Archive for the ‘conservation’ Tag
This year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS). Hooray! Authorized on August 25, 1916 (of course), when US President Woodrow Wilson signed the ‘Organic Act’ (really), creating the Park Service and officially assigning management of the then-35 parks to the new Department. While this month marks the official start of the NPS, the history of national parks goes back many years earlier, when in 1872 Congress established Yellowstone National Park, the first ‘national park’ of it’s type in the world, natural spaces set aside for public recreation, education, and enjoyment.
During his 1901 – 1909 terms as President, Theodore Roosevelt (‘Teddy’) used his authority under the newly-established ‘Antiquities Act’ to name as National Monuments Devil’s Tower, Wyoming; El Morro, New Mexico; Montezuma Castle and Petrified Forest, Arizona; along with a large area of what is now Grand Canyon National Park. Always an outdoorsman and concerned about America’s national resources, deeply affected by his travels in the American West and camping trips in Yellowstone and Yosemite – another of the earliest-named parks – by the end of his service as President Teddy had set aside 18 significant cultural, environmental; or otherwise unique natural areas which later were incorporated into the NPS. He also personally scouted and marked trails in each of these areas; built cabins from trees he had fallen with his own ax; identified and cataloged every plant and animal within the areas; and greeted each park visitor as they arrived. Along with taking time to run for a third term as President. Well, maybe that’s somewhat exaggerated (except for the third term part, which ‘TR’ took on in 1912), but with his energy and enthusiasm, he would have done all those things, if he could.
“If not for this this ridiculous coat and hat forced upon me by propriety, I’d proceed to climb this tree and upon achieving the top, yell out ‘Bully’! Just because I can!”. Teddy Roosevelt, the first manly-man.
Not to be outdone, Teddy’s cousin, President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1933 transferred to the Park Service 56 monuments and sites administered by the Department of Agriculture and War Department (now known as Department of Defense. Because it sounds better to ‘defend’, rather than to ‘war’). Significant in the creation of the NPS we know today, this Executive Order set the foundation for additional Parks, Monuments and Sites which have been added through the actions of every President over the past 100 years. Formalized in 1970 through an act which recognized and authorized the Park Service to include all “miscellaneous areas administered in connection therewith” (the big words make it official), today’s National Parks have grown to more than 400 individual areas; of over 84 million acres; in all 50 states and outlaying areas under US management. And more areas are added every year. That’s quite a legacy that originated from the simple action of setting aside something unique and special for the future.
So this year – or every year, actually, but particularly during this 100 anniversary – everyone’s encouraged to get out and visit a National Park, Monument, or Site near you. There’s a location within a short driving distance of more than 80% of the American population. And with hundreds of sites and millions of acres to see, we’d better start now.
Michonne Says: With all those men making parks here and there you’d think I would have heard about it. I know there’s a ‘Monument Valley’ or something like that but if the men were really interested in making something special they would have made ‘Marmot Valley’. I’d visit there.
Ten-thousand pounds of trout is one big trout. Yet that’s what the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is about to release into Northern California waterways within the next few days. Although not one, really large trout (which would be about the size of an elephant), but thousands of far smaller, hatching trout that weigh about half and pound each. These Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) come from nearby fish hatcheries, both government- and privately-owned ‘fish farms’ that raise millions of baby fish each year, all eventually transferred to lakes, rivers and waterways.
While many of these fish eventually are caught by fishermen and end up as someones breakfast or dinner, others who are lucky or smart enough not to be fooled by plastic worms can live ten or more years; grow up to 50 pounds; and become the parents of hundreds of offspring. Unless, in their best efforts to avoid sportsmen the fish are eaten by bears. Or raccoons. Or birds. All of which are reasons thousands of fish have to be re-stocked each year and for job security, being a fish-farmer might be a good choice.
Fish stocking often includes a brief, but exciting, water-park slide.
