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Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

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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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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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Photo: Lancaster Farming

Wish I could remember where I first saw that this Ephrata-based magazine had a story on a farm that I have been driving past for 30-plus years without knowing much about it.

Sarah L. Hamby writes at Lancaster Farming, “Since 1999, the Farrell family has lived and worked at Sunset Farm, transforming nearly 150 acres into a well-known destination for freshly baked pies, heirloom tomatoes, and quality, all-natural meats not just for sale to the public, but also served at dozens of beach-front restaurants.

“Located on a four-lane highway in the south end of Narragansett, a small beach town in Rhode Island with a population that doubles during the summer months, Sunset Farm is one of a kind.

“In 1986, the Narragansett Land Trust was established to preserve open land in the largely developed Rhode Island town. …

“In 1991, historic Sunset Farm, established in 1864, along with Kinney Bungalow, a turn-of-the-century landmark and picturesque spot for weddings, was acquired by the town. … Since 2013, both the farm and bungalow have been on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The farm has been so successful that in 2014 the family signed a 25-year lease with the town of Narragansett. In return for taking care of the farm, the Farrells live rent free, though they do pay utilities. Maintenance and restoration work is part of the job, too, and must be up to historical standards.

“If you ask farmer and landscaper Jeff Farrell why he and his family applied to be caretakers of Sunset Farm, the last working farm in Narragansett, he will answer you with the candor and humor of most who work the land for a living.

“ ‘I lost my mind.’

“Ethan Farrell, who is now 25, has put a marketing degree from Johnson and Wales University to work at Sunset Farm. His phone constantly rings with calls from local restaurants and delivery trucks. … Last July, he started a food truck designed for local festivals and events, bringing his own flare to the farm-to-table movement. …

“The family donates to the local food pantry, supports area events for veterans and charities, and recently introduced gift certificates to increase activity from the local community.”

Read about the challenges of being the only farm in a tourist town at Lancaster Farming, here. And do check out Sunset Farm on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SunsetFarm505 — or  at http://www.sunsetfarm1864.com.

Photo: Seth Jacobson
Kinney Bungalow is available for events.

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Although I didn’t get to see it in person, I was excited to learn from Timmons Roberts by way of Erik that the indigenous Hawaiian canoe Hōkūleʻa was making a stop in Rhode Island.

Lars Trodson writes at the Block Island Times, “The island welcomed the crew of the Polynesian catamaran Hōkūle‘a [June 21] at a ceremony held at the Block Island Maritime Center in New Harbor. The crew was greeted with songs sung by the students from the Block Island School, as well as greetings and tribal gifts from Loren Spears, an educator and former Council Member of the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island. Capt. Kalepa Baybayan of the Hōkūle‘a also offered brief remarks.

“The Hōkūle‘a is traveling around the world to teach about ocean conservation. ‘We live on a blue planet,’said capt. Baybayan. ‘Without the blue there would be no green.’ …

“Block Island is the Hōkūle‘a’s  only stop in Rhode Island.”

From the Hōkūleʻa website: “Our Polynesian voyaging canoes, Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia, are traveling over 60,000 nautical miles around the earth, bringing people around the world together to set a course for a sustainable future.

“We are sailing like our ancestors have for a thousand years—using wayfinding. On board, there is no compass, sextant, or cellphone, watch, or GPS for direction. In wayfinding, the sun, moon, and stars are a map that surrounds the navigators. When clouds and storms make it impossible to see that map, wave patterns, currents, and animal behavior give a navigator directional clues to find tiny islands in the vast ocean. …

“Everyone can be the navigator our earth needs. Every person on earth can help navigate us to a healthy future where our Island Earth is safe and thriving again. …

“We are asking kids, families, governments, communities, and businesses to share how they mālama honua—take care of our Island Earth.  Please visit our Mālama Honua map, and help us grow the movement by adding stories of hope that can inspire and educate us all. …

“Hōkūleʻa, our Star of Gladness, began as a dream of reviving the legacy of exploration, courage, and ingenuity that brought the first Polynesians to the archipelago of Hawaiʻi. The canoes that brought the first Hawaiians to their island home had disappeared from earth. Cultural extinction felt dangerously close to many Hawaiians when artist Herb Kane dreamed of rebuilding a double-hulled sailing canoe similar to the ones that his ancestors sailed.

“Though more than 600 years had passed since the last of these canoes had been seen, this dream brought together people of diverse backgrounds and professions. Since she was first built and launched in the 1970s, Hōkūle’a continues to bring people together from all walks of life. She is more than a voyaging canoe—she represents the common desire shared by the people of Hawaii, the Pacific, and the World to protect our most cherished values and places from disappearing.”

Lots more at www-dot-hokulea-dot-com.

Photo: Block Island Times

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My friend Kristina is an artist with a long-time interest in shells. At a Harvard-based shell club that she frequents, she meets many interesting artists and scientists — including George Buckley, a Caribbean coral reef researcher who made the video below.

Buckley says, “Little did I know in 1976 that my first visit to Bonaire to study land snails … and dive with Captain Don Stewart would lead to a career interconnected with Bonaire and to some 100 more return trips!

