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Posts Tagged ‘ecology’

Photo: Chris Linder.
“Though most of [volcanic Surtsey] island is barren,” writes Hugh Powell at Living Bird, “a heart-shaped patch of green in the southwest corner supports lush growth and hundreds of bird nests.”

Anyone who has tried to combat weeds by putting black plastic under paving stones knows how futile that is. The life force has a mind of its own. Weed seeds will blow onto the plastic and colonize it within weeks.

Similarly, a brand-new island of volcanic rock that formed in the North Atlantic is in the process of creating a complex world of its own.

Hugh Powell reports at Living Bird. “Now just shy of 60 years old, the new island of Surtsey, off Iceland, holds clues to a fundamental mystery: What did the Earth look like when it was just born? How does life colonize bare rock?

“In 1963, a volcano erupted underneath the cold waters of the North Atlantic, 10 miles off Iceland’s southwest coast. The eruption lasted for four years. Eventually, the lava and ash cooled into a black-and-tan island named Surtsey, and the first fragile seeds of life started to wash ashore.

“Every year since the island came into being, scientists have visited Surtsey to track its ecological development. Visits to Surtsey require a permit — casual sightseeing stops are strictly prohibited — in order to preserve the island’s ecological integrity. Even today, a researchers’ red-roofed hut and an abandoned lighthouse foundation are the only buildings on Surtsey. …

“The scientists’ annual visits have generated a fascinating timeline of the pace of colonization by plant, bird, and even insect species.

“The first plant to arrive, a sea rocket (Cakile maritima), washed ashore in 1965, while the island was still erupting. By 1970, Black Guillemots had begun to nest, using the black volcanic cliffs as a foothold while getting their food from the sea.

“Over the next two decades, about 20 other plant species arrived, some by wind and some on the feet or in the stomachs of seabirds. A few additional birds set up nests as well, including Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes. But it wasn’t until 1985 that both plant and animal diversity started to shift into a higher gear, thanks to the arrival of an unexpected hero: the humble seagull. …

“Plant diversity had plateaued by the 1970s with fewer than 20 species established, and it didn’t take off again until a gull colony developed in 1986. The gulls — mostly Lesser Black-backed along with Great Black-backed, Herring, and Glaucous — carried with them not just new kinds of seeds, but also fertilizer in the form of nitrogen-rich guano.

“At first the gulls nested on bare black rock, but soon a lush green meadow encircled the colony, fed by gull droppings. By 2013 the meadow spread across 12 hectares (about 30 acres), supporting twice as much plant diversity and five times more biomass than the rest of the island. The number of plant species soared to 64 by 2007. …

“A more complex food web started to develop. Graylag Geese first arrived in 2001 and fed on the thick grasses. As insects like springtails, moths, and beetles began to thrive among the plant growth, insect-eating birds began to appear as well, such as Snow Buntings, White Wagtails, and Meadow Pipits. In 2008 the first ravens arrived, feeding in part on stolen seabird eggs.

“At almost 60 years old, Surtsey is still a geologic infant — its sister islands in Iceland’s Westman archipelago are about 40,000 years old. Researchers think much of the island will erode away. …

“The hard crater walls will become steep-sided seacliffs where murres and Razorbills will nest alongside the fulmars and kittiwakes already present. Atop the island, a thick turf will develop, dominated by just a few grass species. In perhaps a century or two, Atlantic Puffins will nest in the deep soil that develops.

“For now, researchers describe Surtsey as living in something of a golden age. Plant diversity has peaked at 64 species, but it’s beginning to decline as ecological competition starts to squeeze out some of the initial colonists. As the plant community develops, birds continue to find footholds. Some 17 species have nested here so far, with nearly 100 species recorded overall — including tired or off-course migrants for which jagged Surtsey is a welcome piece of terra firma in the North Atlantic.”

More at Living Bird, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Katherine Rapin.
Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen hands a flat of wild celery to an EPA diver for transplant. Local grasses and oysters are bringing hope to rivers.

We can rescue our environment if we try. Even the infamous city Camden is getting into the act.

Katherine Rapin writes at YaleEnvironment360, “On a recent summer morning near Camden, New Jersey, two divers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hovered over a patch of sediment 10 feet below the surface of the Delaware River. With less than two feet of visibility in the churning estuary, they were transplanting a species crucial to the ecosystem: Vallisneria americana, or wild celery grass. One diver held a GoPro camera and a flashlight, capturing a shaky clip of the thin, ribbon-like blades bending with the current.

“Watching the divers’ bubbles surface from the EPA’s boat was Anthony Lara, experiential programs supervisor at the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, who had nurtured these plants for months in tanks, from winter buds to mature grasses some 24 inches long. …

“This was the first planting of a new restoration project led by Upstream Alliance, a nonprofit focused on public access, clean water, and coastal resilience in the Delaware, Hudson, and Chesapeake watersheds. In collaboration with the Center for Aquatic Sciences, and with support from the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic team and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the alliance is working to repopulate areas of the estuary with wild celery grass, a plant vital to freshwater ecosystems. It’s among the new, natural restoration projects focused on bolstering plants and wildlife to improve water quality in the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for some 15 million people.

