Invasive Species Are Radically Altering Hawaii’s Ecology

The risk of unprecedented fires is primarily due to poor land management, a plantation-era legacy.

Biden’s EPA Has Resolved Only One Civil Rights Complaint Brought Since 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency’s recent dismissals of three cases that would fix some of the problems in “Cancer Alley” underscores a difficult complaint process that works against Black communities’ best interests. They fall in line with a history of neglecting marginalized residents and failing to fully realize the legal power of the Civil Rights Act […]

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Slim pickings: Little sun, too much rain slowing Upper Valley berry season

a woman is holding a box of strawberries in front of a store as two people look on
a woman is holding a box of strawberries in front of a store as two people look on
Linda Friedman, left, and Roy Mark, middle, co-owners of Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont, watch as Molly Smith, of Charlestown, New Hampshire, leaves their store with a flat of strawberries on Wednesday, July 5. On day 21 of picking, the berries are becoming soft because of the rainy weather, said Friedman, and the orchard has lowered its prices on pick-your-own strawberries hoping to encourage customers to glean as many as possible. She’s hoping for another week of picking to help replace income from their lost apple crop. “If they’re going to rot on the ground, we’d rather people come and pay us a pittance for them,” said Friedman. Photo by James M. Patterson/Valley News

This story by Patrick Adrian was first published by the Valley News on July 5.

WEST LEBANON, New Hampshire — With berry season underway, Upper Valley farmers said their pick-your-own patches could use more sunshine to offset June’s rainy days and cool temperatures. A mid-May freeze also killed or damaged many fruit blossoms.

While the impact may not be as noticeable to customers, the problems have been especially acute for strawberry growers. But a lack of sunlight and warmth also is causing delays to the start of raspberry and blueberry picking at many farms, as well as some anxiety about the weather to come.

“This has been a spring and early summer to forget,” said Becky Nelson of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, New Hampshire. “We, like everyone else, are waterlogged. … We are hoping for some sunshine soon to sweeten the berries, as too much rain and not enough sunshine affect the taste.”

Newport saw nearly 5 inches of rainfall in June, the most for that month since 2015, which recorded 5.7 inches.

This amount of rainfall is not unprecedented, several farmers said. Since 2010, there have been five years where the Upper Valley accumulated at least 4 inches in June.

However, this past June the rain mostly occurred during the final two weeks — the heart of the strawberry-picking season.

On Tuesday, Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vermont, announced a sale on its PYO — or pick-your-own — strawberries of $1.99 per pint, a discount of 60%.

Linda Friedman, co-owner of Wellwood, said the end-of-season strawberry sale is intended to “clean up” the harvestable berries that remain in the patches.

“There are a lot of soft or rotting berries because of the rain, but there are a lot of good ones, too,” Friedman said. “And if people are making jam, they don’t care if some berries are soft.”

two people standing in a green field.
Melia Willis, 9, of Springfield, Vermont, left, looks for a next strawberry plant to pick from as her cousin Kyle Wright, 17, of Smyrna, Tennessee, right, checks over a berry at Wellwood Orchards in Springfield on Wednesday. While there was nothing to be done to save their apples from the mid-May frost, the orchard protected the strawberries by using overhead irrigation to encase the plants in ice. Photo by James M. Patterson/Valley News

In previous summers, the strawberry picking might have continued an additional week, though the wetness and the lack of sun are limiting the season to three weeks, which is just within the low end of the average season duration, according to Friedman.

What has most impacted Upper Valley fruit growers this year was the brutal cold snap in May, which not only impacted early varieties of raspberries and blueberries but fruit trees including apples, peaches and cherries.

Wellwood, whose PYO apple orchard is a popular tourist destination during the fall, lost nearly all its apple blossoms — as well as its peach, plum and cherry blossoms — when the low temperature on May 18 plummeted to 23 degrees.

As a result, Friedman said that strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are Wellwood’s only pick-your-own fruits this year.

“That’s the really serious storyline,” Friedman said. “We’ll be lucky to have enough apples to put on our store shelves. We will have to try to be creative with our events in the fall.”

Friedman partly attributed the freeze’s impact to bad timing, in that it struck right when many fruit trees and bushes were blossoming.

“If it had happened a few days earlier or a few days later,” the freeze might not have such an issue, Friedman noted.

Keith and Kristy Brodeur, owners of Bascom Road Blueberry Farm in Newport, New Hampshire, said the freeze killed the blossoms on their early-variety blueberry bushes.

“Farmers in the last 50 years haven’t seen it get that cold that late into the season,” said Keith Brodeur, who researched historical records to determine the rarity of the freeze.

Brodeur said on Monday his opening date for pick-your-own blueberries will be about “a week to 10 days” later than past years.

“We were tentatively hoping to open this (coming) weekend, but we will need multiple days of sun (to fully ripen the fruit),” Brodeur said.

Pete Bartlett, of Bartlett’s Blueberry Farm in Newport, New Hampshire, also said his opening this year will be later than his “average” start date in recent years, which has usually been around the second week of July.

Bartlett noted that blueberry production in recent years has been ramping up slightly earlier than 30 years ago due to warmer temperatures in the growing area.

Nelson, of Beaver Pond Farm, who hopes to open her pick-your-own raspberries later this week, said the cold snap did some damage to her early-variety raspberries.

