For the Conservation Curious

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Goods News / Bad News for Species December 23, 2016

Although it’s the holiday season and I should write about cute puppy dogs with bows and ribbons, there were two stories I saw in the last week that I am compelled to write about. One is rather dreary, the other gives me a bit of hope. Since you’re supposed to tell someone two nice things before you break the bad news, I’ll start with the positive story…

Many news outlets discussed the discovery of many new species in the Greater Mekong Area of China. These included a frog that sings like a bird, a blind fish, a walking catfish, and 123 others. So to me, the fact that in 2016 we are still discovering new species is amazing, especially those on land. I’m sure there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of new species in the deep sea… but those will be much more difficult to find and catalogue. There are most likely myriad insect species that we don’t know about too, but again, their small size makes them more elusive. The world is still ripe for discovery.

And yet, Nick Cox, manager of the World Wildlife Fund’s Greater Mekong Species Program said, “The good news is new discoveries. The bad news is that it is getting harder and harder in the world of conservation and environmental sustainability.” Just as these species are discovered, they are under threat. That is downer statement number one.

Number two is that scientists are warning that the species extinction crisis is far worse than previously thought. CNN has a great interactive story (videos, charts, etc.) about it here. They discuss the five causes that are speeding up the process: climate change, agriculture, wildlife crime (i.e. poaching), pollution, and disease. That’s a lot to keep you up at night if you care about animals.

However, they offer solutions to help us slow the crisis. And I’d like to offer a thought or two as well.

  • People have the capacity to do great harm to the planet, but we have as equally great a capacity to help and heal the earth.
  • By recognizing the problems, we can develop solutions for them.
  • Iconic species like the rhino and elephant, and even the giraffe, which scientists say are in a downward population spiral, grab people’s attention and pull on their heart strings. By protecting them, we protect other less charismatic species too.
  • No matter how gloomy the news has been this year, and it has indeed been downright apocalyptic at times, we have to keep faith that things change… sometimes at a glacial pace… but they do change. I’ll hope for the best.

(Photo collage from The Telescope)


What we do to the earth today has untold consequences for tomorrow December 9, 2016

Filed under: Science,Uncategorized — newdomino @ 3:40 PM
Tags: , , , ,

The Snow Goose Situation

You may have heard that thousands of snow geese recently died as they landed on a toxic lake in Montana. The Berkeley Pit is a 700-acre, 900-foot-deep, former copper open-pit mine that contains high levels of acidic water with heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. While the employees at the former mine tried their best to scare the geese away, according to the Associated Press, about 10 percent of the birds landed anyway and succumbed to the poisonous water.

Why This Is a Cautionary Tale

The snow geese deaths are sad indeed, but there is more to the story when you think on a grander scale:

  • Think of how many other former pit mines, many of them not being managed as the Berkeley Pit is, are abandoned and just waiting for hungry migratory birds to land there.
  • Think of the tar sands pits in Canada, also full of toxic metals, and very appealing to migratory birds like snow geese.
  • Think of the abandoned underground coal mines that leech toxic metals into our streams, which then become devoid of life.

What these all have in common is that the long-term environmental consequences of mining are not factored into the initial costs of doing business. The bonds that are put in place now may not cover damage decades from now. And the mines dug before bonds were a common practice may just now beginning to show their nasty side effects.

What Can Be Done

We all need to realize that our actions can have devastating and long-lasting consequences. Therefore, we need to think further out than our lifetime when making drastic alterations to the planet. We need to ensure that those who are mining, and drilling, and manufacturing are on the hook, should something go wrong today, tomorrow, or one hundred years from now. Because the health of future generations, not to mention all other species on earth, may be at stake.

Take Action

If you are concerned about the health of our environment, as it has a significant effect on the health of our bodies, please let your elected officials know you are unhappy with Trump’s choice to head the EPA. Or we may have even more incidents like the snow geese deaths to deal with down the road.



Changing of the Seasons (and My Mindset) November 28, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 11:30 AM

I haven’t written in a while, mainly because I didn’t want to come across as extremely angry and depressed – both of which are feelings that developed very late on November 8 and are still lingering in the background. The results of the election shocked me to my core and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but that’s not what I want to write about today.

It’s difficult to think of positive things right now, but I’ll give it my best shot, because we need some positivity, especially in light of the recently celebrated Thanksgiving and the upcoming winter holiday season.

I’m looking outside my window and I see blue skies with just a hint of clouds. There are a few remnants of red and orange leaves clinging to the tree beyond the glass. The boughs gently shake in the light breeze. The squirrels scamper up and down the tree trunk, as well as across the shingles of my roof. They stop to nibble on a dogwood tree berry or bury an acorn in the ground. Their biggest care is stockpiling enough food to survive the winter. I envy their one-track mindset whenever my brain starts swirling.