Fish-stocking (or planting) is usually scheduled twice per year, in the Spring before summer heat raises water temperatures; and again in the Fall, so the fish have a few winter months to grow. But due to the California drought which is slightly less severe this year, fish are being moved into lakes and rivers to encourage and support the local fishing industry (someone’s got to buy all that bait), and fulfill the Fish and Wildlife Departments responsibilities of not only protecting and preserving wildlife and wild places; but providing recreational opportunities for outdoorsmen and adventurers. Although the fish would probably prefer we all stay home. They’ve got enough to worry about with the bears, raccoons and birds all ready and waiting for fish buffet.
Michonne Says: Phooey. Who would want to live in the water and be wet all the time? And where would you sleep because there’s no place to dig or even if you did make a hole water would fill it up. To me, none of this seems like those fish planned very well.
Prior to the 20th Century, rivers throughout America ran freely: From their source headwaters; through forests and meadows, across prairies and sometimes underneath deserts; coursing toward the oceans while carving majestic canyons and molding the landscape; providing water and homes for countless fish, birds and other wildlife. The rivers were neither stopped nor faltered by any obstruction or barrier but surpassed and pushed through anything in their path. The rivers reserved all their energy for themselves, occasionally flooding farms and defeating towns to show humans who, really, is the boss. Selfish rivers. But beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the first half of the 20th century, humans took on this imposing power of uninterrupted water through the construction of hydroelectric dams; structures that, by channeling water flow and harnessing the power and strength of water provided tens of thousands of megawatts of electric energy to power the growth of cites and provide basic electrical power to rural communities. Take that, rivers.
While this all generally worked out fine for humans, hulking cement structures re-routing and blocking natural river flow was neither useful, not helpful, to wildlife: Fish, including Salmon and Trout (family Salmonidae) who need large stretches of turbulent water to thrive were restricted or populations cut off; wetlands were flooded or drained, the loss of homes to species from insects to mammals and vital to migrating birds who had fewer places to rest along flights of thousands of miles; and dams brought about changes in the amount and speed of flowing water (literally, the ‘ebb’ and ‘flow’), creating downstream basins holding millions of gallons of water in artificial lakes while upstream ecological communities suffered from water loss.
Dams can lead to stagnant water and unregulated algae growth. This can’t be good for anybody.
Crossing the border between California and Oregon lies the Klamath River. For centuries one of the main water sources for Northern California (the second largest river in the state) and a significant part of Oregon, the river continued unobstructed as Lewis and Clark charted a path to the Pacific Ocean; pioneers followed the Oregon Trail toward a better life; and 49er’s searched for gold. Local Native Americans believed the river was holy, balancing their lives with the river flow. But due to continued growth and development by the 1920’s dams were being built across the Klamath – by 1960 a total of four complexes providing power and regulating water resources to the benefit of man. Not so much to the benefit of anyone else.
While hydroelectric power is important, so is a healthy environment. Last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior; U.S. Department of Commerce; dam management company PacificCorp; and the states of California and Oregon entered into an agreement to remove all four dams on the Klamath River by 2020, resulting in one of the largest river restoration efforts in the country. Working with Native Nations; local communities; non-profit organizations and other interested parties, this agreement will work toward providing more equitable water resources to farms, ranches, and communities; allow for water recreation such as rafting and fishing; and perhaps most importantly, restore the river and river basin to its natural ecology. While this is a huge and hugely expensive project, the true cost can’t be measured in dollars but in the salmon who once again will be able to freely migrate to the ocean (and back!); flocks of birds who find a safe refuge in river-created marshes; and the numbers of people who just enjoy a peaceful afternoon sitting under a tree by the flowing water. And the only dams to be seen are built by beavers whose goal isn’t creating electrical power for televisions and computers and to light up the night sky; but just to keep the water from washing away their house.
Michonne Says: These ‘dams’ make water so there’s even more of it in one place? I don’t think I like that. Water’s best when it just passes by and maybe you can get a drink but then it doesn’t stay around. Then things could live in it and who knows that that could be. It’s best to leave that kind of water to bears (who like the fish) and striped-tail-night-mask raccoons (who don’t know better).
