Sensory Loading, Overloading & Unloading

Sounds Wild and Broken by David George Haskell
In early August, 2007 we arrived in a leafy suburb on the north side of Atlanta. We had spent the previous year living on this island, where doors did not have locks and during the daytime the only man-made sounds tended to be those of fishing boats coming and going. At night on that island there were no noises other than nature’s, including small waves hitting the shores and in summertime the crickets. On the first night in Atlanta I opened the window to let in the night air, and the sound of the superhighway, a mile or so away, was distracting enough that I had to close the window to sleep. It’s not that I had not appreciated the quiet of the island, but I was surprised by how much I had adapted to it. The opening of this book review, for these reasons, resonates with my own experience:

Sounds Wild and Broken review – a moving paean to Earth’s fraying soundtrack

David George Haskell’s often wonderful book explores some of the lost frequencies of nature – heard clearly again during Covid’s initial human hush

Lockdown was, among other things, a sudden collective experiment in volume control. Sound waves from the regular rush-hour thrum of cities usually penetrate more than a kilometre below the Earth’s surface. Continue reading

More On Seed Banks

We have featured these banks before, but they are worthy of a more detailed inside look.

So, thanks to by Salomé Gómez-Upegui, Rita Liu and the Guardian. Their article, Seed banks: the last line of defense against a threatening global food crisis is full of images and written descriptions that put these banks in better perspective:

As climate breakdown and worldwide conflict continue to place the food system at risk, seed banks from the Arctic to Lebanon try to safeguard

As the risks from the climate crisis and global conflict increase, seed banks are increasingly considered a priceless resource that could one day prevent a worldwide food crisis. Continue reading

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers In Louisiana

Comparison of photographs taken of apparent ivory-billed woodpeckers in Louisiana from this study (A, D), with a colorized ivory-billed woodpecker, also from Louisiana (B), and a pale-billed woodpecker taken in Central America (C). Photograph: The Guardian

The title of this post should have a question mark at the end of it, or should be considered clickbait. For bird nerds this is likely not even news. But it is important in terms of natural history in general. Ivory-billed woodpeckers have been mentioned a couple of times in our pages; but the chance of seeing one these days was considered to be zero. We can now hope we were wrong about that:

Back from the dead? Elusive ivory-billed woodpecker not extinct, researchers say

An expedition to the forests of Louisiana say extinction of bird, last definitively seen in 1944, has been exaggerated

In terms of elusiveness, it is the Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster of the bird world, so rare and undetectable that the US government declared it extinct last year. But the ivory-billed woodpecker is, in fact, still alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana, a team of researchers has claimed. Continue reading

Tracking Disappearing Species

Researchers work through taxonomic keys to determine whether they had just caught a Hills’ horseshoe bat in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park.Photograph by Jon Flanders / Courtesy Bat Conservation International

Disappearing species as a topic in these pages has taken many forms. Hunters of disappearing species, less so. My exposure to this topic is limited to one project that Seth participated in. But the fact that Seth also had experience on a different type of project in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park made this article particularly of interest. Carolyn Kormann, once again, thank you:

The Hunt for a Lost Bat

The obsessive people who track down disappearing species are their own variety of rare—sparsely found across a wide geographic range, in all sorts of habitats.

In January, 2019, a multinational team of biologists set out into the rain forest of southwestern Rwanda, in search of a near-mythical bat that they thought might be extinct. Continue reading

Stenophylla, A Coffee With Real Potential & Poster Child For Food Diversity

Our thanks to Dan Saladino, a food journalist and author of Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them as well as recipient of a James Beard Award for food journalism.

He offers an inside look at a relatively unknown coffee varietal with potential, and at the same time, an argument in favor of diversity, in his article Edible Extinction: Why We Need to Revive Global Food Diversity:

A Khasi farmer growing millet in Meghalaya, India.

A Khasi farmer growing millet in Meghalaya, India. NORTH EAST SLOW FOOD & AGROBIODIVERSITY SOCIETY

The Green Revolution helped feed a surging global population, but at the cost of impoverishing crop diversity. Now, with climate change increasingly threatening food supplies, the need for greater agricultural resilience means restoring endangered crop and food varieties.

