September 2009 Archives

Pangolins: A Species on the Brink of Extinction

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Pangolins are scaly animals similar to anteaters and armadillos that are found in Southeast Asia and Africa... but not for long. Two of the eight species of pangolins are endangered, but all of them are declining due to habitat loss and hunting. The Chinese use them as medicine: pangolins were once thought a remedy for skin disease and today they are used as a cancer cure. Not only are they used as medicine, they are also eaten as food and turned into jewelry and leather. Their future does not look very favorable.

Ninety-eight pangolins and almost seven pounds of pangolin scales were discovered in the home of a Malaysian poacher and taken away by officials. The guilty poacher could have up to twenty-three years in jail and have to pay a fine. But the pangolins' plight continues.

An Indian pangolin, a third species that will soon be endangered at the current rate, was found in a garden in a city that was expanding rapidly last August. The pangolin was taken to an animal rescue center and later released in a nearby national park. That was the first pangolin to be found in someone's home, but many more will follow into the city built on land that was once the wilderness they roamed.

Although these creatures are in serious danger, they are also interesting and so odd that they're cute. Their scales never stop growing, eventually making up twenty percent of their weight. Pangolins have a sticky tongue that is sixteen inches longer than they are (they range from six to three feet). It is the longest tongue of any mammal (in proportion to size) and is used for their exclusive diet of ants and termites (one pangolin eats up to seventy million insects per year). They compensate for not having teeth by eating stones, which, like birds' stone-filled gizzards, grind their food. So that the ants don't bite them, pangolins have ear and nose covers and thick eyelids. Baby pangolins ride on their mom's tail, hanging on as their pangolin parent wobbles along. These harmless, shy animals will either survive or go extinct depending on what happens. Today they aren't faring very well, and it's up to you to change that. There is even a site dedicated to saving them, with information about this interesting and endangered species.


Arctic Tale: The Sad Story Of Global Warming

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Arctic Tale is the story of a polar bear named Nanu and a walrus named Seela. They start as babies. Nanu and her brother hunt on ice, but Seela spends the days when she's young going on clam hunts. The clams can even "fly" away, leaving Seela and her mother, helper Auntie, and the rest of the herd to catch the ones that stay on the ocean floor.

Then Global Warming begins to disturb the life of these arctic animals. The adorable Ringed Seal pups are left on the ice to the male polar bear's advantage (he later eats them). There is not enough snow for digging birthing caves. The ice is too thin for Nanu's mother to go hunting. An entire walrus herd struggles to survive on a tiny melting iceberg. Finally, they take refuge on Rock Island, which doesn't have much ice, until it is time to go home when the ice has frozen back again. Then, Nanu finally contacts a male polar bear after avoiding them most of her life (in a very playful way), and Seela gives birth to a walrus of her own.


Why Leaves Change Color in Fall

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Trees and bushes colored bright shades of orange, yellow, red, and brown are a familiar sight in fall. They light up the hillsides for a few months, until the leaves fall from the trees. But why does this happen?

When maple trees' leaves are green, they are absorbing sunlight and carbon dioxide. The chlorophyll in the leaves enables them to turn those two ingredients into glucose, a kind of sugar which gives them energy and helps them grow, using a process called photosynthesis. When the photosynthesis stops, the glucose is trapped in the leaf. Sunlight and cold weather turn the glucose red. Oaks turn brown because of the wastes left in their leaves, but the brown leaves don't actually drop from the tree. Instead, they stay on the branches until late winter or early spring, when the new leaves replace the old ones. Other pigments found in leaves called carotenoids are yellow-colored, which is why aspen and larches turn golden. You can't see the colored pigments in summer because the chlorophyll's green coloring is stronger than the others. It is only when the chlorophyll fades out of the leaf that the others are visible.

Later on, in late fall or winter, the deciduous trees lose their leaves because, although their trunk and branches will not freeze, the leaves cannot endure such frigid temperatures. Also, because winter has less sunlight than the other seasons, the leaves cannot make very much energy. It is more efficient for the tree to live off of the energy it stored, just as many hibernating animals live off of the food they ate in the warmer seasons.

