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Elevated Levels of Mercury Found in Fish in Western U.S. National Parks

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Elevated Levels of Mercury Found in Fish in Western U.S. National Parks
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service.

The study of mercury in fish is the first of its kind to incorporate information from remote places at 21 national parks in 10 western states, including Alaska. Western parks were selected for this study because of the significant role that atmospheric mercury deposition plays in remote places, and the lack of broad-scale assessments on mercury in fish in remote areas of the west.

Mercury concentrations in fish sampled from these parks were generally low, but were elevated in some instances. This study examines total mercury in fish, of which 95 percent is in the form of methylmercury, the most dangerous form to human and wildlife health.

Mercury is harmful to human and wildlife health, and is among the most widespread contaminants in the world. It is distributed at a global scale from natural sources, such as volcanic eruptions and from human sources such as burning fossil fuels in power plants. Mercury is distributed at local or regional scales as a result of current and historic mining activities. These human activities have increased levels of atmospheric mercury at least three fold during the past 150 years.

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Nation’s Authoritative Land Cover Map New and Improved

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Nation’s Authoritative Land Cover Map New and Improved
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Just released, the latest edition of the nation’s most comprehensive look at land-surface conditions from coast to coast shows the extent of land cover types from forests to urban areas. The National Land Cover Database (NLCD 2011) is made available to the public by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners.

Dividing the lower 48 states into 9 billion geographic cells, the massive database provides consistent information about land conditions at regional to nationwide scales. Collected in repeated five-year cycles, NLCD data is used by resource managers and decision-makers to conduct ecosystem studies, determine spatial patterns of biodiversity, trace indications of climate change, and develop best practices in land management.

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes

April 9, 2014 Comments off

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Dramatic distribution losses and a few major distribution gains are forecasted for southwestern bird and reptile species as the climate changes, according to just-published research by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of New Mexico, and Northern Arizona University.

Overall, the study forecasted species distribution losses – that is, where species are able to live – of nearly half for all but one of the 5 reptile species they examined, including for the iconic chuckwalla. The threatened Sonoran (Morafka’s) desert tortoise, however, is projected to experience little to no habitat losses from climate change.

Breeding bird ranges exhibited greater expansions and contractions than did reptile species. For example, black-throated sparrows and gray vireos are projected to experience major gains in breeding habitat, but pygmy nuthatches, sage thrashers and Williamson sapsuckers are forecasted to experience large losses in breeding habitat, in some cases by as much as 80 percent. Thus, these three species might be expected to experience large future population declines.

The iconic pinyon jay is expected to experience from one-fourth to one-third loss in breeding habitat in the future, as its welfare is tied to declining pinyon pine habitat.

USGS — New Utah Maps and Road Provider

April 3, 2014 Comments off

New Utah Maps and Road Provider
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Newly released US Topo maps for Utah now feature a new commercial road data provider. The latest highway, road and street data from HERE has been added to the 1,476 revised US Topo quadrangles for the state.

The new maps also include Public Land Survey System (PLSS). These data are added to the growing list of states west of the Mississippi River. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Other selected states will begin getting PLSS map data during the next respective revision cycle.

The new design for US Topo maps improves readability of maps for online and printed use, while retaining the look and feel of the traditional USGS topographic map. Map symbols are easy to read when the digital aerial photograph layer imagery is turned on.

Value of U.S. Mineral Production Decreased in 2013

March 20, 2014 Comments off

Value of U.S. Mineral Production Decreased in 2013
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Last year, the estimated value of mineral production in the U.S. was $74.3 billion, a slight decrease from $75.8 billion in 2012. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s annual Mineral Commodity Summaries 2014 report, the 2013 decrease follows three consecutive years of increases. Net U.S. exports of mineral raw materials and old scrap contributed an additional $15.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

“To put this in context, the $90.1 billion value of combined mined, exported, and recycled raw materials is more than five times greater than the 2013 combined net revenues of Internet titans: Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. This illustrates the fundamental importance of mineral resources to the nation’s economy, technology, and national security,” said Larry Meinert, USGS Mineral Resources Program Coordinator.