“Such initiatives are taking place across the United States, where, 50 years after passage of the Clean Water Act, urban waterways are continuing their comeback, showing increasing signs of life. And yet ecosystems still struggle, and waters are often inaccessible to the communities that live around them. Increasingly, scientists, nonprofits, academic institutions, and state agencies are focusing on organisms like bivalves (such as oysters and mussels) and aquatic plants to help nature restore fragile ecosystems, improve water quality, and increase resilience.

Bivalves and aquatic vegetation improve water clarity by grounding suspended particles, allowing more light to penetrate deeper

“They also have exceptional capacity to cycle nutrients — both by absorbing them as food and by making them more available to other organisms. Thriving underwater plant meadows act as carbon sinks and provide food and habitat for scores of small fish, crabs, and other bottom-dwellers. Healthy bivalve beds create structure that acts as a foundation for benthic habitat and holds sediment in place.

“ ‘Why not take the functional advantage of plants and animals that are naturally resilient and rebuild them?’ says Danielle Kreeger, science director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, which is spearheading a freshwater mussel hatchery in southwest Philadelphia. …

“One hundred miles north of Philadelphia, the Billion Oyster Project has been restoring the bivalves in New York Harbor since 2010, engaging more than 10,000 volunteers and 6,000 students in the project. [See my post on that here and search on ‘oyster’ for related posts.] Oyster nurseries are being installed in Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland, where until recently they were believed to have been extinct for a century. And a hatchery 30 miles west of Chicago has dispersed 25,000 mussels into area waterways, boosting the populations of common freshwater mussel species.

“Underwater vegetation restoration projects have been underway in the Chesapeake Bay and Tampa Bay for years, and more recently in California where seagrass species are in sharp decline. (Morro Bay, for example, has lost more than 90 percent of its eelgrass beds in the last 15 years.) The California Ocean Protection Council’s 2020 Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Coast and Ocean aims to preserve the mere 15,000 acres of known seagrass beds and cultivate 1,000 more acres by 2025.

“Scientists stress that these projects must be implemented alongside strategies to continue curbing contaminants, mainly excess nutrients from sewage and fertilizers, flowing into our waterways — still the most critical step in improving water quality. After several decades of aquatic vegetation plantings in the Chesapeake Bay, for example, scientists say that the modest increase of plants is largely due to nature restoring itself following a reduction in nutrient pollution.

“And any human intervention in a complex ecosystem raises a host of compelling concerns, such as how to ensure sufficient genetic diversity and monitor competition for food and resources. Scientists say that, in many cases, they’re learning as they go.

“Still, in areas where the natural environment is improving, bringing back bivalves and aquatic plants can create a lasting foundation for entire ecosystems. And restoration initiatives are an active form of stewardship that connects people to their waterways, helping them understand the ecosystems we depend on for our survival.”

More at YaleEnvironment360, here. No firewall.

It’s surprising what can happen when people who didn’t care in the past start to care.

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Photo: Robin Lubbock/WBUR.
Linnea Laux holds a blazing star seedling ready to plant in the sandplain grasslands near Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard. (“Linnea”! Perfect name for this calling. See Linnaeus.)

The popular Massachusetts island Martha’s Vineyard has been losing its biodiversity. That’s why, as Barbara Moran reports at WBUR radio, a concerned group is planting flowers. And not just any flowers.

“Tim Boland stood next to his black pickup on a dirt road in Edgartown, and waited for a moment. Then, he started handing out wildflowers. … Boland handed out black plastic trays, each holding fifty seedlings of New England blazing star.

” ‘It’s specialized to New England,’ said Boland, executive director of the Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury. He held up a grassy-looking seedling, which did not look like a blazing star — at least not yet. ‘It’ll form these button-like flowers that are a deep indigo blue, that are just gorgeous. It’s a spectacular plant to see in bloom.’

“The New England blazing star is more than just a pretty blossom: it’s an integral part of a globally-rare ecosystem called a ‘sandplain grassland.’ Just like the name suggests, sandplain grasslands have sandy soil with tall grass, no trees and an exceptionally high number of rare plant and animal species. …

“As climate change threatens both human health and the natural world, experts say that protecting biodiversity hotspots like this one will offer the most bang-for-the-buck — protecting threatened species while offering other ecosystem benefits, like open space and flood protection.

“But restoration work is expensive: The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts has been restoring Bamford Preserve from farm field to sandplain grassland for 15 years, at a cost of $15-$20,000 per year. …

” ‘In conservation, there are limited resources and you want them to have the greatest impact on biodiversity and on the function of ecological systems,’ said
Michael Piantedosi, director of conservation with the Native Plant Trust. Piantedosi is not involved with the Bamford Preserve restoration, but says sandplain grasslands are an ecosystem worth saving.

” ‘The reason for investing in that habitat now is so that it has the right makeup and conditions to be able to adapt to climate change going forward,’ he said. ‘All this ecology is connected and you don’t necessarily know what piece will tip the balance in what direction.’

