Category: Nature


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July 27, 2015

by Rob Wallace

The notion of a neoliberal Ebola is so beyond the pale as to send leading lights in ecology and health into apoplectic fits.

Here’s one of bestseller David Quammen’s five tweets denouncing my hypothesis that neoliberalism drove the emergence of Ebola in West Africa. I’m an “addled guy” whose “loopy [blog] post” and “confused nonsense” Quammen hopes “doesn’t mislead credulous people.”

Scientific American’s Steve Mirksy joked that he feared “the supply-side salmonella”. He would walk that back when I pointed out the large literature documenting the ways and means by which the economics of the egg sector is driving salmonella’s evolution.

The facts of the Ebola outbreak similarly turn Quammen’s objection on its head.

Guinea Forest Region in 2014

Guinea Forest Region in 2014 (Photo Credit Daniel Bausch)











The virus appears to have been spilling over for years in West Africa. Epidemiologist Joseph Fair’s group found antibodies to multiple species of Ebola, including the very Zaire strain that set off the outbreak, in patients in Sierra Leone as far back as five years ago. Phylogenetic analyses meanwhile show the Zaire strain Bayesian-dated in West Africa as far back as a decade.

An NIAID team showed the outbreak strain as possessing no molecular anomaly, with nucleotide substitution rates typical of Ebola outbreaks across Africa.

That result begs an explanation for Ebola’s ecotypic shift from intermittent forest killer to a protopandemic infection infecting 27,000 and killing over 11,000 across the region, leaving bodies in the streets of capital cities Monrovia and Conakry.

Explaining the rise of Ebola

The answer, little explored in the scientific literature or the media, appears in the broader context in which Ebola emerged in West Africa.

The truth of the whole, in this case connecting disease dynamics, land use and global economics, routinely suffers at the expense of the principle of expediency. Such contextualization often represents a threat to many of the underlying premises of power.

In the face of such an objection, it was noted that the structural adjustment to which West Africa has been subjected the past decade included the kinds of divestment from public health infrastructure that permitted Ebola to incubate at the population level once it spilled over.

The effects, however, extend even farther back in the causal chain. The shifts in land use in the Guinea Forest Region from where the Ebola epidemic spread were also connected to neoliberal efforts at opening the forest to global circuits of capital.

Daniel Bausch and Lara Schwarz characterize the Forest Region, where the virus emerged, as a mosaic of small and isolated populations of a variety of ethnic groups that hold little political power and receive little social investment. The forest’s economy and ecology are also strained by thousands of refugees from civil wars in neighboring countries.

The Region is subjected to the tandem trajectories of accelerating deterioration in public infrastructure and concerted efforts at private development dispossessing smallholdings and traditional foraging grounds for mining, clear-cut logging, and increasingly intensified agriculture.

The Ebola hot zone as a whole comprises a part of the larger Guinea Savannah Zone the World Bank describes as “one of the largest underused agricultural land reserves in the world.” Africa hosts 60% of the world’s last farmland frontier. And the Bank sees the Savannah best developed by market commercialization, if not solely on the agribusiness model.

As the Land Matrix Observatory documents, such prospects are in the process of being actualized. There, one can see the 90 deals by which U.S.-backed multinationals have procured hundreds of thousands of hectares for export crops, biofuels and mining around the world, including multiple deals in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Observatory’s online database shows similar land deals pursued by other world powers, including the UK, France, and China.

Under the newly democratized Guinean government, the Nevada-based and British-backed Farm Land of Guinea Limited secured 99-year leases for two parcels totaling nearly 9000 hectares outside the villages of N’Dema and Konindou in Dabola Prefecture, where a secondary Ebola epicenter developed, and 98,000 hectares outside the village of Saraya in Kouroussa Prefecture. The Ministry of Agriculture has now tasked Farm Land Inc to survey and map an additional 1.5 million hectares for third-party development.

While these as of yet undeveloped acquisitions are not directly tied to Ebola, they are markers of a complex, policy-driven phase change in agroecology that our group hypothesizes undergirds Ebola’s emergence.

The role of palm oil in West Africa

Our thesis orbits around palm oil, in particular.

Palm is a vegetable oil of highly saturated fats derived from the red mesocarp of the African oil palm tree now grown around the world. The fruit’s kernel also produces its own oil. Refined and fractionated into a variety of byproducts, both oils are used in an array of food, cosmetic and cleaning products, as well as in some biodiesels. With the abandonment of trans fats, palm oil represents a growing market, with global exports totaling nearly 44 million metric tons in the 2014 growing season.

Oil palm plantations, covering more than 17 million hectares worldwide, are tied to deforestation and expropriation of lands from indigenous groups. We see from this Food and Agriculture Organization map that while most of the production can be found in Asia, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, most of the suitable land left for palm oil can be found in the Amazon and the Congo Basin, the two largest rainforests in the world.

Palm oil represents a classic case of Lauderdale’s paradox. As environmental resources are destroyed what’s left becomes more valuable. A decaying resource base, then, is no due cause for agribusiness turning into good global citizens, as industry-funded advocates have argued. On the contrary, agribusiness seeks exclusive access to our now fiscally appreciating, if ecologically declining, landscapes.

Food production didn’t start that way in West Africa, of course.

Natural and semi-wild groves of different oil palm types have long served as a source of red palm oil in the Guinea Forest Region. Forest farmers have been raising palm oil in one or another form for hundreds of years. Fallow periods allowing soils to recover, however, were reduced over the 20th century from 20 years in the 1930s to 10 by the 1970s, and still further by the 2000s, with the added effect of increasing grove density. Concomitantly, semi-wild production has been increasingly replaced with intensive hybrids, and red oil replaced by, or mixed with, industrial and kernel oils.

