Archive for September, 2009

Biosphere Reserve to Protect Rich Ecosystem

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

     One of the world’s most biologically rich–and among its most threatened–ecosystems is about to receive much needed protection.  When the leaders of Hungary and Croatia signed an agreement recently to establish a transboundary UNESCO biosphere reserve, they ensured that 300 miles of one of Europe’s most important river systems–that includes the Danube, Mura, and Drava Rivers–will receive international protection.

      The conservation benefits of the agreement are great.  The two nations agree to act cooperatively on threats to the river system and will work together to protect endangered habitats and species within the river system.  The area is home to Europe’s highest density of white-tailed eagle breeding pairs and to such endangered species as the little tern and the black stork.  Wetlands in the river system are an important stopping place for more than 250,000 migrating waterfowl every year.  

     The agreement will have socio-economic benefits as well, including clean drinking water, flood protection, sustainable fisheries, and eco-tourism, according to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). 

     The declaration by the two countries is the result of a decade of work by both governments, with help from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and European environmental organizations.  And the cross-border agreement “is not only a significant advance for the region but can serve as an example of how nature conservation visions can bring countries together,” said James Leape, director general of WWF International.  His organization has honored the Hungarian and Croatian governments with a Leaders for a Living Planet award.

     Hungarian and Croatian leaders, along with environmentalists throughout Europe, hope that the two countries will be joined in the agreement by the three other nations that are also part of the river system.  They are Austria and Slovenia to the north of Hungary and Croatia and Serbia to the south.  If all five countries sharing the river system sign the agreement, it will mean the completion of a green belt protecting the heart of Europe, according to WWF.  A five-way agreement would also make this biosphere reserve the world’s first to be shared by five countries.

     There is good reason to hope that Austria, Slovenia, and Serbia will join in the agreement.  Each country is already providing some protection for its portion of the river system through national park or other protected status designation.–April Moore

the Mura River

the Mura River

the Black Stork

the Black Stork

 

 

the Drava River

the Drava River

    

 

        

A Rainy Fall Morning in the Woods

Friday, September 25th, 2009

     Isn’t ‘autumn’ a great word?  I always feel a little self-conscious when I say it instead of the comfortable, everyday word ‘fall.’  But the less used ‘autumn’ seems to confer specialness.  It sets this time apart from the rest of the year, the seasons of which are identified by plain names–winter, spring, and summer.  The only season with two names, fall has to be a stand-out.

     On this autumn morning I awoke to grey coolness and the pattering of rain drops on the skylights overhead.  I decided to go into the woods and have a look.  As I walked down the hill in my all-engulfing rain jacket, I felt in sync with the world around me.  Inside my clinging, wet covering, I too felt damp and grey, my thinking somber and slow. 

     In the light rain, the forest looked less colorful than it had just yesterday.  Was it the dull color of the day itself reflected in the leaves?  Or, with so many leaves now on the ground, is it just too much to ask of the ones still on the trees to brighten the woods?

     Even the red maples, one of my favorites, looked dull.  No longer crimson, the leaves now looked old, marred with bruises and rough places.  It seemed that, in their final days, the maple leaves had developed liver spots. 

     The leaves of another tree, the moosewood, or striped maple, looked worse than dull.  I had been noticing over the past couple of weeks that its leaves have not been aging well.  In fact, they looked as if they’ve been shot, beaten.  A week or so ago, the leaves of this slight forest tree were turning yellow, but in a strange way.  Instead of the green pigment fading away as with most trees, it looked as if it had been added here and there, in splotches on the yellowing leaves.  And today those splotches looked like bull’s eyes–dark circles of thinning leaf–ringed in green.  Around these ’bullet holes,’ the yellow too was diminishing, overtaken in places by an anemic brown.  And the leaves were wrinkling and falling.  They looked utterly defeated, done.  I wondered why the striped maple leaves are so ugly in their dying, so unlike the exuberant red-orange of the tupelos or even the dignified brown of the chestnut oaks.  

     As I walked, I observed that the leaves of some of the other trees, bushes, and small plants did not look the way I expected them to on a rainy day.  The dogwood leaves drooped, shut down.  And the euonymous leaves were folded up tight.  The leaves of the snake root had collapsed, resting against the plant’s stem.  Until this morning, it had been very dry here for quite a long time.  And now, despite the rain finally falling on them, the leaves of many forest plants still hadn’t gotten the word.  Will they rebound, once the roots on which they depend have also been well-watered?  Or after such a dry summer, has the time passed when they can be revived? 

