Sometimes in life you have to get a little lost before you are truly able to find your way.

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Adventure of a Lifetime…the lead in…

Little known fact about me. My last big hurrah in life before entering the fine world of migraines rule all was an amazing semester in the most amazing place on the face of the planet…Tanzania. I decided I was going there when I was about 4 years old watching PBS in my living room, staring in awe at the Serengeti and pointing at the giant 70s- style floor-sitting television, saying when I’m bigger, I’m gonna go there! Dismissed, of course. I was four and pointing at a television.

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The funny part was, when I was in high school and planning WAY ahead (OK, I was a sophomore and planning which study abroad program to choose for my junior year of college at the school I’d already picked out) I was still dismissed. I knew in my heart as strongly then as I had at age 4 that I was meant to go to Tanzania. Something inside me ached for it in a way I don’t quite know how to put into words. It’s as if a part of me had been born on the wrong side of the planet. I hadn’t a clue yet what that meant, but boy was I in for a surprise.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Fast forward a few years. I got in early admission to Bucknell University. Freshman and sophomore years were fantastic. It was an incredible place to learn, not just the subject matter, but HOW TO THINK CRITICALLY. Incredible professors. It was the kind of education every parent dreams their child will have. I was so lucky and so privileged. I majored in animal behavior (incidentally not part of my parents’ dream for my education, but very much my passion and absolutely no regrets).

Junior year came around. I had submitted all of my applications for study abroad. I got my acceptance letter and called home…well, ecstatic really doesn’t come close, but it’ll have to do. Silence. Then, “you’re not ACTUALLY going to Africa.” Confusion. Had I not been talking about this since age 4? Had I not selected this very program and been showing brochures to everyone for the last FIVE years? Hadn’t I gotten parental signatures for all the applications materials? How could any of this be a surprise?

As it turns out, it could because I wasn’t the parent hearing for the first time with certainty that her child not only intended to but actually had a way to get on a plane and leave the country to run off to Tanzania to God knows what for how long was it again? I hadn’t stopped to think about how scary this might be for my parents. This had been a reality for me forever. An inevitability, more to the point. But no matter how many years I’d been saying I was going to do this, this was the first moment it was real for them. I was so off the charts, unbelievably excited that all I could do was say SIGN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SIGN IT NOWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And all my mother could do was imagine the unimaginable.

We worked it out. I explained all the ways I’d be safe and mom explained all the ways those ways were insufficient and eventually my logic and her inability to stand in the way of this life-long dream gave way in the face of even her greatest maternal fears. I promised to be safe and not to take any unnecessary risks (a promise which I sort of but not really at all lived up to). The ball was rolling. I got all my shots. We had lots of talks. We did a LOT of shopping for my gear. I packed and repacked and repacked. Before we knew it, we were off for Newark airport where I would meet the people with whom I would spend the next chapter, and the greatest experience of my life. Stay tuned for the Tanzanian Adventure of a lifetime!

Breaking news!…your action is needed NOW!

On the heels of today’s earlier post about some positive developments for wolves in the U.S. comes heart-breaking news from Washington and several state governments. Please read the following from Defenders of Wildlife:

“First, the leadership of the House and Senate and the President brokered a budget deal that sold out wolves by including a provision that would eliminate protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, weakening the Endangered Species Act and leaving these magnificent animals with little safety net against the threat of widespread killing.

Next, our settlement agreement in the ongoing fight over wolf management was rejected by a federal court – blocking a collaborative path forward that could have helped ensure that science, not politics, dictated decisions on wolf management.

Meanwhile, state legislatures in the Northern Rockies continue to prove why state management of wolves is a cause for concern. For example, the Idaho legislature has passed a bill authorizing the governor to declare a state of emergency over the presence of wolves and extremists in that state are calling for law enforcement to find and kill these amazing animals.”

Please take action now by sending a message to western governors urging them to prevent an all-out slaughter of a species that has fought so hard to stay alive.

Kudos to Progressive Ranchers!

Prior to European settlement of the area that is modern-day America, the landscape and its inhabitants were vastly different. If you’ve flown across the States you’re familiar with the patchwork appearance of the neatly divided areas and intense agricultural use of so much of our land mass. But back before we “conquered” this territory, it was a vast, diverse, thriving landscape composed of connected ecosystems, enormous diversity in flora and fauna, and people who respected this intricate balance. While we cannot go back in time and undo all of the damage we’ve done, and while it is unrealistic to wish that giant areas of populated/cultivated land would ever be “given back to nature,” there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for some.

Ranching in the mid-west and west is a practice that has historically been at odds with the health and well-being of many ecosystems and native animals, large predators in specific. As we “settle” more and more of the land that wild creatures once roamed freely, finding enough land and food has become not just a challenge, but in many cases impossible for some native specie like the Gray Wolf (Canis lupis). What have we done about it? Well, for a long time we systematically extirpated them. The greatest threat to wolves in the U.S. came from angry ranchers whose livestock became substitute prey for the wolves and other predators when local habitat changes dramatically reduced the native prey populations. Fenced-in livestock are easy-pickins. But while the wolves had lost most of their home and their food to human encroachment of their native areas, picking off livestock cast them into the role of the villain. Their ecological value was ignored and systematic extirpation went unchecked for far too long. The Gray Wolf was nearly extinct throughout the U.S. until serious action was taken to save them. The year 1978 was a big year for wildlife in the U.S. The Endangered Species Act was signed into law providing unprecedented protections for animals threatened with, or on the brink of extinction. By 1978 the Gray Wolf was listed as endangered throughout the lower 48 states except for Minnesota where it was listed as threatened. The protections afforded to the wolves by the 1978  ESA and later additions in 1982 which allowed the relocation of wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from areas where they live to areas where they could potentially reproduce and repopulate saved the species from extinction. But it wasn’t enough. The core problems remained. Ranchers still have to ranch, and wolves still have to eat AND fulfill their roles in the greater systems of which they are a part. Like all apex predators, wolves serve vital functions for the ecosystems in which they live. They keep deer, elk and rodent populations under control, for one thing. Many have argued that if wolves are killing the deer and elk there won’t be enough left for hunters, but this heralds back to the age-old question: “Do we manage populations to support hunting or do we manage hunting to support populations?” Manipulating populations of game species to ensure that hunters have enough to kill each year is unethical on so many levels, particularly when it means local extinction of natural predators.

A herder and guard dogs protect a flock of sheep in Big Wood River Valley, where coexistence measures are proving effective. (Photo credit: Cindy Hillemeyer, Defenders of Wildlife)

While many ranchers still hold stubbornly to the practice of killing wolves, others have made extraordinary efforts to conduct their business and safely respect the presence, and the NEED for wolves. Kathleen and Brian Bean are on the forefront of respectful, progressive ranching. While continuing to operate their ranch, Lava Lake Lamb, this couple has worked hard to implement innovative ways to protect their sheep without killing the wolves. A recent story released by Defenders of Wildlife describes the many ways the Beans are working WITH, rather than AGAINST the wolves they share the land with. A number of measures designed to scare off, rather than harm wolves have been implemented in the Beans’ effort to peacefully coexist with their wolf neighbors. For more information on this successful rancher-wolf partnership, check out the Defenders of Wildlife article, Good News from Idaho: Proof That Farmers and Wolves Can Coexist.

For more information about the history of Gray Wolf decline and recovery in the U.S., please visit the Yellow Stone National Park Web site.

A lesson from Spike

I have had the incredibly good fortune to have worked with some amazing organizations over the years. One of the most rewarding experiences was volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center in New Hampshire.

One of our most memorable patients was a porcupine named Spike. As a rule, you don’t name wild animals in rehab. In a way it diminishes their wildness. But we thought Spike was going to be a forever resident, meaning we did not think he would ever recover from his injuries sufficiently to be safely released back into the wild, but that he could have a good quality of life in captivity. Spike’s mother had been killed (most likely by a fisher) and Spike wandered onto the porch of a house. The dog that lived there came face to face with him, saw him as a threat, and bit him in the head.

When Spike arrived on our doorstep he was about the size of a grapefruit with severe head injuries and neurological damage. As he grew, his physical wounds healed, but it was clear that not everything was well with this little guy. He seemed to not really know what being a porcupine was all about. He didn’t know how to climb trees. He didn’t know what to eat. He didn’t know how to use his defenses. These were all factors that led us to believe he would be a lifer at the center (Eventually we helped Spike to learn all of these skills.)

When you work closely with animals,  you begin to realize that we’re far more alike than we are different. Just like humans, other animals have likes and dislikes, emotions, positive and negative reactions, things that annoy them, favorite things, etc. For Spike, if there was one thing he REALLY did not like, it was the wind. I’m not just talking about your average, run-of-the-mill pet peeve. I mean Spike REALLY, REALLY hated the wind! I’m fairly certain he thought it was personally attacking him every time it appeared.

Most porcupines (the kind that know how to be wild porcupines, that is), will give a series of threats before attacking any perceived danger. They’ll puff up their quills to look much bigger and false charge before ever whacking you with that quill-covered tail. (The idea that porcupines “throw” quills is a complete myth, by the way.) Once they feel they have no option, they’ll whack you with their tale leaving countless quills embedded in your skin/clothing.

Spike, on the other hand, didn’t quite have this whacking motion down. In stead, he would begin what looked like a normal whack of the tail…but then just keep going…round and round. He twirled. Every time the wind came, he just twirled. It was a bit disconcerting at first…just another sign that Spike really didn’t know how to be a porcupine. But eventually he did learn how to use his tail, and in the meantime, it provided endless hours of good laughs. (Seriously, if you’ve never seen a porcupine twirl, you really haven’t lived!)

The greater lesson though, for me, anyway, was in the twirling. By the time Spike had finished his twirling, he was just too darn tired to be mad at the wind anymore. He’d just climb back inside his den and go to sleep. We could all take a lesson from Spike. So many of the things in life that we let get under our skin just aren’t worth a real attack. Whether it’s a person, an event, an opinion…whatever the case may be, perhaps we could all stand to be a bit more like Spike. Rather than launching into a tirade or mounting a full-scale attack, we should all just learn that life could be better, if only we could just…twirl.

So the next time something really gets to you, take a moment. Pause. Hold off on the real attack. Try twirling. And when you’re done, see how you feel. Like Spike, you just might find that you’re not so mad at the wind anymore!

After learning all the necessary skills to be a wild porcupine, Spike was released in the midst of several hundred acres of protected forest in the Spring of 2005.

NOTE: If you believe you have found an injured or orphaned animal, PLEASE contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Remember, it against the law to keep wild animals in your home. If an animal absolutely needs to be moved prior to contacting a rehabber (has been hit by a car and is in the middle of the road, for example), please use the utmost caution if an expert is not available to handle the animal. ALWAYS wear gloves and handle the animal as little as possible. Get a box with holes or a laundry basket to put over the animal to keep it in one place. Remember that injured animals are scared and may not recognize that you are trying to help. No matter how helpless or cute they look, they are still WILD ANIMALS.

The following is a list of resources for finding local wildlife rehabilitators:

Nature’s Fury

For as long as I can remember I have had a reverence and awe of nature that did not mirror my sheltered, small-town experience. I did not grow up in a place where hurricanes or tornadoes threatened our lives or livelihoods. I have never had flood insurance. Even when I lived in California I never felt the ground shake. But I have always stood in admiration and healthy fear of what nature is capable of.

A few years back I had the opportunity to work in Louisiana (post-Katrina/Rita). I met people whose lives, even several years later were forever changed by destruction and loss and the process of moving on when there is no other option. I saw pictures of the places where good friends’ homes had stood. And I saw only water. I visited the places where my company was helping the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers fix the levees and the water control structures. I met with the public. I heard their concerns. And I wondered, what gives people the strength to keep going when it’s still THIS bad THIS long after the hurricanes?

Later that year coworkers of mine readied for a presentation of our model of the early warning tsunami system in the aftermath of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Indonesia and other areas. I was proud that my company was taking part in such meaningful work. But I wondered, how much time will it give people? How much time is needed? How much time is really ever enough?

This morning, as many of you did the same, I learned about the 8.9 quake that hit off the coast of Japan and the tsunami that blasted its coast. It washed away buildings, cars, lives, dreams. I read that the sirens gave residents 15 minutes to prepare. Fifteen minutes. Barely enough time to grab your children and begin to escape. For those of us who have been lucky enough to never face this type of tragedy, I don’t believe we can even begin to imagine its reality. For those who have faced these disasters, who have lived through one or two or more, if they are lucky enough to survive, I can only hope that a day comes when you are able to close your eyes and see beauty rather horror.

In the coming days relief efforts will continue to mount for Japan and other areas affected by this event. For all of us lucky enough to be safe, let’s do what we can. Send out every positive though, prayer, dollar, other donation or volunteer hour.  It truly is the very least we can do at this moment.

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