The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

News

  • Big South Fork closes 60-acre donut hole
    Thomas Fraser
    Friday, 14 January 2022

    Cliffs on the Big South Fork NPS photoNational Park Service

    Land conservancy and estate of long-ago German immigrant expands protection of North White Oak Creek

    Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area has grown inward by 60 acres.

    The National Park Service announced this week that it officially acquired the donated acreage along North White Oak Creek within Big South Fork. It had previously been in private ownership.

    The Allardt Land Company and the estate of Bruno Gernt (a remarkable individual in his own right) originally donated the approximately 60 acres within the boundaries of Big South Fork to TennGreen Land Conservancy. In December 2021, TennGreen transferred the property to the National Park Service.

    “This tract provides essential protection for the south side of North White Oak Creek, a popular area in the southwest portion of the (125,000-acre park that straddles the Tennessee and Kentucky state lines in the Cumberlands).

    “Park visitors will now forever be able to enjoy peaceful views across the creek of an oak-hickory and northern hardwood forest canopy,” Superintendent Niki Stephanie Nicholas said in a press release.

    “We truly appreciate the Allardt Land Company, Estate of Bruno Gernt, and TennGreen for their generosity.”

    Read 67 times  

  • New year. Old challenges.
    John R. Platt & Tara Lohan
    Thursday, 06 January 2022

    168691309 4048180571871818 2861942263530178348 n

    From plastic pollution to extreme weather and the extinction crisis, the year ahead promises tough fights, enormous challenges and critical opportunities

    This story was originally published by The Revelator.

    A new year brings with it new opportunities — and more of the same environmental threats from the previous 12 months.

    Read 94 times More...

  • Claws out: Sevier County is a center of raptor rehab
    Rick Vaughan
    Wednesday, 05 January 2022

    service pnp ppmsca 22500 22588vLibrary of Congress

    Sevier County raptor center will be largest in North America

    Project Eagle has landed.

    The American Eagle Foundation broke ground Sept. 21 near Kodak, Tennessee on the largest raptor education and rehabilitation facility in North America.

    Scheduled to open fall 2022, Project Eagle will be the new home of Challenger, the famous bald eagle seen swooping across football fields as the proud national symbol of the United States of America (by God).

    Read 225 times More...

  • Hope floats in Third Creek
    Maddie Spradley
    Wednesday, 29 December 2021

    IMG 5517Maddie Spradley 

    UT students, professors and staff scrub up for ‘creek kidney transplant’ in Knoxville

    Imagine you’re a kid again. It’s a Saturday afternoon in July and after a morning full of rain the clouds begin to clear and the sun peeks out.

    You run outside in your rubber rain boots to meet your friends down by the creek in your neighborhood, carrying a large bucket, boots squeaking as you go.

    Once there, you and your friends carefully wade down into the water, curious to see what creatures lurk beneath the surface.

    Read 234 times More...

  • Foothills Land Conservancy saved some green in 2021
    Foothills Land Conservancy
    Thursday, 23 December 2021

    Pictured Just a few of the many handmade bird boxes placed throughout the property by Mr. Savage. 768x1024 

    Maryville-based FLC is finalizing this year’s remaining land preservation projects

    131 acres in Jefferson County, TN, now preserved!
    Left: Outstanding views atop this recently preserved property with cosmos blooms in foreground.
    Middle: Spring-fed pond on the property.
    Right: Mature forest on the west side of the property.  Touch here for additional images
     

    To date in 2021, FLC has worked with landowners to assist in the conservation of over 1,300 acres. It anticipates a few thousand more acres protected by year's end.

    Here are some highlights from the past year.

    Glenn and Katie Savage are two of FLC’s newest friends and partners in land conservation.

    They recently placed a conservation easement on their 131-acre property, affectionately named Dancing Winds Wildlife Sanctuary and Arboretum, which is “dedicated to the preservation and protection of God’s glorious creations—plants and animals.” 

    Glenn has cultivated over 400 different types of trees which are planted across the property and lovingly tends his home garden full of a variety of beautiful and unique flowers.

    The Savages have several fields planted in corn/grain sorghum as well as a variety of oaks and other mast-producing trees to supplement the diet of the countless white-tailed deer and turkeys that call their property home. 

    Glen and Katie are also avid birdwatchers and provide many types of feeders for their winged backyard visitors.  The Savages say that protecting their beloved property and knowing that it will forever remain a safe haven for wildlife has given them peace of mind, and Glenn hopes in the future to convince some of his neighbors to partner with FLC to protect their land, too. Touch here for additional images

    Landowner Glen Savage and FLC Biologist Shelby Lyn Sanders place FLC conservation easement boundary signs along the property. 768x558

    Read 204 times More...

Voices

  • Toward a New Age of Enlightenment
    Wolf Naegeli
    Thursday, 30 December 2021
    David Zinn Sprig Life emergingThis photograph of ephemeral chalk street art by David Zinn is symbolic for life reemerging after a catastrophe (of being paved over) or for people coming out from lockdown.
    In 2022 the Living Sustainably Program of the Foundation for Global Sustainability
    will launch a pilot project to engage citizen volunteers
    in grassroots initiatives for community resilience, sustainability and global solidarity.

