The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

News

  • Climate change is muting fall leaf color
    Thomas Fraser
    Thursday, 28 October 2021

    Fall foliage season is a calendar highlight in states from Maine south to Georgia and west to the Rocky Mountains. It’s especially important in the Northeast, where fall colors attract an estimated US$8 billion in tourism revenues to New England every year.

    As a forestry scientist, I’m often asked how climate change is affecting fall foliage displays. What’s clearest so far is that color changes are occurring later in the season. And the persistence of very warm, wet weather in 2021 is reducing color displays in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. But climate change isn’t the only factor at work, and in some areas, human decisions about forest management are the biggest influences.

    Longer growing seasons

    Climate change is clearly making the Northeast warmer and wetter. Since 1980, average temperatures in the Northeast have increased by 0.66 degrees Fahrenheit (0.37 Celsius), and average annual precipitation has increased by 3.4 inches (8.6 centimeters) – about 8%. This increase in precipitation fuels tree growth and tends to offset stress on the trees from rising temperatures. In the West, which is becoming both warmer and drier, climate change is having greater physiological effects on trees.

    My research in tree physiology and dendrochronology – dating and interpreting past events based on trees’ growth rings – shows that in general, trees in the eastern U.S. have fared quite well in a changing climate. That’s not surprising given the subtle variations in climate across much of the eastern U.S. Temperature often limits trees’ growth in cool and cold regions, so the trees usually benefit from slight warming

    In addition, carbon dioxide – the dominant greenhouse gas warming Earth’s climate – is also the molecule that fuels photosynthesis in plants. As carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increase, plants carry out more photosynthesis and grow more.

    More carbon dioxide is not automatically good for the planet – an idea often referred to as “global greening.” There are natural limits to how much photosynthesis plants can carry out. Plants need water and nutrients to grow, and supplies of these inputs are limited. And as carbon dioxide concentrations rise, plants’ ability to use it decreases – an effect known as carbon dioxide saturation.

    For now, however, climate change has extended the growing season for trees in the Northeast by about 10-14 days. In my tree ring research, we routinely see trees putting on much more diameter growth now than in the past.

    This effect is particularly evident in young trees, but we see it in old trees as well. That’s remarkable because old trees’ growth should be slowing down, not speeding up. Scientists in western states have even noted this acceleration in bristlecone pines that are over 4,000 years old – the oldest trees in the world.

    Fall colors emerge when the growing season ends and trees stop photosynthesizing. The trees stop producing chlorophyll, the green pigment in their leaves, which absorbs energy from sunlight. This allows carotenoid (orange) and xanthophyll (yellow) pigments in the leaves to emerge. The leaves also produce a third pigment, anthocyanin, which creates red colors. A longer growing season may mean that fall colors emerge later – and it can also make those colors duller.

    A changing mix of trees

    Climate isn’t the only thing that affects fall colors. The types of tree species in a forest are an even bigger factor, and forest composition in the eastern U.S. has changed dramatically over the past century.

    Notably, eastern forests today have more species such as red maple, black birch, tulip poplar and blackgum than they did in the early 20th century. These trees are shade-tolerant and typically grow in conditions that are neither extremely wet nor extremely dry. They also produce intense red and yellow displays in the fall.

    This shift began in the 1930s, when federal agencies adopted policies that called for suppressing all wildfires quickly rather than letting some burn. At that time, much of the eastern U.S. was dominated by fire-adapted oak, pine and hickory. Without fires recurring once or twice a decade, these species fail to regenerate and ultimately decline, allowing more shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive trees like red maple to invade.

    There is evidence that some tree species in the eastern U.S. are migrating to the north and west because of warming, increasing precipitation and fire suppression. This trend could affect fall colors as regions gain or lose particular species. In particular, studies indicate that the range of sugar maples – one of the best color-producing trees – is shifting northward into Canada.

    So far it’s clear that warming has caused a delay in peak colors for much of the East, ranging from a few days in Pennsylvania to as much as two weeks in New England. It’s not yet known whether this delay is making fall colors less intense or shorter-lasting.

    But I’ve observed over the past 35 years that when very warm and wet weather extends into mid- and late October, leaves typically go from green to either dull colors or directly to brown, particularly if there is a sudden frost. This year there are few intense red leaves, which suggests that warmth has interfered with anthocyanin production. Some classic red producers, such as red maple and scarlet oak, are producing yellow leaves.

    Other factors could also stress eastern forests. Climate scientists project that global warming will make tropical storms and hurricanes more intense and destructive, with higher rainfall rates. These storms could knock down trees, blow leaves off those left standing and reduce fall coloration.

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  • Requiem for the Lord God Bird
    Thomas Fraser
    Thursday, 14 October 2021
    Movie footage from Louisiana, 1935 by Arthur Allen. Courtesy of Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
     

    The ivory-billed woodpecker is officially extinct, and it strikes a chord in Knoxville

    Clinging to a maple in the bayou, Jim Tanner finally had the rare nestling in his grasp. 

    He fitted it with a numbered leg band and placed the bird back in its hole high off the ground. 

    But true to its seldom-seen self, the juvenile ivory-billed woodpecker squirmed free and fluttered to the base of a giant maple tree in a southern Louisiana swamp owned at the time by the Singer Sewing Machine Co.

    The year was 1936, and Jim Tanner was in the midst of doctorate research at Cornell University funded by the Audubon Society as part of a push to prevent the pending extinctions of multiple bird species, including the California condor, roseate spoonbill, whooping crane and ivory-billed woodpecker. Eighty-five years later, the regal woodpecker would be the only one grounded for eternity.

