Morning photo: 2013 Travel shots

Around the world with Summit Voice

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A classic sunset view of San Francisco sky from the Coit Tower.

FRISCO — If you’ve been a Summit Voice reader for a few years, then you’ve probably had a chance to visit a few special places with us — maybe the olive groves of Corfu, ancient castles and world heritage sites in Albania or the icefields of Antarctica. This year’s trips included a short visit to San Francisco early in the year, and an autumn journey to Iceland, fulfilling a long-time travel dream. It’s hard to narrow down hundreds of shots to find some “favorites,” so I just went with my gut feeling, choosing the images that evoked the strongest feeling as I scrolled through the archives. Happy trails to you in 2014! Continue reading

Report: Unsustainable groundwater pumping leads to record land subsidence in California’s Central Valley

USGS outlines threats to critical infrastructure

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California’s Central Valley, as seen from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Farmers and cities in central California are pumping so much groundwater that the land is rapidly subsiding across a large area, with potentially serious consequences for the region’s water infrastructure.

In a report released last week, the U.S. Geological Survey said the subsidence is occurring in such a way that there may be significant operational and structural challenges that need to be overcome to ensure reliable water delivery. In some places, the land subsided as much as 25 feet between 1926 and 1970.

Delivery of surface water from the north helped relieve pressure on the aquifers, but drought conditions between 1976–77 and 1987–92, and drought conditions and regulatory reductions in surface-water deliveries during 2007–10, once again led to increased pumping and renewed subsidence. Continue reading

Climate: October temperatures below average across lower 48 states, but Alaska readings reach all-time high

Year-to-date wetter and warmer than average

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The western U.S. was cooler than average in October 2013, with a few pockets of record cold readings. Map courtesy NOAA National Climatic Data Center.

FRISCO — For the first time since last April, the average monthly temperature across the lower 48 states was below average for the month, with the coolest readings across the western U.S. It was the first month of the year with cooler than average readings for most of the West.

By contrast, Alaska reporting its warmest-ever October, breaking the old record by 1.1 degrees.

Across the contiguous states, the average October temperature was 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 0.6 degrees below the 20th century average, and the 37th-coldest October on record, according to the monthly update from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds agree to study pesticide impacts to rare frogs in California

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USGS sampling found that Pacific chorus frogs in many remote Sierra Nevada locations are contaminated by pesticides and fungicides used in agricultural production in California’s Central Valley. Photo courtesy USGS.

Court settlement may ultimately help protect endangered amphibians

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In a classic case of government do-nothingism, federal agencies have known for years that pesticides are killing rare California frogs — but have failed to act to protect the amphibians from the poisons.

But that should change soon, as a federal court this week approved a deal that requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare detailed environmental studies on the effects of seven common pesticides: Glyphosate, malathion, simazine, pendimethalin, permethrin, methomyl and myclobutanil.

The studies, called biological opinions in government jargon, will evaluate and disclose how the use of those chemicals affects California’s red-legged frogs when they’re used in and near the frog’s aquatic and upland habitats. Continue reading

Summer of 2013 the 8th warmest on record

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A tale of two summers …

Warm West, cool East

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Despite the near absence of record heat across the contiguous 48 states, the summer of 2013 (June-August) ranked as the eighth-warmest on record, with an average temperature of 72.6 degrees, about 1.2 degrees warmer than the 20th century norm.

The data tallied by the National Climatic Data Center suggests an era of new normals, with temperatures running well above historic averages even in non-El Niño years. Taken separately, August 2013 was the 28th-warmest on record with an average temperature of 73..1 degrees, 1 degree above the 20th century average. Read the full report here.

The Alaska statewide average summer temperature was 2.7 degrees above the 1971-2000 average and ranked as the second warmest summer in the 96-year period of record for the state. The warmest June-August occurred in 2004 when the statewide temperature was 4.1 degrees above average. Continue reading

Environment: Forest Service agrees to study snowmobile impacts on five national forests in California

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The U.S. Forest Service may finally address the environmental impacts of snowmobiles, at least in California, where the agency settled a lawsuit with a promise to do better studies.

Conservation groups say agency has been avoiding detailed studies by approving trail systems under streamlined categorical exclusion permitting process

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service may finally come to grips with the environmental impacts of snowmobiles under a new legal agreement that will require a full assessment of snowmobile impacts on wildlife, plants and quiet recreation in five California national forests — the Stanislaus, Eldorado, Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen.

The agreement settles a lawsuit that challenged the Forest Service’s practice of avoiding detailed environmental review on these national forests in the central and northern Sierra and southern Cascades. In many cases, the agency has used categorical exclusions to authorize snowmobile trail grooming without taking a hard look at impacts like federal environmental laws require. Continue reading

Feds issue emergency rules to protect sperm whales

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Activists seek to halt drift gillnet fishing altogether

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal officials this week enacted emergency regulations to try and protect Pacific Ocean sperm whale population from California’s drift gillnet fishery, which has been killing non-commercial fish and marine mammals at an alarming rate.

The practice of setting miles of floating nets may be one of the cheapest ways to fish for commercial species, but it’s also one of the most destructive to marine resources. Recent fishery observer data indicates that, for every two swordfish the fishery catches to sell, on average one blue shark, 15 ocean sunfish, and a long list of other fish are thrown overboard dead or injured.

The new regulations issues by the National Marine Fisheries Service will shut down California’s drift gillnet fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is caught dead or injured. Continue reading

Otters play crucial role in seagrass ecosystems

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Sea otters are crucial top-down players in estuarine seagrass ecosystems. Photo via USGS.

New study shows the importance of apex predators

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The delicate biological balance of ecosystems was illustrated once again this week, as California-based researchers showed how sea otters are crucial to health of seagrass beds in one of California’s largest estuaries.

Seagrass meadows provide coastal protection and important habitat for fish. They are declining worldwide, partly because of pollution from farms and urban areas is tainting many coastal waters. The nutrient pollution spurs the growth of algae on seagrass leaves, blocking sunlight. Continue reading

Energy: BLM to study California fracking impacts

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Widespread deposits of valuable natural gas and oil in shale formations has spurred the fracking boom.

Some leasing likely to be on hold for at least a year

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Following a legal challenge, federal officials said last week they will re-evaluate the potential impacts of fracking to public lands in California. The federal environmental study will be accompanied by a statewide independent scientific assessment of fracking in central California.

The new studies were announced after a federal court upheld a legal challenge of the  BLM’s decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey County to oil companies. The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club. Continue reading

Rare Great Basin plant to get some protection

Webber's ivesia, a rare desert flower in the rose family, will get some protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy Sarah Kulpa, USFW.

Webber’s ivesia, a rare desert flower in the rose family, will get some protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy Sarah Kulpa, USFW.

Critical habitat designation will help bolster populations of Webber’s ivesia

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A rare Great Basin flower will get some protection under the Endangered Species Act, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed 2,011 acres of critical habitat for Webber’s ivesia.

The plant, a member of the rose family, grows only in localized patches of rocky, clay-based soils that are wet in spring and that shrink and swell with drying and wetting. The soil can take thousands of years to form and is associated with  sparse vegetation associated with low sagebrush.

The five counties where the rare flower is found are in the transition zone between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert. Continue reading

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