Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline Easement permit Denied. Environmental Assessment will follow.

After months of pacific resistance by indigenous tribes from North America and the rest of the Americas, the government finally took the decision to halt the project known as the Dakota Access Pipeline. This project that seeks to transport 500K barrels of crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois have not been granted the easement it was seeking. Instead they suppose to complete an environmental assessment and possible find new routes for the pipeline if approved.
One of the main sources of conflict concerning the debated route was that it puts at risk the water of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The protestors those called themselves the water protectors.  The Standing Rock Tribe reservation is located very near the proposed route thus the tribe was at the center of this cause. The project if approved as it was original stated, would have crossed near/over several sources of water including a portion of the Mississippi river and Lake Oahe. In addition, if a spill were to occur the soil may also be compromised.
Over the pass months Indigenous peoples have also argued for religious rights. The Standing Rock tribe said that the land where the proposed project would pass over sacred land. Their ancestors had been buried in that land which is now under the Corps of Engineers management. They called for the respect of ancient treaties that give them some cultural and religious protection.
The protestors or water protectors directed by the Standing Rock tribe included many Indian Nations, foreign indigenous peoples and outside supporters. The protestors opted for non-violent means of protest and prayer. Even though the protest were meant to be pacific in nature that was not the case. Because of violence exerted against the protestors by the Access Pipeline guards and the North Dakota Police (water canyons), outside observers (e.g., Amnesty International), and news reporters came to report on the protests.
The North Dakota Pipeline Access received protestors that tried to access their facilities with dogs that attacked them. This treatment was covered by Democracy Now an independent news source and because of the impact, it was also published in the general media. The violence against the indigenous peoples seen in the media helped the initial small movement to gather more visibility and adepts. The Dakota government try to indict journalist Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, and protestors which further aggravate the tensions. Later on the North Dakota police also attacked protestor with water hoses and intimidated them with rifles. These developments called for more support and for the public to request the intervention of the Department of Justice.
Environmentalist and concerned citizens from other places travel to the site to support the Indigenous people and to learn about the issue.  In addition to the site protest in North Dakota famously known as NoDALP, citizens gathered in many US cities to protest both the treatment to the indigenous peoples exerted by the Dakota Police as well as the environmental implications of an oil pipeline.
While The Standing Rock Tribe leaders met with Obama early on (Oct 25th, 2016), it wasn't until today (Dec 4th, 2016) that the President of the United States Mr. Barak Obama, The Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Justice --reached the decision to halt the project, and informed the protestors. Then Standing Rock Tribe published the news.
The Indigenous people rejoiced and were thankful to the president and the Army Corps for doing the right thing. It is not everyday that one sees this type of development in a conflict of this magnitude. This gives us hope that negotiations and pacific solutions are possible. This give us hopes that the rules and regulations that suppose to protect the people indeed may favor them rather than corporations.
Since, a new presidential administration is about to take place next month, the corporate side hopes for a new decision that favors them while the indigenous people expect for the decision taken today to be respected. This is still an open book.

December 4th. Environmental News highlight.
Disclosure: I have been advocating in favor of an environmental assessment, and in favor of #noDALP.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

An Environmental Assessment Needed for North Dakota Pipeline

Why an environmental assessment is required for the proposed pipeline.
1. It is a massive 7500 project crossing several states.
2. The cost- benefit analysis of such project need to be evaluated. Number of jobs/potential cost of environmental damage, land change, and potential spills. Where do the oil will go and to whom it will benefit? According to Bobby Kennedy Jr. the oil will be sent to China and only about 30 jobs will be created. If that is the case, could you said it is worth to risk the water of so many towns?
3. If the pipeline spills it is usually the USA government (tax payers) who will have to pay for repairs and environmental remediation.
4. Which towns -populations- may risk water pollution?
5. What are the implications of creating conflict between Indigenous people and the Corps of Engineers? (aka Government.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Environmental News: President Barak Obama and Standing Rock Sioux meet about ND pipeline. #NoDPL #News

Mirna Santana

The Joy of Nature: Fall Colors

In the splendor and beauty of this Autumn or Fall season we experience awe. This is the season that perhaps best shows us the delicate threads of life, the temporality of things. This beauty would last but a few days or at most a few weeks. Then it is gone, and the trees will be bare and yet in that nudity, they are ready to confront the harsh winter.  We may experience this beauty just as it is or we can do so with the curiosity of a child or the inquiring mind of a scientist. Why do the colors change?

