September 28, 2013
By: Ashley Tuggle
‘It’s just a cigarette butt. It’s just a little piece of plastic. I don’t need to pick it up.’ But one cigarette butt turns into 6,489,979 cigarette butts found on our state beaches. All the little things can add up over time, leaving the beach and ocean littered with refuse that harms aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Not to mention, it makes the beach unpleasant to visit.
Last weekend, California and other states held annual coastal cleanup events. Coastal Clean Up Day 2013 was one of the biggest cleanup events with an estimated 7,500 volunteers in San Diego County removing approximately 150,000 lbs. of rubbish from 102 cleanup sites on our coastline and inland – more sites than ever before. In 2012, 7,235 volunteers in San Diego County collected 126,379 lbs. of trash and recyclables and statewide 65,544 volunteers removed 769,607 lbs. of rubbish in just one day!
Great Ecology staff headed to our local beach as one of the site captains for the 29th annual Coastal Cleanup Day. We had a great volunteer turnout with local Boy and Girl Scouts, families, friends, and anyone walking our way. In a city where the ocean and beaches can dictate our days, we all recognize the importance of coastal cleanup events. Despite being one of the cleaner beaches, our volunteers collected over 40 lbs. of trash and 5 lbs. of recyclables!
While beach cleanups are important, we often overlook the parking lots and streets. One of our ecologists noted the sharp increase in trash he found in the parking lots and streets bordering the shoreline. (You can’t expect ecologists to go outside and not make any scientific observations…) Most of the litter left out flows directly into the ocean during or after a storm as many coastal communities do not treat runoff from the coastal streets next due to the costs of rerouting the water.
It’s important to be conscientious of the things we leave behind, whether they’re in a natural or urban setting. Everyone can help in their own way, even outside of the annual Coastal Cleanup Day by helping to pick up any discarded rubbish they see on the beach or on the sidewalks. There’s no effort too small to ensure the places we live and enjoy are kept beautiful.
You can find the next cleanup event in California by visiting the California Coastal Commission and for our friends on distant shorelines, the Ocean Conservancy has details on coastal cleanup events happening throughout the United States and around the world. So mark your calendars and join us to keep our beaches and oceans clean!
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September 27, 2013
Great Ecology President, Dr. Mark S. Laska, is presenting at the 9th Natural Resources Symposium on October 1 in Washington D.C.
The theme of the two day Symposium, “Natural Resource Liability and Optimization Game Changers – Economic Efficiency, Risk Tradeoffs, Energy Exploration and Biodiversity”, will encompass three focus areas:
Dr. Laska is an industry leader in Natural Resource Damage (NRD) strategy and implementation. His presentation, Using HEA in Non-NRD Regulatory Frameworks, highlights a novel application of HEA (Habitat Equivalency Assessment), which was originally designed to quantify ecological services in the regulatory frameworks involving NRD.
Visit the 9th Natural Resources Symposium website for more information.
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September 20, 2013
In honor of the Coastal Clean Up Day tomorrow, September 21, we’re sharing our favorite beach and ocean blogs.
Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go In the Water…
Our current blog of the month and your fix if you’re craving more Shark Week!
Coastal clean up events tomorrow:
Gulf Islands National Seashore Annual Coastal Cleanup
New York State Beach Cleanup
Find your local beach clean up and see you there!
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September 13, 2013
By: Nick Buhbe, M.S.
Forty years ago, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) defined a comprehensive approach for preventing extinction of critically imperiled species threatened by untempered economic growth and development. The ESA joined a number of conservation laws passed in the early 1970’s, including the Clean Air, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water, Coastal Zone Management, and Marine Mammal Protection Act. (100 years after the creation of the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone.)
Like many of the environmental and conservation laws in place today, the ESA is a result of multiple drivers over many years and coincided with a growing cultural awareness of conservation. Legislation to protect species began in the mid-1960’s, but the scope of the Endangered Species Preservation Act (ESPA) of 1966 was significantly limited: it targeted native game species such as buffalo and was limited to Federal lands. Growing recognition that wildlife needed to be protected both on and off Federal lands soon highlighted the need for revisions. In 1969, the budget was increased and invertebrates and non-native species were added to the law.
