Friday, November 30, 2007

Sen. Shelby & Environmental Education

Senator Richard Shelby is truly making his mark on Environmental Education in Alabama. Here is a list of environmental education and research centers he has championed over the last few years:

These centers are not only providing cutting edge environmental education and research programs, but they  also plan to be state of the art eco-friendly LEED certified facilities.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ruffner Mountain Expansion Groundbreaking

Great Day at the Ruffner Mountain Tree Top Visitor/Environmental Education Center Groundbreaking with Senator Richard Shelby.

"Kid Birding" In Birmingham

Many thanks to Birmingham Audubon's Greg Harber (2nd person from the right) for taking out the kids in my neighborhood last week for some "Kid Birding."  BTW - my "kid" (Whitney) is in the center  "looking" for birds through her binoculars.

BEN Thanksgiving Special

1) BEN's List of Chosen Charities for Thanksgiving
2) BEN's List of Alabama Gift Ideas
3) Special Quotes and Passages About Alabama and the Environment


1. BEN's List of Chosen Charities for Thanksgiving - In lieu of BEN subscription fees, please consider making a contribution to one of the Bama Environmental News chosen charities this Thanksgiving Season. The charities include:

The Wilderness Society - c/o Frank Peterman, 112 Krog Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30307 - Make checks payable to The Wilderness Society

University of Washington Foundation/Rose Endowed Scholarship - UW Medicine Development - Attn. Donna Caliri, Campus Box 358220, Seattle, Washington 98195 (Checks Payable to UW Foundation - reference Rose Endowed Scholarship on check) or call Donna with credit card payment at 206-543-6347.

Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham Southern College - 900 Arkadelphia Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35254 - Make checks payable to Southern Environmental Center

Camp McDowell Episcopal Church Camp - 105 DeLong Road, Nauvoo, Alabama 35578 (Checks payable to Camp McDowell - reference Pat Byington Scholarship Fund on check)

Sheffield High School "Environmental Public Service Scholarship" - Sheffield Education Foundation, c/o Dr. Richard Gardner, Ed. D., 300 West Sixth Street, Sheffield, Alabama 35660 - (Checks payable to the Sheffield Education Foundation - reference Byington scholarship on the check)

Short descriptions of each Charity can be found at :

2. BEN's List of Alabama Gift Ideas - This holiday season, please consider these local Alabama eco-friendly companies and non-profits for this year's gift giving.

Sweetwater Pecan Company - A Southeast Alabama Company that provides locally grown pecans and various other gifts. The company is owned by local environmentalists and friends of BEN, Terry and Susan Bishop. Check them out at

Kingfisher Editions - Check out Beth Mayor Young's (Alabama's Ansel Adams) photography at

Higher Ground Roasters - A local Alabama coffee company that sells special "brands" on behalf of several nonprofit environmental groups including: Alabama Environmental Council, Alabama Rivers Alliance, Freshwater Land trust, Jones Valley Urban Farm and the SE. Foot Trails Coalition. Visit

Red Rain Store - A local Alabama store in Homewood, Alabama, Red Rain is sells a wide variety of eco-friendly items at the store and online! Visit -

Discovering Alabama - Want to purchase one of the 63 episodes of Doug Phillip's Discovering Alabama? Visit

Wild Paths - Check out this wonderful wildlife enhancement project sponsored by the Alabama Wildlife Federation in conjunction with the Alabama Institute of the Deaf and Blind in Talladega. Go to

Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation - Order the 2007 Weeks Bay Holiday ornament for $10. This year's edition features a Spotted Sea Trout with an estuary scene backdrop. Call 251-990-5504 to order.

Hummer Study Group - Check out Bob and Martha Sargent's catalog of books and hummingbird "starter kits" at the Hummer Study group site.

Alabama Environmental Organizations - Gift Items

Several Alabama environmental groups provide "online stores" to members and the general public. Here is a listing of "online stores."

Nature Conservancy Gift Store 
Alabama Wildlife Federation -
Southeastern Cave Conservancy -
Alabama Wildbird Conservation Association -
Wild South -
Black Warrior Riverkeeper -
Alabama Coastal Foundation -

3. Special Quotes and Passages About Alabama and the Environment

Below: A passage given to me from Stuart McGregor, a biologist at the Geological Survey of Alabama. This particular passage honors my hometown region Muscle Shoals.