Some of my most special moments of contemplating nature happens when we experience nature as it is.  It is the experience of being alive and being just another living creature within the environment. For example, It was a magic moment when I experienced the splendor of this tree in its pick colors and let that experience travel within my body, integrating it into my whole being. The experience of togetherness with nature happens just before the decision of placing my bag on the ground and proceeding to take the picture. Because the first moment was pure contemplation and in the second the rational mind was involved. Yet, as I love taking snap shoots of all things nature, I also experience the joy of an ordinary daily activity. As a trained scientist, there is also that wonder and inquiring about nature and what we observe. Do we really know what the changing trees are doing?

As it happens, the tree is doing a lot through this changing process. The changes are also the result of physiological responses to changes in environmental conditions. The tree receives the signals of the upcoming winter (cold days with some warm ones, less light, cloud covers) and starts to get ready for it. Many processes are involved in the changing colors. Some are physiological responses that scientists understand such as relocation of nitrogen and nutrients before the leaf falls and the protective value of anthocyanin, red pigments from chlorophyll inhibition. Less light and colder temperatures let the trees know that they can stop producing chlorophyll, the green pigments and the more efficient among plant pigments. But the tree needs to be alive when the chlorophyll is not working for the tree. Other pigments take the job of continuing the processes such as carotenoids (orange, yellowish colors to stand out. Eco-physiological responses to weather (less light, cold days) and cloud cover bring about anthocyanins (red pigment) to the game. Others potential evolutionary or coevolutionary processes that may signal herbivores to get off the plant or residents to move on, because the leaves are going to fall are not well studied and thus not well understood. When I first so the hypothesis I thought all things mushrooms (I am biased towards them.) There is a link between the mushrooms above and those below the trees, because the leaves of all trees eventually fall.  A suit of ecological hypotheses including the defense mechanism activation to avoid predation by signaling danger (red) and other hypothesis have been proposed. Other theoretical works suggest physical/environmental factors such as soil moisture, temperature, tree position and status (dominant tree vs seedling), amount of light available and so on, play stronger roles in the outcome of the colors.  However, funding for studies that do not involve molecular or genetics are low these days so many field scientists take data on leaf phenology (changes) and correlated patterns to available environmental data (e.g. precipitation) through time. Yet many of us, would not seek answer to these questions and mostly watch the colors as tourist do.

Speaking of tourism, the Autumn brings about a lot of tourism and economic incentive to several states and countries. The colors are more intense in the USA and Canada than they tend to be in Europe. Seasonal variations influence the outcome of the colors . But if you are going to any place famous for the Autumn colors, you do not need to concern about what causes the changes. The leaf trackers (e.g., Department of Natural Resources) or the tourist agencies, webpages and brochures could tell you when and where the colors are picking. They will tell you what the best locations are for you to take your trip to observe the Autumn in its magnificence. If you do, you and the trees would be somehow 'conspiring' to bring more wealth to those regions. Of course, the trees never get pay for providing aesthetic value or moments of awe. For those who enjoy the changing trees on their yards, the raking of leaves may be another time for peaceful relaxation or rage. Cities in which the conditions allow for these scenes of changing colors wisely invest on planting attractive deciduous trees. The trees naturally respond to the conditions and make their residents and visitors glad. Because we already know that nature has a positive impact on the wellbeing of people, and the wealth of cities, I say, lets stop here and lets get out to enjoy the Autumn colors while they last.

Copyrights © Mirna Santana
Biologist and Freelance writer
Published by Mirna Santana blog on Environment, October 2016.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Stopping the trade of ivory and other endangered species

By passing the 1401 measure on November 3rd 2014, Washington state (WA), joins New York, New Jersey and California which previously passed similar measures prohibiting the trade of ivory from elephant and rhinos. The WA  measure goes beyond ivory by also banning the trade of parts sourced from other endangered animals. Wild cats such as lions, leopards and cheetahs. Other endangered land animals covered by the measure are the scaly ant eaters known as pangolins. Some aquatic species are also included in this measure. Among these are marine turtles (hunted for their shells, e.g., carey a material similar to ivory), as well sharks and rays. The passing of the measure was celebrated by environmentalist including The Wildlife Federation who stated in a tweet:

Thanks to friends of in WA voting , the fight against extinction has scored a big win:

The measure affects the sales, exchange (trade or barter), and commercialization of ivory less than 100 years old. Some exceptions were made for items such as musical instruments that may contain low amounts of ivory. These restrictions caused the opposition of antique dealers and other animal product dealers. They argue that the measure is unfair, in part because their items were acquired before the measure. In addition, the opposing viewers argue that the funds used for lobbying and advertise the measure could be used at the source of the problem, to defeat poachers.

