This week in birds - #323

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:



The ubiquitous wetlands bird, the American Coot, photographed at Brazos Bend State Park.

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The Supreme Court opened its session this week and the first matter before the court was the Case of the Dusky Gopher Frog. The tiny frog is confined to a handful of ponds in Mississippi and is seriously in danger of extinction. Weyerhauser, the logging company, wants to drain the swamps - literally. The argument before the court is whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exceeded its authority in designating more than 1500 acres in Louisiana as critical habitat for the species' future survival. The decision of the court could have broad implications for the future ability of the agency to designate "critical habitat" for other species. In questioning the attorneys in the case, the court seemed to be split 4-4.

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Drunk birds are causing a stir in some places up north this season, particularly in Gilbert, Minnesota. Berry-eating birds like Cedar Waxwings and American Robins and other members of the thrush family eat a lot of berries at this time of year because they are available and the birds are getting ready for winter, but some of those berries are fermented and can intoxicate the birds just as fermented juice can intoxicate humans. This can be deadly for the bird because it can't fly properly and it may fly into hard objects or it may not be able to defend itself from predators. Luckily, the binge will likely be over soon and the flocks can continue their migration.

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Score one for the environmentalists and the tribes. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., handed a procedural victory to the coalition of indigenous nations, outdoor-activity companies, and environmental groups suing the U.S. government over the cuts to Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah. This is only the beginning, of course. The legal battle will continue.

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The soon to be released and much-awaited report from the U.N.'s top climate science panel will show an enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of warming. Climate scientists are struggling to find the right words for the report to adequately convey the danger to the planet.

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The removal of two dams from Washington's Elwha River has not only helped to preserve habitat for salmon (the stated goal of the project) but it has also reinvigorated the watershed and had other positive impacts on the ecosystem of the area. The project is a model for future dam removals in other areas.

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Male House Sparrow in my backyard.

The House Sparrow is today found in most parts of the world where there are humans; the little birds enjoy living in close proximity to our species. Now a DNA study has revealed the grounds for that relationship. The House Sparrow diverged from other Middle Eastern sparrows in its evolution at the time that humans developed agriculture around 11,000 years ago. The birds learned to eat and digest the starch-rich foods produced by agriculture and the bond was formed.

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The current administration in Washington has released an environmental impact statement that assumes an inevitable 7-degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures by 2100. Their argument is that, since this is inevitable, there is nothing that we can do about it. No changes in our habits are required. Apparently, there is also no need to plan for the disaster that a seven degree rise would bring. 

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Monk Parakeet image courtesy of Audubon.org.

There are now thriving colonies of Monk Parakeets in Houston and, in fact, in most of the larger cities of Texas. It is not known how the first of the birds came here from their South American home, although the pet trade seems the likely source, but they have been in the Houston area now for at least thirty years, plenty of time to make it feel like home.

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The southeastern United States is home to a dizzying diversity of aquatic wildlife, but all of that is threatened by the environmental disasters posed by mountaintop mining and the excrement filled lagoons of pig farms.

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Here's some good news for the environment from the Supreme Court: They have refused to hear a challenge to a lower court decision that the ban on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon is legal. The ban will now stay in place.

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Veeries, a member of the thrush family, seem to have an uncanny ability to predict the severity of and upcoming hurricane season. With this ability, they can adjust their schedules accordingly and potentially avoid the worst of the season when migrating south to tropical wintering grounds.

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A new study predicts high costs for global warming in the United States and India. This includes both financial costs and societal costs.

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The Clean Water Rule, which clarifies that the Clean Water Act also protects seasonal streams, lakes, and wetlands, became the law of the land last month when a federal district judge found that the current administration had overstepped its authority by suspending the rule without public comment. 

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And now the administration wants to dramatically weaken a major environmental regulation regarding mercury, a toxic chemical emitted from coal-burning power plants. The proposal they have made is designed to weaken the current rule, as well as several other pollution rules, and setting the stage for a possible full repeal of it.

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In attempting to limit the kinds of scientific studies that can be used to protect public health, the EPA left out its own Office of the Science Advisor. These people really, really hate science. 

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Scientists are urging more and better protections for secondary tropical forests to allow them time to grow and to recover the carbon as well as the wildlife diversity that such forests can house.

Comments

  1. I fear for the Dusty Gopher. And yet there have been some victories on the environmental and national park scene lately. I liked the way some of your entries today were almost like flash fiction stories; flash non-fiction!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The courts, in general, have not looked kindly on this administration's attempts to radically change or abrogate rules, but how long can we depend on that?

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  2. I read the tidbit about drunken birds earlier in the week and was amused. I guess it poses more threat to them than I initially thought. Good news from the courts dealing with environmental cases. I saw a model this week of coastal cities being flooded in the few upcoming years, like Miami, for example.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, coastal cities are certainly endangered in the not distant future.

      Delete

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