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Archive for September, 2011

29
Sep

REPORT: DCEN Sustainable DC Forum

Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 11:07:14 PM EST

By Paul Walker, Director of Security & Sustainability, Global Green USA

Washington DC, the nation’s capital, has a new goal of becoming the most sustainable city in the United States. Mayor Vincent Gray has therefore launched a series of community discussions throughout the District, and the DC Environmental Network, working with Global Green USA, was fortunate to host one of the first of these dialogues.

At a packed roundtable at Global Green USA’s Washington office, the District’s environmental director, Christophe Tulou, and the planning director, Harriett Tregoning, explained that DC is ranked #8 among the 25 greenest cities in the US and Canada, and #4 for green jobs in the 100 largest US metro areas. It has the nation’s largest bikeshare program with over 15,000 members and new bike lanes throughout the city, and ranks #2 nationally for the number of public transit commuters. The District has 170 certified “green” buildings, second only to New York City, and is #2 nationally with over one million square feet of green roofs. Over 19% of DC area is green space, home to over 780 species of wildlife, and it’s set a goal of 35% tree canopy coverage by 2025. It purchases over 50% of its power from “green” sources, making it the #1 Green Power city in the nation.

Even though these are excellent steps forward for a very urban area, the District of Columbia still has many challenges. For example, DC’s recycling rate was 34% in 2009, far lower than those ten states with container deposit laws but slightly higher than the national average. It’s recent plastic bag deposit law, however, has caused a drop of some 50% in use of plastic bags. DC’s combined sewer system sends untreated water into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers many times annually during storms, typical of most major cities in the country.

It buys only 8% of its electricity from wind power today, a major step forward but one leaving much room for further expansion. And the average greenhouse gas emission per person still remains high — about 18 tons/year, although this is below the national average of 19.6 tons/year.

Global Green USA and the DC Environmental Network congratulate Washington DC Mayor Gray and his team for launching this important campaign and we all pledge to work to indeed establish our nation’s capital as the greenest city in the United States.

The DC Environmental Network will be holding a series of additional conversations about Mayor Gray’s Sustainable DC initiative in October.

20
Sep

DCEN Report: A Discussion on Urban Wildlife

Tue Sep 20, 2011 at 11:38:06 PM EST

by Malini Suri, Communications/Research Volunteer, DC Environmental Network

“This room is filled with extraordinary people – we could do things today guys, we could have initiatives out of a group such as this,” exclaimed Anne Lewis, President, City Wildlife, Inc. Looking around the room, one would agree the meeting held an impressive gathering of top-tier environmental and wildlife specialists, including representatives of the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Environmental Law Institute. The DC Environmental Network discussion held Thurday, Sept. 8th, hosted by Global Green USA, focused on the intersection of humans and wildlife, and the concerns surrounding these issues; from raccoon and bird behavior, to political strategies.

“This room is filled with extraordinary people – we could do things today guys, we could have initiatives out of a group such as this,” exclaimed Anne Lewis, President, City Wildlife, Inc.

We can begin protecting urban wildlife through slight adjustments in the way we live. The three speakers advocated a multilateral approach to conservation. Tying in popular consumer interests (such as health and safety, as well as the protection of “cute animals,”) with other important, less-relatable wilderness protection demands, can be a powerful tool to implement holistic change. The interconnections between environmental issues are limitless and ingraining seeds of thoughts – intentionally or not – into each other’s minds is a powerful form of action. DCEN hopes this will be the first of many of these kinds of dialogues.

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The first presenter was Dr. John Hadidian, director of the Urban Wildlife chapter of the Humane Society. Wildlife makes DC beautiful, but we often face challenges when these critters take up residence in our homes. Dr. Hadidian presented a case study in which the results of ten years of research on raccoon behavior in the greater DC area has resulted in the knowledge of a humane way to remove them from our houses. Inspired by a service in Toronto, the Humane Wildlife Services hopes to be an adoptable business model for other wildlife rescue services.

