Archive for the ‘Good news for Mother Earth!’ Category

Out of Tragedy–Great Opportunity

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

Truly, Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico was horrific.  But something good can come from it.  Something very good.

The tragedy of Hurricane Maria creates the potential to transform storm-ravaged Puerto Rico into an unexpected solar energy showcase. While in other parts of the country and the world, solar energy advocates struggle to make inroads where an electrical grid already exists, Puerto Rico is unique.  The demand is there, but the infrastructure isn’t.

And could there be any place on the planet better suited to widespread use of solar energy than a sun-drenched Caribbean island?

Indeed, Puerto Rico may be ripe for a rejection of the dirty fossil fuels on which it has long depended, in favor of a clean, resilient, solar-powered future instead.  Even before Hurricane Maria tore across the island on September 20, some who had the means to do so were already switching to solar energy.

After all, the island’s only energy provider–Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)–was unreliable, mismanaged, and deep in debt.  Even though PREPA charged Puerto Ricans rates well above the U.S. national average, PREPA had to borrow heavily simply to provide basic service.  Never mind keeping up with maintaining or upgrading equipment.

Solar Advocates Respond

With PREPA’s post-hurricane restoration efforts progressing at a frustratingly slow pace, solar energy providers have been rushing in. Solar businesses and non-profits from the U.S. and other countries have sent funds, equipment, and technicians to help restore electricity–this time generated by solar, not fossil fuels. Using mobile solar-electric systems, these solar experts first addressed basic needs–charging tools and devices, filtering water, getting the lights on and refrigerators working, especially in the hardest hit areas.  Tesla, for instance, got the power on at a San Juan children’s hospital, thanks to solar power, and is keeping it on, thanks to solar storage.

A Solar Future for Puerto Rico

Now that much of the island’s immediate need for energy has been met, solar advocates are focusing on the long term.  Resilient Power Puerto Rico (RPPR), for example, is working toward a Puerto Rico where more than half of energy needs are met by solar energy, not by dirty fossil fuels.

RPPR, which was created a week after Hurricane Maria hit, by the New York-based Coastal Marine Resource Center, is working with other solar providers to develop solar hubs around the island.  These hubs will be linked together to form microgrids that can combine solar with other renewable fuels.  RPPR is delivering mobile solar-electric kits to all of the island’s 78 municipalities and to multiple neighborhoods in larger cities.  RPPR technicians are training local residents in towns and neighborhoods in how and where to set up solar arrays.

The next step in bringing about a green-powered Puerto Rico will be a coordinated effort between RPPR and its partners to power every household on the island with solar energy by the end of 2021!  With every home’s energy needs met by the sun, Puerto Ricans will no longer have to depend on PREPA’s aging and vulnerable distribution hardware.  Nor will they have to rely on carbon-based fuels;. every household can be self-reliant when it comes to energy.

A Huge Win for Puerto Rico

The growing use of green energy in Puerto Rico offers many benefits.  The shift will mean more money in people’s pockets, as consumers turn away from expensive, unreliable electricity, and toward free, reliable solar energy.

The move toward solar energy is also producing a great many skilled jobs in solar installation.  Skilled jobs were in short supply before the hurricane, but the growth of solar is helping to change that.  Using an ‘each one teach one’ model, RPPR and other solar providers are ensuring that people in communities all over the island are developing job skills that are in demand for getting solar generating capacity in place throughout Puerto Rico.

And not only will a solar-powered Puerto Rico save people money and generate many skilled jobs, but Puerto Ricans will be far better off in the aftermath of future hurricanes than they were after Hurricane Maria swept through.  Solar equipment is much less vulnerable to damage by high winds than is the current outdated, exposed traditional power grid.

