Archive for the ‘Good news for Mother Earth!’ Category
Sunday, April 21st, 2013
Good news from New Jersey! ¬†The invasive long-horned beetle, which had destroyed many trees, has been completely eradicated from the state. ¬† The victory was hard-won, taking more than a decade of painstaking work on the part of local, state, and federal officials, with the cooperation of citizens living in and near the infested area.
¬† ¬† ¬†The Asian long-horned beetle is a black beetle dotted with white. ¬†Its most distinguishing features are its black and white striped antennae, which are longer than its body. ¬†The adult beetles mate in early summer, and the female lays her eggs in tiny indentations she makes in the bark of certain trees. ¬†When the larvae hatch, they burrow their way into the tree’s heartwood, where they feed on the tree’s wood all winter. ¬†A cross-section of an infested tree looks like Swiss cheese, explains Rhonda Santos, a public information officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
¬† ¬† ¬†Native to China, this invasive beetle was first spotted in the U.S. in Brooklyn, New York, in 1996. ¬†The beetles, it is believed, made their way into the country in wood packing materials. ¬†In 1998, the U.S. government responded by banning from U.S. ports wooden pallets that had not been heat-treated or treated with methyl bromide to kill the beetle larvae. ¬†Some of the nation’s most common hardwoods–all maple species, birches, and poplars–are vulnerable to the invaders. ¬†
¬† ¬† ¬†It did not take long for the beetles to start causing problems in five states–New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio. ¬†New Jersey’s first infestation showed up Jersey City in 2002, when more than 100 trees were infested. ¬†There was a more serious outbreak two years later in a nearby community. ¬†¬†
¬† ¬† ¬†A variety of approaches were required to eradicate the beetle from the entire state of New Jersey: ¬†tree removal; injections of insecticides; public education; and surveillance. ¬†For the two years following the 2004 infestation, New Jersey agricultural officials defined a 25 square mile zone across four communities, including residential and industrial neighborhoods, and inspected more than 129,000 trees. ¬†Officials urged citizens in the area not to transport firewood, the main way the beetles were spreading in the state.
¬† ¬† ¬†Workers removed not only infested trees, but also a wide swath of nearby trees that were at high risk. ¬†For instance, reports Lisa Foderaro in The New York Times, in the town of Linden, only 11 trees were infested, but more than 14,000 trees, including saplings, were cut down because their proximity to infested trees put them at great risk. ¬†Those trees were then chipped and burned. ¬†The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offered many home owners to replace their infested trees with non-vulnerable tree species. ¬†About one-third of the removed trees were replaced with much less vulnerable oaks and lindens.
¬† ¬† ¬†The last living long-horned beetle was seen in New Jersey in 2006. ¬†Yet victory could not yet be declared. ¬†USDA officials required New Jersey localities to go through three ‘confirmation cycles,’ in which no long-horned beetles were found. ¬†That process took several years. By March 2013, it was clear that there were no Asian long-horned beetles alive in New Jersey. ¬†”We can declare New Jersey is free of this invasive pest,” declared New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher. ¬†He added that the eradication program had been “a herculean effort.”
¬† ¬† ¬†With the March 2013 declaration, New Jersey joined Illinois as the two states that have completely eradicated the Asian long-horned beetle. ¬†Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York are still battling it. ¬†New York’s efforts are proving effective, with Manhattan and Staten Island expected to be proclaimed ‘long-horn beetle free’ this summer.
To ensure that long-horned beetles don’t return to U.S. shores, U.S. inspectors are periodically traveling to China to make sure that wood pallets used in shipping products to the United States are treated to kill the beetle larvae.–April Moore
Sunday, March 17th, 2013
In California, an experiment is underway that is proving a win-win for birds and for farmers as well.
Working to show that conservation and agriculture can go hand-in-hand, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) is implementing bird-friendly practices on a 9,200 acre farm the organization bought in California’s Central Valley. ¬†Dubbed Conservation Farms and Ranches, the land is 80 miles northeast of San Francisco, on Staten Island. ¬†The land has historically served as a stopover and wintering ground for many migrating birds, including sandhill cranes, snow geese, tundra swans, ducks, herons, plovers, and sandpipers.
