Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter and Passover to all readers of Greenmomster!  As we celebrate this week and continue to fight the good fight to protect our environment, let’s remember the words of  Mother Teresa, “It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but howDSC_0039 much love we put in the giving.” 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is this how we treat family?

In past posts, we’ve discussed illegal trafficking of various endangered species, including the illegal trade in elephant parts, reptiles (in book list), pangolins, and butterflies (in book list).  This week, I wanted to call your attention to a recent UN report on our closest cousins, “Stolen Apes: The Illicit TradeStolen Apes in Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans,” (here’s a link to the pdf) produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) through the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP).  This report estimates that over 22,000 great apes have been lost from the wild since 2005, and that 64% of those animals were chimpanzees.  Unlike our usual culprits when it comes to threats to endangered species, we’re not looking at habitat loss, deforestation, mining, hunting for bushmeat, or pollution.  The enemy now seems to be a very well-organized network of illegal trafficking in live animals or animal parts, yet only 27 arrests were made in Asia and Africa from 2005 to 2011, and only 1/4 of those arrests were prosecuted.  Recommendations from the report include:

  • increasing protection of habitat areas
  • increased training for police officers and customs agents, as well as trans-national criminal intelligence units
  • use of national and international multi-media campaigns that discourage ownership of ownership, trade, and use of great apes, and make legal penalties clear
  • ending the use of great apes in entertainment, like movies and commercials



Stiles, D., Redmond, I., Cress, D., Nellemann, C., Formo, R.K. (eds). 2013. Stolen Apes – The Illicit Trade in Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal.

UN News Centre.  2013.  “Illicit Trade in Great Apes Increasingly Linked to Organized Crime, UN Report Finds.”  Accessed 2/26/2013.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hugging my neighborhood trees

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“Someone’s sitting in the shade today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  Warren Buffett

I live in an older neighborhood; many of the original houses were built in the 1950s.  As is often the case in older neighborhoods, many folks are buying the older houses, knocking them down, and building newer, bigger homes.  No problem – I like new shiny things just as much as the next guy and some of theseDSC_0015 houses are really beautiful and very energy efficient.  Here’s what I don’t like – I don’t like it when builders are allowed to knock down every tree on the property prior to building.  Since our neighborhood is older, this process means we’re removing trees that could be 50 years old or older.  When we look at the pros and cons of tree removal and planting younger trees, the cons very much outweigh the pros:

Pros for removing old trees and planting younger ones:
  1. Younger trees take up more CO2 as they grow.  This pro is countered by the stored carbon released when the older trees are cut down and burned or otherwise disposed of.
Cons for removing old trees and planting younger ones:
  1. Aesthetically, it’s just not attractive -- Our neighborhood is becoming a patchwork of large houses surrounded by little trees.  As my kids would say, it looks like a Lego display built from two different sized kits.
  2. Soil erosion -- Big, old trees have big root systems.  Little trees have little root systems.  Big trees hold soil in place better than little trees.  Soil runoff is a huge issue in urban and suburban areas, because sedimentation (mud in the water) and phosphorous pollution (phosphorous attaches itself to soil particles) very negatively impact waterways across the country – in my area it greatly impacts the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
  3. Decreased bird diversity -- As mentioned in a previous post, the presence of rarer birds has been shown to raise housing sale prices.  You’ll find more bird diversity in older, mixed stands of trees (Farmer 2011).  Remove the trees, decrease property values.
  4. Increased energy costs -- Shade trees reduce energy costs (estimated at $25 – $30/per year/per tree) (Little 2009).   Remove the trees, pay higher energy bills.
  5. Decreased local air quality -- Trees help to improve urban air quality by sequestering carbon, reducing urban heat island effects, and even trapping pollutants on their leaves.  (Leung et. al. 2011)  Remove the trees, deal with decreased urban air quality.
If you’re thinking about building a new home, consider building around the existing trees as much as possible.  I know it can be done, because it was done in my parents’ neighborhood.  If you’re a citizen concerned about quality of life in your neighborhood, be sure to let your elected officials know that you support protecting trees during the building process.  And then go give your big, old trees a great big hug.

