Take a moment at a wayside to think of African Americans in the Great Smokies
GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials unveiled two new waysides at Mingus Mill on May 23 as part of the larger African American Experiences in the Smokies project.
“The new signs and the African American Experiences in the Smokies project are so important to tell the untold stories of Black people in the region,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.
Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and poet Eric Mingus performed a new piece of music that speaks to and of Mingus Mill, its location, and the people who lived there, including his ancestors. A Santa Fe-based musician, Eric has recently re-connected with his family’s story that is rooted in the park through the African American Experiences in the Smokies project. Eric is descended from Daniel Mingus, a formerly enslaved carpenter, and Clarinda Mingus, the daughter of Daniel’s enslaver.
Hellbender Press previously reported on the Smokies project.
One of the new waysides tells the story of the nearby Enloe Slave Cemetery, where several African Americans are interred. The other wayside tells the story of Eric’s father, legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus Jr., and his family.
The African American Experiences in the Smokies project is supported by the Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association, which help fund research of the historic presence and influence of African Americans in the southern Appalachian Mountains from the 1540s through today.
— National Park Service
Quaff some brews and pour some out on Endangered Species Day
Friday, May 19 is Endangered Species Day. Not just in Knoxville. The U.S. Postal Service is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act by releasing a collection of stamps featuring endangered animals and fishes. All 4,000 of the Endangered Species Limited Edition Collector's Sets are already sold out, but other collector items are still available. The fish were photographed by Joel Sartore, a friend of local nonprofit Conservation Fisheries. His National Geographic Photo Ark collection also features boulder darters, which are native to the Elk River in Middle Tennessee and have been federally listed as endangered since 1988.
Here’s another link to the celebration: Endangered Species Day in the Old City.
Join in various festivities, ranging from Riverside Tattoo Flash Day to Pint Night at Merchants of Beer to honor those critters who may not be with us much longer.
KUB and SACE provide a guide to a home efficiency uplift
KNOXVILLE — Are you looking to take control of your utility bills to not only save money but also breathe easier knowing your home is healthier and more comfortable? Join us this Wednesday, May 17, from 6-8 PM for a free workshop to learn about newly available, once-in-a-generation funding, resources, and rebates that everyone can benefit from, regardless of if you own or rent your home, or if you have high or low income, through local and federal funds.
KUB is providing free (yes, free) home energy improvements for income-eligible customers through the Home Uplift program. New or repaired HVAC units, attic and wall insulation, appliances, and electric water heaters are just a few of the home energy upgrades that you may receive. Plus, professional crews are ready and waiting to do the work so you don’t have to.
— Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Townsend citizens protest proposed resort development
WATE: Developers request delay in approval for controversial Smokies development
TOWNSEND — Yonder Hospitality is facing backlash as the company proposes to develop a new resort. More than 100 people showed up at the planning commission meeting on Thursday, May 11 to protest the development. Local residents do not feel the new resort fits in with the local landscape and will add even more congestion to the area. Representatives of Yonder Hospitality requested the planning commission delay the vote to rezone the area until June.
The development proposal includes 27.6 acres of commercial land off Lamar Alexander Parkway as well as some residential parcels, which will need to be rezoned. The resort includes 130 cabins, 36 RV parking spaces, a drive-in movie theater, dining area and a resort style pool and hot tubs.
The petition to thwart the development already has 1,000 signatures.
Enviros cheer new Biden plan to limit fossil pollution
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on May 11 proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and gas-fired power plants to protect public health and reduce harmful pollutants.
EPA’s proposed standards are expected to deliver up to $85 billion in climate and public health benefits over the next two decades and avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042.
EPA estimates that in 2030 alone, the proposed standards will prevent more than 300,000 asthma attacks; 38,000 school absence days; 1,300 premature deaths; 38,000 school absence days; and 66,000 lost work days.
Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy: “Individuals and communities across the country are doing whatever they can to protect against the immense dangers of climate pollution and are depending on the federal government to do the same. Federal limits on climate pollution from power plants are a critically needed and long overdue protection for public health and the environment.
“We will be reviewing the proposal and hope that the proposal hits the mark in giving our communities the safeguards they need from deadly fossil pollution.”
EPA will be taking comments on these proposals for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Knoxville trees need a canopy of support
KNOXVILLE — Trees Knoxville wants to hear from residents to help develop an Urban Forest Master Plan that considers the city’s unique challenges, priorities, and opportunities. A successful plan will help Knoxville preserve, grow and care for trees, which play a significant role in public health and environmental health.
Upcoming opportunities to learn more and provide feedback:
May 4, 6-7:30 p.m.