".....The expansion of the Tennessee River, known by the name of Muscle Shoals, is of the character I have described; it is shallow, ornamented with a number of small islands, and its bed is full of the long grass which abounds in various species of Naiades. The lover of the grand and the beautiful in natural scenery, as well as the student in science, will here find abundant sources of interest. He will be delighted with a noble river, whose beautiful and numerous islands are clothed with gigantic trees; whose high and undulating shore on the one hand is ornamented with thriving villages, and on the other spreads out an extensive alluvial, rich in all the gifts of Ceres, or rises abruptly from the river a mural escarpment of carboniferous limestone, which reflectes its blue and sombre aspect in the crystal waters at it base...." ~ Timothy Abbot Conrad, "New Freshwater Shells of the United States", Philadelphia, 1834

From David Brower, the "Archdruid"

"Allow me to offer you a short course in ecology, beginning with rot. Rot is an extraordinary important process. Rot is highly exciting. But we give it a three letter word. We say, "This tree is sick," and "This is rotten, anyway. We should get rid of it."

By removing the rotten tree from the forest, we knock out of existence all the species that were going to use that tree for a home, for their dinner, until it rotted away completely, and helped nourish the next tree, maybe 200 or more years down the line. This a very good system. Unfortunately, we've learned to interrupt it rather than to live with it. We have learned how to break the circle of life instead of respecting it.

Nature recycles everything. There isn't anything that isn't recycled. Go outside. Look at the natural systems. Study them and learn to read the Earth. You will see what it has had time to learn. You will begin to understand the life force." ~ David Brower from Let the Mountains Talk Let the Rivers Run

"Wild nature, then, has been a way to recognize God and to talk about who he is - even, as in Job, a way for God to talk about who he is. How could it be otherwise? What else is, or was, beyond human reach. In what other sphere could a deity operate freely? It is not a chance that every second hymn in the hymn book rings with the imagery of the untouched outdoors. "All thy works with joy surround thee, Earth and Heaven reflect thy rays," we sing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Sheep and harvests and the other common motifs of the Bible are not just metaphors; they are also the old reality of the earth, a place where people depended for both life and meaning on the nature they found around them. "We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land. But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand. He sends the snow in winter, The warmth to swell the grain, The breezes and the sunshine, And soft refreshing rain. All good gifts around us Are sent from heaven above." ~ Bill McKibben from The End of Nature

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mobile Register Invasive Species Op-ed Written by Pat Byington in January 2006

"It's a bomb about to go off."

It's one of life's little ironies that hurricanes should figure so
prominently in the career of Rick Guffey, a soft-spoken man from the landlocked hills of North Alabama. He is the Director of Conservation Programs for the Nature Conservancy, Mississippi Chapter. He spoke in a serious, urgent tone.

"I don't mean to be alarmist, but we need to do something now or we will see the ecological makeup of our forests and landscapes totally changed."

The combined impact of hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina and Rita this year has created an unprecedented opportunity for invasive species to virtually wipe out acre after acre of coastal habitats and begin to encroach upon commercial forestry and agricultural resources. Two plants in particular, the Chinese tallowtree (Triadica sebifera) and Japanese cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), are poised to create an ecological -- and economic -- tragedy.

These plants spread quickly, are resistant to drought and disease, aggressively crowding out native species. The main thing they require is an abundance of sunlight. The hurricanes of the past two years tore through great swathes of forests in southern Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, clearing a path for a second natural disaster with even longer-lasting implications.

"Many of my constituents had all their assets literally blown away by Hurricane Ivan," said Congressman Jo Bonner in a meeting last month. "We have got to find a way to help these forestowners." That hurricane alone created more than $1 billion in lost timber values.

One of Alabama's most important industries is forestry, so addressing these losses is a priority. At the same time, scientists, landowners, environmentalists, the timber industry and the public must address the rising threat of invasive species, or these timber producing regions will cease to be a valuable natural resource for our state.

"Over the last decade it has been a slow-moving but pervasive problem," Guffey says. "But the combination of these major natural disturbances with the disruptions caused by upcoming recovery efforts takes the problem to a much higher level." The Chinese tallowtree has the potential to become the dominant species in several different habitats, and once established, is very difficult to control. It has even been shown to alter soil and water chemistry.

Alabama is blessed with a remarkable biological diversity. Within a few hundred miles, the geography produces a wealth of habitats, which in their turn support the wildlife that make hunting and fishing such popular sports. Bottomland hardwood, maritime forest, pine flatwood, pine savanna, tidal marsh, beach/dune, and island habitats are now all threatened by this acceleration of invasive species. When plant life diversity is reduced, native wildlife diversity takes a corresponding blow, so the impact is spread even further. The loss of this biological diversity would have a ripple effect far beyond the forest and agricultural industries.