     While the forest’s leaves, for different reasons, are less bright today than they have been, there is another source of vivid color in the woods–the berries.  Orangish serviceberries, bright red little barberries, dark red crabapples, and deep purple-black tupelo berries shine with color and life, even on a day when just about everything else in the forest seems subdued.–April Moore  

  

Don’t Let Polluters Weaken EPA

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

     It’s a brighter day for environmental protection, with new EPA chief Lisa Jackson in charge.  She is moving ahead vigorously to enforce environmental laws and regs that gathered dust during the Bush administration. 

     But Jackson’s determination has not gone unnoticed by the oil and coal industries.  They are doing everything they can to weaken important EPA powers that Jackson intends to wield to address global warming. 

     The Sierra Club and other friends of the environment are spreading the word about amendments to an upcoming appropriations bill that must be stopped.  The two most serious are:

  • An amendment by Senator Murkowski (R-AK) to strip all funding from the EPA for fighting global warming.
  • An amendment by Senator Vitter (R-LA) to gag President Obama’s well-respected climate change advisor Carol Browner.

     If passed, these amendments would further delay desperately needed federal action on global warming.  In addition, these steps backward would send a message to the rest of the world that the U.S. is not serious about curbing global warming emissions.  And with international climate change talks scheduled for Copenhagen in just three months, China and India may well use U.S. inaction as an excuse for not addressing their own global warming pollution.

     So please take a few minutes to contact your two U.S. Senators.  Tell them to vote against amendments to the appropriations bill that would weaken EPA’s authority to address global warming and that would muzzle Carol Browner.  You can call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and ask for an individual Senator’s office.  You can leave your message on the Senator’s comment line;  just be sure to include your name, phone number, and the fact that you are a constituent.  Or if you would prefer to talk to a real person, ask for the aide who deals with environmental matters, and give him/her your message for the Senator.

     It is important that you call both your Senators.  Even Senators whose votes we won’t win should know that many of their constituents are displeased with their actions. –April Moore  

    

Tree of Life

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

     I love this poem written by my friend De Fischler Herman.  De speaks for me too as she expresses her love and admiration for trees.  When I look at tall trees against the night sky, I see stalwart protectors, faithful companions.–April Moore

Tree of Life

 

You go out on a limb–for me

                and my fellow travelers

You take a stand against those

                who try to stunt your growth

You reach towards the sun, the moon, the stars

                in an upward spiral

You dance and sway as the wind whistles

                through your sinuous branches

 

You mix and mingle deep roots

                with your kindred spirits

You shade the path, cool the earth,

                inspire the gazer

You keep watch like a sentinel

                by day and by night

You grieve the loss of the creek, the nests,

                the members of your family

 

Yet, through it all,

                you hold your arms way up high,

                glorious, triumphant, vital

Reminding us, once again, to be humble

Teaching us to know our essence

Praying for us to feel deeply,

                to live fully in the moment,

                to stand in dignity

Just like you.

 

De Fischler Herman

 

               

Go Fish

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

     I have some interesting news about fish, some good and some bad.  And the good news is so promising that it makes me hopeful. 

     But first the bad news.  A recent study, the most detailed ever conducted of the world’s oceans and its fish populations, showed that 14 of the 170 fish species studied were in a state of ‘collapse,’ meaning that their numbers had been so decimated by overfishing that only 10% or fewer of their original numbers remain.  Researchers predicted that the world’s oceans will be completely overfished by the middle of this century if current trends continue.  

     Now for the good news.  The study documented that, thanks to wise management efforts, some of the world’s fisheries are rebounding.   

     For example, in the United States, strict federal regulations against overfishing are working.  Haddock, a species whose numbers had been dwindling just a few years ago, have recovered so well that experts say the haddock population off the New England coast is as healthy as it’s ever been.

     And in Kenya, two actions taken by traditional fishermen, working with fisheries scientists, resulted in the recovery of overfished species.  First, a type of fishing gear that captured fish before they were mature enough to reproduce, was banned.  Then the fishermen agreed not to fish at all in a certain area.   Fish reproduced safely within that area and  then began to spread out to repopulate the overfished seas.  Kenya’s fish recovery also meant that in less than 10 years the fishermen doubled their income.  

     The U.S. and Kenyan examples show that careful management of our fisheries works.  We can see that employing the knowledge that scientists already have, while also working with fishermen, can bring about sustainable fishing practices that bring declining fish populations up to healthy levels.  And doing so is not just good for the fish and for the ecosystem, of course, but for the fishermen as well.

     In other words, if we have the will to prevent the collapse and even extinction of many kinds of fish, we can succeed!–April Moore  

         

Autumn Brilliance

Friday, September 11th, 2009

     I thank my niece Kia for reminding me of this delightful passage in Bill Bryson’s book I’m a Stranger Here Myself.  Even though he is writing about October in New England, I am feeling very “into” fall foliage right now because the trees here on our mountain ridge in the Shenandoah Valley are already well into their annual autumn show.