Urban Trees Virtual Open House
If you haven’t attended an in-person event, this virtual option may fit your schedule. Learn about the urban tree canopy and provide your thoughts and perspective on what Knoxville needs. Participants will need to preregister online to receive the link to the virtual workshop.
May 11, 4-7 p.m.
Urban Trees Open House
616 Jessamine Street
Trees in cities are vital to human health, especially as the climate warms. What does Knoxville need? Come to this open-house-style event to learn more and add your two cents. Trees Knoxville will give 15-minute presentations at 5 and 6 p.m. Attendees will learn more about the Urban Forest Master Plan process and how to engage neighbors, friends and other residents who value trees in this important process.
Invite Trees Knoxville to your meeting! Go to KnoxvilleTreePlan.org to schedule a presentation.
Online Survey. If none of these engagement options work, fill out the online survey at Knoxville Tree Plan to make sure your voice is heard.
Learn more at Knoxville Tree Plan, and find additional community event listings at Knoxville Tree Plan Get Involved.
Trees Knoxville was formed in 2016 and grew out of the community’s deep appreciation for trees and their many benefits. Its mission is to expand the urban canopy on both public and private land throughout Knox County. Trees Knoxville is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees, educating people, and promoting the health and well-being of our community and our environment in Knoxville and Knox County.
— City of Knoxville
Udderly amazing: University of Tennessee to unveil robotic cow-milker
WALLAND — The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture will host a demonstration of its new robotic milking technology at the UT AgResearch and Education Center’s Little River Unit in Blount County. The new system, developed by the Lely Corporation in the Netherlands, allows for the cows to be automatically milked at their own will in a stress-free environment. The demonstration is set for 10 a.m. May 2 and will include remarks from prominent university and community leaders.
The cows are trained to walk up to the robotic system, where each animal will be recognized by a sensor on its collar. The system then knows how much feed to give the cow while she’s being milked, based on historical data. The cow is free to eat, drink and rest while being milked, and in an area where there’s less cattle traffic. About 120 dairy cows can be milked and individual records kept through two robotic systems in a relatively short amount of time.
“The mission of UT AgResearch is to conduct leading-edge projects to serve the evolving needs of the agriculture and forestry industry in Tennessee and beyond,” said Hongwei Xin, dean of UT AgResearch.
“The introduction of milking robots into our existing traditional dairy production system at the Little River dairy facility allows our researchers to find answers to questions ranging from interactions between the animals and robots, impact on the animal’s production performance, and labor savings and profitability. The robotic milking system is part of the UT Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) initiative that aims to improve production efficiency and food supply chain robustness through enhanced animal welfare. UTIA is poised to be the leader in PLF in the region, the nation and the world.”
— University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
The State of Bats: Grim news for our winged mammals
North America’s first State of the Bats report gives a sobering outlook for the winged mammals. According to the North American Bat Conservation Alliance report:
- More than half of the 154 known bat species on the continent could face severe population declines over the next 15 years.
- During that time, up to 82 percent of bat species will be negatively affected by climate change, especially extreme drought and temperatures.
- The scope and severity of threats — including habitat loss, wind turbines and the deadly bat disease white-nose syndrome — are increasing.
The news isn’t all bad. The report outlines ways to help and emphasizes the wide-ranging benefits of bats, from improving crop yields to eating insect pests. It also highlights the promise of focused, collaborative conservation efforts.
Case in point, the lesser long-nosed bat was once endangered in Mexico and the U.S. But thanks to international efforts, it is now delisted and recovered in both countries.
The North American Bat Conservation Alliance is another example. The coalition involving the U.S., Mexico and Canada created the 2023 State of the Bats report with Bat Conservation International and others.
“Bats face many challenges and the conservation landscape is increasingly complex,” said Dr. Jeremy Coleman, alliance co-chair and white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “While there is more to do, the level of international collaboration we have achieved for bat conservation in North America is a bright spot and a cause for optimism going forward.”
— Georgia Department of Natural Resources
ORNL gets boost to make airliners cleaner
OAK RIDGE — The Center for Bioenergy Innovation has been renewed by the Department of Energy as one of four bioenergy research centers across the nation to advance robust, economical production of plant-based fuels and chemicals. CBI, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is focused on the development of nonfood biomass crops and specialty processes for the production of sustainable jet fuel to help decarbonize the aviation sector.
The DOE announcement provides $590 million to the centers over the next five years. Initial funding for the four centers will total $110 million for Fiscal Year 2023. Outyear funding will total up to $120 million per year over the following four years, contingent on availability of funds.
“To meet our future energy needs, we will need versatile renewables like bioenergy as a low-carbon fuel for some parts of our transportation sector,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Continuing to fund the important scientific work conducted at our Bioenergy Research Centers is critical to ensuring these sustainable resources can be an efficient and affordable part of our clean energy future.”
