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

Graphic Artists & Ecological Education

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Since we started this platform in 2011 I have been on the lookout for graphical representations that help me, and therefore might help others, understand complex issues related to the environment. Photography has been the easiest reach for me, perhaps because I am a son of, a brother of, and a father of people who have mastered that form. Comics were not part of my life, so that form has eluded me. And I realize that the work of Susie Cagle escaped my attention–as I have shared visual artists’ depictions of natural phenomena, with science and especially ecological issues emphasized–until now. And this is a good way for her work to come to my attention, because in our family we have been debating this tree’s value for decades:

Fire-starting weed or ecological scapegoat? The battle over California’s eucalyptus trees

The fight over a celebrated exotic plant highlights questions over California’s future amid the climate crisis

Time To Make Lemonade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyprus & the Right Side of Conservation

 

Lionfish, armed with venomous dorsal spines that enable them to deter predators, are more normally associated with warm tropical waters. Photograph: Arno Enzerink /www.stockphotogr/Arno Enzerink

After writing about some of Cyprus’ environmentally destructive actions, it feels good to hear about these positive organized efforts to eradicate this marine threat. Lionfish have long been on our radar, but this is the first we’ve heard of their spread through European waters.

Perhaps a new venue for eradication idea exchange is in order!

Cyprus begins lionfish cull to tackle threat to Mediterranean ecosystem

Cyprus  has held its first organised cull of lionfish after numbers of the invasive species have proliferated in recent years, threatening the Mediterranean ecosystem and posing a venomous danger to humans.

“They’re actually very placid,” said Prof Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biologist, after spearing 16 of the exotic specimens in the space of 40 minutes in the inaugural “lionfish removal derby” off the island’s southern coast. He added: “The problem is they are not part of the natural ecosystem and we are seeing them in plague proportions.”

Lionfish, armed with venomous dorsal spines that enable them to deter predators, are more normally associated with warm tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Almost two decades ago the non-native tropical fish began to enter US waters, appearing in the Atlantic after pet owners started releasing outsized lionfish from home aquariums into the sea. Now they have reached Europe. In 2012, after initial sightings off Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, they were spotted off Cyprus. Three years later they had appeared further south in Greece, Italy and Tunisia, testimony, scientists say, to their ability to both enter new territories and spawn at record rates.

As numbers proliferate, so have fears of the flamboyantly coloured fish posing the biggest ecological setback to ecosystems in the Mediterranean – which is already under pressure from pollution, tourism and over-exploitation. In the EU, Cyprus has become “the first line of defence” against the lionfish invasion. Continue reading

Aana Art Equaling Life-Sized Conservation

Elephants have held highest honors in our family for decades, as symbols for the importance of Nature Conservation, and later infused with the power of Ganesh when we lived in India.

Elephant conservation has taken many forms over the years. When writing about the recent Real Elephant Collective collaboration exhibit that took place in Cochin a few months ago, I realized that art installations using elephants as symbols for big picture conservation have existed for some time.

Having been unable to attend the exhibit personally, Anoodha and the Curiouser team make me feel that I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

South-South Cooperation In The Fight Against Invasive Species

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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.

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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

Elephants By The Sea

100 life-size lantana replicas of wild elephants will travel across three continents spreading the message of peaceful coexistence with nature.

The beautiful herd of Asian Elephants calmly drinking from this watering hole poses no threat to any onlooker. They’re actually sculptures made from the invasive lantana, introduced to the Indian subcontinent as an ornamental shrub by the British. The harmless looking plant is a scourge to native flora, animals and people of the regions where it’s taken over, as it literally poisons its surroundings so nothing else can survive there, destroying the natural biodiversity of the area.

30 of these extraordinary, life-sized works of art have been on display in Kerala, at Kochi’s South Beach, coinciding with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The outdoor exhibit, entitled Co-Exist: Matriarchs for a Whole Earth, is on display for only until the end of February, after which it will travel to Bangalore and New Delhi. In 2020, the elephant models will be taken to England where they will be displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Parks, both in London. In 2021, they will travel by truck across the USA, where they will finally be auctioned, the proceeds of which will go to preservation of wild animals.

The project is a collaboration between multiple organizations, designers and indigenous community artisans. Members of the Ashoka Trust Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE) devised a way to safely craft with lantana as a raw material and support for the making and display of lantana elephants is through the NGOs Elephant Family, The Real Elephant Collective (TREC), and The Shola Trust.

