Bear attacks girl in Smokies backcountry campground; responding rangers shoot and kill aggressive bearThomas FraserFriday, 18 June 2021
Girl in stable condition following attack; family followed all bear-safety protocols.
A bear attacked and injured a teenage girl as she slept in a hammock in a backcountry campground in the Cosby area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The 16-year-old Middle Tennessee girl is in stable condition with multiple injuries following the attack at 12:30 a.m. Friday at backcountry site No. 29, according to a National Park Service release.
Her family was able to drive off the bear after the attack and contacted park emergency services; the girl was evacuated from the park by a Tennessee Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to UT Medical Center at about 9 a.m. Friday. Hellbender Press has not pursued identification of the girl because she is a minor.
As responding rangers were at the campsite providing medical care in the wee hours of the morning, two bears approached and persisted in efforts to enter the campsite despite attempts to scare the bears away. Family members identified a particularly aggressive large, male bear as the one who attacked the girl, and rangers shot and killed the animal.
Forensic tests detected human blood on the dead bear.
Park officials said the campsite, along the Maddron Bald Trail on Otter Creek, will remain closed indefinitely.
The party of five was on a two-day camping trip, and the hammock was hanging near the rest of the family.
The group stored their food and packs on cables, per strict national park bear rules, according to the park service.
“While serious incidents with bears are rare, we remind visitors to remain vigilant while in the backcountry and to follow all precautions while hiking in bear country,” said Great Smoky Mountains Superintendent Cassius Cash in a press release. “The safety of visitors is our No. 1 priority.”Read 153 times
Tennessee Aquarium and partners are stocking another East Tennessee mountain stream with imperiled Southern Appalachian brook troutCasey PhillipsThursday, 17 June 2021
In a virtuous cycle of life, native brookies return to Tellico River watershed in southeastern Cherokee National Forest.
(The writer produced this original piece for the Tennessee Aquarium).
Navigating through a thicket of branches while clambering across slick boulders in a rushing mountain stream is a difficult task in the best of times. Doing so while attempting to balance 40-pound buckets of water filled with imperiled fish takes the challenge to an entirely new level.
A team of scientists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute drove to one of the lush, high-elevation streams in the southern reaches of the Cherokee National Forest. During a brief lull between rainstorms, they were joined by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency representatives and the U.S. Forest Service to celebrate a homecoming for 250 long-lost residents of this gorgeous landscape: juvenile Southern Appalachian brook trout.
Carefully navigating through a snarl of streamside vegetation, participants paused to release five or six trout at a time into pools with overhangs where the young fish could hide from predators and ambush floating insects that washed into the stream. The going was tough, but those involved in the effort to restock almost a kilometer of this pristine creek say the challenge was worth the reward of seeing Tennessee's only native trout back in its ancestral waters.
"The days when we release fish, especially brook trout, are really special moments," said Tennessee Aquarium Aquatic Conservation Biologist Dr. Bernie Kuhajda. "We're with these fish all the way from when we first bring adults into the Conservation Institute to spawn, to watching the eggs start to develop, to the juveniles that are just a few inches long and ready to release here.
"It really is knowing that we get to help restore trout to the full circle of life. Days like today are the culmination of all that work to put trout back into the Southeastern streams where they belong."
Like many Appalachian streams, this tributary of the North River in the Tellico River watershed hasn't hosted the brook trout for almost a century. Clearcutting of forests in the early 1900s made waters in the region too warm. Combined with the introduction of brown and rainbow trout, "brookies" were effectively lost from more than 75 percent of the waterways where they once thrived.Read 133 times More...
Bald eagles fly with the Tennessee angels who helped save them from extinction. We must keep them on the wing.Stephen Lyn BalesMonday, 14 June 2021
Is the bald eagle's remarkable comeback fading down the stretch?
(Part one in a series)
It was a damp morning in early spring 2005 when Paul James and I met Linda Claussen at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge along the French Broad River in east Knox County. Heavy rains had fallen through the night, but the clouds were beginning to break. As we walked down Kelly Lane toward the river the vocalized yearnings of thousands of chorus frogs could be heard singing from the soppy floodplain along the river. Spring was definitely here.
The refuge itself was the brainchild of Linda’s late husband, Pete. In the late 1990s, he formed the Seven Islands Foundation, a privately owned land conservancy, and began setting aside property to be protected and restored to a variety of natural habitats. Most of the acreage had recently been fescue pasture maintained for grazing livestock and hay production.
Seven Islands State Birding Park is now the refuge the Claussens imagined 20 years ago. What typically strikes the casual visitor is the overall lay of the land because the narrow roadway opens up to a dramatic sylvan panorama with the Great Smokies off in the distance. It’s an excellent place to view the valley, but in early 2005, we were there for more than just a tour of the idyllic property, Linda was enthused for another reason. Of course, being enthused was an everyday occurrence for her; but on this day, she had something truly remarkable to show us.
Perhaps the wide river or the pastoral remoteness of the location itself attracted the refuge’s newest residents, for we had only walked about 10 minutes down the paved rural roadway when I spotted the first white head. We were at least 300 yards away, but its form was unmistakable. An adult bald eagle was perched on a bare sycamore branch 40 or 50 feet above the swirling water. It was looking upstream over the rich bottom land, surveying its territory. The regal raptor was not alone, for behind it, high in another sycamore, was a classic stick nest as big as a household stove, except conical, like a funnel. A second eagle hunkered down in the nest, incubating.
