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Photo: George Chernilevsky
A basket of wild mushrooms in Ukraine. Hunting mushrooms is a popular activity in Eastern Europe. And it’s good for the environment.

Danger, wild mushrooms! That’s what I was taught and that’s what I taught my kids and grandkids. But it’s only because the only way I know if mushrooms are edible is if they are in a supermarket bin. In places like Eastern Europe, however, identification skills are learned young.

A story from UN Environment explains why using forest products like mushrooms is important both for subsistence living and environmentally sound forest management. (Boy, how I wish I’d known all this about Bulgaria when I was in sixth grade and had to write a fancy report: there was no information anywhere.)

“Wild mushroom picking in Eastern Europe is more than a tradition. It is a social event. Every year, in late summer and early fall, thousands of people roam the woods for the biggest, most perfect specimens. They take their children along to teach them which mushrooms are edible and which are poisonous, which are ripe and which should be left for another week or so, passing on generations-old teachings and care for the woods. In the evenings, families share their harvest around a plateful of tasty, butter-fried delicacies. Together, they celebrate their love for the forests, sharing the best spots they found and recalling the animals or birds they sighted along the way.

“Forests are among the most valuable treasures on earth: they supply energy from timber, help with water regulation, soil protection and biodiversity conservation. Yet in traditional forest management, trees are still primarily viewed as a source of wood. All other products derived from wooded lands — such as honey, mushrooms, lichens, berries, medicinal and aromatic plants, as well as any other products extracted from forests for human use — are considered of secondary importance.

“Non-timber forest resources, however, have far-reaching benefits for millions of households, both in terms of subsistence and income. These by-products go into food and everyday items like cosmetics or medicines. The protection of their environment is therefore a vital need.

“Bulgaria, whose forests cover more than a third of its land area, is one of Europe’s richest biodiversity hotspots. Brown bears, lynxes and wolves can be found in its woods, which also harbour hundreds of bird species as well as a great variety of tree types, including beeches, firs, spruces and oaks.

“The country has a long tradition of forest management practices. Large-scale monitoring programmes are in place, and local communities are known to keep a close eye on the natural environment. Together, these factors have allowed national authorities to make the most of their biodiversity.

“Over 90 per cent of the annual yields of wild and cultivated herbs are sold as raw material to Germany, Italy, France and the United States, making Bulgaria one of the world’s leading suppliers in this sector. By gaining expertise in the protection and sustainable use of non-wood forest products, they have become a model for other Balkan countries. …

“Around 80 per cent of the developing world’s population use these products for health and nutritional needs, notes Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova, Project Coordinator at the Connecting Natural Values and People Foundation. The practices and skills learned from Bulgarian experts are crucial to work on identifying non-wood forest products and pilot testing in [places that have not protected their resources].

“Educating local office managers and the business sector on the sustainable use of forest resources is a cost-effective solution to address climate change. Sustainable resource use helps to improve the state of forests and habitats and, by extension, ensure economic and food security for local communities.

“In addition, forests act as carbon sinks and can remove pollutants from the atmosphere, making them a highly versatile tool to fight air pollution and mitigate climate change. Every year, they absorb one third of the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels worldwide.” More here.

By the way, an amazing book about subsistence living, Ramp Hollow, permanently changed everything I thought I knew about history. Recommended.

 

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Rhode Island has an outstanding independent, environmental news publication called ecoRI News. Who says local news is dead?

Well, actually, it is very much endangered and requires heroic efforts by those who understand its importance. Reporting at ecoRI News, for example, played a pivotal role in the rejection of an unnecessary new fossil-fuel plant in Burrillville, after a fight that lasted years (producing hostile stickers on utility poles throughout the state). The story may have been partly about quality of life in a small Rhode Island community, but as we now know, every bit of fossil fuel threatens the whole planet.

Local news addresses other issues that have international implications. As Tim Faulkner reported at ecoRI News in April, “Plastic pollution is everywhere, showing up in the air, water, food, and consequently in our bodies.

“To draw attention to this ubiquitous waste problem, plastic-catching traps, called trash skimmers, have been installed around Narragansett Bay to collect plastic debris and other trash in the marine environment.

