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Happy Birthday, LBJ!

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Lyndon and Lady Bird.jpgTo sustain an environment suitable for man, we must fight on a thousand battlegrounds. Despite all of our wealth and knowledge, we cannot create a redwood forest, a wild river, or a gleaming seashore. But we can keep those we have.                                                                                                               -- Lyndon Baines Johnson


Lyndon.jpgLauded for his contributions to civil rights and maligned for his role in the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson is seldom hailed as a great environmentalist. His sweeping domestic program, the Great Society, is usually thought of as an economic agenda. Of course, he was deeply committed to putting "an end to poverty and racial injustice," as he explained in May 1964 to the graduating class of the University of Michigan. "But," he continued, "that is just the beginning." Listing his goals, he declared that it was vitally important to ensure that everyone had access to "a place where man can renew contact with nature."

LBJ also understood that many people, especially the poor, were isolated from natural beauty. Places like Yellowstone and Yosemite were great, but they were also very remote. Lyndon's job was fusing the traditional conservation movement with the changing realities of America's increasingly urban society. "We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities," he explained. Urging local governments to beautify towns and create city parks and greenways, Lyndon pledged to create new parks and recreation areas within driving distance of major cities.

In February 1965, he spoke to Congress about conservation: "Association with beauty can enlarge man's imagination and revive his spirit. Ugliness can demean the people who live among it. What a citizen sees every day is his America. If it is attractive it adds to the quality of his life. If it is ugly it can degrade his existence."

Lyndon Johnson passed more National Park Service-related legislation than any other president, creating a staggering 52 parks, recreation areas, national historic sites, wildernesses, monuments, seashores, lakeshores and memorials! He even set aside working farms and created a national park dedicated to the performing arts (Wolf Trap National Park, in Virginia). Moreover, he created the National Parks Foundation, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Trails System. Among the diverse group of historic sites and national landmarks set aside during the Johnson Administration are:

Lady Bird wildflower.jpg•    Biscayne National Park, Florida
•    North Cascades National Park and San Juan Island National Historic Park, Washington
•    Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
•    Arches National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, Utah
•    Redwoods National Park and John Muir National Historic Site, California
•    Eisenhower National Historic Site, Pennsylvania
•    Agate Fossil Beds National Park, Nebraska
•    Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland-Virginia
•    Herbert Hoover National Park, Iowa
•    Roger Williams National Historic Park, Rhode Island
•    Roosevelt Campobello International Park, Maine-Canada
•    Ellis Island National Monument and Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, New York
•    Padre Island National Seashore and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
•    John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, Massachusetts

(Fittingly, LBJ's ranch is now a national park in its own right.)

At the urging of his wife, Lady Bird, he championed the Highway Beautification Act. This law tore down billboards and removed "beauty-destroying junkyards and auto graveyards," planting flowers and trees in their place. As Lyndon said, "The roads themselves must reflect, in location and design, increased respect for the natural and social integrity and unity of the landscape and communities through which they pass."

With the help of the Democratic Congress, he passed dozens of bills designed to limit pollution, preserve rare habitats and protect endangered species, like the Air and Water Quality Acts, the Pesticides Control Act, the Wetlands Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

And now... Test your environmental knowledge with this word search! When you're done, copy the unused letters into the blanks to discover a little-known fact about LBJ...

Lyndon wordsearch.jpg

Here are the answers (no peeking!)


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LBJ house.jpg

Crocodile Crossword

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croccross.jpg
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If you need help figuring out the clues, you can try consulting any of these websites:

American Crocodile Facts, Defenders of Wildlife
American Crocodiles, National Geographic
American Crocodile, Wikipedia
Crocodile, Wikipedia
Saurian (definition), Dictionary.com

After you finish solving the puzzle, check your answers below (no peeking!):

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California Condors: 9-foot Thunderbirds

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cndr.jpgCalifornia condors are remarkable birds. They have a nine-foot wingspan, the largest of any North American bird! They are so large that they are more often mistaken for airplanes than other birds. Due to their size, Native Americans called them "thunderbirds," because the sound of their wings flapping purportedly made thunder. They are mostly black, with white patches under the wings. Another myth, from the Chumash tribe, tells that condors once had white feathers, but were burned when they got too close to a fire.

