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Abandoned Mine Lands 2019 – 3

The previous two posts have reported on the amount of abandoned mine land in Missouri and neighboring states, how much of it is high priority, how much of it has been reclaimed, and how much remains to be reclaimed.

Coal has been one of the world’s most important industrial fuels, and for most of the last 100 years it has been the primary fuel from which we generate electricity. One of the reasons America grew to be an economic powerhouse was because we had abundant energy resources, and coal was one of them. As of 2015, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Pennsylvania were the largest producing eastern coal states, in that order. Because their coal is high in sulfur, however, some coal production moved to the West, where the coal is lower in sulfur. Wyoming is now the nation’s largest coal producer, producing 39% of the nation’s coal in 2015.

Figure 1. Source: Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement, 2017.

Missouri is a coal producing state, though our production has been small compared to some other high producing states. As Figure 1 shows, a significant portion of the state is underlain by coal. The majority of the coal veins are thin, however, and tend to be high in sulfur. Thus, coal mining never became the huge industry it did in some other states.

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Figure 2. Source: Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement, 2017.

Coal mining began in Missouri in the 1840s. It peaked in 1984, when almost 7 million tons were mined. But since then, production has trended lower, and 233,898 tons were mined in 2016, a small fraction of peak production. In contrast, Wyoming mined 387.9 million tons, hundreds of times more. Figure 2 shows the trend since 1994. Currently, the coal used to generate Missouri electricity is about 90% Wyoming coal, 10% Missouri coal.

Other kinds of mining began in Missouri even earlier, as early as the 1740s. At one time, Missouri was the primary source of lead in the United States. As many as 67,000 acres of unreclaimed land were abandoned by the coal industry, and 40,000 acres by other mining operations.

Missouri’s land reclamation program was established by state law in 1974, when the Department of Natural Resources was created. But it got a big boost with the passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977. This law provides minimum requirements for mines, funding, and oversight of state reclamation efforts.

As we saw in the previous post, some states have an abandoned mine land problem many times greater than does Missouri, and their reclamation efforts receive higher levels of funding than does ours. Funding has varied from year-to-year with budgetary woes and shifting priorities. But Missouri and other states have been working to reclaim abandoned mine lands since the 1970s. As we saw in the two previous posts, abandoned mine lands are classified into 3 broad categories. Lands that pose an extreme danger to health and welfare are classified Priority 1, and lands that pose a threat to health and welfare are classified as Priority 2. Land that has been degraded by mining operations, but which is not a threat to health and welfare, is classified as Priority 3. Priority 1 and 2 lands are classified as high priority. The law requires their reclamation before Priority 3 lands are addressed. In addition, the law requires abandoned coal mining land to be addressed before other types of abandoned mine lands, I’m not quite sure why.

Since the 1970s, mining operations have been required to obtain state permits in order to operate. Miners must pay a fee for the permit, and place a bond with the state, and they are required to reclaim their land when mining operations finish. Should they fail to reclaim the land, the bond is forfeited, and the funds are used by the state for its reclamation efforts. Because there is less coal mining in Missouri, fees collected by the Department of Natural Resources have decreased, and this is one reason that the funds available for reclamation have also decreased. (Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 2014)

As reported in the previous 2 posts, Missouri has made significant progress in reclaiming its abandoned mine land. But it is a very, very big and expensive job. Because the units to be reclaimed can be of so many different types, and because funding levels control the rate of reclamation, I think that estimated costs may give the best picture of what’s been accomplished and what remains to be done. By cost, Missouri has completed about 1/3 of its work to reclaim Priority 1 and 2 land. However, that does not include Priority 3 land. In 2017, Missouri accomplished $449,009 worth of reclamation work on Priority 1 & 2 lands. Given that there are $108,977,143 in uncompleted Priority 1 & 2 reclamation costs, at that rate, it will take Missouri 243 years to complete reclamation on Priority 1 and 2 land. Unfortunately, not all abandoned mine lands have been inspected. As they are inspected, unless Missouri devotes more resources to the job, the time to completion is likely to grow.

Sources:

U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2015. Frequently Asked Questions: Which states produce the most coal? http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=69&t=2. Viewed 4/16/2015.

Alton Field Division, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. 2017. Annual Evaluation Report for the Regulatory Program and the Abandoned Mine Land Program Administered by the State Regulatory Authority of Missouri, For Evaluation Year 2017. U.S. Department of the Interior. https://www.odocs.osmre.gov.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2014. 2012-2013 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2016. 2014-2015 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2018. 2016-2017 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.