“The latest skimmer was recently unveiled inside the hurricane barrier on the Providence River. It’s heralded as the first trash skimmer to be installed in a state capital.

“Using a pump to draw in debris, the partially submerged plastic box catches surface trash such as floating bottles and tiny debris called microparticles. Each skimmer costs about $12,000.

“Since 2017, three trash skimmers in Newport and one in Portsmouth have collected 27,000 pounds of trash. Cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, and foam debris are the most common items collected. The skimmers are emptied daily throughout most of the year by interns and student groups. Each contains between 20 and 200 pounds of daily trash. The skimmers have collected unusual items such as floating plastic disks from a wastewater treatment plant in East Providence.

“The project is run by Clean Ocean Access, the Middletown-based pollution advocacy group directed by David McLaughlin.

“ ‘The skimmer is the last line of defense for our oceans, and each installation allows for open, positive, and forward-thinking conversation of how to solve the local and global problem of litter and marine debris,’ McLaughlin said. …

“Plastic bags are one of the top items collected in the trash skimmers. So far, 10 Rhode Island municipalities — Barrington, Bristol, Jamestown, Middletown, New Shoreham, Newport, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, South Kingstown, and Warren — have enacted bans on plastic retail bags. East Providence, Providence, and Westerly are poised to pass bans. …

“The trash skimmer project is funded by 11th Hour Racing, a Newport-based funder of ocean stewardship initiatives. … Two skimmers are operating in Newport Harbor and a third is in the water off Fort Adams. Another is at New England Boat Works in Portsmouth. A trash skimmer is operating in Gloucester, Mass., and a new trash skimmer is scheduled to be unveiled in New Bedford Harbor during the week of Earth Day. Other skimmers are planned for Stamford, Conn., and possibly Fall River, Mass.”

More here.

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Providence trash skimmer, which helps to clear plastic waste from Rhode Island waters, is fixed to a floating dock below the riverfront deck at the Hot Club
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Photos: The Wilds
In Columbus, Ohio, you can camp overnight at the zoo.

A couple of my grandchildren brought sleeping bags on their latest visit, hoping to try camping — if not in a tent, then on the bedroom floor. A tent might be a little too exotic for where they are in life, although it worked for Suzanne when she was five weeks old.

Exotic camping makes me think of my friend Cathy. I saw her on the train the day she retired, and she told me that she was planning an overnight at the Columbus zoo. Apparently, you can sleep in a yurt. It’s not cheap. There is also a lodge or cabins, if you prefer.

The website says, “Today, it’s difficult to imagine The Wilds and its 9,000 plus acres as anything but a home to rare and endangered species from around the globe living in open range habitats.

“However, the park that has transformed wild life conservation practices was once devoted to strip mining.”

I loved reading this description of how the landscape was rescued from that devastation.

“The immense landscape of The Wilds and its mining history provides an ideal setting to study the process of ecological recovery and restoration. Ongoing biological inventories have recorded over a thousand species and provide an essential baseline for studying changes in populations over time.

“It is difficult for trees to survive on reclaimed mine land due to soil compaction and low nutrient availability. Instead, The Wilds has successfully established nearly 700 acres of prairies at The Wilds which provide beneficial pollinator and wildlife habitat.  Now we are conducting research to see how prairies change soil properties over time and whether the deep roots of prairie plants can prepare the land for the return of forests. …

“Wetlands are considered the most biologically rich ecosystems in the world.  However, development has caused these habitat types to become among the most endangered. The Wilds has restored a 20-acre area into a quality wetland refuge that supports a diversity of vegetation, waterfowl, and aquatic wildlife.  The removal of invasive species such as cattail is an ongoing effort. The ultimate goal is to increase native wetland vegetation and improve habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic wildlife. …

“Many of the reclaimed forests at The Wilds are in poor health, with low species diversity and overgrown with invasive species. The restoration department is currently working on restoring ~30 acres of forest. In order to accomplish this, invasive plant species are removed and native ones are planted in their place. Removal and replacement is a long and tedious process, but ultimately it will increase the biodiversity of the area. In addition, we intend to create native amphibian habitat by constructing two vernal pools and improving existing wetlands in the area. The end result of these combined efforts is expected to encourage more native animal and insect species to not only inhabit the area, but to thrive. …