Stenophylla beans up close. RBG KEW; KLAUS STEINKAMP / ALAMY

In August 2020, inside the cupping room of a London roastery, a team of botanists and baristas gathered to taste a coffee species that most believed had been lost forever. It was an important moment. Coffee experts had spent years searching in West Africa for the few remaining trees of this species, even issuing “wanted posters” to farmers asking if they had seen it. Continue reading

New Technology For Anti-Poaching

Seized ivory tusks before being destroyed at a waste management center in Port Dickson, Malaysia, in 2019. Mohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Poaching has a puzzling array of culprits as well as victims, and many possible solutions. I have thought over the years that the Tiger Trail approach was replicable for this purpose. But genetic technology might scale more effectively. And with climate change overshadowing other crises, you might think this topic is past its prime, so read the comments section at the end of this article. Thanks to Catherine M. Allchin (how did we miss her prior work?) for this story, and please click through to read it in the New York Times:

It Helped Catch Serial Killers. Can It Stop Elephant and Wildlife Poachers, Too?

Scientists used a genetic investigation technique with the aim of helping turn the tide against illicit hauls of ivory and other animal parts.

Cambodian law enforcement officials received a tip from investigators in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Continue reading

Monbiot’s Scrutiny In Perspective

Illustration by Eva Bee

The first I heard of him, nearly a decade ago, I was immediately hooked on his writing, and the ideas he was offering were surprising to read in a mainstream, if progressive, publication. He introduced me to rewilding. If you have not been reading or perhaps listening to George Monbiot during this decade you may not have noticed how his radicalism has evolved. In this editorial ostensibly about the Pandora Papers I learned something about Madeira that I want to read more about:

…A few decades after the Portuguese colonised Madeira in 1420, they developed a system that differed in some respects from anything that had gone before. By felling the forests after which they named the island (madeira is Portuguese for wood), they created, in this uninhabited sphere, a blank slate – a terra nullius – in which a new economy could be built. Continue reading

Bewilderment & Richard Powers In Conversation

When I first linked to the work of Richard Powers it was when his previous book was being reviewed. Now he has a new book out, and from the conversation that follows it sounds like this one is a very good bookend to that one:

Richard Powers on What We Can Learn from Trees

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author asks whether we can reimagine our relationship with the natural world before it’s too late.

There are certain conversations I fear trying to fit into a description.

Continue reading

Healing Earth & Avoiding Amazon

Longleaf pines once covered 90 million acres from Virginia to east Texas but today only about 5 percent of historic range remains intact. Marion Clifton Davis was a modern conservationist who bought tens of thousands of acres in the Florida sandhills and turned them into a private reserve, a project aimed at restoring back the Longleaf pine forest. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr, CC BY ND 2.0)

When you have 12 minutes to spare, listen to Tony Hiss talk about his new book on this excellent episode of Living On Earth, and if you decide to buy the book and want to avoid Amazon click the image of the book below:

The Boreal Forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and is a carbon sink. It’s estimated that if global warming exceeds the 3-5 degree Celsius heat stress and water scarcity could trigger extensive forest death and a dangerous release of the stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo: Kevin Owen, Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Climate change is placing stress on plants and animals to rapidly adapt but without intact habitat, that could become impossible for many. Tony Hiss is an award-winning author and joins Host Bobby Bascomb to talk about his book Rescuing the Planet: Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth, which looks at several places across North America where communities are already working to protect habitat and biodiversity.

Transcript

BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

During his first few days in office President Biden announced the goal of protecting 30 percent of US land and water by the year 2030 with a long term goal of 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading

Palm Oil & Us

A villager walks through a haze from fires in burned peatland at an oil palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. MUHAMMAD ADIMAJA / GREENPEACE

For all the attention we have given palm oil in the decade of posting links to stories here, strange that Jocelyn Zuckerman only appears once in our pages before today. As with fossil fuels the onus should not be entirely on individuals as consumers; collective action and public policy are essential tools to limiting the damage that corporate palm interests have been causing, relatively unchecked, for too long. We thank her for this clear, strong statement:

The Time Has Come to Rein In the Global Scourge of Palm Oil

The cultivation of palm oil, found in roughly half of U.S. grocery products, has devastated tropical ecosystems, released vast amounts of C02 into the atmosphere, and impoverished rural communities. But efforts are underway that could curb the abuses of this powerful industry.

A few weeks ago, the Sri Lankan president announced that his government would ban all imports of palm oil, with immediate effect, and ordered the country’s plantation companies to begin uprooting their oil-palm monocultures and replacing them with more environmentally friendly crops. Citing concerns about soil erosion, water scarcity, and threats to biodiversity and public health, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained that his aim was to “make the country free from oil palm plantations and palm oil consumption.” Continue reading

Back To Impenetrable

A giant otter in the Brazilian Pantanal. They play a vital role in the health of a river’s ecosystem. Photograph: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

It had been a while. Too long. But great to see once again:

‘A huge surprise’ as giant river otter feared extinct in Argentina pops up

Conservationists thrilled at the sighting of the wild predator, last seen in the country in the 1980s

“It was a huge surprise,” said Sebastián Di Martino, director of conservation at Fundación Rewilding Argentina. “I was incredulous. An incredible feeling of so much happiness. I didn’t know if I should try to follow it or rush back to our station to tell the others.”

Continue reading

Moving Species To Protect Their Viability

The endangered western swamp turtle, which scientists have reintroduced into its native habitat in Australia. AUSCAPE/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360 for this:

Amid Climate Pressures, a Call for a Plan to Move Endangered Species

The conservation community has fiercely debated whether to help species move as climate change and habitat loss threaten more extinctions. Now, scientists are calling on an upcoming international conference to set guidelines for this complex – and potentially risky – challenge. Continue reading

Beloved Beasts, Author Interview

Art from Beloved Beasts by Michelle Nijhuis. Illustration: Courtesy of Norton

My interest in the history of conservation started with the discovery of an archive full of hotel guide books from earlier centuries, which led to another archive full of data about one of the earliest publicly-funded conservation projects, which in turn led to my doctoral dissertation. My particular interest is in the history of both conservation and tourism and their co-evolution over the past century. And this interest seems to run in the family, which might explain where our family’s various entrepreneurial activities have emerged from. All along the way, science writers have been a favorite source of nourishment.  I can better understand Michelle Nijhuis‘s two-year hiatus from our pages  thanks to Rachel Fritts, Editorial Intern at Audubon magazine, in this author interview:

Capturing the Whole History of Conservationism—for Better and Worse

In her new book ‘Beloved Beasts,’ author Michelle Nijhuis chronicles a movement dedicated to the ‘preservation of possibility.’

The author, Michelle Nijhuis. Photo: Seed Photography

Veteran science journalist Michelle Nijhuis has been writing about conservation for more than two decades. Her work on topics ranging from climate change to humans’ relationships with other species regularly appears in publications such as the New Yorker and The Atlantic. In her hotly anticipated new book, released March 9, Nijhuis sets out to tell the definitive history of the effort she dedicated her career to chronicling.

Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction turns an exacting eye on the history of conservationism, emphasizing the movement’s interconnectedness and complexity. Nijhuis takes the reader on a journey through time, from the plains bisons’ brush with extinction in the 1800s, to the community conservancies preserving wildlife in modern-day Namibia. Continue reading

Pygmy Hogs In Assam

The pygmy hog is still endangered but a reintroduction programme in Assam, India, has given it a greater chance of survival

A highlight of seven years living and working in India was a brief visit to Assam to review the land holdings of an investor who was considering having us assist with the development of a conservation-focused lodge. I did not know about this endangered species at the time, but its current status brings a good vibe to my day for more than one reason:

Pig in clover: how the world’s smallest wild hog was saved from extinction

A pygmy hog enters the wild from the release enclosure in Manas reserve. Photograph: Goutam Narayan

The greyish brown pygmy hog (Porcula salvania), with its sparse hair and a streamlined body that is about the size of a cat’s, is the smallest wild pig in the world, and also one of its rarest, appearing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as endangered. Continue reading

Eyes On Prize, Do Not Get Numbed

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An elephant herd in Kenya. PIETER RAS / 500PX / GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360 for the reminder that, as trouble rumbles, there is more need than ever for keeping our eyes on the prize:

Psychic Numbing: Keeping Hope Alive in a World of Extinctions

The litany of lost species can be overwhelming, leading to what has been called “psychic numbing.” But as the recovery of species from bald eagles to humpback whales shows, our actions do matter in saving species and the aliveness and beauty they bring to the world. Continue reading

Fly Versus Fly

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A Jock Scott salmon fly, tied according to the original T.E. Pryce-Tannatt recipe.Timo Kontio

Having friends who fish using this technique, this is a tricky post to write. I knew little about the history of the lures used in fly fishing until yesterday. I learned a little something about this history that is as disturbing as the lures are admittedly beautiful. I have tried fly fishing and found it more difficult than any other outdoor activity I ever tried. I respect anyone with the talent required to catch fish this way. But now I wonder about the lures. Above is an extra feature from the episode of a podcast which, if you are a regular viewer of our daily bird feature, you will want to listen to. Click the image to go to that photo gallery for more, either before or after you listen to the podcast:

Victorian salmon flies are tied according to recipes that are up to 150 years old and call for some of the rarest feathers in the world. Our show this week is the story of what may be the greatest feather robbery of all time, a million dollars in rare birds, stolen from a British museum.

The community of people devoted to tying these kinds of flies doesn’t fish with them—they’re just for show. Many try to use feathers from the same species listed in the classic manuals. But because so many birds have been killed for so many reasons over the years, a lot of the most coveted species are now endangered or protected.

Below are some photos of salmon flies—the Durham Ranger, the Jock Scott, and the Sherbrook—and some of the birds referenced in the recipes used to make them.

The episode those photos support offers as well told a story as This American Life is known for, but for bird nerds it is especially rich. And for those who are yet to become bird nerds, it may be just the stimulus you need. To tie the most prized fishing fly, the most prized birds lose the ability to fly. :

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An “analytical diagram” illustrating the various parts of a Jock Scott salmon fly. 
George M. Kelson’s The Salmon Fly: How to Dress It and How to Use It (1895)

A flute player breaks into a British museum and makes off with a million dollars worth of dead birds.

Prologue

By Sean Cole

After hearing about the heist, Kirk Wallace Johnson gets sucked into the feather underground. He ends up discovering things that the people in charge of the theft investigation didn’t. Kirk’s book about the heist is called “The Feather Thief.” (7 minutes)

Questions, Answers & Plans For Managing Environmental Challenges

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Experts have identified oceans as a key battleground in the fight to protect humanity’s natural ‘life support system’. Photograph: Christian Loader/Alamy

The plan provides one possible answer, its execution is an important question:

UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Continue reading

Farms & Non-Farms For Our Future

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Critics note that flawed strategies have encouraged tree farms, such as this oil palm plantation in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

Richard Conniff explains why tree farms, like the one pictured above, are not part of the solution to climate change, whereas abandoned ancient farms like the one picture below may be part of the solution:

Could Abandoned Agricultural Lands Help Save the Planet?

Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing — more land globally is now being abandoned by farming than converted to it. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.

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The town of Castro Laboreiro, Portugal, where former grazing lands have reverted to nature. ANTONIO LOMBA/FLICKR

People have lived in Castro Laboreiro, where northern Portugal borders Spain, long enough to have built megaliths in the mountainous countryside and a pre-Romanesque church, from 1,100 years ago, in the village itself. But the old rural population has dwindled away, leaving behind mostly elders yearning for their vanishing culture. Continue reading

Are We Willing To Do What It Takes?

Thanks to John R. Platt, by way of EcoWatch, for this:

Could inventing a better air conditioner help to save species from extinction?

It’s an idea so crazy it just might work — and it’s just one of many new and innovative conservation initiatives in development around the world to help stem the tide of biodiversity loss. Continue reading

Loving Food To Death

9781770414358_custom-bf6d1d71924fbd2a8904de5d2c8f72d9dd530137-s400-c85Thanks to Luisa Torres for this author interview and book review on a topic we started posting about in 2011, and we unfortunately have continuously found an abundance of stories about, but will continue sharing:

We humans love food to death — literally.

From mammoths to passenger pigeons, we have driven our favorite meals to extinction through overhunting and habitat destruction. And globally, our tendency to overharvest just a narrow range of crops has limited the variety of foods we eat.

“When it comes to fruits and vegetables, we have access to only a fraction of the diversity that existed a century ago,” says Lenore Newman in her forthcoming bookLost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food (out Oct. 8).She is the Canada research chair in food security and environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, in British Columbia.

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An engraving dating from the 19th century depicts passenger pigeons, once one of the most common birds in North America but now extinct because of overhunting and deforestation.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty

In her book, Newman explores how human activity has limited our food options and still threatens what we are able to put on our plates. Continue reading