,”; with many climate activists saying if the delegates from the 192 signatory nations can”;t agree this year on plans to vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions we, to put it technically, are screwed. CCN says the key question that journalists need to answer for the audiences is “;What”;s at Stake.”;

Among the many succinct CCN explanations of what the conference is about are suggestions on how local reporters whose personal budgets or bosses won”;t let them attend Glasgow can provide their readers or viewers with stories that bring issues home in a way that makes quite clear what”;s at stake. But let CCN explain:

Consider how small and local outlets provide valuable coverage of national elections. Newsrooms everywhere can point out how the decisions made at COP26 are relevant to their audiences. Interview local scientists, activists, and other experts who can explain how climate action–;and inaction–;will affect your community. […]

Run as many stories as possible and give them big play–;at the top of your homepage and front page, early in your broadcasts, and frequently on social media platforms. Remember: This summit is about the future of life on earth–;it”;s hard to imagine a more important story.

This, of course, is good advice for everyday coverage of climate issues, when there are conferences and not. Something readers and viewers of local media can do is point a reporter or editor to the CCN website and urge them to do what they can to ensure responsible local coverage, turning the old slogan “;Think Globally, Act Locally”; into practicality on the information front, always an important element of advocacy. Also good to remember to thank local journalists who do pay attention to COP26 and other climate stories, even if they have to fight with their bosses to get it done. Nothing like appreciation to drive repeat behavior.

IDAHO, montana MOVE TO KILL MOST OF THEIR WOLVES


Wolf trappers with their pelts circa 1914.

By the 1930s gray wolves, thanks to bounties, had been completely wiped out in all states except Minnesota. The extermination effort had begun 300 years earlier, in 1630, just a decade after the Pilgrims arrived, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony began offering bounties on wolves. By the time of the American revolution, wolves had been extirpated from the easternmost parts of what would become the United States. Between 1870 and 1877, while hunters were slaughtering millions of buffalo as part of the campaign to destroy the Plains Indian tribes and confine the survivors, the U.S. government hired hunters who killed more than 385,000 wolves. In Montana alone, between 1883 and 1918, $342,764 was paid in bounties for 80,730 dead wolves.

In 1907, as Inga Haagenson Causey has pointed out, “;the United States Biological Survey declared the extermination of the wolf as the paramount objective of the government.”; This almost succeeded, with the last wolf in the area around Yellowstone National Park taken in the 1940s.

Then, in 1974, the wolf was put on the new Endangered Species Act”;s list in the Lower 48 states. And in 1986, for the first time in half a century, a wolf appeared in Montana. Despite ferocious opposition, conservationists succeeded in reintroducing the wolf in Yellowstone and Idaho in 1995, 15 years after the Department of Interior first devised a recovery plan for the animal.

That program has reached and exceeded its goals in part of the wolf”;s old range. But opposition has continued pitting conservationists against reintroduction foes for the past 25 years. The battle culminated in wolves being removed from the endangered list in the Northern Rockies in 2011, leaving only the few packs in Oregon and Washington protected. This allowed hunting to begin in Idaho, Montana, and especially in Wyoming, where outside of an area around Yellowstone, wolves are treated like vermin that can be shot on sight.

This state of affairs continued to be embroiled in litigation for years until 2017 when a court ruled that Wyoming could continue allowing its wolf hunts, which are nothing close to science based. Last October, after years in and out of court over the matter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, citing a stable wolf population of 6,000 throughout the whole nation, made its final determination to remove the animals entirely from the endangered list. Almost all those wolves roam in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, with a sprinkling in Colorado, California, and Michigan. As many as 11,000 roam Alaska, where they have never been protected.

Conservationists objected vociferously to the delisting, as they have since the first serious efforts in that direction were pushed more than two decades ago. In May, more than 100 wildlife biologists wrote to Secretary of Interior Debra Haaland and USFWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams to object to the delisting. They argued that one intent of the half-century-old ESA law is to return endangered species to all or a significant portion of their former habitats. But the wolf is now found in only 20% of its range in spite of there being vast areas of public land–;17 million acres in Colorado, for instance–;where they could be introduced. Indeed, a peer-reviewed report published last October concluded that gray wolves could thrive not just where they already are doing so, but in 17 states, including the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and parts of New England.

In the wake of the delisting, Attorney Kristen Boyles of the environmental law firm Earthjustice told National Geographic last year, “;If the goal is to have wolves back where they were before we killed them in the turn of the century, that”;s not something you will have without a federal recovery plan. And you won”;t have a federal recovery plan without federal protections.”; Indeed, without those protections, thousands of wolves could be killed every year, and many ranchers and other foes of the reintroduction would be happy to see it.


A white wolf in Yellowstone National Park.

