Archive for October, 2014

Lyme Disease and the Web of Life

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

graphic by Nicolle Rager

A few days ago I received a shocking email from Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).  Subject line:  “Mike diagnosed with Lyme Disease.’

Oh no!  As a CCAN board member, I knew that Mike had been dealing with miserable, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and muscle stiffness for sometime.  I felt terrible to learn this news.  Lyme Disease is a frightening illness that is hard to cure and sometimes leaves lasting damage.  

I felt sad to think of this prospect for Mike.  In addition to being a great guy, Mike is an inspiration to climate activists in the mid-Atlantic region, where CCAN operates, and beyond.  One of the most dedicated climate warriors I know, Mike is also an effective organizer, writer, speaker, and fundraiser.  He is a mentor to a great many of us, and we need him to be healthy!

Mike noted in his email that he knows many people in the mid-Atlantic region who have had Lyme Disease.  I have to admit that I can say the same.  Just in the last year or so, the number of people I know with Lyme Disease has increased dramatically.  

Yes, I know that a warming world means many diseases are on the move.   For example, tropical diseases, never before seen in the United States, are expected to move northward from the tropics into the American south. When I first heard about Lyme Disease 25 years ago, it was in places north of us, places like New England and northern Minnesota.

If climate change is pushing diseases toward the poles, then it would seem that the explanation for the increased incidence in our region must lie elsewhere.  So I wondered, what might the answer be?  Clearly, something is going on that is making the mid-Atlantic region hospitable to the tick that transmits the disease.  

Then I came upon a very interesting analysis by Cindy Parker, a physician and member of the CCAN board.  She maintains that the increased prevalence of the disease in its existing range [including the mid-Atlantic region] has more to do with land use policy than with climate change.   “The main carrier of Lyme Disease is the white-footed mouse,” she says.  And while mice don’t require much land, their predators do.  Ideally, these predators would keep the mouse population in check, Dr. Parker explains, and, consequently, also the ticks that feed on the white-footed mouse.

But as we humans expand into fields and forest, she explains, we destroy and fragment the habitat of many species.  In doing so, we are creating ideal situations for mice, but not their predators.  “A workable solution,” Cindy Parker says,  “would be to increase habitat for predators, perhaps by connecting [existing habitat] fragments with ‘wildlife corridors.’”  Connecting the fragments would help reconstitute the complex web of life.

Dr. Parker’s diagnosis of what underlies the intensification of Lyme Disease in our region serves to underscore what happens when we humans thoughtlessly tamper with the web of life, with the interplay of multiple species and their habitats.  As we thoughtlessly ‘seize’ the habitats of other species for our own uses, we unwittingly set in motion changes that harm us humans–Mike Tidwell and so many others–as well as the species we are displacing.–April Moore

 

Forest Noticings

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

april's spot

 

Weeks ago, I posted observations from the first two months of my year of making regular visits to the same ‘spot’ in the woods near my house.  Today I am posting some observations from the next two months of that year–August and September.  (If you’re interested in reading my June and July observations, here’s a link to that posting:  http://www.theearthconnection.org/blog/2014/08/a-year-of-watching/

AUGUST:

  •  At 57 degrees, it’s a chilly morning.  And a breezy one too.  The wind in the treetops is a constant sound, the only sound.
  • A baby red maple I’ve been watching has two new, very tiny leaves.  Despite their diminutive size, they are perfectly maple-shaped.  
  • A large, velvety brown spider walks past me.  Such long legs!
  • Against a background of late summer insect sounds,  I delight in birdsong and the muffled pounding of a woodpecker in the distance.
  • The Indian Pipes that were a ghostly white earlier in the summer are now blackened and shriveled.   I recognize them only because they occupy the same bit of ground the Pipes did.
  • Most of the baby oaks look less healthy than they did a week or two ago.  There are no new leaves, and the old ones look chewed.  An illustration of the fact that for all the bounty of acorns that produce tiny two-leaved plants, very few become trees.  ”Tall oaks from tiny acorns grow,” but mostly not.
  • As I walk down into the forest, the brash calls of a pileated woodpecker allow me to track its flight down into the forest near me.   But I never once catch a glimpse of the bird.
  • A sight I’ve never seen in this spot:  on the log where I typically sit, where tiny twigs emerge from the log, today there are bright dots of orange, amorphously shaped fungus. I can’t help but wonder, “Why now?  What conditions make this fungus emerge today?”