And finally, a major shift toward renewable energy will significantly reduce the island’s greenhouse gas emissions, a big plus for the climate.  For all of us.–April Moore

 

Paradise for Birds and People

Friday, February 17th, 2017
photo by Andy Schmookler

photo by Andy Schmookler

 

Greetings from Israel!  My husband and I are exploring this fascinating and beautiful country.  Here is a short piece I wrote recently:

It is late afternoon now.  Andy and I just spent the last few hours glorying in the sights and sounds of thousands and thousands and thousands of cranes.  These graceful birds, with their long and very slender necks, made quite a scene in an agricultural field in the Hula Valley in the northern Galilee.

This field is part of a broad, green, marshy area called the Agamon HaHula. “A Paradise for Birds and People” reads the sign at the entrance, and that certainly is the case.

Clearly, the birds were in paradise.  As we stood watching, open-mouthed, thousands of cranes whirled around and around in the sky a few hundred meters from us.  And the object of this hubbub was a plain, simple-looking red tractor.  We watched it inch along a dirt road, stirring up thousands of squawking, flapping cranes as it went.  The giant mass of birds moved slowly along, continually mobbing the tractor.

And why do the cranes love this tractor so much?  It is the Corn Tractor.  As the Corn Tractor makes its regular rounds, it dispenses corn, which the birds love to eat.  The Corn Tractor feeds these birds well, dispensing 13,000-15,000 pounds of corn for them every day!  

Certainly the Agamon is a paradise for people too.  Smiling, excited tourists like us walked, biked, and drove golf carts around the 8.5 kilometer paved trail  that surrounds the fields, enjoying not only the cranes, but the many water fowl and small birds who are also attracted to the reserve.

Since the only moving object that evokes no fear in the cranes is the Corn Tractor, our LONELY PLANET book tells us, some clever person came up with a way to use a tractor to offer tourists a great way to watch the birds.  We saw several tractors pulling long trailers that were open on one side.  These trailers were filled with auditorium-style seating–three rows, with the back row highest and the front row lowest.  This mobile auditorium faced sideways.  The people riding in it  could get a close-up view of the cranes, who were not at all disturbed by their friend The Tractor rolling past.

The corn tractor is actually at the heart of what makes Agamon a grand and creative experiment.  In providing regular and abundant food for the cranes, the corn tractor is working hand in glove with the humans growing peanuts in the fields.  By devoting one field to the cranes and feeding them plenty of corn every day, the birds leave the nearby peanut fields alone.  The birds are happy, and so are the farmers.

This successful experiment, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, represents an important restoration.  The Hula Valley was once a vast wetlands, far, far larger than it is today.  It was vital to the lives of millions of birds who migrate between Europe and Africa every year.  With the development of Israel as a nation in the 1950s, the Hula Valley wetlands were rapidly drained to make way for agriculture.

But the dramatic loss of wetland habitat proved devastating to the cranes and the many other birds who depended on the Hula Valley to provide nourishment and a safe resting place during migration.   In the late 1950s, conservationists sounded the alarm.  Efforts were launched to protect the remaining Hula Valley wetlands and the birds who depend on them.  And in 1964 Israel’s first national nature reserve was established, here in the Hula Valley.

This is a wonderful win-win-win story—for the birds, for agriculture, and for all of us who love birds.–April Moore

 

Report from a Plunger

Friday, January 30th, 2015

“We did it! On Saturday over 200 of us braved the elements to make the 10th annual “Keep Winter Cold” Polar Bear Plunge our biggest yet. Neither the rain nor an incredibly high tide could stop us from jumping, wading and even diving into the Potomac River! Plungers were as young as nine and as old as 85, including students, community activists and Franciscan priests,” reports Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). 

photo by Bruce Rosenthal

photo by Bruce Rosenthal  

Mike is describing last weekend’s CCAN Polar Bear Plunge that I wrote about last week in The Earth Connection.  It was indeed great.  Spirits were high among the crowd gathered to demonstrate our commitment to a healthy climate!  

My friend Diane and I arrived early at National Harbor.  And even though this was to be my fourth Plunge, I felt my familiar ‘pre-plunge jitters.’  The prospect of stepping out into frigid water on a winter day just doesn’t seem to get easier.

