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Preschool in the Forest

Children at Pacific Northwest school spend their days — rain, shine, and snow — in nature

For four hours a day, a group of preschool children and their teachers in Washington State head into a forest. Rain, snow, or shine, the children are free to run, play, climb, explore, sit quietly, or play musical instruments. The teachers are there to support children’s natural curiosities and exploration.

image of kids at forest preschoolPhoto by Karen Olsen/Cedarsong Nature School Rain, snow or shine, students at Cedarsong Nature School spend four hours per day in the forest.

This nontraditional school setting in the northwestern United States is Cedarsong Nature School, a Forest Kindergarten on Vashon Island. Opened in 2008, Cedarsong is a model Forest Kindergarten program, designed to connect children with the natural world and their place in it.

“My impetus for starting this type of program was to nurture the bond with nature that children are born with,” says Cedarsong founder Erin Kenny. “This leads to environmental stewardship. People who are disconnected from nature don’t care if the ancient forests are being cut down — they don’t care that the Amazon rainforest is being cut down. It doesn’t affect them.”

The Forest Experience

Cedarsong takes place on five acres of undeveloped forestland. Parents drop children, ages two to six, off at the trailhead in the morning. The group walks into a camp area where there’s a firepit, buckets, shovels, musical instruments, and magnifying glasses. There are no toys — the children rely on their own creativity.

Meeting at the same location day after day, season after season, allows children to bond intimately with the land. They notice when new plants come up and can observe entire lifecycles of species. There’s a picnic shelter and table, a composting toilet, and a storage shed for snacks, extra clothing, and emergency supplies. There is no indoor school space.

“For four hours, we just help the children manage if they’re having any discomfort,” says Kenny. “There’s nowhere to retreat. If they start getting a little shivery, we can just put another layer on them.”

For Elizabeth Fitterer, Cedarsong provided an alternative preschool experience for her family. Her daughter Lorelei always preferred natural materials to plastic toys. When Fitterer saw a poster for Cedarsong, it seemed like a good fit. “As a baby, if Lorelei was upset, I’d take her out into the yard and it would calm her down just to be outside,” she says. “When she started walking, she liked to go on big walks, stomping around in puddles, …more

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Embracing Roadside Ecology

Highways pose dangers to wildlife, but roadside spaces can also provide valuable habitat

When we think of roads and highways, images of cars and trucks whizzing by comes to mind. But what does the side of the road look like? Try picturing your local highway — is it littered with trash? Are there any plants? What about barriers or fences?

When Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, the First Lady and wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, contemplated roadsides back in the 1960s, she envisioned a space where ugly billboards were replaced with native wildflowers and plants. Today, this idea of roadside ecology is just beginning to come into vogue as more scientists start to ask how we can better design the margins of roads to create habitat and support local ecology.

photo of roadside habitatPhoto by Matt Lavin Native flowers grow along a road in New Mexico. Some ecologists say that roadside areas can provide important habitat for native plants and pollinators. 

Johnson brought the concept of aesthetically-pleasing road improvements to the fore during her time as First Lady. In 1964, she helped create the Society for a More Beautiful National Capital to improve the aesthetic of Washington DC. The nation’s capital became a staging ground for cleaning up trash, improving parks, and planting flowers along roadsides. In Johnson’s view, this was a way to promote the mental health of a nation suffering from prolonged exposure to the turmoil of the Vietnam War.

Helping craft the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, Johnson hoped to minimize the ubiquity of billboards along highways and promote the planting of wildflowers across the country. But there were enough loopholes in the bill that today there are more billboards along highways than when the bill passed. The vision of lush, plant-filled right-of-ways was not realized either.

Despite these setbacks, Johnson’s time as First Lady was marked by her continuous advocacy for the beautification of roadsides, neighborhoods, and natural areas. She was instrumental in realizing the passage of landmark conservation laws, such as the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. And in October of 1982, long after her time as First Lady had ended, Johnson further solidified her conservation legacy by founding the National Wildflower Research Center, later renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It will celebrate its 35th birthday this year, and with it, a commitment to landscape ecology and research.

Johnson illustrated her intentions for the Center in a letter welcoming visitors to an early version …more

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Bolivia Approves Highway Through Amazon Biodiversity Hotspot

National park that is home to thousands of Indigenous people loses protected status to allow for construction of 190-mile road

Bolivia has given the go ahead to a controversial highway that would cut through an Amazon biodiversity hotspot almost the size of Jamaica and home to 14,000 mostly Indigenous people.

photo of Indigenous march for TIPNISPhoto by Marielle Claudia Indigenous peoples march in defense of the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, known as Tipnis, in 2011. The Bolivian government has approved construction of a highway through the protected area.

