Wetland Treasury

The U.S. once held a wealth of wetness, but the country’s treasury has shrivelled. Illustration by Carson Ellis

The word swamp does not have a pleasant ring to it. The thing itself, though, is something much more than pleasant. Essential to our future, Annie Proulx clarifies in a lovely manner, swamps should be treated with greater care:

Swamps Can Protect Against Climate Change,

If We Only Let Them
Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we’ve drained much of this land. Can we learn to love our swamps?

It can be hell finding one’s way across an extensive boggy moor—the partially dry, rough ground and the absence of any landmarks let the eye rove helplessly into the monotype distance. Continue reading

Southern Cone Rewilding

A horse and rider pull a tourist boat through the Iberá marshes

When we have linked to stories about conservation and efforts to rewild in the Southern Cone, it has been a mix of big cats and the efforts of Doug and Kris Tompkins. Our thanks to Patrick Greenfield and the Guardian for taking these themes long form:

El Impenetrable national park, home to thousands of charismatic plants, flowers and animals, including jaguars.

How to rewild a country: the story of Argentina

It began with a philanthropic couple buying a swamp but has become one of the world’s boldest experiments in restoring degraded habitats, bringing wildlife and landscapes back from the brink

Chapter one

The return of the jaguar

It took about three seconds for piranhas to devour part of her left foot, biologist Deborah Abregü recalls, as we sit waiting for pizzas to cook on an open fire in Argentina’s El Impenetrable national park. Continue reading

Good Journalism, Excellent Environmental Coverage

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. A white ibis flies over the Everglades, where many bird species nest each year. Restoration efforts in Florida’s “river of grass” have begun to show signs of progress.

The CS Monitor was the newspaper delivered to our home when I was growing up. Lucky me. These days it still offers good journalism, but is no longer a paper. They made the switch to digital-only in 2008. In earlier years of my monitoring dozens of news sources for this platform it was the source of numerous stories of environmental interest in our pages. But in the last few years, for no particular reason, I failed to monitor their website for stories. And then today, this:

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Birds look like white flecks from the air.

‘River of Grass’: Inside the quest to restore the Everglades

Richard Mertens Special contributor

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Three eggs sit in a nest in the Everglades.

Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands. Continue reading

Three Cheers For Lawrence MacEwen

We missed this documentary film last year, perhaps because it was not reviewed in any of the news outlets we regularly monitor. But if you click the image to the right you can preview the film for a couple minutes. You will see it is about a man who spent his life protecting what he cared about. Since that is the underlying theme of the nearly 12,000 posts we have shared on this platform since 2011, it is cued up for viewing in our home this evening.  The film came to my attention in The Economist, and the accompanying photograph is unique in the history of obituaries in that publication or elsewhere:

The barefoot laird.

Lawrence MacEwen made a tiny island prosper

As soon as spring arrived, the young Lawrence MacEwen shed his shoes. Barefoot, he ran to school down the only road on Muck, a mile and a half of gravel mixed with grass. Barefoot, he jumped among the fallen basalt stones of the dykes built long ago by kelpers, who had made a living gathering seaweed from the rocks. Barefoot he climbed the craggy western cliffs, hanging on to heather for dear life, and scampered to the top of Beinn Airein, the highest hill, to look out past Eigg and Rum to Knoydart and the Cuillin Hills. Barefoot he would stand for hours on the beach below his house, so mesmerised by the rolling tide that he could not stir until his mother called him in for tea. His feet would sink a little into the white sand, embedding him in the place. Continue reading

The World’s Largest Living Thing

The world’s largest living thing is a stealthy parasite that lives mostly underground and beneath the bark of infected trees in a pale, stringy fungal network. COURTESY MIKE MCWILLIAMS

Thanks to Milo‘s interest in fungi, which we found infectious, we learned years ago what the world’s largest living thing is. We used to feature more stories from Atlas Obscura, but this is the first in a few years:

What the World’s Largest Organism Reveals About Fires and Forest Health

The Humongous Fungus is most visible when it produces the edible and tasty honey mushroom, but the season is brief and doesn’t happen every year. PETER PEARSALL, USFWS/PUBLIC DOMAIN

In Oregon, the Humongous Fungus plays a complex role in an ecosystem reshaped by humans.

