Politics pollutes the environment

pollution Envir2written by Tavleen Singh

For fear of an onslaught by lunatic fringe environmentalists, I begin with a prologue. I am a fanatical environmentalist. I remember with deep nostalgia India’s rivers when they were clean and Delhi’s air so clear that at night you could count the stars. I remember when tigers wandered about thefarms my cousins had in the ‘terai’ of Uttar Pradesh. When INTACH began its campaign to clean the Ganga in 1985, I, who write for a living, wrote an action plan of more than 30,000 words for free. And, I wept when Rajiv Gandhi made the project governmental and killed it. I long to see real environmental movements that would clean our rivers, save our forests and give our children clean air to breathe. This is why I think of fake environmentalists as criminals and fake environmental concerns as a crime against India.
In the Niyamgiri hills, this is what could be happening and for Rahul Gandhi to go there last week and speak of the clash between ‘rich India’ and ‘poor India’ is most disturbing.

If Vedanta succeeded in making aluminum close to a bauxite source, as it had planned in Orissa, world prices of aluminum could have fallen by half and India may have become an important aluminum producer. So, was it the powerful international aluminum lobby that persuaded idle socialites from London and New York to take up the fight against Vedanta? It is a question worth investigating. Assomeone who has actually been to Kalahandi, I would like to state clearly that the Adivasis live in such horrible poverty and deprivation that such exalted ideas as cultural heritage are irrelevant. In 1987, when I visited remote Kalahandi villages, there was a drought and the single crop had failed. I saw children dying slowly of hunger on the mud floors of bare huts. They had eaten nothing but birdseed for six months. If Vedanta had succeeded in bringing schools, hospitals and employment to Kalahandi, it would have transformed the bleak, hopeless lives of those who live here. It is a shame that this has been prevented by an Environment Minister whose concerns may be genuine but who appears to be in the clutches of some very dubious NGOs. He keeps forgetting that in 2010, development is not necessarily the enemy of the environment. This is how it used to be in bad, old socialist times when it was mostly government factories that poisoned our air and polluted our rivers. Private industry found it harder to break the rules because of the inspector raj. Today a company like Vedanta is forced to do everything in the full glare of international publicity. If it does not replace the trees it cuts, if it does not ensure that local people are paid well for the land they sell, if the promised schools and hospitals do not get built,Vedanata will be vilified in the forums of the world.

If Jairam Ramesh is genuinely concerned about preserving the environment, he needs to begin by ensuring that India does not make the same mistakes that other countries did when they were developing. Since he appears to be fervently concerned, why has this not already happened? Why do we not have clear guidelines about what can and cannot be done? What should planners keep in mind when they plan an airport, a railway station, a port or a road? What should planners keep in mind when they build a city? What should companies like Vedanta keep in mind when they decide to build a factory in an area full of forests and primitive tribes? Once there are clear guidelines it will become easier to put a systemof environmental clearances in place and make it a rule that if anyone stops a major project once it is cleared they will be locked up and the key thrown away.

As an ardent environmentalist, I have paid close attention to NGOs who operate in the name of the environment and have to sadly report that 99 per cent of the ones I have run into are fakes whose main ‘environmental’ concern is seeing their mugs on prime time. It is frightening that people like this have so much power not just over the Governmentof India but over the man who would be Prime Minister. When Rahul Gandhi said last week to the Adivasis of Niyamgiri that he was their ‘sipahi’ in Delhi, what exactly did he mean? Did he mean that he thinks they have a standard of living that he will help them preserve? Did he mean that he wants them to remain backward and primitive? He needs to explain because as someone more likely to be Prime Minister of this country than anyone else we need to know what his dream is for India. Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter@tavleens

Hot, dry summer a perfect environment for butterflies, dragonflies to increase their numbers

monarch butterflyjpg f868c412a5294fae large 300x208 Envir2

Pat Galbincea, The Plain Dealer

Thomas Ondrey, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Butterflies and dragonflies are enjoying this hot, dry summer.

It’s been the best summer in a decade for the two-winged insects, naturalists said.

