Tag Archives: smog

Sequoia smog harming pines, redwoods

More evidence of the harm to our natural heritage caused by human activities. So what is more important? That a polluting factory or gunk-emitting tanker truck be allowed to keep on moving? Or the native flora and fauna of North America? Well?


Our smoggiest national parks

This is both an old and a new storyline. I recall reading years ago about the pervasiveness of smog at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But the problem is not confined to that National Park System unit alone.

Let the EPA do its job, American Lung Association says

Pronouncements like this one hardly get any press attention at all because reporters are too damn busy seeking “balance” and paying attention only to the number of dollars in people’s wallets and how this regulation or that regulation would cost them in absolute dollars. Never mind the atmospheric costs of quality of life, public health, and the health of the very planet.

Here’s what the Lung Association says:

In a new report out today, Toxic Air: the Case for Cleaning Up Coal-Fired Power Plants, the American Lung Association finds that significant action now is needed to protect our public health.  The EPA needs to be allowed to do its job to safeguard us from the dangerous pollution from these plants.   CAP’s Susan Lyon has the story.

With a new proposal due from the EPA on March 16 on power plant toxics, this report makes the case that EPA needs to proceed to better protect our health.  This report also comes just as the EPA is being attacked by the right and in ascience-denying Congress, whose goal is to remove or lessen its rulemaking authority.

Our kids are being exposed to 386,000 tons of 84 dangerous pollutants currently ‘uncontrolled’ as they spew from power plants, with known deleterious effects.  These include:

  • Arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals;
  • Mercury;
  • Dioxins;
  • Formaldehyde and other chemicals known or thought to cause cancer, including benzene and radioisotopes;
  • Acid gases such as hydrogen chloride;
  • Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium.

The impact (literally) of roads on fish and wildlife

Here’s my latest newspaper column:

Nothing is worse for sensitive wildlife than a road. Over the last few decades, studies in a variety of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems have demonstrated that many of the most pervasive threats to biological diversity – habitat destruction and fragmentation, edge effects, exotic species invasions, pollution, and overhunting – are aggravated by roads.


Roads have been implicated as mortality sinks for animals ranging from snakes to wolves; as displacement factors affecting animal distribution and movement patterns; as population fragmenting factors; as sources of sediments that clog streams and destroy fisheries; as sources of deleterious edge effects; and as access corridors that encourage development, logging and poaching of rare plants and animals. Road-building in national and state forests and other public lands threatens the existence of de facto wilderness and the species that depend on wildness.
Despite heightened recognition (by informed people) of the harmful effects of roads, road density continues to increase in the US and other countries. Federal, state, and local transportation departments devote huge budgets to construction and upgrading of roads.

Multinational lending institutions, such as the World Bank, finance roads into pristine rainforest, which usher in a flood of settlers who destroy both the rainforest and the indigenous cultures. Public land-managing agencies build thousands of miles of roads each year to support their resource extraction activities, at a net cost to the taxpayer. The U.S. Forest Service alone plans to build or reconstruct almost 600,000 miles of roads in the next 50 years.

Most public agencies disregard the ecological impacts of roads and attempt to justify timber roads as benefiting recreation and wildlife management. Even when a land manager recognizes the desirability of closing roads, he or she usually contends that such closures would be unacceptable to the public.

Here’s a brief review of some ecological effects of roads, with emphasis on impacts to wildlife.

From primitive logging roads to four-lane highways, the effects of different types of roads vary, but virtually all are bad, and the net effect of all roads is nothing short of catastrophic for our natural heritage.

Direct effects, such as flattened fauna, are easy to see. I witness this daily during long exercise walks (more like treks). In contrast, many indirect effects of roads are cumulative and involve changes in natural community structure and ecological processes that are not well understood. Yet, these long-term effects signal a deterioration in ecosystems that far surpasses in importance the visual and olfactory insult to us of a bloated deer by the roadside.

Roadkill can have a significant impact on wildlife populations. The Humane Society of the U.S. and the Urban Wildlife Research Center have arrived at a conservative figure of one million animals killed each day on highways in the United States. When Interstate 75 was completed through a major deer wintering area in northern Michigan, deer road mortality increased by 500 percent.

In Pennsylvania, 26,180 deer and 90 bears were killed by vehicles in 1985 alone. These statistics do not account for animals that crawl off the road to die after being hit. Also, roadkill statistics are invariably biased toward mammals, against reptiles, amphibians, and probably birds, and do not include invertebrates at all (who wants to count the insects smashed on windshields and grills?).

Vehicles on high-speed highways pose the greatest threat to wildlife. Unpaved roads, particularly when “unimproved,” are less dangerous. Roadkill usually increases with volume of traffic. In one Texas study, however, mortality was greatest on roads with intermediate volumes, presumably because higher-volume roads had wider rights-of-way that allowed better visibility for animals and drivers alike. Increases in traffic volume do result in more collisions on any given road, and in our profligate society more people means more cars on virtually every road.

It is no surprise that roadkills are the leading known cause of death for all large mammals except white-tailed deer. Roadkills of Florida black bear, a subspecies listed as threatened by that state, have been rising sharply in recent years, from 2-3 per year in the 1970s to 44 in 1989. Many of the bears are killed on roads through public lands, in particular the Ocala National Forest.

Seventeen Florida panthers, one of the most endangered subspecies of mammals in the world, are known to have been killed on roads since 1972. Since 1981, 65 percetntof documented Florida panther deaths have been roadkills, and the population of only about 20 individuals is unlikely to be able to sustain this pressure.

An average of 41 Key deer, a species listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were killed on roads yearly from 1980 through 1986, and 57 were killed in 1987. Roadkill is also the leading cause of mortality for the American crocodile, also an endangered species, in south Florida. The Florida scrub jay, a threatened species, has been found to suffer considerable mortality from collision with vehicles, and researchers have concluded that these birds cannot maintain stable populations along roads with considerable high-speed traffic.

Snakes are particularly vulnerable to roadkill, as the warm asphalt attracts them; yet their carcasses are seldom tallied. I recall shaking my head in disappointment after discovering the carcass of a timer rattlesnake along one well-traveled two-lane highway not far from Hazleton.

Cut the sprawl, cut the warming

This NY Times editorial dates from 2008, but I hadn’t seen it before now, given the lengthy time it took me to recover from a traumatic brain injury. Good piece. Should be updated and used by more mediaoutlets.


Environmentalists warn: New coal plant will endanger Hampton Roads, Va.

Good argument, but the newspaper article, from the Newport News, Va., Daily Press, says little about climate change, carbon dioxide, etc.