Friday, July 3, 2009

From Forests to Sharks to CO2: good news and bad

Here's a mixed bag of news items - some good, some bad; some new, some nagging old issues that haven't been resolved.

An effort by the prior U.S. administration to remove the U.S. Forest Service's requirement to consider wildlife habitat when planning clear-cutting, mining, or road building proposals in addition to the banning of environmental impact reports when planning long-term development - all was struck down by a federal judge. This judgment will help protect up to 193-million acres of national forestland from Alaska to Florida.

Australia and New Zealand have announced a joint Antarctic whale research expedition that will gather data in a non-lethal manner. The significance of this announcement, just prior to the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission, is that it challenges Japan's loophole whereby they having been taking whales "for scientific research." Although Japan has stated that the killed whales are not used for commercial purposes, many organizations have purported that is not the case.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the South Pacific's gems in terms of both its vibrant coral reefs and its lush tropical forests. Those forests have been used so far as an economic boon to the island in the newly hatched world or carbon trading. Though not yet recognized by the UN, the Reduction of Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) has been working with some industrialized nations in speculating on REDD credits. However, there are some legal issues over the ownership of large tracts of rain forest that threaten the program, with the potential for clear cut logging looming.

Shark fishing and finning on a large industrial scale has been the concern of many pro-shark organizations. But we must be mindful of even the small operations - island villagers that are tempted by the high price for shark fins - as these can also have a devastating impact on shark populations since the reproductive rates of these animals is typically very low. On the island of Darien, Panama, a group of tourists came upon a beach strewn with the rotting carcasses of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of juvenile sharks, stripped of their fins. No one could specifically lay blame to any one group of fisherman or village at this point, but it was clear it was not the typical approach used by a large commercial operation. What was doubly disturbing was the fact that, as juveniles, these sharks undoubtedly had not had a chance to breed and at least add to their population, no matter how slightly. Panama has several laws prohibiting or regulating shark fishing, but enforcement in remote fishing villages is another matter.

I reside in California, so I was pleased to hear that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cleared the way for California to enforce automobile emission standards that are stricter than the national standards. California has been a leader, pushing for this waiver for some time and there are several other states, as many as 15 potentially, that could follow suit. Automobile manufacturers are under tremendous pressure to respond to both the current economic conditions and the demands of a growing environmental consensus - they can either willingly adjust to a new reality or be pulled kicking and screaming.

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