Soon Diane and I were met by our friend Barb, who had brought a most welcome pre-plunge treat–hot chocolate!  And this was not just any hot chocolate.  Barb had made it with a yummy liqueur, and she even brought whipped cream.  Sipping hot chocolate while enjoying the pre-plunge rally somehow calmed me.  I felt warm and centered, ready for the shock that lay ahead.

One rally speaker, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus, inspired the crowd with his updated version of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous statement:   “One day this generation will say, ‘we are fossil fuel-free at last!’”  Who wouldn’t be willing to take the plunge after that!

Another highlight of the rally, for me, was Mike Tidwell’s salute to the 10 ‘Plungers’ who raised the most money, including me as the top fundraiser.  I am thrilled that, thanks to the support of friends and family, I raised more than $4,000 for CCAN!  And CCAN raised more than $82,000 overall, its highest total yet in 10 years of Plunges!

photo by Bruce Rosenthal
photo by Bruce Rosenthal

A few more speeches, and then the moment was here!  Off to the tents went the Plungers, a women’s tent and a men’s tent, where we all shed our sensible coats, hats, and gloves for–bathing suits!  Aaargh! 

Because the water level was higher for this year’s Plunge than for any of the previous nine, there was little beach on which the Plungers could gather.  So instead of all thronging into the river en masse, we plunged in small groups.  As I made my way out of the tent toward the river, I envied a woman who was on her way in, dripping and shivering.  Her Plunge was over!

There we were, some picking our way over the rocks to the water, others wet and moving as fast as they could back to the tents.  Were it not for all the shivering, we could have passed for a bunch of people enjoying a summer dip in the river. 

Every year I vow to walk out as far as my shoulders.  But until this year, I had never succeeded;  my feet went numb too soon.  But either the water was warmer this year or I’m more used to it.  I did manage to go out almost up to my shoulders.  

Back in the tent, I could hardly feel my feet.  My friend Diane, kindly and patiently, helped me get dry again and dressed.

Then for the best part.  Diane and I joined the other Plungers and supporters at the adjacent restaurant for the Plunge Afterparty.  Did it ever feel good to warm up and celebrate with longtime friends Diane, Barb, Bruce, and Bonnie, and enjoy a hot lunch and a good visit! 

Sitting there in the warm restaurant, I felt deeply happy–for a lot of reasons.  I was glad to have been part of such a rousing event, to have raised so much money for CCAN, to enjoy time with some dear friends, AND to savor the knowledge that I will have no reason to step out into frigid waters again for a whole year!–April Moore  

P.S. Please click here to look at some fun photos from thePlunge that CCAN posted on its website:   photos from the 10th annual ‘Keep Winter Cold’ Polar Bear Plunge

 

 

 

Good News for the Ravaged Gulf of Mexico

Friday, December 19th, 2014

restoration

After years of anguish and suffering–to wildlife and humans–caused by the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I am happy to report some very good news about the restoration work taking place.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation that is receiving and administering the $2.54 billion in fines BP and Transocean have been ordered to pay for remediation, appears to be doing an excellent job.  The Foundation has been praised by many for ensuring that the restoration funds are spent in ways that do the most to remedy harm and to reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources affected by the 2010 disaster.  The NFWF’s work is “an impressive, comprehensive, integrated restoration effort,” noted the Ocean Conservancy in a press release.

For example, in issuing restoration grants, NFWF has adopted a regional, ecosystem-wide approach, funding efforts that build on each other across multiple states.  And NFWF is investing in grants that focus on the marine environment as well as coastal environments.  These two types of environment, though very different from each other, form two halves of a single whole.  The restoration of one half would be incomplete without the other.

