Of Yoga and Trees

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Rubber tree tapping. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

By Neva Knott

This weekend I started a yoga intensive program–not a teacher training, but a 100-hour series on deepening my personal practice. For the intensive, I bought a Jade yoga mat. It was a purchase that took very little consideration, because Jade mats are environmentally sustainable, made in America, and degradable. Also, for each mat purchased, Jade plants a tree through Trees for the Future. All of the things I care about in one purchase: yoga, environmental care and social justice in production, and global promotion of good work, also environmentally sustainable and focused on social justice, with the profits.

Jade mats are made from natural rubber that is, “tapped, like maple syrup, from a tree.” The tree continues to grow and produce, making it a renewable resource, and the tapping a sustainable extraction of a natural resource. Because Jade mats are made rubber, they will degrade when worn. This is a sharp contrast to regular yoga mats, most of which are made from plastics, which don’t degrade. And, in my research, I’ve found few recycling programs for used yoga mats. My Jade made will live out its existence in the cycle of life–it came from nature and will return there.

When trees are left standing and used in a sustainable way, like having the rubber or maple syrup tapped out of them, they remain able to perform ecosystem services. Ecosystem services include provision of habitat, stormwater control, and carbon sequestration.

Not only are Jade mats made of such eco-friendly material that comes from a sustainable natural resource, the mats are made in America, which ensures that they are produced, “in compliance with all US environmental, labor, and consumer safety laws.” This is an encouraging contrast to yoga mats that are produced in China, a country without these same important protections.

The Jade Yoga company promotes several environmental and social causes. The cause specific to the purchase of a mat is tree-planting in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, global regions that have suffered such extreme resource extraction that ecosystem services provided by trees no longer function. In many of these places, there are no trees left.

Jade Yoga partners with Trees for the Future. Jade is a Leucaena-level Partner–this designation translates to donation of 500,000-999,999 trees, a value of $50,000-$99,999. Interestingly, actual Leucaena trees, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, are the most widely used forage trees and “can provide firewood, timber, human food, green manure, shade and erosion control.”

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Leucaena tree. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

Trees for the Future offers this explanation of their organization:

In the early 1970s, Dave and Grace Deppner served as volunteers in the Philippines, where they witnessed the human tragedy brought on by illegal logging and unsustainable land management systems. Working with community leaders in nearby villages, the Deppners found a way to offer hope. They revitalized degraded lands by providing farmers with tree seed, technical training, and on-site planning assistance. People responded enthusiastically,  joining in to save their homes and way of life.

After returning from their overseas assignments they continued what they had started, communicating by mail with rural community leaders, providing information, seeds, and training materials. Over the years TREES has assisted thousands of communities in planting millions of trees in 19 countries including Ghana, which have restored life to land that was previously degraded or abandoned.

According to the organization’s website, Trees for the Future has developed the following programs:

  • Africa: We have helped plant trees in an incredible range of environments from coastal areas to mountains, restoring soil that had been unproductive for decades or even hundreds of years.
  • Asia: On the islands of the Pacific, the combination of high tides and heavy rains brings great danger to the people of the coastal plains. We are working with local groups in Indonesia and the Philippines to restore tree cover to upland areas, so the land can absorb more water during storms and reduce the likelihood of flooding and mudslides. Other projects in India aim to restore trees to both drought-stricken and flood-ridden sections.
  • Latin America: We are planting trees in Haiti, Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In 2011, Trees for the Future’s Haiti Program delivered three critical services – tree planting, agroforestry training, and technical assistance – to local farmers in three regions of the country: the Arcadine Coast, Chaine des Chaos, and Gonaives. In Honduras, Trees for the Future planted more than a million trees in conjunction with one of our local partners.

Beyond the immediate provision of ecosystem services and regeneration of renewable resources for human use, these programs are the type of efforts that will assuage global climate change.

Here’s a thought: what if every product you bought came with these types of benefits?

Here’s another thought: what if all the money spent on football fan-ship came with these types of benefits?

There are two ways of production of consumer goods–one that pillages, and one that sustains. My goal is to make more of my purchases the latter.

My yoga teacher asked, during the first class after the New Year, what can you let go of to be more whole? In that moment, I set an intention to let go of simple convenience in favor of finding more companies like Jade Yoga, and to let go of my general daily busy-ness so that I can participate in programs like Trees for the Future.

The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System

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By Neva Knott

When the environmental movement began in the 1970s, the focus was on protecting and honoring nature instead of depleting it for human consumption. While this same protection of nature is still at the core of environmental advocacy, a new environmental perspective has emerged recent years, a more personal movement–that of food sourcing.

I’ve heard that the easiest way to go green is to green your food source. It’s certainly the most immediate and possibly the most effective.

To eat within your foodshed, to eat the 100-mile-meal, to know your farmer are practices that benefit your health and promote a green triple bottom line–people, the planet, and profits. In graduate school at Green Mountain College, I learned that most food on the American table travels 2,000 miles before eaten, a shocking and disheartening statistic. John Emrich’s new book, The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System, tells stories of the “good food movement,” the alternative to commercial, bland, environmentally exploitive, well-traveled food.

All writers here at The Ecotone Exchange hold Master’s of Science degrees in Environmental Studies from Green Mountain College. John is no exception–he was one of our cohort there. Previously an investment banker, he now runs Backyard Chicken Run, an urban chicken supply business in Chicago, and gathers stories of other entrepreneurs looking join the local food movement. Though I haven’t yet convinced John to join our team at the EE, I did get his permission to share a segment of his book here.

When I first read The Local Yolk, my heart was warmed by the case studies John had collected, putting faces to the ideal of greening your food source. What most impressed and enthused me, though, was John’s explanations of how to make growing and sourcing good food–sustainable agriculture–a profitable venture. Profitability is story not yet told in, and one that is often easily lost in the check-out line when buying organic, local food. With John’s permission, I give you an excerpt from Chapter 17, Tao Theory: Zen and the Art of Investing in Sustainable Food…

“In my prior life, I had owned shares in one of the publicly traded fertilizer companies, so I understood the “bullish case” for fertilizer from the perspective of the chemical companies: a billion or so people in Asia were moving to the middle class and would switch from a rice diet to a protein diet (i.e., a diet with more meat), generating rising demand for the grains to feed livestock and therefore the inputs of chemical agriculture that made monoculture grain-growing viable on a massive scale. At the time I met with the fertilizer manufacturer, the company was forecasting that the United States would become an exporter of corn to China the following year. The future was bright.

