Recently in Environmental Threats Category

Edward I: Environmentalist by Accident

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Edward I.jpgEdward the First, the fifth Plantagenet king of England, is famous for clobbering the Scottish and Welsh armies, getting clobbered by the French, banishing the Jews, going Crusading, taxing everybody he could get his hands on, and performing other violent acts.

Tall for the times at 6'2", Edward had a terrible temper. When his son requested an earldom for his friend, the king tore out fistfuls of the boy's hair. When the Dean of St. Paul's entered the throne-room, mustering his nerve to discuss lowering taxes, he was supposedly killed on the spot by the mere sight of the king.

Is it feasible that this ferocious king, represented in medieval allegory not as the "noble" lion but as the "powerful" and "volatile" leopard, had a good side? It's possible. He maintained a good relationship with his parents, and loved his own wife and children. At fourteen, young Prince Edward married Eleanor of Castile, who was about the same age. Unusually, they were dedicated to each other; Edward didn't have affairs, and he didn't lock Eleanor up in a tower! When Eleanor died after thirty-six years of marriage, Edward was devastated, and built Eleanor Crosses wherever the funereal procession stopped. (His second marriage, to the young Margaret of France, also turned out well, despite their fifty-four-year age difference.)

Yet less well known is the fact that if Edward had had his way, coal pollution would never have been an issue.

Coal was so abundant on England's northeast coast that it was collected in wheelbarrows. People could even pick it up on the beach! It had been used since prehistoric times -- in the Bronze Ages, Welsh funeral pyres were fired by coal -- but when the Romans conquered "Britannia," they fell in love with the fuel.  At first, they thought it was very pretty, and fashioned it into ornaments for themselves. They called it gagate; this word would evolve into "jet," a dense variant of coal still used in making jewelry. (However, the Roman artisans often mixed up the higher quality jet with ordinary coal.) They also popularized burning it. After the Romans had cleared out, the Britons forgot about coal and resorted to wood. The early historian, St. Bede, describing the abundant "jet," didn't mention that it was used for heat, but observed that the smoke kept snakes away.

At any rate, until the 12th century, everybody in London burned wood. Soon, however, London began to grow, and the forests dwindled. Wood became expensive and rare. Instead, the Londoners decided to try the cheaper, easily-obtained coal. There was only one problem. Burning wood produced some smoke, but a lot of heat. Burning sea-coal produced a little heat, but a lot of sulfurous smoke. Nevertheless, instead of thinking of a better solution, everyone decided to burn more coal. The thick smoke combined with the natural fog and hung over the city for days.

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. The king's mother, Eleanor of Provence, had gotten so sick from the smoke surrounding Nottingham Castle that she had had to flee the town. (Edward I's great-grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had had a similar experience with the burning wood around Tutbury Castle.)

Despite the king's commands, the law was disregarded. The poor didn't have the money to buy wood and there weren't any other alternatives. Edward altered his bill. Now, first-time offenders were subject to immense fines. If they were caught a second time, their furnaces were destroyed. Unfortunately, this didn't work either. The atmosphere was getting tense. Edward altered his bill again. This time, a death penalty was installed for burning coal. One person was seized and executed. But everybody kept on burning coal. Edward couldn't execute his whole kingdom. Besides, even if he could have, then he wouldn't have had anybody to tax or beat up, so what's the point of that? Consequently, the law was ignored, although Edward II, Edward I's successor, tortured a few people who were unable to meet its terms. Astoundingly, that didn't help.

princess elizabeth.jpgSubsequently, others tried to exterminate the burning of coal, including the kings Richard II and Henry V, whose palace at Westminster was permeated by the odor. By the time Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne, the situation was worse than ever. Short beds, which forced sleepers to sit up, were popular, as people had difficulties breathing if they lay down. The queen was reported to be "greatly grieved and annoyed with the taste and smoke of sea- coales," and tried to get it banned, at least while Parliament was in session.