“We have expanded our scope to improving the reclamation process immediately after mining. One essential step is seeding the land with new plant species. Traditional seed mixes used in land reclamation are not designed to create diverse habitat for wildlife, they simply aim to revegetate the land. We helped [the Ohio Department of Natural Resources] create more ecologically friendly seed mixes and monitored to see if sites planted with the native mix could revegetate the land as well as the traditional mix. Thus far, we have seen that mixes including native grasses and pollinator plants can definitely be successful, and that they undeniably increase native cover over traditional mixes. We are still working on long term monitoring of this project.”

To the conservationist side of me, this is all very impressive. But having just read a deep, thoughtful history of the destruction of Appalachia called Ramp Hollow, I can’t help but think that mining destroyed not only the environment but the ability of families to make a living off the land. I’d really like to see restoration for the people, too.

More.

Restoration Ecology

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Photo: Ocean Sole
Says Ocean Sole: “We turn flip-flops into art and functional products and in turn raise visual awareness of the problem. … We are not only creating employment for a country that has 40% unemployment, but also sending a message about how we can help our planet.”

Around the world, flip flops have provided cheap footware for billions of people. Everyone loves them. Unfortunately, they’re part of the planet’s growing plastics and synthetics problem, a tsunami of trash that damages the environment and threatens marine life.

Some years ago, the company Ocean Sole was created to do something about that and at the same time provide employment in a high-unemployment region of Africa.

As Olivia Yasukawa and Thomas Page reported at CNN in 2017, “The shores of Watamu on the Kenyan coast should be pristine. They’re not. Downstream from an ecological disaster brewing a continent away, these placid waters are bearing the brunt of a foot-born problem: your flip flops. …

” ‘Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe,’ says Erin Smith of Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective. ‘They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them.’ The average lifespan of a flip flop is two years, she adds.

“They’re ubiquitous, and the modern day synthetic rubber flip flop is not going away. In fact, tons of them are washing up on the East African coast. Reports suggest that at least eight million tons of plastic enters our oceans every year.

By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the seas by weight. …

” ‘We are actually receivers of pretty much the rest of the emerging world’s marine pollution,’ [Smith] argues. And a significant quantity of the pollution which appears on East Africa’s beaches come from discarded flip flops — approximately 90 tons a year. … They’re not only an eyesore, but a direct health hazard, and with no hope of biodegrading.

” ‘Our founder Julie Church back in the 90s discovered an entire beach … was just covered in flip flops,’ Smith says. ‘What she saw were not just dead fish that had been trying to eat in their natural habitat, but turtles unable to come up on to land and actually hatch. [The pollution] started to kill the plant life, it started to kill the crabs on the sand … we have deserted beaches that used to have communities there, that used to be able to fish, and the whole ecosystem has been ruined by this massive increase in marine pollution.’

“Matilda Mathias, a debris collector from the ‘Blue Team’ in Watamu, cites the benefits to the tourist industry when the beaches are clean, and says ‘we also benefit from the money.’

“Most of the detritus is recycled, some is reused, but in the case of flip flops, they’re upcycled. Ocean Sole has trained a team of 40-or-so artisans in a workshop in Nairobi to craft sculptures from these pre-owned, unloved objects into a source of income. Importing flip flops from recycling crews along the East Coast and from as far away as Zanzibar, Smith estimates the Ocean Sole team can repurpose approximately 800,000 flip flops a year. …

“There’s little chance artisans will run out of raw material any time soon as long as our flip flop habit remains.

” ‘I think it’s time for us to start looking for an alternative shoe, or an alternative material, to fit that kind of fashion need,’ argues Smith.”

More at Ocean Sole, here, and at CNN, here.

Warthog made of recycled flip flops by Ocean Sole. Many zoo gift shops carry these products.

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Photos: Hive Earth
Joelle Eyeson is a co-founder of Hive Earth, which is working to address the housing challenges in Ghana. The company supports using the traditional ‘rammed earth’ technique as much more eco-friendly than cement.