Other crops are grown too, of course. Regional shade agriculture includes coffee, cocoa and kola. Slash-and-burn rice, maize, hibiscus, and corms of the first year, followed by peanut and cassava of the second and a fallow period, are rotated through the agroforest. Lowland flooding supports rice. In essence, we see a move toward increased intensification without private capital but still classifiable as agroforestry.

But even this kind of farming has since been transformed.

The Guinean Oil Palm and Rubber Company (with the French acronym SOGUIPAH) began in 1987 as a parastatal cooperative in the Forest but since has grown to the point it is better characterized a state company. It is leading efforts that began in 2006 to develop plantations of intensive hybrid palm for commodity export. SOGUIPAH economized palm production for the market by forcibly expropriating farmland, which to this day continues to set off violent protest.

International aid has accelerated industrialization. SOGUIPAH’s new mill, with four times the capacity of one it previously used, was financed by the European Investment Bank.

The mill’s capacity ended the artisanal extraction that as late as 2010 provided local populations full employment. The subsequent increase in seasonal production has at one and the same time led to harvesting above the mill’s capacity and operation below capacity off-season, leading to a conflict between the company and some of its 2000 now partially proletarianized pickers, some of whom insist on processing a portion of their own yield to cover the resulting gaps in cash flow. Pickers who insist on processing their own oil during the rainy season now risk arrest.

The new economic geography has also initiated a classic case of land expropriation and enclosure, turning a tradition of shared forest commons toward expectations whereby informal pickers working fallow land outside their family lineage obtain an owner’s permission before picking palm.

Palm oil and Ebola

What does all this have to do with Ebola?

Fig. 1 Palm Oil and Ebola

Fig. 1 Palm Oil and Ebola

The figure at top left (of Fig. 1) shows an archipelago of oil palm plots in the Guéckédou area, the outbreak’s apparent ground zero. The characteristic landscape is a mosaic of villages surrounded by dense vegetation and interspersed by crop fields of oil palm (in red) and patches of open forest and regenerated young forest.

The general pattern can be discerned at a finer scale as well, above, west of the town of Meliandou, where the index cases appeared.

The landscape embodies a growing interface between humans and frugivore bats, a key Ebola reservoir, including hammer-headed bats, little collared fruit bats and Franquet’s epauletted fruit bats.

Nur Juliani Shafie and colleagues document a variety of disturbance-associated fruit bats attracted to oil palm plantations. Bats migrate to oil palm for food and shelter from the heat while the plantations’ wide trails also permit easy movement between roosting and foraging sites.

Bats aren’t stupid. As the forest disappears they shift their foraging behavior to what food and shelter are left.

Bush meat hunting and butchery are one means by which subsequent spillover may take place. But to move away from the kinds of Western ooga booga epidemiology that wraps outbreaks in such ‘dirty’ cultural cloth, agricultural cultivation may be enough. Fruit bats in Bangladesh transmitted Nipah virus to human hosts by urinating on the date fruit humans cultivated.

Almudena Marí Saéz and colleagues have since proposed the initial Ebola spillover occurred outside Meliandou when children, including the putative index case, caught and played with Angolan free-tailed bats in a local tree. The bats are an insectivore species also previously documented as an Ebola virus carrier.

Whatever the specific reservoir source, shifts in agroeconomic context still appear a primary cause. Previous studies show the free-tailed bats also attracted to expanding cash crop production in West Africa, including of sugar cane, cotton, and macadamia.

Indeed, every Ebola outbreak appears connected to capital-driven shifts in land use, including back to the first outbreak in Nzara, Sudan in 1976, where a British-financed factory spun and wove local cotton. When Sudan’s civil war ended in 1972, the area rapidly repopulated and much of the local rainforest—and bat ecology—was reclaimed for subsistence farming, with cotton returning as the area’s dominant cash crop.

Are New York, London and Hong Kong as much to blame?

Clearly such outbreaks aren’t merely about specific companies.

We have started working with University of Washington’s Luke Bergmann to test whether the world’s circuits of capital as they relate to husbandry and land use are related to disease emergence. Bergmann and Holmberg’s maps, still in preparation, show the percent of land whose harvests are consumed abroad as agricultural goods or in manufactured goods and services for croplands, pastureland and forests.

The maps show landscapes are globalized by circuits of capital. In this way, the source of a disease may be more than merely the country in which it may first appear and indeed may extend as far as the other side of the world. We need to identify who funded the development and deforestation to begin with.

Such an epidemiology begs whether we might more accurately characterize such places as New York, London and Hong Kong, key sources of capital, as disease ‘hot spots’ in their own right. Diseases are relational in their geographies, and not solely absolute, as the ecohealth cowboys chronicled by David Quammen claim.

Similarly, such a new approach ruins the neat dichotomy between emergency responses and structural interventions.

Some disease hounds who acknowledge global structural issues tend to still focus on the immediate logistics of any given outbreak. Emergency responses are needed, of course. But we need to acknowledge that the emergency arose from the structural. Indeed, such emergencies are used as a means by which to avoid talking about the bigger picture driving the emergence of new diseases.

The forest may be its own cure

There’s another false dichotomy to unpack—this one between the forest’s ecosystemic noise and deterministic effect.

The environmental stochasticity at the center of forest ecology isn’t synonymous with random noise.

