Small But Important Triumphs Can Make Your Day

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STW__Artboard-5In 2006, our family moved to a small island in the Adriatic, one of the Elafiti islands near Dubrovnik. We were there working on one of my favorite of all our projects. There was a young man who did sea kayaking guiding for our guests; he was from the USA for one year doing this work and learning Croatian because of family heritage. Years later we reconnected and I learned that he had become the leader of this amazing conservation organization, so I follow their work. And today I was rewarded with some news that made me smile (video from an earlier Save The Waves post from 1+ year ago is worth another watch):

International campaign succeeds against Trump International Golf Links

(March 18th, 2020) After more than four years of campaigning and fighting to save beloved Doughmore Beach in Ireland, the #NatureTrumpsWalls campaign and coalition has succeeded in stopping the construction of major seawalls that would have led to catastrophic impacts to the coast.

Trump International Golf Links (TIGL) had submitted a plan to place hard armoring on the natural coastal dunes of Doonbeg that provide sediment for the surf ecosystem and breaking waves, as well as natural coastal protection from climate change. 

On March 12th, Ireland’s national planning appeal board, An Bord Pleanála, formally rejected the plan, citing the concerns submitted by the coalition about the adverse impacts to the dune ecosystem. Continue reading

Rewilding Considered, And Reconsidered

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The Scots pines near Glenfeshie. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Rewilding continues to intrigue me, as it has since my first introduction to the concept and the practice. Thanks to Christopher de Bellaigue for this long-read addition to the intrigue:

The end of farming?

For decades, the way we farm has been degrading land and destroying wildlife. Now there’s a revolution coming – but is it going to create more problems than it solves?

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John Cherry of Weston Park Farms inspects and smells the soil in one of his fields. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

In the last years of the 20th century, Glenfeshie, a 17,000-hectare estate in the Scottish Highlands, was in steep decline. Decades of overgrazing by deer had reduced its hillsides to clipped lifelessness. Denied the protection afforded by tree roots, the banks of the River Feshie were losing soil each time it flooded, the water depositing silt downstream. Those few Scots pines that had survived the browsing of the deer were nearing the end of their lives; soon there would be no seed source for the next generation. Continue reading

Field Expeditions, Panama, Ferns

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Student members of the Mamoní Valley Preserve Natural History Project, Jacob Suissa (left), Sylvia Kinosian, Brian Vergara, Jose Palacios, and Christian López examine the rhizome vasculature of a fern species during their first collection trip in the rainforest.

While most of our work between 1999 and 2019 was field work, once this platform started we distinguished field expeditions from our “regular work,” and Seth’s posts have dominated the expedition realm here. Today, with Seth in wintry New Haven in desk mode, my expeditionary imagination is instead fueled by the field expedition described below, on a topic not featured in these pages for seven years, so I am correcting the neglect:

Going where the diversity is

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Student researchers Ben Goulet-Scott (left), Sylvia Kinosian, and Jacob Suissa, reach the crest of a hill overlooking the Mamoní Valley Preserve while carrying 90 species of ferns on their backs.
Photos by Ben Goulet-Scott/Harvard University Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Last month, two graduate students from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University traveled to one of the most species-rich landscapes in the world: a remote strip of tropical rainforest at the narrowest point in the Central American country of Panama.

Ben Goulet-Scott, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) and a fellow in the Arboretum’s Hopkins Lab, and Jacob Suissa, OEB Ph.D. candidate in the Friedman Lab at the Arboretum, hope their research in the Mamoní Valley Preserve in Panama will increase our understanding of how biodiversity can persevere in the face of climate change, deforestation, and human disturbance.