Much to my companions’ surprise, I whooped with the zeal of an 8-year-old. As the crow flies, Seven Islands is slightly less than 12 miles northeast of my Chapman Ridge home, practically my backyard. The nascent refuge had proven the wisdom to the “Field of Dreams” adage: “If you build it, they will come.”Read 149 times More...
Loghaven in South Knoxville melds natural and human habitats to serve regional artistsTracy Haun OwensWednesday, 09 June 2021
Loghaven: An award-winning natural and built environment in South Knoxville intends to get minds moving
Five years after he first saw the property that would become Loghaven Artist Residency, architect Brandon Pace was in one of the renovated cabins, listening to a performance by now-late composer Harold Budd, in town to perform at the 2019 Big Ears music festival.
The experience brought home the full potential of a truly special place.
“That was wonderful,” Pace said of that moment. “You could see it being a place for a composer. You saw this could be something. You could see how our city comes alive in events like this.”
This spring, Knoxville-based Sanders Pace Architecture was awarded a 20121 AIA Architecture Award for the design and architectural rehabilitation work at the 90-acre Loghaven property, which is owned and managed by the Aslan Foundation.
“The role they play in supporting good design in our community cannot be overstated,” Pace said of the Aslan Foundation.
Team member Michael Davis was awarded the 2021 AIA Young Architects Award.
On June 1, Loghaven Artist Residency opened up the application process for its second class of in-person residents, artists who work in visual, performing, literary, and interdisciplinary artistic fields.
Loghaven is a uniquely quirky part of Knoxville history. It began as a collection of log cabins in a heavily wooded area along Candora Road in South Knoxville.
The cabins were built as rental properties by single mom and entrepreneur Myssie Thompson in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. Her cabins, as well as one built by neighbor John Hightower, are the heart of the property.
Generations of UTK students and professors, young professionals, and others rented the alluring cabins. But by the late 1990s, the area was sinking into disrepair, with kudzu, privet, and other invasive plants growing up around the cabins and previously cleared areas.Read 379 times More...
Smokies black bear rehab facility celebrates 25 years and 300 rescuesCailyn DomecqFriday, 04 June 2021
Townsend bear rehab center takes in injured and orphaned black bears for eventual return to the wild.
This story was originally published by Appalachian Voices.
Being a decent neighbor isn’t something that should stop with the humans next door — it also includes backyard animal visitors. Birds, squirrels, deer … and bears!
Appalachian Bear Rescue, a black bear care facility located in Townsend, Tennessee, is dedicated to rehabilitating young bears up to age 2 that need extra care and preparation to reacclimate to their natural environment as healthy, independent members of the wildlife community.
The rescue will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, and has rehabilitated more than 300 bears from eight different states, including as far as Arkansas.
“While we are based in Tennessee, we would be willing to, and have worked with, wildlife agencies from any state,” says Victoria Reibel, one of the black bear curators at Appalachian Bear Rescue. “We are a bit unique in that aspect.”
The facility aims to re-create a nurturing environment for the bears by offering a nursery, two recovery centers and four half-acre natural outdoor enclosures to explore. The specific area where the bears begin depends upon their age and condition. Newborns start off in the cub nursery and are bottle-fed around the clock, while older bears may be able to go directly out into the spacious outdoor enclosures. These are crafted to closely resemble a forest, with the addition of enrichments such as platforms and hammocks for added interaction. These wild-simulated enclosures are the last step before the bear can be confidently released back into the wild, always near the same area of original rescue.Read 189 times More...
City to add new sidewalks and other measures to promote walkability on South Knoxville waterfrontThomas FraserWednesday, 24 March 2021
Walk it out: Knoxville plans $10m in streetscape, transportation improvements along Tennessee River in SoKno
The city announced March 24 it will soon embark on part of an ultimately $10 million project to improve walkability and pedestrian safety in the burgeoning South Knoxville waterfront community.
The improvements aim to better connect Sevier Avenue with the waterfront, and include sidewalk construction on main neighborhood streets, better lighting and curb and drainage work near Suttree Landing Park, according to a release from the city. It's part of a long-term plan to install and improve sidewalks and bike lanes and generally make the area less dependent on automobiles. Aesthetic improvements such as the relocation of overhead utilities are also planned.
“Connectivity and walkability on and near the South Waterfront are important,” said city Deputy Chief of Economic and Community Development Rebekah Jane Justice. “Here on Waterfront Drive, a privately-developed apartment community is planned, but these public sidewalks and other upgrades will benefit the entire community. It’s a step in the right direction toward making it easier for pedestrians to get between Suttree Landing Park and Sevier Avenue,” Justice said in a press release.
"In the coming few years, the city will be investing $10 million in a streetscape overhaul of Sevier Avenue – relocating unsightly overhead utility lines and adding bike lanes, improved sidewalks, street lighting, on-street parking and a new roundabout at the Sevier Avenue, Island Home Avenue and Foggy Bottom Street intersection," according to the release.
Here's the rest of the announcement from the city:
"By the end of the year, new sidewalks will be constructed on sections of Waterfront Drive, Langford Avenue, Dixie Street and Empire Street – a $733,263 project that also will add new streetlights and drainage, curb and utility upgrades in the area near Suttree Landing Park on the South Waterfront.
Knoxville City Council last evening on March 23 authorized Mayor Indya Kincannon’s administration to execute an agreement with Design and Construction Services Inc., the company submitting the lowest, most responsive bid to do the Waterfront Drive Roadway Improvements Project.
Work on Claude and Barber streets in the vicinity will be undertaken as funding becomes available.
This type of project, Justice said, is a good example of the City investing strategically to advance one of Mayor Indya Kincannon’s core priorities – building healthy and connected neighborhoods.
