Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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7/9/2014

What’s your favorite outdoor activity? Whether it’s swimming, hiking, boating or fishing, don’t forget to protect your skin and eyes from the sun when you head outside to enjoy long summer days. The sun emits radiation in the form of ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV radiation is highest when and where the sun’s rays are the strongest. This means that UV levels will be highest around noon on a clear sunny day, as well as during the summer months. UV levels will also be highest near surfaces that reflect sunlight, like water, snow and sand.

Exposure to UV can cause sunburn (ouch!), skin aging, eye damage and skin cancer – the most common form of cancer in the United States – and an estimated 76,100 U.S. residents will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2014 (See state data). But there’s good news: skin cancer and other effects of UV exposure are largely preventable.

UV Protection Tips

Tip: July is UV Safety Month, a great time to brush-up on strategies for staying safe – and having fun! – in the sun.

• Know before you go: Check the UV Index, which provides a forecast of the expected risk of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun.

• Wear sunscreen: Sunscreens with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 and higher provide protection by preventing UV radiation from reaching your skin. Reapply every two hours and after swimming, working or exercising outside.

• Wear sunglasses: Protect your eyes with sunglasses that have 100 percent UV protection. Check the label for the protection level.

• Work and play in the shade: When you are outside, seek shade. Wear tightly woven clothing and a wide brimmed hat to reduce the amount of UV radiation coming into contact with your skin.

Learn more about UV safety from EPA’s SunWise program and the .

Estimated Number of New Cases of Melanoma by State

 (Source: American Cancer Society)

Alabama 1,320 Louisiana 750 Oklahoma 650
Alaska 90 Maine 440 Oregon 1,440
Arizona 1,430 Maryland 1,400 Pennsylvania 3,820
Arkansas 490 Massachusetts 1,800 Rhode Island 260
California 8,440 Michigan 2,830 South Carolina 1,350
Colorado 1,400 Minnesota 1,030 South Dakota 200
Connecticut 1,090 Mississippi 560 Tennessee 1,910
Delaware 290 Missouri 1,510 Texas 3,420
District of Columbia 80 Montana 290 Utah 770
Florida 5,320 Nebraska 460 Vermont 220
Georgia 2,180 Nevada 470 Virginia 2,130
Hawaii 410 New Hampshire 400 Washington 2,410
Idaho 450 New Jersey 2,590 West Virginia 540
Illinois 2,440 New Mexico 470 Wisconsin 1,440
Indiana 1,550 New York 4,240 Wyoming 150
Iowa 980 North Carolina 2,540 United States Total 76,100
Kansas 780 North Dakota 160    
Kentucky 1,540 Ohio 3,170

(Sources: EPA SunWise Program. “Action Steps for Sun Safety.” ; “Skin Cancer Facts for Your State,” ;  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Federal Occupational Health. “What’s Your UV:IQ?” ; American Cancer Society. (2014). Cancer Facts and Figures: 2014. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from)



7/7/2014

I have previously written about us being adopted by a buck deer. How when he and his brother were still fawns while I was gathering limbs and clearing our lot his mother found me interesting and followed me around for most of the day. Always maintaining a distance of around 15 to 20 feet, but where I went she went and her two fawns were right there too. About how a few years later the two fawns returned as full grown bucks. How the one we called Junior came back year after year until one time he did not come back and we felt certain he had died of old age or other means. I could write about several interactions between myself and Junior but I will try not to be redundant and repeat any prior stories.

buck

Wild Animals Showing Trust

Before every conservation officer, game warden or hunter who reads this becomes upset it is not about making a pet of a wild animal but instead about a human which a wild animal chose to befriend. From the very first time Junior returned he walked right up to me like he had known me his whole life and displayed total trust. It was a little daunting at first but slowly I gained trust in him as well. He would let me rub his nose and pick ice balls or ticks off him and if my clothes became caught on his antlers he would stand still while I un-hooked us. I’m sure those antlers can be deadly in certain cases but Junior never once showed the least bit of hostility toward me. He would actually make little mewing sounds when he was getting affection.