Abandoned Mine Lands 2019 – 2

The amount of dangerous highwall in Missouri spiked in 2017, leading to a large increase in uncompleted high priority abandoned mine units needing reclamation.

The previous post concerned the total inventory of abandoned mine lands in Missouri. This post focuses on high priority abandoned mine lands: those that pose a threat to public health and safety (Priority 2), and those that pose an extreme danger to public health and safety (Priority 1). The law requires Missouri to reclaim high priority lands before low priority lands.

Table 1. Data source: Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement.

Table 1 shows the data for September 2019, August 2017, April 2015, and April 2014. Completed units increased across each time, as one would want. However, uncompleted units grew between 2014 and 2015, and then spiked between 2015 and 2017 by 384%. This resulted in a similar pattern for total units: they increased between 2014 and 2015, and spiked between 2015 and 2017, before decreasing slightly between 2017 and 2019.

Reviewing the categories of hazards (not shown), most categories increased modestly between 2015 and 2017. However, units of dangerous highwall increased from 11,350 to 160,924. There are several possible reasons for such a drastic change. I cut and paste my data from the frederal database, and I have made several checks with the e-AMLIS database to ensure I did not make an error, and I don’t think I did. There may have been a change in the way units of highwall are counted that is not described in the database information, or Missouri could have inspected mine lands that had not been previously inspected, resulting in the discovery of additional dangerous highwall, or known highwall that was not dangerous may have become dangerous during the period.

Completed costs have also grown at each date, indicating the reclamation work that has been completed. Uncompleted costs, however, have grown even more quickly, from $14 million in 2014 $109 million in 2019 – they are almost 8 times what they were in 2014. I’m sure the change partially results from better estimates of what the costs will actually be, combined with inflation. Whether those factors account for the total change, I don’t know.

Figure 1. Data source: Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement.

Figure 1 shows the number of Priority 1 and 2 units for Missouri and 4 neighboring states. Blue represents completed, and red represents uncompleted. Don’t forget that a unit can be acres of spoiled land, individual buildings or structures, hazardous bodies of water, vertical openings, or lengths of dangerous highwall, so one cannot directly translate number of units to environmental threat or cost to reclaim.

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Figure 2. Data source: Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement.

Figure 2 shows the estimated costs to reclaim Priority 1 and 2 sites for those same states. Blue represents completed work, red represents uncompleted. Because funding appears to be the most important factor limiting reclamation efforts, this chart may be a more informative representation of the amount of work accomplished so far, and the amount yet to do. It shows that in terms of costs, Missouri has completed a little bit more than 1/3 of the work required to reclaim its high priority sites. Arkansas has completed about 2/3, Illinois a bit more than 1/2, and Iowa not quite 1/2. Kansas, on the other hand, has completed about 6% of the work. They are just getting started.

Pennsylvania is the state with the largest amount of abandoned mine land, and the state with the largest reclamation challenge. They have more than 10 times as many Priority 1 and 2 units as does Missouri, and the estimated cost to reclaim them is $3.9 billion. West Virginia has the second most: $1.8 billion.

Figure 3. Data source: Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement.

Figure 3 shows changes in the number of uncompleted units (blue) and uncompleted costs (red). Between 2015 and 2017, all 5 states experienced a small increase in the number of high priority units. Similarly, all but Kansas experienced an increase in estimated costs (inflation alone will cause about a 2% increase each year). Kansas experienced a small decrease. Why Illinois experienced such a large increase, I don’t know.

In my next post, I will report on some other interesting facts in the most recent reports on abandoned mine lands.

Sources:

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. e-AMLIS Database. U.S. Department of the Interior. Downloaded 9/20/2019 from https://amlis.osmre.gov/QueryAdvanced.aspx.

For other abandoned mine land sources, see previous post.

Abandoned Mine Lands 2019-1

The amount of abandoned mine land needing reclamation has grown every year I have looked at it.

Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation e-AMLIS data system.

Despite reclamation efforts, between August 2017, and September 2019, the number of units of abandoned mine land in Missouri increased by 0.88% according to a federal database (e-AMLIS). The data is shown in Figure 1: the top chart is for the number of units of mine land that need to be reclaimed, the center chart is for the number of acres that need to be reclaimed, and the bottom chart is for the costs to reclaim them. Blue represents land on which reclamation has been completed, red represents land funded for reclamation but not completed, and green represents land awaiting funding for reclamation.