As part of a five-year period during which the $2.54 billion will be spent for restoration, the most recent round of grants included 25 projects totaling more than $99 million. The funded projects will:  track the recovery of key fish species like red snapper;  respond to stranded dolphins and manatees;  map the seafloor off the Florida coast to inform sustainable fishing practices; and much more.

“Every American has a stake in restoring the Gulf,” notes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe.  “The Gulf of Mexico is a national treasure, supporting a vast network of native wildlife and coastal ecosystems while providing jobs and economic growth to millions of Americans,” he explains.  Ashe and others have praised the state governments of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for working collaboratively with the Foundation to invest in projects to restore the Gulf.–April Moore 

 

 

A Comeback for the Great White Shark

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Great-White-Shark

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. . . . .

I am delighted to learn that the Great White Shark is making a comeback!  After decades of decline in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, these giant animals are rebounding in both areas.

Recent studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Florida show that a decades-long decline of the White Shark in both oceans has been reversed in the last 15 years.  Since the 1960s, the White Shark’s numbers had declined by more than 70% in the Atlantic Ocean as a result of  increased commercial and recreational shark hunting.  And the inadvertent capture of Great Whites in nets meant for the sharks’ prey had also taken its toll.

But federal protection for the Great White Shark, enacted in 1997, appears to have paid off.  Since hunting of the Great White Shark has become illegal, the shark’s numbers have increased about 40%, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Another factor in the animal’s resurgence, scientists note, is the increased availability of prey.  The grey seal population, for example, off the Massachusetts coast, has been increasing.

The population gains of the Great White Shark are good not just for the shark but for overall ocean health.  Known as an ‘apex predator’ for its position at the top of the food chain, the Great White Shark is ecologically critical, scientists say, in helping control populations of other species.

A LITTLE UNDERSTOOD ANIMAL
The Great White Shark, widely feared thanks to movies like Jaws, does not deserve its reputation as a rapacious killer of humans.  Since 1916 there have been only 106 instances of unprovoked White Shark attacks on humans.  Solitary animals, sharks are notoriously elusive and difficult to study.

Sharks are part of a subset of fishes called elasmobranchs.  While they look similar, externally, to other fish, they are so structurally different that they are in a class by themselves.  One difference is skeleton.  Instead of bone, the shark’s skeleton is made of cartilage.  And unlike most fish, which maintain buoyancy thanks to a swim bladder, sharks lack such an organ.  Instead, the shark stays buoyant thanks to oil stored in its liver.–April Moore     

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials Lead the Way

Friday, September 26th, 2014
I thank reader Gillian Zimmer for forwarding me this interesting piece, full of surprising information.  
It seems that millennials are leading every other demographic group when it comes to directing their dollars toward a healthier planet.  More than 50% of millennials say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products.  In contrast, I am ashamed to report, only 12% of my own age group, the baby boomers, say they are willing to spend more for sustainable products.  
Millennials are also far more likely than other age groups to donate to charities.  The rest of us can learn from young people; I encourage you to read this fascinating article by 

Shopping for Change A new generation of shoppers helps to bring social responsibility home

In a groundbreaking finding, Nielsen recently reported that the majority of the world’s consumers now prefer to buy products that are socially and environmentally responsible.

Will this trend last? That depends on the individual consumer.

Who’s Buying?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer a new or vague concept in the minds of global consumers. And the increasing number of people who are willing to pay extra for a “do-good” product is a clear sign that attitudes are changing.  According to the Nielsen report, 55 percent of people worldwide will pay more money for products from companies “committed to positive social and environmental impact.” The report also found that 52 percent of people have done just that in the past six months, and 52 percent regularly check product packaging for proof of its sustainable impact. Worldwide, 49 percent of people volunteer and/or donate to organizations engaged in social and environmental programs.

Sustainable Purchases - The Numbers Behind The Purchasing Habits

But will this socially responsible attitude become the norm? Or is it a passing trend? There’s no doubt that conscience-driven consumerism is on the rise. From 2012 to 2014, marketing agency Good.Must.Grow forecasted a 12 percent increase in the number of Americans who shopped for socially responsible products. Worldwide, Nielsen reported a 10 percent increase since 2011.

