Archive for the ‘summer’ Tag
It’s been so hot I don’t know what to think. Even the windy air that usually helps keep things cool hasn’t been winding and that means it’s really, really hot. So marmots (and some other animals too that live underground like thin-tail squirrels and skunks and mices and even sometimes dangerous animals like ferrets and martens – which are NO relation to marmots) spend all day in our burrows, where it’s cool and dry and if you plan ahead even a snack. I’ve heard the men call this ‘estay-nation’ but to us it’s just taking a nap to stay out of the heat. In the cold times we go underground and nap too, this time to stay warm (and there’s not much outside to eat, anyway), and the men call this ‘hyper-vacation’ or something like that but those are just fancy men-words that they think make them look smarter than marmots. If men were that smart, they’d keep out of the heat.
Note: We think Michonne is talking about ‘estivation‘, which is animals spending more time underground – sometimes days or weeks – to keep out of the summer heat; and ‘hibernation‘, which is similar, but a more deeper and longer sleep which even lowers body temperature and heart rate, occurring during the winter.
Skytop, Triefur, and Henry, who live in this burrow, were scheduled for a photo but unable to attend. Because they are asleep.
Memorial Day was created as a time to show recognition and respect for men and women who had given up everything to help work toward a better world. Now, Memorial Weekend has become a time for vacations, sports, cook-outs and much of the remembering isn’t about those who sacrificed to make our lives better, but remembering to buy the kinds of sodas everyone likes. As we sit down at our campground, picnic site, or dinner table with family and friends it’s easy to forget why we have this day of remembrance, and the world we often take for granted. Just don’t forget to check that everyone at the table is really on the invitation list.
‘Urban Heat Island’ is not a new reality show where singles compete for prizes and love (This week on ‘Urban Heat Island’ – Brendan comes one step closer to being burned; things are starting to heat up between Tony and Cristina; and can Jackie survive without being flamed?!?). No, the Heat Island Effect is the temperature effects within and radiating from developed areas; particularly cities where the man-made environment of brick, cement, asphalt and car traffic overwhelms the natural cooling provided by grass, trees and natural, vegetative landscaping resulting in a climate degrees warmer than the surrounding environment. For decades scientists (as well as anyone walking in a crowded downtown) have known that temperatures are often warmer in an urban environment; but only recently has research shown how even a small change in the amount of development can make a big difference – both in how hot, and how cool, a city can be.
Cities filled with ‘impervious surfaces’ – usually man-made products such as concrete that are great for buildings and sidewalks but poor for allowing sun and rain to reach the soil – also act as storage heaters, holding heat energy far longer than natural surfaces or other construction products such as glass, wood and many types of metal. A recent NASA study using satellite and temperature data (they’re not just about far-off stars and galaxies!) has discovered that when the area of impervious surface reaches just 35% of the total measured area – such as a town or city – urban temperatures begin to rise, continuing upward as more vegetation is lost. Generally any developed area is about 1 – 2 degrees warmer than surrounding countryside filled with trees and plants; once urbanization reaches 35%, city temperatures begin to rise until at 65% urbanization it’s often 3 – 4 degrees warmer. That might not sound like much, but based upon typical use one degree is enough to urge people to use 20% more air conditioning; walk and bike less but travel more by car, creating even more heat and exhaust; and increases water use while at the same time resulting in less water being available due to evaporation.
Sometimes, it’s better to keep cool than to worry about your self-dignity.
Yet, in an attempt to combat the historic drought, today many cities, commercial centers, and individual home owners are ripping out lawns; cutting down trees; and replacing vegetation with rocks, cement, or leaving the bare earth. While reducing the amount of water use is very important – particularly in California and parts of the west where wildfires are burning through tens of thousands of acres due to dry, parched conditions – removing vegetation that collects and holds in water, releasing the excess through a process called evapotranspiration which adds cooling and humidifying water vapor to the air, is a contradictory action that might be well meaning but ultimately contributes to local warming and dry, barren environments.
While every city is, to some extent, a heat island – particularly population centers along the East and West coasts (we’re looking at you, Los Angeles!), and large metropolitan areas in the center of the country – ironically, not all cities, despite the heat island effect, are warmer than their surrounding natural environments: Cities in the desert which add trees and vegetation to areas where there had been none before often have lower temperatures than the surrounding region, making the cites, while still hot, a somewhat more pleasant area to live than a treeless desert community. As long as you remember, it’s a dry heat.
Michonne Says: I know it’s hot but that’s because marmots live around rocks. It’s a lot safer. We could live in the trees where the wind blows and there’s lots of nice leaves to sit under, but there’s already enough squirrels and birds in the trees as it is. And marmots can’t fly.
As the summer heat grows hotter, the drought effecting much of the west is worsening. Livestock, trees, and wildlife are suffering, with thousands of acres of forests dying and animals becoming desperate, their search for food and water overpowering their fear of humans and resulting in more human/wildlife conflicts that are dangerous for both the humans, and the animals. In any year these events can lead to a strain on all involved, but this year, as conditions continue to deteriorate with little relief in sight, it seems things are only going from bad to worse. It may not be the apocalypse (next: Zombies!? Or maybe just really bad movies about zombies); but now, even the systems we all depend upon are being stressed to their extreme.
