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Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

Photo: Philip Brown/Unsplash.
Led by tribes, conservationists are helping bison make a comeback.

Having recently watched an appalling old Annie Get Your Gun film with Betty Hutton (appalling on the subjects of poverty, women, and especially indigenous people), I was relieved to learned from today’s article that attitudes may have evolved into something more promising.

Back in the day, settlers fought natives in underhanded ways. One way was killing bison, a sacred food source. Today European descendants and tribes are actually collaborating to bring the animals back from the edge of extinction.

Jess McHugh reports at the Washington Post, “Miles of prairie stretched out across the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southern Oklahoma, acre after acre of brush, grasses and hearty vegetation creeping toward the low-range granite mountains rising in the distance. Like in much of Oklahoma, the road is flat here, but the speed limit remains 30 mph. That’s because of the bison.

“They appeared seemingly out of nowhere: dozens of massive animals lumbering up the shoulder of the road to cross to the fresh vegetation on the other side. The herd moved slowly, their soft, bovine eyes barely registering the stopped cars awaiting their passage. They quickly set to work mowing down the fresh springtime grass.

“The bison’s quiet munching does more than nourish their bodies — it’s one of many things they do to nurture their entire ecosystem, one that is increasingly under threat from climate change. Grazing bison shaving down acres of vegetation leave more than dung behind:

Their aggressive chewing spurs growth of nutritious new plant shoots, and their natural behaviors — the microhabitats they create by rolling in the ground, the many birds that forged symbiotic relationships with them — trickle down the food chain.

“Once bordering on extinction, bison now serve as a great provider for their ecosystems, standing as an example of the ways in which animal conservation and ecological protection can work in tandem.

“ ‘Buffalo is the original climate regulator,’ said Troy Heinert, a member of the Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) tribe and executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, a coalition working to restore the animal on tribal lands. ‘Just by how they use the grass, how they graze, how their hoofs are designed, the way they move.’ …

“Tribes are leading the effort to bring back the bison, Heinert says, which in turn allows for the return of other native grasses, animals and insects — all of which will ‘help fight this changing climate.’

“Bison, called buffalo by some Indigenous peoples, are mammoth creatures. Weighing up to 2,000 pounds, they are the largest land mammal in North America. … Two centuries ago, bison dominated much of the continent from Canada to Mexico, when tens of millions roamed North America. They were so numerous that the pounding of their hoofs beating across the land sounded like rolling thunder. For the many tribes of the plains region — the Lakota, the Shoshone, the Arapaho, to name a few — buffalo was a sacred animal that nourished their people and played an important ceremonial role.

“For European colonizers, the bison were both a commodity and a weapon. Americans massacred them by the thousands, selling their pelts and organizing vast sport hunts. As the United States pushed West in the 1800s, bison became a pawn in their quest to wrest Indigenous tribes off their ancestral homes. …

“By the turn-of-the-20th century, millions of bison had been killed. In 1900, fewer than 1,000 — of an estimated 30 to 60 million — remained, many in zoos.

“President Theodore Roosevelt ordered federal bison herds to be put into place (some, such as Custer State Park, were ironically sourced from tribal herds). The bison observed in the Wichita Mountains are descended from 15 animals commandeered from the Bronx Zoo in 1907 and brought to Oklahoma via train car. In the intervening century, federal, tribal and private herds have brought the species back from the brink of extinction. The estimated number of bison nationwide — while far from the millions — now hovers in the low hundreds of thousands.

“Indigenous peoples have been integral to this effort from the start, both by managing herds and by introducing legislation to protect and expand bison territory. In the past few decades, tribal herd numbers have soared: The InterTribal Buffalo Council, which began as a modest coalition of fewer than 10 tribes in the early 1990s, will soon count 76 tribes across 20 states from New York to Hawaii among its members, managing a total of more than 20,000 animals across 32 million acres.

“The return of the bison is a victory not only for the sake of biodiversity but for the entire ecosystem in which they live. As a keystone species, the bison sustain their environment from the top down.

“ ‘They move through, graze everything down. It’s a type of disturbance — like fire would be,’ said Dan McDonald, lead wildlife biologist at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. ‘The fresh green [draws] other animals that would feed on it: elk and deer and whatever other type of grazers that would consume some of that new forage.’

“The herd in Oklahoma is approximately 625 animals, but when large herds move synchronously across the land, they create what scientists have dubbed a ‘green wave.’ The bison’s vigorous grazing stimulates plant growth, creating a flood of new vegetation that follows in the bison’s wake to be ‘surfed’ by animals large and small. Green waves can be so dramatic that some — such as the one created by Yellowstone’s bison herd — can be seen from space.”

Read about the extraordinary side benefits of herd restoration at the Post, here.

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Photo: Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash.
Though still endangered, tigers are doing better this year than last year.

We hear so much about species on the verge of extinction that we have to blink twice get it through our heads that anything is coming back. That’s why I like today’s story.

Dino Grandoni reports at the Washington Post that “tigers are having a good year. Nepalese officials announced [in July] that the top predator’s numbers within the country’s borders have more than doubled in a bit more than a decade. Across Asia, there are as many as 5,500 tigers prowling jungles and swamps, a leading wildlife group said last week, a 40 percent jump from its 2015 assessment.

“The slow but steady rise in the big cat’s estimated population comes as biologists get better at tracking the animal and marks a high point amid a deepening extinction crisis that may see as many as a million plants and animal species disappear worldwide because of habitat loss and climate change.

“Tiger researchers, while optimistic, warn that the fierce hunter remains under threat from both poaching and encroachment into its remaining habitat. …

“ ‘It’s a fragile success,’ said Dale Miquelle, tiger program coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. ‘There are still many pressures on tiger populations, and they are disappearing from some areas.’

“There are between 3,726 and 5,578 tigers in the wild today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which tracks the status of plants and animals facing extinction. Tens of thousands of tigers once roamed Asia.

“One big reason behind the recent jump in tiger estimates: Scientists have simply gotten better at counting the cats, placing motion-sensing cameras in more spots to identify their territory. …

“But a combination of expanding protected areas and targeting poachers who sell tiger parts for use in traditional medicine has allowed tigers to stabilize or recover in China, India and Thailand.

“ ‘In all of those countries, tiger conservation has been a priority at the highest levels of government,’ said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at World Wildlife Fund.

“Asia’s most iconic predator is perhaps doing best of all in Nepal, where the estimated population has soared from 121 to 355 since 2009, its government said Friday, after the small Himalayan country committed to restoring habitat and dispatched military units to patrol for poachers.

“The grassy lowlands between Nepal and India near the Himalayan foothills — known as the Terai — teem with grazing animals, making it among the most productive potential habitats for the carnivore. …

“Tigers once roamed from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia and from frigid forests of Siberia in the north to tropical islands of Indonesia in the south. But a century of hunting both tigers and their prey has restricted their range and decimated their numbers.

“By the 1940s, wild tigers vanished from Singapore and Bali. By the 1960s, they were gone for good in Hong Kong and Java. In recent decades, they disappeared from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. And today, they continue to die out in Malaysia. …

“Both revered and feared across the globe, the tiger is a classic ‘charismatic megafauna’ — a big, regal animal that receives outsize attention and money in the conservation movement. But by protecting tigers, Miquelle said, conservationists end up protecting entire ecosystems on which other animals and people depend.

“ ‘When we talk about protecting tigers, you’re really talking about protecting the environment that people also need to survive and live a better life,’ he said.

“Yet, as tigers rebound, conflicts arise. In India, home to two-thirds of the world’s wild tigers, the big cats killed 383 people between 2010 and 2019, testing the tolerance of locals for living among them. A protest erupted in a Nepalese village this June after tiger and leopard attacks.