Here a bit of math can help. A simple stochastic differential model of exponential pathogen population growth can include fractional white noise of an index 0 to 1 defined by a covariance relationship across time and space. An Ito expansion produces a classic result in population growth:

When below a threshold, the noise exponent is small enough to permit a pathogen population to explode in size. When above the threshold, the noise is large enough to control an outbreak, frustrating efforts on the part of the pathogen to string together a bunch of susceptibles to infect.

Never mind the technical details. The important point is that disease trajectories, even in the deepest forest, aren’t divorced from their anthropogenic context. That context can impact upon the forest’s environmental noise and its effects on disease.

How exactly in Ebola’s case?

It’s been long known that if you can lower an outbreak below an infection Allee threshold—say by a vaccine or sanitary practices—an outbreak, not finding enough susceptibles, can burn out on its own. But commoditizing the forest may have lowered the region’s ecosystemic threshold to such a point where no emergency intervention can drive the Ebola outbreak low enough to burn out on its own. The virus will continue to circulate, with the potential to explode again.

In short, neoliberalism’s structural shifts aren’t just a background on which the emergency of Ebola takes place. The shifts are the emergency as much as the virus itself.

In contrast to Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan—history as shit happens—we have here an example of stochasticity’s impact arising out of deterministic agroeconomic policy—a phenomenon I’ve taken to calling the Red Swan.

Here, sudden switches in land use may explain Ebola’s emergence. Deforestation and intensive agriculture strip out traditional agroforestry’s stochastic friction that until this point had kept the virus from stringing together enough transmission.

Under certain conditions, the forest may act as its own epidemiological protection. We risk the next deadly pandemic when we destroy that capacity.

Rob Wallace is an evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer currently visiting the Institute of Global Studies at the University of Minnesota. He also blogs at Farming Pathogens.

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Ancient brains turn paleontology on its head

November 9, 2015
University of Arizona
When scientists presented evidence of an ancient, fossilized brain a few years ago, it challenged the long-held notion that brains don’t fossilize. Now, seven new specimens have been unearthed, each showing traces of neural tissue from what was undoubtedly a brain.

A: Under a light microscope, the above fossil shows traces of preserved neural tissues in black. B: An elemental scan of this fossil uncovered that carbon (in pink) and iron (in green) do not overlap in the preserved neural tissue.
Credit: Strausfeld et al. and Current Biology

Science has long dictated that brains don’t fossilize, so when Nicholas Strausfeld co-authored the first ever report of a fossilized brain in a 2012 edition of Nature, it was met with “a lot of flack.”

“It was questioned by many paleontologists, who thought — and in fact some claimed in print — that maybe it was just an artifact or a one-off, implausible fossilization event,” said Strausfeld, a Regents’ professor in UA’s Department of Neuroscience.

His latest paper in Current Biology addresses these doubts head-on, with definitive evidence that, indeed, brains do fossilize.

In the paper, Strausfeld and his collaborators, including Xiaoya Ma of Yunnan Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology at China’s Yunnan University and Gregory Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum in London, analyze seven newly discovered fossils of the same species to find, in each, traces of what was undoubtedly a brain.

The species, Fuxianhuia protensa, is an extinct arthropod that roamed the seafloor about 520 million years ago. It would have looked something like a very simple shrimp. And each of the fossils — from the Chengjiang Shales, fossil-rich sites in Southwest China — revealed F. protensa‘s ancient brain looked a lot like a modern crustacean’s, too.

Using scanning electron microscopy, the researchers found that the brains were preserved as flattened carbon films, which, in some fossils, were partially overlaid by tiny iron pyrite crystals. This led the research team to a convincing explanation as to how and why neural tissue fossilizes.

In another recent paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Strausfeld’s experiments uncovered what it likely was about ancient environmental conditions that allowed a brain to fossilize in the first place.

The only way to become fossilized is, first, to get rapidly buried. Hungry scavengers can’t eat a carcass if it’s buried, and as long as the water is anoxic enough — that is, lacking in oxygen — a buried creature’s tissues evade consumption by bacteria as well. Strausfeld and his collaborators suspect F. protensa was buried by rapid, underwater mudslides, a scenario they experimentally recreated by burying sandworms and cockroaches in mud.

This is only step one. Step two, explained Strausfeld, is where most brains would fail: Withstanding the pressure from being rapidly buried under thick, heavy mud.

To have been able to do this, the F. protensa nervous system must have been remarkably dense. In fact, tissues of nervous systems, including brains, are densest in living arthropods. As a small, tightly packed cellular network of fats and proteins, the brain and central nervous system could pass step two, just as did the sandworm and cockroach brains in Strausfeld’s lab.

“Dewatering is different from dehydration, and it happens more gradually,” said Strausfeld, referring to the process by which pressure from the overlying mud squeezes water out of tissues. “During this process, the brain maintains its overall integrity leading to its gradual flattening and preservation. F. protensa‘s tissue density appears to have made all the difference.”

Now that he and his collaborators have produced unassailable evidence that fossilized arthropod brains are more than just a one-off phenomenon, Strausfeld is working to elucidate the origin and evolution of brains over half a billion years in the past.

“People, especially scientists, make assumptions. The fun thing about science, actually, is to demolish them,” said Strausfeld.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Arizona. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Xiaoya Ma, Gregory D. Edgecombe, Xianguang Hou, Tomasz Goral, Nicholas J. Strausfeld. Preservational Pathways of Corresponding Brains of a Cambrian Euarthropod. Current Biology, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.063

Cite This Page:

University of Arizona. “Ancient brains turn paleontology on its head: Strongest evidence yet that it’s possible for brains to fossilize and, in fact, a set of 520-million-year-old arthropod brains have done just that.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 November 2015. <>.