Evergreen trees have their own system of coping with winter so that their needles don't freeze. They have a waxy coating on the needles and their cells have fluids that prevent freezing inside them. So while the deciduous trees aren't producing any oxygen, the evergreens take over. This is yet another reason why it's important to conserve these valuable resources.

This is how trees produce the colors commonly termed "fall color" before shedding the leaves, a beautiful annual phenomenon.

A Chipmunk Off The Old Rock

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Chipmunks and Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels (the only similar squirrel) are both furry, cute rodents and they are often confused. Although chipmunks are a subspecies of ground squirrels, they have a few differences.

The Rocky Mountains are populated extensively by these little animals, especially in late spring, summer, and early autumn, when the ground squirrels aren't hibernating. The most common true chipmunk to be found in most parts of the Rockies is the Least Chipmunk, although, when not hibernating, ground squirrels appear more abundant. Chipmunks also hibernate, although that is not true in warm places, where they remain active all year long. Even in places where they do hibernate, they often wake up on warm days to eat the food they stored.

Chipmunks are almost half the size of ground squirrels and move much faster. Chipmunks are also reddish-brown, as opposed to the tan coloring of ground squirrels. But the easiest way to tell them apart is their stripes. Ground squirrels don't have stripes anywhere except on their backs, while chipmunks have stripes both on their backs and over their eyes. When we observed chipmunks and ground squirrels in their natural habitat, we saw that they chased each other, ate the same foods, including wild raspberries, and shared a burrow system in the cracks of some boulders. The chipmunks didn't seem to hibernate. Although they have differences, they have many more things in common than not.

There are twenty five species of chipmunks, and, including both chipmunks and ground squirrels, over 365 species of squirrels. It's easy to see why ground squirrels (who do live on or under the ground) got their name, but the word "chipmunk" isn't so evident. One theory is that because chipmunks make sharp chipping noises with their teeth, they came to be called chitmunks, chipmuck, chipmonk or chip squirrels. Other sources say that chipmunks were named from a Native American word "ajidamoo," which means "red squirrel."

Chipmunks are omnivores, and they eat berries, seeds, insects, flowers, leaves, stems, and other fruits. Sometimes they even scavenge for leftover meat. The ground squirrel is similar, but it also eats piñon nuts and underground fungus, but does not scavenge.

Chipmunks have become adorable cartoon characters, thanks to Chip and Dale, who are constantly dancing around in circles on Mickey Mouse's Christmas tree or scurrying up trees with acorns clutched in their furry paws. Although chipmunks don't actually live in trees, these classic cartoons are very cute, very funny, and give people a positive view of rodents (Tom and Jerry, Mickey Mouse, and others that feature mice or other rodents also have this same effect).

The Road To Aberdeen

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The notorious metallic monsters of the sci-fi movies are fictitious. At least, that's what they're supposed to be. But they're real. For if not monstrous, what are the machines used to cut the logs of Washington State into boards or reduce them down to a sticky pulp? These gigantic tools of destruction are both awful and scary, for they look like horrible monsters with fangs (possibly dripping poison), trying to inflict indescribable pain on things. We had to drive past a factory from the house that we were living in every time we wanted to go to Target or Wal-Mart, but no matter how many times I saw it, it remained a very distressing sight. The plants manufacture boards and planks that are either used locally, in other parts of the United States or shipped abroad. British Columbia, Canada, even manufactures chopsticks for Japan! As you read this, destruction is reigning as the trees, old and new alike, are being sawed down without regard to size, age, or any other category that they could fit into.

Yet that factory was not the worst factory we'd seen. Compared to the most horrible one that any of us had ever seen, that one could have been called environmentally-friendly!