This growth isn’t due to just education and awareness. It reflects the coming of age of the Millennial generation, whose members begin turning 35 this year and whose numbers have outpaced Baby Boomers. Though this generation has often been stereotyped as spoiled, fickle, and self-absorbed, the stripes they’re showing are very different indeed.

The Millennial Shift

Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2014 paints a picture of a Millennials that are disappointed in business and government leaders, and expect improvement in social and environmental responsibility. Sixty-three percent of Millennials donate to charities and 51 percent—more than any other generation surveyed—told Nielsen they would pay extra for sustainable products.

“Millennials believe the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance, with a focus on improving society among the most important things it should seek to achieve.” – Deloitte

This doesn’t mean that other groups—Boomers, Generation X, and the under-20 Generation Z—are unwilling to make socially responsible purchases. But according to the Nielsen report, they are lesswilling. Only 25 percent of Gen Xers—less than half the number of Millennials—would pay extra for sustainable products. Boomers halve that number again, to 12 percent.

Interestingly, Generation Z’s dedication is negligible - only 9 percent will shell out the extra cash. They may have fewer resources or they may not be dedicated to socially responsible shopping.

How can sustainability and social responsibility become more entrenched? Eradicating “greenwashing” May help. It’s no longer enough to slap a green flower on a toxic product. Consumers often feel betrayed by companies whose actions don’t match marketing, and that cynicism may pose a threat to brands who truly fulfill sustainable claims.

CSR-driven companies need to continue evolving, too. Good.Must.Grow urges socially responsible companies to move beyond purpose and create a competitive customer experience. For on-the-fence shoppers, responsible products are beginning to compete effectively with conventional ones, but must focus on innovation in order to present a real threat.

Sustainable Purchases - A Look at the Millennial Demographics

Global Disparities

What worldwide causes do consumers support? An overwhelming 67 percent are chipping in to increase access to clean water. Access to sanitation ties with environmental sustainability at 63 percent, followed by eradicating extreme poverty and hunger at 62 percent.

For North American and European consumers, the prioritization of clean water and sanitation—things we often take for granted—may be surprising. But, Nielsen reports that Europeans as a whole have the lowest level of interest in socially responsible shopping (40 percent), with North Americans just two points higher. That’s a big jump from the 18 percent of Americans who would have chosen sustainable products in 2011, but it’s still over 20 points behind the rest of the world.

Good.Must.Grow reports that Americans are in an even three-way split: One third of us actively seek to do good through our purchases; one third think it’s important but do not plan to increase their dedication; and one third don’t think it’s important or don’t pay attention. The most socially responsible region of America: the Midwest.

Why the disparity? There are endless theories, but Good.Must.Grow reports that the main thing holding Americans back from responsible shopping might be that we just do not know what social responsible products look like, how to find them, or where to get them.

Sustainable Purchases - A Look at the causes people around the world support

Raising Awareness on the Home Front

Worldwide, Americans and Europeans score lower on two interesting fronts: We’re less likely to check product packaging, and less willing to talk with family and friends about products and brands.

Where roughly 62 percent of shoppers in Asia-Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa read product packaging to find evidence of sustainability, only 36 percent of Europeans and 32 percent of Americans do the same. Even more surprising, only 29 percent of Americans and 28 percent of Europeans talk with their friends and family about the brands and products they trust.

If the problem facing consumers in a lack of awareness, then there’s a clear opportunity for individuals to effect change just by talking with peers about socially responsible products, how to find them, and how to verify that they’re legitimate.

You Are an Influencer

If you’re reading this article, you probably have at least some interest in socially responsible shopping. That gives you an important role to play in the cycle, aside from just voting with your wallet. Want to see this shift in values become a lasting, even permanent change? Then become an advocate for the companies and products you truly believe in. Change does start at home—that includes your own.

