The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Feedbag (110)

Climbers can clean their crags during Obed event

adopt a crag photoVolunteers are needed to improve and maintain climbing and approach areas at the Obed.  National Park Service

WARTBURG The Obed Wild and Scenic River will host the park’s annual Adopt-a-Crag event on Saturday, Sept. 11 in cooperation with the East Tennessee Climbers Coalition.

Volunteers are needed to help with a variety of projects, including general trail maintenance and litter pickup. Participants should meet at the Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery at 9 a.m. to register and receive a project assignment. Carpooling is suggested, and volunteers should bring their own lunch, water, hand tools and gloves.

When the work is done, volunteers are invited to spend the day climbing, kayaking or hiking. The ETCC plans a volunteer appreciation dinner that evening at the Lilly Pad.

For more information, contact the Obed Wild and Scenic River at (423) 346-6294.

Falling trees accountable for very few deaths in Smokies, but they do happen

CITIZEN TIMES: Child killed by falling tree was a very rare twist of horrible fate

Karen Chavez of the Asheville Citizen Times wrote a great article on tree-related deaths in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and beyond following the death last week of a Georgia child killed by a falling tree as she was occupying a tent in Elkmont Campground.

She reports the death of the child was only the 11th tree-linked death in the national park’s history.

The first such death was reported in 1934, when a Civil Conservation Corps worker was killed. Tree-related deaths since are normally associated with roadways and hiking trails.

“‘Deaths related to falling trees or limbs account for about 2 percent of total recorded deaths in the park. It’s an incredibly rare and tragic occurrence and accounts for the first-ever fatality caused by a tree falling on a tent in park history,’” according to an interview Chavez had with park spokeswoman Dana Soehn.

Falling tree kills child in Great Smokies

ELKMONT — A 9-year-old girl died early Wednesday after a tree fell on a tent she was occupying in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The unidentified child was among a group of people camping in Elkmont Campground when the red maple, 2 feet in diameter, fell shortly after midnight and crushed the girl in her tent, according to the National Park Service.

The girl and her family had traveled to the national park from Georgia. Her father and two siblings weren’t injured, according to the park service.

Elkmont Campground remains open, but the family’s campsite and an adjacent campsite were temporarily closed.

Congo retreats from climate commitments to fuel its fossil energy sector

NYT: Why should we care when you built your world with fossil fuels?

The government of Congo is recruiting fossil-fuel extractors to suck oil from beneath tropical forest and bog ecosystems that rival the Amazon in their role as carbon sinks.

Opponents say it’s another step in knocking over the dominoes of climate renewal as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to roil energy markets and threaten international commitments to addressing climate change.

“The oil and gas blocks, which will be auctioned in late July, extend into Virunga National Park, the world’s most important gorilla sanctuary, as well as tropical peatlands that store vast amounts of carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere and from contributing to global warming,” according to the New York Times.

Leaders say the global energy paradigm has shifted to the point it makes little sense to prioritize the natural environment over boosting the economy of an impoverished nation.

According to NYT: “That’s our priority,” Mr. Mpanu said, in an interview last week. “Our priority is not to save the planet.”

HuffPost: More than 50 House Republicans want to repeal a century-old excise tax that bankrolls wildlife conservation

In the latest “gun rights” lash-out from the GOP, legislation has been filed to abolish firearms taxes levied on gunmakers that fund wildlife conservation.

The Republican legislation is framed as a way to defend gun purchasers from odious taxation under the 2nd Amendment umbrella, but leading hunting and fishing interests said the proposal is misguided and misses the target by a wide mark. 

The levy as currently written applies to gunmakers, not individual firearms purchasers. 

The GOP target is the Pittman-Robertson Act, which “helped confront decades of overhunting and habitat loss by creating a financial link between hunting and conservation,” according to HuffPost.

“This year, the Interior Department will distribute a record $1.5 billion to state wildlife agencies through the Pittman-Robertson Act and its fisheries equivalent, the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act. To date, the programs have divvied up a combined $25.5 billion for conservation and outdoor recreation projects,” according to reporting from HuffPo reporter Chris D’Angelo.

Rare bipartisan legal effort under way for widespread wildlife protections

NYT: Recovering America’s Wildlife Act a big bipartisan push to preserve animal species

New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl noted recently that a precious opportunity has presented itself to strengthen wildlife-protection laws and add to environmental protections across the nation.