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About one-third of the world’s crops depend on the honeybees for pollination. The past decades honeybees have been dying at an alarming rate. Fewer bees will eventually lead to less availability of our favorite whole foods and it will also drive up the prices of many of the fruits and veggies we eat on a daily basis.

While some actions have been taken in the past, our bees are still dying and something needs to be done to make sure our most favorite foods don’t go into extinction.

What’s Causing Massive Bee Deaths?

About fifty years ago our world looked a whole lot different. Bees had an abundance of flowers to feast on and there were fewer pests and diseases threatening their food chain. These days however, nature has to make place for industrialization and our bees are having a hard time finding good pollen and nectar.

And if clearing their dinner tables from good quality food wasn’t bad enough already, farmers are extensively using herbicides and insecticides, which cause a phenome called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) where bees get disorientated and poisoned and can’t find their way back to the hive. Or when they manage to get back, they die from intoxication.

“We need good, clean food, and so do our pollinators. If bees do not have enough to eat, we won’t have enough to eat. Dying bees scream a message to us that they cannot survive in our current agricultural and urban environments,” states Marla Spivak, an American entomologist, and Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota.

List of Foods We Will Have To Go without If The Bees Go

While we don’t need bees to pollinate all our food because they either self-pollinate or rely on the wind (like rice, wheat, and corn), many of our favorite foods will disappear from our kitchen tables.

Foods in the danger zone include:

  • Apples
  • Mangos
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Peaches
  • Berries
  • Onions
  • Pears
  • Alfalfa
  • Cashews
  • Avocados
  • Passion Fruit
  • Beans
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Cacao/Coffee
  • Cotton
  • Lemons and limes
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Coconut
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Chili peppers, red peppers, bell peppers, green peppers
  • Papaya
  • Eggplant
  • Vanilla
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Many seeds and nuts

A substantial drop in population, or complete extinction, of honeybees will make these food scares or even non-existent. So to keep our body healthy and our kitchen table interesting we have to take action before it is too late.

What You can Do

  • Plant bee friendly plants in your garden or green community space.
  • Limit the use of pesticides or use organic alternatives.
  • Buy local, organically grown produce and honey to support the beekeepers and farmers in your area.
  • Donate to non-profit organizations, like Pollinator Partnership, to help protect, grow, and strengthen bee populations.

Sources: CNNNCBI, and onEarth.

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Nutrient-rich forests absorb more carbon

by Staff Writers
Laxenburg, Austria (SPX) Apr 17, 2014

File image.

The ability of forests to sequester carbon from the atmosphere depends on nutrients available in the forest soils, shows new research from an international team of researchers, including IIASA.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showed that forests growing in fertile soils with ample nutrients are able to sequester about 30% of the carbon that they take up during photosynthesis. In contrast, forests growing in nutrient-poor soils may retain only 6% of that carbon. The rest is returned to the atmosphere as respiration.

“This paper produces the first evidence that to really understand the carbon cycle, you have to look into issues of nutrient cycling within the soil,” says IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program Director Michael Obersteiner, who worked on the study as part of a new international research project sponsored by the European Research Council.

Marcos Fernandez-Martinez, first author of the paper and researcher at the Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) says, “In general, nutrient-poor forests spend a lot of energy-carbon-through mechanisms to acquire nutrients from the soil, whereas nutrient-rich forests can use that carbon to enhance biomass production.”


Read More Here



Research: Arid areas absorb unexpected amounts of carbon

By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer

PULLMAN, Wash. – Researchers led by a Washington State University biologist have found that arid areas, among the biggest ecosystems on the planet, take up an unexpectedly large amount of carbon as levels of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere. The findings give scientists a better handle on the earth’s carbon budget – how much carbon remains in the atmosphere as CO2, contributing to global warming, and how much gets stored in the land or ocean in other carbon-containing forms.

“It has pointed out the importance of these arid ecosystems,” said R. Dave Evans, a WSU professor of biological sciences specializing in ecology and global change. “They are a major sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, so as CO2 levels go up, they’ll increase their uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere. They’ll help take up some of that excess CO2 going into the atmosphere. They can’t take it all up, but they’ll help.”

Published in Nature Climate Change

The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, come after a novel 10-year experiment in which researchers exposed plots in the Mojave Desert to elevated carbon-dioxide levels similar to those expected in 2050. The researchers then removed soil and plants down to a meter deep and measured how much carbon was absorbed.

“We just dug up the whole site and measured everything,” said Evans.

The idea for the experiment originated with scientists at Nevada’s universities in Reno and Las Vegas and the Desert Research Institute. Evans was brought in for his expertise in nutrient cycling and deserts, while researchers at the University of Idaho, Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University and Colorado State University also contributed.

Funding came from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Terrestrial Carbon Processes Program and the National Science Foundation’s Ecosystem Studies Program.

Vast lands play significant role

The work addresses one of the big unknowns of global warming: the degree to which land-based ecosystems absorb or release carbon dioxide as it increases in the atmosphere.

Receiving less than 10 inches of rain a year, arid areas run in a wide band at 30 degrees north and south latitude. Along with semi-arid areas, which receive less than 20 inches of rain a year, they account for nearly half the earth’s land surface.


Read More Here


Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.