The 1973 Endangered Species Act, which remains to this day, is groundbreaking legislation as it completely rewrote the ESPA and recognized several new principles, including protection of critical habitats, incorporation of plant species, and preparation of recovery plans to return threatened populations to self-sustaining levels. Although recovery plans are closely linked to population sizes, habitat preservation is a central component of species conservation.
Today, 1487 species of plants and animals are listed as threatened or endangered in the United States (630 animal and 857 plant species, including listed subpopulations). Habitat of these species is regulated in several ways:
As a result of the ESA and other environmental legislation, 21 species are no longer listed as endangered, including:
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
American Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum)
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)
Concho Water Snake (Nerodia paucimaculata)
Hoover’s Woolly-star (Eriastrum hooveri)
The success of species recovery efforts varies from case to case. Those with wide geographical ranges have in some cases recovered due in large part to other legislation. Both the Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican’s populations increased after pesticide regulations were implemented, and the hunting restrictions allowed the Gray Whale, Gray Wolf, and Columbian White-tailed Deer to recover.
More typically, protection of habitat plays a vital role for species with narrow geographical ranges or other habitat-dependent life history aspects. For example, the Concho Water Snake of central Texas is limited to small streams with adequate fish prey. It was delisted after specific criteria of its recovery plan were reached:
In the case of California’s Hoover’s Wooly-star, the natural range of the plant included the Temblor Range, Cuyama Valley, and the southern portion of the San Joaquin Valley. Threatened by agricultural, urban and oil and gas development, the species was designated as threatened in 1989.
Recovery efforts begun in 1990 and were successful in discovering additional populations, characterizing species-specific qualities which indicated greater resilience of the species than previously thought, and achieving protection through participation of Federal, state and private entities on more than 114,400 hectares (286,000 acres). As a result, recovery plan criteria were attained: (1) 75 % of occupied habitat for each of four populations was secured and protected from incompatible uses; (2) 260 hectares (640 acres) or more of the occupied habitat were protected on the San Joaquin Valley Floor; (3) ongoing management plans were implemented; and (4) the four populations were, at minimum, stable through one precipitation cycle.
Although Hoover’s Wooly-star has been removed from the list, other species which co-existed in the habitat range are still listed as threatened or endangered. Habitat conservation plans listing the wooly-star also include the following endangered species (among others) which to varying degrees depend on similar habitat:
Range overlap of these and other species of concern illustrate the utility of Habitat Conservation Plans which seek to preserve habitat that benefits multiple species of concern. HCPs offer the potential for at least partial attainment of multiple objectives through strategic land conservation efforts. While the ESA has resulted in significant efforts and successes with regard to preventing the extinction of imperiled species, work remains to ensure that progress toward species recovery continues over the next 40 years and beyond.
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September 12, 2013
12 years ago, Great Ecology was founded with 2 employees.
3 years ago, we opened the San Diego office.
Last year, we opened the Denver office.
Today, we are one of the fastest-growing private environmental consulting firms in the nation.
This is the second year Great Ecology has made the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. In 2012, the firm ranked as number 2150; this year Great Ecology is ranked as number 1788. As one of two firms based in La Jolla, California, on the list, we are proud to be the 38th fastest-growing private firm in the San Diego Metro Area.
Also recognizing our significant growth during the past 3 years is The Zweig Letter Hot Firms List, which ranks the nation’s 100 fastest-growing architecture, engineering, and environmental firms. Great Ecology is ranked as the 49th fastest-growing firm—a tremendous accomplishment in the architecture, engineering, and environmental industry comprised of more than 100,000 firms.