     By the way, if you haven’t read Bill Bryson, I highly recommend him.  He’s both very funny and a fine writer.–April Moore

     “For a few glorious days each October, New England is unquestionably the loveliest place on earth.

     “What is all the more remarkable about this is that no one knows quite why it all happens.

     “In autumn, as you will recall from your school biology classes (or, failing that, from “Mr. Wizard”), trees prepare for their long winter’s slumber by ceasing to manufacture chlorophyll, the chemical that makes their leaves green.  The absence of chlorophyll allows other pigments, called carotenoids, which have been present in the leaves all along, to show off a bit.  The carotenoids are what account for the yellow and gold of birches, hickories, beeches, and some oaks, among others. 

     “Now here is where it gets interesting.  To allow these golden colors to thrive, the trees must continue to feed the leaves even though the leaves are not actually doing anything useful except hanging there looking pretty.  Just at a time when a taree ought to be storing up all its energy for use the following spring, it is instead expending a great deal of effort feeding a pigment that brings joy to the hearts of simple folk like me but doesn’t do anything for the tree.

     “What is even more mysterious is that some species of trees go a step further and, at considerable cost to themselves, manufacture another type of chemical called anthocycanins, which result in the spectacular oranges and scarlets that are so characteristic of New England. 

     “It isn’t that the trees of New England manufacture more of these anthocyanins, but rather that the New England climate and soil provide exactly the right conditions for these colors to bloom in style.  In climates that are wetter or warmer, the trees still go to all this trouble–have done for years–but it doesn’t come to anything.  No one knows why the trees make this immense effort when they get nothing evident in return.”

 

 

 

    

10 Things Never to Buy Again

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

     I’ve posted many ‘dos’ for protecting the planet, and here are a few ‘don’ts.’ 

     This list of 10 items to never buy again comes from Green America (formerly Co-op America), and the commentary is mine. –April Moore

1. styrofoam cups–These are relatively easy to avoid.  For picnics and other large events, heavy paper cups are available.  Even better, gather a collection of mugs that can be washed and reused.

2. paper towels–This is the hard one for me.  I don’t use paper towels routinely to dry my hands or wipe the kitchen counter, but when it comes to cleaning mirrors and bathroom fixtures, or wiping up cat vomit, paper towels seem like the best thing.  I’m going to try using rags for these projects and see if I can wean myself from paper towels.  Two intermediate alternatives that waste less paper, however, are to buy the thin, rather than thick paper towels, and to buy the rolls whose towels are only half as wide as the regular size.

3. bleached coffee filters–This is one of the easiest.  Melitta, for instance, sells natural brown paper filters advertised as 100% chlorine-free.  Even better is a cloth coffee filter that can be rinsed and reused. 

4. teak and mahogany–Indiscriminate, unmanaged cutting of these beautiful woods has devastated rainforests and native communities in Brazil, Thailand, and elsewhere.  Furniture made of other kinds of wood–oak, maple, and pine–is readily available.  

5. conventional household cleaners–Fortunately, there are earth-friendly alternatives to just about every commercial household cleaner.  I am a fan of white vinegar, and it can be combined with water to make an all-purpose cleaner (1/2 vinegar and 1/2 water) or glass cleaner (1/4 vinegar and 3/4 water).  Vinegar has many other cleaning uses.  See “I Sing the Praises of Vinegar!’ posted on my site, by clicking http://www.theearthconnection.org/blog/2008/09/i-sing-the-praises-of-vinegar/ 

6. chemical pesticides and herbicidesOrganic methods of gardening and controlling weeds have become very popular, and information about earth-friendly practices is readily available.  For a practical introduction, click on the following article:  http://blogs.webmd.com/health-ehome/2009/04/8-helpful-hints-for-healthy-chemical.html 

7. toys made with PVC plastic–Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) toys are not just harmful when chewed by children.  Toys made with PVC emit such harmful substances as dioxin, mercury, and phthalates throughout their life cycle–from manufacture to use to disposal.  Look for toys that are labeled “100% PVC-free.”

8. plastic forks and spoons–Made from petrochemicals and usually used just once and thrown away, these ubiquitous little tools never really disappear from the environment.  When you’re eating away from home, whether picnicking or having lunch  at your office desk, why not keep a set of cheap, metal (like camping) cutlery in a cloth bag close at hand in your purse, back pack, or desk drawer?

9. farm-raised salmon–Studies show that farm-raised salmon is much higher in PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, and other toxins that are harmful to the environment and to human health than is wild salmon.  Farm-raised salmon are fed fish meal and fish oil that contain high levels of these toxins, which become concentrated as they move up the food chain.  Health experts recommend limiting one’s consumption of farm-raised salmon.  Recommendations range from no more than once a month to once only every four months. 