Nature Conservancy officials are hopeful that practices developed and tested at Staten Island will show area farmers that their farms can be productive and profitable, while also creating needed winter habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway.
TNC’s efforts are important. ¬†Staten Island is one of the last remaining bird-friendly habitats in the Central Valley. ¬†In fact, only 5% of the area’s once-vast wetlands remain. ¬†If Staten Island farmland is lost as a bird refuge, it could mean the collapse of the entire Pacific Flyway, scientists say. ¬†And a collapse would be devastating; ¬†the flyway is one of North America’s four main migratory routes. ¬†If birds could no longer stop and winter in the Central Valley, it is doubtful they could move to another flyway.
At Conservation Farms and Ranches, birds are allowed to forage, uninterrupted, on the land at any time. ¬†And after grain crops are harvested, waste grain is left behind on the field as forage for birds during the winter months.
After harvest, some of the fields are deliberately flooded with water to make them attractive for roosting. ¬†The amount of flooding varies from field to field because of different species’ different water needs. ¬†For example, “a cornfield that’s deeply flooded is good for certain species but not for shorebirds or cranes,” explains TNC ecologist Greg Golet. ¬†While flooding fields costs farmers money, the practice also helps them by flushing salt from the fields and by keeping weeds from growing.
In some post-harvest cornfields, the dead stalks are mechanically flattened, rather than left upright. ¬†Birds have shown that they prefer foraging in these fields to those in which the dead cornstalks have been left standing. ¬†Researchers speculate that large birds can forage more easily when they don’t have to navigate among tall stalks. ¬†And the more open space makes predators easier to spot.
Flattening dead stalks in the fall benefits farmers as well as the birds. ¬†In the flattening process, stalks are cut into small pieces, which decompose much more quickly than the uncut stalks. ¬†Then, in the spring, the cut stalks can be easily worked into the soil without the use of heavy tillage equipment, explains Brent Tadman, who manages Conservation Farms and Ranches.
TNC scientists are experimenting with crops that mature earlier and therefore are harvested earlier, in order to increase the time that winter forage is available. ¬† For instance, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) is harvested in late summer, earlier than other grain crops. ¬†Thus, the triticale fields can be flooded earlier, making roost habitat available for early-arriving migrants.
“Helping birds on Staten Island even extends to the farm’s power lines, which have reflective strips attached to twirling pieces of plastic strewn along their lengths to help birds see the lines and prevent collisions,” writes Ker Than in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NEWS.
None of the bird-friendly practices implemented at Conservation Farms and Ranches has had any negative impact on crop yields. ¬†”Even though this farm is owned by the Nature Conservancy,” says Brent Tadman, TNC’s manager of the land, “it stands on its own legs and it’s required to be sustainable, and we’re pretty proud of that fact.”
Fortunately, area farmers have expressed interest in the bird-friendly practices at Staten Island. ¬†But because of varying conditions and situations, implementing those practices on other farms can be difficult. ¬†To help farmers overcome obstacles to embracing bird-friendly practices, TNC has teamed up with other conservation organizations to offer farmers cash incentives.
Surprisingly, the greatest impediment to increased bird-friendly agricultural practices in California’s Central Valley comes not from farmers but from consumers. ¬† Growing demand for such foods as grapes, almonds, cherries, olives, and pistachios is tempting many farmers to abandon corn and grain crops in favor of the more profitable vineyard and orchard crops.
Many of the birds that stop and winter at Staten Island have such large wing spans that they would have trouble landing in a vineyard or orchard. ¬†They are also easy prey for coyotes and other predators in vineyards and orchards, Tadman explains. ¬†He notes a conspicuous absence of birds on nearby farms where trees or vineyards have been planted.
TNC scientists are hopeful that cash incentives and education will be enough to save the birds that depend on California’s Central Valley. ¬†Farmers and environmentalists are not naturally at odds, Tadman maintains. ¬†He adds, ¬†”I would say we have more common goals than we have differences.”–April Moore
The information for this article comes from National Geographic News.