Fort Kochi To Have 100 ‘Lantana’ Elephants. And Here’s Why You Need To See Them

Highlighting the cause of nature and wildlife conservation at a global scale, the Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.

On February 7, if you are wandering around the popular South Beach in Fort Kochi, you are sure to come across a magnificent herd of 100 Asian elephants.

If you are wondering about the possibility of such a huge congregation of these beings at one place, let us break the news.

These are beautifully sculpted life-size elephants that have been made by tribal artisans from Thorapalli in Gudalur using Lantana camara or Lantana, a toxic invasive weed.

Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.

“Our vision is to bring Asia’s elephants and the issues they face out of India and the shadow cast by the African ivory crisis. With Asian elephants numbering only a tenth of their African counterparts, the importance of this unique migration cannot be underplayed. The survival of a species is at stake,” says Ruth Ganesh, principal trustee and the creative force of Elephant Family.

She had conceptualised the Lantana herd along with Shubhra Nayar of TREC. Modelled on real elephants from the Gudalur-Pandalur region, in its bid to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of Asian elephants, this unique project is also clearing the harmful Lantana from the Nilgiri forests while providing livelihoods to about 70 artisans from the Paniya, Bettakurumba and Soliga communities.

With their inherent knowledge of wild elephants and their exceptional crafting skills with Lantana, these artisans are bringing life to the elephant forms, while earning a dignified income. The elephants are designed by Shubhra Nayar and Tariq T of TREC, with Subhash Gautam overseeing the process. Continue reading

Science Writing, A Genre That Keeps Improving, Is The Best Way To Explain A Conservation Paradox

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Eric Nyquist

Two years of working in southern Chile taught me just enough about the complexity of this particular issue (among the many complex issues in our practice)to appreciate the article below by Emma Marris, who we already knew to be provocative, enough that she could challenge Bill McKibben two minutes into her TED talk, and does so convincingly. The primary reason I appreciate this article, is the same reason this platform has showcased the best of this genre of writers over the years. Scientists, translated into regular language we non-scientists can understand:

When Conservationists Kill Lots (and Lots) of Animals

Invasive species are sometimes trapped, poisoned, and shot in large numbers to save native species from extinction. Some scientists say the bloodshed isn’t worth it.

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Eric Nyquist

The desert of south-central Australia is crenellated with sandstone hills in shades of ivory, crimson, and apricot. The ground is littered with dead trees and tree limbs, big hunks of transparent mica, dried cow dung, and thousands of stone spearheads and blades made by the Aboriginal people who lived here for tens of thousands of years—and live here still. Around the few water holes are the doglike tracks of dingoes, wild canines that were brought to Australia thousands of years ago and are now the country’s top predators.

I have come to the Evelyn Downs ranch, on the famously remote highway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, to meet Arian Wallach, a conservationist who thinks there is too much killing in conservation. Wallach has come to this massive 888-square-mile ranch because it is one of the few places in Australia where people aren’t actively killing wild animals. Tough, outback Herefords share the landscape with kangaroos, wild horses, wild donkeys, camels, emus, cats, foxes, native rodents, dingoes, and very large antediluvian-looking reptiles called perenties. Of the animals on this list, dingoes, cats, foxes, horses, camels, and donkeys are all killed in large numbers throughout Australia—but not here. Wallach has convinced the owners to experiment with a more hands-off approach. 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

Adaptation’s Appetite

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“They have to be one of the most adaptable animals on the planet,” said one ecologist who studies coyotes. Credit Perry McKenna/Getty Images

On this platform we have been in favor of celebrating conservation rather than doomsday. Science is key, but we also think entrepreneurship can be harnessed in the right direction, publicly and privately. There is not much to celebrate in the following story. The animals in the photo above, without any further details, could be granted wild beauty status. But context is everything. So we celebrate the writers who illuminate important scientific ideas, and their stories. Thanks to JoAnna Klein, who we have linked to many times (but missed this related recent story) for providing those details:

Coyotes Conquered North America. Now They’re Heading South.

New maps seek to update the historical range of our continent’s toughest canids, which have thrived as other predators experienced decline.

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A coyote crossing U.S. Highway 120 near Groveland, Calif. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Coyotes are excellent colonizers.

