Planting Trees is a TREAT

treeplantingPlanting trees with TREAT in 2014

By Jenna Gersie

Five years ago, I visited the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland to learn about the rainforest through the School for International Training’s semester abroad in Australia. Our professor asked us if we would prefer to spend our last day in the rainforest hiking or planting trees. Amongst the fourteen students in my group, the decision to plant trees was unanimous. We headed to a property where a planting site had been prepared in the red, muddy soil, with native rainforest tree seedlings laid out next to holes dug in the earth. We moved down the rows, putting the baby trees in the soil and packing the dirt tightly around their thin trunks. We had joined another group of students from the School for Field Studies, as well as many community members who volunteer with TREAT, or Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands.

I didn’t know much about TREAT when I planted with them in 2009, other than that it was a fun day, kneeling in the red mud and putting trees into the ground. The chance to plant trees was especially meaningful after spending the previous ten days learning about rainforest composition, disturbance, reforestation, and wildlife. While I was proud of my small contribution on that day, I certainly did not imagine that I would return to the Atherton Tablelands in 2013 as a staff member for the School for Field Studies, the other group we had met at the planting, and make volunteering with TREAT a weekly occurrence.

Early upon my return to Australia, I visited the Lake Eacham nursery, operated under a partnership between TREAT and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), to bring my group of School for Field Studies students to volunteer. When I introduced myself at morning tea (also known as smoko) and told the other volunteers that I had planted trees with TREAT in 2009, their faces lit up with pride. Their smiles at that moment were something I would encounter again and again, on Friday visits to the nursery and on Saturday morning tree plantings throughout the Tablelands. If the chance to put trees in the ground and the tasty post-planting barbeques weren’t enough to keep calling me back to TREAT, the friendliness I encountered within that community undoubtedly was.

TREAT was founded in 1982 by local community members who recognized a need to plant native rainforest trees on the Tablelands. The Tablelands were once completely covered with beautiful, native rainforest, but when land was opened to settlers in the late 1800s, there was a requirement to clear and cultivate the land as a condition of occupancy. Much of the rainforest turned to farmland, and giant rainforest trees were felled at a rapid rate. In the early 1980s, protest movements to protect the remaining rainforest, such as blockading logging trucks, began. Enough passionate people got together to ensure that the remaining rainforest would be protected, and in 1988, the Wet Tropics received World Heritage Area protection. That protection, combined with a grassroots effort to reforest the Tablelands, has meant that mature rainforests are returning to the Tablelands.

Furthermore, the community effort that led to the founding of TREAT is backed by science. Community members work with QPWS and rainforest ecologists to connected isolated, fragmented habitat to larger tracts of rainforest. With landscape disturbance from cyclones and the degradation of forest fragments from weed invasion and other disturbances, it is important to connect these high-value systems of forest for the long-term health of the environment.

One example of this type of work is found at Donaghy’s Corridor near Lake Barrine. This wildlife corridor links forest at Crater Lakes National Park with Gadgarra State Forest. Plantings began in 1995, and after 18,000 trees were put into the ground along 1.5 kilometers, the corridor connected the forests in 1998. The work done to create this wildlife corridor was among the leading tropical restoration work in the world at the time. And TREAT didn’t stop there; they’ve been creating these types of forest linkages all over the Tablelands ever since.

IMG_2273Plastic guards protect these seedlings from herbivory by pademelons

One of the main reasons to create these wildlife corridors is to support the amazing floral and faunal diversity of the Wet Tropics. A starring character of this diversity is the Lumholtz Tree-kangaroo, also known as the mabi in the local Aboriginal dialect. Because of these unique and rare creatures, the rainforests in the area have come to be known as Mabi Forest, though they are more scientifically characterized as Complex Notophyll Vine Forest. Reforestation efforts in the area have also led to sightings of the Southern Cassowary, a large, flightless bird who survives on rainforest fruits.

Lumholtz Tree-kangaroo in habitat

To support Australia’s native wildlife, TREAT members turn up at the Lake Eacham nursery every Friday morning to take care of seedlings, extract seeds from rainforest fruit, pot plants, and plant seeds. During smoko, announcements are shared, QPWS gives updates on their fruit-gathering efforts, community members share their exciting wildlife sightings, and tea and cake are enjoyed by all. During the wet season, TREAT members and volunteers meet every Saturday morning on various landholders’ properties to plant hundreds to thousands of tree seedlings. Following each planting, volunteers on the cook crew provide sausages and lentil burgers for the hungry planters. I would give a great deal to again be sharing a cuppa with Tablelands community members after planting trees on a misty morning, red dirt still under my fingernails.