“As I tried to put a value on the organic farm, the light bulb went on. The chemical companies’ gain was the farmers’ pain. The chemical inputs of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium were all either directly or indirectly tied to natural resources that would become increasingly scarce and expensive over time, but farmers had to have them to succeed in conventional agriculture. Moreover, industrial farmers buy seed from a monopoly. The two things that an industrial farmer or farm investor could say for sure were that they had no control over their costs, and their costs were going higher. Farm subsidies are often criticized for being a gift to larger corporate farms. They would be more accurately described as a subsidy to the chemical companies and industrial buyers of grain (food processors). The conventional farmer, big or small, is getting little more than his costs reimbursed over a lifetime of work.

“The sustainable farmer doesn’t have the same exposure to cost pressure. After the sun itself, manure is the ultimate renewable resource, replacing the increasingly costly fertilizers. Yet, because I believed in the secular trend towards organic food, the sustainable farmer would continue to benefit from rising market prices for organic crops (for example, organic grains) over time. I was concluding that sustainable farming was a good business investment.”

John writes on to explain the mechanics of Impact Investing and Micro-Lending, and how these strategies can promote the good food movement while providing economic opportunity and promoting environmentally sound agriculture.

The Local Yolk is a smart blend of case stories, anecdotes, background knowledge, and research. You can follow The Local Yolk and Back Yard Chicken Run on Facebook and can learn more about the book at www.thelocalyolkbook.com.

Hope? or another version of Maggie’s Farm?

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind pa
She’s sixty-eight, but she says she’s twenty-four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/maggies-farm#ixzz3LaxZnyrX

By Neva Knott

I founded this blog because I was frustrated by the the doom and gloom environmental messages. Doom and Gloom is even a thing in the environmental world…a thing I wanted to push against, contradict. I wanted to give voice to what is working to save the natural world from human destruction. I wanted to tell stories and publish stories of other writers that might help humans reconnect to nature and inspire them (us), all of us, not just those labeled environmentalists or tree-huggers, to live within the circle of life. I founded this blog to blow a hole in the stereotype of the aggressive and angry environmentalist.

Right now, and I don’t quite know how to define right now–is it the Christmas dash-and-grab? Is it the political fray over fracking and Keystone XL and Obama’s special climate deal with China? Anyway, right now, I am losing my positive mojo.

I have absolutely had it with America’s resource-depleting greed. I have absolutely had it with the climate deniers, whom we are now depicting as suited ostriches with their heads in the sand and asses high. I have absolutely had it with the irresponsibility and lack of common sense that drives the rhetoric, that insists we can continue the getting and the having and continue to exist. I am absolutely done with people like the woman at Target a few days ago.

The county I live in, Thurston County in Washington State, instituted a plastic bag ban in July. A huge positive, built on clear vision and common sense. It passed easily and quickly became habit for the masses (after the first month’s grumbling). This legislation is an example of how easily prudent change can happen, and stands in sharp contrast to the posturing and idiotic mumbo-jumbo going on about climate change and fracking and the need for “fast” consumer goods.

Anyway, this woman had a cart full of over-packaged plastic crap, what’s now called “fast” goods. Christmas gifts. She was demanding something-something because the store didn’t have the exact Frozen piece of crap she wanted. Then she began berating the cashier because Target “should bring back those big plastic bags, at least for the holidays.”

Her cart and her words are the symbol of all that is wrong. Until people stop holding onto that cart as reality, as an option, as a right, we are doomed.

That cart is filled through repetition of an unsustainable, poisoning circle. Each one of those plastic crap toys is made from toxic materials and by a process that pollutes the air and water and poisons the worker making it. Each piece is wrapped in petro-chemical based plastic that will not biodegrade for hundreds of years, if at all. Each pretty little Frozen doll was shipped from China. All of the energy it took to make plastic Elsa or plastic whomever is called embedded energy–the energy that goes into sourcing and manufacturing and transporting the finished good. Not only do products like these have a high embedded energy (which is bad), they very quickly go into the waste stream. So this circle is not the circle of life; it is the circle of needless resource depletion and waste, the circle that is poisoning our world. And for what?

Producing and consuming plastic crap is the modern-day job on Maggie’s Farm. The workers never get ahead, Maggie–or Elsa–is pretty and alluring, Pa is the fat-cat profiteer climate ostrich, and Ma, well, Ma is the voice of American consumerism, telling us all that our children deserve cheap plastic crap for Christmas.

So, where’s the positive story of the environment in all of this? There isn’t one on Maggie’s Farm.

But there is the beach on which I spent Black Friday, watching my two cousins marvel over whale bones we found buried in the sand.

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There is Eld Inlet full of Mallard ducks this past foggy Sunday morning. There is the eagle I watched fly over a tree farm last Saturday.

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One recent morning, while walking my dogs, I looked up and watched a gull fly.  The air was warm for December and a bit damp. It was quiet and peaceful, and I watched the gull, circling, within the patterns of the world around him, and I thought, that’s how we should be living. That is the circle of life.

Hope? Still not feeling it, but that gull is far from Maggie’s Farm.

