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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Photo: Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash.
Though still endangered, tigers are doing better this year than last year.

We hear so much about species on the verge of extinction that we have to blink twice get it through our heads that anything is coming back. That’s why I like today’s story.

Dino Grandoni reports at the Washington Post that “tigers are having a good year. Nepalese officials announced [in July] that the top predator’s numbers within the country’s borders have more than doubled in a bit more than a decade. Across Asia, there are as many as 5,500 tigers prowling jungles and swamps, a leading wildlife group said last week, a 40 percent jump from its 2015 assessment.

“The slow but steady rise in the big cat’s estimated population comes as biologists get better at tracking the animal and marks a high point amid a deepening extinction crisis that may see as many as a million plants and animal species disappear worldwide because of habitat loss and climate change.

“Tiger researchers, while optimistic, warn that the fierce hunter remains under threat from both poaching and encroachment into its remaining habitat. …

“ ‘It’s a fragile success,’ said Dale Miquelle, tiger program coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. ‘There are still many pressures on tiger populations, and they are disappearing from some areas.’

“There are between 3,726 and 5,578 tigers in the wild today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which tracks the status of plants and animals facing extinction. Tens of thousands of tigers once roamed Asia.

“One big reason behind the recent jump in tiger estimates: Scientists have simply gotten better at counting the cats, placing motion-sensing cameras in more spots to identify their territory. …

“But a combination of expanding protected areas and targeting poachers who sell tiger parts for use in traditional medicine has allowed tigers to stabilize or recover in China, India and Thailand.

“ ‘In all of those countries, tiger conservation has been a priority at the highest levels of government,’ said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at World Wildlife Fund.

“Asia’s most iconic predator is perhaps doing best of all in Nepal, where the estimated population has soared from 121 to 355 since 2009, its government said Friday, after the small Himalayan country committed to restoring habitat and dispatched military units to patrol for poachers.

“The grassy lowlands between Nepal and India near the Himalayan foothills — known as the Terai — teem with grazing animals, making it among the most productive potential habitats for the carnivore. …

“Tigers once roamed from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia and from frigid forests of Siberia in the north to tropical islands of Indonesia in the south. But a century of hunting both tigers and their prey has restricted their range and decimated their numbers.

“By the 1940s, wild tigers vanished from Singapore and Bali. By the 1960s, they were gone for good in Hong Kong and Java. In recent decades, they disappeared from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. And today, they continue to die out in Malaysia. …

“Both revered and feared across the globe, the tiger is a classic ‘charismatic megafauna’ — a big, regal animal that receives outsize attention and money in the conservation movement. But by protecting tigers, Miquelle said, conservationists end up protecting entire ecosystems on which other animals and people depend.

“ ‘When we talk about protecting tigers, you’re really talking about protecting the environment that people also need to survive and live a better life,’ he said.

“Yet, as tigers rebound, conflicts arise. In India, home to two-thirds of the world’s wild tigers, the big cats killed 383 people between 2010 and 2019, testing the tolerance of locals for living among them. A protest erupted in a Nepalese village this June after tiger and leopard attacks.

“In a bid to bolster incomes and provide economic incentive for tiger conservation, groups such as the WWF are encouraging residents to open their homes to ecotourists hoping to see the animals.

“Further complicating conservation efforts is Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has made it more difficult for researchers to collaborate with Russian counterparts and to attend a major tiger forum in the port city of Vladivostok scheduled for September.

“And rising seas fueled by global warming threaten to inundate tiger-filled mangroves in Bangladesh, though climate change may end up expanding the cat’s range in Russia.

“Despite the gains, tigers are still officially classified as endangered in the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. And countries still are failing to double their numbers.

“ ‘We haven’t succeeded in that process,’ Miquelle said. ‘But we do feel that there are more tigers today than there were 12 years ago — that progress is being made.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Haven Daley/AP via NBC.
An ivory-billed woodpecker specimen on display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The ivory-billed woodpecker has been officially declared extinct, but hope lingers on.

Jenni Doering at the environmental radio show Living on Earth recently interviewed a woman who works to protect endangered species — and who sometimes fields calls from enthusiasts who think they have found the last living … whatever. The interview begins with Curry’s memory of an encounter that opened her eyes to the parallel lives we are living with wild creatures.

