Sumatra & Creative Conservation

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Traditional houses in West Sumatra. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

Finding this story by Mike Ives, with Topher White getting up into the trees for a good purpose, brightens the day just a little bit:

Using Old Cellphones to Listen for Illegal Loggers

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Topher White installing a solar-powered listening unit in a rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in July. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

PAKAN RABAA, Indonesia — This village in West Sumatra, a lush province of volcanoes and hilly rain forests, had a problem with illegal loggers.

They were stealing valuable hardwood with impunity. At first, a group of local people put a fence across the main road leading into the forest, but it was flimsy and proved no match for the interlopers. Continue reading

Greta’s Generation Says Stop Digging

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Shell said last year that divestment had become a material risk to its business.’ Shell’s Brent Bravo oil rig arrives on Teesside for decommissioning, June 2019. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Bill McKibben explains the movement and its best chance of success:

Divestment works – and one huge bank can lead the way

On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder

Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.

Continue reading

Organikos Coffee From The Southern Tier Of Costa Rica

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Two weeks ago we were visiting the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, one of our long-time favorite places in Costa Rica. This weekend we made a journey to one of the few spots in Costa Rica where we had never been before, the center of the southern tier, bordering this part of Panama. Seth’s visit to Boquete was one made by many visitors to Costa Rica who either for coffee or birding reasons see this cross-border excursion as a must. We made that excursion from San Jose to Boquete 15 years ago as a family, and my recollection of the coffee sampling, including of the geisha varietal before I knew how important that would become, is a highlight.

Hacienda La Amistad

Las Mellizas is a village created decades ago by the owners of Hacienda La Amistad, which is where Organikos sources its single estate organic coffee. The farm uses bananas and other fruits, plenty of including avocado, to shade the coffee and add value to the farm’s cash crop activity.

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I will have more to say when we are back on grid, but for now I share the image at the top, with the widest view I could find on the farm yesterday, sent using a cell phone connection and electricity from the hydro-electric plant that this farm runs on, shown here.

Understanding The Illogic Of Dams

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The Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. GREG VAUGHN / ALAMY

Jacques Leslie, a veteran writer whose specialty in one of the most-used sources of alternative energy makes him a natural for our platform, somehow has never appeared in our pages before. Dams and the rivers they change are a special case of our interest in conservation, and stories about dam removal are worth the read every time. Here is a clear explanation of one river’s history and future related to dams, and the prospects for dam removal–if you have not read one of these stories yet to understand the historic case for dams and their present illogical realities, this may be the one you want to read:

On the Northwest’s Snake River, the Case for Dam Removal Grows

As renewable energy becomes cheaper than hydropower and the presence of dams worsens the plight of salmon, pressure is mounting in the Pacific Northwest to take down four key dams on the lower Snake River that critics say have outlived their usefulness.

North America’s largest Pacific watershed, the Columbia River Basin, is in the midst of an environmental and energy crisis so severe that the most obvious, yet hotly contested, antidote — removal of four dams on the Columbia’s longest tributary, the Snake River — is gaining traction.

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The hydropower dams have been controversial since before their completion, between 1962 and 1975, because of their disastrous impact on salmon and the other 137 species that are part of the salmon food chain. Most of the Columbia Basin’s 250-plus dams have played roles in the salmon’s decline, but the four lower Snake River dams are prime targets for removal because their economic value has diminished and their absence would inordinately benefit salmon. 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

Elderberries, Up & Coming From The Past

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Heiko Wolfraum/dpa/AP

Thanks to Marisa Endicott at Mother Jones for this:

This Ancient Fruit Holds Secrets for How to Farm in Climate Change

Respect your elder-berries.

Cloverleaf Farm, a small produce operation in Davis, California, managed to do okay during the extreme drought that lasted from 2012 to 2016. But in the first wet year after the long dry period, the farm lost its entire apricot crop to disease—$40,000 to $50,000 down the drain.

Researchers predict that as climate change worsens, there will be more frequent shifts between extreme dry spells and floods. As Cloverleaf learned the hard way, the phenomenon is already taking a toll on growers in the country’s largest food producing state. During the drought, California’s agricultural and related industries lost $2.7 billion in one year alone. Big cash crops like almonds and grapes are at particular risk in the future, unnerving farmers and vintners already taking hits from erratic and extreme weather. Continue reading

Kids Saying It The Way Kids Say Things

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Thanks to Alex Kalman for the story and to Mmuseumm for the photos:

Children Lead the Way: A Gallery of Youth-Made Climate-Strike Signs

signs-4-BIO.jpgWhen is skipping school more important than attending? When is a child’s design more effective than a professional’s? When are children more responsible than adults? On September 20th, millions of children, led by the activist Greta Thunberg, took to the streets to protest the world’s inaction on climate change. Here are some of the signs made by children who participated in the New York City march. Inspiring and confrontational, these signs provide a visual counterpoint to the individual voices of our children as they plead with the powers that be to act, and act responsibly.