To learn more about TREAT, please visit their website, or watch a short documentary, Wet Tropics – Restoring Communities, here. You can also read about Donaghy’s Corridor and other projects here.

tree3Planting trees with TREAT in 2009

 

The reply I received from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding the hunt on the Huckleberry Wolf Pack

This is the email I received from the office of Phil Anderson, director of WDFW: 

Thank you for your message concerning actions by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to stop members of the Huckleberry wolf pack from preying on a flock of sheep in the northeast part of the state.  Many people have contacted the department regarding this action and we understand your concerns.

WDFW is committed to establishing sustainable wolf populations in Washington, but we also know that lethal measures are sometimes necessary when a pack becomes habituated to preying on livestock.  This is consistent with Washington’s Conservation and Management Plan, which states:

“Lethal removal may be used to stop repeated depredation if it is documented that livestock have clearly been killed by wolves, non-lethal methods have been tried but failed to resolve the conflict, depredations are likely to continue, and there is no evidence of intentional feeding or unnatural attraction of wolves by the livestock owner.”

The situation this month in southern Stevens County, where wolves from the Huckleberry pack killed more than 20 sheep and injured several others in less than two weeks, meets all of these criteria.  We know the sheep were killed by wolves based on an examination of the carcasses and paw prints at the scene.  We also know that members of the Huckleberry pack were involved, based on signals from a radio collar attached to one wolf and direct observations of others on grazing land that is leased from a private landowner.

Throughout the grazing season, the rancher kept watch over his sheep, aided by four Great Pyrenees mountain dogs.  Once the attacks began, he buried sheep carcasses whenever possible and began looking for an alternative grazing site.

Meanwhile, WDFW dispatched a team of four wildlife-conflict specialists to help guard the sheep using paint balls and rubber bullets.  When these efforts failed to stop the attacks, the department’s director authorized the rancher and the wildlife-conflict team to use live ammunition to shoot wolves that they saw approaching the flock. Finally, as the attacks continued, he authorized the removal of up to four wolves by a marksman in a helicopter.

This department’s ultimate goal is to help the rancher move the entire flock of 1,800 sheep to a new grazing area beyond the reach of the wolf pack, but that has been difficult to arrange.  In the near term, our strategy is not to eliminate the pack – estimated to have up to 12 members – but rather to break its cycle of predation until the flock can be moved out of the area.

These actions do not diminish WDFW’s commitment to wolf recovery in our state.  All eight northern states with gray wolf populations have sometimes found it necessary to remove wolves that pose a threat to livestock, wildlife, pets, or public safety – yet wolf populations are stable or growing in all of those states.

WDFW has received a number of messages criticizing our actions, while others have reminded us of our responsibility to protect the people who live and work closest to wolves.  It’s a difficult balance to strike, but two things are clear:  Wolves are in the process of re-establishing themselves in Washington State, and the employees of the department will continue to do our best to protect the interests of people as well as this endangered species.

Thank you again for writing to express your views on this subject.   For more information about wolf management and the Huckleberry pack, see the Latest News and Wolf Conservation and Management sections of our website, www.wdfw.wa.gov.

Thurston County’s Plastic Bag Ban

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By Neva Knott

All photographs courtesy of wiki commons.

As we roll into year two here at The Ecotone Exchange, I’m taking on the essential challenge of bioregionalism–knowing where I live. True, I was born in Olympia, Washington, but moved to Oregon when I was 18, so most of my adult life and knowledge of place centers on Portland and Oregon in general. It’s time I get to know “back home” in the ecological and environmental sense. Earlier this week I wrote about the current situation with our Huckleberry wolf pack, and in June I wrote about some of what’s going on along the Washington coastline through the work of Surfrider Foundation.

Today, I’m going to write about the new bag ban in my county. I live in Olympia, Washington (the state), which is in Thurston County.

As of July 1, 2014, single-use plastic bags will not be used at retail checkout counters. Produce bags are still allowed, but that final purchase bag will no longer be plastic. Instead, shoppers can bring a reusable bag, or purchase a paper bag for five cents.

The impetus for this ban is to keep more bags out of the waste stream, primarily, out of the waters of Puget Sound and the ocean. Puget Sound is an astounding place, and living on the Sound carries a very water-aware mindset. Secondarily, the ban is designed to address the human health risks of plastics.