President and Founder, Dr. Mark Laska, is thrilled to receive national recognition by these renowned publications. “Our success is a direct result of the unwavering commitment, hard work, and perseverance of our staff who have made Great Ecology a top environmental consulting firm. We dedicate our careers to developing innovative and cost-effective solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. We have come a long way since our founding in 2001, and it is the sustained dedication and passion of our staff that will drive our future success.”
Great Ecology is a leading environmental consulting firm specializing in ecology and design. Our interdisciplinary team of ecologists, landscape architects, hydrologists, and GIS specialists deliver innovative solutions that reduce cost and risk.
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September 7, 2013
By: Erin Hathaway
According to recent study estimating the number of deaths caused by high heat by the end of the century, Louisville, Kentucky ranked as the hottest and deadliest city. With an estimated 19,000 deaths by the year 2099 we need to think about ways to change this number.
Louisville and other urban areas are subject to the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHI) – higher temperatures in an urban area (as compared to surrounding suburban and rural areas) due to the high density and hard dry surfaces which trap the heat. However, the UHI can be reduced by increasing vegetation and tree canopies. Surprisingly, Louisville only has about a 10% tree canopy cover within the urban core, whereas New York City, the largest and most dense city in the country, has a 24% tree canopy cover. New York and other cities are adopting progressive policies to preserve and enhance their urban forests and as a result reducing the UHI. Louisville can adopt similar progressive tree restitution and valuation policies to help control the UHI and reduce the projected number of heat related deaths.
In New York, city planners recognize that trees are their most valuable environmental asset. In 2007 the City launched the MillionTreesNYC campaign to expand NYC’s urban forest by 20% by planting 1 million trees over the next 10 years. Million Trees NYC is one of the 132 PlaNYC initiatives to make the City more sustainable by 2030. This plan teaches citizens the importance of trees and gets the public involved in the planting and caring for their trees.
In the design and environmental profession, it is easy to recognize the value of trees in an urban environment. They reduce and help regulate temperatures, filter air and water, provide habitat to many creatures, provide flood control, reduce carbon, increase property values, and increase the overall user experience in the landscape. However, not everyone easily recognizes the value of urban trees. As a result, cities have created standard methods to evaluate the value and account for any damages. Tree valuation assigns a dollar value based on the individual characteristics and highlights the social, aesthetic, and ecological value of mature trees.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) uses tree valuation to quantify and qualify damaged or removed trees and restitution requires any tree under NYCDRP jurisdiction must be replaced if damaged. NYCDPR even assigns a value for invasive species such as the Tree of Heaven. Tree valuation, while valuing all tree species, places an significant emphasis on larger more mature trees as they sequester carbon, reduce heat island effects, reduce run-off rates, and reduce airborne particulates at exponentially higher rates (than younger trees). For example, a 3-inch caliper cherry cannot replace one mature oak tree. If a tree is damaged or removed as the result of a construction project, then the responsible party must provide restitution, either in the form of money or replacement.
Given the value an urban tree can provide, many cities are adopting progressive tree policies. Programs such as itrees allow communities to inventory, assess, and value their existing trees. This is a starting point to create a policy to preserve and to enhance the urban forest. Trees are a critical piece of our urban environments and should be seen as more than just a component to beautify a city but a tool to combat the changing climate.
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August 30, 2013
By: Charlie Howe
Patterns in natural environments are much more complex than the buildings and streets where we spend most of our time. The tiles, bricks, and shingles that form our cities are copies made from the same template and we don’t notice a difference between one brick and another. In nature there are no exact copies. We’ve all heard the adage that no two snowflakes are the same, well, this goes well beyond snowflakes. Plant species differ vastly in size and form each grows best under certain conditions and provides unique benefits to other organisms that share the same space. There is also variation within individuals which helps to shape the character of the species over time. This diversity even extends to the abiotic conditions where plants grow. Climate, micro-climate, geology, soil, water, vary in a few square yards and across a region.
Despite the complexity, natural environments have a sense of order. For example, spacing between trees is determined by access to moisture, light, and nutrients. Without adequate spacing, new saplings cannot grow. Conversely when gaps form new growth quickly fills in. These ‘rules’ of forest ecosystems determine the seemingly complex layout and design of the ecosystem.
