Shrink-wrapped Cypress Swamp: NIMBY

Ivory-billed Woodpecker , Campephilus principa...Image via WikipediaIn reading the May-June Audubon Magazine (thanks Marjory!) I was appalled to learn that the big box stores have been selling bagged mulch made from America’s largest swamp–specifically from Cypress trees (mature and immature indiscriminately) from the Atchafalaya swamps of Louisiana- since 2002.

The environmental services of this swamp are manifold and irreplaceable and grinding it up into shrinkwrap for foundation plantings is supremely irresponsible use of these trees and habitat.

The Audubon piece ( Pulp Fact ) points out that there are better options (pine bark, pecan shells etc) and also highlights the encouraging news that WalMart (as much as I resist handing them kudos for so many other negatives that persist) has backed off this practice while Lowes and Home Depot, less so.

To become part of the solution, please stop by the Save Our Cypress website and send in (with your comments if you want) the form letter encouraging the end to this practice. Make democracy work. Put your mouth where your money is, folks.

The letter to the vendors of cypress mulch reads:

Cypress swamps are vital natural storm protection and necessary habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. The cypress mulch industry has become an imminent threat to cypress forests.

Until a credible, third-party certification program is operating to ensure no products are coming from endangered areas, please stop selling all cypress mulch in your stores, and promote sustainable alternatives instead. We can grow our flowers and still keep our trees.

It’s time to live up to your corporate ideals and policies of sustainability.

See also:

Louisiana to Invest $1 Billion in Coastal Protection, Restoration

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We All Live Downstream: Act NOW!

I am not in the best situation for blogging this morning but must make you aware of this final Bush-era gift to Big Coal, one of his last insults to the people of Appalachia and Planet Earth. 

Read this short explanation below of the pending legislation, find out everything you need to know. Link

In one of the first of what will likely be many terrible Bush Administration last minute decisions as his term comes to an end, they are trying to force through the Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) rule change. Last year, you may recall grassroots groups from across the US teamed up with national groups to send between 40,000 and 70,000 comments to the Office of Surface Mining, Reclaimation, and Enforcement (OSMRE) asking them to block the rule change — which would legalize and expand the worst abuses of mountaintop removal.

Please read and sign the petition to the EPA administrator; petition text  (subject to your additions or not) is included below.

I am writing to urge you not to approve the Office of Surface Mining’s final recommendation to repeal the Stream Buffer Zone rule. This rule is critical for the protection of aquatic life and safe drinking water for Appalachian communities.

It is the duty of the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment, not to allow coal companies to permanently destroy flowing streams.

The Office of Surface Mining’s recommendation would overturn an existing ban on mining within 100 feet of streams that has been in place since 1983. The Stream Buffer Zone rule is one of the only habitat protections for Appalachian ecosystems.

Rather than enforcing the rule to protect water quality, the Bush administration and the OSM are giving coal companies permission to permanently destroy streams. Over 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia have already been devastated by mountaintop-removal coal mining.

As EPA administrator, it is your responsibility to protect the streams, habitats, and communities of Appalachia by not putting this rule change into effect.

Polyface Part II

polyfaceshed.jpgNone its “many faces” are very showy. As a matter of fact, from the ground or the air, nothing seems all that different about this plateaued 550 acres of Central Virginia valley farmland near the community of Middlebrook.

To the casual observer, it may seem just so much pasture and woods and soil and the occasional outbuilding. But Polyface Farm represents an innovative “foodshed” (think watershed) from which food products flow, grown from the ground up–which seems only reasonable for a farm, after all–from earthworms to pastured chickens and rabbits and cattle, as if the earth really mattered.

Every element of the process holds an elevated status there. Soil is more than just dirt there, and as Joel Salatin says, his farm honors the “pigness of the pig.”

Speaking of which, the Salatins have recently found a more efficient way to use their land to the benefits of his pigs. At 200# the pigs are moved into forest, once the usual venue of pig fattening–in times distant past, feeding on chestnuts. His pigs gain the last 100# on acorns.

Three acres of woodlands (otherwise of low and long-term-only value beyond firewood and a crop of timber every 40 years) takes the place of an acre of pasture for fattening purposes and requires no input of fossil fuels to fertilize, mow or spray for weeds.

As an added benefit of this innovation that allows more pork for fewer dollars and a lower overall carbon footprint, acorn-fed pork tastes noticably better and hence, is in demand.

Phil Petrelli of ChipotleHere Phil Petrilli, Northeast Regional Operations Director for Chipotle, an 800-restaurant chain, stands inside one temporary pig lot at Polyface and explains to SEJ vistors why this relationship for organically raised pork is working for his company.

Everybody wins. Chipotle takes the less desirable cuts–hams and shoulders–while the white tablecloth restaurants want the tenderloins and chops. All the offal is processed on site, and one sign of the business at Polyface having grown too large will be when it cannot compost its own waste.

Saladin spoke at length from the hay shed (top image), a location where he said Michael Pollan had his “epiphany” of the rightness of the Polyface way of doing things with a long-view of food production, rejecting the “faster, fatter, quicker, cheaper” approach that has been the US model.