The passing of the measure involved large contributions by microsoft co-founder Mr. Paul Allen ($2M), and many other donors. Mr. Allen has long advocated for wildlife in Africa. Yet, he along with advocates for the measure consider that changing trading laws in the USA, state by state would help to decrease poaching elsewhere, by decreasing the demand for the ivory or desired product. More about the campaign that lead to the passing of the banning on ivory and parts from other endangered animals (1401 measure) can be seen at the campaign site 

“Every day, endangered species like elephants and rhinos are slaughtered to fuel a lucrative trade in unnecessary products made of ivory or horn. We must attack the economic incentives associated with trafficking wildlife products and give law enforcement the tools needed to shut down the networks that contribute to this criminal activity. We all have a responsibility to protect endangered animals, and Washington State can serve as a model to lead the way in disrupting the market for these products. If we turn away from our responsibility to protect our planet, these species will become extinct.” Philantropist Paul G. Allen (endorsement for the campaign, save

 He also tweeted:
  1. Great victory passing ! A strong message to the country--we can save endangered animals a world away

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Federal Judge Return Gray Wolf To The Endangered List

Grey Wolf by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Federal Judge order  that the grey wolf get listed as an endangered species. This allow to protect the animals from trappers, license hunting, hunting with dogs, and other forms of killing.  This decision will cover The following Midwest States: Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

At least in Wisconsin the last harvest wolf hunting exceeded the quota per region and total (by 1.)
For scientists concerned with wolf management this is a relief. The science was not at the same pace with the decision of providing licenses for hunting. The decision to provide licenses was implemented rapidly, and was politically more that scientifically driven.  As a result, in some areas female pack leaders were killed. The hunters also tend to target what they consider trophy specimens of the species rather than what DNR will call problem animals.  Harvest of animals by the public (licensed or not) without consideration of the pack health maybe detrimental for the populations of wolves in this area. If there is any control, it perhaps should be done by rangers familiar with the packs. DNR argues that they won't be able to control animals that attack domestic animals such as dogs or cattle. This may be a problem with the regulations, and in any case they should negotiate for exceptions but not for open hunting the way it was this year.
The decision by the federal court also revert a previous controversial decision to allow trained dogs to hunt wolves. The owners of those dogs can't no longer train these animals for the purpose of hunting wolves.  DNR pays a fee if a dog is killed by a wolf. I suppose that is valid even for trained dogs driven to track wolves out of season. The hunters can take a wolf for the price of their license.  Hunters were also allowed to use traps, which are really damaging to the animals that fall in them. How is it possible that us who understand pain in humans (e.g., broken limbs), may decide to purposely impose such damages and the torture that this may imply to another mammal who may feel as much pain--similar nervous system.  This decision is probably be fight by the pro-hunting interest. In the mean time  scientist and managers may come to the table and find better ways to understand and manage wolf populations. This time many also  serve for both hunters and wolves lovers to come together and recognize that this animal belong to the wild. The ecosystem needs large predators such as wolves.  Aldo Leopold who for years was involved in the hunting decisions later in his life recognized the big gap represented by the absence of this powerful species on the land.  The land does not belong only to humans and we need to learn to share it.  Although living with predators may scare us, the damage by large animals is very low compared with more familiar things such as cars.

If you visit the Facebook Wolf Hunting Community- There a is a picture with many lifeless animal being throw down like rocks from a pick up. All along the web one may found pictures of the trophy animals the hunters harvested. There is pride on killing other species, just because they can and are allowed by law. This is not management, this is trophy hunting. It is what an open hunting season allows. It is a policy that needs consideration and reviewing. Now, there is an opening for that.

Real population management needs to be done by conscious and knowledgeable trained people. People who know not only to pull the trigger, but also what does it mean for a particular pack the removal of the specific individual.  Management also involves to relocate or take away an animal that is dangerous or aggressive, or to close to people. Most people would agree with that measure. Management may also mean managing for contagious diseases by which the removal of one or many individuals may save the others. Although hunters and managers could come out with many ways to rationalize their need to kill an animal, the fact is that in other areas, management is done different.  Ranchers at Yellowstone have shown  that it is possible to  do grow cattle and coexist with the wolves. In fact some of the means appear to be very inexpensive, such as investing in plastic fences-- made of moving plastic flags. Why is this not extensively applied?
Can we rethink our ways?