“JENNI DOERING: I talked with Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. Today she mostly has a desk job, working towards getting legal protection for endangered species, plants and animals, but she started by telling me about a close encounter she had a while back working with animals in Alaska. …

“TIERRA CURRY: One winter morning, it was my job to take two bald eagles in really large dog kennels out to this flight center. And there happened to just be a huge blizzard that day. And in Anchorage, when there’s a blizzard, your life doesn’t shut down, you just keep going. And so you just go out on the road and try to make a lane and hope for the best. …

“I kept having to get out of the car and chink the ice off my windshield wipers. And because this was my first winter in Alaska, I didn’t even really have an ice scraper. So, I’m embarrassed to say this, but I was using a credit card. I’m just like stuck there with my head down, it’s pouring snow, I’m sure my hair’s freezing and, and I look up and there’s a wolf at the edge of the woods, just looking at me. And I stared back at it. And it was just this moment where I was hyper aware of being a human. I’m here, at this moment, on a Tuesday morning, outside Anchorage. And this wolf is here too. And we just stared at each other and shared this moment. And we’re both dealing with the snow. … And then we both just went on about our schedules after that moment. …

“I work on all kinds of species across the country, from crayfish to butterflies to the Humboldt martens, just whatever is endangered and needs help if it’s a plant or an animal. And people contact me regularly when they have an experience with one of these animals. Like, if someone has a monarch butterfly that they’ve watched grow from a caterpillar and it isn’t doing what they think it should be doing, they contact me for advice.

That ranges from ‘my monarch lacks self confidence’ to, like, ‘it’s the wrong color’, or ‘should I help it out of its shell?’

“Or one time somebody found me because their dog was down in the creek and came back with a blue crayfish attached to its lip. And they had heard on the news that there was this endangered blue crayfish. … I sent the pictures to crayfish researchers in that state and it actually was a species that we had petitioned for protection for and this ended up being a new location for it. …

“One time, there was a fairy shrimp in Florida called the Florida fairy shrimp and we petitioned for protection for it, and the Fish and Wildlife Service said that it was extinct. And so that was hard and we put out a press release about the Florida fairy shrimp being gone. And then, this woman a couple months later, the roads around her house flooded and she found a bunch of fairy shrimp on the road. And she thought that maybe these fairy shrimp were the Florida fairy shrimp and she didn’t know what to do. …

“She contacted the state Wildlife Commission, a local Marine Lab. Upon their advice, she went and bought a tank and food to feed them. She just wanted so desperately to help these fairy shrimp. And she felt so much responsibility, because beyond compassion for the individual animals, she was afraid they were going to get run over, or that vector control was going to spray for mosquitoes and that it would kill them. She felt responsibility for the fate of the entire species. What if she had found this animal that was just declared extinct.

“And for days, it took over her life, she dropped, like, everything she was doing to try to take care of these shrimp to see if she could save the species. … They ended up being the common species of fairy shrimp in that area. But they could have been! So it’s really important that when people do have these encounters, they report it to someone who could help save them because it’s entirely possible that it’s just something that researchers didn’t find, and that you could find it. …

“Just take a picture, take a bunch of pictures of it, don’t disturb it. … Mostly just take the pictures so that you can contact the researcher or contact me and I can find the researcher to find out what it is. Most of the time unless an animal is hurt — even if it is hurt — just contact somebody who has the skills to go pick it up.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Tohumtoprak.
Working with his team and villagers, retired forest chief Hikmet Kaya has helped create a forest on once-barren land in Turkey.

Around the world, people have learned that planting trees can help us fight back against global warming. But it’s not as easy as sticking them in the ground. You have to ensure they live. And thrive.

Jessica Stewart reports on one initiative at My Modern Met, “Hikmet Kaya has proved that good intentions and hard work can yield big rewards. The retired Turkish forest management chief has posed proudly in front of the barren land that he and his team have transformed into a lush forest.

“He began his career in the town of Sinop in 1978 and while he retired 19 years later, his legacy has continued to grow — literally.

“Working together with his team and villagers, he brought in and planted 30 million saplings over the course of his tenure. Long after his retirement, these trees have continued to grow; and today, this barren stepped land has undergone an incredible transformation. … Needless to say, he admits he’s very happy with the results.

