The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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EarthSolidarity™ Initiatives are endeavors to which anyone can contribute in deed as well as in spirit, that

  • minimize waste and environmental impacts
  • increase community resilience
  • respect and protect ecosystem processes and all forms of life
  • contribute to good living conditions for everyone around the globe
  • affirm and celebrate our interdependence and interrelatedness in the Web of Life!

 

 

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 cranes sandhill 5During winter migration, visitors to Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge can view thousands of greater sandhill cranes. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency via Appalachian Voices

Beyond festivals, sandhill cranes pass through Southeast in increasing numbers

BIRCHWOOD — Every year in mid-January, a few thousand people gather here for The Sandhill Crane Festival because the cranes have returned. The community center at Birchwood is filled with vendors selling wildlife art or promoting conservation. The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial at Blythe Ferry offers a chance to celebrate Cherokee Culture and learn the story of indigenous people who were taken from their homes and sent on a long journey to Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, there are opportunities to see and appreciate these amazing birds through February in East Tennessee and beyond.

At least 20,000 cranes gather or pass through Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, having come from their nesting grounds in southern Canada and the upper Midwest to winter here in the American South. Many spend the winter there, but some will continue southward to Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the Gulf Coast.

Published in News

East Tennessee SPJ chapter plans roundtable with state legislators

KNOXVILLE — The East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists once again will partner with the League of Women Voters Knoxville/Knox County to hold the annual legislative forum of the Knox County delegation.

The date is Saturday, Jan. 28, from 9-10:30 a.m. at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay St., in downtown Knoxville. Jesse Mayshark, an ETSPJ board member and co-founder of Compass Knox, will serve as moderator. 

Hellbender Press readers are encouraged to submit possible environment-related questions for the legislators to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Coffee and breakfast bagels and pastries will be available at 8:30 a.m. and are free while they last. The event is open to the public, and the wearing of masks is optional.

— East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Published in Feedbag
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327549472 642836650863409 3091744227317001155 nHigh school students from across East Tennessee got to check out the latest career offerings in fields like robotics and virtual reality at the Jan. 21 Big Orange STEM event.  JJ Stambaugh/Hellbender Press

The TN Lunabotics, science and sustainability get together at BOSS event

KNOXVILLE What do environmental, social and economic sustainability have in common?

There are numerous ways to answer that question, but for those who pay close attention to education or economics it’s an accepted fact that the future belongs to societies that invest heavily in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). 

That’s why educators at all levels are pushing students towards those subjects at every opportunity, as was evidenced Jan. 21 at Big Orange STEM Saturday (BOSS) at the University of Tennessee.

About 150 high school students picked from communities across East Tennessee spent much of their Saturday at John C. Hodges Library, getting a first-hand taste of what awaits them should they choose to pursue careers in STEM through the UT system.

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Reddick Yellow CardinalA rare yellow cardinal is seen at a residence in Roane County this winter. Catherine Reddick

As yellow cardinals proliferate, are we watching evolution unfold in real time?

HARRIMAN — During the pandemic, when isolating at home became a necessity, birdwatching and bird feeders soared in popularity. Watching our avian friends come and go is entertaining, and sometimes quite surprising.

When it comes to songbirds, especially at this time of year, the northern cardinal is perhaps the most recognized and beloved.

It is the state bird of no less than seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

It’s also the nickname of more sports teams than any other icon. There are the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball, and the Arizona Cardinals in professional football. In the NCAA, there are the Louisville Cardinals and 17 other colleges that sport the red mascot, as well as a gaggle of high school teams across the country.

Since we were children, we have all known what a male northern cardinal looks like. He’s bright red. Right? Yes, unless he’s bright yellow!

Finding a golden treasure usually requires a long arduous quest through terra incognito.

Published in News, Creature Features
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TVA’s Bull Run Fossil Plant — then and nowBull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton, Tennessee, was originally commissioned 55 years ago but TVA is now soliciting public input on the best way to shut down operations. Tennessee Valley Authority

TVA solicits public input following release of environmental assessment for Bull Run Fossil Plant decommission

CLAXTON — Tennessee Valley Authority plans to close its Bull Run Fossil Plant (BRF) in Anderson County, but it’s still looking for public input on what comes next.

“As a large, inflexible coal unit with medium operating costs and a high forced outage rate, BRF does not fit current and likely future portfolio needs,” the federal utility said in a draft Environmental Assessment.

TVA is looking at three different options for the future of the structures still standing on the site by the Clinch River near Oak Ridge: taking down all structures; taking down some of them; or leaving everything standing. A recent report lays out the environmental consequences of each of these actions. The report, in draft form, is against that third choice, listing it as only an option for the sake of comparison.

“If the facility is left in the “as-is” condition, it likely would present a higher risk than Alternatives A or B for the potential to contaminate soil and groundwater as systems and structures degrade. As such, this alternative is not a reasonable alternative,” the draft states.

TVA stated its considering removing “all or most of the buildings and structures” on a 250-acre area. After closing the plant, but before any demolitions, TVA will begin by removing components that may be used at other TVA sites, draining of oil and fluids from equipment, taking ash out of the boilers, removing information technology assets, removing plant records and other tasks.

The Bull Run Environmental Assessment is 170 pages long and available for public review. It doesn’t directly tackle the coal ash storage conundrum that has grabbed the attention of politicians, nearby residents and environmental activists, because that issue involves separate regulations. 