Creation of a new National Park; Monument; Trail; Preserve; or other unit of the National Park Service – each a natural or historic area (sometimes both!) set aside from development for the enjoyment of all people – isn’t an easy process and once accomplished should be a cause for celebration. It’s not everyday that an area is identified and protected as something so special, it’s highest value is to left alone. Since taking office in 2009, our current President has approved nineteen new National Park units; from January 2015 until today, he has designated three new National Monuments in California that protect more than 1.8 million acres of public land; unique ecosystems; and provided additional refuge for threatened and endangered species. But it seems you can’t please everyone all the time, and while everyone in the US who appreciates open spaces or wild places; or clean air or clean water; or a healthy environment should be happy, there’s a group of politicians in Washington who are upset about these new national lands – and this group just always has to be ‘Right’.
Public lands can be shaped in one of two ways: Through grass-roots organization (which can do more than just protect grass, and its roots) that inform, educate, and make aware the importance of a specific site or area, and by engaging with government officials and elected representatives ultimately result in a congressional action that is voted upon by Congress and approved by the President; or lands can be designed by the President as culturally, historically or environmentally unique and of greater importance to the people as a whole rather than any private or commercial development. As his duty and responsibility as President, the current office holder has special powers that were transferred to him when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. No, that’s not right, really these powers were created by Congress (no comment on any connection between mutated arachnids and congressmen) as part of the Office of the President, which not only allow but entrust whoever is currently President to make decisions and actions based upon his determination of what is best for the country and all its people, not just what might be fitting for a small (or influential) group. One of these powers – the Antiquities Act – was approved by Congress in 1906 to allow Presidential action in preserving and protecting American natural, historic, and scientific lands and sites. Monuments as large as thousands of acres; and as small as a few hundred square feet have been set aside through this Act, and the Supreme Court – as many say, the final word in the land – has multiple times upheld these Presidential actions.
‘Sheepstep’, the Desert Bighorn, is shocked to hear some people don’t think his home is special enough to be preserved. He’s also surprised he can stand on the side of a rock without falling off.
However recently a few members of the House of Representatives decided the best way to represent the people who voted for them is to go against this long-standing Presidential responsibility and are calling for an investigation into the Presidents’ declaration of the Mojave Trails; Sand to Snow; and Castle Mountains National Monuments in the California desert, enacted this February. Also, these representatives are questioning Presidential approval of six other monuments dating back to January 2015. Since taking office in 2009 our current President has approved nineteen new National Park units; of these five have completed extensive public and private review process, been authorized by Congress and are awaiting budgeting, land acquisition, and final organizational steps. While other proposed Park units are under review and (for a time) outside the influence of Congress, it seems the Presidential applications of the Antiquities Act is what’s got these House members upset. Assuming, of course, they really are upset about these National Monuments and not about, say, political differences that they hold against a President who belongs to a different political party and holds contrasting beliefs. Of course virtually every recent President – including those in the right wing – has declared or approved natural and historic sites: Richard Nixon created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City. President HW Bush added fourteen new National Park units and his son George Bush created or approved seven units. Under Ronald Reagan, upheld by many as the founder of the current Republican Party (and who once said “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do”) eighteen new National Park units were added. In 1906 Republican President Theodore Roosevelt created the National Park System much as we know it today.
Yet today these House representatives, elected by the people, are charging “lack of transparency and consultation with local stakeholders” by the application of the Antiquities Act. Despite extensive research, public comment, countless hours of outreach and almost endless pages of reports completed and presented to the President before he took action. No one really knows what these House members are trying to achieve. We’d like to think this is an April Fools joke – but today’s April third, not the first – so if there’s any joke in this, it isn’t for our enjoyment, but rather our loss.
Michonne Says: All these national places are for the people? What about for marmots and other animals, too? Does that mean more men will be coming into the forest and the fields? I don’t like that one bit. Or maybe it means the forest and fields will be left alone so the men can visit and play and look, but not change things. I like THAT a lot.