    In the heat and rain of mucky, gassy bayous, Tanner compiled data on the range, population, habitat and prevalence of ivory-billed woodpeckers. He camped for weeks at a time in the swamps of the birds’ original range.

    On this day, his only goal was to band the bird but he rushed down the tree and picked up the agitated but uninjured woodpecker.

    He also wanted photographs.

    Tanner took advantage of the moment.

    He placed the bird upon the shoulder of an accompanying and accommodating game warden for 14 shots from his Leica.

    They were probably the first, and perhaps the last, photographs of a juvenile ivory-billed woodpecker photographed by Tanner in its natural habitat. He named the bird Sonny, and he was the only known member of the species to be banded with a number.

    The regal, smart, athletic bird, which peaceably flew over its small slice of Earth for some 10,000 years, was declared extinct last month by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Twenty-two other species also qualified for removal from the Endangered Species List — in the worst possible way.

    The ivory bill inhabited the swamps of the Deep South, far removed from Rocky Top, but old visages of the departed were found in Little Switzerland in South Knoxville. The work of Tanner, who would go on to complete a rich ecological research career at the University of Tennessee, has been memorialized by a talented East Tennessee science writer.

    And the Southern Appalachian region has other long-gone kinships with species that vanished from the Earth a long time ago. 

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  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory helps keep our cool as refrigerant restrictions begin
    Thomas Fraser
    Tuesday, 19 October 2021

    2015 P00418Brian Fricke, group leader for Building Equipment Research, conducts testing in his refrigeration system research lab at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Jason Richards/ORNL

    ORNL pursues refrigerant efficiencies and alternatives as we warm the Earth to keep things cold

    You can flick it off; it's cool.

    Finally there's a window, literally, for the annual retirement of your air conditioner. But the freezer aisles at your favorite supermarket aren't going anywhere.
     
    As summer slowly slips into autumn and we aspire to warm ourselves through winter, let's consider the cost, economically and environmentally, of keeping ourselves under blankets in August or loading up on frozen burritos on a broiling day inside the deliciously cool air of a grocery store freezer aisle.
     
    Let's cast a cold eye toward Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where engineers are developing improved storage and transmission techniques to limit the harrowing climate-change effects of coolants and refrigerants, even as new pollution restrictions come into effect.
     
    Coolants have played a role in environmental change and global warming since the very advent of the crudest cooling devices
     
    Refrigerants have even driven human-settlement patterns and development of areas with harsh, hot climates such as the American South and Southwest. They've been rough on the Earth’s atmosphere and played an oversized role in climate change.
     
    It's kind of complicated:
     
    Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) used in 20th-century cooling and refrigeration systems thinned the ozone layer.

    Then the hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) that replaced them turned out to be greenhouse gases that in some cases were 4,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, itself a powerful driver of climate change.
     
    The recent federal climate change directive requires an 85-percent phaseout of HFCs over the next 15 years.

    So what will replace those coolants as heat waves associated with climate change only increase, in the near-term at least, the use of refrigerators and air conditioners across the world?

    Scientists and engineers at ORNL are working on the next generation of coolants — and the efficiency and safety of their delivery systems —as HFCs are phased out.
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  • Popping toads and playing dead: Happy Halloween from the hognose
    Rob Hunter
    Monday, 11 October 2021

    Creature Feature: The Drama Noodle Oscar goes to … the hognose!

    If you grew up east of the Rockies, your grandmother may have told tales of deadly “spreading adders,” dangerous serpents that would spread their heads wide when approached and chase down unsuspecting children.

    These quasi-mythical creatures rank alongside the Jersey Devil and the Chupacabra for their legendary status, with a glaring exception: the mythos surrounding the “spread-head,” “spreadnatter,” or “blow viper” are based firmly on a real, though harmless animal – the eastern hog-nosed snake.

    The hognose, which ranges in virtually every state east of the Mississippi River,  is remarkable for many reasons. Its genus Heterodon is from the Greek for “different tooth.” This name refers to unique, enlarged teeth in the rear of the mouth that are unusual among nonvenomous snakes.

    There is debate as to the function of these teeth, but prevailing theories converge on one purpose – to help subdue their preferred prey of toads.

    Hog-nosed snakes are the only animals in the United States that dine primarily on toads. This is roughly analogous to finding a tribe of humans who subsist primarily on ghost peppers.

    One tooth theory suggests the enlarged teeth help quite literally to deflate their prey. Toads have a habit of inflating their lungs to make themselves too big to swallow. It’s possible the Heterodon teeth evolved to effectively “pop” these living balloons. Another theory suggests the teeth help deliver the hognose’s saliva into its prey. While not venom in the technical sense, evidence suggests the saliva may have physiological effects that inhibit an unlucky toad’s ability to move.

    Toad-eating in itself is an unusual quality in a predator. True toads (with native members mostly confined to the genus Anaxyrus in North America) have evolved to produce potent toxins, collectively known as bufotoxins, in specialized glands on their necks. A toad’s trusty bufotoxins protect it from depredation by most generalist predators like hawks, coyote, or mink. The few exceptions to this rule are mostly snakes, with none so specialized for toad-eating as the hognose.

    Dentition and diet aside, it’s the drama that makes the hognose a star. When disturbed by a threat such as a human or a dog, the hognose plunges into a cascade of noteworthy defensive theatrics.

    The sequence and lineup vary, but a full performance typically begins with surprisingly loud hissing and a behavior known as mock striking, in which the snake lunges rapidly at the interloper as though to bite – but with its mouth shut. This tactic generally precedes or is paired with the next act: muscles in the snake’s neck contract, pulling its head and upper body into a broad, flat shape known as a hood. Picture Rikki Tikki Tavi’s cobra nemesis.