Idaho is the current poster state for wolf slaughter. Although it has had limited hunting of wolves since 2002 under the federally approved Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, it”;s been nothing like the free-fire zone in Wyoming. But in July, Republican Gov. Brad Little signed a new Wolf Management Bill. Boiled down to its essence, the bill seeks to eliminate 90% of the estimated 1,550 wolves now in Idaho, bringing the number of packs down to 15, totaling about 150 animals.

The legislature also dedicated $590,000 to hire contractors to kill the animals. For hunters with wolf license tags, the season is year-round in most cases for trapping, baiting, night hunting, hunting with dogs, and shooting from all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and helicopters. No limit is placed on how many wolves hunters can kill as long as they have the requisite tags. And, as of last week, the state will reimburse a private non-profit group up to $2,000 when it rewards a hunter for a confirmed wolf kill. Bounty hunting redux

Idaho Fish and Game officials have objected to the new law for turning what they–;but not all conservationists–;view as a carefully designed, scientifically cautious approach to culling wolf packs into a no-holds-barred slaughter with lawmakers instead of biologists setting the parameters, regardless of the science. So far, it must be noted, the number of wolves killed this year since the law passed has not been significantly different than in the same July-September period in the past three years. That doesn”;t mean the toll won”;t rise.

Montana has also this year made it easier to kill more of the state”;s estimated 1,100 wolves by expanding the number of ways they can be taken, including the use of wire snares that unintentionally kill other species. The guy who in August signed the bill making those changes–;body-slamming Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte–;had violated state hunting rules earlier this year and received a slap-on-the-wrist warning for trapping a wolf without taking a required education certification class.

Ranchers have always been on the leading edge of opposition to wolf reintroduction, claiming, as did Republican state Sen. Mark Harris, one of the Idaho wolf-kill bill”;s sponsors, that “;They”;re destroying ranchers. They”;re destroying wildlife. This is a needed bill.”;

Yes, wolves and other predators do kill livestock. But most states, including Idaho and Montana, provide compensation for confirmed livestock kills, whether by wolf, cougar, grizzly bear, or other predators. In fact, the tally of wolf kills of livestock are minuscule compared to the tens of thousands killed by disease, birthing problems, and bad weather. That is less than .02 percent of total annual livestock deaths even by the highest claimed count and fewer than 1,000 animals annually across the six states with the highest wolf populations. In a 2015 study, domestic dogs killed more than twice as much livestock as wolves.

Supporters of stepped-up hunts also decry what they assert is a major reduction of deer and elk herds by wolves. This is nonsense. The number of elk now counted in Idaho is 120,000, which is 8,000 more elk than were counted in 1995 when wolves were reintroduced, and only 5,000 fewer than the all-time high of 125,000. Deer haven”;t done as well, but their recently lowered population is mostly a product not of predation but of poor-to-average fawn survival in the past three years, according to the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

The reality is that by taking weaker, often diseased animals, wolves help maintain a healthier eco-system. The idea that they are the ones out of balance and overrunning the countryside is a human prejudice, ecological illiteracy in the service of dominion over nature, one of our species”; deepest conceits.

COAL ASH CLEANUPS COULD BOOST EMPLOYMENT

A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ohio River Valley Institute has concluded that a “;clean closure”; of coal ash dumps at two already shuttered coal-fired power plants could generate more than 600 jobs and a more than a billion in economic activity. A “;clean closure”; is one that, among other things, requires excavating and moving coal ash to a well-prepared site, instead of capping it in place. Jeremy Richardson, report co-author and senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Greenwire, “This is a positive story in places that don’t have many. You can address long-standing environmental justice issues, and tee up the community to diversify its economy.”

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning typically tainted by arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. Over the life of a coal plant, the ash is deposited in pools and giant landfills that can leak into creeks, rivers, and lakes, including drinking water supplies, and have damaging environmental and health effects on surrounding communities. The two plants in question–;Sebree Station in Kentucky and the J.M. Stuart Station in Ohio–;already have plans to clean up their coal ash, but the report says these aren”;t good enough.

The report notes that it”;s not just the areas near these plants that would benefit from “;clean closures.”; There are 161 disposal sites at 57 operating or retired coal-fired power plants in five states. At nearly 60 percent of these, residents within a 3-mile radius in the surrounding community have an average income below twice the federal poverty level for their state. “;Cleaning up coal ash can create jobs in exactly the places where jobs are being lost while simultaneously mitigating the harm caused by ongoing pollution and providing communities a pathway forward,”; the study”;s authors state.