Friday, February 15th, 2013
the coconut crab, the world's largest land-dwelling arthropod
I love reporting good news. ¬†Even more, I love finding examples that illustrate the tremendous resilience of life.
So here is a brief summary of a very encouraging report I came across recently:
On Palmyra, a Pacific atoll of about 25 small islands about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, many species of animals and plants that, just a few years ago, were endangered, are making a strong comeback. ¬†Migratory shorebirds, nesting seabirds, coconut crabs, native trees, and other native species are all increasing in number.
And what is the cause of this welcome turnaround? ¬†The eradication of rats from the entire atoll.
Thought to have been introduced to these islands during World War II, rats thrived in the tropical environment, reproducing three or four times a year. ¬†By 2011, they numbered in the tens of thousands and did serious damage to island flora and fauna.
The invasive rodents ate land crabs, the eggs and chicks of ground- and tree-nesting birds, and the seeds and seedlings of native tree species. ¬†But in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nature Conservancy, which cooperatively manage the Palmyra Atoll as a National Wildlife Refuge and a scientific research station, initiated a rat eradication program.
Thanks to a rodenticide that had proven successful on other islands, the Palmyra Atoll has recently been declared rat-free! ¬†A year after the eradication program began, team members visited their 286 rat detection stations throughout the atoll four times in a month, and scoured the islands for signs of rats’ presence. ¬†Not a trace could they find! ¬†Instead, they found many signs that native species were recovering.
Evidence of recovery included a 130 percent increase in the number of seedlings of 10 native tree species, and the first record of seedlings of pisonia grandis, a rare flowering tree of the bougainvillea family. ¬†(No seedlings at all had been found on the atoll in 2007, before the rat eradication effort began). ¬†The team also found a 367 percent increase in such native arthropods as insects, spiders, and crabs.
“This wonderful atoll is again able to thrive the way nature intended–without rats,” says Susan White, refuge project leader. ¬†”Palmyra had been infested with rats for so long, there will be benefits to wildlife we didn’t even fully anticipate–such as the explosion of the fiddler crab population that we’re seeing.”
Indeed, “staff and visitors to the atoll have seen a large increase in the numbers of crabs, insects, seedlings, and seabirds,” adds Suzanne Case, executive director of the Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii program.
The blossoming of native species on Palmyra is an encouraging example of collaboration between government and non-profit organizations, of using science to solve a problem that then allows nature to thrive. ¬†”The collaborators did an outstanding job,” says Dr. George Wallace, vice president for ocean and islands at the American Bird Conservancy. ¬†”The science on these efforts has been evolving, and while there have been some learning experiences along the way, the Palmyra effort stands out as a great example of how to do it right and get rid of destructive invasive species while still protecting the native wildlife,” he explains.
In addition to its status as a national wildlife refuge, the Palmyra Atoll is also part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.–April Moore
Friday, July 13th, 2012
One of the planet’s most important nesting sites for the endangered leatherback sea turtle has just been protected!
Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Fortuno recently signed into law a measure that will protect almost 2,000 acres of the island’s coast from large-scale development.¬† The protected area, part of an area known as the Northeast Ecological Corridor, has been designated a nature reserve.
The Northeast Ecological Corridor includes such diverse landscapes as a bioluminescent lagoon, mangrove swamps, coral reefs, and dense tropical rainforest.¬† Besides the leatherback sea turtles, many other threatened or endangered species also make their homes in the corridor.¬† The West Indian manatee, the hawksbill sea turtle, and the snowy plover are just a few.
This new protection has been a long time coming.¬† In 2009, Governor Fortuno overturned his predecessor’s decision to protect the Northeast Ecological Corridor.¬† Fortuno wanted, instead, to open the land to large developers and their plans for mega-resorts and golf courses in the now-protected area.
But the Sierra Club, other environmental organizations, and Puerto Rican citizens said no.¬† Activists circulated petitions calling on Fortuno to protect the Northeast Ecological Corridor from development.¬† And both houses of Puerto Rico’s legislature voted unanimously to protect the leatherback sea turtle’s nesting grounds.¬† Ultimately, Fortuno had little choice but to go along with the people.
