The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
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Planet Earth, the only speck in the Universe confirmed by humans to have evolved higher forms of life. Watch NASA's phenomenal movie summarizing Life on Earth.

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CADES COVE Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Thursday plans to officially reopen Parson Branch Road, first cut through the ridges around Cades Cove 180 years ago.

The narrow, 8-mile one-way mountain road out of Cades Cove to U.S. 129 has been closed since 2016 following washouts that were compounded by a steady diet of collapsing diseased and dead hemlocks. A ceremony is set for Thursday morning at the beginning of the road in Caves Cove.

The road was closed because of the tree hazards and damage to the road surface. The hemlocks succumbed to the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect that has wreaked havoc on hemlock stands and their accompanying ecosystems.

The road passes several trailheads, and is used by emergency vehicles as needed. The park initially identified some 1,700 trees that posed a hazard to the adjacent roadway, but that number has naturally declined by about half over the past six years.

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park provided $100,000 for the hazard-mitigation project. That was matched with $50,000 from the federal government.

Attendees of Thursday’s event will include former Cades Cove resident Larry Sparks, whose great-great-grandfather, Russell Gregory, was assigned to oversee construction of Parson Branch Road in 1838, according to the park service.

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iss064e028599The horizon over Argentina is seen in this image taken from the International Space Station.  NASA

Earth Day is every day, but it’s officially on Friday, April 22 this year. Get involved.

The 2022 observance of Earth Day is officially Friday, April 22, but the Knoxville area plans celebrations, work parties and seminars in honor of the 50-year-old annual recognition of Mother Nature through Saturday. Here’s a quick look at some local ways to love your mama. This list will be updated.

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IMG 3189The city of Knoxville has started a pilot composting project for residents and restaurants. Come meet cool people and learn more about limiting food waste and sip some beers April 9 at Crafty Bastard Brewery. City of Knoxville 

Learn how to reduce food waste Saturday at Crafty Bastard Brewery 

Paige Travis is a public information specialist for the city of Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE The Waste and Resources Management Office invites the public to learn how to reduce food waste and drink a special brew Saturday, April 9 at the culmination of Tennessee Food Waste Awareness Week.

“The city of Knoxville is committed to reducing the amount of food waste that we put into our landfill,” said Waste and Resources Manager Patience Melnik, whose department recently launched the Knoxville Compost Pilot Project.

Hellbender Press previously reported on efforts to reduce food waste at the University of Tennessee.

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Rangers shot and killed bear eating body at campsite 82

(This story has been updated)

A black bear killed a man whose body was found by backpackers at a Hazel Creek campsite in September 2020.

Patrick Madura died “due to trauma caused by a bear,” according to a news release from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

He would be only the second park visitor known to be killed in a bear attack in the 80-year history of the national park.

Glenda Bradley was killed in a predatory bear attack on the Little River trail in 2000. Two bears were shot and killed by park rangers after a Boy Scout troop came upon the incident. The animals, a sow and yearling, were eating and attempting to cache Bradley’s body when they were killed. 

Madura’s body was found by backpackers arriving at campsite 82 on Sept. 11, 2020. They first noticed an empty tent, then saw a bear “scavenging” the victim’s body across the creek. 

Rangers responding to the subsequent emergency call found a bear eating Madura’s body and shot and killed the animal. Hazel Creek Trail and the campsite were temporarily closed following the incident.

Madura, 43, of Elgin, Illinois was hiking and camping alone when he was attacked, according to the park service. No additional information about food storage issues or what may have precipitated the attack was immediately available from the park service.

Madura was an accomplished outdoorsman with a masters in biology and was trained as an EMT and firefighter, according to local reporting from the Chicago area following his death last year.  

Fatal attacks are extremely rare, given the number of visitors to the national park, the most visited in the country. Nonfatal attacks, while still rare, are more common. A bear attacked a teenager as she slept in a hammock near the Maddron Bald trail in the Cosby area earlier this year; she was airlifted from the park with serious injuries but was expected to make a full recovery. The bear involved in that attack was euthanized as well.

Rangers urge visitors to be Bearwise, but regularly encounter improper interactions between bears and visitors, such as an incident this summer in which a woman was cited for feeding a bear peanut butter from a vehicle in Cades Cove.

