Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 in Austin since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.
A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle on laying its eggs on Texas Gulf Coast.
Around this time every year female Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles arrive like clockwork on Matagorda Island on the Texas Gulf Coast.
“During the day they’ll craw up, usually closer to the dunes, and they’ll dig out an area and they’ll lay a nest of several eggs,” says Jeremy Edwardson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. ”Then they move back out to the water’s edge.”
The Island is a wildlife refuge maintained by the service. Edwardson says it’s usually kept free of all human activity.
A crude oil storage tank in Cushing, Oklahoma. For years there was a glut of crude there.
The United States has never exported much crude oil. We use so much of the stuff that we’ve always needed to import it from other countries. But even if we wanted to ship it away, there are laws that ban most all overseas crude exports. Now, as domestic drilling continues to surge, some are calling for the repeal of those laws.
To understand why, it helps to remember the ‘Cushing Glut.’
If you pay attention to the oil business, you might remember the glut. It’s a bottleneck of crude oil – much of it unleashed through fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale — shipped to Cushing, Oklahoma in pipelines, then trapped there.
Hannah Breul is an industry economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration who studied that bottleneck. She says the mechanics of the glut are about as simple as household plumbing.
“If you think about it as a bathtub, you have water coming in from the faucet, but then also coming out of the drain. The relative level of those flows will impact what the overall inventory is at any one time,” says Breul.
For the last few years, the drain in Cushing was too small for the stuff pouring in. So the bathtub filled to the brim.
Then, this year, the pipeline company TransCanada opened up the southern leg of its Keystone XL pipeline. That, and the reversal of an existing pipeline known as the Seaway, made the drain bigger. The glut moved south.
Workers scraping oil-drenched sand from the beaches of Matagorda Island.
MATAGORDA ISLAND, TX — Recovery efforts continue weeks after a barge accident in the Houston Ship Channel dumped tens of thousands of barrels of oil into Galveston Bay. That oil kills wildlife and damages the environment. But some are worried the cleanup itself could also disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is that threat more apparent than in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Every morning this week, hundreds of workers have gone out to Matagorda Island, a part of that refuge, to try to remove the oil. On a recent tour organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the response team appeared to work with great care, gingerly scraping thin layers of oil-drenched sand away with shovels, then depositing it into nearby excavators for delivery into larger dump trucks. Over ten tons of sand has been removed so far.
Randal Ogrydziak, the U.S. Coast Guard captain who is one of the coordinators of the spill response, likens the painstaking process to shoveling a gravel driveway after a snow storm.
This species of Little Brown Bat was once common in the Northeast, but has been devastated by white-nose syndrome.
If you’ve ever tried to evict an unwelcome bat from your home, you know it can be tricky. If you haven’t, imagine trying to coax an agile mouse into a laundry basket. Now imagine that mouse has wings. Now imagine it has wings and sonar.
Chris Corben, a bat expert, doesn’t like the “mice with wings” analogy. He says bats are more like elephants (they have very low birth rates, he explains). But he agrees that they are difficult to catch, and it’s because of that “sonar.”
“You can’t just put a trap up in a field and expect to get anything,” says Corben. “Because of the bats’ echolocation system, they’re remarkably good at avoiding the traps.”
That “echolocation” is the way bats get around. They’re active mostly at night, when they can’t rely on their eyesight. So they send out a little “chirp.” Then they wait for that sound to bounce back at them. It tells them what’s nearby, or where they might find a tasty bug to eat. Continue Reading →
Photo by Al Hicks, NY Dept of Environ. Conservation.
A little brown bat found in a New York cave exhibits fungal growth on its muzzle, ears and wings.
Before Winifred Frick enters a bat cave in Wisconsin, she and her colleagues strip to their underwear and wipe themselves down with Lysol. When they leave, they bag everything up and wash it with Lysol as well.
“Spores can definitely get on peoples’ boots or pants or whatever, so it’s been really important that cavers, as well as researchers, do decontamination,” Frick, a bat researcher and adjunct professor at UC Santa Cruz, says.
She’s talking about the spores of a fungus that’s responsible for the deaths of millions of bats. It’s the cause of “white-nose syndrome,” so-called because of the white growth that appears on the noses of infected hibernating bats.
Researchers are still unclear about how the fungus kills bats, but it appears to wake them from hibernation, leaving them malnourished. Continue Reading →
Mexican Free Tail bats leave the Ann Richards Bridge on their nightly hunt.
The Ann Richards Bridge in downtown Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. But it’s just one of many Texas bat colonies. In other parts of the country, bats have been decimated by a disease called “White Nose Syndrome.”
The bats in Texas appear untouched by the disease so far, but it is heading in this direction. Now, researchers think they have a powerful tool to track the spread of the disease. It all has to do with that little chirping you hear when you you see a bat in the air. Take a listen to the story:
Ben Knight (Left) and Matt Stoecker are two filmakers involved making DamNation, a movie that takes a critical look at the impacts of dams across the country.
The timing could not have been better for filmmakers Matt Stoecker and Ben Knight. Just weeks before their documentary on tearing down dams in the Pacific Northwest premiered at the South by Southwest Film festival, a huge crack was found in the Wanapum Dam in Washington State.
The discovery called attention to an often ignored aspect of America’s aging infrastructure. And that’s exactly what the activist filmmakers hope to do as. DamNation is a protest film, documenting the history of dam building in the country and highlighting environmental concerns. The filmmakers also chronicle acts of civil disobedience against certain dams, and some of them even appear to participate in those acts.
I sat down with co-producer Matt Stoecker and co–director Ben Knight to talk about the film and what activists hope to accomplish in standing against dams. Take a listen:
DamNation screens Friday at 7:00 PM at the Vimeo Theater at the Austin Convention Center as part of the South by Southwest Film Festival.
Just a couple of the many fungi that UT PhD student Colin Averill encounters in his work.
There is more carbon dioxide stored in the ground than in the air around us. If those all that greenhouse gas escapes, it could be catastrophic for the earth. Now, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin thinks he’s found the key that keeps much of it locked away.
It’s research that could revolutionize how we understands climate change, and potentially help us combat it, and it all has to do with a feast happening just under your feet.
Colin Averill, a PhD student in the program of Ecology Evolution and Behavior at UT Austin, says there are a handful of creatures partaking in that feast, and their competition for food regulates the flow of carbon dioxide between the soil and the atmosphere.
First, the Eaters:
Averill’s research looks at the way plants, trees, fungus and “decomposer microbes” all battle for a seat at the dinner table.
Activists took to the trees to try to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline in East Texas.
Those who follow the movement against the Keystone XL pipeline may remember a time in 2012, when protesters began acts of civil disobedience in East Texas aimed at stopping the pipeline during construction. They chained themselves to trucks and organized a “tree sit,” putting themselves directly in the path of vehicles and machinery that were clearing forest for the pipeline.
Filmmaker John Fiege followed that group and premieres his movie “Above All Else” at this year’s SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Fiege makes no secret of his opposition to the pipeline, but the movie is more than a political statement. He says he wanted to chronicle the moment in time when the American environmental movement became more galvanized than it had been in decades.
Fiege sat down with StateImpact Texas to talk about the current state of environmentalism in the country, what protesters hoped to accomplish through “tree sitting,” and what the future may hold if the pipeline is ultimately approved by the Obama administration.