“The heat and the long growing season are the main contributors to an increased butterfly population,” said Judy Semroc, a naturalist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “The hotter it is, the quicker they progress through the caterpillar stage where they are particularly vulnerable to predator and parasites.”
Little data exists so far to prove this is a banner year for butterflies and dragonflies — the North American Butterfly Association won’t publish its 2010 count until the spring. But naturalists see plenty of other indicators to prove it. One, Semroc said, was that a female Polyphemus moth was recently found with an unheard of third brood in Girdled Road Park in Lake County. Eggs that the moth laid are in cocoons, and one emerged two weeks ago. Another indicator: Naturalists have spotted a one-year-in-10 population of Red Admirals — more monarchs than usual despite a small over-wintering population, said Larry Rosche, Semroc’s work partner at the history museum. Also, both confirmed there are large numbers of Little Yellow butterflies — the first seen here in several years — along with another rarely seen native, the Common Buckeye.

A spicebush swallowtail butterfly samples a butterfly bush outside John Pogacnik’s home. The Common Buckeye is not so common, according to Lake Metroparks naturalist John Pogacnik, because it is more of a southern species. In warmer summers, he said they come to breed, but don’t survive Northeast Ohio winters. “I’ve seen Common Buckeyes everywhere this year,” Pogacnik said. “They like open areas, but I’ve also seen them at the beaches and in my own butterfly garden.” Pogacnik, who lives in North Perry, grows a butterfly garden that is loaded with different species. His garden includes Butterfly Bushes — pink, purple, yellow and white flowers whose pollen and nectar attract butterflies — plus other favorites: Dogbane, Tiger Lillies, Sunflowers and Goldenrod. Many butterfly species from the south don’t survive Cleveland winters. Ten years ago, the Ocola Skipper was rarely if ever seen in Ohio, Pogacnik said. Now they are a regular visitor, arriving at this time of year. “They are still rare in numbers here,” he said, “but they’re here because they’ve probably learned to breed locally.”

Pogacnik’s garden has also attracted another rare species: the Sleepy Orange butterfly. He said prior to this year, only two have been recorded in Lake County records.
Tim Fairweather, the senior naturalist at the Sandy Ridge Reservation in the Lorain County Metro Parks, also said a great number of swallowtails — Tiger and Black in particular — have been seen in large numbers, along with Pearl Crescents. Fairweather said the abundance of monarchs is a surprise because they took a big hit in their wintering grounds in Mexico due to storms last February.
“But the weather we’ve had here has been a big help,” he said. “It was a great year for plants with the early warm-up in April and all the rain in May, followed by the big warming trend. When plants do well, butterflies do well.” So do dragonflies, the naturalists say. Adult dragonflies have a 30-day life span on the average, but can live longer if the weather is hot and dry. Cool weather reduces their numbers.

Pogacnik said dragonflies breed in water, and while some species stay near ponds, lakes and wetlands, more hunt in meadows and open fields. Most species have been abundant this year in Northeast Ohio except for one. Insect lovers will not see Clubtail dragonflies for one lone reason. Clubtails, which come out of rivers, are cyclical, and this is an “off year” for them.
Not so for others, Pogacnik said. Green Darners — the largest species in the dragonfly family — and Wandering Gliders have been as large in numbers as monarch butterflies.
Green Darners normally thrive in Northeast Ohio because they live up to five or six months, and they can migrate from Gulf states.

Pogacnik said dragonflies, like butterflies, love the sunshine — another reason they have been seen in great numbers. He said the best place in northern Ohio to view dragonflies is the state-owned Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Ottawa County near Sandusky. Fairweather said dragonflies regularly do well at Sandy Ridge because of its friendly habitat. Butterfly lovers can still find numerous species, Semroc said, although dragonfly observing is now past its peak. She said there is one more reason butterflies have been numerous in 2010. “It’s apparent more people are planting the right plants to attract butterflies to their gardens,” Semroc said. “That helps when butterflies are on the move and can find places to refuel. More people are also attending the butterfly counts and are interested in planning naturalized garden settings to attract butterflies and moths.” pgalbincea@plaind.com © 2010 cleveland.com. All rights reserved.

