Go read, “The Enduring Relevance of Rachel Carson”

September 3, 2014

Seriously, go read this whole essay — especially if you’re looking for some snarky way to complain about the ban on DDT.

It is tough for a single publication or its author to have an impact across nations, cultures, genres, and disciplines. It is tougher still for their appearance on the world stage to spark a social movement, rekindle human values and awareness, and create new mandates for action. And toughest of all is when the author is a woman, a scientist, who must overcome the prejudices of her time−of gender, of notions of progress, of the omnipotence of untrammelled industry−to articulate a clear-eyed, renewed vision of a better world, a cleaner environment, where people do not merely live, but flourish.

If I had to pick one exemplary work from the environmental canon that does this and does it well, it would be the one that burst on the scene on this day, 16 June, all of 52 years ago, in the United States of America and then swiftly encompassed, in its scope and sweep, the rest of the world. The book, Silent Spring, and its author, marine biologist Rachel Carson, are widely credited to be the sparks that lit the fire of the global environmental movement. Carson, whose 107th birth anniversary came and passed quietly on May 27, with little fanfare other than a commemorative Google Doodle, died fifty years ago after a battle with breast cancer. Why should we bother to remember Rachel Carson and Silent Spring? What could a woman, a book, from over five decades ago have to do with the enormously changed world we live in today? Yet, over the last few weeks, during fieldwork and travels in India’s northeast and the Western Ghats mountains, I thought frequently of Rachel Carson and her prescient words in Silent Spring.

Google Doodle on Rachel Carson's birthday, 27 May 2014 (Courtesy: Google)


How can this be controversial? The Water Cycle

August 26, 2014

Water Cycle poster formerly available through NRCS of USDA.

Water Cycle poster formerly available through NRCS of USDA.

Here’s a video guaranteed to tick off the anti-Agenda 21 crowd, and anyone else who hates American farmers and their work to make their farms last for centuries — what is known as “soil and water conservation” to Boy Scouts, and “sustainable practices” to agronomists.

But for the life of me,  I can’t find anything offensive in it.

From USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, the descendant of the old Soil Conservation Service.

 


Fallen Monarch: A Yosemite tree that dwarfs an entire mounted cavalry

August 13, 2014

Yosemite National Park, Facebook site:    About forty members of U.S. 6th Cavalry, Troop F, shown mounted on, or standing beside their horses, and lined up atop and beside the Fallen Monarch tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite, 1899.

Yosemite National Park, Facebook site: About forty members of U.S. 6th Cavalry, Troop F, shown mounted on, or standing beside their horses, and lined up atop and beside the Fallen Monarch tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite, 1899.

Giant sequoia trees can be found only in the United States, and only in or near the Sierra Mountains in California. 

How massive are they?  The tree above, with the 6th Cavalry’s F Troop posing on and around it with their horses, is 26 feet in diameter at its base, where it fell, and 285 feet long,   Redwood doesn’t rot like other woods.  The tree is still there, today, looking much like it did 115 years ago (Comments on Yosemite NP photo).

The Fallen Monarch, in Mariposa Grove, in 1907:

Fallen Monarch, Mariposa Grove of Yosemite NP, in 1907, with a stage coach and team of six horses posing on top.

Fallen Monarch, Mariposa Grove of Yosemite NP, in 1907, with a stage coach and team of six horses posing on top.

When did the tree fall?  Hundreds of years ago, perhaps?

More:

Yosemite NP Nature Notes 11: Big Trees


Saving the plains bison, at Caprock Canyon State Park, Texas

July 8, 2014

Few days go by that I don’t hear from some Texas yahoo about the futility of conservation, especially attempts to save sustainable populations of animals near or teetering on the brink of extinction.

American bison galloping. Photos by Eadweard Muybridge, first published in 1887 in Animal Locomotion. Wikipedia image

American bison galloping. Photos by early motion-studying photographer Eadweard Muybridge, first published in 1887 in Animal Locomotion. Wikipedia image

Conservation works.  Conservation works in Texas.  How can they ignore stories like this one, about the conservation of the plains bison, at Texas’s Caprock Canyon State Park?

This film from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department illustrates and discusses the work going on at Caprock Canyon SP to keep a herd of bison there healthy and reproducing:

Published on Feb 1, 2013

Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle holds the last remnants of pure Southern Plains Bison that once numbered in the millions on this land. Watch as this historic herd is restored to its native habitat. For details on visiting the park, see http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-par…

If we had a national mammal, is there much doubt the noble American buffalo would be it?

