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PostPosted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 5:01 am 
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Pangolin trade forces Ghana to look at new wildlife laws
by Stacey KNOTT
12 October 2017

ACCRA (AFP) - Ghana is facing calls to update its laws on wildlife crime after fears the country has become a transit route for the illegal trade in pangolin scales.

More than 31,000 kilograms (68,000 pounds) of scales from the nocturnal mammal have been seized across the world this year, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). In May and June, two major seizures were made in Malaysia, with at least 700 kg found to have been shipped through Ghana. Massive hauls of the scales have also been made in Uganda, Cameroon and Ivory Coast. IFAW's Mark Hofberg said most of the scales from Africa were traded to meet demand in Asia, where they are used in traditional medicine.

The docile pangolin, which has a thick armour and is also known as a "scaly anteater", is indigenous to parts of Southeast Asia and Africa. Two of the eight species of pangolin are classed as "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: two are "endangered" and four "vulnerable".

Hofberg suggested the increase in seizures could be a sign the authorities are taking the issue seriously but he said many countries lacked strong laws to punish traffickers. "For the pangolin trade to be significantly reduced, penalties and conviction rates must be appropriate," he told AFP. Harsher sanctions "would complement customs efforts" that have led to recent major seizures, he added.

The pangolin is a protected animal in Ghana but the head of the Ghana Wildlife Commission, Nana Kofi Adu-Nsiah, said tougher legislation was needed. Current wildlife protection laws were passed in the 1960s and the commission wants them updated to reflect international standards and the global nature of wildlife crime.

Three people were arrested in Ghana in connection with the June seizure in Malaysia. Government officials believe new laws would stop Ghana becoming a transit point for trafficked animals but there is also concern over local hunting of the pangolin.

Along main highways in Ghana, people can be seen selling live pangolins, which are usually held upside down, unravelled from the tail. The animals, which range in size from 30 to 100 centimetres (12 to 39 inches) can sell for about 200 cedi ($45/38 euros). Those responsible are usually impoverished.

Wildlife Commission officers typically arrest anyone selling pangolins but Adu-Nsiah suggested a solution may be to buy the animals live from the sellers and re-home them elsewhere. It is not known how many pangolins survive in the wild in Ghana but their habitat has been hit by deforestation and development. Their temperament also makes them easy prey and has led to them becoming the most trafficked mammal in the world. "The nature of the animal makes it prone to attack by human beings. As soon as you touch it, it coils so humans can pick them up," said Adu-Nsiah. "They are not animals that can run quickly to protect themselves or defend themselves."

Cape Coast University student Daniel Konzin researches pangolins in the Kakum National Park, a 4.5-hour drive west of the capital, Accra. His team had been looking at the local use of the pangolin outside the protected areas, and found it used for food and the scales for spices.

The research, sponsored by the Earthwatch Institute discovered people had come to communities to buy live pangolins and scales. "The species is so vulnerable you can just pick it up it will not attack you," he explained. "Sometimes when I see them I feel so sorry for them -- they cannot do anything to defend themselves against humans."

Part of Konzin's work is to teach rural communities, whom he said were often surprised that the pangolin was protected. "The project is trying to educate people about the conservation status of the species we want to affect an attitude change amongst the people so that at least the species won't go extinct in Ghana."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:50 pm 
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Where's the buzz? German study finds dramatic insect decline
By FRANK JORDANS
October 19, 2017

BERLIN (AP) -- The number of flying insects in Germany has been dropping at an "alarming" rate that could signal serious trouble for ecosystems and food chains in the future, scientists say.

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers using funnel-shaped traps at 63 sites across western Germany recorded a 76 percent decline in bug volume from 1989 to 2016. The midsummer loss during the 27-year-period was as high as 82 percent. "The widespread insect biomass decline is alarming, ever more so as all traps were placed in protected areas that are meant to preserve ecosystem functions and biodiversity," the authors said. The drop in airborne insects over Germany was higher than the global estimated insect decline of 58 percent between 1970 and 2012.

The researchers, led by Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands, said it was unclear why the numbers in Germany have declined so sharply, but concluded that neither landscape nor climate change are likely to be the cause. Instead, they speculated that intensive agriculture and pesticide use may be to blame. The authors called for further research into the possible reasons for the decline, noting that flying insects play an important role in pollinating plants and are a source of food for other species. "Although lower numbers of some pest insects might be welcome news, the loss of pollinators, beneficial insects and of food for insect-eaters such as birds and bats will have ecosystem-wide consequences," said David Inouye, an ecologist who wasn't involved in the study.

