Farms & Non-Farms For Our Future

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Critics note that flawed strategies have encouraged tree farms, such as this oil palm plantation in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

Richard Conniff explains why tree farms, like the one pictured above, are not part of the solution to climate change, whereas abandoned ancient farms like the one picture below may be part of the solution:

Could Abandoned Agricultural Lands Help Save the Planet?

Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing — more land globally is now being abandoned by farming than converted to it. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.

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The town of Castro Laboreiro, Portugal, where former grazing lands have reverted to nature. ANTONIO LOMBA/FLICKR

People have lived in Castro Laboreiro, where northern Portugal borders Spain, long enough to have built megaliths in the mountainous countryside and a pre-Romanesque church, from 1,100 years ago, in the village itself. But the old rural population has dwindled away, leaving behind mostly elders yearning for their vanishing culture. Continue reading

117 of 314 Bird Species, As Urban Murals

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Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

A couple years ago we linked to a story about urban murals and now, progress:

Where Birds Meet Art . . . After Dark

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy
Location: 3920 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The Audubon Mural Project is a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler &_____ Gallery to create murals of climate-threatened birds throughout John James Audubon’s old Harlem‐based neighborhood in New York City.

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy
Location: 3668 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking report “Survival By Degrees.” Audubon’s scientists have found that climate change will threaten at least half of all North American birds with extinction, and that no bird will escape the impacts of climate-change-related hazards like increased wildfire and sea-level rise. The project commissions artists to paint murals to call attention to this problem, and it has been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times.

On the website where Audubon features these murals you can click through to see the individual stories of each, including lots of interesting species information:

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Clockwise from top left: Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, John James Audubon, depiction of Russell Lee’s 1941 photo of Chicago, Magnolia Warbler, James Lancaster’s hand, and Tree Swallow. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Endangered Harlem by Gaia

Location: 1883, 1885, and 1887 Amsterdam, New York, NY 10032 Continue reading

Big Money, Big Park, Big Questions

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American Prairie Reserve’s Patchwork Of Properties
American Prairie Reserve’s purchased and leased land is shown in green with white borders adjacent to Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Together, these parcels complete a network of land larger than Yellowstone National Park, the second-largest national park in the Lower 48 states. Source: American Prairie Reserve, Montana State Library, U.S. Geological Survey 1 Arc-Second SRTM, Natural Earth, Montana Department of Transportation, U.S. Census Bureau, National Park Service
Credit: Daniel Wood/NPR

Hats off to Sean Gerrity, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who have kept the native prairie grasses intact in recent generation, and to the native communities who stewarded these lands long before all this became a story. Our thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for sharing the story:

Big Money Is Building A New Kind Of National Park In The Great Plains

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Bison walk on American Prairie Reserve land. The organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Claire Harbage/NPR

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.

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Sean Gerrity founded the American Prairie Reserve more than 18 years ago after he moved back home to Montana from Silicon Valley, where he ran a firm that consulted for companies such as AT&T and Apple.
Claire Harbage/NPR

But the reserve is facing fierce opposition from many locals because to build it, the organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Those private properties are then stitched together with vast tracts of neighboring public lands to create one giant, rewilded prairie. The organization has purchased close to 30 properties so far, but it needs at least 50 more.

“I see them coming in with big money, buying up ranches and walking over the top of the people who are already here,” says ranch owner Conni French. “For them to be successful in their goals, we can’t be here, and that’s not OK with us.”

She isn’t alone. Driving around, you see signs everywhere that say, “Save The Cowboy, Stop The American Prairie Reserve.”

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A “Save the Cowboy” sign is posted along a fence. The “Little Rockies” on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation are seen in the distance. Claire Harbage/NPR

But the project’s efforts have garnered a lot of positive attention from those living outside northeastern Montana because, once it’s complete, it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states — about 5,000 square miles, nearly the size of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Continue reading

Hawks At Home

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A chihuahua plays on the grass. Photo © Jamie McCaffrey / Flickr

Thanks to Cool Green Science for asking, and answering, this burning question:

Do Hawks Eat Pets?

Hawks have moved into our backyards. And many people seem to find their new neighbors terrifying.

I recently downloaded the Nextdoor app, the “social network for your neighborhood community,” to keep track of road closures and new developments in my rapidly growing community. It served that purpose, but it also gives me sometimes-startling insights into my neighbors’ concerns.