200126PanamaExp26The 20-square-mile land conservancy on the isthmus separating Central and South America teems with life, making the condensed rainforest habitat a perfect location for their research project because of the vast number of known and potentially undiscovered species living there, Goulet-Scott said. Continue reading

Invasive Python Hunting Season

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A Florida Wildlife Commission employee captures a Burmese python during the kickoff event for the Florida Python Challenge in Sunrise, Florida, on 10 January. Photograph: Joe Cavaretta/AP

We first started paying attention to invasive species here. Since then, every year, we pay more and more attention, especially to the pythons in the Everglades. It is that time of year:

Florida hunters capture more than 80 giant snakes in Python Bowl

Annual challenge encourages the public to catch as many of the invasive giant snakes that decimate native wildlife as possible

Most visitors to the mosquito-infested swamps of the Florida Everglades are happy to leave again quickly: a half-hour airboat ride and photograph of a basking alligator is usually enough to satisfy the curiosity of any tourist keen to return to the theme parks and beaches – or sports events – of the sunshine state’s more traditional attractions. Continue reading

It Bears Repeating

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A bald eagle in Tongass National Forest, Alaska. MAURO TOCCACELI/ALAMY

These are times that test our patience. Obvious, right? So is the subject of this essay. And yet, it bears saying, and repeating, precisely because of the times we find ourselves in. So thanks to Mr. Heacox for saying so and to Yale e360 for publishing it:

Let It Be: Why We Must Save Alaska’s Pristine Tongass Forest

At 17 million acres, Alaska’s Tongass is the largest U.S. national forest and the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Now, the Trump administration wants to resume large-scale logging in the Tongass, one of several initiatives threatening some of Alaska’s wildest lands.

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Fog rises from forest near Ford’s Terror, a narrow fjord in the Tongass. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

When the railroad tycoon Edward H. Harriman fell ill from stress and too much work, his doctors recommended that he take a sea cruise. Unable to do anything in a small way, Harriman filled a ship with America’s foremost scientists, artists, and writers, and sailed the coast of Alaska for two months in the summer of 1899.

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A forest view in the Tongass, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

The expedition, which also included the renowned preservationists John Muir and George Bird Grinnell, found two Alaskas wherever they went, one for the taking, one for the saving. Each at odds with the other. Foremost among the places for saving was the great coastal rainforest of the Southeast Alaska panhandle, a wondrous world of mountains, ice fields, tidewater glaciers, rock-ribbed fjords, coastal brown bears, bald eagles, and 11,000 miles of shoreline.

Eight years later, in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt took a bold step in that direction by creating the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States. Today, the Tongass contains two national monuments and 19 designated wilderness areas. It also has countless undammed rivers and streams, and some of the world’s last great runs of wild Pacific salmon. Continue reading

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

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

My connection to fly-fishing is practically nil, except for leisure reading. I tried it once or twice, found it enjoyable but beyond my coordination abilities, and promptly gave up.

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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

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

Proforestation & The Value Of Mature Forests

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Thanks to Yale e360 for this interview that helps us understand the dynamics and differences between mature forests and newly planted forests in terms of carbon sequestration:

Why Keeping Mature Forests Intact Is Key to the Climate Fight

Preserving mature forests can play a vital role in removing CO2 from the atmosphere, says policy scientist William Moomaw. In an e360 interview, he talks about the importance of existing forests and why the push to cut them for fuel to generate electricity is misguided.

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A mature forest in the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts. LIZA DALY/FLICKR

William Moomaw has had a distinguished career as a physical chemist and environmental scientist, helping found the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and serving as lead author on five reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In recent years, Moomaw has turned his attention to working on natural solutions to climate change and has become a leading proponent of what he calls “proforestation” — leaving older and middle-aged forests intact because of their superior carbon-sequestration abilities.

While Moomaw lauds intensifying efforts to plant billions of young trees, he says that preserving existing mature forests will have an even more profound effect on slowing global warming in the coming decades, since immature trees sequester far less CO2 than older ones. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Moomaw explains the benefits of proforestation, discusses the policy changes that would lead to the preservation of existing forests, and sharply criticizes the recent trend of converting forests in the Southeastern U.S. to wood pellets that can be burned to produce electricity in Europe and elsewhere.

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An area of clearcut forest in the Tar-Pamlico River basin in northeastern North Carolina. DOGWOOD ALLIANCE

“The most effective thing that we can do is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their full ecological potential, to store carbon, and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services,” said Moomaw. “Cutting trees to burn them is not a way to get there.”

