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Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

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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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Photo: Mark Makela
Caleb Hunt, left, and Tony Croasdale at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. In a city known for its punk underground and avian history, the friends have found an overlap that celebrates both niches.

No doubt among the pressing questions of our time, you have been wondering about the connection between punk rockers and birders. Wonder no more. Steve Neumann at the magazine Audubon has answers for you.

“It’s the evening golden hour at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. A whirlwind of swallows swims through the soft light, chasing midges into a frenzy. Nearby on a platform a handful of birders scans the dimming sky, exposed to the marsh and its blood-thirsty elements.

“In plain T-shirts and khakis, the group blends into the woods-y backdrop — with two exceptions. Caleb Hunt, a bookkeeper for an adult-entertainment boutique, rocks a Philly Punx tank top with a fanged, horned Benjamin Franklin splashed across the front. Next to her, Tony Croasdale, the leader of today’s walk, sports an aviary of skin art. A Swallow-tailed Kite, Belted Kingfisher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet Tanager, and three types of vultures bedeck his legs, collarbone, and arms.

“Croasdale’s tattoos pay homage to two of his biggest life passions: birding and punk rocking. He plunged into the first as a kid when his father took him to Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park to learn about kingfishers. The music came later at age 19 when he launched the vegan thrashcore band R.A.M.B.O. under the stage name Tony Pointless. The collective quickly hit fame with two full-length albums and tours on five continents; but when it broke up in 2006, Croasdale came back to his home city and turned his focus to environmental activism. He eventually went on to found the BirdPhilly education program, which is how he and Hunt, who identifies as a committed punk, met in 2015.

“Though his moshing days are behind him, Croasdale says he still feels connected to punk culture. If anything, he’s found more space for expression by building birding into his practice. The hybrid approach has strengthened his resolve to tend to nature and fight oppression with personal action — a sentiment shared by his many ‘birdpunk’ friends around the country. …

“ ‘Philadelphia has so many row homes with basements,’ Croasdale adds. ‘That fosters a vibrant show scene.’ It was in those basements that Croasdale formed R.A.M.B.O. — an acronym for ‘Revolutionary Anarchist Mosh Bike Overthrow’ — in 1999 as lead singer. …

“Ultimately, that double lifestyle didn’t work out. Before a show in Malaysia, Croasdale and the band’s bassist, Bull Gervasi, went birding in Kuala Selangor, 100 miles away from where they were taking the stage. They gave themselves 10 hours to get back by bus, but it took 12 and they missed their call time.

‘It was kind of a big deal,’ Croasdale says. ‘It occurred to me that my head was not in the band; it was with the birds.’

“Today Croasdale is the site director for the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center … Working in conservation in West Philadelphia has helped Croasdale resolve a childhood dilemma. When he was 12, he realized that the government and in general, society, couldn’t be trusted to steward the planet and its resources. But it wasn’t until he fell into the punk scene that he was fully able to share that anxiety. ‘I found out there was music, a political ideology, and a counterculture that spoke to these issues. It provided me with like-minded peers,’ he says.”

More here.

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Back in the 1800s, two artists made a painting more than 1,200 feet long, which they then displayed in cities around the country. They charged admission to audiences interested in learning about the whaling life and the exotic places whaling ships dropped anchor on their long voyages.

Until October 8, the New Bedford [Mass.] Whaling Museum is offering free admission to see the painstakingly restored panorama. The venue is an old warehouse, the only place big enough to hold the painting in its extended form.

In the old days, this marvel traveled by train, sparks flying and burning holes in the painted sheeting, and audiences got to see it unscrolling in a frame that looked a bit like the whaling museum’s draped arch in the picture below.

Back then, people would not have been able to walk up and down and go back to an interesting spot to take a picture. At any given moment, they saw only the part that a narrator was describing. Because I could walk back and forth along the extended artwork, the pictures here may not be in sequence — I might be misleading you into thinking the ships got to Fiji before the Azores, for example. (By the way the volcano picture is from Cape Verde.)

Be sure to check out the whaling museum’s information. This link offers a short video. And this one talks about the conservation work: “Created by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington in 1848, this Panorama has been displayed in a host of venues – from a national tour when it was created to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was donated to the Museum in 1918 and was displayed for many years. However, one can easily imagine what a century and a half of rolling, unrolling, display, and light can do to deteriorate nearly a quarter-mile of painted cotton sheeting. It has not been exhibited in its entirety for more than 50 years, and the Museum thanks Mystic Seaport for kindly storing this monstrous painting over the past year.”