The Nashville-based journalist said the act, known as RAWA, “is poised to become the single most effective tool in combating biodiversity loss since the Endangered Species Act.” The resolution is carried in the House by Michigan Democrat Rep. Debbie Dingell.

“This bill provides funding for (1) the conservation or restoration of wildlife and plant species of greatest conservation need; (2) the wildlife conservation strategies of states, territories, or the District of Columbia; and (3) wildlife conservation education and recreation projects,” according to the U.S. Congress.

“The Department of the Interior must use a portion of the funding for a grant program. The grants must be used for innovative recovery efforts for species of greatest conservation need, species listed as endangered or threatened species, or the habitats of such species.

“In addition, the bill requires certain revenues generated from fees and penalties for violations of environmental requirements to be used as a source for the funding.”

The legislation, which has already passed the House of Representatives, would allocate $1.4 billion each year across the country to protect and restore endangered plant and animal populations, and protect species already tipping toward endangered status. It is up for consideration in the Senate, where it has already garnered the support of at least a dozen Republicans and a majority of Democrats, virtually ensuring its passage, according to Renkl.

“You don’t have to nurse a fondness for spotted owls or snail darters — creatures at the heart of two of the most contentious environmental debates in recent history — to understand that what is best for the ecosystems we share with nonhuman animals is what’s best for us, too,” Renkl wrote.

UTK has quite the collection of earthly remains

Editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape 1871

WBIR: UT got good bones

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee boasts an incredible collection of animal skeletons — from hummingbirds to bison, according to a story from WBIR. It’s among the largest such assemblages in the country. (There are also skeletons at the Body Farm, but that’s a different story).

The skeletons are part of the UT Anthropology Department’s Vertebrate Osteology Collection.

“We have over 12,000 vertebrate specimens in our collections. So that’s 12,000 skeletons of individual animals,” Dr. Anneke Janzen, an assistant professor in UT’s Anthropology Department, told WBIR.

The collection includes skulls and skeletons ranging in size from small bats to bison. It also includes skulls of dolphins, ostriches and alligators.

“Beyond just being able to identify bones and identify different species based on tiny bone fragments, I think students have a much greater appreciation for, you know, the diversity of animal life out there and much greater appreciation for animals in our backyards as well,” Janzen told WBIR.

The collection is available for analysis by professional researchers, and parts can be seen by the public during the annual Darwin Day at the university. 

Initial Advance Knox growth studies available for review

Advance Knox State of the Cunty

KNOXVILLE The Advance Knox State of the County Report outlining the conditions and trends that are currently impacting the lives, work, and travel of Knox County residents has been completed and is available on the project website.

The report provides a detailed overview of the county’s geography, demographics, economic well being, and infrastructure. The result is a thorough summary of population, land utilization, development potential, economic growth, employment, housing, and infrastructure data.

“This report is a baseline, a starting point, the first step in creating a new comprehensive land use and transportation plan for Knox County,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “It shows us where we are and will help us determine the most responsible ways to manage future development and infrastructure.”

Now that this report is complete, the project team is working on scenario planning by analyzing data to help illustrate possible strategies for guiding the county’s future growth. This work will be presented at public meetings in the fall.

Advance Knox is a unique opportunity to align land use and transportation goals and create a fiscally responsible blueprint to help guide decisions about where and how future growth and infrastructure investments will occur.

-Knox County Government

Hellbender Press nets two top awards from Society of Professional Journalists

KNOXVILLE — Hellbender Press took home two awards from the 2021 Golden Press Card contest sponsored by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists.

Hellbender Press was recognized with two first-place awards for East Tennessee digital journalism: The Hal DeSelm Papers and Requiem for the Lord God Bird

The Hal DeSelm story chronicled his decades-long effort to document terrestrial biomes in all but one Tennessee county, and subsequent work by the University of Tennessee to craft his datasets into an accessible database.

The other award was for reporting on the extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker relying heavily on the work of Ijams Nature Center naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales.

Judging was conducted by the SPJ chapter in Cincinnati.

“We are incredibly grateful to our editorial board, readers and others who helped with this great win,” said Hellbender Press editor Thomas Fraser. “Our stories are only as good as the sources.”

Smokies rangers, swift-water teams retrieve body from Little River near Metcalf

TOWNSEND — Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers responded to a report of a body in Little River about a mile west of Metcalf Bottoms at 1:30 p.m. May 9. Rangers and Gatlinburg EMS/Fire discovered the body of Charles Queen, age 72 of Bybee, Tennessee, partially submerged in the middle of the river.

