Video Of The Day: Bear Dances In The Woods

Spring is here, which means we’ll all be heading back onto hiking trails and into the woods for camping trips. Of course, we’re not the only species taking advantage of everything nature has to offer. We share trails, forests and just about everything else with all manner of animals big and small. Thanks to a well-placed camera, we can now see what happens in the woods when we’re not there. As expected, it’s all dance parties, popping and locking. After sleeping for months, you’d be ready to bust a move, too!

Luxury resort harbors Tanzania’s last tropical coastal forest

For adventure travelers, the classic visit to Tanzania begins with a climb up Kilimanjaro, followed by a safari on the Serengeti, and is topped off with a relaxing beach experience on the island of Zanzibar. The first two items on that list are unmatched experiences that simply can’t be beat, but those looking for alternative to the beaches of Zanzibar may want to consider a stay at the Ras Kutani lodge, an eco-resort that offers access to the last tropical coastal forest in the country.

Located just 20 miles from Dar es Salaam, Ras Kutani offers beautiful and tranquil beaches along the Indian Ocean. The warm coastal waters are home to a vibrant and thriving coral reef system, which is home to dozens of species of fish, and is visited frequently by dolphins, sea turtles, and even whales. This makes it an ideal setting for snorkelers, although sea kayaking and boogie boarding are also popular activities when the surf is up.

But the main draw to lodge is the spectacular coastal forest that surrounds the resort. Charles Dobie, the owner of Ras Kutani, made it his mission to save and preserve the coastal forest there, and as a result, he now owns one of the last remaining examples of that amazing ecosystem. The lodge is surrounded by 100 acres of this lush forest, which is home to more than 130 species of trees, four different types of monkeys, a wide variety of birds, as well as baboons, wild pigs, and the rare and beautiful Civet Cat.

Visitors to the lodge can stay in one of nine unique and spacious cottages, or four hilltop suites, that have been designed to mesh harmoniously with the environment. In addition to the relaxed beach activities, they are also able to take a self-guided tour through the coastal forest, where they can explore its natural wonders for themselves. Afterward, guests can enjoy the lodge’s famous gourmet cuisine, and relax by the ocean, where if they’re lucky, they may catch sea turtles as they hatch, and make for the sea.

To learn more about the Ras Kutani lodge, and everything it has to offer, visit the resort’s website.

United Kingdom government does U-turn on forest sell-off

Back on January 27 we reported that the government of the United Kingdom was planning on selling all of England’s publicly owned forests. Well, the English love their heritage (at least those English outside the government) and there was a huge public outcry. Half a million people signed a petition in opposition to the plan. Now the Guardian reports the government has backed down.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman stood up before Parliament and apologized for her “wrong” decision. The forests will not be sold and new laws allowing them to be will be struck from the books. The previous law allowed for 15 percent of forests to be sold, and Ms. Spelman wasn’t clear what would happen to the forests recently put on the auction block. Apparently this isn’t a complete victory for sanity.

The sale would have affected all forests owned by the Forestry Commission in England but not the rest of the UK. The Commission owns 18 percent of all forests in England. Now the Environment Secretary will have to find another way to slash her department spending by a third, the goal she set for herself.

[Photo courtesy user tomhab via Wikimedia Commons]

England plans to sell all its public forests

English 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]

From the shores of Louisiana: Inside the Atchafalaya water basin

Dean Wilson guns the outboard engine on his snub-nosed, 17-foot aluminum bateaux through thick water hyacinth. We are in the heart of the 1.4 million acre Atchafalaya water basin which is both his backyard and his preserve – he is its formal “keeper” – when I ask if he has ever in 20 years gotten lost in this maze of narrow channels and floating forests:

“Not lost, but one time I did have my boat break down. And I was in a place that only one man alive could find me. Luckily my cell phone worked and he was just leaving the house. Otherwise, I always know where I am.” Good thing, since there’s no way we could walk out of this morass of thigh-deep water.

We spend the morning racing at full-speed up the man-made canals – dug by oil companies to give them access to the abundance of natural gas that lies beneath – his one-year-old puppy Shanka standing on the side of the boat, or becalmed in the heart of an old-growth Cyprus forest admiring the hundreds-year-old trees and wildlife that uses them for homes. Barn owls hoot in the near-distance. The gentle swoosh of wings — herons, egrets and ibis — break the calm air. The occasional four-foot alligator slides off a downed tree or mud bank. And fish, mullets, leap out of the brown-but-clear water.

“Why do they jump?” I ask Dean.

“I’m not sure,” he answers, in an accent that is part Cajun, part native Spanish. “Because they are happy?”

%Gallery-95432%Dean came to live on the edge of the swamp 20 years ago. “I wanted to go live in the Amazon, and in preparation looked for a similar place to acclimatize, so I moved here. And I never left, never made it to Brazil.” Part Spanish (his mother), part Ohioan (his father), he fit perfectly into the patchwork populace of South Louisiana. Initially he lived on the banks of the swamp, first in a tent, then a trailer, living off what he could catch by hand, hook, arrow or spear, including fish, raccoon, mink, otter, duck. Moving into a small house surrounded by swamp he made his living as a commercial fisherman and hunter for 16 years before his passion – protecting the swamp, particularly its Cyprus forests – became his livelihood. For the last five years he’s been the official Atchafalaya Basin Keeper, associated with the 200 water watchdogs operating under the umbrella of the Waterkeepers Alliance.

Other than the oil and gas companies that covet any access they can get to the oil and gas rich swamp land, his biggest enemy were clear-cutters making their way into the swamp to take the protected, hundreds-year-old Cyprus trees to turn into garden mulch. Several years of investigation, which included sneaking around the swamps in camouflage, sneaking into lumber yards and lots of aerial photography, helped him force the hand of the big box stores – specifically Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Home Depot, which were selling the illegally-gotten mulch – into stopping. Today taking trees from the swamps in Louisiana is limited to a small corner on the eastern edge, away from the Atchafalaya. His efforts are not always lauded; he’s been followed, shot at, had a dog poisoned.

“I still follow my share of trucks loaded with trees,” he admits, “so occasionally it still happens. But it’s much better than it was.”

Why protect a place most people consider God-forsaken, a region believed (wrongly!) to be home to only melon-sized mosquitoes and poisonous snakes? “Actually, I believe this is where God resides, in the heart of the swamp,” he says.