Archive for June 21st, 2011

San Francisco Peaks


San Francisco Peaks



Posted 21 June 2011, by Staff, Indian Country Today Media Network,

The San Francisco Peaks are located in Arizona, on federal land within the Coconino National Forest.  They are sacred to Apache, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Yavapai and other Native Nations. These hugely important Peaks are home to many sacred beings, medicine places and origin sites. Myriad ceremonies are conducted there for healing, well-being, balance, commemoration, passages and the world’s water and life cycles. The U.S. Forest Service has indicated that the San Francisco Peaks are sacred and holy to over thirteen Tribes in the southwestern United States.

Yet the Forest Service and the privately owned Snowbowl ski resort, which is located on the Peaks, plan to expand the ski area and to use recycled sewage to make artificial snow.  This could have a hideous impact on the Native religions and Native peoples, as well as on the water and health of the region.  Native spiritual leaders have watched the creeping recreational development of the area with a wary eye for decades, but these current plans are so beyond what is tolerable action is now the only sensible course.

“We’ve got to stop the construction,” said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly at a May 28 press conference convened by plaintiffs and supporters at the base of the San Francisco Peaks.  The development plans released by Snowbowl include clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine habitat (home to a multitude of wildlife, including several threatened species) while making new runs and lifts, adding more parking lots, and building a 14.8 miles buried pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons of wastewater per ski season to use as artificial snow for the 205 acres of ski slopes.  The Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave Snowbowl approval for pipeline construction this past May.

According to Indigenous Action Media, the “Snowbowl’s development plans include clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine habitat that is home to threatened species, making new runs and lifts, adding more parking lots and building a 14.8 mile buried pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons (per season) of wastewater to make artificial snow on 205 acres.” Snowbowl began construction of its wastewater pipeline for snowmaking in May, with the approval of the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The protection of San Francisco Peaks has been taken up by Native Nations as well as environmental organizations.  In 2006,  the District Court ruled for the development of Snowbowl. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision in 2007 and ruled for the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation and others. Then a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Forest Service violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in allowing the Snowbowl Resort to expand over 100 acres of rare alpine ecosystem, part of the area that is sacred to Native Peoples.

More legal battles followed.  The federal government challenged the decision by the Ninth Circuit and by August of 2008, the Ninth Circuit issued a new decision, in favor of development. The Native Nations submitted a writ of certiorari for the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 8, 2009, the Supreme Court declined to review the decision.

The Tribes have since attempted to reach some sort of administrative accommodation with the Obama administration but so far they’ve not gotten anywhere.  The Save the Peaks Coalition subsequently filed suit against the federal government on the NEPA issue that the Forest Service failed to adequately consider the ingestion of reclaimed sewer water. The Coalition’s appeal continues today, with oral arguments expected in August or September.

For additional information, contact: Howard M. Shanker, The Shanker Law Firm, PLC, in Tempe and Flagstaff, Arizona, at (480) 838-9433 or

Celebrate Colombia’s bio-cultural diversity at Smithsonian Folklife Festival in D.C.

Celebrate Colombia’s bio-cultural diversity at Smithsonian Folklife Festival in D.C.

Posted 20 June 2011, by Jim Glade, Colombia Reports,

Colombian culture, as it intertwines with the country’s natural bio-diversity, will be on display on the National Mall in Washington D.C. for the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The “Colombia: The Nature of Culture” exhibition at this year’s Folklife Festival will celebrate the bio-cultural diversity of Colombia and will explain how the variety of cultures in the country are connected to their natural environments.

Gold mining techniques still used by the ancestors of the African slave trade in the Pacific bio-region of Choco will be presented along with leather crafts from the Orinoco Plains and basket weaving from the Andean Savannah.

Artists and performers will conduct forums to demonstrate and explain their customs and the impact that the natural environment has on them.

