Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stream Team Biography

Conor Flynn first moved to the Southwest to work as a seasonal park ranger at the Petrified Forest National Park and stayed to pursue a graduate degree in Neurobiology at the University of Arizona. But the Southwest had other plans for the incorrigible hiking enthusiast and he soon progressed from volunteering with Sky Island Alliance to full-time conservation work with Wild Earth Guardians. "Conservation biology is much more difficult than neuroscience", says Conor, who now "performs open-heart surgery on the landscape" as a member of WEG's restoration Stream Team. "At the end of the day I'm usually so tired I can barely crawl into my sleeping bag...the drama of restoring the environment is what inspires me; its not easy, but the rewards are very tangible. We're working as hard as we can to save the remaining ecosystems by restoring important-but-degraded habitat. I'd like to thank all the volunteers and donors who make this work possible: everyone has an important part to play in guarding the wild earth."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2009 Stream Team with Wild Earth Guardians

"Each spring WildEarth Guardians' members, supporters and volunteers become Stream Team Activists by gathering pledges and planting trees for each pledge. Our Stream Team planting days, held throughout New Mexico and Arizona, are a great way to get your hands dirty for the sake of the environment and re-connect to the wild rivers that sustain us all. Each event is a breathtaking display of what can happen when we come together to heal once-degraded waterways. At the beginning of the day, a somewhat barren landscapes lays before us. A few hours later in the afternoon, the area is a forest of newly-planted native trees..."

2009 Stream Team Planting Schedule:

La Jencia Restoration Day
Saturday, March 7, 10am-3pm
Near Socorro, NM

Rio Puerco Tree Planting Days
Friday and Saturday, March 27-28, 10am-3pm
Near Cuba, NM

San Marcos Tree Planting Day
Saturday, April 4, 10am-3pm
Near Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe River Tree Planting Day
Saturday, April 18, 10am-3pm
in Santa Fe, NM

Bluewater Creek Tree Planting Days
Friday and Saturday, May 1-2, 10am-3pm
Near Grants, NM

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Aldo Leopold Centennial in the Southwest

100 years ago, in 1909, Aldo Leopold first traveled to the American Southwest. What he discovered there -- in the land and in himself -- would change the world. Here, he was inspired to conceive of and campaign for the first designated Wilderness:

Aldo Leopold: "Forester and wildlife manager - outdoorsman - ecologist - philosopher and practical idealist - interpreter of nature - pioneer in wilderness preservation. He taught an ethic of the land and by his teaching, writing, and example gave added depth, breadth, and insight to conservation. Overlooking the Gila Wilderness, which he helped establish - First National Forest area so designated - this tablet is here placed by the Wilderness Society, of which he was a founder. Dedicated as a tribute to him for the National Wilderness Preservation System he helped create - in the thirty-first year of this System, September 12, 1954."

"Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?" -A. Leopold

"Wilderness areas are first of all a series of sanctuaries for the primitive arts of wilderness travel...I suppose some will wish to debate whether it is important to keep these primitive arts alive. I shall not debtate it. Either you know it in your bones, or you are very, very old." - A. Leopold

Friday, January 09, 2009


Ecoregions, or Ecological Systems, or Ecosystems, or Biomes, are defined differently for different purposes. Many scientists have attempted to develop objective classifications for ecosystems modeled after Linnaeus' classification for species; however, there remains no standardized way for talking about the bio/geo landforms of the Earth.

"Biomes" usually refer to the largest physiogonmic classes of vegetation on the earth, such as Tundra, Conifer Forest, Deciduous Forest, Tropical Forest, Grassland, and Desert. They are determined by climate. Classifying nature can be useful to determine the relative effect of man's activities in different places. For example, here is a map of America's Army Bases and biomes, color-coded to show where military training exercises can be most damaging to the environment. Restorationists use ecological classifications to determine what a particular landscape used to look like, and hence what seeds to buy. Native Seed Network uses EPA's level III map of ecoregions, but they are aware that this is just one subjective mapping effort among many.

For example, a glance at the following biome maps of North America shows some of the differences.

Maps of the U.S.:

Zooming in even more can help explore the differences. Maps of Western Washington:


Metabolic Ecology I

Metabolic theories of ecology are based on fractal scaling laws, or the observation that various biological metrics are constant across species, and indeed across phyla. In the 1990's Kleiber's fractal scaling law for animals was extrapolated to ecosystems.