(Click on graphic for larger view.)

Mines create environmental hazards if efforts are not made to prevent it. The hazards range from piles of material that can leach hazardous substances, to clogged streams, to polluted or hazardous water bodies, to vertical openings into which victims can fall, to dangerous walls, dams, and structures that can collapse.

The federal government keeps an inventory of identified abandoned mine lands, the e-AMLIS Database. There can be several units at one abandoned mine site. For instance, one might be a pile of tailings, another might be an abandoned building, and a third might be a highwall. The units of mine land in the statistics may refer to acres of spoiled land, number of unsafe structures, or linear lengths of unsafe highwall. You can’t translate directly from units to acres of land, but for reporting purposes, the government does make the conversion (called GPRA), and this is what I’m reporting as acres.

Figure 2. Source: Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation, e-AMLIS data system.

Figure 2 shows the location of abandoned mine lands in the e-AMLIS inventory in Missouri and in nearby regions of neighboring states. “Why,” a thoughtful reader might ask, “are these lands in southwestern and north-central Missouri? Isn’t the “lead belt” in southeastern Missouri?” Yes, of course it is. But these are surface lands, mostly from coal mining, and these are the locations where that kind of mining occurred.

These statistics apply only to abandoned mine land that has been inventoried. Not all of Missouri’s abandoned mine lands have been inventoried, and I don’t know the status of the uninventoried land. Since the 1970s, mine operators have been required to restore mine land when mining operations cease. Compliance is enforced through a bonding system. Most of Missouri’s abandoned mine lands result from mines abandoned before the law took effect. The Missouri Land Reclamation Authority estimates that as many as 107,000 acres of mine lands have been abandoned in Missouri, about 0.2% of the entire state. Since 1970, when a mine operator abandons the land, they forfeit their bond, and the state uses that money, plus appropriations and grants from the federal government, to reclaim the land. The decline of mining in Missouri has resulted in lower bond holdings, reducing the money available for reclamation.

During FY 2017, Missouri reclaimed 1.7 acres of dangerous piles or embankments, 1,099 linear feet of dangerous highwall, and 30 acres of polluted or hazardous water bodies. Over the history of the reclamation program, 37% of the high priority units have been reclaimed (more on that in the next post), but an estimated $107,509,643 of reclamation work remains unfunded. At 2017’s rate of funding, it will be 73 years before the work is finished. The last time I looked at this data, in August 2017, the time to complete the work was 83 years. Mine reclamation is a costly, long-term project.

The law requires that abandoned coal mines be reclaimed before other abandoned mines, and it requires that high priority lands be reclaimed before low priority lands. Priority 1 lands (those posing an extreme danger to public health and safety) and Priority 2 lands (those posing a threat to public health and safety) are high priority. Priority 3 lands (those involving the restoration of land previously degraded by mining) are low priority. More on high priority abandoned mine lands in the next post.

Sources:

Historical data for this post came from previous posts on this topic. For the most recent, see here. Current data came from published reports and a federal database. The majority of the most recent data and the map were downloaded from:

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (e_AMLIS). Data downloaded 9/17/2019 from https://amlis.osmre.gov/QueryAdvanced.aspx.

Additional current data plus historical information and descriptions of the program were obtained from:

Alton Field Division, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. 2017. Annual Evaluation Report for the Regulatory Program and the Abandoned Mine Land Program Administered by the State Regulatory Authority of Missouri, for Evaluation Year 2017. U.S. Department of the Interior. Downloaded 9/18/2019 from https://www.odocs.osmre.gov.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Undated. 2015–2016 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. https://dnr.mo.gov/pubs/documents/pub2726.pdf.

Prescribed Burning in Forests and Carbon Sequestration

Prescribed burns in forests may decrease carbon sequestration in the short term, but they increase the forest’s ability to sequester carbon in the long term.

So says a recent literature review published by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Readers of this blog may recall that almost 3 years ago I published an 8-part series on wildfire in forests, and the role fire can have in promoting the health of the forest. Since then, I have published several updates. In that series, I reported that the Missouri Department of Conservation uses prescribed burning as a forest management tool, and it encourages private landowners to do so, too.