The critically endangered condors are in the same family as vultures, and many vultures are scavengers, meaning that they eat the remnants of dead animals. Unlike some vultures, however, condors do not have a particularly good sense of smell, instead using their sharp eyes to find food. They do not have talons and cannot carry prey, so they eat 2-3 pounds of food at a sitting and then sit for a day to recover! They are so big that they intimidate most would-be competitors for food. Even bears ignore them, and golden eagles are the only species that will fight them. Dominant, older birds eat before the younger ones.

Condors mate for life. When a male spots a potential mate, his head turns bright red and he walks towards her with his wings spread. If she lowers her head, it means she accepts. Although no actual nest is built, they lay their eggs in hard-to-access caves in rocky cliffs. Incubation takes two months, with the parents taking turns sitting on the egg.

At one point, there were thousands of condors in the wild. Ten thousand years ago, they lived on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, from British Columbia to Baja California and from New York to Florida. However, they were endangered by many factors. They were hunted (particularly for museums) and poisoned by DDT. They got lead poisoning by scavenging dead animals killed by hunters who used lead bullets. Their habitat was also destroyed, and, as more people moved in, condor collisions with power lines increased. Additionally, people collected the condors' eggs. In the Gold Rush, condors were even turned into pets. The entire California condor population was reduced to 22 birds.

condorbaby3.jpgCaptive breeding programs saved the condors. In the wild, condors are slow breeders, but they "double-clutch," or lay a second egg if the first one is lost or taken. So scientists took the condors' first eggs, allowing the pairs to raise the second eggs. The first eggs were put in an incubator until they hatched, when the chicks were fed with condor puppets and recordings of condor sounds were played to them. In twenty years, the population grew to 200 birds.

Today there are 369 condors in the world, and 190 of these are wild. However, they are not safe. Some of them have been killed by coyotes or eagles. Some still flew into power lines, but now before new birds are released they "undergo a power pole aversion training program which uses mock power poles that deliver a small electric shock to the birds when they try to land on them," according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This has effectively stopped the collisions. They are also accidentally hunted, or are poisoned by chemicals. Lead poisoning from scavenged meat is still one of the biggest threats. Since reintroduction, 15 condors have died from lead poisoning. (Nine of the cases were proven, and six were recorded as very likely.) Recently, lead ammunition has been banned within the condors' range. Although some people refuse to comply with this law, it has reduced the risk. They have been reintroduced to parts of California, Arizona, and Utah. They are still very rare, but their populations are increasing. Captive breeding and careful conservation seem to have saved this magnificent raptor.

Tasmanian Devils

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Taz.jpgThe Tasmanian devil is a bearlike marsupial native to Australia. It is the size of a small dog. Young are called joeys, imps or pups. They were killed until the 1990s because they were seen as a threat to sheep and other livestock. Occasionally a pack of tasmanian devils would eat a weak sheep. So, in 1923 alone, 900,000 devils were killed.

At Lake Nitchie, a 7000-year-old human skeleton was found wearing a devil's-tooth necklace. This was mistakenly interpreted to mean that Aboriginal Australians killed off the Tasmanian devil in mainland Australia. But there is no evidence that the Aboriginal Australians ate any carnivorous animal, so it is unlikely that hunting caused the extinction. 
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Their closest relative is the thylacine, which looks like a dog. It is now extinct. The thylacine, like the Tasmanian devil, was accused of hunting livestock and a bounty was given out by the government for each thylacine killed. No attempts were made to save even the last wild thylacine. They were only protected 59 days before the last captive thylacine died. 