There has been even more good news for leatherback sea turtles in 2012.¬† In January, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration designated 42,000 square miles of ocean along the U.S. west coast as critical habitat for the Pacific leatherback sea turtle.
These protective designations are so needed!¬† The worldwide population of these giant reptiles has declined 95% since the 1980s, thanks to the destruction of natural habitat, changing ocean conditions, commercial fishing, and the theft of eggs.
A few facts about the leatherback sea turtle:
- It is the largest reptile in the world, and an individual can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds.
- The leatherback’s lifespan is not known, but scientists believe it lives at least 40 years and maybe as long as 100 years.
- Scientists believe the leatherback reaches sexual maturity at about 16 years.
- In the U.S., the leatherback nests on the beach from March to July.¬† A single female may produce several clutches of eggs in a season.
- Once hatched, baby leatherbacks make their way to the ocean.–April Moore
Sunday, June 10th, 2012
Two recent polls show that Americans are increasingly concerned about global warming.¬† And they want action.
It appears that people are linking this past winter’s unusually warm temperatures, last year’s blistering summer, and recent floods, droughts, and tornadoes with a warming world.
More than 70% of the adults questioned in a poll commissioned by Yale University and George Mason University either¬† strongly or somewhat agreed that global warming contributed to the warm winter just past.
Majorities almost as large cited global warming as a likely factor in 2011′s record summer heat waves and drought in Texas and Oklahoma.¬† And smaller but still substantial majorities cited global warming as a factor in record snowfalls in both 2010 and 2011 and in Mississippi River floods in 2011.¬† These views are consistent with scientific evidence which suggests global warming is causing higher precipitation in all seasons.
The data suggest that most Americans no longer see global warming as something distant in space and time, affecting polar bears or people in Bangladesh, not themselves or their own friends and family here in the U.S.¬† But that perception seems to be changing.¬† Now, 35% report having been affected by extreme weather themselves in the past year.¬† Indeed, in 2011 the U.S. was hit by a remarkable string of disasters–droughts, floods, tornadoes, and heat waves, affecting every region.
According to Gallup, which has conducted polling on global warming for years, public opinion on climate change has waxed and waned over time.¬† Since 1989 Gallup has asked people how much they personally worry about global warming.¬† The proportion of people who expressed concern peaked at 66% just before the recession.¬† But concern fell to a low of 51% in 2011 as the economy overwhelmed other concerns.¬† And Gallup’s most recent survey, conducted in March, showed that concern was back up to 55%.
I take heart from the rise in concern over global warming.¬† Let’s hope concern continues to rise and results in decisive action at the highest levels.–April Moore
Thursday, April 12th, 2012
I love hearing about discoveries of ‘new’ animals and plants!¬† Such discoveries remind me that the web of life is even more complex and intricate than we’ve known, that despite the great knowledge science has amassed, there are species sharing our planet about whom we know absolutely nothing.
Several insect discoveries of the past few years are especially exciting because of where these ‘new’ insects have been discovered–New York City!¬† Yes, four ‘new’ bee species, previously unknown to science, have been living right alongside human beings in one of the most urban areas on the planet.
All four of the ‘new’ species are sweat bees, small bees named for their attraction to human sweat.¬† And of the four, the one getting the most attention has been nicknamed the Gotham Bee.¬† That’s right–Gotham, as in New York City.
The Gotham Bee, or Lasioglossum gotham if you want to get scientific about it, was first noticed in 2009 in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by John Ascher, a bee researcher at the American Museum of Natural History.¬† Ascher was conducting a citywide bee biology survey in New York City’s parks and forested areas.
“This little bee has been quietly living in the city, pollinating flowers in people’s gardens for years,” says Jason Gibbs, co-author with Ascher of an article about the discovery in the journal Zootaxa.¬† Because the Gotham Bee looks so similar to other sweat bees, no one realized it was a distinct species.
But now we have new techniques for identifying species.¬† DNA bar coding and digital imaging enable scientists to distinguish new species from others they resemble closely.
As it turns out, New York City seems to be a great place for bees.¬† More than 200 bee species live in and around the city, performing their vital function of pollinating flowers all over the city.¬† This rich biodiversity, Ascher explains, is the result of the city’s large number of parks and the presence of such ecologically rich areas as Jamaica Bay.
