Feds to boost protection for Florida manatees


Manatees at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. @bberwyn photo.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes strict limits on commercial access to key winter manatee habitat

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to better protect endangered manatees with new rules at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

With record numbers of manatees wintering in Three Sisters Springs, and substantial increases in the number of people wanting to see the marine mammals in their natural habitat, the rules are needed to limit the potential for “viewing-related disturbance,” according to refuge manager Andrew Gude.

“Three Sisters Springs is among the top three most frequented springs by manatees in the world,” Gude said in a press release. “It is also the only confined-water body in the United States open to the public while wintering manatees are present. Understandably, more manatees in the springs attract more people who wish to experience them up close,” Gude said. Continue reading

Florida reprimands state worker for violating climate-change gag order

Watchdog group challenges disciplinary action, says state officials may have violated law by requiring alteration of meeting records


Much of South Florida will be inundated with just a few feet of sea level rise during the next few decades. Map courtesy University of Arizona.


Sea level rise is already nibbling away at Florida beaches.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Florida Governor Rick Scott’s hear-no-evil approach to climate change has led to a harsh, and probably unjustified, reprimand for a state worker who discussed global warming and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline at an official state meeting in late February.

Barton Bibler, the land management plan coordinator in the Florida Division of State Lands, was ordered to take a two-day leave of absence and get a doctor’s clearance before returning to work.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group, has formally asked state officials to investigate the disciplinary action against Bibler, suggesting that his supervisor’s orders to alter records from the meeting may warrant criminal investigation. Continue reading

Court to determine whether U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must mitigate impacts of genetically modified crops

Environmental groups hail latest opinion as victory in fight against GM crops on protected lands

Migrating waterfowl rely on stopovers at wildlife refuges, where the use of genetically modified feed crops has been controversial. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A Federal court this week set the stage for resolving a long-running conflict over the use of genetically engineered crops of 44,000 acres of land in the national wildlife refuge system administered by the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg said that, even though the region has already agreed to stop planting GM crops, there may be ongoing effects. The judge set a hearing date of Nov. 5 to determine an appropriate remedy and urged the parties to meet before then to try and reach at least partial agreement.

At issue is the fact that the USFWS started using GM crops without doing an in-depth environmental study Instead, the agency relied on environmental studies done by a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, according to Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the southeast region of the USFWS. Continue reading

Park service wins court case on Mojave hunting rules

Conservation groups sought sport-hunting rules to protect endangered desert tortoise; agency wins case on procedural grounds


By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A decade-long saga involving the fate of desert tortoises, careless hunters and a big dose of politics ended last month, as a federal court refused to make the National Park Service uphold one of its own management rules for the Mojave National Preserve. Continue reading

Environment: Arctic researcher Dr. Charles Monnett back at work after feds lift suspension, but investigation continues

Is the investigation of Dr. Charles Monnett about polar bears, or about the integrity of federal scientific contracting policies? PHOTO BY STEVEN AMSTRUP/USGS.

Scientist still under cloud, as watchdog group launches counter-investigation of federal agency

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Dr. Charles Monnett, a federal researcher who was suspended in mid-July and investigated for his handling of scientific contracts is back at work today — but the investigation continues, according to Melissa Schwartz, the deputy chief of Staff and communications director for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement.

“He was informed that he will have no role in developing or managing contracts of any kind, and will instead be in our environmental assessment division … The Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) independent investigation is ongoing,” Schwarz said via email.

“There is no truth to any suggestion that the return to work is in any way tied to PEER’s allegations against bureau leadership,” she continued, referring to charges by an environmental watchdog and whistle-blower protection group that the investigation of Monnett is a scientific witch hunt related to the scientist’s publication of a 2006 paper on potential global warming impacts to polar bears. Continue reading

Feds change tune on investigation of Arctic scientist

Previous questioning of Charles Monnett focused on research; Inspector General‘s office now says it’s about contract procurement and project management

A female polar bear and her two cubs travel along the ice pack north of the Alaska coast.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The federal government is now saying its investigation of a biologist working in the Arctic is related to the management and procurement side of a polar bear study, despite the fact that investigators questioned the researcher extensively about his scientific work in a previous interview.

In a Feb. 23 interview, Department of Interior Inspector General officials who identified themselves as criminal investigators exhaustively questioned Charles Monnet about his aerial survey work involving whales and polar bears, with no questions relating to the procurement side of the work.

New wetlands permits proposed for energy projects

Watchdog group says proposed nationwide permits for renewable energy development are too broad; more site-specific review needed

New federal wetlands permits for renewable energy projects could lead to significant wetlands impacts, according environmental groups.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY  — Two new permits for wetlands disturbances could help ease the development of renewable power, but the changes would come at the expense of American wetlands, already under siege from a steady stream of development, according to a watchdog group that monitors federal agencies.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility claims the changes could result in the destruction of hundreds of miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands.

At issue are the Corps’ nationwide permits, which allow for small-scale wetlands impacts without a site specific review. The new permits would give a blank check for onshore and offshore renewable energy projects, said PEER’s New England director Kyla Bennett.

“They give free reign for land-based solar, wind, geothermal and biomass projects,” Bennett said, explaining that the second permit does the same for offshore wind turbines. Continue reading


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