Non-Verbal Animal Communication

I have heard stories how buck deer are dangerous during the rut but Junior was never the least bit threatening to me. In fact, he would venture off to chase the ladies and be gone for several days and then would come back totally exhausted and lay down just outside the gate to our back yard to rest up. With us around, I’m sure he felt very safe there. Non verbal communication is just as accurate as verbal and maybe more so when it comes to seperate species communicating. Junior would stand outside the gate until he caught my attention and his non-verbal communication would be clear. He was going to lay down and rest for a few hours and wanted us to watch out for him while he recovered his energy. He would go so soundly asleep that we could come and go and walk around him while he was asleep and he wouldn’t move and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. He would sometimes open an eye to see who it was and go right back to sleep again. When he was finally rested sufficiently he would browse on the lush growth over the septic tank drain field and then off he would go and the cycle would repeat itself several times each year.

Deer Behavior

One year he was proving his manhood with his brother and broke off one of his antlers. The forlorn look on his face was obvious.. I don’t know if deer understand human talk or not but I would sit out with Junior for the next few days telling him he was still a powerful deer and his manhood was intact that he had just lost an antler. After a few days he began to perk up again and returned to his normal self and was once again in pursuit of a doe. Junior’s mother also stayed around for years too and demonstrated trust in us. His mother was a remarkable deer too as one time she showed up with rake marks on her body where she had survived a mountain lion attack. Another time coyotes attacked her fawn and we watched as she chased the coyote down and pounced squarely in the middle of its back. We watched her adopt a small fawn that had broken its leg somehow and she raised it as her own until it too was grown and on its own. The original mother had abandoned it and chased it off when it tried to keep up with her. We could always recognize Junior’s mother because of that scar on her side from the lion attack.

Strange Phenomena

In Junior’s case he would come back to hang out often with a group of other male deer. He would bring them around and initially they seemed confused and leery when he would walk right up to me like the old friend he actually was. Gradually they also seemed to accept our relationship of mutual trust. Next thing I knew I would be out in the yard with Junior along with his pals all standing around while I talked to them about various subjects, mostly how to watch out for hunters and poachers. They would watch intently and sometimes turn their head as if they really understood what I was saying. Once one of Junior’s pals showed up without Junior and I asked him where was Junior and why didn’t he go and get Junior because it was getting close to hunting season. He turned and walked away and three days later I looked out the window and here he came with Junior trailing behind him. Coincidence? Possibly but it sure was a strong coincidence. I can’t explain it but I know it happened and it was pretty amazing to witness. We hear of other people feeding deer and partially domesticating them but in our case it was the deer which for no reason we can fathom adopted and trusted us.

RIP Junior - You Taught us Much

Living in the mountains with wild animals is certainly a unique and educational experience. Many of the things we have heard about wild animals has systematically proven untrue. One thing we have noticed is that wild animals respect us humans far more than we respect them. It is humbling and amazing when wild animals display a trust in us humans to the extent Junior did to us. Our experience with Junior and his mother is one which we will never forget and we miss his presence to this day because he was a very special deer and we are grateful that he trusted us enough to allow us into his world.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: www.BruceCarolCabin.Blogspot.com.



7/3/2014

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $1.8 million in grants for the research and management of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal infection that has killed millions of hibernating bats in eastern North America since it was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006-2007.

Funding was granted to eight projects at universities in New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Projects include studies to better understand bat immune responses to WNS, investigations into methods to control the disease, and ways to examine the molecular infrastructure of the fungus that causes WNS (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), and other cave-dwelling fungi.

“Bats are fascinating animals that are vital for a healthy environment. We are hopeful that these investments into research will get us closer to getting the upper hand on this devastating disease,” said Wendi Weber, co-chair of the White-Nose Syndrome Executive Committee and Service Northeast Regional Director.

Since 2008, the Service has granted more than $17.5 million to institutions and federal and state agencies for WNS research and response. This year’s grants are the second round of WNS research funding awarded by the Service. $1.4 million was awarded to federal agencies that provided matching funds for research and response to the disease.  Another $1.5 million is currently available for state wildlife agencies on www.grants.gov.

“Scientists from around the world are working together to understand this devastating disease, and to develop the tools to manage WNS and conserve our native bats,” said Dr. Jeremy Coleman, the Service’s national WNS coordinator. “Findings from past research have led to improved methods for detecting P. destructans; development of potential tools to slow disease spread and treat infected bats, and the development of a national bat population monitoring program.”

Funding for the grants was provided through the Service’s Endangered Species Recovery and Science Applications programs.

Additional information about WNS is available at www.WhiteNoseSyndrome.org/.

Connect with our white-nose syndrome Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwswns,
follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfws_wns
and download photos from our Flickr page.



