Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

Gulf of Mexico Alliance scraps public workshops in favor of Survey Monkey

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a multi-Gulf state government partnership, created by all five Governors to protect the environmental and economic resources of the Gulf coast is scrapping their plans to hold public opinion workshops on their new draft 5 year plan in four of the five Gulf states. Though Florida citizens and conservation groups were able to meaningfully participate in development of the plan through face to face meetings, residents of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas will only be able to give feedback on the draft through an online service called Survey Monkey. The brief public comment period ends Friday, March 13th. No reason has been given as to why the Alliance is not going to hold public workshops in the other Gulf states.

To see the survey, go here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=JxpweEqgvvqLdm_2f35MGcQg_3d_3d

For more information, read the GRN's press release

 

With all that has happened since February 19th, it seems like more than just a couple weeks ago, but I wanted to update everyone on the Mardi Gras Time Cypress Call-In Day. Huge thanks to everyone who took a few moments to celebrate Mardi Gras by helping to preserve the cypress forests that protect Mardi Gras celebrations (and the communities that host them!).

There were approximately 800 phone calls reported being made to Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart on February 19th!! Although that leaves us a bit shy of the goal of 1,000, it still had a huge impact and showed all three companies that the public still expects them to stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch. And it’s not too late, you can still make a call today! Visit this webpage for phone numbers and talking points.

Highlights from the from the call-in day include GRN Campaign Intern, Megan Reed, in Mobile who generated over 160 calls, the participation of Call-In Day Coordinators from all over the country, and calls permeating the corporate headquarters at Lowe’s (one of you left a message on the machine of our contact there!).

A representative from Lowe’s made it clear that we are doing a great job of maintaining the corporation’s attention to this issue. He commented that the calls are "respectful and sincere" and that people calling really seem to know their stuff. That’s not the ideal “alright, we’re not going to sell cypress mulch anymore” response, but it is clear that the call-in day has helped us get closer to a victory.

Thanks to everyone who participated, thanks to members of the Save Our Cypress Coalition who engaged their members and activists to join the call-in day, and thanks to Call-In Day Coordinators who recruited friends to make calls. If you were a Coordinator and have not yet sent your report, please do so ASAP! Maybe there were already 1,000 calls made, but we need to know for sure.

If you haven’t yet, it’s not too late to help us hit the goal of 1,000 calls! Please make a call today to Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart asking them to permanently end their sales of unsustainable cypress mulch.

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer at GRN.

 



Hoo hooo kiddies!

Mr. Bill here and I’d like to thank all you friends for coming out on February 2nd to support World Wetlands Day. We got together on the front stairs of One Shell Square, Shell Oil Co’s headquarters here in my hometown New Orleans. Fortunately, with some help, I made it up the steps without falling down (thanks Dan Favre!)

It was a beautiful but chilly evening. My best friend Walter Williams was there showing his cool educational videos about the wetlands and how the oil and gas industry are responsible for destroying forty to sixty percent of them. Watch some of these videos at www.mrbill.com. Did you know that when they dig up the wetlands to make canals for pipelines, it lets salt water in that kills the plants, even the cypress trees? And they’ve been doing this since the beginning of the 20th century.

But, oh no! The problem is that neither Shell Oil Company or any of the other gas and oil companies will admit they are part of the problem, and as we all know, we first have to identify the problem so we can come up with a solution. And me, my friends at the Gulf Restoration Network and all of you great New Orleanians see the problem and the solution.

We know that in order to be able to restore the wetlands to a healthy state, we need more dough, and not the Play kind, and we know that the oil companies have made tons of it while destroying our natural hurricane protection system, the wetlands.

We know Shell knows this destruction is happening with the wetlands (we’re losing them at the rate of a football field every 45 minutes! Oh no!) because they sponsor the America’s WETLAND campaign, which is a campaign to raise awareness about coastal lands loss, and I used to help them with that. But when Shell Oil Co. refused to admit they were part of the problem, I said “Shell no!” So if you want to be a part of the real solution for wetlands restoration, please visit the Gulf Restoration Network’s website, www.healthygulf.org, and become a member, or join the email list. You can also text the word “coast” to 77007, and that will send a petition to your elected leaders in Congress, telling them to pay attention to the wetlands issue and pass legislation that will help to restore our coast. We need the wetlands to get through hurricane season, for our seafood, our economy, and our culture and environment that makes New Orleans and coastal Louisiana so unique and beautiful! YES WE CAN save it!



 


On the latest installment of Community Gumbo, I focused on the cypress mulch problem and asked our listeners this question: Is cypress mulch a landscaping luxury or a lawn loser? I spoke with three leaders in the campaign to save Cypress forests across the Gulf Coast to hear what is being done to protect this valuable ecosystem from becoming disposable garden mulch. Public relations departments from Lowes and Home Depot were contacted for an interview but did not furnish anyone to be interviewed. Too bad for them!

