Rewilding Croatia’s Velebit Mountains

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Davor Krmpotić
Team leader of Velebit Mountains

VelebitMap.jpgCroatia, playing in its first World Cup final today, makes this rewilding story from the Velebit Mountains, and interview with its team leader, timely:

This dramatic mountain chain, right on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, is one of the wildest areas of the whole Mediterranean. A region where wild nature is really coming back.

Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans and situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It hosts two national parks, a biosphere reserve and several wonderful old-growth forests, deep canyons, ancient open lands and exciting wildlife like Balkan chamois, red deer, brown bear, wolf and lynx…

Velebit hosts a diversity of habitats

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Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from barren Mediterranean landscapes at sea level, via vast beech forest of central European type, to almost boreal systems and alpine grasslands at higher altitudes. Outside protected areas in the south and east there are several other very interesting areas also with great rewilding potential, mainly consisting of abandoned farm and grazing lands. Apart from its fantastic wildlife, Velebit is also a climber’s paradise, home to spectacular caves and breathtaking sceneries. Continue reading

Extreme Measures, No Good Outcomes

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A Mapuche gathering in Ercilla, Chile. The Mapuche are protesting the presence of agricultural firms on their land. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

During the two years I worked in southern Chile, 2008-2010, I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of members of the Mapuche community, and heard a deep frustration bordering on despair. Their forests were being extracted, wholesale and rapaciously and there was little to nothing they could do about it. The news here, even with the exposure I had to the situation, still shocks me. It is not good news:

‘We burned the forest’: the indigenous Chileans fighting loggers with arson

Chile’s Mapuche people are resorting to increasingly radical tactics to reclaim their ancestral land from exploitive industries

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 6.00.13 PM.jpgIt is late autumn in southern Chile, and in the region of Araucanía, the leaves have turned copper and gold. But on the road to the mist-shrouded town of Lumaco, the hills are covered with rows of charred pines.

“We burned these forests as an act of legitimate resistance against the extractive industries that have oppressed the Mapuche people,” says Hector Llaitul. “If we make their business unprofitable they move on, allowing us to recover our devastated lands and rebuild our world.” Continue reading

Compassion, Conservation & Charisma

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ILLUSTRATION BY LUISA RIVERA/YALE E360

Charismatic megafauna are impossible to resist caring about. Charismatic microfauna, or flora, less so. Yet more than two decades of experience in Costa Rica have taught us to appreciate the latter more than we did before. That is a function of science leading the way in conservation efforts in this small country, followed by a new form of tourism that we have been working in since the mid-1990s. That new form leveraged the skills of biologists as guides who provide interpretive experiences in the rainforest and other ecosystems, making a walk in the woods that much more interesting. So this story below catches my attention. It focuses on another small pioneering country that I have long studied from afar, admired, but not yet visited. Thanks to Brandon Keim and his colleagues at Yale Environment 360, for this story that motivates me to make that visit:

Do Conservation Strategies Need to Be More Compassionate?

Some scientists and ethicists are criticizing traditional conservation strategies, which they say focus on saving valued species while discounting the lives of less charismatic animals. Will these advocates of “compassionate conservation” point the way to new approaches, or are they simply being naïve?

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Volunteers for New Zealand’s Predator Free by 2050 campaign in front of predator traps, which are available for the public to borrow. NEW ZEALAND DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION

At a moment of best-selling animal intelligence books and headlines about songbird language and grieving elephants, it’s easy to forget that nonhuman minds were until recently considered — by most serious-minded scientists, anyway — to be quite simple.

Well into this millennium, animal consciousness was regularly dismissed as either nonexistent or profoundly dissimilar to our own. Animals were considered “conscious in the sense of being under stimulus control,” as the famed psychologist B.F. Skinner opined so neatly in 1974, expressing a conventional wisdom that dated to the zoological musings of Aristotle. The notion of animals as thinking, feeling beings was relegated to the edges of serious discourse.

