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)

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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.

 

 

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)!

 

Where Does Your Water Come From? August 15, 2014

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

Do you know where your drinking water comes from? That is a question that I didn’t know the answer to a year ago, even though I have lived in the same city for 10 years now. I knew who managed the water and sent out the utility bills for it (my city, until recently, now a municipal water authority) but I wasn’t sure whether the water was coming from the river that I can see from my window or if there was some reservoir somewhere supplying us with the water. For someone in the environmental community to not know this didn’t bode well for the rest of the public knowing the answer.

Why does it matter that people know where their water comes from? If you know where it comes from I think you can better appreciate it and will be better aware of the potential threats to the water supply. If your water came from XYZ River and then you hear about a spill in said river, well then you would be concerned, right? But if you had no clue that your drinking water came from XYZ River than you might not bat an eyelash over it. Thinking that drinking water just comes from the tap, that it’s always there and always will be, in a clean manner, is foolish but not uncommon. In the Northeast, we are spoiled with a very reliable source of drinking water.

My city’s water comes from a man-made reservoir about 20 miles upstream. The city owns 12 acres of watershed around the lake, helping to protect it from pollution, erosion and other nasty things that we don’t want in our drinking water. The water travels via gravity through pipes to a treatment plant, then on to holding tanks located under a park, then on to the city. Then I can turn on my tap and drink the award-winning water. So simple, yet so complex.

Other people outside of the city get their water from a national water company, which takes water from the nearby river, treats it, then sends it out to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. While there’s nothing wrong with drinking that river’s (treated) water, I am a bit glad to know my drinking water is coming from further outside the developed area of our city. Call me a water snob, I guess.

Regardless of where your drinking water comes from, it is important for you to know the source. Look up that information and share it with those you know. An educated consumer (yes, we are consumers of the water, even if we can’t really shop around for where we get our tap water, unless of course we move) is a better consumer.

 

3D Printers – Will They Help Save the Planet? June 5, 2014

3DPizza_inhabitat
(Photo: Inhabitat.com)

I am fascinated by the idea of 3D printing. I read about it frequently in the online press and see it in action on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” I have seen articles about 3D printed pizza, human tissues, works of art and plastic children’s toys. It seems straight out of a science fiction novel or episode of Star Trek, but 3D printing is a reality today that is poised to become more mainstream over the next few years to a decade.

What is 3D printing and how does it work? According to 3DPrinting.com, it is “a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.” Each 3D printer has a 3D modeling program that takes the digital design and turns it into a real-life object. The applications for 3D printing are nearly limitless. 3D printed objects can fit into the realms of architecture, healthcare, entertainment, manufacturing and so much more.

Of particular interest to me are the conservation and sustainability aspects of 3D printing. According to an article on The Guardian’s website on March 21 by Chat Reynders, 3D printing will lead to great fuel and material waste reductions, not to mention cost savings. In the manufacturing process, typically numerous prototypes are created and shipped overseas before a final product is developed. That takes a lot of time and resources. With 3D printing the printer is usually able to create a perfect final product the first time around, cutting down on not only shipping fuel costs but also reducing material waste, which might otherwise end up in a landfill. Items will be able to be designed and printed closer to the markets that want them, fueling local economies and reducing green house gas emissions.

However, digging deeper I found a study done by researchers at UC Berkeley (http://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/blog/environmental-impacts-3d-printing) to compare the electricity and material waste generated by two types of 3D printers and traditional manufacturing processes. What they found differed a bit from what was written in The Guardian article. They looked at an “FDM” machine (fused deposition modeling), which is like a 3D version of a hot glue gun, and an inkjet 3D printer, that uses layers of polymeric ink to create objects. The FDM machine proved to be more environmentally-friendly than traditional manufacturing, yet the ink jet printer wasted up to 40% of its ink during printing. However, it all depends on how often the machines are used and if they are left on all day when not in use. The electricity waste of keeping these printers on makes them more environmentally-degrading than traditional manufacturing processes. So in order to maximize the environmental benefits of 3D printing is to use electricity sourced from alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and to maximize efficiencies in the use of the printers.

What about the fact that most 3D printers in use right now use plastic… isn’t plastic bad for the environment? It is true that 3D printers melt plastic down and form it into new shapes. Melting plastic creates fumes that are harmful to people if inhaled. There are greener alternatives, including bio-plastics and wood pulp, and these technologies will be used more often as 3D printing takes off.

