Equilibrium & Sustainability — Altria

Equilibrium — Hikers cause major disruptions for animals: study

Human hikers create a “landscape of fear” that chases other animals into hiding, a new study has found.  

Even when hikers are unarmed and using the landscape peacefully, they can cause disruption on par with that of apex predators, according to the study published this month in Scientific Reports. 

When human hikers were present in Montana’s Glacier National Park, 16 out of 22 mammal species — including both predators and prey — changed when and where they accessed certain areas, the study authors observed.  

Some completely abandoned places they previously used, others used them less frequently and some shifted to more nocturnal activities to avoid humans. 

These findings add evidence to the theory that the mere presence of humans can change how species use a park. 

Because hunting is not allowed at Glacier, “these responses really are being driven by human presence and human noise,” senior author Daniel Thornton, a Washington State University wildlife ecologist, said in a statement. 

The researchers had also expected to find that the presence of humans would attract smaller predators and prey by chasing away the larger predators they fear — a dynamic known as “human shielding.” 

But only red foxes were found more likely to be on trails when the park was open — perhaps because coyotes, their canid competitors, were among the species put off by humans. 

The study builds on the findings of a similar study conducted in October 2022 in Glacier Bay National Park, in a remote coastal region of Alaska.

The authors of that study found that when human visitors were present, there were fewer animal detections per week across all species studied.  

And the presence of just 40 backcountry visitors was enough to drop wildlife sightings to zero, the study found. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon UdasinSubscribe here.

Today we’ll look at why business groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency, explore a royal wind farm haul and see the rising nutritional impact of dollar stores. Plus: lab-grown meat gets kosher label.

Let’s dive in.

Groups sue administration over stream protections

A coalition of agricultural and other business groups are suing the Biden administration over a new environmental rule that aims to protect temporary streams from pollution. 

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) led the lawsuit, including groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council. 

At issue: The suit challenges the legality of a rule that expands the Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction to regulate dangers to small and intermittent streams, wetlands and other bodies of water. 

  • These so-called “ephemeral streams” only carry water during certain times of the year or after heavy rain.  
  • But they make up a large percentage of the total miles of streams in the U.S. and are essential for water quality — particularly in Western states like Arizona, where they make up the bulk of the state’s waterways. 

That category will now include temporary streams in some cases. 

Stuck in the middle: The new rule marks a rough middle ground between the positions of past administrations. 

  • The Obama administration protected these streams, but the Trump administration repealed those protections.  
  • The Biden-era rule splits the difference by sometimes giving these streams protections. 

Industry pushback: One NCBA spokesperson characterized the new approach as lacking in “common sense.” 
 
Agricultural groups have long argued these streams should not be subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act, according to NCBA Policy Vice Chair Gene Copenhaver. 

  • “My cattle operation in southwest Virginia has a creek that only carries water after large storms,” Copenhaver, a Virginia cattle producer, said in a statement.
     
  • Under the new rule, ranchers “could be subject to complex federal regulations,” Copenhaver added. 

Not far enough? Environmental advocates counter the rule needs to further protect the nation’s wetlands and waterways. 

The lawsuit filed by the NCBA and a wide range other business groups others was “the soundboard response from them,” Austin Frerick, a fellow at Yale’s Thurman Arnold Project who studies agricultural consolidation, told Equilibrium.

Read more here.

Charles: Public should benefit from wind farm profits

King Charles III has announced that future profits from newly signed wind farm deals should be spent on the public rather than on royals, The Washington Post reported. 

For ‘public good’: Buckingham Palace wrote to the British government to “share the king’s wish” that such profits be redirected “for the wider public good,” a spokesperson said Thursday, according to the Post.  

The palace asked the government to propose “appropriate reduction in the Crown Estate surplus that funds the Sovereign Grant,” the spokesperson said. 

Powering millions, making billions: The palace statement was issued on the same day that the Crown Estate, which manages the royal property portfolio, announced six new wind farm deals, the Post reported.  

  • The wind farms are expected to generate power for about 7 million homes by 2030.  
  • The leasing arrangements could generate 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) per year for at least three years, according to the BBC.  

