Sunday, February 25, 2007

Polar Bears feeling the heat

Global warming and habitat encroachment are pushing polar bears into a tight corner. Ever since people starting creating communities in the fridgid north with their open garbage dumps polar bears have taken to scavenging for food there, often fatally crossing paths with human beings, but now even human garbage isn't enough to keep some of them from starvation and cannibalism. Plans are underway to officially list the Polar Bear as "Threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. If you're going to be in the Washington D.C. area March 20th you can help do something about it! Join other concerned citizens like yourself at the U.S. Capitol and tell Congress they need to get a handle on Global Warming! To learn more or RSVP to the event go to the Climate Crisis Action Day website. Want to try to help Polar Bears in your own zip code? Visit your local zoo and try to get an interview with the Polar Bear keepers. Polar Bears are so well insulated that they overheat easily, so a cool environment is very important! If you have concerns about the habitats for Polar Bears and other arctic animals, ask your zoo directors what they're going to do about it, and offer to help with any fundraising activities!

Circus Valley's "Penguito" makes a snowman (out of mud!) and jokingly asks "What global warming?!" A funny take on a not so funny reality! EP Designs reminds us that its the issues that are important on election day! Vote for Planet Earth!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Wolf at the door

First, let me repeat in case anyone has somehow managed to miss the bulletin: There is not a single case of a healthy wild wolf fatally attacking a human being in North America. I'm not even sure we have any actual documented attacks, period. Unlike mountain lions, bears, heck even a really grumpy seal will take a bite out of you. So why does the wolf get such a bad rap? I'll tell you, its a mystery to me.
Now the mountain lion, you'll never see him coming. He attacks from ambush, pouncing from a ledge or hiding within sprinting distance on the downwind side of a trail. The mountain lion is solitary, and it seems to placate people to think that when they have a problem with a mountain lion they can just shoot that lion and the problem is gone. But wolves are pack animals. Even taking out the alphas might not solve a problem, if the whole pack has learned an aberrant behaviour, such as killing livestock. And wolves stalk their prey. Maybe that's what people find so disturbing about them. The cunning, the study, the psychological game of cat and mouse that the wolf likes to play. Maybe there's something in the personality of wolves that reminds us of ourselves, and people find that offensive.

<-Ain't he go-jus? Whatever it is, its something that the people of North America brought over with them when they came from Europe and Asia. When North America was first settled wolves ranged the entirety of the continent, excluding only the deepest parts of the south. Before they were protected in the 1960's they were trapped and killed nearly to extirpation (or local extinction, as there were still plenty of wild wolves in Canada, Alaska, and parts of Europe) with as much as a 14 dollar bounty on their heads. Early trappers didn't much care what else they killed either, and some used poison laced carrion (usually strychnine) which could kill fifty wolves in one night, not to mention the ravens, coyotes and other scavengers it attracted. Sometimes the poison seeped into the ground and even poisoned the grass, long after the carcass was gone, and deer and elk would die. Long after that the bones of the dead animals might be chewed by another, and it too might die. By the time wolf recovery came around wolves were holding out in a very small population in northern Minnesota, but had been otherwise removed from the lower 48 states. Today helped in part by Defenders of Wildlife's program which reimburses ranchers who lose stock to depredation wolf populations in the two main reintroduction sites in Yellowstone Natl. Park and Idaho are well up, and I'm proud to be a member of their "Adopt a wolf pup" program. I've also adopted a Bison, but though I am heartened that wolves have once again begun hunting their most fearsome natural prey in Yellowstone, I hope my wolf pup and my bison never meet!
So what is to stop the Grey Wolf from spreading further? Habitat encroachment for one. Game Hunting for another. In Alaska and Canada its still legal to hunt or trap wolves, but not so in the lower 48. So aside from wolves killed through the 'lethal control' plan which eliminates stock killers and other potential problem animals, wolves have to deal with human hunters sharing their food source. Only to the average human hunter it isn't a food source, is it? Its just a pretty rack of antlers to hang on the wall. I've actually had someone spot my 'adopt a wolf pup sticker' and read me the riot act about how wolves kill elk, which rightfully belong to human hunters. Right buddy. There ARE people who still hunt for food. And for them I'm sorry if Mr. Wolf got there first. But before we go shooting wolves for killing elk, why don't we say...limit hunting licenses for SPORT hunter's first? I mean, my god, what would you poor big game hunters do if you couldn't go out and kill something? Maybe play a video game. Try Deer Hunter. As for those of you out there who appreciate our wolves, I urge you to go to the Defenders of Wildlife's 'take action!' page and help stop them from exterminating wolves in the lower 48, and stop the barbaric aerial gunning in alaska! We still need 100,000 actions for halting aerial gunning to reach our goals!

