Shirley Hao's Blog Posts

unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Shirley Hao's blog

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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

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Shirley Hao undertakes sous chef duties as Senior Web Producer for Earthjustice's website, serving up interactive online features, large and small, on Earthjustice's litigation and campaign work. Shirley also writes the unEARTHED column Monday Reads, profiling quirky stories and how Earthjustice's work can unexpectedly intersect with everyday news. The column has engaged topics from bear vs. zucchini (and our litigation to protect the grizzly and polar varieties) to giggling penguins (and a look at how that species and others are faring in our warming world). She's an enthusiastic appreciator of the four 'C's (community supported agriculture, comics, cats and canines) and is fond of practicing the under-appreciated art of sleeping in.

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21 June 2013, 4:38 PM
And there's a surfer among them
Beaver lodge. (USDA)

The San Pedro, the last free-flowing river of the Southwest, has had an unusual cast of champions. Ecologists, birders, an emergency room physician—and yes, even attorneys—have fought to save the desert oasis's wealth from being wholesale diverted to indoor plumbing and lawncare.

Then, at the turn of the century, came a group of misfits, putting their hairy paws in service to the San Pedro. They were Castor canadensis—the industrious engineer known as the American beaver.

Beavers were once found across North America in such ubiquity that the famed 18th century surveyor David Thompson was given to remark that "this Continent … from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, may be said to have been in the possession of two distinct races of Beings, Man and the Beaver."

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11 April 2013, 5:22 PM
The (at least) 62-year-old mother keeps calm and carries on
Wisdom, back for her shift of chick rearing duties, preens her chick while her mate feeds at sea. March 7, 2013. (J. Klavitter / USFWS)

Over the years, many a leg has flitted from one fashion trend to the next, from flaring bell bottoms to form-fitting skinny jeans. But for the past six decades, one mother has stuck to just one style of leg-wear: a bird band. And it’s helped to tell an incredible story.

When the Laysan albatross known affectionately as “Wisdom” returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge last winter, she gracefully flew right into the record books. Banded by a scientist on his first trip to Midway in 1956 as she was tending to her egg, Wisdom is at least 62 years old and far beyond what’s thought to be the average 12–40 year lifespan for a Laysan. In fact, Wisdom is the oldest documented living wild bird today.

And she’s not taking her golden years lying down: in February, she, once again, became the proud mother of a new chick. This 8-pound bird has been flying the Pacific and raising young for longer than many of the scientists observing her have been alive.

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24 September 2012, 3:11 PM
Who is the Pacific fisher, and why does he want your socks?
The last, valiant moments of a bait-filled sock, doing his part for science. (Courtesy of SNAMP)

Deep in California’s Sierra Nevada, a field biologist is preparing a delicacy favored by one of the most elusive hunters of the forest. The meal is known—literally—as “Chicken-in-a-Sock.”

The connoisseur is the imperiled Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti). The fur trade devastated the species (the fisher’s coat, no less splendid than that of his close relations, the wolverine and mink, was highly coveted), as did logging. Denning in large trees and rocky crevices and hunting through a sprawling home range, this solitary carnivore depends on undisturbed landscapes of old growth forests. Few still exist, and those that do are often fragmented by roads and other development.

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13 February 2012, 3:15 PM
Oil pipelines + caribou = lots of baby caribou? One fishy equation
Baby caribou: "Pipelines make us do what?" Utukok Uplands, Western Arctic, Alaska (Florian Schulz /

Oil drilling in Alaska is good for the caribou! At least it is, according to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).

When it comes to getting in the mood for love, endangered tortoises have skilled wildlife biologists doubling as matchmakers, while giant pandas have panda porn. Alaskan caribou? The Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, naturally.

In a House committee meeting on oil drilling in Alaska, Rep. Gohmert, with nary a grin or chuckle (though the same couldn’t be said for his fellow committee members), waxed heartfelt on how the oil pipeline has spiced up Alaskan caribou love life—and why we must clearly, for the love of the animal, ensure we continue caribou date night by drilling more and keeping that oil flowing. An excerpt from his plea for the caribou:

And then they found out that actually, caribou, when they wanted to date, liked how warm the pipeline was, and so when they wanted to go on a date, they’d invite each other to head over to the pipeline …

So my real concern now, when people are talking about cutting off the potential flow of oil through the pipeline, and under the agreement, if the oil stops flowing through the pipeline, then it would have to be removed. My concern is, do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing through the pipeline?

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06 February 2012, 6:57 PM
All we know, to the best of our knowledge, is that we don’t yet know enough
A male polar bear patrols the pack ice edge in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. (Florian Schulz /

As portions of the contiguous United States find themselves (perhaps a bit uncomfortably) in winter’s chilly embrace, a recently published study in the scientific journal Marine Biology may shed new light on the wintry lifestyles of the Arctic regions of our country.

During this season, Arctic areas like the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, off the northern coast of Alaska, experience months of ‘polar nights’—times when the sun fails to make an appearance (making for a veritable vampire haven, one might say).

