Earthly Giving

We can not expect too much from our federal government these days regarding land ethics and ecological priorities.  As a result, we turn to non-profit organizations to do the noble work of conservation land buying, environmental education, research, and legal action.  Some of these groups are expansive like the Nature Conservancy and others are tiny, solely run by volunteers.

This November 27 is called “Giving Tuesday,” where many organizations will be requesting your donations.  Instead of Black Friday consumerism, it is a moment to give back to those who keep our communities humming, natural, and just.

It is hard to choose which organizations to support because there are a plethora operating around the world and those whose missions focus on one place.  Recently, there have been some environmental success stories to note and praise.  A week ago I learned that against steep odds, mountain gorilla populations are expanding.  “This is a beacon of hope,” stated Tara Stoiniski of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

From David Berger, I smiled to read, Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings have been spotted for the first time in decades on a Mumbai, India beach that was rejuvenated in the past two years by a massive volunteer cleanup operation. “The world’s largest beach cleanup project,” beams the United Nations was orchestrated by Afroz Shah, working alone and with The Wildlife Institute of India.

There are innumerable ways to support conservation, from cash donations, to volunteering your time.  On Saturday, February 2, Friends of Trees and the Sandy River Watershed Council will be coordinating the planting of another 1,200 native trees and shrubs at the Sandy River Delta.   The Friends of the Gorge will be offering dozens of hikes in spring, 2019.  The Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute needs classroom assistance in teaching children about ecology and helping facilitate field trips.

Whether donating a dollar or volunteering for a day, the Earth needs your help…and will you pay you back in ways we can only imagine. ~

 

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After Tuesday

“Be kind to unkind people – they need it the most.” —  Unknown

 

We are a few days away from Election Day 2018, a beacon of light or darkness depending on the voting outcome.  Then Wednesday will arrive.  Our lives will go on and we will cope with the election results.  How will we find ways to re-charge, re-focus, carrying forward our lives positively, deepen our community involvement and especially  in the way we interact with folks who we find little in common?

I do not believe that after 200 years of uttering unspeakable words and putting down your opponent in the worse possible terms that the way we carry out elections will ever change.  I do believe we can act differently when the votes have been cast.  How do we possibly leave election hangovers and those divisive feelings behind the day after?

Athletes who pour themselves into their game, afterward by tradition, go and congratulate their opponents, while coaches shake hands.

Perhaps, we simply need to double our efforts at kindness and service to others.  We know we can only increase the fire of hate with hate, and that only love and compassion and being a full human can bring us back together as a civil society. We desperately need to make time to be nice to one another.

Can this process start at a young age? Does any public school course teach Ethics or Values any more?

The notion of reaching out to all people of loving all Thy neighbors has been received as impossibly naive in the past.  Today, we need to carry out good deeds and kind words because we can, and because we have no alternative if we want to bring our country back to some kind of equilibrium.  I like what Tommy Lee Jones said, “Kindness and politeness are not over-rated at all.  They are just underused.”

I learned a lesson this evening from dear friend Marc, who said he was recently in the tiny, remote town of Bickleton, Washington to seek support for a Congressional candidate.  When he stopped for lunch, the restaurant only featured one long table, family style.  Marc joined the regulars for lunch and learned that during the 2016 election 50 townsfolk voted for Clinton and and the exact number voted for Trump.  When he struck up a conversation about his Congressional candidate, he was politely informed that there is no place for partisan politics at the restaurant nor in town.  For the Bickleton community to stay whole and unified, they don’t foster political dissension.

Now that’s my kind of town!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reducing Rumination

With the onset of winter and the reduction of natural light, holidays, and ugh…the elections, we may have a tendency to fall into rumination. As a biologist rumination sounds like ruminants, which are mammals like deer that are able to acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach prior to digestion through microbial actions. It can be fun and rewarding to ruminate on a thought, pondering, digging deep into the realm of pure focus. Rumination, however, is a medical term describing the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.  Rumination is the retracing of past mistakes.

Rumination shows up as increased activity in a brain region called the sub-genual prefrontal cortex, a narrow band in the lower part of the brain that regulates negative emotions. If rumination continues for too long unabated, depression can set it.

While visits to psychologists to cure one’s ruination might be expensive, one of the most effective cures is free.  An American nature philosopher penned the answer to rumination more than 150 years ago. In 1862, Henry David Thoreau wrote  “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods.”   Thoreau extolled (and extolled and extolled) the virtues of walking in untamed environments. In the decades since, psychologists have proved him right. Exposure to nature has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress and boost well being.

