Bush Holds the Opportunity to Create the Largest Marine Reserves in the World

Palmyra Island

In a surprising new development, George Bush and members of his administration have been given the opportunity to oversee one of the largest conservation programs in history.

If launched, the program could protect vast stretches of U.S. territorial waters from fishing, oil exploration and other forms of commercial development. The initiative could also create some of the largest marine reserves in the world — far larger than national parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.

While the details of the possible initiative are still “under review,” the idea seems to be drawing strong supposrt from those who have typically been very critical of the Bush camp and its policies.

Conservationists say that White House Council on Environmental Quality officials invited a small number of ocean advocates to an unusual, closed-door meeting to discuss the idea last year. The CEQ asked them to help identify potential reserves in waters within the United States’ “exclusive economic zone,” which extends 200 nautical miles out from the mainland and U.S.-owned islands around the world.

The idea, says Jack Sobel, a senior scientist for the Ocean Conservancy, was to highlight areas where President Bush could create “marine monuments” under the Antiquities Act of 1906. It seem s that political conniving may have its uses, because this law gives the president broad powers to protect areas of “historic or scientific interest” without congressional approval.

The groups eventually developed a “wish list” that included about 30 potential marine monuments. They ranged from small reserves in U.S. coastal waters to vast swaths around U.S. territories in the Central Pacific. The candidates stretched “from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Dutch Harbor, Alaska” and beyond, says Jay Nelson of the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.

The final list, which has now been shortened to about 5 by the White House, has not yet been released to the public. However, some of the leading nominees have been identified.

The biggest proposal is the protection of more than 600,000 square miles around a number of small, mostly uninhabited islands in the Central Pacific. The islands — including Palmyra, Howland and Baker — are surrounded by biologically rich coral reefs and are home to huge seabird colonies. If implemented, the reserve would be among the largest in the world and about three times as large as the Hawaiian monument.

Another proposal calls for protecting more than 100,000 square miles of notoriously rough waters around the Northern Mariana Islands, in the Western Pacific. The area includes the 36,000-foot-deep Marianas Trench.

What is most astounding is the possibility of Bush becoming the “Teddy Roosevelt of the Seas,” a title that he would ultimately earn if the programs succeed. A bit late in his career as commander-in-chief, the Bush programs would aim to create a “blue legacy,” most likely to balance out the other rather unfortunate trails that Bush will leave behind when he leaves office in January of next year.

Better late than never, right?

Mangrove Loss in Myanmar Greatly Intensified Cyclone Damage

A natural buffer to disaster.

Recent large-scale destruction of mangroves contributed heavily to the damage inflicted by the cyclone Nargis that ripped through Myanmar last week, says the UN.

Myanmar is home to the eight-largest mangrove forest in the world, but it had lost large areas of mangroves over the last four decades. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2005 that the losses were around 70,000 hectares from 1972 to 2005, and 2008 estimates suggest a much higher loss.

The Irwaddy delta, the largest mangrove area in Myanmar, is exactly where cyclone Nargis struck, and it is precisely where the largest losses of mangroves had occured prior to the cyclone.

In dense mangroves, the tree’s trunks, branches and roots offer resistance to the force of waves and reduce the impact. Mangroves also trap and stabilize sediments and reduce the risk of shoreline erosion, while ground vegetation can protect against smaller waves.

The mangroves in Myanmar were destroyed for conversion into rice fields, large-scale shrimp and prawn farming introduced in 1995, extraction of fuelwood and charcoal, and expansion of human settlements.
Coastal planning to ensure a protective buffer zone where habitation is discouraged is one way to reduce damage from future cyclones, says the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Department of the Interior Lists Polar Bear as “Threatened” Species: A Big Success in the Long Fight Ahead

A Dwindling Species

In a landmark decision that makes a lot of us want to shout “Finally!”, the Department of the Interior announced this afternoon that the Polar Bear would be added to the list of “Threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s about time! However, the oh-so-qualified Secretary of the Interior has done everything in his power to down-play the decision, stating that the decision should not be cause for more global warming “alarmism.”

Why the heck not, Mr. Kempthorne?

For the full story:

Polar bear now listed as ‘threatened’ -[CNN]

Missing the Point Again: Congress Defies Bush on Oil Reserve, Nothing Solved

The Pelosis and Anderson Cooper

The Pelosis and Anderson Cooper, appreciating the Frozen North.