Just outside of Olympic National Park, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, an almost unbelievable tragedy was -and is still- happening. Whole hillsides are getting completely destroyed, not to return for over a lifetime. Magnificent old-growth forests are being turned into devastated graveyards with unwanted trees strewn on the barren hillsides. As you drive through Olympic National Park, overwhelming numbers of 18-wheelers hurtle past, bearing loads of cut logs, many with clumps of moss still clinging to the mottled bark, to the factories where they are cut into boards or pulped into paper while the smokestacks are polluting in great puffs of smoke. And if you look across some lakes to the private property on the other side, the park border is marked by straight lines of trees. The private property is completely barren, having been clearcut by loggers. I found it disappointing when the Obama Administration, even though it is doing many things to help protect the environment, including a recent statement saying that no more roads could be built in national forests, recently approved a logging contract in a roadless Alaskan national forest. George Bush was going to build roads in several national forests to log, but I do not think that the national forests should be cut down, even to provide jobs. Some states use their forests as tourist attractions, generating jobs and money, and if they log it is very seldom and very little at a time. When we were driving towards Aberdeen, the hills were an awful shade of brown. Vast, depressing, and uninhabited, these hills hardly look like what they once were: shady forests where squirrels frisked and owls once swooped down from their perch in the high branches of firs, hemlocks, and spruce, in the soft, dusky evening light. This scene is now uncommon, found only in state and national parks. Now what is left of that landscape is a carpet of broken branches and wood chips with an occasional tiny tree, sprouted from a pinecone left behind or missed by the logger's chainsaws, still standing.

Yet the worst was still to come.

Just outside of Aberdeen, we saw it. We were on a concrete bridge spanning a river adjacent to it, and when we looked down we saw one of the most terrible sights possible to see in the entire state. We'd gotten used to seeing logs that were decaying into "nurse logs" in the rainforests all around the state, but most of those had fallen naturally. And they were only one at a time. What we saw was incomparably different. Huge piles of logs, the bark unevenly stripped off of them, sat in the largest lumberyard any of us had ever seen. To prevent shrinking, the logs had been misted with dirty water, staining them gray in irregular splotches. It was so atrocious that I could not bear to look at it any longer than I had to. It was the worst thing I'd ever seen. It still is.

In American folktales, loggers are made heroes by legend. Paul Bunyan, the famed "lumberjack," is actually considered a good guy because he could cut down hundreds of trees with one swing of his axe. But by destroying the trees, people are destroying themselves. These giants are the source of oxygen and without them we will not have so many renewable sources of fresh air in the world. As if to prove this point, many trees are endangered. The Bigleaf Mahogany, found in Central America, is number eight on the Top Ten Endangered Species list. This species of mahogany is very valuable-one square meter is generally 1,300 dollars.

This is an important issue and species will continue to lose their habitat, resulting in many going extinct. Every second, an area of the Amazon rainforest the size of one and a half football fields is burned to make room for farmland. People must react to this ongoing injustice, or we will have a plain, ugly, and lifeless world. Today millions of trees are being sliced up into useless furniture that no one needs, into wood pellets for wood-burning stoves, and into a thousand other things that are unnecessary.  Having a little wood furniture is not terrible, but buying more than you really need is. Instead of wood-burning stoves, which not only use wood but also pollute, electric heaters or, even better, wearing sweaters are much better alternatives. Even pencils use much more wood than buying mechanical pencils and refilling them, in which case the only wood is in the cardboard packaging. (If possible, buy things with the least packaging possible.) It is very important to conserve this resource, for if this devastating logging continues, the hillsides will be gray, global warming will not end, and millions of animals, both known and unknown to science, will become extinct. Because today we are headed down the infamous road to Aberdeen.
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If you really want to interest the birds, there's only one thing to do. And that's to sing birdsongs with them. The bird then sees interest in you: you have learned to talk its language and it thinks you're another bird.

    "Caw, Caw!" the crow tries to chase anything away from its territory that it feels threatened by. I usually reply to them to arouse their curiosity: "Caw, Caw!"

    Not just crows will reply back, however. Mallard Ducks, Magpies, Songbirds, Owls, and other birds will answer when you speak their language. Though they vary in how many quacks or caws they give, they like it if you do the same number they do.