Oneof those planned private investments is South Banks, an apartment community that Dominion Group hopes to construct by next year off Waterfront Drive.
Connecting the Sevier Avenue commercial corridor with Suttree Landing Park by improving public infrastructure between the two points is a short-term city objective. It’s the first of much more to come."Read 311 times
Being fire: Volunteers help preserve a classic East Tennessee cedar barrenThomas FraserWednesday, 17 March 2021
Volunteers play the part of fire to maintain the native grasses and wildflowers at an Oak Ridge cedar barren
OAK RIDGE — It’s called a barren, but it’s not barren at all. It’s actually a natural Tennessee prairie, full of intricate, interlocking natural parts, from rocks and soil to plants and insects and animals.
There’s lots of life in these small remaining unique collections of grasses and conifers that are typically known, semi-colloquially, as cedar barrens.
Many of these “barrens” have been buried beneath illegal dumping or asphalt, but remnants they are still tucked away here and there, including a small barren in Oak Ridge owned by the city and recognized by the state as a small natural area.
The seven-acre cluster of cedars, large hardwoods and small open patches of native grasses such as long stem, blue stem and Indian grass, used to be much larger. A large portion of the original barren now lies beneath medical facilities, commercial development and a community college campus in the area of Fairbanks Road and Briarcliff Avenue.
These unique ecosystems need fire to thrive, and modern firefighting practices, road building and development have stopped this semi-regular natural cleanse of woody plants, shrubs and natural and exotic invasives, which encroach upon and can ultimately overcome the natural plants in these vanishingly rare grasslands.
In many instances, humans have replaced fire to ensure these special places don’t disappear.
That’s why three dozen people showed up on a chilly but sunny Saturday in early March to strip shrubs, saplings and even larger trees from the small but classic barren adjacent to Jefferson Middle School. The goal: Help its small grassland expand and avoid terminal encroachment from incompatible vegetation.
Cedars take well to the shallow, rocky soil that is characteristic of these communities, but the most important features of these vanishing places are native prairie grasses and accompanying rare plants and wildflowers and their associated insect and animal species.
“We are doing what nature used to do with the occasional wildfire,” said Tim Bigelow, a board member of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, which organizes the barren weed wrangles several times a year.
Natural and intentional low-intensity ground fires historically nurtured such landscapes, eliminating woody plants and ensuring there was enough open space and sunlight for the associated grasses and flowers to thrive in a prairie environment.
And yes, there are prairies in Tennessee. Historically, most of these barrens were on or near the Cumberland Plateau or along the KentuckyRead 428 times More...
Park service introduces permit system to protect Whiteoak Sink wildflowersThomas FraserTuesday, 09 March 2021
Park managers hope new rule will limit trampling of the flowers people flock to photograph. Meanwhile, there's sad news about the sink's resident bats.
Large groups of spring visitors to the geologically and ecologically unique Whiteoak Sink area near Cades Cove will have to obtain permits in an ongoing effort to prevent damage to the sink’s plant and animal habitats.
The sink is home to vivid wildflower displays in the spring, and the 5,000 people who come to see the annual spectacle stray off trails and destroy or damage some plant species.
“The intent of the trial reservation system is to better protect sensitive wildflower species that can be damaged when large groups crowd around plants off-trail to take photos or closely view blooms,” according to a release from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Whiteoak Sink is off the Schoolhouse Gap Trail between Townsend and Cades Cove.
“This trial project will allow managers to determine if better coordinating group access can reduce trampling and soil compaction around sensitive plant populations.”Read 334 times More...
The coal plant next door: The sad and long legacy of coal ash in GeorgiaProPublicaMonday, 22 March 2021
This story from ProPublica is shared via Hellbender Press under a Creative Commons license. Click here for the entire ProPublica story, including illustrations and photos.
By Max Blau for Georgia Health News
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
Series: Sunken Costs
Coal Ash in Georgia
Mark Berry raised his right hand, pledging to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The bespectacled mechanical engineer took his seat inside the cherry-wood witness stand. He pulled his microphone close to his yellow bow tie and glanced left toward five of Georgia’s most influential elected officials. As one of Georgia Power’s top environmental lobbyists, Berry had a clear mission on that rainy day in April 2019: Convince those five energy regulators that the company’s customers should foot the bill for one of the most expensive toxic waste cleanup efforts in state history.
When Berry became Georgia Power’s vice president of environmental affairs in 2015, he inherited responsibility for a dark corporate legacy dating back to before he was born. For many decades, power companies had burnt billions of tons of coal, dumping the leftover ash — loaded with toxic contaminants — into human-made “ponds” larger than many lakes. But after a pair of coal-ash pond disasters in Tennessee and North Carolina exposed the environmental and health risks of those largely unregulated dumps, the Obama administration required power companies to stop using the aging disposal sites.
Berry had spent nearly two decades climbing the ranks of Southern Company, America’s second-largest energy provider and the owner of Georgia Power. By the time he was under oath that day, company execs had vowed to store newly burnt coal ash in landfills designed for safely disposing of such waste. But an unprecedented challenge remained: Figuring out what to do with 90 million tons of coal ash — enough to fill more than 50 Major League Baseball stadiums to the brim — that had accumulated over the better part of a century in ash ponds that were now leaking.
Georgia Power would have to shut down roughly 30 ponds from the Appalachian foothills to the wetlands near the Georgia coast. After draining all the ponds, the company would have two options for disposing of the highly contaminated dry ash left behind: It could either move the ash into a landfill fitted with a protective liner, or pack the dry ash into a smaller footprint and place a cover on top — leaving a gaping hole in the ground that, in some places, would be the larger than Disneyland. The former would cost more but vastly reduce the possibility of toxic leakage; the latter lowered expenses but would perpetually risk contaminating drinking water in neighboring communities.
