ENN Weekly: January 9th - 13th

ENN summarizes the most important and compelling environmental news stories of the week. In the news January 9th - 13th: The wind power debate, grizzly bear hunting, ducks in danger, Brazil's imperiled wetlands, and much more.

The Week's Top Ten Articles

In the news January 9th - 13th: The wind power debate, grizzly bear hunting, ducks in danger, Brazil's imperiled wetlands, and much more.

1. U.S., Australia Say Businesses Will Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions Voluntarily
On Wednesday, a climate conference opened in Sydney, Australia with a promise from industry representatives in attendance that they will adopt a proactive approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Environmentalists remain wary, asserting that a number of the proposals along those lines remain biased on behalf of the coal and oil industries. According to Boston University's Professor Anthony Patt, "It is clear that voluntary agreements to reduce emissions, even when coupled with government subsidies to develop new technologies, accomplish very little."

2. Researchers Say Farming Threatens Brazil Wetlands
The year 2050 looms large for Brazil's expansive and ecologically significant freshwater wetlands, according to a study released this week by Conservation International-Brazil. Native plant life that depends on the Pantanal wetlands could be completely wiped out within 45 years, the report warns. Conservation International's Sandro Menezes summarizes, "It is extremely important to conserve the areas surrounding the Pantanal lowlands because they are the headwaters of the rivers that make up the Pantanal."

3. California Regulators Adopt $2.9 Billion Solar Power Plan
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week stepped up in support of the so-called "California Solar Initiative" that would make that state one of the largest producers of solar power in the world. Howard Wenger of Berkeley-based PowerLight Corp. applauded the move. "This is a phenomenal decision," he said. "The regulatory environment has been the number one uncertainty for the investment community. This long-term program provides the certainty we have been sorely lacking."

4. China Adds Pollution to List of Exports
While California gains a foothold in the solar power industry, China is becoming known as a producer of something far less desirable: pollution. Having dealt sluggishly with the recent, highly-publicized toxic spill that flowed from its waterways into Russia, China's leaders are taking a public-relations hit. According to Renmin University dean Ma Zhong, "At the moment, China's top leaders have not realized how important, in terms of international relations, environmental conflicts can be. They are more concerned about economic and social relationships."


5. U.S. Starts Debate on Allowing Grizzly Bear Hunting
Hunters with ambitions to bag some big game might soon have a new target. A public debate launched early this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated discussion over its intention to life federal protections of the Yellowstone National Park area's grizzlies. Once hunted nearly to extinction, the animals have been classified as threatened for just over 30 years under the Endangered Species Act. Some proponents of grizzly hunting cite protection of livestock, while others are compelled by the sheer thrill of the hunt. "I'd love to shoot one," said Idaho hunter Dick Hadlock.

6. Kenya's Elephants Suffering from Drought, Clash with People over Resources
Another charismatic species facing off against people, elephants in the national parks of Kenya face dire consequences in their search for food and water. Drought conditions have driven elephants outside park borders and into sometimes deadly competition with people for scarce resources. Kenya Wildlife Services is under pressure to manage the problem -- an expensive and difficult proposition. According to the wildlife service spokesperson, Connie Maina, "We are trying to do ground and air patrol to ensure that the problem animals do not cause any havoc and to try to drive the elephants back to the park."

7. Debate Swirls as Wind Power Grows Rapidly
The year 2005 was one of tremendous growth for the wind power industry, as rising oil and natural gas prices made wind an increasingly affordable power option. Environmentalists, however are divided by one drawback of this clean energy source: the danger the windmills pose to birds. Alan Pollom of The Nature Conservancy said, "If we're really going to capture the benefit of green power, it seems ill considered to pursue it in such a manner that you create offsetting detrimental ecological impacts."

8. Climate-Change Fungus is Wiping out Frogs
Long considered the canaries in the coal mine for environmental health, frogs have a newly-discovered foe to contend with, thanks to global warming, scientists contend. Research has shown that rising temperatures support the growth of a fungus that has already proven deadly to two species of amphibian. As the study concludes, "The frogs are sending an alarm call to all concerned about the future of biodiversity and the need to protect the greatest of all open-access resources -- the atmosphere."