“In a bid to bolster incomes and provide economic incentive for tiger conservation, groups such as the WWF are encouraging residents to open their homes to ecotourists hoping to see the animals.

“Further complicating conservation efforts is Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has made it more difficult for researchers to collaborate with Russian counterparts and to attend a major tiger forum in the port city of Vladivostok scheduled for September.

“And rising seas fueled by global warming threaten to inundate tiger-filled mangroves in Bangladesh, though climate change may end up expanding the cat’s range in Russia.

“Despite the gains, tigers are still officially classified as endangered in the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. And countries still are failing to double their numbers.

“ ‘We haven’t succeeded in that process,’ Miquelle said. ‘But we do feel that there are more tigers today than there were 12 years ago — that progress is being made.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Regional Conservation Needs.
Wood turtles are said to make nice pets. Too nice for their own good: their reputation leads to poaching.

There’s a popular kind of turtle that’s losing habitat, like so many species these days. Here’s a story about a man who was determined to preserve his own land for these turtles, particularly for one specimen — his friend Stumpy.

Sadie Dingfelder reports at the Washington Post, “With his brow furrowed, Tom, 70, stomps on the damp leaf litter — thump, thump, thump, thump — and then we wait. A woodpecker cackles; bluebells tremble in the breeze. Stumpy is nowhere to be found. …

“A wild turtle, Stumpy has been meeting up with Tom in these West Virginia woods every spring for more than 30 years. Like his fellow wood turtles, Stumpy spends his winters brumating (the reptile equivalent of hibernating) in a clear, fast-moving stream. As days warm, he emerges from his aquatic home and roams the nearby woods in search of food ⁠— first tender leaves, then flowers and, finally, berries. Early on Stumpy’s circuit is Tom’s former house, where the human tosses him huge, juicy strawberries — months before the wild berries are ready to eat.

“It took a while for Tom to figure out Stumpy’s species, because Stumpy’s shell is worn and scuffed. Usually, wood turtles have gorgeous shells that appear to have been hand-carved from mahogany.

‘He was already old when I first saw him, so he must be really old now,’ says Tom. ‘Of course, he could say the same thing about me.’

“Curious, personable and uncommonly pretty, wood turtles are highly sought-after as pets, says Andrew Walde, chief operating officer of the Turtle Survival Alliance, whom I called after my first visit to Stumpy Acres. This combination of characteristics makes them vulnerable to poachers, who sell them as pets. ‘Whenever anything gets published about a particular population, that population is done for,’ Walde says. (To protect Stumpy and the other wood turtles from poachers, we aren’t publishing his exact location or his human friends’ last names.)

“The eastern panhandle of West Virginia is among wood turtles’ last strongholds, Walde says. Across most of their range, they are in steep decline. Indeed, half of the world’s 357 turtle species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, poaching and other human pastimes. This is an animal that survived not one, but two mass-extinction events. …

“Tom no longer lives in Stumpy’s territory. Last spring, he sold his house and moved to a more remote spot, high on a nearby mountain. He loved being by the river, but the pandemic brought an influx of tourists and new homeowners. The noise and traffic were bad enough, but worst of all was their aggressive landscaping.

‘One family clear-cut all the way down to the river,’ Tom says. ‘They didn’t want any brush or shrubbery — they are afraid of snakes or this or that — and they kinda destroyed the habitat.’

“He was determined to find a buyer who would be a good steward of the land — not just for vague environmental reasons, but for Stumpy’s sake, too. Luckily, the first person who came to look at the house fit the bill. Tommy, a 28-year-old computer programmer from D.C., told Tom about the sea turtle conservation project he had worked on one summer in Costa Rica, and he promised not to clear-cut the property to get a river view or better internet access. …

“Does Stumpy represent nature? Survival against the odds? The relentless ravages of time? Tom dismisses all these possibilities. ‘Stumpy is just Stumpy,’ Tom says. ‘He’s an individual. That’s what makes him special.’

“We drive to Tommy’s house and commence stomping. Stumpy should really be out of hibernation by now, but he’s not in their meeting spot near a large fallen tree, and he’s not on the berm by the river. He’s not basking on his basking log, and neither is he napping beneath the papaw trees. …

“If you spend time outdoors, you’ll eventually see something brutal, and you’ll be forced to accept it with equanimity, because nature is obviously beyond our judgment. Loving nature also feels a little tragic, because no matter how much you care about it, it will never care about you.

“But perhaps I’m wrong, because suddenly I hear a rustle in the leaves. Tom makes an excited sound. ‘There he is!’ he says, pointing. About 10 feet in front of us, a little brown turtle is running on his tiptoes — who knew turtles could run? And even though I’m closer and I’m also carrying strawberries, he’s beelining straight to Tom. …

“Pretty soon, Stumpy’s face is covered in pink pulp, and he’s got half a strawberry hanging from his chin. His species may be threatened, his habitat may be imperiled, but in this moment Stumpy seems delighted. ‘He’s such a messy eater,’ says Tom. ‘Do you see that? What a pig.’ Stumpy usually hangs out for a few weeks, making intermittent appearances, Tom says. As to where he goes afterward, no one knows — but Tom has a theory. ‘Maybe he visits lots of people, up and down the river, and we all think he’s ours.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Chris Willson/Alamy.
Round herrings were one of the species that performed lower on the aesthetic-rankings and were deemed ‘uglier’ by the public. But even ugly fish fish need love.

In the fight to protect the ocean, it helps if the creatures needing human assistance are brightly colored and beautiful — the kind you are drawn to at a fancy restaurant’s fish tank. But aesthetic judgments like that can get in the way of important work.

Several media outlets have been covering recent research on how human attitudes are affecting protection of reef ecosystems. I’ll reference a couple.

Sophia Quaglia wrote at the Guardian, “There are plenty of fish in the sea, but ‘ugly’ fish deserve love too, according to a study.

“The reef fish people rate as most aesthetically pleasing are also the ones that seem to need the least conservation support, while the fish most likely to rank as ‘ugly’ are the most endangered species, the research has found.

“ ‘There is a need for us to make sure that our “natural” aesthetic biases do not turn into a bias of conservation effort,’ said Nicolas Mouquet a community ecologist at the University of Montpellier, and one of the lead authors of the study. This discrepancy between aesthetic value and extinction vulnerability could have repercussions in the long run, he said.

“Mouquet’s team first conducted an online survey in which 13,000 members of the public rated the aesthetic attractiveness of 481 photographs of ray-finned reef fish. The scientists fed the data into an artificial intelligence system, enabling them to generate predictions for how people would probably have rated a total of 2,417 of the most commonly known reef fish species from 4,400 different photographs.

“The combined results suggested that bright, colorful and round-bodied fish species – such as the queen angelfish and the striped cowfish – were most often rated as more ‘beautiful.’ But they were also the less ‘evolutionarily distinct’ species – meaning they are more similar, genetically, to other fish.

“Fish species that were lower in the aesthetic rankings and were deemed ‘uglier’ by the public – usually ‘drab’ fish, Mouquet notes, with elongated body shape and no clearly delineated color patterns, like the telescopefish or the round herring – were also more ecologically distinct, at greater ecological risk, and listed as ‘threatened’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

“The more ‘unattractive’ species have adapted to look this way because they often live in the water column and have to hide within a more homogeneous habitat, but this also makes them of greater commercial interest and more likely to be overfished, according to the study, published in PLOS Biology.

