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Drought hitting Alabama cattle producers hard

Eddie Burkhalter

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Recent rains across parts of Alabama have helped some, but Alabama cattle producers are still reeling from “flash drought” conditions that is impacting grazing pastures, hay production and delaying planting of winter grasses used to feed cattle. 

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor report released last week portions of 16 states across the south are in drought conditions, drying out soil and damage crops and pastureland. Nearly 56 million people are living through drought conditions, according to the report.  

Alabama’s wiregrass region saw some recent rain from post-tropical cyclone Nestor, which may have eased extreme drought conditions there slightly, but the northeastern portion of the state remains in extreme drought conditions. The next U.S. Drought Monitor report is to be released later this week. 

 “That area the state was the first to really get into drought condition, and is probably the most extreme and has been for the longest period of time,” said Erin Beasley, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, speaking to APR on Monday about the extreme drought in northeastern Alabama. 

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, released Oct. 17, showed extreme drought conditions along the wiregrass region, impacting portions of Henry, Dale, Coffee, Geneva and Covington counties. 

In the northeast, most  of Jackson and portions of Dekalb and Marshall counties were in extreme drought conditions, as were parts of Chilton, Shelby, Tallapoosa, Coosa and Clay counties. Much of the rest of the state was classified as either abnormally dry or under a moderate drought. 

Beasley said they’ve received numerous reports of cattle producers who are starting to feed hay much earlier than usual due to the drought’s impact on impacted pasture land. Where it not for the drought, producers would normally put up that hay for feeding cattle during the winter, she said. 

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent crop report pastures in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas and West Virginia were either in poor or very poor condition. In Virginia 71 percent of the pastures were in poor or very poor conditions. 

Alabama, Mississippi and Florida all had their driest September on record, according to the crop report. 

Impacts from the drought conditions are myriad. The same drought that hurt grazing lands is impacting hay production, Beasley said. Many farmers are cutting fewer hay crops, and what did grow in the extremely dry conditions has less nutritional value for the cattle. Producers could supplement hay with other types of feeds, or buy from other areas of the state that saw more rain, or from out-of-state farmers, but that all comes at a cost to cattle producers, Beasley said. 

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“It really just comes down to evaluating the cost of everything. What’s going to be most cost effective and the best for their cow herd going into the winter months,’ Beasley said. 

To add to the problems, winter grasses often planted to graze cattle on are behind schedule for many producers. 

“The ground has been so dry with no rain in sight. It didn’t really make a lot of sense to try to put seeds in the ground,” Beasley said. “So we are late planting winter annuals.” 

Even with some rain yesterday and forecast for later in the week, the drought has already set producers back, which could mean selling off cattle to weather the impacts. 

“We could see some folks who decide to cull some cows. Decrease heard size, just depending on the resources they have available to them,” Beasley said. “Certainly, a drought like we saw over the course of several weeks into a couple of months, it does have both short term and long term effects.” 

Among the numerous ways human-caused climate change  is impacting the planet, it’s also increasing drought frequency and severity in parts of the world, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s August report on climate change and land. 

“Climate change has already affected food security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events,” the report states. The intergovernmental panel of scientists predict that weather events, including droughts and extreme flooding, will continue to increase in frequency and severity unless climate change is addressed. 

The difficulty of predicting weather’s effects on crops is something farmers have dealt with for as long as farming has existed, Beasley said, and today’s farmers have much better forecasting tools at their disposal. 

“And those tools are definitely used, and it makes the planning maybe a little easier, but at the end of the day you’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Beasley said.

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Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition joins nationwide call for clean fuels, vehicles

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Representatives from the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition will join clean transportation leaders from across the nation this week in Washington, D.C., to educate federal policy makers about the need to expand America’s use of transportation alternative fuels, including biofuels, electricity, natural gas, and propane autogas. Altec Industries will also participate in Energy Independence Summit 2020, the nation’s premier clean transportation policy event, on February 10-12.