The literature review concludes that, though forests are complex, and general principles will not hold true for every plot within them, in the Missouri Ozarks:

  1. Fuel-reduction treatment (e.g. prescribed burning) reduces the risk of a large stand-destroying fire. When a whole stand is destroyed, all of the carbon sequestered in the trees is released into the atmosphere. Further, the forest is slow to regrow.
  2. Thinning using prescribed fire reduces competition among trees and provides additional ground nutrients, resulting in better growth.
  3. Forests managed with a combination of thinning and prescribed burning have lower carbon emissions than other types of forests. (Yes, they actually get out there and measure the gases emitted by different types of forest land.)
  4. During a prescribed burn, large trees are generally not killed by the fire, but small sprouts and herbaceous understory are. Burning the leaf litter and herbaceous understory results in a short-term increase in carbon released into the atmosphere. This is more than made-up for, however, by the increased vigor and growth of the remaining forest. The increased growth sequesters more carbon than was released in the prescribed burn.
  5. The soil in forests consist of a rich mixture of plant roots, moss and other vegetation, bugs, worms, microorganisms, and chemical compounds, including carbon (partially decayed remains of living things that have worked their way into the soil). There has been concern that prescribed burning would release the carbon sequestered in the soil. So far, research indicates that there is no difference in the carbon sequestration of the soil in control plots vs. plots that have had prescribed burns applied. In addition, no difference has been found between plots that are burned annually vs. plots that are burned every 4 years. The concern is understandable, but so far it appears incorrect.
  6. Soil respiration (the ability of oxygen to penetrate to the roots of plants) is not affected by prescribed burning.

Forests have not traditionally been managed with increased carbon sequestration as a major goal. However, the literature review seems to indicate that prescribed burning may be a technique that can lead to increased carbon sequestration in forest, through increased vigor and growth of the trees in the forest.

Source:

Ball, Liz. Undated. “The relationship between prescribed fire management and carbon storage in the Missouri Ozarks.” Missouri Department of Conservation. Downloaded 8/22/2019 from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/acfb/673db5694db7389e7bf7190211fb5ec75885.pdf.

Fire and the Regeneration of Aspen Trees

Figure 1. Regeneration after the Red Eagle Fire in Glacier National Park. Photo: John May.

After returning from a trip to several national parks in 2016, I wrote a series of posts on wildfire, and the role wildfire has in keeping forests healthy. (See here.) In those posts, I reported that wildfire was essential for regenerating species of conifer that have serotenous cones. The cones of these species are coated with a waxy resin that prevents them from opening and releasing their seeds. Fire must melt the resin, and only then are the seeds released – millions of them. Thus, after a fire, the forest regenerates with thousands-upon-thousands of saplings, all the same age. Figure 1 shows the forest regenerating after the Red Eagle Fire near Glacier National Park. These are lodgepole pine, the dominant species in the forests of that area.

I also wrote that aspen trees require fire to regenerate. After a few decades, stands of aspen are invaded by conifers. Aspens are not shade tolerant, and they are not long-lived. Because the conifers create too much shade, the aspens cannot regenerate, and the stand dies out. Fire clears away the shade, and the aspen rhizomes, which remain beneath the ground, send up new shoots, and the aspen stand can be regenerated.

Figure 1. Effects of the Warm Fire (2006) in Kaibab National Forest. Photo by John May.

I just returned from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. In 2006, the Warm Fire (what a name for a wildfire!) burned across Arizona Hwy. 67, the route to the North Rim. Figures 2, 3, and 4 show the scene. The Red Eagle Fire and the Warm Fire both occurred in 2006, but what has happened since is very different. The scene of the Red Eagle Fire is covered in thousands of small lodgepole pines, all the same age. The scene of the Warm Fire has nary a conifer to be seen. These are all aspens. They haven’t leafed-out yet, so they are a little difficult to see. Aspens turn brilliant colors in the fall – imagine what this area will look like when these trees are mature.

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Figure 2. Effects of the Warm Fire (2006) in Kaibab National Forest. Photo by John May.

To my eye, the area burned by the Warm Fire looks blasted in a way that the area burned by the Red Eagle Fire does not. The reasons might include higher altitude, a more arid climate, and a hotter fire that sterilized the ground. But in addition, this is usually a mixed conifer forest. These species are less tolerant of full sunlight than are the aspens. Thus, the aspens recolonize the burned areas more quickly.

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Figure 3. Effects of the Warm Fire (2006) in Kaibab National Forest. Photo by John May.

