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
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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.

 

 

Why Voting Matters for the Environment October 11, 2016

The title of this blog post may seem like a no-brainer, but I wanted to reiterate the fact, especially as today is the last day people can register to vote in my home state of Pennsylvania. If you haven’t done so already, please, do so ASAP. Your vote does matter!

The economy is one of the most important concerns of US voters and understandably so; most people are not getting ahead, are worried about having enough to send their kids to college or retire, etc. However, there is a less obvious but no less important issue that all voters should have on their mind, and that is the environment and climate change. The simple fact of the matter is, without a stable and well-functioning environment our economy will suffer. Think of all the natural resources our society relies on to thrive: plants for food and medicine, minerals and metals for industry, beautiful beaches for tourism, to name but a few. The diversity and health of our natural world allows us to have myriad businesses that put money in our bank accounts.

But think about what recently happened to Florida, the Carolinas, and Georgia (not to mention Haiti and other Caribbean islands)… Hurricane Matthew. This storm destroyed beaches and the homes crowded along the shores, flooded inland streets and businesses, and grounded aircraft bound for places around the world. The economic impact of that one storm will be in the multi-billions, if not more. Climate scientists expect storms like Matthew to become more common and more serious over the years as a result of climate change. And what is more threatening is that they expect storm surge (what causes much of the damage) to become more of an issue in the future.

Some politicians think that climate change is a hoax, even though the super majority of climate and other scientists are in agreement about its existence and people’s roles in it. Other politicians acknowledge that climate change is real, but think it is not very important in relation to international problems and domestic economic issues. But as I stated before, our economy is intricately tied to the environment. When it is affected by natural disasters like Matthew, or by an oil spill or over-harvesting of a natural resource, that negatively impacts the economy. And international problems like the Syrian crisis could get worse as natural resources dwindle due to over-crowding, bad weather conditions, etc.

Our world is like a web, where one piece is connected to another and another and so on. If you think a heathy economy does not rely on a thriving environment, think again. And if you think all politicians (at the local, state, and national levels) care about these issues, guess again. So be informed and be sure to vote. Our economy and environment depend on it.

 

October 30, 2014

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 11:15 AM
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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
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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)!