Geneva, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — From guitars to traditional medicines and from tusk to tail, mankind's exploitation of the planet's fauna and flora is putting some of them at risk of extinction. Representatives of some 180 nations are meeting in Geneva to agree on protections for vulnerable species, taking up issues including the trade in ivory and the demand for shark fin soup.
The World Wildlife Conference on trade in endangered species, known as CITES, which takes place every three years, aims to make sure that global trade in specimens of wild animals and plants doesn't jeopardize their survival.
The conference opens Saturday and runs through Aug. 28, with key decisions expected to be finalized in the last two days. It had originally been due to take place in Colombo in May and June, but was moved to Geneva after a series of terror attacks in the Sri Lankan capital.
Three months ago, the first comprehensive U.N. report on biodiversity warned that extinction is looming for over 1 million species of plants and animals. There are growing concerns that policymakers aren't acting quickly enough to stop it.
"Business as usual is no longer an option ... The rate of wildlife extinction is accelerating," said CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero in her opening remarks to the conference.
"The assessment confirms that nature's dangerous decline is unprecedented," Higuero said.
The meeting also comes just days after the Trump administration announced plans to water down the U.S. Endangered Species Act — a message that could echo among attendees at the CITES conference, even if the U.S. move is more about domestic policy than international trade.
Alain Berset, head of the home affairs department of host Switzerland, noted that sustainable management of threatened species "of course requires taking into account the interests and the needs of the countries where these species live."
CITES bans trade in some products entirely, while permitting international trade in other species provided it doesn't hurt their numbers in the wild.
Demand is diverse for animal and plant products, prized for their medicinal properties or as pets, culinary delicacies, and products for knitwear and handbags — among many other uses.
Customs officials around the world know to be on the lookout for the CITES logo on shipments of plants and animals across borders: It amounts to a highly respected seal of approval that trade in such species is legitimate.
The meeting's agenda contains 56 proposals to change — mostly strengthen — the level of protection among vulnerable or endangered species. But some argue that protections should be downgraded because the relevant populations have stabilized or even increased. Officials say the decisions are to be based on science, not political or other considerations.
"The new wildlife trade rules ... cover an array of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, trees and other plants. Twenty listing proposals are inspired by concern over the growing appetite of the exotic pet trade for charismatic amphibians and reptiles," CITES says.
Africa is facing an internal debate about elephants and ivory.
Zambia — which argues its population of wild African elephants is large and stable, at about 27,000 — wants to "downlist" that population to allow for ivory stockpile sales and exports of hunting trophies, hides and leathers. A few other countries in southern Africa want another rule on elephants eased. But 10 other countries — all but one African — want total protection for elephants from any international ivory trade.
Israel is even proposing tougher regulations on the legal trade of mammoth ivory, hoping to undercut illegal traffickers of elephant tusk who sneakily try to pass it off as "ice ivory" — ivory that comes from mammoth tusks.
Elephant and mammoth tusks can be almost indistinguishable to the untrained eye, and the mammoth ivory trade has become a booming business. Conference attendees will have to determine whether products from a long-extinct species can or should be covered by CITES.
Advocacy group Avaaz says one key question is whether Japan, home to the world's largest legal ivory market, will join other countries committed to closing their ivory trade.
"Japan's ivory market is fueling the international illegal ivory trade," Avaaz campaigner Andy Legon said in an e-mail. "And with elephants facing extinction, China, the U.S., Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and others have recently committed to closing their ivory markets."
Flora, arguably a less glamorous subject than animal life, also gets spots on the agenda. One proposal, for example, would exempt musical instruments from trade restrictions on a type of rosewood that's prized by guitar makers.
Also on the agenda are sharks. Some researchers say commercial demand for shark fins — largely driven by the Chinese appetite for shark fin soup — is decimating populations.
Sharks are getting some support in high places, including from retired basketball all-star Yao Ming, who led China's Olympic team three times. Yao became a WildAid ambassador in 2006 when he signed a pledge to give up shark fin soup and has since appeared in numerous ads calling for diners to skip the luxury soup to save sharks.