Farmer, M.C., M.C. Wallace, and M. Shiroya.  2011.  “Bird diversity indicates ecological value in urban home prices.”  Urban Ecosystems doi:  10.1007/s11252-011-0209-0.
Leung, D.Y.C, and J.K.Y. Tsui, C. Feng, Y. Wing-Kin, L.L.P. Vrijmoed, L. Chun-Ho.  2011.  “Effects of Urban Vegetation on Urban Air Quality” Landscape Research, April 2011, vol. 36, issue 2.  pp. 173-188.
Little, J.B.  2009.  “Where Money Grows on Trees.”  American Forests, Spring 2009, vol. 115, issue 1.  pp. 43-45.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Asparagus season!

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It’s almost asparagus season (photo from!  My favorite way to prepare asparagus is very simple.  First I wash the asparagus, use a potato peeler to peel the stems a little, and snap off the hard ends.  I then place the asparagus on a baking sheet, spray with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and broil at about 450 degrees for about 15 minutes – delicious!
Feeling a little more ambitious?  Then try this recipe for Lemony Vegetable Risotto that I’ve adapted from Family Circle (July 2012):

32 oz. vegetable broth
1 bag frozen asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces (or the equivalent of fresh asparagus)
1 bag frozen peas (or the equivalent of fresh peas)
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup diced shallots
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
3 tblsp lemon juice
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt

1)  Boil the broth and 1/2 cup water.  Add asparagus and peas for about 3 minutes.  Remove veggies with a slotted spoon and set aside, but keep the water/broth.
2)  Heat oil and butter in a large pan, and add shallots, cooking for about 2 minutes.  Stir in the rice and cook for another minute.  Pour in wine and cook until the liquid is almost gone. 
3)  To the rice mixture, add 1/2 cup of the reserved water/broth, stirring well, and cook until the broth is almost gone.  Repeat this step with additional 1/2 cups of water/broth until the rice is tender (it will probably take about 25 minutes).
4)  Stir in lemon juice, parmesan, peas and asparagus.  Enjoy immediately!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Goin’ Native!

Eastern Redbud—Cercis canadensisIt’s almost spring, which means I’m looking for some interesting trees and plants for my garden, to add a little zest to the landscape and to fill in holes from any plants that didn’t make it through the winter.  I’ve had a longstanding hole in my backyard  along the fenceline that I plan to fill in this spring.  I’m going to plant two redbuds (Cercis canadensis, photo credit:  Arbor Day Foundation, and look forward to their beautiful spring blooms.   Why did I choose the eastern redbud?  The most important reason is that it’s a species that’s native to the mid-Atlantic region where I live. 

Ecologists separate plant and animal species into non-native and native species.  Here’s how this classification works:

  • As a general rule of thumb for the Chesapeake region, non-native species are species introduced to the ecosystem after the arrival of Europeans in this area (1700s), and native species are species that were here before that time. 
  • Non-native species have been introduced to ecosystems in many different ways – as plants for people’s gardens (roses), as crops (tomatoes), as possible fur producing animals (nutria), as ornamental animals for the lawns and ponds of wealthy landowners (mute swan), as misguided attempts at erosion control (kudzu), as packing material to protect fragile items (Japanese stiltgrass). 
  • Some non-natives don’t cause any problems (roses or tomatoes); they stay where they’re planted and serve the intended purpose. 
  • But some non-native species “go rogue”.  When they leave the habitat in which they evolved, and enter a new habitat, they’re able to outcompete other species.   This unbalanced competition causes disruptions in species interactions that have evolved over thousands of years. 
  • A great example of an invasive non-native species in the Chesapeake Bay  is the snakehead fish – this top predator can really clean out a lake, leaving almost nothing in its wake.  AND it has no natural predators – talk about a one-two punch for native ecosystems!

That’s why we want to try to plant as many native plants in our gardens as possible.  They’ve evolved to be able to handle the climate in the native area – think less water needed, fewer pesticides (they’ve evolved natural defenses), less fertilizer (they’re used to the native soils).  They have also evolved to work with other native species.  Many plants and insects come out of winter sleep at about the same time – the plants are ready to be pollinated, just as those pollinators wake up!  What a great system!

So I’ll be planting my two beautiful redbuds this weekend and enjoying them for many years to come!  If you’d like to see some native species from your area, check out eNature’s listing of local species by zip code.  What are you planting in your garden?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A “Sticky” Situation for this endangered species!