3D printing can be a reality for just about anyone. A printer can be purchased for as little as $250. Maybe I’ll pick one up and start printing out some thin crust pizzas. Anyone up for dinner?!

 

Is There a Humane Way to Deal With Invasive Animals? May 29, 2014

I read an article today (http://maryland.newszap.com/crisfieldsomerset/132290-92/chesapeakes-marshes-may-see-end-of-invasive-nutria) about how the Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Program is working well, and that the people involved in the program may actually succeed in removing all these large, invasive rodents from the Bay. It also mentions the success people have had with eradicating the invasive mute swan from the region. As someone who worked on invasive species issues for many years, albeit mostly related to plants, I applaud the efforts of these folks and am excited for their success story.

However, the animal lover in me cringes a little bit when I read articles like this, especially when they describe how the nutria are trapped and killed. The traps are similar to what people use to trap beavers for their pelts… the animal is snared by the leg and drowned. I’ve never agreed with how beavers are trapped, so I cannot agree with their use here, even if nutria are highly destructive to the wetland and marsh habitats they live in. There has to be a move humane way to do this.

nutria_wikimedia
(Photo:Wikimedia.com)

Many animal rights activists oppose the culling of invasive animals on the grounds that the practice is inhumane. When looking at the issue from the 40,000 feet view, I disagree with them. Invasive species cause significant damage to habitats, in turn negatively affecting and sometimes killing other, native wildlife. Most invasives are here because of foolish or unintended consequences of human actions, so I feel that it is our duty to do something about them. But it’s how we do something about them that I may have an issue with. I used to be very opposed to herbicides, no matter what. I thought of them as a poison with which we contaminate the earth. Yet as I learned more through my job, I came to realize that sometimes herbicides are the only solution to eliminating certain invasive plant species. Herbicides shouldn’t ever be the only line of defense, and hopefully aren’t the first choice in many situations, but they do have their place.

So it is with invasive animal control. Think of the Burmese pythons that are taking over the Everglades. These are long, strong, animal eating machines. Should we just let them slither their way across the state of Florida? No, I don’t think so. The same goes for nutria, mute swans, feral hogs, snakehead fish, Asian carp, and a whole host of other invasive animal species in the U.S. Yet how we control these animals says a lot about how we treat animals in general. If someone has no problem drowning a beaver for its pelt, then of course they have no problem drowning a nuisance species by the same method. Changing this process will take considerable education.

How can we deal with the invasive species problem in a humane way? Better minds than mine will need to think about that. But I hope that someone is thinking about that. I certainly want the Chesapeake Bay to become a healthier, more productive ecology in the future, but I hope that can be achieved with less brutality in the future.

 

Trees do so Much April 9, 2014

Filed under: Science,Uncategorized — newdomino @ 1:15 PM
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Trees are terrific! Can anyone argue with that? Well, I guess I should add a caveat to my statement, “MOST trees are terrific!” There are invasive tree species out there that are the bane of many people’s existence, including mine, like Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) and Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), to name just a few. And some trees are more terrific than others. Trees native to your specific area are generally better than non-natives, although if you live in an urban area you may need some non-invasive, non-native trees to withstand road salt, the urban heat island effect and the other tough growing conditions found in urban areas. Trees like Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate) and Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrate) will grow well under tough conditions, yet not grow uncontrollably like an invasive.

Spring is a great time to plant trees, but you need to make sure you’re planting them in the proper site, with the proper techniques. Check out the TreeVitalize program website to learn all about proper tree selection, siting, installation and maintenance – http://www.treevitalize.net. Plus, if you live in certain parts of Pennsylvania you can download a coupon to save $15 off the purchase of a tree at participating nurseries. Municipalities and non-profits can even apply for grants to help defray costs on bulk tree plantings.

redbud_paul wray
(Photo of Eastern Redbud by Paul Wray, Iowa State U., http://www.forestryimages.org)

I live in a city center, surrounded by a lot of pavement. In such situations adding tree canopy cover is essential. Trees provide us with cleaner air and cleaner water, shade to lower heating bills and make sitting outside on a hot day more enjoyable, and aesthetic beauty. There was already a Japanese maple in my backyard when I purchased my home, but I added a native Eastern redbud tree too. It has grown a lot over the last three years, even given the poor quality city “soil” and is just plain beautiful in the spring with its pinkish-purple flowers. The flowering dogwood in front of my house provides food for the squirrels (they love to eat the fruits, sometimes to my chagrin) and blocks some prying eyes from being able to look into my living room window. Trees do so much for us!