Eventually, an interesting thing will occur: the aspens will provide the light shade that the conifers need, and they will be able to start growing. In time, they will begin to shade out the aspens, which will die out, and there will be no more aspens until once again the area burns in a fire. Nature has her ways.

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Figure 5. Warm Fire Progression Map. Source: United States Forest Service, 2006.

The Warm Fire was started in the Kaibab National Forest by lightning on 6/6/2006. At first, it was judged to be a small fire of low intensity that could be allowed to burn and would help renew the forest. In its first 10 days, it burned 1,049 acres.

After 2-1/2 weeks, however, suddenly it blew up into a very hot, rapidly-spreading fire. Between 6/23 and 7/4 it burned about 43,000 acres. Figure 5 shows the fire map through 6/27, but the fire wasn’t contained until 7/4.

Sources:

United States Forest Service. Warm Fire Recovery Project. Viewed online 5/27/2019 at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/kaibab/home/?cid=fsm91_050264.

United States Forest Service. Warm Fire Progression Map. Downloaded 5/27/2019 from https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm91_050152.pdf.

Small Missouri Earthquakes Continue to Increase

During the last decade, a huge increase in the number of earthquakes striking the Midwest has been reported, especially in Oklahoma. Despite the presence of the New Madrid Fault, historically this part of the country has not been known to produce large numbers of earthquakes. There has been an uptick in earthquakes in Arkansas, and I have been tracking the yearly number of earthquakes in Missouri.

The last time I looked, I looked at data through 2016. This post updates the data through 2018. The U.S. Geological Survey database is not categorized by state, so I have been following earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater in a rectangle that approximates Missouri. The precise boundaries are given in the Sources list.

Figure 1. Data source: United States Geological Survey.

The data are in Figure 1. It shows that the number of earthquakes has continued to increase. The chart forms a rather dramatic spike, with the average number of earthquakes in 2017-18 slightly more than 10 times the average number from 1980-2012.

The vast majority of these earthquakes are small. In 2017-18, 12 of the earthquakes were magnitude 3.0 or larger, with the largest topping out at 3.64.

The felt intensity of an earthquake depends on several factors, including the type of soil, the distance from your location to the epicenter, the type of ground movement that occurred, and the depth underground at which the earthquake happened. Still, in general, earthquakes below magnitude 2.0 are not commonly felt by people. Earthquakes above magnitude 3.0 are often felt by people, but rarely cause damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 4.0 may cause minor damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 5.0 typically cause moderate damage to vulnerable buildings. It is the earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and greater that cause severe damage. The Richter Scale is logarithmic; that means that every 1.0 increase represents a 10-fold increase in the energy released by the quake. The earthquakes that caused the tsunamis in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011 were magnitude 9.1-9.3 and 6.6, respectively.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the famous New Madrid Earthquake was actually a series of 3-5 major quakes of magnitude 7.0 or larger, and many several thousand smaller ones. Major earthquakes are also believed to have occurred in southeastern Missouri in the years 300, 900, and 1400 C.E.

Figure 2. Location of Earthquakes in a Rectangle Approximating Missouri, Magnitude 2.0 or Greater, 2017-18. Data source: United States Geological Survey.

Figure 2 is a map showing the location of the earthquakes counted above in 2017-2018. It is easy to see that they cluster along the New Madrid Fault in southeast Missouri. The second largest group extends across northern Arkansas.

I don’t know why Missouri is experiencing this increase in small earthquakes. The swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma has been attributed to the deep well injection of wastewater from fracking, but there is virtually no fracking in Missouri, and Missouri has no deep well waste injection sites. There are fracking operations in Arkansas, but they run through the center of the state from Conway west to Oklahoma. They are not particularly close to the New Madrid area.

Sources:

United States Geological Survey. Search Earthquake Catalog. Data and map retrieved 2/16/2017 from http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/search. I searched for minimum magnitude 2.0, no maximum magnitude, starting date 1980-01-01 and ending date 2016-12-31. I searched for earthquakes in a rectangle defined by the following decimal degree coordinates: 40.964 on the north, 35.729 on the south, -95.999 on the west, and -89.099 on the east.

Wikipedia. April 2011 Fukushima Earthquake. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_2011_Fukushima_earthquake.

Wikipedia. Richter Magnitude Scale. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richter_magnitude_scale.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. History of Earthquakes in Missouri. Viewed online 2/26/2017 at https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/geosrv/geores/historymoeqs.htm.

Wikipedia. 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami.

