Archive for the ‘ECOVIA Central’ Category

SciSun: Can’t see the Forest through the Trees   Leave a comment

Humans, usually, like a green, lush, mysterious forest. Or at least the idea of a forest. Actually venturing into a dark, unknown, and for many frightening wilderness is for many something better viewed from the relative safety of a car while driving down a mountain road. (Although more people die from auto accidents than die in the forest. That doesn’t mean, for the inexperienced, a forest is safer than your car – probably just more people are in cars, than in forests). But today there’s something more frightening within the forest than getting lost, or being attacked by wild animals, or even coming across a nude hippie commune (which, as most hippies are now in their older years, is something you really don’t want to see). What’s most frightening in the forest today, is the forest itself.

The US Forest Service (USFS), is, understandably, responsible for the care and stewardship of much of America’s forest lands – approximately 193 million acres, almost ten percent of all land in the US. Along with the National Park Service; Bureau of Land Management; State forestry departments; Tribal organizations; and private interests, all forested and adjacent land falls under the jurisdiction of some bureau, department, or organization. Through many decades of research, study, discussion, disagreement, controversy, policies made, policies revised, agreements and amendments, today the consensus is…. no one has decided the best way to manage all this land. One of the few things that has been determined is that no one likes forest fires (Smokey was right with that one), and most agencies do their best to, as it’s said, ‘Prevent Forest Fires’ which, has been believed, leads to a full and healthy forest ready for our enjoyment. No one, however, told the trees and other plants to stop growing, and now much of our forests – particularly, as a recent study discovered, forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and Nevada, are so thickly wooded they are, ironically, prone to future fires and total loss of the forest canopy – the strong, tall trees most of us think about when we think about ‘forest’; along with the forest environment itself, including all the other plant and animal species that call the forest their home. And has been shown these past years, forest fires destroy human homes, businesses, and property just a quickly as devastating a stand of old-growth pines.

Sorry, your National Forest is closed for today.

              Sorry, your National Forest is closed for today.

The wildfire season 2015 has set the record for being the most destructive and costly season in history, at almost 10 million acres burned and $1.7 billion dollars in cost for manpower and resources. An ‘achievement’ no one’s celebrating. In fact, the season was so costly there’s virtually no money left to prepare for next fire season, including preparing fire crews; purchasing new and replacement equipment; and possibly most importantly, thinning the already-overgrown woodlands. As part of a long-term management program, a USFS goal is to thin and restore 500,000 acres of forest each year; in theory, once all the land within a specific area is renewed, it will be time to go back and start over with the first 500,000 acres, again. But in short-term reality, each year the Forest Service, along with other agencies, are able to cover only a fraction of their goal due to the almost endless challenges of conservation verses cultivation; development verses protection; recreation verses logging and timber; and most unfortunately of all, lack of money. Throughout this continual balance between public and private, fire has no favorites, and in drought-free years when less than 20 percent of the USFS budget was dedicated to fire prevention and control, the Department estimates that amount will require over two-thirds of its total budget within 10 years.

The land, it’s said, is the only thing that lasts, and throughout its history the United States has, with some notable exceptions, done a commendable job preserving and protecting our unique environments, ecosystems, and species. Yet in a country with trillion-dollar budgets, every year it’s a struggle for the Forest Service; the National Parks; and other public institutions, assigned with the responsibility to conserve our lands for the benefit of all, to find the money to fulfill their jobs. Maybe the Congressmen who control the budgets, can’t see the forest, though the trees.


Michonne Says: That story has a lot of numbers in it. Marmots can count up to 100, but even some of the numbers in this story I don’t understand. But if the numbers have to do with fire it must be scary because there’s nothing more alarmful than fire even hawks or wolves or anything. That’s why it’s best to live around rocks. Fire usually leaves rocks alone.

SciSun: It takes a Vole-age   4 comments

Life for threatened or endangered species is, understandably, uncertain and any setback or challenge that other, more established plants and animals can overcome could be the end of endangered species that might exist in only one area, consist solely of one population, or otherwise be at the brink of extinction. The Amargosa Vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis), a small mammal living in the California/Nevada desert, is one such species because every vole – estimated at less than 100 remaining in the wild – lives in just a few miles along the Tecopa Lake Basin and the Amargosa River. And as this area is prone to drought; flooding; off-road driving; and earthquakes, the status of the vole is truly on shaky ground.

