For the Conservation Curious

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

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“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.


Flying Squirrels do Exist in PA September 8, 2014

I would like to share with you some information about a fascinating creature: the flying squirrel. I was lucky enough to see one of these small, grey mammals a handful of years ago. It was late and I was standing outside my parent’s house, when all of a sudden I saw a streak across the night sky as something landed on the large, old sugar maple in front of me. I looked up and saw what I thought to be a flying squirrel, but at the time I didn’t know that we had flying squirrels in Pennsylvania. I did a Google check the next day to make sure my eyes didn’t deceive me. Yes, in fact I had seen a flying squirrel!

There are two species of flying squirrels in Pennsylvania – the northern and southern squirrels. I saw most likely a southern squirrel, as they are the more common of the two. Both species are nocturnal, meaning they only come out at night. That’s one of the main reasons most people have never seen one, and why only my active social life at the time granted me the opportunity to see one. The squirrels spend the night eating lichens, moss, fungi and other goodies, gliding from tree to tree (they don’t really fly… bats are the only mammals that can do that) at average distances of 20 to 40 feet.

Both species are a light brown color on top, with a whitish belly. It is very difficult to tell the two species apart. The northern squirrels are slightly larger, but when one is gliding quickly past you in the dark of night, chances are you won’t get a good enough look to determine its species type. Southern squirrels are generalists in their habitat preference, living in suburban areas as well as wilder areas, while the northern species, rare in Pennsylvania, prefers remote coniferous forests.

And as you might know, Pennsylvania’s confer forests are facing a serious, invasive threat – the hemlock wooly adelgid. This tiny insect attacks our state tree, the eastern hemlock, and has killed thousands of them across the state. When the hemlocks die, the northern flying squirrel loses a home. As hardwood trees move in to fill the vacant niche, so too come the southern squirrels, which carry a parasite that is lethal to the northern squirrels.

All is not bleak, though, for the northern squirrels. Researcher Carolyn Mahan from Penn State received funding from the Wild Resource Conservation Fund and Game Commission to study reforest areas of the state with red spruce, a conifer tree that the northern squirrels seem to like. Hopefully through these efforts the northern flying squirrel will be able to hang out and perhaps even thrive in Pennsylvania, able to withstand the unintended bad habits of their southern cousins.

I hope so. Not only would I like to check-off the northern flying squirrel from my mammal life list, but it’s just good to know that the efforts of dedicated people can postively impact the survival of species.