    This behavior earned the hognose its rural mythology and its cast of colorful nicknames. 

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  • Tennessee Lookout: (Part II) Thick covey of opposition to TWRA quail management at expense of mature hardwood forest
    Anita Wadhwani
    Tuesday, 05 October 2021

     DSCF8232 1 2048x1365 Tree trunks in the Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area in Sparta marked for clearcutting, despite local opposition. John Partipilo/Courtesy Tennessee Lookout

    Hundreds of citizens publicly reject TWRA Middle Tennessee deforestation plans

    This story was originally published by the nonprofit Tennessee Lookout and is shared (with much appreciation) with Hellbender Press via Creative Commons License. 

    Officials with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency faced considerable pushback Monday night (Oct. 4) at a public meeting in Sparta over plans to raze old growth forest in a popular hunting and recreation area located about about halfway between Nashville and Knoxville.

    A standing room-only crowd of more than 200 people filled the town’s small civic center to hear directly from state officials about what had been — until now — an unpublicized internal agency plan to clear forest on public lands in the Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area to create grassland habitat for northern bobwhite quail, a game bird whose populations have plummeted in Tennessee.

    “Bridgestone Firestone is one of the gems of White County,” said Elizabeth McDonald, one of two dozen people who spoke against the plan until the meeting grew too late to get through the long line of residents who signed up to address the TWRA.

    “It’s a place that is so beautiful, so intact, and it can never be replaced. I appreciate caring about quails, but you have people in this room who, for generations, have called this home. You have to understand you are attacking our homes.”

    The meeting was organized by Rep. Paul Sherrell, a Republican who represents the area, after an internal TWRA map leaked to a local resident revealed plans to cut 2,000 acres of hardwood trees on the property bequeathed to the state by the Bridgestone Corporation in 1998.

    The map quickly circulated among residents, and so did the outrage. The old-growth timber slated for demolition lines the path heading to Virgin Falls State Natural Area, where the tree canopy also shades hiking trails through a series of scenic waterfalls. The forested area slated for removal forms part of a popular deer and turkey hunting area, too.

    Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, and Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville — who said she has heard complaints from her Nashville constituents and others across the state who routinely visit the wilderness area — also attended the meeting.

    In a series of powerpoint presentations, TWRA officials outlined the urgent need to establish grassland habitats in Tennessee, not only for the Northern Bobwhite, but for native plants and birds for whom savannas — sparsely treed grassland — are critical to survival.

    Clearing forest would benefit at least 70 species with the greatest conservation needs, said Wally Akins, TWRA’s wildlife and forestry assistant chief.

    “Closed-canopy forests have limited value to many species,” he said.

    Hundreds of native plant species remain essentially dormant underneath the forest canopy, waiting to emerge, said Dwayne Estes, executive director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative. Savannas are “the forgotten landscape of the South,” he said.

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Earth

  • Black bear killed man whose body was found by Hazel Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Thomas Fraser
    Thursday, 19 August 2021

    Rangers shot and killed bear eating body at campsite 82

    (This story has been updated)

    A black bear killed a man whose body was found by backpackers at a Hazel Creek campsite in September 2020.

    Patrick Madura died “due to trauma caused by a bear,” according to a news release from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

    He would be only the second park visitor known to be killed in a bear attack in the 80-year history of the national park.

    Glenda Bradley was killed in a predatory bear attack on the Little River trail in 2000. Two bears were shot and killed by park rangers after a Boy Scout troop came upon the incident. The animals, a sow and yearling, were eating and attempting to cache Bradley’s body when they were killed. 

    Madura’s body was found by backpackers arriving at campsite 82 on Sept. 11, 2020. They first noticed an empty tent, then saw a bear “scavenging” the victim’s body across the creek. 

    Rangers responding to the subsequent emergency call found a bear eating Madura’s body and shot and killed the animal. Hazel Creek Trail and the campsite were temporarily closed following the incident.

    Madura, 43, of Elgin, Illinois was hiking and camping alone when he was attacked, according to the park service. No additional information about food storage issues or what may have precipitated the attack was immediately available from the park service.

    Madura was an accomplished outdoorsman with a masters in biology and was trained as an EMT and firefighter, according to local reporting from the Chicago area following his death last year.  

    Fatal attacks are extremely rare, given the number of visitors to the national park, the most visited in the country. Nonfatal attacks, while still rare, are more common. A bear attacked a teenager as she slept in a hammock near the Maddron Bald trail in the Cosby area earlier this year; she was airlifted from the park with serious injuries but was expected to make a full recovery. The bear involved in that attack was euthanized as well.

    Rangers urge visitors to be Bearwise, but regularly encounter improper interactions between bears and visitors, such as an incident this summer in which a woman was cited for feeding a bear peanut butter from a vehicle in Cades Cove.

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  • Limbless bears break hearts but donuts may be worse than leg traps
    Ben Pounds
    Tuesday, 03 August 2021

    83644084 179844060054345 4751008813274890240 n 705x550Courtesy of Help Asheville Bears 

    By any other name: From poaching to cars and traps, black bears face diverse human threats in Southern Appalachians 

    Activists and state agencies agree bear poaching is an age-old problem in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, but they diverge when it comes to some key aspects of the crime and its prevention.

    The non-profit Help Asheville Bears is raising awareness of threats to bears on both sides of the state lines and getting coverage on local media outlets like this piece on Knoxville-based WBIR. Its message has also appeared on a billboard in Sevierville. The Arden, N.C.-based group offers a tip line, rewards and also supports what could be described as a self-styled anti-poaching militia.