New Species Of Rodent Discovered Inside Volcano

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bsvwlyrt3.jpgA new rat has been found inside a volcano, one of the least explored places on the earth. It is a Giant Woolly Rat and it lives in the area encircled by Mount Bosavi, an inactive volcano. The species is called a Bosavi Woolly Rat, and it can measure up to 3 feet long. 40 previously unknown species were found inside the same crater in the forests of Papua New Guinea. The volcano was being filmed for a nature program by BBC entitled Lost Land of The Volcano. Other recent discoveries include a tiny opossum that belongs to the genus Cercartetus that may be a species never discovered before. There are millions more of these undiscovered species, and we will keep finding them as long as they are still surviving.
Wolves in Montana and Idaho aren't going to remain there very long. They have been taken off of the Endangered Species list, and it is now legal to kill them. On September 1, the first wolf (in Idaho) was killed. Today, Montana's wolf hunting season officially opens. Last year, there were 39 pairs of breeding wolves in Idaho, while Montana only supported 34. But that's only 146 wolves, and although the younger ones aren't included, that is not nearly enough. Idaho is allowing 255 wolves to be killed, and Montana 75. According to Earthjustice, an environmental site that reported on this issue, "...the Fish and Wildlife Service authorized Idaho and Montana to reduce their wolf populations from a current population of roughly 1,500 wolves to only 200-300 wolves in the two states."  Earthjustice went to court to reverse the wolf hunting policy and, although the court agreed that taking them off of the Endangered Species list was unlawful, they would not stop it.

But more wolves than that will be killed. Farmers also kill wolves because they are supposedly interfering with their livestock, or because they are merely on their land. In Idaho, there is no limit to how many wolves farmers can kill because of their animals. In the state of Oregon, they had three pairs of wolves. But one pair got into trouble because farmers were upset because the wolves had killed some of their livestock. So they tried putting up fences, but the farmers still viewed them as threats. The wolves were killed, and now Oregon has only two pairs of wolves. The 330 wolves legally permitted to be killed are not including those totals, nor are they counting the wolves that will die naturally. Taking them off of the Endangered Species list would have been terrible, but allowing them to be killed will put them right back on it. It is yet another tragedy which conservationists are trying to stop, but wolves are already dying. Soon it will be too late for the recovery of this disappearing species.

About Us: Katrianna and Mikaela Brisack

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The environment is in serious danger. Around the world, trees are being logged and the resulting habitat loss is making increasing amounts of species endangered. The pines of North America are being eaten by pine beetles and the mountains are graying, leaving local residents waiting for a forest fire. Global warming is melting the frozen ground of the Arctic, leaving polar bears stranded on the cracking ice. Elephants, pandas, lions, tigers, and hundreds of other animals are being illegally poached worldwide. Twenty-five percent of all mammals are predicted to go extinct; thirty-three percent of all marine mammals are expected to soon vanish. It is a critical predicament and one that will not be easily stopped.

We started this blog to oppose the ongoing injustices done to animals and plants throughout the world. More and more people are concerned about what is happening, but few actually make the necessary changes to the current plight of the environment. This is a very important issue, and the choices you make daily may eventually lead to a lifeless world or a perfect planet, depending on how you take action. That's why it's essential to consider what you are doing before you do it to prevent making an ecological mistake. And that's why we are blogging.

Mikaela Brisack is an environmentalist, a writer, a vegetarian, and an older sister. She enjoys hiking, reading books, especially classics (Jane Austen and George Eliot are her favorite authors, and she's read all of the Louisa May Alcott books), solving word puzzles, taking pictures on her digital camera, and playing games with Katrianna, her little sister (although Mikaela has only won Monopoly once in her entire Monopoly-playing career). Mikaela's mom, who was a teacher, homeschools them, and they are traveling the world, hiking and sight-seeing.

Katrianna Brisack is an environmentalist. She became interested in apes when, as a toddler, she watched a monkey TV show called Zoboomafoo. She turned vegetarian at 5 years old. Environmental experiences include watching logging trucks carry their once-living cargo to factories to be used around the world, looking on as miners destroy entire mountains for things that we don't really need, and seeing pine beetles destroy entire mountainsides that were once green. She likes to hike, watch wildlife, talk to birds and cultivate houseplants, as well as watch the stars and come up with theories about how the universe evolved.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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