04 Mar 2014: Analysis

Soil as Carbon Storehouse:
New Weapon in Climate Fight?

The degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change.

by judith d. schwartz

In the 19th century, as land-hungry pioneers steered their wagon trains westward across the United States, they encountered a vast landscape of towering grasses that nurtured deep, fertile soils.

Today, just three percent of North America’s tallgrass prairie remains. Its disappearance has had a dramatic impact on the landscape and ecology of

The world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their original carbon stock.

the U.S., but a key consequence of that transformation has largely been overlooked: a massive loss of soil carbon into the atmosphere. The importance of soil carbon — how it is leached from the earth and how that process can be reversed — is the subject of intensifying scientific investigation, with important implications for the effort to slow the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2. Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the

polar jet stream

Rattan Lal
Soil in a long-term experiment appears red when depleted of carbon (left) and dark brown when carbon content is high (right).

former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil.

Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought. Such regenerative techniques include planting fields year-round in crops or other cover, and agroforestry that combines crops, trees, and animal husbandry.

Recognition of the vital role played by soil carbon could mark an important if subtle shift in the discussion about global warming, which has been

A look at soil brings a sharper focus on potential carbon sinks.

heavily focused on curbing emissions of fossil fuels. But a look at soil brings a sharper focus on potential carbon sinks. Reducing emissions is crucial, but soil carbon sequestration needs to be part of the picture as well, says Lal. The top priorities, he says, are restoring degraded and eroded lands, as well as avoiding deforestation and the farming of peatlands, which are a major reservoir of carbon and are easily decomposed upon drainage and cultivation.

He adds that bringing carbon back into soils has to be done not only to offset fossil fuels, but also to feed our growing global population. “We cannot feed people if soil is degraded,” he says.

“Supply-side approaches, centered on CO2 sources, amount to reshuffling the Titanic deck chairs if we overlook demand-side solutions: where that carbon can and should go,” says Thomas J. Goreau, a biogeochemist and expert on carbon and nitrogen cycles who now serves as president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance. Goreau says we need to seek opportunities to increase soil carbon in all ecosystems — from tropical forests to pasture to wetlands — by replanting degraded areas, increased mulching of biomass instead of burning, large-scale use of biochar, improved pasture management, effective erosion control, and restoration of mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses.

“CO2 cannot be reduced to safe levels in time to avoid serious long-term impacts unless the other side of atmospheric CO2 balance is included,” Goreau says.

Scientists say that more carbon resides in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined; there are 2,500 billion tons of carbon in soil, compared with 800 billion tons in the atmosphere and 560 billion tons in plant and animal life. And compared to many proposed geoengineering fixes, storing carbon in soil is simple: It’s a matter of returning carbon where it belongs.

Through photosynthesis, a plant draws carbon out of the air to form carbon compounds. What the plant doesn’t need for growth is exuded through the roots to feed soil organisms, whereby the carbon is humified, or rendered stable. Carbon is the main component of soil organic matter and helps give soil its water-retention capacity, its structure, and its fertility. According to Lal, some pools of carbon housed in soil aggregates are so stable that they can last thousands of years. This is in contrast to “active” soil carbon,

‘If we treat soil carbon as a renewable resource, we can change the dynamics,’ says an expert.

which resides in topsoil and is in continual flux between microbial hosts and the atmosphere.

“If we treat soil carbon as a renewable resource, we can change the dynamics,” says Goreau. “When we have erosion, we lose soil, which carries with it organic carbon, into waterways. When soil is exposed, it oxidizes, essentially burning the soil carbon. We can take an alternate trajectory.”


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Steve Cutts Steve Cutts·

Published on Dec 21, 2012

Animation created in Flash and After Effects looking at mans relationship with the natural world.

Music: In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg.!/Steve_Cutts

Copyright © 2012

Left Side Male, Right Side Female: Extremely Strange Creatures

By , Epoch Times | February 23, 2014


This lobster is half female, half male—split right down the middle, as seen by the two-toned coloring. It was caught by a fisherman off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, last year and the photo was posted on Reddit by his nephew.

The chances of catching such a two-toned lobster are 1 in 50 million to 100 million, staff at the Mount Desert Oceanarium said when a similar lobster was caught in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 2006.

It may be rare to catch such a lobster, but this phenomenon is found not only in lobsters. It is also found in butterflies and numerous other organisms.

According to ancient Taoist beliefs, the human body is divided into two genders corresponding to yin and yang. The left side is male, associated with yang chi, and the right side is female, associated with yin chi.

Not all two-toned lobsters are part male and part female (gynandromorphs).


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Mankind  in their journey to  control and  develop as far as  the eye can see have played a  significant  role  in the changes  that  have  taken place in our  environment.  The construction and restructuring  of  forests  and  natural habitats.  The  eradication  of  native wildlife species  in the never  ending  expansion of  commercial food  production and land development.

  These  pursuits have endangered  many  species having been labeled  as  pests in their  eyes.  Some  have  been  eradicated  to the  brink of  extinction.  Others  have  required protection as  endangered.   Others still have had t heir  populations  explode for lack of  natural  predators.  Forcing culls  to  be organized to  keep  their  numbers in  check.

Mankind knew  what they  wanted  to  achieve  However, they  had  no understanding  of  what changes  and  perils  they were manifesting  on the natural balance  of  our world.  One  such  member  of  the  animal  kingdom are  wolves.  Hunted  and  repudiated  as  a dangerous  nuisance.  They  have helped  mankind understand  that they are so much  more  than  that.

