Tag Archives: environment

Yay, We Captured an Endangered Fish!

Welcome to “How to Miss The Story, Fisheries Edition.” Today’s lesson features a cheerful report from Boston’s CBS affiliate, with the upbeat human-versus-nature headline “Hanover Canoers Capture 6-Foot Sturgeon With Their Bare Hands”:

HANOVER (CBS) – Four young women made the catch of a lifetime while they were canoeing in the North River in Hanover. They pulled in a six-foot sturgeon with their bare hands. The fish, according to experts at New England Aquarium, weighted about 75 pounds. The women told WBZ-TV they first spotted the endangered fish struggling along the surface of the river and said it appeared to be dying. The women said the fish died on the canoe ride back to shore.

The women alerted the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Environmental Police.

The rest of the piece goes on in the same feel-good vein: the strong female protagonists tried valiantly to help, and while this fish was beyond saving, it’s great that sturgeon have made it into this stretch of formerly polluted water. There’s even a nice photo of two of these attractive young women smiling as they show off their catch, which is lying dead on a tarp in front of their canoes. Just lovely.

It seems the word “endangered” didn’t ring any bells for the reporter, who also apparently failed to call either of the enforcement agencies mentioned in the story. So let’s do the fact-checking WBZ-TV should have done.

First, we’ll see what MassWildlife has to say about Atlantic sturgeon. Three clicks on their website brings us to a convenient set of plain English summaries of the fishing regulations, in which we find this helpful table:

Massachusetts fishing regulations (excerpt).

Massachusetts fishing regulations (excerpt).

Okay, so in Massachusetts, sturgeon season is … never. Elsewhere in the regulations, we learn that it’s illegal to take any kind of fish out of the water without a fishing license, or to attempt to catch a fish that’s not in season. If a licensed angler accidentally hooks an endangered fish, the only correct course of action is to release it immediately, and by “immediately,” they mean “immediately.”

Even if these ladies didn’t know the law (and it’s pretty clear they didn’t), what the hell were they thinking? “Gee, here’s a huge fish that looks like it might be sick. Let’s haul it out of the water, dump it into the bottom of our canoe, and take it to shore – that should help it feel better, right?” But then, as the poor creature lay on hot fiberglass in an environment where it couldn’t breathe, it died. Go figure.

The real story here took all of five minutes to figure out, even if we started with no information about endangered species regulations. The next step should be to revise the article, starting with the headline, which should read “Ignorant Canoeists Kill Endangered Fish, Then Brag About It.”

Just Mow It

A local friend just contacted me to ask who takes care of our leaf removal, so I told her: nobody. Ever since moving to the suburbs, I’ve had to take care of a lawn, and one of the first shortcuts I discovered was the little-known option of mulching the annual deluge of leaves. I just keep mowing the lawn every two weeks until the trees seem to have finished shedding, and let the leaf shreds decompose into the turf.

I’ve been doing this for a few years now, first on a lightly wooded lot and now on a very heavily-wooded one, and it’s been working fine. Don’t take my word for it, though, look at the science:

Studies in Michigan were conducted in the 90’s to evaluate the effects of leaf mulching on turf, under varying conditions. The first study considered three different leaf application rates (none, 3 inches, and 6 inches) of mixed tree species, mulched in with a rotary mower using two passes in October. It also considered 2 different N applications (2 or 4 lbs nitrogen/1,000 sq ft). A second study used leaves from maples or oaks … Michigan State scientist[s] did note that while the N application improved the turf quality rating, it did not seem to speed the decomposition of the leaves. It was also pointed out that chopping leaves into small particles was important and allows them to filter into the turf canopy making soil contact.

In a 1998 study at Michigan State, soil [samples] from these various plots were analyzed. Soil pH did not change, but organic matter did increase in response to the leaf mulching. Composition of the grass clippings was also affected; the percentages of carbon and nitrogen both increased with leaf mulching, but the ratio of carbon to nitrogen stayed constant, which is positive.

So even with six inches of leaves, two passes of the mower in October was all the “leaf removal” the lawn needed, and the grass actually benefited from this treatment. Just to be sure, though, the folks in Michigan did a follow-up study in which they covered turf plots with up to 18 inches of leaves before mowing them in. The lawns still did fine. Researchers at Purdue University did a similar study, with similar results.