They breed fast, eat almost anything and live just about anywhere. You can find them in fields, forests, backyardsparks and even parking decks. They’re living in cities like Los AngelesNew York and Chicago. They’ve even made it to the Florida Keys and Long Island. In 2010, they crossed the Panama Canal. Now, the only thing keeping them from entering Colombia is a dense patch of forest called the Darien Gap. And camera traps have caught them heading that way. Continue reading

Invasive Species, Eradication Efforts, Success Story

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Jane Tansell, one of the two handlers responsible for the rodent detection dogs, looks on from the background as a seal stares down the camera on South Georgia Island earlier this year.
Oliver Prince/Courtesy of South Georgia Heritage Trust

These three pairs of words in the post title, placed together in this order in a search engine, produce some interesting results from around the world. And today we find one more to add to the database. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA)’s Colin Dwyer for sharing this story:

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The South Georgia pipit, seen posing for a glamour shot earlier this year, had been among the species hardest hit by the island’s invasive rodents.
Ingo Arndt/Courtesy of South Georgia Heritage Trust

There are no other birds quite like them in the world. The South Georgia pipit and pintail are so distinctive in the grand pantheon of ornithology, in fact, they draw their names from the one place they’ve made their home: South Georgia Island, sitting lonely in the forbidding South Atlantic not far from Antarctica.

Yet even in such a remote location, surrounded by penguins, fur seals and seemingly endless ocean, the birds have long been besieged by tiny alien invaders: rodents. Since the first European ships arrived in the late 18th century bearing rodents as stowaways, the voracious predators have devastated the South Georgia birds — which, with no trees to nest in, must make their vulnerable homes on the ground or in burrows.

Now, after more than two centuries, those invaders have been rebuffed. Continue reading

Finn The Wonder Dog, And Other Introduced Species

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Finn the Wonder Dog on Macquarie Island with king penguins. Photo © Karen Andrew/New Zealand Department of Conservation

Thanks to Ted Williams at Cool Green Science for this article about the eviction of an invasive species in a remote location with charismatic species both native and introduced:

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Choros Field Work. Photo © Island Conservation

Early in the 20th century settlers on the islands of Chañaral and Choros off northern Chile had a brainstorm: They’d create a ready supply of fresh meat by unleashing European rabbits.

It worked out as well as rabbit introduction in Australia. Continue reading

Lionfish Management, Practitioner Exchange

The four Colombian exchange delegates with Phil Karp and Jen Chapman, Blue Ventures’ Country Coordinator in Belize.

As in other fields of capacity building for development there is a growing recognition within the marine conservation community of the power of practitioner–practitioner exchange. Whether they take the form of ‘barefoot’ exchanges between fishers, or more formal exchanges involving Marina Protected Area (MPA) managers and policymakers, such exchanges are emerging as an extremely effective way of sharing, replicating, adapting and scaling up successful solutions to the challenges of marine protection and avoiding repetition of unsuccessful approaches. Practitioner exchanges are particularly effective for sharing ‘how to’ or tacit knowledge about solutions, as such tips and tricks tend not be fully recorded in written descriptions or case studies.

Practitioner exchange as a form of capacity building represents a departure from more traditional approaches such as technical assistance or deployment of expert advisors. In the latter case, external experts are relied on to share successful solutions with which they are familiar only through research, and may therefore lack a complete understanding of the full range of factors and potential pitfalls that could influence the successful implementation of an approach elsewhere.

Read more about Blue Ventures sharing the temporary fisheries closure model through community exchange.

Blue Ventures has been very active in practitioner exchanges for some time, focused on sharing its pioneering work on the use of periodic, short-term fishery closures as an effective solution to balancing species conservation and livelihoods.  Continue reading

Hastening Evolution

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A North American snail kite in Florida. Researchers say the bird species has rapidly evolved larger beaks and bodies to eat a larger, invasive snail. CreditRobert Fletcher/University of Florida

Things Looked Bleak Until These Birds Rapidly Evolved Bigger Beaks

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The invasive snails are two to five times larger than the native species, and young kites with larger bills that were able to feed on them were more likely to survive their first year. Credit Robert Fletcher/University of Florida

Conservationists have been sounding the alarm over invasive species for years, warning of the damage they can cause to habitats and native animals. But in Florida, an invasive snail might be helping an endangered bird species come back from the brink, researchers say.