Current structure: Under a taxpayer-funded sovereign grant — now 86.3 million pounds ($107 million) per year — the king receives 25 percent of the Crown Estate’s annual surplus, The Guardian reported.

  • The “major windfall” generated by the six new energy leases “would usually lead to a jump in the monarchy’s official funding,” according to The Guardian.  
  • While the Crown Estate belongs to the reigning monarch, it is not the king’s private property. 

Reigniting a ‘climate crusade’: King Charles’s decision is in line with his Christmas Day broadcast, in which he recognized how people are struggling to make ends meet.

Charles has also long been what the Post described as a “climate crusader” — but one “who has tempered his activism since becoming king.” 

Dollar stores rising as food retailers in rural areas 

Dollar stores are now the fastest-growing food retailers in the contiguous U.S. — a trend that could have serious implications for public nutrition, a new study has found.  

A rising trend: Households that make the most purchases at such stores tend to be lower-income and headed by people of color, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health. 

  • Dollar stores have doubled their footprint in rural America over the past decade.  
  • Food and beverages stocked by these shops are usually lower in nutrients and higher in calories.  

Road trip sightings: Lead author Wenhui Feng said her inspiration for this study came from rural road trips she took after completing her doctorate.  

“It was surprising to see this one type of business dominated many areas that I visited,” Feng, a Tufts University professor of health care policy, said in a statement.   

How did she proceed? Feng and her colleagues analyzed food-purchase data from 2008 to 2020 through the IRI Consumer Network, a nationally representative database of about 50,000 households.  

The researchers found that as people’s income decreased, the share of food purchases they made in dollar stores increased.  

Footprint in rural America: Nationwide, dollar stores were responsible for about a 2.1 percent share of household food purchases as of 2020, according to the study. 

  • But in rural and low-income areas, people tend to spend more than 5 percent of their food budget at such retailers.   
  • This share was even greater for rural non-Hispanic Black households, which spend about 11.6 percent of their food budgets in dollar stores.  

To see more of the study’s findings, click here.

Lab-grown steak is kosher, Israel’s chief rabbi rules

Israel’s Chief Rabbi Baruch Lau has ruled that Aleph Farms’ lab grown steaks — cultivated from a cow still living in California — are permissible under Jewish law, the company announced on Thursday. 

Opening doors: The ruling clears the way for Aleph Farms to certify its Israel-based production facility and its products as kosher — creating a new point of entry into the lucrative kosher market. 

  • It also is a promising sign for the company’s attempts to market its products to other religious groups with strict rules around meat consumption or ritual slaughter. 
  • The company, which is slated to launch its products later this year, is also in talks with Muslim and Hindu religious leaders. 

Growing markets: Aleph’s announcement comes alongside more significant growth in the cultured meat industry — and the kosher market. 

Market advantage: Lab-grown meats have a major cost-saving edge over traditional kosher and halal food. 

  • They don’t require the labor-intensive slaughter and preparation of meat from a living animal, which are a principal reason why these forms of meat are more expensive. 
  • As many as 80 percent of cattle sold to kosher slaughterhouses fail to meet the strict criteria that would make them kosher — driving up costs across the supply chain, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. 

To read the full story, please click here

Thursday Threats

Greta speaks out on oil firms, the U.N. weighs in on lead pollution and the Brazilian government cracks down on illegal logging. 

Greta Thunberg: Energy firms throwing people ‘under the bus’

  • Climate activist Greta Thunberg accused energy companies on Thursday of throwing people “under the bus” by financing fossil fuels, our colleague Julia Shapero reported. “These people are going to go as far as they possibly can,” Thunberg said at a panel in Davos, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.  

UN to intervene in Zambia lead contamination case 

  • United Nations experts are intervening in a class action lawsuit filed against a mining firm in South Africa for lead pollution in Zambia. The applicants allege that the company, through its involvement in a local lead mine in the town of Kabwe, assumed responsibility to protect its residents from exposure, according to the U.N.

Raids on illegal loggers begin in Brazil 

  • Brazil’s new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Thursday launched the country’s first raids against illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest — a problem that surged under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, Reuters reported. The goal of the previous government was “to show that we weren’t doing anything,” a leading federal agent told Reuters. 


Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more and check out other newsletters here. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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