Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Forest Service Opens Several Recreation Areas Along Catalina Highway

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2020 at 1:00 PM

  • Jeff Gardner
Just in time for Labor Day weekend, the National Forest Service today updated their closure order around the Bighorn Fire burn area, reopening several vistas and recreation areas for public use.

The following areas areas along the Catalina Highway are removed from the closure order: Soldier Trail, Baad Do’ag Trail and Vista, AZ Trail East of Catalina Highway, Molino Canyon Vista, Molino Basin for day use, Gordon Hirabayashi area for day use, Bug Spring Trail, Thimble Rock Vista, Seven Cataracts Vista, Cypress Picnic Area, Chihuahua Pine Picnic Area, Middle Bear Picnic Area, Windy Point Vista, Geology Vista, Hoodoo Vista, San Pedro Vista, Sycamore Vista, Aspen Vista and Loma Linda Picnic Area. Restrooms and trash service in these areas are still unavailable.

General Hitchcock Campground, Inspiration Rock Picnic Area, Alder Picnic Area and Box Elder Picnic Area are also open for public use, and will have restroom and trash service available starting Sept. 3.

This updated closure order will remain in effect until November 1, 2020 or until rescinded.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Proposal to protect Joshua trees from climate change proves divisive

Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2020 at 1:00 PM

  • Photo Courtesy of Arizona Friends of the Joshua Tree Forest
PHOENIX – Named for the biblical figure Joshua by Mormon pioneers who saw its outstretched limbs as a guide to their westward travels, the Joshua tree is an enduring icon of the Southwest.

In tiny Yucca Valley, California, the spiny succulents that once guided pioneers through the Mojave Desert still adorn the landscape, but as climate change threatens their future, residents are increasingly at odds over their preservation.

Some in the town of roughly 20,000 say that by listing the Joshua tree – which actually is a yucca – as threatened, new restrictions will negatively affect the town’s economy, while others view the protections as necessary to ensure the survival of Yucca brevifolia, which is native to the Mojave Desert.

In October, Brendan Cummings, the conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a petition to have the western Joshua tree listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Arizona dairy farms pivot from restaurants to food banks as COVID-19 shifts demand

Posted By on Wed, Jul 29, 2020 at 1:00 PM

PHOENIX – Thousands of gallons of wasted milk. Unpredictable, zigzagging prices. Abrupt dips and surges in demand.

The past four months have been a roller coaster for Arizona dairy farms, as the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way some of their biggest clients did business.

The ride isn’t over yet: Arizona is a COVID-19 hotspot, meaning impacts on school and restaurant operations – and their dairy needs – remain uncertain.

Food banks find themselves overwhelmed with community demand, yet some struggle to safely store and distribute the flood of milk being donated.

And beyond Arizona’s borders, foreign dairy markets continue to evolve.

“In 46 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Keith Murfield, chief executive officer of United Dairymen of Arizona.

The market value for dairy products made in Arizona exceeds $762 million and is one of the top five agricultural commodities for the state, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority.

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Friday, July 17, 2020

Improperly disposed of PPE raises environmental concerns

Posted By on Fri, Jul 17, 2020 at 1:00 PM

  • Courtesy OceansAsia.org
PHOENIX – Strewn across parking lots, in rivers and washing up on beaches, disposable face masks, gloves and other personal protection equipment are turning up everywhere except where they should be – in the landfill.

With the production and use of PPE surging during the COVID-19 pandemic, many experts are worried this new type of pollution, which is in the early stages of study, could have an array of lasting environmental impacts.

One researcher who is developing a way to track such waste said the effects may be seen for years to come.

“If it’s on your streets, it’s going to the ocean because it’s one rainfall away from getting into a storm water system, and then being carried into a river and into the ocean. Like any other plastic, this stuff is going to break down under ultraviolet light into smaller pieces,” said Mark Benfield, a zooplankton ecologist and professor in the department of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The recent influx of PPE waste is among the 8 million metric tons of plastic estimated to enter the oceans each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service.

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Costly and nasty: Failure of Prop. 127 won’t stop renewable energy push, experts say

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2020 at 2:00 PM

  • Cronkite News
PHOENIX – The fight over whether Arizona should get half of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources turned bitter election night when Attorney General Mark Brnovich called out California billionaire Tom Steyer for using California’s energy policies to try to influence Arizona’s policies.

“I’ve got a message for Tom Steyer,” Brnovich said Tuesday night at the Republican watch party in Scottsdale. “When you mess with the Brno, you’re going to get the burn, but you’re never going to get my O.”