EPA: Louisiana’s sand berms not stopping much oil


Federal environmental regulators are blasting Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $360 million plan to block oil from the BP spill with sand berms, saying barriers built so far are ineffective and threaten wildlife.
In a Sept. 7 letter made public Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency urged the Army Corps of Engineers to turn down the state’s recent request to build 101 miles of sand berms to stop oil from contaminating shores and marshlands. The state needs permission from the Army Corps to complete the project.
The sand berms – paid for with $360 million from BP PLC – have drawn criticism from coastal scientists and federal regulators. Critics say the work was ill-conceived and would damage the environment. Still, Jindal has made the sand berms a cornerstone to his strategy to fight the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The state said it has spent $86 million on the project so far.

EPA said there were serious problems with the project. On May 27, the Army Corps of Engineers allowed the state to build 40 miles of berm, but only four miles have been constructed so far, EPA said.
The four miles of berm have “received only light oiling” and done little to stop oil from reaching wetlands and barrier islands behind them, the EPA said.
Garret Graves, a Jindal aide who handles coastal affairs, said “some the heaviest oiling on Louisiana’s coast” occurred on the berms. He said the Louisiana National Guard has picked up at least 1,000 pounds of oily debris from them.

“Now is not the time to stop protective measures that have proven their effectiveness,” he said. Also, EPA said the berms pose problems for sea turtles, birds, seagrass beds, navigation, water quality and the natural flow of sediment along the coast. The agency called on the Army Corps to do in-depth environmental studies before allowing the state to build more berms. Graves said birds have been attracted to the berms and that they “appear to actually increase bird habitat.” EPA approval is an important part of the federal government’s permitting process, but Army Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said it was too early to determine how EPA’s opposition would affect its decision. Graves said he did not see EPA’s opposition as outright rejection. Instead, he said the state would work with the state to ensure new berms help restore Louisiana’s coast. In its letter, EPA said it might approve more berms if they could be proven to help restore barrier islands.

Some Louisiana officials blasted the EPA on Thursday. “To be honest, most of these people sit behind a computer; they all have degrees, but none of them have a lick of commonsense,” said Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle. Federal agencies have shot down spill-fighting projects championed by some Louisiana officials, including a plan by Camardelle to block some passes with rocks.
Louisiana officials argue that their proposed projects not only keep oil out of sensitive marshes but also would help build back the badly eroded coastline.

“They’re worried about these islands. In the 1930s and 1940s, all these islands were connected,” Camardelle said. “What is wrong with us dredging and building these islands back up and trying to connect these islands?” Gregory Stone, the director of Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University’s School of the Coast & Environment, said building back Louisiana’s coast is a good idea, but that the work has to be done correctly. “Anything that would be undertaken to allow for the introduction of sediment onto the beaches and barrier islands is a plus,” Stone said. “I’m not opposed from that perspective to the berms.” But he said the state rushed into the sand berm work without considering where the sediment for the berms would come from, what effects the work would have on currents and tides and how they would stand up to storms. “The next tropical storm or tropical cyclone or winter storm that comes through this area, they are not going to stand a chance,” Stone said. “They have begun to disintegrate and they are not doing the job that was anticipated.”

Kids are our best hope for the environment

As school begins for little children across the country, I remember an earlier adventure in which I watched two little children, Andrew and Emily, find bugs under a log in the woods.

They found three roly-polies, slate gray; a beetle grub, ivory white; and a not-to-be-touched centipede, bright orange. Emily caught the fat grub and wanted to keep it; she returned it to its home after her brother put down the roly-polies he had caught. Both are college age now and are still fascinated by animals big and small.

They listened intently when I told them not to pick up the centipede. I explained that they should not touch any animal unless someone who knows about it says it is safe to do so. Children should be taught not to fear nature but to respect it. No animal should be labeled “bad” because it protects itself by biting or stinging; it just shouldn’t be picked up unless you know what you are doing. Children should learn that every animal must protect itself. Some bite or sting. Others may hide or run away or smell bad. Youngsters’ unassuming attitude toward life is appealing. Early exposure to the living world is the ideal way to ensure a child reaches adulthood with an appreciation of the environment.

