The 17-year cicada brood left behind some calling cards in the treesAlexandra DeMarcoFriday, 23 July 2021
Tree “flagging” is a lingering sign of the 17-year cicadas’ brief time on Earth
(Alexandra DeMarco is an intern in ORNL’s media relations group.)
On the road leading to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, drivers may notice that many of the green trees lining the entrance to the lab are dappled with brown leaves. At first glance, the sight isn’t extraordinary, as deciduous tree leaves turn hues of oranges and browns before falling to the ground each autumn.
Yet, just weeks past the summer solstice, this phenomenon is out of place and is in fact evidence of another natural occurrence: cicada “flagging.”
This spring, Brood X cicadas emerged from the ground after 17 years and swarmed across the eastern United States, leaving a trail of exoskeletons and echoes of mating calls. Cicadas emerge in such large quantities to withstand predation and successfully maintain their populations, and trees actually play a key role in their life cycle.
A male cicada attracts a female through a mating call, the sound responsible for cicadas’ shrill hum. After the two mate, the female cicada uses a sharp tubular organ called an ovipositor to slit the bark and split the sapwood of young tree branches to deposit her eggs there. These incisions, however, damage a tree’s vascular system and can cause stalks beyond the incision to die and wither, leaving behind twigs with brown leaves that resemble flags dangling from the trees.
The eggs then grow into nymphs that make their way to below ground. An oft-repeated misconception is that they’ll stay dormant for 17 years. Actually, during that time, they go through 5 life stages while feeding on the xylem (tree sap) of roots. This may further weaken saplings that were heavily infested with cicadas.Read 196 times More...
Blount County Commission, citing ‘alienated landowners,’ calls for a real public meeting on the Pellissippi Parkway ExtensionLesli Bales-SherrodWednesday, 21 July 2021
Semantics aside, Blount County Commission calls for TDOT to hold another public hearing on controversial, $60-million roadway proposal
State highway officials will hold an in-person public meeting on the proposed Pellissippi Parkway extension at the behest of the Blount County Commission after the Tennessee Department of Transportation was criticized for the quality of the original, online-only meeting soliciting public input on the design of the controversial $60-million, 4.5-mile highway project.
The Blount County Commission voted 16-2 in June to “encourage” TDOT “to hold a publicly advertised, in-person hearing at a venue that accommodates a large crowd for public input regarding the extension of Pellissippi Parkway …”.
Here's some background on the Pellissippi extension project previously reported by Hellbender Press.
The commission resolution states that “Blount County landowners directly impacted by this extension feel they were alienated in the process.”
Transportation officials, however, told Hellbender Press that right of way acquisition would commence this year. It’s not clear to what extent public comment would impact that plan. A TDOT spokesman said previous comments had not yet been distilled to negative and positive input on the design process.Read 324 times More...
Biodiversity in crosshairs as burgeoning Middle Tennessee fears water shortageAnita WadhwaniMonday, 19 July 2021
Duck River targeted by thirsty, growing municipalities in Nashville area
This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout
Marshall County, located outside what was once considered the boundary edge of growing suburbs circling Nashville, has seen explosive growth of its own in recent years — call it the Williamson County overflow effect, says County Mayor Mike Keny.
Drawn by more affordable housing, jobs and the rural character of the county — about an hour from Nashville in the “heart of the Southern Automotive Corridor” (as local economic development officials call it) — the influx of residents, and some relocating business and industry, has brought new urgency to a long-standing reality.
The county doesn’t have its own water supply. For decades, it has had to pay wholesale for drinking water from the cities of Murfreesboro and Lewisburg. That supply is no longer adequate.
A new proposal by county officials calls for building a water treatment facility along the banks of the Duck River in northern Marshall County capable of siphoning up to 6 million gallons of water per day; establish a reliable local water supply for decades to come.The need for Marshall County, to have its own water supply, which it has never had, is becoming more urgent with an influx of new residents. But environmental activists say the nearby Duck River, which is biologically diverse, may not be the best option.Read 234 times More...
One town tried to eliminate waste. Plastic posed a problem.Olivia SullivanWednesday, 14 July 2021
Kamikatsu, Japan, famously declared its goal was to go waste-free by 2020. It didn’t quite get there.
One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.
Despite recent scientific evidence that reusables don’t transmit the virus, the plastic industry has lobbied hard for a return to all things disposable plastic. Inevitably, a lot of that plastic will continue to flow into our environment.
While COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into the hard-earned progress we’d been making in reducing waste, eliminating plastic pollution entirely was always going to be challenging — with or without a pandemic. The jarring rise of single-use plastics is an expedited version of a familiar trend. Plastic production has been steadily increasing for quite some time.
As a zero-waste advocate, I’ve seen how the tsunami of plastic continuously being produced and flooding our planet has made achieving zero-waste goals incredibly difficult. The sheer amount makes it hard to safely and efficiently dispose of plastic, no matter how hard we try.
But as I examine the problem, and search for solutions, I keep coming back to one noteworthy example.Read 193 times More...
A nursing bear and her cubs share an intimate Great Smokies momentRob HunterMonday, 12 July 2021
A window on ursine motherhood in Cades Cove
As I was descending a wooded hillside in the heart of Cades Cove on a June afternoon, a motionless black bulk caught my eye off to my left.
I turned my attention there, regarded the scene for a few moments, and realized the sprawling blur was a large sleeping bear. A few moments more of inspection revealed three cubs snoozing in the branches overhead.
I decided to hunker down and watch the scene for a while, and my patience paid off. After several minutes of occasional scratching and yawning, the cubs began to stir. One by one, they descended the tree and began to poke, prod and pace around their reclining mother. A thought popped in my head – would they nurse? Would I be so lucky? I was. I got an intimate look at a mother bear letting her guard down and nourishing her three restless offspring. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Black bear mothers invest a lot in the care of their cubs. Nursing begins in the winter den, where the mother’s metabolism is already taxed by winter fasting, and tends to continue until the cubs’ first autumn. A lactating mother black bear may lose up to 40 percent of her body weight over the winter as she nurses her newborn cubs. Black bear milk is exceptionally high in fat, around 22 percent by weight. Compare this to human and cow milk at around a modest 4 percent. The rapid growth and restless energy of a healthy black bear cub is fueled by one of the most calorically-rich milks among North American mammals.
This video was shot with a long lens from a long distance. Remember, for the safety of visitors and of wildlife, black bears should not be approached within 50 yards in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors should also change direction or move away if their presence causes a bear to change its behavior.Read 595 times
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 500 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 271 times More...
Michaela Barnett wants to help break your consumer chainsThomas FraserWednesday, 02 June 2021
KnoxFill offers Knoxville home delivery and pickup of sustainably sourced personal-care products in refillable containersMichaela Barnett has traveled the world, is an accomplished science writer and editor and is closing in on a doctorate from the University of Virginia.Now she’s a business owner with a focus on sustainability and waste reduction and that has proven to be her true raison d’etre. She gets out of bed with joyous purpose and determination. And she sings to start her day.“My husband says it’s like living with this annoying Disney character,” she said with a light laugh.“I’ve got so much energy and joy and excitement,” said Barnett, who launched KnoxFill in March after eight months of research and preparation and works out of her home to fill multiple orders each day.KnoxFill offers sustainably sourced personal-care items, detergents and other everyday household products in reusable glass containers for pickup or delivery. The product line includes shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotions, laundry detergent, and dishwashing and castile soap. Barnett even offers safety razors, bamboo toothbrushes and refillable toothpaste “bites.”“We are very new, and small and mighty, and growing really fast. The community response has been beautiful, phenomenal. I’m overwhelmed in the best way by it,” Barnett said during an interview at her home and KnoxFill storeroom in a leafy neighborhood off Chapman Highway in South Knoxville.She and a part-time employee fulfill online orders via deliveries within select zip codes across Knoxville. Customers can also pick up their products from a fragrant cedar chest on Barnett’s porch, or at an expanding list of cooperating businesses, including Jacks, an eclectic coffee shop and plant nursery on North Central Street near Happy Holler in Knoxville.Barnett is the daughter of a fossil-fuel executive and initially grew up “super conservative, evangelical, (and) home-schooled on a farm” in Ohio before her family relocated to Houston for her father’s job. Now she’s determined to help wean the world, starting with Knoxville, off the petrochemical plastics and packaging that dominate so many product streams.“We really need to move upstream in our waste system, instead of just focusing on downstream solutions, like recycling, and composting,” she said.“We need to make sure the waste never gets created in the first place.”Read 570 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 664 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 765 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 593 times More...
Keep your butts out of the Tennessee RiverRay ZimmermanThursday, 27 May 2021
Dollywood joins Tennessee Aquarium effort to limit the introduction of cigarette butts to our shared waterways.