The extreme degree of coldness of these winter months is key to the survival of species like the polar bear and ringed seals, who depend on the restoration of thick sea ice (long since diminished during the warmer spring and summer months) in order to hunt and raise their young.

A polar night, in Longyearbyen, Norway.

A polar night, in Longyearbyen, Norway. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)
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23 January 2012, 6:01 PM
When PM2.5 levels got 'crazy bad'
Beijing is under all that smog... somewhere... A sight for sore lungs. (William Veerbeek)

Just in time to ring in the Year of the Dragon, a few days ago, Beijing’s infamously murky air gained a long-awaited official index: real-time measurements of the city’s PM2.5 levels.

PM2.5 (also known as soot) are microscopic particulate matter that contribute to the pea soup miasma of air pollution we can all do without. Diesel vehicles and coal-fired power plants are among the biggest sources of this type of pollution. Far from just causing thick layers of unsightly brown haze, PM2.5 is so small that it can worm its way past the body’s natural ability to expel foreign particles, lodging deep within the lungs and causing serious cardiovascular and respiratory harm—and even early death.

Up until last Saturday, the Beijing government only provided measurements of PM10, relatively larger particles which pose less of a threat to human health. Parties interested in the more informative PM2.5 levels relied on @BeijingAir, the mechanized roof-top resident of the U.S. Embassy who has been diligently tweeting PM2.5 and ozone levels at hourly intervals for several years.

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09 January 2012, 5:01 PM
Genetically distinct species make a strong, surprising hybrid showing
A hybrid black-tip shark comes in for a camera close up. (University of Queensland)

Climate change has been accused of being many things, from Imposter to Glacier National Park Name-killer. And now to the list we can add...Interspecies Dating Matchmaker?

A study published last month in Conservation Genetics documented no fewer than 57 instances of hybrid common black-tip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Australian black-tip (Carcharhinus tilstoni) sharks off the eastern coast of Australia. The number of hybrid sharks previously uncovered in the wild or at your friendly neighborhood aquarium? Zero.

The concept of hybridization between distinct species is not a new one. (Who can forget the wholphin? The pizzly bear?) But what makes this case interesting is the sudden abundance of hybrids in species who, until this time, have (as far as we know) diligently remained within their predefined mating circles.

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06 September 2011, 7:48 AM
Did National Zoo residents call the quake before it hit?
Kibibi the western lowland gorilla says, "It's an earthquake! Hang on tight!" (National Zoological Park)

Two weeks ago, a peculiar sensation was experienced up and down the Northeast. Some thought it might have been the zombie apocalypse finally unfolding; others, that perhaps they had ingested something disagreeable for lunch. Regardless, it gave more than a few people the unexpected opportunity to stretch their legs—and brush up on disaster preparedness.

Slipping in right before the windy and wet arrival of Hurricane Irene was Washington, D.C.’s strongest earthquake in nearly 70 years. Centered at tiny Mineral, VA, the 5.8 magnitude quake was quite unexpected—who could have predicted its arrival that sunny, summer day?? I’ll tell you who: Iris, Kyle, and Mandara (among others).

In one of the most interesting reports to come out of the Mineral quake, the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park documented fascinating early warning signs observed among their many and varied residents. Before humans felt a hint of shuddering, rolling or rumbling, inhabitants of locales as varied as the Great Ape House and the Bird House were apparently already reacting …

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11 July 2011, 8:39 AM
“Slow-motion stampede” grounds planes to a halt
One member of the turtle invasion poses for a dramatic photo. (Photo: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

Here at Monday Reads, we’ve followed the jellyfish typhoon invasion, gardening goat invasion, and wolverine invasion-of-one. Finally, we’ve reached the turtle invasion.

A few weeks ago, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport awoke to find its Runway 4L under siege by waves of relentless reptiles. The Associated Press reported that the “slow-motion stampede” rather conveniently got underway just as the morning rush of travelers was trying to get airborne. The onslaught soon swelled to a crescendo of more than 150 diamondback terrapin turtles, plodding determinedly through treacherous territory. Where were they going, that they would risk shell and limb? Let’s just say teens on Spring Break aren’t the only ones who like to get frisky on sandy beaches.

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14 June 2011, 3:31 PM
Protecting the oldest among us
Al (left) and his young girlfriend Patches. (Saul Young / Knoxville News Sentinel)

Two longtime bachelors are proving that it’s never too late to find love.

Al (widowed) and Tex (serially dater) were getting up there in the years and were perhaps more than a bit rusty on the romance angle, neither having enjoyed the company of the fairer sex for decades. But when the lovely Patches and coquettish Corky came to town, all bets were off and these old-timers were back in the game. The girls were nearly half their age, but love knows no boundaries—and these Aldabra giant tortoises were no exception.

Humans have Internet dating sites; Al and Tex had Knoxville Zoo Assistant Curator of Herpetology Michael Ogle. Noting the relative abundance of eligible Aldabra debutantes at Zoo Atlanta, Ogle hatched a plan of romance with his herpetologist colleagues.

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