                           Joel Sartore/National Geographic     A portrait of the Yellowstone gray wolf.

After  70 years  these  beautiful creatures  were re-introduced  to the  Yellowstone National Park area and the  changes  that  have  taken  place since   then  have been  amazing.  The  wolves have shown their  true  worth as  well as  the  complicated web  of  life  that we  had  not been able to  see in  our  quest to  tame a natural habitat .  They  have  taught  us  that the intricacies of the  natural web of  life  requires a  balance  that  man  should not  tamper with.  We as  human  beings consider  ourselves  superior to the  other  members  of  the  animal  kingdom.  However, we  must  understand  that  we  are  simply a  link in the  chain  of  the  intricate  web  of  life that exists on our  planet.

Providing  balance  where  none  had  been.  Creating  diversity to provide  a balanced habitat  for all  wildlife.  The  wolves  have  proven themselves  to  be the  “Ultimate Eco-Engineers”.

(C)   ~Desert Rose~


World News How wolves can alter the course of rivers

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Published on Feb 20, 2014

When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers. How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers. How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers. How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of rivers How wolves can alter the course of riversWhen wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix titled, How Wolves Change Rivers.When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable trophic cascade occurred


The New York Times

Hunting Habits of Wolves Change Ecological Balance in Yellowstone

Anne Sherwood for The New York Times

CHANGES IN THE WILD Douglas W. Smith using radio tracking equipment, above, to try to find the Leopold Wolf Pack along Blacktail Deer Creek in Yellowstone in September.

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. – Hiking along the small, purling Blacktail Deer Creek, Douglas W. Smith, a wolf biologist, makes his way through a lush curtain of willows.

Forum: Wildlife

Joel Sartore/National Geographic

A portrait of the Yellowstone gray wolf.

Nearly absent for decades, willows have roared back to life in Yellowstone, and the reason, Mr. Smith believes, is that 10 years after wolves were introduced to Yellowstone, the park is full of them, dispersed across 13 packs.

He says the wolves have changed the park’s ecology in many ways; for one, they have scared the elk to high ground and away from browsing on every willow shoot by rivers and streams.

“Wolves have caused a trophic cascade,” he said.

“Wolves are at the top of it all here. They change the conditions for everyone else, including willows.”

The last 10 years in Yellowstone have re-written the book on wolf biology. Wildlife biologists and ecologists are stunned by the changes they have seen.

It is a rare chance to understand in detail how the effects of an “apex predator” ripple through an ecosystem. Much of what has taken place is recounted in the recently released book “Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone,” by Mr. Smith and Gary Ferguson. (Mr. Smith will discuss the effects at 7 tonight in the Linder Theater at the American Museum of Natural History. Admission is $15.)

In 1995, 14 wolves from Canada were brought into the park by truck and sleigh in the dead of winter, held in a cage for 10 weeks and released. Seventeen were added in 1996. Now, about 130 wolves in 13 packs roam the park.

Yellowstone, says Mr. Smith, is full.

Over the next 10 years, elk numbers dropped considerably. One of the world’s largest elk herds, which feeds on rich grasses on the northern range of the park, dropped from 19,000 in 1994 to about 11,000. Wolf reintroduction has been cited as the culprit by hunters, but Mr. Smith says the cause is more complex.

Data recently released after three years of study by the Park Service, the United States Geological Survey and the University of Minnesota found that 53 percent of elk deaths were caused by grizzly bears that eat calves. Just 13 percent were linked to wolves and 11 percent to coyotes. Drought also playing a role. The study is continuing.

Scientists do say that wolf predation has been significant enough to redistribute the elk. That has in turn affected vegetation and a variety of wildlife.

The elk had not seen wolves since the 1920’s when they disappeared from the park. Over the last 10 years, as they have been hunted by wolf packs, they have grown more vigilant.

They move more than they used to, and spend most of their time in places that afford a 360-degree view, said Mr. Smith. They do not spend time in places where they do not feel secure – near a rise or a bluff, places that could conceal wolves.

In those places willow thickets, and cottonwoods have bounced back. Aspen stands are also being rejuvenated. Until recently the only cottonwood trees in the park were 70 to 100 years old. Now large numbers of saplings are sprouting.

William Ripple, a professor of botany at Oregon State University, calls the process the “ecology of fear,” which has allowed the vegetation to thrive as a result of behavioral changes in the newly skittish and peripatetic elk.

Though the changes now are on a fairly small scale, the effects of the wolves will spread, and in 30 years, according to Mr. Smith, Yellowstone will look very different.

Not everyone is convinced. “Wolves have a role to play,” said Robert Crabtree, a canid biologist who has researched wolves and coyotes in the park since the late 1980’s. “But the research has ignored climate change and flooding, which have also had an effect on vegetation. Their work isn’t wrong, but it’s incomplete.”

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Minnesota’s wolves needed for ecological balance

  • Article by: MAUREEN HACKETT
  • Updated: September 8, 2013 – 9:27 PM

A recreational hunt doesn’t follow the DNR’s stated management plans.

The recent article, “Despite wins, Minnesota’s endangered species list up by 180” (Aug. 20, 2013) quotes the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) endangered species coordinator as stating, “We’ve got to learn how to manage species on a larger scale.”

The state’s list of species that have gone extinct and of those that are endangered and threatening to go extinct has grown tremendously.

One of the first steps in the large-scale management referred to by the DNR is to keep in place the vital assets already provided by nature. This is particularly relevant to the Minnesota wolf population.

