EC6C. 2002–2008 Carbon in the Biosphere

cover for GSS book Ecosystem Change

Staying current for Chapter 6

Articles from 2002–2008

Stay current index page for Chapter 6

{ Ecosystem Change Contents }

2008 Fall. Delta Blues. By Barry Yeoman, OnEarth. Excerpt: On this brisk, cloudless day, Tom Zuckerman and I are driving to his duck-hunting club on Rindge Tract, one of the low-slung rural islands that form the nucleus of California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta….The delta serves as a vast switching yard for much of the state’s water supply, including drinking water for 23 million people from the Bay Area to San Diego….
For all its value and beauty, though, the delta is also on the verge of collapse. Much of its land is kept artificially dry by 1,100 miles of jury-rigged levees that are inadequate to withstand a litany of growing stresses. First there’s global warming, which could push sea levels two feet higher, or more, by century’s end. Add to this the risk of flooding — also linked to climate change — as a result of increased rainfall and quicker snowmelt in the mountains. Finally, there’s the growing chance of a devastating earthquake. Any of these phenomena could trigger a chain reaction of levee breaches, inundating farms and communities, displacing thousands of people, and sucking salt water deep into an already overstressed system. That, in turn, could leave Californians scrambling for freshwater for agriculture and residential consumption. In 2005 a respected study by the geologist Jeffrey Mount, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, and the environmental planner Robert Twiss added up the combined risks posed by earthquakes and floods and calculated a 64 percent chance that up to 20 levees will fail simultaneously within the next 50 years.
…A more immediate crisis has already beset the delta, one that shows how deeply its ecological health and human welfare are entwined. Native fish populations — salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, smelt — are declining at such an alarming rate that the entire ecosystem appears to be in peril. Among the many culprits are the two pumping stations, which not only suck the fish into their machinery but also alter the region’s underlying hydrology….
…There is no “single silver bullet” to solve the problems of the delta, says Barry Nelson, director of NRDC’s Western Water Project. “We’re going to need a portfolio of responses.” Scientists, environmentalists, water managers, and farmers all favor the creation of managed floodplains — chunks of agricultural land that seasonally collect excess floodwater, taking pressure off levees and reducing the risk of breaches. Not only do these “bypasses” lower flood levels, but they also make exceptional habitat for fish like salmon and steelhead. Farmers can still plant seasonal crops — the flooding typically occurs in the winter — and they get paid for accepting some risk of crop loss. …

2008 November 10. Marine invasive species advance 50 km per decade, World Conference on Marine Biodiversity told. EurekAlert. Excerpt: A rapid, climate change-induced northern migration of invasive marine is one of many research results announced Tues. Nov. 11 during opening day presentations at the First World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, in Valencia.
Investigators report that invasive species of marine macroalgae spread at 50 km per decade, a distance far greater than that covered by invasive terrestrial plants. The difference may be due to the rapid dispersion of macroalgae propagules in the ocean, according to Nova Mieszkovska, from the Marine Biological Association of the U.K.
The international conference … will gather over 500 scientists from 45 countries.
Says CSIC scientist Carlos Duarte, co-chair of the Conference: “Overwhelming evidence of an accelerating deterioration of the oceans has provided the ímpetus to call the marine biodiversity scientific community together in this first World Conference.”
…Almost half of the 450 communications at the Conference will address the loss of marine biodiversity and its consequences, whereas the rest will cover the exploitation of marine living resources, as well as exciting discoveries of novel ecosystems in extreme ecosystems, particularly in the deep sea….

2008 October 13. Thinking Anew About a Migratory Barrier: Roads. By Jim Robbins, The New York Times. Excerpt: SALTESE, Mont. — …The mountains in and around Glacier National Park teem with bears. A recently concluded five-year census found 765 grizzlies in northwestern Montana, more than three times the number of bears as when it was listed as a threatened species in 1975. To the south lies a swath of federally protected wilderness much larger than Yellowstone, where the habitat is good, and there are no known grizzlies. They were wiped out 50 years ago to protect sheep.
One of the main reasons they have not returned is Interstate 90.
To arrive from the north, a bear would have to climb over a nearly three-foot high concrete Jersey barrier, cross two lanes of road, braving 75- to 80-mile-an hour traffic, climb a higher Jersey barrier, cross two more lanes of traffic and climb yet another barrier.
“It’s the most critical wildlife corridor in the country,” said Dr. Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, of the linkage between the two habitats.
…Some experts believe that habitat fragmentation, the slicing and dicing of large landscapes into small pieces with roads, homes and other development, is the biggest of all environmental problems….
Fragmentation cuts off wildlife from critical habitat, including food, security or others of their species for reproduction and genetic diversity. Eventually they disappear.
…Vegetation communities here are projected to migrate north, which means grizzlies will need to be able to follow. “Shrub fields where berries are is a good example,” Dr. Servheen said. “If dry weather wipes them out, the bears need to go elsewhere.”
The problem is they might not be able to follow. “We’ve boxed them in” with roads, he said….