“As all humans need access to clean water, it’s an incredibly important treasure to protect.” — Dr. Anna George, Tennessee Aquarium vice president of conservation science and education.
Cigarette butts are everywhere, and are perhaps so familiar they go unnoticed by the millions of people who pass them on our streets and roads.
Not only are they unsightly, they contaminate our water resources — the puddles after a sudden rainstorm, the streams that flow through our landscapes, and the stormwater drains that ultimately lead to the Tennessee River. The butts quickly break down, polluting water with “tiny plastic fibers and a devil’s cocktail of chemical compounds,” according to the Tennessee Aquarium.
Dollywood has also embraced the effort, making it the first theme park in the world to recycle all properly disposed cigarette butts.
“One cigarette filter can contain enough toxins to kill aquatic life within two gallons of surrounding water,” said Kathleen Gibi, executive director of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful.
The action fits the mission of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, which is to inspire the public to take action to protect and preserve the Tennessee River and its tributaries across a seven-state region encompassing Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky.
Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and the Tennessee Aquarium have partnered to install cigarette-butt recycling receptacles on the aquarium’s campus. They placed eight of these bins in heavily traveled locations.
“Everybody contributes to the river, whether positively or negatively, so finding stakeholders and inspiring them to take action is what will make the biggest impact,” Gibi said. She also emphasized the importance of the Tennessee Aquarium’s educational programs in protecting water quality.
The aquarium’s eight cigarette-butt bins are among more than 480 such bins that Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful has installed within the river’s watershed. The shared effort will install another 90 during the coming months.
Dollywood is among the 73 sites that have installed bins, making it the first theme park in the world that recycles all the cigarette butts it collects, Gibi says.
Partnering to remove cigarette filters from the river is only part of the aquarium’s ongoing mission to understand the impact on freshwater habitats from microplastics pollution.
Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education, said, “It’s urgent to understand better ways to manufacture and dispose of plastics, so we reduce their impact on the environment.”
The Tennessee Aquarium recently installed a new exhibit in the River Journey Building where visitors can discover the impact of microplastics on freshwater environments. The Tennessee Department of Transportation funded this exhibit as part of their Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter reduction campaign.
In September 2020, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the University of Georgia River Basin Center convened a digital gathering of 50 researchers conducting pioneering studies into the impact of microplastics on freshwater systems.Read 329 times
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 832 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 501 times More...
FGS calls on TVA to get serious about addressing the climate crisisWolf NaegeliMonday, 19 July 2021
As Hellbender Press reported in April, the Tennessee Valley Authority plans to phase out its use of coal. And as we mentioned in an action alert, TVA is conducting a scoping process pertaining to the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for retirement and replacement of the Kingston Fossil Plant. TVA is preparing similar EIS for its other remaining coal-fired power plants as well.
Although TVA lists "construction and operation of solar and storage facilities" in these scoping documents as an alternative for replacement of coal as the power source, it has made no secret of its belief that construction of gas-powered combustion turbines (CT) and natural gas pipelines to feed them will be the best solution to replace the outdated generation capacity.
Unlike other power utilities, TVA has been making it more difficult, financially unattractive or impossible for distributed renewable energy, storage and even efficiency projects to get realized, according to proponents of renewables and some of TVA’s local power distribution partners. TVA also reneged on its agreement with other utilities to make large amounts of wind power available to the Southeastern United States through the Plains & Eastern Clean Line high-voltage direct-current power line project.
Below, we reprint the statement submitted by FGS during the public comment period for the Kingston Fossil Plan Retirement.
(Hellbender Press is a self-funded project of FGS).
The Foundation for Global Sustainability urges TVA to truly step up to the challenges of climate change
The action alternatives in the dockets for the replacement of TVA’s coal fired power plants are shortsighted and most disappointing.
As a quasi-federal entity with a de-facto monopoly over a vast area of our nation, the Tennessee Valley Authority should strive to spearhead, exemplify, and not only meet — but exceed — most of the federal goals for decarbonization.
By basing plans primarily on data of historic trends — unquestioningly projected into the future — TVA is apt to commit yet another horrendous miscalculation; it is prone to saddle itself with even more stranded assets.
Addressing the climate change crisis
Rarely a month passes without scientific discoveries of natural feedback mechanisms that aggravate the consequences of climate change. Signs that Earth’s natural life-support systems are approaching tipping points are multiplying.
At the same time that uncertainty about prevailing conditions over the lifetime of infrastructure investments is growing, technologies are evolving at an increasing pace. Many private-sector corporations have already realized that time-proven business practices are no survival strategy.