President Evo Morales enacted the new law opening the way for the 190-mile (300km) road through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, known as Tipnis, its Spanish acronym. The road will divide the park in two and strip it of the protections won in 2011 when a national march by thousands of protesters ended in clashes with the police and forced the government to change its position.

Speaking to supporters of the road in the Amazon city of Trinidad, Morales accused developed countries of pushing “colonial environmentalism” in Bolivia.

“This so-called colonial environmentalism isn’t interested in the Indigenous movement having schools, hospitals; they’re not interested in the Indigenous movement having electricity or that we have highways,” he said. The law was backed by the majority of local authorities and the governor of Beni, Bolivia’s main Amazon region.

The legislation passed through Bolivia’s Senate last week where Morales’ governing Movement Toward Socialism party holds a two-thirds majority, and was enacted on Sunday. Rival political parties and the Catholic church opposed the law, joining activists and Indigenous groups who marched in several cities across the country.

“This is the beginning of the destruction of protected areas in Bolivia and indigenous peoples’ territory,” Fernando Vargas, a Tipnis Indigenous leader, told The Guardian. Tipnis, which stretches for more than 10,000km2, is home to the Moxeños, Yurakarés and Chimanes Indigenous people.

“Evo Morales is not a defender of Mother Earth, or Indigenous peoples. He’s in favor of extractivism and capitalism,” Vargas added, rejecting the leader’s assertion that the Tipnis movement was driven by foreign NGOs.

“We know that the road means the destruction of our territory, we don’t need anyone to tell us,” he said.

Opponents of the road say it will open up the park to mining and oil and gas exploration, as well as loggers and coca farmers, known as cocaleros, whom they accuse Morales, a former cocalero leader, of supporting. Illegal coca crops in Bolivia increased by 150 percent from 2015 to …more

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Four Pacific Marine National Monuments Face Threat Under Trump Order

Fishing interests push to roll back the world's biggest set of ocean reserves as Secretary Zinke prepares recommendations

This is Kitty Simonds’ moment.

For the four decades that she has been running an obscure but powerful federal fisheries management agency in Honolulu, Simonds has fought tooth and nail against any restrictions on fishing in the waters surrounding US possessions in the Pacific, from Hawaii to the Northern Marianas.

And for four decades, the restrictions have done nothing but grow — particularly the no-fishing marine reserves that have, as she puts it, “engulfed” more than half the US waters in the Central Pacific for, she believes, no useful purpose.

photo of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National MonumentPhoto by Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Fish on a deep reef in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Papahānaumokuākea is one of four four marine monuments currently under review by the Trump Administration.

But today, Simonds is attempting to harness the ideology of the Trump administration with a campaign named “Make America Great Again: Return US Fishermen to US Waters.” It aims to roll back the world’s biggest set of marine reserves — no matter that the fishing closures have had no perceptible effect on ever-increasing catches of over-fished species, or that most of the Hawaii commercial fishing fleet is crewed by poor foreigners working in slave-like conditions.

Simonds’ opening came on April 25, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review 27 national monuments created under the 1906 Antiquities Act since 1996, with an eye to rescinding or shrinking them or simply allowing economic activities like mining or drilling.

The Antiquities Act empowers the president, without the consent of Congress, to turn federal lands containing “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” into “national monuments,” which protects them from any extractive use. It does not provide for the president cancelling the designation, although Congress may do so.

Trump’s focus is squarely on the more controversial monuments on land, particularly Bears Ears in Utah. But caught in the dragnet of the 27 monuments are four marine monuments in the Pacific as well as one off the New England coast, all established in the last decade.

More than a million public comments were submitted and Zinke is expected to submit his recommendations on August 25.

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One public comment is especially likely to get an attentive reading: the 12-page letter submitted by Simonds, whose title is executive director of the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, known as …more

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Life without Fossil Fuels: Slow and Satisfying

A visit to a Missouri homestead serves as a reminder that the one constant of life is change

I stepped off the train in the farm town of La Plata, Missouri, with my 9-year-old son, Zane. Thomas was waiting to meet us with two well-maintained bikes, one with a trailer for our backpacks, the other with a long wooden seat for passengers, to make the 6-mile trip to the Possibility Alliance.

photo of milky wayPhoto by Keith YahlWith only candles to light the darkness at the Possibility Alliance, the starts and quiet took center stage during the author's visit.

The PA is a 110-acre homestead run by Ethan and Sarah Hughes, who have two young daughters. Their reliance on fossil fuels is limited to trains for long-distance trips, municipal water, and a telephone landline. They purchase bike parts, bulk grains, and tin roofing, as needed — but that’s about it. No electricity, no gas, no cars, no planes. With the imminent release of my book on how life using radically less fossil fuel turns out to be moresatisfying, I’d been curious to visit the PA both to glean technical knowledge and — more importantly — to see whether their experience of increased joy and satisfaction matched my own.