It’s not just ecologists who study these rules of nature. As long as humans have entered into the creative process we have looked to nature for inspiration. We study nature for examples of proportion, variation, and repetition which we try to incorporate into designs. In recent decades, advances in technology have made it easier to create designs with repetition but have also given us the ability to produce extremely subtle variations, just as we see in natural ecosystems. Today, designers use mathematical algorithms to create precise and complex designs which are then fabricated. Although these products are completely artificial, the variation and complexity of the objects follows similar rules to those found in nature.
This computational aesthetic has added visual complexity to our built environment and can be seen in items as diverse as tennis shoes and football stadiums. However, patterns in nature describe relationships in the ecosystem as everything is linked to a physical property. For example, a shift from trees to herbaceous vegetation in a forest might indicate shallow groundwater or a perched wetland. While you can understand and see these relationships and patterns in nature, studying computer generated patterns is often a dead end because variables were randomly generated or incidental. However, notable designs will reveal the properties they are connected to, the parameters of the design.
One such example is the winning entry for the 2008 International Planning Competition in Longgang, China. Even without an explanation from the designers, Groundlab, we can see that the design adapts to the existing city fabric, the Longgang River, and connections with adjacent transportation infrastructure. Groundlab’s Longgang proposal demonstrates the possibility of using a detailed study of our natural environment to create a more interesting and diverse built environment.
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August 23, 2013
By: Sarah Stevens
With Labor Day weekend just around the corner, many of us are planning to visit our favorite beach spot for the last official weekend of summer. After what is sure to be a great weekend in the sun, we’ll be dragging our feet to work or school while our beaches are struggling to recover from the dramatic influx of people and trash.
How much trash and litter is actually left on our beaches after a big holiday weekend?
After Memorial Day weekend in San Diego, more than 23,000 pounds of trash and 2,000 pounds of recycling were collected by the San Diego Clean Beach Coalition’s temporary trash cans – and that doesn’t account for the amount of trash collected from the city’s permanent trash cans. Similarly, after the Fourth of July weekend, over 250,000 pounds of debris was collected in temporary trash cans.
While additional trash cans during holiday weekends can help reduce litter and trash, a significant amount still ends up in our oceans. According to the Mother Nature Network, approximately 80% of marine debris comes from land (although not all from beach debris) and more than 60% is made up of plastics. Once in our oceans, trash accumulates in the great garbage patches – the two most famous are the Pacific and Atlantic Garbage Patches. Despite the name, they are not giant floating trash islands, but instead are comprised of billions of small, floating pieces of trash, mostly plastic, spread over many miles and invisible to the naked eye.
The greatest problem is that plastic is not biodegradable, but instead is broken down into smaller pieces by sunlight – a process called photograding. As a result, the plastic never disintegrates completely, but is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces and is hazardous to marine life. How much plastic is actually in our oceans?
Worldwide people are making attempts to cut back on plastic use, whether through bans on plastic grocery bags or switching to more biodegradable packaging. However, we still need to be proactive and help keep as much trash off of our beaches and out of our oceans. Join a local beach cleanup, pick up a few pieces of trash next time you’re beachside, and make sure to collect all of your trash (including cigarette butts). We’ve joined forces with I Love A Clean San Diego during their 29th Annual Coastal Clean Up Day on September 21. We’ll be in Del Mar so come join us or pick a cleanup location near you!
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August 16, 2013
By: Zachary Lehmann
With the end of summer drawing closer it’s time to take advantage of the weather and explore the outdoors. As an avid camper, I finally convinced a few friends to venture outside the city limits and go backpacking in the Green Mountains of Vermont; an intimidating idea to a group who think of day-hikes and car-camping when the topic of backpacking comes up. While my friends were officially the “newbies” of the trip, they weren’t the only ones who learned something that weekend. Camping ethics are important guidelines for how we interact with the environment, but surprisingly, it appeared that they did not cross most people’s minds. I don’t consider myself an elitist of the backpacking world by any stretch of the imagination, but it was shocking to see how disconnected people can be from their environment, even when they are literally right in the middle of it.