One reason the discovery has brought pleasure to so many is that the existence of ‘new’ bee species, even in a well-studied urban area, suggests that there are many other animals yet to be discovered.–April Moore
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
A species of giant tortoise thought to have been extinct for 150 years has not disappeared from the earth after all!
Thanks to sophisticated DNA analysis techniques and diligent fieldwork, scientists have learned that some giant tortoises recently discovered on an island in the Galapagos are immediate descendants of a tortoise species long thought extinct. And it gets better: scientists and conservationists are confident that they can restore a sizeable population of the tortoise species to its original home of the Galapagos island called Floreana.
SCIENCE TO THE RESCUE
Several years ago, scientists discovered on the Galapagos island called Isabela a colony of giant tortoises living on the slopes of a volcano. Then, in 2008, scientists returned to Isabela to conduct DNA tests on some of the tortoises they‚Äôd found. Blood samples taken from more than 1,600, or about 20% of the tortoises, showed that 84 of them had a pure Floreana tortoise as a parent.
Since giant tortoises typically live more than 100 years, and because 30 of the 84 tortoises with a Floreana tortoise parent were under the age of 15, it seemed highly likely that some of the tortoises on Isabela were pure Floreana tortoises.
A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR FLOREANA TORTOISES
Such encouraging news offers great hope for recovery of this giant tortoise species, researchers say. One reason for optimism is that over the last 50 years, other Galapagos tortoise species have responded well to recovery efforts. In the 1960s, the number of tortoises was as low as 14 individuals on one island. But since that time, more than 4,000 young tortoises have been returned to the wild in the Galapagos. Many have been reproducing, and populations have been increasing.
The newly launched Floreana tortoise rescue mission will be part of Project Floreana, a comprehensive effort to restore the island, as nearly as possible, to the way it was in 1835, when Charles Darwin first visited it, explains Dr. Linda Cayot, science advisor to the Galapagos Conservancy. ‚ÄúRestoring true Floreana tortoises as part of that effort is now a dream that could come true,‚ÄĚ she says.
Scientists and conservationists will increase the Floreana tortoise population by carefully breeding those tortoises that have one Floreana parent and also by breeding pure Floreana tortoises.
Project Floreana is also dedicated to ensuring a sustainable community for the island‚Äôs several hundred human residents and to involving the people in all phases of the conservation program.
GREAT VALUE OF GIANT TORTOISES
Restoration of the Floreana tortoise is a good thing not just because a fellow species is being brought back from the brink of extinction. The Floreana tortoise plays a vital role in maintaining healthy Galapagos ecosystems. As the only grazing herbivores in the Galapagos, giant tortoises keep invasive plants in check, disperse seeds, and, in general, maintain habitat diversity which allows many native species to thrive.
A TORTOISE MYSTERY
Perhaps you wonder how the Floreana giant tortoises came to be living on a different island, Isabela, 150 years after they had disappeared from their native Floreana. During the nineteenth century, pirates and other visitors to the Galapagos frequently picked up giant tortoises on one island and kept them aboard ship to use later as food. Tortoises were often left behind on one island or another when they were no longer needed. Pirates probably left some of the Floreana tortoises on Isabela, afterwhich those on Floreana were hunted until all had been killed.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT GIANT TORTOISES
- A giant tortoise can reach a length of almost six feet and a weight of 880 pounds.
- With a lifespan of more than 100 years, giant tortoises are one of the longest living animals on earth.
- Giant tortoises are native to seven Galapagos islands. (The Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 large islands, six small ones, and more than 40 islets).
- ‚ÄėGalapago‚Äô means ‚Äėturtle‚Äô in Spanish.
- Differences in tortoise size and shape from island to island helped Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution.
- In the 1600s, there were more than 250,000 giant tortoises in the Galapagos. Today there are about 15,000 tortoises, of several different species.
Friday, December 30th, 2011
¬†¬†¬†¬† In the closing days of 2011, a truly great thing happened.¬† The EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, an amendment to the Clean Air Act that will have a significant, positive impact on Americans’ health for many years to come.