SEPTEMBER:

  • In the sunshiny quiet, a phoebe calls in couplets from down the hill, and insects drone in the background.  All around, patches of the forest floor are lit up.
  • I see no sign of the many mushrooms I saw here a week ago, not even of the red-capped mushroom that was growing up and around from the underside of the log where I sit.
  • It’s been dry.  Those little orange dots of fungi on my log are shrunken and dry-looking.
  • A nearby cricket starts, stops, starts again with its languid buzzing.
  • The miniature leaves on the tiny red maples in and around my spot are bright red, while the leaves of the ‘grown’ red maple trees are still green.  I notice the same thing with some shrubs whose identity I have never learned.  The leaves on the much smaller bushes have turned an autumn red, while the leaves of the larger bushes are still green.
  • It’s getting colder.  Distant ravens are calling soulfully, and nearby woodpeckers are at work on nearby dead trees, all against a backdrop of insect buzz.
  • The log, on which I have sat every week for months, is breaking down.  Damp, fluffy turkey tail-type fungus is emerging from the broken places.
  • Most of the baby oaks look beat up;  their earlier youthful freshness has disappeared.  April Moore

The Magnificent–and Elusive–Snow Leopard

Friday, October 10th, 2014

 

Briefs_Castner2-300x210 copy

     When the great writer/naturalist Peter Matthiessen died earlier this year, I read a tribute to him that piqued my interest.  Having noticed his book THE SNOW LEOPARD on numerous friends’  bookshelves over several decades, I  decided now was the time to read it.

     What an extraordinary book!  Published in 1978, the book chronicles Matthiessen’s trek along the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas a few years earlier, along with conservation biologist George Schaller.  While Schaller was on a mission to learn more about the mating habits of bharal sheep, Matthiessen’s journey was personal and spiritual.  Both men longed to catch a glimpse of the snow leopard, a predator of the bharal that had been spotted by westerners only twice in the preceding 25 years.

     While neither Matthiessen nor Schaller did see a snow leopard during the two months they walked the rugged Himalayas, they did come across prints and scat left by the animal.  Indeed, it would have been next to impossible actually to see the snow leopard.  

     Below is a beautifully written description of the extremely elusive animal from Matthiessen’s book:  

“By firelight, we talk about the snow leopard.  Not only is it rare. . . but it is wary and elusive to a magical degree, and so well camouflaged in the places it chooses to lie that one can stare straight at it from yards away and fail to see it.  Even those who know the mountains rarely take it by surprise:  most sightings have been made by hunters lying still near a wild herd when a snow leopard happened to be stalking. . . .

“The snow leopard is usually found above 5000 feet and occurs as high as 18,000 feet.  Though nowhere common, it has a wide range in the mountains of Central Asia, from the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan eastward along the Himalaya and across Tibet into southern China, and also northward in the mountains of the USSR and west China to the Sayan Range, on the Siberian border of Mongolia. . . 

“The typical snow leopard has pale frosty eyes and a coat of pale misty gray, with black rosettes that are clouded by the depth of the rich fur.  An adult rarely weighs more than a hundred pounds or exceeds six feet in length, including the remarkable long tail, thick to the tip, used presumably for balance and for warmth, but it kills creatures three times its own size without much difficulty.  It has enormous paws and a short-faced heraldic head, like a leopard of myth;  it is bold and agile in the hunt, and capable of terrific leaps;  and although its usual prey is the blue sheep, it occasionally takes livestock, including young yak of several hundred pounds.  This means that man would be fair game as well, although no attack on a human being has ever been reported.