2008 September 29. Harsh Review of Restoration in Everglades. By Damien Cave, The New York Times. Excerpt: MIAMI — The eight-year-old, multibillion-dollar effort to rescue the Everglades has failed to halt the wetlands’ decline because of bureaucratic delays, a lack of financing from Congress and overdevelopment, according to a new report.
The 287-page study by the National Research Council, a biennial review required by Congress, warned that South Florida’s stunning river of grass was quickly reaching a point of no return. Without “near term progress,” the report said, more species will die off “and the Everglades ecosystem may experience irreversible losses to its character and functioning.”
William L. Graf, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, put it more simply. “There is no other place like this,” Mr. Graf said. “It’s existed for 5,000 years this way, and we’re in danger of losing it for our kids and their kids.”
…“The bottom line,” said Mr. Graf, a professor of geology at the University of South Carolina, “is I don’t think we can wait and see what happens.”…

2008 Sep 8. Friendly Invaders. By CARL ZIMMER, NY Times. Excerpt: New Zealand is home to 2,065 native plants found nowhere else on Earth….
When Europeans began arriving in New Zealand, they brought with them alien plants – crops, garden plants and stowaway weeds. Today, 22,000 non-native plants grow in New Zealand. Most of them can survive only with the loving care of gardeners and farmers. But 2,069 have become naturalized: they have spread out across the islands on their own. There are more naturalized invasive plant species in New Zealand than native species.
It sounds like the makings of an ecological disaster: an epidemic of invasive species that wipes out the delicate native species in its path. But in a paper published in August in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dov Sax, an ecologist at Brown University, and Steven D. Gaines, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, point out that the invasion has not led to a mass extinction of native plants. The number of documented extinctions of native New Zealand plant species is a grand total of three.
…”I hate the ‘exotics are evil’ bit, because it’s so unscientific,” Dr. Sax said.
Dr. Sax and his colleagues are at odds with many other experts on invasive species. Their critics argue that the speed with which species are being moved around the planet, combined with other kinds of stress on the environment, is having a major impact.
There is little doubt that some invasive species have driven native species extinct. But Dr. Sax argues that they are far more likely to be predators than competitors.
…Biological invasions also set off bursts of natural selection. 
House sparrows, for example, have moved to North America from Europe and have spread across the whole continent. “Natural selection will start to change them,” Dr. Sax said. “If you give that process enough time, they will become new species.”
“The natives themselves are also likely to adapt,” Dr. Sax added. 
Some of the fastest rates of evolution ever documented have taken place in native species adapting to exotics. Some populations of soapberry bugs in Florida, for example, have shifted from feeding on a native plant, the balloon vine, to the goldenrain tree, introduced from Asia by landscapers in the 1950s. In five decades, the smaller goldenrain seeds have driven the evolution of smaller mouthparts in the bugs, along with a host of other changes.
In Australia, the introduction of cane toads in the 1930s has also spurred evolution in native animals….

2008 June 17 .Tiny, Clingy and Destructive, Mussel Makes Its Way West. By John Collins Rudolf, The New York Times. Excerpt: LAKE MEAD, Nev. — Kneeling at the edge of the dock, Wen Baldwin began hauling on a length of nylon rope that disappeared into the depths of Lake Mead. One after another, an odd assemblage of objects — a water bottle, a chunk of concrete, a pair of flip-flops, a steel anchor — emerged from the emerald-green waters.
A living blanket of tiny, striped mussels covered each one.
“The conditions here are ideal for these things, absolutely ideal,” said Mr. Baldwin, 70, a retired design engineer and a National Park Service volunteer.
The mussel-coated debris is unmistakable evidence of an event occurring silently and largely out of sight — the colonization of the Colorado River by the quagga mussel, a fingernail-size Eurasian bivalve with an astonishing sex drive and a nasty reputation for causing economic and ecological havoc.
Like the closely related zebra mussel, the quagga can cling tenaciously to hard surfaces, like the equipment of the many hydroelectric and water-supply plants along the lower Colorado. “They’re going to be all over the pipes, all over the intakes,” said Gary L. Fahnenstiel, senior ecologist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s going to be devastating.”
Dr. Fahnenstiel ought to know. The quagga has carpeted much of the Great Lakes, largely displacing the better-known zebra. Its invasion of the Colorado, presumably after crossing the Rockies on recreational boats hitched to trailers, foretells major disruptions not just for utilities, but also for the entire ecology of the lower river. By stripping nutrients and microorganisms from the water, the mussel could do grave damage to a wide variety of species, including small invertebrates, fish and birds. “This is one bad hombre,” Dr. Fahnenstiel said. “It’s almost your worst-case scenario for affecting the entire food chain.

2008 Spring. Are Bay Seals Facing a New Chemical Health Threat? by Lisa Owens Viani, Terrain Magazine. Excerpt: etween globs of oil, six-pack rings, used condoms, and discarded sippy cups, harbor seals have plenty of hazards to dodge in San Francisco Bay. But some potential threats to their health may be more insidious. An “emerging contaminant” found circulating in blood samples from harbor seals is perfluorooctane sulfanate (PFOS), a persistent compound used in Scotchgard, fire extinguisher foam, and other stain-resistant and water-repellent coatings.