; U.S. will auction several leases for offshore wind by 2025

The United States is decades behind other nations when it comes to offshore wind, but the Biden administration plans to play catch-up with as many as seven offshore leases over the next four years. For the first time, regulators will auction leases in the Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of Mexico, and in the ocean off California and Oregon. The administration has set a goal of getting 30 gigawatts of offshore wind turbines installed by 2030, all part of decarbonizing the economy”;s power sector by 2035. It will be a major challenge.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland made the leasing announcement Wednesday. “This multiyear leasing road map demonstrates Interior”;s commitment to advancing offshore wind. We want to do our part to inspire industry confidence and investment opportunities,” she said. The administration estimates that if it reaches its target, it will mean 44,000 wind-related jobs plus another 33,000 in related employment.

The U.S. now has two operating offshore wind farms, in waters off Rhode Island and Virginia, just seven turbines with a generating capacity of 42 megawatts, enough to power about 60,000 average homes, but a tiny a fraction of global offshore wind installations, which now have a 33-gigawatt generating capacity. The Virginia project will eventually have 180 turbines capable of generating 2.6 gigawatts of power. Some 16 other projects are in varying stages of development and several east coast states have themselves pledged to promote a combined 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power in the next 10-15 years.

Two big difficulties face the administration in meeting this goal. Commercial fishermen have strongly objected to proposed offshore wind development in some areas where wind potential is greatest. And there are technical issues. On the east coast, wind turbines can be anchored to the shallows of the Continental Shelf. But off California and Oregon, the shelf dips sharply to the abyss and turbines cannot be anchored. Floating turbines are an answer. But currently only 79 megawatts of the 33 gigawatts of installed offshore turbines around the world are floaters, and they are considerably more expensive than onshore installations. One reason offshore wind turbines are nevertheless viewed positively is that the winds are typically stronger and more reliably steady at sea than they are over land.

The National Offshore Wind Strategy released in 2016 by the federal Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy concluded there is a huge technical resource potential with offshore wind. How huge? 2,000 gigawatts of capacity, or 7,200 terawatt-hours of generation annually, which is double the current total of U.S. electricity generation from all sources. A terawatt-hour can power 90,000 average homes.

SHORT TAKES

; Pollution from N.C.”;s big poultry farms disproportionally hurts communities of color: No operating permits, no waste management plans, and inspections only by citizen complaint allow commercial poultry farms to generate waste full of nitrogen and phosphorus than the state”;s gigantic and environmentally problematic hog farms. According to advocates of environmental Justice pollution from the poultry “;concentrated animal feeding operations”; in Duplin, Sampson and Robeson counties in eastern North Carolina harms nearby Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities out of the proportion to their numbers in the state”;s overall population. Getting legislation to even partially address the problem? As was the case again this year, that”;s not something the Republican-dominated legislature wants anything to do with.

; N.J. regulators make permanent effort to get low-income communities connected to solar: A two-year Pilot program spurred applications from developers seeking to provide significant levels of solar capacity to low- and moderate-income communities previously left out of the solar boom. There were 45 projects approved in the first year of the program. In the second year, 400 applications were received. Now the state Board of Public Utilities has approved a plan for 1,125 megawatts of community solar power by 2026.

; Electric vehicle adoption not happening fast enough to meet climate goals: The U.S. Energy Information Administration, which unfortunately is known for years of way-off-the-mark projections of renewable energy installations, says Just 30 percent of cars on the road will be electric by 2050 under current policies.

; Keeping score on the environment: The League of Conservation Voters has for decades published a National Environmental Scorecard for Congress, which has produced what ought to be extremely humiliating moments for certain members of Congress, if they were capable of being embarrassed. Recently, the scorecard has show that the partisan divide on the environment is wider than ever.

WEEKLY ECO-VIDEO

I”;ve always been a big fan of PBS”;s Eons feature. Here”;s the most recent.

YouTube Video

A half dozen other THINGS TO READ

; Deforestation Is a Crime: A new bipartisan bill would treat it that way, by Robinson Meyer, at The Atlantic

; The energy crisis is driving prices up. Don”;t let that stop transitions toward cleaner fuels, by Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post

; Investigation: Majority of Directors of World”;s Top Insurance Companies Tied to Polluting Industries, by Rachel Sherrington at Desmog.

; A Simple Plan for Biden to Lower Gas Prices and End Fossil Fuel Hegemony Conservatives have never let an energy crisis go to waste. Liberals shouldn”;t, either, by Kate Aronoff at The New Republic

; The American West Has Way Too Many Fences: Ecologists are starting to better understand just how bad barbed wire is for wildlife, by Michael Parks at High Country News

; In the Southeast, Climate Change Finds a Landscape Already Ravaged by Inequality: Meet the groups demanding climate justice that fits the region”;s unique needs, by Paul Gordon at In These Times

Read more: feeds.dailykosmedia.com

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