Minerals remain fundamental to the U.S. economy, contributing to the real gross domestic product at several levels, including mining, processing, and manufacturing finished products. The U.S. continues to rely on foreign sources for raw and processed mineral materials.

This annual USGS report is the original source of mineral production data for the world. It includes statistics on about 90 mineral commodities essential to the U.S. economy and national security, and addresses events, trends, and issues in the domestic and international minerals industries.

2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation

March 18, 2014 Comments off

2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation (PDF)
Source: National Park Service

The National Park Service (NPS) manages the nation’s most iconic destinations that attract millions of visitors from across the nation and around the world. Trip-related spending by NPS visitors generates and supports a considerable amount of economic activity within park gateway communities. This economic effects analysis measures how NPS visitor spending cycles through local economies, generating business sales and supporting jobs and income.

In 2012, the National Park System received over 282 million recreation visits. NPS visitors spent $14.7 billion in local gateway regions (defined as communities within 60 miles of a park). The contribution of this spending to the national economy was 243 thousand jobs, $9.3 billion in labor income, $15.8 billion in value added, and $26.8 billion in output. The lodging sector saw the highest direct contributions with more than 40 thousand jobs and $4.5 billion in output directly contributed to local gateway economies nationally. The sector with the next greatest direct contributions was restaurants and bars, with 51 thousand jobs and $3 billion in output directly contributed to local gateway economies nationally.

This 2012 analysis marks a major revision to the NPS visitor spending effects analyses, with the development of a new visitor spending effects model (VSE model) that replaces the former Money Generation Model (MGM2). Many of the hallmarks and processes of the MGM2 model are preserved in the new VSE model, but the new model makes significant strides in improving the accuracy and transparency of the analysis. Because of this change from the MGM2 model to the VSE model, estimates from this year’s analysis are not directly comparable to previous analyses.

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources

March 11, 2014 Comments off

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

A coalition of scientists from the United States and Afghanistan today released high tech maps that will help Afghanistan chart a course for future economic development. These maps represent a milestone as Afghanistan is the first country to be almost completely mapped using hyperspectral imaging data.

The coalition of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, and the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), was created by the U.S. Department of Defense, to share American international science and technology as a strategic tool for promoting economic development.

“Hyperspectral data from this research provides a fingerprint that identifies Afghanistan’s natural resources,” said Dr. Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director. “This detailed data serves as the backbone of crucial scientific information needed for economic development of natural resources as well as the potential to identify water, biological and natural hazard information.”

Hyperspectral imaging is an advanced imaging technique that measures visible and near-infrared light reflecting off the Earth’s surface. Researchers use hyperspectral imaging spectrometer data to identify and characterize mineral deposits, vegetation, and other land surface features.

Global Undiscovered Copper Resources Estimated at 3.5 Billion Metric Tons

March 7, 2014 Comments off

Global Undiscovered Copper Resources Estimated at 3.5 Billion Metric Tons
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The first-ever, geologically-based global assessment of undiscovered copper resources estimates that 3.5 billion metric tons of copper may exist worldwide. The U.S. Geological Survey outlined 225 areas for undiscovered copper in 11 regions of the world. The amount of undiscovered global copper estimated by the USGS would be enough to satisfy current world demand for more than 150 years.

According to the assessment, South America is the dominant source for both identified and undiscovered copper resources. Particularly important, several regions of Asia including China have a large potential for undiscovered copper resources.

Fiscal Year 2013 DOI Annual Aviation Safety Summary

February 10, 2014 Comments off

Fiscal Year 2013 DOI Annual Aviation Safety Summary (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of the Interior (Office of Aviation Services)

Based on accumulated flight data in FY13, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) continued to lower the historical DOI aircraft accident rate to an all time low reducing the rate by 0.12 to 7.98 accidents per 100K flight hours. The annual aircraft accident rate dropped to an all time low of 1.62 per 100K flight hours, a decrease of 5.30 from last year and completing the best 8 consecutive years in DOI history . This breakthrough performance reaffirms our belief that zero aircraft accidents is an attainable goal, one that can be obtained with the continued commitment of DOI and Bureau leadership to the principles of Safety Management Systems.