Yet in the middle of December, an historic collaboration took place that turned weed-infested and in-hospitable land into the perfect vole habitat, possibly turning the corner for success of the species. In the restoration of half an acre of privately owned land (which might not sound like much – less than a third of a usual city block. But as an average vole is only about five inches long and typically home-bodies, that’s lots of room in vole-scale), representatives from the Amaragosa Conservancy; BLM (US Bureau of Land Management); the Shoshone (Native American) Village; the Nevada Conservation Corps; local laborers; and one student conservation intern; with the support of a grant obtained from the California Fish and Wildlife Service; worked together to recover and re-create historic bulrush (wetlands) habitat, which, hopefully within two to three years will grow and establish into marshland habitat suitable for voles; habitat which, although on private land, is set aside for environmental conservation and eco-tourism. And where, you ask, will these voles-without-a-home come from? For years, scientists have been re-creating, as best as possible, vole habitat inside research and holding facilities, where a small population of voles has survived. While not the best situation – plastic pipes and hay-covered floors aren’t exactly a voles preferred lifestyle – young vole pups have been born and many survive into adulthood.

Amargosa vole measurement BLM

“For Christmas, all I asked for is a pair of custom-fitted earbuds. I didn’t know that would require full body measurements.”


The fate of a small mammal in the desert doesn’t seem to matter much, even taking into account any unique qualities, or special environmental niche, or other ‘reasons’ to save a species. The Amaragosa Vole isn’t particularly compelling, like the Elephant, Polar Bear, or Condor, and most of us will probably never even see a vole or be anywhere near their home. But in the protection of one species, it’s being demonstrated – and lessons learned – that the work and interests of many agencies, communities, programs, individuals, and villages can come together for the benefit of all (a type of working together only recently attempted; as many groups and individuals, even when striving toward he same goals, have often set out on their own rather than asking, or accepting, help). Aside from saving a unique and rare species, if that’s one of the results of collaboration, communication, and partnership, it’s something even one little vole can be proud of.


Michonne Says: All these men came together and made homes for the little voles? That seems like a lot of men because the voles are really, really small and men are really, really big. I guess men helping is good, but I hope I never need men to make a home for me. It’s better if the men just don’t change things in the first place, then they won’t have to go back later and make them right.

The Hare Minimum: Out with the Old, In with the Gnu   Leave a comment

The average Gnu (Connochaetes spp.) – pronounced ‘knew’ (or if you’re really fancy, ‘gah-new’) – is not native to North America While they can be found at local zoos (although probably not riding the Carousel, as it makes them dizzy), the species is just one of the larger family of Antelope, which includes the Springbok; the Blackbuck; gazelles of many different types; and as a far-distant cousin, the Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), who we discovered last week are native to North America and Canada, as part of the on-going confusion between, and possibly among, goats and sheep. Oddly enough, the native Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) isn’t an antelope at all but the last of an entire group that become extinct thousands of years ago. Which only further complicates the goat-sheep-antelope confusion now that the pronghorns, until recently happy with their place in the world, got word and are starting to ask questions.

Wildebeest alert WIKI

“Go ahead, ask me ‘What’s GNU’. Or ‘Have you HERD the GNUs?’. How about ‘Happy GNU Year’. Like I’ve NEVER heard those before.”

As ungulates go (and they go very fast, some of them are the worlds fastest runners), North America isn’t well represented. Generally meaning ‘hoofed animals’, the ungulate is just about any mammal that stands on the hard, thick growths at the end of their toes. Something like an old man who hasn’t cut his nails in a few years. The animals do, actually, stand on their toes their entire lives and while this hasn’t given them much of an advantage in ballet, it does make them masters of moving over rough, uneven terrain and allows for better grasp and traction on surfaces that animals with padded feet – cats, dogs, bears and humans among others – often try to avoid or protect our soft foot-soles. Very old animals, as a group, ungulates were probably one of the first successful mammals to spread throughout the world, at some point naturally occurring in every environment except Antarctica. While most ungulates in North America today originated elsewhere, the camel (‎Camelidae) and horse (Equidae) families can be traced back to America. Although eventually both left, settling in the Middle East and Mongolia, many generations later they were brought back to their original home by humans.