At the Boston Globe last year, Jennifer McDermott wrote a good preview of the work, which was created, she says, “to capture all aspects of a whaling voyage. The panorama would be mounted on a system of cranks and reels to go across a theater stage as a narrator told stories of hunting whales and processing their carcasses. A poster for the Boston stop in 1849 advertises tickets for 25 cents. The audience members would hear what it was like to round Cape Horn and visit Fiji and other far-flung destinations as they saw painted scenes of those locations.” …

McDermott adds that D. Jordan Berson, who managed the project, “spent a year spraying the panorama with an adhesive to stabilize a paint layer that had powdered over time. The conservator stitched sections that were taken apart, repaired thinning areas of the cotton muslin fabric and fixed holes and tears.”

Nowadays, most of us think it’s a crime to kill these magnificent creatures, but it’s worth knowing how it was done if only because there are still people in places like Japan and Norway whose job it is to do just that.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
People come with plastic bottles and jugs to collect free water in Cape Town, South Africa, where a dire shortage spurred residents to cut water usage in half.

You may have read about the dire water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, a situation resulting from lack of public funds to do the work that would have protected the supply.

But this story shows how much people can accomplish when faced with a life or death challenge.

Ryan Lenora Brown reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “A year ago, [Musa] Baba and [Helen] Moffett had almost nothing in common, and in many ways, they still live in two different universes. Moffett lives in a manicured gated community flanked by mountains. Baba’s house is two tin rooms she built herself that grip the side of a hill cluttered with other small shacks.

“But these days, the two women, along with millions of others here, share a common preoccupation: how to save water. For Baba and many others, that’s been a lifelong project of necessity. But for another population of Cape Town residents, including Moffett, it’s part of a massive lifestyle pivot that has helped bring the city on the southwestern tip of South Africa back from the brink of the unthinkable.

“As recently as March, Cape Town’s government was instructing residents to prepare for an imminent ‘Day Zero,’ when taps across most of the city would be shut off indefinitely. …

“Newspaper headlines across the world blared [Cape Town] was about to become the first developed city in the world to completely run out of water.

“But behind the scenes, a tectonic shift was under way. As the city bartered for water with local farmers and hustled to build desalination plants, its residents simply started using less water. A lot less.

“And it has worked – at least for now. … Using a combination of sticks and carrots to coax residents on board, the city has cut its water use by half. Its biggest customers now use 80 percent less. Today, every Capetonian is allowed just 13 gallons of municipal water per day – a little less than the amount it takes to flush a toilet four times. Use more, and the city reduces your pressure to a trickle, and your water bill can turn into a mortgage payment. …

“Here in Cape Town, suburban residents have become connoisseurs of taking 90-second showers and then flushing their toilets with the water they collected while doing it.

“On popular water-saving Facebook groups, city residents debate the best way to wash their dog ‘off the grid’ (bottled water, one woman suggests. Scrub him down with used bath water, offers another.) They swap the names of local companies that will sink a personal well in your backyard. Local police, meanwhile, receive a steady stream of tips from concerned residents who’ve seen their neighbors committing the ultimate middle-class drought crime: watering their lawns. …

“Says Kirsty Carden, an engineer at the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management Research Unit, ‘Yes, it’s been a crisis, but it’s also good to learn these lessons now. Cape Town isn’t the only city in the world that’s going to need them for the future.’ …

“Water restrictions have had another, less obvious effect: They have given the rich a small but rare experience of how the poor have always gotten by.

“ ‘It’s humbling, learning to think about water the way most South Africans have been doing for a long time,’ Moffett says, arranging two gallon jugs of water from another local spring in the trunk of her car. ‘Every household chore takes three times as much thought, and three times as long.’ …

” ‘We have always lived like this – nothing has changed because of the drought,’ says Baba, sloshing a T-shirt in a sudsy bucket outside her house. ‘If now rich people can understand better what that’s like, I think that’s a good thing.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Kathryn Scott Osler/Denver Post via Getty Images
Black-footed ferrets are the most endangered mammal in North America. Scientists in Montana are trying to save the ferrets by saving their main food source, prairie dogs.

Never doubt the power of a research report written in elementary school. Maybe I would have become interested in conservation anyway (my mother headed up a local conservation group for years), but a report I wrote in 6th grade about the devastation to birds caused by fancy hats pre-WWI made me pay particular attention to birds. John, an environmentalist today, really got into the cause of endangered black-footed ferrets when he wrote a report on them in elementary school.

Although once-threatened birds like the snowy egret and the great egret have been saved, the black-footed ferret, alas, is still endangered. At National Public Radio, Nate Hegyi reports on how scientists are addressing the problem today.

“In central Montana, drones are dropping peanut butter pellets on prairie dog colonies. It’s part of an effort by biologists to save North America’s most endangered mammal — the black-footed ferret (or as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls it, the BFF).

“Prairie dogs make up the vast majority of a BFF’s diet. Save the food and you save the ferret, biologists wager. …

“Kristy Bly, a senior biologist with the World Wildlife Fund, [said] there are only about 300 black-footed ferrets left in the wild, and they depend almost entirely on prairie dogs to survive. And protecting the prairie dog population is beneficial to species beyond the ferrets.