The Chinese tallowtree, also called a "popcorn tree," has no marketable uses. Its primary characteristic is its ability to choke out trees which do have value on the marketplace. Japanese cogongrass grows so densely that it, too, chokes out any competing native species. The grass spreads remarkably quickly, by natural means and also by getting caught up in the tires of trucks and equipment in one area, and taking a free ride to a new spot. The downed trees of the hurricanes offer both species an opportunity to spread like wildfire.

Easing the human misery of hurricanes Katrina and Rita is of primary importance. But overlooking the long-term menace of invasive species is a mistake we cannot afford to make. Bringing together all the stakeholders this winter would be a first step in finding a solution. We need to offer relief to those landowners who have suffered from the devastation. At the same time, we must discuss all the possible ways to preserve the value of our forest and landscapes; that value may be found in its biological diversity and ability to shelter wildlife, or in its use as agricultural or forestry resources.

Alabama has over 220,000 non-industrial forest landowners, most owning timberland with less than 100 acres. These people have invested in Alabama's natural resources and are counting on their ability to leave a legacy to their children and grandchildren. We need to find ways to help our fellow Alabamians succeed.

Let's get together with our neighboring states now and find out what the solution may be. There is little time to defuse that bomb. Our decisions today are shaping the world our children and grandchildren will inhabit. We can choose to leave as our legacy endless acres of monotonous alien species, the product of our apathy. Or we can choose to pass on the landscape we ourselves inherited, a landscape of beauty and biological diversity.

Written by Pat Byington, ecologist who works for the Auburn University Center for Forest Sustainability and Karyn Zweifel, author and freelance writer from Birmingham

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bham News Recycling Commentary - By Pat Byington

The question came from out of the blue: "Do people recycle in Alabama?" asked the young bakery shop clerk in Cannon Beach, Ore., where I was vacationing with my family this past summer. I've worn my University of Alabama T-shirt many a time, but it has never elicited that question before.

Curious, and caught just a bit off guard, I answered with my own question: "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, well, I visited Alabama for a few weeks earlier in the year," she began, haltingly, "and there were no recycling centers. There was nothing. Just a lot of trashy roadsides. It was kinda ugly."

"Yeah, I know," I replied through a grimace. I also knew why it was that way.

If you ever wanted to identify the longest list of abandoned policy recommendations in the history of state government, you would have to look no further than Alabama's 1991 Solid Waste Management plan concerning recycling and waste reduction.

Following a legislative mandate, the 1991 plan recommended various initiatives designed to fulfill a 25 percent recycling/waste reduction goal in our state's solid waste stream by 1997. Nearly a generation later, Alabama is nowhere close to achieving that goal.

So why can't we recycle and reduce our garbage in Alabama like so many other communities around the country? We can, except for the lack of political will.

A case in point: I have relatives in Shelby County's Brook Highland neighborhood who recently told me about an exciting new recycling program in their community initiated by a high school senior as a class project. The ambitious student is picking up people's recyclables, door to door, and charging residents a monthly fee. After living in Alabama for more than 15 years, my relatives are thrilled to finally have a curbside-recycling program. All this from a high school class project that will most likely end when the student graduates in May.

Now, I don't have a problem with the student's ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, but shouldn't my relatives be able to expect the same service from Waste Management, the neighborhood's waste collector and one of the largest companies of its kind in North America?

Well, they should expect that service, and they would get it if they lived somewhere else. If they happened to live in a suburban Seattle neighborhood, where my wife's parents live, Waste Management would go to great lengths to help them recycle.

As my father-in-law boasts, his local government is so serious about recycling and waste reduction, it demands compliance from its waste collectors.

It requires companies such as Waste Management to provide two large recycling containers to each household -- one for recyclables and the other for yard waste -- and a small garbage bin. The tiny bin is an inducement to recycle, plain and simple.

Depending on where you live in Alabama, it costs $20 to $30 to landfill a ton of garbage. If we did achieve the 25 percent goal, Alabama would save $20 million to $30 million in landfill costs, lengthen landfill life, save energy, bolster the recycled-materials industry, develop new markets and create far more jobs than by simply burying all of our recyclables.

But it has to start with political will -- and leadership -- from the local government. Without policies that require waste collectors to create recycling incentives, none of this would happen.

Recent statistics on solid waste from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management give a compelling reason why we should recycle more in this state. Alabamians throw away approximately seven pounds of garbage per person per day, or more than a ton and a half a year. With about 4.6 million state residents, that means we toss out more than 11.5 billion pounds of garbage every year!

