Carrizo Plains, Dawn


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since pictures seem to be the thing these days:

Posted by Tim on October 31st, 2008 • • Comments Off


…is this thing on?

Wow. My heartiest thanks to all our guest bloggers this week! I slept easily knowing that the readers of our blog were in good hands. (That, and the hours and hours of biomass sampling.) I hope

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they will all continue to contribute, though contract negotiations are ongoing. Unfortunately, I’ve been informed that Brian has hired “controversial superagent” Scott Boras. Did you know that not only is Brian a future historian laureate, but his (admittedly low) .230 batting average is bolstered by an unbelievable pitch calling ability and “professional” clubhouse presence? Man, this blogging thing is complicated.

Carey managed to get in a post despite working TWO jobs already, and not only that but actually hit the magic number 100, so should be expecting some sort of prize.
But I digress. Thanks again to everybody who hung around this week to chat.

Posted by Tim on October 31st, 2008 • • Comments Off

Friday Insantity 1.11


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Posted by Brian on October 31st, 2008 • • 2 comments

Trees: Crops or Not?

Watering young neem trees

Agroforestry Peace Corps volunteers in northern Cameroon are supposed to be fighting deforestation and desertification by working with local communities to establish small tree nurseries and forests in their villages.  So what to grow?  Fruit trees and some nitrogenous species were popular.  Most of the communities that I worked with, however, wanted trees that would grow rapidly to produce wood for firewood.  Because most people in this region (the Extreme North Province) cook over a fire wood is a pressing need every day.  So what grows the fastest, doesn’t get eaten and withstands the area’s blistering heat?  After many futile attempts at growing acacias and other native trees, Neem (Azadirachta indica) won out.  As you can probably tell from its Latin name this was not a native species.  I was torn, is it better to plant trees that grow quickly and provide much needed wood, or is it better to plant slower-growing native trees?  I struggled with this question quite a bit because my undergraduate thesis was on invasive plant species in the northeast US.  I was well aware of what damage non-native species could do.  I decided however, that these trees were more like crops, being grown for immediate and frequent use, rather than any kind of attempt at creating a “natural” or “native” forest.  I am still not sure if I’m right about that though. 

Posted by Alice on October 31st, 2008 • • 3 comments

News Roundup

  • Chile’s looking to win whales’ swing vote with its new cetacean sanctuary. It will no doubt earn the affection of freshly enfranchised teen starlet Hayden Panettiere, who with her pictogram brigade, is looking to kick Iceland when its down.  (I wonder if she’d tolerate a dreamy Ivy-league Brooklyn boy who turns an Inupiat whale hunt into an Internet kalaidiscope.)

  • From the aforementioned beleaguered land of ponies, Björk shoots off a op-ed telling the IMF where they can stick their aluminum smelters. Then she suggests her homeland’s “almost untouched nature” (don’t ask about the missing trees) could become “one big lush spa.” We heard this same call for conservation as part of a “let’s solve all our problems at once” approach on the Obama Show tonight. Reliving a couple weeks of 1929 has got folks revved up for what came next.

  • Newshour last week featured this stomach-turning depiction of a “trash-out,” the hauling away of the innards of repossessed McMansions to the landfill.  I suppose it’s just another chapter in the Story of Stuff.  Bright side: foreclosed houses make great bobcat habitat.  (Things don’t look as good for their domesticated brethren.)

  • Remember the days of Bush, Sr.?  When all the best fights were silver-spooned environmentalists v. callous-handed locals?  (Those days are behind us, right? right? ) Reminiscing, I like to think of this HSBC ad, perhaps most perplexing commercial ever made, as a period piece.
Posted by Brian on October 30th, 2008 • • Comments Off