A Call for Writers and Visual Artists, Summer 2015

A white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), a late summer dragonfly.  Edwin way Teale wrote about observing large numbers of Sympetrum dragonflies in his early days at Trail Wood.   Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

A white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), a late summer dragonfly. Edwin way Teale wrote about observing large numbers of Sympetrum dragonflies in his early days at Trail Wood. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

By: Richard Telford

Connecticut Audubon Society is now accepting applications for the 2015 Edwin Way Teale Artists-in-Residence at Trail Wood program.  Electronic application submissions will be accepted this year, which is a change from previous years. Through the program, inaugurated in 2012, CAS invites writers and visual artists, chosen through a juried process, to spend one week in residence at the former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning naturalist writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale.  The home is situated in the 168-acre Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary, which Yankee Magazine in 2013 named as one of Connecticut’s two best nature sanctuaries—the other being CAS’s 700-acre Baflin Sanctuary, which is a ten-minute drive from Trail Wood.  The sanctuary still contains many of the trails cut by Edwin and Nellie Teale shortly after their arrival in the summer of 1959.  These continue to be maintained by CAS.

Teale in the Blind

American naturalist writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale at work in his observation blind alongside Hampton Brook in Trail Wood. Courtesy of the Edwin Way Teale Papers, Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries. Works by Edwin Way Teale are copyrighted by the University of Connecticut Libraries. Used with permission.

One month after their move to Trail Wood, Edwin wrote in a July 6, 1959 journal entry, “We have the feeling here that whenever we look out the window there may be something exciting to see. Adventures lie all around us.”  Edwin, in his unpublished writings, often referred to Trail Wood as his and Nellie’s “Eden” and their “Promised Land.” He remained there until his death in 1980, and Nellie until hers in 1993.  Just prior to Edwin’s death, the Teales arranged to bequeath the site to Connecticut Audubon Society as a sanctuary open to the public, which it remains today.

Edwin’s site observations, as well as some of Nellie’s, are thoughtfully documented in the two books he wrote about Trail Wood, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (1974) and A Walk Through the Year (1978).  Program participants are encouraged to read one or both of these works in order to more fully understand the intent of this program, the site itself, and the important legacy of the Teales.  Alexander Brash, president of Connecticut Audubon Society, notes, “The residency program keeps alive the spirit of Edwin Way Teale, who opened American’s eyes to the small beauties of the natural world and the importance of conservation through close observation and precise writing, both here at home in Connecticut and across the country in his travel books.”

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Edwin Way Teale’s writing cabin at Trail Wood after a light December snowfall. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2013.

Additionally, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut houses Edwin’s private papers, including four 500-page journals he kept while at Trail Wood. A catalog of the Teale archive can be viewed here. Residency program staff can help arrange a visit to the archive prior to or during the residency period.  Trail Wood is open to the public but generally experiences moderate visitorship, allowing a solitary and contemplative experience conducive to the creative process.  Edwin’s writing cabin, which has previously been undergoing restoration, will be available for use by resident artists this year.  The cabin, which overlooks a one-acre pond the Teales had dug in 1959, was built to match the dimensions of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond.  It offered Edwin a working space removed from visitors and the telephone.

While in residence, artists are encouraged to practice their craft in a way that is inspired both by the site’s natural beauty and its important role in American natural history writing.  The site contains diverse habitat, including mature eastern forest, abandoned pastureland, a three-acre beaver pond, a year-round running brook, and lowland swamps. The site offers excellent birding opportunities, with 88 species having been identified in the sanctuary.  Edwin’s writing study in the main house is still preserved exactly as it was at the time of his death in 1980, per Nellie Teale’s wishes, and CAS staff can provide visiting artists with access to it.  Presently, residencies are scheduled only for the summer months.  With planned further restoration of the Teale home, an 1806 center-chimney Cape Cod, CAS hopes to expand the residency offerings to a year-round schedule in future years.

After the completion of the residency, participating writers and visual artists are invited to attend a follow-up event, Trail Wood Under the Harvest Moon, held annually on-site in September.  At this event, each resident artist is asked to read or present a sample of work completed during the residency and to speak briefly about the residency experience itself. This work can be in process.  The residency application can be found here.  It provides further explanation of the program and an overview of the its logistics. Inquiries about the program can be sent to trailwoodresidency@ctaudubon.org.  The program’s coordinator, CAS volunteer Richard Telford, has published a series of articles on or related to Edwin Way Teale and Trail Wood at the Ecotone Exchange, and these articles, available here, may provide helpful background for prospective applicants.

The Beginnings of  Wolf Recovery in Oregon

By Neva Knott

For Wolf Awareness Week, I’m going to post the series of papers I wrote in graduate school for my Conservation Biology course, all on wolves. To produce these papers, I read pretty much everything in the science literature about wolves, and studied the controversy in Oregon–my home at the time. These were written in 2010, but the scientific research is still the most current. What’s changed since is an increase in management and advocacy. That said, yesterday, via Pacific Wolf Coalition, I learned of a graduate project out of the University of Washington; researchers are investigating ungulate prey response to the presence of wolves. And, of course, there is the mesmerizing journey of the first wolf to disperse from an Oregon pack, OR-7.

Here is my second paper, actually the final in a series:

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Wolves began crossing into Oregon from Idaho in 1999, after US Fish and Wildlife re-introduction there. They are protected by both the federal Endangered Species Act and the Oregon’s own protection act. Wolves are listed as endangered until there are four breeding pairs in the state for three consecutive years. Currently, there are currently about 14 wolves in Oregon, comprising two packs. There is one breeding pair, in Wallowa County, eastern Oregon (ODFW).

Wolves were originally extripated from the Oregon landscape. A wolf bounty was established in the late 1800s, and the last wolf killed under that program was presented for bounty in 1946 (ODFW). The reason for removal of this predator was simple and straight-forward—it was a threat to human settlement and agriculture. As it stands now, the presence of wolves in Oregon is a significant issue in terms of conservation, culture and politics. The ESA mandated protection of this species calls into question the role of top predators, agricultural mores, the ranching lifestyle, and values held about how humans use nature. Wolves symbolize wilderness; humans fear wilderness, or revere it, or believe it is there for our purposes and needs alone. Human attitudes toward wolf recovery divide along these lines. Even so, wolf recovery here in Oregon is a study in the application of the principles of conservation biology.

