Natural Resources


Vermont Law School Professor Pat Parenteau in the NY Times.  See here.

Patrick Parenteau, a professor and endangered species expert at Vermont Law School who was special counsel to the Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1990s, said he could empathize with both sides. “The agency does seem to be reaching a political tipping point,” he said. “They feel overwhelmed, they feel politically vulnerable, they can’t handle the job, and all these petitions makes it harder and harder.”

“But from an endangered species conservation perspective, the environmentalists are doing exactly what the science demands,” he added. “If you want to save these species, you have to list them, designate their critical habitat and spend money.”

Today, Vermont Law School’s Environmental Law Center launched its first annual Top 10 Environmental Watch List. Our environmental faculty and students from the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law researched more than 75 judicial, regulatory, and legislative actions before selecting what they consider the 10 most important environmental law and policy issues of 2010.   Read more at http://watchlist.vermontlaw.edu/.

With a student, I co-authored the article for No. 8 on the list, Supreme Court Reviews Genetically Modified Crops.

Today, due to the generosity of contacts at WWF in Hong Kong, we received a tour of Mai Po Nature Reserve in Hong Kong’s New Territories.   Mai Po is a large wetland reserve filled with very cool flora and fauna, and really is a bird lovers’ paradise.  Mai Po is protected by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and our visit was truly a treat.   We saw mangroves, traditional shrimp ponds, fish farms (right outside the reserve), and beautiful flowers, and, with fancy digital binoculars and scopes, saw beautiful birds: spoonbills, herons, egrets, and ducks.

In route to my lectures at the University of Utah College of Law, I stopped in Milwaukee for 38 hours to see friends, family and former colleagues at Marquette University Law School.  I was able to have dinner at my favorite Milwaukee restaurant Crazy Water and tried a surprisingly good restaurant that I hadn’t been to before.

Now I’m in Salt Lake City, and it’s clear I’ve developed a somewhat new fascination with the West.  I think this started when I drove cr0ss-country last year and loved the mountains of Wyoming, and has taken hold since teaching Natural Resources Law again and discussing all the federal lands and national parks of the West.  I think this will be cured only by a two-month trek of natural resources in the West.  For now, I’ll enjoy the beauty of the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges out my window.  But my fascination also results from my strong distaste for the sprawl and low-lying development of western cities.

A whole host of my students alerted me this an NPR story, All Hopped Up: Town Unites For Toad Revival.

A small environmental miracle has occurred in Beatty, Nev., a former mining town that sits on the eastern edge of Death Valley between Jackass Flats and Sober Up Gulch. The people of Beatty have helped revive the Amargosa toad, a warty, speckled, palm-sized creature that’s unique to the area and, just a few years ago, seemed headed for extinction.

But this is not your typical story of environmental action — the toad owes its comeback to an unlikely coalition that includes ranchers, miners, off-road racers, opponents of big government and the local brothel.

Two issues that make me nervous were blogged about on the NY Times Green Blog today.

(1) Fracking and its impact on groundwater, and exemption from the Clean Water Act.

(2) The energy demands of China.  The IEA is predicting that “that Chinese energy demand will soar 75 percent by 2035, accounting for more than a third of total global consumption growth. While China today accounts for 17 percent of the world demand for energy, it should account for 22 percent in 25 years, while India and other developing countries will also expand their energy use.”

The Times Argus has an article about climate change impacts in Vermont entitled, “Climate change affects fall and winter transitions in Vermont” (subscription required).  An excerpt (note the last paragraph):

Data taken over the past four decades show significant changes in Vermont’s climate. The fall transition is coming later by about 2 days per decade. Over the past forty years, the growing season for frost-sensitive plants has increased by 2 weeks; and for frost-hardy plants the growing season may have increased by as much as three to four weeks.

This fall was very unusual. We had a remarkable 10 inches of rain in October, and so there were few frosts because the ground and air were so wet. This extended the fall foliage season. The first part of November has been marked by several hard frosts and most recently, the first snowfall of the season.

Autumn is considered by many the most beautiful season in Vermont. The leaves turn brilliant colors of red, orange and yellow — a seasonal burst that attracts many tourists to the Green Mountain State. Forests cover almost 80 percent of Vermont, and roughly one in every four trees is a maple. Almost half of the Northeast’s commercial woodlands consist of maple, beech and birch.

The USDA Forest Service projects that oaks and hickories, which predominate in warmer placers like Virginia and now account for less than 15 percent of Vermont woodlands, will overshadow the state’s maples by the end of the century. Leaf-peepers attracted by the red, yellow and orange foliage of maple, birch and beech may see those colors shifting to the blander browns characteristic of oaks and hickories.

A recent report “The Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment,” sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, explains that Vermont’s climate is warming and is in for significant changes. Between 2040 and 2069, Vermont’s climate will shift to that of Pennsylvania’s now. And if we continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels, by late century Vermont’s climate will shift farther to the south, more similar to that currently experienced in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Every year I take my Natural  Resources Law class for a guided nature walk and tour of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park located about 25 minutes south of Vermont Law School.  Here are some photos of this year’s excursion.

I’ve certainly been enjoying nature’s little pleasures over the last few weeks.  In the last week, I hiked Kent’s Ledge twice with a colleagues and students, awoke in the AM to beautiful white snow, went for a family walk with the dogs in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park, can go leaf-peeping through my own windows, and had a fantatic starry evening stroll on an unseasonably warm evening.  After a year in China, I truly appreciate these little bits of nature, and, even more than that, my family and I simply so content right now.  Things are well.

And now we’re returning to China.  I’m giving a series of lectures on environmental law at Sun Yat-sen University, doing a workshop at the South China University of Technology, doing some lectures for the US Consulate in Guangzhou, helping start-up an environmental law clinic in China, and meeting with a series of NGO representative in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, among other things.  We’re starting to let our Chinese and ex-pat frineds in Guangzhou know of our upcoming trip, and everyone seems just so excited about our return.  It really creates a this overwhelming warmth from afar.  While I had been some concerned about our return to China, now that it’s happening, it really confirms how much the year in the China shaped my professional interests and personality, as well as how strong our friendships in China were.

Control of the U.S. Senate is not the only thing at stake in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Harry Reid (D) and the challenger Sharron Angle (R).  With Nevada in play, so is the issue of whether nuclear waste will eventually be stored in Yucca Mountain, despite the President’s opposition to Yucca Mountain as a waste storage facility.

Writes Greenwire:

Nevada leaders hoping to stop the federal government from building a high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain say they are counting on the re-election of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to keep pushing their case.

Reid is by far the most powerful and experienced member of the Nevada delegation opposing Yucca, said Bruce Breslow, the executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. Breslow said the delegation “had no clout until Senator Reid became majority leader.” Without Reid, “other states would have built an expressway to Yucca Mountain.”

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