You wouldn’t expect, usually, plants to set aside much time for planning. They don’t have to schedule their days around meetings or appointments or dinners or ‘must see TV’; and they don’t travel much (new security regulations make it unreasonably difficult for a tree to get a passport); so you naturally wouldn’t expect the trees or grasses or shrubs to look too far into the future because for a plant, what’s natural is for Spring to follow Winter; the sun rises each day and sets each night; and your neighbors are the same native plants that have been living within the ecosystem for generations. Things should go much as they do every day and each year. Until humans decided they had a better way. Which often leads to challenges native plants were never prepared to encounter: Stress on natural systems; invasion by non-native species; widespread drought and wildfire; and the loss of entire environments. It was time for a Seed Strategy.
Before you picture a gathering of trees and shrubs plotting a root revolution (‘Today the park – tomorrow the world!), seed strategy is not a plan designed by plants, but a program developed to restore and manage native plants and environments in areas that have suffered from the introduction or invasion of non-native species. Aside from the purposeful addition of landscape and ornamental plants into the newly-discovered american environments (four hundred years ago the first English, Spanish and French colonists brought with them plants and animals from home, and the practice of installing ‘familiar’ plants has continued through much of the sidewalk and street landscaping we see today), following a fire, flood, or other devastating event fast-growing non-native seeds are usually the first to establish themselves in bare or disturbed soil. Whether spread by the wind or planted as something to grow in the raw and barren ground, virtually all non-native species out-compete and thrive to the loss of natives.
As the historic Dustbowl of the 1930’s (itself a product of poor farming decisions) covered much of the midwest and western US, leaving thousands of miles barren as cattle starved, water sources dried up or were reduced to mud-holes, and countless acres of top soil blew away, non-native Wheatgrass; Cheatgrass; and even Russian Thistle was planted or encouraged as easily-established, fast-growing ground cover and livestock feed. In the following decades as demand for livestock grew and the amount of available grazing land decreased due to development and climate change, even governmental organizations such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were pressured to provide fast-growing grasses, forbs, and other plants for cattle feed and to replace native species that had been depleted or over-grazed. In recent years widespread wild fires, particularly in the Western US, have destroyed tens of millions of acres of public and private land; in 2015 alone over 10 million acres incinerated. Almost a decade of fire destruction is creating in some western areas environments similar to that of the Dust Bowl years, but rather than loosing farms and topsoil, we are now seeing loss of unique ecosystems and wildlife habitat; soils that aren’t able to filter surface water resulting in streams and rivers that are un-livable for fish and other aquatic species; erosion; and sterile soils. In some areas only aggressive non-native plants can survive, which, ironically, are also among the most fire-prone and as these plants increase so does the threat of even larger, more frequent, and faster-spreading wildfires.
Five out of six native birds prefer native seed. The sixth likes worms.
The only solution to this round-a-bout problem is establishing native plants in burned, over-grazed, eroded, disturbed and barren land. Federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies, along with private farmers and organizations, are today working to establish Seed Banks to collect, store and protect inventories of native seeds and sprouts for immediate use and in preparation for the next natural or man-made emergency. Until very recently native seeds have been overlooked, unprotected and seed stock under-managed as part of comprehensive land-management decisions by government and private organizations. Working to create multiple locations where seeds appropriate to the surrounding natural ecosystem can be held at the ready, it will take years to develop the right seed mix, in the right amounts to restore a damaged environment, which should include a variety of species from among native grasses; forbs; shrubs and trees. Native plants generally produce fewer seeds, more slowly, than fast-spreading invasives, and the race is on as, stated by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, to fulfill ‘The right seed in the right place at the right time.”
As part of a seed strategy, plants might like the idea of seed banks. Where else would a perennial go to deposit their pennies? Or a tree apply for a home loan (which is ironic as trees, themselves, are often homes to other species so they would probably be more interested in remodeling rather than moving). But for today’s seed banks, the strategy isn’t to benefit one plant or one species or even one environment, but in the restoration and recovery of entire regions and eventual return of a healthy, native landscape. And that’s something worth investing in.
Michonne Says: Marmot strassetgy is to eat as many seeds we can find. And flowers and berries and sometimes leaves and grasses, too. And then the plants make more, maybe because they don’t have anything else to do. So everyone’s happy.