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83644084 179844060054345 4751008813274890240 n 705x550Courtesy of Help Asheville Bears 

By any other name: From poaching to cars and traps, black bears face diverse human threats in Southern Appalachians 

Activists and state agencies agree bear poaching is an age-old problem in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, but they diverge when it comes to some key aspects of the crime and its prevention.

The non-profit Help Asheville Bears is raising awareness of threats to bears on both sides of the state lines and getting coverage on local media outlets like this piece on Knoxville-based WBIR. Its message has also appeared on a billboard in Sevierville. The Arden, N.C.-based group offers a tip line, rewards and also supports what could be described as a self-styled anti-poaching militia.

“Bear poaching is a big deal. It happens anywhere where there are bears,” said Jody Williams, the founder of Help Asheville Bears, which is responding to what its members see as an increasing threat to the very symbol of wild Southern Appalachia. HAB is especially concerned about trapping that Williams said has left limbless bears limping throughout the mountains.

The group is demanding Amazon quit selling leg-snare traps with a petition on Change.org that has gotten more than 220,000 signatures.

A video at the top of the page shows images and footage of bears with missing limbs as sad flute music plays.

“We currently follow 12 cases of bears missing limbs in a 25 mile radius of the Asheville area and 15 missing limbs within 90 miles of Asheville,” according to the Help Asheville Bears website.

“Help Asheville Bears intends to help prevent illegal bear trapping in the South Asheville and Arden areas, where there has been much photographic evidence of illegal trapping, especially bears missing limbs.”

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Hundreds of humans attracted to stench of Rotty Top; Hard Knox Wire performs autopsy on UT corpse flower phenom

(This story was originally published by Hard Knox Wire).

“What I feel the most is excited from all the exposure that folks are getting of biology and the greenhouses,” said UT biology greenhouse director Jeff Martin. “I didn’t realize this many people would be interested, and it’s great. Hopefully, this will get people a little more interested in other types of plants.”

She came, she reeked, she conquered.

That’s how the history books may recall Rotty Top’s brief tenure as the biggest star on the University of Tennessee campus in July 2021. 

The corpse flower (or titan arum, to the biologists among us) finally bloomed early Thursday morning after two weeks of teasing its keepers — and the public — that it was about to drop its leaves and saturate its surroundings with the odor of decaying flesh.

Hundreds of visitors had already visited Rotty Top in the days preceding the rare event (the plant blooms at best once every decade), but on Thursday it seemed as though they were all returning at once. Shuttle buses carried curious fans from a nearby parking garage to the Hesler Biology Building on Circle Drive, and scores of people crowded around the titan arum’s enclosure to get a whiff of its infamous scent.

“Most of the odors are going to be those sulfuric, garlicky, even fishy scents,” said Kaitlin Palla, assistant greenhouse manager for UT’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Those are produced by two of the main compounds the central column will produce. It’s heating up to 98 degrees right now, so it’s really aerosolizing those compounds in particular. But there’s also floral notes from the skirt-like structure around the bottom.”

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The Tennessee Aquariums Gentoo Penguin chick weighs more than two kilograms at just 28 days oldThe Tennessee Aquarium’s Gentoo penguin chick weighs more than 2 kilograms at 28 weeks old. Casey Phillips/Tennessee Aquarium 

Baby penguin, endangered turtles and puffer fish are the newest additions to the Tennessee Aquarium

(Casey Phillips is a communications specialist at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga)

As any parent knows, kids tend to do whatever you least expect. In the case of an endangered four-eyed turtle hatchling at the Tennessee Aquarium, however, merely existing was — in itself — a huge surprise. 

On July 11, a volunteer was tending an enclosure in a backup area of the River Journey exhibit. This habitat was only supposed to house a female endangered four-eyed turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata, a largely montaine species native to parts of China and Vietnam), but the volunteer soon discovered that the adult turtle wasn’t alone. Perched atop a layer of vegetation was a tiny hatchling that, by all accounts, shouldn’t have been there.

“The adult female hadn’t been with a male in over a year, so we did not check to see if she had laid this year,” says Bill Hughes, the aquarium’s herpetology coordinator. “To say the least, finding an egg, let alone a hatchling, was unexpected.”