2008 May 6. Mangrove loss ‘left Burma exposed’ By Mark Kinver, Science and nature reporter, BBC News. Excerpt: Destruction of mangrove forests in Burma left coastal areas exposed to the devastating force of the weekend’s cyclone, a top politician suggests. ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said coastal developments had resulted in mangroves, which act as a natural defence against storms, being lost.
At least 22,000 people have died in the disaster, say state officials. A study of the 2004 Asian tsunami found that areas near healthy mangroves suffered less damage and fewer deaths. Mr Surin, speaking at a high-level meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, said the combination of more people living in coastal areas and the loss of mangroves had exacerbated the tragedy.

2008 Feb 29. Invasion of the Alien Creatures. by Molly Webster, OnEarth (NRDC). Unwelcome guests Tainted ballast water brought zebra mussels to the Great Lakes. Excerpt: Ecologists estimate that every six months a new invasive species begins carving out a spot for itself in the Great Lakes ecosystem. Many arrive as stowaways on shipping vessels that travel up the St. Lawrence Seaway, hiding out in ballast water until it’s discharged for cargo–leaving the aquatic invaders free to move about the continent. In 2006, one of the most lethal infectious diseases affecting fish populations, viral hemorrhagic septicemia, killed tens of thousands of fish in Lake Erie. Scientists believe it might have arrived in ballast water. Such losses are ruinous in a region that takes in $5.7 billion a year through the sport and commercial fishing industries. In the absence of federal rules to curtail tainted ballast discharges, in 2007 Michigan began requiring that ships treat their ballast water before releasing it in state waters. The shipping industry challenged the law in court; NRDC joined Michigan’s case, arguing that states have the right to enact their own standards. The case was dismissed in August, but NRDC is prepared to defend against the shippers’ appeals.

2008 February 28. Requiem for a River. By Tim Folger, OnEarth. Excerpt: Snake Valley, Nevada [Elevation 5,300 feet]
…The demand for water here, exacerbated by the growth of Las Vegas, has never been greater. Las Vegas, built in the middle of the Mojave Desert, gets 60,000 new residents-and four inches of rain — each year. To secure the water it needs to maintain that growth, the city plans to build a $2 billion pipeline to pump groundwater from the valleys of northern Nevada. Baker and his fellow ranchers believe the pipeline will be a disaster, not just for them but for the Great Basin ecosystem, which is one reason we’ve driven to Needle Point Spring. If a single farmer can suck a spring dry, what will happen when a city of nearly two million starts pumping groundwater here?
The remote Snake Valley is but one of the many fronts in a battle for water rights that will play out in the decades ahead across the entire Southwest… With the onset of global warming, an already bad situation is likely to get much worse. Some climate scientists suspect that the current drought is not an aberration but the start of a transition to permanently drier conditions in the fastest-growing — and most arid — region in North America…
Late last year, the seven states that share the Colorado River’s water — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — agreed to new federal guidelines for managing the river that should prevent the drought from morphing into a full-blown catastrophe. But that agreement won’t end the region’s water wars…
…The crisis facing the Southwest isn’t so much due to any lack of water-even in the driest years the Colorado River can satisfy the needs of millions. The real crisis is a demographic one. Is urban development a goal to be pursued at any cost? Or as Cecil Garland, the rancher in tiny Callao, Utah, put it, do we want lawns or lettuce? Craps or crops?

2008 January. The Invaders: Weapons of Choice. By Laura Paskus, Forest Magazine, Winter 2008
Excerpt: For almost four decades, Doug Parker worked for the U.S. 
Forest Service, initially with pesticides, then with herbicides. But 
just days shy of his thirty-ninth anniversary with the agency, he was 
fired, charged with misconduct and not following orders-in particular, not certifying enough employees in the use of pesticides and improperly formatting a progress report. But Parker, who was the pesticide coordinator for the Southwestern Region until his dismissal two years ago, believes that he was fired because he sounded the alarm about the agency’s strategy for dealing with invasive species, and because he refused to authorize spraying a campground with insecticide in 2003. Parker has filed a lawsuit against the agency. His claims that the agency is ill-prepared to deal with the growing problem of invasive plant and insect incursions-and with citizens’ groups who oppose the use of herbicides and pesticides on public land-illustrate the complex issue that forest managers are facing as invasives gain a foothold on national forests….A quick look around the Southwestern Region reveals a dramatic trend within forest ecosystems: Russian knapweed chokes northern New Mexico roadsides, while Dalmatian toadflax infiltrates the banks of the Rio Grande. On the Lincoln National Forest, musk thistle is spreading across the ground, while inchworms defoliate conifer trees. 
Meanwhile, in Arizona, bark beetles have destroyed hundreds of 
thousands of acres of pine forests as well as plants such as honey 
and velvet mesquite, and buffelgrass and fountaingrass are outpacing 
the Sonoran Desert’s native plants, including the iconic saguaro 

2008 January. The Invaders: Fodder for Fire. By Alice Tallmadge, Forest Magazine, Winter 2008. An aggressive invasive from Russia has emerged as a significant factor in the wildfires that rolled through much of the West this past summer, and several western states have decided it’s time to get serious about eradicating the ubiquitous cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). The governors of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming are developing a strategy for rehabilitating thousands of acres of scorched rangeland by reseeding with native and nonnative grasses before cheatgrass can take hold.


