Ancient Trees & Magnetic Field

Radiocarbon from a 42,000-year-old kauri tree in New Zealand helped unravel Earth’s last magnetic upheaval. JONATHAN PALMER

Science magazine is accessible for most lay readers, even if their articles occasionally include a word we have never heard of, such as paleomagnetist:

Ancient kauri trees capture last collapse of Earth’s magnetic field

Several years ago, workers breaking ground for a power plant in New Zealand unearthed a record of a lost time: a 60-ton trunk from a kauri tree, the largest tree species in New Zealand. The tree, which grew 42,000 years ago, was preserved in a bog and its rings spanned 1700 years, capturing a tumultuous time when the world was turned upside down—at least magnetically speaking. Continue reading

Under The Southern Ice

Antarctica has not featured in these pages as much as tropical places, where we mostly work. The closest my work has come to Antarctica was between 2008-2010 when I worked with entrepreneurs in the Magallanes region of Chile, which includes Antarctica. Even then, the portions of my work in Tierra del Fuego were still 600+ miles from the northern most point of the Antarctic Peninsula. By contrast my work in Yakutia took me within the Arctic Circle. But in both places my work was always above ground, and never brought me close to the scientists working below ice shelves. So, thanks to Mother Jones for this:

Antarctic Stunner: Mysterious Creatures Discovered Under a Half Mile of Ice

Scientists taking sediment samples found animals nobody thought could survive there.

Bivouacked in the middle of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf—a five-hour flight from the nearest Antarctic station—nothing comes easy. Even though it was the southern summer, geologist James Smith of the British Antarctic Survey endured nearly three months of freezing temperatures, sleeping in a tent, and eating dehydrated food. The science itself was a hassle: To study the history of the floating shelf, he needed seafloor sediment, which was locked under a half mile of ice. Continue reading

Birding Manners Matter

A crowd hoping to see a snowy owl gathered at the reservoir in Central Park. Some birders complain that large groups can disturb rare species. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

You do not need to be a bird nerd to appreciate that an avocation like this one needs some rules of the game, especially at moments like these, which seem to come around every few years:

Twitter Is Turning Birds Into Celebrities and Birders Against One Another

A Twitter account helped spread the word about rare birds in New York City, but publicizing their locations exposed a rift among birders.

A barred owl, whose visit to Central Park has been promoted by some birders, including one who maintains the popular Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

In 2018 it was the Mandarin duck. Last October it was the barred owl. Just weeks ago it was the snowy owl.

All three avian species catapulted to celebrity status after they landed in Central Park, becoming the subject of news reports from Manhattan to India and attracting gaggles of groupies, snapping away on their smartphones.

These rare glimpses of nature in the heart of New York elicit a dose of joy in the best of times. Continue reading

Human Intervention, Hold The Judgement

A burrowing bettong, also known as the boodie, in the Australian Outback. COURTESY OF AWC

I have not acquired the book yet, but I have heard her discuss it and read an interview with her about it; the author has moved from reporting on extinction and climate phenomena to reporting on human intervention schemes that respond to those phenomena. The stories as told in the article below adhere to a claim Kolbert makes in her discussion with Ezra Klein, that as a journalist she is not in the judgement business:

Assisting Evolution: How Far Should We Go to Help Species Adapt?

An Australian project to help threatened marsupial species adapt to avoid predatory cats is among a host of ‘assisted evolution’ efforts based on the premise that it is no longer enough to protect species from change: Humans are going to have intervene to help them change.

Dry Season Here; Massive Tree-Planting There

We got as many trees in the ground as we could during 2020, and since it has been dry season for a couple months now we are mostly in maintenance mode. The most pleasure to be had during these months is seeing how the wildlife on our small plot of land changes. For example, the creature above, which I saw yesterday. I believe it is a Drab Tree Frog, but if you have a different opinion please let me know. Tomorrow we begin coffee germination, take two–and I will post on that. Meanwhile, thanks to the Guardian’s coverage of the environment, we have this news:

Volunteers helping on project for Woodland Trust, which sent out a million trees last year. Photograph: Philip Formby/PA

Digging in: a million trees planted as villages and schools join climate battle

Community forest projects have seen a surge in volunteers keen to reduce CO2 emissions by creating new woodlands

According to the Horticultural Trades Association, garden centre sales of hardy plants, shrubs and trees have soared. Photograph: Alamy

The UK may be in the grip of a winter lockdown but in one village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales the local climate-change group has been busy.