What’s most ironic, for those who follow the astrological calender – that connects astronomical star positions and ancient cultural beliefs into various animals associated with each year – 2015 is the year of the Ram (no definition is made if this ram is a sheep, or a goat, so no one can call favorites); and 2016 is the year of the Monkey, which in no way is nor ever has been a native North American species. So the title of this post maybe should have been in with the Monkey, and Out with the Gnu. But that makes no sense.

SciSun: Bah, Bah Humbug   Leave a comment

During the festive Holiday Season, when most everyone is finding something to celebrate, there’s always someone who, for whatever reason, can’t embrace happiness but rather finds focus in complaints: Too much commercialism, shopping too busy, too much holiday music, heavy traffic, not enough holiday music, the season is too long, the season is too short, and on and on. But for one group; actually, two groups (and that misunderstanding is the ground of their gripe), the holidays are just another reminder that most people, despite their good intentions, know little about the native wildlife living among, or just a short distance, from many of us.

Sheep (Ovis spp.) and Goats (Capra spp.) are obviously different, yet similar, domestic species. Sheep are most often thought of as the fuzzy, mostly harmless, easily-influenced animal that congregate into groups and for some reason as young lambs are frequently lost and need to be rescued (and forever reminded of their poor self-responsibility in childrens’ books, songs and rhymes). If a person is a follower more than a leader, can’t make up his or her mind, and generally stays in the background, he or she could be labeled sheepish or gentle as a lamb. Goats, though, are usually considered obnoxious, single-minded, loners, and likely to eat anything including tin cans, although where this myth started no one knows. (Domestic goats might closely investigate empty cans and other containers looking for something edible, but that isn’t the can itself.). While these behaviors have lead to sheep frequently cast as victims and goats placed in the bad-boy role (and ‘goats out of control’ video games), the truth about the wild relatives of these animals can be quite different

Three wild species of Sheep (along with some sub-species) are native to North America: Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli dalli); Rocky Mountain Bighorn (Ovis canadensis canadensis); and Desert Bighorn (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). All live only in the western or southwestern, usually mountainous, areas of the continent, and none are directly related to the wooly domestic sheep (Ovis aries) that most of us recognize. In fact each of the wild species are rather short-haired, live in small family groups, can be aggressive and short-tempered, and not suited for wool-sheering nor any other type of domestication. An adult male Bighorn ram can be over five feet tall, weigh over 200 pounds are are known for ramming, or butting heads, with other males in a show of force and dominance that can leave both the winner and looser dizzy and disoriented for a few minutes after the duel (all characteristics that would make the ram a good draft choice for football, if they ever wanted to try out). Our common domestic sheep is probably a descendant of the Mouflon (Ovis orientalis orientalis), which is not a type of sandwich bread but a European and Asian species so old their origin is unknown; along with the date when men first began to domesticate sheep, which goes back thousands of years.

Goat standing on Sheep R

Goats enjoy standing on top of things. Sheep don’t seem to mind being stood on top of.

While native sheep are well-represented in North America, there are no native goat species on the continent. Every goat can trace its ancestors to families of Europe, Asia, and Africa (assuming, of course, a goat ever wanted to research her genealogy) and while there is the native Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) of the far northwestern United States, western Canada and Alaska, this animal is not truly a goat, but more closely related to antelope. Also, it is relatively calm, peaceful (as long as it’s not disturbed), and has long, shaggy hair that can be woven just as domestic wool, which was gathered by Native Americans for use as padding and insulation. While this native has never been domesticated nor sheared (at up to 300 pounds with sharp horns and strong legs suited to climbing rocky cliffs, the ‘peaceful as long as not disturbed” is important to remember), the non-native goats we see on farms, advertising, and in culture today started on the path to domestication probably before sheep, and may be the first animals man took in for resources and companionship (except dogs, whose history is a completely different story).