Yale Environment 360: How do you define proforestation?

William Moomaw: So I began looking at some of the data and some of the papers that had come out recently, and I found that if we managed our forests and grasslands in a different way they could be sequestering twice as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they currently do. 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

Python Prey

 

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An American alligator in its natural habitat in the Florida Everglades. Burmese pythons have been know to prey on alligators in the area. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian’s Lance Richardson for updating us on the Everglades python saga we have been reading about for some years now, thanks to this story:

Python wars: the snake epidemic eating away at Florida

There are tens of thousands of pythons in the Florida wild, attacking animals and damaging ecosystems – and the quest to stop them has become a collective crusade

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A python in a tree. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

On a Thursday afternoon in St Petersburg, Florida, Beth Koehler crouches over a cairn terrier named Ginger, trimming intently as fur collects around her feet. On Koehler’s arm is a scratch – red, jagged and freshly acquired, though not in the way one might expect of a dog groomer.

“There was no way I could pin the head,” Koehler says, referring to the snake that was partly responsible. She had grabbed hold however she could, which made it “pissed”: “It decided to coil up and just throw itself at me.” Startled, Koehler had fallen backwards, cutting herself on a vine – an injury far preferable to the bite of a Burmese python.

“I have never been bit,” she proudly adds. “Peggy’s been bit once, but really, we’re very careful.”

Three days a week, Koehler runs Hair of the Dog with her partner of 31 years, Peggy van Gorder. The other four days the couple are usually out chasing pythons as members of Patric: the Python Action Team – Removing Invasive Constrictors, which is managed by the Florida fish and wildlife conservation commission (FWC). Continue reading

Co-habitation Questions Down Under

A platypus in Tasmania. Photo © Klaus / FlickrJustine E. Hausheer

Thanks to TNC’s Justine E. Hausheer for this story:

Can Platypus Persist Alongside People?

Most of us are familiar with the bizarre and improbable platypus: a mammal that lays eggs, secretes milk from its skin, and defends itself with a venomous spur on its hind leg.

Urban platypus habitat. Photo © Justine E. Hausheer / TNC

But the incredible little mammal wriggling in the net at my feet is all too real, and — like much of Australia’s iconic wildlife — it’s also in deep trouble. As urban development alters waterways, platypus populations are declining and their range is shrinking, putting the future of this wildlife wonder at risk.

“An Animal of All Time”

One Aboriginal story says that platypus originated from the union of a duck and a water-rat, which is rather apt. British naturalist George Shaw infamously thought the first platypus specimens sent back from Australia were a hoax, cutting the taxidermied corpse apart to try and find the stitching.

A painting by of a platypus by John Lewin, 1808. Photo © State Library of New South Wales / Wikimedia Commons

But the animal’s oddity afforded little protection from European settlers. Continue reading

Our Favorite Form Of Prospecting

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Expedition members sprint to flush Slender-billed Flufftails, among the world’s most elusive birds, in a marsh in Bemanevika reserve. Photo: Tristan Spinski

Bioprospecting, a topic we have not posted enough about, came to our attention in the mid-1990s through Costa Rica’s National Institute of Biodiversity. Kimon de Greef, writing for Audubon Magazine, offers an inside view of a prospecting expedition in one of the most wondrous, and at-risk natural habitats on the planet:

Scientists Race to Uncover the Secrets of Madagascar’s Treasure-Filled Forests

The rediscovery of a long-lost duck spurred the creation of two protected areas in the country. Now researchers are scouring these spots for other endemic species before it’s too late.

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With only a few kilometers to go during day-long to Bemanevika, challenging road conditions forced the group to disembark from the two Toyota Land Cruisers and push them through the deep mud. Much of the terrain required the forest technicians to utilize the wench, which they fastened to tree stumps to wind the vehicles up the muddy mountain roads. Photo: Tristan Spinski

We had come this far and now we were stuck, dug in on a dirt track high above the plains. It was monsoon season in Madagascar, and thunderstorms had laid waste to the deeply rutted road. Already we had traversed seemingly unnavigable passes on our way to the remote northern mountains, mud churned to slurry by each passing set of wheels. Almost 24 hours later, this slope flanked by agave plants had defeated us. Our drivers took up shovels: There were ruts to flatten, boulders to excavate and heave into the bushes. As the workers toiled, cicadas hissed from the treetops.