Chief among those concerns is wildlife: Coyotes, bobcats (or bobcats misidentified as mountain lions), deer, and, lately, hawks. Yes, hawks. Continue reading

A Home For Potato Knowhow

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 A selection of the thousands of native potato varieties that grow in Peru. Photograph: The International Potato Centre

Thanks to Dan Collyns (last seen in our pages in 2013), writing in the Guardian, for this:

How Peru’s potato museum could stave off world food crisis

Agri-park high in the Andes preserves the expertise to breed strains fit for a changing climate

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A worker picking potatoes high in the Andes. Photograph: The International Potato Centre

With a climate changing faster than most crops can adapt and food security under threat around the world, scientists have found hope in a living museum dedicated to a staple eaten by millions daily: the humble potato.

High in the Peruvian Andes, agronomists are looking to the ancestral knowledge of farmers to identify genetic strains which could help the tubers survive increasingly frequent and intense droughts, floods and frosts.

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 A selection of biofortified potatoes, grown to be higher in zinc and iron. Photograph: David Dudenhoeffer/The International Potato Centre

The Potato Park in Cusco is a 90 sq km (35 sq mile) expanse ranging from 3,400 to 4,900 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level. It has “maintained one of the highest diversities of native potatoes in the world, in a constant process of evolution,” says Alejandro Argumedo, the founder of Asociación Andes, an NGO which supports the park. Continue reading

Thanks, Giving & Thanksgiving

Thanks to the wonders of modern transportation I arrived to Costa Rica late last night after a week in Ithaca, where Amie and I reconnected with our two sons and our grand-daughter. Seth had brought gifts of honey and coffee from Rwanda, which we all enjoyed sampling. Milo gave us a better understanding of the work he has been doing with fungi and medicinal herbs in recent years. And we gave Slothicorn, on a t-shirt that fits Milo’s daughter both physically and metaphysically, as a reminder to all of us that she will be visiting us in Costa Rica before too long. Amie had found the artist of that and other fun shirts earlier this year, and we carry them in the Authentica shops. Thanks to her for finding the artist, and to the artist for the fun and creative approach to representing themes relevant to this rich coast country.

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While on the theme of thanks, there is much more to say. Too much more for a quick post. Thanksgiving showed up as a topic more than a couple times in the first few months of our setting up this platform in 2011. Since then, every year a post touches on it. So this is it for 2019, about giving and thanks and the holiday we think is one of the best ones out there. The zinger came to me as I started writing this.

I left home early in the morning to run some errands, and while out one of our team members back at the house sent this photo of a sloth. It was crawling, with a mate, in our garden, making its way over to the neighbor’s property. They seem to have enjoyed the flowers dropping from the vines my mother planted nearly two decades ago. We have seen a toucan as well as an emerald toucanet on our property, but a sloth sighting is more than rare, more like bizarre. They tend to live closer to sea level and our home is 1,400 meters above sea level. So, of all the things to say thanks about, at this moment this is my choice. I thank them for stopping by and giving me a reminder of the importance of wildlife. I wish them safe passage to their destination.

Technicolor Turkeys

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Ocellated Turkey. Photo: Ray Wilson/Alamy

Those of us fortunate to have worked in Belize a couple years ago still talk about this very thing–of all the birds to be amazed by, how surprising that these turkeys could be the most exciting, even while abundant where we worked and ever-visible. Mindful of tomorrow’s holiday when the other turkey is more talked about, my thanks to Jessica Leber for this essay in Audubon Magazine:

The Wild Blue Turkey That Blew My Mind

Appreciating the avian diversity that’s there to astound us—if only we look. Continue reading

Are We Willing To Do What It Takes?

Thanks to John R. Platt, by way of EcoWatch, for this:

Could inventing a better air conditioner help to save species from extinction?