“Sandplain grasslands are found only along the Atlantic Coast from New York to Maine, and most patches are in Massachusetts. Seven rare species of birds use this habitat, including grasshopper sparrows and short-eared owls, as well as beetles, butterflies and wildflowers, like the New England blazing star, found almost nowhere else.

” ‘These little systems right here hold a high concentration of rare and uncommon species in the region,’ said Mike Whittemore, stewardship manager for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. ‘It’s not only the plants, but it’s the wildlife, the pollinators, the things that you don’t always see.’ …

“Tim Boland had to get a special permit to grow New England blazing star because it’s a ‘species of special concern’ in Massachusetts. He collected seed from native wildflowers on the island and carefully cultivated them for two years.

“And even after the intensive restoration wraps up in a couple years, Mike Whittemore says the grassland will require maintenance — like controlled burns and occasional mowing — indefinitely.

” ‘There was such a harsh land use history for so many years — it was planting of non-native plants and it was haying and it was plowing,’ he said. ‘When you come through here and plow, it does something in the soil. You need to stay on it to keep it open.’

“One of the volunteers, Janet Woodcock from Vineyard Haven, said it’s worth the hard work to preserve or restore the island’s remaining wild spaces, especially in the face of climate change.

‘I mean, the climate has been changing since the Earth started, whenever that was. But it’s happening so quickly that living things don’t have time to adjust to the changes. And so we’re losing species because of that,’ Woodcock said. ‘Anything has a hard time adapting if it happens too quickly.

“Mike Boland, from Polly Hill Arboretum, says stocking the grassland with native plants like the New England blazing star will give all plants and animals living here the best chance of surviving.

” ‘These plants — more than most — have a 14,000 year evolutionary advantage of growing in these ecosystems,’ he said. ‘So there will be plants that persist even with these rough conditions coming on.’

“Boland says preserving diverse ecosystems like this is one of our best defenses in the face of a changing climate. For him, he says, it’s an act of hope.” More at WBUR, here.

Interesting to me: the endangered Blazing Star seen on New Shoreham island in Rhode Island is pink, not deep indigo.

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Map: Jacob Turcotte/Christian Science Monitor.
Efforts are afoot in Florida to save the the biodiversity of the Everglades by saving the water.

Last Thanksgiving, when John and family went to Florida, they sent great videos of a ride on one of those Everglades airboats that seem to float above the surface and allow visitors to get up close and personal with Everglades wildlife.

I had read, though, that the Everglades region was in trouble from overdevelopment and water pollution. Today’s article shows people are making a strong effort to protect it.

Richard Mertens has the story at the Christian Science Monitor, “Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands.

“There’s one small difference: This patch is flecked with tiny specks of white, scattered like scraps of paper around a puddle.

“ ‘This year is pretty quiet,’ Dr. Cook has been saying. ‘It’s not very good for wading birds.’

“Now he looks more closely. The specks resolve into a variety of different birds, not all of them white: great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, white ibises, and pale pink roseate spoonbills, all standing in and around the shallow water. …

“For the birds of the Everglades, it’s not really been good for almost a century. First came the plume hunters of the 1800s and early 1900s, who shot birds by the thousands so that their feathers could adorn women’s hats in New York and London. Then came the speculators, developers, and visionaries who did more lasting damage, draining the marshes, logging the cypress swamps, digging canals, and building levees. They turned the Everglades into fields and housing tracts until half of it was gone. What’s more, says Paul Gray, a biologist with Audubon Florida, ‘The half of what’s there is all screwed up.’ 

“Today the state of Florida, the federal government, and many private organizations and individuals are working to bring the Everglades back -– at least the half that’s still left. Everglades restoration became national policy in 2000 when Congress adopted the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

“Since then, lawsuits, political fighting, and dwindled funding have at times slowed progress. But in recent years restoration efforts have gained momentum. Some projects have been completed, and new ones are underway. …

“ ‘The Everglades ball is rolling,’ says Peter Frederick, a retired wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida and an expert on Everglades restoration. 

“But will it work? Everglades restoration is a long-term undertaking. It’s expected to cost $23.2 billion and take until 2050 to finish. People often say it’s the largest ecological restoration project ever. ‘A lot could stop it,’ says Dr. Frederick. …

The Everglades system is unique in the world, an inextricable mix of water and vegetation resting on a shallow bed of porous limestone.

“More than just Everglades National Park, the Everglades once encompassed the whole southern third of the Florida Peninsula. … In those days, water that fell during Florida’s summer rains drained slowly south into Lake Okeechobee, a huge basin that in many places is hardly deeper than a suburban swimming pool. When the water was high, it lapped over the southern rim and flowed a hundred miles south in a broad sheet, through swamps and saw-grass marshes, wet prairies and sloughs, before finally discharging through mangrove swamps and coastal islands into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a rich and biologically diverse ecosystem governed by water. And the land was very flat. …

“Today those Everglades are mostly gone. They’re no longer a single vast interconnected system of flowing water but a collection of divided and diminished parts – large shallow basins separated by levees and tied together by gates and canals, with some devoted to holding water, some to cleaning it, and others to conserving wildlife.