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Statistics from a variety of sources show that each person uses 350-500 of this type of single use plastic bags per year. Even though some consumers recycle them, many municipal recycling programs don’t accept them. Some consumers “reuse” the bags, but the thinness of them does not allow for sustainable use. The most cited reuse in Thurston County’s survey of residents was to “pick up dog poo.” I do my fair share of dog-poo duty with bags from Safeway, Target, and the like. Even so, I don’t think it’s a strong argument for the bag’s reusability.

The webpage for the Thurston County bag ban cites Bag It The Movie: Is Your Life Too Plastic, a short film that explains plastics in the context of human consumption.

Most plastic bags that are recycled–Thurston County’s survey shows a 43 percent recycle rate–are made into composite lumber. The rest is used for a variety of consumer goods.

Because these bags aren’t made of biodegradable material, they don’t break down in the landfill. In fact, in previous research, I’ve learned that plastics take up to 400 years to break down–and then they only break down into smaller pieces. As far as humans know, plastic bags never break down to elements that can be absorbed back into the biota and recycled through the ecosystem.

This inability of the plastic bag to break down is the big problem in oceans everywhere. Eventually, the whole bag disintegrated into pieces. When the pieces disintegrate into small pieces, many species of marine life think the small pieces of plastic are food. For example, whales eat krill, a very small organism easily confused with bag bits.

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A swarm of krill.

Once the plastic is ingested, it causes problems for the marine animal, and is passed on into the human food that comes from the ocean–the fish we eat contains traces of plastic. In a sense, the plastics have come full circle–but in a very harmful and unhealthy way.

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Plastic bags are made from petroleum and natural gas by-products. While the plastics manufacturing industry explains that oil and natural gas are not mined just for plastic, it’s clear in following the fossil fuel and hydro-fracking debates that too much extraction of oil and gas is being done, period. By-products add to the argument that extraction is necessary because of the range of products it provides.

Sustainability evaluates raw materials sourcing, energy use in production, production waste, energy use in transportation, waste in production (chemical off-puts into the atmosphere or water, for example), and waste from use. Think of plastic bags in these terms, and you’ll begin to understand the rationale behind the bag ban here in Thurston County, and elsewhere.

In the end, these bags are bad, bad, bad. They are made from dirty chemical stuff, clog landfills, and kill marine life, and their manufacture contributes to global warming. Paper bags might not be much better, environmentally speaking–because it’s not the best thing ever to log trees to make bags, even though the bags will biodegrade.

In the end, the best choice is for people to make the effort to take a bag to the store. Europeans do it, and have forever. Why can’t Americans be less lazy about these things?

I’d rather take the extra minute to grab a bag than live on a planet with fewer forests, poisoned water, sick whales, dolphins and turtles, and global warming–wouldn’t you?

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Check out Surfrider Foundation’s “Rise Above Plastics” campaign to learn more.

Shooting Wolves in Washington State

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By Neva Knott

Not good. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced last Wednesday, August 20, 2014, that it would have to use lethal methods to control the Huckleberry pack because of depredation of sheep in Eastern Washington. Over the weekend, WDFW sent up a sharp-shooter in a helicopter to take four members of the pack, in hopes these deaths would deter any further attacks on the sheep herd. As of August 25, WDFW reports one wolf is dead.

This is the second such instance of WDFW-ordered wolf take. In 2012, the Wedge wolf pack was killed by WDFW because of cattle depredation. Not only did we lose wildlife, the kill cost the state $77,000.

I am pro-wolf. I’ve read all of the current science on the issue, have studied the history of human-wolf interaction and co-existence, and have interviewed people on both sides of the issue. What science says in the here and now is that wolves, and other top predators, keep ecosystems healthy and functioning. The presence of wolves in Eastern Washington doesn’t create a small change in the overall health of the region’s entire ecosystem; rather, it controls significant factors of the ecosystem. Other wildlife is healthier, vegetation and flora are healthier, streams are healthier, and the overall ecosystem works more systematically. The film, Lords of Nature, and the project’s website give good explanation to the ecological purpose of top predators.

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Photograph courtesy of WDFW.

The pervasive belief on the other side of this issue is that humans are the top predators who control the ecosystem. Not true.