“Despite the recent drop in gasoline prices, gas prices remain extremely volatile and we continue to send more than $200 billion per year to OPEC and other nations for oil,” said Mark Bentley, Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition Executive Director. “We are going to Washington to help our representatives understand that Alabama and the United States must aggressively expand our use of alternatives to petroleum-based fuel if we are to stabilize gas prices, decrease our reliance on foreign oil, and maintain and create domestic jobs in the transportation energy industry.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are about 1.8 million alternative fuel vehicles on the road in the United States and nearly 70,000 alternative fueling stations.

In Alabama a number of clean transportation projects are underway across the state, including:

Partnering with Clean Cities coalitions in Georgia and South Carolina on a U.S. DOE competitive grant award of $4.6 million! In Alabama, the award will fund the addition of a compressed natural gas (CNG) public fueling station at Clean Energy’s liquid natural gas station in Birmingham, add CNG fueling for Waste Management’s refuse fleet in Tarrant and add UPS electric delivery vans in Montgomery.

The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport has opened a public access CNG station on Airport Highway.
Alabama Power has partnered with more than 40 companies to add “workplace” electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the state.
The Alabama VW Beneficiary Mitigation Plan has completed the first round of funding, awarding $5.8 million to fund alternative fuel projects, including additional propane school buses in Mobile County, two electric school buses in Fort Payne, an electric waste truck for the City of Mobile and more.
Alabama A&M University is adding two electric buses in the summer to provide student transportation.
Birmingham City schools has joined Mobile County Schools, Tuscaloosa City Schools, and Franklin County Schools in adding propane autogaspowered school buses to their fleets.

Those are just a sampling of the clean transportation projects underway in Alabama.

Transportation Energy Partners (TEP), the Summit organizer, reports that Summit participants will have the opportunity to interact with top Administration officials, including leaders from the Departments of Energy, Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, Summit participants will take their message about the need for ongoing federal support for alternatives to petroleum-based fuels to more than 200 Congressional offices.

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American industry has demonstrated the ability to produce high performing technology to meet the demand for cleaner fuels and vehicles,” said Alleyn Harned, President of Transportation Energy Partners. “However, insufficient and inconsistent government incentives and support hinder companies’ ability to make the long-term investments required to sustain these clean transportation solutions. We need stable and predictable federal investments to enable fleets and technology developers to make sound long-term planning and investment decisions.”

About the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition: The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition (ACFC), is a nonprofit membership-based organization and is the state’s principal coordinating point for alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles. ACFC is a designated Clean Cities coalition by the U.S. Department of Energy. The promotion of clean, renewable, domestic energy sources helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil, improves local air quality, and increases economic development investments in our local communities. For more information, please visit www.alabamacleanfuels.org or call 205-402-2755.

About Transportation Energy Partners: Transportation Energy Partners (TEP) is national non-profit organization that brings Clean Cities coalition leaders together with the clean transportation industry to advance policies that will reduce American dependence on petroleum-based fuels. TEP works closely with and provides policy support to the nearly 90 Clean Cities coalitions and their 15,000 stakeholders in 45 states andthe District of Columbia. Since 1993, the Clean Cities coalitions have played a leading role in implementing local programs and projects to deploy alternative fuels, vehicles, and infrastructure. The Clean Cities coalitions and their stakeholders have displaced more than 9.5 billion gallons of petroleum through the use of alternative fuels and vehicles, hybrid-electric vehicles, idle reduction technologies, fuel economy, and low-level fuel blends.

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Tickets available for Feb. 8 Birmingham climate change dialogue

Eddie Burkhalter

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Organizers of an upcoming event in Birmingham hope those who attend – climate scientists, business and faith leaders, energy sector representatives and the public alike – will engage one another on climate change and discuss what each can do to help.  