“Lake Okeechobee is diked and polluted, and the swamps and saw-grass marshes that once received its overflowing waters are a checkerboard of sugar cane fields. The flow of water from north to south is much reduced, where it survives at all. For all its natural abundance, the Everglades today is an artificial landscape, a creature of engineering as much as topography and nature. 

“The main challenge of restoration is hydrological. It’s to re-create the old pre-drainage conditions by delivering more clean water to the Everglades. It’s to bring back the old cycle of rising water in summer followed by a long drying out through the winter. It’s to restore, at least in part, the slow flow south.

“The easiest way to accomplish this would be simply to pull the plug: tear down the dikes and levees, fill the canals, and send the engineers home. But restoration is also political, and it has always involved more than the Everglades. Its aim is also to provide clean water to coastal cities and estuaries and protect them from flooding. It’s to preserve and irrigate an agricultural district the size of Rhode Island that sits in the middle. …

“ ‘They all say the best engineer is no engineer at all,’ says Dr. Frederick. ‘Let nature do the work. The problem is that we now want to do more things with that water than we used to.’

“Dr. Cook enjoys a stork’s-eye view of the Everglades. His weekly flights take him over both the good and the bad, the degraded and the only partly degraded. [Some] areas are thick with cattails, a sign of nutrient pollution. Passing over one of these, Dr. Cook says, ‘We can’t get it back to what it once was, for maybe 100 to 200 years. But we can improve it for wildlife.’ …

“Sometimes there are surprises. In 2017, Hurricane Irma inundated the Everglades. The next spring, birds nested in numbers no one living had ever seen. To biologists, it seemed a vision of the old Everglades – and of what might still be.

“ ‘As an ecologist, you think, you get the water right and maybe they’ll come back,’ Dr. Cook says.”

Lots more on what’s being done at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Masha Karpoukhina for Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.
Soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause. Bernie Krause, 2021.

Spring is a time of year when birds are so vocal, I really do feel accompanied by music on my walk. Today’s story is about turning the sounds of nature into a kind of music that can be heard at any time of year.

Christine Ajudua at Artnet interviewed the artist behind “The Great Animal Orchestra” in November. His show will be at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, until May 22.

“In the late 1960s, Bernie Krause was at the top of his game as a musician, sound designer, and master of the Moog synthesizer, recording with the likes of Van Morrison, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Brian Eno, and The Doors, while working on films such as Apocalypse Now. Then, he gave it all up and went wild — literally.

“Krause has been exploring the natural world as a pioneering soundscape ecologist ever since. And his masterpiece —’The Great Animal Orchestra‘ (November 20–May 22, 2022), originally commissioned by Paris’s Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2016 — is about to have its North American premiere at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. …

“The exhibition is based on 5,000 hours of Krause’s field recordings from the past 50 years, featuring 15,000 terrestrial and marine species from around the globe — many of them since lost or currently at risk. With the soundscapes reinterpreted as large-scale, animated spectrograms by the London-based collective United Visual Artists, it is an immersive and highly moving experience of the ever-vulnerable sound universe.

“Krause is meanwhile the subject of a new Cartier Foundation–produced documentary directed by the French filmmaker Vincent Tricon. …

ARTNET: What inspired you to move on from your life as a musician to explore the natural world as a soundscape ecologist? What are the biggest differences — and perhaps similarities — between your lives then versus now?

BERNIE KRAUSE: Paul Beaver, my late music partner, and I got invited to record with some awesome artists and groups [in the late 1960s]. But when it got to the point where we were being asked to replicate the sounds produced on previous sessions, something inside snapped — I found myself staring at the padded, windowless walls of studios in L.A., London, and New York, with mixed feelings of terror, boredom, and immobility. It was at that point that I began looking for an escape. …

“As it happened, Paul and I had just been signed by Warner Brothers to do three albums. For our own mental health, we sought to produce something thematic that hadn’t been tried before and where we could explore some of the Moog’s performance options we hadn’t shared with other artists. Our initial album, titled In a Wild Sanctuary, centered on the theme of ecology, and natural soundscapes [were] a main constituent of the orchestration. We needed a quiet rural area or wild forest in which to record.

“I didn’t go terribly far to secure those early recordings — just across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to a small park in Marin. But when I cranked up my new stereo recorder and heard the numinous impression of a nearby stream, the illusion of larger-than-life sonic space, the edge-tones of a pair of ravens’ wingbeats as they cut an arc across the sky overhead, and a gentle sea breeze in the redwood canopy wafting in from the Pacific to my west …

… something inside me instantly changed. I felt relaxed and present in the living world and amazingly free of anxiety.

“I had discovered for myself a new sense of being and felt obliged to go wherever that reaction took me. I was 30 years old then. …

“I begin by finding habitats that are relatively untouched by human endeavor. Then I identify a local naturalist or biologist that knows intimate details of the area [and its] unique wildlife [to] help facilitate my time on site. But for the most part, I prefer to work alone.