Defenders of Wildlife range map, showing where to find bison in North America. DoW said: Bison once roamed across much of North America. Today bison are ecologically extinct throughout most of their historic range, except for a few national parks and other small wildlife areas. Yellowstone National Park has the largest population of free-roaming plains bison (about 4,000), and Wood Buffalo National Park has the largest population of free-roaming wood bison (about 10,000).

Defenders of Wildlife range map, showing where to find bison in North America. DoW said: Bison once roamed across much of North America. Today bison are ecologically extinct throughout most of their historic range, except for a few national parks and other small wildlife areas. Yellowstone National Park has the largest population of free-roaming plains bison (about 4,000), and Wood Buffalo National Park has the largest population of free-roaming wood bison (about 10,000).

You can see that conservation is not easy, that serious conservation of animals takes cooperation between governments, federal, state, county and local.  Throw in migratory birds, and you’re talking international efforts.

But it’s worth it, at least to me.  Wholly apart from the direct benefits to humans — the discovery of drugs like digitalis and tamoxifen, for example — we learn so much about how the planet operates, how nature operates.  We get a view into the ideas of God, if not a direct view into the universe’s creative mind.

There are two recognized subspecies in North America: Bison bison bison and B. b. athabascae.  We have populations saved in small plots across the U.S.:  In and around Yellowstone National Park; on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake; in Utah’s Henry Mountains in the south central part of the state; at the LBJ Grasslands (National Forest); and at Caprock Canyons State Park.  At one time, millions of the plains subspecies migrated for hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles, harvesting grass and turning the soil to make the North American Great Plains one of the most productive habitats for plants and animals on the face of the Earth.  We screwed that up a bit.  The same area today does not produce equally to 200 years ago in fiber and meat, despite modern farming and ranching.

Maybe we can learn a lot more from these creatures, about how to keep food supplies going for that other common, though self-threatened species, Homo sapiens.

Probably can’t improve on the video, but I hope to get some good photos of these creatures for myself, this summer.  Check the map above. If your summer travels take you close to a population of bison, why not stop in and visit?

More:

World Wildlife Fund image of plains bison, mother and calf

World Wildlife Fund image of plains bison, mother and calf, and caption: Historically bison were the dominant grazer on the Northern Great Plains landscape. This dominance shaped the landscape by affecting the pattern and structure of the grasses and vegetation that grew, and it was this vegetation pattern that allowed animals to flourish.


Another conservation success: Bearded vulture returns to the Alps

May 31, 2014

Do conservation efforts pay off?  Yes, they do.

Film comes from the European-based Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Since the film, more of these majestic animals have been released.  Here are photos from the release on Friday, May 30:

Workers and volunteers from the Vulture Conservation Foundation, climbing the Alps to release to the wild another captive-raised bearded vulture.

Workers and volunteers from the Vulture Conservation Foundation, climbing the Alps to release to the wild another captive-raised bearded vulture. (We might assume the vulture is in the box.)

One must respect these volunteers, climbing such tors simply to watch a bird fly away.

The line of hiking Vulture Conservation Foundation volunteers stretched across an alpine mountain for a release on May 30, 2014.

The line of hiking Vulture Conservation Foundation volunteers stretched across an alpine mountain for a release on May 30, 2014.

You can tell

Not ready for his (her?) close up, this bearded vulture may be wildly happy, or sad to leave those who raised it.  Vultures, it may be said, are often inscrutable.  Vulture Conservation Foundation photos.

Not ready for his (her?) close up, this bearded vulture may be wildly happy, or sad to leave those who raised it. Vultures, it may be said, are often inscrutable. Vulture Conservation Foundation photos.

Tip of the old scrub brush to bird conservationist Amanda Holland.


Eye to eye with a black vulture

May 26, 2014

Great photo out of a group at the University of George studying carrion-eating birds.  They capture vultures — black vultures are a current project.

Close up of an eye of a black vulture.  Photo by Megan Winzeler, at a University of Georgia research project.

Close up of an eye of a black vulture. Photo by Megan Winzeler, at a University of Georgia research project. Note the photographer, reflected in the bird’s eye.

This bird has the unromantic name of BLVU202.