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Signs opposing New Zealand’s use of landscape-scale poisoning campaigns to eradicate non-native predators, such as rats and weasels. ELI DUKE/FLICKR

Those days are past, buried by an avalanche of scientific findings and history-of-science critiques. More people than ever worry about the welfare of farmed animals; pets are practically citizens; and wild animals too are increasingly regarded as beings with whom people share fundamental aspects of inner life. Yet in some places, that mind-denying legacy survives — including, say a small but vocal number of scientists, ethicists, and animal welfare activists, in conservation. In their eyes, the discipline devoted to protecting Earth’s life has a certain blind spot to the animals themselves. Continue reading

Some Regrets Are Better Than Others

OaklandInstitute.pngThere is a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain (though it appears nowhere in his published writings), that history never repeats itself but it often rhymes. That quote comes to mind reading this report below by the Oakland Institute, in light of yesterday’s news from Greece. There is a rhyme with no reason that echoes between the two stories. It also brings to mind, for me, an ever-present question about the work I have done for the last two decades. Tourism, even if it is sustainable tourism development, has its downsides. So, I am always on the lookout for ways to avoid regret in projects I take on, and how they are executed. More often than not, if I sense regret it is about not having had enough impact. I prefer that to the regret of too much of this type of impact:

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Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania’s land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement. Continue reading

Bolivia’s Boggling Biodiversity

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Keara valley Credit Omar Torrico/Wildlife Conservation Society

Whether or not the title is a rhetorical question does not matter; what does matter is our thanks to James Gorman, a science writer at large for The New York Times for this story about the work of Rob Wallace and colleagues at the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Is This the World’s Most Diverse National Park?

Bringing the numbers to life for the jewel in Bolivia’s conservation crown.

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Royal flycatcher Credit Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

The credit to Mr. Wallace and colleagues for these photos alone would be worthy of a post, but the creation of such a park in Bolivia is no small wonder:

Madidi National Park in Bolivia goes from lowland to mountaintop, from 600 feet to almost 20,000 feet above sea level. It covers more than 7,000 square miles of wildly different habitats. It is, says Rob Wallace, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bolivia, “a place where the Amazon meets the Andes.”

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Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

“Madidi was put together on the hypothesis that it could be the world’s most biologically diverse protected area,” Dr. Wallace said. And, he said, it is — for mammals, birds, plants and butterflies. Continue reading

Moving Slowly & Avoiding Breakage

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Panthera onca. The jaguar is the king of neotropical forests, where it is the largest of the cats. Its presence at the White City indicates an extensive, thriving ecosystem. © Washington State University, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zamorano University, Honduran Forest Conservation Institute, Travis King, John Polisar, Manfredo Turcios

When the journalist Douglas Preston shared this story, I was in the process of closing up shop in India, where we had been in residence since 2010. Kipling-induced daydreaming notwithstanding, Amie and Milo (whose photos may be the most tangible representations of the dreaminess of those years) and I never had the illusion that there were lost civilizations or any such thing in India.

movefast (1)We did have the nonstop motivation of feline-fueled conservation initiatives, and some close encounters. Those provided us a perfect counterpoint to the seemingly irresistible catchphrase that described progress in the form of disruptive technology. Haste really does make waste when it comes to ecology, anthropology, and realms of life other than economic forward-marching.

When I read Mr. Preston’s story on the first day of last year I realized that our relocation to Central America, oddly enough since it is in the hemisphere called the New World, was full of potential for all kinds of discovery of “lost” things. And my own discoveries further sensitized me to the importance of moving slowly and avoiding breakage. My posts on this platform from February through July, 2017 are evidence of the richest ecological and anthropological observations of my lifetime (so far), and that makes Mr. Preston’s update post yesterday all the more wonderful to read:

Deep in the Honduran Rain Forest, an Ecological SWAT Team Explores a Lost World

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Sachatamia albomaculata. The inner organs of glass frogs are visible through their translucent bodies. Photograph by Trond Larsen / Conservation International