WildAid, an environmental group, also says Yao was instrumental in bringing about China's ivory ban two years ago.
Luke Warwick of the Wildlife Conservation Society said dried shark fin can command up to $1,000 per kilogram, and listing more shark species to the CITES list would be just one of several measures needed to help vulnerable populations of the predators of the deep.
"You've got this huge, unsustainable global trade in shark fin and huge parts of it, 80%, are not regulated, with millions of animals dying," he told a Geneva news conference this week. "We're watching them disappear before our eyes."
Dr. Abdulla Naseer, the Maldives' environment minister, said his island nation supports three proposals to protect 18 species of sharks and rays, namely the mako shark, white-spotted wedgefish and giant guitarfish.
"We would be ensuring future trade is sustainable ... before it's too late," he said. "We want to see the oceans protected for future generations."
Denver, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — Colorado tightened its air quality regulations on Friday, requiring that at least 5% of the vehicles sold in the state by 2023 emit zero pollution.
The state Air Quality Control Commission, which passed the rule on an 8-1 vote, said the requirement applies to auto manufacturers, not buyers. It's intended to boost the number of electric vehicles in a state struggling to control ozone pollution in its most heavily populated area.
The minimum rises to 6.23% in 2025.
Colorado is the 11th state to adopt zero-emission standards, according to Green Car Reports, which tracks developments in low-pollution vehicles.
Two auto industry groups, Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, applauded the rule. They said they had been working with Colorado officials on how to structure the requirement.
John Bozzella, president of Global Automakers, said Colorado had adopted an innovative policy by collaborating with manufacturers.
Environmental groups also welcomed the standards, but the Colorado Freedom to Drive Coalition called them costly and ineffective.
"We believe commissioners did a disservice to all Coloradans, but especially Coloradans of modest means," coalition spokeswoman Sara Almerri said.
Regulators said the zero-emission standard is aimed at reducing ozone and greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis directed the Air Quality Control Commission to set a zero-emissions standard shortly after he took office in January. In a statement Friday, he said the new rule was "only the beginning" of the state's work to reduce air pollution.
Excessive ground-level ozone has plagued Colorado's urban areas for years. Ozone is the main component of smog and can aggravate asthma and contribute to early deaths from respiratory disease. It's created from pollution emitted by vehicles, the oil and gas industry and other sources.
Ozone alerts have frequently flashed on signs over Denver freeways this summer, asking drivers to reduce car trips.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Denver and the northern Colorado urban corridor failed to meet federal ozone standards and said the state must come up with a new plan to clean up the air.
The state is also rewriting air pollution rules for the oil and gas industry.
Bangkok, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — An 8-month-old dugong nurtured by marine experts after it was found lost near a beach in southern Thailand has died of what biologists believe was a combination of shock and ingesting plastic waste.
The female dugong — a large ocean mammal — was named "Marium" and became a hit in Thailand after images of biologists embracing and feeding her with milk and sea grass spread across social media. Veterinarians and volunteers had set out in canoes to feed Marium for up to 15 times a day while also giving her health checks.
Last week, she was found bruised after being chased and supposedly attacked by a male dugong during the mating season, said Jatuporn Buruspat, the director-general of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.
She was brought in for treatment in the artificial sea on Libong Island in Krabi province.
"We assume she wandered off too far from her natural habitat and was chased, and eventually attacked by another male dugong, or dugongs, as they feel attracted to her," he said Saturday.
An autopsy showed a big amount of plastic waste in her intestine, which could also have played a part in her death as it led to gastritis and blood infection, he said.
"She must've thought these plastics were edible,"Jatuporn said.
The dugong is a species of marine mammal similar to the American manatee and can grow to about 3.4 meters (11 feet) in length. Its conservation status is listed as vulnerable.
New York, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — Paule Marshall, an exuberant and sharpened storyteller who in fiction such as "Daughters" and "Brown Girl, Brownstones" drew upon classic and vernacular literature and her mother's kitchen conversations to narrate the divides between blacks and whites, men and women and modern and traditional cultures, has died at age 90.