Hear Dean Wilson, Executive Director of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper talk about the history of the forest and how the Save Our Cypress coalition got its start.

Marylee Orr, Executive Director of LEAN, talks about her love of Louisiana's environment and what we can all do to protect it.

Dan Favre, Campaign Organizer with GRN, gives us the details about why a Corporate campaign was chosen to protect Cypress and explains why we should "Make wetlands, not war."

Go to Community Gumbo to listen in!!

Casey DeMoss hosts the local radio talk show, Community Gumbo, on WTUL New Orleans.

 

A snowy morning in Washington, DC has finally given me a moment to catch you up on the whirlwind of activity that’s been happening this weekend at Powershift 09. Powershift has brought together 12,000 students and young people to discuss, collaborate, and advocate for climate change solutions. GRN's Louisiana Global Warming Organizer, Jonathan Henderson, and I have been here all weekend helping to train the next generation of environmental activists and enlighten to the plight of the Gulf Coast.

After a long day of travel delays on Friday, I was riding the DC Metro with bleary eyes, but I perked up after two stops when a huge crowd surged onto the train. We weren’t anywhere near the conference center and yet Powershift badges hung from the necks of many of the new riders. A couple young folks from Washington University in St. Louis told me about that night’s keynote addresses, which included great speakers like Van Jones and Gillian Caldwell, and I encouraged them to come see the Restoring the Gulf Coast, Re-energizing America panel that I was speaking on the following day.

The next morning upon arriving at the convention center, I was amazed at the energy of thousands of people who were there to tackle climate change. Everywhere I turned, I ran into old friends and met new ones.

The Restoring the Gulf Coast, Re-energizing America panel was a huge success! Over 120 people filled the room to capacity (the next day someone told me she tried to get in, but she was turned away), and I noticed the smiling face of one of the young women I’d met on the Metro the day before.

Along with Karla Raettig of the National Wildlife Federati
on and Dr. Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, we updated activists from all over the country about the issues facing Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast is ground zero for the impacts of climate change, and the continued loss of Louisiana’s wetlands leaves coastal residents more vulnerable to rising sea levels and stronger storms fueled by global warming. The young climate activists understood the link, and everyone in the room was happy to join our text campaign calling on the federal government to defend Louisiana’s coast.

After the panel, I spent over an hour speaking with those who came to the front of the room with more questions, and the energy for the coast continued to grow. I set up a table in the main room of the conference center and continued to speak with loads of folks about restoring the Gulf.

There are too many highlights from Powershift 09 to mention but I’ll list a few:
- State breakout groups where student networks were formed for the Gulf States.

- A rousing speech by Representative Ed Markey included the quote “Do you know the difference between the oil companies, coal companies, and gas companies and all of you in the crowd? You are right and they are wrong!”

- An amazing concert by The Roots energized the crowd who spilled out of the concert room in the conference center chanting, “Powershift! Powershift!”. And the momentum and chants went all the way to an impromptu late night rally at the White House!

- On Sunday, after more panels (I was busy tabling), 12,000 young folks learned how to do grassroots lobbying, some of them learning from our very own Jonathan Henderson. Today, thousands of climate activists will make hundreds of visits to Congressional offices, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will speak to a huge (and snowy) rally of Powershifters, and thousands of people are expected to blockade the Capitol coal-fired power plant as part of the Capitol Climate Action.


The power is shifting in 2009! This is the year to pass bold federal climate change policy that will drastically and immediately cut carbon, create millions of green jobs, ensure that the future is fueled with clean technologies and not dirty energy, and lead the world to a clean and equitable future.

Living at ground zero for the impacts of climate change, I can’t wait to see that pass, and to truly protect cities like New Orleans and other coastal communities, we must also restore Louisiana’s coast. Projects to rebuild wetlands will create green jobs, ensure those wetlands continue to act as important carbon sinks, and defend our communities from sea level rise and stronger storms. Click here to take action for our coast.

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer for GRN.

 

Here's a great editorial from the Biloxi Sun Herald, underscoring the concerns of the Save the Bait coalition. I hope that a few key commissioners pay attention to their request for a little intellectual curiosity towards this ecosystem keystone for a healthy Mississippi Sound.

From the editorial:

Dr. Vernon Asper, who chairs the commission, has said he agrees more study needs to be done, but he typically doesn’t vote under the commission’s rules unless there is a tie. On this issue, he should.

He should be joined by commission member Shelby Drummond, who represents recreational fishermen. Drummond has said he is willing “to go along with the science,” so he should support a scientific study of the situation.

At least two pressing questions must be answered:

1. Are so many menhaden being caught that it could wreck the food supply for other fish that eat them?

2. Are the nets used to catch menhaden pulling up too many other species as bycatch?

These are legitimate issues and the commission does not appear to have reliable information to satisfy those concerned about either one.