A Romanian proverb says, “Where wolves roam, forests grow.” Having wolves on our landscapes and ecologically active is vital to maintaining the natural balance for all wildlife.

There is ample science and thinking that supports this management strategy, and innovative new ways to reduce wolf conflicts with livestock, including nonlethal methods (only 2 percent of the Minnesota farms in wolf country have experienced wolf problems with livestock).

As far back as the 1920s and ’30s, University of Wisconsin scientist, ecologist, forester and environmentalist Aldo Leopold established visionary wildlife management theories that rightfully viewed wildlife issues within the greater ecological system of nature.

In 1949, he proposed that a natural predator such as the wolf has a major residual impact on plants; river and stream bank erosion; fish and fowl; water quality; and on other animals. In other words, the wolf is a keystone species.

Leopold’s trophic cascade concept articulated emphatically that killing a predator wolf carries serious implications for the rest of the ecosystem. Later, that concept was endorsed by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

The natural benefits of wolves to our complex landscapes is still not fully understood. What is known is that:

• The presence of wolves helps plants and tree growth by affecting the browsing behavior of deer, especially along stream and river banks.

Read More Here



Murder of Yellowstone Wolves Threatens Area Renaissance

Photographer: Marc Cooke/Wolves of the Rockies via Bloomberg

Two wolves passing through Lamar Valley at Yellowstone National Park. According to Marc Cooke, president of Wolves in… Read More

By Mike Di Paola Sep 2, 2013 11:01 PM CT

The air in Yellowstone National Park is chilly at the crack of dawn, even in August. If you want to see a wolf, you get up early and shiver.

“It’s more difficult right now to spot a wolf,” says Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies. He means both the time of year — wolves are less active in summer — and the recent decline in wolf numbers, which he attributes to “the devastating impact from the needless trapping and hunting season.”

At last count there were 95 wolves in the park, traveling in 11 packs. A few years ago there were almost twice as many. Part of the decline is due to the natural ebb and flow of ecological systems, but hunters can legally shoot wolves when they stray outside the park into Wyoming, Montana or Idaho, even if they’re wearing radio collars.

Just last week, a collar-wearing female wolf that had killed a chicken was shot by a resident of Jardine, Montana.

As tenuous as the population is, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to delist the species, which is currently designated as “endangered” or “threatened” in most of the lower 48 states. The wolf would still be protected in Yellowstone, but would be at the mercy of bloodthirsty types just outside the park when the hunting season opens in September.

After a couple days, I finally catch the briefest glimpse of a pair of black wolves, loping over a rise and out of sight in the park’s stunning Lamar Valley. Though I’m looking through a spotting scope and the wolves are more than a mile off, the scene takes my breath away.

Wolf Renaissance

As an apex predator, wolves are essential to an ecosystem’s health. Soon after reintroduction to Yellowstone in 1995, wolves helped cull the overpopulated elk herds. This led to a rejuvenation of verdant ground cover that the elk had been mowing down, which in turn attracted animals that rely on low foliage for cover and food.

Yellowstone wolves are undoubtedly responsible for a renaissance of songbird and beaver populations and a lot more.

“You could argue that they’ve affected everything through the system,” says wolf biologist Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s longtime wolf project leader. “Wolves have been good for fish, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.”

Wolves are even good for another top predator, the grizzly bear, which feeds on berries that bounced back with the reappearance of wolves.

“We’ve got the most predators, or carnivores, in Yellowstone in the park’s entire history,” says Smith. “Arguably, Yellowstone is as pristine as it’s been in its entire history.”

Read More Here



Wolves At The Door

Can two top predators coexist in the American West?

This is a story about wolves and people

This is a story about wolves and people

It’s a story about what we have in common — we’re social, adaptable and fiercely territorial. It’s also a story about whether we can get along.

It's also a story about whether we can get along

People have been fascinated with wolves for millennia. They show up in our folklore and in our fairy tales. Today, in much of the American West, gray wolves also show up in our politics. I know this because I grew up in Montana, where wolves can be as important and divisive a topic as gun control or health care.

A few decades ago, wolves had been hunted, trapped and poisoned — down to a population of about 50 in the contiguous United States. Then, in the mid-1990s, the federal government decided to bring them back, introducing 66 Canadian gray wolves into Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. They became “the environmental movement poster animal,” says Doug Smith, head of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, a group that monitors and studies wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

See Full Presentation  Here


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Description  :  Boomstronken; foto door Fruggo, juni 2003.

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New Research Shows Tree Roots Regulate CO2, Keep Climate Stable

Climate News Network | February 19, 2014 8:30 am

The argument, put forward by a team from Oxford and Sheffield Universities in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, begins with temperature. Warmer climates mean more vigorous tree growth and more leaf litter, and more organic content in the soil. So the tree’s roots grow more vigorously, said Dr. Christopher Doughty of Oxford and colleagues.

They get into the bedrock, and break up the rock into its constituent minerals. Once that happens, the rock starts to weather, combining with carbon dioxide. This weathering draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and in the process cools the planet down a little. So mountain ecosystems—mountain forests are usually wet and on conspicuous layers of rock—are in effect part of the global thermostat, preventing catastrophic overheating.

The tree is more than just a sink for carbon, it is an agency for chemical weathering that removes carbon from the air and locks it up in carbonate rock.

That mountain weathering and forest growth are part of the climate system has never been in much doubt: the questions have always been about how big a forest’s role might be, and how to calculate its contribution.