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See the entire collection here.

Loving Food To Death

9781770414358_custom-bf6d1d71924fbd2a8904de5d2c8f72d9dd530137-s400-c85Thanks to Luisa Torres for this author interview and book review on a topic we started posting about in 2011, and we unfortunately have continuously found an abundance of stories about, but will continue sharing:

We humans love food to death — literally.

From mammoths to passenger pigeons, we have driven our favorite meals to extinction through overhunting and habitat destruction. And globally, our tendency to overharvest just a narrow range of crops has limited the variety of foods we eat.

“When it comes to fruits and vegetables, we have access to only a fraction of the diversity that existed a century ago,” says Lenore Newman in her forthcoming bookLost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food (out Oct. 8).She is the Canada research chair in food security and environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, in British Columbia.

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An engraving dating from the 19th century depicts passenger pigeons, once one of the most common birds in North America but now extinct because of overhunting and deforestation.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty

In her book, Newman explores how human activity has limited our food options and still threatens what we are able to put on our plates. Continue reading

133+ Reasons To Smile

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OC2.jpgIn early May Amie and I accompanied a group of conservation-minded investors to the southeastern tip of the Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Over a long weekend we visited lodges in that area, but the highlight of those days was our visit to Osa Conservation. We determined to return, to understand better what this organization has accomplished and what its future plans are.

OC3.jpegFinally we had the chance to do that this past weekend. The tree above is a good representative for why the Osa Peninsula is so important. With one of the longest life spans of any tree in this tropical forest, the abundance of diverse plants and animals that depend on the tree for life make it symbolically important as much as it is biologically important. The insect to the right, feeding on the top of a rice stalk, shifted my attention from the charismatic megaflora that made Saturday an immersive biophilia exemplar of a day–and helped me focus on acts taken by Osa Conservation to make their operation more sustainable. A one-time farm in their land holding has been rewilded. A few hectares were retained for experimental organic farming.

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OC5.jpegThe rice strain is an example of that, but I will save that story for another day. After being fully immersed in terrestrial wonders in the forest and the farm, the beach is where I had one of life’s more profound experiences. It started at dawn on Sunday when Amie and I joined a small team from Osa Conservation who focus on turtle habitat. Our family has had multiple experiences with sea turtle nesting and egg-laying, but we have never been witness to the hatchlings returning to the sea. Yesterday was our lucky day to round out our first hand knowledge of turtle birthing life cycle. It started with a couple of spot checks on nesting sites that had been predated–in the case of the nest in the photo to the left you can see the bird tracks all around were the eggs had been ravaged.

OC6.jpegWe may have been a mere 15 minutes too late in that case, but soon enough another nesting site was found and the surgical strike–to remove the eggs and transfer them to a hatchery where they are better protected–was under way. The protocols allow for digging carefully so that not a single egg is in danger of rupture, or even addled. They are removed one by one, counted, and placed in exactly the same formation as they were in the nest, so they can be re-nested in the hatchery as the mother turtle had laid them. Marine biologists believe that the order in the nest matters to their viability.

OC7.jpegIt was almost 6am at this point and by 8am this nest moved to safety and hatchlings from two previously moved nests were ready for release. Of all the photos I took yesterday it is difficult to choose one that is most evocative of the power of this experience. But somehow a bucket full of eggs is a candidate. We keep chickens in our yard at home, and on any given day we collect anywhere from zero to a dozen eggs from a group of 15 hens. Here one turtle had laid a hundred or so eggs (they were counted but I cannot recall the exact number now) that looked exactly like ping pong balls. Several kilometers of beach here are regularly patrolled by Osa Conservation staff, and the team of volunteers make their daily rounds to do this work.

This bucketfull was taken to the hatchery further down the beach.

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The signage is rustic but the message is clear.

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Inside the hatchery the re-nesting begins.

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The eggs removed from the nest on the beach are replaced in the hatchery nest and meanwhile Amie is taught how to extract hatchlings.

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Counting again, one by one.

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This time it is baby turtles coming out of the nest and into the box, and as always, seeing babies is a joy.

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Seeing them walked out to the beach has its own impact.

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And then the release.

OC15.jpeg133 in total, marching to the water. A race of sorts.

OC17.jpegAmie, a bird-lover, wields a stick to keep them away in case that is needed.

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And finally #133 of these Olive Ridley babies makes it to the edge of the waves.

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The Little Things We Can Do

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A hairstreak butterflies in a Florida backyard. Photo © Bill Spitzer / TNC Photo Contest 2019

If you are fortunate enough to have a yard of your own, consider this suggestion by Charles Fergus:

Create Wildlife Habitat Around Your House

By itself, a plain grass lawn is stark and visually unappealing—which is why most homeowners add shrubs, flower beds, and specimen trees. Today, there’s a new movement afoot known as natural landscaping: using native trees, shrubs, and low plants to add textural diversity to a yard while attracting and benefiting wildlife.