Inouye, an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland, said the research was remarkable for the length and quality of its observation, which benefited from the help of volunteer "citizen scientists."

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2017 11:57 pm 
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Frizzy-haired, smaller-headed orangutan may be new great ape
By STEPHEN WRIGHT
2 November 2017

A remote population of frizzy-haired orangutans on the Indonesian island of Sumatra seems to be a new species of primate, scientists say.

But the newest member of the family tree of advanced animals that include humans may not be around much longer. Their numbers are so small, and their habitat so fragmented, that they are in danger of going extinct, say the scientists who studied them. A study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology said there are no more than 800 of the primates, which researchers named Pongo tapanuliensis, making it the most endangered great ape species.

The researchers say the population is highly vulnerable and its habitat is facing further pressure from development. "If steps are not taken quickly to reduce current and future threats to conserve every last remaining bit of forest we may see the discovery and extinction of a great ape species within our lifetime," they said.

It's the first great ape species to be proposed by scientists in nearly 90 years. Previously, science has recognized six great ape species: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. The research is based on analysis of the skeleton of an adult male killed in a conflict with villagers, a genetic study indicating the population's evolutionary split from other orangutans occurred about 3.4 million years ago, and analysis since 2006 of behavioral and habitat differences.

The primates are confined to a range of about 1,100 square kilometers (425 square miles) in the Batang Toru forest in the Tapanuli districts of Northern Sumatra. Historically, the population has probably been isolated from Sumatran orangutans further north for 10,000 to 20,000 years based on the most recently detectable influx of male genes from outside, according to the genetic study.

Aside from genetic evidence and the physical differences that are most apparent in comparison with Bornean orangutans, other unique characteristics include diet, restriction of habitat to upland areas and the male's long call.

Primatologist Russell Mittermeier, head of the primate specialist group at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, called the finding a "remarkable discovery" that puts the onus on the Indonesian government to ensure the species survives. Mittermeier, who was not one of the 37 authors of the study, said he was "very excited" by the research.

Last year, the IUCN classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered due to a precipitous population decline caused by destruction of their forest habitat for palm oil and pulp wood plantations. Sumatran orangutans have been classified as critically endangered since 2008.

Matthew Nowak, one of the study's authors, said the Tapanuli orangutans live in three pockets of forest that are separated by non-protected areas. "For the species to be viable into the future, those three fragments need to be reconnected via forest corridors," he said.

Additionally, the authors are recommending that development plans for the region including a hydropower plant be stopped by the government. "It is imperative that all remaining forest be protected and that a local management body works to ensure the protection of the Batang Toru ecosystem," Novak said.

The Batang Toru orangutan population was found during a field survey by researcher Erik Meijaard in 1997 and a research station was established in the area in 2006. It was not until 2013, when the adult male skeleton became available, that scientists realized how unique the population was, which sparked the largest genomic study of wild orangutans ever carried out to provide further evidence of a third orangutan species.

There is no standardized international system for recognition of new species, but to be taken seriously a discovery requires at least publication in a credible peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2017 7:06 am 
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Expansion of tuna quotas 'step backward' for conservation
by Marlowe HOOD
21 November 2017

PARIS (AFP) - The 51-nation tuna fisheries body for the Atlantic and Mediterranean boosted quotas for highly prized bluefin despite scientific findings that doing so could threaten the species' recovery, delegates and observers at a key meeting said Tuesday.

Country quotas for eastern bluefin tuna are to increase 50 percent, by increments, to 36,000 tonnes in 2020, sources told AFP at the conclusion of the closed-door meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The warm-blooded, fatty fish -- which can grow to the size of a small car and swim nearly as fast -- underpins a billion-dollar business, and is a culinary mainstay in Japan.

ICCAT also gave the go-ahead for bigger catches of western bluefin tuna, as well as so-called tropical tunas, despite evidence of declining stocks and over the objections of some members. ICCAT's scientific committee, meeting last month in Madrid, approved the higher catch figures for the iconic eastern bluefin.

