Killing Prairie Dogs, Wolves, and Cormorants

After receiving some disturbing news today,  I digress from my current blog series on Nature’s organizing principles to talk about an unusual subject — prairie dogs. Prairie dog ecology fits well within the overall theme of this blog site because prairie dogs are an important key species in the grassland environments of the central and western United States. Bowing to pressure from agricultural interests (the same old story), the US Forest Service (USFS) plans to poison some 16,000 Black Tailed Prairie Dogs within the public grasslands at Thunder Basin National Grasslands near Douglas, Wyoming.

In earlier writings, I had praised the USFS for prohibiting the killing of prairie dogs on public lands where they have jurisdiction. But, this Quiet-9393seems to have changed. Killing will be allowed within public lands near the borders to private land. Somehow, the USFS seems to think that their “micro-management” will appease the agriculture people who fear that prairie dog burrows will result in broken legs of their livestock. Once again, the myth that man can control Nature is promoted by those to claim to be stewards of public lands.

Like the the wolf killings and the killing of cormorants , there is no scientific justification behind the killing of prairie dogs. The government’s killing spree results from the pressure of agricultural special interest groups without any study of or regard for the ecosystems in which these creatures live. The proposed action by the USFS demonstrates a total lack of understanding regarding Nature’s complex ecosystems. Modern systems science has now matured to a point where the USFS biologists and ecologists can use previously unfamiliar ideas to help make wise decisions. I can only presume that these very intelligent people have become overpowered by the loud and uninformed noises that come from the agriculture community.

Author Richard Conniff provides an excellent summary of the situation in his web article entitled Slaughter of the Innocents

There is an extensive and well written description of prairie dog ecology posted by The Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation program which is led by biologist  Dr Michael Noonan. In part they describe how the prairie dog is connected to the prairie habitat:

Prairie dogs are considered a “keystone species” for the prairies. This means that they are a species whose existence adds to a diversity of life. If this keystone species becomes extinct, it would mean the extinction of many other forms of life as well. Over 200 other species have been observed living on or near prairie dog colonies. These colonies contribute to the ecosystem by providing burrows for other animals such as burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets, and snakes; providing a food source for such species as badgers, black-footed ferrets, coyotes, and many birds of prey; and their burrowing churns the soil to enable the earth to better sustain plant life. Without prairie dogs present, many aspects of the prairie life would change or disappear.”

Worth Your Extra Attention :

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I have a section in my blog entitled “Musings”. You can reach it by clicking on the menu tab near the top of my blog site. This area contains my growing list of posts that list web material that I have found interesting. You might stop by an take a look.

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Idaho Tactical Hunters Kill As Many Wolves As They Can.

This series of blog postings contains the most recent  Internet articles that interest me. They are sources for my musings and my research which I am happy to share with you.  If you find any of the articles in this series  interesting, I hope that you will offer your comments at the end of the list.

Instead of sharing a number of Internet articles this week, I want to share a priceless parody and commentary on  macho Idaho wolf hunters. Sadly, every implication is true. This is being reposted with permission from blogger Rick Merill who posts a lot of great information on apex predators. I love what he regularly presents to us. Please visit his blog.

One of Rick’s readers sent him an email which sarcastically (but truthfully) poked at Idaho hunters. Rick explains” 

One of our Blog readers has a knack for parody and outright sarcasm as it relates to the State Of Idaho seemingly consumed with the need to kill as many Wolves as they possibly can. Does anyone do any legitimate work in Idaho? Does anyone bother to read in Idaho? You would think that you are watching a Science Fiction film about invaders from Mars when you read the daily diatribe against Wolves that is published, broadcast and “tabletop talked” at saloons and taverns across this State on a daily basis. To be fair, Americans of all stripes have certain concerns about living wild animals in their midst. But just as fair, many of these same Americans are at least willing to open their minds a bit about co-existence with “The Creator’s” other carnivorous creatures.The movie NOAH, starring Russell Crowe is coming out in a few weeks. If there is a God or Gods or a Force that is responsible for all living  things on this Planet(for each of us to have our own thoughts and beliefs yea and nay on this matter), “he, she or it” seems to have wanted all of life’s creation to “spread their wings, multiply and take their rightful place in the circle of life. Biodiversity with the creatures that bite, sting, growl and roar were allowed on Noah’s Ark just like those creatures that mewed, purred and neighed. WAKE UP FELLOW IDAHO NEIGHBORS,AND ALL OF YOU OTHER AMERICANS WHO ARE SO QUICK TO KILL WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING WITH CARNIVORES IN OUR MIDST. The Wolves, Pumas, Bears, Coyotes, Wolverines, Foxes, Alligators, Sharks, et al. merit their place alongside us. If we want the most robust gene pool and “planet potential positive” conditions for ourselves and future generations, then we do need to retain and nurture all of the “cogs and wheels”, not just those we want to hunt, eat, pet or farm. Thank you Annonymous Blog Reader for your “tongue-in-cheek” take on our Wolf crazed Idaho neighbors. May they (and all of us) wake up and embrace all of life around us. REMEMBER, ONCE AN ORGANISM IS GONE, IT IS GONE AND WE NEVER CAN BRING EM BACK–WE HAVE EXTERMINATED TOO MANY OF CREATURES ALREADY—NO MORE CARNAGE!

Then, from his anonymous blog reader, Rick treats us to this priceless but very sick parody:

Long Range Tactical hunters join State and Federal officials in hunt for killer wolf in Sun Valley.  OK folks. I still have tears running downWolfHunt_1 my cheeks – not from crying but from laughing so hard. I see that Idaho For Wildlife have sent in Delta Force hunters to take out wolves west of Hailey, Idaho.

You see in Idaho hunters are not just run of the mill hunters. Our Idaho hunters, especially those who belong to anti-wolf groups like Idaho For Wildlife or Save Western Wildlife, are known as, now here goes, Long Range Tactical Hunters.

Yes, because this wolf is so aggressive as to have killed a “baby horse” and attacked two dogs, we have some of Idaho elite hunters after the wolf NOT TO MENTION, Wildlife Services in an airplane circling over head to instill “shock and awe” into this wolf. I am amazed that Wildlife Services hasn’t employed these elite gunmen decades ago but I guess I didn’t know that such men existed except in our military.

I do know that they have a non-fiction book entitled Warrior Dreams that wannabee “Long Range Tactical Hunters” should read, if they know how. I read the book and realized that I am just about the right age to become one of these tactical specimens because they normally are baby-boomer age with gray hair, large bellies and beards of various sorts.

Camo is what they wear from morning til night often with headgear labeled NRA and have slogans on their diesels talking about “Smoke-A-Pack-A-Day” which I assume are Lucky Strikes.

WolfHunt_2Now I don’t know if you’ve seen any of Idaho’s “Long Range Tactical Hunters” or not but usually they drive big diesel pickups with ATVs in the back and wear camo clothes, carry guns on their hips, ankles, and in shoulder holsters along with larger automatic weapons with banana clips slung over their shoulders but seldom walk if they can ride their ATVs, Rhinos or snow machines – of course all with silent engines in “stealth mode” when in pursuit of wolves so as not to scare them when they sneak up on them.

