AmeriScan: Feb. 17, 2014

painted bunting
A painted bunting in Florida (Photo by shell game)


Building Collisions Kill Billion Birds a Year, Yellowstone Kills Bison, Vermont Kills Biomass Power Plant, New York Tries Microbeads Ban, Plastic Bags Become Diesel

Billion Birds Die Annually in U.S. Building Collisions … Yellowstone National Park Plans to Kill 800 Bison … Vermont Rejects Biomass Power Plant Over CO2 Emissions … New York Officials Propose Nation’s First Microbeads Ban … Used Plastic Bags Converted to Petrol Fuels


Billion Birds Die Annually in U.S. Building Collisions

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2014 (ENS) – Up to a billion birds are killed in the United States each year in collisions with high-rise commercial buildings, low-rise buildings and homes, federal government scientists have found.

Based on their analyses of the largest building collision dataset collected to date, the scientists learned that roughly 56 percent of mortality occurred at low-rises, 44 percent at residences, and just one percent at high-rises.

The annual bird mortality at residences was estimated to be between 159 and 378 million birds; between 62 and 664 million birds at low-rise buildings; and between 104,000 and 1.6 million birds at high-rise buildings.

Even though the number of collisions at each high-rise building is high, the total number of these buildings is smaller; the larger number of low-rises and especially homes produces higher total mortality.

The study, “Bird–building Collisions in the United States: Estimates of Annual Mortality and Species Vulnerability” was published in the peer-reviewed journal, “The Condor: Ornithological Applications” in January. It was authored by Scott Loss, Sara Loss, and Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Tom Will of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

painted bunting
A painted bunting in Florida (Photo by shell game)

After review and analysis of 23 studies and over 92,800 records, the scientists conclude that building collisions are second only to feral cats and free-ranging pet cats as the largest source of direct human-caused mortality for U.S. birds. Cats are estimated to kill as many as three billion birds each year.

The study found that four species made up 35 percent of all building kills reported: the White-throated Sparrow, the Dark-eyed Junco, the Ovenbird, and the Song Sparrow.

“Our analysis indicates that building collisions are among the top anthropogenic threats to birds and, furthermore, that the several bird species that are disproportionately vulnerable to building collisions may be experiencing significant population impacts,” the authors say.

Birds that are disproportionately vulnerable to building collisions include species of national conservation concern:

  • Golden-winged Warbler and Canada Warbler at low-rises, high-rises, and overall
  • Painted Bunting at low-rises and overall
  • Kentucky Warbler at low-rises and high-rises
  • Worm-eating Warbler at high-rises
  • Wood Thrush at residences

Several species exhibit high vulnerability to collisions relative to population size regardless of building type, including Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Brown Creeper, Ovenbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Gray Catbird, and Black-and-white Warbler.

The American Bird Conservancy’s Dr. Christine Sheppard, who heads the only national bird collisions campaign program in the United States, “This study presents a significantly more robust estimate and a much-needed refinement of the data on building collision mortality. The improved understanding and credibility it provides on the issue will help us better advance collision reduction efforts such as those we’ve already seen in places such as San Francisco, Oakland, Minnesota, and Toronto.”

Sheppard authored the widely used publication, “Bird-Friendly Building Design,” (available at which provides comprehensive solutions to reduce bird mortality from building collisions.

Residents can prevent bird collisions by making the windows of their homes visible, because birds cannot see windows as people do, says the American Bird Conservancy.

Affixing a pattern of tapes or other materials to windows can help make the glass visible to birds. Most birds will avoid windows with vertical stripes spaced four inches apart, or horizontal stripes spaced two inches apart. For best results, patterns must be on the outside surface of the windows.

American Bird Conservancy has created a product for preventing home window collisions. ABC BirdTape is made to last outdoors, easy to use, and inexpensive.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


Yellowstone National Park Plans to Kill 800 Bison

GARDINER, Montana, February 17, 2014 (ENS) – Yellowstone National Park shipped 20 of America’s last wild bison to slaughter on February 12. The bison were captured in the Stephens Creek bison trap, located inside the world’s first national park.

After being confined in the trap for five days, 20 of the bison were handed over to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, who are required to slaughter them under controversial agreements between the tribes and the park.

Yellowstone National Park, one of the main killers of America’s last wild buffalo, in December entered into agreements with the InterTribal Buffalo Council and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, and has begun handing over captured wild buffalo to these tribal entities for direct shipment to tribal slaughter facilities.

This is the first time Yellowstone has turned bison over to the tribes under the slaughter agreements.

Yellowstone plans to slaughter between 600 and 800 bison this winter, according to park spokesman Al Nash. “We’re going to seek opportunities to capture any animals that move outside the park’s boundaries,” he said.

Yellowstone has set a “population target,” of 3,000 to 3,500 animals.

“This number was politically derived to limit the range of wild buffalo and has no scientific basis,” Dan Brister, executive director of the nonprofit Buffalo Field Campaign. “It does not reflect the carrying capacity of the buffalo’s habitat in and around Yellowstone National Park.”

