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Posts Tagged ‘habitat’

Photo: AllAboutBirds.
The northern bobwhite quail has a hopeful story.

This is a comeback story. When habitat is lost through ignorance, knowledge can restore that habitat — and the wildlife that used to live there. Humans can learn.

At the Washington Post, Dana Hedgpeth reports on a charming bird that says its name.

‘I don’t want to shoot them anymore — I just like to see them around and hear them whistle,’ said a landowner

“In his teen years, when Joe Graves heard the unique call of quail on his family’s 800-acre farm in rural Virginia, he and his brother Clark would often go out with their dogs and hunt them.

“But due to development and a shift in agricultural practices, the birds that once flourished on their farm in Halifax County and in the state have become harder to find. Now Virginia wildlife experts, hunters and landowners, including the Graves brothers — who are now in their 70s — are working to restore quail habitats in an effort to increase their population.

“ ‘We want to see quail be a part of the Virginia landscape, so we’re trying to create habitats that are critical for their survival,’ said Graves.

“Northern bobwhite quail, which are roughly the size of a softball, have short legs, short wings and don’t fly much. From afar they look like small, plump chickens that walk with their chests puffed out. Male quail typically have a white coloring on their neck area. Quail are best known for their unique sound — similar to a sharp whistle, which they make to communicate with each other and as a way to attract a mate.

“Because they spend most of their life on the ground — much like pheasants and turkeys — quail need a mix of habitat: Honeysuckle and briers provide protection from predators, and they walk among shrubby patches, between weeds and grasses, pecking at seeds. In the fall and winter, quail typically live in flocks, or coveys, with about a dozen birds. They roost in a circle, shoulder-to-shoulder to stay warm, and face outward to watch for predators.

“When a snake, hawk or raccoon approaches, a quail’s defense mechanism is to escape by leaping into the air, flying fast for a few seconds, though they don’t go far — about half the length of a football field. The longer they’re in the air, the more exposed they are to a predator. …

“Quail habitats have been ruined by several factors, including encroaching development and farming practices that have changed because many landowners want neat, well-kept fields between planting seasons. Justin Folks, a wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, said simply, ‘Quail like weeds and brush, and farmers don’t.’

“Hudson Reese, 84, who owns 1,000 acres in Halifax County, said as a teen, he could regularly find eight coveys of quail on his farm, and now that’s down to one or two. ‘People have tractors, bush hogs and mowers now,’ Reese said. ‘They want to keep their property looking like a golf course. You don’t have quail on a golf course.’ …

“With the destruction of their habitats, the quail population in Virginia has plunged nearly 80 percent since the 1960s, and so too has interest in hunting them. …

“Nationally, experts said quail were once in the mid-Atlantic region, Southeast and Midwest but are now considered one of the top birds suffering a major population decline.

“ ‘It’s amazing we have any because our environment of modern, manicured land doesn’t suit them,’ [John Morgan, director of the National Bobwhite & Grassland Initiative at Clemson University] said. ‘They’re just hanging on and slowly slipping away.’

“While northern bobwhite quail are not considered an endangered species, they are a ‘species of concern,’ according to Jay Howell, a wildlife biologist and small-game project leader who works on the quail recovery team for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. He is worried that continued population declines could make them even more rare.

“Over the past 13 years, Virginia wildlife officials have made a concerted effort with hunters and more than 3,300 landowners to revive their population, and there are signs of success. Howell said the state’s quail population, though still low, is starting to reach equilibrium, and the rate of decline is slowing.

“Landowners are trying to improve quail habitat through controlled burns of forest areas. That process gets rid of pine needles, leaf debris and dead vegetation, leaving more easily walkable areas for quail. The more open ground encourages the growth of new plants and seeds and attracts insects — all of which in turn appeal to quail.

“There are similar efforts in neighboring Maryland. Officials have conducted timber harvests and controlled burns in Pocomoke State Forest since 2013, and last year quail were heard for the first time in decades, according to a 2022 report by the National Bobwhite and Grasslands Initiative, a group that promotes quail conservation.

“Overton McGehee, who owns 150 acres in Virginia’s Fluvanna County, is also working with state wildlife experts to bring quail back.

“ ‘Quail are one more of the species in Virginia that we don’t want to see disappear,’ he said. ‘They’re like a canary in a coal mine,’ he said. ‘If we don’t have the right habitat for quail, then we probably don’t have the right habitat for a variety of birds and pollinators — from whippoorwills and goldfinches to monarch butterflies and bumble bees.’ ”

When I was a kid, I was surprised that organizations of people who fish and hunt were great supporters of conservation, but it stands to reason they need places to hunt. Today I’m grateful for this example of how very different ideologies can work together for common goals.

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb.
Gabions are baskets of rocks that Valer Clark places in stream beds to hold onto infrequent and precious rainfall at her ranch in Agua Prieta, Mexico.

Today I’m passing along some ideas for conserving water in dry areas. They come from a rancher in Mexico but could work elsewhere.

At the environmental radio show Living on Earth, “Bobby Bascomb visits acclaimed land preservationist Valer Clark at her ranch, Cahone Bonito, in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Valer has been a steward of dried-up lands in Mexico and the southwestern US since she purchased this property in the 1970’s, and she’s dedicated herself to finding ways to restore and maintain it. …

“BOBBY BASCOMB: 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. Last year, I went to Mexico and 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. Before the arrival of settlers the region didn’t have much water but there were some dense grasslands. Forests grew alongside rivers that meandered across the open landscape. And wetlands popped up every 20 or 30 miles along those rivers. But 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.

“Valer [and] her husband at the time were traveling in Mexico and fell in love with the austere land. The wildness of the open parched landscape drew them in.