Lately, I’ve seen a number of articles about how cement is bad for the planet. (For example, this story on the mining of sand used in cement.) But what else can we use? We can’t cut down all our remaining trees.

In Ghana, a company interested in sustainable home-building practices is experimenting with modernizing some traditional materials. DW interviewed Joelle Eyeson, co-founder of Hive Earth. Here is the DW interview.

“What are the housing challenges in Ghana right now?
“Joelle Eyeson: There is need for around 2 million new houses in Ghana per year, but most of the building is concentrated in the capital Accra, where land is very expensive. The other issue is that when you build in more rural areas it then becomes expensive to travel to the cities for work. We knew that the majority of people in Ghana have a relatively low wage. We thought it is strange you have workers building these big houses that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and they could never afford them.

“So our aim is to build houses that our workers and the majority of Ghanaians and West Africans can afford. The prototype that should be ready by the end of the year will cost roughly $5,000 for a one-room house.

“What exactly is the ‘rammed earth’ technique that you use?
The rammed earth technique is just a mixture of laterite, clay and then granite chippings. We use 5 percent cement to bind it but also do it using lime.

We wanted a way of building without using cement, because it is very toxic; especially in our climate it combines with the heat and humidity and creates a really bad indoor air quality.

“When we discovered the rammed earth technique, we thought it was great because it is basically like the traditional mud house, but updated. It’s a tried and tested technique that’s been around for centuries. Parts of the Great Wall of China were even built with rammed earth.

“In what other ways are the buildings eco-friendly?
“In Ghana it is so hot you usually need air conditioning systems in your home, but these are not always affordable, eco-friendly, or good for your health. We teamed up with some German engineers who gave us the idea of underground cooling systems. We dig around 8 feet or more until we get to the cool air underground. Then we use a solar pump which is constantly bringing the cool air into the home. Then it is only the cost of the solar pump (around $300) which people need to pay and there are no bills. …

“With our foundation we are also planning on doing more workshops with local communities, helping to teach them the skills of building with rammed earth. We are also planning on building eco toilets. … We want to enable people to come and learn about rammed earth, build something that is beautiful, eco-friendly and useful for their own communities.”

More at DW, here.

The rammed-earth building technique uses local materials in Ghana and almost no cement.

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Photo: Omari Daniel
Bees at the Lyric Hammersmith Theater in West London.

The arts are always struggling for funds, so it’s lucky that artistic people are by definition creative. In this story, some creative theater people thought up a way to help the environment while simultaneously raising a little cash for their work. It’s all part of a theater’s broad sustainability plan.

Sian Alexander writes, “As a leading producing theatre and the largest creative hub in west London, the Lyric Hammersmith welcomes around 200,000 people a year to its building, including 30,000 young people at classes and activities. We have nine Young Lyric partners based here, three resident companies, 50 permanent staff and over 500 freelancers each year – all under one roof.

“Our roof is also now a symbol of our long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability. As well as our public roof terrace, a green oasis in the heart of an urban environment, we have a green sedum roof — covered in plants — installed in 2015 during our last major capital redevelopment.

“Last year we teamed up with the local business improvement district, HammersmithLondon, to install three beehives on the roof, now home to 180,000 Buckfast honey bees. They seem to be happy here, and this summer we enjoyed a substantial honey harvest. We sell the honey in our café and at local markets, where it is a great conversation starter about our efforts to go green. …

“Bees have a critical role in food production, as around a third of the food we consume relies on pollination. The bees also help our green roof mature through pollination, and help improve air quality and biodiversity in the local area. …

“We strive to ensure our green values run through all elements of our business. For example, our building has air-source heat pumps and predominantly LED lighting; we send zero waste to landfill, working with First Mile and Scenery Salvage; our energy supply is 100% renewable electricity and green, frack-free gas; our finance and administration teams run on a paperless system; and all new staff and creative teams are given a reusable water bottle on their first day. …

“We are introducing a vegetarian and vegan specials menu in our bar and grill, visiting allotments and trying alternative foods. We are also running a stall at the local food market to engage the public on food packaging, as well as addressing food waste.”

More at Arts Professional, here.

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Photos: Sai Sanctuary
In part to preserve the planet’s source of rainwater, this couple bought a sanctuary in India. As it expands, it protects more and more species.