A technical swift water rescue team recovered the body, which was released to the Sevier County Medical Examiner’s office. A vehicle registered to Queen was found in a pullout 600 feet upriver along a steep embankment. 

No witnesses were immediately found; there are no signs of foul play, according to the park service, but officials plan an autopsy.

TDOT wants your input on electric-vehicle infrastructure

1650898862011Proposed electric-vehicle infrastructure corridors in Tennessee. TDOT

Inside of Knoxville: State seeks input on charging stations, EV corridors

The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s traveling and electrifying road show made an appearance in Knoxville this week. The intent of the meeting, as others scheduled around the state, was to collect public feedback on proposed charging station networks and other components of EV infrastructure.

Tennessee will receive a significant chunk of change toward developing its own share of National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, provided as part of the infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year. The state will receive $88 million over five years, and has begun drafting some options.

“The initial push nationally is for travel corridors to have charging stations at least every fifty miles,” according to Knoxville blogger Alan Sims. “They must have at least four chargers and they must be within one mile of the travel corridor. Most travel corridors are identified as Interstates, though Tennessee, for example, has also included U.S. Highway 64. Once those corridors are built out, any remaining funds may be directed elsewhere. The cost of each station is approximately $1 million, which is largely infrastructure cost.”

Clean-air and EV advocates are encouraging public input. Here’s an action alert from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy:

“The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) are currently seeking public feedback to inform the state’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program Plan.

“The NEVI program represents a $5 billion investment from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to provide a network of 500,000 ultra-fast EV charging stations along the nation’s travel corridors to help make cross-country electric travel accessible to all Americans. The charging stations will be along designated Alternative Fuel Corridors designated by the Federal Highway Administration.”

Tennessee must develop and submit an EV infrastructure deployment plan by Aug. 1 to receive the federal funds.

SACE encourages citizens to take this survey to express preferences for EV infrastructure development.

UT journalism stalwart James Crook dies at 82

James Crook

KNOXVILLE — Dr. James Crook, the former director of the University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media, died April 30 in Knoxville. Dr. Crook led the School of Journalism for 28 years before retiring in 2002 and becoming professor emeritus. He also served as a president of the East Tennessee Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Crook died at the age of 82, just two days short of his 83rd birthday.

He was considered the “father” of the Front Page Follies, an annual satiric send-up of Knoxville’s newsmakers that raised funds for the Front Page Foundation. Dr. Crook, a co-founder of the Follies, was an excellent vocalist and served as musical director for a number of years. His wife, Diane, an experienced theater person and teacher, teamed with her husband during the productions. The couple met while they were teaching journalism, speech and drama in Iowa in high school and community college and married in 1966.

During his teaching career, he established the national scholarly journal, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. In 2003, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication awarded Crook the Eleanor Blum Distinguished Service to Research Award, which recognizes individuals who have devoted their careers to promoting research in mass communication, according to the UT School of Journalism and Electronic Media.

A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, May 7, at 11 a.m. at Church Street United Methodist Church, 900 Henley St., in downtown Knoxville. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Front Page Foundation to fund journalism scholarships

-East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists

Ocoee Whitewater Center destroyed in huge fire

ocoee whitewater centerU.S. Forest Service

WKRN: Building a total loss after overnight fire

Investigators are on the site of Polk County’s Ocoee Whitewater Center after it burned down in the early morning hours of April 26. No injuries were reported, and the building was closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Forest Service website. Several trails in the area were closed as authorities, including state arson investigators, probed the cause of the massive fire.

The center featured native stone and massive beams and overlooked the Class V rapids of the section of river used for whitewater events during the 1996 Olympics.

It later became a great place for spectators to watch commercial rafters hit such holes as Humungous, and was used as a regional visitors center, event venue and educational facility.

Some 300,000 people visited or paddled by the center every year. It was a center for educational programs and hiking, biking and watersports.

“Native gardens honoring Olympic athletes and Cherokee Indians invite you to stroll through the grounds. A historic trail, built by Cherokee Indians and used by 19th century miners to transport copper ore by mules and wagons follows the river upstream. Along the way you can see rock formations deposited more than 750 million years ago,” according to a Forest Service description of the facility.

“The Ocoee Whitewater Center was a unique site not just here on the Cherokee National Forest, but across the Forest Service. It is a difficult loss for us,” Mike Wright, acting forest supervisor for the Cherokee National Forest, told WKRN of Nashville.