So this tangled and baffling lineage, confusing sheep for goats and mistaking goats for sheep while the only true North America native sheep just slightly resemble the common sheep and the one native goat is not a goat at all but a type of antelope, is the real reason goats are upset during the holidays and sheep could be troubled, but are probably hiding their true feelings just to get along? No, the reason is that in almost every Christmas scene, there are sheep and donkeys and cows and even camels, but almost never even one goat. And for an animal with such a long history of giving and giving and asking little in return, they are more than a little insulted to be left out of the festivities.


Michonne Says: I’ve never known any of these goats or sheep, personally. They live far into the rocky-ist parts of the rocky mountainsides, further than even most marmots live. But I’ve seen lots of the fuzzy-whites that men keep, and they seem friendly enough. You’d think since there are always so many more of them, and only one or two men, the fuzzy-whites would ask for greener grass to eat or treats or something, but they don’t seem like the demanding type.

SunSpecial: Arctic Tide-ings   Leave a comment

As every Christmas season, once again it’s time for our annual interview with ‘Randolph’, the North Pole Reindeer. He always has interesting – and sometimes surprising – insights to share about reindeer and their world. Due to North Pole secrecy (and trademark restrictions) he can’t be forthcoming with every answer…but with some imagination, it’s easy to understand what he’s saying.

Ecovia: So Rudol…uh, Randolph, how is everything at the North Pole this year?

‘Randolph’: Hello! As usual, it’s quite busy. Of course there’s the planning and packing in preparation for the Big Guys’ trip, just a few days away now – the shipping department can barely keep up – but for us reindeer it’s all about storing energy and working out. There’s the impression we’re all inside a heated barn eating hay and sugarplums, but that’s made up for the prime time specials. Reindeer actually eat Lichen (Cladonia portentosa) and Moss (Cladonia rangiferina), plants that grow on rocks and have to be found a little at a time. Besides, where would all that ‘hay’ come from? Food isn’t that easy to find up here.

E: At least you’re getting your fresh vegetables!

R: Sure. You know, lichen isn’t a vegetable, but a type of fungus. Fungus aren’t plants or animals but are so different they have any entire category just to themselves. Mushrooms, that you might eat, are a fungus, and so is the yeast the bakers here use to make cookies. Of course a fungus can also grow on old poop, so I don’t know what to say about that.

E: That is certainly an interesting diet. I don’t know how I’d like to eat the same thing every day.

R: You get used to it. The moss and lichen provides all the nutrients we need, and can be quite tasty and healthy, too. But it’s a low-energy food, so we have to eat quite a lot. Some of our deer-cousins, like lowland deer and elk, couldn’t survive on our food. That doesn’t make us better or special, just suited to our native environment. Full disclosure, at times we do get a sugarplum or cookie as a special treat. My favorites are the cookies shaped like trees, with green icing and sugar sparkle.

E: That does sound tasty. To get serious for a moment, ‘down south’ where most of us people live we’re hearing desperate reports about Arctic ice melting; warmer temperatures; polar bears not being able to find food; and so on. How does this effect you and the other animals?

R: I have to say we reindeer that work for the ‘Big Guy’ aren’t out there, in the real world, where animals have to fight to survive every day and one meal or a bad storm is all that separates a healthy life from sickness or death. But temperatures are warmer these past years than any time anyone remembers. It feels like it stays warmer just few more days each year, and we find different types of plants growing where we hadn’t seen them before. But that just means there’s more to eat!

E: It sounds like warmer-climate plants are trying to ‘move in’ to the area. Soon you might have to share with those lowland deer and elk!

R: They haven’t seen one of our winters. We have a saying “How can heat understand cold?”. I can’t say how the polar bears are doing – obviously we don’t hang out together – but for any animal that relies on ice to survive – they rest and sleep on floating ice, you know – these past years must be tough. If there’s no ice for the bears or the seals, or the walrus, too, they will be forced to stay in the water. Even though they’re good swimmers, no one can swim forever. For the first time ocean waves are mostly liquid, rather than slushy ice. Some animals would like to move away to where it’s safer, but once you’re at the North Pole, there isn’t anywhere else to go.