Washington State does have a fairly forward-thinking Wolf Management Plan, one that is very similar to Oregon’s and to plans of other Western states. Wolves have made their way here from other states on their own; they have not been reintroduced through any program. The primary aim of Washington’s plan is to facilitate, “a long term viable wolf population while addressing wolf-livestock conflicts.” Development of the WMP began in 2007 and the plan was adopted in 2011. It is based on extensive peer-reviewed science and addresses the concerns gathered in a 95-day public review process, during which time 65,000 people across the state commented. Most comments were in favor of wolves on the landscape. Most concerns were about wolf-livestock interaction.

Currently, gray wolves are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Washington, they are considered “delisted” yet threatened east of the Cascade Mountains, but are considered endangered on the west side of the state. WDFW has parced the state into three recovery areas where they will monitor wolf behavior and population growth. As the population increases, its status will change from endangered, to threatened, then to sensitive. Hopefully, eventually, the gray wolf will have no such status in our state.

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So what makes a wolf population viable? As of the WDFW 2013 Annual Report, there are about 52 wolves in thirteen packs, with five breeding pairs that produced twelve pups total in Washington. Delisting can happen when there are four breeding pairs in each of the three recovery areas, plus three additional breeding pairs anywhere in the state for three consecutive years. Breeding pairs must produce pups that survive. Optionally, delisting can be based on four breeding pairs in each recovery area plus six additional pairs anywhere else in the state for one year. These numbers are based on a variety of methods of year-round monitoring.

In the annual report, you’ll find photographs, maps, and charts that document wolves in Washington. It’s worth a look.

The current conflict is between the Huckleberry pack and a sheep rancher, who is grazing his sheep on private timber land. There are new pups in the pack. The pack has taken down 22 of the sheep and has injured three of the herder’s guard dogs. This is a significant attack. Previous to this event, the depredation rate has been very low in the state. The 2013 Annual Report documents the next highest number to be seven cattle. In all of the reports I’ve read about wolf depredation, the rise in depredation correlates with pup season.

In the Environmental Impact Statement for the Wolf Management Plan, it is acknowledged wolf-livestock conflict is an area for further study. Here’s the rub–before wolves were killed off in the west so that the ranching industry could flourish, there was much more wide-open space, and much more wolf habitat. Now, the areas wolves roam–which can be about 300 square miles a day–are fragmented. Roads, clear-cuts, parks, ranches, break up the area of cover. Part of the conflict is that wolves more often come across human space, and sometimes, there’s a tasty food source, like sheep, just standing there. Sometimes, habitat fragmentation means that the ungulates wolves naturally prey upon, such as deer and elk, are not around.

Though it is sad that Phil Anderson, director for WDFW, ordered the kill, it is somewhat encouraging to know that the sheep herder and WDFW worked closely together and with wolf experts to stop further depredation after the first attack. After several scare tactics were tried and found unsuccessful, WDFW agents worked with the herder to move his sheep to a new location. When that failed to stop the wolf attacks, agents, the sheep herder, and a reporter from KING 5 news camped out to watch for the wolves, in an attempt to scare them off the herd. It was after these efforts that Anderson sent up the sharp-shooter.

I’m not saying that I agree with Anderson’s decision, though I do see how he arrived at it. In following the wolf issue in Oregon and now in Washington for the past four years, I do feel the WMP’s of each state are appropriate, but I do think more can be done to manage within the parameters of wolf behavior.

For example, one goal of Washington’s WMP is to protect den areas when pups are known to be there. My question in this situation is why was this particular herd grazing in high timber land when WDFW knew there were pups in the Huckleberry pack?

Second, what’s the availability of deer and elk as prey in the area? Again, the WMP includes a goal to manage prey populations so that wolves have enough food available that isn’t livestock.

Third, what pre-planning was done with the sheep herder, knowing that the pack was in the area and that pups were likely?

There’s a relationship between the sheep herder’s land as wolf habitat, available prey, and birthing of pups that I haven’t read enough about in WDFW press releases or in news coverage.

I’ve written an email to Mr. Anderson and have left a voicemail for Craig Bartlett, WDFW’s contact on media releases, seeking answers to these questions. If and when I get a response, I’ll write a post to share it.

If you would like to make your voice heard on this issue, please write to director@dfw.wa.gov

Even though the idea of wolves eating all of one’s livestock is frightful, it’s important to know that wolves kill relatively very few livestock animals. Wild Earth Guardians reports that only four percent of sheep deaths in Oregon (no statistics for Washington are available) are caused by carnivores–to include wolves, coyotes, bear, cougars and dogs. Health problems and cars kill many more cattle and sheep than do wolves. For me, this in addition to the cost to taxpayers for killing wolves swings the balance in favor of letting wolves live and expecting the ranchers to change their ways even a bit more.