“It’s a wonderful example to set for the rest of the country. According to Global Forest Watch, Turkey has seen a 5.4% decrease in tree cover since 2000. … Combatting deforestation often comes down to governmental policy changes, which makes it important for individuals to know who they are voting for and to make sure their environmental concerns are heard. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from taking matters into their own hands and taking action.”

More at My Modern Met, here (where you’ll also find links to tree-planting stories from the Philippines, Pakistan, and Ethiopia).

There’s a tree maven in India who worked without help. You may have read about him. I’ll share Andrei Tapalaga‘s History of Yesterday story in case you missed the news.

“When talking about saving the environment, most people come with the comment of ‘how much difference will I make?’ … In this article, I want to present a man who has defied any kind of odds and showed the world that if you set your mind to something it will become possible.

“Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng spent 40 years of his life planting trees, gaining the nickname of ‘Forest Man’ in India for transforming a [barren island] into a forest. [At this point] Payeng had covered 1,400 acres with trees. There is no exact number of trees as he never kept track, but we are looking at around 1.5 million trees planted in 40 years.

“Payeng was born in 1963 near the small rural town of Jorhat, India. From a young age, he saw a small island near the coast of the Brahmaputra River suffering from erosion. In many of his interviews taken by the media in India, he described that he had spent some of his [childhood] playing in that forest and it was heartbreaking seeing its vegetation slowly die.

“That is why in 1979, when Payeng was 16 years of age, he decided to plant at least one tree a day for as long as he lives, calling it giving back to Mother Nature. … The start to this incredible journey was difficult, not only [considering] the road ahead, but it was simply difficult to find tree seeds to plant. His vision was not to plant only one type of tree, but many different types. …

“As the years went by, the problem of finding seeds was solved as the trees he had planted years ago started to give seeds. With more seeds, he was able to plant even more trees every day. The island is surrounded by a flowing river, so the water supply was never a problem. …

“There are many people out there just like Payneg who have dedicated most of their life toward an honorable cause but rarely get noticed. The media in India actually discovered Payeng by mistake when in 2008, a herd of over 100 wild elephants strayed into the forest he had created.

“Payeng notified the forest department about the elephants and they thought he was crazy at first as there was no forest on the island. Upon the forest department’s inspection of the island, the community around Jorhat told them about Payeng’s efforts, at which point the media from India bombarded Payeng. [He] was also made an official forester for the forest he had created on Majuli island.

“In 2012 Payeng was interviewed by the Times, where he confessed that he had always asked for help but no one wanted to assist him. … Now the island is greener than ever whilst being inhabited by all sorts of wildlife from rabbits to tigers and even rhinos. The plantation of trees had slowed down as Payeng is becoming old and tired. However, he is trying to make his children continue what he had started.”

For more on Payeng’s initiative, click at History of Yesterday, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo: 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: Mike Laycock, National Park Service
Black-backed woodpeckers, such as this female, thrive in the aftermath of a forest fire.

Once again radio’s Living on Earth, has a holistic take on current events affecting the environment. Host Steve Curwood and environmentalists elsewhere have noted the fire-control success of indigenous people and long-ago subsistence farmers — fighting fire with fire.

In today’s story we learn how good fire management, though made more difficult by increased development, can benefit both humans and wildlife.

“The record-setting wildfires in the Western U.S. this year have had devastating consequences for the people who have lost their homes and businesses. But as Aaron Scott of Oregon Public Broadcasting [OPB] reports, many species of plants and animals depend on forest fires to create and maintain the habitat they need.

“AARON SCOTT: Ecologist Paul Hesburgh and Bill Gaines are taking us on a tour through a section of the Washington Cascades that was burned by the Tripod Fire in 2006.

“BILL GAINES: Paul, I’m not seeing a lot of woodpecker cavity activity. …

“SCOTT: The reason we’re looking for woodpeckers is that they are a poster animal for how scientists like Gaines and Hesburgh are reimagining fire. Instead of seeing fire as a negative thing that needs to be suppressed, they are finding it is essential to the well-being of many plants and animals. For example, burned forests may look barren to us. But for wood-eating insects and their predators, they are a feast waiting to happen. Gaines marvels at how woodpeckers just seem to flock in. …

“And they are far from alone. From aspen to morels, from blackberries to bees. There’s an incredible range of plants and animals that thrive in areas touched by fire. One of the best-known examples is the lodgepole pine, which grows what’s called serotinous cones.