E: Sad and disturbing to hear. Can anything be done to help?

R: I think that’s up to humans. I don’t know what you’re doing, but it isn’t working out that well for us animals.

E: Many people are still wondering what the problem is, ourselves. Some people say it’s all normal and there’s nothing to be concerned about.

R: “How can heat understand cold?”. That’s all I have to say.

E: Last year we were concerned about a nasal allergy that seemed to be turning your nose red. Has that cleared up?

R: Taking meds. Next question?

E: Just one last thought: Does the ‘Big Guy’ ever share those cookies and treats he finds waiting for him during his deliveries?

R: Not as many as you’d think. Just look at the guy, and think about who’s doing the real work pulling that sleigh across the world?

E: Well, that’s an interesting thought to wrap up – get it? – this years interview.

R: Sure. Always good to share with the people down south. And if any of your readers have questions, send them in and I’ll do my best to reply. Happy Holidays to all, and may your sleigh-loads be light!

Reindeer_Wiki_Rangifer_tarandus AUTOGPH

Behind the Mask: Pumpkin Stuffing   Leave a comment

As many of us are finishing up those Thanksgiving feast leftovers (last to go: Turkey casserole); and looking forward to the upcoming Christmas feast (first to go: Gravy. People never get enough gravy), what was once fresh and inviting too often sits at the back of the refrigerator, largely overlooked, until one day discovered and cleared out to make room for the next well-intentioned-for-lunch but possibly forgotten foil-wrapped package or plastic container. And while each year the average household throws away the equivalent of two dozen meals, it’s not just family and friends who are enjoying the seasonal bounty; in what we consider ‘trash’ is a waiting banquet for wildlife seen and unseen; who may be looking forward to our scraps even more than we’re savoring that second helping of mashed potatoes. And gravy.

Wildlife, all with natural histories and families going back hundreds of generations and thousands of years before man, never expected to live in today’s world. While some have been forced into ever-decreasing territories and others are now extinct, a few have become synanthropic species that have become quite successful in our human world. The American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) – a dirunal, or active in the daytime animal; and Raccoon (Procyon lotor), more of a nocturnal, nightime explorer; work round the clock navigating our urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods, not only living but thriving in a world built for humans, but suiting some animals rather well.

Christmas raccoon

“…OH, you mean that spunkpin pie? I’m keeping it safe…IN MY TUMMY!”


While the two can scarcely be considered partners (in fact, crows don’t trust raccoons and raccoons only accept crows because they raid crow nests and eat crow eggs – which is probably why they have earned crow disrespect), both species, furred and avian alike, have evolved similar – or modified existing – behaviors to exploit our unique human-environments: Both are omnivorous, seeking and eating anything that can be eaten from insects to seeds to convenience store pizza (which really takes a, let’s say, talent to eat); both find, and make homes, in any area that’s deemed protected and dry, not being too choosy between trees (nests in branches for crows; holes in trunks for raccoons), to eves and under the overhangs of buildings to, for our masked friends, any old abandoned log on the ground or hole in the wall. (Literally. In many cities, particularly where the climate is harsh, raccoons find their ways into attics, basements, or even inside walls). But one behavior shared by both, obvious yet often disturbing to some people, is the animals’ fondness for what we would rather not think of : Roadkill and human trash.

While disgusting to some, the fact is something has to happen to everything, and putting trash on the curb for pickup – or putting the unfortunate victims of roadkill out of our minds (the animals too slow, too trusting, or too engaged in just going about their business who fall victims to our cars; or rather, the drivers of those cars) doesn’t just mean these things go away; but rather, they re-enter the food chain by becoming food for someone else. While we may not intend our trash to become some animals dinner (and if they are going to tear open those garbage bags, just don’t make such a mess of it), it’s not a presumption of wildlife taking advantage of a convenient and free meal, but rather it’s us, as humans, who have created a human-centric world in which these animals have learned to survive. And as we dispose the remainders from our next feast – from a Holiday, or celebration, or for many of us a typical dinner – remember that leftover stuffing (and gravy!), might be going directly into stuffing someone else.


