You look marvelous, darling! But now what to do with the old clothes…

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By Neva Knott

Every August, I go back to school shopping, even though I’m no longer a student. But, I’m a teacher, and having a few new clothes is just part of my routine as summer ends and I return to work. The last few years, I’ve joined a friend and her two daughters, and we make a day of it. And we’re not the only shoppers out there looking for that first-day-back perfect outfit–according to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $26 billion in July 2014 for back-to-school fashion. NRF also reports that clothing is still the largest category of customer spending for BTS, outselling electronics, even.

Part of my new clothes ritual is cleaning my closets and drawers. I am not a wasteful person, thus rarely throw away a piece of clothing unless it is truly worn out. I pass items on to friends, give to women’s shelters and homeless teen programs. But this year, I took time to research what to do with the worn out items–rather than throw them into the trash bin. What I found was encouraging:

H & M runs a recycle program in each of their stores, and not just for clothes bought there. So as I sorted all those stretched and stained t-shirts and the favorite cashmere sweater with the moth holes, I put them in a bag and dropped them in the bin next time I was at the mall. Bonus–I got a $15 coupon to use in-store.

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H & M states that “Of the thousands of tonnes of textiles that people throw away every year, as much as 95 percent could be re-worn or recycled.” The company is working hard to promote fashion waste reduction, both in manufacturing and by encouraging customers to rethink what they do with clothes they no longer wear. Their promotional video, “The Break-up,” narrated by a talking shirt, explains the program:

As much as I love autumn and returning to work, I love my flip-flops. As an avid flip-flop wearer, I was enthused to find that Old Navy works with TerraCycle to collects worn-out flip-flops and send them to recycling to be made into an array of new products. This youtube clip shows the store-to-new things process. Some flip-flops become picnic tables, some become pavers. I’ve even seen them made into door mats.

And who doesn’t buy new jeans, the American uniform, for back-to-school? H & M will take in jeans along with everything else, but I wanted to find a denim specific recycling program. JCrew is currently–until September 30, 2014–running a Denim Drive for blue jeans recycling. Any jeans, any brand. And you’ll get a $20 coupon toward a new pair of JCrew jeans for donating your old blues. While talking with a salesperson there about the promotion, I learned that the jeans will be recycled into fiber insulation.

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In addition to the innovative and useful recycling programs (I say useful become some recycled goods don’t become a truly useful something new), a I found a couple of clothing labels that are striving for waste reduction in their sourcing of materials and production processes.

prAna has a comprehensive sustainability program, often choosing organic cotton and hemp as raw materials, and works with The Textiles Exchange, “a non-profit organization operating internationally committed to the responsible expansion of sustainable textiles across the global textile value chain.” They also work with bluesign, a worldwide standard that is applied to production chains to measure the safety and sustainability of raw materials used by chemical and manufacturing companies: “For prAna, the bluesign partnership allows us to assess every aspect of our supply chain for guaranteed environmental and human safety, as well as easily identify like-minded companies for future partnerships. Globally, bluesign partners embrace a holistic approach to production that’s a step further than simply ‘eco-friendly’, and considers such additional aspects as air and water emissions, occupational health and resource productivity – that’s a step forward that we believe in, and are proud to be part of.”

And here’s a bit about organic cotton:

Patagonia launched its Common Threads Partnership program in 2005. The Partnership is more comprehensive than recycling: “Through our partnership with bluesign® Technologies we are reducing energy and water use and toxic substances in our manufacturing processes. We also use environmentally conscious fibers in many of our products, including organic cotton and recycled polyester, and try to minimize our packaging and transportation waste.” More about materials sourcing for Patagonia products can be found at The Footprint Chronicles. Patagonia also urges customers to wear the heck out of their clothes. Here’s a great little video from Patagonia about the stories well-worn clothes:

It’s encouraging to know that a such a huge industry as fashion is looking toward a sustainable future. What our clothes are made and how they are manufactured is as important as the growing of our food. Sustainability in the fashion industry promotes clean water and air and soil quality, reduces exposure to chemicals and toxins for garment workers, and reduces chemicals in the finished products.

In terms of individual contributions to making life better on our overcrowded and resource-depleted planet, the types of clothes we buy–and how many of them–are a significant factor.What we do with them after also carries weight. It is exciting to find these programs, and to know I can keep my worn-out duds out of the landfill. And, maybe my old flip-flops will welcome you home.

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Amplifying Life: Macro Photography and Our Vision of Ourselves

An Oriental Beetle (Anomala orientalis) straddles an unknown flower.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

An Oriental Beetle (Anomala orientalis). Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

By:  Richard Telford

The cover of Grassroot Jungles, Edwin Way Teale’s landmark 1937 book of insect photography and natural history.

In 1937, Edwin Way Teale stunned the reading public, both in the United States and abroad, with the publication of Grassroot Jungles, a book that featured 130 photographs macro photographs of insects in both natural and studio settings. New York Times reviewer Anita Moffett, writing in the December 19, 1937 Book Review, noted that “these pictures combine fact with imaginative power in depicting the beauty and goblinlike [sic] grotesqueness of the fascinating and almost unknown world to which the reader is introduced.”  The book aptly illustrates the power and dynamic value of macro photography—at once a tool for exploration, for documentation, for education, and for engagement.  Through macro photography, we are given a wealth of concrete, visual detail that would otherwise be imperceptible to us; at the same time, we glimpse with heightened clarity the extraordinary functional complexity of both the individual organism and the dynamic world it inhabits.  If we are lucky, we may likewise see our own place in that world.

A close-up view of the thorax of a male Blue Dasher dragonfly  (Pachydiplax longipennis).  The pronotum, the shield-like cover at top, I covered sensory bristles.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

A close-up view of the thorax of a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis). The pronotum, the shield-like cover at top, is covered with fine sensory bristles. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

Through the macro lens, we can see the delicate sensory bristles on the pronotum that shields the dragonfly’s thorax, the unfurled probiscus of the butterfly siphoning nectar from summer blossoms. With this heightened visual knowledge, we may come to see the former as a complex network of sensory appendages that can measure speed and direction of flight, temperature, the nearness of prey.  In the latter we may see a simple, flexible, coiled straw, when in fact it is a complex organ with three muscle types, nerves, sensilla, a central canal through which nectar passes, and a branched trachea.  Intuitively we know that the sophistication of such apparatus reveals the unquantifiable complexity of the creatures that utilize them, of the evolutionary process that gave them rise, and of the infinite permutations of form and function and beauty in the natural world.  It is reminiscent of Walt Whitman’s assertion in part 31 of “Song of Myself” that “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”  In the magnification of the small, we are reminded of our smallness.  Thus macro photography, in both the acts of creation and consumption, is dynamic—we can simply see and appreciate the heretofore unseen, or we can, through both intuitive and formal deduction and induction, become explorers of the interplay of process, form, function, and beauty.

A Peck's Skipper butterfly  (Polites peckius) inserts its probiscus to siphon nectar from a red clover blossom (Trifolium pratense) while an American bumble bee  (Bombus pennsylvanicus) works its way up the opposite side of the flower.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

A Peck’s Skipper butterfly (Polites peckius) inserts its probiscus to siphon nectar from a red clover blossom (Trifolium pratense) while an American bumble bee (Bombus pennsylvanicus) works its way up the opposite side of the flower. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

In a remembrance of Teale written for the Journal of the New York Entomological Society in 1981, fellow entomologist and writer Alexander Klots noted that Teale began his photographic journey “with what today seems a crude and cumbersome apparatus, a big bellows-extension camera and loose flash-powder gun.”  Thirty-three years after the publication of that remembrance, in the time of constantly-evolving digital single reflex cameras, that early equipment seems more prehistoric than crude, a footnote of history rather than a working tool. In his 1962 introduction to Russ Kinne’s The Complete Book of Nature Photography, Roger Tory Peterson aptly summarizes the speed of such changes, writing, “Twenty-five years ago I was rash enough to suggest that nature photography probably couldn’t look forward to more than a 10 or 15 per cent improvement in results.  I believed that this art, craft or sport—call it what you will—had attained near stability.  How incredibly naive!”  Peterson’s realization came amidst the development of cameras “now so sophisticated that they almost think” and “ingenious systems  of synchronization and remote control, fluid tripods, gyroscopic stabilizers and 1,000 other accessories [that] tempt the photographer to mortgage his home.”

How many times has Peterson’s realization of the passage of technological time been reiterated, either spoken or unspoken, amidst the near-complete decline of gelatin emulsion film resulting from digital media’s meteoric rise? It is quite easy to ask rhetorically where we can possibly go from here.  Will some unknown dragon smite digital photography as we know it now?  It seems inevitable, though it is hard to envision precisely how this will happen. Ultimately, does it matter?  Does the process of siezing a time-stopped vision of the natural world fundamentally change as the technology leaps forward?  I don’t think so.

A female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis).  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

A female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis). Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

This past summer, I worked diligently to photograph and identify the host of dragonfly species that frequent the landscape surrounding our 1770 Connecticut farmhouse, a process I documented in an earlier piece I wrote for The Ecotone Exchange.  Through this process, I awakened an impulse in myself that had gone briefly dormant.  Nearly twenty years ago, I purchased a well-worn, heavily-brassed Canon F-1n 35mm film camera, along with a copy of  Henry Horenstein’s excellent Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual.  With these, I taught myself to shoot, develop, and print my own photographs.  I went on to shoot in various formats, including 6×6 centimeter medium format and 4×5 inch sheet film, and worked part-time for several years as a photojournalist in the early 2000s when film was rapidly giving way to digital.

A pair of Dusky Slugs (Arion subfuscus) feeds on the remains of a mushroom at sunrise.

A pair of Dusky Slugs (Arion subfuscus) feeds on the remains of a mushroom at sunrise. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

For the last several years, I had done little photographic work, and all of my serious macro work had been done during what now feels like another lifetime, largely on high-saturation color films like Kodak’s Kodachrome and Fuji’s Velvia. In recent years, sorting through sheaves of old prints, contact sheets, and negatives, I had often wondered in earnest if the feelings of exploration and inquiry and wonder that my early days of shooting film had provided me could likewise be experienced through digital photography.  I wondered if, proverbially speaking, I could go home again.  My work with dragonflies and other subjects this past summer showed me the possibility of doing so, albeit in a different technological context.

While uploading digital images to my computer screen will never capture precisely the feeling of watching a contact sheet of images take visible form in a tray of developer, the gratification of watching one’s vision translate to a physical form is rewarding nontheless. It is likewise hard to ignore the value of photo-imaging software that can facilitate even simple corrections, such as the removal of dust spots, and artistic ones, such as the boosting of an image’s contrast, that take minutes now compared to hours in the darkroom.  Here too, though, there is a duality, as those hours in the darkroom, while often tedious, were often contemplative as well, and they could yield a remarkable intimacy with one’s images—the value of long, close examination, both of film and paper and of oneself.

A late summer White-Faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum obtrusum).  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

A late summer White-Faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum obtrusum). Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

Many times this past summer I felt child-like joy as I knelt in deep grass or muck, squinting at the viewfinder to bring a dragonfly’s compound, rainbow eye into sharp focus. I felt the momentary ease of shedding life’s heavier considerations, or at least keeping them distant, intent instead on the image taking shape in the camera’s viewfinder.  Such acts, through photography or otherwise, remind us of what matters, of what is beautiful and complex, of what should inspire awe in us, of what is both transitory and constant.  Too often we are oblivious to such things to our detriment, whether or not we can realize it.

Rachel Carson, in a letter written to Edwin Way Teale on August 16, 1955, expresses precisely this kind of wonder experienced through the photographic process. She thanks him for his “good letter of advice about cameras” and informs him that she “got an Exacta in May.”  She notes, “I am learning by degrees, and am really delighted with the camera, for now even a rank amateur like me can get really lovely results.  Such detail, brilliance, and depth of focus!  The marine subjects are toughest for a beginner, but flowers, mosses, scenes, etc. are more rewarding.  Nevertheless, that camera can look right down through 4 or 5 feet of water and see the bottom—as my eyes can’t.”  Here Carson articulates in plain terms photography’s power—and this is most true of macro photography—to help us see beauty that we otherwise could or, just as often, would not see.

An excerpt from a letter written to Edwin Way Teale by Rachel Carson.  Used by permission of the University of Connecticut Libraries System and the Estate of Edwin Way Teale.

An excerpt from a letter written to Edwin Way Teale by Rachel Carson. Used by permission of the University of Connecticut Libraries System and the Estate of Edwin Way Teale.

Three years later, on May 10th, 1958, Teale would write to Carson to recommend the purchase of a Kilfitt macro lens, the first commercially produced true macro lens available to the general public, capable of producing 1:1 reproduction without the use of extension tubes or bellows.  He explains that it “surely would be of great help getting closeups [sic] of small marine subjects, recording them at full, or a little more than full, life size.”  To place this correspondence in a historical context, less than one month earlier, on April 17th, Carson had written to Teale with what now seems an astonishing level of understatement: “As perhaps you heard, I suddenly find myself writing about insecticides.  I hadn’t meant to, but it seems to me enormously important, and I decided far too many people (including myself only a few months ago!) knew what they should about it.”  Ironically, she adds, “So now I’m into it, but hope to do it quickly and rather briefly.”

In the aforementioned introduction to Russ Kinne’s book, Roger Tory Peterson notes photography’s capacity to create “an exact record of what happened in a particular second.” This capacity has, he notes elsewhere in his essay, both an aesthetic and a documentary value.  In the act of nature photography, macro or otherwise, perhaps what we document most fully is ourselves—our vision of the world  around us and the value we place upon it.  Recording such vision is fraught with aesthetic, moral, and ethical choices.  How much do we intrude on the natural world to capture its beauty?  How do we keep this vision true to its subject?  A quick image search for macro photography in Google yields a host of super-saturated images whose color palettes almost certainly exceed reality.  Do we, as Edwin Way Teale and others have—in great part due to equipment limitations—briefly place insects in the icebox to induce torpor?  Do we bait the wilderness to bring its inhabitants to us?  While these and other choices can define our approach to photography, they also define the ethic with which we approach the natural world.  Thus, the acts of exploration and discovery of the natural world through the camera lens are, first and foremost, acts of self-exploration and self-discovery.  Regardless of the technological era, they always have been and always will be.

The Author wishes to thank the staff of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, where the papers of Edwin Way Teale, including his correspondence with Rachel Carson, are permanently housed and generously made available to the public.

Surrounded by Fire Part 2: Building Resilient Communities

By Shauna Potocky

On Monday, August 18, 2014 all the meetings, planning, and preparation paid off.

Just days before, on Friday, August 15, 2014, I posted an article entitled Surrounded by Fire, which explores fire ecology in the Sierra Nevada, fire-related issues facing California foothill communities and ways to build resilient communities in the face of ecological challenges.

This is an immediate update to that article. An update that I hope inspires you to prepare now for whatever evacuation you might need to be ready for, whether that be for a fire, earthquake, snowstorm, hurricane, or flood–you pick, based on your bioregion.

I arrived home from working in the field on Monday afternoon, August 18. It was another hot, dry summer day on the western slope of the Sierra and I was finishing emails and computer work when I began to hear sirens. The emergency response sounded significant, as if building to a crescendo, so I turned on the police scanner, a free application I had downloaded onto my smart phone. The response was for a fast moving fire that had begun in the town of Oakhurst, California, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The fire was located on the other side of town and a significant distance from where I live, yet it was close enough to pay attention to, considering the current fire conditions in California.

I do not recall how long it took before I could see smoke from my desk. What I do know is that it did not take long. The air filled with the smell of fire and I went outside to look at how close it might be. I could see a mix of black, brown and white plumes to the west. Listening to the scanner, it was evident the fire was building, air tankers were being called in and a full-scale response was in action. The fire was making a fast and furious run through town.

Smoke rising from the Junction Fire, which had become visible from the authors home office.

Smoke rising from the Junction Fire, which had become visible from the authors home office.

The incident, known as the Junction fire, was exhibiting aggressive fire behavior. The fire itself was burning extremely hot with large flame lengths rising above the burning trees and brush as well as spotting (sending embers) well in front of the fire. With the extreme drought conditions, the vegetation acted as a fully receptive fuel, which enabled the fire to move quickly uphill—essentially the fire was racing through town. It moved through neighborhoods, business areas and the edge of foothill wood and grasslands, all of which are located adjacent to Highway 41. Then, as a shock to many, the fire jumped a wide section of highway, making a run down a drainage and coming up the other side. It crossed where businesses and homes are located, and some of these were lost.

This is when the planning paid off.

Evacuation calls and email messages via the reverse 911 service were popping up on my email as well as my personal and work phones.

Having a plan made evacuating fast and efficient. The author evacuated with seven animals and critical items.

Having a plan made evacuating fast and efficient. The author evacuated with seven animals and critical items.

If your area has a reverse 911 system and you need to sign up for emergency alerts—do it TODAY. Do it now, don’t wait, just do it now. Having this system in place can make a significant difference in your being prepared for, and responding to, an emergency.

If your community does not have a reverse 911 system, call your local law enforcement, fire agency and local representatives and tell them that you want one.

Air Attack responding to the Courtney Fire.

Air Attack responding to the even more recent Courtney Fire. The DC-10 is a critical resource in responding to wildfires. Photo by Kirk Keeler.

The dark calico smoke was building, the hum and buzz of spotter planes could be heard circling and the daylight began to take on an ominous orange hue. With this began a series of calls between neighbors—our community group communication plan was now in action. Everyone was checking in with each other and making sure people had places to go, that we knew where people were going and assisting neighbors that needed help.

This is a testament to knowing your neighbors. It takes a team to handle some of the big things life throws at us and we cannot always manage alone. Get to know your neighbors now; you will know whom you can team up with. Share your contact information, build a sense of community, make a plan in case of emergencies and help each other.

You may also find that in an emergency, you suddenly have to be flexible, adaptable or a solution finder. This happened to us. The fire, which was now located south of us, was coming towards our neighborhood. The major highway was closed below our neighborhood, essentially cutting off the route to the designated emergency shelters. Thus, evacuating to the shelters was not feasible. We had to figure out another plan.

A small number of neighbors designated a meeting location north of our neighborhood and secured temporary overnight accommodations with our pets and belongings in tow. For as stressful as an event like this can be, we were calm, organized and adaptable, which made all the difference.

Resources from CalFire that were distributed at a neighborhood meeting prior to fire season, in order to help the community be prepared for a tough summer.

Resources from CalFire that were distributed at a neighborhood meeting prior to fire season. The materials were utilized, thus helping the community be prepared for a tough summer and long fire season.

During the entire incident, the neighborhood community group that I referred to in Surrounded by Fire stayed in contact. We were checking in and sharing information, discussing what people knew from their vantage point, as well as debating what information was credible and what was rumor. It is true, that when an incident is occurring and lots of information is circulating, some of it may or may not be accurate. For example, what time evacuation orders might be lifted, how the fire started or what families or business may have been directly effected. Sometimes, the information just needs time to be vetted by the proper agencies. The most important part, though, was that we were communicating and we knew we had each other to count on.

Once the evacuation orders were lifted, our group followed up on our communication plan. We shared information, made updates and added resources to our toolbox. Of course we swapped stories and added many more neighbors to the community group. We had people asking to be included and offering to be an active part of being prepared, as a neighborhood. This perhaps is the greatest sign of success for such a collective effort.

Now it is your turn.

Build Your Own Resilient Community: resources that make all the difference

  • Reverse 911: this service is critical for alerting residents that there is an emergency and how to respond to it. At our annual neighborhood meeting, a special focus was put on making sure neighbors had signed up for this service. Neighbors, who needed assistance signing up, received that support.

We all received the evacuation call on Monday, August 18.

  • Our larger community has two established Facebook pages for incidents, where literally thousands of people can stay up to date on important information. If your community faces seasonal or ongoing threats, a Facebook group page can be a powerful tool to communicate critical information to a significant number of people, quickly. Where I live, this is the go-to tool during incidents.
  • In addition, there are free police scanners both for the Internet and for smart phones. When an incident is occurring, this is an important way to monitor information AND I can guarantee, it will build your respect for the hard work Emergency Services personnel provide.
  • Be sure to become familiar with the emergency services in your area. Be aware of your law enforcement, fire, and other agencies, and check to see if they have Facebook pages or other information hubs where they post incident updates. It is great when you can get the information you need directly from the source.
  • Finally and most importantly—BE PREPARED. I cannot stress this enough—you will be better off and relieved when the pressure is on and everything you need is ready to grab and go. You need to have a plan and be ready to follow it. Be prepared and be ready to go because when it does happen, it happens really fast! It can feel chaotic and you won’t have time to dally and think about what to grab.
  • Take time to think it through and put your grab-and-go items together. Do you have children, pets or are you a caregiver? Think about what you need to get through at least 1 – 2 days away from home, along with your must have items. Prepare them.
Items prepared for a possible evacuation.

Items prepared for an evacuation.

Over the course of the week following the Junction fire, I heard heartbreaking stories from people who did not have a chance to grab what they needed or wanted. People left with only the clothes on their backs or never had the chance to grab their house paperwork or that special photo. In these cases, one is left with no choice but to wait and see—and that is the hardest part.

A portion of the Junction Fire on the west side of Highway 41 in California.

A portion of the Junction Fire on the west side of Highway 41 in California. The fire line was held utilizing Air Attack, bulldozer lines and fire crews on the ground, all of which helped reduce the number of lost structures during the incident.

We all face challenges where we live. Here in the foothill communities and throughout the Sierra Nevada, fire is a part of the ecosystem and our lives. Wildfire is a reality we constantly face.

You may live in a remarkable place with a completely different paradigm of ecological factors and challenges; perhaps it is hurricanes on the East coast or in the Gulf, perhaps it is blizzards and ice storms in the Northern latitudes or earthquakes, such as along the Pacific Rim.

Regardless of the hazard, being prepared will make facing such challenges easier. The better prepared you are, the better you will feel when you actually have to use your emergency plan or if you are evacuated and find that you have everything or nearly everything, you need.

Thank you signs can be found lining the streets throughout Oakhurst, California.

Thank you signs can be found lining the streets throughout Oakhurst, California following the Junction Fire.

 

Photo credits: All photos by Shauna Potocky except where indicated.

Shovels and Shade Provide Healing at the Footprints of Terror

Image courtesy of Silverstein Properties, Inc. all rights reserved.

9/11 Memorial Plaza shaded by swamp white oak trees. Image courtesy of Silverstein Properties, Inc. all rights reserved.

By Maymie Higgins

Recently, I visited New York and New Jersey in order to attend a family reunion. My last visit to Manhattan specifically had been in 1988, when the World Trade Center buildings still cast their tall and defiant forms across the skyline. This recent visit included plans to pay my respects at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

During my college years, I visited with my paternal uncle in New York many times, and I would accompany him on his commute from Staten Island to Manhattan’s Financial District where he had a seat at the New York Stock Exchange. Uncle Bill had parking privileges at City Pier A on the Hudson River at Battery Park. From 1960 to 1992, the pier was used by the New York City Fire Department as a fireboat station. Uncle Bill was awarded the parking privileges for his role during a city blackout in coordinating and providing alternative communication through Amateur Ham Radio. It was quite the treat to spend the day exploring the city with my aunt and then simply meet Uncle Bill back at the car at the end of the work day.

On one of my visits, Aunt Beth and I rode the high speed elevator in the World Trade Center South tower and toured the roof observation deck. For many reasons, September 11, 2001 was not just an attack on “those tall buildings in New York and the Pentagon.” It was personal. Even though Uncle Bill had retired by that time, he still lived in the region and it was possible for him to have been in Manhattan. Much of my family still resides in the region and I am grateful none of them perished on 9/11. However, many of them lost friends and still feel an acute sense of trauma and grief.

World Trade Center photo taken by author in 1986 with Kodak Disc Camera.

World Trade Center photo taken by author in 1986 with Kodak Disc Camera.

On this recent trip, I was eager to see if I still had my skills to navigate the big city. I drove my husband and myself from New Jersey to the Staten Island Ferry, successfully parked and hitched the free ferry ride across New York Harbor. We disembarked and made a beeline up Greenwich Street. No sauntering like a tourist for this gal, at least not until a surprising sight caught the corner of my eye. To my left was a huge garden in a place I had remembered as being mostly paved pathways and park benches. Now it was an eruption of green foliage full of activity as people hoed, raked, dug and harvested vegetables….in Lower Manhattan! Though my schedule did not allow me to linger very long, I made a mental note to research Battery Urban Farm, which had sprouted in the footprints of tragedy. Here is a video explaining the story:

We made our way to the 9/11 Memorial plaza, where massive pools with fountains flow in the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Each fountain is surrounded by parapets that have inscribed in bronze the nearly 3,000 names of the men, women, and children killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The contrast in stimulation of the senses within the plaza and that in the periphery of the plaza was palpable. In the periphery there were the sounds of jackhammers, cranes, sirens, car horns, and vehicle back up beepers. All this was suppressed and muted within the plaza, done so by the sound of massive waterfalls and rustling of leaves in the more than 250 swamp white oak trees. In fact, I felt cradled and shielded by their canopy. For more about the story of the trees chosen for the Memorial plaza, watch this video:

The Memorial plaza is one of the most sustainable, green plazas ever constructed, with irrigation, storm water and pest management systems that conserve energy, water and other resources. Rainwater is collected in storage tanks, meeting a majority of the daily and monthly irrigation requirements.

E.O. Wilson coined the term biophilia, which literally means “love of life.” Humans often seek to nurture life in various ways in an effort to soothe their grief, but it was surprising to see so much plant life in a concrete jungle. However, surprise was not my most overwhelming reaction. What concerned me that my heart might burst from my chest was an enormous sense of pride in the human race. Most humans innately know that, although individual lives may end, life itself goes on. Those who are still alive will see to it. No terrorist will ever destroy that rule of the universe.

Restoring the Herring River

The Herring River Estuary. Photo by Christine Harris.

The Herring River Estuary. Photo by Christine Harris.

By Christine Harris

In 1908 the Herring River Estuary in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, a system supporting 1100 acres of salt marsh, was diked off, restricting normal tidal flow and eliminating all but 10 acres of the marsh. The reasoning behind the construction of the dike seems ludicrous in light of modern ecological understanding. Today an effort is being made to restore salt marshes throughout the country, including those of the Herring River Estuary.

At the turn of the twentieth century the quaint coastal town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts was becoming a popular resort area to which many wealthy city-dwellers flocked. One popular hotel, the Chequesset Inn, located near the mouth of the Herring River, attracted an elite clientele. Guests at the Chequesset, and other area establishments, enjoyed spending time relaxing by Wellfleet Harbor, but complained about the mosquitoes. At the time it was believed that the source of the mosquitoes was the Herring River, and it was thought that if the salt marshes of the estuary were eliminated, the mosquito population in the area would decrease significantly. Thus the Chequesset Neck Dike was constructed by the state in 1908, reducing the mouth of the river from a width of several hundred feet to six feet, and effectively cutting off tidal flow beyond the dike.

Cutting off tidal flow to the Herring River significantly affected the health of the ecosystem it supported. In place of native salt marsh plants the Herring River now hosts a number of invasive plant species, including a large amount of the invasive reed phragmites. Furthermore, without the flushing of the tides and the presence of saltwater minnows such as the mummichog, a type of killifish that feed on mosquito larva, the Herring River likely provides breeding grounds for more mosquitoes now than it did before it was diked off.

Once considered to provide little more than foul smells and insects, salt marshes are now recognized as biologically significant ecosystems on which many species, including humans, depend. Peat, the spongy layer of decomposing plant material which is the base of a salt marsh, has been recognized to provide a buffer from storm damage. When storm surges threaten coastlines, peat absorbs flood waters and reduces the height of these surges, protecting coastal communities from the impacts of severe flooding.

Salt marsh peat. Photo by Christine Harris.

Salt marsh peat. Photo by Christine Harris.

Another beneficial feature of salt marshes is their role as the nurseries of the ocean. Over two thirds of all commercially harvested seafood species, including shellfish, finfish, crabs, and lobsters, depend on the salt marsh for part of their life cycles. Salt marshes provide cover and camouflage for many of these harvestable species when they are young and most susceptible to predation, and provide a safe place for breeding and foraging. Salt marshes also have recreational value as popular places to fish, kayak, and contemplate the natural world.

With knowledge of the benefits which marshes provide, local communities, the state, the county and the Cape Cod National Seashore have taken on the task of restoring several previously degraded salt marsh systems on Cape Cod, including that of the Herring River. Most of these restoration projects focus on the use of gradual tidal restoration to reintroduce saltwater, along with the species of plants and animals it supports, over the course of many years.  The Herring River restoration project centers around the reconstruction of the Chequesset Neck Dike. The proposed structure would provide access to the public for fishing and boating and have a series of sluice gates that could allow for incremental tidal restoration across a width of 100 feet. Construction of the new dike is set to begin in 2016.

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.