This article has been corrected to note WKRN is a Nashville TV station.

Another look at the parallel war Russia is waging against the natural environment

New York Times: Ukraine environmental holocaust just the latest in ways war scars the Earth

Open armed conflict understandably abrogates immediate concerns about the natural environment.

Despite the tens of thousands of human deaths already caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war’s impact on natural systems can’t be understated.

In some cases, Russian troops have taken up positions in natural parks and protected ecological areas in Ukraine. The Black Sea coast is an important remaining area of biodiversity in Europe. Ukrainian counterattacks, while understandable, have also inflamed environmental consequences.

There are also immediate risks to human respiratory health from the fires sparked by attacks on fuel depots and chemical facilities.

War’s negative environmental impacts are by no means a new thing: See the use of Agent Orange by the U.S. in Vietnam and the wasteland of burning oil fields left behind in the Gulf War.

War is bad for every living thing.

Bobcats vs. pythons in the swamps of Florida

Bobcat vs. python 2USGS
New York Times: Evolving native predation may help stem invasion of Burmese python

The proliferation of the exotic and invasive Burmese python in the swamps and wilds of Florida is demonstrably bad for native birds and mammals.

Researchers now have evidence the best solution might have been there all along.

A bobcat was captured on a trail camera by the U.S. Geological Survey eating python eggs and challenging one of the gigantic snakes. It was the first instance of natural, native predation on the snake’s eggs. Bobcats are already known to target reptile eggs, including those of sea turtles.

“While it is possible that this interaction was just an isolated incident, it is also possible that native species are beginning to respond to the presence of the python," the New York Times reported.

“‘Most cat species adapt their diet to what is available, so bobcats predating on python eggs is actually not that surprising’” said Mathias Tobler, a wildlife ecologist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.”

Parson Branch Road improvements under way in Smokies

Parson Branch RoadDead hemlocks are seen along Parson Branch Road near Cades Cove. National Park Service

CADES COVE — Great Smoky Mountains National Park contractors began removing at least 800 dead hemlock trees along Parson Branch Road, an eight-mile primitive backcountry road that connects Cades Cove with U.S. 129 on the western edge of the park.

The road has been closed since 2016 because of the tree hazards and damage to the road surface. The hemlocks succumbed to the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect that has wreaked havoc on hemlock stands and their accompanying ecosystems.

The road passes several trailheads, and is used by emergency vehicles as needed. The park initially identified some 1,700 trees that posed a hazard to the adjacent roadway, but that number has naturally declined by about half over the past six years.

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park provided $100,000 for the hazard-mitigation project. That was matched with $50,000 from the federal government.

Once the dead trees are removed, work will begin to rehabilitate the roadway and ensure its safety. 

The roadway could reopen this summer, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

Hike and learn at Trails and Trilliums Festival in South Cumberland State Park

download 6

MONTEAGLE — Naturalists and nature lovers are invited to South Cumberland State Park April 8-10 for the Trails and Trilliums Festival sponsored by Friends of South Cumberland State Park. The Dubose Conference Center will be the base of operations for activities throughout the park.

Registration opens at noon April 8 with activities for those who arrive early, followed at 5 p.m. by Wine and Wildflowers, a kickoff event featuring author David Haskell. In 2012,  “The Forest Unseen” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. Haskell is expected to speak about his latest book “Sounds Wild and Broken” released by Penguin Random House on March 1.

The rest of this weekend-long celebration of nature and education will feature activities throughout the park and the community. From Foster Falls to Savage Gulf and Sherwood Forest, participants will enjoy bird walks, wildflower walks, nature journaling and sketching, and a university herbarium and greenhouse tour. The Saturday evening star party is sure to be a hit, weather permitting.

Find a full schedule and registration information at Trails and Trilliums.

Baby whale! Cruise with a humpback and her calf at Tennessee Aquarium 3D movie

Sylvia Earle and Pico Island 6 Catarina FazendaSylvia Earle  Courtesy Catarina Fazenda

The Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Theater in Chattanooga premiered its new 3D educational movie Ocean Odyssey on March 4.

Author,  oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle visited the aquarium to help launch the movie, which she and Rupert Degas narrate.

The movie follows a humpback whale mother and calf as they navigate the East Australian Current from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica. The planet’s oceans are home to the most diverse and abundant array of life on earth, but they are threatened by climate change, pollution and acidification. Still, life lives on.