The population of North American snail kites — birds that use curved beaks and long claws to dine on small apple snails in the Florida Everglades — had been dwindling for years, from 3,500 in 2000 to just 700 in 2007. Things began to look particularly bleak in 2004, when a portion of the Everglades was invaded by a species of larger snail that the birds had historically struggled to eat. Ornithologists assumed the shift would hasten the snail kite’s decline. Continue reading

With Gene-Altering Schemes, Be Careful What You Wish For

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The short-tailed weasel, or stoat, decimated native bird populations after it was introduced to New Zealand. Altering the genes of invasive animals might save threatened species, scientists said, but could also have devastating consequences. Credit DeAgostini, via Getty Images

Two days ago we were intrigued by the notion; today, not so much. Is it a cat fight between two of the science writers most often linked to in these pages? Or perhaps it is an example of how scientific consensus is built:

‘Gene Drives’ Are Too Risky for Field Trials, Scientists Say

In 2013, scientists discovered a new way to precisely edit genes — technology called Crispr that raised all sorts of enticing possibilities. Scientists wondered if it might be used to fix hereditary diseases, for example, or to develop new crops.

One of the more intriguing ideas came from Kevin M. Esvelt and his colleagues at Harvard University: Crispr, they suggested, could be used to save endangered wildlife from extinction by implanting a fertility-reducing gene in invasive animals — a so-called gene drive. Continue reading

New Zealand, Invasive Species & Gene Editing

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Thanks to Ed Yong and his editors at The Atlantic for this story on one country’s approach to rats:

New Zealand’s War on Rats Could Change the World

The nation wants to eradicate all invasive mammal predators by 2050. Gene-editing technology could help—or it could trigger an ecological disaster of global proportions.

The first thing that hit me about Zealandia was the noise.

I was a 15-minute drive from the center of Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, but instead of the honks of horns or the bustle of passersby, all I could hear was birdsong. It came in every flavor—resonant coos, high-pitched cheeps, and alien notes that seemed to come from otherworldly instruments. Continue reading

Ant-Hunting Dogs

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Kyren Zimmerman and Tobias — a Labrador retriever who specializes in sniffing out the invasive Argentine ant — on Santa Cruz Island, in the Channel Islands National Park. Credit Gary Andrew/The Nature Conservancy

Ants are the masters of the planet we live on. There is no escaping that. But if these dogs can protect us from some of the more sinister ants, we have these trainers to thank:

A Very Good Dog Hunts Very Bad Ants

Tobias is a Labrador retriever with one job: sniffing out invasive Argentine ants wherever they hide. He’s really good at it, and with his help, a fragile island ecosystem may be spared a repeat inundation with the pests.

Santa Cruz Island is 25 miles off the coast of Southern California, part of Channel Islands National Park. The island’s rich, rugged environment — which includes more than 1,000 kinds of plants and animals, including the bald eagle and the island fox — is threatened by Argentine ants, one of the world’s most successful and wily invasive species. Continue reading

Being Better For Bees

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Richard Coy inspects one of his hives near Burdette, Ark. Honey production at this location fell by almost half this year — which he attributes to the drifting of weedkiller dicamba to nearby flowering plants. Dan Charles/NPR

By coincidence two days in a row we have encountered important stories related to bees–yesterday’s more inspirational and this one more troubling:

There is one small field on Michael Sullivan’s farm, near the town of Burdette, Ark., that he wishes he could hide from public view.

The field is a disaster. There are soybeans in there, but you could easily overlook them. The field has been overrun by monsters: ferocious-looking plants called pigweeds, as tall as people and bursting with seeds that will come back to haunt any crops that Sullivan tries to grow here for years to come.

“I’m embarrassed to say that we farm that field,” Sullivan says. “We sprayed it numerous times, and it didn’t kill it.”

Pigweeds, which have become resistant to some well-known herbicides, infest a soybean field in northwestern Arkansas. Dan Charles/NPR

These weeds have become resistant to Sullivan’s favorite herbicides, including glyphosate, which goes by the trade name Roundup.

Yet the rest of Sullivan’s farm is beautiful. As farmers like to say, the fields are “clean.” There is not a weed to be seen. Continue reading

Fish Provenance Matters

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Lummi Nation fishermen work to capture Atlantic salmon that escaped an aquaculture pen near Cypress Island, in Washington State. Photograph by Brandon Sawaya / SOULCRAFT ALLSTARS

With big weather news recently holding our attention, it is easy to miss smaller scale natural disasters, so thanks to E. Tammy Kim for ensuring this story made it to our pages:

Washington State’s Great Salmon Spill and the Environmental Perils of Fish Farming

Just after the thrill of the total solar eclipse, a troubling nature story emerged from northwestern Washington State. On August 22nd, Cooke Aquaculture, a multibillion-dollar seafood company, reported that, three days earlier, extreme tides coinciding with the eclipse had torn apart its enormous salmon farm off Cypress Island, a teal idyll near the college town of Bellingham. Continue reading