Research has shown that seeing wildlife around your home—hearing birds sing, glimpsing brightly colored butterflies and dragonflies, seeing a garter snake slither into a stone wall— makes life more enjoyable.

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Common milkweed growing in Illinois. Photo © Timothy T. Lindenbaum / TNC

Many of us have a visceral need to be in touch with wild creatures and to acknowledge that we ourselves are part of nature, even if we live in suburbs and other settings where housing is dense. Continue reading

Cleaning Up Productivity

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Harvard scientists and landscapers are testing a new fertilizer that could reduce pollution in water supplies. Unsplash

Thanks to Caitlin McDermott-Murphy for this story about cleaning up our growing systems:

Ending ‘dead zones’

How a biofriendly fertilizer could offer a greener way to grow plants

Every year, a “dead zone” the size of Massachusetts sprawls across the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River, which travels through the nation’s farm belt, sweeps excess fertilizer and dumps the chemicals into the Gulf, where they feed rampant algae, deplete oxygen, and kill marine life.

Across the U.S., smaller versions of similar dead zones infect lakes, ponds, and rivers. In years with higher rainfall — like 2018 — Massachusetts’ Charles River collects enough pollutants from surrounding city streets, parking lots, and landscaped campuses to cause the water quality to drop. Unchecked algae growth, often the result of excess fertilizer, can damage marine, human, and even pet health: This year, several dogs died after swimming in water choked with toxic blue-green algae. Continue reading

Tuscan Fish & Art & Conservation

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“Acqua,” a carved piece of Carrara marble by the artist Giorgio Butini, underwater near Talamone, Italy. Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

We have featured many stories about marine conservation intersecting with the arts and crafts. Most of those stories are in the Caribbean. Now, Jason Horowitz has surprised us with this from Italy:

An Underwater World of Marble to Amuse and Protect Tuscan Fish

TALAMONE, Italy — As the Sirena brought its passengers back to port, Paolo Fanciulli paused from spreading his nets and sustainable fishing gospel to point at an empty spot of sea.

“There, below the lighthouse,” said Mr. Fanciulli, clad in his rib-high yellow waders. “The sculptures are there.”

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Paolo Fanciulli’s “House of Fish” project is part environmental activism, part arts initiative, part marketing campaign, part bid for a lasting legacy. Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

About 25 feet below the rippling surface of this rocky promontory on the southern Tuscan coast, schools of fish visited a museum of four marble blocks, mined from Michelangelo’s preferred quarry and sculpted by acclaimed artists.

Farther north, another 20 Carrara marble sculptures had a different job — as submerged sentries against the illegal bottom trawling that has depleted Talamone’s marine life. Continue reading

A Thoughtful Discussion On The Green New Deal

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Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Thanks to Sarah Jones for The Future Is Ours for the Taking, an updated primer on the big policy bundle proposed to make the USA economy greener, healthier and more prosperous than ever:

In New York City and around the world, millions of people took to the streets on Friday morning. A single demand unified them: Leaders must act, and act now, to stop climate change from getting any worse. “I want you to unite behind science. And then I want you to take real action. Thank you,” Greta Thunberg, the teen climate-change activist from Sweden, told Congress on Wednesday.

And a growing number of climate-change activists have coalesced around an answer to this imperative, a Green New Deal. The proposal, which would transition the U.S. economy to clean energy and create millions of new jobs, has become a rallying cry for organizations like the Sunrise Movement and left-wing Democrats like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Although Ocasio-Cortez helped popularize the Green New Deal, and so has her fellow congressional democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the basic concept is at least 12 years old. Not long after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called for a “Green New Deal” in 2007, a group of British academics and activists began drafting a substantive proposal that was published in July 2008.

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Photo: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Why do you think it has taken this long for the Green New Deal to catch fire in the public imagination?

For several reasons. Really, it takes an American, doesn’t it? I mean, when the Americans decide something is important, then it suddenly becomes important, and that’s fantastic. But I think what happened back in 2008 was that we were going through this grim financial crisis and London was at the heart of it already thanks to the City of London. We were writing [the British Green New Deal] after the date that I called Detonation Day — on the ninth of August 2007, when interbank lending froze and the system blew up. Continue reading

A Few Sane Words From Al Gore

There are some excellent graphics in this op-ed, but the words are better, and a fitting third entry of the last week on this topic:

Al Gore: The Climate Crisis Is the Battle of Our Time, and We Can Win

We have the tools. Now we are building the political power.

Things take longer to happen than you think they will, but then they happen much faster than you thought they could.

