Environment

It's the first day of Spring but it may feel like winter never really settled in. State Climatologist Ryan Boyles says it was the 8th-warmest winter on record in North Carolina and the 6th-driest. He says that's had some up-sides.

Ryan Boyles: Recreation has been much higher this year; people have been able to really get out and enjoy the outdoors this past winter because we've had such mild temperatures. Snow removal costs have been very small this past winter, especially compared to the previous two winters. But there are some negative impacts as well.

Scientists are getting a better understanding of storm erosion on the Outer Banks. New technology developed by the Army Corps of Engineers is illuminating why storms damage certain spots and not others. Jesse McNinch is Director of the Corps' Field Research Facility in Duck.

Emergency management officials are encouraging businesses and citizens to create safety plans for severe weather.

Jeff Tiberii: Last year North Carolina had 63 tornadoes touch down, more than double the state's annual average. Julia Jarema is with the department of public safety. She says each year there are thousands of severe weather warnings throughout the state. And she adds, knowing what to do before the weather moves through is a critical step:

State Environmental officials say an independent study concludes North Carolina needs more regulations before some natural gas drilling can take place.

There's more evidence that climate change is altering bird migration patterns. A new study from UNC-Chapel Hill finds some species along the east coast are migrating three-to-six days earlier than they were just ten years ago. Allen Hurlbert is an assistant professor of biology at UNC. He says birds face problems if they get the timing wrong.

A legislative committee that's studying a method of natural gas drilling sometimes called fracking met in Raleigh today. Representatives of oil and gas interest groups as well as environmental non-profits spoke at the meeting. Ray Covington of Lee County is a co-founder of a company that has entered into mineral rights agreements with many landowners in the area.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is designating High Point-based Thomas Built Buses as an "Environmental Steward." Julie Woosley is the manager of the state's Environmental Assistance Center. She says Thomas Built recycles 100% of the waste it creates.

A warm, mild winter so far may help driving conditions later in the year. The state has put aside about 50 million dollars to take care of winter weather conditions. But the Department of Transportation has only spent about eight million on maintaining roads so far this winter. Steve Abbott is a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The US Department of Agriculture says winters aren't as cold as they used to be in North Carolina. It has released its first new map of planting zones in more than 20 years. Tony Avent is the owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh. He was a technical advisor on the map. He says its detailed, interactive features surpass anything previously available.

A partnership that works to protect and restore the longleaf pine in North Carolina will plant its 500,000th seedling today. Debbie Crane of the Nature Conservancy says the tree is an iconic state symbol, but it's been in decline for decades.

Raleigh has opened what it calls the nation's most sustainable solid waste services facility. The new operations center was built to LEED platinum standards - the highest level of sustainability certification. City manager Russell Allen says the building was constructed with re-used and recycled materials where possible. It includes solar panels and geothermal systems; and will have plug-in electric vehicles.

Raleigh is hoping to build another sustainable energy facility. This one would be a hydroelectric plant at the Falls Lake Dam.

Dave DeWitt: Raleigh already generates power by harnessing methane gas at its landfill. Now, city officials are hoping to turn the Falls Lake Dam into a power plant. It would be small, generating electricity for just a few hundred homes. But it could also be profitable.

Drivers of electric vehicles in the Triangle and Triad will be able to take advantage of new charging stations in Alamance County. There are two on either side of I-40-I-85, at a rest area near Burlington. Julia Casadonte is a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

Julia Casadonte: Part of the idea of establishing this infrastructure is to make people more comfortable driving electric vehicles cuz people have to be confident they can be charged and remain charged and make sure they're not stranded anywhere.

The boom of shale gas extraction in the US and elsewhere has prompted Duke University to organize a two day conference on the topic. Organizers say the controversial process of gas extraction called fracking will be one of the main focuses of the gathering. Rob Jackson is a professor of environmental sciences at Duke and one of the event's organizers. He says his department is ready to monitor water supplies if fracking is allowed to take place in this state.

There have been significant improvements in air and water quality in the state over the last two decades, according to a new state report.

More North Carolinians are carpooling to work. Jeff Tiberii has more.

Jeff Tiberii: Last year 27-hundred people signed up to be part of the states Share the Ride NC program. The Department of Transportation says there are now more than 31-thousand people who car pool to and from work.