Fire Management and Invasive Plants: A Handbook

December 26, 2013 Comments off

Fire Management and Invasive Plants: A Handbook (PDF)
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Fire management can help maintain natural habitats, increase forage for wildlife, reduce fuel loads that might otherwise lead to catastrophic wildfire, and maintain natural succession. Today, there is an emerging challenge that fire managers need to be aware of: invasive plants. Fire management activities can create ideal opportunities for invasions by nonnative plants, potentially undermining the benefits of fire management actions.

This manual provides practical guidelines that fire managers should consider with respect to invasive plants.

Nitrate Levels Continue to Increase in Mississippi River; Signs of Progress in the Illinois River

November 6, 2013 Comments off

Nitrate Levels Continue to Increase in Mississippi River; Signs of Progress in the Illinois River
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Nitrate levels in the Illinois River decreased by 21 percent between 2000 and 2010, marking the first time substantial, multi-year decreases in nitrate have been observed in the Mississippi River Basin since 1980, according to a new USGS study.

Unfortunately, similar signs of progress were not widespread. “Nitrate levels continue to increase in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, including the Mississippi’s outlet to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Lori Sprague, USGS research hydrologist.

“These results show that solving the problem of the dead zone will not be easy or quick. We will need to work together with our federal and state partners to develop strategies to address nitrate concentrations in both groundwater and surface water,” said Lori Caramanian, Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science.

CRS — Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service

October 28, 2013 Comments off

Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Merit Systems Protection Board Watch)

Congress has expressed an interest in the appeals processes of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service because of those processes’ complexity, and because of allegations that the appeals processes have restricted the ability of the agencies to manage the resources under their care. In 2011, Congress changed the project review process from one that provided for automatic stays and multiple levels of review to a pre-decisional objection process (P.L. 112-74, §428). In amending the 1992 Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act process, Congress aimed to expedite agency review. The changes took effect in March 2013.

Administrative appeals are challenges to agency actions that agencies attempt to resolve themselves. Agencies set up hearing processes and regulations to meet the requirements guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—that no person will be deprived of property without the due process of the law. This report describes the appeals processes of the BLM of the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. These appeals are not all formal adjudicatory proceedings under the Administrative Procedure Act (although some have similar procedures), but are defined primarily by agency regulation.

BLM has many different types of administrative appeals. The type of appeal depends, in large part, on the type of action taken by BLM. Decisions regarding land use plans have one type of review that differs slightly for challenges by governors. Decisions regarding minerals, oil and gas, forests, and grazing have different appeals processes, sometimes even having different processes within those categories. Many, but not all, BLM decisions have a final agency review by an appeals board under the Department of the Interior. Sometimes the final review is completed by an Administrative Law Judge.

The Forest Service also has multiple types of reviews, although it does not have an appeals board or Administrative Law Judges. For the most part, Forest Service administrative appeals are based on the type of decision being challenged. Forest plans have one process. Projects implementing those plans have a pre-decisional appeal known as an objection. Decisions regarding use and occupancy of forests have yet another appeals process, which differs depending on the level of employee who made the decision being challenged. Congress also has exempted many projects deemed emergency situations from administrative review.

New From the GAO

September 23, 2013 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Oil and Gas Development: BLM Needs Better Data to Track Permit Processing Times and Prioritize Inspections. GAO-13-572, August 23.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-572
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657177.pdf

2. Corporate Tax Compliance: IRS Should Determine Whether Its Streamlined Corporate Audit Process Is Meeting Its Goals. GAO-13-662, August 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-662
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657093.pdf

3. National Airspace System: Improved Budgeting Could Help FAA Better Determine Future Operations and Maintenance Priorities. GAO-13-693, August 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-693
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657139.pdf

4. Automatic IRAS: Lower-Earning Households Could Realize Increases in Retirement Income. GAO-13-699, August 23.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-699
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657172.pdf

Health of U.S. Streams Reduced by Streamflow Modifications and Contaminants

July 14, 2013 Comments off

Health of U.S. Streams Reduced by Streamflow Modifications and Contaminants
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

A new USGS report describes how the health of our Nation’s streams is being degraded by streamflow modifications and elevated levels of nutrients and pesticides.