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Image courtesy of Wild Earth Guardians.

The issue that seems to have raised much of the ire around Anderson’s decision is that not much publicity was given to it. The kill order hit the news cycle as it was happening. Although the WDFW departmental reply was that it was following the WMP, the public feels it had a right to know before the sharp-shooter went up. In reading the plan, I do think Anderson was following the steps outlined for wolf-livestock conflicts. In reading the plan, I do think Anderson sort of flew by the outreach and public education mandates. Even if the kill order was the next step in keeping the sheep safe, the public needed to be helped to understand why.

Even though I have these curiosities and agree with the general consensus about Anderson’s kill order being too much of a clandestine mission, I do–at least for now–think Washington has a viable Wolf Management Plan in place.

I also want to mention that Defenders of Wildlife is very active with all states that have wolves, and provide many cost-share programs designed to help with wolf-livestock conflicts. Their site also provides solid basic wolf facts.

Wolves are a hot-button issue here in the west. It’s my hope, in writing this piece, that people will form informed opinions. There’s a lot of propaganda out there, and a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue when it comes down to the news alert that a sharp-shooter is in a helicopter, gunning for a wild animal.

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Photograph courtesy of WDFW.

What if every person treated trees as if they symbolized life?

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By Neva Knott

Yesterday, I dug up the white pine I planted two years ago at my mom’s memorial. Then, I put it along the line between her back yard and the neighbor’s, next to a mountain hemlock. A few months later, I put in the fence, and the pine is destined to grow too large now that it’s in a confined space. So I dug up the pine and moved it into the tree line, or mini-forest, between the back yard and the school’s field below.

Let me back up for a minute here. In 2012 I lived in Portland, Oregon and my mom lived in Olympia, Washington. In a house she bought when it was built in 1982. In May of 2012, she passed away. She didn’t want a formal funeral, but wanted family and “friends who are family” to get together and remember her. So my sister and I held a small memorial for her at her house. At the time, we were planning on selling it; at the time, I had no idea it would become my current home. Particulars changed as I closed my mom’s estate, so I moved “back home” that fall. I have dogs, thus the fence.

One “friend who is family,” Jim, collects scraggly, displaced trees he finds. He’d had this little white pine in a gallon pot for a while, just waiting for it to find a home. Knowing my love of trees, and my fondness for big pines like the white and the Ponderosa, Jim told me he’d save it for me until I knew where I wanted it to be. I was staying with Jim & his wife the morning of mom’s memorial. Over coffee I said, “let’s plant our tree for mom.” During the memorial, we dug a hole, planted the then small white pine, and left it to grow as a memento of her life in that house.

Yesterday, while working gently with a shovel and then my fingers to massage the tree’s roots out of the ground so that I could transplant it, I asked myself this question: What would happen if everyone treated a tree as if it symbolized a life (thinking along the lines of this pine symbolizing my mom’s life)?

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As I worked the root system out of the ground, un-planted the pine tree, and wrapped it in a wet towel to carry down to it’s new place, I worked through the implications of my idea: 

On a global level, the planet would be in significantly less danger from climate change. Deforestation is one of the root causes of global warming. Also, trees breathe in carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas. Tree root systems control below-ground water flow by stopping erosion, filtering and absorbing water as it flows through the soil they’re planted in, thus fewer extreme floods with more trees, and fewer droughts–worsening flooding and drought is linked to climate change.

Tree leaves also filter pollution out of the air, working to keep the air clean. Not only would climate change be much less of an issue, air and water would be cleaner.

Trees are connected to food production. Obviously, some trees bear edibles–fruits, nuts, seeds. Trees feed animals and birds and bugs as well as humans. Many types of tree bark are forage for wildlife. Trees keep rivers and streams cool enough for fish species to flourish.

On the community level, urban trees keep cities cooler, and help to counteract the “heat island effect,” something that happens when air temperatures rise because of streets, sidewalks, and buildings. Trees add aesthetic and economic value to neighborhoods. The more trees left standing when spaces are developed for human use, fewer animals such as deer and coyote wander into cities, looking for habitat and food, sometimes causing conflicts with humans. Trees make our parks shady and cool on a hot summer’s day.