A childhood friend on Facebook often posts interesting links. Her presence on that platform is a major reason I can’t bring myself to get off Facebook even though I feel extremely wary of what the company is doing with my data. But how many people from your nursery school do you connect with on a regular basis?

My friend recently alerted her followers to an animal sanctuary in India that sounded cool, and after a look at the website, I checked around for more information on the two wealthy nature lovers who saved the preserve from neglect.

Panna Munyal wrote this 2016 report at an Abu Dhabi publication called The National, “On most days, Pamela Gale ­Malhotra, co-owner of the Sai Sanctuary private forest in ­India, is fast asleep at 1.30am, after her typically full programme of organising walking safaris and animal feeds, and checking camera traps for signs of poaching.

“But a few years ago, Pamela and her husband, Anil Malhotra, woke up to the sound of trumpeting ­elephants. They assumed – rightly – that a baby elephant must have strayed too close to a partially covered pit and fallen in. As her husband switched on the rarely used floodlights and prepared to call on their neighbours for aid, Pamela stepped out to a magnificent sight.

Dozens of elephants from the Sai ­Sanctuary’s herds, as well as the neighbouring Bandipur, ­Brahmagiri and Nagarhole national parks, had gathered around the pit and were bellowing their assurances to the calf. Pamela describes the next hour as magical, as the enormously graceful creatures banded as one to lift the half-broken lid of the pit with their trunks, enabling the little one to clamber out.

“This show of concerned unity is typical of the environment the Malhotras have cultivated in Sai Sanctuary, which is nestled within southern India’s ­Western Ghats in the Coorg district. ‘Protecting what is left of the world’s forests is the only thing that will ensure our own survival,’ Pamela says. ‘Forests are directly responsible for rainfall, our primary source of water. Water, in turn, is the lifeline for plants, flowers, animals, birds and humans. We have nothing if not for our forests.’ …

” ‘When we bought our first parcel of land in India, it was just the two of us and 55 acres [22 hectares] of forest beside the Poddani River. We learnt from experience that if you want to protect a piece of land, you need to secure both sides of its water source. And here we both are 25 years later, managing 300 acres [121 hectares] on both sides of the river.’

“Pamela, who is part Native American, and her husband, a former banker, … follow a two-pronged approach to safeguard the forest, river and wildlife: purchase-to-protect and payment for environmental services. The first step is to buy private forested lands that border national parks or other reserve forests, and preserve them in their natural state. Next, the Malhotras offer compensation to members of the surrounding communities to, in turn, not harm the trees and animals around them. Compensation may be in the form of money, but it can also be a solution that works for both parties.

“ ‘We gifted all our cattle to some of our neighbours. The milk and dung give them an extra source of income, while for us it means less staff and more food for other grass-eaters,’ says Pamela. ‘Another time, some villagers approached my husband to help relocate a temple from the top of the mountain to the edge of the sanctuary. He agreed, on the condition that they would stop hunting.’ …

“Ingenious solutions and noble intentions aside, it’s undeniable that money – and large sums at that – is needed for a project of this magnitude. … ‘We now have four rooms in two eco-tourism cottages on the property alongside the main house in which we live.’ These cottages are open to visitors, and cost from [$42] per person, per night, which includes the stay, three nutritious vegetarian meals and daily treks. …

” ‘We outsource not only our housekeeping and laundry facilities, but also hire willing neighbours to cook the meals, some of which can be eaten in a local house or with the village priest. This ensures the money spreads through the community, and even our guests can get a feel for the culture,’ Pamela says. …

“Despite its size, Sai Sanctuary doesn’t have any safari vehicles. ‘You are always on foot here. It helps people to slow down and observe the flowers, birds and trees around them. … Guests are never taken to the same area twice during the course of their stay because ‘we want the wildlife to move freely even in the day. This is the purpose of a sanctuary.’

The National article is here. And if you explore the Sai website, here, you will find some beautiful pictures of the species that the sanctuary protects.

Thanks, Carole, for putting this on FB.

Photo: Sai Sanctuary
Anil Malhotra and Pamela Gale Malhotra put their money behind saving an animal sanctuary in India.

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