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Map: Mike Reagan

For the field biologists I was accompanying, this breakdown of rural infrastructure held great promise. They were on their way to survey some of the island’s last remaining virgin rainforests—shrinking havens of exceptional biodiversity, including some of Earth’s rarest birdlife. “There’s definitely a correlation with how hard it is to get in,” said John Mittermeier, an expedition leader, ornithologist, and geography Ph.D. student at Oxford University, “and how likely you are to find new stuff.”

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Clockwise from top left: Spearpoint leaf-tail gecko; Andreone’s tree frog; Compsophis fatsibe snake; Boophis goudot frog; Calumma nasutum chameleon; Spinomantis nussbaumi frog. Photos: Tristan Spinski

Now a cry went up among the team. A snake was moving its way through the undergrowth, and with abandon they leapt after it. Luke Kemp, the herpetologist on the expedition, crouched beside the bushes, poking around but coming up empty. “It’s like an addiction,” he told me. “I can’t stop.”

The biologists had congregated from four countries, united by a relentless, even maniacal fascination with wildlife. They wore faded shirts from scientific conferences and were never without their binoculars. Instead of making small talk, they discussed bird calls and sampling methods, animated by purpose and shared expertise. In unison, like meerkats, Mittermeier and the other two birders swung their binoculars from side to side, trying to glimpse what sounded to them like an endemic robin. The two entomologists swept the air with butterfly nets; they would not hesitate, when their hands were full, to pop wriggling insect specimens between their lips. Continue reading

Tiger Census as Bright Star

 

photo credit: Dr. Eash Hoskote

Tigers and other megafauna felines have frequently held pride of place on this site, beginning long before our company was based in India.

Thank you to NPR for reporting on the good news of this census, although in full disclosure their choice of cover photos is quite disappointing and we are happy to highlight a stunning photo by Dr. Eash Hoskote, one of our regular nature photography contributors instead.

Census Finds Nearly 3,000 Tigers In India

In 2010, India sought to double its tiger population by 2022. But on International Tiger Day, the country announced it met its goal four years earlier than expected.

Nearly 3,000 tigers now reside in India, that’s more than 70% of the world’s tiger population.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the 2018 All India Tiger Estimation count on Monday, attributing the figures to India’s hardworking wildlife officials and advocates.

“Once the people of India decide to do something, there is no force that can prevent them from getting the desired results,” Modi announced at a news conference. “Today we reaffirm our commitment towards protecting tigers.”

He added that India now takes the lead in being the biggest and safest habitat in the world for tigers. The population, now at 2,967, is up from 2,226 since 2014.

“There are several plants and animals out there that need our help,” Modi said. “What is it that we can do? Either through technology or human action to give them … a life so that they can add beauty and diversity to our planet.” Continue reading

Private Conservation Probably Leads To Good Outcomes, But We Need To Know More

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The boundary of land under conservation easement in Marion County, Oregon. TRACY ROBILLARD/NRCS

Richard Conniff does not always have the answers, but he always asks the right questions:

Why Isn’t Publicly Funded Conservation on Private Land More Accountable?

Taxpayer-funded conservation initiatives on private land cost the U.S. public hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Yet information on where these lands are and how they are being protected often is not monitored or publicly available, raising questions about the programs’ effectiveness.

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Earle Peterson walks through his 1,200-acre property in Burlington, New York, which is protected through a conservation easement. WILL PARSON/CHESAPEAKE BAY PROGRAM

A few years ago, an environmental lawyer named Jessica Owley set out to learn how well it works when the federal government allows development in the habitat of an endangered species. Under the terms of these deals, introduced in the 1980s to mollify opponents of the Endangered Species Act, the developers provide mitigation, typically with a conservation easement on some other parcel of private land.