Over the course of a 24-hour day, I’ll likely record four two-hour sessions: a dawn chorus, a midday chorus, dusk and nighttime choruses, times when biophonies are likely at their peak. [These are] the collective sounds coming from all organisms in a given habitat at one moment in time.

“When I return to the studio, the first thing I do is transfer all of the field data related to that recording into my archive. Then I have two basic avenues of expression. The first, through science, is to write and publish a paper related to what I’ve observed given what the data show. The problem with that avenue is that very few people read this literature.

“If I want to reach a much larger audience, I turn to the arts, transforming the data into programs that are widely accessible and emotionally evocative while at the same time keeping the integrity of the message firmly intact. …

“I had written and released a book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places — basically the story of how we learned to sing, dance, and speak from mimicking the voices of the natural world. [It] was translated into seven languages, one of which was French. Somehow, a French anthropologist, Bruce Albert, who has been working with the Yanomami tribe in northern Brazil for decades, found a copy and gave one to his good friend, Hervé Chandès, director of the [Cartier] foundation. After reading it, Hervé contacted me in 2014 proposing that I take some of the raw field data and transform them into large-scale sonic art pieces. …

“Over the course of a few intense days, we auditioned the soundscapes of many habitats, whittling them down to a couple of dozen. From those, I proposed a selection of 15 or 16 habitat recordings to choose from. With the field recordings from those selections, I began the transformation process, taking raw material representing each location, assembling and mixing the various segments and generating a seamless acoustic narrative that I felt would capture and evoke the essence of each unique biome.

“And because most of what we observe of the living world has been through what we see, we decided to include a visual component — one that illuminated the soundscapes. …

“If the habitats they represented were healthy, that condition [would] show in the structured detail of the spectrograms. Conversely, if the habitats are under stress, then the spectrogram images will appear to be chaotic and incoherent.

“With the expertise and insight of Matt Clark and his team at UVA [United Visual Artists], the problem of converting those sounds into instantaneous streaming spectrograms was solved.”

More at Artnet, here. No firewall.

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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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Maria Popova writes, “Daughters of the Bombay-born Australian entomologist Alexander Walker Scott [were] barely out of childhood when they started harmonizing their father’s scientific studies with their shared artistic gift.”

If you don’t yet follow Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, please consider doing so: she writes beautifully on topics you’re unlikely to hear about anywhere else. A recent post resurrects 19th century artist-scientist sisters. It draws on a book about them by Australian Museum curator, historian, and archivist Vanessa Finney called Transformations.

Popova writes, “A century after the self-taught German naturalist and artist Maria Merian laid the foundations of modern entomology with her stunning pictorial studies of butterflies in Surinam and a century before Vladimir Nabokov applied his glorious intellectual promiscuity to advancing the field, the Australian sisters Harriet and Helena Scott unleashed their immense talent and curiosity on the natural history of butterflies and moths. A century after their death, their stunning, scrumptious paintings would furnish one of the most heartening conservation triumphs in history. …

“The Scott sisters spent innumerable hours in the wilderness, studying the plants that sustained the insects, seeking to understand and document the intricate relationships of life. At a time when most natural history illustration depicted animals in black and white, islanded on the page as specimens extracted from their natural context and splayed for the human viewer’s eye, they chose to honor the vibrant living creatures within the web of life. …

“[After] their father died, forced to lean on their talent not along their passions but against their survival, they began taking commissions decorating wedding photographs with drawings of wildlife and plants, they painted commercial dinner plate sets, they made botanical illustrations for railway guides, they illustrated the first holiday cards featuring native Australian wildflowers. Scholars consider them Australia’s first paid female artists.

“Even so, the income was not enough for the sisters to subsist on. They made the difficult decision to sell their life’s work to the Australian Museum. …

“For a century, the Scott sisters’ work lay brown-papered in the underbelly of the museum, until curator Marion Ord rediscovered it with a gasp of awe and set about bringing it back to life in a book celebrating the museum’s bicentenary — a book on which conservationists began leaning to restore and rewild Ash Island, which industrial farming had left razed of trees and bereft of insects in the twentieth century. …

“A century after Harriet and Helena Scott returned their borrowed atoms to the web of life, more than 250,000 native trees have been replanted on their beloved Ash Island with the help of hundreds of volunteers, restoring the flood-plane rainforest of their childhood. Ash Island is now a national park.”

I must say, it always sets my teeth on edge to think about how difficult it has been historically for women to support themselves no matter how great their talent. Getting a nice reputation after death hardly seems enough.

More at Brain Pickings, here. Be sure to see Popova’s suggestions for “pairing” the article with related topics.

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Rewilding in the UK

Photos: Murdo MacLeod
Scotland is inviting nature to return to abandoned industrial spaces.

The idea of “rewilding” industrial spaces, or turning them back to nature, makes me happy. One often reads about it happening in the UK, but we could do it, too, if we wanted to.

This photo essay in the Guardian is about how, in Scotland, rewilding often happens through benign neglect. Bella Bathurst wrote the text and Murdo MacLeod took the photos.

