Archive for the ‘environmental education’ Tag

SciSun: It’s Only Natural. now even Fresher.   Leave a comment

Considering some recent….experiences…we’ve had while hiking, maybe it’s time to re-fresh and re-post a story about something that you, really, don’t want to see when it’s fresh. Yet…

We’ve all been there. Walking along, enjoying a pleasant day, when on the ground right in front of us is a big pile of dog poop. Or you discover a cat has decided your freshly-planted flowerbed is the perfect place to use as his private toilet. So we step over it, or pick it up, or reason that in the long run it’s fertilizer that might even be beneficial to our garden. After all, what harm could come from a few pets pooping in the environment.

Well, a lot of harm. Because the diet of our cats and dogs has changed over the generations they’ve lived with us, they’re not the same animals as the wild wolf or bobcat. As species, dogs and cats have been domesticated – lived with men – for tens of thousands of years, and in all that time their behavior and possibly even physiology – basic physical processes – have changed to they can better live with humans and enjoy the food and shelter we provide. (Some pet cats like to think they’re still wild, but they’re just fooling themselves). So the wild diets these species historically ate have been replaced with canned animal-and-grain-by-products, and crunchy-beef-flavored-kibble-bits. While most many of the ingredients in pet food is good quality (‘rendered-meat-meal-slurry’??), there are lots of other things in there, including chemicals and preservatives and artificial colors and assorted additives and even parasites and diseases carried over from some of the food sources – that cats and dogs have over time become tolerant of, but like all contaminants eventually pass through the body and end up somewhere.

And that somewhere, if it’s on a hiking trail – or edge of the sidewalk (to be washed away! Into our water systems) – or dumped from a litter box onto the ground – can cause a lot of problems for the environment:

> Modern pet food is so extra-rich in nutrients, it can cause algae blooms if it enters a stream, lake, or other water system. Algae plants (generally green or blue-green algae named cyanobacteria), always present in a healthy aquatic ecosystem, thrive on the excess nutrients and grow out of control until they block sun and oxygen from reaching deep into the water. If the thick concentrations of algae continue, all life in the lake could die.

> Dog and cat poop can carry multiple parasites and diseases that might not harm the pet but could be passed on to other animals. Infectious organisms usually need host animals to survive until they are transmitted to their next unsuspecting victim. And most of these diseases and parasites can affect humans, causing anything from flu-like symptoms to temporary changes in the brain to death.

> The Environmental Protection Agency – the US Government Department responsible for tracking and controlling many hazardous materials – has classified dog and cat waste as an dangerous pollutant, joining the list of oil spills, chemical toxins, and other things that require wearing a HAZMAT suit to clean up.

You can imagine what photos would go with this story.  So here's a totally unrelated picture of a Kodiak brown ('grizzly') bear exploring his home.  Of course he'd probably eat any cat or dog he found pooping in his territory.

You can imagine what photos would go with this story. So here’s a totally unrelated picture of a Kodiak brown (‘grizzly’) bear exploring his home. Of course he’d probably eat any cat or dog he found pooping in his territory.

So whenever your dog does ‘his duty’ remember to pick up the poop, and at home bury the waste in approved containers that dissolve the material or seal in bags and place in the trash. It doesn’t help to leave poop to ‘naturally’ decompose on the ground – eventually the organic waste will break down, but leave behind any pathogens and chemical contaminants. Plus it will probably kill your lawn. If you have a cat, train him to go in the litter box; then it’s up to you to remove the poop and place in the trash. Despite how smart your cat might be because he learned to use the toilet all by himself (!), approximately 50% of all Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) – an Endangered Species – have been found infected with Toxoplasma gondi, a parasite which needs to pass through the intestines of cats to survive. (In humans, this is the same parasite that can cause brain defects). And those cats are not pooping into the ocean by themselves. The only way eggs of this infectious protozoan could have reached the sea is by flushed water flowing through our city sewers and into the rivers that eventually go to the ocean. Taxoplasma eggs can live up to a year, and typical water treatment used in our cities won’t kill these microorganisms.