As scientists had grown more aware of the threat posed by coal ash, Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina had forced utilities to move ash into lined landfills. But Georgia was something of an outlier. The state historically was known as a coal ash capital, a place where lawmakers touted their pro-business bona fides by denouncing regulations, and Georgia Power had a track record of delaying or blocking efforts to regulate pollution. The company was lobbying hard for the cheaper option.
Of course, the $7.3 billion price tag wasn’t all that cheap. Sitting on the Georgia Public Service Commission’s witness stand, Berry and his top deputy spent hours arguing that the whopping costs of cleaning up Georgia Power’s coal-ash ponds should be passed along to its customers. If Berry could persuade the regulators that the costs were both “reasonable” and “prudent,” the company could tack a monthly fee onto the bills of 2.2 million residential customers for decades to come, which would work out to each customer footing $3,300 of the bill to clean up the company’s mess. If he failed, the commissioners could effectively force Georgia Power to eat those costs — a major blow to investors in a publicly traded company that has annual operating revenues of over $8 billion.
During Berry’s testimony, PSC commissioner Tim Echols said he has concerns about putting ratepayers on the hook for the costs of cleaning up the ash ponds — and whether Georgia Power is spending more than it has to. “This is enormously expensive,” he said.
Berry didn’t mention that the cleanup costs could increase by billions of dollars if Georgia’s environmental officials adopted the safer standards used by neighboring states. Anticipating Echols’ next question, Berry said that Georgia Power’s $7.3 billion plan was the “most cost-effective way” to comply with coal-ash regulations.
“If we were to do something less,” Berry added, state environmental officials “would force us to go back and redo what we did not do right the first time.”
Had those five energy regulators swiveling in their chairs asked more pointed questions about Georgia Power’s waste-disposal practices, Berry would have been pressured to tell a long-hidden story about ash and avarice. In the second half of the 20th century, Georgia Power had saved money by building some of America’s largest coal-ash ponds without a protective liner underneath, despite knowing some of the risks of contaminating residents’ drinking water. It had also sought to do as little as possible to protect drinking water that’s now believed to be tainted by coal-ash toxins.
A yearlong investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica has revealed that Georgia Power and its parent company have spent millions of dollars on lobbying tactics to dodge billions in environmental costs. Thousands of pages of previously unpublished documents obtained by the news organizations shed new light on how Georgia Power leveraged political tensions to reduce a massive financial liability that could decimate its bottom line — and how it pushed disinformation to distance itself from patterns of sickness among people who lived near its coal-ash ponds.Read 582 times More...
The days the Earth stood still (Part 1): Covid cleared the air in the lonely SmokiesThomas FraserSaturday, 20 March 2021
The lack of regional and local vehicle traffic during the pandemic greatly reduced measurable pollution in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is your Hellbender weekend read, and the first in an occasional Hellbender Press series about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the natural world
Great Smoky Mountains National Park shut down for six weeks in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Recorded emissions reductions during that period in part illustrate the role motor vehicles play in the park's vexing air-quality issues. The full cascade of effects from the pollution reductions are still being studied.
Hellbender Press interviewed park air quality specialist Jim Renfro about the marked reduction of carbon dioxide and other pollutants documented during the park closure during the pandemic, and the special scientific opportunities it presents. He responded to the following questions via email.
Hellbender Press: You cited “several hundred tons" in pollutant reductions during an interview with WBIR of Knoxville (in 2020). What types of air pollutants does this figure include?
Answer: Carbon dioxide (CO2) would be most of the tons reduced from the lack of motor vehicles in the park during the park shutdown because of the pandemic. Carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter are other emissions that were lower, but to a much lesser extent.
HP: During what time frame?
A: It was based on when the primary park roads were closed, for about a six-week period from March 24 through May 9 (2020)
HP: Was this based on data collected at the Look Rock air-quality monitoring station or monitoring sites throughout the park?
A: No, it was estimated reductions in air emissions (tons) from using the park's emissions inventory for criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gases coupled with the reduction in park visitation data for the period of the park shutdown.
HP: Was this a result of reduced auto travel in the park?
HP: A lot of emissions, of course, come from outside of the park. Was the improvement in air quality also a function of reduced pollutants coming from outside the park?
A: The documented reduction was with emissions, not air quality. Air quality analysis is still under way to look at changes in air pollutants.
HP: What do you think the primary reasons for the air quality improvements were?
A: If there were reductions in air pollutants (and that is still being analyzed by EPA and NPS Air Resources Division), it was due primarily to the reduction in motor vehicle emissions in and near the park (and regionally).
HP: Did you purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic’s effect on air quality, or was this an “accidental” discovery?
A: We did not purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic's effect on air quality. Monitoring efforts continued during the pandemic and provided a unique and unexpected opportunity to characterize the differences in air emissions (from park closures and limited motor vehicle emissions) and air pollutants (which will take longer to look at laboratory analysis after quality assured analysis).Read 503 times More...
KUB commits to solar power – and a controversial long-term relationship with TVATracy Haun OwensMonday, 22 February 2021
Last year, Knoxville Utilities Board committed to supplying 20 percent of its electricity through solar generation by 2023, through Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Invest program. By 2023, KUB will provide 502 megawatts annually of new-to-the-grid solar power to its customers. This represents the equivalent of enough energy to power 83,000 homes. The $1.63 million cost will be paid by a credit provided by TVA as part of its 20-year partnership agreement with KUB.