Later, in 1661, a prominent Cavalier named John Evelyn was asked by Charles II (whose palace at Whitehall was getting all the fumes from a nearby duke's residence) to write a book against coal. He complied, and the result was Fumifugium: or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated, Together with some Remedies humbly proposed by J. E. Esq., to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now Assembled. The title "Fumifugium" was compounded of two Latin words, fumus, meaning "smoke," and fugit, "to escape or get  away from." (It's actually pretty terrible Latin, just for the record.)

John Evelyn.jpgEvelyn's book was one of the first comprehensive studies of the dangers of coal burning, and one of the earliest to discuss air pollution. (It also blamed the English Civil Wars on bad air caused by coal fires, not on any political issues!) Not only did it berate the smell of the smoke, it also attacked it as being unhealthy and aesthetically unpleasing. Evelyn wrote that the fumes were

"...so universally mixed with that otherwise wholesome and excellent Aer, that her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied with a fuliginous and filthy vapour, which renders them obnoxious to a thousand inconveniences, corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their Bodies; so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions, rage more in this one City, than in the whole Earth besides."

He also complained that "Whilst these [the "Chimnies of London"] are belching it forth their sooty jaws, the City of London resembles the face rather of Mount Ætna, the Court of Vulcan, [or] Stromboli, ... than an Assembly of Rational Creatures, and the Imperial feat of our incomparable Monarch," adding that the black particles in the smoke ruined the facades of palaces, churches, and houses. Evelyn goes on to say that it killed birds and insects and blighted flowers and fruit trees. He adds that travelers could smell the city long before they could see it.

Evelyn did not advocate the prohibiting of coal-burning; he merely said that trades, such as brewing, dyeing, lime-burning, which put out a significant amount of smoke should be relocated to where the soot would not affect the city. He also proposed moving other noxious businesses, such as butchers and chandlers, out as well. To promote cleanliness, no burials should be permitted in churches or even within the city walls. Not even this approach, however, gained much support.

James Watt.jpgThe Industrial Revolution effectively destroyed any hopes of outlawing this pernicious fuel, as it was considered indispensable to development. Anyone who was opposed to coal was opposed to progress. Factories relied on it to fire their huge furnaces. It heated workers' homes. Worst of all, it provided the steam for James Watt's new steam engine. Getting rid of it was impossible. In fact, coal usage in Great Britain multiplied by 100 between 1800 and 1900.

The coal-produced smog, called "fog" by the Londoners, was familiar to people such as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Darwin, James Russell Lowell (who was proud to have survived the smoke), Arthur Conan Doyle, Heinrich Heine, and Thomas Carlyle, who called it "fluid ink." Finally, in 1956, four years after a four-day "fog" killed approximately 4,000 people, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act, which reduced coal burning to a large extent.

To this day, coal continues to be one of the worst energy sources on the planet. It is the largest contributor to man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The difference that the success of Edward I's 1306 law would have caused is unfathomable. Even though he was a terrifying warrior and sometimes a cruel king, ironically he deserves to be remembered as one of the earliest environmentalists.

Crocodile Crossword

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croccross.jpg
CrocCrossClues.jpg
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!):

crocodileanswers.jpg

Does Shelling Harm Wildlife?

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Shell.jpgRecently, we were walking on the beach just after low tide. Rims of seashells marked where the waves had come. Many of these were fragmented, and the majority had been bleached by the sun. There were some pretty scallops and cockles, and several still-connected bivalve shells. Then, Mom found a beautiful conch. The shell was mottled with shades of brown, edged in red. The spiked tips were pointed and distinct, unlike some of the worn ones we had collected earlier.

conch shell.jpgMom picked it up and held it up to the light. It was inhabited, and we could see the conch's claw. We put it back where an occasional wave would wash over it. The prettiest shells we found had creatures in them. Many were conches, but some of the shells had been claimed by hermit crabs. We didn't take any of the ones that were alive, but we saw other people carelessly collecting them. One lady had two grocery bags filled with large, colorful shells. Although the signs along the boardwalk read "No Live Shelling," several people were ignoring that rule.

hermit crab.jpgOn many beaches, collecting live animals is illegal. For instance, Washington State has banned the taking of any invertebrate, and in most national parks it is illegal to take anything. In addition to wanting the shells, people get them for food and bait, or as pets for their home aquariums. However, even in places where there are no laws preventing this collection, it is a bad idea. Not only does it harm the individual animal, but overharvesting of a species can lead to a decline in its population, making it endangered or even extinct. When this happens, the natural balance is also upset, because the creatures that relied on the animal for food or used the shells as shelter are no longer able to find them.