“CLARK: We just came across this ranch, by accident. And he said, Well, why don’t we bid on it, and I bid so low, I didn’t think we’d ever get it. … 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. …

“BASCOMB: Valer eventually bought and rehabilitated some 150,000 acres of land in northern Mexico and the Southwest US. [Her] work here has been transformative, says Ron Pulliam.

“RON PULLIUM: There are four great geological forces: there’s volcanism, plate tectonics, there’s erosion. And there’s Valer. …

“BASCOMB: Ron is an ecologist, formerly with the US Department of Interior, and founder of the nonprofit Borderlands Restoration Network. … I pile into a pickup truck with Ron. Valer, in her own truck, leads the way out of Douglas, Arizona and across the border to Agua Prieta, … We leave behind the maquiladora factories in the duty-free trade zone of Agua Prieta and drive an hour southeast to Valer’s ranch. Pavement and two-story buildings give way to dusty soil and brittle pale green grass. To me, as a New Englander, the landscape looks rather inhospitable, but Ron says this is prime cattle grazing territory.

“PULLIAM: Generally speaking now, the stocking ratios are on the order of one cow to one hundred or two hundred acres in this area. And then think of around the turn of the century, 100 times that number of cows. … 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. … She takes me on a walk around her property. …

“CLARK: This is what we call a gabion, which is a wire basket that is filled with rocks. …

“BASCOMB: 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. That’s 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.

“CLARK: And that sponge holds the water. And so the water, instead of just whipping through fast, when it rains, 30% of it’s held back and goes into the ground. And so it filters down very slowly. …

“BASCOMB: Those pools of water are home to insects, birds, rare frogs, and endangered fish species.

“CLARK: And trees, all these trees coming up, they’re a result of having water here. … Some of them grow 10 feet a year. … We’ve seen ocelot, we’ve seen bobcats and lions and bears and coatimundis and javelinas, ring tailed cats.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Stanley Forman.
A bear seen in Middleton in August represents the surprising Massachusetts black-bear comeback.

I’m sure you know it’s Fat Bear Week and time to vote on your favorite grizzly based on how successful the bear has been fattening up to hibernate.

Everybody loves bears — almost as much as dinosaurs. The advantage is that bears are still around. In fact, in today’s story we learn about a bear comeback. One caveat: it’s not safe to play with bears, anymore than with dinosaurs.

Billy Baker at the Boston Globe reports that black bears, once nearly extinct in Massachusetts, have staged their comeback without any help from wildlife officers.

“The story of the black bear that is coming to a suburb near you begins one day in the fall of 1969,” Baker reports, “when two bears showed up along a road in the northern Berkshires, in the tiny town of Florida, and appeared to be drunk.

“Back then, black bears were barely hanging on in Massachusetts, at the losing end of a 12,000-year fight with humans and [development], and the tiny population of survivors was believed to live somewhere nearby, along the border with Vermont.

“Still, these two bears were different. They hung around, happy for the crowds that came to watch them. Game wardens said the ‘tipsy bears,’ as they became known, were drunk from too many apples fermenting in their bellies.

Wardens even went so far as to briefly close the hunting season to give the bears time to ‘sober up’ before someone took a shot at them.

“Ultimately, it turned out the bears were comfortable around humans because they were semi-tame, raised by a guy in Shelburne as a roadside attraction for his gift shop on the Mohawk Trail, then released when he couldn’t afford to feed them. But all the fanfare forced the state’s wildlife experts to acknowledge that ‘we didn’t really know anything about bears in Massachusetts, other than there are some,’ according to Jim Cardoza, then a young biologist for MassWildlife.

“Thus began a five-decade effort to understand and conserve black bears in the state, a project that has succeeded beyond most people’s wildest dreams. …

“Starting in 1970, just after the ‘tipsy bears,’ the state shortened the bear hunting season to a single week, from 10 weeks since the early 1950s, and tasked Cardoza with figuring out how many bears lived in Massachusetts and the history that brought them there.

” ‘I was able to learn that at the time of Colonial settlement, bears were widespread in the state, except for very Southeastern Massachusetts and the islands,’ Cardoza said. But as settlement advanced inland to the Connecticut River Valley and the Berkshires, bears saw their forest habitat turned into farms, and their status lowered from king to pest; farmers could, and still can, legally kill any bear destroying their crops, at any time.

“They nearly disappeared in the decades between the end of the Civil War and the onset of hunting regulations in the early 20th century. By the mid-1970s, when Cardoza finished his study, he estimated there were only 80 to 100 bears in the state, all in the Berkshires. With such a small base, conservation goals were modest.

“ ‘The dream would have been to see them get established in western Franklin and Hampshire County,’ he said, but worried even that was a stretch. It wasn’t.

“By the early 90s, bears were thriving in the western part of the state, with an estimated 1,000 throughout the Berkshires and nearby hill towns. At the time, the Connecticut River was seen as a natural barrier to the east for all but the most adventurous young males. Yet over the next three decades, as the bear population in Western Massachusetts became more concentrated, females crossed the river in search of unoccupied territories, spreading throughout Central Mass., crossing endless natural and man-made barriers, including highways here, there, and everywhere.

“By 2011, the last time the state attempted a proper bear census, their numbers had grown to about 5,000. More incredible was how they were doing it, showing time and again an incredible resourcefulness, especially among breeding females, who figured out how to raise young in the woods behind a Target. …

“ ‘The expansion east is just a natural phenomenon of population expansion,’ said John Organ, a conservation scholar and former University of Massachusetts professor who recently joined the board of MassWildlife. ‘Bears are territorial, so those bears that are entering the population are looking for new unoccupied territories, and much of the state has returned to habitat where they can do quite well, even into Eastern Massachusetts.’ …

“If there’s anything biologists have learned in these five decades of studying bears, it’s that there is no overestimating their resourcefulness.