One consequence of this approach has been the rise in e. coli contamination of the meat supply. As Joel describes it, this is because when beef are grain-fed (instead of pasture fed–and don’t get him started on feeding grain to animals when people are malnourished and dying of starvation) the pH of their rumen (stomach) changes so that acid-intolerant bacteria (like e.coli) survive and end up in fecal material that ends up in slaughter houses that ends up in the meat we eat.

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Debriefing SEJ 2008: a Beginning


You probably know the feeling–the mixed emotions after a week away, relieved to be free of steady-state, always-on attention to names, words and issues, now home, in the quiet let down to be out of the wash of adrenalin, zeal and the buzz of so many good ideas.

Ah, but to flop on your own worn napping couch, to sit once more in your favorite chair that holds the impression of years of your sitting, to sip coffee from your own stained mug. The dog who has missed you so sits at your feet, the kettle gently hisses on the wood stove (since in your absence, winter has come!)

Alas you face this morning the emails, the phone messages to return, bills to pay, fires to put out even while you keep the one behind the glass door of the stove perking along; you will attend to the piles that contain your life and under which somewhere is a once familiar oak desk.

I want to go back through the copious but not-terribly-rigorous notes I took over five days of meetings because I know there are websites and quotes and topics I’d want to share with you.

That I have a lot of notes is not difficult to understand if you realize that we never sat down to eat or to ride a bus but that some planned speaker was informing us of one thing or another or the person to your left and right at dinner were immensely interesting people worthy of their own scribbled notes that you hid on a slip of paper under your napkin.

There was very little dead air at SEJ; and one could not afford the luxury of free time. On the other hand, there were practically no moments–as there are typically many  at long conferences I’ve attended in the past–in which my internal dialogue was muttering “I don’t think I can stand another minute of this waste of my time. I’m not getting any younger!”

Impressions: this was in many ways to me more like being with my “kind” than a family reunion of genes shared by chance alone, than a high school reunion of vaguely-remembered fight songs, than a conference within my day-job peers of goniometer-carrying physical therapists.

The folks at this conference by and large were “like me” in ways that matter a lot to me, being both respecters of the power of words and engaged, earth-aware citizens who looked you in the eye with genuine interest and wanted to know your story. I was not the stranger in a strange land I had expected and dreaded I would be.

I’ll be pulling from the experience toward a consolidated expression of the event in a week or so. Until then, let me recommend this 13 minute youtube video of Wendell Berry (perhaps the only video of the man) giving a January speech against MTR that he read to us at breakfast yesterday morning. I challenge you to watch it all and listen from the heart and gut and not be moved.

Of this I am certain: many writers from across the country who attended the SEJ conference in Roanoke have come for the first time to our southern mountains; many have seen first hand the “garden land that has now become the waste land.” And they have been moved. Thank God for their voices while there is yet time.

True Costs of Coal

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork co...Image via WikipediaI haven’t found a ruling on the Tuesday decision that will effect all of us, those in the coal states most importantly, with better air and water, some surviving forests, and fewer of one kind of mining job–taking tops off mountains.

Turns out, there must be a pretty good case to justify this suit hundreds of miles of dead or buried creeks too late that the the Corps of Engineers made some slight miscalculations about the environmental safety re the Clean Water Act as it pertains to the method of coal extraction called mountaintop removal (MTR).

If the ruling is in favor of the litigants, it will not mean the end to coal. Funny thing: the largest producer of coal in Appalachia, Consul, gets only 4% of its coal from MTR, and the rest of its considerable volume from more traditional methods, so it doesn’t seem that money can’t be made and coal produced at financially attractive rates without MTR.

Even so, coal prices would go up since so much of it comes from this source (International Coal Group has 60 percent of production from surface mines, Massey has 47 percent, Alpha 44 percent and Patriot 36 percent.)

Meanwhile, the debate about coals future reaches the headlines not much more than a month before the election, and I have mixed feelings (though my vote is sealed, babies in bathwater notwithstanding.) McCain has made some decisive moves against MTR but favors up to 100 nuclear plants in our future.

Obama is pushing for research and “quick” implementation of the profound misnomer “clean coal” because we must export this technology to China that is building one dirty coal plant every week for the foreseeable future. I’m disappointed that he seems charmed by this technological fairy tale that compares to “healthy cigarettes” according to A. Gore, who recruits for the Monkey Wrench gang, suggesting the time has come for civil disobedience:

“If you’re a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration,” he said at the third annual meeting of former President Bill Clinton’s initiative, which arranges partnerships between the very rich and the very needy.

Mr. Gore said the civil disobedience should focus on “stopping the construction of new coal plants,” which he said would add tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — despite “half a billion dollars’ worth of advertising by the coal and gas industry” claiming otherwise. He added, “Clean coal does not exist.”

Folks my age remember standing up against The Beast. And some are standing already in our times. But not enough. We’ve seen what happens when the bottom line is maximizing for shareholders no matter the consequences to little people on the ground. Might be time yet to find the balance between economy and ecology. We can pay now with higher electricity costs, or pay later and far more than pocket change.

Related reading and sources:
Reconsidering the Power to Move Mountains
Coal price hikes likely if mine ruling sticks
Gore’s Call to Action
Majority of American Public Opposes Mountaintop Removal

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