Six timely #greenreads that'll more than make up for the hour of sleep you're going to lose when you re-set your clocks on Saturday night.
Ted Williams for Audubon on saving sparrows: Quick: name the most endangered bird in the continental United States The condor, you say? The bald eagle? That piping plover that everyone is always talking about? Actually, our most endangered bird is a tiny brown creature going by the name of the Florida grasshopper sparrow. “Despite extensive habitat restoration," writes Williams, grasshopper sparrows "are on a toboggan run to oblivion. And unless managers can figure out and reverse what’s wrong in the next year or two, this bird will almost surely be gone.” If that happens, it will mark the first known bird extinction since the 1987 loss of the dusky seaside sparrow, another Florida marshland avian. Williams follows biologists on a race to save these plucky little birds -- of which only 200 remain -- as the extinction countdown ticks away.
Megan Weigand for Slate on one foul fertilizer: In 2009, music fans at an outdoor festival in Austin received a nasty shock when they realized that the churned-up dirt beneath their feet wasn’t dirt at all. City officials, it turned out, had been using a locally made, environmentally friendly compost called "Dillo Dirt" to spruce up some new sod. Which all sounds great, except that Dillo Dirt’s main ingredient is what's known in scientific circles as "biosolids," and in all other circles as one of the many words human beings have coined for their own solid waste. Heavy rains and the pounding footsteps of concertgoers quickly turned the soil into a mud that reeked worse than the festival's outdoor port-a-potties. As Weigand reveals, such creative repurposing of (treated) human waste isn’t actually all that uncommon; in some ways, she writes, it can be seen as "the ultimate achievement in efficiency.” But just how "environmentally friendly" are biosolids? And are they really and truly safe? Weigand explores why some folks are making such a big stink about repurposed poop.
Edward Wong for the New York Times on China’s water woes: “The first warning came in the form of dead fish floating in a river.” On December 31, 2012, a chemical spill at a fertilizer factory in Changzhi, China sent millions scrambling to find safe drinking water while potential carcinogens leached into the nearby Zhuozhang river. As this story makes all too clear, the Changzhi spill is but one example of the many water-use and pollution woes plaguing northern China. Environmentalists bemoan that politicians in a position to do something about the problem are covering for the polluters; other than firing a pair of on-site managers, the company that owned the fertilizer factory in Changzhi took no other actions -- nor were they compelled to. The scariest part: there are a hundred more factories on the Zhuozhang, each one sloughing off its own uniquely toxic formula of wastewater that poses significant harm to citizens downstream.
Judith Lewis Mernit for High Country News on lions in LA: Biologists were shocked when camera traps revealed a cougar ambling along a trail right above LA's iconic Hollywood sign. These hills above Hollywood, in fact, represent the attenuated far edge of of the Santa Monica Mountains; isolated in the brush, the eight to ten cougars who are estimated to be living there have a great deal of trouble finding mates, and face threats from rat poison, poachers, and traffic. “But there is no greater threat to their survival than the simple fact that they are imprisoned where they're born,” writes Mernit. “Any route out can be deadly for an individual lion. No way out will ultimately be deadly for them all.” To minimize the damage that can result from inbreeding, biologists are trying to steer the cougars toward a large stretch of habitat to the north, where they could conceivably breed with members of a larger population. But that would involve building a wildlife underpass to help them traverse suburbs and highways. So far, the money hasn’t materialized -- and LA’s wild lions many be running out of time.
Elizabeth Royte for OnEarth on fracking the forest: The expansive woodlands of northern Pennsylvania constitute one of the largest tracts of publicly accessible forest in the eastern United States. The region has long attracted hunters, hikers, and stargazers who come for the famously dark night skies. But these forests have the geological misfotune to rest atop the Marcellus Shale: a name that sends shivers down the spine of anyone concerned about the environmental dangers posed by fracking. “By any measure, extracting natural gas from deep shale formations is an ugly process,” writes Route in her essay accompanying a stunning series of photographs culled from the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project. Drill pads, roads, pipelines, generators, compressors, storage tanks, and portable toilets now litter those parts of the landscape where fracking has already taken hold. As more and more undeveloped land is gobbled up by the energy industry, people naturally want to be able turn to places like Pennsylvania's forests for refuge. “How disappointing, then, to discover -- or just to learn, for those who take comfort simply in the knowledge of wild places -- that these dense and contiguous forests, so recently recovered, have quite recently been rebroken.”