    “Bear poaching is a big deal. It happens anywhere where there are bears,” said Jody Williams, the founder of Help Asheville Bears, which is responding to what its members see as an increasing threat to the very symbol of wild Southern Appalachia. HAB is especially concerned about trapping that Williams said has left limbless bears limping throughout the mountains.

    The group is demanding Amazon quit selling leg-snare traps with a petition on Change.org that has gotten more than 220,000 signatures.

    A video at the top of the page shows images and footage of bears with missing limbs as sad flute music plays.

    “We currently follow 12 cases of bears missing limbs in a 25 mile radius of the Asheville area and 15 missing limbs within 90 miles of Asheville,” according to the Help Asheville Bears website.

    “Help Asheville Bears intends to help prevent illegal bear trapping in the South Asheville and Arden areas, where there has been much photographic evidence of illegal trapping, especially bears missing limbs.”

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  • As Rotty Top the corpse flower bloom ends its act on a malodorous note, it’s evident that a lot of people love nature – even its most indelicate stank
    JJ Stambaugh
    Sunday, 01 August 2021

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    Hundreds of humans attracted to stench of Rotty Top; Hard Knox Wire performs autopsy on UT corpse flower phenom

    (This story was originally published by Hard Knox Wire).

    “What I feel the most is excited from all the exposure that folks are getting of biology and the greenhouses,” said UT biology greenhouse director Jeff Martin. “I didn’t realize this many people would be interested, and it’s great. Hopefully, this will get people a little more interested in other types of plants.”

    She came, she reeked, she conquered.

    That’s how the history books may recall Rotty Top’s brief tenure as the biggest star on the University of Tennessee campus in July 2021. 

    The corpse flower (or titan arum, to the biologists among us) finally bloomed early Thursday morning after two weeks of teasing its keepers — and the public — that it was about to drop its leaves and saturate its surroundings with the odor of decaying flesh.

    Hundreds of visitors had already visited Rotty Top in the days preceding the rare event (the plant blooms at best once every decade), but on Thursday it seemed as though they were all returning at once. Shuttle buses carried curious fans from a nearby parking garage to the Hesler Biology Building on Circle Drive, and scores of people crowded around the titan arum’s enclosure to get a whiff of its infamous scent.

    “Most of the odors are going to be those sulfuric, garlicky, even fishy scents,” said Kaitlin Palla, assistant greenhouse manager for UT’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Those are produced by two of the main compounds the central column will produce. It’s heating up to 98 degrees right now, so it’s really aerosolizing those compounds in particular. But there’s also floral notes from the skirt-like structure around the bottom.”

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Air

  • Clean-energy advocates take demands to base of TVA towers and power
    Thomas Fraser
    Thursday, 19 August 2021

    IMG 4207Alex Pulsipher holds a sign demanding that TVA transition to 100 percent renewable energy at a rally Wednesday in Market Square in Knoxville. Courtesy Amy Rawe/Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

    Varied environmental groups offer unified plea for clean energy, coal ash management and accountability from TVA

    It was people power generating energy at Market Square in downtown Knoxville on Wednesday.

    A coalition of civic and environmental groups and their representatives met at the bottom of the two Tennessee Valley Authority towers urging the public utility to reopen meetings to public comment; swear off all fossil fuels by 2030; and carefully tend to the needs of those affected by coal ash and devise a plan to contain it for the safety of current and future generations.

    The event was punctuated by a march around the Market Square block where some 60 sign-waving and chanting marchers received supportive horn honks from motorists and encouragement from multitudes of outdoor diners — some of whom were handed information sheets and may have just been introduced to the real concept and causes of climate change.

    The last portion of the event featured coal-ash workers, a widow, orphan and wife sharing the pain associated with cleanup of the Kingston coal ash spill, which sent a wicked stew of slurry through areas adjacent to that coal plant in December 2008. Dozens of workers laboring under a contractor for TVA eventually developed serious illnesses and died. 

    Other coal-ash issues faced by TVA include recent reports that a playground and sports field adjacent to its Bull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton, Tennessee were contaminated with potentially deadly byproducts of coal ash mounded for storage nearby.

    Despite a decades-long effort to reduce local plant production, TVA is still a notable contributor to fossil-fuel emissions, ranging from its coal plants (which, including Bull Run, are up for retirement soon) to its natural gas-fired plants. Attendees at Wednesday’s rally called for a complete retirement of TVA carbon emissions and a transition to the use of purely renewable electricity

    TVA likely plans to replace the bulk of its power generated from coal-fired plants with natural-gas derived electricity.

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  • 100 citizens attend ‘People’s Hearing’ on TVA and demand more accountability, transparency
    Rick Herron
    Friday, 06 August 2021

    Attendees raise concerns about coal ash; call for more clean energy, transparency and public engagement from TVA

    Nearly 100 people from Tennessee and other states served by the Tennessee Valley Authority joined a virtual People’s TVA Hearing. The hearing on Aug. 4 was organized by the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement (TVEDM). It included a public comment session and multiple breakout sessions for attendees to discuss specific issues facing TVA and the Tennessee Valley. 

    TVA has not held any public listening sessions in a year and a half because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and attendees called on TVA to resume such sessions as soon as possible when the pandemic ebbs.

    “TVA talks a good game about being public power but they are simply not walking the walk,” said Barbara Mott of Knoxville. “Hiding from the people is not the answer.”

    Hearing attendees highlighted a number of urgent issues facing TVA during their public comments and breakout discussions, including coal ash pollution, moving to clean energy, issues facing TVA’s workers, and high energy-cost burdens. 

    Powell resident Julie Bledsoe, whose husband Ron worked to clean up the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal slurry spill and was later diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said coal ash is “extremely toxic” and, because TVA’s contractor did not protect coal ash cleanup workers, “We've been to quite a few funerals due to that. A lot of families have lost their loved ones, and many are sick and suffering.” 

