For the Conservation Curious

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The Power of Protests January 19, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 12:14 PM
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This week, the Ringling Brother Circus announced that after 100 years, they are closing their tent flaps for good, come this May. I had a few mixed emotions about that announcement that I would like to share here, especially in light of the upcoming Women’s March on Washington that I will be participating in this Saturday…

The Impact of a Circus

Like many American children, I attended the Ringling circus at least once, probably a couple times, in my life. I am pretty sure I even rode on the back of one of the endangered Asian elephants… a treat for any young kid. While clowns scared me, the animals enthralled me. Aside from the zoo, the circus was the only other place for me to see these amazing creatures up close. It had a lasting effect on me.

But as I got older I came to realize that these wild creatures shouldn’t be put on spectacle for our entertainment. The cramped cages, the stress of moving from town to town, the impact of performing multiple nights a week, the alleged abuses; they all added up to make me dislike the circus.

My First Protest

In college I started an animal rights group at my school. We spent most of our time trying to get more vegetarian options in the cafeteria and educate people about animal testing. It was a rather tame bunch. In grad school I joined the group there (the only grad student in the group, I might add) and was a member of PETA (something I would not continue for long due to their extreme views). Through that group I protested the Ringling Brothers Circus when it came to town.

I was anxious and had no idea what to expect. Would we experience hostility? Would there be violence? I was surprised by what we did experience… the circus performers who I met were cordial and took the time to listen to our concerns. The parents mostly tried to ignore us. Ignorance is bliss, right?! After all, my parents took me to the circus when I was young. It’s almost like a right of passage.

Bittersweet Goodbye

And that is why the announcement of the circus’ closing left me with mixed emotions. I am so very happy that no more elephants, lions, tigers, and other animals will have to live such an unnatural life performing for our amusement. They deserve much better. But I do feel bad for the performers who loved their jobs. I’m sure 99% of them respected their animal co-stars and treated them kindly. And after this March, kids won’t get to experience the magic of Ringling. Thankfully Cirque du Soleil is still around to fill in some of the gaps.

Protests Work

So as I get ready to go to the Women’s March – which I do want to stress is a march, not exactly a protest – I think back to my first protest and how it has left an indelible mark on me. And it’s amazing that it worked… although it took nearly 30 years and much effort to do so. The people taking part in Saturday’s march have many reasons for doing so. Mine are for women’s reproductive rights, environmental protection, and equal pay for equal work, among others. It will be a slow process making progress, but good things mature with time.

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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)

 

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 http://www.charleyharperartstudio.com. 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!

 

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)

 

Why Do Animals Migrate? October 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 12:30 PM
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I just realized this post was in my “draft” box. It was written nearly two years ago, but the message is still timely, so enjoy….

Since I just moved from one state to another I started thinking about animal migrations. Why do they do it? What motivates them to expend the time and energy required for a long distance migration? The answers are both obvious and subtle.

First of all, what is a migration? The Natural History Museum of the United Kingdom says it is “a journey with a clear purpose from one area to another, often following a well-defined route to a familiar destination, and often at a specific time or season.” However, they go on to say that there is no universally accepted definition and it’s not always easy to tell a true migration from something else. We tend to think of birds flying south for the winter as a migration, but there are many other species that migrate as well.
Migration is usually fueled by the search for food. Birds fly south to find insects, fruits and seeds that they can’t find in their more northerly habitats during the winter and caribou migrate across the tundra searching for fresh grasses. But animals may migrate for a host of other reasons including to find shelter, like the monarch butterflies flying to Mexico, searching for a mate, like male sperm whales, or fleeing an overcrowded habitat, like Norway lemmings. Even some human cultures still migrate to find fresh food for their livestock and avoid harsh climate conditions.

We tend to think of migration as a north-south journey but that isn’t always the case. Migration can occur when an animal travels up and down a mountain at certain times of the year, called altitudinal migration, as evidenced by elk and bighorn sheep in the Rocky Mountains. They spend the winters below the timberline where there is food for them to eat, and slowly advance back up the mountain as snow melts, in order to get further away from predators. Scientists believe this type of migration will take place more often in the future as the climate changes, forcing cold-loving species to move higher up into the mountains until they can go no further. Migration can also occur when aquatic animals move up and down in the water column, called diel vertical migration. Lanternfish are one species that does this. They travel from their deep habitats to shallower water at night in order to locate prey.

Why don’t animals just live somewhere with enough food and ideal habitats so they don’t have to migrate? Just imagine if all the world’s animal species lived in those rare, ideal habitats. It would be quite overcrowded, with diseases, competition, and fighting running rampant. Animals have evolved to live in certain habitats, eat certain foods, and migrate if they need to, in order to minimize competition as much as possible and ensure the continued survival of the species. Migration is one essential tool for doing so.

 

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.