In a rare event, the National Fire Preparedness Level has been raised to its highest rating, indicating things are, literally, as bad as they can be. Or at least, as bad as anyone imagined when they created the fire rating system. With over 6.4 million acres of wildlands already burned in the US this year, and thousands of acres currently on fire and threatened by spreading flames, this summer could be one of the most fire-scarred in recent history. Level 5 – the highest rating, for the lowest point conceived, is put into effect when 80% or more of all fire crews, emergency teams, and other resources are actively fighting existing blazes, and there are few resources remaining to combat any new situations that may arise. Stretched to their limit, Forest Service fire-fighting aircraft can’t keep up with their need and US Air Force C-130 transport planes have been outfitted with fire-fighting suppressant and water tanks. If the conditions worsen, Canadian fire-fighting units might be called upon to help fight our Western fires – while still keeping a watch on their own forests and grasslands, which are as dry and vulnerable as they are in the US.
Preparing for an upcoming TV awards show, technicians mix a batch of SLIME…no, actually this is the portable emergency fire system being readied for use by the Air Force C-130 in the background.
And as more fires burn, costs of fighting these fires rise, ironically taking away money originally intended for fire prevention and education that would help stop or ease the effects of the major wildfires, that are now taking so much money and resources to fight! It’s a continuing spiral in which, under current conditions, no one can benefit. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are the two federal agencies with most control, and responsibility, for land in much of the Western US, where in some areas the federal government owns more land than any other organization or individual. Like any land owner, government departments must take care of their land – in this case, for the benefit and use of the people of the US; and this includes everything from licensing ranching and mining operations; providing recreation and public activities; maintaining roads, buildings, trails, and campgrounds; monitoring, researching and protecting wildlife including endangered species; environmental education; and of course, fire prevention and fire fighting. Each year the budget for these departments is distributed among the different responsibilities; but during emergencies money has to be moved from one area to another to cover all expenses, resulting in what was an ‘adequate’ budget for, say, public recreation is sacrificed and put toward transporting fire-crews hundreds of miles; or the education budget is slashed to pay for more fire-retardant, replace worn-out equipment, and hire more firefighters. (Though often mistaken – probably because of the ranger hat – Smokey the Bear works for the Forest Service, not the National Parks). To date the USFS has already committed, from other areas, $500 million over its original fire-fighting budget, and for the first time in years over 50% of the entire Forest Service budget has already been spent, the majority of that on fighting this seasons’ disastrous wildfires.
Which means that during most of the year, when the risk of fire is low and efforts should be directed to fire prevention activities such as removing dead trees and clearing brush; maintaining fire-access roads and monitoring equipment; and providing public education and information on fire prevention, the money to pay for these activities – and for the Forest Service workers to do the jobs – isn’t available, and the cycle of not-enough-now, and even-less-later continues into next fire season. (Before his job is cut, maybe Smokey should think about applying with the Park Service).
As the weeks continue into this years season – and the possibility of next year being even more severe – the Forest Service, firefighters, wildlife and environment will continue to be stressed to their extreme. While the National Fire Preparedness Level maxes out at ‘5’, we could be facing a situation that warrants raising the level to 11.
Michonne Says: I’ve never seen a fire (except for those burning sticks the men hold in their mouth, and sometimes the pile of burning sticks they use on the ground. Probably because those sticks are too big to fit into their mouth). But I’ve smelled fire, and know other animals that were near a fire, and it sounds very scary. If the men say five fires are dangerous, what happens when there are more than five?
It’s Labor Day! A day when most of us take time off work, and don’t labor. So maybe it should be called Idleday. Not to be confused with Eiderdown, which is feathers from the Eider Duck (Somateria mollissima), a type of sea duck. Who probably doesn’t even know it’s Labor Day and just keeps on working.
If you’re having a Labor Day picnic, remember not to feed the wildlife! It’s not good for them, and not safe for you. And double-check that hairy guy at the end of the table really is your uncle with his shirt off, and not a bear.
In an extraordinary decision, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have released all fish from two up-river hatcheries because of the unusual low water levels of neighboring streams and rivers, and the rising temperature of water that’s still flowing. The young fish – called ‘fry’ or ‘fingerlings’ or ‘juveniles’ – are normally kept in hatcheries through the fall and winter, only released into the river system when they are old enough to care for themselves; but this year, in order to save as many fish as possible, officials have taken the never-before step of, literally, opening the flood gates and setting loose over 430,000 fingerling Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss); Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha).