While my stay was brief, it felt full in terms of the ingenuity, beauty, and love I experienced. The sun set as we biked from the train. A bit later, the land lit up with fireflies. With only candles to light the darkness, the stars and the quiet took center stage. The next morning at dawn, I walked through the lush greens of gardens, orchards, pastures, and forests, then joined Ethan and other members of the community for an hour of meditation.

In addition to the Hughes family, the PA is home to two permanent members, Dan and Margaret, as well as two long-term visitors, Thomas and Maggie. Thousands of other visitors have come and gone over the years. A few have settled on adjacent homesteads, while others left to start far-flung urban permaculture centers. All are contributing to a more beautiful and just world, as they feel uniquely called to do. Ethan and Sarah have given away tens of thousands of trees and plants over the years — they are still in awe of nature’s abundance, the way life regenerates and propagates through time, a key difference between a tractor and a draft-horse — but perhaps more significantly, they’ve seeded the world with the people they’ve taught and inspired.

Thomas cooked all meals over ultra-efficient wood-fired rocket stoves in …more

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Marine Stewardship Council Grants EcoLabel to ‘Dolphin-Destructive’ Mexican Tuna Fishery

Wildlife groups blast the decision, say it violates MSC’s own certification standards

The Marine Stewardship Council, an international organization formed to address the global problem of unsustainable fishing, has approved use of its “sustainable” ecolabel by the Mexican purse-seine fishery that intentionally chases, nets, and kills dolphins in order to catch tuna.

image of dolphins in netPhoto courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Dolphins at the top of a purse-seine net. The Marine Stewardship council approved use of its ecolabel by the dolphin-destructive Mexican purse-seine fishery on August 4.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Mission claimsto use our ecolabel and fishery certification programme to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.”

But, according to David Phillips, director of Earth Island’s International Marine Mammal Project, which first pioneered the Dolphin Safe tuna fishing standard, MSC is now failing to abide by its own certification requirements prohibiting the targeting of mammals for any fishery certified by MSC.

Phillips blasted the decision in a statement: “MSC is fraudulently rewarding the single most dolphin-destructive fishing method in world history with its ecolabel."

Earth Island is not alone in objecting to the MSC decision. The World Wildlife Fund, which in the late 1970s founded the MSC program, announced it’s “deep concern” that the Mexican fishery fails to meet MSC standards and recommends seafood buyers reject claims that the fishery is “sustainable.”

The Humane Society of the US and the US Marine Mammal Commission also strongly oppose MSC’s approval of this fishery as does a group of more than 60 non-governmental organizations and scientists from around the world.

Since 1960, more than 7 million dolphins have been killed by this cruel fishing method. Dolphins drown in nets, dolphin babies become separated from their mothers, and the constant stress of repeat captures disrupts feeding and mating activity. The fishery continues to hamper the recovery of dolphin populations that have been severely depleted by decades of killing by the tuna fleets.

The vast majority of the world tuna fishing industry has abandoned this fishing method, with more than 95 percent of the world tuna companies refusing to sell tuna caught by setting nets on dolphins. Regarding the Mexican tuna fishery, Phillips stated: “The Mexican fishing industry continues to chase and target dolphins and deceive consumers into thinking that it is ‘sustainable’ or …more

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Monsanto Sold PCBs for Years Despite Knowing Health Risks, Archives Reveal

Company says it has no liability for pollution caused by discharge of the chemicals into the environment

Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.

More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters, and other documents have been published in the new archive, many for the first time.

photo of PCB contaminated areaPhoto by Paul SablemanLegal anaylsis of newly available documents suggests that Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for years after learning they posed risks to public health and the environment.

Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests by the Poison Papers Project, which incorporates the Bioscience Resource Project, the Center for Media and Democracy and Chiron Return.

Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington — which is suing Monsanto for PCB clean-up costs potentially worth billions of dollars — said the archive contained damning evidence the state had previously been unaware of.

He told The Guardian: “If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact. They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit.”

As well as the Washington case, Monsanto is facing PCB contamination suits from city authorities in Seattle, Spokane, Long Beach, Portland, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley.

Any legal liabilities may be shared with the German chemicals company, Bayer, which has mounted a $66 billion (£51 billion) takeover bid for Monsanto. The European commission aims to complete a competition probe into the merger by August 22, amid signs of public unease in Europe and the US.

Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, Scott Partridge, did not dispute the authenticity of the documents revealed in the online cache but denied any impropriety.

He told The Guardian: “More than 40 years ago, the former Monsanto voluntarily stopped production and sale of PCBs prior to any federal requirement to do so. At the time Monsanto manufactured PCBs, they were a legal and approved product used in many useful applications. Monsanto has no liability for pollution caused by those who used or discharged PCBs into the …more

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