Patrick Honan holds two of the rare Lord Howe Island stick insects.My son, Noah, told me about this week’s endangered species, the Lord Howe stick insect (Dryococelus australis) (island photo is home, sweet home for the stick insect, credit:  John White; insect photo credit Rod Morris/  The fascinating story of this insect is one of the best endangered species stories I’ve heard in a long time.  Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

  • Huge stick insect lives on Lord Howe Island in the south Pacific near Australia
  • In 1918 a supply ship runs aground on the island and inadvertently introduces black rats to the island
  • The black rats feast on the great big, tasty stick insects; insects are believed to be extinct by 1960 
  • But wait! In 2002, scientists might have found the stick insects on Ball’s Pyramid (which, by the way, is why my two sons found this story so funny, being 12 and 14-year old boys…..)

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel – you just have to read this story, expertly told by the folks at NPR:  Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides For 80 Years.

Ball's Pyramid in the Tasman sea is located 19 kilometers from Lord Howe Island east of Australia.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Black bean, hominy, and kale stew

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Here’s a great recipe I adapted from the March 2013 issue of Cooking Light (I made this version a little more chunky, a little lighter on the spices).  Serve with Phil’s Cornbread for a tasty, hearty end-of –winter meal!

11 oz jar of tomatillos, chopped very small
4 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
the equivalent of 2 jalapeno peppers, from jarred jalapenos
4 tsp chopped garlic
4 tsp ground cumin
8 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cans (15 oz each) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 8 oz. bunches of kale, cleaned and chopped
1 29 oz. can hominy, rinsed and drained
sour cream
shredded cheddar

1)  Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Add onion and jalapeno, and saute for about 5 minutes.
2)  Add garlic and cumin; saute for about 2 more minutes
3)  Add tomatillos, broth, water, salt, red pepper, black beans, and kale.  Heat for about 10 minutes, or until the kale becomes tender.
4)  Add the hominy for about 5 minutes and serve warm.
5) Garnish with sour cream, cheddar, and cilantro.
Serves a hungry family of five, with a little bit for leftovers!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

So you slept through science class, part 6–Wildlife Corridors

During our last science class, we talked about biodiversity and why it matters for the health of ecosystems.  So what’s the real-world application?  Well, it turns out that in order to maintain diversity, we not only want to maintain it at a species level, we also want to maintain diversity at a genetic level.  Within a population of individuals of a species, scientists and wildlife managers hope to see LOTS of diversity at a genetic level, in the individuals’ genes.  Think about it – if every plant or animal in an ecosystem has the exact same genetic make-up, that ecosystem will be pretty vulnerable if a disease sweeps through.  If the individuals in a population have some diversity in their genetic make-up, though, perhaps a few of them will have the genetic where-with-all to survive a disease outbreak.
The problem in today’s world of over 7 billion people is that humans are encroaching on most natural populations of plants and animals and locking them into specific geographic areas.  Animals and plants need to be able to breed with many other individuals in order to keep the genetic diversity of a population rich.  Think about it – where would you expect to see more genetic diversity in humans:
  • in a small town of 500 people who only intermarry with one another?
  • in a larger area of 1500 people, including immigrants from other towns, all of whom intermarry?
Obviously, the second town is going to have more diversity in its genes.  It’s the same for other animals – the more they can mix, the more diversity in the gene pool.  But many populations are what we call “geographically” isolated – they’re separated from one another by roads, housing developments, agricultural development, clear-cutting.  It’s a real challenge for wildlife managers trying to maintain genetic diversity AND help to prepare populations for possible migrations necessary because of climate change.
“Wildlife corridors” are one possible solution to this problem.  By preserving large or small (depending on the size of the animal) swaths of wild lands, conservation managers hope to help populations interbreed and remain healthier.  One example you might have seen in the news is the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor (Y2Y).  This project is an ambitious attempt on the part of environmentalists, state and federal officials, and private landowners to maintain corridors to allow interbreeding for species large (grizzlies) and small (ocelot).  The project is not complete, but is a fascinating example of the efforts of folks dedicated to protecting our environment.
If youThe Spine of the Continent: The Most Ambitious Wildlife Conservation Project Ever Undertaken’d like to read more about the Y2Y corridor, be sure to check out these books, and be sure to support the Y2Y Corridor:
The Spine of the Continent, by Mary Ellen Hannibal.  2012.  Glove Pequot Press, Guilford CT.  248pp.  This book tells the stories of individuals involved in the Y2Y effort, giving the reader an interesting look at the personalities and debates behind the conservation and ecological theory supporting corridors.
Yellowstone to Yukon, Freedom to Roam, by Florian Schulz.  2005.  The Mountaineers Books.  196 pp.  I had the pleasure of meeting Florian Schultz at a National Geographic presentation on the making of this spectacular book of photographs.  Mr. Schultz’s dedication and enthusiasm for this cause is infectious.  He wrote a note to my children in our book that illustrates his enthusiasm:  “When I was a boy I played in the forest stalking after wildlife.  I hear you also love wild animals like wolves.  I just saw a whole pack and photographed them last year.  It is so exciting!”
Yellowstone to Yukon Freedom to Roam: A Photographic Journey