This is a slide from an awesome presentation at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. The presentation, by Geoffrey West, does an excellent job describing the scope and excitement of this approach. Someday they will be teaching this new theory to school children. The theory was developed by James Brown (UNM), Geoffrey West (Santa Fe Institute), and Brian Enquist (UA). The theory is critically reviewed here.

The original paper is: West, G. B., Brown, J. H. & B. J.Enquist (1997) A general model for the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology. Science 276:122-126.

I will tackle the larger question of linking these organism-centric ideas with ideas about the larger efficiency of communities and ecosystems in a second post...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Revenge of the Lawn

Imagine, if instead of growing grass, Americans grew food... the "Food Not Lawns" movement is trying to help do just that.
The definitive anti-lawn essay: Turf War. Elizabteh Kolbert. The New Yorker. p.82 July 21, 2008.

"The insecticide carbaryl, which is marketed under the trade name Sevin, is still broadly applied to lawns. A likely human carcinogen, it has been shown to cause developmental damage in lab animals, and is toxic to—among many other organisms—tadpoles, salamanders, and honeybees. In “American Green” (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to “a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs.”

Meanwhile, the risks of the chemical lawn are not confined to the people who own the lawns, or to the creatures that try to live in them. Rain and irrigation carry synthetic fertilizers into streams and lakes, where the excess nutrients contribute to algae blooms that, in turn, produce aquatic “dead zones.” Manhattanites may not keep lawns, but they drink the chemicals that run off them. A 2002 report found traces of thirty-seven pesticides in streams feeding into the Croton River Watershed. A few years ago, Toronto banned the use of virtually all lawn pesticides and herbicides, including 2,4-D and carbaryl, on the ground that they pose a health risk, especially to children."

More quotes:

"In his anti-lawn essay "Why Mow?," Michael Pollan puts it this way: "Lawns are nature purged of sex and death. No wonder Americans like them so much."

See also "the nation's first grassroots anti-grass movement, which dubbed itself Wild Ones." SALT: Smaller American Lawns Today

Sunday, January 04, 2009

2008 Autumn in Review

When the snow came to the high country of Colorado, in September, I left on a series of explorations. I had traveled to CO to understand more about the ecology of small rivers and streams in the Southwest that I had been trying to restore with Wild Earth Guardians. After learning the ecological integrity assessments practised by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, I knew I needed more time to wander, and think. I found lots of the former and not enough of the latter. I visited a couple dozen riparian areas in New Mexico and Arizona, some were revisited restoration sites, others were new sites. Figure a couple days hiking around each place, and that about explains the last months. I attended talks on the history of vegetation change in the SW, and even gave a talk on the subject at a symposium put on by the Arizona State Museum.

I was traveling pretty much constantly, camping in my van wherever I found myself at the end of the day. Autumn in AZ is beautiful...fall colors and balmy temperatures mix to make a lot of lucid dreaming... and finding an awesome girl to travel with helped sweeten the deal. I think the highlight of the last few months was backpacking for a week in Aravaipa Canyon, a slot canyon that straddles the Sonoran desert / Pinon Juniper ecosystems, and I'm hoping the GIS I did there will materialize into a job next fall. After that Alexandra and I retired to the beach in Mexico for the month of December.

Still trying to get paid to do what I love, and living on a shoestring in my obedient old van with an obstinate laptop while I appreciate what a vow of poverty means.

Why are there two tides every day?

Screenshot from

Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008 Top Conservation Stories

Grand Canyon Controlled Flood
Grand Canyon Wildlands Council Senior Ecologist Larry Stevens, PhD, says that this was the "first planned flood that resulted in widespread resource benefits," restoring sandbars without propagating invasive tamarisk. More than 300,000 gallons of water per second were released from Lake Powell above the dam near the Arizona-Utah border. That's enough water to fill the Empire State Building in 20 minutes, said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

Klamath River Dam Removal
A plan was formed between Oregon, California, local tribes and farmers, activists, and the Federal Government to "commit to talk about a dam removal deal. It would be the biggest dam removal project of our time, and shifts the conversation from "if" to "when". However, skeptics doubt the specifics of the deal.