” ‘We had very little to do with [their success]. Bears are just extraordinary animals,’ said John McDonald, a professor at Westfield State University who did his doctoral research on Massachusetts black bears three decades ago. ‘What’s been satisfying is to see our predictions come true.’ …

“They’ve learned to live around people almost entirely without incident. The reverse cannot be said; with no natural predators, humans remain the chief source of bear mortality. Between 25 and 65 are killed by vehicle collisions each year, according to state environmental police records, but the actual number is likely much higher.

“Hunters now have three seasons when they can target black bear, but it remains a fringe pursuit, largely due to the extreme difficulty, after the state outlawed the use of traps, snares, bait, and dogs to hunt them. Most of the 200-250 bears harvested each year are by opportunistic hunters in tree stands waiting for deer.

“Yet as the number of bears increases, MassWildlife has stepped up efforts to get more hunters into the woods pursuing them, both to thin the population and to keep them from losing their fear of humans. …

“The best way to keep the bears at bay is exceedingly simple, specialists said: Get rid of birdfeeders and put electric fencing around chicken coops. They are the two biggest attractants to backyards and hardly anyone had either a few decades ago.”

Oh, dear! Give up my birdfeeder? I am a block from the train and my town is almost urban. Probably I will never see a bear here. If I do, good-bye birdfeeder. More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Regional Conservation Needs.
Wood turtles are said to make nice pets. Too nice for their own good: their reputation leads to poaching.

There’s a popular kind of turtle that’s losing habitat, like so many species these days. Here’s a story about a man who was determined to preserve his own land for these turtles, particularly for one specimen — his friend Stumpy.

Sadie Dingfelder reports at the Washington Post, “With his brow furrowed, Tom, 70, stomps on the damp leaf litter — thump, thump, thump, thump — and then we wait. A woodpecker cackles; bluebells tremble in the breeze. Stumpy is nowhere to be found. …

“A wild turtle, Stumpy has been meeting up with Tom in these West Virginia woods every spring for more than 30 years. Like his fellow wood turtles, Stumpy spends his winters brumating (the reptile equivalent of hibernating) in a clear, fast-moving stream. As days warm, he emerges from his aquatic home and roams the nearby woods in search of food ⁠— first tender leaves, then flowers and, finally, berries. Early on Stumpy’s circuit is Tom’s former house, where the human tosses him huge, juicy strawberries — months before the wild berries are ready to eat.

“It took a while for Tom to figure out Stumpy’s species, because Stumpy’s shell is worn and scuffed. Usually, wood turtles have gorgeous shells that appear to have been hand-carved from mahogany.

‘He was already old when I first saw him, so he must be really old now,’ says Tom. ‘Of course, he could say the same thing about me.’

“Curious, personable and uncommonly pretty, wood turtles are highly sought-after as pets, says Andrew Walde, chief operating officer of the Turtle Survival Alliance, whom I called after my first visit to Stumpy Acres. This combination of characteristics makes them vulnerable to poachers, who sell them as pets. ‘Whenever anything gets published about a particular population, that population is done for,’ Walde says. (To protect Stumpy and the other wood turtles from poachers, we aren’t publishing his exact location or his human friends’ last names.)

“The eastern panhandle of West Virginia is among wood turtles’ last strongholds, Walde says. Across most of their range, they are in steep decline. Indeed, half of the world’s 357 turtle species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, poaching and other human pastimes. This is an animal that survived not one, but two mass-extinction events. …

“Tom no longer lives in Stumpy’s territory. Last spring, he sold his house and moved to a more remote spot, high on a nearby mountain. He loved being by the river, but the pandemic brought an influx of tourists and new homeowners. The noise and traffic were bad enough, but worst of all was their aggressive landscaping.

‘One family clear-cut all the way down to the river,’ Tom says. ‘They didn’t want any brush or shrubbery — they are afraid of snakes or this or that — and they kinda destroyed the habitat.’

“He was determined to find a buyer who would be a good steward of the land — not just for vague environmental reasons, but for Stumpy’s sake, too. Luckily, the first person who came to look at the house fit the bill. Tommy, a 28-year-old computer programmer from D.C., told Tom about the sea turtle conservation project he had worked on one summer in Costa Rica, and he promised not to clear-cut the property to get a river view or better internet access. …

“Does Stumpy represent nature? Survival against the odds? The relentless ravages of time? Tom dismisses all these possibilities. ‘Stumpy is just Stumpy,’ Tom says. ‘He’s an individual. That’s what makes him special.’

“We drive to Tommy’s house and commence stomping. Stumpy should really be out of hibernation by now, but he’s not in their meeting spot near a large fallen tree, and he’s not on the berm by the river. He’s not basking on his basking log, and neither is he napping beneath the papaw trees. …

“If you spend time outdoors, you’ll eventually see something brutal, and you’ll be forced to accept it with equanimity, because nature is obviously beyond our judgment. Loving nature also feels a little tragic, because no matter how much you care about it, it will never care about you.

“But perhaps I’m wrong, because suddenly I hear a rustle in the leaves. Tom makes an excited sound. ‘There he is!’ he says, pointing. About 10 feet in front of us, a little brown turtle is running on his tiptoes — who knew turtles could run? And even though I’m closer and I’m also carrying strawberries, he’s beelining straight to Tom. …

“Pretty soon, Stumpy’s face is covered in pink pulp, and he’s got half a strawberry hanging from his chin. His species may be threatened, his habitat may be imperiled, but in this moment Stumpy seems delighted. ‘He’s such a messy eater,’ says Tom. ‘Do you see that? What a pig.’ Stumpy usually hangs out for a few weeks, making intermittent appearances, Tom says. As to where he goes afterward, no one knows — but Tom has a theory. ‘Maybe he visits lots of people, up and down the river, and we all think he’s ours.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Living Habitats and National Wildlife Federation.
The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing should be completed over the Route 101 freeway on the western side of Los Angeles County by 2023, allowing mountain lions to easily cross eight lanes of traffic.

