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Bay Area Bird Blog » wildlife (general)

Archive for the 'wildlife (general)' Category

12th 2010
Army Corps of Engineers goes to war against habitat

Posted under government & wildlife (general)

The Chronicle has a story about the recent order to clear all vegetation — everything but grasses — from every levee in the country. It’s absurd.  It’s also a huge, huge waste.  After some big floods on the Sacramento River in 1986, there was a study about what parts of the levee system did better or worse than others.  The sections with trees did a lot better: the trees protected them from erosion. They did better than sections that were reinforced by rock, in fact.  And there have also been studies about animals burrowing into levee banks (which weakens the levees), and the levees that only have grasses have more burrows (mostly from ground squirrels).  Basically the Corps is implementing a hugely expensive system to make the levees weaker.  Of course it will also be absolutely devastating to riparian habitat—huge, huge swaths of it mown down.  What a terrible, terrible thing.  As the Chronicle article describes, some state agencies are trying to avoid complying.  Good for them!  But if the Feds want it done, it’s hard to fight.

You know, I’m used to the idea of one side losing and the other side winning, and all too often it’s the environment that is on the losing side. In this case it’s even worse, both sides lose.  The Army Corps of Engineers really needs to reverse this decision.


29th 2010
I hope the good news just doesn’t get as much coverage

Posted under activism & endangered species & wildlife (general)

Over the past few days I’ve been catching up on some New Yorkers that arrived while I was on vacation.  One of them has a long article about the illegal slaughter of literally millions of songbirds annually in Mediterranean countries, and the fruitless efforts to fight it.  Some places have an entrenched culture of killing birds, mostly for sport  – Malta, Cyprus, and Italy are specifically named, but there’s no claim that they’re the only ones — to the extent that the authorities won’t even try to enforce the laws. (In this regard, I’m reminded of dog laws in California parks).

And then last night I read an article about overfishing.  The article implies that it’s only recently been realized that fish populations everywhere are declining, the catch in almost all established fisheries is declining in spite of more sophisticated fishing gear, and that many former “staple” species, like North Atlantic cod, have been reduced to economic and ecological irrelevance.  Actually those facts were recognized by a lot of people years ago — for instance, the book “The Empty Ocean” came out in 2003 — but perhaps the article is right that they’re not widely known by the public.

And the San Francisco Board of Supervisors just approved an enormously expensive bridge right through a wetlands that Golden Gate Audubon has been restoring, to save 2 minutes of travel time for a small number of drivers.

And, of course, there’s the oil disaster in the Gulf, the failure of any climate bill in the Senate this year…it’s been a depressing couple of days of news.

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8th 2010
Sloth killed by an owl?

Posted under wildlife (general)

OK, this is pretty remarkable: a BBC News article reports that a three-toed sloth in Panama was apparently killed and eaten by a spectacled owl.  (A spectacled owl is a lot smaller than a sloth.)  If this can happen, it’s pretty amazing there are any sloths at all!  The article says that their main defense is camouflage: they blend in with the tree trunk, moss grows on their fur, and they move really slowly so they don’t attract attention. Riiiiight.  Well, they are indeed hard to see, but I’ve been to Panama and Costa Rica and I’ve seen a fair number of sloths.  They’re not that hard to see.

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13th 2009
MORE bad news for salmon

Posted under wildlife (general)

This is starting to become a “dog bites man” story, so commonplace that it’s hardly worth mentioning. Except it just keeps getting worse and worse. The Klamath River, near the California-Oregon border, is almost completely dry, as an article in the SF Chronicle discusses. Partly, it’s just a dry year. But also, farmers use most of the Klamath’s water for crops. I’m all for crops — hey, I eat food every single day! — but I think that if you’re draining a river of literally all of its water, you’re going to far. It’s pretty amazing to see what the farmers up there think, though — you can do an online search and find plenty of…well, I would call them wackos, but I guess if you live up there it’s normal to you.

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13th 2008
Wildlife rescue classes

Posted under volunteer & wildlife (general)

I don’t know if this class covers birds specifically, but:
WildRescue will be teaching a “unique and comprehensive 8-hour class that explores the fundamentals of wildlife rescue and provides instruction numerous capture strategies for land and marine animals…” Be prepared to help out the next time there’s an oil spill, or an injured animal in your neighborhood. Classes are November 8 in Berkeley (at the Shorebird Park Nature Center) and December 6 in San Francisco (Crissy Field). Costs only $40 for 8 hours, call 831-869-6241.

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19th 2008
Walk this way…

Posted under wildlife (general)

Interesting story in BBC News about a dolphin teaching other dolphins to “tail-walk” — thrash their tails so they can “stand” on water.  Apparently this has never before been seen in the wild. No Bay-Area or bird connection, but I think it’s interesting. 

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25th 2008
Fantastic news from Florida; let’s do more of this

Posted under government & wildlife (general)

Sixteen years ago, some friends gave me a copy of Al Gore’s book, “Earth in the Balance.”   I don’t remember it very well, but I do remember Gore’s insistence that he was never going to vote for sugar subsidies again: the sugar industry, he said, was ruining the environment of the Everglades, treating its employees terribly, and just generally screwing up the whole state of Florida.  

So let’s all celebrate a very big deal: the state of Florida is about to buy out U.S. Sugar: for $1.75 Billion, the State gets 187,000 acres — almost 300 square miles — that will basically connect Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park.  This is way, way more than just land acquisition that will allow diverse plants to replace sugar cane (although it is that too), the real significance is the implications for water management.  An article in the International Herald Tribune says that if the deal goes through (likely but not definite) then:

The impact on the Everglades could be substantial. The natural flow of water would be restored, and the expanse would add about a million acre-feet of water storage. That amount of water could soak the southern Everglades during the dry season, protecting wildlife, preventing fires and allowing for a redrawing of the $8 billion Everglades restoration plan approved in 2000.

It sucks to reward a bad company with so much money — according to the article, “some former company executives have suggested that the state is overpaying, bailing out a company burdened with debt, a new sugar mill and a lawsuit by former employees who said they were bilked out of retirement money.”  But “the best” is the enemy of “the good”, and this is a very good deal.  The monetary cost is substantial, but the direct monetary savings will be substantial too (in reduced firefighting costs, fire damage, and flood damage, among several other items)…and the environmental benefits will be huge, allowing for the famous “river of grass” that used to define the Everglades, rather than the channels meandering among dry areas that has been the situation for past decades. 

Now, let’s (as a country) get to work on a corridor connecting Yellowstone to Glacier National Park and on up into Canada.  And let’s start buying up prairie, too, in huge, huge chunks.  If everybody in the country were willing to pay $2 per day — the cost of a cup of coffee, for a lot of people — we could do something of this magnitude twice a week, week after week after week.  

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17th 2008
Ignore the bad news, go to your happy place now…

Posted under activism & wildlife (general)

Sometimes the nature news is really depressing, and this is one of those times. (Maybe the rest of my life will be one of those times). Ecological footprint This plot from the World Wildlife Federation attempts to classify the average “ecological footprint” for people living in various countries.  The idea here is that it takes a certain fraction of the earth’s area to provide the food that we eat, the water that we drink, provide the forests that purify the air that we breathe, etc., and these people have attempted to quantify it.  They express this in “hectares”; a hectare is 100 ares (I knew that would help) — a hectare is 10,000 square meters, or about 2.5 acres.  If you believe the figure, then even without ANY fossil fuel buring, and ANY depletion of fish and other marine resources, we (in the U.S.) would be using more than the earth can sustain; if you include these things, we’d be off the chart if they didn’t extend the chart so far.

OK, but DO you believe the figure.  I believe it, roughly speaking anyway.  The Zoological Society of London claims (as discussed in a BBC report) to have compiled data that show that “Populations of land-based species fell by 25%, marine by 28% and freshwater by 29%” since 1970.  As far as ecological timescales go that is incredibly fast, more than 25% losses in less than 40 years.  But unfortunately, that’s a gradual change for people who see year-to-year differences: who would notice a decline of 0.5% from one year to the next?  After a while, wildlife concentrations that were once common become rare, but it happens gradually enough that people don’t notice.  Wildlife levels that were one considered “severely depleted” are accepted as the new norm, and another cycle of decline begins.  It’s depressing. 


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