I’ll go for a walk down to the river today to see if there are any late-coming ducks or geese, migrating to some far off locale. Some might decide to stay, given the relatively mild weather, especially this year. A groundhog is cropping the grass along the walking path. A resident songbird flies over my head. The sunlight ripples across the slow-flowing river. Toward sunset the sky’s colors are amazing: red, purple, pink. It’s hard to believe it’s only 4:30 p.m…. it feels much more like bedtime.

At this time of year the days switch between the need for a light jacket to bundled up in wool. Scarf and gloves, or none? A quick stroll or a leisurely ramble? Seeing your breath on the air or not? I like the contradictions that the transition from fall to winter brings. Fall comes in all bright colors and woodsy scents. Winter takes over in stark greys and whites with crisp, almost metallic smells. There’s something positive and almost magical in the changing of seasons, we just have to be open to seeing it.


Protests: Right, Wrong, and in Between October 31, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 4:17 PM

Last week there were two events that got me fired up. One was seeing unarmed (mostly… and even then, just with rocks) protestors being arrested en mass at the Dakota Access Pipeline. The other was seeing the armed perpetrators of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff acquitted of their charges. Why is it ok for a group of heavily armed people to out stay their welcome on public land, yet others are being forcibly removed from a different area? While we can’t know what’s going on in the judge’s head or the police officers’ heads, I can provide some speculation.

One only has to look at the two groups of people to see a difference. The majority of people involved in the wildlife refuge fracas were white men (one woman was involved, as was one non-Caucasian man). Many of people being arrested in North Dakota are from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, i.e. native Americans. The first group found some out of the way public land to occupy to protest what they deemed unfair government control of public lands. They want to be able to graze their cattle on our land, for free. I’d like to build a house at Yellowstone, but that would defeat the purpose of public land, right?!

The second group is protesting an oil pipeline that they say could rupture, negatively impacting their drinking water, not to mention slowing any progress toward finding alternative fuel sources to slow climate change. They tried legal proceedings to shut down the project, to no avail. When that failed, they took to the land, literally, to block the pipeline’s construction.

Aside from race, the other issue at heart here is that the Bundy’s and their pals were not blocking any commercial enterprise, aside from potentially stopping some federal employees from fully doing their day-to-day jobs. The protestors in North Dakota are stopping a commercial enterprise. Dollars are trumping environmental protections once again.

If I lived closer, I’d like to think I’d be there too, standing with the Standing Rock Sioux. Thankfully there are many environmentalists adding their voices to the situation. Let’s hope for a peaceful and satisfactory conclusion that protects water quality and these native peoples. And let’s hope that the acquittal of those armed vigilantes in Oregon does not spark more militia-like takeovers of public lands. Just because that land belongs to us all doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want on it!


Stray Cat-astrophe? October 28, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 11:00 AM

I read recently an interesting and somewhat depressing article in the November issue of Outside magazine about the feral cat population on the Hawaiian islands. Scientists have strong evidence linking the deaths of some endangered monk seals by toxoplasmosis to the feces of way too many stray cats. According to the article, cats are the only species that can transmit living toxo parasites in its feces to other species (this is why pregnant women are warned not to scoop the litter box). While many other species on the island may act as host for the toxo without showing any symptoms, for some reason the seals are falling prey to it. And they are already being impacted by other things such as climate change, adding insult to injury.

So what are they Hawaiian islanders to do? Feelings are mixed. Scientists and ecologists would like to reduce the number of wild felines through humane culling. Cat lovers, on the other hand, want to continue their trap, neuter, and release (TNR) programs, saying those practices keep cat colony populations in check. Yet according to the article, and other publications I have read, TNR is not successful there or just about anywhere else. The main reason… people continue to dump unwanted cats in places where they see other cats. So the colonies continue to grow even as fewer cats are having kittens.

As a cat parent and cat enthusiast myself, this article sparked many thoughts in my head. I can sympathize with the cat lovers… who would want to put down perfectly healthy and cute cats? Yet the environmentalist and bird lover in me sees the flip side as well… all those cats are not only inadvertently killing monk seals, but they are intentionally killing endangered birds across the islands and other places throughout the world. Cats are predators and not native to the Hawaiian islands or anywhere for that matter. They have been introduced into habitats by us. So shouldn’t we have a responsibility to deal with the aftermath of that domestication?

I worked on invasive species issues for many years. Any time I see a European house sparrow in my backyard I cringe. They bully the native birds and even kill ones like bluebirds, taking their nest boxes as their own. Yet it’s not the sparrow’s fault. They didn’t choose to come to the United States. It was people that brought them here. And people must come up with humane and effective solutions for all invasive species, lest we lose countless other species from our inaction.