Even though wolves do not present a problem of immediate danger to humans, wolf depredation of livestock is a serious concern for ranchers and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. There were no acts of depredation the first decade wolves were here, but calves have been killed by wolves the past two years (ODFW). Even so, the legal framework surrounding wolf management requires protection. In 2005 the ODFW adopted the Wolf Management Plan; this plan was recently up for review. The revision was adopted in October 2010.

Under the Wolf Management Plan, a three-phase program is in place to increase the wolf population so that the species can be delisted. The conservation population objective for eastern Oregon is four pairs present for three consecutive years. The management population objective is seven breeding pairs present for three consecutive years. Once this Phase II population is reaching, delisting will occur. Phase III management is intended for maintenance of wolf numbers so that relisting is not necessary (ODFW). In the recent review period of the WMP, it was projected that it us unlikely Phase I population numbers will be reached within the next 5-year evaluation period (ODFW). To monitor population growth and behavior, individual wolves are radio-collared and watched by camera surveillance. On occasion ODFW personnel capture and release wolves for inspection.

Much has changed on the Oregon landscape in the last century, leaving wolves with several risk factors with which to contend. Common themes in the literature are threat of persecution; human-caused habitat loss; habitat fragmentation and degradation; roads. Though wolves are considered habitat generalists, they are dependent on prey populations, most specifically of elk and deer. Even though there are environmental factors that affect wolves, it is woven consistently throughout the literature that human attitudes of tolerance are a major factor in wolf management and conservation.

Successful population increase is interdependent upon the management of depredation. The primary limiting factor has been, and possibly still is, direct persecution. Michelle Dennehy of ODFW explains that a rancher has the right to harass an invading wolf in many non-lethal ways, to include noise, such as firing a gun into the air. A rancher also has the option to work with ODFW experts to install fladry—strips of colorful cloth that confuse and deter wolves—and other to keep wolves from even coming close. Ranchers are also encouraged to dispose of carcasses in ways that will not attract wolves. In the event that wolves do kill a member of a herd, the rancher will be compensated and may be issued a permit, allowing him to shoot the wolf in the event he find one in the act of depredation. In incidents of depredation ODFW will kill the suspect pair of wolves, in hopes of sending the message to the other members of the pack that “this isn’t a good place to hunt,” as Dennehy explains. Should this form of control be necessary, the breeding pair will not be killed, nor will those collared for monitoring. The kill will not happen on public land or in the den area. Phase III of the WMP will allow for stronger control of wolves that kill livestock once they are delisted.

A theme has emerged in the current body of scientific literature about wolves that suggests wolves and humans can and should live on the same landscape. The current body of research on wolves began in the early 1990s. What is significant about the current body of research, and what sets it apart from what was done before, is that all of it is geared toward understanding wolf reintroduction or re-colonization. Reintroduction programs were conceptualized after the passage of the US Endangered Species Act, which gave protection to the gray wolf. Across the literature, it is clear that the first questions scientists asked were: What are the characteristics of this species? What will it take for this species to thrive? Where are the most habitable places? Along with this much information about the biology of the wolf itself was gathered. From the body of knowledge that now exists, one can now understand a wolf’s habits and needs so that management decisions can be shaped around the ESA policy of protection. As this current body of research has taken shape, Yellowstone National Park, the first site of reintroduction, has emerged as a model landscape. Now the scientific research question has become: What is happening within the ecosystem because wolves are here?

Wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Simultaneously, L. David Mech published “The Challenges and Opportunities of Recovering Wolf Populations” in the journal, Conservation Biology. Just before that, Steven H. Fitts, Edward E. Bangs, and James F. Gore published “The relationship of wolf recovery to habitat conservation and biodiversity in the northwestern United States” in Landscape and Urban Planning. Taken together, these papers clearly outline what was, and is, needed for wolves to survive on the contemporary American landscape. Both papers speak to the needs and functionality of habitat to shape their arguments in favor of wolves as a natural part of the landscape.

Mech’s paper looks at reproduction rate and dispersal to consider how wolf habitat needs can be met and managed within the context of human use of land. One suggestion is for zoning management, which allows for wolves to inhabit areas where there is natural prey while keeping them out of agricultural areas. For this idea, an example is given of wolves living in Minnesota and Montana in areas surrounded by farmland; no livestock depredation occurred. Mech also offers the example of a program sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife that pays ranchers to allow wolves to raise pups on ranchland. In correlation with his comments on habitat-sharing and how to make wolf-friendly habitat that discourages depredation, Mech is straightforward in his acknowledgement that wolf reintroduction will require some form of wolf control. He states that, “wolves will probably have to be controlled almost everywhere they are restored, [and] this translates to political pressure against wolf recovery.” When the issue of habitat is aligned with that of control, it becomes clear to see Mech’s point that wolves need access to prey within their range to survive without the threat of starvation, which can lead to livestock depredation.

Fritts, et. al., look at habitat structure and availability of prey, and they consider where appropriate land might be found, both public and private in ownership. As with Mech, they consider how to control wolves found in the wrong places. They cite a US Fish and Wildlife Service set of criteria that includes: year-round prey base; at least 7770 square km of contiguous designated wilderness, national park lands, and adjacent private land; a maximum of 10 percent private land ownership; absence of livestock grazing. Based on this set of criteria, these authors suggest, “the more negative the attitudes [of humans], the more wild space necessary…”. Fritts, et. al. realize that wolves are adaptive. These authors conclude simply that, given the availability of land, wolves need only two things to survive: ungulate prey and freedom from human persecution.

Now that wolves have been reintroduced, scientists understand that wolves create a trophic cascade in the ecosystem. Douglas W. Smith, Rolf D. Peterson, and Douglas B. Houston published “Yellowstone after Wolves” in BioScience. William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta published “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?” also in BioScience. Smith, et. al., discuss how the presence of wolves has created balance in animal and plant populations. Ripple and Beschta set the YNP reintroduction into much broader contexts, looking at change over time and at a more complex web of interactions. Both papers clearly support wolf presence as a necessary function of the ecosystem. Both teams of scientists explain that elk and coyote populations increased to levels of concern about carrying capacity during wolf-free times. As well, shrub steppe vegetation and aspen growth lessened due to trampling by elk, and riparian functioning was altered. This, in turn, caused habitat loss for various mesocarnivores and birds. With wolves on the landscape, vegetation is regenerating and elk numbers are coming back in line. Ripple and Beschta conclude, “the extripation of the gray wolf—a keystone predator in this ecosystem—is most likely the overriding cause of the precipitous decline and cessation in the recruitment of [woody species].” In application of the YNP studies as relevant to Oregon the question becomes: What will be the same here, and what will differ?