Owley focused on four California examples, out of the almost 700 so-called Habitat Conservation Plans (or HCPs) that now exist nationwide. She had a long list of questions, from “Where are the protected parcels?” to “How do endangered species fare in the face of these deals?”

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Coyote Ridge, part of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan in Northern California, is a vital habitat for threatened species. BJORN ERICKSON/USFWS

“I ended up being stopped at the first question,” says Owley, now a professor at the University of Buffalo Law School. “It wasn’t just that I couldn’t find the HCP sites, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t know and couldn’t find them.” In one case, an HCP to protect the Mission blue butterfly outside San Francisco, nobody had even bothered to record the easement in municipal land records. Owley came away thinking that a lack of transparency is standard for conservation practices on private land — even when these practices are paid for by taxpayers and meant to serve a significant public interest. Continue reading

Penitentes, An Otherworldly Wonder

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Lara Vimercati and Jack Darcy, two graduate students, at the edge of a penitente field on a Chilean volcano where researchers unexpectedly found algae. Steven K. Schmidt

Thanks to JoAnna Klein for bringing this question, and another Chilean wonder, to our attention:

If Algae Clings to Snow on This Volcano, Can It Grow on Other Desolate Worlds?

Scientists were surprised to find something living on the sterile heights of this Chilean volcano.

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The penitentes are thought to result from an unusual mix of wind, temperature fluctuations and the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Steve Schmidt

In Chile’s Atacama Desert, Volcan Llullaillaco is Mars on Earth — or about as close to it as you can get. At 22,000 feet above sea level, it’s the second highest active volcano on Earth. Most of the mountain is a barren, red landscape of volcanic rock and dust, with thin, dry air, intense sunlight and winds that will blow your tent down the mountain.

While the ground can heat up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, air temperatures rarely reach above freezing. When snow falls, it turns to gas just as it hits the earth. Occasionally, snow can collect in windblown banks, which then melt into icy spires up to 16 feet tall. The Spaniards called these “nieves penitentes,” penitent ones, because they look like hooded monks doing penance.

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Steve Schmidt

These conditions high up on the volcano made it seem about as lifeless as Mars. But a team of researchers led by Steven K. Schmidt, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies extreme life, have discovered microbes living in and around the penitentes at 17,300 feet above sea level, about one thousand feet above the point at which vegetation stops on Volcan Llullaillaco. Continue reading

New Zealand’s Minister of Conservation Shares Surprising Good News

When the Minister of Conservation speaks, we listen:

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We came to this news through the story below by National Public Radio (USA):

Rare New Zealand Parakeet Population Doubles After ‘Epic’ Breeding Season

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The small bird was believed to have gone extinct but after a bumper crop of beech seeds this year, conservationists estimate the orange-fronted parakeet population has likely doubled.
Department of Conservation

One of the rarest birds in New Zealand is having its best breeding season in decades, potentially doubling the population.

The orange-fronted parakeet, known locally as the kākāriki karaka, is in the midst of a prolonged mating season due to a beech seed bonanza, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is great news that this year there are more than three times the number of nests compared to previous years,” Sage said.

She added that at least 150 wild-born chicks have been born so far this season…

Read the whole story here.

Rewilding’s Latest Live Case Study

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European brown bears, thought to have become extinct in the UK in the Middle Ages, will share a paddock with wolves, lynxes and wolverines. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Thanks to Steven Morris (yet again) for another excellent nature story in the Guardian:

Bears and wolves to coexist in UK woods for first time in 1,000 years

Bear Wood near Bristol aims to spark debate about rewilding of ancient woodlands

For the first time in more than 1,000 years native bears and wolves are coming snout to muzzle with each other among towering oaks and ashes in a slice of British woodland.

European brown bears, thought to have become extinct in the British wilds in medieval times, and grey wolves – which roamed free until the 17th century – are to coexist in a project called Bear Wood near Bristol.

The idea of the scheme – which is part of Bristol Zoological Society’s Wild Place Project – is to give visitors a glimpse into life in the woods and forests that used to cover much of the UK.

It is also intended to initiate a debate about rewilding schemes, which could reintroduce animals such as lynxes – and perhaps wolves and bears. Continue reading