At the same time, however, it concluded that -- for bluefin stocks to have even a coin's toss chance of continued growth -- total allowable catch should be held to 28,000 tonnes. The contradictory findings point to a breach in the "firewall" between the scientific committee and the political body to which it reports, members of both groups said. "This year was an enormous step backwards for sustainable tuna fisheries," said Paulus Tak, a senior officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, and an official observer at the ICCAT talks. "In the vast majority of ICCAT decisions this year, the status of the stocks was ignored." The new quotas -- allocated mostly to the European Union, which pushed hard for the increase -- "further undermine the credibility of the Commission," he added.

Industrial-scale tuna fisheries in Spain, Italy and France all have outsized political influence in shaping policy, analysts say.

A decade ago, eastern bluefin was on the brink of collapse. In 2010, the UN body governing trade in endangered species considered a motion to outlaw international sales of the fish, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars for a single specimen. The motion failed, but prompted ICCAT to lower quotas and crack down on illegal fishing. The measures worked, but not well enough to declare the stocks fully recovered in 2016.

Quotas for western Atlantic bluefin were also increased, to 2,350 tonnes, despite the fact that stocks are only 18 percent of 1950 levels after a 20-year "rebuilding plan". "This is likely to result in further declines of biomass," Tak told AFP.

ICCAT also shot down a proposal to slow the harvest of bigeye, skipjack and yellow tail. The $3.4 billion (2.9 billion euro) market for these so-called tropical tunas is several times bigger than for bluefin, but gets far less attention.

The proposal from South Africa -- backed by Brazil, Japan and several other African nations -- would have reined in industrial purse seine fishing, in which factory ships cast enormous nets that scoop up hundreds of fish at a time. "It is only a slight exaggeration to say that they catch more fish in a single outing than we do in a year," said Portuguese delegate Luis Rodrigues, Director of Fisheries for the Azores, an island chain in the Atlantic 1,700 kilometres (1,000 miles) west of the Strait of Gilbraltar. The European Union "made sure the proposal was shelved," said one delegate, who asked not to be named.

The Azores and neighbouring Madeira islands use a more traditional form of "one-by-one" tuna fishing -- "one man, one hook, one fish," Rodrigues said. But their relatively modest catch -- which employs 10,000 people locally -- has diminished by half every year over the last half-decade, from 4,800 tonnes in 2012 to 345 tonnes last year. The problem, they said, is purse seine nets scooping up the fish, especially juveniles, off the coast of Africa before then can migrate into Azores waters.

"I am really afraid that artisanal fisheries like ours are going to die," said Pedro Capela, Head of the Tuna Association of the Azores. "If nothing changes, in a few years this kind of fishing will be dead, I'm sure of that."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2017 4:55 pm 
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2 kiwi birds are rare bright spot in grim extinction report
By ELAINE KURTENBACH
5 December 2017

TOKYO (AP) -- Two types of New Zealand kiwi birds are a rare bright spot in a mostly grim assessment of global species at risk of extinction.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature upgraded the Okarito kiwi and the Northern Brown kiwi from endangered to vulnerable thanks to New Zealand's progress in controlling predators like stoats and cats.

But the conservation group's latest update Tuesday mostly reported grave threats to animals and plants due to loss of habitat and unsustainable farming and fisheries practices. The group said the Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise that roam coastlines of Southeast Asia are now designated as endangered, imperiled by entanglement in fishing nets and other human activities.

For its Red List of Threatened Species, the group assessed the status of 91,523 species, of which 25,821 are threatened, 866 are extinct and 69 extinct in the wild. It said 11,783 species are vulnerable, 8,455 are endangered and 5,583 critically endangered.

Behind the numbers are life-and-death struggles for survival as human populations grow and industrialize and habitats are transformed by global warming. Australia's Western Ringtail possum has slipped from vulnerable to critically endangered, the IUCN said, as its population plunged by 80 percent over the past decade. Once widespread in peppermint and eucalyptus forests of Western Australia, now it has only a few fragmented habitats and is prone to heat stress at temperatures above 35 C (95 F) that are becoming increasingly common where it lives.

The group said three reptile species on Christmas Island, also in Australia, had gone extinct in the wild: the Whiptail-skink, the Blue-tailed skink and Lister's gecko. The group said the losses of reptiles were mysterious but might be due to introduction of a disease and the arrival of the yellow crazy ant. The IUCN and Global Invasive Species Database list that ant as one of the 100 worst invasive species. The creature has wreaked havoc on Christmas Island, devouring the famous endemic red crabs that were a key part of its ecosystem.