In contrast, Alabama's recycling rate is a meager 8.3 percent, which is far below the 25 percent goal set nearly two decades ago, according to ADEM. For comparison, the national recycling rate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is 32 percent, four times the current rate in Alabama. We are getting trounced by the rest of the nation when it comes to recycling.

Genuine efforts to recycle and reduce our wastes statewide will also create a new culture of environmental stewardship in Alabama, one that will find "unacceptable" the littered roadsides and streambanks, and the illegal dumps in our forests we currently tolerate.

All it takes to spark the change is political will, and a bit of prodding from the citizenry. Maybe it is time we dust off that 1991 Solid Waste Plan and start implementing it. But before we do that, perhaps it is time we all start demanding recycling in our own neighborhood, and not wait for a high school class project to tackle this urgent problem.

Ecologist Pat Byington, publisher of the Bama Environmental News (, is a senior associate with the Wilderness Society.

ROJO Vulcans Division 2B Champs

Yes - I know this isn't Alabama environmental news related, but as publisher of BEN I wanted to brag about my soccer team's 8-1 record and winning the Central Alabama Independant Soccer League 2B Division. By the way - I'm the goalie.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

BEN - November 9, 2007 #294

1) Mobile Register Exposes "Muddy 98"
2) List: Alabama's Cool Cities
3) Drought Dramatically Impacts 2007 Tree Seedlings
4) Forever Wild To Add Nearly 10,000 Acres In Central Alabama
5) Governors Agree To Address Water Basin/Drought Issue
6) Alabama Power Foundation Contributes $500,000 to Parks
7) BEN Notes: NWF's Catalog Choice, The Raindrop Benefit, 3rd Annual Meeting of the American Chestnut Foundation, Yancy Branch Tree Planting, Birmingham Audubon's Christmas Banquet, University of Alabama Sustainability and Climate Change Lecture Series


The Annual Constitution Convention Coalition Summit

On November 17th, the Constitutional Convention Coalition will be holding its annual summit at Birmingham Southern College from 9:00 to 3:00. Learn how you can help reform Alabama's Constitution by attending this very important gathering. Admission is free and lunch will be available. To register for the event, visit or email . Today - November 9th is the registration deadline.


Check out the Watershed Identity Project's new Cahaba River video by Hunter Nichols on You Tube. Go to


1. Mobile Register Exposes "Muddy 98" - For the past 2 months, the Mobile Register has broken numerous stories about the serious environmental damage that has been created by the state Department of Transportation's U.S. 98 road construction project near Big Creek Lake, Mobile's primary source of drinking water.

According to the Register, the damage from poor road construction practices include: a plume of sediment into Big Creek Lake that may require extra treatment and could reduce the lake's capacity; sediment from construction up to 2 feet deep damaging nearby wetlands and 2 to 3 inches of mud into parts of the pristine Escatawpa River.

Since the Mobile Register broke the story on September 19th, the Department of Transportation has spent $2.2 million attempting to bring the project's Best Management Practices into compliance and added one mile of additional silt fencing. The department has also delayed 23 road construction projects around the state to review environmental concerns.

Last week, in a meeting with the Register's editorial board, Joe McInnes, the Department's director stated... "I'm here to fall on my sword, to grovel, to apologize profusely." The Department of Transportation also claimed that ADEM had inspected the U.S. 98 project 16 times.

Below is a series of links/stories describing this environmental debacle in Mobile County.

Mobile Register's First Stories in September
Register's Editorial
McInnes Apologizes
Mobile Baykeeper's Website (This sued the Dept. of Transportation 2 years ago trying to prevent problems such as the one's described above)
Update: Breaking News: Register Points Out Additional Violations 5 days After Apology

2. List: Alabama's Cool Cities - Here is something "cool." In Alabama, the cities of Auburn, Bessemer, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa have joined 766 cities across the US, by declaring their municipalities "Cool Cities."

A project of the Sierra Club, the cities that have become a "Cool City" have signed onto the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement and committed their city to developing initiatives that will stem the negative impacts of climate change. To learn more "Cool Cities" and how to become one, visit -

3. Drought Dramatically Impacts 2007 Tree Seedlings - This year's devastating drought has claimed another victim - tree seedlings.

According to the Birmingham News, landowners planted new trees on 185,000 to 200,000 acres across the state this spring. Almost all of the seedlings will have to be plowed under and planted again (the exception being counties in Southwest Alabama) after this summer's drought and heat wave. Landowners consider a fledgling forest a success if at least 70% to 80% of the seedlings survive the first summer. According to the Alabama Forestry Commission, in the Birmingham region only 48% of the seedlings survived. In Walker county alone, only 17% of the seedlings survived.