     

    At this time a year ago, we were hopeful 2021 would bring an end to the pandemic.

    The final week of 2020 saw the counts of new cases decline markedly in the United States and worldwide. Except for scientists and medical professionals, few understood yet the risks posed by variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. It wasn’t until May 2021 that the World Health Organization (WHO) started naming major variants for Greek letters.

    Not every change brought about by the pandemic had purely negative consequences

    Learning from what is going wrong may help us avoid deleterious outcomes of other global crises.

    Read 165 times More...

  • 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 681 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 606 times  

Air

  • Get involved: Protestors plan to 'lock arms' Wednesday (Nov. 10) to demand TVA swear off fossil fuels for good
    Thomas Fraser
    Tuesday, 09 November 2021

    3D2A2F6C B919 4295 B244 36D48A4BF9BD 1 105 cProtestors chant and wave signs urging TVA to commit to a fossil fuel-free future during a protest in downtown Knoxville this summer. Courtesy Amy Rawe/Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

    Activists will demand TVA allow public comments during a protest planned for Wednesday morning outside TVA HQ in downtown Knoxville

    Knoxville clean-air activists plan another protest  Wednesday outside of Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters to demand a return to public-comment periods and a commitment the huge utility won't rely on fossil-fuel energy sources in the future.

    "Public input is critical right now, while TVA is considering building new, large fossil gas power plants and pipelines, even though they would be contrary to our need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030," said protest organizer Brady Watson of Southern Alliance for Clean EnergyStatewide Organizing for Community Empowerment is also coordinating the protest.

    "TVA’s current leadership is locking us out of decisions impacting our future," Watson said, "so we’re locking arms outside of TVA towers in downtown Knoxville during their Board meeting" on Wednesday November 10 at 10 AM ET to demand TVA:

    -Reimplement public listening sessions virtually until it is safe to do so in person.

    -Take the climate crisis seriously by investing in clean energy and not new fossil gas. 

    The protest will be streamed live on the event's Facebook page

    Read 369 times  

  • 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.

    Read 1211 times More...

  • 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. 

    Read 1299 times  

Creature Features

  • 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. 

    Read 468 times More...

  • 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 459 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 1325 times  

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 523 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 1026 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 380 times  

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.

    Read 1145 times More...

  • 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.”

    Read 1413 times More...

  • 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

    84E49492 8A78 490F A4EA 8453DD311044

    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.”

    4DCF9C4A 6C42 4564 AA97 8734A149B9E3

    Read 1272 times More...

Feedbag

Your daily diet of environment and science news

  • Mountain bears in crosshairs of NC sanctuary management plan

    Black Bear Mike Carraway TN4North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

    Smoky Mountain News: WNC bear-management plan raises some hackles

    State wildlife officials in North Carolina are proposing a rule change that would allow hunters to kill black bears in areas that are currently off-limits to "harvesting" of the animals.

    The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission cites the population boom of the bruins in its consideration of opening up permit hunting in sanctuaries such as Panthertown, Standing Indian and Pisgah.

    The proposal is among changes to state wildlife law suggested by the commission for 2022-2023 hunting seasons.

    “Allowing hunting in additional sanctuaries will help control the growing population as increased human development reduces hunter access outside the sanctuaries, the Wildlife Commission says, and it will also cut down on human-bear conflicts in those areas,” according to reporting from Holly Kays of Smoky Mountain News.

    An outline and rationale for the bear sanctuary hunting rule is available on the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission website.


  • Amorous salamanders heat up the Southern winter

    hellbenderhrRob Hunter/Hellbender Press

    Knox News: Winter a key time in salamander reproductive calendar

    The woods, fields, rivers, creeks and wetlands of Southern Appalachia aren’t as barren as one would think in the midst of winter.

    News Sentinel science reporter Vincent Gabrielle gives a solid rundown of why some of our amphibious denizens, including hellbenders, put themselves out there when so many other Appalachian critters retreat to burrows, dens and nests when the snow begins to blow.

    “There are more salamander species that call the Southern Appalachians home than any other place on Earth. There are 30 salamander species present in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Out of the 550 known salamander species on the planet, 77 live here in our backyards. Their bright colors make them the living jewels of Appalachia,” Gabrielle reports.


  • Walker Sisters off-limits for now

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed the Walker Sisters Cabin because of safety concerns including a shifting chimney.

    The cabin is now inaccessible, but visitors can still explore the homestead and outbuildings as work proceeds to analyze and fix the landmark Smokies dwelling.

    Restoration work will be funded by Friends of the Smokies.

    Per the National Park Service:

    “The cabin dates back to the 1800s and was occupied by the Walker Sisters until 1964. Park crews are concerned about recent movement around the chimney in the two-story cabin. Noticeable cracks and buckling around the stone masonry need to be repaired and stabilized to prevent further movement. The cabin is now closed to all use. 