Wildlife conflict resolution is an emerging and increasingly important scientific field. “There’s an idea out there right now that we need to recognize, acknowledge and deal in a different way with: what are called ‘wicked problems’ . . . what it means is problems that don’t have technical solutions.”

Dr. Hadidian believes many of the issues we face in this field can be prevented through smart urban ecology. He touched on the concept that wildlife issues are a means to an end; we must think first about the larger ecosystem – the foundations upon which wildlife builds itself. However, we can use animals to focus peoples’ attention and energy: this is where we can all work together to solve the larger problems.

Anne Lewis is President of the newly founded City Wildlife, Inc. which aims to work in conjunction with the DC Wildlife Protection Act, and hopes to soon be the first official wildlife rehabilitation center within the DC limits. The closest licensed center, Second Chance Animal Sanctuary, currently resides in Gaithersburg, one hour away. However, there is one obstacle in the way of their opening, says President Lewis, and that involves legislation: current laws prevent wildlife from crossing state lines. “We can’t open until we have some kind of understanding among the jurisdictions that wildlife can be brought across state lines for purposes of wildlife rehabilitation, by specific people.”

In the meantime, City Wildlife, Inc. has created two side projects to tackle problems associated with our built environment: Quack FAQs helps trapped ducks and geese and Lights Out DC aims to reduce the deaths of migrating birds through the reduction of light pollution.

Councilmember Mary Cheh was the last to speak. She provided a view on the politics behind wildlife preservation; the process it takes to get legislation such as the DC Wildlife Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act passed, and the opposition she faces publicly and personally. Yet she was enthusiastic, and supportive, “If you have a good idea – and all of you have great ideas – I’ll enact it! I’m your instrument, I will get it done . . . DC is both the state and local legislature, it’s unicameral, one house; there are 13 of us. If I get six other people to agree with me, I can pass a law, and we can lead the country in many areas.”

Groups represented at the presentation included: Humane Society of the United States, City Wildlife, DC Council, Environmental Health Group, National Park Service, District Department of the Environment, EnviRelation, Environmental Law Institute, Environmental Protection Agency, Global Green USA, Capitol Sun Group, Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek, Wholeness for Humanity, Friends of the Earth, Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, DC Water & Sewer Authority, League of Women Voters DC, Anacostia Watershed Society, DC Office of Planning, DC Greenworks (partial).

Malini Suri graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Zoology, and currently volunteers with DCEN doing communications work and conducting research. She can be reached by email at malinisuri@gmail.com.

20
Sep

Washington Post Blog Highlights Wildlife Discussion!

Tue Sep 20, 2011 at 09:56:02 PM EST

By Chris Weiss, Executive Director, DC Environmental Network

Washington Post blogger Michael DeBonis shared Councilmember Cheh’s recent DC Environmental Network presentation on urban wildlife issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“People don’t understand we’re all part of this habitat and we all thrive or not depending upon how all of it thrives or not,” she said, describing the measure’s benefits to humanity. – Councilmember Mary Cheh

 

14
Sep

Mayor Gray’s Sustainable DC Initiative

Wed Sep 14, 2011 at 09:08:40 PM EST

by Chris Weiss, Executive Director, DC Environmental Network

On September 23rd at 11:00 AM, join environmental leaders for an important planning session and first step towards helping Mayor Gray create the best sustainability plan in the country!

This planning session will feature:

Join the DC Environmental Network (DCEN) in making DC the cleanest, greenest, most sustainable city in the United States! Mayor Gray recently announced an ambitious initiative to create a comprehensive sustainability strategy for the District called “Sustainable DC.” The planning process for this unprecedented strategy will kick-off with a DC Environmental Network discussion to hear how environmental activists and District residents envision their Sustainable DC.

As a environmental leader in the District, we need your participation! RSVP for this Sustainable DC Planning Session!