Each person’s life is better because of trees. The air we breathe is cleaner, as is the water we drink. Studies show that looking at greenery lowers anxiety and alleviates stress. By being surrounded by trees, humans feel more connected to all of life. Trees also provide raw material for homes and furniture and wood to burn for heat and cooking. Trees increase a home’s value and decrease heating and cooling costs.

Trees have been called the lungs of the earth. Not only are they symbiotic with humans because they give off oxygen that we breathe in, and take in carbon dioxide that we breathe out and produce/emit in various other ways, they connect to the other aspects of nature that make life on earth possible.

As I tamp down the soil around the pine’s roots in it’s new spot, I think again, what would happen if every person treated trees as if they symbolized a life?

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Building the Museum: Engaging Children with the Natural World

The museum in the author's basement, circa 1977.  Copyright, Richard Telford

The museum in the author’s basement, circa 1978. Copyright, Richard Telford

By Richard Telford

In the late 1970s, unbeknownst to our parents, my brother Will and I used a can of white, oil-based exterior house stain to paint on the short wall of our cellar what my brother, four years my senior, had calculated to be a life-sized silhouette of an Ankylosaurus, an herbivorous dinosaur dating to the Late Cretaceous period.  My mother’s first awareness of something being afoot came with her discovery of the stain-drenched brushes soaking in the bathroom sink shortly before dinner guests were to arrive.  To their credit, our parents could see the spirit of discovery in such endeavors, despite the inconveniences they might bring.  The Ankylosaurus a la Sherwin Williams was, in reality, just one of a number of acts of scientific discovery that took place in our cellar, some being more illustrious than others.

Another view of the cellar museum in the author's childhood home.  Copyright, Richard Telford

Another view of the cellar museum in the author’s childhood home, circa 1978. Copyright, Richard Telford

I wince even now, more than three decades later, when I think about the host of frogs that took the one-way trip—despite our earnest intentions and efforts otherwise—to the subterranean aquarium we set up in several old fish tanks, or the formaldehyde-saturated dogfish shark (Squalus acanthias) that circulated for years around our cellar in its thick, two-ply plastic bag, never to be dissected—my intended but later abandoned state science fair project.  In spite of such false starts and misguided efforts along the way, our cellar was a thriving classroom, both for ourselves and for other neighborhood children.  The creation of our life-sized Ankylosaurus was not an isolated endeavor; instead, it was the visual centerpiece of a much larger undertaking—the creation of our own cellar-housed science museum.

A small sampling of the collection of seashells sent to the author's family in the late 1970s.  Copyright 2014, Richard Telford

A small sampling of the collection of seashells sent to the author’s family in the late 1970s. Copyright 2014, Richard Telford

Several fortuitous events augmented our museum’s collection.  The first was a brief visit from a second cousin of my father’s who had a two-day layover in New York before leaving for a long stay in Germany.  Several months after her visit, she sent a large package from Germany to thank us for our hospitality and to encourage our interest in natural history, which had been evident to her during her stay.  The package contained a dilapidated box packed tightly with a museum-caliber collection of seashells.  For each specimen, there was a small, typed paper label containing its respective binomial nomenclature identification.  How this collection was acquired, we never knew, as we never heard from its sender again, but it took its place among our growing holdings.

The author, right, and his brother, at the Ontario Science Centre, 1977.  Copyright, Richard Telford

The author, right, and his brother, at the Ontario Science Centre, 1977. Copyright, Richard Telford

My brother and I were likewise fortunate enough growing up to have been taken to numerous science museums and centers.  During this period, most museum gift stores offered for sale Kodachrome slide sets of their collections and of related phenomena.  We had acquired quite a few of these sets over the years, and many were displayed in our museum on an inexpensive light board or projected through our Kodak Carousel projector on a contraband bed sheet stapled to a floor joist.  There was also a plaster cast of a latter Triassic Period Coelophysis footprint, made by us at Connecticut’s Dinosaur State Park.  The remaining tables featured local specimens of all things natural, mostly dead or inanimate, but some living as well.  We rounded things out with an Edmund Astroscan telescope, a four-vaned solar radiometer (which can still be bought at Edmund Scientific for $11.95), and an assortment of items from our kitchen junk drawer.  Our displays were laid out on simple plywood tables our father had made to serve as platforms for our model trains.  Signboards and related posters lined the walls. Thus, our museum at 73 High Ridge Road was born.