According to the festival’s website, “a Mompox drum maker will discuss how his tradition depends on protecting the fragile flood plains that contain the wood used to build his instruments,” and a “basket weaver from Filandia will demonstrate the creative solutions she has found to maintain the vitality of her tradition, at a time when the industrial coffee workers do not use her baskets for picking coffee.”

The Folklife Festival, which will also celebrate the history of rhythm and blues and the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps, will run from June 30 to July 4 and July 7 to 11 on the streets of the National Mall.

Ocean prognosis: mass extinction


Ocean prognosis: mass extinction


Posted 20 June 2011, by Jeremy Hance, Mongabay,

Multiple and converging human impacts on the world’s oceans are putting marine species at risk of a mass extinction not seen for millions of years, according to a panel of oceanic experts. The bleak assessment finds that the world’s oceans are in a significantly worse state than has been widely recognized, although past reports of this nature have hardly been uplifting. The panel, organized by the International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), found that overfishing, pollution, and climate change are synergistically pummeling oceanic ecosystems in ways not seen during human history. Still, the scientists believe that there is time to turn things around if society recognizes the need to change.

“The findings are shocking,” Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University, said in a press release. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized. We’ve sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we’re seeing, and we’ve ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we’re seeing changes that are happening faster than we’d thought, or in ways that we didn’t expect to see for hundreds of years.”

The Earth has seen five mass extinctions, and some scientists suggest we are seeing the signs of a sixth; although usually they point to the destruction of the world’s rainforests as proof, not the degradation of the oceans. However, the panel found that past mass extinctions of marine life included three signs: increased hypoxia or low oxygen levels, increasing ‘dead zones’, and ocean acidification. All three of these are occurring today due to human impacts in addition to overfishing and other issues.

Carbon dioxide, emitted by human activities, is entering the ocean at a rate not seen since the last marine mass extinction around 55 million years ago. Increased carbon sequestered in the oceans leads to acidification (lower pH levels), which is imperiling the world’s coral reefs, threatening algae species, and may doom iconic animals, like the clownfish. The full impacts of acidification are not yet known, but 55 million years ago half of marine species vanished.

In addition, climate change is melting Arctic sea ice and Greenland faster than anticipated, risking not only rising sea levels, but the possibility of methane release from underwater deposits.

Marine dead zones are also on the rise. In 2008 over 400 dead zones were identified globally, but recent research has found that such zones—where dissolved oxygen has fallen to such low levels that most marine species can no longer survive—are doubling every decades. Dead zones are caused by agricultural runoff, especially nitrogen-rich fertilizers, as well as the burning of fossil fuels.

Overfishing has already plundered the oceans of many key marine species. Some target fish and bycatch species (those killed unintentionally) have fallen by 90 percent report researchers. Following the collapse of target fish populations, industrial fisheries simply move onto other species until they too are decimated. Now, both the Arctic and the Antarctic are being eyed by industrial fisheries. The Arctic, which is becoming increasingly assailable due to melting sea ice from climate change, is also a recent target of oil and gas companies.

New research is also showing human trash in marine ecosystems to be more nefarious than expected. Tiny plastic particles are absorbing chemicals, such as flame retardants and synthetic musks, which are then then consumed by marine life. These chemicals have been found as far abroad as the polar seas. Other research has found that plastic decompose in the oceans much faster than expected, releasing potentially toxic substances.

All of these impacts, and others, are not allowing marine ecosystems time to recover, but instead are creating synergistic effects that are putting ocean ecosystems at grave risk.

“The world’s leading experts on oceans are surprised by the rate and magnitude of changes we are seeing. The challenges for the future of the ocean are vast, but unlike previous generations, we know what now needs to happen. The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now, today and urgent,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and report co-author said in a press release.

So, how do we prevent a marine mass extinction? Number one, according to the researchers, immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They then recommend restructuring industrial fisheries for longterm sustainability, including shutting fisheries that are not sustainable; establishing more marine protected areas; tackling pollution and nutrient run-off; and reducing oil, gas, and mining in the oceans. The scientists say that the ‘precautionary principle’ must be used in terms of oceanic impacts, in other words society shouldn’t proceed with activities unless they are proven to be largely safe for marine ecosystems. Finally, researchers say the UN General Assembly must more effectively govern and regulate activities in the high seas, which are beyond any national jurisdiction.