“PAUL HESBURGH: And so every cone scale is held together by a drop of resin, and it takes the heat of a fire to melt that resin and cause those cone scales to open up.

“SCOTT: The cones shed seeds that quickly grow into dense stands of young trees. And these stands are one of the only hunting grounds for one of the country’s most adorable and threatened predators. The Canada lynx. …

“GAINES: We’re going to pretend we’re a Canada lynx. And what we want to find is our prize food, you know, a snowshoe hare.

“SCOTT: Gaines crouches down in stalks his way through the thick branches.

“GAINES: You can see here a scat from a snowshoe hare, so we know they’ve been here. Tells us this is good habitat for snowshoe hare and good habitat for lynx.

“SCOTT: That’s because these young pines are like a goldilocks zone. They’re just right, big enough to provide shelter for the bunnies with branches low enough for them to hide under. But as the pines grow taller and their branches no longer touch the ground, the bunnies and the lynx that hunt them have to go in search of new stands. …

Few northwest animals have evolved to live in thick, unchanging forests. Instead, most need an evolving clumpy mosaic of landscapes to meet all their needs. And the main driver behind that constant process of change and renewal is fire.

“HESBURGH: If you were to roll the film back a hundred, hundred and fifty years in history and take a look at a big landscape panorama, what you would see is places that were burned yesterday, places that were burned five years ago, ten years ago, that create this variety of habitats. …

“Where the forest is all grown up and blended. There are some critters still making a living in that landscape, but it has nowhere near the variety of the former landscape before it was homogenized.

“SCOTT: Today’s thick forests combined with a warming climate also set the stage for megafires. The result is two starkly contrasting landscapes and a dynamic far different from the one native animals evolved with. …

“GAINES: Lynx recovery is either made or are not here in this part of Washington. This is the largest population in the lower 48 states.

“SCOTT: And it doesn’t stop there. Fire has a crazy interaction with water by helping to thin out dense spreading forests, it actually leads to more water flowing into wetlands and streams. That encourages rich cool dining rooms for everything from bear to fish. No one is advocating that we let all fires burn freely, especially the human-caused ones. But a consensus is emerging that as crazy as it sounds, we need to restore regular fire to the land to help our fellow plants and animals survive.”

More at Living on Earth, here. Check out the original, too, at OPB in Portland, Oregon.

National Geographic, meanwhile, explains how “controlled” or “prescribed” burns can protect nature: “Controlled burns have become more important as fire suppression efforts have grown over the last century. Historically, smaller fires occurred in forests at regular intervals. When these fires are suppressed, flammable materials accumulate, insect infestations increase, forests become more crowded with trees and underbrush, and invasive plant species move in.

“Controlled burns seek to accomplish the benefits that regular fires historically provided to an environment while also preventing the fires from burning out of control and threatening life and property.”

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Photo: John Sturrock
“A modern mania for canal developments is reshaping cities by offering oases of calm in fast-moving town centres,” says the
Guardian.

When our kids were small, the Barge Canal (otherwise known as the Erie Canal) was as familiar to them as their friends’ backyard, as the elementary school, as the Hicks and McCarthy luncheonette. It ran right through town. I remember taking a canal-boat ride up and down (vertically) through the locks with a visiting grandmother and a picnic lunch.

In today’s story, John Vidal writes at the Guardian about a new focus on canals in England.

“Every second Monday of the month, a small group of volunteers meets in the training room of a Birmingham supermarket. They discuss what has long seemed to many of their friends a crazy and probably doomed idea: how to excavate a contaminated 40-year-old waste dump, create an urban marina, restore three miles of derelict canal and build several new bridges and locks.

“Last month, however, the meeting of the 18-strong Lapal Canal Trust committee was joyous. After 20 years of trying to restore this short stretch of the 200-year-old Dudley No 2 canal, permission had finally been granted, they were told.

