Seth is in Rwanda, and until now only one of his photos was posted here. His last written post on this platform was about a year ago, when he was preparing for graduate school, but since then dozens of his photographs have been shared here as bird of the day. I do not expect him to have time to share written description here of his work in Rwanda, so I will share some of the photos he is sending us.
I do not know where these places are, yet. But I hope to hear soon.
La Paz Group was part of a consortium a decade ago competing for a project, funded by USAID, to assist Rwanda’s government with planning for the future of nature-based tourism. Our proposal was not the winning proposal, so I did not have the chance to see the country in person. Yet. But based on these photos, I will.
My last long term assignment in Africa was in Ghana. My last prospecting for a long term assignment was in Ethiopia. Both of those countries are worthy of revisiting, and I intend to do so. But Rwanda has jumped to the top of the must visit list in Africa.
What is not visible in any of these photos is Seth’s encounters with wildlife. I have heard about gorillas, chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and plenty of bird species. He has sent pictures of wildflowers, mushrooms, ants. Not just any ants. Driver Ants! But for now, the bucolic natural and manicured landscapes are enough to convince me.
In my daily scan for information related to the environment, I invariably learn something that surprises me. Like the fact that the earthworm, which provide valuable ecosystem services, can also represent danger on a global scale:
Worms are wriggling into Earth’s northernmost forests, creating major unknowns for climate-change models.
Earthworms recently have spread to Alaska’s boreal forest. In some areas, the biomass of earthworms is 500 times greater than that of moose, a keystone species. Lance King/Getty Images
Cindy Shaw, a carbon-research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, studies the boreal forest — the world’s most northerly forest, which circles the top of the globe like a ring of hair around a balding head.
A few years ago, while conducting a study in northern Alberta to see how the forest floor was recovering after oil and gas activity, she saw something she had never seen there before: earthworms.
“I was amazed,” she said. “At the very first plot, there was a lot of evidence of earthworm activity.”
Native earthworms disappeared from most of northern North America 10,000 years ago, during the ice age. Now invasive earthworm species from southern Europe — survivors of that frozen epoch, and introduced to this continent by European settlers centuries ago — are making their way through northern forests, their spread hastened by roads, timber and petroleum activity, tire treads, boats, anglers and even gardeners. Continue reading
I have been reading the reviews, and interviews with the authors of this and two other important recent books covering similar territory. I have stopped worrying about overkill, because this is overkill territory. You cannot get too much perspective on this; the worry is too little, too late:
While the political tide could be turning on climate change, both writers worry that it is too late.
After years of languishing far down the list of voters’ priorities—for Democrats and even more so for Republicans—the desire for action on climate change has brought this issue to the top of many voters’ concerns, according to a CNN poll. Now Presidential candidates are competing to establish themselves as leaders on the issue, while children are making headlines for striking from school.
Bill McKibben, whose book “The End of Nature” brought the idea of global warming to public consciousness thirty years ago, tells David Remnick that the accumulation of weather catastrophes—droughts, wildfires, floods—may have finally made an impact. McKibben joined Elizabeth Kolbert in a conversation about the U.N.’s new report on species extinction. It finds that a million species could become extinct within a few decades, and that human life itself may be imperilled. While the political tide could be turning, both worry that it is too late. Continue reading
Thanks to Jim Robbins, as always:
Studying the historical data stored in centuries-old trees is a burgeoning field, with labs around the world learning more about historical patterns of weather and climate and the effects on humans.
Wood samples for research at the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona. Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times
TUCSON — From the early 1700s until the 1960s, the fast moving river of wind known as the North Atlantic Jet Stream, which drives weather extremes over Europe, was pretty steady on its course.
Then it became less predictable. But instrument data alone can’t tell the jet stream’s movements for comparison over the centuries, given that scientists began keeping records of weather events via instruments only in the late 19th century. Continue reading
Illustrations by Andrew Khosravani
Those familiar with this site know that climate change denial would find difficult footing; no leap of faith is required to take it as scientific fact. We appreciate the following examples of learning from recent history of forest collapse and planning for environmental changes accordingly.