This weekend (February 27) is noted as International Polar Bear Day. Last week, World Pangolin Day fell on February 20. In March we have World Frog Day; International Day of the Seal; and, perhaps because they are an unusual and not well known animal, five days are dedicated as National Aardvark Week. Within every month of the year; and throughout virtually every week of each month; there is a holiday, commemoration, celebration, or remembrance of some species, animal, wildlife, or similar collection ranging from Don’t step on a Bee Day (July 9); to Sea Serpent Day in August; not to be confused with later that same month, International Whale Shark Day (which, despite both being relatively unknown deep-ocean dwellers, are not the same animal and ‘sea serpent’ is probably a mis-identification of other ocean life). For any wildlife overlooked in other weeks March 3 is World Wildlife Day; but that is not the same as Endangered Species Day of May 20.
And all these days are important. Not, perhaps, for the individual species or group that is indicated by that day; but for our, as humans, overall remembrance of the non-human species surrounding us and with whom we share the world. Because in our everyday lives of rushing here and there, too busy to reach our next goal that we overlook where we’re at; and through (or in spite of) always-connected linked-in multi-tasking in which we get so much done, yet none of it is ever complete; we, as humans, need these pre-defined days of wildlife recognition to remember, if only for a day, there are other lives on the earth. Even if that recognition consists of a few seconds of morning news coverage, or an online update, or a pretty photo on a calendar before we resume our flurry and fluster, hustling here and there not unlike rats in a maze. Which, by the way, are recognized on April 5 as World Rat Day.
A warming climate, and melting ice, means Polar Bears can’t rest and raise their young
The Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) is experiencing unprecedented habitat loss due to climate change and could be extinct in the wild within the next 30 years. Pangolin (family Manidae) are daily trapped and poached by the thousands, served as meals at exclusive (and illegal) restaurants and could be gone, as an entire animal group, before many people know they exist. Every type Frog is an indicator species of overall ecosystem health and well being; the loss of frogs and other amphibians, it’s been shown numerous times, is the warning of impending environmental collapse. Without Bees much of the worlds agricultural crops would decline and crash, resulting in billions of dollars in economic loss and food shortages.
Yet, we need a specified day to remember ‘not to step on bees’? For entire wildlife populations that suffer challenges daily, one day a year is enough for us to ‘celebrate’ them? Perhaps, in our faster-and-more-complicated world, a ‘day’ of our attention is all these species can fare; and in that brief moment, hopefully, we are connected to the surrounding world bigger than our own daily concerns. But if we should allow these connections to dim with each check of the calendar, here one day only to be replaced the next with another ‘species of awareness’, the personal, cultural, and entirety of loss to us could be as great as the extinction of any singularly unique wild species.
Michonne Says: I keep waiting for marmot day but it never seems to come. I don’t know what would happen but a special day sounds nice. Maybe we would get treats or something. On Groundhoggy day men annoy the groundhoggies all day and that’s not good so maybe it’s better not to have a day at all, if that’s what it turns out to be.
The Pangolin (genera Manis; Phataginus; and Smutsia) wouldn’t harm a fly. Of course each individual can eat thousands and thousands of ants every day, but flies, along with virtually every animal (and plant, for that matter), are safe around these unique (so exclusive they have no known close relatives) found in the Far East, particularly Indonesia and China; and Africa. If these animals live that far away, you might be asking, they certainly aren’t native to North America and I came here to read about animals I can see in my own neighborhood, not on the other side of the world! So why are we talking about them here? Good question! While every species throughout the world has it’s purpose, we usually try to keep to those plants and animals that could be living in your neighborhood, nearby park, or at least are native to North America (nothing personal to the other species). But this weekend, February 20th, is World Pangolin Day and while it should be an opportunity to celebrate this gentle and incredibly important animal that few people in the Western world even know exists, it’s more a time to recognize the life and death challenge facing these species. A challenge that comes not from climate change; nor competition for food or territory; nor loss of natural environment – while all these are certainly challenges in themselves. What is pushing the unassertive Pangolin to the edge of extinction are many of the products we can find in our local mall.