As the human species userps habitat from other species, there are at least a few efforts to mitigate the damage. At Curbed, Alissa Walker reports on California’s plans to build a freeway overpass that by 2023 should substantially expand the habitat of local mountain lions. It will be the largest animal crossing anywhere.

At the Guardian, Patrick Greenfield has an overview of safe passages around the world for elephants, tigers, sloths, and more.

Greenfield writes, “From a tiny railway bridge for dormice in the UK to elk, deer and bears benefiting from a slew of new animal crossings in Colorado, wildlife bridges are having a moment. …

“In January [2021], we reported on Sweden’s plans to build a series of ‘renoducts‘ to help reindeer traverse the country’s main roads. … In southern California, work is due to begin on the largest wildlife bridge in the world in 2022, to connect isolated mountain lion populations north of Los Angeles that are becoming dangerously inbred. [And there’s $350m of the] $1.2tn infrastructure package for wildlife bridges to lessen the multibillion annual cost of collisions.

” ‘Ten years ago, wildlife bridges were experimental. We didn’t know whether they would work or not. Now they’ve shown they get huge reductions in collisions. In some cases, 85% to 99% reductions,’ says Rob Ament, a road ecology expert at Montana State University. ‘You can design them for many species. Even out in the plains, we’re getting moose crossings in North Dakota.’

“Wildlife bridges are found on every continent: there is an elephant underpass near Mount Kenya; the Netherlands has a network of ecoducts that may help the country’s first wolf pack in more than 140 years gain a foothold across the densely populated country; suspended water pipes are helping Java’s endangered lorises; [below]; and a bison bridge may help the animals cross the Mississippi.

“Here are five projects from around the world helping animals make their way.

“Alligator Alley, Florida. The 129km (80-mile) stretch of road between Naples and Fort Lauderdale bisects the Everglades, an enormous wetland that is home to thousands of alligators, deer and the endangered Florida panther. … Dozens of underpasses and fencing help wildlife navigate the road.

A camera trapping exercise found panthers, black bears, skunks, deer, bats, birds and even fish use the crossings. …

” ‘Fencing is critical along Alligator Alley. It is a 10ft-high chain link fence with three-strand barbed wire on top. That’s to keep the wildlife off the roadway and on the crossing,’ says Brent Setchell, a design engineer at Florida Department of Transportation, who identifies potential crossing sites by monitoring road collisions with panthers and bears. ‘The fascinating thing is we just started monitoring the crossings four or five years ago. We found an abundance of wildlife.’

‘The tunnel of love’ on the Great Alpine Road, Australia. Stretching through the Victorian Alps in south-east Australia, the Great Alpine Road posed an existential threat to a colony of critically endangered mountain pygmy possums. Even though there are only about 150 of the marsupials on Mount Little Higginbotham, testing revealed genetic differences between sub-groups separated by the road, which are also threatened by fire, disappearing food sources and invasive species. Conservationists decided to build a ‘tunnel of love’ between the isolated groups to improve mixing and strengthen their chances of survival. …

“India’s tiger corridor. India’s first dedicated wildlife underpasses were a hard-fought victory for environmental campaigners. The nine crossings in the Pench tiger reserve were a court-ordered mitigation measure on the country’s longest road, the 4,112km National Highway 44, which runs down the middle of the country. Collisions with big cats still happen on the multi-lane motorway, but environmentalists say the underpasses have highlighted the need for more wildlife crossings on India’s road network. A 2019 camera trapping exercise found at least 18 species use the crossings, including tigers, wild dogs, sloth bears, civets and leopards. …

“Bhutan’s elephant crossing. Nearly 700 Asian elephants roam Bhutan’s forest on the eastern edge of the Himalayas. The small Buddhist country sandwiched between China and India is known for its dramatic landscapes and environmental leadership, as one of the few carbon negative countries in the world. On the 183km east-west motorway, Bhutan’s first elephant underpasses were constructed to help the threatened animals move through the landscape. Monitoring from 2015 to 2017 found that 70 groups of elephants were recorded near the passes, with three-quarters passing through the structures.

“Sloth bridges in Costa Rica. Wildlife passes are not always bridges or underpasses. In Costa Rica, canopy bridges are used to help sloths, monkeys and other wildlife cross roads to combat collisions, dog attacks and electrocutions on power lines. The rope bridges, which cost about [$200], are installed by the Sloth Conservation Foundation in areas where rainforest has been interrupted by human development on the country’s Caribbean coast. Crossing roads is often deadly for the slow-moving creatures and the canopy bridges also help combat inbreeding. ‘People look at them and think that they’re so poorly equipped to survive because you see them crossing roads and trying to move around and they look so awkward and useless,’ Rebecca Cliffe, head of the Sloth Conservation Foundation, told Bloomberg earlier this year. ‘But if you put them in a well-connected rainforest, then they are masters of survival.’ ”

Read the Guardian story here. Want more? The article at Curbed on the world’s longest animal bridge is here. Both of these publications are free although donations are encouraged.

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Photo: Hugh Warwick.
Hugh Warwick has collected over a million signatures calling for legislation to require planners and construction companies to create “hedgehog highways”

When we lived in Minneapolis, we had friends with a pet hedgehog called Hazel. I didn’t know if there were any rules about keeping hedgehogs as pets in those days. All I knew was that hedgehogs were adorable. And the way they curled up in a ball when anxious reminded me of myself. Or an ostrich.