Apart from many animal species the IUCN said many wild crops, such as wild wheat, rice and yam, face threats from overgrazing, use of herbicides and urbanization.

The kiwi, however, has gained ground thanks to a New Zealand campaign to rid its islands of all its rats, possums and stoats. More than 40 species of New Zealand birds already have died out and many others remain threatened, including the iconic kiwi. The modest recovery of the Okarito kiwi, whose numbers have grown from 160 in 1995 to 400-450 now, offers hope such efforts can help protect the species and others under threat.

The IUCN reported its findings in Tokyo to reflect support from Toyota Motor Corp., which helps fund species assessments. It said a third of 46 newly assessed endemic species of lizards and snakes in Japan were threatened by factors such as habitat loss, collection for pet stores and the introduction of invasive species.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:56 am 
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Vaquita porpoise facing extinction after £3m rescue plan abandoned
By Robin McKie
3 December 2017

A last-ditch attempt to save the world’s most endangered marine mammal, the vaquita, by taking them into human care has been abandoned. The chances that this rare species of porpoise will become extinct are now extremely high, researchers have warned.

They had hoped to catch a few of the planet’s last 30 vaquitas – which are only found in one small area of the Gulf of California – and protect them in a sanctuary where they could breed safely. But last month, the $4m (£3m) rescue plan by an international team of more than 60 scientists and divers ran into trouble after only a few days, when the first vaquita they caught had to be released when it began to display dangerous signs of stress.

Shortly after that, a second vaquita was caught but died a few hours after capture. The team then decided that catching any more animals presented too much risk to the species and further attempts were suspended. “This is a very, very serious setback,” said project scientist Barbara Taylor, of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Taking vaquitas into human care was always an extreme measure, but it was virtually our only option. Now even that has gone. The vaquita is now facing extinction unless illegal fishing can be curtailed.”

The vaquita, Phocoena sinus, which reaches a maximum length of only 5ft, has suffered a major population crash in recent years as a result of illegal catching of the totoaba fish. Flesh from the totoaba’s swim bladder can fetch more than £74,000 a kilo in China and this has generated a vast illegal fishing industry.

Unfortunately, gill nets designed to catch totoaba are also the perfect size for trapping vaquitas, which become tangled and drown. The Mexican government has recently tightened its laws against illegal fishing but the rewards for totoaba catches are so high there has been little respite. As a result, vaquita numbers have plummeted from around 600 individuals 20 years ago to a few dozen today, leaving the animal hovering at the edge of extinction. “Our last hope was that we could capture enough vaquitas to start a captive breeding colony and restore numbers,” said another of the project’s scientist, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, of Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change.

“We had no experience in capturing these animals and it now turns out they respond badly to being taken in nets and being kept in captivity. Really we should have acted a decade ago when we still had a few hundred vaquitas left and the loss of one or two would not have been so critical.” There is only one hope, said Taylor. “Saving the vaquita now rests with the Mexican government, which might somehow be able to end the illegal fishing for the totoaba. And that is a big ask. Otherwise, it is very unlikely that we are going to have vaquitas in a couple of years.”

Source: The Observer UK

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 29, 2017 8:52 am 
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Albania losing its eagle to rampant poaching
by Briseida MEMA
29 December 2017

TIRANA (AFP) - It is Albania's national symbol, but the eagle may soon only be found on the flag. The majestic bird is threatened with extinction due to widespread poaching of raptors.

On the side of a national motorway, just 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of the capital Tirana, a vendor offers motorists a common buzzard for an average price of 7,000-10,000 leks (55-85 euros, $65-100). The buzzard is a protected species just like the golden eagle. But the man isn't concerned as he exhibits the bird with its wing wounded by a bullet and its talons tied. "I didn't wound it. I was given it to sell. The buyers will keep it in a cage in a bar or a restaurant," he says.

Whether the customers want to stuff them or to keep them in captivity, they can find these birds for sale on the street. Of the four species of vultures that used to exist in Albania, "only one, the Egyptian vulture, remains and its population has been extremely reduced," says Mirjan Topi, author of Albania's first bird guide.

So too the dwindling number of golden eagles, a two-headed specimen of which features on the flag of this mountainous Balkan country. According to experts, some 25 years ago there were between 100 and 200 couples of golden eagles. That number today has been cut in half, "a dramatic decline", says Topi.