The DC environmental community has been at the forefront of efforts to make the District of Columbia a green and sustainable city. With this new initiative early in the first term of Mayor Gray, we all have a unique opportunity to help develop a plan and environmental vision for the next decade. This meeting will be the first step in a process to develop joint recommendations from a large coalition of environmental NGOs and activists.

At this inaugural DCEN sustainability planning meeting, Christophe Tulou (DDOE) and Harriet Tregoning (OP) will update us on Mayor Gray’s most current plans to implement this new initiative. Participants will have an opportunity to suggest courses of action and start sharing some of the broader themes that might be incorporated into this plan. We will then roll up our sleeves and coordinate with our panel a process and design for both development of coordinated recommendations and stategies for helping Mayor Gray reach out beyond the traditional environmental community.

  • When: Friday, September 23rd @ 11:00 AM
  • Where: DC Environmental Network Headquarters @ Global Green USA, 1100 15th Street NW, 11th Floor
  • Near Farragut North & McPherson Square Metro Stops (Walking Distance from Five BikeShare Stations!)
  • Call-In Number: 775-269-3893, when prompted enter 399602#
  • RSVP for this Sustainable DC Planning Session!

This planning session is co-sponsored by the Sierra Club: Washington, DC Chapter.

All are welcome!

14
Sep

US/Serbia Webinar: Awaking the Danube

Wed Sep 14, 2011 at 08:00:26 AM EST

by Chris Weiss, Executive Director, DC Environmental Network

featuring:

– Srdjan Stankovic, Supernatural Festival (Panelist & Moderator)

– Boris Camernik, Director, Danube Competence Centre (The Danube Competence Centre (DCC) works to build and support networks of tourism stakeholders from the Danube region by investing in people and skills, enhancing regional cooperation, and promoting the mutual interests of our members in order to create a single tourism brand for the Middle and Lower Danube region.)

– Dina Vukovic, Coordinator, National Tourist Organization of Serbia

– Chris Weiss, Executive Director, DC Environmental Network

Background:

The DC Environmental Network (DCEN) and Supernatural, an environmental NGO in Serbia, are partnering to present a webinar on Danube River restoration efforts in Serbia.This webinar will feature environmental organizations and activists participating from both the United States and Serbia.

This is the second in a series of webinars that will continue over the next year. (Our first webinar featured DC Water and the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, DC. Watch this presentation on YouTube!)

Sign-Up to Participate in the Awaking the Danube Webinar!

On September 16th and 17th Supernatural and the Diving Club Amfora (and the broader diving community in Serbia) will be involved in a massive clean-up effort at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. This special event will also feature educational programs and opportunities designed to heighten awareness and connect more people to the Danube River.

The DC Environmental Network will benefit with participation in a briefiing on Danube River restoration efforts in Serbia from the perspective of Serbian organizations and activists in the Danube region. Some questions that will be answered by our panelists:

  • How do Serbian tourism stakeholders connect economic goals with Danube river restoration?
  • What are the main sources of pollution in the Danube River?
  • How are Serbian environmental NGOs, government bodies and corporations participating in restoration efforts?
  • How are Serbian river activists and others coordinating restoration efforts with the many different international jurisdictions along Danube River banks?
  • What are some of the important historical, cultural dynamics that connect Serbians to the Danube and Sava rivers?

We will start with a presentation and then open up the webinar to questions and comments. This is a great opportunity to learn about some of the best practices, strategies and history of an amazing river and the cultures that live on its banks. Srdjan Stankovic of Supernatural will moderate the discussion.

All are welcome!

The DC Environmental Network (DCEN) is proud to be a global partner with Supernatural: Supernatural is an environmental movement leader in Serbia. They are members of the United Nations Global Compact, Slow Food and partners of World Wildlife Fund, Europarc Federation and other renowned institutions.Their activities include organization of Supernatural festival that celebrates Mother Earth Day, 22 April, production of the Supernatural FM radio program, production of environmental documentaries, environmental education and corporate environmental responsibility projects.