Tennessee Aquarium Herpetology Coordinator holds a recently hatched Four eyed TurtleTennessee Aquarium Herpetology Coordinator Bill Hughes holds a recently hatched endangered four-eyed turtle. Casey Phillips/Tennessee Aquarium

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Tree browning cicadas1 1 Here is some evidence of tree browning and “flagging” caused by the recent appearance of Brood-10 cicadas earlier this summer. Courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

Tree “flagging” is a lingering sign of the 17-year cicadas’ brief time on Earth

(Alexandra DeMarco is an intern in ORNL’s media relations group.)

On the road leading to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, drivers may notice that many of the green trees lining the entrance to the lab are dappled with brown leaves. At first glance, the sight isn’t extraordinary, as deciduous tree leaves turn hues of oranges and browns before falling to the ground each autumn.

Yet, just weeks past the summer solstice, this phenomenon is out of place and is in fact evidence of another natural occurrence: cicada “flagging.”

This spring, Brood X cicadas emerged from the ground after 17 years and swarmed across the eastern United States, leaving a trail of exoskeletons and echoes of mating calls. Cicadas emerge in such large quantities to withstand predation and successfully maintain their populations, and trees actually play a key role in their life cycle.

A male cicada attracts a female through a mating call, the sound responsible for cicadas’ shrill hum. After the two mate, the female cicada uses a sharp tubular organ called an ovipositor to slit the bark and split the sapwood of young tree branches to deposit her eggs there. These incisions, however, damage a tree’s vascular system and can cause stalks beyond the incision to die and wither, leaving behind twigs with brown leaves that resemble flags dangling from the trees.

The eggs then grow into nymphs that make their way to below ground. An oft-repeated misconception is that they’ll stay dormant for 17 years. Actually, during that time, they go through 5 life stages while feeding on the xylem (tree sap) of roots. This may further weaken saplings that were heavily infested with cicadas.

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Kamikatsu Yuki Shimazu

Kamikatsu, Japan, famously declared its goal was to go waste-free by 2020. It didn’t quite get there.

This story was originally published in The Revelator

One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.

Despite recent scientific evidence that reusables don’t transmit the virus, the plastic industry has lobbied hard for a return to all things disposable plastic. Inevitably, a lot of that plastic will continue to flow into our environment.

While COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into the hard-earned progress we’d been making in reducing waste, eliminating plastic pollution entirely was always going to be challenging — with or without a pandemic. The jarring rise of single-use plastics is an expedited version of a familiar trend. Plastic production has been steadily increasing for quite some time.

As a zero-waste advocate, I’ve seen how the tsunami of plastic continuously being produced and flooding our planet has made achieving zero-waste goals incredibly difficult. The sheer amount makes it hard to safely and efficiently dispose of plastic, no matter how hard we try.

But as I examine the problem, and search for solutions, I keep coming back to one noteworthy example. 

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RepairingTheDamage ModernMines RA Infographic1024 1

Report: Cascading bond forfeiture threatens surface mine cleanup

A new report from Appalachian Voices warns that mining companies will increasingly abandon reclamation bonds as the coal industry continues to decline in the Southern Appalachians, adding to already extensive public liability for cleanup costs.

Cleanup and reclamation with a price tag of nearly $10 billion must be still be done on 630,000 acres across seven states, according to the report, Repairing the Damage: The costs of delaying reclamation at modern-era mines.

Reclamation of lands and waters destroyed by coal surface mining could create some 40,000 jobs across the affected regions, virtually replacing, at least temporarily, all the mining jobs that have been lost during the past decade.

“The coal industry has declined precipitously in the last decade, raising the question of whether adequate regulations are in place to ensure that mined land is properly reclaimed,” according to a summary of the report, which was released July 7.

“As more coal companies declare bankruptcy, fewer companies remain to take over mines, so the number of companies forfeiting mining reclamation bonds and deserting their cleanup responsibilities will only increase. In many states, the funds generated by bonding programs may fall short of the actual reclamation costs that are passed to state agencies and taxpayers,” according to Appalachian Voices.

 

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