    Many of the attendees and public commenters also called for TVA to transition quickly to clean energy. "We believe TVA can lead the country by achieving 100 percent clean electricity by 2030, and should not be investing in new fossil gas at a time when the climate crisis demands we move away from polluting fossil fuels. If TVA were to actually allow the public to make their voices heard, they'd likely hear that same thing from folks all over the Valley,” said Brady Watson, an organizer with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

    Advocates with the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement are soliciting written and video comment submissions, as well as planning a rally outside TVA’s Knoxville headquarters on Aug. 18 (the date of TVA’s next board meeting) to highlight the need for the return of public listening sessions.

    Convened in 2019, the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement is a collaborative of organizations, community groups and citizens working to bring democracy to the Tennessee Valley Authority energy system and transform it from the bottom up. 

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  • The coal plant next door: The sad and long legacy of coal ash in Georgia
    ProPublica
    Monday, 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.

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Water

  • Tennessee Aquarium floats citizen-scientist app to extend the reach of public research
    Ray Zimmerman
    Tuesday, 07 September 2021

    Black Crappie in the Tennessee AquariumA black crappie is seen in the Tennessee Aquarium. Citizen scientists across the region can now plug their fish findings into a new database. Courtesy Tennessee Aquarium

    So you want to be a citizen scientist? There’s a new app for that!

    The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute wants to assess the status of various fish populations throughout the Southeast so it released a new app to help outdoor folks and anglers identify the fish they spot, report the sighting, and enter their discoveries into a regional fish database.

    The Freshwater Information Network (FIN) accepts and includes data for three major watersheds: The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, and Mobile Bay.

    Tennesseans may be familiar with the two rivers, but may think of Mobile Bay as a distant place with no connection to them, but its headwaters touch Tennessee in the Conasauga River. With its geographic isolation, the Conasauga is home to species of fish found nowhere else in the world.

    Our region has more species of fish than any other part of the country, and the open FIN database and application includes information on nearly half the U.S. species of fish. When hikers, boaters or anglers spot a fish, they can participate by first photographing it and then uploading the photograph to the app.

    The app can help citizens themselves identify the fish, and when paired with GPS location data it becomes a part of the FIN database, which also includes museum records and interactive maps. The app also allows a user to enter their address to find their watershed and access a list of the fish that live there.

    FIN Watershed Map

    Read 285 times More...

  • Tracing the historical course of the Tennessee River through Knoxville
    J.J. Stambaugh
    Friday, 13 August 2021

    ACE097A1 B57D 45ED B235 4D93EBC89DD8A wharf seen along the Tennessee River in Knoxville in the late 1800s or later. Knoxville History Project via Hard Knox Wire

    Q&A with Knoxville historian illustrates the importance of the Tennessee River to nascent Knoxville

    Rivers didn't need early American cities, but the cities certainly needed rivers.

    Knoxville historian Jack Neely and Hard Knox Wire editor J.J. Stambaugh lay out a fascinating history of the Tennessee River through Knoxville in their latest collaboration. And yes. It has several references to “Suttree” by Cormac McCarthy. Of course.

    “Beyond in the dark the river flows in a sluggard ooze toward southern seas…. afreight with the past, dreams dispersed in the water someway, nothing ever lost.” — Cormac McCarthy, Suttree.

    The Tennessee River doesn’t loom large in the daily lives of most contemporary Knoxville residents, but two centuries ago it was literally why there was a city here in the first place.

    In fact, it’s impossible to discuss Knoxville’s history for long without the river cropping up in one way or another. In the earliest days of the community’s existence, settlers drew water from and washed in the creeks that fed the Tennessee; the river itself carried boats laden with goods hundreds of miles before ending up in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

    Since then, the city’s relationship with the river has evolved steadily. It was an economic lifeline for generations, but railroads and automobiles eventually cornered the market when it came to shipping both cargo and passengers. Today, it’s a safe bet that when most people think of the “Riverfront” they’re thinking of restaurants or maybe a fireworks display; for the lucky few who can afford to belong to the yacht club, they’re maybe thinking about Labor Day weekends spent sailing with the Vol Navy.

    In the latest edition of Hard Knox Histories, local historian and journalist Jack Neely discusses the ebbs and flows of Knoxville’s connection to the river with HKW’s editor, J.J. Stambaugh.

    J.J.: When the first settlers arrived at the site that would be Knoxville, what role did geography — especially the Tennessee River — play in their decision to settle here? How important was the river commercially in the early days? The river, of course, was fed by numerous tributaries and creeks. How important were relatively small waterways like First Creek to the early city’s growth?

    JACK: The river was elemental. It was hard to start a city without one. It was transportation, it was water for drinking and cooling, it was waste disposal. And, of course, the Tennessee reached from here into Cherokee territory, beyond into Alabama, then through West Tennessee into Kentucky, and all the way to the Ohio and the Mississippi.

    When it came to locating a city, First Creek was probably as important as the Tennessee because it provided mill power. There were several mills up and down First Creek, as well as Second Creek. The two downtown creeks were the eastern and western boundaries of the city for its first 70 years or so.

    The river was extremely important commercially, even though it was a mostly one-way thing. In the early days, when Knoxville was a territorial and state capital, there was a demand for liquor here, and folks apparently got so good at producing cheap whisky and brandy that they loaded flatboats with it and floated them downriver, all the way to New Orleans, where it could be sold for several times the cost. I love the fact that riverboat crewmen would bust up their rafts and sell them for hardwood in a city where there wasn’t much of it. A lot of the wooden buildings in the French Quarter, especially in the interiors, show traces of the rope holes and grooves characteristic of flatboats.