2
Sep

A Fowl Dilemma in the Anacostia Wetlands

Fri Sep 02, 2011 at 03:03:11 PM EST

by Malini Suri, Communications/Research Volunteer, DC Environmental Network

Conservation groups and state & local government programs have been working over the past decade to restore the marshy tidal wetlands that once spanned the mouth of the Anacostia River – digging into the muddy and polluted waters, replanting native vegetation and analyzing land and water management issues. However, a competition has emerged with a growing population of non-migratory geese who gorge on this delicious salad of restored native wild rice and other rare plant species. A controversy over how to deal with these large birds has arisen, and some extreme management practices in the past have involved the culling – capture and euthanization – of adult geese.

“A controversy over how to deal with these large birds has arisen, and some extreme management practices in the past have involved the culling – capture and euthanization – of adult geese.”

As a result of public concern, and a realization of the serious impacts of the wetland restoration projects, the National Park Service (NPS) has released a series of detailed proposals for a long-term, science-based management plan known as the Anacostia Park Wetland and Resident Goose Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement. A draft of this document is currently under review, and open for public comment until September 26th.

The Anacostia Watershed, which once contained over 2500 acres of marshy tidal wetlands, has suffered a history of pollution and change. With an increase in European settlement and farming in the 19th century, the problem arose of agricultural runoff settling within the wetlands, creating extensive, sewage ridden, silty mud plains. In 1902 the US Army Corps of Engineers received funding to dredge the wetlands, creating controlled river systems and islands of dry land such as Kingsman Park. The National Park Service has since taken control of the area, and in the late 1980’s a decision was made to restore the tidal wetland marshes in an effort to combat extreme water pollution issues.

Populations of non-migratory, mid-western and Canadian geese were first introduced to the Anacostia by humans as hunting decoys in the 1900’s, and then again as an effort to re-populate the geese from over-hunting. These non-native species have since continued to reproduce, and due to a lack of natural predators in the area, an increasing population of geese have become more than just pests on near-by golf courses. Intensive restoration efforts in 2000 created a buffet of sensitive, native and nutritious wetland plants. The birds subsequently gorged on this newfound abundance, leaving behind destructive and encroaching non-native, invasive species, and decimating the conservation efforts.

Therefore, a dilemma now rests on the shoulders of the National Park Service. How do we stop a population of geese from being geese? A slew of solutions have been proposed. They include: altering vegetation, fencing land plots, egg addling (a form of population control that prevents the development of the embryo within the egg), and using visual deterrents or trained dogs to scare the geese away. Many of these practices are already being implemented, but some worry these methods are cumbersome and passive. On the other hand, lethal control of an otherwise innocent bird population has gained attention from animal activists and groups such as the Humane Society and PETA.

The National Park Service has identified the need to approach the restoration of the Anacostia wetlands carefully and alongside scientific research. We urge the public to continue to participate in a long-term plan for our vital tidal marshes. 

Join park staff at the Anacostia Operations Facility on September 7th from 6:30 – 8:30 to learn about and discuss the Wetland Management Plan. Those interested in local conservation issues can join the DC Environmental Network and Humane Society on September 8th at noon for a presentation and discussion about the importance of protecting urban wildlife. RSVP & Details Here.

Malini Suri graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Zoology, and currently volunteers with DCEN doing communications work and conducting research. 

1
Sep

Watersheds on the Potomac and the Red Continent

Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 09:10:05 PM EST

by Michelle Bennett, Environmental Sustainability Consultant, Mt. Rainier, MD

Michelle Bennett, Environmental Sustainability Consultant, shares observations about both Sydney, Australia and Washington, DC in this first in a series of comparing and contrasting the environmental scene of the District with a variety of urban areas around the globe.

With the spate of natural disasters in Washington DC this summer, I sat down to compare our troubles with those in a very different part of the world: Sydney Australia. I studied Environmental Studies there for two years and came to appreciate a fundamentally unique and fragile continent.