The national assessment of stream health was unprecedented in the breadth of the measurements—including assessments of multiple biological communities as well as streamflow modifications and measurements of over 100 chemical constituents in water and streambed sediments.

“Healthy streams are an essential part of our natural heritage. They are important to everyone — not only for recreation and for public water supply and public health, but also for economic growth,” said USGS acting Director Suzette Kimball. “A broad understanding of the complex factors that affect stream health across the Nation will aid us in making efficient, long term decisions that support healthy streams.”

The ability of a stream to support algal, macroinvertebrate, and fish communities is a direct measure of stream health. USGS image. (High resolution image)
To assess ecological health, USGS scientists examined the relationship of the condition of three biological communities (algae, macroinvertebrates, and fish) to man-made changes in streamflow characteristics and water quality. The ability of a stream to support these biological communities is a direct measure of stream health.

Stream health was reduced at the vast majority of streams assessed in agricultural and urban areas. In these areas, at least one of the three aquatic communities was altered at 83 percent of the streams assessed.

In contrast, nearly one in five streams in agricultural and urban areas was in relatively good health, signaling that it is possible to maintain stream health in watersheds with substantial land and water-use development.

“Understanding the interacting factors that impact multiple aquatic communities is essential to developing effective stream restoration strategies,” said Daren Carlisle, USGS ecologist and lead scientist of this study.

Interior Releases First-Ever Comprehensive National Assessment of Geologic Carbon Dioxide Storage Potential

July 11, 2013 Comments off

Interior Releases First-Ever Comprehensive National Assessment of Geologic Carbon Dioxide Storage Potential
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The United States has the potential to store a mean of 3,000 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in geologic basins throughout the country, according to the first-ever detailed national geologic carbon sequestration assessment released today by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The assessment comes on the heels of a national plan to combat climate change announced by President Obama yesterday.

“This USGS research is ground-breaking because it is the first realistic view of technically accessible carbon storage capacity in these basins,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “If enough of this capacity also proves to be environmentally and economically viable, then geologic carbon sequestration could help us reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Based on present-day geologic and hydrologic knowledge of the subsurface and current engineering prac­tices, this assessment looked at the potential for CO2 storage in 36 basins in the United States. The largest potential by far is in the Coastal Plains region, which accounts for 2,000 metric gigatons, or 65 percent, of the storage potential. Two other regions with significant storage capacity include the Alaska region and the Rocky Mountains and Northern Great Plains region.

Technically accessible storage resources are those that can be accessed using today’s technology and pressurization and injection techniques. The most common method of geologic carbon storage involves pressurizing CO2 gas into a liquid, and then injecting it into subsurface rock layers for long-term storage.

Predicting Hurricane-Induced Coastal Change

July 11, 2013 Comments off

Predicting Hurricane-Induced Coastal Change
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The probability of hurricane-induced coastal change on sandy beaches from Florida to New York has been assessed for the first time in two U.S. Geological Survey studies released today.

The two reports — one assessing the coastline from Florida to North Carolina, the other from Virginia to New York — can function as part of a “virtual toolkit” for U.S. Atlantic coast community planners and emergency managers as they make decisions on how to best address coastline vulnerabilities.

The reports show that even during the weakest hurricane, a category 1 with winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour, 89 percent of the dune-backed beaches from Florida to New York coast are very likely to experience dune erosion during a direct landfall. But scientists involved say the strength of the studies is in their ability to predict coastal change in specific areas.

The online mapping tool, based on a USGS state-of-the-art model, will allow community planners and emergency managers to focus on a specific storm category and see the predicted coastal change in their area. The information may help them with decisions ranging from changes to building codes and locations for new construction, to determining the best evacuation routes for future storms.