“ ‘Our study highlights likely important mismatches between potential public support for conservation and the species most in need of this support,’ said Mouquet. …

“ ‘Species such as clownfish and colorful parrotfishes are definitely the easiest for people to connect with … and it makes sense why they are often used as the figurehead of conservation efforts,’ said Chloe Nash, a researcher of biogeography of marine fish at University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study. ‘But the majority of fish biodiversity is actually composed of species that would not be considered to be “aesthetically beautiful.” ‘

“While aesthetics are recognized as a fundamental ecosystem service, they’re often underestimated for their effect on policy and conservation decisions, said Joan Iverson Nassauer, a scholar of landscape ecology at the University of Michigan. … ‘This research vividly quantifies the power of aesthetic experience to affect science and management,’ said Nassauer. …

“According to Mouquet, findings such as these can help researchers understand ‘non-material aspects of biodiversity,’ which make up what scholars call ‘nature’s contribution to people’ – the harmful and beneficial effects of the natural world on people’s quality of life.”

Not that nature needs to be justified in human terms, but there’s no doubt that humans have an impact. Sometimes just raising our consciousness about what we are doing can help us make a correction. Read more at the Guardian, here. Or listen at the radio show the World, here.

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Photo: Kendal Blust/KJZZ via Fronteras.
These eelgrass seeds are fresh from the sea.
Mexico’s indigenous Comcáac people have managed to protect 96% of the precious eelgrass that grows in their region.

I have long known about beach grass and how it can hold the dunes and protect the land in a hurricane. I know about how easily the roots die if you walk on beach grass and why, when “Keep Off the Dunes” signs aren’t obeyed, houses wash away.

But I’m learning there’s another fragile grass that helps the environment. This one lives in the sea and captures carbon.

Sam Schramski has the story at Public Radio International’s the World.

“At a two-day festival on the coast of northern Mexico [last] month, scientists, chefs and local residents gathered to celebrate eelgrass — a unique type of seagrass that grows in the Gulf of California. 

“Seagrass is on the decline in the world’s oceans, but the Indigenous Comcáac people who live in the region have managed to protect the eelgrass that grows in their waters. 

” ‘From my parents, I learned about medicinal plants and the songs of plants, as well as about traditional foods,’ said Laura Molina, who is Comcáac.

“She remembers how her mom made tortillas out of flour ground from eelgrass seeds known as xnois in Comcáac language, a mix between wild rice and nori seaweed. 

Seagrass is getting a lot of attention these days because of its capacity to store carbon, estimated to sequester up to half the so-called ‘blue carbon’ in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems — putting it on par with global forests.

“Ángel León, a Spanish chef and owner of Aponiente restaurant, has made it his personal mission to protect threatened seagrass beds off the Spanish coast. He’s interested not only in the plant’s environmental benefits but also its culinary potential in the kitchen as a nutrient-rich superfood. …

“Seagrass is down about 30% globally since the late 1800s. Through León’s restaurant and related nongovernmental organizations, he has heavily financed seagrass restoration projects.” More at the World, here. Listen to the audio version there.

Kendal Blust at Fronteras also wrote about the festival: “In the small Comcaac village of Punta Chueca, on the Sonoran coast of the Gulf of California, a group of women gathered around a white sheet piled high with dried zostera marina, or eelgrass.

“One woman sang an ancestral song dedicated to the plant, known as hataam, as others beat the dried eelgrass and rubbed it between their palms to remove its small, green seeds. Xnois, as the seeds are known in the Comcaac language, cmiique iitom, are an ancestral food.

“ ‘The Comcaac are the only people, the only Indigenous group, that consumes the seed,’ said Erika Barnett, a Punta Chueca resident who has been heavily involved in restoration efforts.

“Eelgrass seed has been a part of their culture for millennia, she said. Traditionally, the flour was used to make tortillas and a hot drink combined with honey and sea turtle oil. And because it’s quite filling, it used to be carried by Comcaac during sea journeys. …

“Barnett said her great-grandparents were probably the last members of her family to collect and eat the xnois seeds. Her father, now 76, last tasted it when he was just 7.

” ‘That’s was the last time he ate it,’ she said. ‘It’s very ancient, but it’s no longer eaten like it used to be, and most younger people have never tasted it. So this effort is really rescuing our culture.’ …

“Now, Barnett is part of a team working to bring the tradition back to their community — both because of the plant’s nutritional value and its ecological benefits. Eelgrass creates habitat for sea turtles and fish, protects the coastline and captures carbon.

“ ‘It’s important for us to revive these traditions so they can be passed on to future generations,’ she said. ‘But I think we need to show the community that it can be done, first. That it’s hard, but we can harvest the seeds.’

“So for weeks in April, a group of women and girls harvested eelgrass the way their ancestors would have. They waded into the sea to collect plants floating near the shore, then dried, thrashed and winnowed them. …

“ ‘One of the missions of Aponiente is to look to the sea with hunger,’ said Greg Martinez, a chef and biologist. … Martinez said the restaurant is committed to discovering the gastronomic potential in the ocean, both for our health and for the planet.

“And eelgrass has a lot of potential. For one thing, it captures and holds carbon below the water’s surface. Known as blue carbon, it can help mitigate climate change.

“ ‘But it doesn’t only sequester carbon,’ Martinez said. ‘It also protects coastlines. It serves as a habitat for thousands of different species that come to breed in their protection. It buffers waves so if you have a tsunami or another storm it protects the coastline in that way as well.’

“Despite the swath of ecosystem services seagrasses provide, however, seagrass beds currently are disappearing from the world’s oceans, he said. And that makes it especially important to protect the abundant meadows in the Canal del Infiernillo, a channel between the coast and the massive Tiburon Island that is entirely within Comcaac territory.”

More at Fronteras, here. Nice pictures. Both news sites are free of firewalls.

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Photo: Community Forests International.
The Wabanaki-Acadian Forest, made up of 32 species of hardwood and coniferous trees.

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
“Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
“Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic.”

Who remembers the Longfellow poem “Evangeline” from school? The sad, Druidlike pines and hemlocks could never have prophesized what humanity would do to the forest that once covered this continent.

Today’s story, by Moira Donovan at the Christian Science Monitor, is about people who are taking a page from indigenous wisdom and working to preserve what’s left.

“On a sloping patch of forest in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick, Mike Hickey is on the hunt for red oak. They’re not overly difficult to find on his 156-acre woodlot, even though it’s something of a scavenger hunt: The number of mature oak on this thickly wooded expanse can be counted on one hand. …

“He walks down a road past a pile of logs cut from red spruce and other species, many of which were harvested from trees blown down during storms. He uses them to produce his own lumber. … Finally, he arrives at a slope where a slender tree is still hanging on to its auburn leaves despite the winter chill. ‘One of them is up there,’ he says, pointing to a red oak. ‘One of my projects.’

“For the past 10 years, Mr. Hickey has been attempting to restore this woodlot – which has been in his wife’s family for a century – clearing space for long-lived native hardwoods like this oak tree. He’s done this by cutting away competitors, and planting other climate change-tolerant species such as white pine,

to restore this land to the forest that would have existed prior to colonization.

“In doing so, he’s part of a coalition of woodlot owners, Indigenous groups, and community organizations in the Canadian Maritimes that is attempting to protect a globally rare forest ecosystem from disappearing. 

“It’s a long-term vision, to be sure. In his woodlot, for instance, Mr. Hickey estimates it will be decades before the younger red oaks he’s shepherding even begin reproducing, part of a centurieslong rehabilitation timeline that he’s hoping to cut down by a couple hundred years.

“But there’s urgency here, too. Spurred by concerns about the impact of climate change and a rising tide of discontent around forest practices in the region, an increasing number of organizations and individuals are enacting measures they hope will not only restore the ecosystem, but help build bridges between the communities who depend on it. …

“ ‘People are obviously this huge force of change on the planet now, but we can be regenerative and restorative, and there’s actually thousands of years of precedent for that before colonialism,’ says Daimen Hardie, executive director of Community Forests International, a group working on the restoration of the Wabanaki-Acadian Forest. …

“It’s a place where the hardwood forests of the United States meet their boreal counterparts farther north. The result is a rare blend of hardwoods, such as red oak, sugar maple, and yellow birch, and coniferous species such as red spruce, white pine, and eastern hemlock – 32 varieties in all. It’s one of the most diverse temperate forests in the world.

