For the Conservation Curious

Just another weblog

Have You Met My Friend Charley? February 19, 2015

I gaze at the black and white plumage of an eider duck on my laptop background. I look at my daily planner and see the red head of a woodpecker. I turn around and on my wall I see a poster swimming in bright colors and shapes of animals and plants galore. These are all works of one my absolute favorite artists, Charley Harper.

Charley Harper is known for his modern interpretations of animals, especially birds. I discovered his art while working for Gorman Heritage Farm near Cincinnati, his hometown. He did a series of posters for Gorman Heritage Farm and its parent organization, the Cincinnati Nature Center.  I fell in love with the sharp lines, simple details, engaging colors, and diversity he put into each of his images.  Even with such minimal detail I could tell what each species was. His designs challenge the imagination but not in a completely abstract way.

Charley also designed posters for the National Park Service and Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. He illustrated the Golden Book of Biology too. Prints, mugs, and other knick knacks with his artwork on it can be viewed and purchased at I have a wish list a mile long there!

I want to show you a small sampling of his artwork here so you can fall in love with his art as I have.  His art speaks to the interconnectedness of nature, the beauty of each living thing, and a belief that nature inspires art and vice versa.

**All images are work done by Charley Harper. Please give him his due!


The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side January 6, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 2:00 PM

Any time I say that line I think of a song lyric from the band Travis. The lead singer talks about, “The grass is always greener on the other side. Neighbor’s got a new car that you want to drive… We all live under the same sky, we all will live, we all will die. There is no wrong, there is no right, the circle only has one side.” At least I think that’s how the song goes. I’m always a bit hesitant to write down lyrics as our ears may hear something that isn’t quite there. But you get the gist.

I think of this line today, writing as I am from my new home in Virginia, thinking back to the past two years worth of complaining and annoyance at my life. I wasn’t happy with my job or my social life or where things seemed to be headed, yet am I any better off now? Is the grass truly greener in Virginia?

The weather is nicer, certainly, on the whole. While my friends in Pennsylvania were huddled inside over the weekend I sat out on my back porch, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and sunshine. The climate it much better for growing grapes, and hence, numerous good wineries to enjoy. There are forests, rolling hills, beautiful horse farms, the beach not too far away, rivers to kayak in, and other outdoor amenities. Not that Pennsylvania didn’t have most of those things, but the newness of the surroundings here makes them feel a bit more special for some reason. The chance to explore new territory is thrilling… I can see why so many explorers left their homes, knowing they faced grave dangers, just to see new places and experience new things. I can’t discover a brand new world, but I can see something unique to me.

Is everything peachy-keen in my brave, new world? No, not yet, at least. Uprooting your life after a decade in one place is no picnic. But I’m trying to stay positive and see what is so wonderful about the move, rather than focus on what may be lacking. If only more people could hone in on that mindset.

This morning an HVAC guy came to my house to check on the furnace. Before he left we talked about living in Virginia and moving long distances by yourself. He said his anxiety is too great; he would never be able to do something like that. I felt bad for him. Here is an adult who feels trapped in his life (in a place he openly admitted to hating) because he is too afraid of the unknown. To me the unknown is something to relish. Here’s to more unknowns and surprises in the new year.


October 30, 2014

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 11:15 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

On October 3 I blogged about going to the Czech Republic. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend that trip now, but the reason for that is a good one. Starting on November 10, I will begin a new job as Senior Analyst with Marstel Day, an environmental consulting firm headquartered in Virginia. I have a feeling this job will keep me very busy, so my blogging may slow down, at least initially. I just wanted to let you all know that.

In honor of tomorrow being Halloween, I want to blog about bats. Bats are wonderful creatures that are misunderstood and under-appreciated for a variety of reasons. Hopefully I can show you that bats are valuable and important components of the ecosystem, well worth protecting.