Stakeholders were invited to comment on the WMP during the recent review period. In June of 2010, various meetings were held by ODFW with the following groups: Baker County Natural Resources Advisory Committee; Defenders of Wildlife; Hells Canyon Preservation Council; Nez Perce Tribe; Oregon Cattleman’s Association; Oregon Department of Agriculture; Oregon Farm Bureau; Oregon Hunters Association; Oregon Wild; Oregon Wool Growers Association; Umatilla Tribe; US Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services; US Fish and Wildlife Service; US Forest Service. There are three obvious factions in this mix—ranchers, conservationists, government agencies. These groups represent the overarching voices and concerns surrounding the issue of wolf recovery and management. As is plainly acknowledged in the ODFW summary of these meetings, most of the concerns of stakeholders focus on the balance of livestock production and wolf conservation.

Careful consideration of the issues that affect wolf fitness and drive management of the species has been conducted by the ODFW as it developed the revised WMP. Of primary concern is education of and collaboration with humans who live in close proximity of wolf habitat—ranchers and non-ranchers alike. As humans begin to understand the degree of threat posed by wolves and the ecosystem conditions that drive depredation, managers will be better able to serve wolves and in so doing minimize human-wolf conflicts. I believe the WMP outlines an appropriate strategy for managing this conflict, but I think more can be done. For example, Dennehy explains that ODFW personnel are not sure what caused the change in depredation; there was none for a decade, yet the last two years there have been several instances. Therefore, I would propose a study of the relationship between prey availability, habitat fragmentation and livestock predation. This study can draw on what is known about each of these elements separately. A hypothesis can then be formulated about how to avoid killing of livestock by maximizing habitat structure and prey availability in wilderness areas, on both public and private land.

L. David Mech and Rolf O. Peterson (2003), in Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, explain that wolves, though habitat generalists, adjust to a new prey source with lag time. These scientists believe that wolves circulate around their territories, gathering information and testing various types of prey. Lag time is created as wolves gather this information before switching prey. Mech and Peterson offer that this behavior explains seasonal variations in prey capture. As well, these scientists offer data on age of calves taken as prey; most are under one year in age. Most prey, regardless of species are less fit or in some way defective. Another group of scientists: Steven H. Fritts, Robert O. Stephenson, Robert D. Hayes, and Luigi Boitani, also writing for Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, explain the association of certain husbandry practice with depredation. These scientists found that untended livestock in remote pastures or heavily forested areas sustain the highest losses. As well, leaving newborn livestock in remote locations, poor surveillance of livestock, and the presence of carcasses increase the risk of depredation. This information, paired with data on wildlife prey sources within the range of the wolf pack, and a monitoring of possible nutrition stress can be used to minimize the need of livestock for food. By utilizing our knowledge of wolf biology and habitat needs, it is possible to create a harmonious existence between the two species that overleaps the main conflict of livestock depredation. As well, ranchers, as stakeholders, must be willing to make changes in husbandry practices to support this outcome.

Secondary to the objective of managing depredation, it is important that wolves be taken seriously as the indicators of ecosystem function and keystone species of top-down regulation that they are (Carroll, et. al.). Much can be learned, as Carroll suggests, about multi-species conservation strategies by looking at top predators. Here in Oregon, wolves can help frame the discussion about biodiversity. Moving forward, management of this species should include the goals of: habitat protection so that area available to wolves isn’t further degraded; a change in use of public lands for livestock grazing so as to make available a larger hunting range for wolves of their undomesticated prey; monitoring of the tropic cascade of landscape and ecosystem services created by the presence of wolves.

In terms of habitat protection, it is common knowledge that the US ESA provided protection of habitat where endangered species are concerned. Section 7 states that Federal agencies cannot conduct projects that destroy or modify habitat. Wolves occupy Federal public lands, State public lands and private lands. State agencies should follow the ESA mandates of habitat protection. On the ground this will affect where roads are built, where logging or other resource extraction happens, how areas are fenced. In terms of landscape and ecosystem, habitat protection will provide for less fragmentation and more connectivity, aspects that are key to such a far-ranging species as wolves. This conservation goal seems logically possible, and because of the ESA is probably already instituted; however, private landowners should be encouraged to understand the importance of connectivity and other aspects of habitat such as cover and area available for denning. The willingness of public landowners to participate in habitat protection is a constraint to consider in implementing this goal.

The way public lands are used for grazing is most likely regulated by rule-making and other policy setting mechanisms. I am not sure what re-configuration is possible at the local level. Even with policy procedures as a factor to contend with, it seems possible to use Mech’s zoning system mentioned above to create safer spaces on public lands for both wolves and livestock. There is enough science available to help managers understand and designate the types of habitat in which wolves thrive. That said, any changes to availability of public lands for grazing will be met with opposition from the ranching community. There is a long history in the public dialogue of Oregon around this issue. There is enough public support at this time for wolves, and that can be harnessed to create these changes.

Wolves have been back in Oregon for just over a decade. In that time, no research has been conducted to understand their effects on the landscape and ecosystem. I strongly suggest studies such as those conducted be implemented here. Quite simply, because wolves are top predators yet generalists, and so much of their modus operandi is determined by prey relations, it is important to understand how they function in the specific ecosystems where they are found. This knowledge will better inform management decisions and can serve to help mitigate the conflicts with ranchers. Once information is gathered about ecosystem services, the benefits should be communicated to stakeholders. Ranchers should be helped to see how the presence of wolves is beneficial. Also, this date will promote a human understanding of the biodiversity promoted by wolves, thereby furthering support for their presence. Constraints to this management goal are most likely financial, and this type of research takes time. Meanwhile, depredation continues to occur and the pressure to take offending wolves increases.