9. Warming May Cut Duck Numbers
Ducks, too, suffer the effects of global warming, according to wildlife biologist David E. Naugle. By drying up duck breeding grounds, warming has the potential to have a dramatic impact on duck populations. Warning that the problem will require concerted emissions reduction efforts worldwide, the University of Montana's Naugle suggests that, for starters, hunters should join in an effort to protect the habitat of their favored game. "This is a global problem that's going to require global solutions," he said.

10. NAFTA Panel Finds Mexico Slow to Respond to Illicit Logging on Indian Lands
Geography and lax enforcement has led to trouble in northern Mexico's Tarahumara mountains, where loggers have long indulged in illegal clear-cutting. In some cases, the efforts of anti-logging activists have gotten them killed, while others have faced threat and imprisonment. The lack of effective enforcement over the course of many years has exhausted the energy of many people formerly active in protecting the land. "...People are tired, many of them don't even want to file complaints any more," said activist Maria Teresa Guerrero.

Guest Commentary: Fish Need Time to Recover
By Dr. David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation

Recently, I wrote about a sea change I feel I've seen in our understanding of humanity's relationship to the environment. I said I thought society might have turned a corner. That we're beginning to understand how critical our relationship is to the natural world because we are a part of that world and very much dependent on its resources.

Perhaps I spoke too soon.

Just before Christmas, the European Union Fisheries Council caved in to pressure to continue to allow a sizeable cod fishery in Europe's North Atlantic. The fisheries ministers made their decision in spite of a recommendation from scientists with the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas to ban all cod fishing in the North Sea so stocks can recover.

Scientists say cod stocks are so low only a complete ban will save them. Reduced fishing quotas have not been effective and fish numbers are at levels less than one third the size necessary to keep the species healthy and provide a small buffer against others pressures, such as warming ocean waters. It was the fourth year in a row that scientists had recommended a ban. And the forth year in a row they were ignored.

Commercial fishing is now so efficient that it may only take a few years of exploiting a particular stock for levels to plummet. According to a new study published in the journal Nature, for example, five species of deepwater fish found in Canadian waters are now critically endangered, even though they were not even fished until the late 1970s. In fact, it took only between five and 15 years for the fish to lose up to 98 per cent of their initial abundance.

The deepwater fish studied, including the roundnose grenadier, the blue hake, the spiny eel and the spinytail skate are long lived, but slow to reproduce. As a result, they are especially vulnerable to overfishing. Some, like the spinytail skate, have never even been targeted by a commercial fishery. Rather, they were taken as bycatch while fishermen sought other species. And yet they were still decimated.

Clearly there is a tremendous gap between the way scientists say fisheries should be managed and how fisheries are actually being managed. Yet studies have shown that good management pays off in the long term. One study, reported last week in the journal Science, revealed marine reserves in the Caribbean (areas where fishing is prohibited) were actually more successful than anticipated at allowing ecosystems to recover. Fish stocks can indeed rebound if poor practices are caught in time and stocks are protected with sound management.

Coastal communities that rely on fishing are understandably concerned about reduced fishing quotas and fishing bans. But if the choice is between a few more years of poor fishing seasons leading to the total loss of the resource, or a temporary ban that gives stocks time to recover, the choice should be fairly clear.

Canada made the wrong choice with our cod stocks. Once plentiful, these fish provided Canadians with a vital source of protein and thousands of jobs. Today, stocks are decimated and show no signs of recovery, in spite of a moratorium on fishing cod since 1992.

Canada failed to listen to warnings that the cod were in trouble. Instead, we put on our blinkers, continued to fish, and hoped for the best. But wishful thinking does not make for good fisheries management. We must hope our European friends learn that lesson before it is too late.

Join the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

ENN welcomes a wide range of perspectives in its Commentary Series. To find out more or to submit a commentary for consideration please contact ENN's editor, Carrie Schluter: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo: A Northern Spotted Owl. Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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