“What’s more, a feasibility study showed that the plan – which would link the suburbs of California and Selly Oak by water – could be a catalyst for nothing short of the economic and ecological renaissance of a large area of south Birmingham.

“The new canal will generate jobs but also provide space for new houses, as well as pollution-free walking, boating and cycling routes. The marina for 60-100 boats will stimulate businesses and bring in tourists. The wildlife corridor created along the canal will attract herons, otters, fish and waterfowl. And although the whole project will cost about £5m, the study said it would pay for itself in six years.

“ ‘It will improve life in the city. It will complete an old canal loop around the city – we owe it to the future to restore it. … No one is objecting and we have nearly raised the first £250,000 – enough to start work,’ says the Lapal trust CEO, Hugh Humphreys.The Lapal plan is one of at least 80 canal renaissance projects currently making British towns and cities suitable for populations seeking tranquility, leisure space and new ways to move around. …

“It’s not just happening in Britain. … But few countries have as many urban canals as the UK, a legacy of British industrial might – and now a golden opportunity for transformation. Some, such as the Aldcliffe yard development in Lancaster, will see just a few expensive houses built on old industrial canal works; but many seek to create large new ‘liveable’ urban communities in what were some of the Britain’s polluted places, such as Wolverhampton, Leeds, Manchester, Lancaster, Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham. …

“Three things unexpectedly changed everything. A postwar infant canal leisure industry emerged; dozens of passionate heritage charities like the Lapal trust voluntarily restored many of the old waterways; and water proved to be the vital ingredient to kickstart a new, property-based canal mania.

“ ‘The restoration of the canals in the 1950s and 60s was thanks to a remarkable act of defiance by unpaid volunteers against the authorities,’ says canal historian Mike Clarke.

“ ‘Volunteers were vital. It’s unlikely there would be many canals today without them. The government, many influential people, and the British Waterways board, were all happy to see the majority filled in. … They told the government, “if you want to complain, take us to court.” …

” ‘They formed isolated stretches of peaceful country within the urban environment. Planners eventually saw them as an asset, and government at last understood their potential for leisure.’ …

” ‘The job is only half done in Britain,’ says Alison Smedley, policy officer of the Inland Waterways Association. ‘The restoration of Britain’s canal system is in full flow but there is so much left to do. … There are still about 1,800 miles left to be restored, although many [canals] have been filled in and are unlikely ever to be reclaimed,’ she says. …

“Canal and River Trust (CRT), the government-part-funded charity set up in 2012 to take over and manage the 2,000 miles of state-owned canal formerly run by British Waterways, [calculates] that about 10 million people a year visit the canals to fish, walk, cycle, observe wildlife or go boating. …

“In addition, canals have become a real alternative for people unable or unwilling to buy city property. .. Ten years ago 10% of the boats on British waterways were used as primary residences. It is now 26%, says the CRT. …

“ ‘Almost unnoticed, the canals have become important sanctuaries for urban and rural wildlife,’ says Simon Atkinson, head of conservation at the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust. … Otters, water voles, kingfishers, ducks, herons, fish, dragon- and damsel flies, even rabbits, are seen on the 100-odd miles of Birmingham canals, some of which are classed as local nature reserves. …

“ ‘If development is done well, it can enhance nature. The canals have never been more important, but it could go the other way. There is a real opportunity for high quality inner-city development and nature to flourish together.’ ”

For me as a lover of Dickens (the novels, not the man), I can’t think of English canals without thinking of the dark spirit of Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. In fact, maybe I’m ready to read that one again.

Learn more about the benefits and challenges of canal popularity 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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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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Is the New England cottontail no longer in trouble? I guess, as David Abel suggests at the Boston Globe, it depends on who you talk to.

“The threatened New England cottontail — the region’s only native rabbit, made immortal in The Adventures of Peter Cottontail [by Thorton Burgess] — appears to be making a comeback.