The announcement was celebrated by solar energy advocates, including the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, but some environmental watchdogs maintain there are issues with the contracts that local power companies had to enter into with TVA to participate in Green Invest.
For the past few years, TVA sought 20-year rolling contracts with local power companies. KUB’s previous contract with TVA was for five years. In August 2019, TVA presented the Knoxville Utilities Board with a 20-year contract that would provide a credit of 3.1 percent on wholesale base rates and flexibility to allow up to 5 percent of KUB power to come from local sources.
Stephen Smith, who holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Tennessee, has served as the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) since 1993. Founded in 1985, SACE promotes responsible energy choices in the Southeast.
(Smith is on the board of directors of the Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press is an independent project of FGS).
“Any time solar is being built, that’s a positive thing,” Smith said. But, he added, “It’s important to put it into context. What has [KUB] given up by entering into what we consider a Draconian contract?”Read 469 times More...
Zoo researchers raising hell(benders) in ChattanoogaRay ZimmermanThursday, 11 March 2021
New hellbender exhibit at Chattanooga Zoo will serve as a hub for cooperative research
Thanks to grants from two generous organizations, some oft-elusive hellbenders have a new home at the Chattanooga Zoo. The Hiwassee Education and Research Facility is nearly complete, and it features hellbender exhibits and a classroom. The exhibit includes juvenile hellbenders hatched from eggs collected from the Duck River in central Tennessee in 2015.
The zoo is also fabricating a stream environment exhibit that will house nine larger sub-adult hellbenders, each about 10 years old and 14.5 inches long. Visitors can observe hellbenders feeding in the completed exhibit, but it will be open only during limited hours. After the project's completion, the zoo plans to partner with researchers who hope to learn more about hellbenders.
"The Chattanooga Zoo is thrilled at the introduction of its new Hiwassee Hellbender Research Facility," zoo officials said in a statement to Hellbender Press.
“We believe that this new facility will open rare opportunities for guests to be educated on this otherwise elusive native species, and that the project would lead to important strides made in hellbender research.
“From all of this, our hope is for more conservation efforts made in our local waterways, also known as the eastern hellbender’s home.”Read 678 times More...
America's newest national park is wild and wonderful — and nearbyRick VaughanSunday, 21 February 2021
New River Gorge National Park preserves paddling and climbing paradise
When you think of national parks within a day’s drive of East Tennessee, what comes to mind? Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of course. Or perhaps Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, or Virginia’s Shenandoah. You have a new option.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, created by Congress Dec. 27, 2020, by way of a pandemic relief bill, is America’s 63rd and newest national park. Located in southern West Virginia, the 72,186-acre park and preserve protects land along both sides of a 53-mile stretch of the New River, which is famous for its world-class whitewater. It’s walls rise up to 1,400 feet, attracting rock climbers from across the country.
The New River Gorge, known locally as “The New,” currently welcomes about 1.4 million visitors a year. It’s within a day's drive of 40 percent of the U.S. population, and is expecting an initial 20 percent increase in visitation this year because it is now a national park with national attention.
Local merchants and business owners are already touting the economic benefits, including new jobs in in-store retail and dining, two industries decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We're super excited about it," Cathedral Cafe manager Cassidy Bays said. She said the cafe, just minutes from the park, plans to increase staff and extend hours. "We're even building an outdoor patio to increase dining space," Bays said.
And this is not your grandfather’s West Virginia: Locavores can find locally sourced food and lean into a vegan juice bar. Several community-supported agriculture (CSA) and co-op farms are a main source of the cafe menu. "We actually cater to locavores. We are a farm-to-table restaurant" Bays said.Read 383 times More...
Help and hope for hellbenders ... and humansRob HunterMonday, 25 January 2021
Hellbenders get help in face of new challenges, increasing threats
Snot otter. Mud devil. Lasagna lizard. Allegheny alligator. For a creature with so many colorful nicknames, the hellbender is unfamiliar to many people, including millions of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Julianne Geleynse wants to change that. The resource education ranger is tasked with teaching the public about the natural wonders the park protects within its borders in hopes of mitigating damage to natural resources caused by the millions of visitors, young and old, who enter the park each year.
With a visitor-to-ranger ratio of around 170,000 to 1, communicating with visitors is an ongoing challenge that requires unique solutions. Feeding wildlife and littering are perennial problems, but sometimes new issues emerge. Such was the case in 2017 – and again in 2020.
In 2017, researchers in the park were alarmed to find that hellbender numbers in traditionally healthy populations had dropped. An entire generation of subadult hellbenders seemed to be missing. The most glaring sign of the problem was the presence of dead hellbenders where visitors had moved and stacked rocks in park streams. Moving rocks to create pools, dams and artfully stacked cairns may seem harmless enough when one person partakes. But when hundreds of visitors concentrate in a few miles of stream every day for months on end, the destructive impact is significant. Viral photos of especially impressive cairns can spread on social media and inspire an army of imitators.
Why does moving rocks harm hellbenders? These giant salamanders spend most of their lives wedged beneath stones on the stream bottom. They live, hunt and breed beneath these rocks. In late summer, when temperatures still swelter and visitors indulge in their last dips of the season in park waterways, hellbenders are especially vulnerable as they begin to deposit fragile strings of eggs beneath select slabs. Simply lifting such a rock nest can cause the eggs to be swept downstream and the entire brood lost. As the researchers observed in 2017, moving and stacking stones can even directly crush the bodies of adult hellbenders.Read 979 times More...