The fish, which require water temperatures no more than 63 degrees, will hopefully seek out deeper and cooler lakes and reservoirs on their way to the ocean – but even so, the fish may be too young to follow their ‘swim to the ocean’ instinct and scientists are monitoring the fish populations to better understand how these little fish will respond to life in an even-more-harsh-than-normal environment, and this research could help in future release schedules and planning. What is certain, with all of these snack-size fish set free in ever-more shallow water, could lead to a feast for raccoons and hawks and eagles and bears and most any other animal that isn’t about to let a fish lunch swim by.
In past times of low-waters or rising temperature, hatchery officials have requested fresh, cool water be released from nearby lakes. But with the severe, almost unimaginable drought in California and through most of the Western US, there’s not enough water in many lakes to even reach spillway level, the parts of a dam that are designed to allow water to pass. And the water that is in the lakes is too shallow and warm – in some places estimated to reach 78 degrees or warmer – to do the fish any good.
While it’s expected the fish in most of California’s hatcheries should be fine and can remain in their nurseries though the summer, it’s ironic that this mass release comes only a year after one of the most successful fish count-and-release seasons on record. In the 2013 season (fish grown large enough for normal release through the autumn and winter of 2013 – 2014), more Trout and Salmon passed through fish-counting stations, on their way to the ocean, than any previous season.
With fall and winter rain and snow the hatcheries will be able to re-stock and help grow another generation of Trout and Salmon that will help maintain a healthy ecology and provide recreation and income for fishermen and business owners that rely on a balanced environment. But if the expected (and hoped for!) precipitation doesn’t come, in a worst-case situation we could be seeing fewer fish fry – and more fried fish.
Folsom Lake, California, March 2011 on the left – on the right, January 2014
“Cheep, cheep, cheepidy cheep”
Here we have your average American Robin (Turdus migratorius). (Yes, that’s his real name. Don’t laugh, maybe the guy at the naming office was having a bad day). Appearing, it seems almost overnight, as soon as the weather starts to warm, robins are some of most familiar and welcome feathered-friends throughout North America. One robin can eat up to 14 feet of worms a day! That’s a lot of regular-sized worms, or one really large and scary mutant-worm.
But where do these birdy-buddies go in the winter? Maybe take a tropical vacation? Stay inside near a welcoming fire? Help Santa make and deliver presents? (They’re usually very good at pulling on ribbons and bows). While none of these sound like something a wild animal would do, in fact every year flocks of robins spend part of their year in the Southern U.S., Mexico and as far south as Central America. While they travel seeking food, and it’s not exactly a vacation, it is tropical and something we wouldn’t expect from the same grey and rust birds we see in our neighborhood lawns and parks through the Spring and Summer – and in some areas, well into Autumn.
And it’s because the Robin migrates – travels from one location to another along with changes in weather or temperature or food – that makes it vulnerable to human activity in the environment: Everything from new construction in what was once a meadow at the edge of a forest, to the application of pesticides and other chemicals that might make our lives easier, but can be deadly to robins, as well as other birds and wildlife. How would you like to go away for a few months, only to return to find your home gone, or poison has made the water and food toxic?
In fact, because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, all birds that migrate – as well as many native birds that don’t migrate, and might actually seem ‘common’ – are protected from trapping, forcibly transporting, removing, harming, or otherwise disturbing birds, eggs, and nests in their normal environments, for virtually all purposes, without a permit issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USWFS). This means that anyone who harms a bird – even if that bird might be nesting in an inconvenient place, or decides to take a bath in your swimming pool – could be subject to a maximum $5000 fine and a six-month jail term. And if a loose house cat catches or kills a protected bird, that cat’s in big trouble with the USFWS – and it might mean trouble for the cat’s owner, too.
Aside from helping maintain healthy populations of birds (so they can continue to eat the billions and billions of insects they devour every year; and the pollination and seed-spreading duties they undertake; and the food they sometimes become for other wildlife), protection provided by the Migratory Act is also a way to keep species safe from extinction caused by human vanity: About a hundred years ago – the ‘Victorian Age’ – most any type of bird with colorful or decorative feathers were hunted for ornaments on woman’s’ hats and dresses; or because they were seen as ‘unwanted’ birds that kept other more desired birds away; or because there were so many of the birds, it wouldn’t hurt to shoot hundreds or thousands or millions. Until some, like the Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) and Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) were hunted to the brink of extinction; while others – the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) and Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) one day were gone, before anyone realized how quickly entire populations can be extinguished.
“Yes, we know it’s right above your front door. Maybe just carry an umbrella for a few weeks.”
Which brings us back to our summer-time friend, the Robin, which greets every day with a song and has never found a worm he didn’t like (although for worms, the feeling isn’t mutual). Without decisions like the Migratory Bird Act, as well as the efforts of educational organizations, bird-watching groups, and actions you and I can take every day to protect, preserve and enjoy birds and other wildlife, our environment wouldn’t be as rich, and our summers wouldn’t be as rockin’.
Michonne Says: I’ve never understood how the robin-birds eat those things they eat. Maybe once or twice, while I was enjoying a particularly tasty group of meadow flowers, I might have maybe eaten a beetle-bug or night-nat, but it was all a mistake and I’ll never tell anyone if I did or didn’t.