A little more than three years ago, I joined a team of archeologists on an expedition to La Mosquitia, a remote mountain wilderness in eastern Honduras. For centuries, the region had been rumored to contain a lost city, known as the City of the Monkey God or the White City, and now, thanks to a combination of luck and modern technology, an ancient settlement had been found. Although it was probably not the lost city of legend, it was a very real place, built by a mysterious civilization that flourished long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Hidden in a densely forested valley, it had never been explored. Continue reading

Butterflies Bear Bucolic Benefits

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Milkweed was first mentioned in these pages  so long ago I had forgotten their importance to Monarch butterflies, a seemingly perennial topic for our contributors. So thanks to Margaret Renkl for keeping that tradition going in her Monday op-ed, and reminding us in the process that while it is not all good news out there, it is also not all bad news:

Monarchs in My Garden, at Last

NASHVILLE — I was pretty proud of myself the spring I planted my first organic garden. It was the mid-1980s, and I was a first-year graduate student in creative writing, a program entirely unrelated to horticultural mastery. But I had taken a college course in environmental biology, and I knew the basics: The more chemicals you use in a garden, the more chemicals you’ll need in the garden. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, more reliable than the seasons.

At my house, companion planting — marigolds in between the broccoli, tomato vines encircling the spinach — would repel bugs the natural way. Any lingering pests would be dispatched by beneficial insects like ladybugs and praying mantises. One evening I watched happily as cabbage white butterflies flitted over silvery broccoli leaves. Those little white butterflies pausing in the gloaming on the water-beaded broccoli made for a tableau of bucolic harmony. Continue reading

Fishes, Fishing & Fishermen, Reviewed

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Book covers left to right: Fishes in the Fresh Waters of Florida, Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass, and Born to Fish

Thanks to Mathew L. Miller for an honest take on these three books:

Review: Fishing and Conservation

The mayflies are hatching, river levels are dropping and the evenings are getting longer. It’s the most wonderful time of year for those of us in North America who love to fish.

And if you can’t be out fishing? Well, you can always read a fish book. Here are three great new reads: a biography of an obsessed angler turned conservationist, a how-to book about overlooked species that need some attention, and an invaluable reference guide.

I have no interest in competitive fishing, and even less in books by and about celebrity anglers. I find most of them to be self-congratulatory and poorly written. So I’d normally have little inclination to read a book about a record-breaking striped bass angler, one who gained fame by appearing on the show Shark Tank.  Such a book would also appear to be a poor fit for a conservation blog. Continue reading

From Re-Wilding To Un-Wilding

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Illustrations by R. Kikuo Johnson

Yesterday our attention was riveted by heroic efforts in the Highlands to re-wild, and today it is back to the sadder topic of un-wilding. Thanks to Rachel Nuwer for this article on a topic long of interest in these pages:

That Python in the Pet Store? It May Have Been Snatched From the Wild

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R. Kikuo Johnson

JAKARTA — In the market for a new pet? Maybe something a bit exotic? For many consumers, reptiles and amphibians are just the thing: geckos, monitors, pythons, tree frogs, boas, turtles and many more species are available in seemingly endless varieties, many brilliantly colored, some exceedingly rare.

Exotic reptiles and amphibians began surging in popularity in the early 1990s, not only in the United States but also in Europe and Japan. From 2004 to 2014, the European Union imported nearly 21 million of these animals; an estimated 4.7 million households in the United States owned at least one reptile in 2016.

