Stories tagged conservation


Just a crazed wolf man: Looking a little more crazed than usual, it should be said. He had a long night.
Just a crazed wolf man: Looking a little more crazed than usual, it should be said. He had a long night.Courtesy Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin
I’m trying a little bit of a new format out here for Buzz posts, so bear with me. If it’s successful, my soft fingers will be saved much harmful typing, and science news can be enjoyed like a blockbuster preview, or maybe a musical montage. And so…


“Multi-millionaire Paul Lister…the son of the founder of a UK furniture retailer…”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”

Hulda and Hercules…a $31,630 pair of moose…now roam alongside newly released wild boar.”

“‘It’s not about conservation…it’s about restoration.’”

If bears and wolves were introduced, business…would increase tenfold.”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”

“Farmers, ramblers and neighboring landowners remain skeptical…of wolves.”

“‘It’s almost like a scientific experiment.’”

Control the deer populationexpensive cullingtrampling of saplings.”

“A historical character called the Wolf of Badenoch…a highland clan chieftain…a raider…a rampager.”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”

“Proposed reintroduction of the beaver.”

“‘It would probably run away if you came upon it.’”

“Wolves…complicated and costly…killed livestock…wolf population can multiply and spread rapidly.”

Have them neutered.”

“‘Biodiversity has lead people astray…’”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”

(If scientists don’t blow it up first.)

Farmers in Brazil have traditionally cut down large swaths of rain forest to plant cacao trees – the source of chocolate. But these high-yield plantations ravaged the rain forest, depleted the land, and suffered numerous outbreaks of disease. A new method of planting, called cabruca, plants cacao trees right inside the rain forest itself. Only a few rain forest tress are cut down – the forest itself remains intact. The forest nourishes the cacao trees and protects them from plantation diseases. And while the amount of chocolate grown in this manner is smaller than can be grown on a plantation, the farmers can make up the difference by charging a higher price for “environmentally friendly chocolate.”

Rather than trying to evict people from India’s Nagarjuna Sagar national park, rangers are working with villagers, farmers and herders to get them to help protect the forest’s vanishing tigers. By showing the people the importance of the forest to their livelihoods, they take steps to protect is from poachers and wood cutters.


Rachel Carson, inspiration for the modern environmental movement: Photo from US Fish & Wildlife Service
Rachel Carson, inspiration for the modern environmental movement: Photo from US Fish & Wildlife Service

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, whom many credit as the inspiration for the modern environmental movement. Her 1962 book Silent Spring warned the world of the dangers of environmental degradation, especially due to the overuse of chemical pesticides. The book stirred millions of people worldwide to take action. In the United States, we saw the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency – all the result of the movement Carson inspired.

Today, our air and water are cleaner thanks to these actions, and dangerous chemicals are more closely regulated. But some people are re-evaluating Carson’s legacy, especially with regards to the pesticide DDT. Carson explained how insects absorbed the poisonous chemical. Birds which ate enough insects often died themselves, or would have trouble hatching eggs. Carson promoted restricting the use of DDT.

However, some of her followers went further, pushing for a total ban of DDT in many countries. Unfortunately, DDT is extremely effective at killing mosquitoes that spread malaria – a disease that kills some one million people each year. Responsible, limited use of DDT could save millions of lives.

(Science Buzz has discussed malaria here and here,and the possible effects of preventative measures such as mosquito nets, drugs, and genetic engineering.)

Carson’s legacy reminds us not only of the importance of protecting our environment, but also that one person can have a tremendous impact. It also reminds us that even the best ideas can have unintended consequences, and any major changes need to be undertaken in a balanced, rational and flexible manner.


Awwww, cuuuute!: Photogenic species get more attention from conservation groups than ugly ones do. Photo NSF.

Giant pandas. Bald eagles. Sea turtles. Certain animals elicit a strong emotional response from people. Conservation efforts focused on these “charismatic megafauna” often meet with success.

But there are other endangered species as well. The red rat snake. The white wartyback mussel. The dromedary jumping slug. These creatures all perform important ecological services. But it’s a lot harder to get people excited about saving a slug.

David Stokes, a biologist at the University of Washington, studied popular penguin books and found that species with a little bit of color in their plumage get a disproportionate amount of attention, even though the plain black-and-white ones may be more endangered.

Stokes feels conservation groups need to figure out what features of an animal catch our attention, and then use that to help the less-photogenic animals. Emphasizing beautiful color might help some of the “ugly” species I listed above.

For a slide show on Stokes’ work, go here.


Bald eagle: Photo US Geologic Survey
Bald eagle: Photo US Geologic Survey

Ed Contoski has a problem. He wants to sell some of his land in central Minnesota. But a pair of bald eagles are nesting there. The eagles are listed as endangered species by the Fish and Wildlife Service, so the land cannot be developed. Which means no one's going to want to buy it.

The thing is, the bald eagle has recovered pretty nicely in the wild. In the last 40 years, the population has grown from under 500 nesting pairs to over 9,000. President Clinton asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list the eagle in 1999, but they never got around to it. Contoski sued, and the judge ordered FWS to de-list the eagle by February 16, 2007. Recently, FWS asked for more time, and the judge extended the deadline to June 29.

Some people think that FWS, under pressure from environmental groups, is using the Endangered Species Act to stop development, and unfairly deprive a citizen of the use of his land. Others say a decision this important should not be rushed. What do you think? Leave a comment.


Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby
Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby

Lets go on a diet.

I am going on an energy diet. Each year I hope to reduce the amount of energy I use. By recording the gallons of gas, the electricity, and the natural gas I pay for each year, I will measure my success.

What will you give up?

“The Energy Diet,” a story in Thursday’s Home & Garden section of the New York Times gave me this idea. Its author, Andrew Postman, asks, "What would you be willing — or not willing — to give up in order to lessen your household’s impact on the environment?" So far, 159 people have answered in their comments.

Tell us what you are doing.

Please use comments to tell me what you are doing to reduce your energy consumption. I will add the most commonly used ones to this list.

    Change incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs(CFLs)
    Dial down the thermostat in the winter.
    Dress warmer and exercise to warm up if needed.
    Reduce the number of times you run to the store, etc. (make a list and buy lots at a time)

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv

I was amazed today when I cracked open my new copy of Harper's Magazine. In the Harper's Index feature I discovered this chilling fact about our dwindling world tiger population. There are about as many tigers living in the wild around the world as there are living as pets in the US?! That's simply absurd. These wild animals were not meant to be domesticated and keeping them as pets won't help grow their numbers in the wild.

However, searching around on this topic did lead me to a rather interesting blog focusing on the issues of conservation, specifically through the lens of finance. They recently highlighted China's unique efforts at tiger conservation, which involve breeding tigers in China and shipping them to a fenced-in preserve in South Africa. But most interestingly this blog focusses on some real world situations that can be solved within our current economic system. According to the blog's author:

Good intentions are not enough. We need business models that are financially, institutionally and technically viable, based on evidence, and provide incentives to encourage biodiversity conservation.

I couldn't agree more, so head on over to the Conservation Finance blog and specifically their posts on wildlife conservation to learn more.


Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah
Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah

Look for the 123 ft wind turbine blade

Going to Minnesota's State air? Don't miss the Eco Experience in the Progress Center building. Look for the 123ft. tall blade from a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine. It is at the NW corner near Snelling. Like everything served on a stick, this could be "wind on a stick".

Minnesota Public Radio website has a slideshow of what you will see. The exhibits within have a strong emphasis on energy to use the energy you do use carefully. Below is a breakdown of topics and activities. Each link will take you to more information. Also here is a map (pdf).

The Eco Experience is an opportuity to talk with and learn from regional leaders in energy conservation. The University of Minnesota's solar race car is there as well as lots of ideas you can use in your homes. Maybe I will see you there. I plan to volunteer at the University of Minnesota – Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) booth. The Minnesota pollution control website has links to other participant websites.


Sneaky videos
Sneaky videos

Cy Tymony, author of the great book, Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things, is sponsoring a contest for science fair projects on conservation. Just make a how-to video about your project on alternative energy or conservation, upload it to You-Tube, and you can be entered to win a DVD player, a portable MP3 Player with thumb drive and a USB WiFi adapter. If you post your videos make sure to add them to the Recycle Reuse Rethink Energy Usage group.

I'm excited for this project because it not only inspires kids to hunt out alternative energy and conservation ideas but also encourages them to document their work. This will help support the idea that science is a process involving research as well as communication.

To get inspired check out the videos that Cy has already posted. My favorite is the cool hidden pocket how-to. I know its not energy focused, but it's still a great example.