I also introduced two brothers, Jacob and Justin, to some wonders of our natural world and was confronted with an intriguing puzzle about child behavior. During a trip to an ecology lab, the boys held a big pine snake, a full-grown possum, baby alligators and a large gopher tortoise.

Neither showed any alarm. Then, I showed them a small marbled salamander, a harmless, shiny, black-and-white creature that fascinates almost everyone. Most people want to touch it. Jacob was terrified; he clung to his daddy as if a monster had entered the room. I marveled that this was the same little boy who had just held an enormous constricting snake twice as long as he was and as big around as his 3-year-old leg.

As Jacob wanted nothing more to do with amphibians, we left to go feed a big alligator in a nearby pond enclosed by a chain-link fence. When the 600-pound reptile came out of the water to be fed, I had to tell both boys to step away from the fence because they were getting too close. Fascinated by an 11-foot alligator and frightened by a tiny salamander? It was and still is a puzzlement to me.

I remember a time when learned versus innate behavior was clearly at work. I was talking about local animals to a dozen parents and their children in a friend’s backyard. My friend wanted his neighbors to develop an appreciation of the wildlife around them. A lot of neighborhoods could use a dose of local ecology as many people are unaware of what fascinating plants and animals are within walking distance of their homes.

After seeing a few frogs, lizards and turtles, everyone was attentive, including a man holding a baby. All moved closer to see what would be displayed next. I reached in to get a harmless kingsnake and the snake bolted out of the bag. Within seconds I had retrieved the snake, but not before the audience could react.

The scene was classic. Twelve parents went scrambling backward; 14 children were moving forward. All the kids tried to touch the snake and most wanted to hold it. The little baby was reaching toward me, clearly lamenting the fact that she was being carried away from the scene by a father who wasn’t looking back. I do believe behavioral conditioning entered into this picture: its absence in the children, its presence in the adults.

If answers to our environmental problems are going to be found in the future, we must invest in the proper training and education of today’s children by teaching them to respect nature and to enjoy the myriad wonders in the natural world. Then they can teach their parents how to appreciate the living world around them.

Send environmental questions to ecoviews@gmail.com.

Whit Gibbons is an ecologist and environmental educator with the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

Central New York wildlife, environment benefit from native plants

Gloria Wright
David Lassman / The Post-Standard

2010 08 13 dl flowersjpg 22102309cf2f92b9 large 300x201 Envir2Black Eyed Susan flowers bloom at Comstock Avenue and Thurber Street in Syracuse.

Syracuse, NY — Janet Allen, of Syracuse, started thinking differently about her lawn and garden after the 1998 Labor Day storm sent a silver maple tree crashing down on her cars. “I was an ornamental gardener, with the latest and greatest hybrids,” she said. She created her garden for aesthetics, and maintained a large lawn. After the storm, her reading and research pointed her in another direction. Now, she has a small lawn and a large garden filled with native plants, which attract birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife. Native trees, shrubs and flowers “support so much more life,” Allen said. “They are part of a healthy ecosystem. … A lawn is a biological desert.” The largest crop in the United States — about 40 million acres — is lawn, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’ve altered the landscape and gotten rid of our native heritage,” said Donald J. Leopold, chair of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He is also the author of “Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation.”

As we’ve changed the landscape, we’ve threatened or ended the lives of other species. And that will come back to haunt us, many believe. “We’re at the top of this very shaky pyramid,” Allen said. “Insects are fundamental to a healthy ecosystem, and that works its way up through the food chain. “People are not aware of that because we get our food from Wegmans,” said Allen, co-founder and president of Habitat Gardening in Central New York, hgcny.org, a chapter of the national education and advocacy organization called Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes. Native plants have other advantages: They don’t require fertilizers or pesticides and are drought-resistant. “They’ve had 10,000 years to adapt to (climate) extremes,” Leopold said. Plants native to Central New York are those that have been here from the time the glaciers receded up to the time Europeans arrived, bringing plants and seeds with them, he said. There are 733 plant species native to Central New York, he said. (Link to a partial list of plants native to Central New York.)

