Sharing the Earth

Half for Nature

Dr. Helen Kopnina (photo: Springer Nature)

As we age and grow more familiar with our surroundings, the limits of the Earth begin to appear through the clouds of our experience and reactions. When I think of the Voyager Golden Records travelling into the Cosmos for the past 43 years, I wonder if some alien species will one day trace humanity’s greetings back to a barren planet no longer wrapped in life and promise. In the linked article, Helen Kopnina and her coauthors gracefully lay out the mutually beneficial path we must follow to save our planet’s life and ourselves.

https://go.nature.com/2NxX2Cs

Header photo:  College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley.

 

Humanity’s Mass Extinction of Wildlife Continues

Wildlife Decline Continuing

The new Living Planet Index from the World Wildlife Fund is out. Its analysis of thousands of reports of wildlife numbers shows the rapid decline is continuing. The report discusses the importance of wildlife for human survival, it discusses the wildlife decline’s causes, and it describes variation across global biomes.

You can download a PDF copy of the report to get the details.

CHAPTER 1: Why biodiversity matters~ Everything that has built modern human society, with its benefits and luxuries, is provided by nature – and we will continue to need these natural resources to survive and thrive. Increasingly, research demonstrates nature’s incalculable importance to our health, wealth, food and security. What future benefits might we discover in the millions of species yet to be described, let alone studied? As we better understand our reliance on natural systems it’s clear that nature is not just a ‘nice to have’. A butterfly rests on a branch in Kaya Kauma forest. Kilifi, Kenya.

 

Helping Wildlife Survive the Sixth Mass Extinction

Preserving Critical Habitats Will Help More Wildlife Survive

This morning, an article by Andrew Suggitt (How wildlife will keep cool. . . .) made me think again about refugia. Earlier, I concluded that unlike ice ages, global warming would leave no refugia in which pockets of wildlife would survive. I was picturing a pervasive atmospheric impact instead of a discontinuous physical impact by tongues of glacial ice. I was wrong. The best habitats for wildlife, the ones along streams, in deep shaded canyons, and those in areas of diverse topography will sustain more wildlife as climate changes. Preserving those habitats is an essential goal for wildlife conservation.

Rick Turley. Approaching Wind River Canyon.

Unfortunately, the best habitats for wildlife are the most desirable for humans. Worldwide, farming and home construction have destroyed the richest valley-floor habitats, and roads have filled the floors of canyons and narrow valleys. In the arid region where I live, livestock graze along rare desert streams and around lakes and marshes.

Preserving critical habitats is not a new idea. Conservation organizations have programs that identify and urge protection of important habitats. The National Audubon Society, for instance, has initiated the Climate Strongholds program that focuses on the needs of individual species. The program has strong citizen-scientist opportunities for participation. Read about it here.

Most wildlife species will be lost over the next few decades and centuries, but it will be possible to prevent some of the losses through preservation of critical habitats. As changing weather patterns force governments to respond to the climate emergency, nature conservation advocates must work hard to explain the critical role nature plays in human survival and to convince governments to protect the best wildlife habitats.

Half for Nature

Current climate projections suggest that global carrying capacity will drastically decline over the next few centuries. Human civilization as we know and imagine it now will not survive. Once the Earth’s energy budget stabilizes, people can begin to rebuild cities and networks and evolution can begin to rebuild natural plant and animal diversity. For the immediate future of 300 – 400 years, we must advocate for the “Best” for nature. Saving Half for Nature will be important as rebuilding begins.

I hope that saving the “Best” is a practical goal. Instead of plants and animals, there may be masses of people jammed into cool mountain canyons and camping along streams. Impacts of food and fuel gathering could block wildlife and make the mass extinction worse.

Conservation Easement for Coldwater Farm

Introduction–Coldwater Farm

Coldwater Farm includes a small riparian forest in the river floodplain.

In 1997, my wife and I purchased a small farm beside the Agua Fria River. The farm includes a section of the river, three large ponds, and many trees, shrubs, grasses, and weeds. Since the property crosses the Agua Fria River, we decided to name the place Coldwater Farm.

Coldwater Farm is in a rural area where we get frequent glimpses of wildlife that urban dwellers never see. In early evenings when the moon is full, we often see raccoons, skunks, javelina, rabbits, and foxes foraging for the sunflower seeds we scatter for the birds. Under the last full moon, the Pink Moon of spring, a young skunk and a young raccoon searched for seeds side by side, the tips of their fur occasionally brushing seemingly unnoticed. In the spring and through the summer and fall, deer spend their days and sometimes their nights at one of our ponds and in our yard. They and the other animals we see brighten our lives. And they evoke our sympathy.

Permanent Protection with a Conservation Easement

The Central Arizona Land Trust (CALT) has accepted responsibility for establishing and monitoring a Conservation Easement for Coldwater Farm. The easement will protect wildlife habitat by preventing future development. Though we can’t add any buildings or damage the wildlife habitat, we can continue to live on the farm and we can leave it to our children. Neither our children nor any future owners of the farm can build on the land or damage the habitat. CALT has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of surveys, appraisals, and a permanent trust fund to pay for annual monitoring.

After we moved to the farm, we began listing wildlife species that we saw. Our bird list has 129 species and includes the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and the Southwest Willow Flycatcher, both on the U. S. Endangered Species list. We have summarized our observations on the farm and its surroundings in four books:

If you’ve been watching the news, you know Earth is in the early stages of the Sixth Mass Extinction of wild plants and animals. Some scientists warn that the continued loss of species coupled with global warming, droughts, and large wildfires will remove much of the vegetation that protects the soil from wind and water erosion. Soil is our most fundamental biological resource. It anchors and feeds the roots of plants, and it absorbs and stores rain and snow melt. Without soil, even small rains cause floods. Without soil, Earth would be as barren as the Moon.

We know that our house, sheds, and pastures replaced habitat that wild animals could use. As we have learned the importance of wild plants and animals for healthy ecosystems, we have realized that the land was not ours to use without regard for the consequences for wildlife. Though we cannot replace the lost habitat, we can protect what remains.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that since 1970, the average size of all plant and animal populations on Earth has fallen by over 50%. WWF predicts that by 2100, the decline will reach 90%. As populations fall, soil becomes more vulnerable and extinctions climb. All those beautiful, innocent creatures that are ours to see by the wonder of millions of years of genetic trial and error, gone forever. Edward O. Wilson and other naturalists believe to stop the losses we must set aside one-half of Earth’s land and seas exclusively for wildlife. Could we do that?

We could, but we need a united global effort.

One of the ponds at Coldwater Farm

Conservation easements are important in the global effort to preserve wildlife. Twenty-seven percent of the United States is already federal protected land—forests, multiple-use lands, parks, monuments, and wilderness. If we make small landuse adjustments to restrict livestock grazing and recreation, we will be half way to the level of conservation needed for wildlife populations to halt their decline and begin to increase. Simple arithmetic shows that if the people of the United States and other countries redirected their taxes to conservation, we could buy back the land needed to reach 50% within a few years. If, during the same period, we incentivized renewable energy and phased out fossil fuels, we could assure that wildlife would survive as human civilization continued to advance. My wife and I want to do our part. Though tiny compared to the global need, our conservation easement is a symbol. It is a step in the right direction. We hope that many other landowners will be inspired to use conservation easements to help protect their land.

Disappearing Wildlife and Nature Conservation

GR: This is an urgent message that everyone should receive: We must act to stop the global deterioration and loss of forests, shrublands, grasslands, soil, and wildlife. Human activities–plowing the land, cutting the forests, grazing the grassland, warming the air, and exposing soil to wind and water erosion–are destroying our planetary life-sustaining ecosystems. Over the 40-year period to 2012, more than half the animals on Earth disappeared. Unless we make an immediate and powerful response, vegetation and soil losses will continue until they strip the planet’s surface bare. Without soil, much of the Earth will become as lifeless as the moon. Barren and silent but for whispering wind, pockets of weeds, clouds of wildfire smoke, and the distant cries of a few remaining animals.

Bessie Parker farm, Leon, Iowa. The erosion in these fields has reduced the value of the farm to the point where all but 40 acres have been taken over for taxes. Erosion has not stopped. Cattle grazing and sporadic hay mowing will continue to expose soil (photo: public domain, U. S. National Archives).

The source of the information on wildlife decline is the World Wildlife Fund: “Global biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, putting the survival of other species and our own future at risk. The latest edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report brings home the enormity of the situation – and how we can start to put it right. The Living Planet Index reveals that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. We could witness a two-thirds decline in the half-century from 1970 to 2020 . . .”

Without soil, there will be no farms, freshwater will runoff to the sea, vegetation will disappear, and wildlife will die (photo © Kelly Sillaste / Getty Images / WWF).

Wildlife decline: Living Planet Report 2016 | WWF

The Global Solution to Extinction – The New York Times

GR:  In this article, E. O. Wilson gives numerical estimates of the relationship between the protected area of the Earth’s surface and the number of wildlife species saved. Wilson’s estimates are probably very conservative. They probably do not include predicted impacts of global warming.

We have to respond. One thing we can all do is insure that Progressives sweep the upcoming elections. We need them to guide the U. S. and other countries to take action for nature conservation of the drastic intensity needed to protect nature and insure that human civilization can continue to advance.

“DURING the summer of 1940, I was an 11-year-old living with my family in a low-income apartment in Washington, D.C. We were within easy walking distance of the National Zoo and an adjacent strip of woodland in Rock Creek Park. I lived most of my days there, visiting exotic animals and collecting butterflies and other insects with a net that I had fashioned from a broom handle, coat hanger and cheesecloth. I read nature books, field guides and past volumes of National Geographic. I had already conceived then of a world of life awaiting me, bottomless in variety.

“Seventy-six years later, I have kept that dream. As a teacher and scientist I have tried to share it. The metaphor I offer for biological diversity is the magic well: The more you draw, the more there is to draw.

“But today the dream is at risk. Civilization is at last turning green, albeit only pale green. Our attention remains focused on the physical environment — on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land and, of course, the great, wrathful demon that threatens all our lives, human-forced climate change. But Earth’s living environment, including all its species and all the ecosystems they compose, has continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical, nonliving environment, because each depends on the other. But if we work to save only the physical environment, as we seem bent on doing, we will lose them both.

“So, what exactly is the current condition of the living environment, in particular its biological diversity and stability? How are we handling this critical element of Earth’s sustainability?

“With data on the best known vertebrate species, and a lot of additional information from fossil studies and genetics, we can put the fraction of species disappearing each year at upward of a 1,000 times the rate that existed before the coming of humans.

“Most of this loss is occurring in tropical countries, and especially tropical forests on islands. But to bring it home to the United States, consider that from 1895 to 2006, 57 species and distinct geographic races of freshwater fishes were driven to extinction, which is 10 percent of the total previously alive; hence the rate of extinction was just under 900 times that which existed before the coming of humans.” — E. O. Wilson, New York Times.

 

GR: Visit the Times article to see the chart showing the numerical relationship between land preserved and species saved.

NATIONAL WEED APPRECIATION DAY – March 28 | National Day Calendar

GR: Today is National Weed Appreciation Day. Yay weeds!

The following is from the National Day Calendar. The weeds mentioned are present in D-H and everywhere else.

“Did you know that some weeds are beneficial to us and our ecosystem?  National Weed Appreciation Day is observed on March 28 of each year, and it is a good day to learn more about weeds and their benefits.

“Humans have used weeds for food and as herbs for much of recorded history. Some are edible and nutritious while other weeds have medicinal value.

“Do you remember as a small child the fun you had with dandelions? Well, these bright yellow flowers serve a purpose.  Dandelions are a food source for insects and some birds.  Humans eat young dandelion leaves and enjoy tea and wine made from the leaves and flower.  The Native Americans used dandelions to treat certain ailments.  Nutritionally, dandelions contain a source of vitamin A and C, calcium, iron and fiber.

“There are also other edible and medicinal weeds, some of which include: Yellow Dock/Burdock: The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring before flowers appear.  The flavor of the young stalk resembles that of an artichoke. It is a good source of dietary fiber and certain minerals, including calcium and potassium. It is also used as a medicinal herb.

“Lamb’s Quarter: (also known as goosefoot) The leaves of lamb’s quarter are excellent added to lettuce salads or cooked and used as a replacement for spinach. Lamb’s quarter seeds are also edible. They are a good source of protein and vitamin A.

“Amaranth: (also known as pigweed)  Amaranth species are cultivated and consumed as a leaf vegetable in many parts of the world.  The leaves can be cooked, and its seeds can be harvested and cooked the same as quinoa. The root of mature amaranth is a popular vegetable. It is white and usually cooked with tomatoes or tamarind gravy. It has a milky taste and is alkaline.  It is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, K, B6, calcium and iron, and the seeds are a good source of protein.

“Purslane:  It may be eaten as a leaf vegetable, but is considered a weed in the United States. It has a slightly sour and salty taste.  The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. Purslane may be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried or cooked as spinach is, and because of its sticky quality, it also is suitable for soups and stews.   It is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and is high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Purslane can be found growing in all 50 states.” Source: NATIONAL WEED APPRECIATION DAY – March 28 | National Day Calendar

This article by Marcus Schneck describes more weeds found at Coldwater Farm in Dewey-Humboldt and elsewhere.

Eat your lawn on National Weed Appreciation Day

Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction? – Animalista Untamed

GR: Here’s the case for optimism for the great loss of species and a literate response that the arguments supporting the case are rubbish. And rubbish they are. The optimistic professor making the case seems to forget that we can only be optimistic when we know fear. Our optimism can be cowardly (accepting) or courageous (challenging). Knowing what might happen and hoping for a better outcome, the courageous will fight for that outcome while the coward will sit smug waiting for the good to come. The optimistic professor appears to be on the smug side of this divide.

I have to assert that the professor’s optimism is more than just cowardly, it is based on inaccurate premises. Here’s one clear example: The result of humans behaving naturally may be the end of life on Earth. Our planet is truly like an isolated petri dish with limited resources. Humans are behaving naturally within the bounds of evolution and ecology as the professor says, but so are the bacteria that consume all the resources in their little dish and then die leaving behind no life at all.

The idea that we want to become acquainted with the few hardy species that will survive the Anthropocene and be our companions on the other side inspired me to write a book about weeds. I guess the work represents a cowardly response to fear but with resignation instead of smugness. Okay, that’s a bit pretentious. My book also represents simple curiosity and appreciation for the amazing plants that thrive in adverse environments. I plan to continue arguing for population and pollution control and a societal shift toward ecological restoration of damaged ecosystems. But that doesn’t seem truly courageous, it just seems like the natural thing to do.

Here’s Animalista Untamed’s critique of Professor Chris Thomas’s new book Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction.

Animalista Untamed.

“One man thinks we should. Stop worrying about what is happening to the planet – just kick back and enjoy the ride. That is the message of ecologist Chris Thomas’s new book ‘Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction”. “It is time” he writes, “for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world.”

“We’ve now become all too unhappily familiar with the ‘Anthropocene’, the word coined by Dutch Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen to describe this new age, the age in which Man has played havoc with the entire functioning of the planet. We’ve altered the make-up of the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, changed the climate itself. Glaciers are melting, sea levels rising. We’ve depleted biodiversity, plants and animals, and messed up their distribution. We’ve rerouted rivers, drained lakes, razed forests and covered the Earth in highways and cities. And all the while our own population has exploded, 7.4 billion today and an expected 9.7 billion by 2050.

“What is there not to be alarmed about?

“Anthropocenists (by that I mean the vast majority of ecologists who are concerned about the repercussions of human activity) propose that if we have the technology to so damage the planet, why can’t we turn technology to its healing? Hi-tech geo-engineering such as air cleaning plants, altering ocean chemistry to absorb more carbon, or capturing carbon emissions from power stations and factories. Maybe we could even modify the weather. A luxury travel company that promises perfect wedding weather for the big day thinks we can. Expert opinion says otherwise: “The scale of the Earth’s atmosphere is far too great to tamper with—at least for now.” according to meteorologist Bruce Broe.

“But Professor Chris Thomas’s thinking runs on altogether different lines, and he’s nothing if not a glass-half-full man. In this age of mass extinction, he says, nature will do what it always does – fight back.

“A quick summary of his thinking –

  • “Man is an animal and just as much a part of Nature as a bird or a fish
  • “Contrary to what we are constantly being told, Nature is thriving. There are biodiversity gains as well as losses, and “the number of species is increasing in most regions of the world”
  • “The essence of life is eternal change  – everything lives, evolves, dies. There is no stasis in Nature. We need to embrace the change and forget about trying to hold back the hands of the clock

“Taking each of those points in turn:” –Animalista Untamed. (Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction? – Animalista Untamed.)

Invasive species shift Great Lakes ecosystems – Summit County Citizens Voice

GR:  Invasive species are weakening and eliminating ecosystems around the world. In many instances, people introduced the invasives to increase food production for domestic livestock. In other instances, people introduce the invasives to control other invasives. The search for magic bullets such as pesticides, diseases from the original homeland of an invasive, and introduction of more competitive aliens from the homeland continues, but without much success. Many times, the only effective means to eliminate an invasive species is to apply manual labor: catching, pulling, or mowing.

“The Great Lakes have seen successive invasions by non-native species that alter the ecosystem, including quagga mussels that filter the water and remove nutrients. At least partly as a result of the invasive mussels, Lake Michigan is becoming less hospitable to Chinook salmon, according to a new study led by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and Michigan State University.

“The scientists concluded that stocking could help sustain a population of Chinook salmon, but that the lake’s ecosystem is now more conducive to stocking lake trout and steelhead salmon. These two species can switch from eating alewife, which are in decline, to bottom-dwelling round goby, another newly established invasive prey fish that feeds on quagga mussels.

“Findings from our study can help managers determine the most viable ways to enhance valuable recreational fisheries in Lake Michigan, especially when the open waters of the lake are declining in productivity,” said Yu-Chun Kao, an MSU post-doctoral scientist and the lead author of the report.” –Summit County Citizens Voice (Continue: Invasive species shift Great Lakes ecosystems – Summit County Citizens Voice).

Weed killer designed to save farms is devastating them

GR: With the chemical industry in control of Congress and government regulators, every plant and animal of every country on Earth is in danger. Toxic chemicals added to the land, air, and water cause death, disease, and disruption of natural ecosystems. They poison the insects and spread through the food chain weakening and killing wildlife. As biodiversity declines, natural flood control and soil protection is lost and air and water filtering declines. The result is a great loss productivity and ever-increasing toxicity of the environment.

BLYTHEVILLE, ARK. — “Clay Mayes slams on the brakes of his Chevy Silverado and jumps out with the engine running, yelling at a dogwood by the side of the dirt road as if it had said something insulting.

“Its leaves curl downward and in on themselves like tiny, broken umbrellas. It’s the telltale mark of inadvertent exposure to a controversial herbicide called dicamba.

“This is crazy. Crazy!” shouts Mayes, a farm manager, gesticulating toward the shriveled canopy off Highway 61. “I just think if this keeps going on . . .”

“Everything’ll be dead,” says Brian Smith, his passenger.

“The damage here in northeast Arkansas and across the Midwest — sickly soybeans, trees and other crops — has become emblematic of a deepening crisis in American agriculture.

“Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.

“The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.

“The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target.

“Government officials and manufacturers Monsanto and BASF deny the charge, saying the system worked as Congress designed it.” –Caitlin Dewey (Continue: Weed killer designed to save farms is devastating them).

Thanks to Bob Vella the Secular Jurist for finding this story.