10. rayon–The most common process used to create rayon for clothing and other products emits carbon disulfide, a highly toxic chemical known to be a human reproductive hazard.  The rayon-making process endangers factory workers and pollutes the environment via emissions into the air and water. 

Animals R Us

Friday, September 4th, 2009

     When I was meditating a couple of mornings ago, I saw myself as a Siberian tiger walking through the forest. 

     Suddenly I was startled by a visceral sense of the tiger’s distress.  The forest in which I moved was not particularly healthy;  it was just a corner of its once vast self.  Not only was there little space in which to live and find food, but the forest was an impoverished ecosystem.  Many of the species that had once thrived there were gone or greatly reduced in number.  I too was diminished, one of just a handful of my kind left in that forest, in the entire world.  I was lonely, and life felt very hard.

      I am often haunted by the words of the environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken, who said recently that we live in a time when “every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating.”  In a couple of decades, will we remember our current time as “the good old days?”  Will we yearn for this time when trees still lived and grew in health, when newts and salamanders could be spotted in the woods, when we heard birds singing every day?

     As I watch and listen to the birds around me, I sometimes wonder what their lives are like.  Is their day-to-day existence affected by the factors that are causing their decline?  Is food harder to find?  Are fewer of their babies surviving?  Are rising temperatures making them less comfortable?   I don’t know anything about how stressors, beyond the ones birds have evolved to deal with, might be affecting them. 

     And how about the animals who are more similar to us?  What is life like for mammals who are in decline, who have seen their habitat shrink, their food and water sources disappear?  I grieve the shrinking numbers of African and Asian elephants, blue whales and right whales, gorillas, cougars, and so many more.  Are the remaining animals physically weakened by the stress of a life that is becoming more difficult?  Do they sense that their kind is losing out to changing conditions around them?  Are they depressed?  Do they grieve?  

     Two species I know a little about–whales and gorillas–certainly have evidenced stress caused by humans.  Whales, for centuries now, have had to navigate their lives under a threat of being hunted down, choosing to go hungry rather than spend ‘too much’ time at feeding grounds where hunters may be waiting for them.  And scientists report major differences in gorilla behavior when observers carry a weapon and when they don’t.  The gorillas are not able to live naturally when they know they could be shot.

       So I wonder what many of our fellow creatures are feeling as they become one of a smaller and smaller number.  I grieve for them, and for us.–April Moore

Siberian tiger

Siberian tiger

a mother and baby gorilla

a mother and baby gorilla

a young Florida cougar

a young Florida cougar

Of Damsels and Dragons–flies that is

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

     I thank my friend Kathy Ferger for the following piece.–April Moore

     I find that learning the names of different species of animals or plants is rewarding because it teaches me to see and appreciate nature’s diversity at a whole new level. 

     I recently enjoyed a chance to learn some of the species of dragonflies and damselflies that inhabit Maryland from an expert in the field, Richard Orr.  Yes, I previously had admired dragonflies and damselflies — their aerial feats of flying and bright colors — but I had never tried to differentiate them beyond knowing that, when at rest, dragonflies hold their wings outstretched while damselflies hold their wings folded over their backs. 

     Richard took us to the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, where we explored the ponds, rivers, marshes and meadows.  With his trained eye and unerring netting of the creatures, what at first looked like a blur of zipping, zig-zagging creatures became individuals, males and females, mature and immature. 

     The easiest to identify is the Carolina Saddlebag, whose distinctive brown patches on its wings close to its back are easily visible as a blur over the back as it cruises along above the pond’s edge (and the dragonfly can use those dark patches as an umbrella to shade the dragonfly’s thorax when the sun is too hot!) 

     The Common Whitetail did not happen to be common that day, but the male, too, is easy to identify, with its black bands across the middle of both wings and a chalky white abdomen.  Here’s where it starts to get complicated – the females and immature males of many species of dragonflies and damselflies are differently colored and marked than the mature males:  useful to those creatures in finding an appropriate mate, but confusing to us humans! 

     An easy ID is the Halloween Pennant, aptly named for the males’ orange and brown wings and red body, and the females’ yellow and brown wings. 

     Among the damselflies, the ebony jewelwing takes a beauty prize, in my estimation, with its wide black wings and metallic emerald body. 

      I’ve only mentioned some of the most distinctive ones we saw, but the discipline of learning to distinguish among some of the others leads to much more acute observation:  what color is the face, or the eyes? does the blue extend the full length of the abdomen or is it interrupted? are we near some rapids in a stream, the only place the American Rubyspot breeds? 

     I am grateful I had this opportunity to glimpse some of the amazing diversity and beauty of this ancient order of insects, and look forward to observing them with a more informed eye for many summers to come.

            For some great photos of these insects, go to Richard Orr’s website, www.marylandinsects.com and click on Odonata.  Scroll down past the checklists to click on photos.–Kathy Ferger

 

 

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