“Bonaire became the focus of case study after case study of marine management and biodiversity in my Harvard University environmental management program. [Dozens] of research and study groups, students, magazine writers and photographers that I brought to the island all fell in love with the landscapes and the emerald sea of Bonaire.

“The early years of the Bonaire Marine Park [BMP] and STINAPA [Dutch acronym for national park] … were a great adventure and while my efforts with the Carco Project and Marecultura were not as successful as hoped, both helped to lay the groundwork for future efforts around the world as to best practices in that field.

“The BMP’s pioneering leadership in education, moorings, gloves policies, banning light sticks and spearfishing, creating the ‘Nature Fee’ and so much more led to Bonaire’s well-deserved world-wide recognition. The efforts to save Klein Bonaire were a testament to international collaboration and stand to this day as the Hallmark of what a committed group of concerned people can accomplish. It is indeed true that Bonaire is to conservation of nature as Greenwich is to time – with credit to Captain Don.”

If you are on Facebook, check out the rest of Buckley’s post.

Photo: Sand Dollar in Bonaire

 

 

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Is the New England cottontail no longer in trouble? I guess, as David Abel suggests at the Boston Globe, it depends on who you talk to.

“The threatened New England cottontail — the region’s only native rabbit, made immortal in The Adventures of Peter Cottontail [by Thorton Burgess] — appears to be making a comeback.

“Federal wildlife officials [are] removing the cottontail from the list of candidates to be named an endangered species. It’s the first time any species in New England has been removed from the list as a result of conservation efforts. …

“Wildlife officials said the bark-colored rabbits, which have lost nearly 90 percent of their dwelling areas to development, are benefiting from an increasing effort to protect their habitat. …

“The rabbit, which has perky ears and a tail that looks like a puff of cotton, has been the victim of development that has wiped out most of the region’s young forests. … Unlike its abundant cousin, the Eastern cottontail, the New England species relies on the low-lying shrubs of young forests for food and protection from predators, such as raptors, owls, and foxes. …

“Some environmental advocates worry that the federal government may be acting prematurely in removing [New England cottontails] from the list of candidates for endangered status …

“It has never been easy to galvanize concern for the cottontails, given how much they look like the nonnative Eastern cottontails. Those rabbits, brought to the region by trappers in the 19th century, have flourished because they have better peripheral vision than the native bunnies …

“ ‘People think they’re everywhere,’ Scott Ruhren, director of conservation for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said of the local cottontails. ‘But like every species, they are important and deserve a place on the New England landscape.’ ” More here.

Update January 10, 2019: More good news at EcoRI, here. If zoos can do more this sort of wildlife restoration, they will go a long way toward justifying their existence to opponents.

Photo: Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe
A New England cottontail bred in a refuge in Newington, N.H., was penned Thursday in advance of its release.

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Maria Popova linked to this story on twitter. It’s about how climate change is affecting a way of life for Fiji Islanders.

Meehan Crist writes at the blog Nautil.us, “The day that conservation biologist Joshua Drew, his two students, and I arrive in the Fijian village of Nagigi, the wind is blowing so hard that the coconut palms are bent sideways. ‘Trade winds,’ we are told. And, ‘El Nino. The villagers here also know that climate change is affecting the weather, but their more immediate problem, shared across the Pacific—and, indeed, the world—is an ocean ecosystem sorely depleted by overfishing.

“Nagigi is a village of about 240 people living in tin-roofed wooden homes strung along a sandy coastline. A single paved road runs the length of the village, parallel to the ocean, and along this road are homes clustered by family, painted in cheerful pastels, and connected by well-worn paths through the crab grass. ‘Before,’ said Avisake Nasi, a woman in her late 50s who has been fishing this reef her whole life, ‘you just go out and you find plenty fish. Now, you have to look.’ …

“If pressures mount from too many sides at once—rising ocean temperatures, acidification, pollution, overfishing—the combined pressure will be too much even for Fiji’s remarkably resilient reefs to bear. …

“Conservationists and humanitarian groups have recently united in the call for sustainable resource management, and in this trend, Nagigi is ahead of much of the Western world. Villagers have been discussing how they might use a traditional ban on fishing known as a tabu (tam-bu) to help manage their marine resources in new ways. …

“Drew presents his findings about how fish here are interconnected with other reefs, and how to best protect the species most important to the village in terms of food and income. He talks about how, for the last three years, he has been collecting baseline data about the species present on the reef so that if the village sets up a tabu, its effects can be measured.

“His audience is most interested in what Drew has to say about where to set up a tabu—include the mangroves at the left side of the village shore, because they act as fish nurseries—and for how long—three years would give crucial species enough time to mature and spawn. There has been some talk of a one-year tabu, which would be less of a hardship for villagers who will have to walk a mile or more to reach ocean where they are allowed to fish. But Drew’s data suggest this wouldn’t be long enough to make the sort of difference the village wants to see. ‘I can only offer information,’ Drew says at the end of his presentation, ‘the decision is yours.’ ”

The reporting for Crist’s  story was made possible by a grant from the Mindlin Foundation.

Try to see the related climate-change movie Revolution, which I wrote about here.

Photo: Meehan Crist
The view from Nagigi’s school to the sea, where many locals make their living

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