Turkey’s Dam-Building Spree Continues, At Steep Ecological Cost

Turkey’s Dam-Building Spree Continues, At Steep Ecological Cost

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: October 3, 2019 SNIP: From the vine-draped veranda of Yolgecen Hani, a café in the Turkish town of Hasankeyf, one can still catch the scent of the free-flowing Tigris River below, which courses through the country’s rugged southeast and then the length of Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The sun-baked mountains, verdant riverbanks, and jagged gorges, which lay at the heart of ancient Mesopotamia, today are home to unique ecosystems rich in endemic flora and fauna. Yet, in a matter of months, a massive hydroelectric plant and impoundment dam located about 35 miles downstream will obliterate much of this splendor. The waters that will soon back up behind the Ilisu Dam will transform nearly 90 miles of the Tigris and another 150 miles of its tributaries into a vast reservoir that will submerge nearly 200 villages and displace an estimated 80,000 people. The drowned settlements will include the pearl of Hasankeyf, whose cultural heritage — ancient churches, caves, and tombs — attests to the presence of some of the first large human communities 10,000 years ago. The flooding, as well as the surge of water releases downstream, also threatens endangered species such as the Eurasian otter, the marbled duck, and the red-wattled Lapwing, say experts. The dam will further imperil many of the Tigris’ native fish species, already battered by overfishing, industrial pollution, and sewage discharges. And experts say the impacts of the Ilisu Dam will be felt hundreds of miles downstream across large parts of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, which includes Syria, Iraq, and Iran, exacerbating water shortages that will affect irrigation, biodiversity,...
‘We know they aren’t feeding’: fears for polar bears over shrinking Arctic ice

‘We know they aren’t feeding’: fears for polar bears over shrinking Arctic ice

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: September 29, 2019 SNIP: This year’s annual minimum of the Arctic sea ice tied with the second-lowest extent on record, a mere 1.6m sq miles, and badly affected polar bear populations that live and hunt on the north slope of Alaska, plus those that live on the ice floes in the Bering Sea. “Now the ice has gone way offshore we know that the bears aren’t feeding, and the bears that are forced on to land don’t find much to eat. The longer the sea ice is gone from the productive zone the tougher it is on the bears,” said Polar Bears International’s Steven Amstrup. In 2015, the group reported that the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea had declined by 40% over the previous decade. “We can only anticipate that those declines have continued,” Amstrup said. The loss of sea ice this year was so pronounced early in the season that tagging crews from the US Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that the sea ice offshore in the western arctic was too thin and unstable to be able to conduct their studies – the first time the team have pulled their studies because of safety issues. That’s a far cry from the two decades to 2010 when Amstrup did two two-month field studies a year. In recent years, the spring season has also been severely hampered by open water, fog and bad weather. This year, the trends were repeated. Amstrup said: “The ice in the spring … was really tough this year. What ice was there was thin and rough this year. That’s part...
‘Alarming’ extinction threat to Europe’s trees

‘Alarming’ extinction threat to Europe’s trees

SOURCE: BBC DATE: September 27, 2019 SNIP: The conker tree has been put on the official extinction list. Ravaged by moths and disease, the horse chestnut is now classified as vulnerable to extinction. The tree is among more than 400 native European tree species assessed for their risk of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). About half face disappearing from the natural landscape. Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List unit, described the findings as “alarming”. “Trees are essential for life on Earth, and European trees in all their diversity are a source of food and shelter for countless animal species such as birds and squirrels, and play a key economic role,” he said. Experts are now turning their attention to plants, with an assessment of all 454 tree species native to the continent. The report found that 42% are threatened with extinction (assessed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered). Among endemic trees – those that don’t exist anywhere else on Earth – 58% are threatened. Species highlighted include the horse chestnut, which is declining across Europe, and most of almost 200 trees in the family that includes the rowan and mountain ash. The report identified a wide range of threats, including pests and diseases, competition from invasive plants, deforestation, unsustainable logging, changes in land use and forest fires. Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s European regional office, said human activities were causing tree population declines across...
Out in the wild, our impacts are real

Out in the wild, our impacts are real

SOURCE: Jackson Hole News & Guide DATE: September 23, 2019 SNIP: On the tail end of an intensive effort to research how recreating people affect wildlife, Bruce Thompson threw himself into a funk. “I was blown away,” Thompson said, “and I had to do some soul searching.” Digging into around 25 peer-reviewed studies, one conclusion that Thompson found is that no one type of recreation is blameless. “All human activity, no matter what it is, impacts wildlife,” he said. “That’s the nature of the beast.” Trying to create a hierarchy of the worst recreation types is a fool’s errand, he said, but there were some common findings. Traveling off trail, for one, expands a person’s “area of influence” that causes wildlife to flee by two to three times compared to moving along a trail that animals are used to seeing people on. And when those animals are influenced, they get more freaked out. “It’s partly because they’re more surprised,” Thompson said. “The degree of fear that they experience compels them to move at a faster pace, burn more energy and not stop for a longer period of time. It’s terror, rather than modest fright.” Traveling with a dog was another factor that moves the needle toward increased impact on wild environments, Thompson said. On-trail hiking without a canine companion causes responses from wildlife within around 150 feet, but the reach of disturbance about doubles when there’s a dog accompanying on a leash. Free roaming dogs increase the influence more yet. Writing for High Country News, journalist Christine Peterson recently documented the sorry state of the resident elk herd nearest...
Birds Are Vanishing From North America

Birds Are Vanishing From North America

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: September 19, 2019 SNIP: The skies are emptying out. The number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by 29 percent since 1970, scientists reported on Thursday. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds taking wing now than there were 50 years ago. The analysis, published in the journal Science, is the most exhaustive and ambitious attempt yet to learn what is happening to avian populations. The results have shocked researchers and conservation organizations. In a statement on Thursday, David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, called the findings “a full-blown crisis.” Experts have long known that some bird species have become vulnerable to extinction. But the new study, based on a broad survey of more than 500 species, reveals steep losses even among such traditionally abundant birds as robins and sparrows. Common bird species are vital to ecosystems, controlling pests, pollinating flowers, spreading seeds and regenerating forests. When these birds disappear, their former habitats often are not the same. There are likely many causes, the most important of which include habitat loss and wider use of pesticides. Kevin Gaston, a conservation biologist at the University of Exeter, said that new findings signal something larger at work: “This is the loss of nature.” While some species grew, the researchers found, the majority declined — often by huge numbers. “We were stunned by the result — it’s just staggering,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University and the American Bird Conservancy, and the lead author of the new study. “It’s not just these highly threatened birds...