“ ‘Any time in nature when you have two different ecosystems colliding, that overlap and that edge is particularly vibrant,’ says Mr. Hardie. ‘So we get the full diversity of both of those forests combining in this mixed wood, and that mix doesn’t happen anywhere else on the planet.’

“Unlike in Western or boreal forests, the Wabanaki-Acadian Forest’s composition makes it naturally resistant to destruction from forces such as wildfires. … But calamities have come for this forest, nonetheless. Less than 1% remains of the pre-settlement ecosystem that once covered much of the three Maritime Provinces, as well as the easternmost edge of Quebec and part of Maine. 

“When European settlers arrived in eastern North America, they found a forest that had evolved since the retreat of the glaciers, 12,000 years ago, and had been stewarded by Indigenous people for thousands of years. Colonists displaced Indigenous people and quickly denuded much of the land. For a time, most of the pine used by the British Navy came from New Brunswick, and North America’s first sawmill was built in Nova Scotia. In the 20th century, the trend accelerated, and since the 1980s, 40% of the remaining mature forest in the Maritimes has been lost. …

“Some hope that another unique feature of this landscape can be harnessed to help pull it back from the brink. Unlike forests in the rest of Canada, which are largely on government or Indigenous lands, nearly half of the forested acreage in the Maritimes is owned by small woodlot holders, of which there are approximately 80,000 in the region. …

“Says Mr. Hardie. ‘There’s this big opportunity for a more citizen-based, citizen-led change in forestry.’ …

“Research on woodlot owners in the Maritimes shows that most appreciate their forests for more than the timber they generate, says Andy Kekacs, executive director of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association and spokesperson for the Family Forest Network. People value their land for the biodiversity it hosts, the intergenerational responsibility it represents, and the recreation or solitude it provides – values that run counter to turning a quick profit from clear-cutting.

“But despite these virtues, clear-cutting continues even on private land. … This is why, in 2021, the Family Forest Network launched a five-year pilot project of 200 ecological harvests across Nova Scotia. It aims to show woodlot owners and forest contractors that restoring the ecosystem and mimicking the disturbance pattern of the pre-settlement forest – while supporting economic activity – are possible. 

“ ‘We want to say that, “for those of you who think that the only way you can profitably manage a forest is by clear-cutting, there are other things that you can consider and you can feel good about,” ‘ says Mr. Kekacs.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall. Nice pictures.

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Photo: Kyle Peavey.
Kyle Peavey’s backyard in Richardson, Texas. He collects water in a 1,100 gallon rainwater tank to grow his flowers and vegetables.

One way that people are conserving natural resources these days is by being more thoughtful about the water they use in their homes and gardens.

To some extent this is going back to the old ways. On a recent Zoom panel discussing rural America, Montana Senator Jon Testa recalled how conservative with water his mother had to be when he was growing up. He said she could wash a sinkful of dishes with one cup of water.

Sen. Testa’s mother wouldn’t have been thinking about climate change, but she knew scarcity. Here is a report from Tara Adhikari at the Christian Science Monitor on conserving water today.

“In one Texas suburb, a battle of rainwater harvesting tanks is on. During a neighborhood garden tour in May, Kyle Peavy spotted Richard Townsend’s 260-gallon tank and decided to go even bigger. Just two months later, Mr. Peavy installed his own rainwater harvesting system – four times the size. 

“ ‘I’m both proud and slightly envious,’ says Mr. Townsend of Mr. Peavy’s system.

“The two neighbors use the tanks to water their backyard gardens. And while plants like rainwater better than sink water, the men installed these water systems for another reason besides gardening. Both see rainwater harvesting as a practical way to respond to water scarcity. They’re not alone.  

“Rainwater harvesting dates back more than 4,000 years to early Roman and Mayan civilizations. In its simplest form, it involves collecting water as it falls from the sky into barrels, so the water can be saved for later use. Today, this ancient solution is seeing a resurgence among homeowners, businesses, school districts, and at least one church. 

“Among green solutions to climate change, rainwater harvesting stands out in its potential to address two sides of a water paradox – flooding that destroys critical infrastructure, as well as drought conditions that threaten freshwater supplies. 

“ ‘We know that some areas are going to become drier. We know that storms are going to become bigger. And thinking about any practice that can help us address multiple of these issues is really important,’ says Sarah Sojka, associate professor of physics and environmental studies at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. 

“As Americans across the United States turn back to one of the oldest methods in the book, there’s a sense of empowerment that comes from knowing one small action can have a ripple effect. One small tank might just inspire something bigger.

“Typically, when rainwater falls on a roof, it is routed through a gutter system out into the yard or driveway and eventually into the road. Along the way, the water picks up pesticides and road contaminants, before flowing into curbside cuts that direct it into a nearby stream or lake. 

As the urban landscape has become more and more built up, the number of impermeable surfaces, such as paved roads, has increased, forcing larger quantities of water – and pollutants – into local waterways. …

“Rainwater harvesting tanks divert that flow path, reducing the amount of water that hits local systems all at once. As stored tank water replaces tap water for outdoor use, the draw on the municipal supply is reduced, and water that soaks in through the ground eventually helps to replenish baseline flow.

“But it’s not just an old-new way to water. It’s also a new way to think about water as more than an unending supply that spews from the tap. In drier climates especially, rainwater harvesting can provide a visual reminder of natural cycles, which can precipitate the ultimate goal: an actual reduction in water use. …

“Although Mr. Townsend doesn’t consider himself a ‘green warrior,’ he wants his children to understand these cycles. The rainwater tank, which shows natural ebbs and flows, helps him share greater water consciousness with his children. …

“Although one rainwater harvesting tank is unlikely to change local water quality and supply, when implemented at scale, the tanks can aid in overall water conservation – and local governments are taking notice. 

“To encourage widespread adoption, cities across the U.S. are subsidizing the costs of tank installation, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Tucson, Arizona, started its rainwater harvesting rebate program in 2012, after residents had been living under drought conditions for over a decade. In Arizona, water is sourced from groundwater and the Colorado River, which was put under a drought contingency plan in 2019. …

“ ‘Americans just really like being self-sufficient, and … at its core, this is self-sufficiency,’ says Jaimie Galayda, a rebate participant who now works for Tucson Water. …

“When rainwater is collected, says [Fouad Jaber, a professor and water resources extension specialist at Texas A&M University] it reduces the amount of water used from the municipal supply, which comes from local waterways. And if used for outdoor purposes, the water will soak into the ground, eventually feeding back into local bodies of water. …

“St. Louis has a different problem, but rainwater harvesting is helping just the same. Like many older cities, St. Louis has a combined sewer system, meaning storm pipes connect with wastewater pipes. Normally, all the water is treated before entering the Mississippi River, but large storms overwhelm the system, creating direct overflow into the river. And when large quantities of water enter all at once, the water quickly swells out into the surrounding communities.  

“Large rainwater cisterns like the one at Jubilee Community Church help to divert the water before it overflows. In 2018 the church installed a 150,000-gallon cistern with funding and other support from St. Louis’ municipal sewer district and The Nature Conservancy. Rain flows off the church’s roof to the underground catchment, then irrigates a large garden and orchard, which includes tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, figs, and even juju berries.  

” ‘Building the rainwater tank with the garden on top is a way of reinvesting in the community, says Andy Krumsieg, the church’s pastor. ‘This is a very sustainable project because it will keep water out of the sewer system forever … and it created a tool for urban agriculture.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: National Wildlife Federation.
More people are realizing that the 17 million acres of US roadsides are vital sanctuaries for pollinators and other wildlife.