To the trained curator, the organization of our collections was nebulous at best.  A diorama with assorted sandbox dinosaurs—a staple of my childhood—might be flanked by a set of NASA Landsat image slides on one side and a lethargic pickerel frog (Rana palustris) housed in a mesh-covered fishtank on the other.  But that, truly, was the beauty of it. When children build the museum, no matter what the scale or whom the intended audience, they are not hemmed in by the strictures of the adult world.  Nor should they be.  For children, building the museum is an act of exploration, of engagement; it is a natural manifestation of their innate sense of wonder.  In the compulsive drive to deliver to children of all ages what we now loosely term “a 21st century education,” i.e. an unfettered immersion in the newest instructional technologies that cannot and does not consider the whole child, it is precisely these impulses in children—to explore, to engage, to wonder—that we must take great care not to dull down or blot out.  The risk of doing so is terribly real, and the evidence of this unintended result of our best educational intentions is soberingly apparent and has been aptly illustrated in insightful works such as Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, David Sobel’s Beyond Ecophobia, and Mary Rivkin’s The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children’s Right to Play Outside. These innate impulses must be fostered, honed, and celebrated.  For a child, building the museum, whatever shape it may take, can achieve these ends.

A collection of small shells bought by the author and his daughter for three dollars at a tag sale.  Copyright 2014, Richard Telford

A collection of small shells bought by the author and his daughter for three dollars at a tag sale. Copyright 2014, Richard Telford

In Gertrude Chandler Warner’s 1949 book Surprise Island, the sequel to her classic The Boxcar Children, the protagonists, the four Alden children, build a museum filled with bird nests, seashells, dried seaweeds, and paper cut-outs of the natural phenomena they observe on the island where they are spending the summer.  While reading this part of the book with my five-year-old daughter, I told her about the museum of my childhood, and she promptly asked if we, too, could build a museum.  Over several months we have collected a variety of items destined for our museum: robin egg fragments, a dragonfly wing, abandoned bird nests, assorted shells we have collected along the Connecticut and New York shorelines, and a host of other items. We too have had some fortuitous finds, such as a vintage, divided candy box filled with small seashells organized by species; this we bought at a tag sale for three dollars, and we will divide its contents into small grab bags for each of the children in my daughter’s first grade class.  This is important, as our museum represents something of an evolution.  Ours will go on the road to my daughter’s classroom, and perhaps, as my daughter gets older and my two young sons enter school, it will keep evolving and growing, as good museums do.

By the time my mother sold the house of our childhood in 2003, the last remnants of white trim stain had long ago sloughed off the damp north wall of our cellar, leaving no physical trace of our Ankylosaurus or the museum for which it had been the centerpiece.  The legacy of that museum, however, is a vibrant, living one that, through my own children, may well outlive its creators.  It is too easy these days to blindly place the proverbial eggs of our children’s future in the technology basket.  It is likewise too easy to despair over the disconnection from the natural world that so many children experience now, and to accept that disconnection as a necessary by-product of our present age.  As David Sobel has noted, we must allow children “to love the Earth before we ask them to save it.”  Building the museum is a great way to begin doing so.

Trash-Less Travel

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Typical inflight meal. Photography courtesy of wiki commons.

By Neva Knott

The first time I ever considered that packaging and single-use disposable goods were a problem was on a Spring Break road trip to the Utah desert during college, circa 1988. I was traveling with friends. We stopped at a fast food place. As we un-bagged our food, one of my companions remarked, while looking at the plastic utensils, “So much packaging.”

What? Naively, I replied with something along the lines of, “Yeah, but if people throw it away instead of on the ground…”. Until that moment, I’d never considered that trash was an issue, unless it was left as litter on the landscape. I’d also never considered the problem with disposables.

My friend’s comment that March day 26 years ago left an indelible mark, and changed my behavior. I began taking my own coffee cup and water bottle to campus with me, started washing and reusing plastic bags and brown paper lunch sacks, and avoiding straws and plastic forks, knives, and spoons. A simple change of habit, and a simple shift in thinking. How many one-use food service items have I saved from the landfill in that span of time?

As I continue to travel, I continue to have an awareness of the trash generated by travel. Airports are full of single-use, grab-and-go products. Each on-board snack, beverage, or meal comes in its own container. Most of the packaging is non-recyclable and most airlines don’t recycle anyway. As I observed while sitting at my gate in Heathrow on my recent trip to Ireland, most people walk by and toss, not even looking to put the plastics in the plastics bin, the paper in the paper bin–signaling that established airport recycling programs are ineffective.