In terms of the cats on the Hawaiian islands, they live in a relatively closed ecosystem, being surrounded on all sides by the Pacific Ocean. We could have a success story here. People could take action to protect the remaining endangered bird species, monk seals, and other animals falling prey. But it will require making some tough moves. Someone will need to convince the cat lovers that those other species are more important in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully many of those stray cats will find homes. Hopefully an effective public education campaign will teach people to spay/neuter their house cats, keep them indoors, and not dump them on the side of the road if they no longer want them, so the colonies can finally shrink in size. And failing all that, I hope people on both sides of the issue can sit down respectfully, with open ears and minds, and come to a solution that is not passion-based, but based on real science.

What do you think?


Wedding Waste October 17, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 11:30 AM

I’m getting married this coming weekend. I had wanted to elope for several reasons, but in the end my fiancée and I decided to have an informal ceremony and party-like reception. I thought that would make it an affordable option… Now that seems very laughable and naïve. The wedding industry is just that: an industry. It is big business. I had to wonder, at what expense to the planet?

Being cost conscious, we could have opted for disposable plates, cups, napkins, etc. That would have saved us a lot of money. Renting all those things, along with linens and catering staff, was a big chunk of our budget. But we had to do it, as I couldn’t stomach the thought of all the waste of disposables. Even if you opt for the “green” version of compostable plates that is only green if you have a municipal composting facility that can handle them. Unfortunately most of the time those “green” plates and cups are sent to the landfill where they won’t break down as they’re supposed to. Now, washing all that silverware and glassware isn’t all that great either, but what’s the alternative? Not serve food? Drink directly from the wine bottle? I’m ok with that, but not with sharing. 🙂

We are keeping the decorations to a minimum. We tried to borrow white string lights where we could. The centerpieces are very small and use dried grasses and flowers rather than fresh roses shipped from a former rain forest in South America. But what will happen to these 2 dozen decorations after the wedding? They’re made in beer growlers so I hope some people will put them to good use in their home – either as a decoration or a beverage holder. But for the others I hope I can find someone on the internet or my home town to buy/take them for their next special event. I wonder how many people actually try to upsell their wedding décor? Most brides are key on saving money where they can and most couples will have no money after their wedding so recouping some of their investment makes sense. And it makes huge sense for the environment; more materials reused means fewer materials created from scratch.

I would love to hear from brides and grooms about how they tried to have as environmentally-friendly a wedding as possible and whether or not that raised the price of things considerably. Can it be cost-effective to have a “green” wedding without having to know someone who owns a farm where you can hold your wedding for free with flowers from the grounds and grass-fed beef from the pastures? Cause unfortunately I don’t know anyone like that and chances are, you don’t either. What a wonderful world it would be if we all did!




Good Intentions Meet Laziness or Forgetfulness October 14, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 11:00 AM

Do you guilt trip yourself when you forget your reusable coffee mug on the counter and don’t realize it until you’re at the coffee shop counter? Do you mentally kick yourself when you don’t bring the canvas grocery bags into the store and can’t be bothered to go back to the car and get them? Do you sigh out loud when you are given leftovers from your favorite restaurant in a styrofoam container, rather than the reusable bowl you forgot in your kitchen? If one or more of these sound familiar to you, you are not alone. Environmental guilt can strike at any time, to anyone who cares about the planet.

I know that I am guilty of this guilt. Right now I’m drinking coffee from a paper cup with a plastic disposable lid. What a horrible person I am! And the coffee probably isn’t rain forest and bird-friendly organic certified. Ugh! I might as well stop calling myself an environmentalist! At least that’s what my internal hippie tells me under such circumstances. Yet all is not lost, my friends.

Here’s the thing… no one is perfect, not even the greenest of the green people. As a right-wing organization likes to show us with a billboard on the PA Turnpike (a photo of Robert Redford is beside the text “Flies private jet but wants us to give up gasoline.” or something like that), even people with the best intentions don’t give up everything that might not be good for the planet. The point is to be as good as you can, as often as you can, but not beat yourself up over the times when you’re not.

My husband to-be eats meat. Do I try to convert him, knowing that a vegetarian diet is much better for the planet? No, I don’t do that. But through my cooking he now eats vegetarian meals more than he would on his own. I doubt he’ll ever give up meat completely, and that’s ok (not amazing, mind you, but ok), but he recognizes the benefits and does what he can. Now if I could only get him to bring canvas bags to the grocery store!

But I digress… the point is to find little, simple things you can do, do them repeatedly, and they will become habit. Then stretch yourself to some greater actions and repeat. You’ll be helping the planet and not putting yourself out of your comfort zone too much. And then when you forget to do that action, or are just feeling too lazy to motivate yourself that day, remember that it’s ok. The planet won’t crash and burn just because you forgot to recycle that can of soda today. Just don’t make a habit of it! 🙂