Winemakers eye native American grape species as a way to reduce pesticide use

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Chemical analysis informs potential hybridization efforts

Staff Report

FRISCO — As the widespread and disastrous consequences of heavy pesticide use become ever-more apparent, wine-makers and grape growers are trying to figure out ways to make their grapes more resistant to bugs and fungi without using toxic chemicals.

The answer may lie in crossing the domestic grape species used in most wine production — Vitis vinifera — with native wild American grapes, like Vitis californica, which make terrible wine but are pest-resistant. Continue reading

Morning photo: Postcards from France

A week in Provence …

FRISCO —I’m not quite ready to move to Provence for year, but one could definitely tarry here for a few weeks or months, at least. There’s plenty to explore, and not just vineyards. Just off the shore of Hyéres is a group of car-free islands that have been set aside as a national park. It’s rare to find much undeveloped land along the Côte d’Azur, so taking the ferry across to Porquerolles was a chance to see what the area looked like before it was completely over-developed for tourism. More info later in a travel story, but for now, a few postcards.

Environment: Feds face pipeline safety lawsuit

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Workers try to contain an oil spill from a ruptured pipeline in the Yellowstone River in January, 2015.

Lacksadaiscal enforcement is a recipe for disaster

Staff Report

FRISCO — After a series of disastrous pipeline breaks, the National Wildlife Federation says it’s time to hold the federal government accountable for its failure to enforce basic requirements like regular inspections and update safety response plans for pipeline accidents.

This week, the nonprofit group said it will sue the  U.S Department of Transportation in an action that has nationwide implications, since nearly every pipeline that crosses a navigable water is operating illegally. In its formal notice of intent to sue, the National Wildlife Federation is asking the Department of Transportation to issue regulations for oil pipelines in water, and require every owner and operator of an oil pipeline in a navigable water to submit a safety response plan that needs to be approved. Continue reading

Breck, Vail Resorts squabble over parking

Spring season extended at Breckenridge Ski Area. PHOTO COURTESY VAIL RESORTS/JACK AFFLECK.

 Breckenridge Ski Area. PHOTO COURTESY VAIL RESORTS/JACK AFFLECK.

Lift-ticket tax proposal stirs up bad blood

Staff Report

FRISCO — The long-running love-hate soap opera between Breckenridge and Vail Resorts took a nasty turn this week, as town officials vowed to forge ahead with putting an admissions (lift-ticket) tax on the November ballot, while the resort company questioned the town’s legal authority to do so.

At issue, according to Breckenridge, is an urgent need to address parking and transit issues — something the town should have started addressing 15 years ago. Based on community input, town officials say, the best path forward is to build a parking structure on F-Lot and to boost transit options.

To do that, the town wants to establish a new revenue stream by taxing lift tickets and other for-profit attractions. But Breckenridge and Vail Resorts have apparently failed to find common ground. In a press release, Mayor John Warner said ongoing negotiations have failed, leaving the town no option but to pursue voter approval for a new tax in the fall. Continue reading

Report: Australia’s humpback whales are thriving

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

FRISCO — While many Australian animal species are being pushed toward extinction, humpback whales off both the country’s east and west coasts are making a strong comeback from the whaling era.

Recent research suggests humpback populations are growing at about 10 percent annually, and that populations have recovered to between 60 and 90 percent of pre-whaling numbers, according to a new study published in the journal Marine Policy. Continue reading

NOAA steps up efforts to track West Coast toxic algae

A nice haul of blue crabs.

Toxin-producing algae is threatening West Coast fisheries.

Grant funding to help pinpoint cause of outbreak

Staff Report

FRISCO — After sending extra scientists to help track the spread of toxin-producing algae along the West Coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this month said it will help fund more monitoring and research. The agency is committing $88,000 in grant and event response funding for Washington state.

According to NOAA, the money will go to supporting researchers and state and tribal managers in collecting and analyzing additional samples to test for abundance and concentrations of toxins. The information, along with analysis of ocean and weather conditions, will help identify factors contributing to the outbreak and its severity. Continue reading

Environment: Feds extend comment period on controversial Endangered Species Act changes

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Can the Endangered Species Act be improved?

Proposed changes would make it harder for citizen groups to petition for protection

Staff Report

FRISCO — The feds will give the public an extra two months to weigh in on proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, with a new comment deadline set for mid-September.

In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service published draft regulations, saying that the changes are aimed at improving transparency and inclusiveness. The move to freshen up the Endangered Species Act reflects “advances in conservation biology and genetics, as well as recent court decisions interpreting the Act’s provisions.” Continue reading

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