Leaf removal is to lawncare companies what Christmas is to retailers, though, so these decade-old studies are still pretty poorly publicized. For the past month, my neighbors have all been running their leaf blowers and writing big checks to landscapers to haul away perfectly good lawn food. I just keep on mowing.

How about “For Use Only in Vehicles and Engines Not Covered by the Partial Waiver for E15″

In a move that pleased nobody but corn-state politicians and lobbyists, the US EPA has decreed that gasoline can now be adulterated blended with up to 15% ethanol. But only if the fuel is going into a car built since 2007. Otherwise, it’s not approved, because as engine manufacturers have been screaming for months, putting the new “E15″ fuel into, say, a boat engine would be an environmental and mechanical disaster.

As a result, pulling into a gas station could soon be as hard as shopping for orange juice. Do you want E10 in 87 octane? E10 in 91 octane? E15 in 93 octane? E85? Maybe “Grovestand” (with real petroleum pulp)?

Fortunately, the EPA is ready to explain the choices for you:

The E15 waiver is limited in scope to a portion of the light-duty fleet, and the proposed misfueling mitigation program will help avoid the misfueling of all other engines, vehicles, and equipment with unapproved fuels. This proposed rule would require all E15 gasoline fuel dispensers to have a label if a retail station chooses to sell E15 and seeks comment on separate labeling requirements for fuel blender pumps and fuel pumps that dispense E85. Similar to the prohibition in section 211(f)(1), the proposed rule would prohibit the use of gasoline containing greater than 10 vol% ethanol in vehicles and engines not covered by the partial waiver for E15.

I really hope that the person who wrote that paragraph is not the one writing the warning label.

FDA Tries to Balance Risks in Drug Disposal

The FDA has just launched a new web page about medication disposal, focusing on the tricky problem of drugs that are too hazardous to throw in the trash. The page highlights the danger of Junior or Fluffy getting into a trash can and ingesting a dose of, say, granddad’s oxycodone. To avoid that, officials are now reminding the general public to flush such narcotics down the toilet:

The medicines on this list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing are safe and effective when used as prescribed, but they could be especially harmful to a child, pet, or anyone else if taken accidentally. Some of the possible harmful effects include breathing difficulties or heart problems, possibly leading to death. For these reasons, FDA advises that flushing these medicines down the sink or toilet is currently the best way to immediately and permanently remove the risk of harm from the home.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned a few times, drugs in sewage may come back to haunt us in strange ways. Fortunately, the new FDA page spells out which drugs should be flushed, and emphasizes that all of the others should go into the regular landfill-bound trash instead. The new guidelines won’t solve the problem of pharmaceutical pollution, but it’s nice to see that they’re at least acknowledging it.

It's Not a Clunker, Dammit

Yesterday featured a bittersweet transition for me. We traded in our 1995 Volvo 960, which we’d bought used two years ago, on a brand-new Honda Fit. The Volvo, with more than 171,000 miles behind it, had just finished hauling a cargo trailer 300 miles for me, and I felt a bit bad about ditching this perfectly good vehicle. But the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), also known as “cash for clunkers,” made it foolish not to. We would probably need to replace the Volvo in another year or two anyway, and if we did it now, the government would kick in $4,500.

A fine automobile, off to the wrecker.

A fine automobile, off to the wrecker.

So goodbye, Volvo. I’m on my way in this fuel-sipping little hatchback, and you’re off to be euthanized. I’m sorry it had to end this way. Ignore what they scrawled on your windshield; you certainly weren’t a clunker to me.

Delightful Digests of the Dismal Science

Thanks to a Google-facilitated shout from an old friend, I recently found myself browsing a blog that has every right to be horribly boring: it’s about environmental economics. Wait, wait, before you skip down the page, take a look at the blog in question. I found myself reading post after post, learning interesting new things all the way through. Who knew economics could be so entertaining?

The brains behind the operation are two economics professors, one at Ohio State University and one at Appalachian State University, and they have a real knack for making complex economic concepts readable. The Ohio half of the team, Tim Haab, was one of my compatriots in the Old Mill High School Band percussion section. Looks like we did pretty well for a couple of dumb drummers.