“Since the idea of rewilding took hold, it has generally been seen as a rural pursuit involving withdrawal from farmland so that animals and vegetation can restore their own ecology. At its most herbivorous, it includes allowing hedgerows or scrub to flourish unchecked. At its most primal, it involves deliberately releasing animals such as beavers or wolves in the belief that the re-entry of a single alpha species brings with it a cascade of ecological benefits. …

“The perception is that it is expensive, far away and often inaccessible. It certainly isn’t something that just anyone can do.

“But what if the wildest places of all were right under our feet? In the forgotten spaces in our cities, rewilding has always happened naturally, land falling under stone and resurging again, concrete lids flipped off before submerging once more. In the margins and the demilitarised zones, the abandoned embankments, the bits we don’t want or the lands already contaminated beyond human tolerance, ecology is thriving.

“In some places – such as the land around the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine – plant and insect life has adapted to the extreme conditions: boars have moved in, there is a new radiation-munching fungus and, in the thin strip of no-man’s land between the borders of North and South Korea, leopards and Asiatic black bears have been spotted. …

“In Scotland, the 40-mile strip between Glasgow and Edinburgh has always been mined, for not just coal, but stone, gravel, lead and even gold. After centuries of hard pickings, parts of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire have an upended appearance. What was underground is now on top and what was above has gone below, with buildings and bridges slumped over old drift mines and razor-lined spoil heaps terraced by extraction tracks. Wildfowl nest on lochs made from old coal holes and an orchid called Young’s helleborine, discovered in 1975, favours only the best iron ore. …

“At an explosives factory once owned and operated by the Alfred Nobel Company, [sections] are still in use, but most of the 330-acre site was long ago abandoned. Along the cracks in the old pipelines and through the decaying buildings, it would be quicker to list the native plants that are no longer there than those that are. …

“Public feeling is that big business should be obliged to make good what it has taken, but human attempts to restore land are often amateurish. Planting a few conifers and flinging around a mix of wildflowers may be a quick fix, but sometimes it appears that the best thing to do is nothing. …

“In 1913 the 13th Earl of Home tried to lift local unemployment at Douglas by allowing mining nearby. The mining unseated [his] castle, it was demolished, and the flooded workings (known locally as the Black Hole) are now so patterned with commuting birdlife that it resembles an avian Heathrow. …

“On the other side of the Clyde, between the Erskine Bridge and the old John Brown shipyard, lies what used to be the Beardmore naval construction works in Dalmuir. In the early 20th century it produced munitions, planes, submarines and warships before being converted into a fuel-supply depot and then being gradually abandoned.

“Now a cycle path runs through it, but otherwise there is nothing new here except nature: golden leaves of birch springing from the concrete jetty, hawkweed drifting Ophelia-like in the drowned oil storage tanks, wrens nesting in the rusted embankments, mallards cackling from the blackthorn scrub. …

“Dalmuir is beautiful, dangerous – and almost certainly contaminated. … Halflands like these can be among the most joyous and optimistic places on earth, but they can also carry with them a polluting sense of menace. Finding them means that you may end up meandering across an indeterminate line between a walk in the park and full-scale urban exploration; you explore at your own risk. …

“They also have a habit of vanishing. Brownfield sites tend to be classified as wasteland, and with the pressure on housing, they are first in line for redevelopment. Ardeer is intended for ‘regeneration’ and Dalmuir will shortly be dug up to make way for the Scottish Marine Technology Park, a deepwater ship hoist and a new small-vessel fabrication yard.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Abandoned naval construction works in Dalmuir, Scotland. Explore at your own risk.

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ranching_gabions

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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04garden1-jumbo

Photo: Mark Baldwin
A dense carpet of woodland perennials. Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, calls plants “social creatures” that thrive in particular networks.

Today we understand that trees and other plants are the lungs of the planet and that we are losing too many every year, so it behooves us to understand them better and do what we can to help the remainder thrive. Even in our yards.

At the New York Times, Margaret Roach offers some tips from a landscape architect.

“Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades,” she writes. “We know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like ‘layering’ or ‘ground cover,’ is surprisingly not synonymous.

“It turns out I’ve been missing what the plants were trying to tell me, failing to read botanical body language and behavior that could help me put plants together in combinations that would solve challenges that many of us have: beds that aren’t quite working visually, and garden areas that don’t function without lots of maintenance. … I asked Mr. Rainer, a landscape architect based in Washington, D.C., to lend us his 3-D vision.

“Roach: You visit a lot of gardens, and probably hear from gardeners like me with beds that just aren’t working. What’s the most common cause?

“Rainier: First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks. Take a butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, named this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year by the industry group the Perennial Plant Association), for example. The height of its flower is exactly the height of the grasses it grows among. Its narrow leaves hug its stems to efficiently emerge through a crowded mix. It has a taproot that drills through the fibrous roots of grasses. Everything about that plant is a reaction to its social network. And it is these social networks that make plantings so resilient.

“So if we think about the way plants grow in the wild, it helps us understand how different our gardens are. In the wild, every square inch of soil is covered with a mosaic of interlocking plants, but in our gardens, we arrange plants as individual objects in a sea of mulch. We place them in solitary confinement.