This is a beautiful calender featuring wolves! Brought to us by CreaturesGreatandSmall

Who could say no to a pupkiss? Lovely framed art tile, or search for other wolf designs at DCR Images!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Vancouver Cougars

This is sort of a continuation of the clearcut logging issue, only focusing on one of the animals affected by said issue. Mountain Lions (Cougars or Pumas, if you prefer) living on Vancouver Island.

Flipping channels the other day I ran across a special on the National Geographic channel I believe it was, called "Hunter/Hunted" about the rising number of cougar attacks on humans and domestic pets in that area. Now I didn't catch the entire show, so I'm not sure what the exact statistics are, but basically there have been more attacks in the past 5-10 years than there were previously, despite the fact that the cougar population on the island is half of what it was 10 years ago. Now, you can say simple habitat encroachment by humans and their pets is to blame, and that would probably be partly true, but that's not the whole reason. The root of the problem? Clearcut logging.
In past years vast swaths of the island's forest had been denuded, and the resulting change in habitat had changed the balance of animal life in the forests. More open areas meant more inviting places for deer and larger prey animals to roam and graze. Higher numbers of prey animals naturally meant higher numbers of predators, which is why the cougar population estimate for that era was somewhere around 800. But then the forest started to close in on those cleared areas, prey species lost their habitat, starved, or moved to another area, and cougars started getting hungry. With the decrease in prey came a decrease in predators, but there were still too many to feed and the new forest with its scanty undergrowth didn't even seem inviting to the smaller prey animals. Cougars had to find something to eat, or die, and cougars don't give up their lives or their habitat easily. I imagine if I was a cougar I'd think a Pomeranian looked like a right nice little snack, too.
Featured on the show were three cats with different bad habits, one starving yearling who resorted to eating neighborhood kitty cats to survive and had a den far too close for comfort to human habitats; that cat was tracked down and shot. As far as I can recall the other two had gotten away, one attacking and biting a little girl, though even the family admits that the cat was most likely after the puppy, and another who mauled a mountain biker who was out after dark.
Mind you I certainly don't condone such behaviour, and any animal caught attacking humans or domestic animals certainly needs to be dealt with. But how can you blame a wild animal for simply being wild? I was heartened to learn that neither of the human victims featured in the special held a grudge against their attacker. They understood that they were in the cougar's domain, and the cougar was just doing what cougars do. As the special said, WE are the ones who have to be carefully not to come between "The hunter and the hunted." <-P.S. I know this Puma!

Creatures Great and Small has a great variety of merchandise featuring wild and domestic animals, including this absolutely gorgeous journal featuring our crittur of the moment, 'Felis Concolor' AKA Mr. Mountain Lion. Or is it a Miss? Inkebana uses the art of ink blots to create this magnificent puma design!

Clearcut Logging, for why?

Explain to me, someone, why this is still a legal practice?

I was under the impression that studies have shown clearcut logging to be detrimental to the environment for reasons from the obvious immediate habitat destruction and soil erosion, to *future* habitat loss caused by destruction of old-growth forest. Have you ever walked in an old growth forest? Noticed the space between the trees, the shrubs, ferns, and other low-lying greenery that exists in the patchy sunlight?

You don't get that in commercial second-growth forest. Some forest management plans only call for leaving a certain number of 'unusable' trees standing to reseed the forest naturally. Perhaps a better, if slower choice than replanting, I haven't found any studies on that particular subject. As for companies who replant, I'm sure they think they're doing a wonderful thing, even replanting two trees for every tree they chopped down, but has it occurred to them why there was only one tree there to begin with? There simply isn't enough room, enough sunlight and soil and water in that one spot to support anything more than that one tree. No undergrowth, not even shade tolerant trees. Commercially replanted forest is only good for one thing: More logging.
Now, mind you I HAVE studied both sides of this issue, and I like to think my own natural leaning (and my cynicism) are not entirely at fault for my personal opinion. If you read the stuff the logging industry puts out, they lead you to believe that they can A) get the logging done without causing any damage to peripheral environments, such as the trees they AREN'T chopping down, the soil, the undergrowth, the animals, the streams, and B) clearcut logging is good for the forest because it opens up areas for diverse animal life to roam.
Read the information on this webpage by a Canadian company working to shift the demand for paper products to renewable resources, rather than old-growth logging: Protecting Ancient Forests and read this article on clearcutting in Wikipedia: Facts about Clearfelling, then look at the world around you and tell me who YOU believe.

A Mixed Bag designed this great t-shirt. "Planet before Profit" in a very nifty leafy font, featured here on organic cotton.