But popularity has spawned an enormous illegal trade, conservationists say. Many reptiles sold as pets are said to have been bred in captivity, and sales of those animals are legal. In fact, many — perhaps most, depending on the species — were illegally captured in the wild. Continue reading

Alladale & Apex Wildlife

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Eurasian grey wolves at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie, Scotland.
Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to Kevin McKenna and the Guardian for this profile of an entrepreneurial conservation project that is quite in the spirit of our work over the last two decades. We salute Paul Lister and his team for this wonder:

One man’s plan to let wolves roam free in the Highlands

The ‘custodian’ of the Alladale estate wants to turn it into a fenced-off wildlife reserve

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The Alladale estate. Photograph: Alamy

The echoes of Scotland’s predator prince faded into silence three centuries ago. The wolf was once lord of these Sutherland slopes and the forest floors beneath and now a voice in the wilderness is calling him home.

Paul Lister acquired the Alladale estate, 50 miles north of Inverness, in 2003 and immediately set about creating a wilderness reserve according to his perception of what these wild and beautiful places ought to look like. He can’t imagine them without the packs of wolves that once roamed free here.

But his views are considered eccentric by ramblers and conservationists, who view them as a rich man’s caprice, centring their objections on his plans to fence off the vast reserve. Continue reading

Spying on Birds

“So, like, what do you do every day?”

I get asked this often and I’m not always sure how to explain it to people without pictures at hand or infinite patience for follow-up questions. So, in this blog post, with the benefit of time to pick the right words and theoretically infinite space to write them out, I figured I would try to provide an adequate answer.

View from the field, a week or so ago

Why fieldwork?

This, I feel, is the question at the crux of the what-do-you-do-every-day question. Why do you have to go to Kenya to do your work? Right, the bird you study is only found there, but why do you have to be out on the savanna everyday – can’t you just bring the birds back to the lab or study them in a zoo?

Of course, you can (nowadays, only with the right permits) and that is precisely what early zoologists did, collecting specimens – alive or dead – from around the world and bringing them back to examine them under microscopes or in aviaries in a rainy British country garden. While this may be convenient, it inevitably renders your conclusions about a bird’s diet or the adaptive nature of its plumage coloration suspect, because they are arrived at out of context. Without the bird having been examined in the environment it’s found in, with different factors that might affect its behavior and morphology in play, it is impossible to understand why it acts the way it does and why it is the way it is. Hence, fieldwork: observing and sampling critters in the wild. Continue reading

Evolution Never Fails To Surprise

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Kauai, Hawaii. Suzanne Cummings / Getty Images

We never think of evolution as particularly predictable. Surprising, yes. Awesome, yes. Predictable? Well, we love science for that reason, but still do not associate evolution with predictability. Thanks to Ed Yong, who enjoys making provocative statements that draw his reader in, for making evolution surprising in a new way:

Hawaii: Where Evolution Can Be Surprisingly Predictable

On each Hawaiian island, stick spiders have evolved into the same basic forms—gold, white, and dark. It’s a stunning example of how predictable evolution can be.

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Examples of white, dark, and gold species of stick spiders on various Hawaiian island. The top-left species is the most ancestral of them all. (Rosemary Gillespie et al.)

Most people go to Hawaii for the golden beaches, the turquoise seas, or the stunning weather. Rosemary Gillespie went for the spiders.

Situated around 2,400 miles from the nearest continent, the Hawaiian Islands are about as remote as it’s possible for islands to be. In the last 5 million years, they’ve been repeatedly colonized by far-traveling animals, which then diversified into dozens of new species. Honeycreeper birds, fruit flies, carnivorous caterpillars … all of these creatures reached Hawaii, and evolved into wondrous arrays of unique forms. Continue reading

Rules Of Gardening, Reconsidered

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Tatsuro Kiuchi

Ok, while we are at it, let’s find some rules to break around the home (thanks to Margaret Renkl and the New York Times for such diverse op-ed contributors):

Let Your Winter Garden Go Wild

NASHVILLE — The snow was three inches deep, a blizzard by Nashville standards, when I got a text from a parent supervising the neighborhood sledding: “It’s a robin migration out in your front yard. Do you put food out there for them?”