The current buffalo population numbers approximately 4,400, including 1,300 in the Central Interior and 3,100 in the Northern range.

The Central Interior subpopulation also migrates north into the Gardiner basin and Brister says this subpopulation has not recovered from the last park-led slaughter in 2008 that killed over half of them.

The government’s “population target” makes no distinction for conserving subpopulations in this unique buffalo herd, he said.

James Holt, a Nez Perce tribal member and a member of the Buffalo Field Campaign Board of Directors, said, “It is disheartening to see tribes support these activities.”

“Buffalo were made free, and should remain so,” he said. It is painful to watch these tribal entities take such an approach to what should be the strongest advocacy and voice of protection. It is one thing to treat their own fenced herds in this manner, it is quite another to push that philosophy onto the last free-roaming herd in existence. Slaughter agreements are not the answer.”

Brucellosis is the reason used by Yellowstone, the federal government and the State of Montana to justify the slaughter of wild bison, but there has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting the livestock disease to cattle. Other wildlife, such as elk, also carry brucellosis and are known to have transmitted it, yet they are free to migrate, and even commingle with cattle without being slaughtered.

Year after year, Yellowstone and Montana officials executing the Interagency Bison Management Plan forcibly prevent wild bison’s natural migration with hazing, capture, slaughter, quarantine and hunting, spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars to do so.

The wild bison of the Yellowstone region are America’s last continuously wild population of bison that once roamed the Great Plains in their millions. Like other migratory wildlife, bison cross Yellowstone’s boundaries in order to access the habitat they need for survival.

During 2007-2008 more than 1,300 wild bison were captured in Yellowstone National Park and shipped to slaughter. Since 1985, nearly 7,200 wild bison have been killed by government officials, and now by tribes.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


Vermont Rejects Biomass Power Plant Over CO2 Emissions

MONTPELIER, Vermont, February 17, 2014 (ENS) – The Vermont Public Service Board has denied a permit to the 35 megawatt North Springfield Sustainable Energy biomass power plant proposed in Vermont by Winstanley Enterprises.

The Board Tuesday denied the plant a certificate of public good, stating that the project would interfere with Vermont’s ability to meet statutory goals for reducing greenhouse gases “as a result of the large annual releases of greenhouse gases that would result from combustion of the wood fuel.”

The Board stated that North Springfield Sustainable Energy would “not promote the general good.”

“This is an important decision for the state of Vermont, and nationally,” said Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, an organization that helped the citizen opponents, the North Springfield Action Group, contest the facility before the Public Service Board.

“When policymakers see that bioenergy involves harvesting forests and burning the wood in low-efficiency power plants, they conclude that large-scale bioenergy isn’t compatible with greenhouse gas reduction goals,” said Booth.

The North Springfield plant would have burned 450,000 tons of wood a year, most of which would have come from whole-tree harvesting. Carbon dioxide emissions would have been over 445,000 tons per year.

While the developer claimed there would be a greenhouse gas benefit, they testified they had not actually done any analysis to demonstrate a reduction in emissions.

Vermont has established a statutory goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2028.

While the biomass project planned to use some thermal energy to provide heat for businesses in the industrial park where it was to be located, the plant’s peak efficiency still would have been around 28 percent. The average efficiency of the U.S. coal fleet is 33 percent.

The project was opposed by the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the National Wildlife Federation, who argued that there is no evidence on which to find when, if ever, the project would have a net carbon benefit.

They maintained that the project would not promote the general good of the state given the quantities of wood it would use to realize a relatively low thermal efficiency level, and the resulting pressure on the wood supply that would otherwise be available for more thermally efficient uses.

The North Springfield Action Group, or NoSAG, also opposed the project for those reasons and, in addition, said that burning wood would be inconsistent with the Springfield Town Plan’s provisions concerning air quality due to its greenhouse gas emissions as well as the emission of small particulates into the air.

The Board concluded that “the evidentiary record supports a finding that the Project would release as much as 448,714 tons of CO2e per year, and that sequestration of those greenhouse gases would not occur until future years, possibly not for decades, and would not occur at all in the case of forest-regeneration failures.”

The Board found insufficient evidence that the project was needed, stating that it would be more cost effective to do energy conservation, efficiency, and load-management measures.

NoSAF Chairman Robert Kischko, thanked the Board for its decision, saying, “The Board clearly recognizes the project does not meet either the present or future demand for electricity in our area or state. We are very grateful the PSB recognized the net negative consequences of this project.” NoSAG is holding a public “Thank You” at 7pm on February 19 at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Springfield.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


New York Officials Propose Nation’s First Microbeads Ban

ALBANY, New York, February 17, 2014 (ENS) – New York State officials are proposing first-in-the-nation legislation that bans microbeads, a form of plastic pollution that is an emerging threat to the Great Lakes and other bodies of water.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Long Island Assemblyman Robert Sweeney last week proposed the Microbead-Free Waters Act to prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution or sale in New York of beauty and cosmetic products that contain tiny plastic particles less than five millimeters in size, marketed as microbeads.