Buying shells commercially is not environmentally-friendly. Many companies catch live shellfish, which are killed for their meat, their shells, or both. Live sand dollars and sea stars are also captured and sold. Because they are caught in such huge numbers, many rare species are threatened by this practice.

One example is the Queen Conch. Its shells are used as jewelery or decorations and its meat is eaten or used as bait. They were captured so extensively that their numbers declined. Although they are not officially endangered, many Caribbean countries are trying to conserve the conches living near their shores and have agreed not to export them until the populations have stabilized.

The critically endangered Black Abalone is another animal which has been depleted by the meat and shell industry. They were once plentiful along the Pacific coast, from California to Mexico. Its meat was more popular than its small, smooth shell. At the time they were being harvested, there were no rules about protecting an individual species. After the California fishery had run out of one species of abalone, they would switch to another. Withering syndrome, a disease, also decreased the numbers. Today, hunting these mollusks is illegal, although some poaching occurs.

Collecting empty shells at the beach is harmless, except in parks where removing anything is illegal. Just make sure they are empty before you take them!
pndabmboo.JPGIn only two or three generations, pandas could go extinct. Because of recent development in what used to be the pandas' habitats, the bears don't have enough room. While enough land was set aside for 1,000 pandas 30 years ago, the area is not sufficient for the 1,600 pandas now living in the wild. In addition to this, the pandas are being fenced off by water projects and roads. They cannot find enough food or a mate. Pandas travel long distances to find mates because if the genes are too similar the babies will be very susceptible to diseases. But now the pandas are unable to do that. If this continues, the pandas will only be seen in zoos and other places where captive animals are kept. And it will happen in the next sixty years (one panda's lifespan is twenty years), if the building on the pandas' land is not stopped.

When I was five, I became a big-time environmentalist. I raised a hundred dollars (mostly through presents, but I did ask for them instead of other things...) to give to Jane Goodall. And I collected 1,690 pennies for Pennies for the Planet, a program by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which raises money for different projects (although I thought that I was helping to save pandas due to the logo, my donation went to a program for the conservation of black rhinos).

It was Halloween night. Katrianna and I dressed up in our matching lion costumes, and I carried a sour cream jar that had been covered in yellow paper and decorated. That would hold my pennies. Mom took Katrianna and I outside and we began trick-or-treating. My campaign was a huge success. Nearly all of my pennies came from that expedition. Later, Mom and I drove to the nearest coin machine and donated all of my pennies to the WWF.

Today, there are whole kits made for Pennies for the Planet trick or treating. They didn't exist when I did it within the first couple years of the twenty-first century. Now there are environmental coin jars in most elementary classrooms. Mom told me that when I did it a neighbor, also a teacher, whom I had asked for pennies on Halloween night, added Pennies for the Planet to her curriculum. This program sponsors new projects each year and is a reputable environmental charity, although it might have to change its logo in the next sixty years if the panda population continues to dwindle.

John James Audubon -- Environmentalist?

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gerfalconaudubon.jpgJohn James Audubon's images may be beautiful, but they were created at the heavy cost of avian lives. 

Take the example of a majestic, 3-foot female eagle in his studio. It was not enough that it was captive in a small cage (making it easy to draw), but he wanted to kill it. 

So he put it in an enclosed, dark closet with a coal fire to suffocate the wonderful creature. After hours, he opened it. Her head swung toward him. It looked at him. It was alive. Then he put the eagle back into the closet, added sulphur to the fire, and closed the door. This time the fumes smelled so strongly he and his brother left the house. For a long time the eagle was perched alone in that dark, extremely hot and unbearably toxic closet. Audubon entered the house and made his way to the flaming confinement.