¬†¬†¬†¬† On December 21, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced¬†the new rule, which will cut mercury emissions from power plants by 90%.¬†¬†Coal-fired plants are one of the largest¬†emitters of mercury, a potent neurotoxin known to¬†damage the developing brains of fetuses and young children.¬† Power¬†plants’ mercury emissions¬†also¬†contribute to cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and asthma.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† “This is a great victory for public health, for the health of our children,”¬†Jackson told reporters gathered at the Children’s Medical Center in Washington, DC.¬† Public health leaders agree.¬† The rule is¬†”a step in the right direction for protecting our families by limiting the amount of mercury that will enter our environment, contaminate our water supplies, and wind up in our food chain,” according to Lexington, Kentucky physician Dr. Vicki Holmberg.¬† The levels of mercury¬†currently coming out of power plants, Holmberg explains, “can overwhelm the capacity of our bodies to metabolize and eliminate toxic metal pollutants.”
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Americans who live near the older, more polluting power plants will benefit the most from the new standard, with fewer illnesses and fewer asthma attacks.¬† The new rule is expected to result in¬†as many as 11,000 fewer premature deaths a year, 4,700 fewer heart attacks a year, and other widespread health benefits.¬† In addition to mercury, the rule also targets¬†coal plants’ emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium, and acid gases.
¬†¬†¬†¬† While health experts and environmentalists hail the new standard, the coal industry and many utilities¬†have been fighting for years to stop the issuance of such a ruling.¬† Kentucky’s Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul recently tried unsuccessfully to block the new rule through legislation, and¬†are already¬†calling for the rule’s repeal.¬† It’s too costly, they insist.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Compliance with the¬†ruling will cost the nation’s utilities $9.6 billion, according to EPA.¬†¬†¬† About half of the nation’s coal-fired plants are more than 40 years old and must be replaced or modernized.¬† And¬†44% of coal-powered plants have never bothered to install technology that could easily reduce¬†emissions of mercury and other toxins.¬† While some coal industry jobs will be lost, Jackson notes, the ruling will actually mean a net job increase,¬†with the¬†creation of 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 longer term utility sector jobs.¬† Utilities will have up to four years to comply.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† With this new ruling, coal-fired power plants¬†are finally joining every other major industrial sector in dramatically reducing mercury and other air toxins.¬† Oil refineries, chemical plants, plastics companies, the iron and steel induustries, and heavy manufacturers¬†have all been subject to air toxic standards for more than 10 years.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† I¬†applaud the EPA for issuing this very important new rule.¬† We can go into the new year breathing a little more easily.–April Moore
Saturday, December 3rd, 2011
¬†¬†¬†¬† The Kissimmee River in south-central Florida is an environmental success story.¬† In a way.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The story of the Kissimmee is an example¬†of humans ruining a river and then working hard to restore it again.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The Kissimmee River originally meandered this way and that, along a wide, shallow path¬†from Lake Kissimmee southward¬†to Lake Okeechobee.¬† The river’s¬†50,000 acre floodplain supported numerous and diverse¬†wetland communities–birds, fish, and a wide variety of other wildlife.
¬†¬†¬†¬† But in the early 1960s the Kissimmee River fell victim to a program that was popular at the time–river ‘straightening.’¬† In an attempt to avoid major flooding during hurricane events and to enable people to build homes and other buildings in a floodplain without fear of floods, many rivers during the 1960s were channelized;¬† they were straightened and deepened.¬† The Kissimmee was one such river.¬† Its meanders were sliced off, a deep-channel canal was dredged along the Kissimmee Valley, and the once winding, 103 mile-long river was transformed into a straight, 56-mile long, lifeless¬†gutter.¬†¬†¬† Even the name was changed.¬† The former Kissimmee River became¬†the C-38.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The goal of keeping the river out of the floodplain was largely achieved.¬† But at a great price.¬† Water that had once slowly wound its way¬†southward,¬†now shot through the trench and¬†poured, unsettled and unfiltered, ¬†into Lake Okeechobee.¬† C-38 was an inhospitable place¬†to the many fish that had inhabited it.¬† The surrounding¬†wetlands dried up and the birds disappeared.