UNDER THE BLUE MOUNTAINS OF Oregon lurks something massive and prehistoric. Yet the largest recorded organism on Earth, weighing more than 200 blue whales and dwarfing even Pando, Utah’s famous grove of quaking aspens, is nearly invisible to the untrained eye. It’s a single, genetically identifiable specimen of honey mushroom, or Armillaria ostoyae, that has been growing for thousands of years. Continue reading

P-22 & Other Cats In The Santa Monicas

Near the location of the future Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a volunteer for the National Wildlife Federation carries a cardboard cutout of a mountain lion known as P-22. Photograph by Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / Shutterstock

When we linked to earlier stories about mountain lions in urban California, P-22 was already the it-cat. And the story below, by Emily Witt, shares some anecdotes about P-22’s less fortunate wider family. But mainly it is about one hopeful initiative that P-22 seems to have unwittingly helped make happen:

An Urban Wildlife Bridge Is Coming to California

The crossing will span Route 101, providing safe passage for mountain lions and other animals hemmed in by the freeways that surround the Santa Monica Mountains.

It was just after midnight on April 21st when the radio collar of P-97, an eighteen-month-old mountain lion, sent its last signal. P-97 had only recently separated from his mother, setting out east in the Santa Monica Mountains in search of territory to call his own. (The “P” stands for puma; the number, 97, marks how many mountain lions the National Park Service had tagged when he received the designation.) Continue reading

Questions About Forests As Carbon Sinks

PEXELS

We have featured articles about forests so many times for multiple reasons. Even when we hint that we do so just out of pure love, it is almost always about the value of forests to our future on the planet. As always, when a Yale e360 article can help illuminate further on a topic, here goes:

This map shows the height of forests worldwide. Taller forests typically store more carbon. NASA

Climate Change Will Limit How Much Carbon Forests Take Up, New Research Shows

Governments are increasingly looking to forests to draw down carbon pollution, but worsening droughts threaten to stunt tree growth, while larger wildfires and insect infestations risk decimating woodlands, two new studies show. Continue reading

Microfauna, Microbiota & Other Wonders Of Soil

When a plant root pushes into soil, it triggers an explosion of activity in billions of bacteria. Photograph: Liz McBurney/The Guardian

I used the word microflora in the title of a post I wrote 3+ years ago, and today I learned something that serves as a correction. I used that word to distinguish from the better known charisma of megafauna. But there is a better word I should have used in that title, so I am using it in the title of today’s post. The word microbiota has made a few fleeting appearances in our pages, buried in the text of scientific explanations. This editorial by George Monbiot got me to look up the word microflora and from now on I will avoid the misnomer:

The secret world beneath our feet is mind-blowing – and the key to our planet’s future

Don’t dismiss soil: its unknowable wonders could ensure the survival of our species

Beneath our feet is an ecosystem so astonishing that it tests the limits of our imagination. It’s as diverse as a rainforest or a coral reef. We depend on it for 99% of our food, yet we scarcely know it. Soil. Continue reading

The Effects Of Fire Suppression

A controlled burn near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. SARAH BAKER

We have linked to many stories about wildfires over the years, noting their relationship to climate change. Our working assumption seems to have been that fire is always problematic, but here is reason to reconsider that, thanks to Gabriel Popkin and Yale e360:

Bringing Back Fire: How Burning Can Help Restore Eastern Lands

For millennia, North American ecosystems benefited from fire, mostly set by Indigenous people. Now, a movement is growing, particularly in the eastern U.S., to reintroduce controlled burns to forests and grasslands and restore the role of fire in creating biodiverse landscapes.

It’s an apocalyptic scene that has become all too familiar in recent years. Continue reading

The Rights Of Man Versus The Rights Of Nature

For most of history, people saw themselves as dependent on their surroundings, and rivers and mountains had the last word. Illustration by Marion Fayolle

Florida is on my mind today. Yesterday I listened to some excellent reporting on this podcast episode and was surprised to learn that some consider the political climate in the state environmentally-friendly. Surprising because the entire reporting emphasized what sounded like anti-regulatory business-friendly fervor. And after reading this article by one of my favorite writers, I think the state will be on my mind for the indefinite future (late in the article she writes “Start taking Stone seriously and it’s hard to stop;” so far she is correct):

A Lake in Florida Suing to Protect Itself

Lake Mary Jane, in central Florida, could be harmed by development. A first-of-its-kind lawsuit asks whether nature should have legal rights.

Lake Mary Jane is shallow—twelve feet deep at most—but she’s well connected. She makes her home in central Florida, in an area that was once given over to wetlands. To the north, she is linked to a marsh, and to the west a canal ties her to Lake Hart. To the south, through more canals, Mary Jane feeds into a chain of lakes that run into Lake Kissimmee, which feeds into Lake Okeechobee. Were Lake Okeechobee not encircled by dikes, the water that flows through Mary Jane would keep pouring south until it glided across the Everglades and out to sea. Continue reading

Pythons, Bobcats & Camera Traps

A Burmese python and a bobcat facing off in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida last June, captured by a trap camera set up by the U.S. Geological Survey. U.S.G.S.

We have been posting about invasive pythons, as well as plenty of other invasive species, annually for more than a decade now. Likewise, feline wildlife has been a recurring theme. Not to mention camera traps, another theme we care about.

For a surprising overlap of those two themes, or otherwise just a very well-written story about wildlife, read Matt Kaplan’s article about how Bobcats With a Taste for Python Eggs Might Be the Guardians of Florida’s Swamp.

The bobcat eating the eggs. U.S.G.S.

Our congratulations to Dr. Andrea Currylow for the determined pursuit leading this scientific finding, and with no disrespect to pythons as a species in their native territories, in this case may the best cat win:

Cameras captured the wild feline purloining a Burmese python’s eggs, giving hope that the state’s native species are responding to a voracious, invasive predator.

The bobcat took a swipe. U.S.G.S.

The voracious appetite of the invasive Burmese python is causing Florida’s mammal and bird populations to plummet. With little natural competition to control the big snake’s numbers, the situation looks desperate. But new observations suggest that the bobcat, a wildcat native to Florida, might be able to help. Continue reading

How Do We Love Thee, Forests, Let Us Count The Ways

Forests, such as this one in Indonesia, do lmore than just store carbon. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

It may sound obvious, but until now it was not quantified: The world’s forests do more than just store carbon, new research finds

New data suggests forests help keep the Earth at least half of a degree cooler, protecting us from the effects of climate crisis

The world’s forests play a far greater and more complex role in tackling climate crisis than previously thought, due to their physical effects on global and local temperatures, according to new research. Continue reading

The Force Of Law, On Top Of Information & Protest

A protest in Marseille against the French supermarket chain Groupe Casino for allegedly selling meat products linked to deforestation. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty

What can we do when commercial interests damage our collective future? The identification of and protest against companies doing business in ways that cause environmental destruction are two important forces, but the force of law is another. Thanks to the Guardian for its ongoing coverage of these:

Legal eagles: how climate litigation is shaping ambitious cases for nature

Plans for an airport in the Tagus estuary have failed to take into account its impact on the wetlands, lawyers argue. Photograph: Handout

Environmental lawsuits are nothing new but now lawyers are turning their attention to cases that address the loss of biodiversity

The Tagus estuary near Lisbon is Portugal’s largest wetland, a vital habitat and stopover for tens of thousands of migratory birds, including flamingos, black-tailed godwits and glossy ibis. Continue reading

What Remains, A Documentary

In this short documentary film by Paavo Hanninen, with text by David Kortava, the director says “It’s kind of a tragic story of the herculean effort that’s required just to build 1.3 miles of coastline”:

Protecting Louisiana’s Coastline with Oyster Shells in “What Remains”

Paavo Hanninen’s documentary looks at a surprisingly simple intervention with the potential to slow runaway land loss along the state’s fragile coast.

As early as the nineteen-thirties, oystermen in southern Louisiana began to notice the shoreline that they worked was creeping inland. Continue reading

Keep Peat In Place

Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times

Peat is back on our radar, with this excellent report by Matthew Thompson in the New York Times. It is part of a new series called Headway, an initiative “exploring the world’s challenges through the lens of progress,” which is exactly the founding sentiment of our platform here. So, read on:

Rural Congolese villagers are being asked to protect one of earth’s most precious ecosystems. What can other places contribute to our shared future?

Imagine someone showed up on your doorstep one day and told you that the swampy forest not far from your home contained a rare and precious soil, so powerful that the planet’s future hinges on its preservation. The world is relying on you to keep the soil undisturbed, you’re told, or sinister forces will be unleashed, large enough to doom us all. Continue reading

Why War On Wolves?

Gray wolves in Montana. DENNIS FAST / VWPICS / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

At Yale e360 this opinion by Ted Williams is an important read:

America’s New War on Wolves and Why It Must Be Stopped

Hunting of wolves is again legal in the Northern Rockies, where running them over with snowmobiles or incinerating them in their dens is now permitted. The Biden administration must stop the slaughter of these wolves and protect their recovery from the brink of extinction.

America’s tradition of persecuting wolves has resumed. And although it’s mostly happening on federal land, the Biden administration appears singularly unmoved and unconcerned. Continue reading

Agave, Night, Nectar

Video (click image above): Mexican long-nosed bats drinking nectar from agave flowers at night. Credit: Bat Conservation International

Bats, agave, and half a minute of night-time feeding are in the video above, which is also embedded in this article by Janet Marinelli, published in Yale e360:

How Preserving Agave Could Help Save an Endangered Bat

Drought linked to climate change, along with overgrazing, is destroying the agave plants on which the Mexican long-nosed bat depends. Now, an initiative is trying to restore the balance between the agaves, the bats that feed on them, and the people who live on these lands.

Agaves blooming in Estanque de Norias, Mexico. KRISTEN LEAR / BAT CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

At the southeast tip of a large valley in the northern Sierra Madre Oriental is the small Mexican town of Estanque de Norias, some 200 miles west of the Texas border at Laredo.

Continue reading

Cairngorms Connect & Scotland’s Rewilding

Jeremy Roberts examines the root plate of a felled Scots pine. Photograph: Mark Hamblin/The Guardian

Rewilding looks different in earlier posts about Scotland’s pioneering projects. But here is an additional piece of the puzzle worth understanding:

Chopping, twisting, felling: the unruly way to rewild Scotland’s forests

Orderly pine plantations in the Cairngorms are being messed up as part of a plan to let nature thrive

Cairngorms Connect is the UK’s largest land restoration project

The Scots pine plantations in Abernethy forest are the crème de la crème in forestry terms: tall, straight and dense. These plantations were created in the 1930s, and the wood had a variety of uses, from ships’ masts to trench timbers. Now, this woodland is being retrofitted for wildlife as part of the UK’s largest land restoration project because, although it is striking to wander in such a regimented landscape, nature prefers things to be less orderly. Continue reading

Yakutia’s Outsized Impact

“The problem is, you can’t just turn off, let alone reverse, permafrost thaw,” one scientist said. “It won’t be possible to refreeze the ground and have it go back to how it was.” Photographs by Alexander Gronsky for The New Yorker

Joshua Yaffa reminds me, vividly, that my work in Yakutia 16 years ago was an exercise in futility:

The Great Siberian Thaw

Permafrost contains microbes, mammoths, and twice as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere. What happens when it starts to melt?

Flying over Yakutia, in northeastern Russia, I watched the dark shades of the boreal forest blend with patches of soft, lightly colored grass. Continue reading

Really, Joe?

The Build Back Better legislation included billions to accelerate clean energy like rooftop solar, but with the bill now stalled in Congress, cutting U.S. emissions will be tougher. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Really? is a question we have to ask every now and then. We had no time to waste, because the country with the biggest carbon footprint per capita needed to change something(s) substantially to allow the planet a chance. But one senator stood in the way. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for laying out clearly what the stakes were, and now are:

What losing Build Back Better means for climate change

With billions of dollars for clean energy, the Build Back Better legislation has the potential to substantially and rapidly cut heat-trapping emissions in the U.S. But after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin rejected the bill on Sunday, Build Back Better is effectively dead, at a time when scientists say the world can’t afford to wait on climate change. Continue reading