According to the report, such large-scale changes are entirely possibly, but “current societal values prevent humankind from addressing them effectively.”

The report’s full findings will be released at the UN in New York later in the week.


Created by satellite, the red circles on this map show the location and size of many of our planet’s dead zones. Black dots show where dead zones have been observed, but their size is unknown. Darker blues in this image show higher concentrations of particulate organic matter, an indication of the overly fertile waters that can culminate in dead zones. Image courtesy of NASA. Click on image to enlarge.



Over 900 species added to endangered list during past year


Over 900 species added to endangered list during past year


Posted 16 June 2011, by Jeremy Hance, Mongabay,

The past twelve months have seen 914 species added to the threatened list by the world’s authority of species endangerment, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List. Over 19,000 species are now classified in one of three threatened categories, i.e. Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered, a jump of 8,219 species since 2000. Species are added to the threatened list for a variety of reasons: for many this year was the first time they were evaluated, for others new information was discovered about their plight, and for some their situation in the wild simply deteriorated. While scientists have described nearly 2 million species, the IUCN Red List has evaluated only around 3 percent of these.

“The key to halting the extinction crisis is to target efforts towards eradicating the major threats faced by species and their environment; only then can their future be secured,” explains Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission in a press release. “The IUCN Red List acts as a gateway to such efforts, by providing decision makers with a goldmine of information not only on the current status of the species, but also on existing threats and the conservation actions required.”

New Evaluations

Nineteen species of amphibians were added to the list this year, and a stunning eight of these were listed as Critically Endangered, including a yellow-and-orange harlequin toad (Atelopus patazensis) from Peru and a dwarf salamander (Dendrotriton chujorum) from Guatemala. According to the Red List, amphibians are among the world’s most threatened groups: 41 percent of the world’s frogs and salamanders are currently facing extinction. Habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and a lethal plague, known as chytridiomycosis, have decimated amphibian populations worldwide. The IUCN Red List has evaluated 93 percent of the world’s nearly 7,000 amphibians. However, a recent study predicted that a further 3,000 amphibians likely still remain unknown to scientists.

This year was the first time that New Caledonia’s endemic reptiles were evaluated. For those species where there was sufficient data to make a determination, 67 percent were threatened with extinction. The forests of New Caledonia—incredibly rich in species found no-where else—were recently listed by Conservation International as the world’s 2nd most threatened forest biodiversity hot spot, since only 5 percent of the islands’ forests remain. Deforestation, widespread nickel mining, and introduced species, have decimated the islands’ unique residents.

The IUCN Red List also assessed all 248 lobster species this year. Unfortunately over a third (35 percent) were listed as Data Deficient, meaning there was simply not enough information on the species to determine its status.

On the Positive Side

This year’s update was not entirely gloomy. One bright spot was the movement of the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) from Endangered to Vulnerable. The Arabian oryx’s story is an amazing one of a species coming back from extinction—literally—to run free again.

Hunting killed off the Arabian oryx, with the last wild individual shot dead in 1972. However, a captive conservation program, which started with only 9 animals, managed to save the species from complete oblivion. Once a secure population was created in captivity, animals were released back into the wild. Today, the wild population is 1,000 animals. This is the first time a species has made it all the way from being listed as Extinct in the Wild to Vulnerable.

“Conservation does work and species can recover, as shown in the case of the Arabian Oryx. Using data from the IUCN Red List, an opportunity exists for governments and society to guide conservation programmes to put the brakes on species extinctions,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN’s Director General, in a press release.

Gaps in the Red List

The IUCN Red List’s assessments are heavily weighted toward more well-known species whose statuses are easier to determine. For example, while the Red List has only assessed 3 percent of the world’s described species, it has assessed 100 percent of the world’s birds and mammals, and 93 percent of the world’s amphibians.