Time to give up our ostrich behavior and do something about hedgehogs’ loss of habitat. Shafi Musaddique has a report at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Jo Wilkinson realized she was losing her students’ attention, so she turned to an old friend: the hedgehog. As a sustainability and engagement officer at Britain’s University of Sheffield, she wanted to rally students around sustainable foods and energy conservation. But it could be hard to hold students’ interest. That was until she proposed building a ‘hedgehog safari’ trail on campus. …

“ ‘I recognized straightaway that hedgehogs captured everyone’s imagination,’ says Ms. Wilkinson. ‘There’s something about them that does that to people.’

“Her effort to expand hedgehog habitats at Sheffield earned British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) funding in 2019. … Within 18 months, she had a fully funded national project that has certified 110 ‘hedgehog-friendly’ campuses across the country. …

“Britain’s hedgehogs need all the help they can get. The country’s ‘red lists’ categorize species based on how threatened they are. Hedgehogs joined the lists in 2020, officially classified as vulnerable to extinction. But advocates and organizations like Ms. Wilkinson and BHPS, which maintains her Hedgehog Friendly Campus accreditation program, are working to save the iconic British garden dweller.

“Researchers estimate there were about 1.5 million hedgehogs across England, Scotland, and Wales collectively in the mid-1990s.

The population size is difficult to keep track of, but studies show that British hedgehog numbers in rural areas have declined by 50% since 2000, though in cities and towns the decline is closer to 30%.

“ ‘It’s almost as if hedgehogs are moving out and doing the opposite of humans,’ says Ms. Wilkinson. ‘They’re moving into towns and cities because perhaps those places are providing them a bit of a refuge.’ Hedgehogs tend to follow people, she says, and have found that they can scavenge on cat and dog food in gardens. …

“That’s become more valuable as rural areas have lost wildflowers, bramble patches, and leaf and log piles in the countryside. Pesticides from intensive, modern farming practices and ‘habitat fragmentation’ – the ‘chopping up’ of Britain’s landscape into smaller pieces – have added to the rural challenges facing hedgehogs, says Hugh Warwick, author of four books dedicated to the spiky critters.

“The self-dubbed hedgehog connoisseur leads the fight in finding solutions to the destruction of hedgehog habitats due to ‘manicured gardens.’ From his garden shed in Oxford, Mr. Warwick has drummed up over a million signatures for a petition calling for British planning law requiring all new developments to include ‘hedgehog highways’: holes to allow hedgehogs to move freely between gardens.

“Mr. Warwick – once described by a British politician as the ‘Lorax of hedgehogs’ in reference to Dr. Seuss’ literary character who ‘speaks for the trees’ and fights suburban development – has managed to convince the government to change planning law guidance through his petition and online campaigning. …

“[The] hamlet of Kirtlington has already devised a hedgehog highway featuring eccentric holes, miniature stairs, and knocked-down walls that knit gardens together. Villagers took a map of the hamlet and spent time working out the minimum number of holes to connect a maximum number of gardens. A map of the hedgehog highway helps tourists trace the paths of the tiny inhabitants. … Recognizing the threat toward one of the U.K.’s favorite creatures is an opportunity for people to reconnect with their surroundings.

“For Ryan Wallace, sustainability officer at the University of London, which is part of the Hedgehog Friendly Campus initiative, that means ensuring hedgehogs thrive in the most unlikely of places: central London. Though surrounded by Regency-era houses and within walking distance of busy tourist attractions, the public squares of Bloomsbury offer overgrown bushes and ample foliage. That makes them – and the neighboring university – fertile ground for hedgehogs, though none were seen last year.

“ ‘They can travel up to 2 miles through the streets of London,’ says Mr. Wallace. … ‘Hedgehogs have loads of benefits people don’t realize. They keep the slug population down, and they’re natural pest killers,’ he says. ‘They’re also a good indicator of how well the natural environment is doing.’ …

“ ‘If there’s a space in your garden where you can let the weeds grow, do that and stop cutting the grass,’ says Ms. Wilkinson. ‘Let nature be nature.’ …

“[At] Nottingham Trent University, a ‘bronze-winning’ Hedgehog Friendly Campus … the school’s sustainable development projects officer has plans to add special hedgehog accommodations like ramps to provide safe exit from ponds. ‘They can swim really well, but they get tired,’ she says. ‘If they can’t climb out, they’ll get into trouble.’ …

“For many advocates, hedgehog conservation isn’t just about the survival of a species. It’s a chance to connect with bigger environmental issues such as climate change. ‘You can start with hedgehogs, because that doesn’t scare people off. Everybody has an anecdote about a hedgehog.’ “

Do you?

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Christian Jungeblodt/The Guardian.
City wildflower meadow with central Berlin’s skyline in the background. It’s all about love for pollinators.

The other day, Asakiyume pointed me to a charming thread on Twitter about volunteers in San Francisco who move bee swarms to safer places.

@Annaleen tweeted, “I have an amazing and wholesome story about a wayward swarm of bees who decided to take up residence on a lamp post in the middle of a residential neighborhood in San Francisco. … love that my city has a volunteer bee swarm emergency hotline! The dispatcher said that exterminators generally call them when they find a swarm. This city is very ‘pro life’ for bees, he told us. When I imagine a better world, this is the kind of experience I think of.”

Meanwhile, in Germany …

Philip Oltermann has this report at the Guardian. “To escape the Berlin bustle on a summer afternoon, all that Derek O’Doyle and his dog Frida have to do is lap the noisy building site outside their inner-city apartment, weave their way through the queue in front of the ice-cream van, and squeeze between two gridlocked lorries to cross over Baerwaldstrasse.