It’s an idea so crazy it just might work — and it’s just one of many new and innovative conservation initiatives in development around the world to help stem the tide of biodiversity loss. Continue reading

Big Cats Of The South, Present & Future

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 A Brazilian soldier swims in the Negro river holding Jiquitaia, a two-year-old jaguar that was adopted by the military command of the Amazon. Jiquitaia was rescued as a cub after hunters killed his mother. Photograph: None Mangueira/AP

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A jaguar in the Yasuni national park, Orellana, Ecuador. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/NPL

Ecuador is mentioned in the title but is not the only country where deforestation is putting at risk the survival of one of the big predator species in the hemisphere. Thanks to Kimberley Brown, writing in the Guardian, for her reporting from our neighborhood to the south on one of the animals we have featured the most in our pages over the years:

Ecuador’s vanishing jaguars: the big cat vital to rainforest survival

Industries such as coffee and cacao have devastated the jaguar’s habitat, but its dwindling numbers leave a delicate ecosystem hanging in the balance

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Jaguars are found across South America. This one was photographed deep inside the Nouragues Natural Reserve, in French Guiana. Photograph: Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF France

Across the American continent, from the north of Mexico to Argentina, the jaguar has long been revered for its strength and power. But in some parts of Ecuador, the largest cat in South America is increasingly at risk as roads, mining and agriculture take over the rainforests.

The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to jaguars in Ecuador, particularly along the coast, where more than 70% of the original forest cover has been lost. The vast majority of this destruction has taken place over the last 50 years with the expansion of the logging and agriculture industries, including coffee, cacao, palm oil and bananas, one of the country’s largest agriculture exports. Continue reading

Northeastern Waterways Where Salmon Thrive

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Thanks to Ali Watkins for this pointing out this inn, where the angling culture is alive and well, in her story Daughter and Dad, Chasing Salmon in Upstate New York:

A family of anglers travel to Oswego County — not the American West — to find the catch they’ve only dreamed of landing.

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Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

My dad and I were on the rocky bank of Sandy Creek when I saw the first salmon close enough to catch. Like a phantom, it glided against the current, its rhythm just a beat slower than the water around it. Two decades of fishing experience vanished the moment its body — three feet long, at least — swam in front of me.

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Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

I was as anxious and clumsy as a child. I was also not in Alaska, the assumed home of this prized fish; I was an hour north of Syracuse, N.Y.

Every fisherman or woman has a catch they dream of landing. King salmon, with its signature pink streak and hooked jaw, is almost certainly on any angler’s list. Its very mention brings fantasies of deep woods and roaring streams, dammed by hordes of slick green backs begging to be hooked.

That fishermen wish for salmon is no surprise. The twist in that fantasy is that such visions are not pipe dreams restricted to the West. Thousands of coho and king salmon swim inland every autumn just five hours northwest of New York City, pouring out of Lake Ontario and into dozens of tributaries across Oswego County to spawn and die upstream. Continue reading

Botanists Sleuthing, For Science & Conservation

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Quindío wax palms cover the hillsides of Colombia’s Tochecito River Basin. Before sequoias were discovered in California, the wax palm was considered the world’s tallest tree, with some growing 200 feet high.

The botanists who do this kind of work are heroes to us:

Stalking the Endangered Wax Palm

Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm, is endangered. Now, with decades of guerrilla war in retreat, scientists are rediscovering vast forests and racing to study and protect them.

By Photographs and Video by 

In 1991 Rodrigo Bernal, a botanist who specializes in palms, was driving into the Tochecito River Basin, a secluded mountain canyon in central Colombia, when he was seized by a sense of foreboding. Continue reading

Technology & Conservation

TrailBlaz.jpgYesterday’s post, on the application of technology in the interest of conservation, came just in time for this podcast episode by Walter Isaacson to enter my feed.

Listening to it took me straight back, seven years, to when I first learned about the benefits elephants were deriving from new technology, at the same time we (family, and interns and employees) were spending large amounts of time in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Technology, broadly speaking, has gotten us into the mess we are in, so why not expect it to get us out of it?

Conservation: Next Generation Technology

EPISODE SUMMARY

Technology and nature used to reside at the opposite ends of the spectrum. But like our environment, that relationship has changed over the years and the two have a cyclical relationship of preservation and innovation. The commitment to conserve and heal our diverse ecosystems has pushed technology further and with urgency. Because there’s no time to waste. From the American Great Plains and the African Sahara to the furthest depths in the ocean, we’re talking to the trailblazers who are innovating everyday to save the planet.

Bioacoustics & Conservation

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The AudioMoth recording device in New Forest National Park, in the U.K., where it is searching for sounds of the New Forest cicada. COURTESY OF ALEX ROGERS

Yale e360 shares more on the value of new recording technology as it relates to conservation:

Listening to Nature: The Emerging Field of Bioacoustics

Researchers are increasingly placing microphones in forests and other ecosystems to monitor birds, insects, frogs, and other animals. As the technology advances and becomes less costly, proponents argue, bioacoustics is poised to become an important remote-sensing tool for conservation.