Even though populations of Tasmanian devils in the wild are slowly growing again, unfortunately a disease has been among them and they are having to quarantine most healthy specimens. Despite their name, Tasmanian devils can be very cute (like the one above), and we want to save them. (They are not normally considered "nice," but they are only following their instincts.) So now it's time to watch some Taz cartoons!

Black-footed Ferrets

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blfofe.jpgBefore 1851, no one had heard of a black-footed ferret. That was the year in which John James Audubon and John Bachman wrote a book together titled The Quadrupeds of North America. This was the first work to mention the species, but it was still more than twenty-five years before their existence was proven. (Audubon, who sometimes killed fifty birds of one species to produce one painting, only got to see one ferret while working on his book, which was not enough evidence to prove that the black-footed ferret was a new species.)

Although they lived throughout the Great Plains, the ferret population has been falling ever since we first knew about them. One reason for this is that the ferrets are so dependent on prairie dogs, a species of ground squirrel. Not only are these rodents their staple food, the ferrets also cannot dig their own burrows and are squatters in prairie dog towns. When settlers moved west, many became farmers. They plowed under the prairie dog towns and hunted or poisoned many of the animals. Both the prairie dogs and the ferrets grew increasingly fewer.

Then, in 1981, a Wyoming dog named Shep found a ferret. Eventually, the animal was identified and its colony -- of about 130 animals -- found. However, this population quickly plummeted due to canine distemper and sylvatic plague. In 1986, the remaining 18 animals had to be removed from the colony. The ferret was extinct in the wild.

At this time, there were only fifty captive black-footed ferrets in the world. After years of captive breeding, the first place to reestablish a small colony was Wyoming in 1991. Now, there are fifteen established fesnyngs (or businesses: the name for a group of ferrets) in the wild, in eight US states as well as Mexico and Canada.

There are, however, still threats to their survival. Their close relationship with prairie dogs does not aid their recovery. Prairie dogs are often viewed as pests because they prevent farmers from growing crops in certain areas by rooting up the plants around their burrows. Their tunnels also make the ground less stable and more prone to collapse if animals are turned out to graze.

Because of these things, many people dislike prairie dogs. Even today they are hunted, both commercially and privately. To eradicate colonies, they are poisoned, which indirectly affects many other species. Two of the popular poisons, Rozol and the recently approved Kaput-D, contain chemicals that thin the prairie dogs' blood until they bleed to death. Not only is this horrible for the prairie dogs, any animal that eats them will encounter the same fate. Black-footed ferrets, swift foxes, American badgers, ferruginous hawks, and golden and bald eagles all prey on prairie dogs. An infected animal is easy to catch because it becomes unable to move quickly or control its motions, so many of these predators are suffering secondary poisoning. Additionally, mountain plovers and burrowing owls live and nest in prairie dog burrows and can also become infected.

Another threat to ferrets is disease, particularly sylvatic plague. Luckily, the animals can be immunized against the disease, and all ferrets born in captivity are required to be given two shots of the medicine. Although prairie dogs are also susceptible to this, it has been found more difficult to protect all of the wild colonies from the bacteria. One widespread method was to spray each burrow with flea-killing pesticides, but scientists realized that this was probably too expensive and hard to do and maintain. There had to be an easier way to accomplish this. Finally, they developed a medicine that could be mixed in with food left for the prairie dogs to eat. This also proved more efficient than the pesticides. Additionally, these studies will benefit other species susceptible to the sylvatic plague, both wild rodents and some pets.

There are now more than 1,500 ferrets throughout the established colonies, so the species has been upgraded from extinct in the wild to endangered. Although the number is low, it is still a success considering how few animals lived at one point. Black-footed ferrets are considered the most endangered mammal in North America, but the numbers are still rising to the extent that they may become relatively common over time. The current ambition is to establish ten breeding populations in the wild. When this is met, the ferret can be listed as threatened, instead of endangered. When this happens, the ferret will have returned.

Less Fog Means Withering Redwoods?