The Tennessee Aquarium encourages filmgoers to enhance the 3D film experience with a visit to the Secret Reef exhibit in their Ocean Journey building. This exhibit replicates the Flower Garden Banks off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. 

In 1990, Dr. Sylvia Earle became the first woman appointed chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

She left that agency to work in the private sector to promote healthy oceans and public access to ocean environments, including Mission Blue.

Kayaker drowns in Smokies near Smokemont

An Ohio woman drowned Thursday while kayaking the Oconaluftee River near Smokemont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was the first fatality of the year in the park.

Rangers said Megan Thompson, 34, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio was trapped underwater “between a fallen tree and the riverbank” after floating through a rapid. It was not immediately clear whether she was out of her boat.

Her fellow boaters alerted rangers at 2:18 p.m. and her body was recovered at 2:57 p.m., according to a release from the park service.

Drowning is the third-leading cause of death in the Smokies, after vehicle and aircraft accidents.

This story will be updated.

Seal it up: Inefficiency increases energy costs across the board

Editors note: SACE executive director Stephen Smith is on the board of Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press operates under the FGS nonprofit umbrella.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) released its fourth annual “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” report, which tracks recent policy developments and performance trends in electric utility efficiency from 2020.

It continues to highlight that despite being a proven low-cost clean energy resource with enormous potential to reduce carbon emissions and customers’ energy burden, Southeastern utilities continue to underinvest in energy efficiency.

As a result, households in many Southeastern states have some of the highest electricity usage and monthly energy bills in the nation. Some states and utilities are making progress, and it’s not too late for local policymakers to take advantage of untapped efficiency savings to help reach crucial decarbonization goals.

Good enviro reporting from Knox News: Smokies air quality and more salamanders!

News Sentinel:  State takes path of least resistance with air-quality plans; and researchers are gauging how Southern Appalachian salamanders will respond to climate change.

KNOXVILLE — Local journalists delivered a double tap of critical conservation coverage this week:

The state air quality board is outlining its 10-year haze-reduction plan for Tennessee, and some enviros are arguing the state is not going much beyond the bare minimum required by the feds. That was the crux of a detailed report from News Sentinel reporter Anila Yoganathan that also examined lingering air quality and deposition issues in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While air quality in some aspects has improved in recent decades, there are still some insidious issues that affect the park’s viewshed, and on occasion, the health of park visitors, too. Acid and nitrate deposition continue to take a toll on park streams.

The report is extensive. A digital subscription is required to view the stories at Knox News, but hopefully they’ll open it up as an introductory freebie.

Speaking of streams and the threat they face: 

Science reporter Vincent Gabrielle waded into a story about research at the Tennessee Aquarium delving into the effects of global and regional climate change on Southern Appalachian freshwater denizens such as the black-bellied salamander.

“Their teeming millions make up a substantial proportion of the animal life of a forest. In the headwaters of the Appalachian Mountains, salamanders frequently outnumber fish, birds and other small animals,” Gabrielle reported.

“Lungless salamanders, like the black-bellied salamander, breathe only through their skin. They will notice water pollution, including sediment, agricultural runoff or acidic seepage from old mines, and relocate to cleaner water.” — If they can, we might add. Too often, that is impossible for them.

As global forests fall to blades, tree species go unknown

Amazon rainforestNASA

BBC: There are 14 percent more tree species than supposed

Nearly 9,000 global tree species haven’t been identified, based on a database that analyzed millions of trees within 100,000 forest segments around the Earth.

Of the 73,300 estimated tree species, the researchers predict there are 9,200 yet to be discovered. Most of the undiscovered and rare species are believed to be in beleaguered tropical rainforests, such as those in the Amazon or Central Africa.

“The researchers used statistical techniques to predict the likely number of tree species, correcting for gaps in existing data,” the BBC reported.

“The findings suggest more must be done to protect the incredible life forms needed for food, timber and medicine and to fight climate change by sucking carbon dioxide from the air.”

E.O. Wilson left energy in Knoxville

Knox County commish subdivides Hardin Valley despite opposition. Again.

WATE: Knox County Commission greenlights more Hardin Vally development

Knox County Commission approved yet another expansive subdivision in the rapidly developing Hardin Valley area despite pleas from area residents to pause and take a deep breath as residential and commercial development outstrips and overwhelms first responders, streets, roads and schools and other infrastructure — and any pretense of responsible suburban planning and zoning.