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has a blueprint to help multiple utilities swear off fossil fuelsMaggie ShoberTuesday, 15 June 2021
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy offers detailed climate action items for fossil-based utilities
A new SACE report shows not only that is it possible for the four largest utilities in the Southeast to achieve 100 percent clean electricity, but there are several pathways to get there. A variety of different energy technologies and programs can be deployed to reach this goal.
The key takeaway is that we need to start now.
A clean electricity standard is a policy that requires utilities to use clean energy resources to generate a minimum portion of all energy by a certain date. Since the first renewable standard was passed in Iowa in 1983 states and utilities across the U.S. have a lot of experience with this kind of policy.
As part of federal climate action, the Biden administration and several members of Congress have proposed different versions of a Clean Electricity Standard (CES) that achieves 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. SACE has called for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to lead the way by getting to 100 percent clean electricity by 2030.
To help us understand what 100 percent clean electricity would look like here in the Southeast, SACE staff developed pathways to meet a CES policy for our region’s four largest utility companies: TVA, Southern Company, NextEra (which owns Florida Power & Light and Gulf Power), and Duke Energy.
On Wednesday, June 16, and Thursday, June 17, SACE's policy staff will host webinars focusing on pathways to 100 percent clean electricity for each of the utilities examined in the report: Duke Energy, NextEra, TVA, and Southern Company, including:
-What a federal Clean Electricity Standard is and how it could be key to kickstarting aggressive decarbonization;
-Multiple pathways with a different power generation mix for each utility to reach net-zero carbon emissions;
-How distributed resources like rooftop solar and energy efficiency are key to decarbonizing; and
-Descriptions of the method used to develop and test each pathway to clean electricity.
Register for one or more of the following webinars Wednesday, June 16, and Thursday, June 17:
- Duke Energy: Wednesday, June 16, 11 AM - 12 PM ET
- NextEra: Wednesday, June 16, 3 PM - 4 PM ET
- Tennessee Valley Authority: Thursday, June 17, 11 AM - 12 PM ET
- Southern Company: Thursday, June 17, 3 PM - 4 PM ET
The primary pathway is focused on distributed energy resources (DERs). We found that with significant and sustained investments in DERs, like energy efficiency and rooftop solar, these utilities can achieve a customer-oriented pathway to clean electricity. In fact, these two resources, energy efficiency and rooftop solar, could meet approximately one-third of all electricity needs for these utilities by 2035. In addition to these distributed resources, these successful pathways will also include wind power, large-scale solar, and energy storage.
We found that when utilities have the ability to share resources to meet peak needs and reserve margins, fewer resources are needed overall. In most parts of the country, utilities already have the ability to do this through competitive electricity markets, but not in the Southeast. Having one such market that spans across the Southeast would help the region as a whole achieve 100 percent clean electricity.
Our analysis only looked at existing technologies. While it is good to know that today’s technologies can play a critical role in the pathway to 100 percent clean electricity, and so we must ramp up these technologies immediately, it is also true that investments in technology innovation are important to make it easier to get there. We still need to invest in research and development that can lead to improvements of existing clean electricity technologies and commercialization of new clean electricity technologies. This should not be a question of either deployment or research, both are needed.Read 56 times
Help tip the scales toward environmental justice for all: Here's howAppalachian VoicesMonday, 10 May 2021
Make your voice heard for environmental justice
The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council is seeking public input on a series of recommendations to the Biden Administration to address environmental justice issues across the United States. Air and water pollution caused by coal mining, toxic coal ash spills, and natural gas pipelines are a few examples of such problems in our region. These issues often impact low-income people and people of color the most, and there is a strong need for communities impacted by fossil fuels to build vibrant, diversified economies.
This is a chance for you to communicate your concerns about how these environmental issues impact disadvantaged communities while important policy decisions are under development!
The council will meet on May 13 to discuss:
Environmental justice policy recommendations to Congress and the Biden Administration;
A new Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, which will help identify disadvantaged communities and target federal funding;
Updates to a Clinton-era Executive Order (EO 12898) which directed federal agencies to address environmental justice issues in Black and Brown communities and among low-income populations.
Register to attend the meeting or submit your comment today!
Public comments will help to inform the future work of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and they will be incorporated into the record for federal agencies’ consideration.Read 174 times
Clean air activists praise TVA’s coal decision; warn it’s not enough to meet climate goalsThomas FraserFriday, 07 May 2021
SACE: TVA must also wean itself off natural gas and nuclear reliance
As previously reported by Hellbender Press, Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down its five remaining coal plants by 2050 and pursue a carbon-neutral future.
TVA board members spoke favorably of the decision at its regular meeting on Thursday.
"TVA CEO Jeff Lyash shared a vision of how TVA will continue to support the Valley for years to come with a commitment to sustainability. The board also endorsed a strategic focus on decarbonization and a commitment to providing a reliable, low-cost energy supply as TVA moves into the future," according to a statement released Thursday by TVA.
"TVA leadership issued a Strategic Intent and Guiding Principles document to provide direction for developing business strategies that provide reliable, resilient, low-cost and clean energy to the region. View the Executive Summary of the document.
"TVA’s new Carbon Report outlines TVA’s commitment and path to reduce carbon in the coming years without compromising the reliability and low rates the Valley has come to expect. The report outlines TVA’s leadership today in carbon reduction, our plan to achieve 70 percent reduction by 2030, our path to 80 percent reduction by 2035 and our aspiration to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050."
Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy generally lauded TVA’s sustainability mission, but released the following detailed response Thursday afternoon:
"The agency’s intentions fall far short of the Biden Administration’s goal of decarbonizing the nation’s electric grid by 2035, a timeframe recommended by scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.Read 457 times More...