The plastic beads, which were recently found in high levels in the New York waters of Lake Erie, can persist in the environment for centuries and accumulate toxic chemicals on their surfaces, threatening fish, wildlife and public health.

“From the Great Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island Sound, our commitment to protecting and restoring New York’s waters is among our most important responsibilities,” Schneiderman said. “New York’s environmental leadership continues today with the introduction of common-sense legislation that will stop the flow of plastic from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters, preserving our natural heritage for future generations.”

Microbeads are commonly found in more than 100 products, including facial scrubs, soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, where they act as an abrasive, replacing ground walnut shells, sea salt, and other natural materials.

When products containing microbeads are used in the home, the beads are rinsed down the drain and into sewer systems. Because of their small size and buoyancy, microbeads escape treatment by sewage plants and are discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans.

Sweeney, who chairs the State Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, said, “When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads. I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish.”

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, a board member of The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, said, “Once we became aware of this significant new pollution threat recently uncovered in the Great Lakes, The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Cities Initiative took a strong stance that the flow of microbeads into our waters must stop.”

On the Canadian side of the border, Mayor Keith Hobbs, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, who chairs the Cities Initiative, said, “We are moving forward with our actions to solve this problem, and these efforts in New York will be a big help in this important initiative.”

In 2012, a research team that included scientists from the State University of New York at Fredonia discovered microbeads in the Great Lakes. Half of all plastics collected on the surface of Lake Erie were spherical, multi-colored beads identical to the microbeads used in beauty products. The highest concentrations recorded were in the New York waters of Lake Erie.

The scientists found that environmental pollutants in Great Lakes waters, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, gravitate and attach to the surface of plastic. If fish and wildlife species low on the food chain eat these contaminated plastics, the chemicals can be passed on to larger birds, fish and other animals that people eat.

To date, the Great Lakes are the only New York open waters sampled for plastic pollution, but microbeads in beauty products can pass through sewage treatment facilities in any part of the state.

Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, said, “The emerging threat of microbead pollution has the potential to undermine the billions of dollars of public and private investment into our water-based economies and negatively impact the progress of Great Lakes restoration.”

Three leading beauty product manufacturers – Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive – have all made recent commitments to phase out the use of microbeads in their products. Other companies, such as Burt’s Bees, have never used these plastics in their products.

Consumers can determine if their beauty or personal care products contain microbeads by checking the product ingredient list for “polyethylene” or “polypropylene.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


Used Plastic Bags Converted to Petrol Fuels

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, February 17, 2014 (ENS) – Manufactured from petroleum, plastic shopping bags, a source of litter on land and at sea, can be converted back into diesel, natural gas and other useful petroleum products, Illinois researchers report.

The conversion produces more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels such as diesel that can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels.

Other products, such as natural gas, gasoline, the solvent naphtha, waxes, engine oil and hydraulic oil also can be derived from shopping bags.

The new study appears in the current issue of the journal “Fuel Processing Technology.”

There are other advantages to the approach, which involves heating the bags in an oxygen-free chamber, a process called pyrolysis, said Brajendra Kumar Sharma, a senior research scientist who led the research at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.

“You can get only 50 to 55 percent fuel from the distillation of petroleum crude oil,” Sharma said. “But since this plastic is made from petroleum in the first place, we can recover almost 80 percent fuel from it through distillation.”

Previous studies have used pyrolysis to convert plastic bags into crude oil, but Sharma’s team took the research further by fractionating the crude oil into different petroleum products and testing the diesel fractions to see if they complied with national standards for ultra-low-sulfur diesel and biodiesel fuels.

A mixture of two distillate fractions, providing an equivalent of U.S. diesel #2, met all of the specifications required of other diesel fuels in use today, after addition of an antioxidant, Sharma said.

“This diesel mixture had an equivalent energy content … and better lubricity than ultra-low-sulfur diesel,” he said.

The researchers were able to blend up to 30 percent of their plastic-derived diesel into regular diesel, and found “no compatibility problems with biodiesel,” Sharma said.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “We can just use it as a drop-in fuel in the ultra-low-sulfur diesel without the need for any changes.”

Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, according to the Worldwatch Institute. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that only about 13 percent of plastic bags used are recycled. The rest end up in landfills or escape to the wild, blowing across the landscape and entering waterways.

Plastic bags make their way into giant ocean garbage patches, killing wildlife and littering beaches as far north and south as the poles, the researchers explain.

“Over a period of time, this material starts breaking into tiny pieces, and is ingested along with plankton by aquatic animals,” Sharma said. Fish, birds, ocean mammals and other creatures have been found with a lot of plastic particles in their guts.

Whole shopping bags also threaten wildlife, Sharma said. “Turtles, for example, think that the plastic grocery bags are jellyfish and they try to eat them,” he said. Other creatures become entangled in the bags.

The Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation supported this study.

The research paper, “Production, Characterization and Fuel Properties of Alternative Diesel Fuel From Pyrolysis of Waste Plastic Grocery Bags,” is available online or from the University of Illinois News Bureau.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


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