The decision comes on the heels of similar land-use fights (such as those reported by Hellbender Press) originated by citizens as housing shortages mean such disputes aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

“Look at all the development projects instead of each one individually. Look at all the projects in the pipeline, not just the few hundred that are on the books right now,” said Knox County Planning Alliance consulting engineer Lee Muller, according to WATE reporting. “There’s like 4,500 in the pipeline in some stage of approval or construction in the county right now. They need to look at all that and what that requires in terms of schools, sewer, police, fire stations,” Muller told WATE.

(Correction 26 Jan. 2022: During the meeting Muller said 2021 ended with 4,499 homes under construction in the county, not the country.  After reported by Hellbender Press, this transcription error was corrected on the WATE site too.)

Outgoing Smokies forester Kristine Johnson leaves behind a legacy of science and communication

                               Appalachian Voices

Citizen Times: Smokies forester bids adieu to her arboreal home

Good read here from the Asheville newspaper about the retirement of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Supervisory Forester Kristine Johnson.

In her three decades at the Smokies, she has tackled issues ranging from exotic and invasive plants to the slow and disastrous demise of the park’s hemlocks due to the hemlock wooly adelgid.

“‘The work we do includes forest health in all aspects,’ said Johnson, who is retiring this month after more than 30 years in the Smokies,” Frances Ligart reported. “Her career has been devoted to reducing the introduction into the park of exotic plants, insects, and diseases.”

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

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. 

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.

Knox County increases penalties for littering with fines going to illegal dump cleanup

The Knox County Commission in November voted to approve an ordinance further criminalizing the act of littering in Knox County, according to Hard Knox Wire.

According to the new measure, anyone caught littering could be fined up to $500 for the offense, depending on the amount and type of trash involved. Convicted offenders may also be sentenced to up to 160 hours of trash-pickup duties.

The provision also gives Knox County citizens the right to remove trash from rights of way at their own discretion

Littering is already illegal under state law, but the new ordinance allows Knox County to levy its own punishments. For instance, all money collected in the enforcement of the new ordinance will be placed into an illegal-dump cleanup fund maintained by the county.

Clemson University honors Smokies chief for conservation excellence

Superintendent Cassius Cash 2021

Clemson University awarded Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash the Walter T. Cox Award for conservation excellence for his dedication to preserving the natural resources of the most visited national park in the United States.

The Clemson University Institute for Parks, in conjunction with the George B. Hartsog Awards Progran, bestows the annual honor “to recognize individuals who demonstrate exemplary leadership in the field of conservation,” according to a news release from the park service.

“The Walter T. Cox Award recognizes park administrators who exemplify Dr. Cox’s distinguished career in education and public service. Superintendent Cash was one of five individuals recognized this year alongside other national and state park leaders.” 

The institute said it gave Cash the award because of his “sustained achievement, public service and leadership in conserving and managing public lands. including the most biodiverse and most visited national park in the U.S.”

In acceptance of the award, Cash acknowledged the difficulties faced by managers of wild lands and other public conservation resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Leading staff in providing high-quality services and protecting resources during the pandemic, coupled with an extreme rise in visitation, has been challenging,” Cash said in the release.

“I’ve been inspired by our staff, partners, and communities as we work together to care for the park and to continue to welcome people to this space for rejuvenation and healing. It is an honor to be recognized for this work.” 

Visit Clemson Institute for Parks for more information about the award and a full list of honorees.

TVA project manager pleads guilty to falsifying reports


Hard Knox Wire: Failure to disclose financial conflicts could put TVA manager in prison

A former senior project manager at the Tennessee Valley Authority could spend up to five years in federal prison after he admitted to falsifying financial disclosure reports over several years.

TVA is the largest public electricity provider in the nation and is in the midst of a fraught effort to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce its carbon output.

James Christopher “Chris” Jenkins, 60, of Chattanooga, entered a guilty plea on Friday to one count of making a false official statement, according to a spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Hard Knox Wire reported.

He was accused of failing to disclose personal financial information during a conflict of interest probe, among other charges. 

 He faces a maximum prison sentence of five years plus up to three years of supervised release and $250,000 in fines when he’s sentenced in March by U.S. District Court Judge Travis R. McDonough. 

FBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Carrico said the case was an example of the bureau’s commitment to fighting corruption. 

“There is zero tolerance for those who exploit their official position for personal gain. It erodes public confidence and undermines the Rule of Law,” Carrico said. “We want the people we serve to know the FBI along with our law enforcement partners will hold those accountable who betray the public's trust.”

(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.