These objectives are in line with what textbook authors Martha J. Groom, Gary K. Meffe, and C. Ronald Carroll, Principles of Conservation Biology, state as an important research goal of conservation biology: the understanding of the interplay between processes and species as determinates of community structure and biodiversity. They also correlate with the Three Guiding Principles of Conservation Biology: evolution is the basic axiom that unites all of biology; the ecological world is dynamic and largely non-equilibrial; human presence must be included in conservation planning (Groom, et. al.).

The objective of Principle 1, as explained by Groom, et. al. is to ensure populations may continue to respond to environmental change in an adaptive manner. I am strongly suggesting habitat protection, which does not seem to require wolves to adapt. However, their range is broad, and they constantly have to adapt to changes within habitat within that range. It seems prudent to allow for adaption that is in line with intact habitat. Otherwise, wolves will be trying to adapt to landscapes that push the population past carrying capacity due to fragmentation and other degradation.

Principle 2 centers on the acknowledgement that ecosystems are open systems that experience fluxes of species, materials, and energy. Therefore, conservation acts should not be conducted in isolation (Groom, et. al). In my own thinking on wolf recovery and management, I tend toward ecosystem and landscape management. As is outlined above, it makes sense to look at this issue from multiple scientific perspectives that include the species itself, its habitat needs, and what it provides to the ecosystem in return.

In explanation of Principle 3, Groom, et. al state that, “[w]e must incorporate problems of modern culture into conservation, for they will have the largest influences on resource use.” As is clearly illustrated throughout this paper, human attitudes shape wolf management. These authors also suggest that a relationship between conservation and a reasonable standard of living is the only way to achieve conservation objectives that fall along the dividing line of the environment vs. economics. While the fate of wolves in Oregon seems to be promising on the biological front, their longevity here can only be sustained when they are able to coexist with ranchers.

Overall, I am optimistic about wolf recovery in Oregon. Citizens of this state have a long history of arguing over spotted owls vs. loggers, wolves vs. ranchers, salmon vs. hydro-electric power. The dialogue is always heated. Yet, we are always united by our love of the land, and this commonality paves the way for progressive solutions to these issues. So far, the ODFW Wolf Management Plan has been effective in sorting out the conflicts created by wolves here. There is enough science available, and research opportunities to make that science specific to Oregon’s needs that the future management of wolves will be effective.

The Science of Wolves

By Neva Knott

For Wolf Awareness Week, I’m going to post the series of papers I wrote in graduate school for my Conservation Biology course, all on wolves. To produce these papers, I read pretty much everything in the science literature about wolves, and studied the controversy in Oregon–my home at the time. These were written in 2010, but the scientific research is still the most current. What’s changed since is an increase in advocacy. Here’s the first:

Introduction

The current body of research on wolves began in the early 1990s. What is significant about the current body of research, and what sets it apart from what was done before, is that all of it is geared toward understanding wolf reintroduction or re-colonization. Reintroduction programs were conceptualized after the passage of the US Endangered Species Act, which gave protection to the gray wolf. Across the literature, it is clear that the first questions scientists asked were: What are the characteristics of this species? What will it take for this species to thrive? Where are the most habitable places? Along with this much information about the biology of the wolf itself was gathered. From the body of knowledge that now exists, one can now understand a wolf’s habits and needs so that management decisions can be shaped around the ESA policy of protection. As this current body of research has taken shape, Yellowstone National Park, the first site of reintroduction, has emerged as model landscapes. Now the scientific research question has become: What is happening within the ecosystem because wolves are here? Unknown

Image: wiki commons

Literature Review

Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation is the wolf-ology compendium. Published in 2003 by University of Chicago Press and editied by L. David Mech and Luigi Biotani, this book covers everything know about wolves as a species to date: social ecology, reproductive, social, and intellectual behavior, carnivorousness, prey relations, population dynamics, physiology, genetics, evolution and taxonomy, interactions with non-prey, and human interaction. As well, Wolves gives scientific correction to some commonly held misbeliefs about wolves such as attacks made on humans, prey relationships, and livestock depredation. Each chapter addresses a specific topic and is authored by an expert for that field. As a collection, these essays provide an in-depth analysis of the risk factors for wolves: persecution, habitat structure and fragmentation, and prey availability. Anyone working with wolves or concerned about wolves should read this book.

Wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park (YNP) in 1995. Simultaneously, L. David Mech (2005) published “The Challenges and Opportunities of Recovering Wolf Populations” in the journal, Conservation Biology. Just before that, Steven H. Fitts, Edward E. Bangs, and James F. Gore (2004) published “The relationship of wolf recovery to habitat conservation and biodiversity in the northwestern United States” in Landscape and Urban Planning. Taken together, these papers clearly outline what is needed for wolves to survive on the contemporary American landscape. Both papers speak to the needs and functionality of habitat and shape their arguments in favor of wolves as a natural part of the landscape. Mech’s paper looks at reproduction rate and dispersal to consider how wolf habitat needs can be met and managed within the context of human use of land. He is straightforward in his acknowledgement that wolf reintroduction will require some form of wolf control. Fritts, et. al., look not only at habitat, but a availability of prey. As with Mech, they consider where appropriate land might be found, both public and private in ownership, and consider how to control wolves found in the wrong places. These authors conclude simply that, given the availability of land, wolves need only two things to survive: ungulate prey and freedom from human persecution.

Now that wolves have been reintroduced, scientists understand that wolves create a trophic cascade in the ecosystem. Douglas W. Smith, Rolf D. Peterson, and Douglas B. Houston (2003) published “Yellowstone after Wolves” in the journal, BioScience. William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta (2004) published “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?” also in BioScience. Smith, et. al., discuss how the presence of wolves has created balance in animal and plant populations. Ripple and Beschta set the YNP reintroduction into much broader contexts, looking at change over time and at a more complex web of interactions. Both papers clearly support wolf presence as a necessary function of the ecosystem.

Overall, this body of literature gives strong information about the wolf and it’s function as a top predator. A theme has emerged that suggests wolves and humans can and should live on the same landscape.

Knowledge Gaps

Even though the existing literature is rich, there are knowledge gaps. Some of these are identified for the reader in Wolves (2003): dispersal and immigration; effects of prey types and multiple prey; multiple breeding females; role of disease; wolf-human relationships; population assessment; effects on low-density prey; pup survival. Smith, et. al. (2003) in “Yellowstone after Wolves” acknowledge that there is more to know about vegetation further down the trophic cascade. Ripple and Busheta (2004) suggest that a better understanding of elk adaptive responses to wolf presence is needed.

In terms of wolves in my bioregion, there is a knowledge gap in application of the YNP studies as relevant to Oregon. What will be the same here, and what will differ? One clear area of difference is habitat fragmentation, as is addressed in the Oregon Wolf Management Plan. The state’s wilderness is much more parced out and has more roads than does a national park.

Proposed Study

In Oregon, not only are landscape configurations different than in YNP, wolves have taken up residence in an area that is primarily used for ranching. This is another factor that is different than the protection offered in a national park. Therefore, I would propose a study of the relationship between prey availability, habitat fragmentation and livestock predation. This study can draw on what is known about each of these elements separately. A hypothesis can then be formulated about how to avoid killing of livestock by maximizing habitat structure and prey availability.

Conclusion Wolves have not been re-introduced into Oregon, but are dispersing here. All of the literature points to human attitudes as a significant factor in the success of wolves anywhere in America. By utilizing our knowledge of wolf biology and habitat needs, it is possible to create a harmonious existence between the two species that overleaps the main conflict of livestock depredation. As proven in YNP, Oregon’s ecosystem will benefit greatly from these top predators.

Literature Cited

Fritts, Steven H., et. al. 1994. The relationship of wolf recovery to habitat conservation and biodiversity in the northwestern United States.  Landscape and Urban Planning.

Mech, L. David. 1995The Challenge and Opportunity of Recovering Wolf Populations. 1995. Conservation Biology.

Mech, L. David and Biotani, Luigi, eds. Wolves–Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. 2003. University of Chicago Press.

Ripple, William J., and Beschta, Robert L. 2004. Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?  BioScience. Smith, Douglas, et. al. 2003. Yellowstone after Wolves. 2003. BioScience .

Along My Goat Path to My Bioregion

Text and Photographs by Neva Knott

As I make lunch, pondering the blog post I need to write today, a crazy rain begins. Moments ago it was sunny. I had the slider to the back yard open for the dogs, and all of the windows open to let in the clean fall air. Now, rain comes down in a fury. Large drops plash and make wide rings that jump back up off surfaces. Water flows over my gutters. I rush to shut the slider, only to find a stand of water on the floor. I mop it, and then move around the house, shutting windows and wiping floors–rainwater has come in through each opening. As I throw the wet towels into the washing machine, I remember reading something in my Facebook newsfeed about a typhoon that will sit off the west coast this weekend. I conduct a quick google search, and I find Typhoon Vongfong, headed for Japan, the biggest storm to hit the planet this year. One report suggests the west coast will get some blowback from Vongfong. I concur.

An hour later, as I sit down to write this post, the third wave of the storm hits. I had planned to write about bioregionalism, that intense commitment to living where one lives, but Vongfong has reminded me of the interconnectedness of all things, and the importance of global awareness. When I read of storms like this one, I am reminded that we’re all facing environmental disaster and that we’re all in it together. We–and by this I mean all humans on this planet–have got to find a way to change how we live in relationship to the natural world. Super-storms are going to blow and humans are mere mortals in the face of them. But the poisoning of the ocean from nuclear waste leakage from reactors at Fukushima or the desecration of the ocean via an oil spill like the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are within human control.

So, even though global awareness is important because the interconnectedness of the planet’s life-sustaining systems is undeniable, bioregionalism is a fail safe in the face of today’s environmental threats.

Peter Berg, a Haight-Ashbury activist, is credited with coining the term “bioregionalism.” The website for his foundation, Planet Drum, gives this definition:

“A bioregion is defined in terms of the unique overall pattern of natural characteristics that are found in a specific place. The main features are generally found throughout a continuous geographic terrain and include a particular climate, local aspects of seasons, landforms, watersheds, soils, and native plants and animals. People are also counted as an integral aspect of a place’s life, as can be seen in the ecologically adaptive cultures of early inhabitants, and in the activities of present day…attempt to harmonize in a sustainable way with the place where they live.”

In my last post, I mentioned wanting to get to better know where I live, Olympia, Washington. I was born here. Then we moved overseas. We returned when I was in the eighth grade. I graduated high school here, spent about a year after working at a pizza joint, and then moved to Portland, Oregon, just two hours south. I lived in Portland for most of the next 32 years (except for a short stint back in Oly to finish my undergrad degree at The Evergreen State College).

But where to begin here? I know I live in the Cascadia Bioregion and in the Puget Trough ecoregion. Yet, as I sat down to write, my bioregion seemed too big to break down into a blog post. I looked through my graduate school texts and papers. I traced my steps to knowing Oregon, and I realized so much of my Oregon study was a continuation of the experiential knowledge I had of those landscapes, gathered over 30 years of road trips, hikes, camping, and beach walks. In that realization, I found my plot for this writing.

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Image: wiki commons

I decided to follow my goat path. My mom coined the term “goat path,” that route each of us travels daily from home to work, barn to fodder…

***

It’s Saturday. I begin the day by walking the dogs in the middle school sports field below my house. A buffer of mature Douglas fir, Big Leaf Maple, and Alder–all indigenous species–separate the row of homes from the track, baseball diamonds, and soccer pitches. As the dogs go on, sniffing for scents from deer and coyote, I look back at the trees and ponder subdivision development then and now. My whole neighborhood was build with tall trees left standing, whereas today’s developers clear-cut, leaving nothing but dust on the plat before they begin to build. Crows, jays, robins and bats live in my trees and killdeer find habitat in their understory. There’s a slight downslope between two parts of the field. In the rain it fills enough that Mallard ducks and Canadian Geese stop off to rest and swim.

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After the dog walk, I make a cup of tea, don my yoga clothes, and head down town to The Yoga Loft. En route, I stop at the co-op. I’ve had a membership there since college, since 1987. I grab a nut and seed cookie, chat with the volunteer cashier, pay and keep on. As I leave the co-op, which is just a mile from my house, on the corner in a residential neighborhood (but nonetheless a hub), I decide to take the back route down the hill.

I like the view–a part of the Port where lumber awaits shipment. Though deforestation is a significant environmental concern, logging is part of the cultural and economic reality here and, thankfully, the ways of the industry are changing in favor of sustainability, albeit to varying degrees.

Then it’s across the bridge over the confluence of Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet, both of which form the mouth of the Deschutes River as it flows into Puget Sound.

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Image: DERT

The salmon run just passed through these waters a couple of weeks ago on its way up the Deschutes to spawn. Each year, at least now, someone puts letters on the bridge rail, S-E-E T-H-E S-A-L-M-O-N H-E-R-E, an attempt at community environmental education, I guess. When I was in college, it was legal to fish on the Sound side of the bridge when the salmon were running, but not on the lake side. That’s how we ate one winter; each day, my housemates and I stood on the bridge and fished until we had the day’s limit.

I park along Water Street, and walk down to the lake. Mallard ducks fly over the water. Runners run, walkers walk–some with coffee. Dogs sniff. The wind blows. On occasion, I’ve seen a Blue Heron fishing off the shore. And, unfortunately, trash floats long the surface of the water.

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Of current debate is the proposal to remove the dam that makes Capitol Lake a lake rather than the estuary for the Deschutes as it enters Budd Inlet. It’s a man-made lake designed to be the reflection pool for the state capitol building that sits on the hill above it. The lake is currently closed to swimming and boating because of several ecological problems such as high levels of river sediment, fecal coliform bacteria, infestation by Eurasian milfoil the New Zealand Mudsnail. I swam in this lake as a child.

The Yoga Loft is in the old American Legion building. I don’t always know how yoga fits within my sustainable perspective, but today I am reminded. As class begins and the teacher reminds everyone not to go to the place of pain, she references the yogic principle ahimsa, do no harm. She actually says, “Usually we think of doing no harm to others, animals, and the environment…” and that’s when I connect.

After class, I pause before getting in the car, looking around my immediate surrounds. Much of the time I find Olympia to be boring. I’m used to the bright city lights, literally and metaphorically, and to the easily accessible Oregon natural landscape. As I pause this morning, I realize that this landscape–Olympia–is where I learned about the natural world, where I learned, from my dad, about living in accordance with nature’s rhythms and the planet’s natural resources. I vow to get to know this place better, in the here and now.

I take the main road back up the hill. Westside Central Park sits at main intersection before I turn right toward home. This corner plot stood abandoned and derelict for years. Last spring, someone bought it and donated it to the community. It now blooms and is slowly becoming a little respite in the flow of goat paths.

So back to this idea of the bioregion. It’s a place that shares biological features. Those features support life for all of its inhabitants. The inhabitants, in turn, promote the health of the bioregion by caring for it and by living within it. In a simple sense, my goat path carries me through my bioregion: through the trees left standing when my house was built, to the corner store where most of the food comes from local farms and all of it is made as sustainably as possible, past the waterways that carry the salmon that feed all the peoples of the Pacific Northwest. All points on my goat path intersect with like-minded, friendly people doing their parts to live more lightly on the earth.

***

When I first read this passage from Brian Doyle’s novel, Mink River, I thought, that’s my bioregion, spelled out:

“Neawanaka has been a settlement of one size or another for perhaps five thousand years. Human beings lived here for all the normal reason you can name: it is well watered, with small but persistent creeks to the north and south, a small but serious river running right smack through town, and an Ocean. There are trout in the creeks, salmon and steelhead run up the river and creeks seasonally, and perch and halibut and cod and such swim not too far offshore; there are so many fish of so many kinds in and around the town that for perhaps five thousand years the name of the town was So Many Fish in the native tongue spoken here. There are deer and elk in the spruce and cedar forests. It hardly ever snows in winter and hardly ever bakes in summer. It does get an unbelievable amount of rain…and the rain starts in November and doesn’t really end, as a continuous moist narrative, until July, but then those next four months are crisp and sunny and extraordinary times, when every living creature, from the pale cloudberry close to the eagles the size of tents floating overhead, is grinning and exuberant.”

After reading this passage, I thought, no need for anything from elsewhere–this place can support itself. This is the point of bioregionalism–it precludes reliance on goods and services from outside. Bioregionalism is steeped in regional relationships that support sustainable use of natural resources for  all the needs of all the region’s inhabitants. And this is why I call bioregionalism a fail safe for the resource-depleted times to come.

***

They say, when the worst happens, that climate refugees will come here to the Pacific Northwest, largely because we’ll still have water. Though the sky has turned back to crayon blue in the time I’ve been writing and the clouds are once again puffy and white, today’s storm is a reminder that climate change is upon us, and that nope, we’ll not run out of water in these parts any time soon.

And as the world continues to change, here in Olympia, we’ll continue to adapt. We’ll better understand that man-made lakes might make pretty mirrors for man-made buildings, but that clean water and viable habitat is more important. And I’ll continue to hope that all the climate refugees will not come here. Instead, I hope everyone begins to understand how to live bioregionally–to find find their own versions of a healthy salmon run and their own versions of an inhabitable, clean-water estuary, so that they can feed themselves from the bounty of the places they live.

What to do with your old clothes…

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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Thurston County’s Plastic Bag Ban

By Neva Knott

All photographs courtesy of wiki commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A swarm of krill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shooting Wolves in Washington State

By Neva Knott

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

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

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

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Photograph courtesy of WDFW.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image courtesy of Wild Earth Guardians.

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

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

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

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

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Photograph courtesy of WDFW.