“Federal wildlife officials [are] removing the cottontail from the list of candidates to be named an endangered species. It’s the first time any species in New England has been removed from the list as a result of conservation efforts. …

“Wildlife officials said the bark-colored rabbits, which have lost nearly 90 percent of their dwelling areas to development, are benefiting from an increasing effort to protect their habitat. …

“The rabbit, which has perky ears and a tail that looks like a puff of cotton, has been the victim of development that has wiped out most of the region’s young forests. … Unlike its abundant cousin, the Eastern cottontail, the New England species relies on the low-lying shrubs of young forests for food and protection from predators, such as raptors, owls, and foxes. …

“Some environmental advocates worry that the federal government may be acting prematurely in removing [New England cottontails] from the list of candidates for endangered status …

“It has never been easy to galvanize concern for the cottontails, given how much they look like the nonnative Eastern cottontails. Those rabbits, brought to the region by trappers in the 19th century, have flourished because they have better peripheral vision than the native bunnies …

“ ‘People think they’re everywhere,’ Scott Ruhren, director of conservation for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said of the local cottontails. ‘But like every species, they are important and deserve a place on the New England landscape.’ ” More here.

Update January 10, 2019: More good news at EcoRI, here. If zoos can do more this sort of wildlife restoration, they will go a long way toward justifying their existence to opponents.

Photo: Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe
A New England cottontail bred in a refuge in Newington, N.H., was penned Thursday in advance of its release.

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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 Associated Press blurb in the Globe caught my eye today.

Here it is in its entirety: “Unity Plantation, Maine. A two-year quest by Unity College students to fit a black bear with a video collar has succeeded. The Morning Sentinel said Professor George Matula and about a dozen students trekked deep into a 4,000-acre patch of woods off Route 139 Thursday to fit the collar on a trapped bear. While one student kept the angry bear’s attention, another sneaked in from behind to deliver a shot to knock it out.”

I had to find out more. The website of Unity College, “America’s Environmental College” located north of Augusta in Waldo County, explains it wasn’t a professor-assisted prank.

“With permission from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Unity College Bear Study team does hands-on research to provide information on a bear population in Central Maine. Students work with faculty mentor George Matula and alumna mentor Lisa Bates ’08 to tag, tattoo and radio collar bears to collect data and monitor activity.” More at Unity College, here.

But about actually collaring the bear. …

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling  writes at the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, “Once Matula gave the all-clear, the students descended on the bear, intent and serious as each performed a well-defined role. They still spoke in whispers as they took blood samples, checked its vital signs and prepared to affix the all-important video collar to its neck. …

“One student, Leon Burman, cradled the bear’s head in his lap while he pulled back its lips, using a tattoo gun to leave an identification mark on the gums.

“[Student Jonah] Gula lifted the bear’s front right paw, inspecting a raw and red line defining the previous capture’s cable. Gula speculated later that it meant the bear was pulling at its snare more aggressively than most. The team treated it with a first-aid kit.” More here.

Photo: Mark Bennett

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According to Christopher Joyce at National Public Radio, young whooping cranes learn from older ones, and when older cranes are unavailable, they can learn from ultralights.

“Being a wildlife biologist in the 21st century increasingly means rescuing rare animals from extinction. Among the success stories is the whooping crane. Seventy years ago there were only about 16 birds left on the planet. Now there are about 600.

“But breeding more birds isn’t enough. Scientists want to restore the crane’s way of life, too. And a team of ecologists at the University of Maryland have discovered something that suggests they are succeeding: Captive-bred are picking up tips from older birds about how to skillfully navigate south for the winter.

“It’s a sign that those whooping cranes are passing knowledge from one generation to the next and, in a sense, rebuilding their culture.”

So how do whoopers raised in captivity learn to follow and where to go when there are no older birds around?

“Workers drive around the enclosures in an ultralight, one-person aircraft … that moves along the ground. It’s the first step in teaching these birds to identify an as a mature whooper. Then when the birds are yearlings and it’s migration time, they’re shipped up north, to Wisconsin.

” ‘The ultralight in Wisconsin not only circles on the ground and teaches them to follow,’ [Greg Smith of the U.S. Geological Survey] says, ‘but it also ultimately lifts up into the air’ and accompanies the whooping cranes on their great migration, which lasts between 50 and 100 days.”

More.

Photo: Joe Duff/Operation Migration USA Inc.
This young whooping crane is on its first fall migration, guided by an Operation Migration ultralight aircraft. Each whooper in this population wears an identification band, and many carry tracking devices that record their movements in detail.

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