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TVApamphlet

 

As demand for electric vehicles soars, several roadblocks have emerged

This article was originally published by The Revelator 

Manufacturers, governments and consumers are lining up behind electric vehicles — with sales rising 60% in 2022, and at least 17 states are considering a California-style ban on gas cars in the years ahead. Scientists say the trend is a key part of driving down the transportation sector’s carbon emissions, which could fall by as much as 80% by 2050 under aggressive policies. But while EVs are cleaner than gas cars in the long run, they still carry environmental and human-rights baggage, especially associated with mining.

“If you want a lot of EVs, you need to get minerals out of the ground,” says Ian Lange, director of the Energy and Economics Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

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CLAXTON  Even though TVA is about to retire Bull Run Fossil Plant, water pollution issues related to it are still up for debate.

A water discharge permit hearing took place Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation building, 761 Emory Valley Road in Oak Ridge. 

If you missed the meeting, you can still provide comments by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. through Thursday, Jan. 26

The permit would, if approved, allow releases of “cooling water, process wastewater and storm water runoff” from Bull Run Fossil Plant into the Clinch River and operation of a cooling water intake system. Environmental groups have concerns. 

Tennessee Valley Authority plans to retire Bull Run Fossil plant by 2023. Over several years and at meetings, both connected to TVA and organized by activist groups, citizens have voiced concerns about water quality issues due to the continued coal ash waste TVA stores on the site. In advance of this meeting, representatives of the Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Statewide Coalition for Community eMpowerment and Center for Biological Diversity all signed a letter asking for TDEC to set standards for water pollution from coal ash based on available technology.

This story will be updated.

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Amber ParkerIjams Nature Center Executive Director Amber Parker poses with opossum Opal. She was an Ijams animal ambassador for more than three years. “She came to us after her mother was hit by a car and Opal would fit in the palm of your hand. Sadly, Opal passed away earlier this year. Opossums live short lives, usually about three years, so Opal had a nice long one by opossum standards. She was beloved by all and we miss her.” Courtesy Ijams Nature Center

Each year more than 600,000 people visit Ijams Nature Center

This is the second installment of an occasional series, Hellbent, profiling citizens who work to preserve and improve the Southern Appalachian environment.

KNOXVILLE — On any given day, the parking lot at Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville is packed with cars, trucks, and buses as folks of all ages flock to hike, climb, swim and paddle its 300-plus acres of protected wildlands.

Making sure the center’s 620,000 or so annual visitors have a positive experience interacting with Mother Nature requires dozens of full-time employees plus a generous contingent of volunteers. Ensuring the complex operation stays on course and within its $1.8 million operating budget is a tough job, but Ijams Executive Director Amber Parker has been doing it for six years now and has no desire to be doing anything else.

When Amber talks about Ijams she fairly bursts with giddy, infectious energy. This is a woman who has clearly found her place in the world, and even a brief walk along any of the center’s 21 trails makes one wonder if the land itself hasn’t responded in like fashion to her devotion.

The crucial Amazon rainforest is nearing a point of no return

NYT: Decades of extraction have left the South American rainforest at a “tipping point.”

The Amazon has long served as a vast carbon sink, even as vegetation pumped oxygen into the atmosphere to the point it was called the “lungs of the Earth.”

But vast deforestation, despite calls to save the Amazon that originated decades ago, portends profound changes in the ecology of the huge, increasingly fragmented forest that lies mainly within Brazil.

“Just in the past half-century, 17 percent of the Amazon — an area larger than Texas — has been converted to croplands or cattle pasture. Less forest means less recycled rain, less vapor to cool the air, less of a canopy to shield against sunlight,” according to a report from Alex Cuadros.

“In one study, a team led by the researcher Paulo Brando intentionally set a series of fires in swaths of forest abutted by an inactive soy plantation. After a second burn, coincidentally during a drought year, one plot lost nearly a third of its canopy cover, and African grasses — imported species commonly used in cattle pasture — moved in.”

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Foothills parkway

Feds clear 14-mile mountain bike trail network off Foothills Parkway, but no funding is secured 

GATLINBURG — Those who logged protests against a National Park Service plan to carve a 14-mile mountain bike trail network through the forest off Foothills Parkway said they still opposed the plan despite federal conclusions it would not adversely impact the natural environment of the area. 

“I’m very disappointed,” said Donna Edwards, an outspoken conservationist who lives in Walland and participated in the public scoping process. “What are (the) reasons for choosing the alternative with the largest footprint and greatest environmental impact?

“I fail to understand why mountain bikers’ needs are considered to be more important than those of birders and hikers, considering the extensive mountain bike trail networks in other areas of East Tennessee.”

She said arguments against approving the Wears Valley mountain bike trails were wise and well documented.

Here is the original Hellbender Press story:

A proposed off-road bike trail in the Wears Valley section of the Foothills Parkway that would be operated by the National Park Service has overcome a procedural hurdle but appears to be no closer to actually being built due to a lack of funding. 

An environmental assessment to determine the project’s potential impact on wildlife and the environment led to an official “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI), park officials said in a press release issued Thursday. 

“We understand the public’s desire to have a purpose-built bike trail, and this marks a step for potential future development of a trail in Wears Valley,” said Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “Having the signed FONSI allows us the opportunity to explore potential funding paths for both the construction and the annual operational costs.”

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