Brnovich told partygoers to go outside to dunk a Steyer mannequin in the dunk tank that was set up. It was a moment that marked the end of a long election struggle over Proposition 127, which would have required Arizona’s 16 regulated utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. The current standard of 15 percent by 2025 was set by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Through his environmental advocacy nonprofit NextGen Climate Action, Steyer, a hedge fund manager, funneled millions of dollars to finance campaigns behind Prop. 127 and Nevada’s Question 6. Both ballot initiatives set the same goal and timeframe.

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Democrats climate plan signals shift in approach to environmental issues

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2020 at 12:30 PM

  • Cronkite News
WASHINGTON – In the South Phoenix neighborhood of Lindo Park-Roesley Park, temperatures can be up to 13 degrees higher than locations just 2 miles away, according to the Nature Conservancy.

Communities that are predominantly Hispanic and Black, like Lindo Park-Roesley Park, are part of the focus in a new plan outlined June 30 by Democrats in Congress. Their 547-page climate change action plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – but it also recommends environmental justice as a critical way to address climate change.

The plan comes after the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis spent 17 months consulting with “hundreds of stakeholders and scientists,” gathering written input, and holding “hearings to develop a robust set of legislative policy recommendations for ambitious climate action,” according to its executive summary.

In a statement, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, said the plan is one step toward significant change, but there’s still much more to do.

“Addressing climate change can’t be done with just one bill because the problem is caused by so many connected policy failures,” Grijalva said. “The public rightly demands that Congress stop paying lip service to climate policy and start saving lives by making fundamental reforms.”

Tucson is the fourth-fastest warming city in America, according to Climate Central, while Phoenix is the third-fastest.

As Politico reported, the Democrats’ plan recommends reaching net-zero emissions on public lands and waters by 2040, a strategy outlined in a bill Grijalva introduced in December 2019.

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Monday, July 13, 2020

Bighorn Fire Nearly Extinguished

Posted By on Mon, Jul 13, 2020 at 10:30 AM

  • National Forest Service
On the morning of Monday, July 13, the Southwest Area Incident Management Team formally transferred command over the Bighorn Fire back to the Coronado National Forest. This came after fire crews announced the fire was 92 percent contained after burning through roughly 119,000 acres.

The fire burned across the Santa Catalina Mountains for more than a month, after being ignited by a lightning strike on June 5. High temperatures and strong gusts hampered containment procedures for multiple weeks. However, fire crews gradually got a hold of the blaze as the monsoon neared. On Saturday, July 11, the southern slopes of the fire received approximately .25 inches of rain, which helped further contain the diminishing blaze.

As of Monday, July 13, 239 fire personnel still remained on the task, down from nearly 1,000 personnel three weeks prior. Much of the work now involves repairing and maintaining fire lines as clean-up begins. According to the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, fire crews recently completed chipping operations at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and Mount Bigelow, and felled hazard trees in Spencer Campground.

Their next objective is to identify and assess hazard trees that may require removal due to the high winds received over the fire area. Chipping, backhaul, and suppression rehabilitation will continue in the Summerhaven area, as well as other portions of the fire.

Speaking of Summerhaven, fire crews report that no structures have been lost in Summerhaven. The Catalina Highway up Mount Lemmon is slowly reopening, with only business owners and residents of the mountain communities allowed to return as Monday, July 13.

The fire continues to smolder in the bottom of Willow Canyon below Catalina Highway. Over the coming week, isolated showers and thunderstorms are possible, which may help put the finishing touches on the Bighorn Fire.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Critical of critical habitat: Endangered turtle haven abuts border wall

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2020 at 11:00 AM

  • Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
PHOENIX – Nearly three years after it won endangered species status, the Sonoyta mud turtle was granted 12.3 acres of protected habitat this week – but supporters worry that that habitat may no longer provide all the protection the turtles need.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday designated an area in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in the turtle’s historic territory in the Rio Sonoyta watershed, as protected.

But that habitat bumps right against the U.S.-Mexico border, where one expert said construction crews “are pulling huge amounts of water out of the aquifer” to work on the border wall.

Critics worry that the pumping will eventually affect the Quitobaquito springs and pond, which the turtles have depended on for what experts think could be thousands of years. The pond sits around 100 yards from the site of the planned border wall.

“They are pulling huge amounts of water out of the aquifer to mix concrete and to spray on the roads to keep dust down, and it’s only a matter of time before the flow that reaches the surface of the spring there fails,” said Randy Serraglio, southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“When that happens, then that’s it. The aquatic habitat dries up and the turtle will die,” Serraglio said.

The border wall is just one issue the turtle faces in the middle of the desert, where Serraglio said over-pumping, water diversion and 20 years of drought conditions also pose threats.

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