Posts Tagged ‘environmental’


Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
In Obert, Nebraska, agriculturists and environmentalists are joining forces to make a more sustainable future for all. In the background are croplands that have been converted from grasslands. In the foreground a rancher’s cow is enjoying inexpensive feed while grasslands get protected.

One reason I like the Christian Science Monitor, besides its great international coverage, is that it’s really good at finding win-win stories in which opposing sides of an issue find common ground.

Laurent Belsie reports, “Slowly, a prairie restoration movement is gaining momentum here in the Great Plains. After decades of plowing up native grasslands to plant crops, some ranchers are moving in the other direction. Helped by environmentalists in a sometimes uneasy alliance, they are restoring prairie pasture, which not only improves water retention and sequesters carbon in the soil, but can also improve their profits by creating better feed, allowing them to brand and sell their beef directly to consumers, or through ecotourism.

“ ‘I’m guardedly optimistic that we will see continued growth in that [revival] as the tourist business grows,’ says Rick Edwards, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska. …

“This new breed of ranchers faces formidable odds. Conversion of the Plains ​– one of the world’s largest remaining grasslands ​– to cropland continues. As of 2017, nearly a third of the northern Great Plains, a swath of land running from central Nebraska to southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, had been converted. In that year alone, more than half a million acres were plowed under. The silver lining: The rate of conversion slowed considerably compared with 2016 in every state except here in South Dakota. It’s not clear why. Also there was a pickup in cropland that had gone back to grass, although it’s not certain that will be a permanent switch.

“Ranching to preserve the grasslands requires new modes of thinking.

“ ‘We’re getting to understand how important healthy grasslands are,’ says Leo Barthelmess, a rancher outside Malta, Montana, and president of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance. For him, a high priority is making sure that his cattle do not overgraze an area, which means frequently moving the cows. When his father started ranching in the area in 1964, he moved cattle 10 times a year. Now, Mr. Barthelmes moves them 100 times a year, so ‘the grass has the opportunity to regrow.’

“The aha moment for Sarah Sortum, whose family diversified from strictly a ranching operation to an ecotourism business, came when she went searching for nesting areas of the greater prairie chicken on the family ranch. On the northern end, she heard their call and other birdsongs all over; on the southern end, ‘I didn’t hear anything,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t hear chickens; I didn’t hear grouse; I didn’t hear all the other little birds I was supposed to be hearing.’ …

“An invasive red cedar, far more prevalent on the southern side of the ranch, was providing perches for birds that preyed on the ground-nesting prairie chicken and grouse. For years, getting rid of the trees had been a low priority for the family. Now that the birds were bringing tourists to the farm, removing the nonnative trees became a top priority.

“ ‘Before our tourism … we just managed for grass, because that’s how we make money’ ​– feeding grass to cattle, says Ms. Sortum. ‘Now … the biggest difference from just managing for grass is managing for that diversity, because we realize that everything has value now.’ …

“What changed [South Dakota rancher Jim] Faulstich was the farm crisis of the 1980s. ‘I was either done or I was going to change,’ he says. A typical cow-calf operator, he began looking into holistic management and realized the importance of preserving the health of the prairie. His son-in-law, with whom he ranches, is carrying on the tradition and has already converted some fields from cropland to prairie.

“It’s this kind of mental shift that has environmentalists excited.” Read more details here.

This is where my husband would launch into some version of the song “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends.” “The Cowman and the Environmentalist”? Hmm. Gotta fit the rhythm.

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There’s always something fun over at PRI’s environmental radio show Living on Earth. Here’s a story that ran in March about the unique bird species isolated in Northeastern Australian rainforests.

Bob Sundstrom wrote up the audio report of BirdNote‘s Mary McCann: “The Eastern Whipbird hangs out in the dense understory. It’s dark, crested … nearly a foot long and emerald-green with white spots. … The large, pigeon-like Wompoo Fruit-Dove … feathered in a stunning combination of green, purple, and yellow, [is] clearly named for its voice.

“Pig-like grunting on the forest floor tells us we’re in the company of the largest bird on the continent – the Southern Cassowary. On average, the female weighs 130 pounds and stands around 5 feet tall, looking like a giant, lush, black hairpiece on thick legs. A helmet called a casque makes it look as much like a dinosaur as any living bird.” Five feet tall? I think I know a one-year-old who would like to try riding it.

The bird sounds on the radio show were provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hear them all here, where you can also enjoy the equally far-out pictures.

Photo: Jan Anne
Southern Cassowary

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Ever hear of a living thing that has been growing for 3,000 years? Check the picture below. Or how about a 13,000-year-old eucalyptus tree?

At Brain Pickings. Maria Popova writes, “For nearly a decade, Brooklyn-based artist, photographer, and Guggenheim Fellow Rachel Sussman has been traveling the globe to discover and document its oldest organisms — living things over 2,000 years of age.

“Her breathtaking photographs and illuminating essays are now collected in The Oldest Living Things in the World … beautiful and powerful work at the intersection of fine art, science, and philosophy, spanning seven continents and exploring issues of deep time, permanence and impermanence, and the interconnectedness of life.”

Sussman tells Popova in an interview, “I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist, for whatever that term means, and it’s something that I think, as an artist, was an interesting thing — because for a long time, I don’t think it was particularly acceptable in the fine art world to be doing work about nature. …

“The problem of climate change is so pressing and actually is something of a moral imperative for us all, and I think artists do a tremendous job of engaging the public on different levels … . That’s one of the beauties of being able, as a creative person, to create the parameters of what you want to talk about. The science and the climate science are a very important component of the overall project. …

“The question has been this idea of making portraits of these organisms and thinking of them as individuals. I think one of the most important things to do when dealing with climate science and climate change is to create a personal connection, and to create some relationship. That was my way of trying to forge a relationship to these organisms.” More here.

Llareta, 3,000 years old, Atacam desert, Chile

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Heard this interview today on the great environmental radio show Living on Earth. Tom Montgomery Fate talks about  trying to “live deliberately” like H.D.  Thoreau and connecting to nature and memories of his father in the woodland cabin he often escapes to. His book is  Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild.

In the elementary school Suzanne attended, all second-graders learn about Thoreau, and as a parent volounteer, I went with her class to the cabin site at Walden Pond. The children had a quiz sheet with questions like, “What sounds would Thoreau have heard in his cabin?” The teacher asks,  “An airplane?” (All the kids say, “No-o-o!”) When the Living on Earth interviewer asked the author about his own retreat being near a noisy highway and a short walk to a pub, I was surprised that he didn’t point out that a Boston-Fitchburg train ran right along the edge of Walden Pond in Thoreau’s day, and that the famous naturalist had an easy walk back home to Concord for a Sunday dinner with his mother. Fate did explain that the Walden mystique was all about a mindset and keeping a balance between what’s important and the often numbing dailiness of modern life.

Asakiyume comments: Living deliberately. Something that’s very important to me about that concept is the notion that you can do it anywhere, in any circumstances. I’ll grant that some circumstances make it really hard: if you’re in a job you hate, or a relationship you hate–basically, if there’s some part of your life that’s putting a huge negative drain on you–I think it’s very hard. But I do think that living deliberately can be done in a suburb, in the country, in a city… not just in the wilderness. I think Thoreau wanted to mark, in actual space, his separation from mundane daily life, and I understand that. But I think it’s the mindset, not the location, that’s important.  

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