Plant sale and tour
A native plant and perennial plant sale will be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 18 at Sycamore Hill Gardens, 2130 Old Seneca Turnpike, Marcellus, to benefit Baltimore Woods Nature Center, 4007 Bishop Hill Road, Marcellus. The private gardens are open to the public for the last time this year. The garden tour is $5 in advance, $5.50 online through www.baltimorewoods.org or $10 at the door. Children younger than 12 get in free.

Tickets are available through Baltimore Woods, Silver Spring Farm Market on Onondaga Hill, Chocolate Pizza Company in Marcellus, KeyBank in Marcellus, Creekside Bookstore in Skaneateles and Main Street Pharmacy in Skaneateles. There is no charge for the plant sale. Natives are sometimes confused with naturalized plants, those that arrived after the Europeans but have successfully established themselves, such as purple loosestrife, he said. “People think native plants are the weeds they see growing along the roadside, such as Queen Anne’s lace, chicory, crown vetch and daylilies. Not one of them is native,” Allen said. “There are a lot of gorgeous native plants.” Native versions of familiar plants often outperform the non-native version. The native bleeding heart, Dicentra eximia, blooms all summer and doesn’t disappear like the non-native bleeding heart, said Vicky Hilleges, owner of Pippi’s Perennials in Kirkville.

The leaves of the lowbush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, turn bronze, scarlet and crimson in the fall, rivaling the beauty of a burning bush. “A burning bush lasts maybe three weeks, and this lasts three, four or five times that,” Leopold said.

Wildlife and native plants grew up together, in a sense, and are well-suited to each other. Birds can eat berries from native plants, while some berries on ornamental plants are too large for birds to eat, Allen said. A bee can’t get to the nectar in a hybrid tea rose like it can on a native rose, Allen said. Bees and butterflies lay eggs on particular host plants. The larvae of monarch butterflies, listed among the top 10 most threatened species for 2010 by the World Wildlife Federation, eat only milkweed. Allen said using native plants doesn’t mean simply not mowing your lawn. “You can have a formal yard and use native plants,” she said. “My plants are deliberately planted.” About 75 percent of her garden is native plants, and she also grows non-native plants, including hollyhocks, natives of an area of western Asia that is modern-day Turkey.

Leopold said people sometimes get upset to see hostas, a native of northeast Asia, in his garden. “Gardening should be fun,” he said. “It should be maintenance-free.” Leopold and Allen draw the line at planting non-native invasive plants such as purple loosestrife. The European import can take over wetlands, forcing out such plants as cattails, which provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife, including red-winged blackbirds, ducks, frogs, salamanders and deer. Hilleges, owner of Pippi’s Perennials, is seeing an increased demand for native plants as people are becoming more environmentally aware. “We’re all intertwined and every decision we make every day affects the environment,” she said.

“The bottom line is that it’s the right thing to do, like buying local and eating more fruits and vegetables and brushing your teeth. It’s the small things we can do. If you’re going to garden, think about planting natives.” Gloria Wright can be reached at gwright@syracuse.com or 470-3024. © 2010 syracuse.com. All rights reserved.

Scientists: Mangroves threaten environment

by John Burnett
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

The meeting was an effort by the Hawaii County mayor’s office to let all sides sound off on the eradication. The county, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Big Island Invasive Species Council and the environmental group Malama O Puna are among those being sued by Puna resident Sydney Ross Singer over the application of herbicide to mangroves at Wai ‘Opae Marine Life Conservation District in Kapoho, Pohoiki and Onekahakaha Beach Park in Keaukaha. Also named in the suit is the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which provided Malama O Puna a $40,000 grant to eradicate the mangroves.