“The last thing the old prospector would see . . .”


Why World Turtle Day 2014?

May 23, 2014

English: Turtles. Français : Tortoises. Deutsc...

English: Turtles. Français : Tortoises. Deutsch: Schildkröten. Griechische Schildkröte (Testudo graeca). ¼. Klappschildkröte (Cinosternum pensylvanicum). ¼. Sumpfschildkröte (Cistudo lutaria). ¼. Matamata (Chelys fimbriata). 1/16. Großkopfschildkröte (Platysternum megalocephalurn). ¼. Lederschildkröte (Dermatochelys coriacea). 1/20. Karettschildkröte (Chelone imbricata). 1/20. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May 23 is World Turtle Day.  In fact, this is the 14th World Turtle Day.

No grand pronouncements from Congress, probably — American Tortoise Rescue picked a day, and that was that.  Their press release for 2014:

American Tortoise Rescue Celebrates World Turtle Day 2014 on May 23rd

Be sure to follow us on Facebook for fun contests and recipes! https://www.facebook.com/WorldTurtleDay

Suggested Tweet:  Celebrate #WorldTurtleDay on May 23 with @TortoiseRescue 

Malibu, CA – May 14, 2014 –  American Tortoise Rescue (ATR) (www.tortoise.com), a nonprofit organization established in 1990 for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle, is sponsoring its 14th annual World Turtle Day on May 23rd.  The day was created as an observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.  Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson, founders of ATR, advocate humane treatment of all animals, including reptiles.  Since 1990, ATR has placed about 3,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes.  ATR assists law enforcement when undersized or endangered turtles are confiscated and provides helpful information and referrals to persons with sick, neglected or abandoned turtles.

“We launched World Turtle Day to increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures,” said Tellem. “These gentle animals have been around for 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of smuggling, the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, global warming and the cruel pet trade,” says Tellem. “We are seeing smaller turtles coming into the rescue meaning that older adults are disappearing from the wild thanks to the pet trade, and the breeding stock is drastically reduced.  It is a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world.”  (See slide show here.)

Tellem added, “We are thrilled to learn that organizations and individuals throughout the world now are observing World Turtle Day, including those in Pakistan, Borneo, India, Australia, the UK and many other countries.” She recommends that adults and children do a few small things that can help to save turtles and tortoises for future generations:

  • Never buy a turtle or tortoise from a pet shop as it increases demand from the wild.
  • Never remove turtles or tortoises from the wild unless they are sick or injured.
  • If a tortoise is crossing a busy highway, pick it up and send it in the same direction it was going – if you try to make it go back, it will turn right around again.
  • Write letters to legislators asking them to keep sensitive habitat preserved or closed to off road vehicles, and to prevent off shore drilling that can lead to endangered sea turtle deaths.
  • Report cruelty or illegal sales of turtles and tortoises to your local animal control shelter.
  • Report the use of tiny turtles as prizes at carnivals and other events.  It’s illegal.
  • Report the sale of any turtle or tortoise of any kind less than four inches.  This is illegal to buy and sell them throughout the U.S.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop the illegal trade in turtles and tortoises around the world.  Our first priority here in the U.S. is to ask pet stores and reptile shows to stop the sale of hatchling tortoises and turtles without proper information for the buyer,” says Thompson.  “For example, many people buy sulcata tortoises as an impulse buy because they are so adorable when they are tiny.  The breeders and pet stores frequently do not tell the buyers that this tortoise can grow to 100 pounds or more and needs constant heat throughout the year since they do not hibernate.”

He added, “We also need to educate people and schools about the real risk of contracting salmonella from water turtles.  Wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch a turtle or its water, and do not bring turtles into homes where children are under the age of 12.”

For answers to questions and other information visit American Tortoise Rescue online at http://www.tortoise.com or send e-mail to info@tortoise.com; on Twitter @tortoiserescue; “Like” American Tortoise Rescue on Facebook; and follow World Turtle Day on Facebook. 

Here’s to you Freddie, the Western Box Tortoise from Idaho, and Truck, the desert tortoise from Southern Utah, the friends of my youth.  And all you others.

Red-eared sliders, turtles at Texas Discovery Gardens - photo by Ed Darrell

Red-eared sliders cluster together to catch the sun on a spring day at Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park in Dallas. Photo by Ed Darrell, 2010

More, from 2013:


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