    “Cabin renovations, including roof replacement, are planned for the 2022 field season. The Friends of the Smokies have provided funding for this critical work as part of the Forever Places campaign to protect and preserve the park’s historical resources. The historic farmstead, including additional outbuildings, will remain accessible during the cabin closure. Visitors may reach the area by hiking approximately 1.4 miles along the Little Brier Gap Trail located near the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.”  

    For more information about the Walker Sisters, please visit https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/historyculture/walker-sisters.htm


  • SACE works to keep us all warm this winter

    This is a submission from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

    After public advocacy from Knoxville community members, the KUB board passed a resolution that will deliver $5 million for emergency bill assistance to benefit those most in need, and an additional $1 million for weatherization to improve the comfort of people’s homes while lowering their bills by increasing energy efficiency. These funds are part of a pandemic relief credit from TVA.

    KUB staff proposed a resolution in October that would have allocated $1.3 million of the total $7.3 million TVA pandemic recovery credit toward payment of debt owed by KUB customers, and the remaining $6 million would be distributed as a monthly bill credit for all residential and small business KUB customers. This would have resulted in an average savings of $17 over 12 months, or about $1.40 per month for all KUB customers, regardless of their level of need for pandemic relief. 

    Knoxville Water and Energy for All (KWEA), a coalition which SACE is a part of, circulated a petition asking that KUB instead forgive all debt owed by KUB customers, and then use the remaining funds to assist households who were struggling to pay their KUB bills. KWEA delivered nearly 200 petition signatures, and the KUB board asked that the resolution be amended. 

    As a result of our coalition’s advocacy, the KUB board allocated not only the originally proposed $1.3 million for debt relief, but also the remaining $6 million for customers in need. 

    While KUB did not pledge to forgive all debt, this is certainly a major win for the community.

    The KUB Board’s decision to reallocate funds demonstrates the power of our community speaking up to advocate for ourselves and our neighbors. 


  • (Remember this?) 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.


  • Lunker sturgeon are out there again

    WBIR: Holston River sturgeon surging

    The population of lake sturgeon, a survivor since the Cretaceous Era that barely escaped the ravages of modern dams and reservoirs, is on the upswing in the Holston River and other branches and tributaries of the Tennessee River system. The last record of the fish in the valley before restoration efforts began is about 1960, according to WBIR.

    Significantly older fish were identified during a recent inventory of sturgeon, giving hope that some fish were closing in on reproductive maturity. The gradual recovery is largely the result of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Tennessee Valley Authority restoration efforts, WBIR reports.

    “It makes our valley richer; that fish is supposed to be here,” one researcher told WBIR about the significance of the so-far successful restoration of native sturgeon habitats.

     


  • Aerosols and atoms: ORNL supercomputer models airborne spread of Covid-19

    covid virus image

    New York Times: Oak Ridge supercomputer simulates spread of Covid-19 in water droplets

    Scientists studying the spread of the novel coronavirus utilized the world’s second-fastest computer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to model the movements of millions of individual atoms that make up the virus and aerosols that can transport and transmit it. 

    The virus has killed nearly 1 million Americans and infected more than 50 million since a pandemic was declared in early 2020.

    “The researchers started by creating a model of the coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, from 300 million virtual atoms,” the New York Times reported.

    Researchers then placed the virtual virus model in an intricately detailed and microscopic model of a water droplet such as the type exhaled by those infected with the virus. The supercomputer then calculated how the droplet and its attendant virus could, for example, move within a room where people are in close quarters and exhaling and inhaling the virus.

    To carry out this vast set of calculations, the researchers had to take over the Summit Supercomputer, the second most powerful supercomputer in the world


  • From fungi to trees, Smokies life gets back on track five years after conflagration

    News Sentinel: Forest life blossoms five years after devastating Smokies wildfires

    Researchers are tallying recovering species and noting some surprises five years after deadly wildfires tore through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent communities, according to News Sentinel science writer Vincent Gabrielle.

    Fire-dependent species such as the table mountain pine are seizing new land as a result of the wildfires, and some scientists have been surprised by the proliferation of chestnut saplings. Those saplings are the progeny of remaining chestnut root systems, though few if any survive to maturity. The chestnut was largely eliminated from the American landscape more than 100 years ago by a blight that eliminated one of the most productive mast species in the Southern Appalachians.

    Scientists are also intrigued by the reappearance of certain fungi decimated by the 2016 fires, which originated near the Chimneys and ultimately spread up Bullhead and then down into Twin Creeks and the surrounding developed communities. Fifteen people were killed and thousands of structures destroyed.

    A lot of Smokies habitat is fire dependent, but few wildfires have been allowed to burn in the backcountry over the history of the park. The fire and its aftermath provide researchers a unique opportunity to determine the effects the fire had on the natural landscape and accompanying plants, fungi, trees and animals.