 

J.H. Fearless

J.H. Fearless is a blogger and writer whose work explores the intersection of art, nature and culture. Her blog, “Uprooted,” won the Tripbase Eco-Travel blog award in 2009 and 2011. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Burning Man, National Geographic’s Green Living Website, Sharable and many more notable publications. Currently, she lives in Reno, Nevada, where she spends her time learning to garden in the desert and blogging for Burning Man each September.
J.H. Fearless

Hopeful News About Our Climate

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Like many fellow climate activists, I often despair for the fate of all I hold dear.

But I recently read Al Gore’s article, “The Turning Point:  New Hope for the Climate,” in The Rolling Stone.   Gore has persuaded me that there is ample reason to hope.  While it is true that it is too late to stop global warming, and that our efforts must be directed to preventing the worst scenarios from becoming reality, he shows that many positive changes are taking place.  And many of these changes are occurring more rapidly than scientists had anticipated.  

I summarize here some of the very hopeful points in Gore’s article.  If you’d like to read the whole piece, just click on the link at the end.

  • Our ability to convert sunshine to usable energy has become much cheaper far more rapidly than anyone had predicted.  The cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries.  By 2020–as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline–more than 80% of the world’s people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.
  • Germany, far from the world’s sunniest or windiest country, now generates 37% of its daily electricity from solar and wind.  Analysts predict that number will rise to 50% by 2020!  (To me, this proves what is possible if the political will is there.) 
  • In the U.S., where up to 49% of new generating capacity came from renewables in 2012, 166 coal-fired electricity-generating plants have either closed or have announced they are closing in the past four and a half years.  An additional 183 proposed new coal plants have been canceled since 2005.
  • India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi (who has authored an e-book on global warming), has launched a stunning program that is bringing solar-generated electricity to 400 million people who have never had electricity before!
  • Bangladesh is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every minute–making that country the most rapidly growing market for PV in the world.  
  • At the start of the 21st century, some scoffed at projections that the world would be installing one gigawatt of new solar electricity per year by 2010.  That goal was exceeded 17 times over!  Last year it was exceeded 39 times over!  And this year the world is on pace to exceed that benchmark as much as 55 times over.
  • The cost of wind energy is plummeting.  Since 2009 it has dropped 43% in the U.S.  Wind energy is now cheaper than coal for new generating capacity.  Worldwide, in 2010, wind deployments were seven times greater than projections made in 2000.  Now, wind deployments are more than 10 times that projection.
  • In the U.S., nearly one-third of all new electricity-generating capacity in the last five years has come from wind, and installed wind capacity in the U.S. has increased more than fivefold since 2006.
  • While the cost of carbon-based energy continues to increase, the cost of solar electricity has dropped by an average of 20% per year since 2010. 
  • President Obama, mostly a disappointment when it comes to action on climate, is finally stepping up the pace.  He has empowered the EPA to enforce limits on CO2 emissions for both new and existing sources.  He has enforced bold new standards for the fuel economy of the U.S. transportation fleet.
  • Because Obama is making reductions in CO2 a much higher priority than he did in his first term, he will bring to the 2015 global climate talks in Paris a credibility and moral authority that he lacked during the disastrous world meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.
  • China’s new president Xi Jinping has launched a pilot cap-and-trade system in two cities and five provinces as a model for a nationwide cap-and-trade program in the next few years.  He has banned all new coal burning in several cities and required the reporting of CO2 emissions by all major industrial sources.  
  • The U.S. and China have reached an agreement to limit another potent source of global warming pollution–the chemical compounds known as hydro-fluorocarbons, or HFCs.
  • Warren Buffett has announced that he is ready to double Berkshire Hathaway’s existing $15 billion investment in wind and solar energy.
  • A growing number of large investors–pension funds, university endowments, and others–have announced decisions to divest from carbon-intensive assets.
  • The stock exchanges of Sao Paulo and Johannesburg have decided to require the full integration of sustainability from all listed companies.  Standard & Poor’s has announced that some nations vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis may soon have their bonds downgraded because of the enhanced risk to holders of those assets.