The destructive impacts of the climate crisis are now following the trajectory of that economics maxim as horrors long predicted by scientists are becoming realities.

More destructive Category 5 hurricanes are developing, monster fires ignite and burn on every continent but Antarctica, ice is melting in large amounts there and in Greenland, and accelerating sea-level rise now threatens low-lying cities and island nations.

Tropical diseases are spreading to higher latitudes. Cities face drinking-water shortages. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, destroying coral reefs and endangering fish populations that provide vital protein consumed by about a billion people…

Dark Plastic

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It is likely that marine debris kills hundreds of thousands of sea birds, turtles, and marine mammals each year. Photograph by Paulo Oliveira / Alamy

It is a 10-15 minute read with a two hour hangover of depression. But a must-read. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for getting us very clear on the problem of plastic in our oceans:

Imagination At Scale Is Our Only Recourse

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A journalist and novelist for more than fifteen years, in 2012 Ledgard began to refashion himself as both an evangelist of radical thinking and a prophet of specific doom. Photograph by Rafal Milach / Magnum for The New Yorker

Jonathan Franzen’s relatively short, but powerful essay got my thoughts well-prepared to digest this profile of Jonathan Ledgard. The implication of Franzen’s essay struck me more clearly when Ledgard–having quit his career in journalism in favor of deeper exploration for answers to the most intractable challenges–was quoted saying “Imagination at scale is our only recourse.” Neither the essay nor the profile is comforting; but by embracing uncomfortable conclusions maybe possibilities open up:

…“You have to acknowledge that the probability of success is vanishingly small,” he said. “But if just one of these ideas came off in the next twenty years, in some form, and in a really significant way—and it improved the lives of poor people, or helped save other life-forms from extinction—then that would be really worth your time.” He added, “My main point is to move the conversation in a more imaginative direction.”…

We had heard of the drone-delivered medical services thanks to Seth’s work in Rwanda, but frankly I was not convinced back in May that it was yet in the realm of possibility. Now I am. To see the man behind it in a photo like this, which at first glance might make you think he is a bit off his rocker, is refreshing.

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Outside a Czech village, Ledgard searched for wild boar, which he is studying for an immersive art exhibit. Photograph by Rafal Milach / Magnum for The New Yorker

Maybe that is what it takes to say something so clear:

“There’s a significant minority—or maybe a majority—of human beings who are biophiliac. They like living things. And that hasn’t been priced correctly.”

From Primatologist To Crusader

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Guerin Blask for The New York Times

We became fans when I was in graduate school, and have never stopped admiring her, so this interview is an especially easy read:

Jane Goodall Keeps Going, With a Lot of Hope (and a Bit of Whiskey)

During her girlhood, Tarzan was her role model. When she realized how chimpanzee habitats were being destroyed, she turned into a crusader. At 85, she’s still preaching.

Jane Goodall nursed a glass of neat Irish whiskey. It was the end of a long day of public appearances, and her voice was giving out.

That’s what Ms. Goodall does these days. She talks. To anyone who will listen. To children, chief executives and politicians. Her message is always the same: The forests are disappearing. The animals are going quiet. We’re running out of time. Continue reading

If You Must Bet, Bet On This

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Woodland Trust has not been mentioned in these pages before, surprisingly. Its origins and its mission make us feel at home:

Stand up for trees

We want to see a UK rich in native woods and trees, for people and wildlife.

But we can’t achieve our vision without you.

And its accomplishments are awesome:

43,069,424
trees planted,
1089 woods saved,
34,075 hectares of ancient
woodland under
restoration.

And now it is possible to place a bet on their behalf in a fun contest:

Now is your chance to vote for your favourite trees in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as we reveal the shortlists in our Tree of the Year contest. Continue reading

Camera Trap Treasure

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A black bear mother with three cubs. Photo © TNC

Camera traps have proven valuable in the work we have been doing in Belize, India and elsewhere in the wilderness areas of the developing world. But equally important are the photos captured in areas closer to urban settlements. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s publication of these photos with the article below:

As a Nature Conservancy forester in Pennsylvania, Mike Eckley spends a lot of time assessing the health of woodlands. That means he spends as much time thinking about white-tailed deer as he does trees.

Many conservation biologists consider over-abundant deer to be an even bigger threat to eastern forests than climate change. Deer can fundamentally change the forest ecosystem, threatening everything from rare wildflowers to migratory songbirds. These deer also can cause deadly vehicle collisions, increase risk of Lyme disease, and cause significant agricultural and property damage.

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Two white-tailed deer boxing. Photo © TNC

Eckley educates hunting clubs and landowners on deer management issues, and recently co-edited a book on the topic. He also works to make sure the deer herd is healthy on Conservancy projects like the West Branch Forest Preserve, a 3,000-acre preserve in north central Pennsylvania. Continue reading