Marshall's son, Evan K. Marshall, told The Associated Press that she died Monday in Richmond, Virginia. She had been suffering from dementia in recent years.
First published in the 1950s, Marshall was for years virtually the only major black woman fiction writer in the U.S., a bridge between Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and others who emerged in the 1960s and '70s. Calling herself "an unabashed ancestor worshipper," Marshall was the Brooklyn-born daughter of Barbadian immigrants and wrote lovingly, but not uncritically of her family and other upholders of the ways of their country of origin.
"Paule Marshall was a profound and luminous writer, as well as a generous teacher, mentor, and friend," the Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat wrote in an email to the AP. "Her work delved deeply into what she considered her triangular journey from her ancestral homeland on the African continent, to the Caribbean, then the United States. Reading her novels often felt like reading my own family's history on a global scale. She will be greatly missed."
From the start, Marshall contrasted the values of Americans and other Westerners with those from the Caribbean and tallied the price of assimilation. In "Brown Girl, Brownstones," her autobiographical debut, a young Brooklyn woman seeks her own identity amid the conflicting values of her Barbadian parents — her hardheaded mother and tragically hopeful father. In "The Chosen Place, the Timeless People," idealistic American project workers in the Caribbean encounter the skepticism of the local community. "Praisesong for the Widow" tells of an upscale American black woman's awakening during a Caribbean vacation.
"I like to take people at a time of crisis and questioning in their lives and have them undertake a kind of spiritual and emotional journey and to then leave them once that journey has been completed and has helped them to understand something about themselves," Marshall told The Associated Press in 1991.
Marshall's admirers included Walker, Dorothy Parker and Langston Hughes, an early mentor who sent her encouraging postcards in green ink, brought her on a State Department tour of Europe and urged her to "get busy" when he thought the young writer was working too slowly. Marshall received several honors, among them MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships and, in 2009, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for books "that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity." She taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and New York University.
Other fellow writers mourned her passing, which came a week after the death of Morrison. Nicole Dennis-Benn, Ishmael Reed and Jason Reynolds were among those posting tributes on social media. Award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Marshall's goddaughter, tweeted that Marshall was the "first champion" of her work and had urged her mother to "Just let her write."
"I wouldn't be here without her," Nottage wrote. "#RIP Another beloved elder has crossed over."
Born Valenza Pauline Burke in Brooklyn, she was an immersive reader who loved old British novels, from "Tom Jones" to "Great Expectations." But she longed for books that included people more like herself and so made an instant and deeper connection to the poetry in dialect of Paul Laurence Dunbar, and later to writings by Hurston and Hughes among others. All along, she had been listening to her mother and various neighborhood women gather in the kitchen and expound in "free-wheeling, wide-ranging" style, voices she fictionalized in "Brown Girl, Brownstones" and other works.
"They were women in whom the need for self-expression was strong, and since language was the only vehicle readily available to them they made of it an art form that — in keeping with the African tradition in which art and life are one — was an integral part of their lives," she wrote in "The Poets of the Kitchen," a 1983 essay.
Marshall graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brooklyn College and during much of the 1950s worked as a magazine researcher, traveling to Brazil and the West Indies among other places. Since childhood she had been "harboring the dangerous thought" of becoming a writer and in her spare time completed "Brown Girl, Brownstones," published by Random House in 1959 after editor Hiram Haydn suggested she trim her 600-page "sumo-sized manuscript" to the "slender, impressive" novel buried within.
In her early 20s, she had married Kenneth Marshall, with whom she had Evan Marshall, but they divorced when their son was still little. (She later married Nourry Menard, a Haitian businessman.) Raising a child alone weighed down her already deliberate style and she published just five novels, a memoir and two books of short fiction. She disparaged the old expression "As for living, our servants will do that for us" by adding, "Well, I was the servant."
Virtually all of her books not only featured women, but also women who had adventures and influence. One of her favorite characters was Merle Kinbona of "The Chosen Place, the Timeless People," a brave and troubled and conflicted soul torn between the Caribbean, England and Africa, a sage and an eccentric who never stops talking, but somehow keeps those around her listening.
