Stories tagged conservation

Apr
04
2006

Spotted Owl: Spotted owl (Courtesy John and Karen Hollingsworth, US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Spotted Owl: Spotted owl (Courtesy John and Karen Hollingsworth, US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Remember the spotted owl? Back in the 80s and 90s, the spotted owl was in the news quite a bit when it was designated an endangered species and its habitat, the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, was protected. Given that the habitat of the spotted owl was also the source of income for a large number of people in the region, environmentalists, politicians, and area residents squared off. It was, and continues to be, a contentious issue. While protecting the habitat of the spotted owl makes sense, does it continue to make sense if it is at the expense of the livelihoods of hundreds of families? This issue is discussed in detail in the Hunters of the Sky exhibition, which will be at the Science Museum this fall.


The spotted owl made news again recently, this time because US Fish and Wildlife service had planned to hire a contractor to develop a recovery plan for the spotted owl, but due to federal budget cuts now finds that it will have to develop the plan on its own. Seems weird to me that this would be something that the US Fish and Wildlife would contract out, and it also seems weird that a plan for the species had not even been developed yet. I know that the issue is controversial, but it has been over 15 years since the owl was designated an endangered species – it would seem that a plan for saving an animal from extinction would be something that would need to be developed quickly. However, lawsuits have kept the plan in limbo while the spotted owl population continues to dwindle through loss of habitat from wildfires, disease, and competition from the barred owl for nests. The decision could be made for us if something is not done soon.

Mar
17
2006


Wolf: Image courtesy International Wolf Center.

Yesterday the Science Museum of Minnesota opened a small traveling exhibition called Living With Wolves in the 21st Century that compares the wolves of North America within a world perspective and examine ways humans determine wolf survival. Coincidentally, yesterday U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton initiated a federal plan to move the management of gray wolves in Minnesota and other Great Lakes states to tribal and state agencies. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun the process of taking wolves off the endangered species list in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, because their populations have recovered under the federal protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are nearly 4,000 gray wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, which is up from between 700 and 1,000 when the gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1974.

Read the press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more information. Comments on this proposal can be submitted by e-mail to [email protected]

Mar
13
2006

Peregrine Falcon: Peregrine Falcon.  Courtesy Craig Koppie, US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Peregrine Falcon: Peregrine Falcon. Courtesy Craig Koppie, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The peregrine falcons at the High Bridge power plant usually lay eggs in mid- to late March. The female lays one egg every 2 to 3 days, with an average total clutch of 3 to 4 eggs. It's 33 to 35 days until the eggs hatch; during that time, the female spends most of the time on the nest incubating the eggs and the male does most of the hunting and brings her food.

Once the young hatch, the female cares for them continuously for the first few days and then her attention slowly wanes as the chicks get stronger. The chicks will remain in the nest for 35 to 42 days after hatching. At some point during this time the chicks will be banded with their identification number and name them so they can be tracked in the future.

And this is where you come in. Submit your ideas for names for the potential falcon chicks at the High Bridge power plant in the comment section below. (Names can't be reused, so we've provided a list of those already taken.) If the falcons produce a clutch of eggs, we'll select the best names from your submissions and post them in a poll for everyone to vote on in a few weeks. The top vote getters in the poll will be the names given to any chicks that survive and are banded.

So — what do you think? What's a good name for a falcon? Don't forget to check the polls page in a few weeks to see what names have been selected and vote for the best one!

Here are the names that are already taken:

Abby, Alice, Allie, Alpha, Amanda, Amilia, Amy, Andrea, Andy, Angel, Anton, Apryl, Barbara, Belinda, Ben, Berger, Bern, Bert, Bertha, Beta, Bolt, Bomber, Bor, Brice, Britta, Burt, Buzz, Candy, Cassie, Charlee, Charlie, Cherokee, Chicklet, Chris, Cleo, CoCo, Cole, Colleen, Coz, Craig, Crystal, Cyndi, Dale, Dana, Danberg, Davey, Dawn, Delene, Delta, Diamond, Diana, Diane, Dick, Dixie Chick, Donna, Doolittle, Dot, Ed, Eileen, Elaine, Electra, Esperanza, Faith, Fast Track, Fluffy, Fran, Frank, Gamma, George, Gib, Gloria, Gold, Gretta, Grunwald, Harmony, Hickey, Hippie, Hope, Horus, Hotshot, Howard, Hunter, Huske, Irvine, Isabel, Jackie, Jacob, Jan, Janice, Jasmine, Jay, JB, Jenny, Jessy, Jim, Joe, Joe, Judy, Julie, Kali, Karlsen, Katraka, Kester, Kitty, Kody, Kramer, Krista, Laura, Leo, Leon, Leona, Leonardo, Liberty, Lightning, Lily, Linton, Lolo, Lon, Lora, Loree, Loretta, Lori, Louise, Lucky, Mac, Maggie, Malin, Manthey, Mapper, Marie, Marshall, Marty, Mary, Maude, Mew, Mica, Michael, Michelle, Minnie, Miranda, Miss, Miss Pam, Mulder, Murphy, Neil, Nero, Nicole, Nora, Oar, Orville, Oscar, Pam, Pamella, PF Flyer, Pathfinder, Penelope, Penny, Phyllis, Polly, Porky, Prescott, Princess, Putnam, Quark, Queen, Rachael, Ralph, Razor, Red Ed, Rick, Rochelle, Rocket, Rocky, Romeo, Ryan, Ryu, Sarah, Scarlet, Screech, Scully, Seminoe, Shakespeare, Sharky, Sheri, Sheridan, Sherlie, Smoke, Smokey, Sonic, Sophia, Speedy, Spider, Spirit, Spivvy, Static, Stephanie, Sue, Survivor, Swoop, Terri, Thelma, Thunder, Travis, Tundra, Vector, VernaMae, Veronica, Waldo, Wanda, Warren, Wayne, Webster, Wilbur, Willie, Wood, Younger, Zack, Zippidy

Feb
22
2006

The Science Museum's neighbor, the Xcel Energy High Bridge power plant, will be undergoing a significant construction project in the coming months. As part of a larger project called Metro Emissions Reduction Project (MERP) Xcel Energy has started working on a $1 billion program that will reduce emissions from three metro area plants (the High Bridge Plant being one) and increase power generating capacity.

Generator: Working principle of a combined cycle power plant.Courtesy Alureiter


Xcel - Current: Existing High Bridge plant. Image courtsey Xcel Energy.

The High Bridge power plant is being converted from a coal burning plant to a combined-cycle natural gas plant. Combined power plants generate electricity from two sources - a gas turbine generator that is powered by natural gas and a steam turbine generator that is powered by the heat exhaust from the gas turbine generator. This use of the gas to essentially power two different types of generators is a more efficient use of resources than the coal burning power plant. As a result of this change, air emissions from the High Bridge power plant will be significantly reduced. Sulfur dioxide emissions will be reduced 99.7%, nitrogen oxide 96.9% and particulate matter 91.5%, while mercury pollution will be completely eliminated.


Xcel - New: High Bridge plant after construction is complete - artist's rendition courtsey Xcel Energy.

My first thought after hearing this (and after having to put gas in my car and heat my home the past few months) was that switching to natural gas is not a very economical situation given current gas prices. However, Xcel says that:

Although natural gas prices have increased, this conversion makes sense for the long term. The gas market is subject to short-term volatility, but the plants will operate for another 30 years so it's the long-term projections that are most important.

If you are in the downtown area in the coming weeks you may hear construction noise from the site as the nearly 1,200 steel pilings for the new power plant are driven into the ground for the new plant's footings. Testing of the new power plant will begin around September 2007 and run through March 2008. The plant is expected to begin commercial operation in May 2008, and demolition of the old plant will start shortly thereafter.

For more information visit Xcel Energy's web pages on the conversion.

Feb
12
2006

It's a pretty amazing world we live in. Dozens of new species are discovered within days of more nearing extinction. I've heard it many times, and it seems almost corny to repeat it, but it has to be true that species have become extinct due habitat destruction, invasive species and who knows what else that we didn't even know existed.


Female mountain yellow-legged frog: Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An example of one "what else" is the story of what's happening to the mountain yellow-legged frog. This little fellow would seem to be quite the survivor, living up to nine months under snow and ice in the Sierra Nevada range. The populations of these frogs were at one time so great that they were practically a tripping hazard. However this frog is headed towards extinction, fast.

But interestingly, it's not entirely our fault. Introducing trout to the lakes that the frogs had called home for sport fishing and forcing them into smaller more isolated lakes has not helped matters, nor has agricultural pollutants transported to the area by prevailing winds, but it turns out the biggest culprit is a fungus.

The chytrid fungus has caused frog extinctions in other countries, and grows on the skin of the frog, making it hard for them to properly use their pores to control their water intake — they die of thirst while they are living in water. And it is not just the mountain yellow-legged frog that is dying from this fungus, the boreal toad population in Rocky Mountain National Park is also being decimated by this fungus.

And because it is a fungus, not people that are pushing the frogs to extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is struggling to declare the frog an endangered species. Since the fungus is natural and not the by-product of agricultural waste or pollution, it is hard to secure funding to save a frog afflicted with it. Why save a frog that is dying through no fault of ours?

What do you think? Should funding be set aside to save species from extinction if they are becoming extinct through natural causes? Or should we focus our resources on trying to save species that are facing extinction as a direct result of our actions?

Feb
10
2006

I saw a bald eagle yesterday as I was driving along the Mississippi near downtown St. Paul. Something about those birds makes me want to stop what I am doing and just watch them soar. Hard to do when you're driving.


Eagle: Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Anyway, that got me thinking that I've seen more bald eagles in the past 12 months from or near the Science Museum than I have ever before. I wonder what is making them more prevalent. Is it the fact that the temperatures are more moderate? Or that the river is not iced over?

It turns out that the Mississippi River is a popular location for bald eagles to over winter and even to live year round and it's the open water they like, because it makes hunting easier. Hard to catch a fish that's protected by a layer of ice, I guess.

Liza wrote a great blog on eagles about a year ago. Check it out for more information as well as a bunch of great eagle resources.