Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Conservation News January 21, 2015

Study: Are human behaviors shaping bird communities in residential areas?
A new study published by researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society indicates that the behavior of humans and their domesticated animals in exurban landscapes could be playing an important role in determining relative bird abundance. Exurban development is characterized by low density and large lot sizes in rural areas. The research was conducted on five “functional groups” of birds living in exurban developments and control sites in two distinct ecosystems: the Adirondack forest and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The researchers hypothesized that development impacts to bird communities would be greater in the closed canopy Adirondack forest than they would be in the Yellowstone Ecosystem that is characterized by grasslands interspersed with trees and shrubs. However, the data collected did not support their hypothesis. The study found that four of the five functional bird groups show similar responses to exurban development, with Neotropical migrants, low-nesters, and area sensitive species being negatively impacted and edge specialists benefitting. 

The research was featured in a Science Daily article, which reports, “The impacts were greatest on the low-nesting species such as ovenbird, hermit thrush, and winter wren in the Adirondacks and Brewer's, savannah and white-crowned sparrows in the west with 70-100 percent change in abundance between subdivisions and control sites  . . . These unexpected results are fueling more questions that may ultimately lead to informed landowners lessening their impacts on local wildlife.” The study concludes, “These similarities across diverse ecosystems suggest that the ecological context of the encompassing region may be less important than other elements in shaping avian communities in exurban systems. This finding suggests that humans and their specific behaviors and activities in exurban areas may be underappreciated but potentially important drivers of change in these regions.”
In Tucson Audubon’s most recent issue of the Vermillion Flycatcher, we explore some of the ways we can modify our behavior, neighborhoods and properties to create and enhance habitat for birds and other wildlife. This approach draws from the emerging scientific field of Reconciliation Ecology, a branch of ecology which aims to promote coexistence and reconcile biodiversity conservation in human-dominated landscapes.

Arizona Utility SRP Proposes Rate Hike for Rooftop Solar Customers
Rooftop solar in Arizona has grown 142 percent in the last three years, and employs more than 8,500 workers throughout the state. Producing electric power on site with photovoltaic panels uses significantly less water than fossil fuels do, avoids the loss of power associated with long-distance electricity transmission, is beneficial for our air quality and reduces heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. Going solar has become substantially less expensive over the last decade. The average cost of installing a residential solar system dropped from about $8.50 per watt in 2007 to just over $4.00 per watt in 2013. Falling prices and government incentive programs have helped to significantly increase the number of residential solar systems. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the number of solar powered homes in the United States has grown to nearly 600,000.

Despite the increasing affordability, growing popularity and environmental benefits of rooftop solar, the Arizona utility company Salt River Project (SRP) has decided to penalize rooftop solar customers to help pay for maintenance and enhancement of the electric grid. SRP proposes a rate hike that would cost solar home-owners $50 to $100 more per month. This would be very detrimental to the rooftop solar market within SRP service territory because it would create a financial disincentive for residents to invest in purchasing photovoltaic systems.

Take Action! Send your public comment to SRP to voice your opposition to this rate hike using Environment Arizona’s online system, or write SRP directly at the address given under “Contact Us.”

Superior Court Judge Hears Challenge to Rosemont Copper’s Air Quality Permit
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge is considering a legal appeal of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s 2013 decision to issue an air quality permit for the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains. The Associated Press reports, “G. Van Velsor Wolf Jr., an attorney for the Santa Ritas group, cited a state law that says a permit shall be denied if an applicant can't show it is designed in such a way that it "may be expected to operate" without emitting pollutants in violation of state laws and rules. The mining company and ADEQ, however, contend the state law only directs permit applicants to another law that doesn't contain requirements that specific.”

Feds Reverse Approval of Exploratory Mine Drilling in the Patagonia Mountains
A Cronkite News
report appearing in the Arizona Daily Star confirms that federal officials with the Coronado National Forest Service have pulled back their approval for the Sunnyside exploratory mine drilling project in the Patagonia Mountains.  The news report states, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended threatened status to the yellow-billed cuckoo in October — more than a month after the U.S. Forest Service had given Regal Resources the go-ahead to drill for evidence of copper in the Patagonia area of the forest. The Fish and Wildlife Service in December withdrew its concurrence in the project. That has led the Forest Service to pull its approval, according to a Jan. 9 letter from the district ranger for the forest service. No activity can take place on the so-called Sunnyside project “until after consultation is concluded” and a new decision is issued, Sierra Vista District Ranger Mark Ruggiero said in the letter.”

The reversal comes after the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance and the Defenders of Wildlife sued the federal agencies in late October of 2014, charging that the approval of the exploratory permits violated environmental regulations. The lawsuit was filed several weeks after the Fish and Wildlife Service officially granted threatened status to the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed project area also contains habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl and the endangered jaguar, ocelot and the lesser long-nosed bat, among other sensitive species.

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