"Traditionally in most fiction men are the wheelers and dealers. They are the ones in whom power is invested," Marshall wrote in Essence magazine in 1979. "I wanted to turn that around. I wanted women to be the centers of power. My feminism takes its expression through my work. Women are central for me. They can as easily embody the power principles as a man."
Flagstaff, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — Snow piled up in the mountains across the U.S. West last winter, leaving enough to thrill skiers into the summer, swelling rivers and streams when it melted, and largely making wildfire restrictions unnecessary. But the wet weather can be misleading.
Climate change means the region is still getting drier and hotter.
"It only demonstrates the wide swings we have to manage going forward," James Eklund, former director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate agency that ensures river water is doled out properly, said earlier this year. "You can put an ice cube — even an excellent ice cube — in a cup of hot coffee, but eventually it's going to disappear."
For the seven states relying on the Colorado River, which carries melted snow from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, that means a future with increasingly less water for farms and cities.
Climate scientists say it's hard to predict how much less. The river supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Thursday that Lake Mead, a key reservoir on the Colorado River, has enough water to avoid mandatory cuts to users next year. But it will still be low enough that Nevada, Arizona and Mexico will make voluntary reductions, which they agreed to earlier this year under a drought contingency plan.
Here is a look at the Colorado River amid climate change:
COLORADO RIVER FLOW
Much of the water in the Colorado River and its tributaries originates as snow.
As temperatures rise and demand grows, the water supply declines. Even if more snow and rain fell, it wouldn't necessarily all end up in the river. Plants will suck up more water, and it will evaporate quicker.
Brad Udall, a water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, said the river's flow could decrease even further to 20% by 2050 and 35% by 2100.
"On any given day, it's hotter, we have more days for a growing season to occur, we have a thirstier atmosphere," he said. "When you put all those things together, you lose flow in the river."
Climate change doesn't mean the American West will be hot and dry all the time. Extreme swings in weather are expected as part of a changing climate — something Udall has called "weather whiplash."
The Southwest got a reprieve this year with average and above-average snowfall following a year that sent many states into extreme drought. Nearly empty reservoirs quickly rose, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the largest manmade reservoirs in the country that hold Colorado River water.
The lakes still are far below capacity, steadily declining since 2000 with a bigger spike after winter 2011.
A wet year interrupting years of dryness isn't uncommon.
"We're very thankful for this gain in wet hydrology and storage in the reservoirs that happened this year, but we know we can lose it just as fast," said Carly Jerla with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Many states declared an end to short-term drought this year, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, which looks at land conditions.
The map is produced by the National Drought Migration Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But not all agencies use the same indicators for drought.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation uses Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border and Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border. The reservoirs were nearly full in 1999 before the agency declared a drought the following year that hasn't let up. As of Monday, Lake Powell was 57% full and Lake Mead was 39% full.
Jerla says the bureau won't say the drought is over until those reservoirs fill completely, which won't happen without consecutive years of wet weather.
PROTECTING THE RIVER
The seven states that rely on the Colorado River signed a plan earlier this year to protect the waterway from climate change and keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell fuller.
The drought contingency plan is meant to keep the reservoirs from dropping so low that they cannot deliver water or produce hydropower amid prolonged drought and climate change.
In a Bureau of Reclamation report released Thursday, Lake Mead was projected to be slightly below 1,090 feet (332 meters) above sea level on Jan. 1. With the lake at that level, the drought contingency plan calls on Mexico to leave 3% of its normal share of water in the reservoir, the agency said.
Arizona agreed to leave 7%, and Nevada 3% under the plan. But Nevada is already using less than its share and likely won't feel much of an effect, said Terry Fulp of the Bureau of Reclamation.
If Lake Mead drops to 1,075 feet (328 meters) above sea level, Arizona and Nevada would face bigger, mandatory cuts.
The drought contingency plan expires in 2026, and the states will begin negotiating new guidelines next year.