In Pennsylvania, there are nine common species of bats. These are: the most common one – the little brown, the big brown, the Eastern pipistrelle, the tri-colored or pygmy, the Northern long-eared, the endangered Indiana, the small-footed, the silver-haired, the red, and the largest one – the hoary bat. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, one individual bat can consume up to 500 insects per hour or more than 3,000 insects in a single night. Think about that when you’re sitting outside on a hot summer night, fighting off the mosquitos. Bats are a natural mosquito control. Bats also eat those pesky stinkbugs that like to invade your home and eat from your veggie garden. How nice is that?!

Bats fall into two categories, those that overwinter in caves and those that migrate south when it starts to get cold. Big brown bats are the last bats to enter hibernation in caves, buildings, mines and storm sewers. Hoary bats, on the other hand, migrate south for the winter. During nice weather you may find bats roosting under loose tree bark, under house shutters, or in man-made bat boxes. You might also find bats roosting in your attic. If so, do not be alarmed. Look to the Penn State guide, “A Homeowner’s Guide to Northeastern Bats and Bat Problems,” to learn tips about bat-proofing your home. Once all openings are sealed except for one, let the bats escape at night, then seal the final opening. Consider building a bat box near your house to provide them a nice alternative.

Bats are not doing very well throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada, so they could use our help. Cave bats like the endangered Indiana and the little brown are dying out in record numbers due to White Nose Syndrome (WNS), an invasive fungus that weakens the bats and until they die from starvation or predation. This syndrome was first documented in 2006 in New York, showing up in Pennsylvania in 2008. According to the National Wildlife Health Center, they have documented an approximately 80 percent decline in bat populations in the northeastern U.S. since the syndrome was discovered. They go on to say that it is very unlikely that those species of bats affected by WNS will recover quickly because bats have only one pup per year. We can help them out as much as possible by staying out of caves, especially during the winter, and disinfecting your shoes and gear after being in a cave, to limit the spread of the fungus.

Bats are busy little insect-eaters that also help pollinate flowering plants. They may not be adorable like a rabbit or kitten, but they can and should be appreciated for all they do for us and the environment. The next time you freak out about a bat flying overhead, instead think, “Hey, thanks for eating those mosquitos!”

(Photos: USGS)


Clear Cuts Can be Clearly Good October 16, 2014

I’ve been working on a few outreach publications related to forestry and timber harvesting lately, and it makes me think about the myriad people who have a negative reaction when they think of cutting trees. Some people are opposed absolutely to any form of timber harvesting, while others are against certain practices like “clear cutting.” I don’t come from a forestry background, so I can sympathize with them. There was a time when I believed all clear cuts were horrible and that too many trees were being cut down, but with a bit of knowledge my opinion has changed. Perhaps I can persuade you to see clear cuts in a different light, as well.

But before I begin on the merits of (some) clear cuts I want to make absolutely clear that there can be very bad clear cuts if they are done improperly or on certain sites. A lot of thought needs to go into any timber cut BEFORE any action is taken on the ground, not during or after. It essential that a properly trained, professional forester does the work. They know that once the trees are removed there will be adequate regeneration of trees from either seeds in the ground or seeds blown in from the surrounding trees. They know that there aren’t too many deer that could impede that regeneration by eating all the saplings, or too many invasive plants that could come into the clear cut and dominate the area. They know how to prevent soil erosion by using proper best management practices for their haul and skid roads and leaving a buffer of trees along streams and rivers. Only then can a clear cut be sustainable.

If a clear cut is done correctly, many good things can come from it. There are a variety of animal species that benefit from the openings made by a clear cut, as well as from the young growth forest that comes up later (more than 200 species, in fact). Endangered golden winged warbler, chestnut sided warbler, grouse, bear, and eastern box turtle are just a small sampling. The abundant sunlight that is created with a clear cut allows sun-loving tree species like pines, aspens, black cherry and sassafras a better chance to grow and thrive. They can’t compete well with tall oaks and maples in a mature, intact forest.

(Photo: Connecticut DEP)

Clear cuts might not be attractive, and certainly, compared to a mature forest in all its fall glory they’re not. But the forest that grows up in its place will be healthier and just as magnificent. All it takes is a bit of patience and understanding to see it for what it is… healthy habitat in the making.