Back in the day, when my mother was active in the Rockland County Conservation Association, I learned more about preventing soil erosion using Crown vetch along the new Thruway than any normal kid should be expected to know. Today the plant is considered invasive and the vision for highway landscaping has evolved.

A recent report from the radio show Living on Earth offers the latest thinking.

“Some 17 million acres of green space line US highways and byways, and it’s vital habitat for pollinators, as well as small voles and mice and birds. Bonnie Harper-Lore, a restoration ecologist formerly with the Federal Highway Administration, tells host Steve Curwood about the value they offer to wildlife and how President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, helped uplift this elongated haven for creatures and wildflowers.

“CURWOOD: Clover is a crucial source of nectar for many pollinators, especially bees. And as national pollinator week is coming up on June 21, it’s a good time to think about the many ways we can help our endangered pollinators, starting with our highways. It turns out that medians and roadsides offer miles and miles of vital habitats for many pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Bonnie Harper-Lore was a restoration ecologist for the Federal Highway Administration, and is a member of the Commission on Minnesota Resources. Welcome to Living on Earth, Bonnie. … We’re talking about those strips of vegetation along the highways. There’s often commercial or residential property right behind them. So, nationwide, just how much of this habitat is there?

“HARPER-LORE: Well, I think the listeners will be surprised to find out that the area between the pavement and the right of way fence on county, state, and interstate highways adds up to a total of 17 million acres, possibly millions of acres of conservation opportunity. … I always saw roadsides from the beginning of my career 30 years ago as an opportunity to benefit wildlife, small wildlife, small birds, small mammals, and migrating birds also use these same corridors. So if they have places to find food and cover, they are all going to do better and their populations will continue to hold where we need them to hold.

“CURWOOD: By the way, I also understand that this roadside habitat has some of the most endangered habitat in various areas – like there are parts of the original prairie that are protected alongside roads, sort of by accident. You can sometimes find real old-growth trees. I mean, how much of a treasure trove is this territory?

“HARPER-LORE: Well that’s just it: We don’t have a complete inventory of all of our roadside vegetation.

I would indeed like to see [an inventory] because I think we would be surprised at how many remnants of these old forests, old prairies, old wetlands even do exist.

“We began doing a bit of that inventory in 1993 in California – found 19 remnants within a very short time and began protecting them, managing differently, not mowing and spraying as they had in the past. So there are some of these. I mean, it’s surprising that they do exist. I know Florida has also some endangered, I believe, pitcher plants that are growing in their rights of ways and they are now watching over them differently than they have in the past. So if we know they’re there we can do differently.

“CURWOOD: So, give us the big picture as to who are the partners in these pollinator conservation efforts.

“HARPER-LORE: Well, first of all, before President Obama visited Mexico and talked to President Nieto and Prime Minister Harper from Canada and they agreed to work together to protect Monarchs – before that point, there were actually a few states that were doing pollinator-focused efforts. Wisconsin comes to mind in that the Karner Blue butterfly is an endangered species, and they actually put together, I believe, a 20-member partnership quite a few years ago to protect the Karner Blue. [That] partnership was mostly private sector, but some state and county agencies, too. … Every state Department of Transportation basically does its own thing, makes its own priorities, but now that there’s been … a reauthorization act that actually supports pollinators, all of the states will start moving in that direction, especially if they know the public is interested. So public support needs to be there.

“CURWOOD: Tell me about the multistate project known as the I-35 corridor, and what’s been done in terms of Monarch protection there? …

“HARPER-LORE: Back in 1993, a group of six states asked the Federal Highway Administration, where I worked at the time, to work together and get some funding to support their effort to actually restore prairie along the I-35 corridor and to protect any remnants that already existed there. … It runs from Minnesota through Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, therefore connecting Mexico to the edge of Canada and of course that’s where the Monarchs fly.

“CURWOOD: What other wildlife uses this roadside habitat? …

“HARPER-LORE: I’ve watched hawks, all kinds of raptors, sitting on the light standards along highways and signposts just waiting for lunch to materialize down there in the vegetation on the roadside. Yes, they do well there because there are lots of mice and voles, other small things possible, plus one that actually motivated reduced mowing here in the Midwest, pheasants and other waterfowl, different kinds of ducks will nest in these rights of ways. …

“It’s because of Lady Bird Johnson that my job even existed with the Federal Highway Administration. I was working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation establishing their wildflower program back in the 1980s when I got an invitation from Mrs. Johnson to come visit with four other states who were also interested in planting wildflowers and we sat and talked with her for two days, and the thing we didn’t know she would do — because she asked us what did we need to be able to do more — within that same year, she saw to it that there was an amendment to the transportation bill that requires all states to use certain percent, not a large enough percent, but a certain percent of their budgets on native wildflowers.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Saving the Stork

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Photo: Gerrit Vyn at Living Bird.
A conservation army of women has worked hard to revive the population of an odd endangered stork, the Greater Adjutant. The work is tied to Aaranyak, a nonprofit focused on biodiversity in northeast India.

As I was trying to decide if you’d be interested in another initiative that might be on hold because of Covid-19, I read the article more carefully and saw something that confirmed it is merely experiencing a pause. “When the entire nation of India was placed into lockdown in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, public festivals were canceled, but the hargila army still celebrated the storks by making Greater Adjutant face masks.” 

Hargila? Greater Adjutant? The story of an inspiring Indian conservationist comes from Arundhati Nath at All About Birds.

“Dr. Purnima Devi Barman carefully balances her feet as she clambers down from an 80-foot-tall bamboo platform. She’s been scanning the treetops above the village of Dadara in northeastern India, looking for the giant stick nests of Greater Adjutants — huge storks named for their stiff-legged, almost military gait.

“These tall, majestic birds were once widely distributed in wetlands across India and Southeast Asia. … The Greater Adjutant is now confined to the northeastern state of Assam, their last stronghold. Elsewhere, small populations persist in Cambodia’s northern plains. The species is endan­gered, one of the rarest storks in the world. …

“In study­ing this species, Barman has noticed a change in the storks’ behavior. Greater Adjutants are now increasingly leaving the rural wetlands where they have historically nested and becoming village dwellers.

“Through her tireless work with Aaranyak, Barman has empowered an army of local women to make another big change happen. Once scorned, the storks are now wel­comed and celebrated in the villages — and people who once destroyed Greater Adjutant nests now care for the birds like their own children. …

“Greater Adjutants can be smelly neighbors. They bring rotting flesh to their nests to feed hatchling storks, and they rain smelly droppings down on villagers’ gardens. People in the Assamese villages of Dadara and Pacharia, where the storks are most common, tended to see the huge birds as a bad omen, a plague. They were even willing to chop down magnificent old trees in their backyards to get rid of stork nests.

“One day in 2007, Barman watched in horror as nine baby storks fell to the ground when a villager chopped down a nest tree. When she tried to stop the vil­lager, she was taken aback by his anger. …

“As other villagers gathered around her at the fallen nest tree, she asked for their help in taking the baby storks to a rescue center at a nearby zoo. … They laughed at Barman, ridiculing her and asking if she wanted to eat the baby birds on her way home. It was an inci­dent that could have discouraged her from enlisting locals in an effort to save the storks. But instead, Barman marks it as a turning point that led to a lot of good and necessary change.

‘I realized that it wasn’t the people’s fault,’ she says now. ‘They were com­pletely unaware about the ecological significance of the endangered stork.’ …

“She made a huge personal sacrifice, stepping away from her PhD studies to dedicate herself to shifting people’s attitudes. Barman started by reaching out to several women in the villages, speaking to them about the importance of these birds and their dwindling population.