Mitch Aide, a tropical ecologist based in Puerto Rico, thinks we should listen to the earth a lot more than we do now — and not just listen to it, but record and store its sounds on a massive scale. His aims are not spiritual, but scientific: He, his colleagues, and other experts are developing and deploying audio recorders, data transmission systems, and new artificial intelligence software that together are rapidly expanding scientists’ ability to understand ecosystems by listening to them.

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A 20-second spectrogram, showing various audio frequencies, from Puerto Rico includes the calls of these six species. COURTESY OF SIEVE ANALYTICS

Today, Aide can nail a cheap digital audio recorder to a tree in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo Forest and transmit its recordings to a computer running prototype software, which indicates almost in real time whether any of 25 species of frogs and birds are vocalizing in the forest. The system’s apparent simplicity belies its power – Aide thinks that it and similar systems will allow scientists to monitor ecosystems in ways we can’t yet imagine.

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A golden-browed chlorophonia (Chlorophonia callophrys) in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

He dreams that one day soon, audio recordings of natural soundscapes will be like rainfall and temperature data, collected from a worldwide network of permanent stations, widely available for analysis, and permanently archived. Each clip will be “like a museum specimen,” he said, “but containing many species.” Aide says scientists will be able to efficiently determine how species are moving or changing in response to global warming, habitat destruction, or human disturbance, and chart population shifts over large areas. Continue reading

Charisma Catalyzes

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A saw-whet is ready for a quick exam when researchers will collect data and affix an identifying leg band.

No one is immune to the charisma of small owls, as far as we know. And that charisma would explain how the volunteers working to band this bird got catalyzed. Thanks to the Lab of Ornithology and this article from the current issue of Living Bird magazine:

A Grassroots Banding Project Reveals How Amazing Northern Saw-whet Owls Are

Story By Scott Weidensaul; Photography By Chris Linder

Owl1There is something wonderful about an autumn night; the sharp bite to the air, the rustle of a north wind in the last leaves clinging to the tops of the oaks, Orion shining in a moonless sky over the central Appalachian ridges of Pennsylvania—and echoing over it all, a repetitive, me­chanical beep that reminds most people of the warning alarm when a garbage truck is backing up. Continue reading

No Age Limit in Citizen Science

Our most recent post about marine ecosystem citizen science connects the dots between the amazing community of people involved in gathering much needed information about the health of biodiversity in the deep.

Women’s photography of greater sea snake, once believed to be an anomaly in the Baie des Citrons, help scientists understand the ecosystem

A group of snorkelling grandmothers who swim up to 3km five days a week have uncovered a large population of venomous sea snakes in a bay in Noumea where scientists once believed they were rare.

Dr Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University were studying a small harmless species known as the turtle‐headed sea snake located in the Baie des Citrons, but would occasionally encounter the 1.5 metre-long venomous greater sea snake, also known as the olive-headed sea snake.

Goiran and Shine believed the greater sea snake was an anomaly in the popular swimming bay as it had only been spotted about six times over 15 years. From 2013, they decided to take a closer look at the greater sea snake to better understand its importance to the bay’s ecosystem.

“The study zone is in the most touristic bay in Noumea, so I often meet people when I am doing field work on sea snakes,” Goiran said. “When I was snorkelling on my own studying sea snakes, I used to meet a friend of mine called Aline that was snorkelling and taking photos on the same reef. In order to help me, she started taking photos of sea snakes and would send them to me by mail.

“I was very happy, so she asked her neighbour and friend Monique to help me too. Monique asked another friend, and soon there were seven grandmothers helping me.” The group named themselves “the fantastic grandmothers” and range in age from 60 to 75. Continue reading

Time To Make Lemonade

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A purple urchin at Bodega Marine Lab in California, which is running a pilot project to remove purple urchins from the ocean floor, restore them to health, then sell them as premium seafood. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

With invasive species, sometimes the only thing to do with such lemons is make them tasty:

Sea urchin population soars 10,000% in five years, devastating US coastline

Voracious purple urchins in waters of California and Oregon pose threat to kelp forests and risk upending delicate ecosystems

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An aerial view of one of the last remaining kelp forests near Elk, California, on the Mendocino county coast, which has lost more than 90% of its bull kelp in less than a decade. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death.