“People have been reluctant to look carefully at solutions, because they’ve been too busy questioning the problem,” said Joyce Lanning, former assistant professor in the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a founding member of the Birmingham chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Education, which is hosting the event. “But I think that it is so evident now that folks aren’t questioning whether or not we have a problem. Now we’re looking at what can we do about it.” 

Entitled “Faith Meets Business: Climate Solutions for the Common Good,” the event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 8 from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m (with the option to remain and network until 4 p.m.), at the McWayne Science Center in Birmingham.  

Speakers include atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, a political science professor and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and lead author of the second, third and fourth U.S. National Climate Assessments, and  James McClintock, professor of polar and marine biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who has spent decades researching sea life and climate change impacts in the Antarctic. 

There is also to be a panel discussion on climate solutions to include:

  • John Northrop, Birmingham leader of Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Education
  • Jack West, vice president and counsel at EnPower Solutions
  • Bambi Ingram, interim director of Sustainability at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 
  • Seth Hammett, chair of Energy Institute of Alabama. 
  • Jonathan Belcher, president of Signature Homes. 

An additional panel titled “For the Common Good” will feature: 

  •  Michael Malcom, founder and executive director of Alabama Interfaith Power & Light and People’s Justice Council.
  • Ivan Holloway, executive director of Urban Impact, a revitalization effort of the Birmingham Civil Rights District. 
  •  Laszlo Juhasz, operations manager of the Vehicle Innovation Center at New Flyer in Anniston. 

“What we really want is to get people to the table who come from different angles,” Lanning said. “What does it look like to me? What do I think would be a good solution? What can we do more of? What’s missing? What would I like to know more about? Just begin that kind of problem solving conversation.” 

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The event would be a success, Lanning said, if everyone who attended came away with new information and a personal decision about their next steps. 

John Northrop, head of the Birmingham chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Education, retired director of the Alabama School of Fine Arts and a former environmental reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald, told APR on Tuesday that organizers plan to continue holding these events into the future. 

“We hope that this particular event will kind of catalyze an ongoing conversation and growing attention locally to this issue, and to the need for action,” Northrop said. “We see the climate issue as something that touches everybody, one way or the other.”  

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Tickets are $25 for the public, $15 for students, and attendees must register in advance by Feb. 4 by visiting climatesolutionsforall.org. 

“We encourage and urge people to come join us, Lanning said of the upcoming event. “Because the more points of view we’ve got the better off we are.” 

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Alabama taxpayers will pay to defend Trump administration rollback of Endangered Species Act

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama taxpayers will pay as much as $30,000 to a Los Angeles law firm to defend President Donald Trump’s substantial weakening of the Endangered Species Act, according to state records. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall led a coalition of 13 states in the Dec. 9 filing in a California district court in defense of the Trump Administration’s changes to protections for endangered species. 

California and 16 other states in September filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the Trump administration over rollbacks of the provisions in the Endangered Species Act. 

Alabama is to pay attorney Paul Beard II at the Los Angeles firm FisherBroyles, LLP an hourly rate of $195 up to $30,000 to represent the state through Jan. 1, 2022, according to a legal contract that was to be reviewed by the Alabama Legislature’s Contract Review Committee on Wednesday. 

Those changes to the Endangered Species Act, enacted in August 2019, include ending wide protections for species newly deemed threatened and a rule mandating that federal agencies take into consideration the financial cost of protecting certain species before being placed on the list of endangered animals, a factor that has never been part of the government’s equation in protecting vulnerable species. 

The Trump administration’s rollbacks also make it harder for regulators to factor in climate change when determining protections for at-risk wildlife. 

“California is home to hundreds of endangered and threatened species, and wildlife that owes its continued existence to the Endangered Species Act, including the iconic bald eagle,” said California Attorney General Becerra in a statement on the lawsuit. “As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it. The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump Administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger. We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law – humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it.”