Malama O Puna’s website calls the species “aggressive aliens that replace coral pool and other coastal habitats, shading out coral, dropping large amounts of organic matter, and resulting in muck-filled pools with little diversity.”

Singer’s lawsuit contends that that the removal of mangroves will have the opposite effect, harm both native and exotic fish, reduce shoreline protection from storm surge and tsunamis, and cause “irrevocable harm to the environment.”

The suit is still in litigation.

Hunter Bishop, an executive assistant to Mayor Billy Kenoi, explained that Kenoi was on his way from Kona. The mayor arrived about 90 minutes into the meeting, during public commentary.

“We understand that there are some people who are concerned about the safety of the shoreline where they swim, surf and fish,” Bishop said.

Ann Kobsa, MOP vice president, said that mangroves are well-established on the main Hawaiian Islands and the Big Island is “the only island where we have a decent chance of wiping it out.”

“It turns the native shoreline into a mangrove swamp. … It replaces native terrestrial plants, some of which are endangered,” she said. Kobsa said that “caffeine is 25 times more toxic” and table salt “one-and-a-half times more toxic” than the herbicide being used to eradicate mangrove.

“We really need the trust of the community to do something like this. We’re asking for your trust; we’re hoping to earn your trust,” Kobsa said.

Singer, who in the past has also gone to bat for coqui frogs and strawberry guava, species many consider nuisances, said “there’s really two basic issues here” — whether mangroves are good or bad or Hawaii, and “if they’re bad, is poisoning the shoreline the right way to go about this?”

Singer said the county Planning Department was wrong for issuing Malama O Puna a shoreline area management minor permit, which does not require public hearings, to authorize the eradication.

“There should have been an environmental assessment or something like that,” he added. “It would allow for public comments, more than just being told what’s gonna happen. One of the concerns is that Malama O Puna, regardless of their intentions, decided they were going to do what they wanted to do to the shoreline of Hawaii.

“… When you kill mangroves and leave them to rot in place, this is an experiment. … It’s a cheap alternative to hand removal, which is expensive.”

Rene Siracusa, MOP president countered: “Not all the mangroves are created equal” and called the red mangrove, a native of Florida and the Caribbean, “very different from most of the other mangroves.”

“This was never an experiment. We knew from the giddy-up that the herbicide … would do the job,” she said. “… If he would drop the lawsuit, we would start removing the trees, because that’s a part of the project.”

Michael Hyson, research director of the Sirius Institute in Pahoa, called the mangrove eradication project “a subjective agenda, because there’s no science to it.”

“If you carry this to the logical outcome, you poison the entire island because everybody’s an invader,” he said. “… Invaders used to be called ‘pioneers.’”

Fisherman Eli Sanderson said there should have been an environmental assessment.

“It would have been due process,” he said. “… From green to brown is a major change to me, to my environment. … I feel an EA would have been the proper thing to do so the public could have given input.”

Lani Kaawaloa testified: “the devastating destruction of island mangroves makes me physically sick.”

“We woke up one morning and the dirty deed was done,” she said. “… It seems this was done in the sleaziest way possible. We should have been informed on the front page of the newspaper and on the radio and television, instead of having this swept under the lauhala mat.”

Jan Schipper, project manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Council, said that literature put out by the Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations that support the removal of mangroves has been “misquoted and miscited” by opponents.

“If you like beaches and you like access to them, I don’t think you’re gonna like mangroves that much,” he said.

Pat Conant, a state Department of Agriculture entomologist, said that “Malama O Puna and BIISC have done their homework” and that the pesticide used in the project “breaks down in sea water.”

“It’s gonna break down and the ocean’s gonna take it away,” he said. … It might take a little while, but it will be gone.”

Bill Steiner, dean of the University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, said the sight of dead mangroves on the shorelines is a temporary phenomenon.

“The damage you’re seeing now is gonna pass,” he said. “And when it does pass, you will have your open seaways, you will have access to your shorelines, you’ll be able to have seals coming back and nesting on those shorelines, and in the long run, it will all be better.” E-mail John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com. Copyright © 2010 – Hawaii Tribune-Herald