7/3/2014

maize

GMOSeralini.org welcomes the news of the republication of the chronic toxicity study on the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup and a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto’s NK603, led by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini. The republication restores the study to the peer-reviewed literature so that it can be consulted and built upon by other scientists.

The study found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU. Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Additional unexpected findings were higher rates of large tumours and mortality in most treatment groups.

The study was first published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012 but was retracted by the editor-in-chief in November 2013 after a sustained campaign of criticism and defamation by pro-GMO scientists.

Now the study has been republished by Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication. The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published – unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret. However, the new paper presents the same results as before and the conclusions are unchanged.

The republished study is accompanied by a separate commentary by Prof Séralini’s team describing the lobbying efforts of GMO crop supporters to force the editor of FCT to retract the original publication.

GMOSeralini.org editor Claire Robinson commented: “This study has now successfully passed no less than three rounds of rigorous peer review.

“The first was for the initial publication of the study in Food and Chemical Toxicology. It passed with only minor revisions, according to the authors.

“The second review took months. It involved a non-transparent examination of Prof Séralini’s raw data by a secret panel of unnamed persons organized by the editor-in-chief of FCT, A. Wallace Hayes, in response to criticisms of the study by pro-GMO scientists.

“In a letter to Prof Séralini, Hayes admitted that the anonymous reviewers found nothing ‘incorrect’ about the results presented. However, Hayes pointed to what he said was the ‘inconclusive’ nature of some aspects of the paper, namely the tumour and mortality observations, to justify his decision to retract the study.

“The rationale given for the retraction was widely criticized by scientists as an act of censorship and a bow to the interests of the GMO industry. Some scientists pointed out that numerous published scientific papers contain inconclusive findings, including Monsanto’s own short (90-day) study on the same GM maize, and have not been retracted. The retraction was even condemned by a former member of the editorial board of FCT.

“Now the study has passed a third peer review arranged by the journal that is republishing the study, Environmental Sciences Europe.

Comments From Scientists

Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist based in London, commented, “Few studies would survive such intensive scrutiny by fellow scientists. The republication of the study after three expert reviews is a testament to its rigour, as well as to the integrity of the researchers.

“If anyone still doubts the quality of this study, they should simply read the republished paper. The science speaks for itself.

“If even then they refuse to accept the results, they should launch their own research study on these two toxic products that have now been in the human food and animal feed chain for many years.”

Dr Jack A Heinemann, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Canterbury New Zealand, called the republication “an important demonstration of the resilience of the scientific community”. Dr Heinemann continued, “The first publication of these results revealed some of the viciousness that can be unleashed on researchers presenting uncomfortable findings. I applaud Environmental Sciences Europe for submitting the work to yet another round of rigorous blind peer review and then bravely standing by the process and the recommendations of its reviewers, especially after witnessing the events surrounding the first publication.

“This study has arguably prevailed through the most comprehensive and independent review process to which any scientific study on GMOs has ever been subjected.

The work provides important new knowledge that must be taken into account by the community that evaluates and reports upon the risks of genetically modified organisms, indeed upon all sources of pesticide in our food and feed chains. In time these findings must be verified by repetition or challenged by superior experimentation. In my view, nothing constructive for risk assessment or promotion of GM biotechnology has been achieved by attempting to expunge these data from the public record.

Photo courtesy Fotolia/EcoView



6/19/2014

Symphony of the SoilThis is a listing of some of the green-themed and environmental films that came out in the last couple of years. Click on each of the links below (or go to IMDB.com) to see previews/trailers, reviews, and descriptions of each film. I have not seen all or even most of these films yet, so I can't say whether all of them are worth seeing. Which ones have you seen and can you recommend?

Click here to see my previous listing of green-themed films; it lists movies that came out between 2006-2011.

Scroll to the bottom of this post to see a list of some green film festivals; those websites provide information on more films, including some brand new ones that haven’t been shown widely yet.

Environmental Films by Category

Food/Agriculture

Seeds of Time (2013)
Symphony of the Soil
(2012)

Health/Toxic Chemicals

The Human Experiment (2013)
Unacceptable Levels
(2013)
Toxic Hot Seat
(2013)

(Note: Many of the films in the Energy section below also relate to health issues, especially Hot Water, Gasland II, and the Atomic States of America)

Energy/Power

Hot Water (2014)
Triple Divide
(2013)
Gasland, Part II
(2013)
The Atomic States of America
(2012)
Greedy Lying Bastards
(2012)
Promised Land
(2012, drama)

Water/Oceans & Climate Change

Mission Blue (2014)
Watermark
(2013)
Chasing Ice
(2012)

Environmental Movement

Rebels with a Cause (2013)
A Fierce Green Fire
(2012)
What if we change
(2013) – Entire film is available to watch online
Green Gold
(2012) – Entire film is available to watch online

Animal Sentience/Animal Rights

Speciesism (2013)
The Ghosts in Our Machine
(2013)
Blackfish
(2013)

More: See my list of environmental films that came out between 2006-2011.