What’s called for today is more nimble management. TVA needs to focus on cooperative, adaptive planning for more flexible, responsive operations.
A multitude of smaller investments that seek to attack problems from a diversity of facets will have greater probability of success than monolithic huge investments that are hard to revert, abandon, or repurpose.
We encourage TVA to take a step back, to first look at what it can do to help improve the sustainability and resilience of our regional and local economies and of its large, small, and individual customers, WITHOUT investments that lock in carbon emissions for decades.
Although we welcomed, appreciated, and supported TVA initiatives such as Energy Right, Green Power Switch and Generation Partners, one has to admit that in the larger context they amounted to little more than public relations Band-aids.
Distributed renewable energy generation and storage
It is high time for TVA to stop stonewalling renewable energies.
The promising potential of widely distributed renewable energy generation and storage to minimize transmission losses and to boost community resilience is still largely untapped. It lends itself to easily manageable, quick turn-around, incremental projects that can readily be evolved and fine-tuned as new conditions, greater insights, and better technologies emerge.
People in TVA’s service areas are no less likely to welcome and personally invest in solar energy and storage than the people of Germany have done, despite getting far less sunlight in their northern latitudes than we enjoy here; if only TVA relaxes its severe restrictions and abandons its adversarial stance.
We call upon TVA to embrace, as major planning objectives, environmental sustainability and efficiency from energy generation all the way through end use.
Wolf Naegeli, PhD
Foundation for Global SustainabilityRead 68 times
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 159 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 261 times
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 405 times
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Welcome to the wilderness: Knoxville celebrates its range of outdoor amenities with park dedication
Mountain bikes ripped through ribbons July 23 as city officials, designers and outdoor aficionados marked the opening of an impressive entrance to the city's 500-acre Urban Wilderness. The "ribbon-cutting" had been delayed for months because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The park is at the terminus of the James White Parkway, which once was planned to slice through what eventually became a regional recreational and environmental asset five minutes (by car) from downtown.
"Phase 1 investment built the park’s infrastructure: neighborhood connections, roads and greenways, lighting and utility installation. The most visible part of Phase 1 is the Baker Creek Bike Park, which was dedicated in August 2020," according to a news release from the city.
"Phase 2, beginning in Fall//Winter 2021, will see construction of the adventure playground at Baker Creek Preserve, restroom facilities, shade structures and picnic areas, as well as new play features and gathering spaces."
Alan Sims has coverage of the event on his excellent Knoxville-centric blog.
DOE moves ahead with plans for radioactive waste dump on Oak Ridge Reservation despite concerns about its ultimate holding power
Hellbender Press contributor Ben Pounds has a great piece in the Oak Ridger about a long dispute over a plan to bury low-level nuclear onsite in a greenfield on Department of Energy property in Oak Ridge. Over the years, many such contaminated materials were typically transported to off-site storage points, namely the western U.S.
Detractors of the plan worry local landfill membranes and safeguards could ultimately fail or be compromised, leading to a surge of low-level radioactive materials and associated contaminants, into the surrounding area and its water tables. Most of the debris slated for storage comes from the demolished legacy buildings of the Oak Ridge Reservation, originally built as part of the Manhattan Project atomic weapons program during World War II.
“DOE released a Draft Record of Decision Monday, July 12, which goes over some of the aspects of this proposed landfill and environmental issues related to it, as part of the process to get approval from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation,” Pounds reported in the Oak Ridger.
“Kim Schofinski, TDEC deputy communications director, stated her agency is currently reviewing the document and its revisions, which could take around 120 days.”
Come get up close with a corpse (flower) at UTK
A seldom-seen corpse flower is about to burst forth in bloom following a 20-year sleep -- presumably not in a casket and not at the Body Farm -- at the Hesler Biology Building at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
A previous faculty member got the plant two decades ago, but this is its first blooming cycle, according to the News Sentinel. It has been nursed along by current greenhouse director Jeff Martin -- in someone else's office, of course. The plant only blooms about every 10 years, if not more infrequently.
Members of the public are invited to come partake of the odor and revel in sheer stank in the next several days.
"A 2010 study by Japanese researchers attributed the plant's smell to a combination of chemicals that smell like cheese, sweat, garlic, decaying meat, rotten eggs and more," according to the News Sentinel.
But it's not just about the smell: The plant produces the world's largest flower and is endangered in the wild. Pollen from this corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum -- you can suss out the literal definition yourself) may be used to pollinate other endangered corpse flowers, which are native to Southeast Asia.