    Go to Hard Knox Wire for the rest of this fascinating story.

    Read 805 times  

  • Memphis City Council bans Byhalia Pipeline over aquifer contamination concerns
    Thomas Fraser
    Monday, 09 August 2021

    01312021 VALERO Memphis Refinery Focht 008Memphis residents have pushed back against the Byhalia Pipeline project. The proposed pipeline has been the subject of controversy since 2019. The joint venture project would build a 49-mile pipeline between Memphis and Mississippi and would run through several Black communities in Memphis. VALERO Memphis Refinery, shown here, is along the Mississippi River’s Lake McKellar in South Memphis. Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht

    Opponents of Memphis pipeline cite textbook examples of environmental racism

    (This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout).

    Memphis City Council passed an ordinance this month protecting the Memphis Sand Aquifer after environmental activists spent nearly a year fighting to protect it against a crude-oil pipeline.

    The city council passed on second reading an ordinance establishing the city government’s role in  overseeing future developments in Memphis and how they may impact the aquifer, which serves as the area’s main drinking water supply. 

    The ordinance will be up for a third and final vote on Aug. 17.

    Since 2019, environmental and racial justice advocates have protested plans to build the Byhalia Pipeline, a joint venture between Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation, in a historically Black neighborhood located in Southwest Memphis. What started as criticisms turned into full-blown protests that gathered national attention and support from prominent political figures, including former Vice President Al Gore and civil rights leader the Rev. William Barber.

    The council used the Federal and Tennessee Safe Drinking Water Act as an authorizing agent for local government’s ability to protect public drinking water.

    The Memphis City Council first discussed legislation to protect the aquifer in May 2021 and introduced ordinances that would affect the Byhalia Pipeline. 

    The resolution established an Underground Infrastructure Advisory Board to review all future developments within Memphis and prohibit those that carried hazardous liquids. According to council documents, developments must not pass within 1,000 feet of the Wellhead Protection Areas, which access existing public water supplies. 

    Byhalia Pipeline representatives threatened to file a lawsuit against the city council if they were to pass legislation that regulated future developments, causing the council to delay the vote. 

    Byhalia Pipeline representatives then abandoned the project in July but said they still considered filing a lawsuit if the resolution were to pass. 

    Councilman Jeff Warren, who sponsored the resolution, said “lawsuits are always possible.”

    Local community leaders and critics called the Byhalia Pipeline an example of environmental racism, adding that Memphis communities were already burdened by harmful environmental issues caused by nearby oil refineries, wastewater treatment facilities, industrial manufacturers and power plants.

    These factors led to cancer risks four-times the national average, and any contamination of the area’s drinking water could potentially turn the area into another Flint, Michigan, a city whose water system was contaminated with lead.

    Read 203 times  

Voices

  • FGS calls on TVA to get serious about addressing the climate crisis
    Wolf Naegeli
    Monday, 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.

    Sincerely,

    Wolf Naegeli, PhD
    President
    Foundation for Global Sustainability

    Read 452 times  

  • Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has a blueprint to help multiple utilities swear off fossil fuels
    Maggie Shober
    Tuesday, 15 June 2021

    widows creek

    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.

    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:

    Download the report: “Achieving 100% Clean Electricity in the Southeast: Enacting a Federal Clean Electricity Standard.”

    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 443 times  

  • Help tip the scales toward environmental justice for all: Here's how
    Appalachian Voices
    Monday, 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. 

    Public comments will be accepted in writing until May 27. To submit a written comment, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

    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 487 times  

Creature Features

  • Rotty Top Live — flower lasts no more than 2-3 days
    GreyW
    Thursday, 29 July 2021

    A live video stream was featured at the top of this article while “Rotty Top” was blooming, July 29-31, 2021.
    Another article includes details about that particular plant and the event.

    The corpse plant at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has not bloomed in 20 years

    The titan arum (Amorphophalus titanum), native to Sumatra, is remarkable for several reasons.

    It is more often referred to by colloquial names, such as corpse flower, rotting corpse plant or carrion plant, because of the strong distinct odor it releases to attract pollinators when it flowers.

    No other species of flowering plant has an unbranched inflorescence, or flower-bearing reproductive part, as large as titan arum. Unbranched means that all flowers grow from a single stem; a gigantic one in this case. A record height above corm (underground storage tuber) of 10.5 ft was measured at Bonn Botanical Gardens in June 21, 2013. 

    When an inflorescence has many small flowers on a fleshy stem and is initially enclosed by a leaf-like sheath, botanists call it a spadix and its sheath a spathe. Even after the spathe has opened, the flowers are hard to see because they are so small and near the bottom of the stem. In the absence of a balcony above, viewers would have to be on a ladder to peek down into the narrow part of the spathe. It’s not the flowers that are spectacular — it’s the overwhelming size, overall shape and sheer beauty of the plant!

    Carrion beetles and flesh flies are titan arum’s pollinators. It has evolved unparalleled capacity to attract them. While flowering, it heats up the tip of the spadix to the range of mammalian body temperatures, which not only helps volatilize the odors to entice insects from far away, but may be sensed by some of them to further indicate proximity of food. The plant has opened the spathe like a wide cocktail glass to show its inside surface. The deep red color and texture could buttress the illusion of a big chunk of carrion.

    Why is it even rarer to see titan arum fruit in a botanical garden?

    Outside the equatorial region, botanical gardens cannot cultivate many corpse plants due to their size. The typical interval between blooms is five to twelve years.

    The actual flowers last one day only. Female flowers bloom first. One or two days later the male flowers bloom. This normally prevents self-pollination. As these plants bloom so rarely, chances are slim to have viable pollen on hand for artificial pollination.