I went to the window to look. There are nine bird feeders around my house, but I’ve never seen a robin at a single one of them. In winter, robins do gather in great flocks here in Middle Tennessee, and our yard is always popular with them because we have a birdbath with a heating element that keeps it from freezing. Even in winter, birds need to bathe — a seemingly counterintuitive behavior that keeps their feathers in shape for maximum insulation. Continue reading

The Idea Gets Greater, In Chile

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Protecting More Wilderness
Map shows the scope of Tompkins Conservation park projects in Chile and Argentina. Eight Chilean parks, shown in boldface, comprise the latest expansion of wilderness areas, an area roughly twice the size of Massachusetts. Source: Tompkins Conservation. By The New York Times

When the news was first reported, just the facts were enough. Then yesterday we had some commentary that made us think more on how important this news really was, from a global perspective. Now, the story behind the facts, and this op-ed by Kristine McDivitt Tompkins echoes the greatest idea:

We need a new story about the Earth that isn’t just a litany of alarming statistics about crashing wildlife populations, polluted air and water, and climate chaos. We need a story that reminds us that the continuing degradation of landscapes and the seas is not necessarily a one-way street toward irreversible destruction.

On Monday we began to write such a story with the government of Chile. Under the wide skies of the new Patagonia National Park, President Michelle Bachelet and I formalized the largest-ever expansion of a national park system prompted by a donation of private land. Continue reading

Coy-Wolf Co-Habitation

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The Clarkstown Police Department posted a photograph of what they called a coywolf on Facebook last month. Credit via Clarkstown Police Department

Thanks to the New York Times for the local story follow-up to yesterday’s Yale360 globally-generalizable item on a related theme (click here or on the image to the right to go to the source):

CONGERS, N.Y. — Of all the coyotes that roam Dr. Davies Farm, looking for prey on this apple-picking orchard less than an hour from New York City, manager James Higgins says one of the pack stands out: Bigger and with more gray fur than its mates, this wolflike canine is a reason, Mr. Higgins says, there are fewer deer nibbling at Dr. Davies’s stock.

“We love having him here,” Mr. Higgins said as he drove around the property on an ad hoc coyote safari. There were no sightings, but Mr. Higgins ventured a profile of the creature: aloof, calm, uninterested in people.

“Anytime he sees any kind of human activity, he bolts,” Mr. Higgins said. “As long as he stays in his space and we stay in ours, everyone works in harmony.” Continue reading

Half-Earth Is Not Happening, But Co-Habitation Is

 

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LUISA RIVERA / YALE E360

Thanks to Richard Conniff, whose articles about the intersection between humans and other species, and about how our museums shape our views we have shared from various sources, including this recent one from Yale360:

Habitat on the Edges: Making Room for Wildlife in an Urbanized World

Efforts to protect biodiversity are now focusing less on preserving pristine areas and more on finding room for wildlife on the margins of human development. As urban areas keep expanding, it is increasingly the only way to allow species to survive.

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A female mountain lion in the Verdugos Mountains, north of Los Angeles. Also known as cougars, these animals are an increasingly common sight in the mountains surrounding Southern California’s cities. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

One morning not long ago, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, I traveled with a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist on a switchback route up and over the high ridge of the Western Ghats. Our itinerary loosely followed the corridor connecting Bhadra Tiger Reserve with Kudremakh National Park 30 miles to the south. Continue reading

Undoing Dams, Animals Pitch In

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Since 2014, Washington’s Elwha River has flowed freely through what once was Lake Mills and the Glines Canyon Dam. But the site still leaves a barren scar in Olympic National Park. Now, a human- and bird-led effort is turning it green again. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

Conservation is sometimes in the hands of animals, as this story in the current Audubon magazine illustrates:

Birds Are Helping to Plant an Entire Lost Landscape in Olympic National Park

After the largest dam removal in U.S. history, scientists, Native Americans, and wild animals are working together to restore the heart of the Elwha.