SCITUATE, R. I. — Foresters began noticing the patches of dying pines and denuded oaks, and grew concerned. Warmer winters and drier summers had sent invasive insects and diseases marching northward, killing the trees.
If the dieback continued, some woodlands could become shrub land.
Most trees can migrate only as fast as their seeds disperse — and if current warming trends hold, the climate this century will change 10 times faster than many tree species can move, according to one estimate. Rhode Island is already seeing more heat and drought, shifting precipitation and the intensification of plagues such as the red pine scale, a nearly invisible insect carried by wind that can kill a tree in just a few years.
The dark synergy of extreme weather and emboldened pests could imperil vast stretches of woodland.
So foresters in Rhode Island and elsewhere have launched ambitious experiments to test how people can help forests adapt, something that might take decades to occur naturally. One controversial idea, known as assisted migration, involves deliberately moving trees northward. But trees can live centuries, and environments are changing so fast in some places that species planted today may be ill-suited to conditions in 50 years, let alone 100. No one knows the best way to make forests more resilient to climatic upheaval.
These great uncertainties can prompt “analysis paralysis,” said Maria Janowiak, deputy director of the Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, or N.I.A.C.S. But, she added, “We can’t keep waiting until we know everything.” Continue reading
We applaud Pennsylvania lawmakers for choosing to highlight a creature whose presence in waterways indicates healthy ecosystems. Thanks to NPR for the story.
Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be official amphibian has more than its fair share of nicknames: snot otter, mud devil, Allegheny alligator, devil dog, lasagna lizard.
In short, it’s not exactly a looker.
But the Eastern hellbender salamander was the overwhelming choice of lawmakers for amphibian representation in the state. On Tuesday, the state’s House of Representatives voted 191-6 on a bill that would name the aquatic creature its state amphibian. The Senate passed the bill in February.
The hellbender is a nocturnal salamander that can grow more than 2 feet long. The mud-colored creature, covered in a layer of mucus, breathes primarily through loose flaps of thick, wrinkled skin that look a little bit like lasagna noodles.
The hellbender is also a canary for environmental degradation. Continue reading
Summer Rayne Oakes, as a name, is likely to stick in my memory. She was a student at Cornell when I was teaching there, but until now I did not know of her. Thanks to this feature on one of the websites I scan regularly for stories relevant to this platform, I found my way to her website, so now I know a little bit about who she is. I like the causes she supports, and that is enough for today’s post. But the interior greenery throughout the 6+ minutes of video above is refreshing, and that is the real purpose for sharing it.
We missed the story last year about two men in the photo above, from southern India, who were brought to the Florida habitat where invasive pythons are doing enough damage that we started paying attention eight years ago. We are thinking about it again, thanks to the Guardian:
Snake hunters have captured what they say is the largest python ever found in the swamps of the Florida Everglades: a pregnant female more than 17ft (5.2 metres) long and weighing 140lb, or 63.5kg.
The team from the Big Cypress National Preserve posted news of their record-setting catch in a Facebook post that also noted the giant reptile was carrying 73 eggs.
Big Cypress National Preserve group captures 17ft female python on 4 April. Photograph: Big Cypress National Preserve/Facebook
Environmentalists have been struggling to find ways to eradicate Burmese pythons, a non-native species, from the 1.5m-acre wilderness since the 1980s, when some were released into the wild as overgrown pets. Others escaped from a breeding facility wrecked by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Continue reading
Flamingos eat plankton in front of an industrial area at Sewri mudflats, Mumbai. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA-EFE
Payal Mohta reported from Mumbai for this story in the Guardian that caught our attention with images of urban flamingos. An unusual beauty can be the result of a common problem. As it is important to understand nature in wilderness areas, which is our strong preference, it is also important to understand these man-made phenomena:
People watch flamingos from a boat during the Bombay Natural History Society’s flamingo festival. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
There is an air of anxious excitement among the urban professionals and tourists on board our 24-seater motorboat as we enter Thane Creek.
A chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” breaks out as we spot the visions in pink we came to see – hundreds of flamingos listlessly bobbing in the murky green water – followed by the furious clicking of cameras.
Flamingos at Sewri. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Then, almost as one, the birds skim the water and take off in sync. “They always stay together,” says Prathamesh Desai, who has been organising birding excursions in the city for seven years. “They are an extremely gregarious species.”…
Flamingos at Sewri. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
That story continues after the jump below. First, thanks to National Public Radio (USA)’s Audrey Nguyen and Sarah Oliver for producing and bringing this story to our attention with this opening line (which goes on to credit the Guardian story as its source):
Around this time every year, tens of thousands of flamingos flock to Mumbai to feed. But this year, there are almost three times more than the normal amount in the city — about 120,000.
The reason for the influx is currently a mystery. But some scientists believe that pollution in the birds’ natural habitat might be one factor at play… Continue reading
Photo by Pexels
Throughout the history of this site we’ve focussed on accentuating positive steps in conservation, while also pointing out the negative forces with the intention that knowledge is power that leads to action.
We applaud the UN Environment Assembly for pressing further into the remaining window of opportunity to restore ecosystem health.
The UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading decision-making forum. From 11 to 15 March 2019, it will be considering how best to improve outcomes for people and planet. Ecosystems will be high up on the agenda.
The timing looks good. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, declared on 1 March 2019 by the UN General Assembly, aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight climate change, and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.
The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross domestic product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.
Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
UN Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will lead implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Continue reading
For reasons I will need to write more about another time, Colombia has been on my radar recently. When I first visited that country, the conflict was in full swing and my only task was to give a series of lectures related to the country’s potential for nature-based tourism. And I remember very clearly my sense of responsibility for not creating false expectations: as long as there was conflict, this potential would remain just that.
My most recent visit was as the conflict was nearing formal resolution. At that time I was engaged for some weeks of work to be very specific about the potential, location by location. And I was then able to say, based on my own direct observation, that this country would be a powerhouse in the birdwatching market. And I have to admit, I did not have then the knowledge I have now, thanks to the Lab of Ornithology, about the country’s species count and its ranking in the world. The information was there, but I did not have it. Now I do, and my sense of confidence in the country’s opportunity to leverage this abundance into sustainable development is strong. The film above came to my attention in the last 24 hours from several sources, all of whom I thank. But particularly I thank the sponsors of the film for their vision, and the director of the film for his visual acuity:
The Birders, a documentary film on Colombian bird diversity and birdwatching presented by ProColombia, with support of FONTUR and directed by Gregg Bleakney. The film highlights Colombian local birdwatching guide, Diego Calderon-Franco and National Geographic photographer / videographer Keith Ladzinski as they travel through one of the most diverse bird regions in the world to capture new and rare birds that have never been filmed before. The Birders, also takes people through the Colombian landscape, highlighting several of its’ top locations, culture, birds and music. Continue reading
The Colorado River delta in Baja California is now a mosaic of largely dried-up river channels and tidal salt flats. TED WOOD
Downstream from the Morelos Dam, the Colorado River delta now runs dry before reaching the Gulf of California. MAP BY DAVID LINDROTH
When the first couple of stories about the Colorado River ran in Yale e360, it was difficult to imagine how much more there might be to say about it. But now the last article in the series, Restoring the Colorado: Bringing New Life to a Stressed River, provides an example of saving the best for last:
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
The Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, where the Colorado’s remaining water is diverted to cities and farms in Mexico. SUPPORT FOR AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS PROVIDED BY LIGHTHAWK
From the air, the last gasp of the Colorado River is sudden and dramatic. The pale green river flows smack into the Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, and virtually all of it is immediately diverted into a large irrigation canal that waters a mosaic of hundreds of fields — alfalfa, asparagus, lettuce, and other vegetables, their vivid green color clashing against the sere desert. The slender thread of water that remains in the Colorado’s channel continues to flow south, but is soon swallowed up by a sea of sand, far short of its delta, which lies 100 miles farther on.