The economic cost to private landowners is estimated at $25 million to $30 million.

4. Forever Wild To Add Nearly 10,000 Acres In Central Alabama - Last week, the Forever Wild program announced that it was about to make one of it's largest acquisitions in Central Alabama, with the purchase of 9800 acres near Rockford. The new Forever Wild property will be part of the Coosa Wildlife Management Area.

An important property that has been open to hunters since 1952, the land also contains rare mountain longleaf pine and a large group of the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. Along with the land, several miles along Hatchet and Weogufka creeks will be permanently protected. The willing seller of the land, the Hancock Timber Resource Group, a timber investment company, also made a special effort in the past few years to enhance the wildlife in the area and manage the land for longleaf pine.

5. Governors Agree To Address Water Basin/Drought Issue - With the announcement last month that Atlanta only has approximately a 90 day supply of water in reserve, the long standing water sharing dispute between Alabama, Georgia and Florida concerning the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basins erupted once again.

In response to this serious regional environmental and public crisis, the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama met with the U.S. Corp of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington to address the matter. From the meeting, the Corps of Engineers agreed with Alabama's assertion that the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority is exceeding its allowable water withdrawals by 100% and that the Corps was to give the Atlanta area authority 10 days to explain how it will come into compliance. In addition, there was also an agreement between the parties to protect the flows into the Chattahoochee River at levels to enable the Farley nuclear plant in Southeast Alabama and Alabama industries along the river to remain in operation. The governors agreed to set a February 15th deadline to have all issues in their water dispute resolved.

** Check out the following Decatur Daily news article on the lack of water resource planning, not only in Alabama, but in the Southeast.

6. Alabama Power Foundation Contributes $500,000 to Parks - In an effort to help support the region's 3 park initiative, last month, the Alabama Power Foundation announced it was donating $500,000 to park projects in Birmingham. The following is a breakdown of the contribution:

Railroad Reservation Park - A planned 18 acre green space, recreation, and entertainment park in the heart of Birmingham - $275,000

Red Mountain Park - 1000 acres in Birmingham and West Jefferson County - $175,000

Ruffner Mountain Nature Center - A 1000+ acre urban park in East Birmingham - $50,000

Check out each initiative and how they will help "transform" Birmingham's image into a green city, by visiting their websites at - and

7. BEN Notes: NWF's Catalog Choice, The Raindrop Benefit, 3rd Annual Meeting of the American Chestnut Foundation, Yancy Branch Tree Planting, Birmingham Audubon's Christmas Banquet, University of Alabama Sustainability and Climate Change Lecture Series

NWF's Catalog Choice - Want to stop the coming "flood" of catalogs invading your mailbox this holiday season? Visit the National Wildlife Federation's Catalog Choice website at to find out how.

2nd Annual Raindrop Festival Art Auction - The 2nd Annual Raindrop Festival Art Auction benefiting the Hulsey Little River Land Trust will be held November 10th at ROJO in Birmingham, Alabama. The Hulsey Land Trust was founded in 2006 in honor of Shane Hulsey, the Cahaba River Society's CLEAN Director who died in tragic accident. For information about Shane and the new Land Trust please visit

3rd Annual Meeting of the American Chestnut Foundation - The Alabama Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation will be holding its 3rd Annual Meeting at the Birmingham Botanical Garden's Lecture Hall on November 17 at 10:00 AM. For additional details contact Wayne Boldin at or 205-915-2863.

Yancy Branch Tree Planting - The Alabama Coastal Foundation will be holding the Yancy Branch Tree Planting on November 17th, 9:00 to Noon (meet at the Village Point Pavilion) in Daphne. Contact the ACF at if you plan to volunteer.

Birmingham Audubon's Christmas Banquet - This year's Birmingham Audubon Society's Christmas Banquet will feature renowned history of American Birding author Scott Weidensaul on December 4th, 6:30pm at the Vestavia Country Club. The dinner and event is $35 per person. Get your reservation today by calling Mary Brewer at 205-967-0752. The deadline is November 27th. Additional info can be found at

University of Alabama Sustainability and Climate Change Lecture Series - Last night I attended an incredible lecture by Chris Mooney, the author of Storm World. I highly recommend Mooney's book and his website/blog . BEN readers should also check the University of Alabama's lecture series that resumes on December 6th. For details visit -