Breeding Bird Survey, 2015

How are the birds doing? Ever since Rachael Carson revealed in the 1960s that pesticides were decimating bird populations, how the birds are doing has been an important question. DDT was the worst-offending pesticide, and it was soon banned, but other chemicals and other factors affect the ability of birds to survive. These days, the most important may be habitat destruction, competition from invasive species, and the effects of other chemicals, such as lead.

Many, many bird species migrate. Those that do require habitats along the way where they can rest and refuel. Break the chain of habitats in even one place, and you seriously harm the ability of the birds to survive.

Figure 1. Breeding Bird Survey Routes. Source: Sauer et al, 2017.

The largest and most important survey of bird populations is the Breeding Bird Survey, which has been conducted every year since 1966. Here’s how they conduct the survey: during peak breeding season, starting 1/2-hour before sunrise, volunteers follow a route with 50 stops, each stop at least 1/2 mile apart. The route stays the same from year-to-year. The volunteer counts all birds of that species seen or heard within a quarter mile of the stop. Figure 1 shows a map of the routes. The routes look like blue dots because of the scale of the map. You can see that coverage of the USA is quite good.

From the multiple routes in each geographical area, for each species a yearly index is constructed. These indexes represent “the mean count of birds on a typical route in the region for a year.” (USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

The results are mixed, differing from species-to-species and from region-to-region. As you might expect, even though the routes have 50 stops on them, and the method used is quite rigorous, it is not the same as physically being able to count every bird. Some of the birds may not be calling when the volunteer is there, or they may be hidden in brush, etc. The survey method does not permit a calculation of the absolute number of birds in a region, and the annual index is only reliable if a sufficient number of birds are observed. Thus, the Breeding Bird Survey provides crucial data, but it may be only part of the picture.

Table 1. Breeding Bird Survey Trend Estimates for Bird Species Observed in Missouri. Data source: Sauer, et al. 2017.

Trend data on how the annual indices for each species have changed is available for every species and for every state and region. I shall focus only on observations in Missouri. Table 1 shows the data. The trends are reported from 1966-2015 and from 2005-2015. The trends represent the annual rate of change over the period of interest.

(Click on table for larger view.)

The table is a bit complex, so let’s unpack it. It shows all species observed in Missouri. They are listed in order of the change between 1966 and 2005, with species that declined on the left side, and species that increased on the right. Each side of the chart begins with 4 columns intended to comment on the quality of the data for a given species. They are coded “G”, for green, or good, “Y” for yellow, or caution, and “R” for red, or extreme caution. The first column comments on the credibility of the measurement. The second column comments on the size of the data sample. The third column comments on how precise the measurements are. The fourth column comments on the relative abundance of the species.

The trend statistics follow the names of the species, and they are color-coded with green and red bars, representing the size of the change. Readers of this blog know that time series are vulnerable to year-to-year variation, but the fact that these are trends computed over the entire period of measurement should minimize that effect.

Between 1966 and 2015, annual indices for 58 bird species decreased, while 79 increased. If one counts only species for which the Regional Credibility Measure was “G,” then the situation is reversed: 40 species decreased and 31 increased.

Those with declines of more than 5% were the blue-winged teal, the loggerhead shrike, the house sparrow, and the American bittern. The blue-winged teal declined at a rate of 18.1% per year, however the Regional Credibility Measure for that species is red, indicating that use and interpretation of the data for that species warrants extreme caution. The same is true for the American bittern. The Regional Credibility Measures for the loggerhead shrike and house sparrow, however, are good.

Because 1966-2015 is a 49 year period, even small annual changes can accumulate to rather significant changes across the entire period. Any decline of 1.4% per year over 49 years would result in a 50% decline over the whole period. The loggerhead shrike, for which the Regional Credibility Measure is “G,” declined at an annual rate of 6.68% per year. Over 49 years, that computes to a decline of 97%!

Among the success stories are some birds that are everybody’s favorites: bald eagle observations increased almost 40% per year, great egret observations increased almost 11%, and cedar waxwing observations increased almost 9%. With the bald eagle and great egret, however the Regional Credibility Measures are red, again indicating extreme caution in using and interpreting the data, and for the cedar waxwing it is yellow.

These findings reinforce what was stated above: the Breeding Bird Survey provides crucial data, but it may not be a complete picture.