A fisherman on the upper Colorado River in northern Colorado. Low water flows have endangered fish populations and led last year to the closing of parts of the river to fishing.
The Colorado River once surged through the delta during high flows, carrying so much water at times that shallow draft steamboats chugged hundreds of miles up the river into the U.S. with loads of freight. The water in the delta nourished a vast fertile landscape, a fitting end to a river known as the Nile of North America.
“The river was everywhere and nowhere,” the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote during a 1922 canoe trip to the delta, describing the waterway as it ebbed, flowed, braided, and stalled into pools, nourishing a rich and diverse ecosystem of “a hundred green lagoons,” a “milk and honey wilderness” with thick stands of cottonwoods and willows that provided habitat for hundreds of species of birds. The delta’s marshes, mudflats, and white sand beaches were home to clapper rails, bitterns, mallards, teal, and clouds of egrets.
Bobcats, puma, deer, and wild boar wandered the delta’s forests. Leopold was searching for the jaguar that roamed there, but didn’t see any. Continue reading
A custodian in Death Valley National Park, which would gain 40,000 acres under the measure. Credit Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated Press
At a time when the current administration and it’s legislative supporters are busy dismantling the environmental protections that have been painstakingly developed for over half a century, this bipartisan achievement is surprising, and heartening news.
The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.
The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.
“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development, and conservation,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader.
Western lawmakers of both parties have been working for four years on the bill, which will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where it also enjoys bipartisan support.
“This package gives our country a million acres of new wilderness, protects a million acres of public lands from future mining, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and balances conservation and recreation for the long term,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s one of the biggest bipartisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress.” Continue reading
I had never heard the name guarumo for this tree before. Cecropia is the name we have commonly heard for it in Costa Rica. Veronique Greenwood, who we have linked to twice until now, has contributed more than vocabulary to me through this article. I am particularly thankful for the realization that cacao can be more useful than I had been aware. Beyond the benefits of being grown organically it may play a key role in regenerative forest development. This, entrepreneurial conservation in mind, must become a variable by which Organikos sources chocolate in Costa Rica:
A study showed that when some animals find a crucial resource, they can survive in changing environments and even thrive.
Look closely up in the trees of a shade-grown cacao plantation in eastern Costa Rica, and you’ll see an array of small furry faces peering back at you. Those are three-toed sloths that make their homes there, clambering ever so slowly into the upper branches to bask in the morning sun. You might also spot them munching on leaves from the guarumo tree, which shades the cacao plants. Continue reading
After two decades of drought, Lake Mead in Nevada is just 40 percent full. TED WOOD
Thanks to Jim Robbins and Yale e360 for this second installment, and especially to Ted Wood for photography as visually compelling as the implication of the story:
CRISIS ON THE COLORADO: PART II
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question: Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough water?
Scientists at the University of Arizona are using tree rings to study centuries of drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin.
In the basement of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, the fragrant smell of pine hangs in the air as researchers comb through the stacks of tree slabs to find a round, 2-inch-thick piece of Douglas fir.
They point out an anomaly in the slab — an unusually wide set of rings that represent the years 1905 to 1922. Those rings mean it was a pluvial period — precipitation was well above average — and so the trees grew far more than other years.
“In 1905, the gates opened and it was very wet and stayed very wet until the 1920s,” said David Meko, a hydrologist at the lab who studies past climate and stream flow based on tree rings. “It guided their planning and how much water they thought was available.”
The planning was that of the states that share the water of the Colorado River. Worried that a burgeoning California would take most of the water before it was fairly divvied up, representatives from the other Colorado River Basin states, presided over by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, came together in 1922 to develop an equitable apportionment. They looked at flow measurements and figured that the river contained an average of 15 million acre-feet. They divided the Colorado River states into two divisions – the upper basin and the lower basin, with the dividing line in northern Arizona near the Utah border. The upper basin states — Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico — agreed not to take more than a total of 7.5 million acre-feet and to allow the other half to flow south to the lower basin. The agreement they signed was called the 1922 Colorado River Compact, also known as the Law of the River. Continue reading
When I last posted about an animal with a name like this the ending was sad. As it usually will be, given the state of things. There are not enough Juliets, but that should not keep scientists from trying to make matches. As reported by the great science writer JoAnna Klein, who has written about some of nature’s great comeback stories and its unexpected cases of animals expressing affection, she had me at the headline:
Romeo, who was thought to be the last Sehuencas water frog: “Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” D. Alarcol and D. Grunbaum/Global Wildlife Conservation
The lonely male in a Bolivian museum was thought to be the last Sehuencas water frog, but an expedition has found him a potential mate.