The same research promoting walking in nature also shows that mere walking, especially in an urban/suburban environment does not yield the same effects. For a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford scientists examined whether a nature walk could reduce rumination in 38 mentally healthy people. They picked city dwellers because, the researchers predicted, they would have “a somewhat elevated level of rumination resulting from the ongoing and chronic stressors associated with the urban experience.” Half the participants walked for 90 minutes through a grassland dotted with oak trees and shrubs (“views included scenic hills, and distant views of the San Francisco Bay”). The other half took a jaunt along El Camino Real, a four-lane, traffic-logged street in Palo Alto.

The nature walkers showed decreases in rumination and in activity in their sub-genual prefrontal cortices. The urban walkers showed no such improvements.

Decreases in rumination are linked to so-called “positive distractions,” like taking part in a hobby or enjoying a long chat with a friend. You’d think that walking in uninterrupted nature wouldn’t provide many diversions from a whorl of dark thoughts. Surprisingly, the opposite seemed to be true: Natural environments are more restorative, the authors write, and thus confer greater psychological benefits.

On this Sunday, brimming with color autumn day, it is time for a walk.~

The Ecological Beauty of Wasps

Our first full day of autumn has arrived and the oak leaves have already shown brilliant reds and yellows.  Bluebirds and other migratory birds are doing their zugunruhe dance, and though predicted to be a poor year, steelhead trout are returning to their freshwater homes.

It is also a great time for picnics because our friends the wasps are starting to wane and soon disappear when cold temperatures take over.   A new study (not at all surprising) places wasps at the bottom of our insect like list, while their close relatives, bees are now a favorite.  From minus five to plus five choices, 750 surveyors from 46 countries gave wasps an average of minus 3.  Common words associated with bees were “honey, flowers, and pollination,” and with wasps “stinging, annoying, and dangerous.”   However, wasps also pollinate flowers, and are just as important to the environment as bees.

Nearly every pest insect on our planet is preyed upon by wasps.  Wasps are so adept at destroying true pests that the agriculture industry regularly employs them to protect crops! As a pollinator, without wasps we would be overrun with insect pests, and we would have no figs, and no Fig Newtons.

While the wasp sting is generally feared, only percent of wasps sting for defense. Most are solitary.  Some have great names like tarantula killer and mud dauber.  When the colonial yellow and black wasps show up at your next picnic, they are most more interested in finding insect prey to bring back to their hives to feed their larvae.

Wasps and Yeast

Researchers at the University of Florence recently discovered another important role of both hornets and paper wasps–they carry yeast cells in their guts. We know little about how yeast lives in the wild. The researchers found that wasps and hornets feed on late-season grapes, which are rich in wild yeast. The yeast survives the winter in the stomachs of hibernating queen wasps and is passed on to their offspring when the mother wasps regurgitate food for their young. The new generation of wasps carries the yeast back to the next season’s grapes. So raise your glass to the wasps and hornets!~

 

Small Water

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Lake Itsaca source of the Mississippi River

 

Many ponds make a bucket.  Many ponds make a lake, and many lakes make an ocean.”       Percy Ross

After four months of triple-digit drought, to feel the sensation of cool wind-driven mist last evening, I offer an Ode to Water, a hearty salute to small bodies of water such as springs, seeps, ponds, invisible ground water emanations and of course puddles!

Every river starts somewhere.  I am fortunate to be writing by a fair-sized river and amazingly I am alone here with gray skies and non-swimming temperatures.  Somewhere upstream lies the river’s source, its entry to the world.  No Olympics-worthy steelhead trout can negotiate the steep terrain to access that precious locale.  No one has any interest in recreating there.  No environmental regulations protect the vital space.

These watershed beginnings will dictate the condition of their downstream brethren.  Whether the creek flows year-round may depend on how much flow is pumped by the headwaters during the dry months.  If the small water riparian area is logged, flooding will be exasperated, and if livestock stir the silt, spawning area salmon eggs could suffocate. And while the rivers teem with the big fish, minnows and froglings frolic in small waters.

To our societal credit we seem to protect our small water drinking sources.  Portlanders can trace their sweet tap water to the utterly pristine Bull Run Lakes, off-limits to humans. Now, if we can only extend our blanket of conservation priorities to other oases.

Take care of small waters and the big waters will rejoice.  ~

 

 

 

 

An American Tourist

Lecco-90585

 

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

— Gustave Flaubert

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”   — Bill Bryson

We are back today from our third trip to one of the most scenically beautiful spots in all of Italy, the town of Lecco.  With granite Alp foothills framing one side, the sky-blue Lake Como on the other,  and being newly diverse in culture, Lecco is surprisingly not a place to findother American visitors. And not a place ever featured in Lonely Planet Italy.

Traveling abroad puts your country of origin in the spotlight.  Despite political landmines, it is easy to find many topics of agreement and interest with your host nation’s citizens.  It is not “How’s the weather,” starting conversation on the trains or in a cafe, but of course, “Where are you from?” or “Where is the…?  During our 12 days, it was a 50-50 split between we asking how to get somewhere versus people looking to us (for unknown reasons?) for assistance.  While Lecco-ans would not normally acknowledge us as we walked by, to a person, they would always respond with a smile and response if we initiated the greeting.

I prioritized saying hello to others who I met and tried to be helpful, though language barriers can really interfere with comfortable and effective communication.  Once I thought I was asking my Italian mother in law whether she like focaccia bread and instead inquired whether she liked cheese!

Lecco has abundant mountain trails, ski areas, lakefront for strolling or bicycling, but no one to promote or interpret them. I know these facts to be true because I co-taught with my son two classes on “How to Become a Local Tour Guide” to English-speaking college students.  Lecco reminds me of the Columbia River Gorge 30 years ago when the area was overflowing with tourist potential, yet wind-surfing/kite boarding were invisible, and Mt. Hood skiing was the only outdoor recreation of considerable interest.

My basic premise on conserving lands is that if you educate the local citizens (especially students) on the importance of protecting your nearby natural treasures, they will become the best ecologists.  With the vast majority of hikers we encountered being Italians, Lecco can enhance its tourism image by promoting and interpreting their nature landscapes, while at the same time making contact with the Australians who apparently are the largest group of tourists.  ~

 

 

 

 

 

A Four Note Hoot: Spotted Owl Surveys under a Mt. Adams Moon

CaliforniaSpottedOwl_FlickrCommons_IlyaKatsnelson_BYFor years our Memorial Day weekend has been a halcyon outdoor adventure to explore mostly unknown wild places in Oregon and Washington.  A week ago, our trip had to be delayed due to The Blind Princess musical being scheduled during the holiday and due to an unexpected invitation to conduct spotted owl surveys for the US Forest Service.   The thread between the two events was not lost on me: a play about turning blindness into sight, versus also attempting against all odds to hear a local extinct owl echo our Mp3 player series of calls.  Regarding the surveys, I wonder what nearby campers were thinking when exposed to the strange recordings at one in the morning!

Spotted owls have been studied since the 1960’s, and miraculously, the species became federally threatened in 1990 just one month after starting my Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife career.  As the local Habitat Biologist tasked with determining suitable spotted owl habitat, I was immediately thrust into a boiling cauldron of environmental controversy.  The shy bird became the savior symbol of bio-diverse old-growth forests while conversely as the ruination scapegoat of the timber industry.  The spotted owl may still be the only bird to ever grace the cover of Time Magazine.

In the early 1990’s when spotted owl surveys preceded nearly all timber sales on the Mt. Adams Ranger District in south-central Washington, dozens of pairs were discovered through the same call and response system used today.  A positive call prompted the next phase of trying to locate whether the owls were nesting.  It was time to bring the lab mice into the woods.  Believe it or not a sacrificial rodent was placed on a branch and the owls would swoop down and either eat their dinner on a nearby tree or tote the mouse to the nest site to be consumed by their owlets.

Ten years ago, owl surveyors returned to the White Salmon basin and instead of locating plentiful numbers, they only detected one bird.   So far, our work has not revealed any spotted owls.

If there is a place and time for any unpredictable occurrences to arise, it would be in the middle of the night, in the deep forest, and definitely under a full moon.  So we continue our surveys with that hope, that dream, because a landscape without night denizens is far too quiet and lonely for me. ~

Migration

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We are just beginning to see birds return to the Columbia Gorge from their southern paradises.  At its most basic, migration is the movement of a group of animals from one place to another and, in most cases, back again. Most migration is seasonal when birds return here in the spring and leave in the fall.

While we are most familiar with avian migration, land and sea mammals can roam hundreds of miles, tiny monarch butterflies flitter thousands of miles, spotted frogs hop to ponds to lay eggs, snakes slither to communal den sites in the autumn season, and even jellyfish larvae undertake a journey.

Many animals migrate to avoid harsh winter conditions or to follow available food as the seasons change. Migration can have another important benefit. By allowing animals to escape from habitats where parasites have accumulated and by weeding out infected individuals that are not able to survive the journey, migration can reduce parasite infection in animal populations.

When human-provided food resources allow some animals to forego migration and form resident populations, the consequences can be dire. For one thing, by the time migrants return, resident individuals may already be taking up breeding territories and resources, putting the migrants at a competitive disadvantage. And many of those resident animals the migrants encounter may be infected by parasites.

Placing barriers to species on the move becomes seriously problematic.  Dams, barb-wire fences, Border Walls, highways, clearcut logging, and polar waters without ice all unnecessarily prevent animals from reaching their destinations.

The dams result in less fish and a sea lion smorgasbord.  Barb-wire fences prevent bison, antelope, and elk from finding home.  Highways create deadly hazards for wildlife and people.  Clearcuts reduce wildlife diversity and make it kind of hard for tree-nesting species.  Ice-free waters bring starving polar bears into northern towns. And a Border Wall would bring additional misery and challenges to desperate migrants.

Migration occurs in the animal realm because resources on Earth fluctuate and the benefits of long distant travel outweigh their costs.  Migration occurs in the human realm because politics and power fluctuate and the benefits of long distance travel outweigh their costs.  Migration will only work for all if greater commitment is shown to eliminating all forms of exploitation and discrimination that migrants experience and to ensuring that their fundamental human rights are upheld. ~

 

Youth on the Move

The children of the United States have taken up the cause of Anti-Gun Violence and it seems for the first time we are seeing change.  New organizations such as “Youth Again Gun Violence” are attracting young people not only in the cities but in the gun-toting West.

The same is true regarding environmental conservation: There is a refreshing wave of youth activism. University students, teenagers, and children are appearing on world stages, suing governments, affecting policy, using new tools, and making a difference. The conservation and restoration world is waking up to the power of young environmental activists. The most recent IUCN World Conservation Congress dedicated much of its programming to “Youth Voices” and “Next Generations.” The theme of the UN’s 2017 World Wildlife Day was “Listen to the young voices.”

Are we listening? Are we seeking the involvement of young leaders in our work? If not, we’d better start.

With their passion, drive, creativity, and ability to capture audiences we may sometimes find hard to reach, young environmental activists bring a lot to the table.

Let us highlight a few young environmental activists in the U.S. who are taking action at distinctly different scales.

Seventeen-year-old indigenous climate activist  Xiuhtezcatl Martinez from Colorado first spoke out on behalf of the environment at the age of six. By age 12, he was addressing audiences at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit. By 15, the U.N. General Assembly. Today he continues to inspire worldwide audiences, but his voice has extended far beyond speeches. An author, hip-hop artist, and youth director of the global non-profit organization Earth Guardians, he is at the forefront of an environmental movement that is mobilizing young people around the globe.

Evan Maminski, Destiny Watford & Charles Graham and members of their youth-led organization Free Your Voice prevented the nation’s largest trash incinerator from being built less than a mile from their high school. They are continuing to fight for environmental justice in their neighborhood, and the world is taking notice. Last year, they were awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.

When nature-loving, nine-year-old Robbie Bond heard that President Trump signed an Executive Order calling for the review of 27 National Monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906, he founded Kids Speak for Parks and embarked on a journey to visit all 27 sites and review them for himself. In sharing the wonder he discovers at each site through social media he aims to build an army of kids who will speak out to protect parks.

Locally in the Columbia Gorge, the Hood River Ecology Club is a group of high school students determined to make their school and the Columbia River Gorge more sustainable and environmentally aware. One of many noteworthy projects was building two compost kiosks to reduce the amount of waste Hood River Valley High School produces yearly.

Youth are leading the way.  They deserve our support and thanks!

 

The Place Where Air is Born

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

We take air for granted.  Unless we are inflicted with respiratory challenges or live in a place where the air smells like snakes, we breathe in and exhale without effort or thought.  Where the air is perfumed with scent and blossoms, we breathe deeply.  We also may pause to appreciate the utter freshness of brand new air at its source…the ocean.

While air in the eastern states is sticky humid and in the desert west oven dry, air brought in from ocean waves invites us to recognize the pureness of our breath in order to maximize health and a sense of well being.

While I’d like to believe the ocean air is concocted by Thor or cloud nymphs with  wands, it is our invaluable source of life, El Sol, that creates the wind. Uneven heating of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere causes hot air in some areas, and cooler air elsewhere. This difference in temperature and pressure causes wind.

And what atoms comprise the wind? There’s oxygen from ocean plants in every breath we take. Most of this oxygen comes from the sea garden of tiny ocean plants – called phytoplankton – that live near the water’s surface and drift with the currents. Like all green plants, they photosynthesize – magically using sunlight and carbon dioxide to make food. A byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen.  This is the perfect relationship: our need for oxygen, green plants requiring our carbon dioxide. Breathing in, breathing out. ~