    Read 258 times  

  • A nursing bear and her cubs share an intimate Great Smokies moment
    Rob Hunter
    Monday, 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 1026 times  

  • Smokies black bear rehab facility celebrates 25 years and 300 rescues
    Cailyn Domecq
    Friday, 04 June 2021

    ABR 2Chickadee the bear cub soon after she arrived at Appalachian Bear Rescue in spring 2020.  Photo courtesy of Appalachian Bear Rescue

    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 531 times More...

Feedbag

Your daily diet of environment and science news

  • Report: Sen. Joe Manchin, a holdout Democrat on climate-change legislation, is a "coal baron"

    1200px Joe Manchin Official Senate Portrait

    The Guardian: Manchin monkey-wrenches climate change legislation because he's made millions off fossil fuels

    West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democratic linchpin for game-changing climate legislation proposed in a budget bill as part of the Biden administration's plan to provide aid to families as well as give a boost to efforts to reduce global warming, has thrown a now-infamous wrench in the works. 

    He has vigorously opposed key parts of the climate legislation included in the 2022 budget bill. Per the Guardian, it's simply because he and his family have made a fortune off coal extraction in the relatively impoverished state of West Virginia and elsewhere.

    "Financial records detailed by reporter Alex Kotch for the Center for Media and Democracy and published in the Guardian show that Manchin makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from millions of dollars of coal company stock he owns. The stock is held in Enersystems, Inc, a company Manchin started in 1988 and later gave to his son, Joseph, to run," according to the Guardian.

     "He has already effectively succeeded in stripping the bill of its most powerful climate change provision, a program that would have rapidly shut down coal and gas-fired power plants and replaced them with wind and solar power," according to the New York Times.

     


  • Big South Fork seeking information on vehicles dumped in Blue Hole

    IMG 2389

    The National Park Service and officials with Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area are still looking for those responsible for dumping derelict vehicles in a remote part of the park known as Blue Hole.

    Park staff found two vehicles and a boat illegally discarded in a section of the park closed to traffic. The junk was discovered Aug. 26 and staff and rangers had to pulled from other projects to clean up the mess.

    Park staff recovered an abandoned vehicle, UTV, and boat from the Blue Hole section of the park that appeared to have been dumped in separate incidents.

    “The resulting cleanup pulled staff away from planned trail work and public safety duties. Additionally, illegally dumping trash and other items create a negative visitor experience for those hoping to enjoy the serene natural beauty of Big South Fork NRRA,” said Superintendent Niki Stephanie Nicholas in a press release.

    "Visitors are reminded that abandoning property in the park is prohibited by federal law."

    Anyone with information concerning these incidents is encouraged to contact the NPS at 423-223-4489 or leave a confidential message on the Resource Protection Tip Line at 423-569-7301.

    The 24-hour tip line allows callers to remain anonymous.


  • Anti-nuke nun jailed after Y-12 protest dies at 91

    News Sentinel: Nun who served time after Oak Ridge weapons protest dies in Pennsylvania

    Sister Megan Rice, who along with two others were prosecuted by the federal government after breaking into the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 10 in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

    Rice, a member of the order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, penetrated the secure perimeter of Y-12 in July 2012 along with two other Catholic activists for prayers and protests outside a bunker containing uranium, according to the Associated Press via the News Sentinel. The incident prompted numerous inquiries about the security of Y-12 and put the inherent danger of nuclear armament in the media spotlight.

    The trio was charged with felony sabotage but served only two years of their federal prison terms.

    "While testifying during her jury trial, Rice defended her decision to break into the Oak Ridge uranium facility as an attempt to stop “manufacturing that...can only cause death,” according to a trial transcript.'

    “I had to do it,” she said of her decision to break the law.

    “My guilt is that I waited 70 years to be able to speak what I knew in my conscience.”

     


  • Permafrost is a ticking methane bomb

    Smithsonian: In Russia, even rocks emit greenhouse gases

    The melting Siberian tundra north of the Arctic Circle released millions of tons of methane last year as regional temperatures rose to 11 degrees (F) above average.

    Methane has a shorter effect than carbon dioxide on global atmospheric change but is still 70 times more potent than CO2 in its overall global-warming potential. Its accelerated release on such a vast scale represents an immediate challenge to restricting overall global warming to less than 3 degrees (fF) by the end of the century, which scientists agree is necessary to prevent dramatic climate change. Methane’s potent global warming potential is why many conservationists oppose the use of natural gas as an energy source.

    But in Siberia, even the rocks are emitting methane. Scientists were surprised to find that limestone exposed by disappearing permafrost itself generated high levels of methane. Tundra fires have also accelerated the release of methane and other gases, and have come at great cost to the Russian government and the rural inhabitants of the vast region.

    That means economical and practical means must be developed elsewhere, at least, for methane management.

    But according to the United Nations Economic Council for Europe:

    “Despite methane’s short residence time, the fact that it has a much higher warming potential than CO2 and that its atmospheric volumes are continuously replenished make effective methane management a potentially important element in countries’ climate change mitigation strategies. As of today, however, there is neither a common technological approach to monitoring and recording methane emissions, nor a standard method for reporting them.“


  • ORNL's comprehensive mapping of built environments aids disaster response

    Compass: ORNL mapping effort will aid rescue, risk assessment

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists spent five years mapping virtually every structure in the U.S. and the data is bearing early fruit as it is used for response to disasters such as hurricanes and severe floods. 

    Mark Tuttle and Melanie Lavardiere, the team leaders of the project, have mapped "virtually every single structure in the United States and its territories," Compass reports. 