Monday, March 11, 2013

The cold shoulder for polar bears

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This week’s endangered species is the polar bear (Ursus maritimus)(photo from   These powerful symbols of the arctic weigh between 500 and 1000 lbs (and even up to 1400 lbs!), feeding primarily on ringed seals (U.S. FWS 2009).  Polar bears are extremely strong swimmers and can live from 25 to 30 years in the Polar Bear Familywild.  To live in the harsh arctic climate, they have evolved several different adaptations to stay warm – they’ve got a thick layer of blubber and are covered in a thick layer of insulating fur.  Although the fur is white (providing camouflage in their white, icy environment), the skin underneath is actually black, allowing it to absorb the sun’s rays.  Even the soles of the polar bear’s feet are covered in fur (National Geographic ND).

At around 3-5 years of age, polar bears are ready to reproduce (U.S. FWS 2009).  Females dig dens in the arctic ice and give birth during the winter, usually to twins.  The young stay with the female for over two years, in order to learn survival skills.  All parental care is given by the female; in fact, the females must protect the young from the males who have been known to kill the cubs (National Geographic ND).

The polar bear population is currently estimated at 20,000-25,000 (U.S. FWS 2009).  Polar bears are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened (U.S. FWS 2013) and listed on Appendix II of CITES, with primary threats to the population being the loss of sea ice, due to climate change.  Several international agreements are in place to try to protect the polar bear and its habitat; Canada is the only nation with polar bears that currently allows sports hunting of this species (Washington Post 2013).  Unfortunately, there was recently a set-back for polar bear protection at the international meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.  The group rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the global trade of polar bear parts.  Canadian Inuits led the opposition (citing the need for international trade to protect their economy); 42 countries opposed the U.S. proposal, 38 voted in favor, and 46 members, including the 27 members of the European Union, abstained.  Truly a disappointing day in the history of polar bear conservation. 

Why should we care about the polar bear?  As stated on the World Wildlife Federation’s website:  “Polar bears are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Over thousands of years, polar bears have also been an important part of the cultures and economies of Arctic peoples. Polar bears depend on sea ice for their existence and are directly impacted by climate change—serving as important indicator species.”   To learn more about the polar bear and what you can do to help, be sure to visit:


Eilperin, J.. 2013. “U.S. Proposal to Protect Polar Bears Fails.” Washington Post, March 8, 2013.

National Geographic.  ND.  “Polar Bear Ursus maritimus”  Accessed online 3/8/2013.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2013.  “Species Profile.  Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus)”  Last updated 3/8/2013.  Accessed online 3/8/2012.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009.  “Polar Bear Ursus maritimus”  Last updated October 2009.  Accessed online 3/8/2013.

World Wildlife Fund.  2013.  “Polar Bear”  Accessed online 3/8/2013.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Forest Unseen

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The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell is a book that I truly enjoyed.  Dr. Haskell, a professor of biology at the University of the South, watched a small area of woods in Tennessee for an entire year and reports on the experience in this book.  Rather than taking a scientific, analytical approach to hisThe Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature study, Dr. Haskell tries to follow a more meditative approach, using the Tibetan mandalas as an example.  Here’s how he describes his adventure:

  “This book is a biologist’s response to the challenge of the Tibetan mandala, of Blake’s poems, of Lady Julian’s hazelnut.  Can the whole forest be seen through a small contemplative window of leaves, rocks, and water?  I have tried to find the answer to this question, or the start of an answer in a mandala made of old-growth forest in the hills of Tennessee.  The forest mandala is a circle a little over a meter across, the same size as the mandala that was created and swept away by the monks.  I chose the mandala’s location by walking haphazardly through the forest and stopping when I found a suitable rock on which to sit.  The area in front of the rock became the mandala, a place that I had never seen before, its promise mostly hidden by winter’s austere garb.”

I looked forward to reading this book each evening, wondering what new insights Dr. Haskell might have found in his daily mandala observations.  An expert naturalist, Dr. Haskell uses the mandala as a springboard for writing on topics as diverse as salamanders, snails, wind, katydids, fireflies,and fungi.  But what really sets this book apart is the writing.  Dr. Haskell is an award-winning poet, and this book is beautifully written.  I found myself underlining sentences and dog-earing pages, just to be able to refer back to his colorful descriptions of the fascinating world of nature (chloroplasts as “jewel boxes”).  Here’s how he describes the experience of viewing the mandala through a small magnifying glass:

“From my prone position I see the snail pause amid lichen flakes and black fungus spiking from the surface of oak leaves.  I peek over the lens and suddenly all is gone.  The change of scale is a wrench into a different world; the fungus is invisible,the snail is a valueless detail in a world dominated by bigger things.  I return to the lens world and re-discover the vivid tentacles, the snail’s black-and-silver grace.  The hand lens helps me harvest the world’s beauty, throwing my eyes wide open.  Layers of delight are hidden by the limitation s of everyday human vision.”

Dr. Haskell’s writing allows the reader to see many common creatures in a new way.  Although I was familiar with many of the organisms and processes he describes in the book, his colorful writing allowed me to see them through a new lens.  I learned interesting, new facts on almost every page.  For example, if you’ve ever seen a chickadee at a bird feeder, you know it’s a cute little bird.  That’s what we see when we’re looking at them, but what do they see?

“Chickadee eyes also perceive more colors than mine can.  I view the mandala with eyes that are equipped with three types of color receptor, giving me three primary colors and four main combinations of primary colors.  Chickadees have an extra color receptor that detects ultraviolet light.  This gives chickadees four primary colors and eleven main combinations, expanding the range of color vision beyond what humans can experience or even imagine.  Bird color receptors are also equipped with tinted oil droplets that act as light filters, allowing only a narrow range of colors to stimulate each receptor.  This increases the precision of color vision.  We lack these filters, so even within the range of light visible to humans. birds are better able to discriminate subtle differences in color.  Chickadees live in a hyperrreality of color that is inaccessible to our dull eyes.  Here in the mandala, they use these abilities to find food.  Ultraviolet light reflects from the dried wild grapes that are sparsely scattered across the forest floor.  Wings of beetles and moths are sometimes tinged with ultraviolet, as are some caterpillars.  Even without the advantage of ultraviolet vision, insect camouflage is unmasked by slight imperfections detected by the birds’ precise perception of color.”

Dr. Haskell’s beautiful and descriptive writing are what set this book apart.  Definitely worth a read – you’ll learn much about the incredible natural world around us!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Takin’ tips from the W. Post!

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This week, the Washington Post Food section was all about vegetarian food!  So I’m posting a recipe from the section that I’m hoping to try in the next week – if you give it a go, let us know what you thought!
Roasted Cauliflower With Citrus-Tahini Sauce
The Washington Post, March 6, 2013


  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 whole head cauliflower (1 to 1 1/4 pounds)
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh juice of 2 lemons (about 1/2 cup)
  • Grated zest and juice of 1/2 orange
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup tahini
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted, for garnish (see NOTE)
  • 1/4 cup slivered or coarsely chopped pistachios, for garnish


1)  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Use half of the oil to grease a rimmed baking sheet.
2) Discard the green leaves of the cauliflower, leaving the core intact. Cut the head into 4 equal, thick slices and lay them on the baking sheet. Turn to coat with the oil and season both sides lightly with salt. Roast for about 10 minutes or until the edges are crisp, then carefully turn the slices over and roast for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower slices are lightly browned.
3)  While the cauliflower is in the oven, combine the lemon juice, the orange juice and most of the zest, all of the water and the tahini to form a well-blended sauce. (The remaining zest will be used as a garnish.)
4)  Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; stir to coat, then cook for about 8 minutes, until softened and lightly colored.
5)  Pour the citrus-tahini sauce over the onion mixture. Once the sauce starts to bubble at the edges, stir until smooth, slightly thickened and well combined. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
6)  Transfer the cauliflower to a serving platter. Spoon the sauce and onion evenly over the slices. Garnish with the toasted pine nuts, pistachios and reserved orange zest.
NOTE: Toast the pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the skillet a few times so the nuts do not burn.