If there are other relevant, recent films that you’ve seen and would recommend to others, please mention those in the Comments section below.

Environmental Film Festivals

These are a few of the annual film fests that I’m aware of. Please let everyone know about others by contributing a Comment! Many of the festivals’ websites feature video clips or entire films (short and full-length films), and they list many additional, new, independent films, beyond what I’ve listed above.

Environmental Film Festival, Washington, DC – March
San Francisco Green Film Festival
, San Francisco, CA – May-June
One Earth Film Festival
, Chicago area, IL – March
Wild and Scenic Film Festival
, Nevada City, CA – January
Mountainfilm Festival
, Telluride, CO – May
Planet in Focus
environmental film festival, Toronto, Canada – November (and Earth Day)

Miriam Landman is an accomplished writer, editor, and sustainability advisor with expertise in green living, green building, and green operations. For daily links to sustainable solutions and success stories, connect to her Facebook page for The Green Spotlight.



6/17/2014

If Day 1 on my ecotrip to Asheville, North Carolina, offered an immersion into the culture and natural beauty of this bustling and progressive town, Day 2 -- captured in this blog -- is about the eco-high adventures to be had, both in the trees on a zipline and when hiking to the Catawba Waterfalls.

Like my previous Asheville blog, I discovered, along with my wife and co-author, Lisa Kivirist, some distinctive farm-to-table dining diversions in a city resplendent with options.  While staying at the LEED Silver-certified Hilton Asheville at Biltmore Park, we could take a dip in a pool heated by the sun or plug in an electric car.

Talking for the Trees:  Soar Above Treetops on a Zipline

Navitat Zipline

“Taco okay, burrito -- no bueno,” explains Kevin Thompson, explaining how we’re to hold our hands over the cable to slow, and eventually, stop ourselves as we coast from tree stand to tree stand, high above the forest floor, on a zipline.  A spectator activity, ziplining is not.

As one of our two guides with Navitat Canopy Adventures, Kevin is there to help our group of six thrill seekers and nature lovers feel what its like to experience a forest peering down, like a flying squirrel. Unlike the squirrel, however, our harness is securely tethered through a series of clasps, lanyard and carabiners to two steel cables stretched between platforms up in trees.

As an emersion into nature, our three and half hour journey zigzagged through the forest canopy and floor, hopping from wooden platform to platform, each with a name, like Peace or Flying Squirrel. We were “one with the forest” like never before.  Between zips, Kevin talked for the trees, sharing the American chestnut story. He also pointed out medicinal plants used by the Cherokee people and reminded us that by the end of our adventure we’d be “landing on the platform like a falcon.”  Turns out, he was right.

Our group’s first zip line is a short, 120-foot one. It’s to practice -- and for our guides to assess if we’re good enough and not overwhelmed by the aerial feat – to move up to longer and more spectacular runs, some lasting for more than 1,000 feet.  Putting us at ease, Jaime Barwick, our other guide, cracks a joke as she clips us onto the two lines, “We love redundancy, here.”  There’s two of everything for safety, except for our helmet.

Besides the feeling of exhilaration and the rush that comes with wind in our ears with each zipline run, our “Moody Cove Adventure” provided an opportunity to repel twice, traverse two sky-bridges and take several short interpretive hikes. 

For most of our group, this whole treetop and repelling thing was a first.  Despite the height involved, our sense of safety or comfort never felt in doubt, perhaps because we remained connected to the cables at all times. Less than an hour into the experience, I noticed myself embracing the distant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and my immediate surroundings more as I became at ease with the process of ziplining. Nothing can compare to coasting through carefully trimmed “tree tunnels” or soaring two hundred feet in the air.

Depending on the run, your skill at forming yourself into a cannon ball, weight (the heavier the faster) and penchant for a thrilling ride, you may be sent flying as fast as forty miles an hour.