“She chose women as a first point of contact for her conservation outreach effort, because she felt the women in these villages don’t often get a chance to weigh in on social issues. And within their families, women can serve as the gatekeepers.

“A big part of Barman’s conservation challenge was access to nests, with Greater Adjutants nesting atop trees on private land, in people’s yards. By striking up friendships with the local women, who were mostly homemakers, Barman figured she could gain permis­sion to enter their premises and work to save the storks. She organized activities such as cooking competitions to attract women to her meetings.

“The meetings were a hit, and they gained a big following. Today Barman has organized a group of more than 400 local volunteers in what she calls the ‘hargila army.’ (In Assamese, Greater Adjutants are called ‘hargila,’ which literally translates as ‘bone swallower’ because the storks sometimes swallow whole bones.)” More at All About Birds, here.

adds a bit more on Barnum at the Better India. “Fondly referred to as the ‘Hargila Baideu’ (Stork Sister) by the local community for the work she has been doing for the birds, Purnima has dedicated her life to protect the Greater Adjutant. …

” ‘My grandmother instilled my love and passion for nature. But it was during my Master’s studying ecology and wildlife biology, when my professors spoke of the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork, which were then nowhere to be seen in my grandmother’s paddy fields. I volunteered at Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based non-profit wildlife conservation organisation, but saw that people’s interest was restricted to glamourous species like the rhino or tigers. So, why shouldn’t I work towards protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork,’ says Purnim.” More here.

By the way, this week I’m drinking a vey nice loose-leaf tea from Assam, home of the Greater Adjutant. Upton Teas has a huge selection, and they ship fast.

Map: Jillian Ditner. Greater Adjutant image: Amol Marathe/Macaulay Library.

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Photo: Jason Hosking
The kākāpō parrots in New Zealand were suffering from a frequently fatal respiratory disease and needed several months of treatment before being returned to the wild.

There’s a lot of dark news in today’s headlines. I won’t get into it. Looking for a little something positive, I learned about a fat parrot that is no longer on the brink of extinction, thanks to people who are focused on doing good. Such people actually exist, you know.

Kate Evans writes at the Guardian, “Growing up in the north of England, Dr James Chatterton was enthralled by the books of the pioneering zookeeper and conservationist Gerald Durrell and dreamed of saving endangered species. Now, on the other side of the world, Chatterton has done just that, helping to bring the world’s fattest parrot back from the brink.

“Chatterton and his team spent the best part of a year [testing] new treatments on the frontline of a killer disease afflicting New Zealand’s kākāpō. … The respiratory disease aspergillosis began to spread through the endangered kākāpō population [in April 2019], threatening to reverse the gains of the bird’s most successful breeding season in living memory.

“Kākāpo are not just rare, they are also deeply weird: flightless, nocturnal, with fragrant feathers and a comical waddling run. Males ‘boom’ to attract females, and they only breed every three to six years when the native rimu trees [produce] large numbers of seeds. …

“By the end of the southern hemisphere’s summer in February, thanks to intensive intervention by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) Kākāpō Recovery Programme, the population of 147 kākāpō had produced more than 80 chicks – a record number. …

“Then one of the chicks died suddenly. It was found to have aspergillosis, a brutal infection in which lumps of fungus form in the birds’ lungs and slowly choke them to death.

“ ‘It’s hard to diagnose, extremely hard to treat, and usually fatal, particularly in wild birds. You usually just find them dead,’ says Chatterton, [manager of veterinary services at Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine]. …

“With aspergillosis, by the time a wild bird begins to display symptoms – or anything unusual shows up in blood tests – it is usually too late to save them. The only way to diagnose the disease in time is using a CT scan or endoscopy to spot fungal growths in the lungs.

“The vets and DOC scientists began mapping which kākāpō had shared a nest with the sick birds and which had been on the same food run. [‘Ahoy! Note the importance of contact tracing,’ says Suzanne and John’s Mom!]

“The 12 deemed at highest risk were evacuated from their home, Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, and taken by helicopter to Auckland. Unfortunately, the city’s veterinary CT scanner was being replaced and was out of action for a crucial five weeks, so the vets took the kākāpō to one of the city’s human hospitals. Though they appeared completely healthy, all 12 were found to have lesions on their lungs.

“That was a stomach-dropping moment, says kākāpō scientist Andrew Digby, who was based on Whenua Hou at the time. …

“Aspergillosis can be treated with oral anti-fungal drugs if you catch it early enough. ‘It’s worked really well with other parrots, but each new species you try needs a different dose,’ says Chatterton. ‘We had birds dying, so we went with a high dose, but worried that in saving some we might kill some.’

“To get the drugs into the birds’ air sacs, the vets also needed to use a nebuliser. Kākāpō may be the world’s fattest parrot, but their airways are still too small for the droplets produced by an adult human nebuliser, so Chatterton tried a paediatric one. It worked – but New Zealand is a small country, and initially only two were available. …

“Volunteer vets arrived to help from around the world. Extra pens were built to house the birds. People brought in sheets and duvets from home to cover the floors, and these had to be washed every day. [People! What does this remind you of?] Others went to the city’s regional parks to gather armfuls of the native plants kākāpō like to eat. Chatterton worked every day for five weeks. …

“Many birds needed months of daily care, but the outbreak was contained. Chicks became juveniles, and while a few died from other causes, most survived and are now counted in the population number: 211, up from just 123 when Chatterton arrived in New Zealand seven years ago. …

” ‘The only chance these endangered species have is if we all work together,’ Chatterton says.”

Amen.

More.

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Photo: Morgan Hornsby
Elk on view at the Salato Wildlife Center. Kentucky is reintroducing elk where coal mines are no longer operating.

It’s interesting to me that when people compare the economic benefits of, say, working in the coal business with working in the elk-tourism business, they don’t routinely include the economic benefits of things like better health. High unemployment is a serious concern, but I do know that miners routinely got black lung disease and that there were pollution dangers to their families.

The story that made me think about this was by Oliver Whang at the New York Times.

“On a bright morning early this spring, David Ledford sat in his silver pickup at the end of a three-lane bridge spanning a deep gorge in southeast Kentucky.

“The bridge, which forks off U.S. 119, … spills out onto Mr. Ledford’s 12,000-acre property, which he and his business partner, Frank Allen, are developing into a nonprofit nature reserve called Boone’s Ridge. ..

“When Boone’s Ridge opens in 2022, it will offer a museum and opportunities for bird-watching and animal spotting. Two independent consultants have estimated that it could draw more than 1 million annual visitors and add over $150 million per year to the regional economy. This is in Bell County, in rural Appalachia, which has a poverty rate of 38 percent and an average household income of just under $25,000, making it one of the poorest counties in the United States.

The decline of the coal industry created a multibillion-dollar hole in the economy and left hundreds of thousands of acres of scarred land. But it has also created opportunities.

“Boone’s Ridge is being established on reclaimed mine land, and one of its biggest selling points is a big animal that has only recently returned to Kentucky: elk.