“The blueberries look good, and the raspberries seem to be starting out OK,” Nelson said. “We are beginning to see some frost damage, or ‘winter kill,’ in the raspberries where they seem to be forming a full crop, but then the vascular structure can’t keep up with the vascular damage. They look great at first, but then they wither and die before the berries are pickable.”

Pooh Sprague, owner of Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, New Hampshire, noted that the impacts of this season’s weather — including the cold snap — will differ from one farm to the next, based on their crops and operation.

While Edgewater provides pick-your-own strawberries, the majority of Sprague’s strawberries are harvested for wholesale — which relieves some of the stress about leaving berries exposed in the field to heavy amounts of moisture or about rain driving away customers to pick the berries.

“Pick-your-own is nice, but it’s not a dependable way to get rid of your crop,” Sprague said.

The rainfall has its benefits, Sprague noted. It helps the blueberries “size up,” for example. And despite the rain, the strawberries this year have been surprisingly flavorful.

But the rain needs to be balanced with sunshine, growers said.

“The biggest problem with the excess wet in any fields that have swales or dips is the potential for a waterborne fungal disease called phytopthora root rot,” Nelson said. “We lost an entire planting to it in the past, so we are hoping it doesn’t make a resurgence, as it can destroy entire raspberry plantings and affect other crops planted in that space down the road.”

“There is no amount of cultivating practice or chemical spray as a remedy when you’re dealing with this much wet and mugginess,” Sprague said.

The current weather forecast looks more promising than previously anticipated, with several fully or partly sunny days projected between today and July 14.

“I think it’s going to be an average year for us,” Brodeur said.

“But it’s hard to say until the season’s over.”

Read the story on VTDigger here: Slim pickings: Little sun, too much rain slowing Upper Valley berry season.

Tribes call for increased Grand Canyon protections

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, met with tribal leaders representing a dozen Indigenous nations last weekend in a move that could expand protections for land around The Grand Canyon, permanently safeguarding the region from future uranium mining.

The proposed Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument would convert 1.1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park into a National Monument, providing significant protections to tribal water sources, delicate ecosystems, and cultural sites, while curtailing the impacts of uranium mining — a proposal tribes in the area have been fighting for since 1985. Baaj Nwaavjo means “where tribes roam” in the Havasupai language, I’tah Kukveni translates to “our footprints” in Hopi.

The region has high concentrations of uranium and mining has been a feature of the landscape since the 1950s. When mining first began in the area, uranium was used primarily for nuclear weapons. Today, uranium from the Grand Canyon is used for nuclear energy plants and power reactors in submarines and naval ships

In 2012, then-Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, placed a 20-year ban on uranium mining on more than a million acres of federal lands near the Grand Canyon in order to protect surface water from radioactive dust and mining waste. Without increased federal protections, tribal leaders say mining claims can be made at the end of the 20-year-ban, re-opening the Grand Canyon to uranium exploration.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, mining in the area disturbs underground vertical rock formations called “breccia pipes” — formations that often hold hydrothermal fluid or extremely hot water heated by the earth’s mantle and filled with various gasses, minerals and salts, including uranium. When disturbed, those breccia pipes can release their contents into aquifers and eventually, larger water systems.

The Skywalk hangs over the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai Indian Reservation before its grand opening ceremony on March 20, 2007, at Grand Canyon West, Ariz. Tribal leaders in Arizona said Tuesday, April 11, 2023, that they hope to build on the momentum of President Joe Biden’s recent designation of a national monument in neighboring Nevada to persuade the administration to create similar protections for the entire Grand Canyon area they consider sacred. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

In 2016, the Pinyon Plain Mine pierced an aquifer flooding mineshafts, and draining groundwater supplies. Between 2016 and 2021, the Grand Canyon Trust estimated that more than 48 million gallons of water had flooded Pinyon’s mineshafts, and the National Parks Conservation Association has consistently reported uranium levels in that water exceeding federal toxicity limits by more than 300 percent.

When ingested, uranium can cause bone and liver cancer, damage kidneys, and affect body processes like autoimmune and reproductive functions.

In 2016, tribal leaders brought the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni proposal to the Obama administration, but were rejected. Now, the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition, made up of 12 tribes with ties to the area, hope Secretary Haaland will encourage the Biden administration to protect the region.

“We can’t wait until the accident happens,” said Carletta Tilousi, a Havasupai elder and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “We are trying to prevent the catastrophe before it happens.”

The Havasupai reservation is an eight mile hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon and one of the most isolated communities in the United States.

But Tillousi says that while stopping uranium mining will be a major goal of the proposal, ongoing contamination issues must be addressed. The Pinyon Plain Mine continues to contaminate the Havasupai’s sole water supply, the Havasu Creek. Pinyon has been operating since 1986, and while the 2012 uranium mining ban stopped the construction of new mines, Pinyon is exempt due to its pre-approval. As of 2020, 30 million gallons of groundwater tainted with high levels of uranium and arsenic have been pumped out of the mines flooded shaft and dumped in an uncovered pond.

“We’re a small tribe, our tribe is made up of 765 people,” said Tillousi. “We need to protect our village and homes.”

This article was first published in Grist.

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