Dog and cat poop on the sidewalk; trail; lawn; or even flushed down the toilet isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s an ecological hazard that could pollute the water, leave toxins on the ground, and pass on parasites and disease. While picking up poop might not be the most satisfying time you spend with your pet, it’s part of being a responsible pet owner, and is a small way to care for the environment and wildlife. It’s only natural.


Michonne Says:  Who would have thought there was so much to say about poop.  I’d rather think about the flowers and berries and good things that go in, and not think of anything that comes out.  

Posted August 28, 2016 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Rate of Return   Leave a comment

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.

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.

SunSpecial: Day In, Day Out   Leave a comment

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

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.

SciSun: Common, Place   Leave a comment

We’ve come to expect things in our daily lives; not necessarily extravagant, unreasonable things such as a different car for every day, or our every wish to be granted, or a coffee kiosk on every corner (even though there does seem to be a coffee kiosk at every corner); but the commonness of available food whenever we’re hungry; the singing of birds, colorful flowers and majestic trees in our parks; and countless animals, from pigeons to coyotes, with whom we share the world. These every day, usual, common things we can take for granted, knowing they have always been there and they will always be there. Until one day, they aren’t. And we wonder what happened, for a few minutes appreciate what was (or try to think about where to find my coffee, now), and then we move on. But when a ‘common’ species disappears, it can revise more than just our daily schedule; it could be the forewarning of ecological change that could effect our lives forever.

It’s estimated that just under 1000 animal and plant species have gone extinct in the era of ‘modern’ civilization – from the year 1500, to today. Among the media, general public, as well as researchers and scientists (who, despite years of similar education, seldom agree on anything), some believe we are in the midst of a ‘mass extinction’, an event that has been found in Earth’s history – through the fossil record – to have happened at least five previous times, the most recent about 25 million years ago. No one knows how long these extinctions last – from thousands, to tens of thousands of years; what is certain is that all past events have been triggered by ‘natural’ events such as extreme changes in atmosphere, temperature, or geologic activity. (The ‘asteroid’ that for years has been pointed to for extinction of the dinosaurs may have been a contributor, but not the ultimate factor, to planet-wide changes that were already in process. Any asteroid large enough to change the entire chemistry, atmosphere and geology of the earth would have destroyed the planet just by impact).

Some say if we don’t know a species exists, we won’t miss it when it’s gone. No one knows how many or of what type of plants and animals ever existed, yet generally speaking if one species no longer exists in an area other species will usually take over that niche – the general function of that species in an ecosystem. There’s no replacing the uniqueness of Megatherium, the Giant Sloth; but birds, smaller sloths and even monkeys have generally taken over that Sloths’ niche. So maybe species extinction isn’t such a negative thing, if it opens opportunities for others. Of course, all previous mass extinction events we know of (not including what may be happening now) were before man and the changes we have made to our planet and its life. So maybe the burden is on us…which is why….

Some believe only by highlighting well-known, impressive species such as wolves and polar bears and the Giant Sequoia tree; sometimes referred to as ‘charismatic megafauna’ or ‘megaflora’ ; can species be saved and environments conserved. This type of taxonomic inflation; a ‘top-down’ approach where, it’s hoped individuals, organizations, and governments will rally around to protect and conserve an appealing (and often furry and cute) species, will somehow save every other plant and animal that shares that same environment.

“There's so many of us we can never go extinct! Just look behind me at all.... Hey where did everyone go?”

“There’s so many of us we can never go extinct! Just look behind me at all…. Hey, where did everyone go?”

But what’s being seen, among those who are in the field every day observing quail and trout and butterflies and spiders and native flowing plants and groves of trees, it’s these common species that more often that not are suffering and out of balance. It’s true that the presence of wolves, for example, helps maintain the deer and elk population, which leads to greater quantity and variety of plant life, creating homes and food for countless other animals; but just as accurate is when ‘common’ songbirds are removed from an area the result is uncontrolled numbers of spiders and insects, a decrease in plant variety due to reduced pollination and seed dispersal, and an overall unhealthy ecosystem. Loss of native trout, now living in less than 25% of their historic habitat, is not just the result of water pollution, development, and introduction of non-native species; but also one of the factors in the rise of mosquito and fly populations, insects that carry disease to other animals, including man.