Want to learn more about clear cuts and other silvicultural practices? Just Google the term and look for reputable source from state bureaus of forestry. There’s a wealth of information out there.


When is Human-Wildlife Interaction too Much? October 10, 2014

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 11:58 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

On the National Geographic website today I saw a post about a shark photo that has gone viral – it was taken by a school teacher, Amanda Brewer, in a cage off the coast of South Africa. The story asks whether or not these close encounters are dangerous for the sharks. Will they start to associate the smell of bait fish with humans, thus becoming less fearful of us and perhaps more aggressive? Will our actions change the natural behavior of a species? And if it happens with sharks, does it happen in other circumstances too, like when tourists swim with dolphins or manatees, or in areas with frequent whale watching boat tours?

Photo credit – Amanda Brewer

That made me wonder… can we be so interested in seeing and learning about a species that we ultimately cause its demise? I’ve heard stories about people loving an area until it’s ruined – a popular hiking trail through a forest can become so degraded by too many people using it that the reason why people came there in the first place is destroyed. It’s easier to envision a specific location becoming degraded, but think about the behavior of an animal in a zoo. I can recall trips to the Pittsburgh Zoo in the early 80s, when the bears and other large animals were still behind bars and visitors would feed them popcorn and other junk food. Those animals no longer acted like their wild counterparts… they would pace back in forth in front of the bars, or sit up and beg for scraps. Unfortunately there are still non AZA-accredited “zoos” in the U.S. that look like that (I’ll be nice and not name names… at least in this post).

That is a very confined scenario, with thousands of human-animal interactions, so looking at it from a nature standpoint isn’t a one-to-one correlation, but I think there could be some parallels. People flock to certain places in Florida to swim with manatees. If you do a quick Google search you’ll find many companies there that offer the opportunity. The list of rules shown below is from the VisitFlorida website. How likely do you think people are to obey all these rules, or do some visitors bend them? Manatees are gentle, slow moving mammals. If they become habituated to the presence of humans the worst thing that will happen to them – and it’s bad, no lie – is that they could have more collisions with boats, possibly resulting in their injury or death. But if a great white shark becomes habituated to people, the tables are turned… it may be us that are at greater threat of death.

I love manatees, dolphins and even sharks. I love pretty much any animal I can think of, although some more than others certainly. But I can love them at a distance. If I’m going to see a manatee in the wild than I expect it to act that way, wild. The same goes for any wild creature. Let’s not love a species so much that it becomes unnatural. We have our domesticated animals for that.


Green Czech Republic October 3, 2014

On Tuesday I received some excellent news… I was selected as the team leader for the Rotary District 7390 Group Study Exchange trip to the Czech Republic and Slovakia this coming spring. I’ll lead four communications and journalism professionals on a one-month educational visit to these two countries, visiting Rotary Clubs and cultural sites along the way. I went on a similar trip, as a team member, to Germany five years ago and it was a life-changing experience. I know this will be similar, although more challenging with the added responsibilities as leader, but I’m looking forward to it all.

In honor of this upcoming adventure, I wanted to blog a bit about the environmental and conservation-related aspects of the Czech Republic. I ran across some of this information as I prepared for my interview, and have added further information that I found since then:
• According to the Czech Republic’s environmental agency, the Czech people ranks sixth in the European Union in packaging recycling and are the leaders in the EU for reusing materials from new products and energy generation (a whopping 68%!!).

• They have six UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, which are areas of the country set aside for natural resource management. There are more than 600 reserves in 119 countries across the globe.

• Unlike our country, they have ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, committing their country to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and acting against climate change.
• They are above the EU average for the number of acres of organic farms in the country (10.5% of their total ag lands).
• More than 71 percent of the forests in the Czech Republic are certified as sustainably managed.