¬†¬†¬†¬† “The folly of ditching the Kissimmee River was recognized almost¬†the day it was completed,”¬†states the Everglades Foundation on its website, “and the magnitude of the ecological crisis led to a public outcry.”¬† In 1992, Congress approved a plan to restore the Kissimmee River.¬†¬†The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the restoration.
¬†¬†¬†¬† While the restoration project won’t bring the entire river back to its original health, normal flow is being returned to more than 40 miles of the river’s historic channel, and about 40 square miles of the river/floodplain ecosystem will be restored.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Restoration efforts got underway in 1999, and the¬†results¬†have been¬†inspiring.¬† “Recovery of wetland function was much faster than expected,” according to the Everglades Foundation, “with rapid recolonization by native plants and animals.¬† The Kissimmee Restoration¬† is a true Florida environmental success story three decades in the making.”¬† Almost right away,¬†¬† shorebirds returned.¬† So did ducks,¬†songbirds and wading birds.¬†¬†Aquatic invertebrates like insects, mollusks, crayfish, and freshwater shrimp again inhabited the river, and the river became home once again to fish and alligators.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Unfortunately, I cannot¬†end our story here.¬† While I salute former Floida Republican governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist for their strong support for restoration efforts, the¬†current governor, Tea Partier Rick Scott, elected in 2010, has been working to slash funds for restoration efforts and has tried to get the EPA to relax clean water regulations that affect the Kissimmee River.¬† If the investment by the public of more than $3 billion in state and federal funds to restore the Kissimmee River are not to be wasted, we must hope that Scott (currently out of favor with his Tea Party base) will be a one-term governor.¬†–April Moore¬†¬†
a restored section of Florida's Kissimmee River
Sunday, October 9th, 2011
¬†¬†¬†¬† The little bog turtle is¬†threatened with extinction, but it is getting¬†help from an unlikely source–goats!¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† This turtle, which, even when full-grown can fit into the palm of¬†your hand,¬†lives in sunny swamps–marshy places that are filled with low-growing plants and waist-deep mud pits.¬† These mud pits are actually hidden streams that the turtles use¬†as freeways.¬† But¬†the¬†fens (spring-fed wetlands) that are home to the bog turtle are¬†disappearing throughout the bog turtle’s range, which extends from Vermont to Georgia and as far west as¬†Ohio.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† A key¬†reason for these swampy meadows’ disappearance is the rapid invasion of¬†a non-native¬†grass called phragmites.¬†¬†Phragmites quickly grows into a¬†dense thicket that steals the sunlight and dries out the soil.¬†¬†Mowing and pulling¬†the weeds by hand have not kept up with the spread of phragmites¬†because it grows back so quickly.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Now for the good news.¬† For several years, goats have been ‘employed’ in efforts to control the spread of phragmites in the swamps where bog turtles live.¬† And these animals have achieved what human efforts could not!¬†¬†¬†¬† For example,¬†in New York,¬†the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)¬†teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to bring in goats to tackle the phragmites in¬†one of the last remaining homes of the bog turtle, the Hudson River Valley.¬† When the goats arrived, the swamp had become one big, dried-out weed patch, explains Jason Tesauro of¬†EDF.¬† But the hungry goats¬†ate everything in sight.¬† A year later, that dry patch was once again a sunny swamp.¬† And¬†bog turtles returned and began to lay eggs, says Tesauro.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† While the goats eat native plants right along with the invasive phragmites,¬†the natives bounce back quickly, Tesauro explains.¬† The invasive phragmites, however, can’t stand constant grazing.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Prescribed grazing has successfully restored bog turtle habitat in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as in New York.¬† In addition to goats,¬†cows and sheep have also been brought in to¬†graze down the phragmites.¬† It’s a win-win situation.¬† The bog turtle is an obvious winner,¬†and so are nearby farmers¬†who gain a new¬†source of grazing land for their livestock.
¬†¬†¬†¬† By the way, if left alone, the little bog turtle lives about 80 years!–April Moore
a bog turtle