“So if you want to add butterfly weed to your garden, you might drift it in beds several feet apart and tuck some low grasses in as companions, like prairie dropseed, blue grama grass or buffalo grass.

“Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Even in beds with shrubs in them, there are often large expanses of bare soil underneath. It’s incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding.

“The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, rhizomatous strawberries or golden groundsel, and self-seeding columbine or woodland poppies.

“Roach: If I want to try to do it more as nature does, what am I aiming for? Where do I take my cues?

“Rainier: The big shift in horticulture in the next decade will be a shift from thinking about plants as individual objects to communities of interrelated species. We think it’s possible to create designed plant communities: stylized versions of naturally occurring ones, adapted to work in our gardens and landscapes. This is not ecological restoration, it’s a hybrid of ecology and horticulture. We take inspiration from the layered structure in the wild, but combine it with the legibility and design of horticulture. It is the best of both worlds: the functionality and biodiversity of an ecological approach, but also the focus on beauty, order and color that horticulture has given us. It’s possible to balance diversity with legibility, ecology with aesthetics.

“And it is a shift in how we take care of our gardens: a focus on management, not maintenance. When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant. As long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more.” More here.

What do you think? I’m not a gardener, but I have a little yard, and I take Rainier’s point about how every patch of bare soil creates problems. I wonder what the Meadowscaping folks might have to say about combining horticulture and ecology in this way.

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I know I’m a broken record talking about what one determined person can accomplish, but I want share another example.

At ecoRI News, Sonya Gurwitt writes about a retired Massachusetts harbormaster who made up his mind to put an end to what was polluting a cove near his home.

Horace Field, says Gurwitt, “has lived only meters from Brandt Island Cove for nearly two decades. The water’s edge is connected to Field’s backyard by a short, grassy path. …

“Field wanders through the grasses along the shoreline, untangling the occasional piece of plastic or bit of Styrofoam from vegetation. … Field pinches a a small piece of dirty Styrofoam between his fingers, examining it. This, he said, is a small reminder of the pollution that used to cover the salt marsh — Styrofoam everywhere. …

“It was during his tenure as harbormaster that he noticed more and more pieces of Styrofoam cropping up on his property and along the rest of the Mattapoisett shoreline, from small beads to large chunks.

“The source of the pollution was no mystery — Field knew that the Leisure Shores Marina used uncovered Styrofoam blocks to keep its docks afloat. These were beginning to break down, allowing pieces of foam to float away. …

“In 2005, Field wrote a letter to the Board of Selectmen. He didn’t receive a response or even an acknowledgement of its receipt. Undeterred, Field kept at it — attending town meetings and talking to various committees and boards. …

“It wasn’t until early 2013, after Field retired from the position of harbormaster, that he began to make progress. Fed up with the lack of response from the town and other government agencies, Field contacted the Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC), a nonprofit ‘dedicated to the restoration, protection, and sustainable use and enjoyment’ of Buzzards Bay and its watershed.

“Field said the BBC took action immediately, sending a team to examine the problem. …

“With the help of the Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, [Korrin Petersen, senior attorney for the coalition] began to research which laws the pollution might violate. Petersen said they discovered that the saltwater marsh is a protected resource under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. This meant that the Styrofoam debris altering the salt marsh was a violation of that law. …

“Field said the process taught him some important lessons.

Be persistent, and be honest. Have a cause that is bulletproof, and don’t let up on it until you get satisfactory results.

More here.

Photo: Joanna Detz/ecoRI News photos
Horace Field took it upon himself to get Brandt Island Cove in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, cleaned up.

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A “funky, eco-friendly” shop in Providence, Small Point Café, serves wooden cutlery that can be recycled. The only problem is that if you do takeout and want to use the recycling bin at work, wood is not accepted.

Here’s an idea that could solve the problem of takeout-cutlery waste once and for all: utensils you can eat.

Brittany Levine Beckman writes at Mashable, “Tired of seeing mountains of plastic cutlery polluting India’s landfills, Narayana Peesapaty had an idea: What if you could eat your disposable spoon rather than toss it?

“Peesapaty, a researcher and agriculture consultant from Hyderabad, India, developed an edible spoon made of millet, rice and wheat flours, in 2010. Now, after selling 1.5 million spoons for his company Bakeys, he wants to reach even more eaters. Peesapaty knows that means he has to cut the cost of his products to compete with cheaper plastic counterparts. …

“Bakeys plans to use its successful Kickstarter campaign to improve production and expand the product line. Its ‘edible lunch spoon,’ which can last 20 minutes in hot liquid, comes in a variety of flavors: sugar, ginger-cinnamon, ginger-garlic, cumin, celery, black pepper, mint-ginger and carrot-beetroot. The spoons have a shelf life of two to three years.

” ‘You can eat it up. If you don’t want to eat it, you can throw it. It decomposes within four to five days,’ Peesapaty said in a promotional video that has been shared millions of times since posting on March 16. …

” ‘Plastic is very cheap, true. But I can make it as cheap,’ Peesapaty remarks confidently. ‘I can with volumes, and once I get the volumes, I [can go to] the farmers directly and start procuring raw material directly from the farmers, in which case my spoons will be as cheap as the plastic spoons.’ ”

More. Learn how to get a supply of your own.

Photo: Mashable
Edible cutlery is already reducing plastic waste and benefiting the environment.

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Video: PBS NewsHour

Not long ago, Julia Griffin of PBS NewsHour interviewed an artist who has turned plastic trash into sculptures with a message.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: Octavia the octopus, Priscilla the parrot fish, and Flash the marlin, all sculptures now on display at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and all made of trash pulled from the Pacific Ocean. …

“Angela Haseltine Pozzi is the lead artist and executive director of Washed Ashore, a nonprofit seeking to educate the public on the plastics polluting the word’s oceans.

“ANGELA HASELTINE POZZI: We create sculptures that can teach people about the problem. And, as an artist, it is a real challenge to use everything that comes up off the beach.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: In six years, Haseltine Pozzi and her team of volunteers have created 66 sculptures from more than 38,000 pounds of debris collected from a stretch of Oregon’s coastline.

“The countless bottle caps, flip-flops and beach toys are just a fraction of the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic estimated to be in the world’s oceans.

“Such plastics not only pose entanglement threats to Marine animals, but are often mistaken for food. …

“JULIA GRIFFIN: As scientists debate how to clean the water, Haseltine Pozzi hopes her sculptures will inspire visitors to curb pollution in the first place.”

The exhibit can be seen at the zoo until September 16, 2016. More at PBS here. Check out the Smithsonian’s site, too.

Photo: Smithsonian

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When homes are destroyed in disaster zones, the Mobile Factory can turn the rubble into Lego-like building blocks to create new housing. They snap together without mortar.

Stella Dawson of the Thomson Reuters Foundation writes, “In Amsterdam a mobile factory, the size of two shipping containers, ingests rubble at one end, liquifies it into cement, and spurts out Lego-shaped building blocks.

“Call it rubble for the people, converting the deadly debris from disasters into homes and hospitals, cheaply and quickly.

“It’s the brainchild of Gerard Steijn, a 71-year-old sustainable development consultant turned social entrepreneur, who leads the Netherlands-based project to recycle the rubble from natural disasters and wars.

“He plans to create ecologically sound and safe housing by producing 750 building blocks a day from the debris, enough for one home at a cost of less than $20,000 each.

” ‘In disasters, you have piles and piles of rubble, and the rubble is waste. If you are rich, you buy more bricks and rebuild your home,’ Steijn said in a telephone interview.

‘But what happens if you are poor? In disasters it is the poorest people who live in the weakest houses and they loose their homes first. I thought, what if you recycled the rubble to build back better homes for poor people?’

“His rubble-busting Mobile Factory has fired the imagination of a landowner in Haiti and a civil engineer at the University of Delft. They have joined forces to test Steijn’s idea and build the first rubble community in Port au Prince next year. …

“Unskilled people can build the homes with the blocks, which meet demanding Dutch construction standards to ensure they will last for many years. [Hennes de Ridder, an engineering professor at the University of Delft,] expects further stress tests he planned for Peru in a few months will show the homes can withstand temblors of at least 6 on the Richter scale.” Read more here.

Photo: The Mobile Factory
Model homes built from cement rubble are on display at an industrial park in Amsterdam. The brightly painted homes are designed for disaster zones, using technology that creates Lego-style building blocks from cement rubble.

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On my walk this morning I saw an official-looking sign on a fence in a residential neighborhood. The sign read “Certified Wildlife Habitat.”

I had to look it up when I got home. The website of the National Wildlife Federation says, “Wildlife needs our help. … You can invite wildlife back to your own yard and neighborhood by planting a simple garden that provides habitat. …

“Providing a sustainable habitat for wildlife begins with your plants. That’s why we call it  a wildlife habitat ‘garden.’ When you plant the native plant species that wildlife depend on, you create habitat and begin to restore your local environment. Adding water sources, nesting boxes and other habitat features enhances the habitat value of your garden to wildlife. By choosing natural gardening practices, you make your yard a safe place for wildlife. …

“Here is what your wildlife garden should include:

“Food: Native plants provide nectar, seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, foliage, pollen and insects eaten by an exciting variety of wildlife. Feeders can supplement natural food sources.

“Water: All animals need water to survive and some need it for bathing or breeding as well.

“Cover: Wildlife needs places to find shelter from bad weather and places to hide from predators or stalk prey.

“Places to Raise Young: Wildlife needs resources to reproduce and keep their species going. Some species have totally different habitat needs in their juvenile phase than they do as adults.

“Sustainable Practices: How you manage your garden can have an effect on the health of the soil, air, water and habitat for native wildlife as well as the human community.

“Already have all these elements in your wildlife garden? Certify today!” And there’s a box to click on if you think you are ready.

Now I’m wondering if the chipmunk on our back steps today thinks our yard could qualify. It’s a small yard, so not much cover. And we’d need to provide water. Hmm.

More at the National Wildlife Federation, here.

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