A recent count found 350m purple sea urchins on one Oregon reef alone – more than a 10,000% increase since 2014. And in northern California, 90% of the giant bull kelp forests have been devoured by the urchins, perhaps never to return.

Vast “urchin barrens” – stretches of denuded seafloor dotted with nothing but hundreds of the spiny orbs – have spread to coastal Oregon, where kelp forests were once so thick it was impossible to navigate some areas by boat. Continue reading

Unsubtle Love Song

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Female bellbirds lack a wattle and sing no songs. Anselmo d’Affonseca

Cara Giaimo provides additional perspective, perhaps the key question in the New York Times coverage of this story, which is about the female in this species, along with a great recording of the male’s call:

…One big mystery remains. The white bellbird sings its pile driver tune when a potential mate is nearby. It starts facing away from her, and then whips around to blast the loudest, record-setting note right into her face. Continue reading

Citizen Science Deepdive

By collecting images and GPS data from citizen divers, scientists can get a better sense of the health of the entire Great Barrier Reef. (Damian Bennett)

Citizen Science has been a common thread for us on this site, linking creatures of land, sea and air as subjects of study. Marine Ecosystem citizen science has especially  fascinated us in terms of the creative thinking applied to problems of invasive species.

The collaborative goal of documenting such a vast ecosystem as the Great Barrier Reef, and using creative solutions to combat threats to this wonder of the natural world is inspiring, to say the least.

Massive Citizen Science Effort Seeks to Survey the Entire Great Barrier Reef

Only about 1,000 of 3,000 individual reefs have been documented, but the Great Reef Census hopes to fill in the gaps

The majority of individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef have not been directly surveyed. (Damian Bennett)

In August, marine biologists Johnny Gaskell and Peter Mumby and a team of researchers boarded a boat headed into unknown waters off the coasts of Australia. For 14 long hours, they ploughed over 200 nautical miles, a Google Maps cache as their only guide. Just before dawn, they arrived at their destination of a previously uncharted blue hole—a cavernous opening descending through the seafloor.

After the rough night, Mumby was rewarded with something he hadn’t seen in his 30-year career. The reef surrounding the blue hole had nearly 100 percent healthy coral cover. Such a find is rare in the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 led to headlines proclaiming the reef “dead.”

“It made me think, ‘this is the story that people need to hear,’” Mumby says.

The expedition from Daydream Island off the coast of Queensland was a pilot program to test the methodology for the Great Reef Census, a citizen science project headed by Andy Ridley, founder of the annual conservation event Earth Hour. His latest organization, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has set the ambitious goal of surveying the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020.

“We’re trying to gain a broader understanding on the status of the reef—what’s been damaged, where the high value corals are, what’s recovering and what’s not,” Ridley says. Continue reading

Organikos, 100% Forward To 1,000,000

6555On July 5th I first read the news about what planting a trillion trees might do for the fight against climate change. One week later this magazine cover drove the point further home for me with the Woody Guthrie reference. Organikos already had ideas and imagery for the commitment of 100% of its profits to conservation, and by the time I saw this cover I knew our focus would be on planting treesComing back to this magazine cover now, I am struck by the power of the number referenced in the scientific study.

One trillion.

1,000,000,000,000.

How long would it take Organikos to plant one million of those trees?

Drones Sound Like Bees To Wild Animals

Our links to stories in Cool Green Science have been among the most abundant of all our sources. This may be due to the publication’s commitment to finding stories that highlight positive change in our approach to understanding, respecting, protecting the environment. Here is another:

Gustavo Lozada wants to change your mind about using drones around wildlife.

Lozada, technology manager for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, knows that many people think that increasing drone use will only harass and terrify wild animals. He also knows it doesn’t have to be that way, and that drones can be a really important tool in wildlife research and protection. The videos in this blog, he hopes, will show that drones do not have to disturb the peace.

To be clear, Lozada knows that much drone use is detrimental to wildlife. He points to a recent viral video that showed a small cub trying repeatedly to scale slick, snowy slopes to reach its obviously distressed mother. The video was widely shared as showing the cub’s pluck and determination.

But researchers and animal lovers questioned that narrative, as reported in a National Geographic story titled “Viral bear video shows dark side of filming animals with drones.” The article notes that the whole reason the cub found itself in its predicament was likely because it was terrified of the drone filming it. Continue reading