“When Daniel Boone wandered through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky in the late 1700s, the state was filled with wildlife. … But in less than a century, land development and hunting decimated or eliminated buffalo, turkey, whitetail deer, river otters, bald eagles, quail and other animals. Elk — their presence enshrined in place-names like Elk River and Elkhorn City — were among the first to go. …

“In 1944, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources was established and charged with reintroducing animals of all kinds and regulating their numbers for hunting and conservation. Whitetail deer, which numbered fewer than 1,000 after the Depression, now number more than 1 million and generate $550 million in state revenue from hunting licenses, tourism and the sale of rifles and other hunting-related paraphernalia. …

“With most of the region’s threatened game restored, attention turned to restoring other species, among them elk. In 1997, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an association of hunters, offered to fund a multimillion-dollar six-year plan to airlift more than 1,500 elk to Kentucky from the western United States. …

“The plan was popular; more than 90 percent of state residents supported it. There was only one problem: Each elk eats over 40 pounds of vegetation a day, and the grassland habitats of western Kentucky, where the animals were populous in pre-settlement times, had all been developed. Farm owners did not want half-ton animals destroying their crops,. …

“But in the eastern half, where craggy mountains had previously prevented elk population growth, hunters and conservationists were presented with a remedy to this problem: abandoned coal mines. …

“Unregulated, the environmental effects of mountaintop removal-mining can be devastating and lasting. … But when reclaimed correctly, the landscape can offer opportunities for different kinds of land use, including cattle farming, housing developments and sites for tourism. …

“In 1997, a year before the bridge leading to Mr. Ledford’s land was constructed, 4,000 people gathered on the grassy slope of a reclaimed mine in Perry County as Governor Patton threw open the doors of a trailer and an elk stepped foot on Kentucky land for the first time in more than 150 years. …

“Absent any real predators, the animal’s population has exploded: The state is now home to 13,000 elk and counting, all clustered in the 16 counties of coal country. …

The economic impact is tangible. The state now issues a couple hundred tags for elk hunting each year, and a small market has developed — elk sightseeing tours, elk hunting guides — that adds about $5 million to local economies, according to the state fish and wildlife department.

“The elk industry will not come close to replacing what was lost when coal left, but ‘coal business will not be back,’ said Rodney Gardner, a naturalist at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Floyd County.” Read more here.

Now I want to know what Steven Stoll, author of Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia, thinks about all this. Through his book, I was made aware for the first time that when conservation efforts preclude subsistence farming, families often suffer.

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Photo: SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP)
Rabbit-sized Silver-backed Chevrotain live in the scrubby forests of Vietnam’s coast. Also known as mouse-deer, they are the world’s smallest ungulates, or hooved animals.

The great environmental radio show Living on Earth covered this hopeful story in early March, and despite the changes happening in our constantly upended world, it’s still good news.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: When a species hasn’t been seen for years, we start to worry it might be gone forever, just a ghost from a bountiful past. But in the forests of Vietnam, a team of scientists from Global Wildlife Conservation and its partners have caught just such a ghost on camera: The Vietnamese Fanged Mouse-deer.

“There have been no scientific records of this tiny creature in nearly 30 years, but now, camera traps have identified at least one population of the elusive creature, also known as the Silver-backed Chevrotain. The chevrotain is the first species found as part of Global Wildlife Conservation’s hunt for 25 ‘Most Wanted’ species, which they think may be lost. But the discovery of this particular species doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe from extinction. Vietnam has a lot of biodiversity, but it also has huge conservation challenges, including a thriving bush meat trade.

“For more about the search for the chevrotain, Andrew Tilker, the Asian Species Officer for Global Wildlife Conservation spoke with Living on Earth’s Aynsley O’Neill. …

“AYNSLEY O’NEILL: How did it feel to see this creature for the first time?

“ANDREW TILKER: It’s a really cool animal. So it looks like a tiny deer.

And when I say tiny, I mean the size of a rabbit. It looks like a small deer that somebody had dipped halfway into a bucket of silver paint and then pulled it out again. …

“I was overjoyed, as was the entire team. We felt confident that we had a good shot at getting photographs of the species because local people said they saw this animal that couldn’t be anything else. … Just highlights the importance of [working] with local people and local ecological knowledge. …

“In two different locations, local people told us they had seen a gray colored chevrotain. And so we went to one of these locations and put out camera traps and obtained the first photos of the species and the first record that the species exists in almost 30 years. So the species wasn’t lost to local people, which is why we try to be very careful to say that silverbacked chevrotain was lost to science. …

“We don’t yet know if there are threats that are specific to the chevrotain. But the species is, without a doubt heavily threatened by rampant indiscriminate snaring because every mammal species in Vietnam is threatened by snaring.

“In Vietnam and in other parts of Southeast Asia, bushmeat is something of a status symbol. So if you’re upper middle class and you want to show off to your friends, an easy way to do that is to go out and go to a bushmeat market and buy bushmeat rather than domestic meat. …

“We’re very intentionally not releasing the name of that site or the location of that site, just to be sure that there is no chance that any poachers who want something different or novel would try to hunt animals from that population. We know that the species is threatened by poaching, there’s no question about it. …

“O’NEILL: What are the next steps? Where do we go from here?

“TILKER: So the work is just beginning. The first step is securing the single known population. The second step, I think, is try to figure out where else the species occurs. If we lose these species from Vietnam, because they’re only found in this country, then that equates to global extinction. …

“[The] story, I think, gives much needed momentum for a positive outlook to conservation in Vietnam. And I’ve seen that in my interactions with local stakeholders, both from NGOs and also from the Vietnamese government. So it’s it’s nice to be part of a story that has such a positive direction because I think that’s often needed when you’re working in such a difficult field.”

To read more or listen to the original episode, click here.

By the way, you can join a free Living on Earth Zoom call with ecologist Carl Safina on Monday at 7 pm. Register here.

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Photo: Maria Magdalena Arrellaga
The beautiful golden lion tamarin is like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If this species goes, others will, too. Activists in Brazil are working to protect its habitat.

I really like the Science section of the New York Times. Right before we all began isolating, I had started reading headlines to a grandson and letting him pick an article we could read and talk about. He picked one about a planet small enough to fit in a living room. The tiny planet was a real thing, but we learned that it was only passing through Earth’s orbit.

Alas, who knows whether any grandchild will still be up for reading science articles with me when/if I ever get out of quarantine.

I believe this story about a beautiful endangered monkey in South America would have been of interest.

As James Gorman reported, “The golden lion tamarin, one of the world’s most charismatic primates, has a dark face that can look inquisitive, challenging, almost human, framed in an extravagant russet mane.

“The endangered New World monkey weighs less than two pounds. It lives only in Brazil, and only in the Atlantic coastal forest there. Tamarins spend their time high in the trees, up to 100 feet off the ground, in small groups of up to eight or so animals, with one breeding pair among each group. …

“The golden lion tamarin has always had its human admirers, many of them in the Old World. Europeans imported the animals as pets in the 1500s, and they can be seen in portraits of Spanish royalty.

“But deforestation, agriculture and development destroyed much of its habitat, as the pet trade continued into the 20th century. By the 1970s, only about 200 animals survived.

“In 1992, the Golden Lion Tamarin Association (Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado) was founded in Brazil. In concert with international conservation groups and supported by a dedicated U.S. charity, Save the Golden Lion Tamarin, the group began to buy up land to create connected conservation areas. And zoos around the world, like the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., contributed to reintroducing the animals to the wild.

“The population had reached 3,700 in the wild, according to Luis Paulo Ferraz, the director of the association, but suffered its first population decline last year, when yellow fever killed hundreds of the tiny monkeys. … Today there are about 2,500 tamarins living in about five million acres of forest. But only some of those forest acres are connected. …

“ ‘Our main goal,”’ Mr. Ferraz said, ‘is to create a viable population in the long term.’ What that means in numbers is a population of 2,000 tamarins with a connected conservation area of 2.5 million acres, milestones the group hopes to reach by 2025. Scientists say such a size is necessary for the population to be self-sustaining.

“One challenge to getting connected areas was the widening of a major coastal highway, BR-101, which cuts through large chunks of Atlantic forest. The improvement of the highway created a barrier that isolated several forest areas and their more than 700 tamarins from three other large forest fragments.