Until recently, many of the world’s cultures would, only rarely and on special occasions, eat foods that signify a special achievement or are significant to that cultures history or beliefs. In America, for example, most of us eat cranberry sauce only on Thanksgiving; gingerbread at Christmas; and black-eye peas on New Years. So in other cultures and parts of the world plants and animals – many of which would be loathsome for us to even think about eating – are considered ‘delicacies’ that some people may eat only a few times in their lives, and others can never afford. But today, in China, Indonesia, and other countries of the Far East, largely due to skyrocketing economic growth due to manufacturing and exports; social expectations of impressing your companions and business associates; and rise of an upper class with more money than they know what to do with, extravagant foods that for thousands of years seen as rare and unusual are now considered ‘fashionable’.
Pangolin are an animal that is now routinely eaten by senior business and government officials in many countries of the Far East. Seen as a status symbol, these harmless animals are caught, transported sometimes thousands of miles without food or water, and served to anyone with the money and the willingness (or social connections) to flaunt their disregard of the law; for the buying and selling of Pangolin species is illegal under an International Trade act which most countries agreed to, however few officials enforce and in fact may take advantage of for their own benefit. No one knows how many Pangolins are sold each year, but it’s probably in the tens of thousands; so many that within just the past two decades the Chinese (Manis pentadactyla) and Malaysian Pangolin (Manis javanica) are nearing extinction. While demand for the animals increase, poachers are now supplying animals taken from Vietnam, Thailand, and now shipments consisting of thousands of animals are being transported from Africa, the last area where Pangolins have until now not been exploited.
As food, the animals are valued at about $150 a pound; about $1000 an animal. But body parts – particularly body scales (pangolin possess a trait different than any other mammal: Hard, armour-like body covering that protects them from most predators) – can result in far greater prices. Believed to hold mystical properties, the scales are ground into powder; labeled as ‘unicorn tablets’, ‘carp armor’ or ‘dragon scales’; and sold for over $300 a pound as treatment for detoxification; healing infection; increasing ‘positive body fluids’ (whatever that is); and curing acne. Even though the scales are made of keratin, the same material as finger and toenails; hair; and animal horns, and has no medical properties whatsoever. (Aside from basic nutritional elements, no animal has any special, ‘magic’ substance that will help a person regrow lost hair, or gain super-powers, or ward off disease, nor provide any other advantage that humans wish were true, but just isn’t).
Pangolin seem to enjoy hanging upside down by their tails. No one knows why.
Pangolin have no teeth (which, if they did, would probably be valued for some magical properties that don’t exist); are ancient, as a group, have no direct relatives yet are totally unique among all species; are nocturnal, generally solitary, and somewhat of a mystery to science with little known of their behavior, birth and parenting, or even where they sleep. However each adult does eat about 70 million termites and ants a year, using their long, sticky tongue that can be half a long as its body; which makes them, ironically, priceless in their jungle and rainforest home where insects can destroy entire trees in just a few days. Pangolin are almost impossible to keep in a refuge or zoo as they refuse to eat anything other than their insect diet, and usually die after a few months of captivity. Today the worlds most-traded illegal animal, perhaps the most significant challenge facing the species is that an entire group an animals may go extinct before many people even know they exist.
The world, it’s often observed, seems smaller due to advances in transportation, communication, and technology. Many products once made in nearby cities now travel across the world for our convenience. It would be nearly impossible to live without most of the products and services we take for granted, even though the total cost for this accessibility might be higher, and largely unknown, to our lifestyles. Certainly not every person who manufactures, packages, or ships the newest mobile phone or fashionable shoes or piece of decorator furniture is, later that week, eating an endangered species (most researchers agree it’s not the everyday workers who are exploiting the environment, but executives, wealthy importers/exporters and government officials); but, in our everyday choices and purchases, we as the consumer are a significant factor into what products are made and sold. Is it any less our responsibility to question who’s paying the ultimate cost?