“Bordered by a one-way traffic system lies a bucolic 1,720 sq metre haven as colourful as a Monet landscape: blue cornflowers, red poppies, white cow parsley and purple field scabious dot a sea of nettles and wild grass as armies of insects buzz through the air. Two endangered carpenter bees, larger than their honey bee cousins and with pitch-black abdomens, gorge themselves on a bush of yellow gorse.

“The mini-wilderness on Baerwaldstrasse is one of more than 100 wildflower meadows that have been planted in Germany’s largest cities over the past three years and are coming into full bloom this summer to transform urban landscapes.

“Berlin has set aside [$1.79 million] to seed and nurture more than 50 wild gardens over a five-year period, while Munich has set up about 30 meadows since 2018. There are similar initiatives in Stuttgart, Leipzig and Braunschweig. Hamburg, which started the trend in 2015, this month unveiled the first of a series of bee-friendly flower beds atop bus shelters.

“Juliana Schlaberg of Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) said her NGO was receiving more and more requests from city residents who either wanted to grow their own wildflower patches or pressure their council to stop cutting green spaces into manicured lawns. …

“The rain-heavy start to this year’s German summer has created a bloom so spectacular that many a doubter has been swayed. The organisers behind the scheme deliberately mixed in endangered flowers that take two years to come into their prime with populist Akzeptanzpflanzen (‘acceptance plants’) like poppies and cornflowers, which blossom after only a year. Three years on, the full floral array is on display.

” ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ said O’Doyle. ‘It’s become an incredibly attractive addition to our neighbourhood. You experience the seasons in a whole new way.’ Yet aesthetics are a mere bonus for a scheme with serious purpose: the protection of Germany’s population of wild bees.

The country is home to about 580 species of wild bee, of which an estimated 300 can be found in Berlin. More than half are endangered or on the verge of extinction.

“A 2017 study by the Entomological Society of Krefeld showed a 75% decline in total flying insect biomass in protected areas in Germany since 1989, with the use of insecticides, exposure to toxic exhaust fumes and above all a loss of diverse habitats cited as reasons for the drastic decline.

“The findings inspired a 2019 ‘save the bees’ petition in Bavaria that became the most successful in the southern state’s history, nudging politicians to pass into law its demands without putting them to a referendum first. A similar petition will be handed over to the parliament of the large state of North-Rhine Westphalia in July.

“Christian Schmid-Egger, who coordinates Berlin’s wildflower meadows on behalf of the German Wildlife Foundation, said any conservation effort would ultimate require broader changes in agricultural practices: ‘If we are going to save the bees, we won’t be doing it in cities.”’ …

“Unlike the hive-building honey bee, wild bees are solitary creatures always on the look out for new temporary accommodation. … Others have picky dietary requirements: one Berlin species of mason bee, osmia adunca, only collects pollen off viper’s bugloss, a type of plant that only grows in dry grasslands and waste spaces.” More at the Guardian, here.

Asakiyume understood that Annalee’s final statement in the Twitter thread on bee swarms is more or less my philosophy: “Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to glimpse a better world in the present. It’s like looking through a pinhole at something huge and distant and almost imperceptible. But you can see just enough of it that you know it’s possible, one day.”

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Photo: National Wildlife Federation.
More people are realizing that the 17 million acres of US roadsides are vital sanctuaries for pollinators and other wildlife.

Back in the day, when my mother was active in the Rockland County Conservation Association, I learned more about preventing soil erosion using Crown vetch along the new Thruway than any normal kid should be expected to know. Today the plant is considered invasive and the vision for highway landscaping has evolved.

A recent report from the radio show Living on Earth offers the latest thinking.

“Some 17 million acres of green space line US highways and byways, and it’s vital habitat for pollinators, as well as small voles and mice and birds. Bonnie Harper-Lore, a restoration ecologist formerly with the Federal Highway Administration, tells host Steve Curwood about the value they offer to wildlife and how President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, helped uplift this elongated haven for creatures and wildflowers.

“CURWOOD: Clover is a crucial source of nectar for many pollinators, especially bees. And as national pollinator week is coming up on June 21, it’s a good time to think about the many ways we can help our endangered pollinators, starting with our highways. It turns out that medians and roadsides offer miles and miles of vital habitats for many pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Bonnie Harper-Lore was a restoration ecologist for the Federal Highway Administration, and is a member of the Commission on Minnesota Resources. Welcome to Living on Earth, Bonnie. … We’re talking about those strips of vegetation along the highways. There’s often commercial or residential property right behind them. So, nationwide, just how much of this habitat is there?

“HARPER-LORE: Well, I think the listeners will be surprised to find out that the area between the pavement and the right of way fence on county, state, and interstate highways adds up to a total of 17 million acres, possibly millions of acres of conservation opportunity. … I always saw roadsides from the beginning of my career 30 years ago as an opportunity to benefit wildlife, small wildlife, small birds, small mammals, and migrating birds also use these same corridors. So if they have places to find food and cover, they are all going to do better and their populations will continue to hold where we need them to hold.

“CURWOOD: By the way, I also understand that this roadside habitat has some of the most endangered habitat in various areas – like there are parts of the original prairie that are protected alongside roads, sort of by accident. You can sometimes find real old-growth trees. I mean, how much of a treasure trove is this territory?

“HARPER-LORE: Well that’s just it: We don’t have a complete inventory of all of our roadside vegetation.

I would indeed like to see [an inventory] because I think we would be surprised at how many remnants of these old forests, old prairies, old wetlands even do exist.

“We began doing a bit of that inventory in 1993 in California – found 19 remnants within a very short time and began protecting them, managing differently, not mowing and spraying as they had in the past. So there are some of these. I mean, it’s surprising that they do exist. I know Florida has also some endangered, I believe, pitcher plants that are growing in their rights of ways and they are now watching over them differently than they have in the past. So if we know they’re there we can do differently.