— Sara C. Shoemaker, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Knox County mayor honors women leaders in STEAM all month
KNOXVILLE — Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs is observing Women’s History Month throughout March by sharing videos each Wednesday highlighting time spent in different Knox County Schools’ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) classrooms taught by female teachers.
The March 15 video features a visit with South Doyle High School STEM/Computer Science and 2022 KCS Secondary Teacher of the Year Katie DeVinney who was teaching a class on the principles of advanced manufacturing and practical design.
“I hope out of courses like this, that young women are able to see the opportunities available in sectors of the economy like advanced manufacturing and hopefully pursue those,” Jacobs said in a press release.
DeVinney is a 10-year educator who began her career as a foreign language instructor but was inspired by her husband who started the Robotics program at South Doyle High School, to switch paths.
“I just love it. It’s so much fun to see the excitement in kids when they get to take something that they designed on this computer and then hold it in the real world. It’s the coolest process I have ever seen so that’s kind of why I do it.” DeVinney said.
Mayor Jacobs said celebrating women in STEAM is important for young girls because it shows them that women can succeed in technical fields — industry typically driven by men.
The mayor has already shared his visit with Hardin Valley Elementary STEM Educators Jessica Everitt and Jana Yra and his visit with West Valley Middle science teacher Bethany Saunders.
Later this month, he will share visits with Gibbs Middle School Art Teacher Dorothy Verbick and STEM Teacher Lauren Downs; as well as Karns Middle School Math Teacher Rebecca Layton.
— Knox County Mayors Office
Get a free virtual science lesson in the Smokies this Thursday
A rundown about science efforts in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is set for March 2.
You can learn about myriad scientific studies ongoing in the Smokies from the comfort of your own home.
The park and Discover Life in America are presenting this virtual event from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Register for free on Zoom.
Attendees will “learn about a wide variety of scientific topics, from natural history and weather to geology and more, from researchers currently working in the Smokies,” according to an announcement from DLIA.
The schedule is likely to change, but a tentative schedule is available on the DLIA website.
— Ben Pounds
Updated: Her Oak Ridge story is finally told in a federal space
OAK RIDGE — For the month of April 2023, the exhibition can bee seen, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Oak Ridge History Museum, which is housed in the Midtown Community Center at 102 Robertsville Road, Oak Ridge, TN. That building itself is a significant landmark of Oak Ridge history. Constructed 1944-45, it has been used as a bathhouse and laundry, a hangout for students, a senior center, the Oak Ridge Convention & Visitors Bureau, and office of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association. Many long-term Oak Ridgers refer to it simply as the ”Wildcat Den,” harking back to the time it was home base of the high school’s football team, the Oak Ridge Wildcats that were national champions in 1958.
NORRIS — The W. G. Lenoir Museum in Norris Dam State Park will be hosting “HerStory: A Photography Exhibition of Women in the Secret City.” The exhibit will open on March 1, and be on display through the month in honor of Women’s History Month.
Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and opened in May 1936, Norris Dam State Park was managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority for 18 years prior to becoming a Tennessee State Park in 1953. Oak Ridge’s selection for the Manhattan Project was, in part, due to rural electrification that Norris Dam accomplished.
During the early 1940s, the park was closed to the public and the CCC vacation cottages winterized to house Manhattan Project workers. Later serving as a popular recreation destination for the growing government town, Norris Dam State Park continues to attract visitors from throughout the region. The construction of Norris Dam and Oak Ridge necessitated the relocation of countless families of the Clinch River valley by the federal government. These historical events connect these parks, and this new partnership will strive to tell the full stories of these places.
From janitors to homemakers and chemists, the women of the Manhattan Project worked hard and talked little. During WWII, Oak Ridge was a government town of 70,000 workers; primarily women who lived in a camp-like environment of barbed wire, security checkpoints, and code words. Workers were fingerprinted, interviewed, assigned a job, and given a clearance badge. Housing was limited and cramped and often unheated. Food at the cafeterias was in short supply and lines were long.
The photographs were taken by James Edward Westcott, a renowned photographer who worked for the U.S. government in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Westcott was one of the few people permitted to have a camera in the Oak Ridge area during the Manhattan Project. For more information call the Manhattan Project National Historical Park at (865) 482-1942.
— National Park Service
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.”
Updated: Smokies crews recover drowned Knoxville kayaker
TOWNSEND — Smokies recovery teams on Monday found the body of Carl Keaney, 61, of Knoxville, in the Little River.
Keaney was last seen kayaking the Sinks during high flow when he vanished under water, prompting calls to Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers who, along with other local crews, proceeded to search for his body for three days.