Two other groups of vertebrates—reptiles and fish—have not had such a complete assessment. Only 32 percent of the world’s known reptiles have been assessed, and 29 percent of the world’s fish.

However, non-vertebrates are even more lacking in assessment. In all, only 1 percent of the world’s invertebrates have been assessed: from 39 percent of the world’s corals to 0.03 percent of the world’s spiders. Researchers have assessed over 3,000 insects, the most numerous life forms described on Earth, but this is only 0.3 percent of the world’s known insects.

Plants fare slightly better. In total 5 percent of the world’s described plants have been assessed by the IUCN Red List, but very few algae or mosses.

Fungi are the least assessed of all: there are over 30,000 known mushrooms, but only one has been assessed by the Red List.

The reason for the gaps are twofold. On the one hand the lesser-known the species the more difficult it is to assess. On the other hand, is the practical lack of funding. Last year researchers said it would take $60 million dollars to triple the number of species now assessed, thereby creating a true ‘barometer of biodiversity’. Such funding would allow researchers to assess an additional 35,000 vertebrates, 38,000 invertebrates, 25,000 plants, and 14,500 fungi and other species. While $60 million may sound like a lot, it’s just over 1 percent of how much the US continues to spend on subsidies for big oil companies.

“It is extremely important that we keep pushing forward with surveys of little-known species, as without adequate data, we cannot determine their risk of extinction and therefore cannot develop or implement effective conservation actions which could prevent the species from disappearing altogether,” explains Jane Smart, Director, IUCN’s Global Species Program.

Currently, much of the work for the IUCN Red List is done by volunteers, given the dearth of funding.

Current estimations from the IUCN Red List indicate that extinction rates are currently happening 100-1,000 times more than the natural rate as determined by fossils. Many scientists believe we heading into a period of mass extinction—the sixth on Earth—only this time it is due wholly to one species’ activities. From deforestation to climate change, pollution to wildlife consumption, invasive species to habitat destruction, humans are driving massive changes to the world’s biodiversity.

Global Warming Lawsuit

Global Warming Lawsuit

Posted 20 June 2011, by Andy Soos, Environmental News Network,

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a global warming lawsuit against five big power companies, its most important environmental ruling since 2007 and a victory for the utilities. The utilities — American Electric Power Co Inc, Southern Co, Xcel Energy Inc, and Duke Energy Corp, along with TVA — account for about 10 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions. The justices unanimously overturned a ruling by a U.S. appeals court that the public nuisance lawsuit now involving six states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) can proceed in an effort to force the coal-burning plants to cut emissions of gases that contribute to climate change. In a defeat for environmentalists, the Supreme Court agreed with the companies that regulating greenhouse gases should be left to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the clean air laws.

The Supreme Court in April 2011 began questioning whether a global warming lawsuit against five big power companies could proceed, with several justices saying the Environmental Protection Agency, not federal judges, should deal with the issue.

The high court justices sounded a skeptical note during initial arguments when they asked whether complicated environmental issues, such as how much greenhouse gas pollution is allowable and how it should be curbed, should be left to federal judges.

Global warming is the current rise in the average temperature of Earth’s oceans and atmosphere and its projected continuation. The scientific consensus is that global warming is occurring and was initiated by human activities, especially those that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as deforestation and burning of fossil fuels.

Writing for the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that Congress concluded that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was “best suited to serve as primary regulator of greenhouse gas emissions. The expert agency is surely better equipped to do the job than individual district judges issuing ad hoc, case-by-case injunctions.’’

Ginsburg wrote that individual federal judges “lack authority to render precedential decisions binding other judges — even members of the state court.’’

Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for AEP, said that the court’s ruling “ensures that power generators and other companies can continue to operate in accordance with environmental regulations without the threat of incurring substantial costs defending against climate litigation.’’

In 2007 a similar lawsuit ended when California’s attempt to collect billions of dollars in damages by accusing automakers of creating a global warming-related “nuisance” was dismissed.