Jennifer Garifo: A big advantage is just a relief on stress; especially people that are in urban areas, sitting by yourself in the car, stop and go traffic.

Stewart Cook/International Fund for Animal Welfare

Warmer temperatures in the North Atlantic over the last several decades have resulted in significantly higher mortality rates of baby harp seals. A new study out of Duke looked at satellite data of ice conditions in the Gulf of St Lawrence, a major breeding region and compared them to yearly reports of dead seal pups that washed up on shore. Lead researcher David Johnston is a scientist at the Duke University Marine Lab:


David Johnston:  These animals have evolved to take advantage of the advan tages of ephemeral surfaces like ice.

Frigid temperatures are affecting many across the state today.

Jeff Tiberii: Eric Murphy is a hot dog vendor in downtown Greensboro. He works in front of City Hall for five and a half hours each week day, serving dogs, chili, chips and drinks. During today’s lunch hour it was 31 degrees.

A new study out of Duke University finds global warming is forcing tropical birds in Peru to migrate to higher elevations. But it also finds they're migrating at a slower rate than the world is warming.

Orange County and UNC Chapel Hill are working together to make productive use of a landfill gas. Methane originates from the decomposition of organic materials such as food. The collaboration will collect methane from the county's landfill and use it to produce electricity using a generator at UNC. Ray DuBose is the director of UNC Energy Services. He says projects like these are not without precedent.

Injured pelican
Toni O'Neil

Dead and injured pelicans are washing up on North Carolina shores. Around 20 dead birds were found on North Topsail Beach earlier this month. Many had severely broken wings.

Smithfield Foods promised to cut emissions.
humanesociety.org

Animal rights advocates are welcoming news that Smithfield Foods is on track to phase out the use of small metal crates for pregnant hogs. The company said in a statement it will end the practice by 2017. The non-profit Humane Society filed a federal complaint against Smithfield a month ago.

A series of public hearings starts today to determine how the state should use funds from an $11.2 million settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority. The agreement came earlier this year after the state claimed coal-fired TVA plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee sent polluted air into North Carolina. State Energy Office spokesman Seth Effron says the settlement calls for the money to go toward clean energy projects.

The non-profit LandTrust of Central North Carolina is teaming up with the North Carolina Zoo to preserve a unique tract of Longleaf Pine Forest. The 113-acre tract in Montgomery County is a rarity for this type of growth in the Piedmont. The land has been preserved by private owners for more than a century. Crystal Cockman is a conversation specialist with LandTrust.

Researchers from Duke University and Georgia Tech are seeking to debunk several myths about clean energy in the south. They claim their new study refutes six myths purported by policymakers, business leaders, and advocacy groups. Etan Gumerman is a co-author and Duke Senior Policy Analyst.

Asian Tiger Shrimp
James Morris/NOAA

Scientists are keeping a close eye on North Carolina's shrimp population as fishermen see more of an invasive species known as tiger shrimp. Fishermen have reported catching more than 200 this season. That's up from an average of 10 to 20 since 2008. James Morris is an ecologist with NOAA's Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort. He says more tiger shrimp could mean a smaller catch for North Carolina's traditional shrimpers.

Clean-up continues in Davidson county where two people died following a tornado on Wednesday.

At least 11 people were taken to the hospital following the severe storms. The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down near Lexington just after 6pm. Major Larry James is with Davidson County Emergency Services. He says the path of the tornado was tight, but caused some significant damage.

Larry James: Preliminary figures look like somewhere between 35 and 50 structures with some varying degree of damage.

State of the Sounds

Nov 17, 2011

The health of the bodies of water that surround coastal North Carolina is being discussed today in New Bern. The state's eight sounds are managed by a program through the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Jim Hawhee works for DENR. He says what happens in Raleigh and Durham effects the water in the sounds.

People who live in the Raleigh area and want to use alternative fuels for their cars or trucks have a new choice. A station on New Bern Avenue opens today with both E-85 ethanol blend and bio-diesel available. It's the first of its kind in the state capital. Anne Tazewell is the transportation manager for the North Carolina Solar Center at N-C State. She says alternative fuel stations are slowly spreading across the state.

Fans of sustainable farming are meeting in Durham this weekend. The 26th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference seeks to address the growing demand for local and organic food. Fred Broadwell is with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. He says one hot trend is permaculture. It uses observations of nature to design self-sufficient ecosystems.

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