The odor is an evolutionary pollination mechanism to attract flies and other insects that are attracted to the smell of rotting flesh.
Approval of 180-acre subdivision in Strawberry Plains is sign of things to come
Knox County planners last week approved the concept plan for a 180-acre, 400-home subdivision off Ruggles Ferry Pike in Strawberry Plains on steep, rugged rural land in East Knox County despite community concerns about the impact of the development on the natural features and infrastructure of the area.
Compass Knoxville reported Innsbruck Farms subdivision would be one of the county’s largest housing developments, but it met all requisite zoning codes and planning requirements.
“The development met all zoning requirements and conformed to the county’s East Sector Plan, leaving planning commissioners little choice but to approve the project. The decision disappointed area residents concerned about preserving the rural nature of the Carter community,” Compass reported.
“This is the latest development in the county’s ongoing struggle to expand,” according to WBIR reporter Katelyn Keenehan. “Knox County is in need of 40,000 homes in the next 30 years to meet the increasing population. Innsbruck Farms is just the beginning.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists keep an eye on endangered fine-rayed pigtoe mussels in Little River
The Little River in Blount County just west of Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosted just one of five known fine-rayed pigtoed mussel populations when federal officials placed the mussel on the Endangered Species List in 1976.
The Daily Times in Maryville reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now conducting a regular five-year review of the mussel's status. It is one of at least 12 mussel species in the river, which has its headwaters in the Great Smoky Mountains and flows through Townsend on its way to its ultimate destination: the Tennessee River. Little River is the main source of water for an expanding Blount County population.
Native mussel populations face the same threats as many non-game fish in the Southern Appalachians. Oxygen is depleted by sediment plumes, which also smother fish eggs, and many mussels rely on small fish to reproduce.
“Reproduction depends on host fish. During the larval stage the young are stuck together in a packet that resembles the prey of shiners and minnows, which is how they become attached to the fish gills or fins to grow for a few weeks,” the Daily Times reports.
Forest Service bans camping on Max Patch for two years after nonstop deluge of visitor problems
Citizen-Times: Festival-like atmosphere on famed bald led to massive litter, waste and wildlife problems
They trampled warbler habitat restoration areas. They left behind tons of cheap camping equipment. They failed to properly bury or transport human waste. They left their vehicles parked willy-nilly on an access road, impeding the ability of emergency vehicles serving the surrounding areas. They ruined it for the rest of us.
Now Max Patch is closed to camping and other restricted uses for two years, Pisgah National Forest authorities announced on July 1.
Over the past decade, the bald in Madison County, North Carolina with 360-degree views of the surrounding Appalachians experienced stunning overcrowding and misuse, with some areas resembling jam-band festivals at times.
The Appalachian Trail traverses the bald, which was home to vital projects to restore wildlife and vegetative habitat. Now visitors are subject to numerous and pointed restrictions, and failure to abide by the new rules could bring tickets and fines.
The restoration could be a long process.
Report: South Knoxville white supremacist committed suicide while showing child how to shoot a handgun
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Craig Spaulding, 33, took his own life on April 8 on Belt Road in South Knox County.
The death, originally reported by Hellbender Press via Hard Knox Wire, was initially attributed to an accidental gunshot wound.
“Spaulding was a self-described white nationalist, which means he was a member of a group of militant white men and women who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation,” Hard Knox Wire reported.
He regularly organized groups to spew hate at people participating in LGBTQ or Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
“White supremacists under Spaulding’s leadership have been operating in the area and traveling to events outside of East Tennessee for several years, such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.”
Hard Knox Wire reported that Spaulding was showing a son of a friend how to shoot when he abruptly and purposefully shot himself in the head with a .25 caliber Ruger. His blood-alcohol content at the time was approaching three times the legal limit, according to autopsy reports.
Many Southern Appalachian communities still have no running water
The digital divide is a serious issue between rural and urban America, but some 2 million people in rural America even lack access to piped, clean water and plumbing, according to a study from the U.S. Water Alliance.
Some of those communities are in Southern Appalachia. This Washington Post article describes a man in McDowell County, West Virginia, not far from the VIrginia Blue Ridge, who fills two 200-gallon tanks each week from a creek down the mountain from his house to provide wash water for his family. He uses a pump, and hose on loan from a local fire department.
Politicians and local utilities have promised for years to extend water utilities to such underserved, largely poor, areas. Much like the promises of broadband elsewhere, they have not delivered.
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
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: