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Posts Tagged ‘ecology’

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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You haven’t heard the last word on tiny houses from this blog yet. Just check out Treehugger reporter Kimberley Mok’s amazing story about using a 3D printer to create a tiny house and SUV that can create, store, and share energy. Unreal but true.

“Designers from architecture firm SOM, University of Tennessee and researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are cleverly tackling the energy issue by using a concept they call ‘integrated energy.’

“Their innovative design features a 3D printed house, that comes with a 3D printed SUV, which each generate, store and share energy — boosting energy efficiency both ways, while benefiting from the reduced construction waste and quick turnaround that comes with additive manufacturing techniques. …

“The design of both home and car uses carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS plastic (admittedly not the greenest of materials). The home was printed in separate modules that are assembled together and reinforced with steel rods, and insulated with a modified, highly efficient atmosphere insulation panels, resulting in a surprisingly strong and insulated structure.

“Certainly the most intriguing thing about the design is the reciprocal energy relationship that the car has with the house. … The 3D printed SUV is a hybrid that uses both electricity and natural gas to power itself. It’s parked on an inductive charging pad that allows it to send or receive energy from the solar-powered house — thus significantly solving the electricity issue on cloudy days. If there’s no electricity at all from either solar panels or car, the house can still tap into the energy grid. …

“Thanks to the additive manufacturing process, the prototype took only one year to realize from start to finish.” Read more here.

Photo: ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

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One of the websites I check for cool stories is the one for Living on Earth, an excellent environmental news magazine from Public Radio International. In a recent episode, host Steve Curwood interviewed the author of a new book on the rare Asian “unicorn.”

“CURWOOD: Deep in the forests of southeast Asia lives a creature nicknamed the Asian Unicorn, and it’s nearly as rare as the mythical creature, as well. … And it is right at the edge of extinction. Writer William deBuys accompanied conservationists on an expedition to study the saola, and his book The Last Unicorn lays out the story and the challenges of saving a species so rare. …

“DEBUYS: The saola was discovered to Western science only in 1992. Local villagers in the habitat of the saola [such as Laos] have known it was there forever, but this new discovery was made when scientists saw a rack of horns on the wall of a hunter’s shack. And these horns are the most distinctive features of the saola. They’re long, almost straight, and beautifully tapered to a very sharp point, so that when the saola stands profile, the two horns in perspective merge into one, and it appears to have only one horn, it appears to be a unicorn. Perhaps only dozens to a few hundred still exist, and there are none in captivity. …

“CURWOOD: Tell us what it’s like there in the forest. What would you hear in the forest?

“DEBUYS: Oh, the music of the forest was constantly inspiring and entertaining. The birdcalls never ceased. We heard laughing thrushes, and we heard drongos and Indian cuckoos and all kinds of birds with really distinctive calls. There was a kind of chorus behind us all the time.

“But the most marvelous thing occurred at first light, almost every morning. We heard the calls of gibbons. Gibbons are small apes, beautiful, slender animals that swing through the trees, so gracefully, and their calls are ethereal. And they call, male to female and female to male, in mated couples, and you can think of it as almost a kind of love song that you hear echoing through the forest. …

“Our expedition basically had three purposes: one was to look for saola habitat and for saola in that habitat. A second was to evaluate the poaching pressure on the landscape. And a third was to conduct a kind of conservation diplomacy in the villages of the forest. …

“CURWOOD: How many saola did you see?

“DEBUYS: Well, we saw none. No Westerner has yet seen a saola in the wild, and the joke is that saola are so like unicorns, and everybody knows that in the Middle Ages, the only people who had an outside chance of seeing a unicorn had to be absolutely pure of heart. And Robichaud and I joke that if that applies also to saola, then we were disqualified from the get-go.” More here.

Note the thoughtful discussion at Living on Earth about the rights and sensitivities of native peoples where the conservation efforts are focused.

Photo: William Robichaud / Wildlife Conservation Society
The first adult saola to be observed outside of its habitat.

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As a longtime believer in “one and one and 50 make a million,” I am not surprised to learn that some big environmental problems are being successfully tackled through small-dollar grants.

Karen Weintraub writes at the NY Times, “In Pakistan and India, the blind Indus River dolphin, one of the most endangered species, swims a shrinking stretch of water, trapped by development and dams. …

“Overfishing, habitat loss and pollution threaten species in so many places that research and conservation organizations cannot do all that is needed. So, with the aim of making a dent through small, targeted efforts, the New England Aquarium, which sits on Boston’s downtown waterfront, has for 15 years awarded microgrants to projects across the globe. …

“The aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund has paid out $700,000 since 1999, supporting 122 projects in 40 countries on six continents. Elizabeth Stephenson, the fund’s manager, calls these projects ‘stories of hope for the ocean.’

“The grants are modest. One researcher, Rohan Arthur, used his $6,700 payout from the fund to buy a ‘secondhand, beat-up compressor’ to fill his scuba tanks. But the support allowed him to maintain his critical assessment of coral reefs in the Arabian Sea off the west coast of India.

“Dr. Arthur, a senior scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation in Karnataka, India, said that in some ways, he preferred the scale of the New England Aquarium gifts. …

“Small grants, he said, offer more freedom, but can still be transformative. …

“Gill Braulik, a dolphin expert based in Tanzania, used a … grant in 2011 to teach Pakistani scientists to take over her research on a blind dolphin species that lives only in the Indus River. …

“In 2011, a $6,000 aquarium grant allowed her to train the local researchers in complex survey methods and analysis. Now, two groups of local scientists have led the work. ‘They really don’t need me anymore,’ she said.”

Read more here.

Photo: Gill Braulik
Najam Ul-Huda Khan, left, interviews village elders about sightings of Indus River dolphins. 

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Having given myself a serious scare reviewing the film Revolution (on the planet’s race to extinction through practices such as destroying critical forests), I was happy to read about a positive forestry initiative started in India and expanded to Haiti and Kenya. The pressures are the same in those countries as in Madagascar, which was featured in Revolution, but there is also a recognition that trees are life-giving.

Gregory M. Lamb writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Aviram Rozin was excited. He had just returned from Haiti where the 80,000 Maya nut trees that volunteers with Sadhana Forest had planted there during the past five years had started to flower. Before long each tree would be producing huge quantities of nuts high in protein and other nutrients. One tree could supply enough yearly protein for a family of five.

“The nonprofit Sadhana Forest, cofounded by Mr. Rozin and his wife, Yorit, follows three simple strategies:

“• Plant indigenous trees in arid regions that once had been forested but have become barren, useless land.

“• With few exceptions, do the work using volunteers, both local and from around the world.

“• Since trees don’t grow overnight, plan on staying around for a long, long time to see the project through.

“The Rozins started Sadhana Forest in 2003, the year after they moved to India from Aviram’s native Israel to live in Auroville, an experimental township in southeast India that emphasizes sustainable living and has attracted immigrants from all over. The couple bought 70 acres of degraded land and set about creating a community dedicated to reforestation. …

“The aim of Sadhana Forest isn’t to buy and reforest massive tracts of public land. Rather, it is to teach local people how to grow trees on their own land. Faced with the dry climate, Rozin has come up with a simple, yet innovative, way to water the trees: wick irrigation. A two-liter plastic bottle filled with water is planted up to its neck next to each sapling or tree. A piece of cotton rope fed through a tiny hole in the bottom of the bottle acts as a wick, slowly moistening the soil. Loosening or tightening the bottle’s cap can control the rate of flow. …

“Each wick bottle becomes ‘a personal watering system for each tree,’ Rozin says, yet the materials are readily available locally and cost almost nothing. …

“Rozin, who studied psychology and later worked in management for an Israeli medical device company, does not have a degree in forestry but says that may have been a blessing in disguise.

“ ‘We found out that, in a way, ignorance is bliss because we’re very open to learning,’ he says. ‘We don’t think we know everything. A lot of innovation comes from listening to people, to being open.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Sadhana Forest
Volunteer Nixon Casseus (l.) and Sadhana Forest cofounder Aviram Rozin show off the first flowering Maya nut tree in Haiti.

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We all have ambitions, and it seems that there are people in Providence whose ambition it is to hold the tree-hugging record. If you can help, the date is April 25.

According to Tim Faulkner at EcoRi, the goal is to be greener than Portland, Oregon.

“In an effort to establish its green cred and presumably give a big thanks to the environment, the city will attempt to wrest a unique world record from the undisputed champion of green cities: Portland, Ore.

“What’s the record? The largest tree hug. Portland set the benchmark in 2013, with 936 people hugging trees at one time.

“Providence and the Rhode Island Tree Council will host the group hug during its Earth Day Spring Cleaning on April 25. The record attempt will take place at Roger Williams Park, after some 40 neighborhood cleanups across the city. Last year’s cleanups drew about 2,200 volunteers, and organizers hope the Portland record will fall if at least half of them join the after party in the park.

“Registration for the after-cleanup party at Roger Williams Park will be held from 1-2:30 p.m. All tree huggers must register, and early registration is recommended. To register, click here. The event begins at 3 p.m., and all participants must hug a tree for a minute.”

More here on solar power, composting, bike sharing, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s sustainability proposals, and plans for energy-saving streetlights.

Photo: Momma on the Move

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Fred Pearce of Yale Environment 360 (a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies) had a post on some positive change in Kenya recently. It came to me by way of the Christian Science Monitor Change Agent e-mail.

“In Kenya, local farmers are replacing state officials and forest wardens …

“Kenya’s five main ‘water towers’ — the Aberdare Mountains, the Mau forest complex, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, and the Cherangani Hills — cover just 2 percent of the country. But their elevation means that they intercept clouds blowing off the Indian Ocean, capturing most of the country’s rains. These places are the sources of all but one of Kenya’s major rivers. …

“Emilio Mugo, the acting director of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) … says an important factor in [the process of reclamation] was the popularizing of the phrase ‘water towers.’ It unlocked a recognition about the nation’s precarious ecosystems and water supplies, and their link to forests.

“ ‘The new terminology galvanized public attention,’ he says. Calls to revive the towers became a national priority, culminating in the creation in 2012 of the Kenya Water Towers Agency to coordinate government activity.

“We are now looking at the towers as national assets,” says Francis Nkako, the CEO of the new agency. In the past five years, 81 square miles of the Mau forest system have been repossessed from illegal settlers for ecological rehabilitation …

“Control of the forests is being systematically given to democratically elected community forest associations (CFAs) that manage the forests under agreements with the KFS. …

“Under the agreements, CFAs are tasked with ensuring sustainable use of the forests, preventing illegal activity in them, managing and raising fees for grazing of livestock and firewood cutting in the forests, and starting new economic activities based on forest resources. No members of the community are allowed to live in the protected forests, but they can use them.” More here.

Photo: Fred Pearce
Sarah Karungari shows beehives set up by the community forest association (CFA) in Kimunye village in Kenya. Management of mountain forests is being systematically given over to democratically elected CFAs.

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Over at TreeHugger, Kimberley Mok has a post on an Italian filmmaker’s study of breathtakingly beautiful marine life.

“The ocean is a mysterious place,” she writes, “full of wondrous creatures and hidden delights, waiting to be discovered. The very nature of this massive body of fluid is primordial and seen as a symbol of the subconscious in many cultures. Italian filmmaker Sandro Bocci, also known as Bolidesottomarino, recently released a sneak peak at a ‘non-verbal’ film he’s working on, titled ‘Porgrave.’ Showing captivating scenes of vibrantly coloured underwater organisms, it’s a close-up look at a ‘microworld’ that many of us never get to see — or may never get to see, if ocean acidification, pollution and habitat loss continues at today’s alarming rate.

“According to Bocci’s website, Julia Set Collection, the film is influenced by thinkers like Alan Moore, Jan Hanlo, Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, Alfred Van Vogt, and is

an experimental film orbiting scientific and philosophical reflections on time and space, and that through various shooting techniques, fields of magnification, and an exciting soundtrack, weaves a web between science and magic.”

Please click here. The photos are extraordinary.

Photo: Sandro Bocci

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I have mentioned the Block Island Poetry Project in past years, and I wanted to let you know that I just got the scoop on this year’s theme.

Nancy writes, “The Block Island Poetry Project weekend will be April 16-19 and will focus on Poetry of the Wild, a project of Ana Flores, who visited just a few days ago to show us examples of what she’s been doing around the country for the last twelve years. … I’m in the process of developing my Poetry of the Wild poetry box project for the school.”

The Poetry of the Wild website explains, “Poetry of the Wild invites the public out for a walk to see their world anew through the keenly felt perspectives of poets and artists. Using a unique presentation of ‘poetry boxes’ that combine art and poetry, the project serves as a catalyst for exploring our towns and considering how place informs mindfulness. The public becomes engaged by finding the boxes which are sited as a network on mapped trails, reading the poems, and responding in the public journals contained in each.

“The sculptor Ana Flores created Poetry of the Wild in 2003 while she was the first artist in residence for the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association in Southern Rhode Island. Her mission was to use the arts to foster public awareness and stewardship of the land and waterways protected by the Association. That first project had a dozen boxes created by students from area schools, members of the environmental group and other artists. The public response was overwhelming during its three month tenure. It turned out that many people roaming the trails were poetic– but they had had no place to express themselves. Journals were replaced three times and the trails leading to boxes also became less littered.”

For more about Ana’s work, see earthinform.com. And for more about the Block Island Poetry Project (founded by 2008-2013 Rhode Island poet laureate Lisa Starr), click here.

Ana Flores

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