Missouri is home to 9 federal wildlife refuges and hundreds of state conservation areas. All are devoted to providing animals and plants the habitat they need to survive. If you visit them on the wrong day, they often look empty, and you can come away wondering what the big deal is. If you visit them on the right day, however, they can be teeming. Figure 2, for instance, shows the afternoon lift-off of a flock of snow geese at Loess Bluffs NWR in northwestern Missouri. The snow geese are only there to rest and refuel for a few days each spring and fall.

Figure 2. Snow Geese Lift Off at Loess Bluffs NWR. Source: Keyserill, 2017.

Sources:

Keyserill, Robert. 2017. “Afternoon Lift Off.” Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.” Downloaded 3/18/2018 from https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Loess_Bluffs.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr, K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link. 2017. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015. Version 2.07.2017 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD. Downloaded 3/14/2018 from https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs.

Siolkowski, Dave, Jr., Keith Pardieck, and John Sauer. 2010. “On the Road Again for a Bird Survey that Counts.” Birding, 42, (4), pp. 32-40. Downloaded 3/18/2018 from https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/bbsnews/Pubs/Birding-Article.pdf.

United States Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Trend and Annual Index Information. Downloaded 3/19/2018 from https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/trend_info15.html.

The United States Wasted 31% of Its Food Supply in 2010


In the United States, 133 billion pounds of food were wasted in 2010.


Figure 1. Data source: Buzby, Hodan, & Human, 2014.

In the USA, 133 billion pounds of the food supply available at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten, according to a report from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The total available food supply was 430 billion pounds, meaning that 31% of the food was lost. Retail losses represented 43 billion pounds, while consumer losses represented 90 billion pounds. The data is shown in Figure 1.

The total amount of food represents represents about 387 billion calories (Technically, kilocalories. In common speech, when we refer to “calories,” we are actually referring to “kilocalories.” In the rest of this post I’m going to follow common usage, and use “calories” to refer to “kilocalories.”) The report translates this to 1,249 calories per person per day, which is about half of a person’s daily caloric requirement.

These statistics have a humanitarian implication. There are many factors that would complicate attempts to deliver the wasted food to those who need it, but it would feed a lot of hungry people.

Figure 2. Source: Buzby, Hodan, & Hyman, 2014.

Food waste can also be thought of from an environmental perspective. Food waste constitutes about 14% of the total waste stream in America. After recycling products are separated out, it represents the largest category of waste going into our landfills: 21%. (See Figure 2) In addition, though the report doesn’t go into specifics, the growing and transport of food requires the use of energy, the spraying of pesticides and herbicides, the tapping of aquifers for irrigation, problems dealing with animal waste, and the erosion of topsoil, all of which are significant environmental problems. That almost 1/3 of the product produced with these practices is wasted should be a concern to almost everybody.

What are we throwing away so much of? In terms of total pounds of wastage, we throw away more dairy products than anything else (25.4 billion pounds), and vegetables are a close second (25.2 billion pounds). In terms of the percent of the available food supply that gets wasted, sugars and sweetners top the list (41%), followed by fish (39%).

Figure 3. Source: Buzby, Hodan, & Hyman, 2014.

Unfortunately, reducing waste is not so easy, and requires attention at all levels, including the level of the individual consumer. The EPA has published what they call a “food recovery hierarchy,” prioritizing different strategies. (Figure 3) Perhaps the basic first step involves the awareness that wasting food has a humanitarian and environmental cost.

Sources:

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Gender, and Physical Activity Level. Viewed online 3/3/2018 at https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/usda_food_patterns/EstimatedCalorieNeedsPerDayTable.pdf.

Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. 2014. The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2014. Downloaded 1/3/2018 from https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/43833/43680_eib121.pdf.

Missouri Species of Concern 2018

Many species have dwindled to the point that their continued survival is an issue of concern. So says the most recent edition of the Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern Checklist. The checklist monitors the status (in Missouri) of:

  • 18% of all vascular plants (plants with a specialized system to conduct nutrients throughout the plant, including almost all trees and flowering plants);
  • 14% of all non-vascular plants (plants without a specialized circulatory system, including mosses and algae);
  • 28% of all vertebrate animals (animals with a backbone, including fish, snakes, birds, rodents, cats, dogs, bear, and deer); and
    an unknown percentage of native invertebrate species (animals lacking a backbone, including insects, worms, and shellfish).

Species have become threatened despite the fact that, legally at least, “All native animal species in the State of Missouri are protected as biological diversity elements unless a method of legal harvest, harm or take is described in the Code. All native plant species in the State of Missouri are protected as biological diversity elements only on land owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation.” (Missouri Department of Conservation 2018)

Figure 1. Data source: Missouri Department of Conservation 2018.