After negotiations and lawsuits, the conservationists managed to get the construction company to agree to build and pay for a forested overpass for animals, the first in Brazil, with a tunnel and forest canopy connections, to enable the tamarins and other animals to pass from one side to the other. …

“As with many other conservation campaigns, the golden lion tamarin is the beloved and beautiful poster animal for the preservation of a habitat that includes many plants and less compelling animals, like sloths and frogs. The forest also provides a watershed for human use.

” ‘We are not only talking about one species,’ Mr. Ferraz said. ‘We are talking about the environment.’ ”

Click here for more of the story — and some gorgeous pictures.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
Gabions are baskets of rocks that Valer Clark places in stream beds to slow the water as it rushes through in the rainy season. They’re part of her work to bring dried-up land back to life.

Having woken up today to more US nuttiness (our whole family could visit Erik’s mom in Sweden and bring back whatever germs might be there, but she herself will have to postpone her trip to visit grandchildren because she’s Swedish), I decided to focus on an American actually doing good in the world.

In this episode of Living on Earth, Bobby Bascomb visits land preservationist Valer Clark at her ranch in Agua Prieta, Mexico. …

“BOBBY BASCOMB: Today the lands of the Southwestern US and Northern Mexico are considered desert or semi-arid. But for a couple months each year the region is awash with water from the seasonal monsoons. The normally dry river beds fill with flood water and swell to create habitat for all manner of water birds and amphibians. The watery paradise is short lived though, and most of those streams dry up in a matter of weeks.

“But that wasn’t always the case. A network of streams, rivers and wetlands once crisscrossed the landscape. In fact, more than 150 years ago, around the time of the Civil War, people in the region struggled with malaria, a mosquito-born illness typically associated with tropical wet climates. In Mexico, I found a ranch owner that’s working on ways to keep some of that water on the land longer. … My journey starts at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Arizona. ..

“The opulence of the hotel hints at an earlier time of prosperity and wealth. Valer says the whole region, north and south of the border, was made rich more than 100 years ago by the same things.

“VALER CLARK: This was copper, cotton, and cattle. The three Cs, you know, all in the early 1900s.

“BASCOMB: Those three Cs made a lot of money but heavily degraded the land. … When Valer first visited back in the 70s, decades of mining and agriculture left the arid soil dry and cracked, few trees remained and the river beds were deeply eroded. …

“CLARK: When I got here and started seeing the lack of water and seeing the situation, what it looked like, and the hills were bare, and there was no grass. And I thought I wonder if you could make a change. I wonder if there’s something you can do about this. …

“BASCOMB: Valer eventually bought and rehabilitated some 150,000 acres of land in northern Mexico and the Southwest US. That’s more than 10 times the size of Manhattan. And her work here has been transformative, says Ron Pulliam, … an ecologist, formerly with the US Department of Interior, and founder of the nonprofit Borderlands Restoration Network. …

“PULLIAM:  If you put hundreds of cows out on a small area here, you basically reduce all the ground cover. So, when the rain comes it just runs off the land rather than being caught up in the vegetation.

“BASCOMB: And keeping that rainwater on the land is the fundamental key to what Valer is doing to rehabilitate her property. More water will mean more grass and trees, habitat for the wildlife that was once common here. It’s sort of a build it and they will come philosophy. …

“CLARK: This is what we call a gabion, which is a wire basket that is filled with rocks.

“BASCOMB: That’s it, a wire basket full of rocks. They’re about 3 feet tall, some just 5 or 6 feet wide, others more than a hundred feet across. Valer and her crew have built more than 20,000 of them on her property. They all sit in riverbeds which are dry most of the year until the monsoon rains come.

[When] the gabions get to work, they slow down the water rushing through the river bed so silt can accumulate behind them, like a sponge.

“BASCOMB: Nearly all these trees have sprouted up since Valer began keeping more water on the land. Near the stream, a canopy of cottonwood trees towers over us and a lush green understory creates the feeling of a jungle that follows the narrow band of water. We continue our walk on the edge of the forest, which she says is a vital corridor for wildlife in the region.

“CLARK: We’ve seen ocelot, we’ve seen bobcats and lions and bears and coatimundis and javelinas, ring tailed cats. …

“BASCOMB: We drive past parched bare earth cracked into the shape of a hexagon and stop at a different ecosystem all together. …

“Instead of a riparian forest this is a wetland teeming with life. Reeds and cat tails poke up through the water. At least a dozen different species of brightly colored birds dart about, butterflies sun themselves, and bright blue dragon flies copulate in mid-air. Ron Pullium says this region is a hotbed for insect diversity, including some 450 different species of bees. …

“BASCOMB: [The next day] we walk alongside a small creek, craning our necks up, hoping to spot some birds.

“PULLIUM: This creek is interesting just in itself. It was protected by Valer because it was identified as the most intact fish stream in northern Mexico, and perhaps the most intact in all of Mexico. …

“BASCOMB: For all her ecological work, Valer is still mindful of serving as a model for other ranches in the region that depend on raising cattle for their livelihood. She removed most of the cows from her ranch when she bought the place. But she did keep a small herd and is very deliberate about where and when they graze. And it’s paid off. Her ranch manager recruited members of his family to enter three novio steers in a large cattle exposition.”

Read more at Living on Earth about Valer Clark and why preservation is so satisfying to her.

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Photo: Zion National Park
California condor chicks No 1,000 and 1,001 hatched in May this year, signalling a success for the species.

They are ugly and mostly unloved. But today, when so many creatures are going extinct, one can only rejoice to see that these guys are coming back. They are California Condors.

Maanvi Singh writes at the Guardian, “Nestled among the red-rock cliffs of Zion national park and the Grand Canyon, California condor chicks No 1,000 and 1,001 blinked into this world. Their birth signalled success for a decades-long program to bring North America’s largest bird back from the brink of extinction.

“As a result of hunting, diminishing food and dwindling territory, the number of birds in the wild numbered just 22 in the early 1980s. Lead poisoning was also a major killer, caused by inadvertently ingesting bullets that hunters left inside dead animals that the enormous birds, which have a wingspan of 9.5ft and weigh up to 25lb, scavenged for food.

“Facing imminent extinction, the few remaining wild birds were placed into a captive breeding program in 1987 and slowly released back into the wild starting in the early 1990s. Biologists estimate that the 1,000th and 1,001st chicks hatched in May this year, but they were only able to confirm their existence over the past several days, because the raptors build their nests inside caves carved into steep, sometimes inaccessible cliffs. ‘You know, condors can be secretive,’ said Janice Stroud-Settles, a wildlife biologist at Zion National Park in Utah. …

“The 1,000th hatchling’s parents were both born in captivity, and the mother has already lost two chicks. Her firstborn probably died – as many baby condors do – in an initial, unsuccessful attempt to fledge (AKA fly) the nest. …

“ ‘We’re hoping this chick will successfully fledge once it’s old enough to fly – sometime in the fall,’ Stroud-Settles said, noting that the nesting site she chose has a large ‘porch’ area where the growing chick can practice flapping before taking its perilous first flight. …

“But the species is still classified as critically endangered by the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] and faces multiple threats, including the ongoing menace of lead poisoning.

“A law that went into effect this month has made it illegal to use lead ammunition to hunt any game in California. In Utah and Arizona, however, conservationists have taken a different approach. Because a straight ban could alienate hunters, conservationists are encouraging locals to reduce their use of lead bullets through a voluntary program. …

“The total living population of California condors now numbers more than 500, with more than half in the wild. The oldest bird being tracked in the condor restoration program is 24, but researchers estimate that California condors can live up to 70 years. They are very gregarious animals who get together in large groups and ‘like humans, tend to mate for life,’ noted Stroud-Settles.”

If this bird can be brought back from the brink of extinction, maybe all sorts of things threatened by human ignorance can be brought back, too. Elephants, butterflies, insects, trees. Maybe even — dare one hope? — our wobbling democracy.

More at the Guardian, here.

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