Romeo was made for love, as all animals are. But for years he couldn’t find it. It’s not like there was anything wrong with Romeo. Sure he’s shy, eats worms, lacks eyelashes and is 10 years old, at least. But he’s aged well, and he’s kind of a special guy.
Romeo is a Sehuencas water frog, once thought to be the last one on the planet. He lives alone in a tank at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Bolivia.
And there is more. In this same story as reported by National Public Radio (USA), I cannot be happy about the long-term macro situation, but the shorter-term micro situation for this Romeo looks like it may have a happy ending:
While Shakespeare’s Romeo spent only about two days banished in Mantua, away from his beloved Juliet, Romeo the frog has remained in complete isolation — sans love interest, cousins, friars or friends — living in a laboratory for the last 10 years. But that’s all about to change.
Juliet appears to be a perfect match for Romeo — she’s a Sehuencas water frog and of reproductive age. Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation
The world-famous amphibian was believed to have been the last of his kind – a Bolivian Sehuencas water frog (Telmatobius yuracare) – and lived under the protection of researchers at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Cochabamba City. They have made it their mission to find Romeo a special lady friend who might respond positively to his plaintive mating calls and help save the species from becoming extinct.
Year after year, scientist scoured Bolivia’s cloud forests for signs of other googly-eyed, orange-bellied Sehuencas, but they’ve always come up empty, until recently. Continue reading
Thanks to Jim Robbins and Yale e360:
CRISIS ON THE COLORADO: PART I
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought, the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water may be cut off. First in a series.
The beginnings of the mighty Colorado River on the west slope of Rocky Mountain National Park are humble. A large marsh creates a small trickle of a stream at La Poudre Pass, and thus begins the long, labyrinthine 1,450-mile journey of one of America’s great waterways.
Several miles later, in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Kawuneeche Valley, the Colorado River Trail allows hikers to walk along its course and, during low water, even jump across it. This valley is where the nascent river falls prey to its first diversion — 30 percent of its water is taken before it reaches the stream to irrigate distant fields.
The Never Summer Mountains tower over the the valley to the west. Cut across the face of these glacier-etched peaks is the Grand Ditch, an incision visible just above the timber line. The ditch collects water as the snow melts and, because it is higher in elevation than La Poudre Pass, funnels it 14 miles back across the Continental Divide, where it empties it into the headwaters of the Cache La Poudre River, which flows on to alfalfa and row crop farmers in eastern Colorado. Hand dug in the late 19th century with shovels and picks by Japanese crews, it was the first trans-basin diversion of the Colorado. Continue reading
A northern royal albatross inspects the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s ‘Royal Cam’, a 24/7 livestream that documents an albatross nest in breeding season. Photograph: Department of Conservation
The revolution may not be televised but conservation may be livestreamed from time to time, conditions permitting. Thanks to the Guardian for this story from New Zealand:
Footage of tiny colony of birds on the southern tip of New Zealand captivates millions around the globe
Millions of amateur naturalists around the world have been tuning in to the secret lives of albatrosses as New Zealand rangers employ YouTube in a bid to save the mysterious giant sea birds.
New Zealand conservation teams set up a 24-hour live-stream of an albatross nest at Taiaroa Head on the Otago peninsula in 2016. Three years on, the feed has become an unexpected global hit, with 2.3 million people from 190 countries tuning in to watch the endangered birds rear their chicks on a frigid peninsula at the bottom of the world. Continue reading