Crazy monkey love or amorous owls?Rob HunterMonday, 25 January 2021
February kicks off the season of love for region's barred owls
The frosty woods may be relatively quiet today, but soon the hilltops and hollers will echo with deep, resonant voices.
Barred owls (Strix varia) are our second-largest resident owl here in the Southeast, second only to the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). With their fluffier plumage, doe-eyed countenance and round profiles lacking ear tufts, barred owls don’t have quite the fierce appearance of their more formidable neighbors. They’re also generally easier to observe. Often active in the daytime and fond of low perches, barred owls occasionally make themselves visible to lucky woodland wanderers. More often, though, they are heard rather than seen. Their breeding season may extend into summer, but courtship generally fires up in February and peaks in March. This is my favorite time to seek them out on the woodland slopes, usually near water, that they call home.
Barred owls are not easy to find per se, but they definitely make themselves more conspicuous when looking for love. Their best-known call is an eight-beat hoot often verbalized as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for y’all?” with the final “y’all” drawn out in a dramatically descending, tremulous wail. They sometimes give the wail alone or as crescendo following a series of ascending hoots.
To hear any of these sounds echoing through a twilight woods can fill one with awe, but they give another vocal performance that is generally only heard when an amorous pair of owls meets up. This call, for lack of a better term, is often referred to simply as the “monkey call.”
A caterwauling cacophony of simian sounds explodes from a dense grove of hemlocks. Have chimpanzees escaped from the local zoo? Nope, just a couple of night birds seeking romance. People who hear these calls without knowing the caller are often understandably perturbed. More than once I’ve been awakened suddenly in my tent when such a liaison takes place in a tree over my campsite, and I can say it’s a bit unsettling, even knowing the avian source.
So when you’re walking in the woods over the next few weeks, keep an eye and an ear out for these lovebirds as they’re at their most vocal. And if you hear what sounds like a troop of monkeys hailing the setting sun, just remember that, more likely than not, you’re just hearing the music of owls in love.
Audubon has a 2-minute podcast for you to
'Hear the Many Different Hoots of the Barred Owl'Read 318 times
Your daily diet of environment and science news
Outrage + Optimism
Global Optimism: “We Have to Be At War With Carbon”
The first 15 minutes of this podcast analyze the Shortcomings of the G7 Summit.
The second 15-minute segment is a conversation with the CEO of Rolls Royce about its goal to make long-distance flights Net Zero by 2050.
Save Our Future Act introduced in Senate
On Wednesday, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Brian Schatz (HI) introduced the Save Our Future Act, comprehensive legislation that dramatically reduces emissions and protects environmental justice and coal communities.
In a statement, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Executive Director Mark Reynolds said, “The Save Our Future Act would place an ambitious price on carbon to reduce America's emissions, but it doesn't stop there. This legislation would also address long-standing environmental justice concerns by directly pricing emissions of fossil fuel co-pollutants in frontline communities, and it would invest in coal communities to support them through the transition to a clean energy economy.”
The bill is drawing positive comments from unions and environmental justice organizations.
In the House, the number of representatives cosponsoring the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act has grown to 68 already.
Saturday farmers market will return to Market Square in downtown Knoxville following pandemic shutdown
In a refreshing sign the worst of the Covid-19 crisis is behind us, the city of Knoxville on Monday announced the popular weekend Market Square farmers market will return July 10.
The Nourish Knoxville Market Square Farmers Market will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and feature local produce, organic foods, crafts, and other homespun products through November.
The Market Square farmers market resumed its Wednesday schedule in May with a smaller footprint and social-distancing measures. Markets on both days had been moved to another location in 2020 to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The city recommends, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, that people who have not been vaccinated continue to wear masks, according to a press release. Nourish Knoxville, which runs the farmers market, may require additional protocols for vendors and customers.
The Market Square splash fountains will be turned back on July 1. Fenced outdoor dining areas will also be removed.
Here's more information on the full return of the downtown Knoxville farmers market and other Market Square events.
NPR: Dangerous Fire Season Ahead
The Southwest drought is worse than you realize. Check out these maps.
Low snowpacks, unusually high temperatures and below-normal rainfall have all contributed to the renewed development of extreme and exceptional drought in many portions of the Southwest and California.
Scientists and public officials attribute the drought to climate change. Climatologists expect the drought to worsen during the upcoming summer months and lead to increased wildfires and other problems. Agriculture in California has been particularly affected, and water restrictions to preserve endangered fish are again in a harsh spotlight.
Drought conditions had lessened since a severe drought affected the region five years ago and led to aggressive rationing and water-conservation measures, but this prolonged dry spell could be even worse.
Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., is at its lowest level in 85 years and is emblematic of the growing crisis.
"The lake, which sits on the border between Nevada and Arizona, is under growing pressure from the prolonged drought, climate change and growing population in the Southwest," The Times reported.
19-year-old woman killed after car veers into rock face on Smokies Spur
A car crash into rocks on the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur killed a young woman and injured two others who were flown to UT hospital via medical helicopter.
Elizabeth Marie Parker, 19, of Centerville, Ohio, died when the sedan in which she was riding collided with a rock hillside on the right side of the road late Monday night, according to a release from the National Park Service.
Vehicle accidents are typically the No. 1 cause of fatalities each year in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which attracts upwards of 12 million visitors annually.
Carbon dioxide levels hit historic high despite emissions slowdown during pandemic
Washington Post: CO2 levels hit highest point yet, even after 15-month idling of transportation, industry and overall carbon emissions.
