Growing Returns

In Louisiana, brown pelicans emerge as a sign of hope, recovery and resilience

With spring underway, thousands of brown pelicans are returning to nest on Queen Bess Island — a bird rookery island south of New Orleans in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay. What may seem like an ordinary annual event is actually quite remarkable, and a promising sign of recovery and resilience for Louisiana’s state bird.

Brown pelicans have returned to nest on Queen Bess Island following a massive restoration project. Photo credit: Halle Parker, National Audubon Society.

Until recently, Queen Bess Island was at risk of disappearing entirely from the forces of subsidence and erosion. Even worse, nearly ten years ago, the island was ground zero during the Gulf oil disaster, which occurred at the height of nesting season, killing or oiling thousands of pelicans on or near Queen Bess Island.

The oil spill took place only one year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the brown pelican from the federal endangered species list. Having recovered from previous threats, the population faced another major setback from the oil spill.

Today, brown pelicans are again nesting on Queen Bess Island and soaring across coastal Louisiana. Their return underscores the impact we can have by advancing meaningful conservation policies and working to restore and protect our coastal ecosystems.

As more areas are threatened by land loss and sea level rise, there is increasing urgency to learn from past success.

Read More »

Posted in Coasts, Endangered Species Act / Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

As if things weren’t already hard enough, farmers must brace for another wet spring

Farmers have already been dealing with tough economic conditions exacerbated by a trade war, extreme weather and now the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the latest 2020 spring flood outlook shows that farmers in the Midwest could be facing yet another wet year.

Although projected to be less severe than 2019, the U.S. Spring Flood and Climate Outlook for 2020 predicts widespread flooding across 23 states with severe flooding in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. As a result of the 2019 floods, soils across the Midwest are full of moisture this spring, increasing the likelihood of flooding in 2020. Source: NOAA 

Making American farmland resilient to growing weather shocks like flooding requires greater adoption of conservation practices such as no-till and cover cropping practices that improve water infiltration and reduce erosion and field runoff. Despite the financial benefits of these practices, adoption remains low across the country. In 2017, only 3.9% of U.S. farmland adopted cover crops.

How can we scale conservation practice adoption to reduce risk and boost resilience of the agricultural sector? Read More »

Posted in Sustainable Agriculture / Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Monarch butterfly population down 53% from last year. Here’s the swift action we need.

Last week, scientists released results from the latest count of the eastern monarch butterfly population — the main population that migrates east of the Rockies and overwinters in Mexico. The 53% drop from just last year was an unexpected and staggering outcome that left conservationists like me downcast, but ready to act.

While many of us were expecting to see some small decline, this significant drop is especially alarming because it indicates that the monarch population is below the threshold at which scientists predict the migration could collapse. Read More »

Posted in Wildlife Protection / Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How water managers can build recharge basins to boost resilience for farmers and birds alike

I wasn’t expecting to see egrets, herons and pelicans on my first trip to the San Joaquin Valley — a region in the southern part of California’s Central Valley known for its impressive agricultural production and scorching summer heat. I didn’t find these birds at one of the valley’s few wildlife refuges, but at a groundwater recharge facility designed to spread and infiltrate surface water into the ground below.

Recharge basins are becoming increasingly popular in overdrafted regions in California, where water managers are seeking solutions to balance groundwater supply and demand to comply with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Read More »

Posted in western water / Read 2 Responses

3 things Cuba can teach us about boosting climate resilience in agriculture

Fernando Funes gestured at the breathtaking scene of contour terraces brimming with greens.

“Everything here is about working with nature,” he explained to me and a group of visitors at his family farm just outside of Havana, where we admired the diverse assortment of crops, chickens strutting through a grove of trees, and colorful rows of beehives.

The opportunity to visit Fernando’s farm and learn about agricultural conservation practices in Cuba was part of a larger three-day symposium on sustainable agriculture and food systems organized by Environmental Defense Fund, the Foundation of Antonio Núñez Jiménez and the Vermont-Caribbean Institute.

The symposium allowed experts and stakeholders from Cuba and the Americas to learn from each other and make some surprising connections between the considerably different Cuban and U.S. farming systems.

Here are three takeaways that can help inform thinking on how to produce food in a changing climate.

Read More »

Posted in Sustainable Agriculture / Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

The Mississippi River is America’s trade artery. It’s time to make it more resilient to climate change.

After 2019’s unprecedented flood, the Mississippi River is rising again, causing anxiety for those living and working in its path. While impacted communities and fisheries received much attention, people have been less aware of the impacts to another critical industry: navigation.