Most people have heard of the “Leave No Trace” and “pack it in, pack it out” slogans, but good camping ethics go much further. Not only, do they improve the camping experience for other campers, but they can help preserve natural resources too. It’s important that we each do our part to protect our state and national parks.
Camping Ethics 101 – Some Lesser Known Guidelines
Protect Our Water
Stay on the trail
Setting up camp – don’t trench your tents
Noise control – keep it down
Help educate each other
And on to my greatest camping trick yet, calzones in the woods. After a long day of hiking, it is one of the most satisfying meals you can make out of things that don’t need refrigeration!
How to make calzones in the woods:
Next time you’re out camping remember we all need to do our best to protect our valuable natural resources by being aware of our waste, keeping our water bodies clean, and treating the outdoors in an ethical way.
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August 9, 2013
By: Lauren Alleman, M.S.
Hydraulic fracturing has a strong foothold in Pennsylvania – with 9,000 wells drilled and many more anticipated. This blog isn’t about the pros and cons of this energy extraction process, regulations and violations, or the controversies circulating through various stakeholder groups throughout the country. Instead, this blog highlights the opportunities to limit impacts to brook trout habitat as fracking continues in the Keystone state, as well as the potential to develop partnerships between trout conservation groups and natural gas companies.
The East Coast is home to the beautiful brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), most certainly “the handsomest of our game fishes” if you ask me. My home state of Pennsylvania has some pretty amazing places to catch native brook trout in streams that are clean, shaded, and highly oxygenated. The brook trout, an East Coast native, has a narrower niche than its cousins, the rainbow and brown trout (which are native to the West Coast and were brought here starting in the 1870s for recreational fisheries).
Brook trout prefer colder stream temperatures (59°F is optimal) and tolerate less turbidity than the other trout species. However, the pristine streams that provide these suitable conditions are increasingly rare in Pennsylvania due to factors such as development, abandoned mine drainage, sedimentation, and competition with stocked trout. Centuries of pressure, beginning with European settlement and concurrent logging throughout the East Coast, have eliminated much of the brook trout’s historic range – but they still have a few strongholds (albeit only 1% of historically inhabited subwatersheds in Pennsylvania). There are still 679 miles of Class A brook trout water in the state (streams with naturally reproducing wild trout capable of supporting a recreational fishery).
Natural gas extraction in the Marcellus shale, the geologic deposit that underlies a vast majority of the historic range of brook trout in Pennsylvania, is a new and serious threat to remaining brook trout populations.
Fracking requires the construction of access roads and the clearing of land, which can dramatically impact the watershed. For example, each well pad requires the clearing of 8.8 acres of forest (Johnson et al. 2010). Fracking, combined with scenarios of reduced habitat suitability under future climate change scenarios (Wenger et al. 2011), is cause for concern for brook trout aficionados. The Nature Conservancy reports that “70% of [Pennsylvania’s] remaining brook trout watersheds are likely to see Marcellus gas development, with more than 50 well pads in some watersheds.”
In light of the brook trout’s vulnerability to fragmentation and development due to fracking, conservation groups and natural gas companies can work to ensure the long-term sustainability of the remaining brook trout populations by restoring and conserving the habitat requirements of this species.
Brook trout need clean, cold water to survive
Sedimentation can reduce the habitat suitability by causing an increase in turbidity, which can smother macroinvertebrate communities, affect egg survival, and limit light penetration. Sedimentation in trout streams can be caused by the construction of roads and gas pads which can lead to extreme runoff and erosion if not properly controlled. Gas companies can work with state agencies to choose the optimal location for gas pad construction and install proper erosion control measures (including vegetating slopes with fast-growing cover and using silt fencing) to capture runoff before it ends up in streambeds.