Here’s the previous Hellbender Press report:
Teams are searching for a missing kayaker in what Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are now calling a “recovery operation” after a 61-year-old man disappeared underwater while boating above the Sinks on Little River. High water levels from recent heavy rains are making search and recovery difficult.
“Around 3:40 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16 Great Smoky Mountains National Park dispatch received a call that a 61-year-old man had disappeared underwater while kayaking above The Sinks and did not resurface,” according to a news release from the park.
Park releases Smokies air-tour plan
GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other federal officials completed a management plan to formally regulate aircraft tours over the park.
Don’t expect much to change in the skies over the park: The plan allows 946 air tours a year by select helicopter operators, unchanged from the average number of annual flights recorded from 2017 to 2019. Flights may only operate from two hours after daybreak to two hours before sundown.
“The plan establishes measures to protect park resources including natural and cultural resources, preservation of wilderness character, and visitor experience,” according to Smokies officials. Flights will be restricted to six routes over the park, and must maintain an elevation above 2,700 feet of the highest terrain. Cades Cove is off limits, as are several historical sites, including the Walker Sisters Cabin.
Air tours, often to the dismay of many hikers and others, have occurred over the park for most of its history, but no formal flight guidelines were in place.
“We appreciate the tireless work that went into the development of the Smokies air tour management plan,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The plan incorporates several improvements that allow continued air tour activity, while at the same time better protecting the wilderness character of the backcountry, wildlife populations, natural soundscapes, and the visitor experience in historic areas like Cades Cove.”
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian members provided notable input into the development of the plan, which will go into effect in 90 days from Dec.3.
Hellbender Press previously reported on development of the Smokies aircraft management plan.
Real or fake Christmas trees? Like most things in life, the answer is a function of time.
Nature Conservancy: Keep it real
Nothing beats the fresh aroma of a live Christmas tree, if you are into that kind of thing, but both real and fake trees carry their own load of sustainability pros and cons.
Live trees offer holiday beauty and scent and are a traditional addition to households. But they are harvested from a vast monoculture and require multiple levels of carbon-burning transport.
Artificial trees offer convenience, and can be reused for a decade. But they are largely made of plastic, manufactured in places with unsavory human rights records, and require global transit.
This article breaks it down pretty well. Maybe it’s just best to not have a Christmas tree?
Beavers mitigate forest fires
NPR: California enlists beavers in battle against climate change
Forest areas with beaver dams are less prone to severe fire damage because of more consistent soil moisture and less extreme air aridity and temperature conditions. Read about it or listen to Randy Simon’s 2-minute beaver podcast on National Public Radio’s Earth Wise web page.
Food myths hurt Mother Earth
The average American family of four annually spends more than $2,000 on food they never eat!
Nearly one in nine people suffer from hunger worldwide.
Agriculture contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and soil degradation.
Climate change increases crop losses.
One third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted.
It’s not just the food that’s wasted.
Consider the energy wasted to grow, process and transport it.
That all contributes to climate change, food shortages and to the rising costs of food, energy and health care.
Food waste stresses our environment, humanity and the economy.
Austria to sue the European Union if it labels nuclear and gas power plants as “green infrastructure”
VIENNA — Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s energy and climate minister announced that she would take the case to the European Court of Justice if the union’s executive proceeds with plans to include nuclear and natural gas in the EU taxonomy of sustainable finance.
About gas, Gewessler said that it releases unconscionable amounts of greenhouse gases. “Just because something is less bad than coal doesn’t make it good or sustainable.”
Regarding nuclear energy she said it has unpredictably high risks, referring to Chernobyl and Fukushima. She also mentioned as great concerns, the safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel and lack of a global solution for its final storage.
Smokies researchers make a formal acquaintance with a familiar salamander
Great news from the Smokies via Instagram!
The “salamander capital of the world” just gained a new member! Meet our 31st species: the Cherokee black-bellied salamander, or Desmognathus gvnigeusgwotli. Its species name means “black belly” in the Cherokee language. Scientists used genetics to find out that it is different from the other black-bellied salamander in the park.
Climbers can clean their crags during Obed event
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
UTK has quite the collection of earthly remains
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.
Initial Advance Knox growth studies available for review
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.”
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.
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.
TDOT wants your input on electric-vehicle infrastructure
Inside of Knoxville: State seeks input on charging stations, EV corridors
(Update: The survey has now ended.) 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.
UT journalism stalwart James Crook dies at 82
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.
Ocoee Whitewater Center destroyed in huge fire
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
- Download the “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” fourth annual report
- Read an excerpt from the accompanying report blog post below, or read the full post here.
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
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
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
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
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.