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Of concern to the coalition of states suing the Trump administration are actions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to: (List from statement by California Attorney General Becerra) 

  • Inject economic considerations into the Endangered Species Act’s science-driven, species-focused analyses;
  • Restrict the circumstances under which species can be listed as threatened;
  • Expand the Act’s narrow exemptions for designating critical habitats and limit the circumstances under which a habitat would be designated, especially where climate change poses a threat;
  • Reduce consultation and analyses required before federal agency action;
  • Radically depart from the longstanding, conservation-based agency policy and practice of providing the same level of protection to threatened species afforded to endangered species, which is necessary to prevent a species from becoming endangered;
  • Push the responsibility for protecting imperiled species and habitats onto the state, detracting from the states’ efforts to carry out their own programs and imposing significant costs; and
  • Exclude analysis of and public input on the rules’ significant environmental impacts.

David J. Hayes, director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law and former deputy interior secretary under President Barack Obama, told The New York Times that the changes would “straitjacket the scientists to take climate change out of consideration” when determining how to best protect wildlife.

Alabama’s latest entry into the fight follows several others since 2016 that challenged aspects of the Endangered Species Act and sought to roll back protections. 

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“While the federal government, states, and landowners all wish to safeguard our environment, over the last decade we have witnessed an expansion of federal regulation that was both unlawful and unnecessary. Agencies claimed powers Congress never gave them and imposed burdens on landowners that did not benefit the environment,” Alabama Attorney General Marshall said in a statement Dec. 9 on his decision to intervene in the California lawsuit on behalf of the Trump administration. 

“This federal overreach triggered a number of successful lawsuits by states and landowners. Alabama has led in several of these legal challenges, and we continue to advocate in court for a transparent and commonsense implementation of the Endangered Species Act through our support of the Trump administration’s reforms,’ Marshall’s statement read. 

Alabama is joined in defense of the changes by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. 

Alabama in November 2016 led another coalition of 20 states in a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging previous aspects of the Endangered Species Act. Marshall and the other plaintiff’s dropped that suit in March 2018 after the federal government agreed to rules changes. 

Marshall in August 2017 joined attorneys general in 18 other states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a previous ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare as critical habitat portions of Mississippi forest land for the endangered dusky gopher frog. 

The timber company Weyerhaeuser sued, arguing that the frog didn’t live on the land and couldn’t, without changes. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling that to be considered “critical habitat” for a species that species must live on the land in question at that time.

 

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Hunters reminded to report deer they kill

Brandon Moseley

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This week thousands of Alabama deer hunters will be in the woods seeking to put meat in the freezer or that trophy that will be mounted on the wall of the family home for the next fifty years. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is reminding hunters to report the deer that they take.

Game Check is an important management tool ADCNR said. “Harvest data collection is an extremely valuable part of managing Alabama’s deer herd.”

ADCNR says that Game Check provides state game managers with data regarding timing of harvest, harvest number, and distribution of harvest throughout the state.

“This invaluable information is used to inform management decisions regarding hunting season frameworks, such as setting timing of seasons, bag limits and zones, as well as population management,” the ADCNR said in a recent newsletter. “Having an incomplete representation of harvest and harvest distribution for deer leads to misinformed management decisions that could negatively impact species populations and ultimately hunter dissatisfaction with harvest opportunities. That is why reporting your deer harvests through Alabama’s Game Check system is so important. Help us better manage for you! Game Check your deer today.”

The ADCNR is also asking for hunters to drop off samples for Chronic Wasting Disease testing.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is increasing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) sampling surveillance efforts in northwest Alabama after deer in nearby Mississippi and Tennessee have tested CWD-positive. CWD has killed tens of thousands of deer across the U.S. and Canada and wildlife managers are anxious to prevent its spread in Alabama.

The test used to determine the presence of CWD requires a portion of the deer’s brainstem or lymph nodes.

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The ADCNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) is asking hunters to submit harvested deer for testing at check stations, freezer drop-off locations, or WFF offices. In all cases, the hunter will receive test results within three to four weeks.

To see the expanded list of check stations go here:

https://www.outdooralabama.com/cwd-sampling

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