In her article, “Leaving Trash Behind,” Christine Negroni of The New York Times cites National Resource Defense Council figures, “An estimated 7.5 million pounds of trash is generated every day. While the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, says that 75 percent of that trash is recyclable, it has found that only 20 percent reaches a recycling center.” Negroni also acknowledges that research and action on this issue are lacking, “The council’s figures are from 2006, but are the most recent. The lack of current data was one concern of the Air Transport Association and the Airports Council International.”

NRDC’s 2006 report, Trash Landings, explains, “The U.S. airline industry discards enough aluminum cans each year to build 48 Boeing 747 planes.” And “9,000 tons of plastic,” along with “enough newspapers and magazines to fill a football field to a depth of more than 230 feet.” On a personal level, passengers generate 1.28 pounds of waste per person, per departure. On my recent trip to Ireland, I visited four airports to get from Washington State to Cork; if I consumed at the average rate, I would have left behind 5.12 pounds of trash.

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Typical inflight single-use snack items. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

But I don’t consume at the average rate. I figure I have a choice as a consumer to buy or not to buy products in a terminal. So, to avoid taking part in the rampant disposability that is modern air travel, I plan ahead:

  • As much as possible, I pack fruit, nuts, and hard vegetables so that I don’t have to eat plane food or stave off hunger with expensive terminal fare. Smoked salmon and tinned meat, like Trader Joe’s smoked trout, also travel well, and don’t have to be kept cold.
  • I always travel with a water bottle. I fill it at a fountain as soon as I’m through the security line, and have found most flight attendants are pleasantly willing to pour water into it for me during the flight. Before I left for Ireland, I upgraded my re-usable bottle. I bought a Klean Kanteen insulated bottle, so now I can use it for water and tea (again, flight attendants obliged).
  • And, I keep a fork and a spoon in my handbag. This way, I can say “no thanks” to plastic utensils when I do have to purchase a meal while waiting for my connecting flight.

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Photograph courtesy of Klean Kanteen website.

On the longest stretch of my recent trip to Ireland, ten hours from San Francisco to Heathrow, I counted–I was offered eight beverage cups (and took none). Multiplied by the 500 or so passengers on an international flight? That’s over 4,000 cups. And that’s just cups–the Federal Aviation Administration, in Recycling, Reuse and Waste Reduction at Airports, published in 2013, states that in flight kitchens, “several types of waste” are generated in preparing on board meals. And, as any flyer knows, those meals come heavily packaged, thus incur more waste when consumed. Times 500 or so passengers per plane.

Green America, in the report, What Goes Up Must Come Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry, February 2010, suggests that “an additional 500 more tons of waste could be recycled each year.”

The social norms of air travel don’t seem to include a focus on sustainability. Thankfully, organizations such as the NRDC and the FAA are working to shift perspectives and habits. NRDC’s report explains that 75 percent of airport waste is recyclable or compostable. The council also calculated that, if airports recycled at the national average of 31 percent, “enough energy would be saved to power 20, 000 households,” and carbon emissions would be reduced by an amount equaling 80,000 cars. Furthermore, “four airports with recycling programs studied by NRDC are achieving savings of more than $100, 000 annually.”

In researching for this article, I did find some interesting programs in place:

  • Oakland International Airport’s website explains that OAK is one of the first airports to recycle pillows–which are normally thrown away at the end of the flight. Oakland’s pillows are recycled into insulation or are used for making furniture.
  • NPR’s Julie Rose reports (December 2012), North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport uses worms to “eat through organic waste.” The worms have helped the airport reduce its waste sent to the landfill by 70 percent. Interestingly, the program even launders clothing left behind when a traveler’s suitcase is overweight, and then donates the clothing.
  • An article in Onboard Hospitality shares the anecdote from the 1990’s of American Airlines flight attendants spearheading an onboard recycling program, selling the recyclables, and then using the $200, 000 they earned to buy a plot of land for The Nature Conservancy.
  • Green America’s report suggests travelers take recyclables off the plane themselves, and recycle them at their destination. The article also includes a recycling report card for the major airlines–and nobody earned an A+.

The push to address the issue of the trash of travel is encouraging news. But, recycling is still a form of waste management. Lowering the amount of waste is crucial, and doable. As consumers, we do have choices. The power of our choices is that we can change our habits, which in turn will change the amount of trash we pile up when we fly.