“CURWOOD: So, give us the big picture as to who are the partners in these pollinator conservation efforts.

“HARPER-LORE: Well, first of all, before President Obama visited Mexico and talked to President Nieto and Prime Minister Harper from Canada and they agreed to work together to protect Monarchs – before that point, there were actually a few states that were doing pollinator-focused efforts. Wisconsin comes to mind in that the Karner Blue butterfly is an endangered species, and they actually put together, I believe, a 20-member partnership quite a few years ago to protect the Karner Blue. [That] partnership was mostly private sector, but some state and county agencies, too. … Every state Department of Transportation basically does its own thing, makes its own priorities, but now that there’s been … a reauthorization act that actually supports pollinators, all of the states will start moving in that direction, especially if they know the public is interested. So public support needs to be there.

“CURWOOD: Tell me about the multistate project known as the I-35 corridor, and what’s been done in terms of Monarch protection there? …

“HARPER-LORE: Back in 1993, a group of six states asked the Federal Highway Administration, where I worked at the time, to work together and get some funding to support their effort to actually restore prairie along the I-35 corridor and to protect any remnants that already existed there. … It runs from Minnesota through Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, therefore connecting Mexico to the edge of Canada and of course that’s where the Monarchs fly.

“CURWOOD: What other wildlife uses this roadside habitat? …

“HARPER-LORE: I’ve watched hawks, all kinds of raptors, sitting on the light standards along highways and signposts just waiting for lunch to materialize down there in the vegetation on the roadside. Yes, they do well there because there are lots of mice and voles, other small things possible, plus one that actually motivated reduced mowing here in the Midwest, pheasants and other waterfowl, different kinds of ducks will nest in these rights of ways. …

“It’s because of Lady Bird Johnson that my job even existed with the Federal Highway Administration. I was working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation establishing their wildflower program back in the 1980s when I got an invitation from Mrs. Johnson to come visit with four other states who were also interested in planting wildflowers and we sat and talked with her for two days, and the thing we didn’t know she would do — because she asked us what did we need to be able to do more — within that same year, she saw to it that there was an amendment to the transportation bill that requires all states to use certain percent, not a large enough percent, but a certain percent of their budgets on native wildflowers.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: National Park Service
Female mountain lions (cougars) are an increasingly common sight in the mountains surrounding Southern California cities.

I like the idea of sharing space with wildlife, but there are limits. Not sure I want too many skunks in my suburban backyard or even one cougar. Richard Conniff at Yale360 explains how coexistence is working in a variety of people-inhabited places around the world.

“One morning not long ago, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka,” he writes, “I traveled with a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist on a switchback route up and over the high ridge of the Western Ghats. Our itinerary loosely followed the corridor connecting Bhadra Tiger Reserve with Kudremakh National Park 30 miles to the south.

“In places, we passed beautiful shade coffee plantations, with an understory of coffee plants, and pepper vines — a second cash crop — twining up the trunks of the shade trees. Coffee plantations managed in this fashion, connected to surviving patches of natural forest, ‘provide continuous camouflage for the predators’ — especially tigers moving through by night, my guide explained, and wildlife conflict was minimal.

“Elsewhere, though, the corridor narrowed to a thread winding past sprawling villages, and conservationists played a double game, part hand holding to help people live with large predators on their doorsteps, part legal combat to keep economic interests from nibbling into the wildlife corridor from both sides. It was a microcosm of how wildlife hangs on these days, not just in India, but almost everywhere in the world.

“For conservationists, protecting biodiversity has in recent years become much less about securing new protected areas in pristine habitat and more about making room for wildlife on the margins of our own urbanized existence.  Conservation now often means modifying human landscapes to do double-duty as wildlife habitat — or, more accurately, to continue functioning for wildlife even as humans colonize them for their homes, highways, and farms. …

“Corridor protection on the grand scale has achieved remarkable results, notably with the 2,000-mile long Yellowstone-to-Yukon Conservation Initiative. It aims to connect protected areas and to ensure safe passage for elk, grizzly bears, and other wildlife across 500,000 square miles of largely shared habitat, both public and privately owned.

“At the same time, research by Nick Haddad, a conservation biologist at the University of Michigan’s W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, has demonstrated substantial improvements in biodiversity from corridors as little as 25 yards in width, well within the range, he says, of ‘what’s reasonable in urban landscapes.’

Indeed, a new study from northern Botswana has found that elephants traveling from Chobe National Park to the nearby Chobe River will use corridors as small as 10 feet wide to traverse newly urbanized areas.

“Urban areas now increasingly recognize that it’s cheaper to protect clean water by buying up natural habitat both within their own borders and at the source, instead of installing expensive technology to purify it after the fact.  It’s not just about New York City purchasing huge chunks of the Catskills. North Carolina’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund, for instance, has also protected 500,000 acres of watershed and riverside habitat over the past 20 years — with enormous incidental benefits for wildlife. …

“Scientists were stunned in October by the report [that] that over a 27-year period, from 1989 to 2016, the population of flying insects at nature reserves across Germany had collapsed, down by 76 percent overall, and 82 percent in the peak mid-summer flying season. Most of the likely causes — including habitat fragmentation, deforestation, monoculture farming, and overuse of pesticides — were factors outside the borders of these ostensibly protected areas.”

For more on global efforts to protect biodiversity near human habitation (and the unlikely entities getting on board, such as power companies, highway systems, and active train systems), click here. You can also learn ways of protecting beneficial insects outside your home at my friend Jean’s Meadowmaking website, here.

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Here’s a guy who didn’t just ring his hands when he learned that a magnificent butterfly species was endangered in his part of California; he decided to do something about it.

