About these ads

Feds finalize recovery plan for Alaska sea otters

Predation by killer whales seen as main threat

sdf

A dramatic decline in sea otter numbers in southwest Alaska has prompted an all-out recovery effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

sadf

Nothern sea otter. Photo via USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal officials have finally completed a recovery plan for northern sea otters living along the coast of southwest Alaska, but fully recovering the species may prove to be a big challenge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says predation by killer whales may be the single biggest factor in significant population declines documented since the 1950s.

“There may be few actions that can be taken to mitigate predation as a threat, but the sea otter recovery program should search for solutions and be open to novel ideas,” the scientists wrote in the recovery plan. Above all, more research is needed to pinpoint population trends and reasons for the decline, they wrote.

The 50 to 60 percent drop in otter numbers has had a dramatic effect on coastal ecosystems in the region. Otters are a keystone species in their ecosystem niche. They control sea urchin populations, which prevents over-grazing of underwater kelp forests, which are important habitat for a slew of other species. Read the recovery plan here. Continue reading

About these ads

Global warming spurs changes in AK wildfire regime

More frequent and intense fires documented in Alaska’s interior region, where conifer forests are giving way to deciduous trees

The magenta-flowered fireweed, which springs up after a burn, dominates a landscape once covered in black spruce in Alaskas Yukon Flats. Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The magenta-flowered fireweed, which springs up after a burn, dominates a landscape once covered in black spruce in Alaskas Yukon Flats. Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Global warming is making some of Alaska’s interior forests more flammable, with wildfire activity higher than at any time in the past 10,0000 years, according to new research funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study documented a dramatic increase in both the frequency and severity of fires in recent decades in a 2,000-square-kilometer zone in the Yukon Flats of interior Alaska — already one of the most flammable high-latitude regions of the world.

The fires are converting the conifer-rich boreal forests of Alaska into deciduous woodlands, the study found. Whether the shift to deciduous forests — which traditionally have been thought to be more fire-resistant — will overcome the fire-inducing effects of a warming climate remains to be seen. Continue reading

Environment: U.S. Forest Service plans to transition away from old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest

Tongass National Forest map

After many years of conflict over logging plans, the Forest Service will transition away from harvesting old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest.

Agency hopes to complete the shift to sustainable second-growth timber harvests in 10 to 15 years

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service says it will back away from logging old growth in the country’s biggest national forest — Alaska’s 17-million acre Tongass — but not until after completing the  already approved Big Thorne timber sale.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack the agency’s plan to to conserve the old-growth forests by speeding the transition to management of second-growth forests. Vilsack said the goal is to increase second-growth timbers until they make up the vast majority of logging projects withing 10 to 15 years. Read the full memorandum here.

The Tongass contains large stands of old-growth rainforest, and provides world-class recreation and fishing while supporting local communities through a variety of economic activities. Continue reading

Global warming: Study helps quantify how much Alaska’s melting glaciers contribute to sea level rise

Research aims to fine-tune sea-level rise projections

asdf

The Columbia Glacier in Alaska is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory web page for more information.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As part of a global study of melting glaciers and rising sea level, two University of Alaska Fairbanks geophysicists helped compile a global inventory of glaciers, with a focus on Alaska.

Before the study, only about 40 percent of Alaska’s glaciers were inventoried. The two researchers, Anthony Arendt and Regine Hock, concluded that Alaska remains one of the top contributors to global sea level. Continue reading

Global warming: New report eyes significant Arctic threats

dsg

Coordinated planning needed to address major environmental and social challenges

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Increased coastal erosion, bigger and more destructive tundra fires and caribou starvation are just a few of the impacts anticipated in a  major new report on the Arctic.

The report, compiled by an interagency working group, calls for an integrated management strategy for the rapidly changing region, using a coordinated approach that uses the best available science to integrate cultural, environmental and economic factors in decision-making about development and conservation.

“This report chronicles how Arctic residents are dealing with rapid, climate change-induced impacts on their resources and traditional ways of life at the same time that new economic activity and opportunities are emerging — notably oil and gas, marine transportation, tourism and mining,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes. Continue reading

Report finds serious flaws with Shell’s Arctic drilling program

Equipment failures, environmental violations and lack of oversight need to be addressed before moving ahead with drilling plans

sdfg

Feds tell Shell to rethink Arctic offshore drilling plans.

* More coverage of Shell’s Arctic drilling program

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Eager to exploit the Arctic for fossil fuel resources and to live up to shareholder expectations, Royal Dutch Shell rushed into its offshore drilling program without being “fully prepared in terms of fabricating and testing certain critical systems and establishing the scope of its operational plans,” according to a U.S. Department of Interior report released this week.

Key failures included Shell’s inability to get certification for an oil spill containment system  required to be on site in the event of a loss of well control. The report said the company’s failure to deploy the system was due “to shortcomings in Shell’s management and oversight of key contractors.”

The review was launched after a string of well-publicized problems culminated with a runaway drill rig that ended up running aground on a remote Alaskan island. The company is also under investigation for a string of violations of various environmental requirements. In February, Shell announced a one year pause in its Arctic drilling program to address the shortcomings. Continue reading

Federal appeals court upholds polar bear protection

asdf

Polar bears are threatened by global warming and qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy Susanne Miller/USFWS.

Court rejects challenge by Alaska and trophy hunters

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A federal appeals court has rebuffed Alaska’s efforts to weaken polar bear protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Explaining that global warming has already caused reductions in survival and recruitment rates in some regions, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service satisfied its duties under the law and adequately supported it decision to protect polar bears from extinction. Read the decision here.

The agency said the record makes it clear that federal biologists were aware of Alaska’s concerns and addressed them during the listing process. “We find … that under any reasonable reading of the Act, FWS committed no error in its response to the concerns raised by the State of Alaska,” the appeals court wrote in the March 1 ruling. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,395 other followers