Many people have never heard of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. If you look it up on “Google” you’ll find a few blurry aerial photos and an official explanation of what it is, but not much else. The SPR, which is spaced across several different sites, is America’s “Emergency Plan” when it comes to oil. Four salt-domes in the Gulf Coast play host to America’s back-up supply of oil, a reserve meant for Americans, well, the American government, if ever the emergency need arises.

As of May 07, 2008, the current inventory was 702.0 million barrels (111,610,000 m³). At current market prices ($125 a barrel) the SPR holds over $88 billion worth of petroleum. Each day 70,000 barrels of oil are shipped to the SPR for storage, well, until now.

Despite vigorous complaints about “national security issues” from George W. Bush, Congress voted yesterday, almost unianimously, to suspend the stockpiling of more oil in the SPR until the end of 2008.

President Bush opposes the reserve measure because, he said, limiting supplies to the reserve could have national security consequences in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. He is expected to veto the bill.

Republican leaders in the House said the bill was a good “first step” to addressing gas prices, but used the vote as an opportunity to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Author’s note: NO!)

Drilling in the refuge could produce a million barrels of oil a day and “reduce gasoline prices by 14 times the price reduction achieved by redirecting oil from the SPR,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri in a letter Monday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

However, Pelosi argued that more drilling is not the answer, saying drilling on federal lands has increased over the years without affecting gas prices. She also said opening ANWR for drilling would only provide six months of oil — 10 years from now. (Related article)

While we agree with everything that Congress is trying to do with this vote to ease the economic strain of the American people, we still maintain our stance that making it easier for people to afford gas is really the last thing this country needs. Legislation aimed at increasing dependence on oil, funding alternative energy, or rewarding companies who have made an attempt to go green would be a much better use of Congress’ time, and a solution rather than a temporary patch like suspending shipments to SPR.

Problems of Biblical Proportions: Afghanistan Sees Plague of Locusts

In an unprecedented turn of events, Afghanistan has recently become host to a locust infestation that has prompted many local authorities to offer rewards for killing large numbers of the flying insects.

Already, 300 metric tons of locusts have been killed by residents of the northwestern province of Badghis in recent weeks. The province, which is already suffering from drought, has had acres of land devastated by the insect infestation, and can not afford to see any more ruined by the plague.

Local officials in Badghis and neighboring Herat have promised residents 15 lbs of wheat per bounty of 1 kg of locusts, amid a global surge in food prices that has hit Afghanistan hard, such is the urgency of the insect-killing campaign.

It is too soon to know what long-term effects the infestation will have on Afghani wheat crops, but a drastic reduction of the already precious supply is imminent in the poverty-stricken country.

At It Again: New Metal Ore Quests in Northern Minnesota, and the Resources Are Fading Away

We’ve all seen “North Country,” and we all know what Northern Minnesota is famous for as far as resources are concerned- iron. While a great much of the iron is MN is gone, new mining quests of untapped iron, nickel, and copper veins are pending, and could bring a new boom to the Iron Range. However, a whole new set of environmental hazards for the North Woods would follow.

For the full story, as seen in this week’s Minneapolis/ St. Paul City Pages, click here.

A New Meaning to “Greasy Thieves”

Someone once said that the true sucess of anything can be measured by how much crime stems out of it- and apparently alternative fuel is no exception. A new job among the criminal population has recently emerged: the grease theif.

With the demand for biodiesel on the rise, the market value of the type of grease used to make it has skyrocketed in recent years. Therefore, “grease bandits” are stealing fry grease from restaurants and purifying centers in order to sell it back to biodiesel producers.

The type of grease, called “yellow grease,” (creative, we know) is the by-product left over when restaurants cook food in vegetable oil or animal fat in large-capacity fryers. (Yummmmyy)

Rendering facilities, which are located in 20 states, have begin locking up thier grease, but it does little to stop professional grease-thieves, who bend the tops of steel storage bins and “slurp” up the fat with thin stingers attached to hoses.

The increased demand for biodiesel has caused the price of yellow grease to triple in recent years, and it is now up to 32 cents a pound. A theft of 5,000 gallons can be worth several thousand dollars.

It seems McDonald’s may be fated to play a part in the green revolution after all…