    The information is used by disaster responders from the FEMA level and down. During a hurricane, for example, authorities can focus response efforts on the most vulnerable areas using the building-mapping database. 

    The database can also be used by insurers to charge rates more according to risk, and for structures covered under the National Flood Insurance Program, as is already happening.

    But the data is most valuable for saving lives and determining the most likely location those lives will have to be saved. 

    "After disaster strikes, the data can give a rapid indication of the scope of the damage and point responders in the right direction to assist in the recovery. Using the powerful computers available at ORNL, the team can process data quickly — producing in a matter of hours work that used to take months — and get it into FEMA’s hands for analysis," Compass reports.


  • Another slice of the wild preserved in Cumberlands

    Knox News: Nearly 12,000 acres added to Skinner Mountain preserve on the Cumberland Plateau

    The Conservation Fund and state wildlife and forestry officials reached a deal to conserve and manage thousands of wild acres in Fentress County.

    The expanse was previously held by an out-of-state speculative investment company likely originally tied to timber companies.

    The Cumberland Plateau and escarpments have been increasingly recognized for their biodiversity along with the Smokies to the east beyond the Tennessee Valley. The Cumberlands are along a songbird and fowl migration route, and host a niche population of mature timber, mosses, lichens, fungi, mammals and amphibians. Elk were reintroduced a decade ago, and black bears have begun to range across the Cumberlands and their base.

    The area is pocked with caves and sinkholes, some containing petroglyphs and other carvings from previous populations.

    "On the Cumberland Plateau, the key to maintaining biodiversity is to retain as much natural forest (both managed and unmanaged) as possible," a forestry expert told the News Sentinel's Vincent Gabrielle.

    The Foothills Land Conservancy has also helped protect thousands of acres along the plateau and its escarpments in recent years.


  • J.J. takes a bus down Electric Avenue

    884E1F2D 2A2F 4F68 A15E 80F9458D1FB0Hard Knox Wire: City takes media and politicos on a spin aboard KAT's newest electric bus

    The city demonstrated and offered rides aboard the Knoxville Area Transit's new electric buses at Caswell Park on Thursday. The city and KAT plan to acquire a total of 18 electric buses as part of a plan to reduce the city's carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next thirty years. Five of the buses, built by Canada-based manufacturer New Flyer, have arrived.

    “In the United States, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and consequently climate change. Transit has the power to change that,” city transit director Isaac Thorne told Hard Knox Wire.

    “By drawing new people to consider transit, reducing reliance on cars, opening up opportunities, and providing sustainable mobility choices, transit can make cities more livable, make the air cleaner, and help meet our challenging but achievable climate goals,” he said.

    The city plans to have 18 electric buses representing 26 percent of KAT's fleet in regular operation by the end of next year. Another 41 percent of the existing fleet are hybrids, according to KAT.

    The Knoxville Utilities Board is installing multiple chargers to service the electricity needs of the new fleet.

    The new buses will undergo multiple trial runs before they hit the road with public passengers in January, probably along the Sutherland and Magnolia routes.

    "KAT’s fleet of 71 buses carry around 3 million passengers each year on its 23 bus routes and three downtown trolley routes. There are 1,150 bus stops scattered throughout the city, and bus routes come within a half-mile of 80 percent of the population," Hard Knox Wire reported.

    “Today marks a dramatic milestone for Knoxville – this is a major step on our path toward a more clean and resilient future for our children and grandchildren,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said in a news release from KAT.

    “These high-efficiency electric buses are an investment in clean air, in healthy neighborhoods, and mobility for our residents."


  • Deadly natural disasters have ravaged hardscrabble Knoxville for generations. Covid-19 takes the cake.

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    Hard Knox Wire: A brief history of Ktown's worst natural disasters

    The Covid-19 pandemic currently could go down in history as Knoxville's worst hard time (to borrow a phrase from Timothy Egan), but a litany of natural disasters preceded the international outbreak of respiratory disease that killed 629 people in Knox County as of Sept. 8, according to the Knox County Health Department. Only half of the county's residents have been vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and more than 10 percent of the population has been infected with Covid-19, which can carry life-long health implications.

    Hard Knox Wire has a great rundown of the Covid crisis and other natural disasters that the city and region have faced in its ongoing Knoxville history series. They include the far-flung effects of the New Madrid earthquake; periodic flooding that devastated downtown and outlying areas before TVA dammed the Tennessee River; a Cocke County plane crash that killed all aboard, including noteworthy Knoxvillians; and, perhaps, appropo, the smallpox and cholera breakouts that struck the city in the 1800s.

    History is a great teacher, and thanks to JJ Stambaugh of Hard Knox Wire and Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project for keeping us on our toes in regard to the past. 

     


Action Alert

  • 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

Events

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About

  • Hellbender Press

    The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

    (ONLINE version 0.7)
    Copyright © 2021 Hellbender Press | Foundation for Global Sustainability
     
    Hellbender Press
    P.O. Box 1101
    Knoxville, Tennessee
    37901-1101
    865-465-9691
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
     
    Editor and Publisher
    Thomas Fraser
     
    Staff Writers
    Thomas Fraser
    Tracy Haun Owens
    Rick Vaughan
    Rikki Hall (Posthumous Emeritus)
     
    Contributing Writers
    Lesli Bales-Sherrod
    Stephen Lyn Bales
    Scott Schlarbaum
    Ray Zimmerman
     
    Editorial Board
    Bo Baxter
    Jason Bradley
    Kim Pilarski-Hall
    Chris Kane
    Wolf Naegeli
    Lauren Parker
    Amanda Womac
     

    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.

    Hellbender Press encourages the submission of original and relevant articles and photography for consideration to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


  • Our Name

    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

    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: