Leatherback Turtle Nesting Ground Protected In Puerto Rico

leatherback turtle
Puerto Rico has just declared 5.4 square miles of coastline as protected land in order to preserve a leatherback turtle nesting ground, BBC reports.

The Northeast Ecological Corridor has been a battleground between conservation groups and big business for 15 years. The choice was basically between two ideas: “Hey, look at this beautiful natural wonder; let’s preserve it for low-impact ecotourism!” and “Hey, look at this beautiful natural wonder; let’s put up a bunch of luxury homes, hotels and golf courses. We’ll wreck the place but make a ton of cash!”

Luckily, the government of Puerto Rico chose correctly.

Leatherback turtles are a critically endangered species and this stretch of coastline is one of their largest remaining nesting grounds. In addition to the turtles, the Northeast Ecological Corridor is home to 866 species of plants and animals, including 54 rare, threatened, endangered and endemic species.

The area was declared a nature reserve in 2008, but that protection was taken away the next year under pressure from “developers.” In 2012 two-thirds of the area were once again named as a reserve. Now all of the area will be protected, although considering how the government has flip-flopped on this issue before, this may not be the last time we report on this issue.

[Photo courtesy Coalición Pro CEN]

Roadkill cuisine: a guide to why and where you should pick up that possum

roadkill cuisineReduce, reuse, recycle is hardly a new concept. Except when it’s applied to roadkill. Oh, sure, backwoods folk, the itinerant, and gritty survivalist types have been making good use of roadside casualties for years. Slowly but surely however, the benefits of roadkill cuisine have been creeping into the public conscience.

Witness the popularity of The Original Roadkill Cookbook and its ilk, or the new Travel Channel series, “The Wild Within,” in which host/outdoor journalist Steven Rinella travels the world channeling his inner hunter-gatherer (see “San Francisco Roadkill Raccoon” clip at the end of this post). It’s only a matter of time before hipsters get in on this, mark my words.

Lest you think I’m making light of what is essentially a tragic waste of life: I’m an animal lover, grew up on a ranch, and my dad is a large animal veterinarian. I’ve slaughtered livestock, and admittedly have a somewhat utilitarian outlook on the topic of meat. That said, few things upset me more than seeing a dead animal or bird on the road.

The first time I ever thought of roadkill as having a purpose is when I visited Alaska a decade ago. A guide informed me that the state not only permits the use of roadkill for human consumption, but that there’s a waiting list. Think about it: a moose carcass can feed a family for a year. It’s only fairly recently that I learned every state has different regulations that apply to roadkill (more on that in a minute).

If you can overcome your initial disgust at the thought of plucking a carcass from the road and doing the necessary prep to render it casserole-ready, utilizing roadkill makes sense. No, seriously.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Irargerich]roadkill cuisinePros

  • It’s economical.
  • It utilizes a perfectly good (usually) protein source that would otherwise go to waste.
  • It’s giving a purpose to an otherwise wasted life
  • It’s ecologically responsible.
  • It’s a free, nutritious food source that can help sustain anyone, including individuals or families in need.
  • Many roadkill species taste great, and command premium prices when farm-raised and sold retail (elk, venison, boar, certain game birds).
  • It’s free of the hormones and/or antibiotics found in factory farmed meat and poultry.
  • It’s a better, kinder, more responsible alternative to poaching.

Cons

  • Parasites and disease

Obviously, if the meat looks bad, don’t use it. But wild animals can also play host to a wide variety of parasitic and bacterial critters invisible to the naked eye. It’s critical to thoroughly cook meat to kill any pathogens (fortunately, braising is the best method of preparing most roadkill species, as it renders the meat more tender). If you’re freaked out by the thought of ingesting roadkill for this reason, think about how often ground beef recalls are issued due to E. coli. Personally, I’d rather eat roadkill, when I think about what’s in the average fast food burger.

So now that you know roadkill is generally fine to use as long as it’s fresh and not too damaged, what are the rules? Well, it depends upon what state you’re in (for the record, roadkill cuisine isn’t just a U.S. thing, waste not, want not being a global concept). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website has a state-by-state directory of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish and Game/Fish and Wildlife/Division of Wildlife offices; each state has different rules as to which office oversees roadkill regulations. In many states, permits are issued by state troopers or county law enforcement.
roadkill cuisine
Be aware that in many states, collection of roadkill is illegal, although drivers are asked to call and report dead animals so they can be properly disposed of. The most expedient thing to do if you hit an animal/see fresh roadkill is to call local law enforcement.

For your perusal, a sampling of regulations for states that permit collection (or “salvage”) of roadkill:

Western U.S.
Alaska: Sets the bar for philanthropic roadkill rules. All specimens are considered the property of the state, and by law, drivers must alert state troopers if they spot roadkill. If the meat is fresh and in good condition, the carcass is butchered by volunteers, and distributed to the needy. Roadkill wait lists are also available for the general populace living in rural areas.
Wyoming: As long as you have it tagged by a game warden (to deter poaching), it’s yours.
Colorado: Obtain a “donation certificate” or tag issued by the Division of Wildlife, first.

Midwest
Illinois: If you hit it, you can keep it, as long as you’re a resident, not delinquent in child support payments (um, okay…), and don’t have your wildlife privileges suspended in any other state. Deer must be reported to the DNR prior to claiming.
Nebraska: If you hit a deer, antelope, or elk, report it to the Parks and Game Commission to obtain a salvage permit before you butcher the carcass.

Northeast
New Jersey: Get a permit by calling a state trooper, and you can collect deer.
West Virginia: If you report the fatality within 12 hours; it’s legal to remove and consume any and all roadkill. There’s even an annual roadkill cook-off.

Southern U.S.
Georgia: Hit a bear, report it, and it’s yours. Deer don’t have to be reported.

A few states that prohibit collection of roadkill
California
Texas
Wisconsin
Tennessee
Washington
roadkill cuisine
An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of roadkill
Ideally, the goal is to avoid creating roadkill at all. In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration estimated between one and two million vehicular collisions with large wildlife species occur annually in the U.S.. Only a small number of those result in human fatality, but it can certainly wreck or mess up a car. When you also consider smaller animals/birds, collisions can have a devastating impact upon wildlife populations, especially on already threatened species. Many states have instituted wildlife tunnels underneath highways that are considered high impact zones (this could be due to migratory patterns, easy road access, etc.).

Please drive carefully in designated wildlife or rural areas (you know, where you see those glaring yellow, triangular road signs with deer or cows or elk pictured on them), and try to avoid driving at dawn or dusk, which is when large game head out to feed. Night driving should also be avoided if you can avoid it, or undertaken with extreme caution. Trust me, after years of living in the mountains of Colorado, I’ve seen more than my share of wildlife road death (and unfortunately contributed to the early demise of a few prairie dogs and rabbits). I’ve also seen what a run-in with a moose can do to a car, and it’s not pretty.

Obviously, it’s not worth causing a multiple-car accident to avoid an animal in the road, but stay alert, don’t text or use your cell phone without a headset, drive within the speed limit, and odds are, you’ll never have a problem. Worst case scenario, please be a responsible citizen, and pull over to make sure the animal is dead. Regardless of how you feel about animals or eating roadkill, no living creature should be allowed to suffer. Have a heart. Then take it home and cook it.

[Photo credit: bbq, Flickr user The Suss-Man (Mike), deer, Flicker user Eric Bégin]


England plans to sell all its public forests

forest, forests, sherwood forestEnglish environmentalists, hikers, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and pretty much everybody else is up in arms about a UK government plan to sell off all the woodlands managed by the Forestry Commission in England, the BBC reports.

The Forestry Commission manages 18 percent of all England’s forests, some 2,500 sq km (965 sq miles). A portion of the forests are already being sold to raise £100m million ($159 million).

A public poll this week found 75 percent of the public against the move.

The plan will not affect forests in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This is the dumbest idea the UK government has come up with since selling the Royal Mail. Forests are a national heritage, not something to be sold off by privileged members of government to their old classmates from Eton. The government says that environmental and public use rights will be protected but, to use an English phrase, that’s a load of bollocks. Once the forests are in private hands, it will be much easier for private interests to undermine the laws governing them, or simply ignore the laws if the fines come out to less than they’d make turning the forests into shopping malls and housing developments. This is already standard practice in Spain, and it has ruined some of the best stretches of the Mediterranean coastline.

As a hiker who loves England’s woodland, I have grave concerns over what this will mean for people from England and around the world who go to the woods to see some of England’s most beautiful spots. A few hundred million pounds in the government’s pocket will not solve the economic crisis, or save national health care, or pay off the national debt, but it will mean that the heritage of the English people may disappear forever.

[Image courtesy user ntollervey via Wikimedia Commons]

Scientists struggle to preserve Grand Canyon wildlife

The Grand Canyon needs more water.

That’s the assessment of a U.S. Geological Survey report that studied the results of a 2008 experiment. A controlled flood let more water through Glen Canyon Dam in order to replicate the effects of annual flooding from before the dam was built. Sediment from the flood increased the size of sandbars along the path of the river. These sandbars are an essential habitat for the plants and animals living in the canyon and also make handy beaches for weary hikers who have just made it to the bottom.

Unfortunately, the sandbars all but washed away after six months. The USGS and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are calling for regular controlled floods, especially in spring when the tributaries of the Colorado River naturally flood, and March in order to stop seeds from the nonnative tamarisk from germinating and helping native trout as they grow to maturity. The Glen Canyon Dam was built in the 1960s amid a major controversy over how it would change the river. Several local species have drastically reduced in number because of changes to water temperature and flow.

The problem is, the dam on the Colorado River is a major source of hydroelectric power, and any flooding would reduce the amount of electricity generated. It’s a classic case of industry vs. environmentalism, but the huge amount of money generated from tourism to the Grand Canyon may mean the environmentalists have the money on their side for a change.

Bowermaster’s Adventures — The Charles Darwin Research Center

While in the Galapagos filming we ran into an American writer living in Puerto Ayora, the big town on the island of Santa Cruz, researching a book about exactly the same subject of our film – the current state of affairs across the archipelago.

Carol Ann Bassett’s book is just out, published by National Geographic, fittingly titled “Galapagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution,” and it’s a fantastic tutorial for anyone curious about the natural and human health of the island state today.

I was particularly curious about her reportage on Darwin’s initial reaction to the islands that will forever be linked with his theory of evolution.

Like other biographers of Darwin – who first visited in 1835 as a curious but inexperienced 26-year-old, born the same day as Abraham Lincoln – she labels his role as evolutionary mystery solver as “one of the greatest myths of the history of science.” Citing a study by Harvard professor and MacArthur Foundation “genius” Frank Sulloway, the book details how little Darwin actually took away from the Galapagos after his five-week visit. He had “no eureka flashes of enlightenment,” she writes, “it would take decades before his final theory transcended his religious beliefs and his enduring doubts.”

In his book “Voyage of the Beagle” Darwin referenced the Galapagos sparingly; in his “On the Origin of Species,” published twenty years later, he never mentioned the finches – mistakenly thought by many to be the linchpin of his evolutionary theory – and which are named for him.

It took those twenty years between publications for the significance of the Galapagos to sink in on Darwin. For two decades he wrestled with the history of creationism and its relevance to species diversity. In the end, he came down on the right side of the argument (unless of course you are among those who continue to believe the planet is only 6,000 years old and that life as we know it was created in six days). That his name and theory are so inextricably linked with both evolution and the Galapagos is something Darwin could have never predicted. Nor could he have predicted the clash of economics and the environment, which so wrack the place today.

%Gallery-77068%

The Charles Darwin Research Center sits atop a long hill climbing up from Puerto Ayora, on the big island of Santa Cruz. Part of the Charles Darwin Foundation established in 1959 – the lone international research and advisory institution dedicated to exclusively studying the Galapagos – the CDRS is both an archive of historical scientific study and site of various laboratories engaged in today’s most cutting-edge research in the islands. Many of the world’s most-expert Galapganian scientists either have worked here or still do and we’ve walked up the hill to visit with one, marine biologist Alex Hearn … who we find with his hands in a tank, coddling one of the darlings of local marine life, the sea cucumber.

Sitting on a second-story deck overlooking the blue ocean that is his backyard we talk about the impacts of over fishing here. Some highlights:

“You know the Galapagos has a history of over-exploitation that goes way back to the whalers of the sixteenth century. Ever since we’ve had successive waves of boom-bust fisheries. The latest being the sea cucumber which started in the early Nineties as a result of the resource collapsing on the continent followed by a sizable migration of fishers who had already successively depleted the sea cucumber along the coast of Ecuador moving to the islands and hammering the resource here. At the time it was unregulated and there was no way of stopping it because there was no Marine Reserve. By the time the Marine Reserve was created a lot of the damage had already been done. Sometimes we forget that the Marine Reserve management system inherited a lobster resource which had already collapsed in the Eighties, and a sea cucumber resource that had already been heavily fished for ten years ….”

“In terms of coastal fishing, the number of local fishermen — who are the only ones legally allowed to fish here — has nearly tripled during the Nineties, from about 400 to over 1,000. Fishing around the coast has increased dramatically and we haven’t been very successful in managing it. In part because it’s a group with a lot of political power as well as the perception of an immediate need. Since 1998 this local management system has failed to take into account the sustainability of both lobster and sea cucumber. The result is that both are suffering, badly ….”

“When you’re at university or when you’re studying a particular species biologically you’re focused on the species. When you’re looking at the fisheries, the actual biology of the species is the least important thing really, your job becomes more about managing people. Getting them, first of all, to trust that our advice is first and foremost because we are scientists and is focused on sustainability. Our motivation is not about eliminating or prohibiting fishermen. There is a big lack of trust here, partly due to the fact that we’re both a science and conservation organization and carry a fair amount of political power as well. As a result we vote on the system as a conservation sector but we also provide the technical advice, which may sometimes seen as a little bit suspect. Some locals, fishermen, will say ‘You’re providing the advice just to justify your position.’ It can get very complex. It’s about building trust and showing them that the long-term impacts of over fishing and are very difficult to prove but that we still need to make changes now ….”

“Working in Galapagos is like a rollercoaster. There are times when it’s immensely frustrating and there are times when it’s just paradise. To tell the truth, for me, as a young scientist coming to Galapagos straight out of university, to be able to develop lines of research, to be able to publish, to be able to take the research from the sea to the government and follow that entire process is something you really don’t get in many other places. On a personal level I am eternally grateful for Galapagos. Besides, Galapagos also gave me a wife and a baby. So what can I say?”

%Gallery-77075%