All of the above is VERY good news–cause for real hope and optimism.–April Moore

The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate

A New National Monument: Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

On May 21, President Obama announced the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.  The designation provides permanent protection for almost 500,000 acres of pristine, scenic lands in south-central New Mexico. 

“Anyone who’s ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, New Mexico, will tell you that they are a spectacular sight,” the President said in a short speech just before signing the proclamation.  ”You get massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like the organ pipes of a giant.  And they’re home to many of God’s smaller creatures as well.  Deer and antelope roam–falcons, mountain lions.”

Indeed, our nation’s newest monument is a rare American landscape.  Its features include extinct volcanoes, black lava fields, miles and miles of high desert grassland, even a series of hidden water pools.

The monument is also a haven for wildlife, including golden eagles, owls, several species of hawk and quail, desert mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, pronghorn, javelina, coyotes, bats, rock squirrels, and many other animals.  The rugged mountain landscape is also home to certain plants that exist nowhere else in the world.

Visitors to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks will find, in addition to hiking and other recreation opportunities, some fascinating earth history.  The vast national monument encompasses the already-established Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, which is a major deposit of fossilized animal prints, dating back about 280 million years.  These prints of ancient land animals, sea creatures, and insects abound, and fossilized plants and petrified wood can also be found there.

The new monument is also rich in human history.  Three groups of native peoples left their marks in various locations in the forms of pictographs–symbols painted on rocks, and petroglyphs–symbols carved into rock.  Much more recent visitors to the area are said to include Billy the Kid and Geronimo.

The new national monument will be a boon to the economy of south-central New Mexico.  According to a recent, independent study, the monument could generate as much as $7.4 million in new economic activity each year from visitors and business opportunities.  And local support for the monument designation has been strong.  In one survey, 83% of local citizens expressed support for the monument designation.

I can’t wait to visit!–April Moore 

 

 

Sturgeon Return to the Chesapeake Bay!

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

 

Matt Balazik tagging an Atlantic sturgeon

    Back in 1997 a young fisheries biologist made a startling discovery.  He spotted some Atlantic sturgeon swimming in the Chesapeake Bay.

     The biologist was astounded because sturgeon were thought to have completely disappeared from the Bay.  Although decades before, tens of thousands of these mighty fish regularly swam up the Chesapeake from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn, no sturgeon had been seen in the Bay for many years.  

     The sturgeon that biologist Dave Secor spotted that day 17 years ago were juveniles.  Therefore, they could not have swum into the Bay from the ocean.  Instead, they must have been born right there, in the Bay.  That meant that at least some sturgeon were spawning in the Bay, that a recovery of at least some size must be underway.  

     Secor and his colleagues were eager to know where in the Bay the sturgeon were spawning.  If the spawning grounds could be found, the scientists reasoned, then perhaps these grounds could be protected, and the sturgeon’s recovery in the Bay strengthened.  

     Restoration of sturgeon in the Chesapeake would indeed be cause for celebration.  A truly ancient species, the sturgeon has been around since long before the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago.   Like the salmon, the sturgeon returns to its natal waters to spawn.  But unlike the salmon, which dies  soon after spawning, the sturgeon spawns repeatedly over its 60-year lifespan.  The mighty sturgeon can reach a length of 14 feet and weigh as much as 800 pounds.   Most of the sturgeon’s life is spent in the Atlantic Ocean, where it travels up and down the shelf break, eating worms and crustaceans it plows up from the bottom with its snout. 

     Prized for its flesh and for the caviar made from its roe, the sturgeon was once heavily fished in the Chesapeake Bay.  The Bay’s sturgeon fishing industry peaked in the 1890s, and no one alive today has witnessed a healthy run of sturgeon in the Bay.  