Michonne Says: Raccoons and kraw-crows might not be the most friendly, but they aren’t anything for marmots to be afraid of. I’ve seen kraw-crows scare off hawks so that’s good for everyone, except maybe the hawk. I don’t know what raccoons do, they always seem to be up to something and that something usually causes trouble so it’s best to just keep away before that trouble finds you, too.

Posted December 13, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in ECOVIA Central

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SciSun: Black Fry Day   Leave a comment

Unless you’re an ichthyologist (people who study fish), or a pescatarian (people who eat fish), most of us never, really, think much about these finned fellows; they’re just under the water, an environment (and world) most of us know little about. Unless it’s on the menu or represented as some sort of fearsome ‘monster’ on television or in movies, fish usually cross our thoughts about as much as they cross a road (actually, in Asia the Walking Catfish [Clarias batrachus] does briefly come out of the water to cross roads. Which will give you something to think about). But placing the ‘monster’ label aside (humans often identify anything we don’t understand as a monster), fish have much more to fear from humans and our human world, than we normally have to fear from them. Unless you’re swimming among a group of shark, barracuda, or piranha. Or choke on a fish bone during dinner.

Baby fish are called fry. (This has nothing to do with the ultimate fate of many of these fish, which makes the name disturbingly ironic). And life for a baby fish, usually an inch or less in length, is filled with dangers seen and unseen: Water current sweeps you away; small leaves, branches and debris, disregarded by other animals, become hazardous challenges; and just about everything, from birds to frogs to other fish, want to eat you. Chemicals in the water, both naturally-occurring and artificial can disrupt a fishes’ sensory and nervous system; run-off and turbulence resulting in cloudy or muddy conditions can disorientate or suffocate. Water temperature is vital; any significant change hotter or colder means death. Some fish can only survive within a temperature range of about 20 degrees.

Just like the canary in the coal mine of times past (miners would take a caged canary down into the mine. If the canary passes out due to invisible poisonous gas, it’s time for humans to return to the surface. There were far fewer animal rights spokespersons in those days), today fish throughout the world; and particularly freshwater species such as Salmon and Trout (genera Oncorhynchus and Salmo); have become the ‘canary in the water’, as entire populations disappear due to increasing global temperatures, isolation from diversion of rivers; and run-off from timber-cutting, farming, and other forms of land-clearing. In some areas water temperatures are already approaching the top range of these fishes’ tolerance, and any further upward creep – many scientists are projecting up to three degrees warmer in the next fifty years – would leave suitable freshwater habitat only in the deepest lakes, while most streams, ponds and even rivers remain empty. In a recent research study it was found of the 25 remaining species of America’s native trout, today 13 species occupy less than 25% of their historic habitat.

Trout jumping hatchery LG

Young trout in a hatchery practice leaping over water obstacles they may find in the wild. Possibly on their way to school.

While this is unfortunate for trout and other fish that live their entire lives in high-country, mountainous environments, salmon must return, every year, to the ocean. And without healthy and open streams and rivers that allow migration from forested rivers to the sea; as well as the return trip back to the same stream where each individual salmon was born; the entire wild salmon species could collapse. Of course, humans raise fish in hatcheries and on fish farms (must continue Seafood Friday!), but fish can’t stay on the farm forever and when grown large enough, are normally released into the wild (even fish on farms want to one day go to the big city. Where they’ll probably be eaten). Throughout these recent years of drought and oppressive heat in California, multiple hatcheries have had to be temporarily closed due to inadequate amounts, quality, or temperature of water, and the fish (those that could survive the journey) trucked hundreds of miles to alternative and emergency locations.

Not many people, it’s likely, consider baby fish as we go about our lives. When thought of as food or a diversion, fish have always been there and so are taken for granted. But as our climate changes and each of us, human and wildlife alike, encounter more and greater challenges, we might want to look at the fish who could be warning us we are moving from fry, to the frying pan.


Michonne Says: I don’t know much about fish. They live in the water which is fine for them but I don’t care for it. Racoons and Hawks and Bears and all sorts of other sharp-teeth animals eat fish, but marmots would never, ever, not even think about eating fish. Or going too close to the water. You never know what could be down there.

Posted December 6, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in ECOVIA Central

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