The Earth, with all its environments and ecosystems and species is constantly changing; there’s a theory the planet itself is a giant organism that keeps itself in balance through change. Yet humans, in our misguided wisdom, sometimes think we can do it better. Maybe to the Earth, we are just another species that’s commonplace.


Michonne Says: There used to be little rock-rabbits that lived near my burrow but they said it was getting too hot and they went away. It was hot, but I didn’t think that was a reason to leave, just go underground and take a nap. But I don’t think they are much for digging. I don’t know where they went, but I never see them any more. Is that extinction? If it is I don’t like it one bit.

SciSun: 1.21 Gigawatts   Leave a comment

Years ago, there was popular song titled ‘You can’t roller skate in a Buffalo herd’. (Really. Look it up. It was a different time.). In that unique 70’s way, the songwriter was probably trying to say that what initially appears to be a good idea might need a little more thought to achieve the same results. But that would have been harder to rhyme. Aside from making the common mistake of referring to the American Bison (Bison bison) as a buffalo – while the only actual buffalo are the African Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), both naturally living outside North America – the song offers good advice for anyone considering traveling through a group of animals that are six feet tall, weigh more than a ton, can often be near-sighted and at the same time quick to attack anything they can’t identify. Or don’t particularly like the look of. But more than a typical tidbit of ungulate advice, the song might be saying you can’t roller skate among these bulls and cows (as bison males and females are named) because they stand their ground and almost nothing can make them move: Not even a lightning storm. Or, actually getting hit by lightning.

The Tallgrass Prairie – a uniquely North American ecosystem historically reaching from the upper Midwest to the southwestern plains, and from Texas into Canada – is largely made up of grass, grass-like plants, and endless miles of relatively flat landscape. Land that, until the great western migration of settlers from the eastern states, had grown lush and rich through thousands of years of storm and drought; tornado and unstirring quiet; burning summer heat and freezing blizzards; and fire. Because fire, caused by lightning storms, is the only natural event that both destroys and restores the prairie, removing thick undergrowth, creating deep, rich soil (some of the most rich, productive soil in North America), and providing opportunities for new plant growth.

As far as we know the lightning strike didn't cause Sparky to travel forward, or back, to the future.

As far as we know the lightning strike didn’t cause Sparky to travel forward, or back, to the future.

Today, only a fraction of the 240 million acres of Tallgrass remains, and much of that is preserved or restricted. In those areas, the descendants of animals that thrived in this environment still live: The Prairie Dog (genus Cynomys); Coyote (Canis latrans); and of course, the Bison are only a few of the specialized animals that have learned to survive this unforgiving environment. So it’s no surprise to the scientists, researchers, and rangers who study, monitor and protect these remaining lands when in the summer of 2013 at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa an adult male bison was found that had been struck by lightning. Though alive and in comparatively fair health – for an animal that had been hit by one of the most powerful natural forces known – the Bison was weak, thin, burned over a large part of his body and was feared would not be able to survive long. While difficult to observe, it was decided to allow ‘Sparky’ – as he was named – to live out his remaining life in freedom on the plains he knew, rather than in a veterinary clinic, and Sparky was left alone. The real surprise came over two years later, when Sparky was again sighted – now having gained many pounds, looking healthy, and while bearing the scars of his ‘shocking’ experience, looking much as anyone would expect an adult male bison to look.

Which makes us wonder, if a bison can survive a lightning strike – along with other animals who persevere, and sometimes even make a comeback, in what remains of their native environment; or when transplanted into other, similar environments; or even living among us in our cities and neighborhoods; with little or no help from man and often overcoming huge challenges due to man – maybe nature, when left alone and undisturbed, can get along just fine without the intercession or interference of man. And our responsibility is to just find someplace else, to do our roller skating.


Michonne Says: This story is just another reason to live around rocks and go underground because the fire-stripes that men call ‘light-en-eng’ can’t get into rocks OR go underground. I don’t know how big these bisons are, but they would be smart to dig burrows and stay away from the fire-stripes. I don’t know why they haven’t thought of that themselves

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: 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.