Hike to the Catawba Waterfalls

Catawba Falls

There’s nothing like a spectacular end destination when going on a hike.  Around Asheville, make that a waterfall, like the Catawba Waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest, about forty minutes out of town. 

We picked up the trail at the headwaters of the Catawba River and meandered upstream with Kathryn Grover, our guide. She’s with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, founded by Jennifer Pharr Davis, famous for her speedy hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Her company now offers unique, private, half-day hikes to spots throughout the area, though speed is not a requirement.

After passing through the remains of an old dam, we continue our moderate ascent for the mile and an half hike to the falls, butterflies fluttering about.  We skipped on stones and logs to cross the river twice, staying dry. Slowly, the soothing gurgle of the stream grows louder and more pronounced until we emerge from the forest into a wide, boulder-strewn clearing around the river with the pounding water of Catawba Falls cascading down more than a hundred feet.

After a leisurely picnic of locally-made goat cheese and crackers -- plus some pieces of chocolate, Fair Trade, of course – we turn back downstream.  Along the way, Kathryn shares her hiking stick with Lisa, who gets a little wobbly when navigating between stones to cross the riverbank.  Lisa bonded so quickly with her stick support that it quickly becomes her third arm, and inadvertently ends up in our car after the hike. Too bad carry-on luggage limited our souvenir treasure collecting. 

Hilton at Biltmore Park

Perhaps the greenest hotel in Asheville, with its solar thermal system on the roof, electric charging station and extensive use of repurposed building materials or energy efficient equipment, is the Hilton Asheville at Biltmore Park, owned by Biltmore Farms Hotels. There’s no roughing it here, though, with its luxurious furnishings, spacious rooms and convivial service.

Not to be missed, grab a leisurely breakfast at the hotel’s Roux restaurant, adjacent to the spacious lobby.  Farm-to-table means the goat cheese is from Three Graces Dairy, eggs from Cane Creek Valley Organics and your omelet is cooked to order right in front of you with the fresh ingredients you select. It’s exactly what we needed to start our day of high adventure.  Their commitment continues in the kitchen as food scraps are composted and their waste fryer oil gets turned into biodiesel.

A Spanish Tapas Feast

Curate Tapas Bar

Our adventures continued that night at the Spanish-inspired Cúrate Tapas Bar, located right downtown. Tapas are small plates of various dishes that, taken together, make a meal.

We pulled up a chair at the long bar facing the open-restaurant design, mesmerized by the flurry of activity as each of the tapas is carefully assembled right in front of our eyes. We placed our first order for a classic Catalan dish prepared with local trout and a fried eggplant with local honey. Then we kept ordering, trying out a tasty assortment of traditional Spanish dishes, plated as if a work of art, until pleasantly full.

For Executive Chef Katie Button, co-owned with her husband and parents, farm-to-table can mean fresh salad greens from a local farm or traditional Spanish cured meats from a farm in Iberico, Spain. Between the show behind the counter, gregarious wait staff mixing cocktails while chatting about their favorite dish, or making a new friend adjacent to us at the bar, a culinary experience delights more than your palate here.  It’s slow, great food at its best.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



6/11/2014

beach

Are you one of the millions of people making their way to the beach this year?  Beaches provide opportunities to play volleyball, run, relax, swim and do many other activities, but beach closures can put a damper on summer fun. Beach closures occur in coastal areas throughout the United States – according to EPA’s 2012 Beach Report, 40 percent of monitored beaches had at least one advisory or closure during the 2012 season.  Several factors contribute to beach closures, including excess nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient pollution from rain water runoff and leaking septic systems.

Viewer Tip: Whether you live on the beach or thousands of miles away, there are easy ways you can help protect coastal water quality at home.

Keep your septic system maintained. For typical septic systems, experts recommend a professional inspection every three years and a pump-out every three to five years.  Some systems may require more frequent maintenance. Leaking septic systems can contaminate ground and surface water with excess nutrients.
Use natural substances like compost to fertilize your gardens and lawns. 
This allows you to cut-down on the use of regular fertilizers, which contain nitrogen that can be carried away with rain water during the next storm.
Always pick up after your pet at home and on walks.
 Pet waste contains nutrients and bacteria that can degrade water quality. Throw the waste away in a trash can or pet waste receptacle.

Earth Gauge

Photo: St. George Island, FL; Commander Grady Tuell, NOAA Corps

(Sources:  EPA, “EPA’s Beach Report: 2012 Swimming Season.”)












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