What this lawsuit has now set up is the next confrontation between Congress and EPA as to what is best to be done on this issue.

For further information:


Will Bolivia make the breakthrough on food security and the environment?

Will Bolivia make the breakthrough on food security and the environment?

Evo Morales’ government is poised to pass a law that ensures Bolivians can feed themselves, and protects the environment


Posted 20 June 2011, by Mattia Cabitza, The Guardian,

A new law that is being debated in Bolivia is expected to pave the way for the government of President Evo Morales to ensure food security while preserving national sovereignty and protecting the environment.

The law reflects a concept of life in Bolivia that is centred around Suma Qamaña or living well. For Bolivians, these two Aymaran words are not about Fellini’s dolce vita: instead, they are about all people living well in harmony with the Pachamama, or Mother Earth.

The president is soon expected to sign the Law of Productive, Communal and Agricultural Revolution. The government says it will invest $500m (£308m) in sustainable policies that guarantee the local and self-sufficient production of high quality food, while preserving and respecting the country’s immense biodiversity.

A key part of the proposals in this “food revolution” is Bolivia’s intention to produce its own seeds.

“[They] are a major factor in food production,” said Carlos Romero, the minister who proposed the draft law. “But in recent years we’ve seen an increase in their price across the world, because of a rise in oil prices and the monopoly exercised on seeds by a few corporations. That’s why we want to create state-owned companies that produce seeds.”

Bolivia hasn’t been immune to the global volatility of food prices. Earlier this year, for example, it had to import sugar, after shortages led prices to double and sparked protests among consumers. Prices of locally-produced indigenous food, such as quinoa, are also at a record highs: some highland communities have taken to eating rice and pasta instead of their traditional – and more nutritious – crops.

Climate change, price speculation and foreign demand have taken much of the blame, but for Demetrio Pérez, president of Anapo, an association of more than 14,000 wheat, soya and corn producers in the country’s fertile eastern plains, consumers are also too reliant on imports.

“We depend too much on Argentina and Brazil,” Pérez said. “So what better way to produce our own seeds? If we use the latest technology and have a good harvest, prices can go down and we can convert Bolivia into an exporting country.”

However, the government has said it does not want to use the technology big business would like to embrace, for example, to modify food genetically. Ciro Kopp, an agricultural engineer at the National Council for Food and Nutrition, says that, before aiming to become a large exporter, Bolivia’s priority should be to guarantee food sovereignty and security for its people.

“About 20 to 25 years ago, 70 to 80% of what we ate was produced locally in Bolivia,” he said, “but then we embraced the agro-industrial model and now 70 to 80% of what we eat comes from the agro-industry, which makes us dependent on technologies and price controls from abroad. So, in the same way that industrialists received support from the government in the past, now it’s small farmers who need help.”

Kopp believes the country has become too dependent on monocultures, and that only by protecting the genetic make-up of its native crops from an invasion of foreign species, can Bolivians regain a diversified production and a better diet.

“Bolivia is a centre of origin of several Andean crops such as potatoes, quinoa, chili and corn,” he said. “It is essential to strengthen the systems of production, natural selection and exchange of seeds that farmers have been doing for centuries. Our focus should be first of all to feed the country. If our priority is to export, what are people going to eat?”

Bolivia’s representative to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Elisa Panadés, agreed that the law is a step in the right direction.

“Bolivia is creating the conditions to strengthen small producers who are the most vulnerable and affected by the isolation of where many of them live and by climate change,” she said. “[They] cannot compete fairly in local, regional or global markets, because of poor road conditions and lack of access to seeds and fertilisers.”

She added that supporting small farmers would improve not only food security but also their living conditions.

Bolivia has notorious institutional weaknesses. Analysts warn against repeating the mistakes of the past, when governments did not monitor food production closely enough, causing shortages and price hikes. For now, however, the general consensus is that if the new law is applied well, Bolivia could succeed in guaranteeing food security with sovereignty for its people – as well as keep its biodiversity intact.