Again, the yellow beak and imposing eyes belonging to the bird of prey swung his way. The eagle was alive. So once more he attempted to kill the eagle. He tried to electrocute it, but the biggest battery he could find could not inflict enough current. He took a piece of pointed steel in his hand. The eagle's life ended, after many forms of inhumane torture. 

He described this in his own diary, which was known as his "Ornithological Biography," even though several times he considered letting it go. 

And there is no need to believe that the so-called "conservationist" did this sort of thing to only one bird of a species. For his portrait of a flamingo, approximately fifty flamingos were used as models -- and killed. 

Despite the fact that his artwork may be picturesque and beautiful, it is not near worth the lives of hundreds of birds -- and the allowance of animal cruelty. 

The Endangered Snow Leopard

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Snow-Leopard.jpgIn the deep dark chasm,
Upon the sides of the walls,
Motion with lightning's shape and speed,
And before it the swift deer falls. 

Its color blended ever light,
Gray white and shades of dun,
Streamlined shape and hunter's eye,
And incredible speed to run. 

Against a snowy background,
Imposing yet serene,
The fearsome leopard of the snow,
Can hardly yet be seen. 

-Katrianna Sarkar

Snow leopards are endangered from causes such as the trade in its pelt and global warming. The fur is made into coats and hats, and their bones and other body parts are also used in traditional medicine. Tigers are supposed to be used in the practice of traditional medicine, but they are already so rare (their populations have lessened from this too) that the more common snow leopard is substituted. 

Their numbers are hard to estimate, due to the fact that snow leopards live in rugged, remote terrain. This makes conservation more difficult, so an interesting device was employed. With as few snow leopards as there are, you can tell the individual leopards by their spots.  As a result, pictures taken by a remote camera are compared to those in a photo library. In that way, they can estimate how many there are.

As elusive as snow leopards are, we still know quite a bit about them:

Wild sheep and goats are the snow leopard's main food, as well as an occasional buck or rabbit.

A snow leopard can leap thirty feet.

Snow leopards have enormous, furry tails. They use them for balance, but if they get cold they can wrap their tail around themselves.

Snow leopard cubs have blue eyes. When they get older, snow leopard eyes get grayer.

Let's hope we can save them. We should start conserving energy by using solar power and stop buying coats made from snow leopard, or, for that matter, any other kind of fur.

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.

Fascinating Facts About Red Pandas

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red panda.jpgWhen most people see the word "panda," they think of the big, furry, black-and-white Giant Panda. But the lesser-known Red Panda, three times smaller, is also in danger. Today classified as vulnerable, its status could quickly change to endangered.
 
The red panda is a living fossil. It has no close surviving relatives, and most resembles raccoons and skunks, not giant pandas. Living in temperate (neither tropical nor arctic) mountain forests from Nepal to China, they spend most of their time in trees. They are both nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning that they come out in the early morning and evening. The red panda is also called the cat-bear, lesser panda, and fire fox. The browser "Mozilla Firefox" was named after them.

Their diet is two-thirds bamboo, but they also eat acorns, flowers, berries, lichen, mushrooms, roots and grasses and occasionally insects, fish, eggs, and chicks. Like giant pandas, they have a bone that acts like a thumb, helping them hold the bamboo. However, because bamboo is low in calories, they spend most of their time eating and sleeping. They drink by dipping one paw into water and then licking it!

The red panda is threatened due to many factors. Deforestation reduces their habitat and grazing livestock can trample their bamboo. In China, they are poached for their fur, which is considered good luck by newlyweds and used in traditional ceremonies. Although the practice of capturing red pandas for zoos has ended, they are sometimes sold to private collectors and are occasionally kept as pets in Nepal and India. Even without interference in the wild, the red panda has a low birth rate and high death rate.

However, red pandas are officially protected throughout their range and hunting them is illegal. Parks protect them in every country they live in and some villages are involved in conservation, as well. Although some originally trapped wild red pandas, many zoos have developed successful captive breeding programs. If we protect them now, the red panda will flourish in the wild.

Mustelid Crossword

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crossword final.jpg

crossword clues FINAL FINAL.jpgFor help solving the puzzle, see Wikipedia's article.

Warning! The answers are below.

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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.

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