“The snow leopard is the most mysterious of the great cats;  of its social system, there is nothing known.  Almost always it is seen alone;  it may meet over a kill, as tigers do, or it may be unsociable and solitary, like the true leopard.” 

THE SNOW LEOPARD TODAY

The book left me wondering how snow leopards are doing today, 40 years after Matthiessen’s trek.

I did a little research and learned that yes, the snow leopard is endangered.  Fewer than 7,000 are believed to exist in the wild.  Despite the remoteness of their range, these animals have been threatened by poaching and by the overhunting of the animals on which they prey.  But perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the snow leopard, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is global warming, which could result in a loss of  30% of the snow leopards in the Himalayas.  

But there is good news too.  Protective efforts by international conservation organizations, like the WWF and the Snow Leopard Conservancy, together with governments and local communities in the snow leopard’s range have been effective.

For example, conservation groups facilitated a joint effort among Central Asian nations to create a large protected area for snow leopards that spans parts of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.  And China and Pakistan are cooperatively managing adjacent natural reserves in their two countries. 

Also, with international help, 55 villages in Afghanistan’s Pamir Mountains and 65 villages in northern Pakistan have recently formed committees to protect snow leopards and safeguard other natural resources.  These committees have deployed almost 200 volunteer rangers who monitor snow leopards and their prey and enforce anti-poaching regulations.
Even the monks of remote Buddhist monasteries in the snow leopard’s range are getting into the act.  They are preventing poaching by patrolling the forests near their monasteries. – April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Balm for My Soul

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Rock Creek Park

I often feel alone.  

So few people I know are grieving as I am, or are as angry or afraid as I am, for our planet.   In just about every group where I find myself, I sense that I am the only one feeling a desperate urgency about our climate, a deep grief for the many species who are disappearing every day and forever.  Most people do not know what I know, nor feel what I feel.

Part of my loneliness stems from keeping these heavy feelings inside so much of the time.  While I do speak up about the climate, I often hesitate, not knowing when to speak or how much to say.  After all, the truth is grim.  Many people don’t want to be brought down, and some believe it is socially inappropriate to speak of anything that is negative or unpleasant.

Often, I even feel alone among people who do know that global warming is real.  I don’t understand why, if they understand our predicament, they do not share my sense of urgency.   

Given that the climate crisis is an unrelenting weight on me, I am grateful for an experience I had last weekend, an experience that made my spirit buoyant and my heart light.  I participated in a board meeting of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).  CCAN is an impressive climate action organization that works throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC.  I feel honored to have recently been invited to join the board, and this was my second board meeting.

As we sat around a picnic table in dappled sunlight in Rock Creek Park that sunny Saturday morning,  I did not feel alone.  Just as I reliably find comfort among trees in a natural setting, so too did I find comfort among people who are no less worried about the fate of our planet than I am.  Doctors, lawyers, alternative energy experts, organizers, a minister–along with a remarkably hard-working, savvy, and energetic executive director–giving their all to solving the climate crisis.  Not a minute of  our four-hour meeting was boring.

As we each reported on our own climate-related activities, I could feel my energy surging.  Inspired by my fellow board members’  efforts, I experienced great happiness, gratitude for the opportunity to join forces with these good people in working for a livable future.  Among such committed souls, how could I possibly feel alone?  

When our meeting and lunch had ended, and we all went our separate ways, I felt a joy and a lightness that lasted for several days. Yes, global warming is the greatest challenge humanity has ever had to face.  And yes, if we fail to meet the challenge, it will be the greatest of all tragedies.  Yet despite these facts, the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with others buoys my spirits and makes me stronger.  I feel a clarity of spirit that comes from aligning myself with a group that is dedicated to what is truly most sacred–a healthy, livable planet.–April Moore

 

 

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