Wetlands and riparian zones are at risk of fragmentation and degradation when a new rural area opens up to development. Hurdy et al. 2008 found that high nitrate and sulfate deposition accurately predict declining brook trout populations. Intercepting nutrients before they reach trout water can be accomplished in a variety of ways including: riparian buffer planting, wetland restoration, and agricultural best management practices. Recently, Trout Unlimited has teamed up with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to connect Pennsylvania landowners with state and Federal resources to create better riparian buffers along stream corridors.
Logging and forest pathogens (such as the woolly adelgid) have decreased hemlock canopy cover over the years. The overall reduction in tree canopy cover in brook trout waters leads to higher instream temperatures. Fracking requires active clearing of trees also reducing the tree canopy cover. Restoring canopy cover can be accomplished with disease-resistant species like white pine (Pinus strobus), high bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Rhododendron spp., and willows (Salix spp). A great example of successful riparian zone restoration for thermal pollution abatement is the Smith Creek Restoration Project, which documented a 2 to 3° C decrease in stream temperature after planting trees.
Population viability depends on habitat connectivity
Pennsylvania brook trout streams are typically small, isolated headwaters with a sometimes steep grade that can experience low flow during certain times of the year.
Occasionally, channel morphology changes after floods or sediment deposition events, resulting in a stream that is wide and shallow. Ideally, streams have a 1:1 riffle-to-pool ratio to allow for feeding and spawning [and hold over during winter and summer months (Raleigh 1982). Habitat improvements like stream deflectors, cross-vanes, and j-hooks can create pools and wide, deep runs that will provide holdover areas during periods of low flow (Lutz 2007). These types of habitat enhancements can compensate for direct impacts to trout streams or water quality.
The removal of unnecessary or outdated culverts and dams can be a creative way to receive mitigation credit or offsets for impacts to waterways or wetlands caused by fracking. Culvert and dam removal is a huge step towards restoring landscape connectivity and opening up new areas of the watershed for fish to migrate through. Last year Pennsylvania removed 11 dams, more than any other state, according to a report released by American Rivers. The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture recently removed two dams in Potter County, PA, opening up 8.5 miles of brook trout habitat.
These brook trout restoration strategies can offset or compensate for impacts caused by fracking in Pennsylvania. Natural gas companies can partner with local and regional stakeholders to prioritize restoration within watersheds that undergo fracking and gas extraction. Huge opportunities exist for collaborative partnerships; a cooperative approach grounded in the best restoration science is likely to lead to the greatest gains for both sides of the fracking debate – and the sweet little brook trout will probably manage to hang on just a little while longer…
Eastern Brook Trout of Pennsylvania: Roadmap to Restoration. Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited.
Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats. Trout Unlimited
Hurdy, M. T.M. Thieling, N. Gillespie, and E.P. Smith. 2008. Distribution, Status, and Land Use Characteristics of Subwatersheds withinthe Native Range of Brook Trout in the Eastern United States. North American Journal of Fisheries Management. 28(4): 1069-1085.
Johnson, N. 2010. Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment. The Nature Conservancy. 46 pp.
Kennedy, Kit. The Role of Natural Gas in America’s Energy Mix. The Nature Conservancy.
Lutz, K.J. 2007. Habitat Improvement for Trout Streams. Habitat Management Division, Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. 40 pp.
Raleigh, R.F. 1982. Habitat suitability index models: Brook trout. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. FWS/OBS-82/10.24. 42 pp.
Snyder, Samuel. Review: An Entirely Synthetic Fish. MidCurrent. MidCurrent, 2010. Web. 09 Aug. 2013
Wenger, S.J. D.J. Isaak, C.H. Luce, H.M. Neville, K.D. Fausch, J.B. Dunham, D.C. Dauwalter, M.K. Young, M.M. Elsner, B.E. Rieman, A.F. Hamlet, and J.E. Williams. 2011. Flow regine, temperature, and biotic interactions drive differential declines of trout species under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(34): 14175-14180
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