” ‘Prairie dogs are Chicken McNuggets of the prairie, where so many species eat them,’ Bly said.

“But in recent years, prairie dog towns across the American West have been exposed to a deadly disease called sylvatic plague. While it’s treatable in humans, sylvatic plague can wipe out entire prairie dog towns in less than a month. And that means no more food for endangered black-footed ferrets.

“So Bly, [Fish and Wildlife biologist Randy Matchett] and a team of scientists and engineers have spent this year vaccinating prairie dogs in central Montana against the plague using drones.

“Drone pilots fly the machines across the prairie, dropping blueberry-sized pellets about every 30 feet. They are flavored to taste like peanut butter, and prairie dogs love peanut butter. The kicker is that they’re laced with a live vaccine that protects them from the plague. …

“By the end of [one] day, they hope to expose more than 4,000 prairie dogs to the vaccine. Past field trials have shown that prairie dogs living in vaccinated areas survive waves of the plague.

” ‘Without [the ferret], do we really have a complete ecosystem?’ Bly asked. ‘You start taking those pieces apart, it’s like a domino effect. When we have ferrets on the landscape the piece of the puzzle that is the American prairie all fits.’ ” More here.

I like the idea of using drones this way. Makes me wonder if the technique could be adapted to handle the overabundance of deer in areas suffering from tick-borne disease. Couldn’t a deer contraceptive in salt pellets be scattered by drones? Just asking.

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I wish Pete Seeger were around for this story. The folksinger spent many years sailing his sloop the “Clearwater” up and down the Hudson River to draw attention to pollution. Today the river is in good enough shape to attract a whale chasing its dinner.

Recently, New York Times reporter Katie Rogers interviewed Dr. Rachel Dubroff, whose apartment overlooks the Hudson. She writes that the first time Dubroff spotted a whale swimming outside her living room window, “she didn’t quite believe the sighting was real,” but news reports in November confirmed that “the Hudson River has a resident humpback.”

Continues Rogers, “The Hudson, as scenic as it is, does not scream ‘whale habitat.’ But experts say cleanup and conservation efforts have led to cleaner waters and an abundance of fish. …

“A whale appearing in the Hudson is very rare, [Paul Sieswerda, the president of Gotham Whale, an organization that tracks marine life around the city] said, which is why he thinks this one is a solo traveler. But the whale still faces significant danger because it is swimming in traffic-laden waters. …

“ ‘When you have whales chasing the bunker [menhaden], and fishermen chasing the stripers that chase the bunker, accidental interactions between whales and vessels can occur,’ Jeff Ray, a deputy special agent with NOAA’s law enforcement division,” added.

I hope everyone using the river will watch out for whales and try to coexist. It would be great if the whale came back after the usual typical retreat to warmer breeding grounds in winter.

More at the New York Times, here.

Art: Amy Hamilton
A humpback whale like the one spotted in New York’s Hudson River in November 2016.

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Upscale housing developers used to advertise tennis courts, pools, or golf courses as desirable amenities. Today they are increasingly likely to tout farmland.

Amy Hoak writes at MarketWatch about a family in suburban Chicago, where neighbors’ lawn chemicals have killed off pollinators. She reports that the Faheys are moving to a community that offers more opportunity for growing vegetables.

“Set in Hampshire, Ill., about 50 miles from downtown Chicago, Serosun Farms is a new home-conservation development, restoring wetlands, woodlands and prairie, and preserving farmland throughout. Already, the frog population has grown exponentially from the conservation work done onsite, and monarch butterflies are also on the rebound, said Jane Stickland, who is working on the project with her brother, developer John DeWald. Their efforts also are boosting the bee population. …

“Serosun plans to incorporate about 160 acres of working farmland, making farm-to-table a way of life for residents through regular farmer’s markets. The community also offers eight miles of trails, an equestrian center and fishing ponds: 75% of the development will be reserved for farming and open space. …

“The concept isn’t new, but ‘agrihoods’ are gaining in popularity, said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow for the Urban Land Institute, an organization that focuses on land-use issues. He tracks about 200 agrihoods, where residential development coexists with farmland. …

“ ‘We started to realize you could cluster houses on a small portion of a farm and keep the farm working,’ he said. People were often drawn to the open spaces. More recently, however, there has been a huge interest in locally grown food. ‘All of a sudden, agrihoods have become a hot commodity in residential development,’ McMahon said.” More here.

This concept is not only for upscale developments. In urban neighborhoods without access to a local grocery or healthful food, affordable housing combined with community gardens and sales outlets are moving along without much fanfare. In Providence, for example, West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation‘s new Sankofa Apartments partner with the Sankofa Initiative, an outlet for homegrown food and handmade crafts from many countries. The initiative is satisfying to residents on a personal-development level and as a way to meet neighbors and build community.

Photo: J. Ashley Photography
Serenbe farmers’ market.

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