Wildland Fire and Aviation Program Management and Operations Guide

July 2, 2013 Comments off

Wildland Fire and Aviation Program Management and Operations Guide
Source: U.S. Department of the Interior (Bureau of Indian Affairs)

This guide is a program reference that documents policy for management and operation of the Wildland Fire and Aviation Management Program for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Information presented here is based on current policy and provides program guidance to ensure safe, consistent, efficient and effective Wildland Fire and Aviation Operations.

Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations

July 2, 2013 Comments off

Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

The Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations provides fire and fire aviation program management direction for Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service managers. Employees engaged in fire management activities will continue to comply with all agency-specific health and safety policy. Other references, such as the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)Incident Response Pocket Guide (PMS 461, NFES 1077) and the NWCG Fireline Handbook (PMS 410-1, NFES 0065), provide operational guidance.

Protecting National Park Soundscapes

June 11, 2013 Comments off

Protecting National Park Soundscapes

Source: National Academy of Engineering/National Park Service

America’s national parks provide a wealth of experiences to millions of people every year. What visitors see—landscapes, wildlife, cultural activities—often lingers in memory for life. And what they hear adds a dimension that sight alone cannot provide. Natural sounds can dramatically enhance visitors’ experience of many aspects of park environments. In some settings, such as the expanses of Yellowstone National Park, they can even be the best way to enjoy wildlife, because animals can be heard at much greater distances than they can be seen. Sounds can also be a natural complement to natural scenes, whether the rush of water over a rocky streambed or a ranger’s explanation of a park’s history. In other settings, such as the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, sounds are the main reason for visiting a park.

The acoustical environment is also important to the well-being of the parks themselves. Many species of wildlife depend on their hearing to find prey or avoid predators. If they cannot hear, their survival is jeopardized—and the parks where they live may in turn lose part of their natural heritage. For all these reasons it is important to be aware of noise (defined as unwanted sound, and in this case usually generated by humans or machinery), which can degrade the acoustical environment, or soundscape, of parks. Just as smog smudges the visual horizon, noise obscures the listening horizon for both visitors and wildlife. This is especially true in places, such as remote wilderness areas, where extremely low sound levels are common. The National Park Service (NPS) has determined that park facilities, operations, and maintenance activities produce a substantial portion of noise in national parks and thus recognizes the need to provide park managers with guidance for protecting the natural soundscape from such noise. Therefore, the focus of the workshop was to define what park managers can do to control noise from facilities, operations, and maintenance, and not on issues such as the effects of noise on wildlife, noise metrics, and related topics.

To aid in this effort, NPS joined with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and with the US Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to hold a workshop to examine the challenges and opportunities facing the nation’s array of parks. Entitled "Protecting National Park Soundscapes: Best Available Technologies and Practices for Reducing Park- Generated Noise," the workshop took place October 3-4, 2012, at NPS’s Natural Resource Program Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. Protecting National Park Soundscapes is a summary of the workshop.

USGS Study Confirms U.S. Amphibian Populations Declining at Precipitous Rates

May 24, 2013 Comments off

USGS Study Confirms U.S. Amphibian Populations Declining at Precipitous Rates
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The first-ever estimate of how fast frogs, toads and salamanders in the United States are disappearing from their habitats reveals they are vanishing at an alarming and rapid rate.

According to the study released today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, even the species of amphibians presumed to be relatively stable and widespread are declining. And these declines are occurring in amphibian populations everywhere, from the swamps in Louisiana and Florida to the high mountains of the Sierras and the Rockies.

The study by USGS scientists and collaborators concluded that U.S. amphibian declines may be more widespread and severe than previously realized, and that significant declines are notably occurring even in protected national parks and wildlife refuges.

“Amphibians have been a constant presence in our planet’s ponds, streams, lakes and rivers for 350 million years or so, surviving countless changes that caused many other groups of animals to go extinct,” said USGS Director Suzette Kimball. “This is why the findings of this study are so noteworthy; they demonstrate that the pressures amphibians now face exceed the ability of many of these survivors to cope.”

On average, populations of all amphibians examined vanished from habitats at a rate of 3.7 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about 20 years. The more threatened species, considered “Red-Listed” in an assessment by the global organization International Union for Conservation of Nature, disappeared from their studied habitats at a rate of 11.6 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these Red-Listed species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about six years.

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