Initial air pollution reductions during the Covid-19 pandemic had an immediate measurable impact on global and local air quality. Demand for oil dropped by nearly 9 percent. That didn't stop the atmospheric carbon dioxide level from reaching its highest concentration since records began.
It's a sign of how difficult it will be to curb overall global emissions enough to prevent the worst consequences of climate change and global warming.
"Even as international borders closed and global economic activity took a massive hit throughout much of 2020, researchers have found that human-caused emissions rebounded fairly quickly after decreasing sharply early in the pandemic," the Washington Post reported.
‘Mean greens’ flex their muscles, and a fossil-fuel giant taps out
Exxon stock tanked (it was even kicked off the Dow Jones Industrial Average) in recent years, largely because of the oil giant's dismissive stance toward climate change and renewables. This led shareholders to conclude the oil giant wasn't playing the long game by investing in carbon-free fuel technologies.
Both a renegade hedge fund and huge investor groups recently forced a change by electing half a slate to the board of directors who are calling for increased energy-source diversification. Some of the largest pension-investment groups in the country drove the change because Exxon's coddling of climate denialists was definitely and demonstrably bad for business.
It’s time we start wearing our hearts on our sleeves!
In the spirit of Thinking Globally, Acting Locally, consider what you can do to help Mother Earth and its inhabitants.
Adopting a more sustainable life style to reduce one's personal ecological footprint is easier to wish for than to accomplish. Some measures that would reap a significant environmental benefit, such as making a home more energy efficient, may require a substantial investment of physical effort, time and money that will pay back over time only.
Deliberate choice of clothing, however, is a simple course of action for anyone to start making a big difference in social justice, climate impacts and environmental conservation.
The fashion industry is responsible for around 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than maritime shipping and international flights combined!
World production of clothing has doubled in the last 15 years. Until the 1950s, it was common for garments to be used until worn out after having been passed along to second and third wearers. Nowadays, that's a rare exception. Most items end up in a landfill within days or weeks after having been purchased and worn just a few times. Massive amounts of overstock items are routinely discarded, not having been used once.
Low prices — made possible by cheap synthetic fibers produced with fossil fuels and by sweatshops that churn out textiles under often inhumane conditions — contributed to this relatively new phenomenon of consumerism.
Along with single-use packaging, plastic fibers common in today's textiles are a major source of invisible microplastic fragments that float in the air we breathe and get into the water that leaves the washing machines. Some of these particles may absorb toxic chemicals and be taken up and accumulated by fish, livestock and, eventually, humans.
Sustainable Jungle, an Australian nonprofit, has an excellent article about the global predicaments caused by the fashion industry. This is a treasure trove of great ideas, practical suggestions, experiences and links to further how-to instructions. It will not only help you get off the fast-fashion treadmill, it will aid you in discovering or creating a style that accentuates your personality.
Sustainable Jungle: How to Avoid Fast Fashion
See also ScienceDirect: Plasticenta — First evidence of microplastics in human placenta
CCL Climate Change Conference
Jun 12 1-5 p.m. – Jun 13 1-3:30 p.m. EDT
The Push for a Price on Carbon
Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) — June Virtual Conference
Online pre-conference reception Friday; main conference day Saturday; workshop choices Sunday. Free and open to the public - RSVP
An economy-wide carbon price is the single most powerful tool we have to reduce America’s carbon pollution to net zero by 2050. We’re asking Congress to enact that powerful tool this year.
ORNL tips to run your
car more efficiently
Hellbender Press: The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia is a digital environmental news service with a focus on the Southern Appalachian bioregion. It aggregates relevant stories from across the news media space and provides original news, features and commentary.
Espousing the “Think Globally, Act Locally” ethos of FGS, Hellbender Press promotes the conservation and study of the environment and protections for air, water, climate, natural areas, and other resources that are critical to human health and a robust, resilient economy.
The Hellbender also champions civil and human rights, especially in matters of environmental justice, equity of access to natural resources and the right to a clean environment.
Hellbender Press is a self-organizing project of the Foundation for Global Sustainability's Living Sustainably Program. All donations made for Hellbender Press to FGS are tax-deductible. We offer a free environmental news and information site, but grants and charitable contributions are encouraged and needed to support our work. Much of the content is provided on a volunteer basis by individuals and organizations that share a common cause.
The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), a native salamander, is an indicator species. It requires clear, oxygen-rich water to respire, find its prey, and reproduce.
The presence of hellbenders in a stream is indicative of high water quality and an intact ecosystem.
Hellbender Press aspires to help you discover the degrees of resilience and sustainability of your community, our bioregion, and planet Earth.
Hellbender Press informs about what is beneficial for life — here and elsewhere.
It also points out where we must do better to save what may still be savable.
Foundation for Global Sustainability
FGS is a multidisciplinary, non-profit advocacy organization. It monitors and addresses social and environmental issues in the Upper Tennessee Valley and the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
FGS works to restore the balance between human activities and the natural life support systems of the Earth. Events, publications, special reports, and outreach by FGS inform and educate the public about vital regional and global issues and how they interdepend.
FGS fosters and supports conservation initiatives, including action committees that address egregious assaults on our natural heritage, for example, which require temporary assistance only; campaigns by other nonprofits, such as
- Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
- Endangered Species Coalition
- Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere
- Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center
- Tennessee Environmental Council
- Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning
- East Tennessee Quality Growth
- Technical Society of Knoxville
- Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation
as well as groups that want to address systemic problems in a systematic fashion. Among the latter, three evolved to establish themselves as independent 501(c)(3) organization: