People, Wildlife and the Environment by Norman P. Knott, 1969

By Neva Knott

Today, March 11, 2015, would have been my dad’s 98th birthday. My dad, Norm Knott, worked at the Washington State Game Department (now Washington State Fish and Wildlife) for 30 years, starting there right out of college with a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. After retiring from the Game Department, he worked for the United Trust Territories in Micronesia and then for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). I have the privilege of owning his desk. There is one drawer of it I cannot bring myself to empty, the drawer that holds files of his that contain artifacts such as the essay below. In it, he expresses the need for human understanding of ecological principles in making the human world. Here are his words, written on August 4, 1969, in honor of his life and in thanks for his teaching me to love the natural world:

In a human society the values are those assigned by the people in relationship to and arising from their needs and desires. Certain of these needs as food, water and shelter, are obvious. Certain of these needs and desires are in-obvious but fully as compelling as those which form a wintering flock of wildfowl into a flighted V, following a chartless path to their summer breeding ground.

The pursuit of the obvious, and the lack of protective recognition of the in-obvious environmental requirements of man has repeatedly placed societies in the position of becoming self-destructive. The prophet Isaiah, in the 19th verse of the 49th chapter of his book, sets forth: “For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants.” If we are to assure that our land not become too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, we must openly and publicly recognize and admit that we, as people, are the end-product of the multi-million-year evolutionary process which caused people to leave their home territories and invade the unfriendly wilderness. To our ancestors and to us, philosophically, nature was and is yet a multi-formed enemy to be conquered and harnessed as a benevolent servant.

We must recognize that in our zeal to master the wilderness, we have developed seemingly endless techniques and mechanical abilities which we have used and still employ with absolutely no thought to, or understanding of, the ecological consequences. We continue seemingly without caring what havoc we wreak.

We must openly admit and bring about open recognition of the fact that the individuals of this society, and hence society as a whole, need and in fact must have, not alone a gross national product, but also an opportunity to hear the spring song of a bird un-caged; water of supply and suitability for toe dabbling or fishing; a deer for seeing or tracking; a beach for the surf to wash; a tall tree for the breeze to whisper in; clean snow for children to put a to tongue.

The sound of the beach wave muted by the burden of used toilet paper and discarded picnic plates may well be the voice of affluence, but even though a muted voice, it calls loudly for us to seek in common endeavor, assurances that this will not become a land of our waste and of desolate places, nor our land of destruction.

When we can stand on the westernmost beaches of this nation, we must know that we cannot follow the creed of Horace Greeley, but rather we must learn to live in balanced harmony and respect with our environment.

Private resource developments are usually of a single-purpose nature and always have a single-purpose goal of financial gain. Government, to properly serve the public it represents, must face the responsibility of formulating and enforcing bold programs of resource management for the retention and enhancement of the human environment. The role of government in resource and environmental management must not be a role of duty.

By omission, present laws and programs of resource management do not reflect recognition of this seeming role. In many respects they serve as a fetter to management rather than permitting administrators to apply their knowledge and experience. In general, resource and environmental legislation is designed to effect the management of single resources for special interest groups. Departmental programs and administrative policies under such legislation are biased for the unilateral approach. There is, usually, only external and defensive interest, purpose and involvement in planning and effecting integrated programs.

When the laws that exist and which have as their purpose the service and protection of the people, are such as to preclude or in some cases make unlawful effective progress toward a common solution of the problems concerning the people, it must be past time to review the concepts which projected society and its laws to this present status. It must be time to review past results and to determine what future values we shall seek.

To approach the goal of better human environment requires both knowledge and understanding. Regrettably, there is probably less knowledge concerning the ecology of man and his environmental requirements than there is concerning cottontail rabbits or pine trees.

Environment has become a popular catch phrase emblazoned on many banners, however, it would appear that there is little understanding of ecological concepts or the reasons for the environmental deterioration of our cities, suburbs, and scenic countrysides.

Fish and wildlife are sensitively adapted products of their environments. If their environments are protected in a manner suitable for their livelihoods, many of the environmental needs of man will simultaneously be met.

Because of the comparative lack of social and artificial interferences, the best way to achieve a basic ecological concept is through the understanding of the relations between wild animals, plants and their environments. Once this understanding is achieved, the relationship of man with his environment is more readily understandable.

It may well be that if the knowledge and skills of the ecologically trained and experienced fish and wildlife personnel of this nation are fully utilized and their recommendations more clearly followed, the benefits to the human environment could become primary. A deliberately accelerated national program of environmental education and wildlife management could possibly gain sufficient time to permit a more detailed analysis and understanding of human habitat requirements.

Nature, Wondrous and Fragile: The Correspondence Of Rachel Carson and Edwin Way Teale Preserved in the Edwin Way Teale Papers

Please follow the link below to a piece written by EE blogger Richard Telford for University of Connecticut:

Nature, Wondrous and Fragile: The Correspondence Of Rachel Carson and Edwin Way Teale Preserved in the Edwin Way Teale Papers.

Lessons from My Father

The author's father, at left, at the dock of his Aunt Sephie's fishing camp in upper Ontario, Canada, circa 1932. At center is his cousin Dorothea, whom the author visited with his family in 1977.

The author’s father, at left, at the dock of his Aunt Sephie’s fishing camp in upper Ontario, Canada, circa 1932. At center is his cousin Dorothea, whom the author visited with his family in 1977.

By: Richard Telford

Recently, the twelfth anniversary of my father’s death, February 9th, passed quietly—for me a day of wide-ranging reflection.  My deep grounding in the natural world—and my drive to explore and celebrate and advocate for it through writing and photography—is itself deeply grounded in the complex fabric of my father’s example, in his innumerable lessons, and in the manifold opportunities he provided for its exploration in my growing-up years.   Such relationships, I believe, can and must guide us as we contemplate the long-term conservation, preservation, and restoration of the natural world.

The author's father, foreground center, at his Aunt Sephie's fishing camp, circa 1932.

The author’s father, foreground center, at his Aunt Sephie’s fishing camp, circa 1932.

Born in 1926 to Canadian parents who would later emigrate from Paris, Ontario to Gary, Indiana, my father, William Richard Telford, was a child of the Great Depression in an industrial city where steel production was king.  His father, an insurance salesman, struggled to make ends meet, sometimes paying his clients’ premiums in lean times to keep business, leading to several moves when rent could not be paid. Having come from a rural community along the Grand River, north of Lake Eerie, my father’s parents were troubled by the prospect of their only child spending his summers in the streets of a gritty steel town where, in their view, potential trouble lurked everywhere.  So, at the outset of each summer, his parents drove him to the lakes region several hours north of Toronto to a remote fishing camp owned by his “Aunt” Sephie Hamilton, who was in fact the grandmother of one of his cousins by marriage, Dorothea. Summers at Aunt Sephie’s camp were marked by fishing, boating, swimming, and the exploration of largely untouched wilderness.  In the fall, his parents would return to bring him back to Gary for the start of school.  As he got older, he collected and sold fishing bait to American tourists and later guided visitors on foot or by canoe on hunting and fishing trips.  These experiences, and many others, profoundly shaped his life, and mine as well.

In 1977, three months shy of my eighth birthday, we embarked on a summer trip to revisit many of the places and people of my father’s early years in upper Ontario, our hulking brown Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon loaded with camping and fishing gear.  This trip took us through Toronto, where we visited the Toronto Science Centre, which I have written about here, and northward to the homes of many of my father’s cousins by blood or marriage, most of whom were still living or summering on largely unspoiled lakes where we fished for largemouth bass and muskellunge. Several events of this 1500-mile roundtrip journey stand out in memory, the first being a visit to the lakeside home of my Aunt Dorothea, with whom my father had spent many summers at Aunt Sephie’s camp.

At least in memory, the lake on which Dorothea and her husband Russ lived was boundless.  It was also almost entirely absent of development.  One night, in a motor boat piloted by Dorothea and Russ’s son John, a thick-bearded man in his late twenties, we traversed the moonlit lake well into the night.  We began by dropping deep lines rigged with lead sinkers and baited with earthworms, angling for large catfish scavenging the lake bottom.  Each time we cut the motor, the absence of human noise was striking.  Only the night chorus of insects, the gentle lapping of water on the aluminum hull, and the occasional tail-slap or whumping surface-suck of a feeding largemouth bass broke the night’s silence.  The latter sounds, in conjunction with our failure to draw any catfish to our lines, prompted us to fish the surface instead, my father tying extra-large black Fred Arbogast Jitterbugs onto our rigs.  Twice my father’s casts prompted raucous strikes.  Setting the hook after the first strike, he handed his rod to my brother, who promptly brought a hefty bass to the boat’s edge, where my Uncle John netted it.  Setting the hook after the second strike, my father handed his rod to me.  I cranked the handle in the wrong direction, slackening the line and giving the bass ample line to throw the lure’s hooks, which it promptly did.  Our subsequent casts proved strike-less, and we began the long trip home from the lake’s far end.

En route, unbeknownst to my father, I released the lure and several hundred yards of line from his rig, which I was holding.  In my seven-year old mind, this was trolling, and I envisioned some goliath bass leaping out of the water to swallow the Arbogast Jitterbug which, in reality, was skittering wildly along the surface, keeping pace with the boat and imitating no imaginable prey.  Nearing the house, we stopped once more to throw a few casts, at which time my father realized that I had left the full spool of line across the lake’s surface. To speed its retrieval, he asked my Uncle John to turn the boat, and we slowly followed the now-slack line back as my father pumped the reel’s handle.  While a less environmentally conscious angler might have simply cut the line, such actions were anathema to my father, who practiced a Leave No Trace ethic long before its popularization.  Notable, too, was his endless patience for such events and, perhaps more importantly, his capacity to see the value of the idea underlying my action, despite its less-than-stellar execution.

The second event of those days that stands out in memory is an ill-fated expedition, led by my Uncle John, to visit an abandoned logging camp where an intact Ford Model T truck had likewise been abandoned.  Following an overgrown logging road, the hike in started with a sense of promise that quickly shifted to despair.  As we got deeper in-country, we found ourselves relentlessly pursued at first by small clouds of biting female blackflies looking for a blood meal to nourish their latent eggs and later by an outright swarm that swelled exponentially both in painful bites and audible volume.  After countless reassurances of our being “almost there,” my Uncle John, who legally fished and hunted year-round in all conditions under a poverty allowance, acquiesced to the sheer misery of our situation, at which point he pulled off his perspiration-soaked white tee-shirt, pulled it over my head and upper body as a shield against the thickening swarm, and threw me over his shoulder as we high-tailed it back to his waiting Datsun 620 pickup truck, the logging camp and its Model T relinquished to the recesses of imagination.

The author's father, at left, after his return from World War II service in the Philippines.  With him is his first cousin, George Telford Qua, who worked for a period as a bush pilot delivering mail to the lakes region of upper Ontario, Canada.

The author’s father, at left, after his return from World War II service in the Philippines. With him is his first cousin, George Telford Qua.

A final event worthy of mention was our visit to the lake cottage of my father’s first cousin George Telford Qua, with whom my father shared a deep, abiding friendship.  Each in the naming of one of his sons had honored the other:  George William Qua and William George Telford, my older brother.  Uncle George was a man who fired our imaginations as young boys.  He had for some years been a bush pilot in northern Ontario, delivering mail with a Piper Cub outfitted with pontoons for lake landings.  He had once crashed his plane deep in the wilderness, eventually managing to drag himself to a remote town from which he was able to make his way home.  At Uncle George’s camp, I spent much of the day fishing for muskellunge with his son Jamie.  I also recall several of us shaking bottle upon bottle of Coca Cola, popping the tops with a can opener, and spraying the contents to the kitchen ceiling, as well as using a hammer to detonate fifty-count toy gun cap rolls on stones in the backyard.  These latter pursuits were, of course, met with stern adult disapproval but nonetheless provided quite the satisfying day.

While my father’s early childhood years were lean ones—one meat meal per week, an adult border sleeping on a second bed jammed into his bedroom to supplement the family’s meager income, abrupt departures from one rented space to another in the worst times—my father often spoke of them as carefree days.  This was likely due in part to his having no memory of a time before the Great Depression and in part to the unfettered summers of Ontario fishing camp life where wilderness could be explored at no cost but yield great return.  It is reminiscent of Edwin Way Teale’s chronicle of his childhood summers in his 1943 book Dune Boy, or of Farley Mowat’s exploits in his 1957 book The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be.  This is the kind of exploration that is so largely absent in the lives of children today, though it should not be and, despite contrary present-time thinking, does not have to be.  In a time when we largely program our children’s lives morning to night, the need to provide them chances for unfettered exploration has never been so urgent.  For my father, those carefree days ended with a stint working in the Gary Steel Mills and with the receipt of his draft notice by telegram on Thanksgiving Day, three weeks before his eighteenth birthday.

Image of a hillside waterfall taken by the author's father during WWII military service in the Philippines, 1944.

Image of a hillside waterfall taken by the author’s father during WWII military service in the Philippines, 1944.

After basic training, my father shipped off to the Philippines to take part in “island clearing” as part of General Douglas MacArthur’s promised return to reclaim the Philippines from its Japanese occupiers.  Somehow, my father managed to carry a folding camera with him during his Philippine tour of duty, and he produced about 100 images.  Even in these photographs, of which I am now the caretaker, his deep appreciation for the natural world is evident.  Along with images of service buddies, destroyed aircraft and ships, and even a P.O.W. camp for captured Japanese soldiers, there are pictures of terraced fields, a cascading waterfall, dried up stream beds, and sweeping mountain views.  Unfortunately, his camera suffered from terrible light leaks in bright sunlight, and while lines of overexposure mar many of the images, his appreciation of nature’s beauty is clear.  My father was deeply affected by the war, and he rarely spoke about it in any detail, but he did confide to me on several occasions that, returning home, it was wilderness to which he turned to help “find himself” again when he found the company of others—particularly those who had not served in war and could not understand what he had experienced—often intolerable.  While the acute trauma of war may heighten the need for solace that can be found only when we shed the demand, confusion, and artificial urgency of human society, the need itself is universal. At present, we largely ignore that need, and we pay a steep price for doing so.

The author's father, third from left, during his duty tour in the Philippines, 1944-1945.

The author’s father, third from left, during his duty tour in the Philippines, 1944-1945.

For my father, no act offered greater consolation in his post-war years than solitary fishing, and, as I was growing up, the countless hours we spent fishing together profoundly shaped our relationship.  On many mornings my father and I rose before dawn, wiped the dew from the seats of our small Grumman V-hull boat, and cut the glassy surface of mist-laden water to hunt up some cove or treefall or lily pad forest.  The image of my father, pipe ajar in his mouth, its smoke trailing off to nothingness, his hand reaching back to the guide-handle of the 4-horse power motor, endures in my mind to this day.  In one of my earliest fragmentary memories of fishing with him, I can recall my father giving wide berth to a fly fisherman wading near the shore.  We were traveling by canoe, and the sun had just risen above the lush summer tree-line, bathing the water in golden light.  Most distinct in my memory, though, are the long, sweeping arcs of fluorescent fly line that rolled back and forth as the man false-casted until, the precise distance attained, he let the line drop silently and imperceptibly to the water’s calm surface.  Years later, my parents took me to the L.L. Bean fly fishing school in Freeport, Maine, where I was fortunate to be taught by Dave Whitlock, a legendary angler and, more importantly, a gentle and generous soul.

If we aim to foster conservation-mindedness in our children and in future generations, we must provide them mentors, dead and living.  While some parents are both inclined and able to fulfill this role, many are not.   On several occasions, my father told me about a Gary, Indiana public school teacher who was an avid amateur mycologist.  On the weekends, this man took day-long trips to the Indiana countryside to hunt for edible mushrooms.  Recognizing my father’s interest in the natural world, the teacher invited my father to join him on several of these trips, and my father did so.  My father spoke of these expeditions in glowing terms, and it is precisely this kind of mentorship that is so critical to advance the goals of the conservation movement, but is it possible now?  We are raising our children in a climate governed largely by fear, some of which is reasonable and some of which is not.  In an age where social media in all its forms bombards us with the lurid details of abuse cases and more broadly paints the world as a terribly threatening place, we are compelled to adopt a bunker mentality.  Such a mentality directly threatens the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of our children and of ourselves.  It likewise threatens our capacity to conserve, preserve, and restore the natural world, as it largely precludes the formation by our children of meaningful bonds to that world.  We must seek a more balanced approach, one which recognizes the critical role of mentorship in all its forms, and the equally critical role of unfettered exploration.  We must do this, both for the wellbeing of our children and for the wellbeing of our planet, the two of which are inextricably linked.

Finding Refuge

Sandhill Cranes over water KKeeler

Sandhill Cranes and other species find refuge at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

by Shauna Potocky

The morning is damp and cool—not cold, just wet and cool. A thick blanket of Central Valley tule fog keeps the Merced Wildlife Refuge in a dream like state of obscurity. In the gray mist the voices of thousands of birds rise in the morning air. Only a few Whitefaced Ibis, Pintail ducks, Cinnamon Teals, and Northern Shovelers are seen on the edge of the wetland as the fog begins to lift and the sun rises.

Pintail Ducks and more stand at the water line as the fog breaks.

Pintail Ducks and company preen in the emerging sunlight as the fog breaks. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Today, what the fog is hiding is substantial. As California emerges from January with hardly any precipitation, it is clear that the historic drought that California is experiencing is set to continue into a fourth year. With it will come significant challenges—exacerbating last year’s remarkable issues. From critical and hard decisions regarding water allocations to agriculture, wildlife refuges, and rivers with native fish runs. To addressing tree mortality estimated at 40 percent in some areas of the state as well as having faced a prolonged fire season, with no shortage of extraordinary and fast moving wildfires.

Taking action, California is now employing significant steps to address the ongoing drought and provide for both human use and environmental needs. In November, California voters approved Proposition 1, which allocates $7.5 billion via a bond measure for water programs, projects and restoration. The proposition addresses seven key areas: Regional Water Reliability; Water Storage Capacity; Water Recycling; Groundwater Sustainability; Safe Drinking Water; Flood Management; Watershed Protection and Ecosystem Restoration.

Specifically, the proposition focuses on expanding and diversifying water resources and management options. It is clear that one method of water management cannot address the needs of the entire state. Thus, the goal is to diversify water collection and storage, protect and correct current water quality issues—primarily in disadvantaged communities where water pollution is a major issue. In addition, efforts will be made restore ecosystems and river functions and address both short and long-term water needs.

The importance of water has grabbed the attention of representatives, business owners, farmers, public land managers, and citizens. Collectively, the people of California are taking a forward-thinking, diverse approach to address another record-breaking dry year. Of course there may not be consensus on all the initiatives, yet it seems clear a diverse approach will offer more potential solutions than a narrow focus.

Faced with today’s water realities in California, a proactive forward-thinking approach is needed to address these challenges.

Habitat that received water despite overall reduced wildlife refuge water allocations.

Habitat that received water despite reduced water allocations. Photo credit Shauna Potocky

One example of proactive management includes the actions and planning of California’s Wildlife Refuge managers in addressing the dry conditions of this winter’s migratory season. Many planned for a large influx of migratory birds in December and January based on reports of a productive breeding season in the northern habitats of Alaska and Canada. With refuges situated along the Pacific Flyway, it was critical that managers provided habitat for migratory species, despite the drought conditions, which serve as resting and feeding grounds as the birds move through California.

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Faced with reduced water resources, wildlife refuges have concentrated water in critical habitat.  Many California refuges received only a portion of their normal water allotments, making strategic management of the wetlands essential. In addition, visitor use activities have been limited including hunting and tours at various locations. Although difficult for bird enthusiasts, it is a good reminder that the refuges are for the birds. They represent only 5 percent of the remaining historical habitat in California’s Central Valley.

A Whitefaced Ibis forging on a mild winter day.

A Whitefaced Ibis forges on a mild winter day in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

As the fog lifts on this winter day, the Sandhill Cranes begin to dance for their partners. The Ross’ Snow Geese rise in great loud clouds of movement and the reeds that frame the wetlands shimmer with the flutter of Redwing Black Birds—their songs as sharp as their brilliant red and yellow shoulders. With the receding fog, we are reminded that as resources like water become scarce, we are all pressed to be wiser and more forward thinking in our planning, use and conservation.

The fourth year of California’s drought is the perfect time to examine how water is allotted, conserved, and protected. Although facing significant challenges, California is also perfectly poised to embrace responsible, innovative, and robust water planning and management. Its success is critical. Frankly put, citizens, wildlife and ecosystems are depending on it, as California seeks its own refuge during a paradigm-shifting drought.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the wildlife refuge comes to life as the morning breaks.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the refuge comes to life just after daybreak. Photo credit Shauna Potocky

Chipmunks and Carbon Storage

By Maymie Higgins

Sometimes the best positive stories of the environment come from our own backyard. When you sum up the effects of millions of backyard naturalists, the positive impact is significant for the planet. The personal story I am sharing here will hopefully inspire, enlighten and encourage the development of even more backyard biophiliacs.

Last March, several trees were downed in my front yard by a heavy ice storm. Many other trees had significant loss of limbs. The clean up required a professional. Fortunately I am childhood friends with someone who married a certified arborist. He gave me a few options, when possible. One of the options was to either dig up and grind stumps for some pine trees that did not fully erupt from the Earth or to just saw them at the bottom and let them sink back into the Earth as much as possible. Two factors influenced my choice: the price to my wallet to dig and grind the stumps versus the price to the environment to dig and grind the stumps. The price for both was pretty steep.

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Conventional wisdom always chooses to make our lawns “pretty,” often with little regard to the effects of fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and selection of native plant species instead of ornamental non-native plants. Non-native plants often compete with native plants and rob wildlife of hosting sights and food resources which can only be provided by native plants. Also, one man’s yard trash can be a critter’s mansion. With that in mind, I opted to keep the stumps. I can see the grove of pine trees from my home office window and enjoy watching a great variety of wildlife supporting their lives there on a daily basis. Last week, I had the joy of watching a chipmunk sunning himself on one of the stumps. Chipmunks hibernate and the cutie had emerged from the den beneath the stump on an unseasonably warm day. Smart rodent.

Wildlife habitat was not my only motivation for keeping the stumps. If you recall the biology of photosynthesis, you know that plants absorb energy from the sun and carbon dioxide from the air around them to fuel themselves. Plants store the carbon that is obtained from the break down of the carbon dioxide molecule and, in most cases, release the oxygen back into the air. Those of you with lungs probably already understand how vitally important oxygen is to all non-plant life.

Graphic from the creative commons.

Graphic from the creative commons.

When vegetation, large or small, dead or alive is made into smaller pieces through chopping, grinding, sawing, mulching or most any other type of processing, it immediately releases a large amount of carbon. Of course, vegetation naturally rots and releases carbon but much more slowly. If you consider that deforestation is occurring on a global scale, thereby decreasing the amount of trees producing oxygen, and couple that with net carbon release because of these activities, it is clearly not a sustainable practice that will support a well-oxygenated planet. When you understand this, you never look at a stump, downed tree, logging operation or old wooden furniture in the same way. In my mind, all these kinds of items have a large invisible label that reads CARBON STORAGE (open with care).

Eastern bluebird fledgling just moments after leaving the nest, perched on stump about 30 feet from bluebird nesting box.

Eastern bluebird fledgling just moments after leaving the nest, perched on stump about 30 feet from bluebird nesting box.

How can you help? Keep that old adage “think globally, act locally” in mind when you engage in lawn and gardening activities. Piles of limbs, old logs, even leaf litter can be used by many animals for many purposes. For more tips on how to make your lawn and garden friendly to wildlife, check out tips at the National Wildife Federation’s website.

Orangutans and the Great Ape Conservation Fund

By Maymie Higgins

Earlier this month, I wrote about Sandra, an orangutan at the Buenos Aires Zoo and a landmark ruling on animal rights. I am following up with more information about the natural history of orangutans and additional positive stories of the environment from which they directly benefit.

Orangutans can live 60 years or more. Their diet includes eggs, insects, leaves, wood, bark, stems, seeds, grains, nuts, fruit and flowers. All wild orangutans live in tropical rainforests, spending almost all of their time in the trees, where they build nests in which to sleep. Bornean orangutans live on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. Sumatran orangutans live on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, restricted entirely to its northern tip due to deforestation.

Orangutan range map courtesy of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Orangutan range map courtesy of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

The Sumatran orangutan is almost exclusively arboreal. Females virtually never travel on the ground and adult males do so only rarely. By contrast, Bornean orangutans (especially adult males) will often descend to the ground. Both species depend on high-quality primary forests but Bornean orangutans appear better able to tolerate habitat disturbance.

Orangutans are seriously threatened by logging (both legal and illegal), wholesale conversion of forest to agricultural land and oil palm plantations, and habitat fragmentation created by the formation of logging roads. Orangutans are also illegally hunted and captured for the international pet trade but, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, this appears to be more a symptom of habitat conversion, as orangutans are killed as pests when they raid fruit crops at the forest edge.

Be of good heart. Orangutans have many champions. Here is one example.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Great Ape Conservation Act and since then Wildlife Without Borders, through the Great Ape Conservation Fund has helped in protecting the orangutan population on the island of Sumatra. This is done by increasing law enforcement to combat poaching and mitigating human-orangutan conflict.  Wildlife Without Borders is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of International Conservation that works with partners worldwide to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats, and maintain the integrity of ecological processes beyond our borders, for present and future generations.

In 2011, with a Congressional appropriation of $2.2 million and additional funding through the USAID/CARPE program, the Great Ape Conservation Fund awarded 51 grants totaling $3,869,265, which was matched by an additional $4,538,640 from partner organizations. The funds are used to support conservation efforts for several ape species throughout Africa and Asia and also to provide support to families of park rangers who gave their lives protecting apes. Funding also supports prevention and prosecution of poaching and other wildlife crimes.

In 2013, the USFWS awarded 30 new projects and two amendments to existing projects from the Great Ape Conservation Fund totaling totaled $2,081,120, which was matched by $3,161,108 in additional leveraged funds. Field projects in 17 range countries in Africa and Asia were awarded grants. Following is a description of some of the grants used specifically towards conservation of orangutans and orangutan habitat.

  • Reintroduction and monitoring orangutans in Kehje Sewen Forest, East Kalimantan.
  • Long-term home range patterns and the effect of habitat disturbance on Sumatran orangutans.
  • Reintroduction project for rehabilitant orangutans in West Kalimantan.
  • Protection of endangered ape populations in Sabangau, Central Kalimantan: An integrated conservation-research program in collaboration with local communities.
  • Bornean orangutan and forest habitat conservation through customary forests.
  • Increased environmental awareness and human-orangutan conflict mitigation.
  • Conservation of orangutans and critical habitats in Sabah.
  • Conservation of orangutans in the Ulu Sungai Menyang landscape (outside existing protected areas) in Sarawak.

Many other organizations are helping to protect habitat, which is the single most effective way to prevent extinction of orangutans, as this National Geographic video explains:

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/embedded/orangutan_kalimantan/src/

How can you be a champion for orangutans too?

It’s easy! Avoid use of products with palm oil or use only products with palm oil that was obtained from RSPO certified sustainable sources. You can find out how simple it is to do this by reading my other piece about orangutans, How Saving Orangutans Can Lower Your Cholesterol.

Taking The Long View

El Capitan,  Yosemite National Park, California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

By Shauna Potocky

This week Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall, considered one of the hardest climbs in the world. In fact, due to the sheer face of the wall and its technical aspects, it was considered impossible to free climb—until this week.  Suspended on the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the climb took them 19 days to complete. Yet, what most people may not realize, is that their effort did not start on day one of their 19-day journey.

The journey to the Dawn Wall began more than six years ago—built on vision, planning, and preparation.

In short, the attempt at freeing the Dawn Wall, required taking the long view.

As we begin 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s feat is an excellent reminder for all of us to consider taking the long view. It is the perfect time to reflect on the benchmarks, milestones, and successes of previous work and to be inspired by the work ahead. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge that there will always be work ahead. By taking the long view, we begin to see that success between quick wins and real vision, means being patient, planning and often times includes building a network of support.

Detail of climbers base camp on the wall of El Capitan. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Detail of climbers base camp on the wall of El Capitan. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Consider the remarkable story of the recovery of the Peregrine falcon in the United States. In hindsight, it becomes clear that although the obstacles may have seemed overwhelming at the time, they provided the best opportunity for innovation and creating a completely novel conservation and management strategy.

In 1970, only two nesting pairs of Peregrine falcons existed in the California and the species had already gone extinct on the east coast of the United States. After extensive efforts—some of which people doubted—the Peregrine falcon emerged to re-inhabit its wild spaces as well as take up residence in our urban landscapes.

Ultimately, the Peregrine falcon recovery proved to be a remarkable success with the species being delisted from the Endangered Species List and becoming an inspiration for other recovery efforts.

And, just like the Dawn Wall ascent and its pre-planning and vision, the recovery of the Peregrine falcon and its success was built on significant touchstones, many of which preceded the recovery effort.

Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, bringing to light the challenges to the environment in the face of industry and human impacts. Carson revealed the realities of bioaccumulation and the resulting issues facing wildlife. Within a few years, the Environmental Protection Agency would ban the use of DDT (dichlorodipheyltrichloroethane), which was having a significant impact on Peregrine falcons and other bird species. Soon after, President Nixon would sign into law the Endangered Species Act, and two bird conservation groups would take on the challenge of trying to bring the Peregrine falcon back from the brink of extinction in the United States. All these efforts contributed to groundbreaking change—and collectively, the recovery of the Peregrine falcon is just one example of their success.

Ano Nuevo State Park, located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is well-known for its seasonal Northern Elephant Seal population.

Ano Nuevo State Park, located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is well-known for its seasonal Northern Elephant Seal population. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Then there are the efforts to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which began in 1967 and would not come to fruition until the Sanctuary was established in 1992. Success was realized due to the acknowledgement that the Monterey Bay, along with its associated coastline, featured some of the nation’s most diverse ecosystems—all of which would face significant impacts if not protected from oil exploration or other large-scale industrial operations.

The vision of the sanctuary culminated through various efforts over a long period of time, and included work by the Sierra Club, various counties, and stakeholders. In the end, Leon Panetta, then a representative of California, carried forth the legislation, protecting the Monterey Bay and more than 250 miles of coastline.

Today, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is nothing short of a national treasure.

Harbor seals resting on a beach on the shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

Harbor seals resting on the shore of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

There are also important human stories of taking the long view. In Kenya, organizations are establishing relationships with local communities, providing opportunities for innovative and sustainable employment. These solutions allow residents to transform their living situations and the environment. Zawadisha is just one example of an organization that is empowering people to transform their own lives and livelihoods while providing them access to resources that can also make a difference for the environment.

A Zawadisha workshop focused on leadership development in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

A leadership development workshop held in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

The examples do not end with reaching the top of the Dawn Wall or empowering change in Kenya. Consider the ecosystem cascades associated with the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone National Park. The continued habitat protection even in the face of drought in California, which includes assuring wildlife refuges still receive water allotments in order to maintain the integrity of important habitat for resting, breeding or wintering birds along the Pacific Flyway.

There are many successes, and we need to take time to really acknowledge this work and know—it does not always come as a quick fix—often it is a long vision, made real.

The Merced Wildlife Refuge in the Central Valley of California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

The Merced National Wildlife Refuge in the Central Valley of California. Photo courtesy of Kirk Keeler.

As we enter 2015, we know there are big issues to be decided and no shortage of environmental challenges to face. A vision and what emerges from the idea of what can be, creates the resilience needed to face these issues and challenges with grace and poise.

The successful freeing of the Dawn Wall by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson can inspire us all to consider what it takes to think big–to plan, prepare, practice, and then do. Each pitch on the route was a milestone, and their perseverance is a great reminder to us all of the real value of taking the long view.

Practicing a Sustainable Conservation Ethic: Truth, Compromise, and the Persistence of Questions

By Richard Telford

In his landmark 1949 book A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, Aldo Leopold called for a land ethic that “changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”  Each year, practicing such an ethic, which I will broaden here and term a conservation ethic, grows more challenging as both the benefits—real and perceived—and the harmful by-products of not practicing such an ethic multiply.  These harmful by-products manifest themselves most plainly and directly in their environmental cost, but there are social and spiritual costs as well. As we advance in technological terms, these costs grow increasingly difficult to navigate and, for many, even to see at all. Leopold noted in 1949, “It was simpler, for example, to define the anti-social uses of sticks and stones in the days of the mastodons than of bullets and billboards in the age of motors.”

The first paperback edition cover of Aldo Leopold's seminal 20th-century conservation book.

The first paperback edition cover of Aldo Leopold’s seminal 20th-century conservation book.

Now, the “age of motors” seems remote and simple compared to our present age of information, powered by cadmium, selenium, and other heavy metals, an information age in which the quest for knowledge is so often overshadowed by the pursuit of hollow adulation and illusory self-worth.  In Leopold’s era, the natural world was threatened by a pervasive public near-ignorance of the full scope of destruction we could levy through our progress.   In the present age, when such knowledge is so readily and immediately available to us, the threat lies instead in its being drowned by a cascade of largely vacuous social media utterances that foster isolation and indifference.  It lies as well in the widespread American corporate campaign to link consumption to self-worth and to obfuscate both the environmental and social costs of that campaign.  It is not hyperbole to say that we need a conservation ethic now more than ever.  Arguably, such a claim will be equally valid in each of the eras to follow ours; thus, we must foster such an ethic not just in ourselves but in our youngest generation.

In order to achieve its desired effects—which I will drastically simplify here as environmental, social, and spiritual sustainability—a conservation ethic must ultimately be practiced with consistency along all scales: individual, local, societal, global.  Each scale is laden with challenges, and, to navigate these, we must avoid setting end targets that are too measured, too inflexible.  A sustainable conservation ethic cannot be an all or nothing proposition.  Instead, it requires us to continuously reevaluate its truths, to compromise when necessary, and, perhaps most importantly, to value questions more than answers.  There are few simple answers in the practice of a meaningful conservation ethic.  Such an ethic must evolve, and we must evolve with it and be committed to doing so for the long haul.

The window display of the Salvation Army where the author's family buys virtually all of their clothing and durable goods second hand.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

The window display of the Salvation Army where the author’s family buys virtually all of their clothing and durable goods second hand. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

No conservation ethic can take root in society as a whole without doing so first in the individual.  As much as it might seem counterintuitive when we reflect on the scope of the world’s problems, environmental and otherwise, it is at the individual scale that we can do the greatest good.  Our actions can, by example and through direct interaction with others, multiply outward.  As an environmental journalist, I consider the effect of a Rachel Carson or an Aldo Leopold, and I am encouraged.  These are exceptional examples of the power of action at the individual scale, of course, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that all of our conservation ethic-driven actions have the power to influence friends, children, colleagues, even passersby.  There is a real danger in losing sight of the power of our daily acts.  There is likewise a danger in holding ourselves to such a high conservation ethic standard that we wallow in our inevitable failures to meet that standard.  It is not easy to be a conservationist in a society that lauds and demands consumption beyond our own and the planet’s means.  It is not easy to be a conservationist when one of our fundamental, instinctual drives is to protect our individual interests and those of the people closest to us.  It is inevitable that, having developed a conservation ethic, we will violate it with some regularity.  Arguably, the more developed our conservation ethic is, the more our violation of it becomes a conscious act.  Such an ethic requires both commitment and compromise, both self-criticism and self-forgiveness.

The conundrum of a conservation ethic on the individual scale is aptly illustrated by American naturalist writer Edwin Way Teale in an August 2, 1959 journal entry he recorded shortly after his move to Trail Wood in Hampton, Connecticut.  He writes of destroying a large white-faced hornet nest in a tree less than fifty feet from the 1806 farmhouse he would later make famous in his 1974 book A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm.  Teale notes in his journal that “white-faced hornets are large, numerous and not mild-dispositioned like the Polistes,” and so he concocted an elaborate plan to set the nest afire and let it drop to a steel garbage can below.  This was the same Edwin Way Teale who had published in 1943 The Golden Throng, a 208-page text in which he wrote with wonder about the extraordinary society of honeybees.  In in his 1937 book Grassroot Jungles, Teale had noted that the wasps, which include hornets, “with the ants and the bees […] form a triumvirate which demonstrates the wonders of instinct.”  Teale’s anguish over his destruction of the nest is clear in the following passage from the entry:

“So at 9:25 P.M. the life of this insect city ended.  The catastrophe was sudden and complete.  I had done what had to be done.  I had done it with split-second timing and complete success.  Yet I went to bed uneasy in my mind.  For I had demonstrated that fiendish side of the human mind that, as much as benevolence and kindness, if not more, accounts for Man’s position as Lord of the Earth.  And I was not proud of it.”

This summer, I discovered a ground nest of yellow jackets (Vespula maculifrons) in the north corner of our garden and, like Teale fifty-five years ago, I will dig it up this winter and dispose of it in our woods, filling in the ground cavity to dissuade a new nest in spring.  It is a not a task I relish, for, like Teale, I am decidedly on the side of life, but I have a vivid boyhood memory of a neighbor boy, David Cohen, stepping in a similar nest deep in the woods behind my childhood home.  I recall clearly his leaps and screams, his mother hosing him down with a garden hose, the yellow jackets that poured out of his untied canvas Keds.  As a father of three small children, the fate of a nest inches form the footpath to our backyard, and any such nest too close to the paths of our daily life, is self-evident.  At times our conservation ethic must yield to other needs, and it is at these times that I am reminded of Aldous Huxley’s foreword to the 1946 reissue of his seminal 1932 novel Brave New World.  In that foreword, Huxley asserts, “Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment.”  He further admonishes the reader that “Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”  As noted earlier, a conservation ethic at times requires self-forgiveness to avert a greater, crippling sense of defeat. Here lies the difference between a conservation ethic that is sustainable and one that is not.

Nonetheless, self-interest, in all of its magnifications along all of its scales, is the greatest challenge to the conservation of the natural world.  Just as we must strive for environmental sustainability in the sum total of our daily actions and interactions, so too must we seek a sustainable conservation ethic.  It is impractical to expect that our self-interests will or even should always yield to environmental considerations.  What is realistic, productive, and sustainable is to develop the expectation that we will defer to the greater environmental good when possible and, when we cannot, we will at least moderate our actions to minimize their negative effects.  Living in a rural area with negligible public transportation, I cannot elect not to drive my car, but I can moderate my use of it.  The challenge of such an approach is building the capacity to separate need from want, a capacity that is severely undervalued in our consumption-driven culture.  There is no greater friend to the natural world than a severe economic downturn that arrests unfettered development and runaway consumption.  Such times can and should offer us opportunities for reflection, reflection that must extend beyond environmental considerations alone.  According to a 2013 study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 3.9 million American households with children “were unable at times during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children.”  During the same year, Forbes reported an average National Basketball Association player salary of $5.15 million.  These numbers should give us pause.  As a society, what do we value?  What do we prioritize?

While the contrasting statistics above speak primarily to the skewed valuation system that permeates our society, they also have considerable environmental implications.  Food insecurity, for example, which the USDA study defines as “lack[ing] enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members,” inevitably drives those affected by it to purchase low-cost, low-nutrition, unsustainably harvested and manufactured foods, often from big box retailers.  These same retailers flood the market with a vast array of low-cost, low-quality, short-lived “durable goods” that pour into American landfills at unprecedented rates.  We see over and over again the staggering long-term environmental and social cost of the two-dollar Walmart T-shirt that simply cannot, in real and sustainable terms, cost two dollars.  The salary-inflated network of professional sports organizations likewise leaves in its wake a terrible environmental cost.  Consider the refuse production, energy consumption, and food waste in one arena during the course of one sporting event.  Consider as well the vast array of memorabilia produced and sold in this context.  How much of it is produced with an eye on sustainability?  How much of it is destined for a speedy trip to the local or regional landfill?  Thus, we cannot separate a conservation ethic from the larger ethics systems that govern our behavior in society, nor should we.

Returning again to Leopold’s call for humankind to shift from conqueror of the natural world to plain member and citizen, I must likewise return to the fact that this is not a simple proposition, or even a fully realizable one.  Our capacity to reason and our drive to improve our lives renders impossible our taking a role of equal citizenship.  For better or worse, we are, as Teale notes above, the Lords of the Earth, in so much as we possess an unparalleled capacity to irreversibly alter it through our disproportionate consumption of its finite resources.  This imbalanced relationship will persist short of a catastrophic event, natural or anthropogenic, that annihilates the human race.  Thus, it is more pragmatic, and therefore sustainable, to aim instead for a role of benevolent citizenship framed and guided by a developed conservation ethic.  This is an attainable goal toward which we can and must strive while tempering our expectations to accept the inevitable periodic failures both of ourselves and the greater society to meet it.  While at times this failure will simply result from our choosing what is convenient over what is sustainable, this is not always the case.  Two brief examples follow to illustrate this distinction.

A view of the firebox of the author's Jotul F500 Oslo woodstove loaded with red maple, black cherry, and red oak at startup.  Photo by Richard Telford, copyright 2013.

A view of the firebox of the author’s Jotul F500 Oslo woodstove loaded with red maple, black cherry, and red oak at startup. Photo by Richard Telford, copyright 2013.

As I have written about in a previous Ecotone Exchange essay, we heat our 1770 northeastern Connecticut farmhouse exclusively with two wood-burning stoves.  Wood-burning as a primary heat source both challenges and reinforces a conservation ethic.  Done properly, burning wood in an EPA-certified stove or insert can yield 85-90% efficiency, and wood is one of a handful of truly renewable energy sources.  Furthermore, the argument is often posited that wood is a carbon-neutral energy source, as the carbon released in burning would be released over time anyway.   I would like to put my full faith into this last argument, but even a quick review of scientific literature shows it to be an oversimplification, and, in the world of complex environmental issues, oversimplifications have a way of imploding.  Even if one accepts the carbon-neutral argument for responsible wood-burning, there is nonetheless the nagging question of particulate matter pollution, a serious issue both for its environmental effects and the public health concerns it raises.

A cross-section view from one of the author's woodpiles.  The end cracking visible in these logs indicates that they are well seasoned and will burn efficiently and cleanly in the woodstove.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

A cross-section view from one of the author’s woodpiles. The end cracking visible in these logs indicates that they are well seasoned and will burn efficiently and cleanly in the woodstove. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

Particulate matter pollution is a necessary by-product of using wood as fuel, regardless of efficiency improvements.  It is the excessive emission of this particulate matter that has made the primitive but popular phase one outdoor wood furnaces the subject of increasing public concern and anger.  By design, these units convert wood to heat through smolder-burning at less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit and thus can belch particulate-loaded smoke that can travel for miles.  This has led many states and municipalities to ban their use outright and has also led the EPA to introduce stricter efficiency standards on newly manufactured units.  By contrast, an EPA-certified in-home woodstove typically burns at 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing for a nearly smokeless burn at optimum temperature as off-gasses are burned in-stove rather than emitted through the chimney.   Still, even wood burned efficiently produces four times more particulate matter than home heating oil and twenty times more particulate matter than natural gas.  Additionally, short of a return to the exclusive use of the axe and bucking saw, the harvesting and transport of fuel wood likewise produces carbon and other emissions.  Each heating season, I once again contemplate and struggle with the environmental consequences of our woodstove use, and I affirm once again that we are, I believe, right in our actions, though not without a cost.  I contemplate the finite supply of fossil fuels, which correspondingly demands increasingly invasive and irreversibly destructive means of extraction.  I contemplate the piping of tar sands oil through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that, regardless of the assurances of lobbyists and scientists-for-hire, will inevitably suffer a catastrophic break with equally catastrophic ecological effects.  I contemplate the deleterious process of fracking and its poisoning of groundwater.  I contemplate the extraction of undersea oil by deep-water drilling and the steep environmental cost of getting that oil refined and transported to my home.  These and other factors lead me to decide that locally harvested and responsibly burned wood in a region that is 78% forested produces a lesser net negative result, and I am reminded once again that a conservation ethic fosters and demands an ongoing process of evaluation and reevaluation, a process that is driven more by questions than it is by answers.

The author's created wool bear caterpillar habitat suitable for hibernation.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

The author’s created wool bear caterpillar habitat suitable for hibernation. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

For my second example, I turn to the ubiquitous wooly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella).  In early December of this year, we noticed a wooly bear inching across the front room floor of our old farmhouse.  Due to the house’s fieldstone foundation and 244 years’ worth of unseen field mouse passageways among the old timbers, wildlife has a way of finding its way in.  My six-year-old daughter’s immediate response was to declare it her pet.  Normally, we allow nothing wild to be kept captive in our house, and we have worked hard to foster in our children the idea that nature should be observed and appreciated with as low an impact as possible. I waivered, however, in the case of the wooly bear.  I put my daughter down to sleep with the assurance that I would decide by morning what we would do with it.  With a quick online search, I found hundreds of sites touting the ease of hatching wooly bears into Isabella Tiger Moths in captivity. This particular specimen, if released outside, would either promptly hibernate or die trying to do so.  In the end, I took an oversized Ball canning jar, poked some holes in the lid, and created a simple habitat suitable for hibernation.  In doing so, I violated a cardinal tenet of my own conservation ethic, but I likewise seized a valuable opportunity for my children to watch and appreciate firsthand this magical transformation.  How can we hope to foster a conservation ethic in our children without providing them such interactions?

Environmental educators bringing children into the field face a daunting challenge in a time when the world is experiencing an unprecedented loss of biodiversity due largely to anthropogenic causes.  It is, of course, vital that we foster a leave-no-trace mindset in the children we educate, a mindset that may in the future guide their personal and professional lives.  However, many of us with a deep love of the natural world will readily trace that connection to the unfettered explorations of childhood, an inherently destructive process at times, intended or not, but an infinitely enriching one as well.  I have written about this duality in my own childhood elsewhere on The Ecotone Exchange.  While we may cringe at the thought of dragging a seining net across a pond bottom and laying it out on the shore edge for examination, there is no better way for a child to see at once the complex benthic world hidden beneath the water’s surface.  If we are going to engage children with the natural world in meaningful ways, such compromise, and the discomfort that comes with it, is necessary.  This compromise must be guided by a cost-benefit analysis of sorts, and the questions that drive that deliberation will rarely yield easy answers.  As noted earlier, a conservation ethic has never been, nor will it ever be, an all or nothing proposition.

In the end, a conservation ethic is necessarily subject to evolution, responding both to personal growth in the individual and change in the society.  The latter kind of change simultaneously alters the environmental paradigm and the appropriate response to that evolved paradigm.  In simple terms, a conservation ethic has the power to give our daily lives greater deliberateness and meaning.  It offers a potent antidote to the sense of futility we inevitably feel when confronted by the consumerism and greed and ignorance that imperil the natural world.  As we work to develop a sustainable conservation ethic, we must seek questions as much as we seek answers—not in a way that paralyzes us and makes us put up our hands but in a way that empowers us to envision and bring to fruition significant changes in our resource use on all scales and in our broader treatment of the natural world on the whole.  I can see no other workable course.

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 private journals kept at Trail Wood, are permanently housed and generously made available to the public.

The Future of the Pacific Fisher: On Our Watch

Pacific fisher artwork by Megan Connelly

Pacific fisher artwork by Megan Connelly

By Shauna Potocky

January 5, 2015 will be a pivotal day in the future of the Pacific fisher along the West Coast of the United States. An extraordinary predator of the mixed conifer forest, the Pacific fisher was once abundant throughout the forested areas of the United States and Canada. Fisher populations rapidly declined due to hunting and timber extraction in the mid 1800 through the early 1900s. Today, the fisher is affected by development, timber extraction, fires, toxins and forest fragmentation—but the fisher’s story does not end here. In fact, there is a chance to write an entirely new chapter for the West Coast populations of fisher, focused on its future.

Previous attempts to protect the Pacific fisher under the Endangered Species Act have not resulted in it being listed, but soon that track record may change. Increased pressures on the West Coast population of fishers, along with consistent monitoring of the population by a wide range of professionals and stakeholders, have culminated in what may be an important review and opportunity to list the fisher as threatened via the Endangered Species Act. This may afford a new level of protection and suite of management strategies to help preserve the existing population and potentially assist in its eventual recovery.

The natural history of the fisher has made it uniquely susceptible to various human pressures. A member of the weasel family, also known as mustelids, the fisher is essentially the middle cousin between the smaller American martin and the larger wolverine. Yet, what might help one understand the appeal of the fisher, is that it is also related to the sea otter—and shares many characteristics of its remarkable fur. This fur is what made the fisher a valuable commodity during the settlement of the United States and the fur trapping and trade of the time. That, along with its dependence on forested areas as habitat, put it in direct competition with a young country looking to extract lumber and build its future infrastructure.

The result was that the fisher declined in many areas of the United States and went extinct along parts of its range on the East Coast. Reintroductions have helped to bring the fisher back to its historic range. Yet, today, there is a population of fishers still eking out a living on the West Coast—primarily in Washington, Oregon and California. Perhaps the most remarkable of these populations is the geographically isolated population of fisher in the Southern Sierra Nevada of California. Here, a small population of just several hundred individuals is hanging on—though, they are facing big odds. That said, there are many people working to explore the issues, find solutions and potentially turn the odds in the fisher’s favor.

Research groups are working to better understand the needs and critical habitat of the fisher, this work enables them to collaborate with and inform communities, businesses, agencies and other research groups on adaptive management strategies that can best support the fisher in its remaining habitat. Essentially, this work can help in effectively preserving or restoring habitat and potentially bridge or solve the fragmentation gap—thus reuniting the fisher within its historic range.

The Pacific fisher preys on small mammals such as mice, squirrels and is famously known for predating porcupines. It is generally found in close proximity to a water source and prefers a closed canopy forest. Perhaps most importantly, is its dependence on medium to large trees as an essential part of its habitat. Specifically, the female fisher utilizes cavities in trees as dens for resting, giving birth and raising her young, known as kits. Smaller trees generally do not provide den space—thus, the fisher is associated with forests that have larger diameter trees.

Photo courtesy of Mark Jordon

Photo courtesy of Mark Jordan

The fisher is well adapted for climbing trees; it has large paws that feature impressive claws, which aid in climbing. The fisher is also a skilled predator—it may look remarkably cute, but don’t be fooled, it is an effective hunter. Unfortunately, as an ironic twist of predator fate, the fisher has become the center piece of an emerging issue in forests and public lands, especially in California.

Illegal marijuana farms are permeating public lands throughout areas of the Southern Sierra Nevada. In these areas national forests, national parks and other remote forested landscapes have fallen prey to marijuana growers who have no regard for public lands, the forest, water resources and the wildlife that reside there.

Entire areas of forest may be cut or thinned in order to cultivate marijuana. Water is plumbed from streams and there is no remorse for killing wildlife—either for illegal hunting or to protect the marijuana crop itself. This second motivation has resulted in heavy poisons being used in forest landscapes in order to kill mice, squirrels and other animals that may jeopardize the crop. These poisons, known as rodenticides, bioaccumulate in the food web, and the fisher has emerged as a major victim.

In a population that is already facing great pressures from land use, resource extraction, vehicle collisions, an increased threat of fire, as well as geographic isolation—there is now an option to do something for the Pacific fisher.

January 5, 2015 is a fast approaching deadline. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is providing the public with an opportunity to weigh in on whether the Pacific fisher should be protected via the Endangered Species Act. Whatever your opinion, don’t sit silent—we are being given the opportunity to speak up and the future of the fisher is on us. Its fate will be determined on our watch.

Featured image: USFWS Pacific South West Region courtesy of Creative Commons.

Being Human, Being Caribou and Being Wild

Calving Grounds

By Maymie Higgins

The Wilderness Act was signed into law in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson. Therefore, this year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of a law which created the National Wilderness Preservation System and recognized wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Act further defined wilderness as “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” One of our authors, Shauna Potocky wrote about the history of The Wilderness Act recently, Celebrating Wilderness: The 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

During the winter holiday season, my attention is drawn to a beast that receives considerable protection under The Wilderness Act in some, but not all, of its range. Reindeer, caribou, or Rangifer tarandus….by any of these names is still the same magical, hearty and wondrously unique species of cervid. It is the type of animal whose existence gratifies the primal and more complicated regions of my brain as only pack animals and other beasts of burden do. The wild of this species inhabit the last undeveloped frontiers of this small planet and serve as an important food source for many tribal communities, while the domesticated of this species are vital pack animals. If you view this as I do, you realize the delicately intertwined relationship between humans and caribou can help to insure the survival of both.

Domesticated caribou are known as reindeer. Caribou are well designed for Arctic conditions with a double-layered coat and large, concave hooves that function as snowshoes because they spread widely to provide support in tundra and also serve as paddles while swimming.  They are the only deer species in which both the male (bull) and female (cow) grow antlers, though the bulls possess much larger, massive, antlers than females.  Cows shed their antlers later in the season than bulls, in theory so they still have them for protecting calves.  Only cows still have antlers as late as December. (So all of Santa’s reindeer are probably cows.)

Line of Caribou bulls swimming. Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Line of Caribou swimming.
Photograph courtesy of National Park Service

The world population of caribou is five million, and approximately 950,000 wild caribou live in Alaska.  Caribou range includes North America, Greenland and Northern Europe to Northern Asia in habitats including the Arctic tundra and adjacent boreal forest.  The Porcupine Caribou Herd, which is distributed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Yukon and the Northwest territories of Alaska, has a range largely protected under The Wilderness Act.

Many other animals are protected as well. The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the northernmost destination of millions of birds from more than 130 species and comprises the most important onshore denning habitat for the entire Beaufort Sea polar bear population.  Musk oxen, wolverines, foxes, golden eagles, and snowy owls gather on the coastal plain to hunt and den every year.

In 1980, President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which doubled the size of the Arctic Range and renamed it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The entire refuge was designated as wilderness with one key exception: Section 1002 of the Act, a last minute compromise to ensure the bill passed, outlined additional research that would be needed before Congress could designate the area as wilderness. The “1002 lands” as this 1.5 million acre parcel is known, formed the most important part of the herd’s habitat and the core of their calving grounds, but were also suspected of harboring vast reserves of oil. In 1984, the Canadian government, in cooperation with the Inuvialuit people, protected their portion of the caribou calving grounds by establishing Ivvavik National Park adjacent to the Arctic Refuge. Vuntut National Park, also in the Yukon, was created a few years later in co-operation with the Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation, thereby protecting vital spring, summer and fall habitat for the herd on the Canadian side.

In April 2003, two adventurers followed the Porcupine Caribou migration. They traveled on foot with the 123,000-member herd from wintering to calving grounds in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and back again, traveling for a total of five months. When they completed the journey, they shared their story and findings with everyone who would listen in Washington D.C.  Their story is remarkable, but not nearly as remarkable as that of the Porcupine Caribou herd. Their documentary is available to watch online and I have embedded it below. After you watch it, I think you will agree that the calving grounds deserve designation as a wild place, now and forever, and should always be protected from oil drilling.

Featured image courtesy of Wiki Commons.