Threatened or endangered species in Missouri are defined as those listed as such by the Missouri Wildlife Code (3 CSR 10-4.111), or the U.S. Endangered Species Act. There are 75 listed in the checklist. They include such notable species as the Peregrine Falcon, the Greater Prairie-chicken, and the Snowy Egret.

There are many, many more species of concern that are not listed in those laws, however. The report lists 1,156 in total. Figure 1 shows the number of species by rank. (Some species carry more than one rank, thus, the total number of rankings is larger than the total number of species on the list.) Some of these species may exist in other parts of the country or the world, but some are (were) unique to Missouri.

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Figure 2. Data source: Missouri Department of Conservation 2018.

Plants and animals tend to group together into communities where the species each fit into a niche that contributes to the health of the whole community. Weaken one and you weaken the whole community. Because Missouri’s landscape is fractured into relatively isolated ecosystems defined by soil type, sunlight, and the presence (or absence) of water, the state is home to many unique, but small communities of this kind. Many of Missouri’s threatened species live in such communities. Eighty-five such communities have been identified by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Of them, 24 are listed as imperiled (28% of the total), and 17 more are listed as critically imperiled (20% of the total). Together, that means 41 are either imperiled or critically imperiled (48% of the total). (Figure 2).

Sources:

Consolidated State Rules of Missouri. 2017. 3 CSR 10-4.111, Wildlife Code, Endangered Species. Viewed online 2/15/2018 at https://www.sos.mo.gov/adrules/csr/current/3csr/3csr.asp.

Missouri Department of Conservation. 2018. Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern. Publication # SC1077. Downloaded 2/15/2018 from https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/downloads/2018_SOCC.pdf.

Missouri Forest Resources Largely Unchanged in 2016

Forest resources in Missouri were unchanged in 2016, after more than 40 years of gradual increase, according to an estimate by the U.S. Forest Service.

The estimate comes from the Missouri Forest Inventory, which is conducted annually. Data were collected from 7,524 individual forested plots across the state. Researchers surveyed how many trees of each species were located within the plot, and measured their height and girth. Researchers then extrapolated from this data to create a estimates for the whole state.

Table 1. Source: Piva et al, 2017.

Table 1 shows the data. In the table, “forest land” means land that is at least 10% covered by trees. “Timberland” means forest land that is capable of producing more than 20 cubic feet per acre per year of industrial wood crops. Compared to 2011, in 2016 the amount of forest land in Missouri decreased by 0.9%, the number of live trees decreased by 3.8%, the aboveground biomass of live trees increased 2.1% and the net volume of live trees increased 2.9%. The area of timberland decreased 1.1%, while on timberland the number of live trees decreased 3.7%, the aboveground biomass of live trees increased 2.0%, and the net volume of live trees increased 2.7%. All of these changes were either within or just outside the margin of error. Thus, while there may be some very slight change between 2011 and 2016, it appears to have been small.

(Click on table for larger view.)

Figure 1. Area of Forest Land and Timberland in Missouri by Year. Source: Piva and Trieman 2016.

At the time of first settlement Missouri had an estimated 31 million acres of forested land. By 1947, the year of the first forest inventory, it had decreased to 15.2 million acres. As shown in Figure 1, the area of both forest land and timberland bottomed in 1972, and over the next 40 years slowly rebounded to 1947 levels.

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Figure 2. Source: Piva et al, 2017.

As shown in Figure 2, the Eastern Ozarks is the most heavily forested area in the state, with the remainder of the Ozarks next most heavily forested.

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Figure 3. Percent of Tree Species on Missouri Forest Land. Source: Piva et al, 2017.

As shown in Figure 3, Missouri’s forest lands are predominantly oak-hickory forests.

The extent of Missouri’s forest land, and the raw amount of forest that it supports is one factor in assessing the health of Missouri’s forests, but there are other factors as well, such as the presence of invasive nuisance species, the land’s ability to support animal and bird life, the presence of toxins, and the health of the trees on the land. I have discussed some of those issues in this blog, and those who are interested can find the relevant posts under the Land and Water menus at the top of the page.

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Source:

Piva, Ronald and Thomas Treiman. 2017. Forests of Missouri, 2016. Resource Update FS-120. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. https://doi.org/10.2737/FS-RU-120.