Western Governors' Association adopts Freedom To Roam plan
The Governors of every Western State voted unanimously, after hearing presentations by Tom Brokaw and Rick Ridgeway, to develop and conduct a process to “identify key wildlife migration corridors and crucial wildlife habitats in the West and make recommendations on needed policy options and tools for preserving those landscapes.” This is the culmination of years of science and activism by the Wildlands Project's Spine of the Continent Campaign.

Crown of the Continent Land Conservation
The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, organized one of the largest conservation deals ever in Montana. Plans call for phased purchases, ending in December 2010, of 312,000 acres of forestlands in western Montana for $510 million. "This project is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to protect these lands for our families and future generations, said U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who helped facilitate the agreement. It will keep jobs in Montana, help maintain our communities and our working forests, and preserve public access for hunting and fishing. This will be the most significant land conservation project in the state's history, by far, and I'm proud to be part of it. "

Bush Administration plans Ocean Preserve
On June 16th the Bush Administration offered plans for the complete protection of an area the size of Arizona in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. The oceans of the world are badly overfished and underprotected and this proposed preserve is a 'landmark' that could point the way toward protecting the seas.

Other Stories:
Unfortunately, this year's wilderness bill didn't come up for a vote in Congress. We had wanted to see the Tumacacori Highlands, AZ protected as a wilderness. Other major, urgent actions that didn't occur include protecting Otero Mesa, NM from oil and gas drilling. Polar bears were listed Endangered amidst conflict over whether CO2 could be regulated by the EPA as a pollutant. Unfortunately for the bear, even as one hand of the gov't gave protection, the other was taking it away by 'defanging' the endangered species act. Also important, though depressing, were acknowledgements of failure to restore both Cheasepeake Bay and the Sacramento River / San Francisco Bay. Other looming environmental catastrophes, such as the continued use of gender bender hormone mimics and antibiotics, are being cited more often, yet still without any kind of response. Hopefully that will change in 2009.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Searching for Old Growth in Kitsap

Kitsap Peninsula and associated islands occupy rainforest habitat surrounded by the Puget Sound in Washington State. While old growth forests remain intact in the mountainous National Parks (Olympic, Rainier), finding representative primary forest in the lowlands can be more difficult. This landscape has been heavily impacted by human economies for hundreds of years, and with no major geographic barriers, almost everything was clear cut. Second-growth forests are growing back beautifully in some parks, but locating Minimally Disturbed Condition is essential in forming a picture of the Historic Range of Variation that these second growth forests could be expected to grow into.

Here is a short list of places that might still harbor original old growth rain forests. I would welcome any more suggestions.

Kitsap Forest NAP (Washington State Natural Area Program and Stavis Creek Preserve)
This 572-acre forested site on the Kitsap Peninsula became a natural area preserve in 1998. Mature and old growth douglas fir and western hemlock dominate this forest with rhododendron, evergreen huckleberry, and sword fern in the forest understory. This is one of the few extensive unlogged mature forests remaining in the central or southern Puget Trough ecoregion. The site also protects portions of Stavis Creek, which supports coho and chum salmon spawning grounds, a blue heron rookery, and nesting osprey.

Mountaineers Kitsap Property
set within a 280-acre rhododendron preserve, site of the annual Forest Theatre.
3000 Seabeck Hwy NW. Bremerton, WA 98310
After .5 mile, turn right on Northlake Way (first major road on right). Continue .3 mile, turn right at the Triangle Automotive shop. Bear right at the stop sign onto Seabeck Highway. After crossing the railroad tracks, go .7 mile and you will see our sign

Guillemot Cove Nature Reserve
19235 Stavis Bay Road NW, Seabeck
The cove is home to old growth trees, a salmon-bearing stream and a breathtaking view of the Olympic Mountains. The walk is approximately three miles roundtrip.
from Hwy.3, take Newberry Hill exit; travel to Seabeck Holly Road; turn right. Drive to Miami Beach Road; turn right - drive to "Y"; veer left onto Stavis Bay Road. Drive 4.5 miles to the entrance and parking lot.

?? NAD Park urban park frisbee golf
The course at NAD Park winds through more than "20 acres of old growth forest",....
6002 Kitsap Way, Bremerton

?? Illahee Preserve
Supposed to contain old growth, but we found only a few solitary old (but not old growth) trees amidst second growth forest. This image of suburban sprawl gives a good idea of what has happened to most forests at this elevation.

reference: VisitKitsap