You can kind of get the pulse beat of this operation when you read the attached email from this anti-wolf group – people putting $100 bills on their windshield and all. You see “Long Range Tactical Hunters” take this hunting serious in Idaho, especially when the animal is a non-Native, gigantic, mega Canuck wolf from way up North in Canada where wolves run in packs – this in contrast to the normal coyote-size wolves that hunted rabbits as solitary animals and lived in harmony with ranchers before the wolf reintroduction.

These oversized, bloodthirsty wolves that were reintroduced and hunt baby horses because of their genetic inclination for “reflex sport-killing take real men to hunt them down”. Whiskey and beer are often part of the tactical teams tool chest and helps fuel their courage until they can hit a steakhouse to “beef up” for tomorrow’s hunt. I wish I had video footage of these athletic “Long Range Tactical Hunters” storming the hillsides around Hailey but this operation is covert because these men don’t want other average, run-of-the-mill hunters seeing their tactics in action.

Never before in history have Wildlife Services and Idaho’s “Long Range Tactical Hunters” teamed up to go after wolves before but WolfHunt_3with Governor Otters $2 million “wolf kill bill” funded for years to come I am guessing these men will probably introduce drones into the equation too, except I heard that Wildlife Services were going to take their marbles and go home if drones got in the way of their airplanes and helicopters.

Well, I have to reread this email one more time because my doctor tells me that hysterical laughing is really good for blood pressure and health and now that my eyes have cleared up from my last uncontrollable chuckles, I’m ready to risk it one more time.

Don’t hesitate to share this with others, but realize, we take wolf killin’ seriously in Idaho, so if anybody thinks they want to come and hunt for this wolf, I think they should at least be X Marines, X Navy Seals, or X Rangers because that would be the only kind of men/women that could match the caliber (no pun intended) of our “LONG RANGE TACTICAL HUNTERS” in Idaho.

WolfHunt_4PS – as IdahoForWolves says: “Hopefully this dangerous wolf will be brought down soon!”

More commentary:

Year after year, Idaho demonstrates its intolerance for wolves. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, while tasked with preserving all of Idaho’s wildlife, continues to ratchet up hunting, trapping and snaring pressure on Idaho’s diminishing wolf population.

Is Isle Royale A Case For Ecological Intervention ?

You would be totally forgiven if you had never heard of Isle Royale National Park. It is an island that is located in Lake Superior in the USA. The park is a designated wilderness site. No vehicles are allowed and only primitive camping is permitted. There is no land bridge but there was an ice bridge in the late 1940s.  Wolves ( and presumably moose ) migrated to the island using this ice bridge. In the 1960s, ice bridges only formed every two out of three winters. However, with global warming, the ice bridges now form about once every 10 years. The last know wolf crossing was in 1997. The wolf population on the island has declined from 24 in 2009 to 8 in 2013.

There has been quite a bit of activity on the Internet regarding Isle Royale’s wolf population. Some of these 20wolves0505offerings are listed later in this post. The question that keeps coming up is, should the US Park Service (USPS)  let that wolf population decline and possibly die off or should the USPS employ active restoration by adding new wolves to the gene pool at Isle Royal ? The USPS calls it a “genetic rescue” because of the heavy inbreeding of the remaining wolves. Arguments for the restoration by scientists center around the desire for a continuing study of wolf/moose interrelationships and the decline in flora on the island through accelerated foraging by an expanded prey (the moose) resulting from little or no predation by wolves.  It is the argument of passive restoration versus active restoration. Passive restoration could mean no restoration at all unless an ice bridge forms and wolves were to find the ice bridge.

Ecological restoration can be defined as “the process of assisting the recovery and management of ecological integrity,” including a “critical range of variability in biodiversity, ecological processes and structures, regional and historical context, and sustainable cultural practices” (Society of Ecological Restoration, http://www.ser.org/definitions.html).

Restoration can be “passive”, in which the degrading agent(s) is identified and removed without any further action by man. Active restoration is where management techniques are employed (such as reintroduction) with a particular goal in mind. The need for any kind of restoration assumes some level of impairment in an ecosystem.

Predator and PreyBut these definitions are typically applied to ecosystems where mankind has created some sort of ecological damage. This is not the case at Isle Royale because it has been capably kept in a pristine state by the USPS. Wolves and moose came to the island by way of a natural ice bridge which is now only seasonally available. The negative hand of mankind could only be attributed to the yet-to-be proven effects of global warming causing the ice bridge to form less frequently.

For me, I vote for passive ecology with the USPS not intervening and letting Nature take her course as has been the case at Isle Royale for a long time. Mankind would simply be meddling with Nature.  The wolf and the elk appeared through acts of Nature, mankind’s hand played little or no part in these creature’s lives on the island, and future acts of Nature should determine the ecological fate of the island. Man’s desires and intentions, such as the desire for further research, should not be an influencing factor in the decision by the USPS no matter how noble and sincere the intentions of the researchers.

What do you think? Read the accompanying references shown below and let us know with your comments

Photos by: AP Photo/Michigan Tech University, John Vucetich

 

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Thanks for reading this blog post. Here are some useful references about Isle Royale.

 

Listen To this very interesting public radio broadcast on the subject where both sides of the debate are aired

 

Silence of the wolves: Should we save the 8 on Isle Royal?

 

Howling pups show Isle Royale wolves are reproducing, but not out of danger

 

Should the declining inbred wolves of Isle Royale N.P. be augmented?

 

Climate Change Is Killing The Wolves Of Isle Royale. Should The Government Save Them?

 

Isle Royale researchers debate intervention to help wolf population

 

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Some Thoughts On Invasive Species

 

Throughout my adventures in Nature, I’ve heard the words “invasive species” used extensively by environmentally conscious individuals and organizations as well as those government agencies who oversee public lands. The context in which “invasive species” is used is typically with a connotation of being bad — something that needs to be destroyed. Being the “suspicious scientist” type, I’ve given some thought and done some research on the subject of invasive species which I would like to share with you. My purpose in writing this blog is both to present my views and to solicit your views. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d like to hear from you.

First, let’s define “invasive species”.  The one that strikes me comes from the Yukon Territories Canadian Government :

“An invasive species is defined as an organism (plant, animal, fungus, or bacterium) that is not native and has negative effects on our economy, our environment, or our health. Not all introduced species are invasive. Invasive plants and animals are the second greatest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss. In other North American jurisdictions many invasive plants are responsible for habitat damage, loss of subsistence resources, and economic loss.”

From where I sit, this definition  offers a concise description of the current usage of the  term “invasive species”. But for me, there are some incongruities in the current idea of invasive species that need clarification and consideration:

The most invasive species on our planet is mankindEgoNature_1

This is an interesting paradox. We are defining invasive species as
those factors that negatively affect the human race and not necessarily the environment. There is no population control of our own invasiveness. Yet, we try to control the invasiveness of other species.