Zachary Crockett reports at Vox, “It begins its life as a tiny red egg, hatches into an enormous orange-speckled caterpillar, and then — after a gestation period of up to two years — emerges as an iridescent blue beauty. Brimming with oceanic tones, the creature’s wings are considered by collectors to be some of the most magnificent in North America.

“For centuries, the California pipevine swallowtail — or, Battus philenor hirsuta — called San Francisco home. As development increased in the early 20th century, the butterfly slowly began to disappear. Today it is a rare sight.

“But one man’s DIY efforts are starting to bring the butterfly back.”

Tim Wong, a 28-year-old aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, tells Crockett, ” ‘I first was inspired to raise butterflies when I was in elementary school … We raised painted lady butterflies in the classroom, and I was amazed at the complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult.’ …

“Years later, he learned about the pipevine swallowtail — which had become increasingly rare in San Francisco — and he made it his personal mission to bring the butterfly back.

“He researched the butterfly and learned that when in caterpillar form, it only feeds on one plant: the California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), an equivalently rare flora in the city.

” ‘Finally, I was able to find this plant in the San Francisco Botanical Garden [in Golden Gate Park],’ Wong says. ‘And they allowed me to take a few clippings of the plant.’

“Then in his own backyard, using self-taught techniques, he created a butterfly paradise.”

Read more here. It sure takes persistence.

Here’s hoping an elementary school project in 2016 will lead to the rescue of another endangered species down the road.

Photo: Tim Wong (@timtast1c)

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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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Time for another animal story. Edie Freedman has a surprising one about elephants, African farmers, and bees at a new-to-me website called O’Reilly.

“Although elephant populations have increased since the 1970s, the human population has grown even more quickly,” she writes “cutting the elephants’ habitat up into farms and roads. The elephants’ key migratory routes have been cut off in many places. As result, they regularly break through fences, where they eat and destroy crops. When the farmers confront elephants on their property, things don’t generally end well for either party.

“Lucy King, a researcher working with Save the Elephants, has spent many years investigating the problems involved in crop protection. Her goal is to find long-term solutions that reduce the frequency of human-elephant conflicts—and that can be financed and managed by local farmers.

“As Ms. King looked into the elephants’ habits for any clues to keeping them out of fields planted with crops, she noticed that they tended to avoid acacia trees with active nests of African bees. Elephants, it so happens, are afraid of the bees, and will move away from an area and warn other elephants if they hear bees buzzing nearby.

“And so the beehive fence was invented. The fences are simple, inexpensive, and easy for the farmers to build and maintain. … The hives are hung at chest height, which makes it easy for the farmer to harvest the honey, while also making them highly visible to the elephants.

“The hives, connected by wires,  are hung every 10 meters around the perimeter of a field. The farmers leave wide pathways between their crops so elephants can move past the fences along their migratory routes. If an elephant makes contact with one of the hives or the connecting wires, the beehives all along the fence will swing and release the bees.”

More here.

What a terrific solution! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Photo: oreilly.com

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Once again, Andrew Sullivan provides me with a thought to chew on. I had heard of building tunnels under highways to let wildlife maintain their historic routes, but  an Orion magazine article on the topic includes an overpass.

Andrew Blechman wrote the article. “When the Montana Department of Transportation approached the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes about widening the portion of U.S. Highway 93 that bisects the Flathead Indian Reservation, the tribes resisted. They first wanted assurances that any highway expansion would address the spirit that defines this region of prime wildlife habitat and natural wonders. The primary goal for the tribes was to mitigate the impact of the road on wildlife.

“While people view highways as a means of getting from one place to another, to wildlife they are just the opposite: a barrier….

“Collaboration between the tribes and highway engineers, with help from Montana State University and Defenders of Wildlife, led to the creation of the most progressive and extensive wildlife-oriented road design program in the country.

“The 56-mile segment of Highway 93 now contains 41 fish and wildlife underpasses and overpasses, as well as other protective measures to avoid fatalities. As creatures become accustomed to the crossings, usage is increasing—at last count, the number was in the tens of thousands. Motion cameras have captured does teaching their young to run back and forth through the crossings, much like human mothers teach their children to safely cross a street.” More at Orion.

See the overpass below.

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An old, falling-apart film of a heath hen has been unearthed.

Why is that thrilling? The heath hen is extinct.

Writes Carolyn Y. Johnson in the Boston Globe, “The bird stamps its feet on the ground, taking mincing dance steps through the corn stubble. Neck feathers flare like a headdress, and the male puffs out his neck, making a hollow, hooting call that has been lost to history.

“These courtship antics are captured on a silent, black-and-white film that is believed to be the only footage of something not seen for nearly a century: the extinct heath hen.

“The film, circa 1918, is the birding equivalent of an Elvis sighting, said Wayne Petersen of Mass Audubon — mind-blowing and transfixing to people who care. It will premier Saturday [March 8] at a birding conference in Waltham.

“Massachusetts officials commissioned the film nearly a century ago as part of an effort to preserve and study the game bird, once abundant from Southern New Hampshire to Northern Virginia. Then, like the heath hen, the film was largely forgotten.

“Martha’s Vineyard is where the last known heath hens lived, protected in a state preserve. But the last one vanished by 1932. …

“Jim Cardoza, a retired wildlife biologist who worked for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said that for him, the film holds lessons about how conservation efforts have evolved.

“ ‘The thing that is striking to me is the habitat of the animal — it looks like they’re out in corn fields and open areas and things like that,’ Cardoza said. ‘That isn’t what the birds really inhabited — they were a scrub-land species.’ Conservationists at the time, he said, ‘didn’t know what the habitat requirements of the species even was.’  ”

Read the rest of the article and watch the film here.

I love the idea of a long-rumored, valuable film finally being found. It’s a great story. It’s also an argument for better filing systems.

State of Massachusetts woodcut, 1912. The fancier heath hens are males.

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