2007 December 17. Oceans’ Growing Acidity Alarms Scientists. By Les Blumenthal, McClatchy Newspapers. Excerpt: WASHINGTON – Seven hundred miles west of Seattle in the Pacific at Ocean Station Papa, a first-of-its-kind buoy is anchored to monitor a looming environmental catastrophe. Forget about sea levels rising as glaciers and polar ice melt, and increasing water temperatures affecting global weather patterns. As the oceans absorb more and more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, they’re gradually becoming more acidic. And some scientists fear that the change may be irreversible. At risk are sea creatures up and down the food chain, from the tiniest phytoplankton and zooplankton to whales, from squid to salmon to crabs, coral, oysters and clams….

2007 December 16. National Park Plans to Cull Its Herd of Elk. By KIRK JOHNSON, NY Times. Excerpt: DENVER – The elk population that roams and sometimes rampages through the delicate landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park is out of control and will be reduced through a program that will use sharpshooters to cull the herd, park officials said last week.
The plan, which is expected to receive final approval by the National Park Service next month, would involve killing up to 200 of the animals each year beginning in 2009.
The herd, believed to be descended from a tiny transplant community brought down from Wyoming during World War I, has become a major tourist attraction – and a severe problem for park managers. The animals, which can weigh up to 700 pounds for a full-grown bull, feed 
on fragile aspen and willow stands. In some places the stands have been devastated by the herd’s growing numbers. Rocky Mountain National Park, which straddles the Continental Divide and holds the headwaters of the Colorado River, is one of the most heavily used national parks, about 90 minutes northwest of Denver. 
And the majestic, slow-moving elk, numbering upwards of 3,000 in some past years, have become one of the park’s signature photo opportunities, even as their environmental impact has grown. Park officials say a sustainable population is about 1,600 to 2,100 animals.
…A park biologist who led a management study of the elk, Therese Johnson, said … that for several reasons, the park’s elk population had recently fallen a bit. About 700 were killed by hunters outside the park last year, one of the highest numbers in years. And more of the animals appear to be spending time in forest areas outside park 
She said that if the trend continued, there might be years when no animals needed to be killed. She also emphasized that the culling program would be scientifically based. The shooting would be done in winter, …with a goal of mimicking as much as possible how natural predators like wolves would reduce a herd, by taking out the old, the weak and the ill….

2007 November 12. Border Fence Work Raises Environmental Concerns.By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD, NY Times. LOS ANGELES. Excerpt: The Department of Homeland Security is ahead of schedule in building some 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border, but some environmental groups, elected officials and local Indian tribes say too little attention is being paid to the environmental consequences of the barriers. …Opponents say the 12-to-15-foot-tall steel fence and its construction will disrupt the habitat of jaguars, pygmy owls and other sensitive fauna in the wildlife refuge, and encourage illegal immigrants to use more remote, ecologically delicate terrain.
Three times, including twice this year, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has exempted fence construction along the border from environmental reviews normally required for such projects, saying the waivers avoid legal delays that threaten speedy completion.
…”This is another example of the federal government riding roughshod over America’s treasured lands and legal process in its rush to complete a highly ineffective and controversial border wall,” said Matt Clark, the Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy group.
Federal officials have defended the land swap and the environmental waivers, saying speedy construction of the fence will help lead to control of the border and reduce trash and other environmental damage generated by illegal immigrant traffic….

2007 October 16. Oriental Beetle Discovered in Indiana. Associated Press Excerpt: WEST LAFAYETTE – An invasive beetle that’s native to Japan has been discovered in Indiana for the first time as the plant-munching insect edges further into the Midwest. Purdue University entomologist Doug Richmond said a graduate student recently found an unusual beetle in Tippecanoe County and identified it at a Purdue lab as an Oriental beetle. …The beetles, which are similar in size to Japanese beetle, arrived in the United States in the 1920s and have caused devastating infestations across much of the Northeast. To date, the insect has been found as far south as South Carolina. …In the larval stage, the beetles feed on roots of turf grasses, perennial plants, weeds, nursery stock and potted plants. After the adult beetles emerge, they feed on flowers from May to August, favoring the petals of daisies, phlox and petunias….

Fall 2007. A Fence Runs Through It. Forest Magazine. Excerpt: The cost of the proposed 700-mile fence along segments of the border between the United States and Mexico will likely be higher than the $1.2 billion Congress approved when it passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006.
Much, much higher, say members of environmental groups who advocate for the hundreds of acres of national wildlife refuges, forests and monuments that straddle the border. …What concerns them are the impacts a two walled fence will have on desert ecosystems, water flow and wildlife species–from jaguars and desert pronghorn to the flat-tailed horned lizard.
…According to [Jenny] Neely [with the Defenders of Wildlife in Tucson], the Marine Corp, which is responsible for managing the range on the ground, planned to install vehicle barriers along the border it shares with Mexico.
This three-foot high, “permeable” fencing allows people and wildlife to pass through, but prevents the passage of cars and trucks. Similar barriers ahve been constructed in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument east of the range…and the Tohono O’odham Nation also had approval to construct vehicle barriers.
“The world came downthat the bombin range was going to get a [double] fence…in contradiction to what every manager out there wanted.”

2007 June 18. Caverns to Remove Exotic Fish From Pond. Associated Press. Excerpt: State Game and Fish officials will help staff members at Carlsbad Caverns National Park remove exotic fish and amphibians from the pond at Rattlesnake Springs. The effort, which starts Sunday, is aimed at restoring native species, including the roundnose minnow and greenthroat darter. Non-native species that will be removed include the green sunfish, the largemouth bass and the bullfrog. … Park officials will pump water from the pond for one week. When half to two-thirds of the water has been removed, biologists will separate live fish in holding tanks – one for native fish, the other for non-natives. Native fish will be returned to the pond and non-natives will be released into another water system managed by the Game and Fish Department. …

2007 June 12. Battling a Nasty Green Invader From the Deep. By LISA W. FODERARO Excerpt: SCHROON, N.Y. – Nosing into a shallow bay on Schroon Lake, Steve LaMere peered over the side of his pontoon boat. He was on an unusual reconnaissance mission, looking for signs of an aggressive aquatic invader. The plant he was after, Eurasian watermilfoil, is not new. First found in the United States in the 1940s in a pond in Washington, D.C., it has since spread to almost every corner of the country, endangering swimmers, boaters and other aquatic plants. Since the 1970s, its growth – along with that of many other invasive plants and animals – has exploded.
Like other invasive species, Eurasian watermilfoil is spread from continent to continent by ballast water from ships, and locally by recreational boaters and fishermen who unwittingly introduce plant fragments to clean lakes from infested ones. Eurasian watermilfoil is now in more than 45 Adirondack lakes, including giants like Lake George and Saranac Lake. It threatens their biodiversity by muscling out native plants and can grow so thick that it becomes entangled in boat propellers and the limbs of swimmers. 
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent each year to remove watermilfoil. In July and August, teams of scuba divers descend to hand-harvest plants, which can grow up to 15 feet tall. Where the watermilfoil is too dense for that approach (scientists have found as many as 300 stems per square meter), divers fasten huge sheets of plastic, called benthic barriers, to the lake bottom to blot out the sun.
Another method, known as biocontrol, uses nature – in the form of insects and fish – to fight nature. At Augur Lake, where Mr. LaMere was hired to combat its Eurasian watermilfoil infestation, hundreds of sterile grass carp were released several years ago to eat the plants. For now, the watermilfoil, which had cloaked 10 percent of the lake, is still there, but is less of a nuisance.
In 2005, an Invasive Species Task Force appointed by former Gov. George E. Pataki issued a 146-page report, with a dozen recommendations and a call for the state to budget from $5 million to $10 million annually to address the issue. To illustrate how quickly invasive species spread, the report said that since the task force convened in 2004, at least six new ones have arrived in the state. They include the European crane fly and Brazilian elodea, a popular aquarium plant discovered last year. Michael P. White, the commission’s executive director, said the additional state money would mean more divers this summer. “The state funding will allow us to expand our operations more on a scale that’s appropriate to the challenge.” While some lakes in New York are choked with Eurasian watermilfoil, the early efforts on Lake George paid off. Of 1,800 acres of lake bottom where watermilfoil could conceivably take root (generally the shallower fringes), only about 10 to 12 acres have dense growth.

2007 April. Lush Yards with Less Water. Union of Concerned Scientists – Green Tips. Excerpt: About one-third of all residential water use goes toward lawns and gardens, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately, much of this water is wasted through runoff, evaporation, overwatering, or inefficient landscape design. Reducing water use in your yard does not mean resorting to rock gardens-by adopting some simple landscaping techniques known as “xeriscaping” (from the Greek xeros, meaning dry) you can create a beautiful lawn or garden that uses up to 60 percent less water, requires less fertilizer and pesticides, and saves you time and money. … In most cases, native, non-invasive plants are best because they are naturally adapted to regional temperature and rainfall patterns. Grouping plants that have similar water needs can also help minimize the need for supplemental watering….If there are areas of your lawn that go unused, consider replacing the grass with less water-intensive plants such as trees, shrubs, flowers, or low-growing ground covers. …Mulching around plants with coarse compost, wood chips, shredded leaves, or straw further reduces the need for supplemental watering by keeping the soil cool and moist. ….


11 December 2006. In Kansas, a Line Is Drawn Around a Prairie Dog Town. By FELICITY BARRINGER. Excerpt: RUSSELL SPRINGS, Kan., Dec. 6 – On Wednesday, the prairie dog poisoners stayed home. …The Logan County commissioners want the prairie dogs dead. But two ranchers, Larry Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt, and their allies in two environmental groups want the 5,500-acre colony on their property to flourish, for the good of the land and for the eventual delectation of black-footed ferrets. The ferrets, an endangered mammal, thrive on a diet of prairie dogs. The ranchers’ defense of prairie dogs prompted bewilderment then anger in this county of about 3,100 people. …Mr. Haverfield, who is 70, and his wife, Betty, 71, are perfectly content to have neighbors and friends shoot some of the thousands of prairie dogs for sport. They just do not want them poisoned en masse. …The Haverfield way of ranching – rotation grazing, a rarity in this region – is designed to mimic the patterns of bison grazing. By moving the cows from pasture to pasture quickly, he said, he can accommodate both cattle and rodent, improve the soil and the grass and promote the return of those species drawn either to prairie dogs’ abandoned holes (such as burrowing owls and badgers) or to their flesh (foxes, rattlesnakes, hawks and eagles). …A few miles north, Byron Sowers, a neighbor of Mr. Haverfield’s, … says …”It’s devaluing my property,” …Mr. Sowers argues that his 900-acre property bordering Mr. Haverfield’s had only 10 acres of prairie dog town when he bought it. Now, he said, despite annual poisonings costing $2,500 or more, the colony covers 500 acres. He blames Mr. Haverfield’s rodents. …the tendency of prairie dogs to seek new territory is well-established – although so is the tendency of the remnants of a poisoned colony to multiply quickly…. …Jonathan Proctor, a prairie dog specialist with Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group, is fond of asking why this native of the Great Plains, which once numbered in the billions, cannot be allowed a few thousand acres. … federal biologists in the early 20th century fattened their budgets by joining the farmers and cattlemen in a huge prairie dog eradication campaign …lasted more than half a century and killed billions of prairie dogs. In 1901, Kansas passed a law giving county governments the right to send poisoners onto private land, at the owner’s expense, if neighbors complained. That law is at the root of the current stalemate. …Ron Klataske, the executive director of Audubon of Kansas, suggested the Haverfields offer their land to federal officials as a site for black-footed ferrets. …That news inflamed an already tense situation. The Endangered Species Act’s prohibitions against intentionally harming an endangered animal conjured up fears that a dead ferret found on someone’s property could be turned into a federal case, literally….

December 2006 (Winter 2007). The Little Mouse That Got in the Way. By Sharon Levy, OnEarth [NRDC]. Why an obscure, three-inch rodent holds the future of the Endangered Species Act in its tiny paws — a tale of science and politics. Wyoming Attorney General Patrick Crank once argued that Preble’s meadow jumping mouse was no more real than the jackalope, that taxidermist’s fantasy — half jackrabbit, half antelope — that adorns bars and gas stations throughout the West. Populations of meadow jumping mice are scattered over half the continent, from the Carolinas to Alaska. Preble’s, a three-inch beast with outsize feet and legs that leaps like a miniature kangaroo along streamsides and over wet grasslands, lives at the southwestern edge of jumping mouse territory, in an isolated patch of habitat between the foothills of southeastern Wyoming and the eastern edge of the Rockies in Colorado.
The fate of this obscure little creature has enormous implications for the new science of conservation genetics, the pace of development of the Rocky Mountain West, and the future integrity of the Endangered Species Act, which has been so vital in protecting iconic species such as the grizzly and the bald eagle. At the heart of the dispute among developers, politicians, scientists, and environmentalists is a simple question: Does Preble’s mouse deserve federal protection, either as a unique subspecies or as a small, isolated group within the broader jumping mouse population?…

26 November 2006. City Says Its Urban Jungle Has Little Room for Palms. By JENNIFER STEINHAUER, LOS ANGELES JOURNAL. Excerpt: LOS ANGELES, Nov. 25 – The palm tree, like so much here, rose to fame largely because of vanity and image control, then met its downfall when the money ran out. …The Los Angeles City Council, fed up with the cost of caring for the trees, with their errant fronds that plunge perilously each winter, and with the fact that they provide little shade, have declared them the enemy of the urban forest and wish that most would disappear.
The city plans to plant a million trees of other types over the next several years so that, as palms die off, most will be replaced with sycamores, crape myrtles and other trees indigenous to Southern California. …Of the various varieties of palms, none is really indigenous to Los Angeles. In the mid-20th century, land barons relocating to Los Angeles and Hollywood from the East decided that palm trees denoted the easy life, and began planting them at their homes and offices, said Leland Lai, the president of the Palm Society of Southern California, a research group that supports keeping the city lined with palms. Hotels and housing subdivisions came next, and the state’s transportation authority planted the trees on public parkways “because they decided they were easy, fast growing and don’t need a lot of water,” Mr. Lai said. But as it turns out, palm trees, particularly Mexican fan palms, feature big, spiky fronds that fall off the trees in the Santa Ana winds that sweep through in winter. The palms clonk cars, and occasionally pedestrians, said city officials, who also say that palm trees do not clean as much carbon monoxide from the air as do shadier trees. …Many of the trees planted in the 1950s “are getting toward the end of their lives,” Mr. Lai said. “Some are 80 to 100 feet high and 70 years old, and these are not self-cleaning palms,” which means they need maintenance to remove old fronds. Last year, the city removed nearly 8,000 cubic yards of dried palm fronds from the public right of way, Mr. Sauceda said….

29 October 2006. With Hands and Hounds, Stalking Feral Hogs in Texas. The New York Times. By TIM EATON. Excerpt: ASPERMONT, Tex. …A lot of people in rural Texas catch wild hogs, which can grow to several hundred pounds …It has also become lucrative as Europeans and an increasing number of Americans clamor for wild boar. Mr. Richardson said he made $28,000 last year selling live feral hogs. “I think it’s a great health-conscious niche market,” said Dick Koehler, one of Mr. Richardson’s customers and the vice president of Frontier Meats, based in Fort Worth. “It has real potential for growth.” …The animals were introduced to North America as a food source in 1539 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, said Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife specialist with the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Overton. During the 1800s and 1900s, escaped domestic pigs became feral, sprouted tusks and grew coarse black hair. They crossbred with Russian boars, brought to North America for food and sport. The resulting hybrid wild boar has spread across the country, increasing in number to an estimated four million in 39 states, Mr. Higginbotham said. …Wild hogs can bring new problems. In Texas alone, the aggressive, omnivorous and razor-toothed animals cause nearly $52 million in damage a year to farmland, livestock and pastures, according to the Texas Cooperative Extension. Jerry Eddins, the owner of the 10,000-acre J. Duke Ranch where Mr. Richardson hunts, is a serious quail hunter. Every year, he spreads grain to feed the birds, but hogs eat the bird food, along with whatever quail eggs they come across. “They eat anything. They really don’t have a natural predator,” Mr. Eddins said….

10 October 2006. Gone for Decades, Jaguars Steal Back to the Southwest. SANDRA BLAKESLEE. New York Times. 
Excerpt: SANTA FE, N.M., Oct. 9 – Using the same clandestine routes as drug smugglers, male jaguars are crossing into the United States from Mexico. Four of the elusive cats have been photographed in the last decade – one as recently as last February – in the formidable, rugged mountain ranges of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. And while no one knows exactly how many jaguars are here, or how long they hang around before sneaking back to their breeding grounds in Mexico, their presence has set off repercussions on both sides of the border. Jaguars once roamed much of the Southwest, but when ranchers took cattle to the region in the last century, the jaguars were trapped and hunted to extinction in the United States. The last known resident female was killed in 1963 near the Grand Canyon. Females tend to stay local, whereas male jaguars have wanderlust, said Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, a leading jaguar expert at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City. Males will migrate up to 500 miles, he said, spreading their genes as they go. But the jaguars in northern Mexico are at the utmost edge of the animal’s natural range, Dr. Rabinowitz said. The ones coming into the United States look like transients, which means it would be “foolish” to call them a resident population, he said. An environmental group based in Tucson, however, the Center for Biological Diversity, does not think enough is being done to protect the jaguar. When the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced in July that it would not declare parts of New Mexico and Arizona critical habitat for jaguars – arguing that the animals do not breed there – the group filed an intent to sue. The matter rests in federal court. Of course, if the Border Patrol built an effective barrier in the mountains where jaguars cross into the United States, “it’d be all over,” said Jon Schwedler of the Northern Jaguar Project.

29 May 2006. Unto the City the Wildlife Did Journey. By ANDY NEWMAN. NY Times. Excerpt: And the great beasts came down from the mountains and crossed the seas and descended upon the cities – the hind and her fawn, leaping fences in the southeast Bronx; the black bear, stout but fleet of foot, stealing through the streets of Newark; the seals of the harbor sunning themselves by the score upon the hospital ruins of Staten Island. …And the coyote prowled the West Side and took up quarters in Central Park. And the dolphin beached itself on the Turuks’ sandy yard in Throgs Neck. And the she-moose, 21 hands high, strayed within 30 miles of the city gates. And the wise men stroked their beards and scratched their heads, and they finally declared, “This is not normal.” Bill Weber, a senior conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said that the other day. He was talking about the bears that have lately taken to wandering New Jersey’s urban core. …”I think we’re just seeing the growing trend of population sizes with some of these animals, and the adaptation to survive and, or at least, venture into more progressively more urban areas,” said Gerry Barnhart, the wildlife director at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. …Related articles: 
A Coyote Leads a Crowd on a Central Park Marathon
 (March 23, 2006) 
Police Kill a Bear Cornered at Urban New Jersey Home (May 11, 2006) 
A Picturesque Visit to the Bronx Turns Horrific for 2 Deer (May 12, 2006) 

28 May 2006. Plan for Sharpshooters to Thin Colorado Elk Herd Draws Critics. By KIRK JOHNSON, The New York Times. Excerpt: ESTES PARK, Colo., May 25 – …Estes Park is on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. … The park’s biology has been skewed by elk overpopulation, which biologists say is squeezing out even butterflies and beavers, both of which need the aspen groves that the elk herd of perhaps 3,000 animals decimates in its search for food. The town itself has become an elk playground as well. … Park administrators have proposed a 20-year program of herd reduction and management that would involve shooting hundreds of elk, mostly at night in the park, using sharpshooters with silencers. Critics of the plan advocate either bringing back wolves to control the population, or recreational hunters or contraception. …Estes Park itself, meanwhile, is bracing for the elk themselves to react and adapt by moving even more into the community than they are now. … in Rocky Mountain National Park, natural is a tough thing to pin down. The elk certainly do not qualify. Their tame behavior, with no predators to keep them wily, is utterly unelklike to a wildlife biologist. They are not native. Most of the herd is believed to be descended from elk brought to Colorado in 1913 and 1914 from Wyoming after the local herds were driven to near extinction. …The aspen groves, by contrast, which propagate by cloning one individual through shoots, are thousands of years old, dating from the end of the last ice age, and are uniquely connected and adapted to the specific life history of the park’s lands, said Therese Johnson, the park’s lead biologist on the elk issue…. 

23 May 2006. Home on the Range: A Corridor for Wildlife. By CORNELIA DEAN. NY times. Excerpt: LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – One day in April, a zoologist named Paul Paquet found himself at the tiny railroad station here, in the middle of Banff National Park. … “This park,” he said. “It’s a national disgrace.” Sure it’s beautiful, he said, and, yes, it is one of the last places where grizzly bears can roam and wolves can hunt the elk and bighorn sheep that are their prey. “But there is a highway through the middle of the park, and development associated with it,” he said. As a natural environment, “it’s a disaster.” Dr. Paquet, who works for the World Wildlife Fund … is part of a collaborative group of researchers, conservationists, government officials and others hoping to … create a sustainable environment for wildlife from the Yukon to Yellowstone, even as people move ever deeper into the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada. Participants in the collaboration, called Y2Y, have designed and monitored overpasses and underpasses to help animals cross highways safely. They have negotiated limits on access to golf courses and ski slopes so animals can traverse them. They have encouraged the creation of wildlife corridors around or even across towns. … they call this goal “functional connectivity,” said Michael Proctor, a zoologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alberta. …


22 April 2005. When Nature Assaults Itself. NY Times. By ALAN BURDICK. LATE one afternoon not long ago, I stood on the bridge of an Alaska-bound oil tanker, trying to divine our ecological future from the encircling horizon: a gray band of haze separating an overcast sky from the slate-gray sea. One key element of this future lay not in the surrounding sea and sky but several decks below my feet: the countless plants and animals – from single-celled diatoms and dinoflagellates to microscopic, shrimplike copepods, larval mollusks and crustaceans – thriving in the million-odd gallons of ballast water the ship had taken on in San Francisco Bay and would eventually deposit north of the 48th parallel, in Valdez. In recent years marine biologists have documented that an astonishing range of living organisms is inadvertently carried in ballast water to ports around the world, threatening our economies and our health and diminishing the biological diversity of Earth as a whole. …At any given moment some 35,000 ships large and small are at sea, bearing our wants and needs – petroleum, corn feed, wood chips, automobiles – from one port to another. Ballast water is essential to that motion. Taken on to aid stability and propulsion, ballast water does for the modern cargo ship what sandbags do for a hot-air balloon. Unfortunately, it can also carry comb jellies from the East Coast to the Black Sea, Japanese sea stars to Australia, and voracious green crabs from Europe to San Francisco Bay. Many, perhaps most, of the organisms do not survive their odysseys. But with so much ballast water in motion around the world, many organisms inevitably do. And even one can inflict profound changes on its new habitat. The Eurasian zebra mussel reached Lake St. Clair via ballast water in the 1980’s; it now lives throughout the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and in more than 350 lakes and ponds. No larger than a pistachio, it thrives in such dense profusion that it has sunk navigational buoys. It crowds out native species and hogs the nutrients that other organisms require….


August 2004. The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act. (Union of Concerned Scientists) Since its passage in 1990, a single law has been the nation’s chief protection against new aquatic invaders, especially those that arrive in ballast water. That law-the National Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990-was revised in 1996 and Congress is considering a second revision now.


2002 January 17. Tracking the Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy. By Mathis Wackernagel et al., PNAS. Abstract: Sustainability requires living within the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. In an attempt to measure the extent to which humanity satisfies this requirement, we use existing data to translate human demand on the environment into the area required for the production of food and other goods, together with the absorption of wastes. Our accounts indicate that human demand may well have exceeded the biosphere’s regenerative capacity since the 1980s. According to this preliminary and exploratory assessment, humanity’s load corresponded to 70% of the capacity of the global biosphere in 1961, and grew to 120% in 1999.