The east coast of Australia receives reliable rainfall, unlike the Red Center, so it is characterized by Eucalypt forest and littoral rainforest. The local climate around Sydney might compare to mid-California: summers are hot and it rarely frosts in the lowlands come winter. Typhoons rarely veer so far south; flooding is controlled with a huge system of dams; and earthquakes are rare and weak. The area is prone to fire, like parts of California. Drought comes in cycles, both short and unbearably long, all across the ancient continent.

But Australia, and especially Sydney, is prone to bizarre natural hazards  – damaging phenomenon so strange and alien that the first settlers felt they had landed on another planet. The local fauna didn’t help, of course, because most things in Australia, including adorable koala bears and their vicious cousins the dropbears, can kill you. Sydney is home to two varieties of deadly spiders, and kangaroos are as dangerous as deer on the road.

Even the soil can be dangerous. Over millennia, peat deposits absorbed iron sulfide minerals. When these soils remain under the water table they are benign. But expose them to the air and they react with oxygen to ooze sulfuric acid, arsenic, and even heavy metals. In parts of Australia, especially along the east coast, the land bleeds poison when disturbed.

The water table that covers these deposits can also be problematic. Most of Australia is composed of porous sedimentary rock, which in turn sits atop the salted crust of an ancient shallow sea. That means there are large aquifers beneath the surface, which feed or deprive whole watersheds. If too much water is pumped out of the ground, the water table falls and regions dry up. If not enough water is used, the water table will rise and bring salt with it, indefinitely decimating scarce arable land.

The endemic species of Australia evolved in this hostile situation, and have devised clever ways to moderate or survive the many excesses of the land. Some species of eucalypt grow their roots just deep enough to sip from the water table during drought, and to drain it during times of rain. With just enough trees across a landscape, the water table is managed. But grow too many trees and precious water drops beyond reach; chop down too many trees and water rises to salt the watershed. Talk about the value of ecological services!

“I was surprised that the Chesapeake is still unable to filter enough nutrients and pollution through its world-famous shellfisheries. Clearly more habitat restoration, or “bush regeneration”, as the Aussies call it, is needed.”

Australians also contend with many of the same issues we face in the D.C. watershed. Agriculture and household wastewater dump too many nutrients into rivers, causing eutrophication and toxic algal blooms. As a recent D.C. transplant, I was not surprised to learn about the industrial and agricultural pollutants that local water sheds struggle with, but I was surprised that the Chesapeake is still unable to filter enough nutrients and pollution through its world-famous shellfisheries. Clearly more habitat restoration, or “bush regeneration”, as the Aussies call it, is needed.

We can learn a thing or two from Sydney’s reaction to water quality issues. Most dish soaps, detergents and other cleaning agents are now nitrogen- and phosphate-free. Local environmental groups and the government spent years educating citizens and forged partnerships with businesses and industries. New products were not mandated, but encouraged, marketed and rewarded. It was a slow, sometimes halting process, but through consistent, multi-pronged efforts, these products are becoming the new norm. Sydney residents were doubtful, at first. It took several years for new products to attain comparable quality, but now a major source of water pollution is declining. I can assure you that the products work just as well as their polluting counterparts.

It’s not uncommon to see locals swimming in the surf for their morning exercise, regardless of the air or water temperature. Every popular beach has an active swimming, surfing and water rescue club. When water quality is poor, residents notice.

Over the years, many diverse groups have banded together to protest and demand better water quality: from young surfers to wealthy residents who can afford beachfront property. Australians enjoy and appreciate aspects of the natural environment around them, but they also participate in their democracy. They are required by law to vote, and they get a day off work to do so. They demand comparatively high standards of their politicians, media, business and non-profit organizations. They appreciate the role of each in society.

Some helpful links:

Many, though not all, also experience huge fluctuations, both natural and man made, that occur on their continent and understand that without a healthy environment, their economic and personal well-being are exposed to greater costs and risks.

Look for other knowledgeable DCEN participants writing about how Washington, DC and the surrounding region compare to Buenos Aires, London, Belgrade and other cities around the world.