Last year, in a first, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway, a flood protection structure north of New Orleans that helps protect downriver communities, twice in the same year. It was also the first time the Corps opened the spillway in back-to-back years, providing a much-needed safety valve during one of the wettest periods in more than a century.  

These extreme conditions are occurring more frequently and greatly impacting the navigation industry and the economy. Decision-makers at the state and federal level must prioritize solutions that can help the navigation industry become more resilient on the Mississippi River. Read More »

Posted in Coasts / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

One area in California will tap regional planning to respond to the state’s groundwater law. Here’s how it could help farmers.

Now that critically overdrafted groundwater basins in the Central Valley have submitted their sustainability plans, the hard work begins for them to balance groundwater supply and demand in ways that minimize economic disruption.

A state program called Regional Conservation Investment Strategies (RCIS) can help.

RCIS wasn’t created to help groundwater basins comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Rather, it was established in 2016 as a framework for regions to prioritize and develop measurable habitat conservation outcomes including those needed to  adapt to climate change.

This week, however, the Kaweah Subbasin was awarded $515,000 from the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board to develop an RCIS plan, becoming the first region in the Central Valley to leverage the process in response to SGMA. We at EDF think it could serve as a model for other communities for two reasons: Read More »

Posted in western water / Tagged , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

3 must-haves for USDA to cut agriculture’s environmental footprint in half

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Agriculture Innovation Agenda sets a promising and necessary goal: Cut the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. The agency aims to achieve this in part through lower greenhouse gas emissions, improved water quality and increased soil health.

Meeting this objective will not only benefit the people who rely on American farmers and the natural resources they steward. It will also make agriculture part of the solution and build climate resilience on the front lines – America’s farms.

Farmers are coming off one of the most difficult growing seasons on record, and more extreme and variable weather is becoming the norm. Boosting climate resilience to reduce production risk has never been more essential.

But for USDA to effectively deliver on this goal, it will need to arm itself – and farmers – with robust data, science and economics. Here are three ways that USDA can boost its climate roadmap to put U.S. agriculture on the path to success. Read More »

Posted in Sustainable Agriculture / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

This bill will protect scarce water supplies for rural Arizona, if the Legislature can pass it

Breakthrough reporting by the Arizona Republic widely exposed what is perhaps one of the state’s darkest water secrets: Groundwater pumping is essentially unregulated in nearly 80% of the state, putting the livelihoods and water supplies of up to 1.5 million residents at risk.

Groundwater is essential for life in the Southwest. It makes up about 40% of the water that Arizonans use each year. In many of the state’s rural areas, groundwater is the only available water supply.

Although Arizona regulates groundwater in and around Phoenix and Tucson, there are no limits on groundwater pumping in most of the state. As a result, more than a third of Arizona’s perennial rivers have been lost or altered; the city of Kingman’s main aquifer is projected to run out of water in 60 years or less; and residents in rural Arizona are already seeing their wells run dry.

Lack of oversight and transparency on groundwater pumping has left communities and rural citizens powerless to secure their water supplies.

Without action by the Arizona Legislature to address this crisis, rural communities will face ever-mounting groundwater challenges as populations grow, out-of-state mega farms move in and persistent drought continues. Fortunately, state leaders – both Republicans and Democrats – are now coming forward with legislation to tackle rural groundwater challenges. Read More »

Posted in western water / Tagged , , , | Read 3 Responses

To preserve its coast, Louisiana must plan for the future

By Dr. Denise Reed, Professor Gratis, University of New Orleans

Coastal Louisiana has changed a lot in the last century. By comparing aerial photographs from the 1930s to today, we can see that change across the coast from an ecosystem once dominated by extensive marshes and lush swamps to one increasingly covered with open water and “ghost forests.”

Each year, our coast creeps farther inland as marshy shorelines erode due to boat wakes, wind and waves. This is called marsh edge erosion, and it’s one of the primary causes of Louisiana’s current land loss crisis.

Future land loss, however, will be driven by different causes. To better understand and prepare for future scenarios, EDF convened a team of scientists from its own organization, the University of New Orleans, Tulane University, The Water Institute of the Gulf and the National Wildlife Federation. Together, we used computer models and data from Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan to look ahead 50 years and explore the effects of varying sea-level rise and subsidence rates, known as relative sea-level rise.

The recently published results were illuminating and sobering. Here is the main takeaway for Louisiana:

Climate change accelerates land loss.
Read More »

Posted in ecosystems / Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed