December 23, 2013

Hope for the Holidays: The Unexamined Eco-Revolution caused by the IPad and it's Copycat Tablet Devices

I am writing from a decidedly un-Christmasy culture.. They aren't Christians, 97% of them anyways, and they aren't that consumeristic, although that is changing (spreading like a flower scented cancer from the malls of the capital city)... but they aren't my readers in any large measure I would guess either, and my readers are staring down the barrel of a loaded 'fun gun' called 'Christmas in America' right about now.
I get it, I grew up with it, I wanted my Red Rider BB Gun once, and I felt no shame in the filthy orgy of misinterpreted Christianity and greed it was fun, some of the presents did change my life and the life of my family and friends for the better, and it was one of the only times of the year that anything approaching reverence crept into the cocky wreck we called a family. And I get the Christianity part too.. I took it quite seriously for a while...and I like to think that my now South Park version of Jesus would be kind of shrugging with amused chagrin at it all...

December 13, 2013

The Electric Scooters of Shenzhen

Every once in a while you stumble upon something, and you are surprised at the change. I travel so much, I know what to look for when it comes to change, and I know how slowly change usually happens. If the change is environmental in nature, in this case the application of a technology to reduce air pollution, and you see a complete turnaround in 4 or 5 years, you get a bolt of Hope in a hurry, especially if it happened in the heart of the world's new global warming bette noir, The Peoples Republic of China, and to be exact, it manufacturing powerhouses in the areas around Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the old Canton. What am I talking about.. it's gunna seem small, it is small, but I hope I can find statistics to explain to you just how large it really is. I am talking about 2 stroke scooters, or the apparent lack of them, in Shenzhen. I used to have to imagine Asia without the whine of these ubiquitous little motors, now I can experience it. Every scooter in Shenzhen that I saw during a long days night of pacing the streets was electric. It was a complete change out of inventory in a way that could only occur under the type of authority extant in the wold's largest Capitalist Dictatorship, the PRC, which just passed These Here United States of America for Overall Atmospheric Carbon Emissions a few years back. Let's not talk per capita just yet, that's embarrassing for the west. But in this blog, I wouldn't be pointing such a hairy finger of blame, in part an accident of demographics, if it wasn't somehow involved in displaying something good.

October 3, 2013

Renegotiating the Colorado River: It's Return to the Sea

Perhaps all it took was a conversation.. 58 years avoided... but it looks like the Colorado River, the long standing symbol of the tragedy of the Cadillac Desert of the American West, might very soon be rejoining it's old amigo, The Sea Of Cortez, or the Gulf of California if you like, since semantics no longer are going to stand in the way of this symbolic waterways attempts to travel to it's destiny. It might be a momentary meeting of any consequence, to be measured in days for anything above a small base flow, a bit like when the big wigs sat down together to ink what is letting it happen, but it promises bigger things. To quote vice president Joe Biden's famous gaffe, when this happens, perhaps even next spring, it's gonna be a "Big Fu*&ing deal!" for anyone who loves the West, The Colorado, or Sonora, Baja and El Mar De Cortez.
Before I go into the minutiae of how a negotiation of something called Minute 319 to the Treaty of February 3rd, 1944 might be in fact a big f@#ing deal (trying to imagine Secretary Ken Salazar and the Mexican Border and Water Commission Head Roberto Salmon making the same lovable flub, since that's who it would be in this case), how's about a little color and background, before your restless mouse wanders to that Viagra commercial flashing on the left of the screen...

August 12, 2013

Island Restoration Worldwide

For some reason, this is among the purest and most satisfying types of conservation and ecological restoration projects. I love it.. it usually involves remote places, peaceful and exotic.. places where birds congregate their chattiness juxtaposing the serenity off the surroundings, where the sea meets the land and the outside world doesn't seem to exist. This story takes place in the lands that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, Daniel DeFoe, and the movie maker and King Kong creator Marian Cooper. It also is finite, accomplish-able, and the results can be incredible, and uncompromised. What I am talking about is Island Restoration.
Now let me explain.. most islands are not disappearing, they don't need to be pushed back up.. well, the people of Vanuatu and Tuvalu, might disagree these days, but this term means something specific, it generally means the removal of invasive species from ecosystems that have evolved in relative isolation. These invasive creatures seem to have most often come from the Whaling Industry of yesteryear, although natives and 20 and 21st century man also contribute endlessly to this problem, but it's a case of a distinct act, usually of culling or relocating invasive mammals, having a measurable result that improves the survivability of the worlds biodiversity, and somehow restores of rescues nature's, or even perhaps some divine power's, intent for the complexity of the world, if only in these remote corners.

July 9, 2013

If Ever There Was An Enduring Symbol: Hope and the Yarnell 19 Hot Shots

I can feel your blank stare.. how, oh how, can you get hope from this, the deeply saddening deaths of these 19 swaggering young USFS Hot Shots who died in this wind shift near Yarnell AZ... where are you going to go with this Grumpy? Will it be right on any level?
I can't guarantee it will be right.. nothing about this is right...I was a few hundred miles away when it happened, also sweltering in similar heat, and I resent the crap out of any good coming from bad, but in some funny way, that's what this blog is about, so follow if you will, on a trip that might seem a bit Machiavellian, a bit opportunistic, but if you were these 20 guys, the 19 departed and the one spotter who survived, I think you would be looking for any opportunity possible to make a difference to keep this from happening again, or becoming commonplace..

June 9, 2013

The Great Mississippi River Greenway & Wildlife Corridor

I might be coining a term here: The Great Mississippi River Greenway and Wildlife Corridor

There are municipal greenways on the Mississippi, research shows a few, around St. Louis, Minneapolis, and even Memphis, good natured nature projects by civic groups and governments that try to make the riverfront a common area for recreation, tourism, and nature,
and there is even a National Trail of sorts:
but its a driving route that links all the good spots.
I am unable to find any evidence that anyone has thought of the whole river, 'The Land Between the Levies', as what it has very well become, which is a sort of massive greenway and wildlife and nature corridor through the heart of the United States, accidental at that.

May 30, 2013

The Return of the Elk to the East: Kentucky Most Prominently, But Now Little Pockets Everywhere

go to minute 2:45 if you want to get to the point...
I'm not usually an emotional guy, but somehow those 45 or so seconds of footage bring me close to tears. This entry might be the one that most affects me on a personal level, since it affects so fundamentally and dramatically a place I love so much and know so well, the Eastern United States, and the Appalachian Mountains.
When I saw the above video,while learning about a release of Elk in Missouri that were brought from this wildly successful Kentucky herd, first released in 1997, I felt like I was learning about a long lost uncle as an adult, as if something that had been missing from me, and from how I understood my world on some emotional level, was being returned, even though I had never known it was gone.
Not to play into the myth of a pristine pre-Colombian world, but I for years was left non-plussed by the legions of white tailed deer that populated my world, by the eastward moving Coyotes that were the only predators left, as they invaded previously unknown territories for them to pick off the edges of the weird kind of predator-less garden patch that was the East.
I grew up suspecting but never knowing that that Eastern ecosystem had indeed been a wilder and much more complex one, and watching this video, after an accidental run in with an article about the Missouri effort, was big for me.

May 19, 2013

The Dark Sky Movement: Not all Polution is Matter, but it Still Matters!
In college I was once in a desert field ecology class (distribution requirements.. it was not my major.. now I kind of wish it was), and I found myself bumping through Tuscon with a van full of stinky but amiable Co-Ed's late one night. Somehow it left an impression on me that Tuscon felt surprisingly small for the population I knew it to have, kind of, well, natural... and I remember someone mentioning or knowing there were some observatories up on Kit Carson Mountain, so I gazed up and had a look as we drove by on what must have been good ol' I-10. I never knew much about astronomy, but my dad had been in the Navy, and knew how to navigate by the stars, had even studied it in college. He used to occasionally teach me a constellation or two. Given this small family preoccupation, I liked to pick out little details like knowing the observatory was there, and file them away.
Fast forward a few years, and I am a Municipal official of sorts (everyone makes mistakes in life!), and something crosses my desk about a new type of Light Fixture that the state government wants me to set up a demonstration project for. I have to find a place to put something like 7 so called "Full Cut Off Lighting Fixtures". There was so much jargon in government that my brain took it in stride (it's a street lamp!), since I was learning about everything from the constitutional law to street plows. I read the description that the state legislature had passed,  something kind of exotic and progressive called Dark Sky Legislation, to mitigate a so called Light Pollution Phenomenon ("What won't they think of up in the capitol! Good for them, my brothers in utopic striving!" I thought to myself, in all earnestness.), and I think my brain was about to move on to other business as I moved further down the description, when I found the allegation that flooding street lamps have not only social consequences, but health consequences as well, and that people sleeping in rooms with too much light from street lamps can suffer from hormonal imbalances, mental health issues, and even circadian rhythms and menstrual cycle disturbances, and that it can be a contributing cause or the cause of their cancers and other infirmities directly or indirectly. Realizing that I work in politics, it might make sense that I fixed on one important thing: this might be something else to blame my girlfriend's moodiness on when I am in the doghouse again.. hot dog!

May 10, 2013

Hope is in the Air: What Makes The Boeing Dreamliner Such a Big Step for the Environment

Check this out:
The plane you see taking off is made with Carbon Fiber, from a kit based on the design of the Piper Cub, the famous bush plane, and perhaps smallest of what would be considered a traditional airplane. They usually weigh about 900 pounds. This one weights 300 less because of the difference in weight between carbon fiber and steel or aluminum. The plane landing likely is Carbon Fiber too. A friend of mine once took third place in this competition landing in about 130 feet with a plane, a Maule, that was handicapped for being slightly larger, but I can tell you that people were shocked when this thing took off in 17 feet in 2007, since even a normal cub souped up like a top fuel racer would still need 50 feet to take off.. not 17. In fact, the voice you hear muttering "Wow.. nice landing.. nice..." at the end is likely a buddy of mine, which I put together a few years ago. He was pretty astounded by what he saw there in 2007, as was the whole Alaska flying community. This carbon fiber thing was something big.
Fast forward 6 years to 2013, and it's been a tough few months for a low Carbon future in Aviation, specifically, for the Boeing Dreamliner, the biggest innovation in Commercial Aviation since the Concord, the airliner equivalent of that Cub, and the most fuel efficient Commercial Aircraft ever produced, 20% more efficient than any current competitors.

April 22, 2013

The Restoration of the Mesopotamian Marshes: Twice the size of the Everglades, but being in Iraq makes it..umm.. complicated..

Here's something I never expected to see coming out of Iraq. It looks more like Moab, it just seems too normal, the anal tepid CNN anchor and all:

I am better aware than most that the US went to War with Iraq the second time under some pretty attenuated public reasoning.. trust me... I might have heard some of the guys who trumped the whole thing up, in person and privately, in a different phase of my life, scheming about it, but that aside, and with all due respect to Sean Penn, Saddam was a pretty bad dude, and no friend to the environment...
We sometimes make a very Muslim mistake when we get frustrated with a political situation in our country, and we declare the enemy of our enemy to be our friend... and almost no one likes War, and well, if you are going to win a war, you need to so called 'Win the Peace', but no such luck in this case... However, Rummy, W and the boys, they did know a bit more than the average Tom, Dick, and Mustafah about Iraq, and even as they sharpened their knives and pens to `help Iraq rebuild it´s oil and national infrastructure', in that order, they were aware of one or two little things that they didn´t necessarily think would sell as well as the 'Goebbels perfect' WMD fiasco. You see, in addition to Saddam´s mal-treatment of the Kurds, with Chemical Weapons at times, and the Shiites, and the Iranians.. and, well, the Kuwaitis...and any Environmentalist who remembers the burning wells after the Mother of All Battles, which burned 1.5 billion barrels, perhaps only 17 days use at current rates for the world, but straight into the atmosphere which caused perhaps a sharper than usual high in the saw tooth patterns of world atmospheric Carbon charts, should be as pissed as I was.. (that was pure Saddam), he had also destroyed one of the world's distinct Ecosystems, the Mesopotamian Marshes.

March 31, 2013

The Mouse that's Roaring Less and Less: Nicaragua Works for a Green Grid

This will seem funny for me to write about a country that as of now gets more than half of it's energy from from Fossil Fuels ( CIA World Factbook Nicaragua Energy ).. but wait a second.. or a few years, and Iceland and New Zealand might have something to worry about.
I refer to the latter two because they are examples of countries that have put a concerted effort into having Carbon Free National Electrical Grids. From what I know, Iceland, with it's famous Geothermal Plants creating about a quarter of it's grid energy, and a good deal more of it's bragging rights, not to mention one of the world's coolest spas in The Blue Lagoon, the rest coming from hydroelectric dams. As far as I can tell, Iceland is alone in this distinction.

March 24, 2013

A Percolating Renassaince for The LA River

I don't want to ruin the movie magic.. I don't want to impose fact where fantasy should reign supreme, shatter the illusions that drive the American Fantasy Machine, but have you ever wondered what the heck this was?
or hows'about this Greese reprise from the cult classic Repo Man:
Oh wait, we got one more! God I miss the 70's.. how's this for a svelt action hero:
Go Cannon!
That was so random that it looks like the last time I played bumper cars at Lake Quassapaug as a kid...
So kidding aside, it's the LA River, and what makes the LA River so vital in it's current form is that, well, it's kind of a natural disaster, and it has grit, and well, grit can be in short supply in Sunny La La land, but fantasy there is a business (and tongue in cheek, I will say fantasy is a business even more so up in the San Fernando Valley where the river originates, but I will leave that joke up to the adults to figure out!). So when you are too cheap to film on location like The French Connection, why not run people through the world's biggest drainage ditch to supply a little cement bottled desperation to spice up the visual, even though Paris Hilton is tweezing her dog's eyebrows a few blocks west.. it's what's called character in the land of Sun and Fun.
But I bet a few of you didn't even ever figure that was a river, ever.. a few of you figured it was just some massive public works thing in the Home from Nowhere landscape of the American industrial nightmare, and I wouldn't blame you, but a river it is.. and it used to, and upper parts of it still do, look like this:
LA River Kayakers
Does this photo seem like they have no association with the videos above?

March 6, 2013

What's That Stink?!: Low Sulfer Diesel.. One Small Step for Man..

Soundtrack: I always thought this song was called What´s That Stink, but it's What´s at Stake, which is somehow even more appropriate for this post:
Mighty Mighty Bosstones: What´s at Stake
If I had a version of hell as a kid, it was being stuck in the back of the family Station Wagon, the seats all taken by others, trekking down an anonymous American Interstate, in the families 1980 Diesel Station Wagon. It was the Griswalds meet something out of the horror movie Hostel. The stench from the sulfur from both our car and the surrounding trucks made me want to pass out more than once, and perhaps once or twice I did, propped up between my dad´s musty suitcases and the back window, which I used to beg to have opened from 12 feet away to the front seat for air, just to have the stench kick in from the tailpipe, curling up in the icy slipstream of what was usually a New England winter, and make me realize the true devils bargain I had struck, and that we were striking with Diesel. We had a cat named Snowball that gave up the ghost on one of these trips. We assumed it was because my older sister, also once stuck in what we called the Waaay Back with me due maybe to a family friend along (she used to use her 2 years advantage in size in any way possible to avoid this fate), clogged off his little cat box breathing holes with the necessary down jacket some winter trip, but I´m now going to chalk it up to carbon dioxide poisoning in my past the environmental innocence of the 70´s´ new found awareness (this post ifs for you, Snowball!.. sniffle...). I didn´t think much about conservation at age 5, but I sure as hell knew something wasn't right. This car, by the way, became a legendary turkey, is now on the list of ten worst cars of all times, the Oldsmobile, Buick, or GM station wagons from 1980. You see, Diesel is powerful, and needs a high compression ratio to burn (1 to 9 is typical for a gas engine, like ti was supposed to be, and for a Diesel, you start at 1 to 14 minimum, and go up from there to as high as maybe 1 to 24), especially with just a glow plug instead of a spark to make it commbust, and what GM did, since it takes about 2 years to cure the steel an engine block properly, or at least did in the technology of the day, is take a bunch of gas engines they had on hand, and just call them diesel after the country went mad for fuel efficiency in the wake of the Gas shortages during the OPEC crisis.. since they were short on appropriate ones and people were clamboring for diesel. The end result, to the endless snickers of the Click and Clack´s of the world, was that the crank shaft would literally blow off the bottom of the engine after a while...
There she is.. the Cutlass Cruiser.. our´s was light blue..
should have been a warning!
So diesel, you have smelled it for years unless you grew up like Romulus and Remus.. it is the power of world ground transportation, and much of our medium scale water transportation as well..

March 4, 2013

The FARC as Forest Stewards

War is a funny thing.. loaded with unintended consequences... so what happens when the world´s longest war happens in one of the World´s most beautiful countries.. well, amongst other things, a lot of preserved wilderness.
Now this is a funny argument to make, might even be controversial, but hear me now and believe me later, the FARC have been good for the ecology of Colombia. Now before this sounds like an advocacy of the FARC, let me first say that I am not even going to pretend I advocate anything about them. I don´t tend to have much patience for cafe revolutionaries. I could compliment them.. they are tough, they can be effective, and they have held out for a long time, sadly with the aid of a lot of Cocaine Money, and even some help from old Uncle Hugo next door, and I could even say that most of the FARC rank and file genuinely believe in what they are doing, I can´t take that away from them, there are a lot of kids living in the jungle with good intentions, but it has been a long 50 years, and even old advocates who saw just how oligarchic Colombia was now believe that it's time to move on from this struggle. I will say in addition that things like the Valle De Cauca Assemblia Hostage Taking, and the accident though it might have been, up in Bojaya, Choco, with the Gas Cylinder Bomb, give me chills, it was brutal, but war is a funny thing, the world is a funny thing, and somehow, I am arguing, the FARC have been good for the forests.

February 14, 2013

Hope Unda' Da East Riva!? Yu serious!? Serious as a tidal rip...

When you think of NYC you actually do think of environmentalism, but it's usually along the lines of efficiency and quality of life. With it's progressive mayor for life, Michael Bloomberg (now replaced, but the impact of his 12 years of policies likely won't be undone by new Mayor DeBlasio), party notwithstanding, making dictates that are in the public interest, no matter how annoying they might have become, and it's quite settled limo liberal upper class, and just it's car free big building lifestyle, New Yorkers actually have perhaps the lowest carbon footprints in the United States, about 9 tons a piece I once read, compared to 20 for the rest of the country on average. The way New Yorkers inevitably share walls with each other during hot days and cold winter nights serves in part to make them more efficient, it's like a big Adobe Pueblo with a great public transportation system, and shows, did I mention the shows!
(if the above link were perfect, i would have thrown in a subway car with photoshop, but I have forgotten how!)
But when you think of the big projects, the big ambitious stuff, you inevitably think of the vast American West, of the West Coast, places where Pick Up Truck Engineers mix with Cash Drunk Entrepreneurs and dream up harebrained schemes that somehow eventually work... these are open land projects, heartland ambitions.. people who will deny global warming until some tornado or freak weather event finally convinces them otherwise, so they throw on their Carhardts and come up with a solution on AutoCad while the kid is asleep and the horses have been fed... but never count out the romanticism of America's most ambitious city (sorry Chicago, you do go big, but you rarely go refined!) because sure enough, despite New York's, and especially Manhattan's distinctly white collar reputation, da workin' stiffs who risk a bit of slight at a cocktail party for admitting they do something tangible, create a concrete and not just intellectual product, have been up to something on the bottom of the East River.. the East Frikin' River.. can you believe dat! Get da F%$ outtta here! Right next da FDR.. drive by dere every day! up from da UN, like 50 sometin'! Across from dat frinkin' Roosevelt Island.. who da hell lives dere? And dat's like the most polluted river in the world eva! (Translation: I am having a hard time believing you. it's in the East River alongside the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. I know the Location well. It's north of the United Nations. Approximately in the area of the streets numbered 50 to 59. The location is alongside Roosevelt Island, whose residents I have never met and have always been a mystery to me. It's Ironic because the river is alleged by New York conventional wisdom to be highly polluted.)

February 4, 2013

Remember The Ol' Hole in the Ozone Layer? How's He Doin'!?

Steady and Improving..Doctor...
Remember the Ozone Hole.. remember how scary it was.. like that guy in high school who seemed so intimidating.. what's he up to now, now that you have gotten your life together and faced some significantly bigger challenges, kind of can't wait to see him at Reunion to stare him down, ha.. Ozone Hole.. what a prick he was!

January 27, 2013

Everglades Restoration Project Pt. 3: Restoring the Flow

So when last we left this story, I believe we were discussing how they were a makin' improvements on the edges, kind of cleaning things up, like a surgical tech prepping the patient, cleaning up little, and not so little odds and ends created by 100 or so years of American habitation of the Florida Peninsula (that's all it took to screw it up.. industrious people, Flagler and them!).. but you young kids, you whipper-snappers, who haven't been waiting 60 years for a drink of fresh water like us old alligator types. We know how to just lull ourselves and sit in the sun and not eat for a year or so, but you kids want satisfaction, you want to know about the big show, the big problem, you rush right in..well, I gotto admire that.. you kids got guts.. you realize that unless the flow is restored, the icon of the Everglades, Everglades National Park, is gunna shrivel up, succumb to nitrogen overload and invasive species onslaughts, world sea level rise, and, well, won't be much left to see..
Now a tourist might not know the difference.. to them, brown grass is well, brown grass, and a gator can survive just about anything, but it's the million subtle differences we are talking about, Okeechobee being almost dry, and the 'glades themselves being just about dry as well.. what to do, what to do..

January 26, 2013

Move 16 (Million) Tons...: The Shrinking of the Moab Tailings Pile

Merle Travis might have written it:

Paul Robson might have done it best:
Here's a mining themed version some guy did:
Hell, the Red Army Choir gave it a try:

but no one is doing it quite like the Department of Energy, UMTRA, and Portage Inc. of Idaho are in Moab, Utah right now, times a million, about 5000 tons a day worth..
What the heck am I talking about? None other than the Moab Tailing's Pile, the byproduct of some 30 years of Uranium Mining, that currently sits in the flood plain of the Colorado River next to one of Utah's biggest tourist destination hubs.

January 25, 2013

A Cougar Addendum: Self Reintroduction to Alaska

As we are learning, or perhaps you learned long ago, the story of the environment and man, and the idea of an ideal state of nature influenced or uninfluenced by man, is a bit of a complicated question.... there is not only science involved here but philosophy.. this is a short entry however, so I will try to cut to the chase..
The Cougar is introducing it's self, or reintroducing it's self, to Alaska..
Whether to chalk this up to Hope or Fear is a matter of question, but I'm going to toss it in the Hope category.
Reason why it might belong in fear: Global warming might be making previously inhospitable territory hospitable, but I kind of don't buy that in this situation because the lands of South East Alaska, where they are most likely to live, haven't changed that much.. what a solid land it is... amongst the most beautiful places in the world I might add.. to see the Lynn Canal or perhaps gaze across Frederick Sound from Mitkoff Island with whales breaching is to behold something special.

The Jordananian De-Sal Canal that will fill the Dead Sea back up..

So I love the Ol' USA, but my posts lately have gotten a bit domestic... Us Americans, we can be a bit self involved.. put 20 guys on the moon, create the Super Bowl and Southern Bar BQ, and all the sudden the rest of the world don't exist. We do fix problems when we get around to it, and our true freedom of the press, with a few warts through it may have, and our love for the Internets, this system of tubes, makes for easy blogging about just about any endangered hog nose snail, and boondoggle public works to fix a problem we never should have had in the first place under the sun.. Believe me, I understand.. but I do want to bring in some exotic elements here..
The world is a big place, and as we are learning more and more, it's environmental problems are interconnected, so I feel a need to write about a piece of potential hope someplace else, someplace exotic, someplace complicated.. and I'm not sure it gets any more complicated than the Middle East. Although Jordan is a relatively uncontentious little place, so this story might be kind of cut and dry, and well, distantly hopeful after all.. but ah the setting, what a complex pile of sand it is...ah, Israel, The West Bank, the Dead Sea, lowest place on Earth, extension of the Great Rift Valley, but if the Rift Valley was the Cradle of Human life, than the areas around the Dead Sea do kind of compete for being the cradle of Human Contention.. but nature is neutral to all that, nature either has no opinions, or just kind of wants to survive... we project almost everything else onto it, from needs to value, but it's fair to say that given that, the Dead Sea is kind of a cool place.. well, not cool, it's pretty damn hot.. lemme see.. Dead Sea Weather Report...
well, that's kind of it, but this is a bit more specific.. congrats on the record by the way, Middle East!
So all other problems aside, the Dead Sea, a bit like the Aral Sea now famously, is shrinking, rapidly, and it's not a natural occurrence..

January 16, 2013

Close to the end of the Era of DDT? Bald Eagles brought to term on Catalina Island

Bald Eagles are spreading back over their original range again in a way that is making a lot of people happy, myself included. They are majestic, but I might agree with Ben Franklin about the Turkey, they are a bit smarter, in fact, more than a bit smarter:

but nothing quite says 'America Kicks Ass! like a baldie... but having watched 14 of them hang out on a truck full of fish nets in Dutch Harbor once, I can't argue they serve for stimulating conversation. Sadly, I think Jim Henson's Sam the Eagle got the personality pretty right..

National Symbolism aside, I doubt I need to explain to many readers the story of DDT, Rachel Carson and Silent Spring, and how thin eggshells, which caused massive moralities in recently laid eggs, nearly wiped away birds of prey from the Lower 48 and perhaps many other places on earth..
One of the footnotes to the global impact of DDT was that a company that manufactured it, perhaps 'the' company that manufactured it, Montrose Chemical Corporation, dumped tons of the pesticide into a drainage ditch near it's factory in Torrence, Los Angeles County, LA to dispose of it, (interestingly right next to a neighborhood called Carson, bringing to mind Rachel Carson). That ditch appeared to drain into something called the Dominguez Channel, what serves as kind of over engineered 'river' for this area if you could call it that, and the Dominguez canal would find it's way into Long Beach Harbor.

 After a while they stopped this and just started pumping DDT into the sewage system, about a ton every 3 days, therefore tens of thousands of tons over decades, where it went uncleaned through the system, which usually exists to break down excrement, not complex chemicals, and out into the Pacific Ocean near Paloes Verdes, the Hill in the South West corner of Los Angeles with some pretty nice views of both the LA basin and the Pacific,if you don't think about what might have been in the water.
So how does this fairly commonplace tale of environmental ignorance from the Big Car Era lead to Hope!?
Well, I was once staying in Banning House Lodge, perhaps 2 years ago, the old house of the family that owned Catalina Island for quite a while, above Two Harbors, dodging buffalo on my walks around day and night, and in the office they had a monitor always displaying one of these web cams since the actual location happened to be just a few hundred yards out the window:
Now realize that Catalina is about as close to Paloes Verdes and Dominguez Channel as any self respecting eagle is going to setup shop. They need room to soar..they gotto be free baby.. they ain't pigeons. What makes this all significant and hopeful, is that up until about two years ago they were stealing the Eagle Chick Eggs to rear in an incubator so it would be free of DDT impacts, basically so the mom wouldn't crush it because it was assumed that she would be eating walrus carcass or seal or what have you, and it's fat especially would be contaminated with the tons of DDT that Montrose dumped 70-30 years ago as they flap around the local waters, and she would sit on the shells to warm them and they would get crushed, which had been the trend for this long Silent Spring. But about 5 years or so ago, they decided to leave the eggs be, and lo and behold, they survived...
Vigilance is the eternal price of freedom perhaps, but this is a pretty good sign that despite all the environmental challenges ahead of us, perhaps the DDT problem is slowly fading into the rear view mirror..

Cougar, Puma, Mountain Lion, Catamount, Panther.. call it what you want, but they are at the Mississippi River and moving east!

Hard not to love a Mountain Lion.. for one, they eat people on occasion.. puts a little legitimate stress back in life.. something to worry about other than that text you haven't received yet..
The official line from various state agencies and the US Department of Interior is that they haven't moved east of the Mississippi River, with the exception of the isolated Florida Panther with one or two famous exceptions:
I have had friends knowledgeable about the outdoors give me pretty reliable stories of sightings in Vermont, South Carolina and Tennessee. Most recently I was told of game camera photos taken of them in North West Indiana. Maybe it's just young males looking for a good time, but they are in the east, have no doubt.

Beaver Reintroduction to Scotland, and Much of Europe it turns out..

In the 16th Century, the last of the Beavers of Scotland were killed, and it appears that as early as 1188 there weren't many left in the whole of the British Isles.
They make a nice hat, so I can understand why.

Well, after a 200-400 year absence depending upon whom you talk to.. still, murky waters have returned a bit of reserve and mystery to the British Isles. My research of the Scottish project, the first one I heard about and the one that intrigued me the most for some reason, has shown some success. Beavers as as common as mice in some areas of the US, we take them for granted, so I picture Willie the Scottish Janitor from The Simpsons wranglign with one like Bill Murray's Carl Spackler in Caddyshack. The Project, likned to below, counts 24 living individuals as I write in January 2013, out of an introduced population of 16, and it appears a nearby river has somehow been miraculously repopulated on it's own so that they are deciding to expand their study to observe there as well (could be amateur reintroduces, escaped pet's, or stream hating eco terrorists!). The population there is estimated at 150, so we are climbing towards 200 all told... They tried to capture them for a while, but gave up.
This accidental or not reintroduction on the River Tay is actually way ahead of the official reintroduction project.

January 15, 2013

My OSearch (OCearch ?) Addiction

So sometimes hope can come from just information... knowing something about the natural world we didn't know always kind of pleases us, gives us a boost.. adds not only to some primordial part of our brain that thinks it might want the info for survival someday, but also it fits like a puzzle piece in our understanding of our surroundings, as our frontal lobe takes pleasure in understanding the complexity of the world around us... but what if the info involves Great White Sharks, the beleaguered North Atlantic Ocean, and menaced beaches!!!!!?
Triple Bonus Points!!
A brain swimming in primordial, I mean super fish brain stem primordial AND intellectual satisfaction!
Let me introduce the Southern California Discovery Channel Adolescent Dude Explosion Shark Extravaganza that is actually science, featuring two women who definitely get around, Mary Lee and Genie (can anyone say Gilligan's Island meets Happy Days meets I Dream of Genie, all your Orange County Adolescent dreams come true!?), plus some hot South Africans as well, known as OSearch (cue the JAWS theme):

Blissfully Hanging On: the Atlantic Right Whale

The Right Whale as a Family of Species is doing well given the events of the last two centuries, but that's due to the healthy recovery of just one of it's five species, the Eubalena Australis, or Southern Right whale. The other three or four species, are well, sadly, in the toilet, although there is hope on at least one side of each remaining ocean that they inhabit, the Atlantic and Pacific. As they have found with Great White Sharks recently, which a are single species that have multiple migration areas that can lead to what might be a sub species with the shark, but with the right whales are considered a separate species, due to a differentiation that has occurred with the evolutions of the groups in the different migration areas over time. With the whites, they found that in fact, the ones off the coast of California have different patterns and habits than the ones off South Africa, which are likely the two best studied groups. They breed in different places, have different feeding grounds, and migrations and migrations times, it's not just one massive roaming population. Why I am discussing Great Whites in a post about Right Whales will become more obvious in a later post, but for now I hope the example makes sense. The five populations of Right Whales don't all have to survive for the family to survive, but it would be pretty hard to haul 200 Right Whales up from Antarctica and expect them to learn now to live off the coast of Alaska or Nova Scotia. They are actually different species, and the ideal is for each species to survive.
They were the 'Right Whales' to hunt, for they had ample supplies of Whale Oil to light the lamps of the world stored in their bulbous heads and blubber before Thomas Edison took mercy on them and started harnessing electricity. Before offshore whaling got big at the beginning of the 1800's, there were multiple independent migrations around the world, there were many around the arctic, and then there was from what I can tell an eastern and western Pacific migration, and an eastern and western Atlantic migration. They have been seen in the Mediterranian as well. So 5 distinct populations and i guess species all told, if not more. Since this blog is supposed to be an upper and not a downer, I will focus on the fact that three of the populations still exist, and one is doing quite fine, down in the southern oceans. I once sat in of all places a bathtub on the South Coast of South Africa and watched them breach and play for hours on end. The Western Pacific is hanging on well enough to be survive but have a future very much in doubt, population perhaps 200,mostly in the Sea of Okhost but not heavily researched, but the Western Atlantic population, which likes to Jet Set between the Georgia-Florida Coastal Areas for breeding, then back North again to the seas from New York north to it appears to Nova Scotia for summer feeding, mostly from Cape Cod North, has a population just hanging on, but the good news is that it is slowly but surely increasing...
Reading these entries you can see that it is a tough slow increase.They estimate that they birth about 20 per summer, and about half the moralities are due to Human Factors.. fishing nets, ship strikes, noise from sonar, and global warming and overfishing likely have had an impact, like in the summer of 2010. But if you notice, as of this summer, the population, like a man climbing back over the edge of a cliff, is slowly rising. They claim that in August of 2012 there were 396 individuals, up from 361 in 2005.. so that's not a huge appreciation, 35 individuals, about a 10% increase over 7 years, In 1935 I just read, there were only 100 thought to exist, so progress indeed, and progress in a place not many people associate with wilderness, the North Atlantic, which is more famous for World War Two battles and Shipwrecked Cruise Liners than for it's biodiversity, which is hanging by a thread due to honestly almost exclusively the pressures of being surrounded by some of the worlds largest population densities, who have the cash and the know how to fish offshore, and have for now hundreds of years.. but it's improvement, and I'm no geneticist, but I would argue that it's also likely enough to preserve the species.
NOAA and the USFWS have stepped in to do all it can on behalf of the American Government. Shipping lanes have been established to protect the whales, especially around Boston Harbor,and there is even an IPad app you can download to see where collisions might occur due to a warning system they have created.
That whale on the Bulbous Bow in the photo from the above link appears to be a fin whale that was brought into Baltimore Harbor on a container ship.. they are less endangered, so don't worry too much:
There does not seem to be an independent advocacy group for the right whale, just the government and the general groups like the World Wildlife Fund, wait, I take that back, the New England Aquarium seems to take a lead in research up north, and down south there are some advocacy groups as well.
They keep a blog and seem to be constantly doing something:
So for now, what can be done is to let NOAA do it's work, try to keep the boats and the nets from killing them, hold your breath, let em get it on, and watch the population grow... slowly...

The Expansion of Wind's Power

Somehow Windmills have become the poster child of the Green Revolution..

they are, well, pretty in the abstract, and in person, kind of impressive, form follows function, and they are somehow calming, and like a wind chime, cooling, and they are popping up in large installations it seems just about everywhere (except for the coast of California, but for once I will try not to be grumpy)..the biggest onshore I can find is 5 Gigawatts of potential in north west China, and another in the North Sea might hit 9 Gigawatts.
I can name a few spots I have seen them in my travels. The old famous Farms were the highways east of San Francisco and LA, on 580 and I-10, Altamont and San Gorgonio Pass respectively (the latter also the home of the giant dinosaurs at the truck stop in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, which I know is more important to you than anything that follows). These installations are somehow a vestige of the first Obama administration, known to many as the Carter Administration (or maybe the third Wilson Administration perhaps..), since it was the environmental movement of the 70's that laid the seeds of today's progress, but they lay dormant in some ways for years as we kind of cleaned up many a mess from our wild industrial times before we could step it up to move forward as we are now.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Recovery With The Last Remaining Southern Red Wolves

The South is no longer known for it's savagery.. it's a kind of gentlemanly thing now, modernized.. a bit red neck, a bit hillbilly, a bit yuppie, and a bit kind of 'fat bald guy in a pick up with his Oakley's on' kind of 'Atlanta NASCAR Military Suburban', the kind of guy you might feel like you would agree with about nothing,
 but he's got a sense of humor, and you deep down inside kind of appreciate he is your countryman.

California Condor: 400 and counting..

Never seen one, but I know how important they are. I think they are the biggest bird in North America, and what I guess I would describe as the Apex Scavenger of the American West. Debates continue as to how far East and North they might have ventured,but from Oregon to Texas and all along California and down into Baja and perhaps even Sonora and beyond they soared.
They are huge, 9 foot wingspan. I have seen an Andean Condor, the biggest bird in the world with up to 10.5 ft wingspan, and all I could think to compare it to was a C-5 transport plane as it flew towards me, impossibly large... They are basically huge buzzards, the things look like something out of Spielberg's Dark Crystal, or like an animal caricature of the long lean faces of the old Indian groups from the same areas, like an old man from the Tarahumara in Mexico.
This tells the story better than I could. DDT was the problem, and they are susceptible to lead poisoning as well, which is a second major human cause of premature fatalities, since they often feast on carrion that has bullets or lead shotgun pellets embedded in it..They scooped up every remaining one in the wild they could about 25 years ago, the 20 or so remaining pairs, and started breeding. Their mating got all the attention of European Royalties for a while.
The Plan, with players like the USFWS, NPS; San Diego Zoo, Ventana Wildlife Society, and now the Mexican National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and SEMARNAT, the Mexican equivalent of an EPA, was to breed the remaining ones and try to increase numbers, then release them into the wild again as it became possible

January 10, 2013

Everglades Restoration Project Pt. 2: Change Around the Edges

The essential problem in the South Florida Water Management District, or less bureaucratically, the huge watershed that is South Florida, is that it used to be a huge shallow slick of fresh water that ran unabated for more than half the length of the Florida Peninsula, from the Kissimmee Lakes near Orlando, all the way to the sloughs and shallows in what is now Everglades National Park. The Everglades were, well, ever-glades, a glade that went on forever, 4,000 square miles.
Man's ingenuity changed all that. After a flood caused by a hurricane in 1938 I believe, and the demands of road building, agriculture and population increase after Henry Flagler's railroad started to bring Americans into the sub tropics, they set about controlling this water for farming, flood control, and accidentally by road building, in some profound ways. Canals were built for every reason imaginable, 1400 miles of them and their buddies, levees and water control devices, according to Wikipedia, and the ecosystem was brought to it's knees, albeit in ways you had to pay attention to see, since it was hard to notice going by at 75 mph on Alligator Alley.

Everglades Restoration Project Pt. 1: Introduction

Anyone who has been to South Florida and knows anything about environmental science (or civilization for that matter) likely has one word that comes to mind to describe it:

I spent enough time in Florida to need hope, since there is very little of it there. I also spent enough time there to never want to go back, but like en ex girlfriend with no soul, I still stalk her sometimes on the Internet, because there were occasional good times, improbably but somehow.

Panama Canal Expansion Project

Due to be done in a few years, and for a while ahead of schedule (no longer at last check), this promises to save a bunch of carbon, and the new gates are more efficient water-wise than the old ones, allowing for less impact on the ecosystem of the Canal Zone, well less than would have happened with the same gate system as the old gates (100 years and ticking!).
the one knock against this, unless you get anarchistic, is that it could have been done with a railroad system, but that might have been even more destructive, as panama would have had to build a huge port on it's pacific side, plus a huge container yard, which might have been more of an eyesore and an environmental catastrophe than just this big construction project.


The news about Global Warming is depressing, worse than people realize, and sadly true. I have a friend who is a Government glaciologist, and he once, after a beer or two, decided to tell me how much time was left for a few major ice caps we knew.. it's a bit sad.. add to this the 150 years of environmental degradation from industrialization and population growth we are healing from, like a post party house cleanup, so I needed uppers, and I found a few good projects around the world to give me hope,which I sometimes check like expats check the sports scores back home... Like the cheesy line that Robert Plant somehow could pull off in introducing Stairway to Heaven on The Song Remains the Same: This is a Song of Hope...