Keeping climate stable

U.S. scientists recently studied the rainy slopes of New Zealand’s Southern Alps to begin to put a value on mountain ecosystem processes. Dr. Doughty and his colleagues measured tree roots at varying altitudes in the tropical rain forests of Peru, from the Amazon lowlands to 3,000 meters of altitude in the higher Andes.

They measured the growth to 30 cm below the surface every three months and did so for a period of years. They recorded the thickness of the soil’s organic layer, and they matched their observations with local temperatures, and began to calculate the rate at which tree roots might turn Andean granite into soil.

Then they scaled up the process, and extended it through long periods of time. Their conclusion: that forests served to moderate temperatures in a much hotter world 65 million years ago.

Read More Here

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Starving hives: Pesticides cause bees to collect 57% less pollen, study says

Published time: February 02, 2014 21:15
Edited time: February 04, 2014 09:23

Reuters / Leonhard Foeger

Reuters / Leonhard Foeger

While some scientists hailed the findings, pesticide makers remained unimpressed

In a spin-off of their earlier study, a team of British scientists have revealed how the neurotoxic chemicals contained in agricultural neonicotinoids affect the very basic function of the honeybees – the gathering of pollen, or flower nectar.

“Pollen is the only source of protein that bees have, and it is vital for rearing their young. Collecting it is fiddly, slow work for the bees and intoxicated bees become much worse at it. Without much pollen, nests will inevitably struggle,” explained University of Sussex professor Dave Goulson, who has led the study. His comments were made in a statement released alongside the research.

Goulson’s latest paper called “Field realistic doses of pesticide imidacloprid reduce bumblebee pollen foraging efficiency” was published at the end of January in peer-reviewed journal Ecotoxicology.

The scientists exposed some of the studied bees to low doses of imidacloprid and tracked their movement with the help of electronic tags. Unexposed bees were also tracked, and each insect flying out and returning to a hive was weighed to find out the amount of pollen it gathered.

It turned out that bees exposed to the neonicotinoid brought back pollen from only 40 percent of their trips asopposed to 63 percent of useful trips which their “healthy” counterparts undertook.
Intoxicated bees cut the amount of pollen gathered by nearly a third – overall, the comparative study showed that the hives exposed to the pesticide received 57 percent less pollen.

“Even near-infinitesimal doses of these neurotoxins seem to be enough to mess up the ability of bees to gather food. Given the vital importance of bumblebees as pollinators, this is surely a cause for concern,” Hannah Feltham of the University of Stirling, another member of the research team, stated.

Read More Here

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– Sarah Lazare, staff writer

(Image: Honor the Earth)Native American communities are promising fierce resistance to stop TransCanada from building, and President Barack Obama from permitting, the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands,” declares a joint statement from Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred. “We stand with the Lakota Nation, we stand on the side of protecting sacred water, we stand for Indigenous land-based lifeways which will NOT be corrupted by a hazardous, toxic pipeline.”

Members of seven Lakota nation tribes, as well as indigenous communities in Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, are preparing to take action to stop Keystone XL.

“It will band all Lakota to live together and you can’t cross a living area if it’s occupied,” said Greg Grey Cloud, of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, in an interview with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. “If it does get approved we aim to stop it.”

The indigenous-led ‘Moccasins on the Ground’ program has been laying the groundwork for this resistance for over two years by giving nonviolent direct action trainings to front-line communities.

“We go up to wherever we’ve been invited, usually along pipeline routes,” said Kent Lebsock, director of the Owe Aku International Justice Project, in an interview with Common Dreams. “We have three-day trainings on nonviolent direct action. This includes blockade tactics, and discipline is a big part of the training as well. We did nine of them last summer and fall, all the way from Montana to South Dakota, as well as teach-ins in Colorado and a training camp in Oklahoma.”

“We are working with nations from Canada and British Columbia, as well as with the people where tar sands are located,” Lebsock added.

“As an example of this nonviolent direct action,” explains Lebsock, in March 2012 people at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota held a blockade to stop trucks from transporting parts of the Keystone XL pipeline through the reservation.

In August 2013, members of the Nez Perce tribe blockaded megaloads traveling Idaho’s Highway 12 to the Alberta tar sands fields.

Descendants of the Ponca Tribe and non-native allies held a Trail of Tears Spiritual Camp in Nebraska in November to prevent the construction of the pipeline.

More spiritual camps along the proposed route of the pipeline are promised, although their date and location are not yet being publicly shared.

The promises of joint action follow the U.S. State Department’s public release on Friday of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). This report has been widely criticized as tainted by the close ties between Transcanada and the Environmental Resource Management contractor hired to do the report.

While the oil industry is largely spinning the report as a green-light for the pipeline, green groups emphasize that it contains stern warnings over the massive carbon pollution that would result if the pipeline is built, including the admission that tar sands oil produces approximately 17 percent more carbon than traditional crude.

The release of the FEIS kicked off a 90-day inter-agency review and 30-day public comment period. The pipeline’s opponents say now is a critical time to prevent Obama from approving the pipeline, which is proposed to stretch 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada, across the border to Montana, and down to Cushing, Oklahoma where it would link with other pipelines, as part of a plan to drastically increase Canada’s tar sands production.

The southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline — which begins in Cushing, passes through communities in Oklahoma and East Texas, and arrives at coastal refineries and shipping ports — began operations last month after facing fierce opposition and protest from people in its path.

“Let’s honor the trail blazers from the Keystone XL south fight,” said Idle No More campaigner Clayton Thomas-Muller. “Time for some action, and yes, some of us may get arrested!”


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