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The Elwha Valley and Glines Canyon Dam prior to demolition. Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

It’s a scorching August day in the Elwha Valley, and it only feels bleaker as we peer into the 200-foot void of Glines Canyon Dam. A sputtering trail of water marks the concrete lip where, for nearly a century, two hulking braces trapped logs, rocks, and sediments as they washed down from the mountains of northern Washington, forming a reservoir that was six times deeper than a competition-diving pool. At its height, the dam churned out 13.3 megawatts of hydroelectricity, enough to power 14,000 homes and a local paper mill. But it also seriously altered the Elwha River’s ecology, along with that of surrounding Olympic National Park. Endangered chinook salmon were cut off from their spawning sites; fish-eating birds and otters suffered; and estuaries became more brackish and shallow. Finally, in 1992, the U.S. government issued the order to destroy Glines Canyon Dam and the nearby Elwha Dam. Yet it wasn’t until two decades later when the water was completely freed. Continue reading

Lepidopterist’s Treasure

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Heterosphecia tawonoides puddling on a dry leaf washed out by the river. Photograph: Courtesy of Marta A. Skowron Volponi

Thanks to the Guardian for sharing this bit of good news:

Lost species of bee-mimicking moth rediscovered after 130 years

The rare oriental blue clearwing, that disguises itself as a bee, was spotted in the Malaysian rainforest

A moth that disguises itself as a bee and was previously only identified by a single damaged specimen collected in 1887 has been rediscovered in the Malaysian rainforest by a lepidopterist from Poland.

The oriental blue clearwing (Heterosphecia tawonoides) was seen “mud-puddling” – collecting salts and minerals from damp areas with its tongue-like proboscis – on the banks of a river in Malaysia’s lowland rainforest, one of the most wildlife-rich – and threatened – regions on Earth. Continue reading

Shoreline Durability

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The dunes of Midway Beach have a secret ingredient hiding beneath the sand. © Cara Byington/The Nature Conservancy

Thanks to Cool Green Science:

The Secret in the Sand Dunes

Dominick Solazzo likes to say the healthy dunes at Midway Beach and South Seaside Park on the Jersey Shore have a “secret ingredient.” Of course, it’s a secret that gives itself away pretty readily when the wind blows.

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Dune grasses have deep roots that help trap sand and anchor the dunes, and help them grow and resist wind erosion. © Cara Byington/TNC

“It’s Christmas trees,” Solazzo says with a smile. Discarded (natural) Christmas trees donated by the city of Secaucus, New Jersey and given a second life – so to speak – as sand dunes. And, yes, according to him and a few of his neighbors, you can smell the sharp, familiar scent of fir through late winter and part of the spring.

But why Christmas trees? In a word: structure.

“They’re like re-bar in concrete,” explains Solazzo. “They help hold the sand and the dune in place, and give it structure. And good structure matters for dunes. It matters a lot.” Continue reading

Rewilding Minelands

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A contractor for Green Forests Work plants native hardwood and evergreen seedlings on a reclaimed mine site in Dorton, Kentucky. GREEN FORESTS WORK

Thanks to Yale 360 for this story about Green Forests Work, in a part of North America that is often considered lost, from an ecological perspective:

Reclaiming Appalachia: A Push to Bring Back Native Forests to Coal Country

Previous efforts to restore former coal mine sites in Appalachia have left behind vast swaths of unproductive land. Now, a group of nonprofits and scientists are working to restore native trees to the region — even if it means starting the reclamation process from scratch.

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Volunteers fan out over a recently bulldozed plot on Cheat Mountain to plant red spruce and other native seedlings. GREEN FORESTS WORK

Near the top of Cheat Mountain in West Virginia, bulldozer operator Bill Moore gazes down a steep slope littered with toppled conifers. Tangled roots and angled boulders protrude from the slate-colored soil, and the earth is crisscrossed with deep gouges.

“Anywhere else I’ve ever worked,” Moore says, “if I did what I did here, I’d be fired.” Continue reading