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rdwd1.jpgBesides the obvious issues that global warming introduces, like the melting of the polar icecaps or the rising ocean levels, issues affecting smaller areas are still disastrous. They are determining the future of our everyday lives and the land set aside permanently as national parks. According to a recent National Geographic news article, redwood trees, the world's tallest living things, may go extinct. We might have seen them just in time.

When we were staying in CA, sometimes we would be driving in at night. We lived about 45 minutes away from the beach, so the fog would drift in over the road and make it nearly impossible to see. We would cross over Golden Gate Bridge and look down at the gently rolling mists. While they made it harder to drive, they were also essential to the survival of these botanical giants.

The clouds kept the conifers moist, at exactly the climate they required. A hundred years ago, there was no threat from global warming. A university study said that there has been a 33 percent reduction in the amount of coastal fog produced today when compared to the data from a century ago.

The redwoods only live in the humid areas near the coast, where the fog keeps them watered. Because they have adapted to this ecosystem, they cannot live long in a drought by shutting down their systems to conserve water, as other desert plants do. This means that if there is nothing that can be done, the redwoods may dry out and wither. Some other species of tree, however, can adjust to living with less fog by not growing as quickly as they do in years when water is plentiful.

We went to Humboldt State Park on a mostly overcast, cold day. Logging had thinned many of the forests; the largest existing piece of hewn redwood, made into one person's RV, is on display at the park's visitor center. Early environmentalists had preserved large groves, which have been turned into state parks. To this day, the groves bear names like "Founders Grove," or "Rockefeller's Grove," after these early conservationists.

The tallest tree blew over in a storm a few years before and became a "nurse log." Nurse logs are decaying trees that provide the necessary nutrients for other plants to grow. Saplings, fungi, ferns, and lichen are common plants that sprout from the reddish-brown bark. Insects, like beetles and ants, live in the log's crevices. In places humid enough, these are also home to banana slugs and snails.

As well as being an impressive species themselves, these trees are essential to many other kinds of life. The terrible fact that they are in danger means that if they do not live, their ecosystem will be seriously disrupted. This issue is another reminder that the choices we make in our everyday lives do have consequences and therefore we need to decide to do everything in a manner that will not harm the planet. The fate of these giants is uncertain, the fate even of our planet is uncertain, and it's our actions that will determine it.

The Indian Cheetah: Return From Extinction?

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indian cheetah 2.jpgAsiatic cheetahs once were the dominant inhabitants of the Indian grasslands. Today none are left anywhere but in Iran, where 100 are still surviving. Few Asiatic cheetahs are raised in captivity, and only one litter has been bred in India. They were called "hunting leopards" during Britain's colonialism of India because they were used by the royalty to hunt wild antelope until the cats themselves became hunters' trophies. Habitat loss to growing farmlands also led to the cheetah's eventual extinction.

But reintroducing them is not an easy task either. Iran refused India's requests for two Asiatic cheetahs and would not let them have samples from a captive cheetah that might enable scientists to clone the species. As a result, India is considering importing African cheetahs instead of the Asiatic ones. Because there are few differences between them scientists do not think there will be a problem with introducing the African subspecies.

Some environmentalists are concerned that the cheetahs will be living in a huge zoo-like environment and not truly in the wild. Other threats include poaching due to pecuniary causes or genetic similarities, which cause deficient immune systems and, in cheetahs, deformed tails. Another danger is farmers' concerns for their livestock, which may lead them to hunt the cats. However, cheetahs, preferring wild prey, do not actually kill domesticated animals if they can help it. The males, however, will include farmland as part of their territory, causing problems. (Females do not mark territories.)

Hopefully the Indian government will succeed in its efforts to import the cheetahs, because they are the only big cats not found in India, as their tiger and lion populations are growing. And - hopefully soon - the fastest land animal in the world will again prevail on the plains of India.

More Information:
India plans return of the cheetah
Asiatic Cheetah
India asks for roadmap for reintroduction of cheetahs

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