For biologist Taulant Bino, president of the Albanian Ornithological Society, the golden eagle "is on the road to extinction". "Fifty years ago or even in the early 1990s, we could see it on every summit," he says.

On a global scale, the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is not classified as a threatened species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But in Albania nowadays the place where you are most likely to see a golden eagle is "stuffed in bars, restaurants or hotels", Topi says. The idea is "to decorate the interior to attract customers, at the price of a sickening spectacle, in violation of the law, and in defiance of the state and institutions", the bird specialist laments.

In the southern region of Orikum, a man in his 50s, who would only identify himself as Petrit, is proud of the eagle he bought for 400 euros. He displays it in his bar next to the national flag and other stuffed birds. "It is more and more rare to find an eagle," he notes. The state has threatened to close his bar if he continues to show off his trophy but Petrit is not worried. "I am ready to pay a fine, but I want to keep it."

And in the mountains of Prenish along the border with Macedonia, a hunter who gave his name as Edmond appeared unfazed to be found with two buzzards he had just killed. The 35-year-old explained that he plans to use the birds as decoration in his bar "to get more customers".

There has been a hunting ban in Albania since 2014. Authorities say it has curtailed a large number of the 2,000-3,000 Italian hunters who are estimated to have killed more than 150,000 birds, including hundreds of raptors over the last decade. But they admitted, when contacted by AFP, that the ban's effectiveness is limited as it only imposes fines.

According to Ermal Halimi, a specialist on the issue at the ministry of tourism and environment, there are plans to toughen the law, including "prison terms for all offences that contribute to the disappearance of protected animals". But that's not the whole story.

Another threat, perhaps even more insidious, hangs over the raptors: the poisoned carcasses that shepherds leave in the field to protect their flocks from wolves. "A single carcass is enough to kill several vultures if they find it before the wolf," says Nexhip Hysolokaj, an environmental expert in the Orikum region where in March, six eagles and vultures were found dead from poison.

Fines have never been issued over this practice which shepherds seem to have no intention of giving up. "The sheep are the ones who feed us, they are our pride and wolves massacre them! We have no choice," says 83-year old Sado Xhelili as he guards his flock.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 04, 2018 10:13 am 
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Trump administration lifts ban on pesticides linked to declining bee numbers
August 3, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Trump administration has rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified crops in dozens of national wildlife refuges where farming is permitted.

Environmentalists, who had sued to bring about the two-year-old ban, said on Friday that lifting the restriction poses a grave threat to pollinating insects and other sensitive creatures relying on toxic-free habitats afforded by wildlife refuges. “Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species,” said Jenny Keating, federal lands policy analyst for the group Defenders of Wildlife.

Limited agricultural activity is authorized on some refuges by law, including cooperative agreements in which farmers are permitted to grow certain crops to produce more food or improve habitat for the wildlife there.

The rollback, spelled out in a US Fish and Wildlife Service memo, ends a policy that had prohibited farmers on refuges from planting biotech crops – such as soybeans and corn – engineered to resist insect pests and weed-controlling herbicides. That policy also had barred the use on wildlife refuges of neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, in conjunction with GMO crops. Neonics are a class of insecticides tied by research to declining populations of wild bees and other pollinating insects around the world.

Rather than continuing to impose a blanket ban on GMO crops and neonics on refuges, Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director Greg Sheehan said decisions about their use would be made on a case-by-case basis. Sheehan said the move was needed to ensure adequate forage for migratory birds, including ducks and geese favored and hunted by sportsmen on many of the nation’s refuges. US interior secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, has made expansion of hunting on public lands a priority for his agency. Sheehan wrote that genetically modified organisms have helped “maximize production, and that neonicotinoids might be needed “to fulfill needed farming practices”.

It marked the latest in a series of Obama-era environmental restrictions to be reversed under Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to roll back government regulations. In a 2014 Obama administration memo announcing plans to phase in the ban, Jim Kurth, head of the refuge system, wrote that seeds treated with neonics give rise to plants whose tissues contained compounds that could harm “non-target” species. He also said, “refuges throughout the country successfully meet wildlife management objectives without” GMOs or neonics.

Thursday’s memo named more than 50 national wildlife refuges across the country where the revised policy now applies. The entire system consists of 560 refuge units encompassing roughly 150 million acres nationwide.

Source: Reuters via Guardian UK

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