Invasive species are a normal part of evolutionary processes

Invasive species are essential to the process of evolution. Many times, evolution takes place when a species moves on to new territory and adapts to a new environment. Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands are a famous example. Almost everything on earth is an invasive species.

Therefore, we must be careful when we employ a negative connotation to the words “invasive species”. As I will point out later in this blog, there are some invasive species that do a great job in controlling other invasive species.

Invasive species are not as widespread as some would have us believe

Researchers at the Center for Limnology at the University of barkbeetleWisconsin–Madison found that invasive species follow a “nearly universal pattern in ecology — that invasive species are rare in most locations and abundant in a few.” The study’s lead author, Gretchen Hansen, notes that “high abundance is the exception, not the rule.” The study suggests that invasive species management should focus on those exceptions where the invaders do in fact spread like wild fire. The study goes on to suggest that managers try to identify invasive species “hot spots” where they are prolific and then spend conservation funds where it will have the greatest impact.

The claimed negative effects of certain invasive species are sometimes without scientific basis

Recently, I spend two days  at the Fish and Wildlife Service bird sanctuary at  Bosque del Apache near Socorro, New Mexico. It was a wonderful time watching and photographing thousands of migrating birds. The preserve offered a really great tour of the facility which was conducted by very capable volunteer docents. Part of BlogImage-1726the tour addressed the issue of the invasion of salt cedar into this human engineered wetland. Information was offered on the many bad things about Tamarisk. I have a tendency to check out the science behind the information from tour guides that they have acquired during their training by their handlers. But, the tour guide was so convincing that I believed the information that was offered about the negative aspects of Tamarisk as an invasive species. I believed their information until I found this  web site and video.

The web site offers a very holistic perspective on the Tamarisk issue that has caused me, once again, to affirm that mother Nature has much better ways of coping with her ecosystems than does mankind. Indeed, the Tamarisk is a beneficial plant in certain environments.  The web site states:

States in the Southwest spend millions of dollars each year on pesticides and herbivorous beetles to control salt cedar. Now, however, studies suggest that salt cedar uses up no more water than native species and that the spread of salt cedar is largely due to changes in hydrology caused by building dams and irrigation canals. This video explores both sides of the debate over salt cedar and examines whether the battle against it is a misguided use of public funds.

Removal of invasive species can sometimes be more harmful than the species that we wish to eradicate

I find myself deeply disturbed about the means by which some organizations attempt to eradicate an invasive species. To me it seems that the bad consequences of poor eradication methods is far greater than the effect of the invasive species.

The classic example is described by Rachel Carson when the US Government desired to kill off sagebrush. Sagebrush was then considered “invasive” by farmers and ranchers who wanted more grazing land. Carson writes:

As noted in my blog post on Rachel Carson’s legacy, Carson described how the U.S.Forest Service used chemical weed killers to kill sagebrush and substitute grasslands for cattle ranchers who leased government land. In her own words, she described this folly by our government:

“The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and the earth, between plants and other plants, between plants and mammals…. It was no accident that the great plains of the West became the land of the sage. The bitter upland plains, the purple wastes of sage, the wild, swift antelope, and the grouse are then a natural system in perfect balance. ..One of the most tragic examples of our unthinking bludgeoning of the landscape is to be seen in the sagebrush lands of the West, where a vast campaign is on to destroy the sage (using weed killer) and substitute grasslands.…it is clear that the whole closely knit fabric has been ripped apart. The antelope and the grouse will disappear along with the sage. The deer will suffer too… The spraying also eliminates a great many plants that were not its intended target. The sage was killed as intended. But, so was the green life-giving ribbon of willows… Moose had lived in these willow thickets, for willow is to the moose what sage is to the antelope. Beaver had lived there too, feeding on the willows, felling them and making a strong dam across the tiny stream. Through the labor of the beavers, a lake backed up. Trout in the lake thrived so prodigiously that many grew to five pounds. Waterfowl were attracted to the lake, also. But with the ‘improvement’ instituted by the Forest Service, the willows went the way of the sagebrush, killed by the same impartial spray. The moose were gone and so was the beaver. Their principal dam had gone out for want of attention by its skilled architects, and the lake drained away. None of the large trout were left. The living world was shattered.”

Due to human insensitivity and an ignorance regarding the interconnectivity in Nature,  government funds have been used to “manage” our environment and sometimes create ecological disasters. What is not understood by many of Nature’s stewards is that it is impossible to manage Nature.

There are some recent examples of questionable means of killing off buffelgrassinvasive species. Despite the lessons taught by the Rachel Carson story, the US Department of Agriculture has chosen to fight off a Buffelgrass invasion by employing the aerial spraying of Roundup – a common weed killer. Much like the folks in Rachel Carson’s day, these people seem to be sure that their aerial spraying will stop the invasion of Buffelgrass without harming anything else. There is no doubt that Buffelgrass is an species that meets the definition of invasive species because it was introduced by mankind through cattle ranching and grazing operations (yes- the same people who now want to kill wolves and get rid of the sage brush ). But, the proposed cure is worse than the effect of the invasive species.

Here is a great video on the anthropomorphic perspective of the invasive Buffelgrass.

In another example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service at their Bosque del Apache nature preserve used chemical weed killers to killing off the Tamarisk (Salt Cedar) that lined the edges of their artificially created wetlands for birds.  Earlier, the US Park Service, in cooperation with others, established a Tamarisk eradication program along the banks of the Colorado River. They also used herbicides.

However, Nature seems to have offered a control of its own. The tamariskbeetleTamarisk Leaf Beetle has appeared. It can selectively kill Tamarisk and is apparently doing so along the Colorado River. I was recently told that the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle is now starting to appear at Bosque del Apache.

I find the story of the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle most interesting because the beetle is an invasive species. As it turns out, this invasive insect is considered beneficial to man because it is killing out an invasive specie that mankind wants to eradicate – the Tamarisk.

The lesson, as I see it, is that passive restoration using certain kinds of invasive species is a real and a viable approach to resolving certain ecological issues that mankind wants to control. In other words, let Nature take her own course.

I’d love to hear from you on the subject of invasive species.

 

Worth Your Extra Attention 

Thanks for reading this blog post.

One of my loyal readers, Garry Rogers, just published a wonderful post entitled Outdoor Recreation Aids Invasive Plants . His perspective in this article is a must read for everyone interested in this subject.

Garry has written other interesting posts on the subject:

Soil Microorganisms

Invasive Plants In North American Deserts

Disturbance and Invasive Plants

Does Livestock Grazing Cause Plant Invasions?

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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More Great Conservation Heroes

As I do research for my blog posts, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that all is not gloom and doom in the world of conservation.  In between the wolf killings and the ATVs, there are many silent heroes who are making a difference and setting examples for the rest of us. I’ve already noted examples of positive conservation in previous posts. Rachel Carson, shown in the lead picture for this post, is probably the most well known conservation hero. But today, there are many silent and unsung heroes.  In this post, I offer some examples that offer hope and encouragement to those of us who are sometimes overwhelmed by a sea of discouragement.

Some of my conservation heroes are readers of this blog. A number of you, professionals in various fields of endeavor, have reached out to mentor me and encourage me as I write on various subjects. To those of you who are by my side, I am deeply grateful. Your efforts have resulted in a significant improvement in the material offered in this blog. Through your help, you have provided important information to a growing audience of readers and followers.

Non-lethal predator control really works

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of passive restoration. In previous posts, I’ve been outspoken against the idea of killing wolves MexWolfOrg_1and other top predators either as a convenience to ranchers and farmers or by hunters who want a trophy. But, beneath the emotional rhetoric put out by the agricultural industry and hunting advocates, there are groups of conservation heroes who have emerged with successful stories about how ranching interests can be protected while preserving the top predators.

I begin by praising Yellowstone National Park for their reintroduction of the wolf as well as biologists Bill Ripple and Bob Bechta for developing the scientific evidence at Yellowstone that the great carnivores are revitalizing forces of Nature. Their work is chronicled in the wonderful video, Lords of Nature . From this work came the realization that these creatures are an important part of  Nature’s ecosystems. They warrant non-lethal human measures to protect top predators while protecting livestock.

Some ranches are having great success using range riders to protect their livestock. Take a moment to read this story about the success of using range riders to protect livestock from top predators. In part, the article states:

Well, the cows did finally come home last fall—every last one of them, with no losses to wolves or, for that matter, any other predator. After weighing the cattle, the Dawsons were proud to report some of the best weight gain they could remember after any grazing season on their allotments.

Here is another story from the White Mountains of Arizona where volunteers help manage the reintroduction of the Mexican Gray Wolf. The article reports:

In 2000, commissioners in Marin County, Calf., developed a comprehensive non-lethal predator management program. Of the 29 ranches operating in Marin, 18 set aside lethal methods. Instead, they used a combination of 22 guard dogs, 19 llamas, 24.6 miles of electric fencing, 16 strobe light and radio devices, and a number of sheep bells. The cost was $40,000 a year. Over five years, County Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen reports that the non-lethal strategies did a better job protecting livestock than Wildlife Services’ lethal methods: an average annual livestock loss of 2.2 percent versus more than five percent.

Building Wildlife Bridges

WildlifeBridgeThe uncontrolled growth of the human population, and humanity’s use of land without consideration for other species has resulted in highly fragmented ecosystems. The result is the “corralling” of once free-roaming animal populations. Even our public lands do not usually provide for animal migration corridors. There has been a growing effort by some conservation heroes to correct this problem. All over the world, we are seeing the construction of wildlife bridges that provide pathways for animal groups to roam from one sector of land to another.

One example is Interstate highway I-90 in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state in the United States is providing a number of wildlife bridges.

Reintroducing Nature’s Engineers

At one time, humanity regarded the Beaver as a pest because it’s dams destroyed or altered mankind’s designs for the flow of Beaverwater. The Beaver’s pelt was highly prized. Consequently, many riparian ecosystems sustained damaging change.

The San Pedro River that runs south to north from Cananea, Mexico to the Gila River in Northern Arizona suffered damage and change to its ecosystem as the Beaver population was decimated by mankind. The happy ending to this story is the reintroduction of the Beaver by the US Bureau of Land Management. This interesting video tells this success story.

Saving The Turtles

I’ve experienced conservation heroics in my own back yard. I recently wrote bout the groups of local residents and visitors who BabyTurtlesrescue newly hatched Olive Ridley sea turtles on beaches along the shores of the Sea of Cortez near San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico.

In order to survive, these babies must walk from the inland side of the beach to the water line where they enter the sea. Their hazards during their walk are the desiccating heat of the sun and aerial predators such as vultures and gulls.

Despite the fact that this beach is a protected reserve where there are signs prohibiting ATV activity, the ATVs are driven up and down the beaches endangering human beings and leaving deep ruts in the sand. These ruts, which run parallel to the waterline, prevent the newly hatched turtles from getting to the water from where they hatched . The baby turtles are caught in the ruts and are forced to move parallel to the beach rather than to the water. The caring souls that are my heroes pick up many of the little guys and carry them to the water.

For two years now, working with government biologists, these conservation heroes have organized themselves to patrol the beaches looking for turtle nests and hatching activity. In the second year (2013) of this effort, volunteer groups and government organizations patrolled the beaches looking for new hatchings. Their efforts resulted in the saving of at least three hatching events with the little guys getting to the water safely.

Young People Providing Environmental Education

There is one set of conservation heroes with whom I am very proud to be associated. This group of high school students in Guaymas,EE-4309, Mexico offer conservation education to elementary school students. I’ve written about these young heroes in a previous post . As of this writing, the program has had four successful sessions. An expanded program is now being planned under the sponsorship of a local university. The idea of developing a conservation consciousness in our young people is the primary goal of this group. It is a privilege for me to work with this young and energetic conservation team.  Here are some pictures of this group at work.

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Thanks for reading this blog post.

It is always a happy event for me when I write about conservation successes such as the examples I’ve noted in this blog.  There are plenty more great stories to be told about our conservation heroes. I would be honored if you would take the time to share your conservation success stories in the comments section of this post. You are also invited to write a guest blog on some positive conservation event or experience. I’m thinking about creating a special section in my web site to permanently present these stories.  Please help by contributing stories that you know about. If you don’t have time to write much, simply put the URL for a good story in a comment. I’ll finish it off for you and provide credit for your efforts.

You might be interested in Cox Corporation’s web site where annual lists of conservation heroes are presented.

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The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

Biofuels and Biofeed – The Great Land Grab

 

Recently, my eye caught an Associated Press article entitled “Prairies Vanish In The US Push For Green Energy . The sub-title under the lead photo of a farmer inspecting an ear of corn stated that:

Robert Malsam nearly went broke in the 1980s when corn was cheap. So now that prices are high and he can finally make a profit, he’s not about to apologize for ripping up prairie land to plant corn.

As I read this quote, my mind’s red flags went up and alarm bells sounded. This statement was a lot like the same mentality I had been experiencing when I had researched my blogs on cattle grazing  and the killing of wolves. But this time there was nothing subtle about it. Mr. Malsam was going to “rip up” prairie land to plant more corn. He is doing what a lot of other farmers are doing. He is planting corn and soybeans to be sold for the production of ethanol alcohol that would be added to petroleum fuels. In doing so, this would ostensibly provide a much more sustainable form of energy for our world’s autos, trucks, and industrial machinery. In part, the ethanol alcohol is an alternative energy source.

This sounds really great. But, I’ve become a skeptic when I read claims that involve the agriculture industry. I wanted to know more facts and issues that underlie the claims. The deeper I got into the subject, the more information I found on the sustainable utilization of agricultural land. It has become clear to be that the real discussion should be about land use because land is becoming a limited resource in a world of exponential population growth of the human race. Indeed, we are the invasive species utilizing and quickly consuming land. Relationships between people and their environment are largely defined by land use.

There are many “faces” to the subject of land use. There is much controversy because there are diverse demands for land. In this blog, I’m going to examine the trade-offs between simply leaving the land alone, the production of biofuels, and the production of food for a rapidly increasing human population. A consistent metric to describe each of these land use options is energy utilization. In all three cases, energy is being transferred and transformed. Undisturbed land transforms the sun’s energy into plants which become producers of oxygen and storehouses for carbon. Biofuels end up providing energy to run our vehicles and machinery. And food is the stored energy that the bodies of all creatures, including ourselves, use for the process of life. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each of the land uses that create and sustain these energy sources.

Land is a bank to store energy and carbon.

Although oceans store most of the earth’s carbon, soils contain approximately 75% of the carbon pool on land – three times more Ecotones-0228than the amount stored in living plants and animals. Soils therefore play a major role in maintaining a balanced global carbon cycle. Since most scientists believe that there is a direct relationship between increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and rising global temperatures, interest in soil carbon sequestration is attracting the attention of researchers, policy makers, farmers, and the general public.

The charter of the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is “to help control soil erosion, stabilize land prices, and control excessive agricultural production”.  CRP guidelines encourage farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover such as native grasses or trees. Regionally, specific land-management practices are used on CRP lands to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation in streams and lakes, improve water quality, establish wildlife habitat and enhance forest and wetland resources close to farms. These practices enhance biodiversity by subsidizing habitat creation in areas that would otherwise be planted to row crops. While doing all of this, the land is held in reserve as a soil bank

According to the USDA, participants in the program receive subsidies for not planting crops  because some agricultural practices proposed as methods for sequestering carbon may have hidden costs:

•     Increased     use     of     nitrogen     fertilizer may temporarily increase soil organic matter because nitrogen is often limited in agro-ecosystems. The carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel combustion during the production, transport and application of nitrogen fertilizer, however, can reduce the net amount of the sequestered carbon. Nitrogen from fertilization can also run off from agricultural lands into nearby waterways where it may have serious ecological consequences by stimulating excessive algal growth.

•     Growing     plants     on     semiarid     lands has been suggested as one way to increase carbon storage in soils. The fossil fuel costs of supplying irrigation for these lands, however, may exceed any net gain in carbon sequestration. Additionally, in many semi-arid regions surface and groundwater contain high concentrations of dissolved calcium and bicarbonate ions. As these are deposited in the soil they release unwanted carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

According to the Corn and Soybean Digest:

“The USDA has cited CRP as the largest and most important conservation program in recent decades in this country. CRP continues to make major contributions to national efforts to improve water and air quality, prevent soil erosion, protect environmentally sensitive land, and enhance wildlife populations. Some of the benefits of CRP over the past two and a half decades cited by USDA include:”

  • 450 million tons of soil erosion reduced annually
  • Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorus from flowing into rivers, streams and lakes in the U.S.
  • 2 million acres of wetlands and buffers restored
  • 2 million acres of stream bank protected along rivers and streams
  • Enhanced populations of ducks, pheasants, quail and other wildlife species
  • CRP provides over $1.7 billion/year to private landowners, which are dollars that help support local businesses and the local economy
  • CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the U.S. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

The bottom-line is that the CRP program has over 25 years of success of protecting sensitive environmental lands, reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing wildlife. The CRP program is very popular with farmers, the general public, and with policy makers, and CRP will likely continue to be a major USDA conservation and land bank program. However, economic pressures, the need for more renewable energy, and the worldwide need for more food may lead to some changes in the future for the CRP program.

Land use for biofuels

BiofuelOne major competitor to the CRP and the sustainable utilization of land is the growing production of biofuels. The income to farmers for soybeans and corn that will be processed into biofuel has risen sharply so as to encourage farmers to “rip up prairie land”.  The question is whether the short term economic benefit to farmers is ecologically sound. Does this kind of land use help us all in the long run?

As nice it is to hear about sustainable energy sources, a big question about biofuels is whether producing them actually requires more energy than they can generate. After factoring in the energy needed to grow crops and then convert them into biofuels, Cornell University researcher David Pimental concludes that the numbers just don’t add up. His 2005 study found that producing ethanol from corn required 29 percent more energy than the end product itself is capable of generating. He found similarly troubling numbers in making biodiesel from soybeans. “There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel,” Pimentel says.

Another major hurdle for widespread adoption of biofuels is the challenge of growing enough crops to meet demand. The skeptics are saying that the production of biofuels may ultimately require converting just about all of the world’s remaining forests and open spaces over to agricultural land.

“Replacing only five percent of the nation’s diesel consumption with biodiesel would require diverting approximately 60 percent of today’s soy crops to biodiesel production,” says Matthew Brown, an energy consultant and former energy program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 2010, fuel became the number one use for corn in America. What the green-energy program has made profitable, however, is far from green. A policy intended to reduce global warming is encouraging a farming practice that actually could worsen it. That’s because plowing into untouched grassland releases carbon dioxide that has been naturally locked in the soil. It also increases erosion and requires farmers to use fertilizers and other industrial chemicals. In turn, that destroys native plants and wipes out wildlife habitats. It appeared so damaging that scientists warned that America’s corn-for-ethanol policy would fail as an anti-global warming strategy if too many farmers plowed over virgin land.

According to an Associated Press analysis of satellite data, more than 1.2 million acres of grassland have been lost since the federal government required that gasoline be blended with increasing amounts of ethanol. Plots of land that were once wild grass or pasture land seven years ago are now corn and soybean fields. That’s in addition to the 5 million acres of farmland that had been aside for conservation under the CRP program noted above. In South Dakota, more than 370,000 acres of grassland have been uprooted and farmed from since 2006. Nebraska has lost at least 830,000 acres of grassland. “It’s great to see farmers making money. It hasn’t always been that way,” said Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group. He advocates for clean energy but opposes the ethanol mandate. “If we’re going to push the land this hard, we really need to intensify conservation in lockstep with production, and that’s just not happening,” he said.

A recent Science Magazine article  emphasizes the need for more intense land conservation by stating that:

Most prior studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gases because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of the feedstock. These analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland. By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.

The alternative to using land for the production of biofuels is now under much study. By recycling our waste products into new energy sources, we solve the land use issues while getting rid of the huge amount of waste that humanity produces.

Land is used to feed earth’s creatures

We’ve looked at two pressures that we humans are placing on our limited supply of land. The first is the need to maintain an Biofeedadequate carbon bank to ensure the very survival of an exponentially growing human population. The second pressure is the need to produce more ecologically acceptable energy in order to support human lifestyles.

The third pressure is the need to provide energy to our human bodies in the form of food. Let’s face it, there will be a day when the size of our food supply will reach its limit simply because there is a limited supply of land. Unless we find a way to control the size of the human population on the earth, that day looms in the future. For now, at least, we can look at ways to utilize land to produce food crops and their energy calories more efficiently

New research at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota shows reallocating croplands away from fuels and animal feed could boost food available for people by 70 percent without clearing more land. The world’s croplands could feed 4 billion more people than they do now just by shifting from producing animal feed and biofuels to producing exclusively food for human consumption.

Demand for crops is expected to double by 2050 as population grows and increasing affluence boosts meat consumption. Meat takes a particularly big toll on food availability because it takes up to 30 crop calories to produce a single calorie of meat.

To get at that question, the researchers used U.S. Department of Agriculture data to  map the extent and productivity of 41 major crops between 1997 and 2003.  Among the team’s findings:

  • Only 12 percent of crop calories used for animal feed end up as calories consumed by humans.
  • Only 55 percent of crop calories worldwide directly nourish people.
  • Growing food exclusively for direct human consumption could boost available food calories up to 70 percent
  • U.S. agriculture alone could feed an additional 1 billion people by shifting crop calories to direct human consumption.

Noting the major cultural and economic dimensions involved, the researchers acknowledged that while a complete shift from animal to plant-based diets may not be feasible, even a partial shift would benefit food availability. Quantifying the impact of various strategies, they found that a shift from crop-intensive beef to pork and chicken could feed an additional 357 million people, and a shift to non-meat diets that include eggs and milk could feed an additional 815 million people.

Conclusion

Land banks, the production of biofuels, and growing more food are simply coping mechanisms that mask the ultimate fate of humanity unless we get our population size under control. Were a reasonable human population size exist, there would be no arguments about land banking, biofuels, or feeding the masses.

The hard reality that we must reduce our consumption, not just replace it with something else. Conservation is probably the largest single “alternative fuel” available to us. And, ultimately, “conservation” means finding a way to limit the size of the human population of our planet.

What do you think?

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers.

Many of you have much professional and volunteer experience in working with environmental groups, government agencies, and in developing community consensus . Please share your experience and your ideas with the rest of us in the comments section of this post. These posts are being read by a growing number of people. As of this writing, the post is being shared with over 15,000 people.

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Saving The Great Sand Dunes

It seems like most conservation stories these days portray opposing sides battling it out in the public media and in the courts. We hear more about the battles than we do about Nature. While these issues are usually very important, I also like to read happy stories about successes in conservation.

Good conservation needs teamwork and a strong community consensus.

It is hard to measure success in conservation. I was delighted to find some positive things to write about in my recent blog on the holistic conservation methods employed by Holistic Management International HMI. Some of my dear readers questioned the effectiveness of the methods employed by HMI. From the comments I received, it now seems to me that “success” is the wrong word. Rather, I should have said “conservation progress”.

SandDunesNP_6With this blog post, however, I am convinced that I have a story for you that is a “conservation success”. I hope you agree. While this story looks like just another battle between human beings over their individual water rights, this case also involved the health and the future survival of the Great San Dunes National Park ecosystem in the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado just northeast of Alamosa. Commercial water interests in remote locations threatened to pump dry an aquifer that sustained the dunes and their ecosystems. This is a wonderful story of Nature’s stewards who understood the inter-connectivity of the dune system and took action to preserve it. The Nature Conservancy published an article on this effort. The photographs shown in this post are from that article.

What makes this story really great is that an entire community of people and a number of government organizations worked together to stop commercial interests from outside of the area from implementing a huge water export plan that would have drawn down the aquifer in their valley. In addition to community welfare, the ecological issue was the protection of the tallest sand dunes in North America, the dune ecosystems, and eight species of insects found nowhere else in the world. Both the dune ecosystem and close-by wetland ecosystems depend on the aquifer. According to the Nature Conservancy article the draw down of the aquifer by outside interests:

.. would have threatened the valley’s crown jewel, Great Sand Dunes National Monument. The 30-square-mile main field of 700-foot-tall dunes lies a few miles southeast, lapping against the Sangre de Cristos like bright white waves. Over the centuries, westerly winds have blown across the valley and funneled through three mountain passes, dropping sand gathered from an ancient lake that once filled the valley at their base. Creeks that flow out of the Sangre de Cristo mountains feed the sand back to the dune field like a sand conveyor belt, ensuring that the dunes stay put…

If the water table were lowered, in addition to threatening other local ecosystems and creatures, the creeks that recycled sand back to the dune field would dry up. The “conveyor belt” would be lost.

The participants in saving the aquifer were local residents; The Nature Conservancy; the federal Land and Water SandDunesNP_1Conservation Fund; David and Lucile Packard Foundation; Colorado State Land Board; Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund; National Park Service; U.S. Bureau of Land Management; U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other local, state and federal officials and non-government organizations. It was threats to these ecosystems that galvanized this locally-driven collaborative endeavor. The details of the effort can be read in the magazine article. Success came through the power of a committed community combined with good science offered by the professionals who were involved. In my opinion, this is a dynamite combination.

I live in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico where we are all very concerned about political interests destroying an important estuary  that is an important flyway for migrating birds. Ecological threats caused by political interests have been met by a wonderfully strong consensus within the community coupled with a knowledgeable scientific team and the development of a management plan that will have the force of law.

I have seen ecosystems under great threat in communities with split interests and no strong consensus. When this happens, the pathway to preserving the environment is much more difficult.

As I get older and wiser, I’m beginning to realize that environmental groups and government agencies play an important part in the processes of restoring and preserving ecosystems in our environment. But, I’m also seeing that neither the environmental groups nor the government agencies will ultimately succeed without good teamwork and a strong community consensus. 

What do you think?   

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

  

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A Bioinspired Alternative To Welfare Ranching

The numbers speak for themselves. The two most popular recent subjects that I’ve written about in my blog have been the ecological issues associated with cattle and sheep grazing and the negative impact of lethal predator eradication.  I’ve now decided to explore sound ecological answers to these two issues that might make sense to everyone. Certainly a tall order. I’ve been looking for examples of people who have been able to resolve these issues successfully and holistically. There are some wonderful stories out there and I’d like to share some of these stories with you. In this blog post, I’ll write about success with the holistic management of cattle and sheep grazing. Later, I’ll write about successes with non-lethal predator control. And, in the course of doing my research, I discovered some success stories in other ecosystems which I want to share with you.

Recently, I wrote about the negative ecological impact of grazing . It is a very controversial issue because the ecological impact of grazing is severe and some grazing is on public lands where the US taxpayer is subsidizing the rancher. Thus the term “welfare ranching”.

The ecological impact of grazing that I reviewed in my recent blog is summarized as:

  • To control cows and sheep, fences are used. Fences prohibit or inhibit the free passage of wild animals, reducing their access to food and water as well as isolating subpopulations.
  • Cattle grazing has completely changed the soil structure and primary plant species in most Southwest riparian zones. In turn, this has adversely affected populations of local and migrating birds, animals that live near a river, and fish who live in the rivers.
  • Cattle grazing has resulted in some 464 million acres of land becoming arid desert.
  • Cattle grazing has reduced the density and biomass of many plant and animal species.
  • Cattle grazing has reduced biodiversity.
  • Cattle grazing has aided in the spread of exotic invasive species.
  • Cattle grazing impedes the cycling of soil nitrogen.
  • Cattle grazing changes habitat structure and disturbs community organization.
  • Cattle and sheep ranching has resulted in a huge draw on water reserves.

The financial impact to the taxpayer, who subsidizes welfare ranching, is heavy. Federal permittees pay only $1.35 Cowsper month to graze a single cow-calf pair on public lands while the average monthly cost of grazing per cow-calf pair on private lands is $11.10. In addition, subsidies to the rancher for predator and pest control, drought and fire damage, further make the endeavor even more profitable to the rancher. For the year 2001, beyond any income derived from welfare ranching, it cost the taxpayer an estimated $72 million for Bureau of Land Management’s Range Management Program. For the year 2000, the US Forest Service Program paid out over $52 million. According to a Government Accountability Office report in 2005, grazing fees generated less than one-sixth of the expenditures needed by the government to manage grazing on public lands in 2004.

Most ranching on public lands is with larger, corporate operations. Because federal grazing permits are not retired, those permits that are no longer used by smaller operations are simply bought up by the larger operations. It is simple economics why corporations use public lands.

Hopefully, this corporate abuse of a precious ecosystem and taxpayer dollars will end while the land and wildlife can still recover. There is a glimmer of hope as I did further research. The two major issues are environmental and economic.

Grazing-5749Let’s talk about the environmental issues first. I recently became acquainted with an organization named Holistic Management International (HMI). According to their web site, HMI is

..an international environmental education non-governmental organization headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who works with stewards of large landscapes (agricultural producers, pastoralists and government agencies) to help them partner with Nature to create a positive ecological footprint.  Through improved natural resource management practices, these managers improve soil health, which results in a host of benefits including improved water quality, carbon sequestration, drought mitigation, flood resilience, and food security.

One of the key insights of Holistic Management is Nature functions in wholes, therefore we must manage the relationships within that whole for the benefit of all. With Holistic Management we accomplish this by determining the whole we are managing and working with all the resources in it through a decision-making framework that encourages that whole to act as a self-organizing system – humans adapting their management in response to the changes happening in their resource base.

You can read more detail about the efforts at HMI at:

The results of Holistic Management efforts have been documented in research performed by scientists from Montana State University, Ohio State University, and North Dakota State University. They have verified some of the changes on grazing land where Holistic Management is practiced such as:

  • 300% increase in plant species
  • 400% increase in stocking rate
  • 50% decrease in bare ground
  • 800% increase in soil permeability
  • 300% increase in profitability
  • 500% increase in riparian bird population
  • 900% increase in rooting depth of plants

I am sure there are other organizations that are available to oversee the holistic management of lands used for Cows_1grazing. The technology seems to be in place. It seems to me that the problem may be in the implementation. This requires cooperative ranchers. I don’t get the feeling, however, that holistic ranching is widespread.

In my view, the solution to the ecological and economic issues surrounding grazing, at least on public lands, is with how our government deals with ranchers. As a condition for using public lands for grazing, Government agencies must require that the ranchers  keep the land whole, both ecologically and economically. The rancher must become financially responsible for meeting the environmental goals established by groups such as HMI. Furthermore, the rancher must start paying fees to the government that are consistent with the costs incurred by the government organizations who are responsible to we taxpayers for preserving the health of the land and for maintaining a positive flow of funds into our government’s coffers.

It is time to end welfare ranching !!!!  These people are breaking important connections in Nature and asking the government to foot the bill.

What do you think ??

 

Worth Your Extra Attention :

 

Thanks for reading this blog post. 

Here are some useful references about grazing and welfare ranching.

Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West

A Modest Proposal – Expanding Our Ecological Footprint

Public Lands Ranching: Taxpayer Subsidized Habitat Destruction

On Wyoming’s Range, Water Is Scarce but Welfare Is Plenty

Taxpayers for Common Sense

Center For Biological Diversity – The Ecological Costs of Livestock Grazing

Denver Post newspaper article on grazing fees

 

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The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

Shifting Sands

“…the observer never fails to be amazed at a simplicity of form, an exactitude of repetition and a geometric order unknown in nature on a scale larger than that of crystalline structure. In places vast accumulations of sand weighing millions of tons move inexorably in regular formation, over the surface of the country, growing, retaining their shape, even breeding, in a manner which, by its grotesque imitation of life, is vaguely disturbing to an imaginative mind” – Ralph Alger Bagnold , 1941 “The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes”

As many of you know, I love to meander alone in Nature while looking for blog ideas and doing my Nature Sand-0690photography. Twice now, I’ve visited the Mojave National Preserve (MNP) about 100 miles southwest of Las Vegas. If you are a Nature buff, this desert preserve is a potpourri of interesting places including some really neat sand dunes. I like sand dunes because I’m fascinated with their patterns and how they are formed,

But, first I must tell you that the National Park Service’s romantic description of the MNP Kelso Dunes is a bit deceptive. I was all excited about the idea of photographing dune ripples and critter tracks. The fact is that the place has been overrun with humanity. I tried to find a clear section of sand with virgin ripples and areas with clean runs of Kangaroo Rat tracks. Instead, the sand was inundated with human foot traffic, dog tracks, and doggie poop. So, I spent a good deal of time carefully framing my camera so as to cut out the human element.

OK, on to sand.

What I find really fascinating about sand ripples and dune structures is their beautiful self-similarity. Self-similarity means that an object’s shape (or form) looks the same no matter what level of magnification you choose to use. No matter whether you are looking at an entire dune system or at a small segment of the sand’s surface, the shapes look roughly the same. You might want to look at my post on the fractal forest to get a taste of the idea of self-similarity.

Sand-4203Dunes are a fascinating and complex subject. Their formation is well studied. Instead of giving you a treatise on their development, I strongly recommend the post at Sand Dunes: A Phenomenon Of Wind  for a very good description of dune formation.  Suffice it to say that three elements are necessary to create dunes. You need a supply of sand, a steady wind, and a terrain that creates interruptions in the surface wind currents that permit  sand particles to  settle down in certain locations.

If you are at all familiar with self-similarity, you can probably see that the dunes and the sand ripples look approximately the same. But, what I find interesting is that, while the physical shapes are self-similar, so is the process. The wind currents work the same no matter if the sand surface is a simple ripple or if it is a big dune. Wind drives the sand against the windward side of the slope. But on the leeward side of the dune or ripple,  the sand particles lose their momentum and drop because the wind force and direction is drastically changed by the peak of the slope. This self-similar process is also responsible for the transport of entire dune systems where both ripples and dunes are gradually moved.

Self similarity is a phenomenon that is not only seen in sand dunes. It is is ubiquitous and critically important in muchSand-4179 of Nature. For those of you who wish more detail, I strongly suggest the easily read article from Amherst College called  “Nature Adores Self Similarity. Without self similarity, our bodies would cease to function. The articles points out that:

“.. were it not for this elegant design strategy, we would be dire straits for at least five reasons.  Our bodies would perform poorly and decay due to inadequate circulation if self-similarity did not exist.  If our brains and nervous systems could not benefit from self-similar networking, our IQs would be roughly on a par with fence posts.  Without the self-similar villi and microvilli in our intestines, our ability to digest food would be compromised.  Moreover, there would be little food to eat in the first place because, in the absence of self-similarity, the Earth would be virtually devoid of vegetation, which directly or indirectly provides most of our food sources.  Lastly, we would be unable to breathe without the critical self-similar architecture inside our lungs.

I’ve emphasized the idea that everything in Nature is connected. Those connections are the essential conduits for energy flow in Nature. The actual energy connections are self similar fractal structures that I’ve previously described As I stated in that post:

The self-similar fractal structure is a manifestation of Nature’s interconnected being.

So, you can now dazzle your friends by telling them that sand dunes, trees, our lungs, and a huge number of patterns in Nature have a common thread since they are all self similar.

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Three other places where you can see some great sand dunes are:

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Death Valley National Park

White Sands National Monument

For Your Further Consideration

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of ecoliterate humans that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity – particularly our youth. This worldview (the “Living Earth Story”) is supported  by the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental educators,  their students, scientists, and all stewards of Nature  are a powerful progressive force that, through their knowledge about Nature, through the legacies that they create for the future, and through their informed actions are capable of overseeing the well-being of our home —  Mother Earth
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must include the acts of passing a worldview of a Mother Earth on to Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons From The Web of Life”. The book offers education methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature.. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book. 
  • If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.
Please Comment  Here

 

Bison, Cattle, and Wolves

Cattle had indeed wrecked havoc. They destroyed watersheds, trampled riparian vegetation, and turned grasslands to hardpan, triggering severe erosion. To top it off, the livestock industry spent the twentieth century securing cheap access to public lands through thousands of grazing permits now granted by the Bureau of Land Management  and the U.S. Forest Service. Today, ranchers enjoy tax-supported access to 270 million acres of public land. Seventy-three percent of publicly-owned land in the west is currently grazed by privately owned livestock. Some of that grazing might be done responsibly. Most of it, according to the BLM itself, is definitely not.”

— From a Forbes article titled “Ranchers Insistence On Cheap Grazing Keeps Wolf Population In The Crosshairs

The story of the American Bison’s connection with Nature is also the story of America’s Midwestern Great Plains tall-grass prairies. These huge grassland environments were complex tall-grass ecosystems where the American Bison was a keystone species that was inextricably interconnected with its environment.

Before the 1800’s, it is estimated that over 30 million bison inhabited North America from Alaska to Mexico. The Grazing-2596slaughter of these creatures by humanity in the 50 year period starting around 1830 reduced the population to a few thousand. In the Great Plains, the human migration to the prairies and subsequent futile attempts at farming reduced the grazing area of the bison to less than 5% of its original range. Because of more recent conservation efforts, the bison population has rebounded to a revitalized North American population of about 500,000. Most of these animals are constrained by fences in mixed-grass prairie preserves and private ranches. Only 20,000 bison that are part of conservation herds are considered to be truly wild number.

Nonetheless, recent research has shown the American Bison to play a keystone role in the health of the remaining prairies. The primary beneficial behavior is the bison’s tendency, unlike cattle, to selectively graze in patches leaving broad-leaved herbs (called forbs) and woody plants untouched. The bison then revisit areas throughout the season. The resulting patchiness promotes plant species diversity by allowing the forbs to grow unharmed.

Dynamic spatial and seasonal bison grazing with the ongoing presence of forbs enhances density and plant cover above ground as well as gas exchange below ground. With parts of the prairie grazed, photosynthesis rates are enhanced because more light is made available.

Grazing-9303In addition, bison grazing increases animal diversity. Herds of grazing bison shape grasslands and create habitat. Prairie Dog foraging capabilities are enhanced. In turn, these Prairie Dogs are prey for ferrets, foxes, hawks, and eagles.  Prairie Dog tunnels are homes for the Burrowing Owl, small mammals, and reptiles.

Fire is a natural and healthy phenomenon in prairie ecosystems. Bison grazing limits the loss of nitrogen through fire by reducing the amount of plant litter. Through grazing in patches, the bison helps produce patchiness in fire.

The bison’s profound and complex connections to prairie ecosystems produce a unique ecology that has deep effects on mixed-prairie ecosystems. This interdependency is summarized in a recent research document entitled  “Managing Bison To Restore Biodiversity” by Joe C. Truett, et.al. He says:

Prior to their demise in the late 1800s, bison coexisted with and helped sustain a diverse and spectacular assemblage of animals and plant communities on the Great Plains. Bison, in concert with fire, exerted strong control on the structure of the vegetation by grazing, trampling, and wallowing. The changes in the vegetation induced changes in many animal populations. These impacts, coupled with the bison’s role as the major converter of grass to meat, so greatly affected other species that some have called bison a “keystone” species in the Great Plains ecosystem. The black-tailed prairie dog, dependent on bison grazing over a large part of the Great Plains, amplified the keystone influence of bison by its own grazing and burrowing activities and its utility as prey.

There are numerous sources that provide information on the “sins” of cattle grazing. Here, I have condensed some Cows_1of the key points.

  • To control cows and sheep, fences are used. Fences prohibit or inhibit the free passage of wild animals, reducing their access to food and water as well as isolating subpopulations.
  • Cattle grazing has completely changed the soil structure and primary plant species in most Southwest riparian zones. In turn, this has adversely affected populations of local and migrating birds, animals that live near a river, and fish who live in the rivers.
  • Cattle grazing has resulted in some 464 million acres of land becoming arid desert.
  • Cattle grazing has reduced the density and biomass of many plant and animal species.
  • Cattle grazing has reduced biodiversity.
  • Cattle grazing has aided in the spread of exotic invasive species.
  • Cattle grazing impedes the cycling of soil nitrogen.
  • Cattle grazing changes habitat structure and disturbs community organization.
  • Cattle and sheep ranching has resulted in a huge draw on water reserves. Urban use, flood control, and recreation are commonly cited as major uses of a region’s water supply, But, these uses are negligible (only 10%) compared to the 90% of water used by agricultural interests associated with the livestock industry.
  • One can also argue that eating meat is unhealthy and that cattle grazing ultimately puts humans at a greater health risk. To this, we must include the social health cost of eating meat.
  • A recent University of Minnesota study states that “reallocating croplands away from fuels and animal feed could boost food available for people by 70 percent without clearing more land.”
  • The whole process of issuing grazing rights to ranchers is questionable because it requires the U S Forest Service and other government organizations who oversee our public lands for us to “scientifically” assess the capacity of grazing areas owned by the government. It has been repeatedly shown that, much like the weather, it is impossible for mankind to predict and control Nature. Yet, government employees truly believe that they have some innate ability to do so.

The good news is that the studies cited above have shown that the reduction or elimination of grazing can result in ecological restoration in riparian areas where there is water even though the 464 million acres of land that has become desert because of grazing is not restorative. And of course, with the elimination of grazing, most of the fear and conflict over our wolf populations would disappear while we get healthier.

What do you think?

Worth Your Extra Attention :

I am grateful to those of you who responded to my request to read and review my eBook entitled “Connections: Life Sustaining Relationships In Nature.

Here are some well written articles on the adverse ecological effects of cattle grazing that might interest you.

 

 

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