News Watch

Alaska-centric environmental research, legislation, action alerts, and opportunities.

The Climate Crisis:

Ever wonder what data meteorologists use to compare current temperatures with “normal” daily temperatures? They draw upon records from 15,000 weather stations nationally which are synthesized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and updated every ten years spanning a 30-year window. That update has just taken place and includes temperatures from 1990 - 2020. The “new normal” (no surprise) reflects hotter and (generally) dryer conditions, with an average increase of .5 degrees Fahrenheit in the lower-48 states since 2010-, or 1.8-degrees F since 1900.

 In Alaska, that upward trend is more obvious, with an average increase of 1.0-degree Fahrenheit since 2010. Further north this increase is even more extreme, for example, Utqiagvik (Nome) experienced a 2 degree rise in temperatures over the last decade. This is due, in part, to record low sea ice in the Bering Sea caused by warmer ocean temperatures. 

On a positive note, as dryer, warmer northern black spruce forests burn, they are generally replaced by aspen and birch which store higher levels of carbon than black spruce and are less prone to fires. The offset can, over time, more than balance out the carbon lost to the atmosphere from forest fires. Learn more here

Fin, Feather and Furbearing:

For fun, I had to share this YouTube video by Robert Bush of a log bridge in Pennsylvania and all the wildlife that make use of it over the span of a year! It’s worthwhile to put it up on a larger screen with a good speaker. 

And now for some ugly news. Thanks to the Trump-era delisting of wolves in the lower-48 states (see my blog posts on wolves here and here), Idaho recently passed a law intended to reduce the state’s wolf population by 90 percent, from an estimated 1,556 wolves in 2020 to just 150 wolves. This is not an arbitrary number, as it’s the number required by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid re-listing the animals as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. That number is being contested by an environmental coalition currently suing the US government. They argue that at least 2,000 wolves are needed to maintain genetic diversity in the wolf population. 

Here in Alaska, salmon are shrinking. Sea food distributors and restaurants like Whole Foods and Ivar’s are revising purchasing guidelines and rejecting shipments of Pacific salmon due to their smaller size. We’ve been hearing for years that the annual glut of fish has thinned, but now many are so small they no longer meet industry standards. Chinooks show the greatest decline, but all species seem to be suffering the same fate. Fisherman, who are paid by the pound, are feeling the effects, with 2020 sales down 56% from 2019. 

Policy: 

I’ll end with a bit of good news – the Biden Administration is set to repeal a Trump-era EPA rule that weakened air pollution standards and efforts to combat climate change. The rule benefited the fossil fuel industry by lifting restrictions on hazardous emissions. Reinstatement will take effect in mid-June.