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 
Today, February 19th, 2009 is . . . mardigrastimecallin graphic.jpg

Please pick up your phone right now and call Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart to tell them to say NO to cypress mulch. For more information including phone numbers and talking points, visit the Mardi Gras Time Call-In Day Action Page.

 

As a budget-cutting measure the State of Florida is considering closing a number of state parks including Egmont Key State Park at the mouth of Tampa Bay, which as been managed since 1989 under a cooperative agreement between the State of Florida and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Egmont Key is among the few remaining and critically important seabird nesting sites on the west coast of Florida, annually providing shelter and food for thousands of pairs of nesting gulls, terns, pelicans and other shorebirds. The Egmont Key State Park facilitates and controls public use and organizes volunteers on the island and provides around the clock rangers to protect its wildlife. If the state pulls out of Egmont Key, the island will be unprotected and subjected to disturbance and vandalism.

Last fall Birdlife International (http://www.birdlife.org) reported the accelerating pace of decline of the populations of the world’s 9,856 living bird species. On Florida’s west coast we have had a ring-side seat to this decline as we are one of the richest bird regions in the southeast, abundantly endowed with a variety of habitats and located on a key migratory flyway. Each spring and summer volunteers from local conservation groups struggle to protect the few remaining undisturbed nesting beaches and document the status of beach-nesting bird species.

The Birdlife International report attributes the causes of bird loss to a bewildering long list of human disturbances including industrial scale agriculture, logging, and fishing; mining and energy production; housing development; invasive species; and pollution. Additionally, the report predicts that climate change will cause major changes in the distribution and abundance of bird populations. Put more simply, the relentless growth of human populations, changing demographics and the increasing demand on natural areas, particularly barrier islands and beaches for development, recreation and resources are altering forever the natural systems of our planet.

The familiar Florida statistics are worth repeating. In 1900 our population was just over 500,000 people. By 2000 our population increased to just under 16 million—a 30-fold increase. Between 2004 and 2010, Florida's population is expected to increase from 17.5 million to 20 million. We are witnessing a the slow development of a crisis in our relationship with nature, one that will ultimately destroy our nationally famous life style and damage our economy which is so dependent upon tourism and untrammeled nature.

What can we do? Recent local actions, large and small, come immediately to mind, for example, the purchases of the large 871-acre Eldridge-Wilde well field in the Brooker Creek Preserve and the tiny Bird Island in Coffee Pot Bayou in St. Petersburg. We must continue to work with local governments to increase protection of multiple use public land as was done with the recent management plan for Shell Key-- another critical nesting site for seabirds.

Those of us of a certain age almost dare not think back to birds as we knew them 50 years ago.
We will not recover the natural world of our youth. Here in this most populous of counties in a rapidly growing state, we must work harder to manage and protect as much undeveloped natural habitat as possible while there is time. We need no better reason to do this than the importance of birds and undisturbed nature to tourism and to our economy, but on a much deeper level we owe this to future generations.

Isolated and remote, Egmont Key State Park must continue to provide protection for birds that have no other place to nest. The Legislature must hear from concerned citizens this month.

John Ogden, Ph.D. is USF Professor of Biology and Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography in St. Petersburg

 

Despite impassioned calls from national, regional, and local community and conservation organizations to protect habitat for Florida Black Bears, today the Coastal Rivers Basin Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District voted to allow a controversial land swap to move forward.

For more information, read the GRN's press release,
http://healthygulf.org/press-releases/southwest-florida-water-management-district-moves-forward-with-controversial-land-swap.html

Dan Favre is GRN's Campaign Organizer.

 

This January 23-25, the Gulf Restoration Network hosted the Students United for A Healthy Gulf Leadership Conference at Tulane University in New Orleans. The group of 22 student leaders attending came from the Gulf Coast of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi; as well as the New Orleans metro area, in order to gain the knowledge, skills, and inspiration to be effective advocates for a healthy Gulf.

On Friday evening, after an introduction to GRN by Executive Director, Cyn Sarthou, everyone got to know one another over a po-boy dinner and continued to build the community of students working on Gulf environmental issues.

Saturday consisted of issue briefings from GRN staff, followed by workshops to develop grassroots organizing skills, such as petitioning, tabling, and public speaking. Assisting the workshops were experienced GRN interns Jennifer Pipitone, Liz Doyaga, and Sunshine Bond, and students had the opportunity to get practical experience petitioning on Tulane's and Loyola's campuses.

Sunday capped off the weekend with a canoe trip along Cane Bayou that feeds into Lake Pontchartrain, with guidance from tour director Byron Almquist. Students got to witness first hand the natural beauty offered by Louisiana, while also seeing the unintended consequences of reckless development on our wetlands. With this inspiration, we held an impromptu Save Our Cypress rally at a Home Depot in Covington to protest the unsustainable production of cypress mulch.

Many thanks to Canoe and Trail Adventure for donating the guided canoe trip, and to Whole Foods for providing breakfast. Most of all, thanks to all the dedicated student activists who work with GRN to defend our Gulf!

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