     The search for the sturgeon’s spawning grounds is challenging because there are so few of them.  But thanks to a $1.75 million grant last year from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources and Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the scientists are getting support for their efforts.  

     Scientists have tagged 240 sturgeon with acoustic transmitters.  Each tag emits a coded sound once per minute, and the sounds are recorded whenever a sturgeon passes within range of a receiver.    And, in addition to assistance from NOAA, the scientists are also aided in their efforts by the U.S. Navy, which has installed 70 receivers, mostly attached to Coast Guard buoys throughout the lower Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries, and out into the Atlantic.  The buoys record environmental data as well, which allows scientists to correlate sturgeon activity with water conditions.  This information will be especially helpful in enabling scientists to understand how sensitive sturgeon are to low oxygen levels that plague the Bay every summer.

     Federal agencies are required to minimize interactions with endangered species, notes Navy biologist Carter Watterson, who regularly sends Secor and his colleagues the tracking data from the buoys.  ”Once we know where and when sturgeon are utilizing the Bay,” Watterson explains,  ”we can work to minimize any impact we have on the species.”–April Moore 

 

A Great Gift for Our Children and Grandchildren

Friday, April 4th, 2014

 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

    Last month, some of the most beautiful land in America was designated a wilderness,  the very highest level of protection available for any public land.

     The newly protected area makes up almost half of the existing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an area along the northeast shore of Lake Michigan.  The 32,000 acres of newly designated wilderness includes miles of sandy beach, parts of two islands, dense forest, bluffs that tower hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan, clear inland streams and lakes, and unique flora and fauna.  Also protected will be such cultural features as a historic lighthouse, old farmsteads, and existing county roads.  This area was named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by the TV show Good Morning America.

     The public will still be able to enjoy the protected wilderness.  Visitors can fish, hunt, and camp in designated areas.  But motorized vehicles, mining, logging, new roads, and permanent structures are all prohibited.

     This wilderness designation is the result of a rare show of bipartisan support in Congress.  Both the Senate and House passed legislation to establish the wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  And in the case of the House, approval was unanimous!  President Obama signed the bill into law on March 13.

     This is the first time since 2009 that both houses of Congress have voted to provide wilderness protection.  The five-year ‘drought’ from 2009-2014 is far from typical in such designations.  From 1964, when the Wilderness Act was created, to 2009, every Congress designated at least one national park, monument, or wilderness.

     The creation of wilderness in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore seems a fitting way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act, which, I believe, is a truly great piece of legislation.  That law was enacted as a way to protect our most pristine lands for future generations.  The law gives us this legal definition of wilderness:  

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

     To qualify for wilderness designation, a piece of land must be at least 5,000 acres large or a roadless island.  It must appear natural, with no noticeable human presence.  It must provide space for recreation and solitude, and it must contain features deemed ecologically, historically, or culturally significant.  

     The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System to protect all federally designated wilderness lands.  When the Act was passed, nine million acres were brought into protection.  Now almost 110 million acres are federally protected wilderness  About half of those acres are in Alaska, although 44 states and Puerto Rico contain wilderness land.  Protected wilderness can be found in national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and in the public domain.

     A word about the name ‘Sleeping Bear Dunes:’  

The name refers to the shape of the dunes and comes from a Chippewa legend.  Long ago, according to the story, an enormous fire broke out on the western shore of Lake Michigan, driving a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake.  The mother was determined to bring her cubs to safety on the opposite shore.  After miles of swimming, the little ones lagged behind.  When the mother reached the eastern shore, she climbed a high bluff, where she watched and waited for her babies.   The babies drowned, according to the legend, but the mother continued her vigil, hoping they would finally appear.  The Great Spirit was so impressed by her devotion that he brought her two drowned cubs to the water’s surface in the form of islands.  The winds buried the sleeping mother bear under the sands of the dunes, where she waits to this day. –April Moore 

 

 

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