Category Archives: Ecology

Cleaning out the inbox.

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Wyoming Woes

Changing demographics and the death of 40 hour work week mean outdoor enthusiasts are more likely to watch birds and hike trails than take days off to hunt and fish.  It isn’t bad, but here’s the rub:  state conservation agencies are largely funded by hunting and fishing license sales.  A birdwatcher may not be paying into the system that protects their quarry, a hiker may not be paying into the system that maintains their trails.

Western state agencies are possibly the worst off.  More than 90% of the Wyoming Game and Fish department’s funding comes from license sales- the state legislature provides practically no financial support, and many legislators prioritize mining, timber, grazing, and private property interests over stewardship of natural resources.

The decline in license sales has left state agencies scrambling for new revenue.  One idea is a non-consumptive recreation fee attached to Yellowstone National Park.      The big question is whether revenue would be directed toward non-consumptive activities like hiking and birdwatching, or into the old hook-and bullet crowd.

 

We’ll see.

 

Fly Fishing Clubhouse

Crazy.  That’s what I thought when I saw the new Shasta-Trinity clubhouse.  The new facility provides opportunities to engage the public in fly fishing, casting, tying, and other aspects of the sport- looks pretty neat.

 

One up, one down.

The good news?  Conservation efforts in Texas (Texas!) has led to delisting of the black-capped vireo.

It makes you hopeful to see multiple state and federal agencies plus private landowners come together, across thousands of acres, for the sake of a single species.  It makes you hopeful about the Island Marble Butterfly, recently rediscovered and native to about 800 acres in Washington’s Puget Sound.

 

Survive the Sound.

survivethesound

Biologists and conservationists constantly struggle with relating their data to a general audience.  The folks at Long Live the Kings, have gamified real-time fish tracking data on the steelhead running through Puget Sound, whose populations have declined dramatically over the past several decades.  Users “bet” on which fish will reach its spawning stream first, with proceeds going to benefit the nonprofit, which has spent the past three decades restoring native trout and salmon to the Pacific coast.  Sign up individually or create a team by May 6th to get in on the action.

Book Review: For the love of rivers.

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…so what is it you do, exactly?  Colorado State’s Kurt Fausch tackles the question in his book For the Love of Rivers.  In Fausch’s case, how aquatic communities of fish and invertebrates are structured, how they are linked to terrestrial ecosystems, and how humans alter those linkages.  It’s thoughtful, and messy- if scientists knew how to answer these questions they’d already be answered- and sometimes the solutions seem absurd, like fixing plastic greenhouses over creeks to understand the importance of streamside insects to native trout.  But understanding how these systems work helps us fix them when they break.  Fixing them when they break ensures our children have the same opportunities our parents provided us.  Fausch’s book is a must-read for those interested in field biology generally, for those interested in field biology as a career, and perhaps most importantly- as a primer in how to engage and interest the public in field research that contributes to the health of their environment.

Improvements.

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It looks nicer than it did a decade ago when Pop was running cattle in the woods and in the stream.  Once he quit dwarf larkspur and Jack in the Pulpit appeared on thenorth-facing slopes; Solomon’s Seal that used to grow only five or six inches before being nubbed down by teeth now grew fronds three and four feet tall.

Streams take longer.  Banks heal slowly from hoof wounds.  Time works sand from between pebbles in fast water, making room for mayflies and stoneflies and the monstrous, demonic-looking larvae of dobsonflies- hellgrammites.  Go-devils, stone-devils. Grampus- my favorite- the hill country corruption of a medieval monster which carried away children in the night.

Butterflies are easy to love.  Grampus need a little context.  Their parents drop them off in cottony white cases on boulders, overhanging branches- bridge abutments and spans if nothing else is available- where they’ll hang out until the summer clouds build, lightning crackles, barometric pressure drops- and they’ll wriggle out, dropping the rising spate.  Brilliant.

They drift to the fast water, among cobbles and boulders.  The underside of their abdomen is lined with feather gray gills- they need the turbulence of that swift water to survive.  They spend years among the stones on the bottom of a stream, hunting other insects, before crawling back to shore where they’ll dig into soft soil along the bank, transforming to the winged adult, repeating a process 250 million years old.

They’re delicate, linking land and water.  They need streamside woodlands for their eggs and adults and to provide cool, oxygenated water for their young.  They need clean, clear, healthy water, without sediment or insecticides or pollutants- for years, as their young feed and grow.

It’s a good sign.  There are other good signs, namely the gaudy darters spawning in shallow, cobble-bottomed section.  The stonerollers, done up in bright colors and studded with white bumps like scattered pearls.  There’s other things- spiraled shells of ramshorn snails, wax-colored cases of fingernail clams, the chubby fathead minnow and the green sunfish I scare from a half-submerged rootwad, all pointing to the changes farm ponds in the watershed have made on the stream.

It isn’t perfect.  By no means pristine.  But it’s certainly an improvement.

 

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Cleaning out the inbox: Two sides.

bonefishing-key-westOne side. 

Florida’s unlike anywhere else in the continental United States- unique ecosystems harboring thousands of species found nowhere else on the planet, shaped by wind and rain, water and tides.  They’re sensitive ecosystems, plagued by human development and associated nutrients, sediment, and the introduction of dozens of non-native species.  Hell Bay Boatworks has been a tireless advocate in the conservation of Florida’s unique aquatic resources- restoring the Everglades, mitigating pollution from agriculture surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

The other. 

We don’t blink an eye at the conservation of panthers or leopards or bison or wolves- species which range hundreds of square miles, species which, globally speaking, are pretty stable.  Little things count, and they’re often ignored.  Take the Panama City Crayfish– whose entire global population covers an area about the size of Disney World.  Of all the species which need conservation attention, those inhabiting such tiny native ranges should be the easiest to protect- they’re not fuzzy or photogenic or cuddly, and when it comes to building new condos or protecting something that looks like it’s out of a sci-fi novel, the spiny-squishy-slimy critters too often lose out.  It’s a shame, because they exist- and they’re worth protecting.

Jumping the Gun.

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Water warms slower, and I know when I see the empty parking lot I’m early.  Too early.  The big, gravid females move first, and I’m still too early for that.  Maybe the fish are stacked up at the mouth, waiting for the first warm spring rain to ascend.  That doesn’t help me.

So I walk the banks and wade shallow riffles looking at the empty hulls of long dead freshwater mussels.  They fish, too.  These living stones house their young in envelopes of flesh that mimic prey, twitching them on the stream bottom, enticing fish to bite.  The larval mussels clamp down on gills and fins, getting a free ride upstream or down.  It’s as bizarre and fragile as anything you’d see in the Africa or the Amazon; Attenborough should narrate.

Someone Hug Mitch McConnell.

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In a part of the world decimated by logging and mining, The Nature Conservancy and Kentucky’s top Republican have partnered for a $5 million grant to protect 25,000 acres of Appalachian landscape.  The strange bedfellows’ cooperative effort will protect threatened amphibians, bats, birds, crawdads, fish, and freshwater mussels all benefit, with the mixed hardwood and hemlock forests affording carbon sequestration for generations to come.

Let’s take the win.