News Roundup

  • Some seventy years ago Orwell mused, “Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.”  Indeed!  Four south African nations gear up for only the second ivory auction since the worldwide criminalization of the ivory trade in 1989, according to the BBC.  They hope to raise tens of millions for elephant conservation efforts.  NGOs are fretting the sale’s an incentive to poachers, while TRAFFIC attempts to sooth them with line graphs.  Just a week ago, eBay caved to pressure to drive ivory traffickers out of its virtual vendue; 39,000 frantic sellers have nine weeks to unload their wares.  Did someone say stocking stuffers?
  • Searchers are giving up hope of every finding those missing killer whales.  “The population drop is worse than the stock market,” proclaims the Center for Whale Research’s Ken Balcomb, tagging into this bizarre fight eco-doomsayers have picked with the Dow Jones.  But in all seriousness, the remaining number of “southern resident” orcas only just outnumbers the years since Black Friday.
  • Bright side: The youth of Rotterdam have got Looten Plunder on the run with their (Dance! Dance!) Revolution! Read about here, or better yet head right to Club Watt’s almost erotic promotional video.  (But big party foul with this head-scratching headline.  What was it Aldo Leopold said about growing accustomed to thinking breakfast comes from the market and heat from the furnace?  Apparently, CNN is hoping electricity comes from Eurotrash.)
Posted by Brian on October 29th, 2008 • • 4 comments

President Chernobyl

William C. Brumfield)

Monument to the Victims of Chernobyl, Petrozavodski, Russia (William C. Brumfield)

With the election thankfully only a week away, we’ll soon be able to reflect on what we’ve learned about the terrain of the political debate of a raft of contemporary problems.  What will surely pop out is that nuclear power is certainly back on the table, up for consideration in a way it hasn’t been for decades.  The presidential candidates are in agreement over its necessity (see here and here), though one is, admittedly, more strident in his endorsement.

It will be up to conservationists and environmentalists to force policy makers to place value on individual people and organisms, cultures and ecosystems, when the weighing of costs and benefits begins.  All are easily lost in the statistical rhetoric of risk, the preferred scale of populations and millenia, and the ideology of technological promise.

But just how ahistorical will this debate be (assuming there’s a debate at all)?  (more…)

Posted by Brian on October 28th, 2008 • • 3 comments

Saving the Planet, Saving People?

So on Friday I went to a talk given by Peter Kareiva the director of conservation science programs at The Nature Conservancy.  He talked about the function of ecosystem services in selling the TNC’s conservation agenda to various donor groups (governments, corporations, etc.).  He also talked about this new project the TNC is trying, one that not only looks at ecosystems that are important to protect, but ones that are particularly important because they house “vulnerable” populations.  These populations include people with lower education, minorities, low incomes etc.  The idea is that these people, living in inexpensive housing, are much more vulnerable to the effects of environmental disasters (in the case discussed, hurricanes in the Florida panhandle) than other populations.  So this sounds great, and it is a cool idea, but in the same talk Kareiva discussed The Nature Conservancy’s assistance in maintaining protected areas (by getting money for increased numbers of guards, enforcement etc.) in Latin America.  So pardon my confusion here, but don’t protected areas, in many cases create vulnerable populations?  In many cases, by removing people from their land and/or depriving them of access to traditional resources, protected areas can create “conservation refugees” and increase poverty amongst former park residents.  Even after talking to Kareiva after his talk I am still unclear as to how TNC’s new projects that include “vulnerable populations” in their calculations for figuring out what to protect fit with their involvement in maintaining (through guards and enforcement of protected areas) and creation of (through their support of protected areas establishment) vulnerable populations.


Posted by Alice on October 28th, 2008 • • Comments Off

New Names on Thoreau’s Dance Card

Two great ways to get your science written up in the New York Times: link it to climate change or to Thoreau. Boston University’s Richard Primack and Harvard’s Charles Davis hedged their bets and got lucky yesterday. It seems lots of flowers present in Thoreau’s journals are nowhere to be found by industrious grad students these days, and those that remain are blooming earlier in the year. It’s just more bad news for proud Yankees already wringing their hands over their sugar maples turning Canadian.


Posted by Brian on October 28th, 2008 • • 1 comment

Ted Stevens indicted

Breaking: Senator Ted Stevens was indicted today on seven felony counts of ethic violations after failing to report gifts from VECO Corp., an oil pipeline and oil field services company. You may also know VECO through the National Science Foundation as the official “arctic logistics provider,” in another contract Stevens coordinated.

Stevens is one of the League of Conservation Voters’ Dirty Dozen, and his corruption is well-established. Do you think he is as “disappointed and disturbed” about this court decision as he was about the decision to list polar bears as a threatened species? Here’s hoping this decision means Alaska and its wildlife will be better represented in the future.

Posted by Carey on October 27th, 2008 • • Comments Off