Cooperation on Colorado, on Virginia Coast, and in Arctic: DOI


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US Department of the Interior Logo. Image by DOI

US Department of the Interior Logo, seal courtesy of the DOI, Image by Clindberg.

This week’s Department of the Interior (DOI) report focused on cooperation around Indian Affairs issues: The land buyback program, wise development and planning on public lands, and native education.

But environmental and geoscience issues always underlie land discussions in one way or another and this week was no different, except for an increased sense of urgency. These included the need for cooperation in dealing with issues such as water supplies, land subsidence, and the destruction of arctic habitats.

Colorado River Overdrafting

From Las Vegas Nevada, the DOI reported on discussions at the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual conference. A special focus was the need for water management during this period of historic drought in the basin with water shortages from historical overdrafting expected in California as soon as 2017.

Southern Chesapeake Bay Region Land Subsidence

In a new USGS report from the DOI, such overdrafting, particularly ground water pumping, coupled with relative sea-level rises, was cited as contributors to land subsidence in the Southern Chesapeake Bay Region, particularly along the Virginia coastal plain. This area has been shown to have the highest rates of relative sea-level rises on the east coast.

The subsidence results in a higher threat of flooding from the added vulnerability to coastal storms and the accompanying loss of important protective coastal habitats. Options suggested were:

  1. Move ground water pumping away from high risk areas: or
  2. Decrease ground water withdrawal rates

Polar Bear Habitats Changing

Of particular significance to this author, since 60-80 percent of polar bears are found in my native land of Canada, was the first meeting of the five polar bear range states. The meeting took place in Moscow amid two predictions by scientists:

  1. By 2040 only a fringe of ice will remain in Northeast Canada and Northern Greenland when all other large areas of summer ice are gone; and
  2. By 2050 two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be lost.

Polar Bears International reports the following:

Scientists have concluded that the threat to polar bears is loss of their sea ice habitat in the Arctic from global warming. Polar bears depend on sea ice for hunting, breeding, and in some cases, denning. Summer ice loss in the Arctic now equals an area the size of Alaska, Texas, and the state of Washington combined.”

Before 1973 the threat to Polar Bears was unsustainable hunting. That year Canada, the United States, Denmark, Norway and the former USSR signed the ‘International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat,’ strictly regulating commercial hunting. In addition, the US Government classified the Polar Bear under its Endangered Species Act.

New Land Subsidence Report by USGS. Image by USGS

Shown here is the New Land Subsidence Report by USGS, image courtesy of USGS.

In 2005, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group upgraded the polar bear from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Vulnerable,’ based on rate of decline estimates.

As reported by Interior, environmental ministers and other leaders from the five polar bear range states met in Moscow for the first International Forum on Polar Bear conservation. The leaders made significant commitments, including working on managing the polar bears’ home in ways that will take into account the Arctic’s shrinking ice, and increasing industrial interest.

It is no doubt encouraging that, in general, most populations have returned to healthy numbers. However, there are differences within the 19 subpopulations: Some are stable, some seem to be increasing and 5 of the 19, are showing decline.

The Need for Co-operation

In all of this the biggest lesson appears to have been the necessity of co-operation. The price for non-cooperation in water rights, for instance, is higher costs for everyone as witnessed by increased potable water and waste water rates, not only in California, but elsewhere.

It took co-operation among the nations with Arctic lands to deal with the circumpolar issue of the protection of Polar Bears. It will no doubt require similar cooperation when dealing with the issue of overdrafting along the Virginia coastal plain.

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