Not everything is rosy in terms of the environment there. No country is perfect. They deal with air and water pollution from industry, habitat loss and impacts to species, and other issues, but those are common to just about every developed nation. But they are trying hard to clean up sins of the past and move into a more sustainable future.

Of course there is so much about the Czech Republic that I am excited to see. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and since it wasn’t bombed during WWII, much of the old architecture remains intact. In Germany I saw a lot of restored churches, castles and other buildings… now I’ll get to see the real deal. Plus the Czech Republic is the birthplace of pilsner beer, so I won’t go thirsty while I’m there. My trip is still many, many months away, so my excitement will continue to blossom. Na shledanou (goodbye in Czech)!


Why I Live Downtown and Maybe You Should Too! September 16, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 12:45 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Downtowns are dying out,” wrote one journalist. A day or two later I read, “Downtown populations are growing quickly, far outpacing more rural areas.” Well which is it, and should we care?

While I love the outdoors and the calm serenity of country life, I am a city girl at heart. There are two main reasons, and they are interconnected – walkability and amenities. I walk to work, to bars and restaurants, along the river trail for exercise and stress relief, to the corner store or farmer’s market for a few grocery items. I can walk almost anywhere for my typical daily needs. My city has museums, sports teams, parks, theaters, festivals and other amenities that keep life fun and interesting. You really could find something to do within walking distance to keep you occupied each weekend.

(Photo: Harrisburg, PA Source – Wikimedia)

You can’t say that about suburbia. There, if you don’t have a car, you’re stuck watching TV as your main form of entertainment, unless you can access public transportation, which let’s face it, in this country is subpar. Suburbanites (and I was one when I first moved to this area, not to mention for most of my life… not knowing which neighborhoods in the city were safe and which ones weren’t) tend to eat at chain restaurants and shop at big box retailers. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that – after all I am a fan of Target – but I just think the suburban way of life is somewhat limiting.

Living in the city, especially if that’s also where you work, is very environmentally-friendly. My carbon footprint is pretty small – not only do I drive very infrequently, using little gasoline, but city residences, like mine, tend to be on the smaller side so I use less electricity to heat, cool and illuminate my place. I have no lawn, so I don’t use any gasoline to maintain my back “yard” (really a brick patio with native plants along the outside). Sure I have to sacrifice my desire for a bit more land to grow a veggie garden (although I know plenty of people who do so in raised beds and containers, or rent community garden plots) but that’s something I’m willing to give up for all the benefits of city living.

More people, especially the younger generations, are seeing cities in a new light. They like the convenience and culture of it. Plus in many developing nations, cities are the only place where there are jobs and a potential way out of poverty, so people flock there en mass. So cities worldwide are growing, even if some of the ones here in the U.S. are showing a decline – think Detroit, for starters. But even in Detroit, where the vacant land seems to outnumber the number of occupied houses in many neighborhoods, large companies are moving back and promising a better future for the Motor City.

(Photo: Detroit, Source – CNN)

What keeps people in the U.S. from considering a move downtown? I can think of many reasons related to my own city… higher property taxes, poor schools, the perception of crime, the desire to have huge houses with sprawling lawns, etc. and I’m sure they’re the same for a majority of cities in the U.S. And many of those reasons are valid. Yes, my taxes are higher than most of my suburban counterparts but I save a lot of money on gas, parking fees, and other commuting costs, making it a wash. The public schools in cities do tend to underperform their more rural counterparts, but there are options for those living in the city with kids. There is crime everywhere, including the suburbs, so I don’t hold that as a valid excuse. I’ve lived in this city nine years and yes, my apartment was broken into once, but the house I grew up in, in the suburbs, was burglarized also, so again it’s a wash for me. Of course anywhere you have more people the chances of crime happening increase, so it’s a numbers game more than a location game, in my opinion.

Ok, that’s enough ranting about how much I enjoy living in a city and why I think you should too. I’m not asking you to up and move tomorrow, but if ever you find yourself really sick of your commute, or you’re relocating for a new job or to be closer to your grandkids, consider city living. I think you’ll like it.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 594 other followers