Plans are afoot to plant hundreds of trees on land surrounding Newton-le-Willows, in lower Wensleydale, in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. According to scientists, planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Continue reading

Alternatives To Amazon For Buying Books

Every time I listen to or read an interview with an author who has recently published a book, and want to get a closer look at the book itself, I click the link provided. Nearly 100% of the time the link goes to Amazon. Not good. When I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Kolbert on a podcast I respect, that is what happened. Frustrated by that link, I looked for alternatives to Amazon for buying this book, and found plenty.  For example, thanks to Powell’s Books for making the discussion about this book available in the online event above.

One option is Bookshop.org, which came to my attention while trying to find an interview with Kolbert about her new book that did not link to Amazon.  It took some effort, after finding the Powell’s links, but thankfully I found an interview given a couple days ago to Audubon for their review of Kolbert’s book. None of our many earlier links to Kolbert stories have featured an image of the author, so I will share here the one that accompanies the Audubon piece. In the middle of the interview there is this exchange:

Elizabeth Kolbert at the ​American Museum of Natural His​tory in New York. Photo: Suzanne DeChillo/Th​e New York Times/ReduxI have seen plenty of images of her, but this may be the only one in which she is smiling.

A: We’re, of course, doing this interview for Audubon, which focuses a lot on species conservation. Much of the work that people do to save various species—and there are so many examples of this in your book—involves altering previous ways that we’ve altered the natural world. How do you suggest that people who care about species protection think about efforts like these?

K: Well, that’s a really profound question, and to be honest that is the question at the center of the book. One of the points is, what do we think of as conservation, right? Continue reading

Reform School For Cats

The study also found that bells on collars made no difference to the number of animals killed by a cat. Photograph: GluePromsiri/Getty/iStockphoto

I am a cat person by nature. I have lost count of how many cats I had as pets since early childhood and well into adulthood, but I do remember our last two cats from three decades ago. Boris, a black cat with a tip of white on his tail, learned to jump up into my cradled arms if I stood in front of him and made a certain noise. His sister Mimi was named for the plaintive mi-mi cry she made when she climbed up onto the bathroom sink and rubbed her mouth against the faucet head, wanting us to turn the water on to drip out so she could drink. They lived long lives as indoor cats who did no harm to anyone or anything (that we knew of).  But when we learned how many birds, among other wildlife, that cats kill per year we decided not to adopt any more cats; we switched to dogs. Now, all these years later, I am happy to see there is hope for reformed cat behavior:

Meaty meals and play stop cats killing wildlife, study finds

Millions of pet cats are estimated to kill billions of animals a year but grain-free food can change cat behaviour

Feeding pet cats meaty food and playing with them to simulate hunting stops them killing wildlife, according to a study. Continue reading

Butterflies, Challenges & Hope

Monarchs in the early morning. They hibernate from November until the beginning of March. With warmer temperatures, they become sexually mature, mate, and begin their northerly migration.

Just for the beauty of the photographs, this is worth a visit. But there is also an audio accompaniment, allowing you to hear the butterflies. The story of the challenge their habitat faces is, like so many other stories we encounter, painful to read. But there is hope as well:

SAVING THE BUTTERFLY FOREST

Environmental destruction and violence threaten one of the world’s most extraordinary insect migrations.

Marciano Solis Sacarias,
a landowner, working at
Las Novias del Sol,
a tree-nursery coöperative.

Every November, around the Day of the Dead, millions of monarch butterflies descend on a forest of oyamel firs in the mountains of central Mexico. The butterflies have never seen the forest before, but they know—perhaps through an inner compass—that this is where they belong. They leave Canada and the northeastern United States in late summer and fly for two months, as far as three thousand miles south and west across the continent. The journey is the most evolutionarily advanced migration of any known butterfly, perhaps of any known insect. Continue reading

Yaak Valley’s Fate, To Be Determined

The Biden Administration’s next few weeks may decide the fate of the remote Yaak Valley, on Montana’s Canadian border. Photograph by John Lambing / Alamy

Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter, as usual, has gems worthy of attention, and the fate of the Yaak Valley qualifies:

The blizzard of federal climate initiatives last week (a blizzard that might help allow actual blizzards to persist into the future) is without precedent. For the first time in the thirty-plus years of our awareness of the climate crisis, Washington roused itself to urgent action; veterans of the cautious Obama Administration—the domestic climate adviser Gina McCarthy and the global climate czar John Kerry chief among them—were suddenly going for broke. In fact, only one branch of the Cabinet seemed conspicuous by its muted presence: the Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for the nation’s farms and for many of its forests—that is, for the natural features that will either speed or slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. Continue reading

The Dasgupta Review, An Important Milestone In Quantifying The Value Of Nature

Hats off to the UK for commissioning the study, and to Professor Dasgupta for completing it. Sometimes a profession, like economics, takes time to catch up with the real world. Better late than never, like the guide to investing in nature, we are happy to see academia putting rigor into the analysis of how valuable nature is. Seemed obvious, even without these new studies, but this is what it takes to counter the disinformation promoted by extraction-intensive industries and their investors:

The Dasgupta Review is an independent, global review on the Economics of Biodiversity led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta (Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge). The Review was commissioned in 2019 by HM Treasury and has been supported by an Advisory Panel drawn from public policy, science, economics, finance and business. Continue reading

Hedgerow Versus Berm, Win-Win

Phoebe Weston is back in our pages with a story about the importance of a seemingly prosaic part of the old UK landscape–hedgerows.

Young dormice photographed by ecologist Rob Wolton during a two-year study of his hedge in Devon. Photograph: Robert Wolton

She covers their prospective role in meeting net-zero targets and the video above is an excellent primer on that. The details in her article below about Rob Wolton’s investigation of his own hedgerow is fascinating.  I am interested in the topic as much for the biodiversity implications as I consider whether my berms should all remain berms, or if some portion should become hedgerow:

‘Reservoirs of life’: how hedgerows can help the UK reach net zero in 2050

They store carbon and are havens for wildlife – it’s no wonder experts are calling for Britain’s hedge network to be extended

A dunnock’s nest containing eggs in Rob Wolton’s hedge. Thrush and bullfinch also made their homes in the hedgerow. Photograph: Robert Wolton

One New Year’s Day, ecologist Rob Wolton came up with an unusual resolution – to spend the next 12 months studying a hedge 40 metres from his house in the middle of Devon. He wanted to make a list of every plant, animal and fungus that used it. Why? Because a wildlife-enthusiast friend challenged him to do it during a long car journey.

“I thought it would take a year, but at the end of the first one Continue reading

Migration Corridors & Conservation Priorities

Approximately 80 percent of all Lawrence’s goldfinches migrate through California’s Central Valley every spring. ALAN SCHMIERER/FLICKR

Thanks to Yale e360 for this note:

Tens of Millions of Birds Pass Through Just Two Western U.S. Corridors

California’s Central Valley and the Colorado River Delta host more than 82 million birds every year during the spring migration, according to a new study published in the journal Ornithological Applications. Continue reading

The Little Book of Investing in Nature

A pdf version of The Little Book of Investing in Nature is available and the case for why this might be of value to you is in the book’s forward section:

How does this book help? As the impacts of human activity on the natural world have become increasingly clear in recent years, alongside human dependences on a healthy environment, the conversation has shifted from “Should we save nature?” to “How do we pay for it?”. Few in government or business today doubt the inherent value of nature or the importance of managing it sustainably. The interest in halting the loss of biodiversity is enormous and is coming from unexpected quarters. Continue reading

What To Do About Planet Palm

Production of palm for oil is a problem, to say the least. What can we do? The publisher describes this forthcoming book as being in the tradition of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Bill McKibben interviews the author (scroll to the second section in his weekly newsletter, after the note on energy use in the cannabis industry):

About half of all products on grocery shelves contain palm oil, and production has doubled in the past decade. The James Beard Award-winning food journalist Jocelyn Zuckerman has travelled from Indonesia and Malaysia to Brazil and India looking at the vast plantations where the oil palms are grown. Her forthcoming book, “Planet Palm,” is a compelling look at just how much trouble it’s possible to cause with a single plant. (Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.) Continue reading

Snowy Owl In Central Park, Our Kind Of News

A snowy owl in Central Park drew flocks of people (and crows) on Wednesday. Maryté Mercado

If you tend bird-nerdy, you will want to read this. To state the obvious (if you visit here regularly), we live for this kind of news:

Snowy Owl Is Spotted in Central Park, for First Time in 130 Years

The hordes came running and the snow-white raptor became the latest celebrity bird of Manhattan.

In the winter of 1890, a snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park, part of what a contemporary account called an “unusual abundance” along the East Coast of the large, strikingly beautiful predators that make their home in the Arctic tundra. Continue reading

Decades, Fruits & Labor

In mid-June the first personal reflections of our interns–the original purpose of this site being an opportunity for 20-somethings to reflect on conservation-related work in countries other than their own–will be 10 years old. Seth still contributes when his schedule allows. Michael does not, but one of his posts is the one I share most often with prospective interns as a benchmark for writing about their work experiences. To my eye, the early posts have aged well. We had one not-yet 20-something also contributing at that time; his writing at 17 (and his photography) matches the extraordinary experiences he was having.

The fruit in the image above is from trees planted 10 years prior to our starting to post on this platform, and so the fruits of our labor planting citrus 20 years ago gives me a few hundred reasons to be grateful. This is the fourth and final wheel barrow full of various types of oranges and limes, and in addition to drinking plenty of juice in the last month I am freezing many gallons for the remaining summer months.

Animal Bridges, Saving Lives & Protecting Species

A wildlife overpass in Banff national park, in the Canadian Rockies. Photograph: Ross MacDonald/Banff National Park

Protecting wilderness–for broad reasons related to the value of biodiversity as well more narrow reasons related to mankind’s  basic requirements–have been a constant theme on this platform since we started; animal bridges, per se, have not. Here is a look at why these bridges matter:

How creating wildlife crossings can help reindeer, bears – and even crabs

Sweden’s announcement this week that it is to build a series of animal bridges is the latest in global efforts to help wildlife navigate busy roads

Reindeer viaducts in Sweden will keep herds safe from traffic as they roam in search of grazing. Photograph: Pawel Garski./Alamy

Every April, Sweden’s main highway comes to a periodic standstill. Hundreds of reindeer overseen by indigenous Sami herders shuffle across the asphalt on the E4 as they begin their journey west to the mountains after a winter gorging on the lichen near the city of Umeå. As Sweden’s main arterial road has become busier, the crossings have become increasingly fractious, especially if authorities do not arrive in time to close the road. Sometimes drivers try to overtake the reindeer as they cross – spooking the animals and causing long traffic jams as their Sami owners battle to regain control. Continue reading

First Things First

Last week I walked with my grand-daughter among these almendro trees. Amie and I helped plant these when they were foot-high saplings in 2019, and we tagged one with our grand-daughter’s name. The trees, now 3+ feet high, are part of a coastal reforestation scheme; their beneficence includes producing fruits favored by scarlet macaws.

Demonstrators gather in front of the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, in the summer of 2011. Photograph by Melissa Golden / Redux

Everyone loves scarlet macaws. And these trees grow faster than our grand-daughter, giving constant positive feedback. When you have an opportunity to do something like plant a tree, or any other restorative act, first things first: do it. Thanks to Bill McKibben for pointing this out as one of the highlights of yesterday’s change of scenery in Washington, D.C.:

Joe Biden’s Cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline Is a Landmark in the Climate Fight

In his first hours in office, Joe Biden has settled—almost certainly, once and for all—one of the greatest environmental battles this country has seen. He has cancelled the permit allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada into the United States, and the story behind that victory illustrates a lot about where we stand in the push for a fair and working planet. Continue reading

Advances In Animal Migration Studies

Illustration by Shyama Golden

Sonia Shah, a science journalist and author of “The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move,” has provided a great summary of recent developments on the study of animal migration:

Animal Planet

An ambitious new system will track scores of species from space — shedding light, scientists hope, on the lingering mysteries of animal movement.

‘‘I’m going to do a set of coos,” Calandra Stanley whispered into the radio. The Georgetown ornithologist and her team had been hunting cuckoos, in an oak-and-hickory forest on the edge of a Southern Illinois cornfield, for weeks. Droplets of yesterday’s rain slid off the leaves above to those below in a steady drip. In the distance, bullfrogs croaked from a shallow lake, where locals go ice fishing in winter. Continue reading