Recipe Source:

Adapted from "Modern Flavors of Arabia: Recipes and Memories From My Middle Eastern Kitchen," by Suzanne Husseini (Appetite by Random House, 2012).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick for The Washington Post.
E-mail the
Food Section with recipe questions.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

3 Quick Links to Speak Out against the Keystone XL Pipeline

climatechange10This week, the State Department released its Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.  If you’d like to get involved in the decision-making process regarding this project, here are three steps you should take.  Voice your opinions!

1)  First, take a quick review of the climate change issue from Climate Mama.

2)  Second, read the Executive Summary of the Draft Supplemental EIS regarding the Keystone XL pipeline project.

3)  Third, voice your opinion.  If you’d like to make general comments to the Obama administration, you can use the Sierra Club website (if their opinions are aligned with yours).  If you’d like to make more specific comments on the Draft Supplemental EIS (for instance, I had many comments regarding the endangered species section of the document), you can comment directly to the State Department via e-mail address

Don’t just sit quietly while others make decisions that will affect future generations – your opinions are valuable!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Another Peek at the Piping Plover

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This week, we revisit an endangered species we’ve discussed before – the piping plover (Charadrius melodus).   There’s good news about these little shorebirds.  Thanks to several cooperative efforts between wildlife management agencies and organizations, the population of the piping plover has increased from 790 pairs when listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1986, to nearly 1800 pairs today (getting ever closer to the recovery goal of 2000 pairs).  One of the innovative methods of conservation includes protecting wintering grounds, rather than just focusing on breeding grounds (Pover 2013).

When I worked for the U.S. Coast Guard (CG), one of my responsibilities was to encourage protection of endangered species on CG property.  One of the most memorable animals we encountered was the Piping Plover at the CG facility in Cape May NJ.  The staff atpiping plover with chick the facility really worked hard to protect these little birds, which wasn’t always easy.  Piping plovers scratch nests into beach sand and lay their camouflaged eggs in these scrapes.  The eggs are particularly vulnerable to predators, such as gulls, foxes, raccoons, and domestic cats.  Another danger for the eggs and hatchlings is nest abandonment by the adult birds, due to disturbance.  Thus, protection of the plovers is not always popular, because some beaches must be closed during nesting season.  The folks at Cape May did a great job of public education to encourage protection of these little birds – they even held a plover 5K run!

Here are some interesting facts about piping plovers:
  • Plovers eat insects, spiders, and crustaceans
  • Piping plovers are migratory birds.  For the Atlantic coast population, adults lay eggs all along the Atlantic coast during the spring and summer.  Two other populations lay eggs on the shores of the Great Lakes area and on the shores of rivers and lakes in the northern Great Plains.  The piping plovers spend the winter on the Gulf coast or more southern regions.
  • Adults lay 4 eggs in April or May, and the eggs hatch in about 25 days.
  • The first decline in the plover population was due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade during the early 1900s.  After the population recovered to a peak population in the 1940s, beach development and human disturbance again threaten the population.
  • The little plover chicks are so cute!  As you can see from the above picture, they look like little dust balls on long legs!
As we look forward to the summer beach season, what can you do to protect piping plovers?  From the U.S. FWS:
  • Respect all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife.
  • Do not approach or linger near piping plovers or their nests.
  • If pets are permitted on beaches used by plovers, keep your pets leashed. Keep cats indoors.
  • Don't leave or bury trash or food scraps on beaches. Garbage attracts predators which may prey upon piping plover eggs or chicks.
  • Write to your congressional representative regarding a bill reintroduced by Rep. Jones (R-NC) (H.R. 819).  The goal of this bill is to block implementation of a National Park Service plan that protects beach-nesting piping plovers and sea turtles from vehicles at Cape Hatteras. High vehicle traffic on Cape Hatteras beaches interrupts nesting and feeding patterns and can kill plovers and turtles.  (Pepper, 2013)
Pepper, Elly.  2013.  “January/February 2013 Threats to the Endangered Species Act.”  NRDC Switchboard.  Accessed 3/4/2013.
Pover, Todd. "Partnering for piping plover: a conservation success story."Endangered Species Bulletin Summer 2012. Gale Science In Context. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2012.  “Piping Plover, Atlantic Coast Population.”  Accessed online:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

So you slept through science class, part 5–Biodiversity!

We often hear about protecting “biodiversity,” but what does that term really mean?  Biodiversity is the way that scientists determine which species are found in ecosystems.  The scientists try to answer two questions:

  1. How many different species are in this particular ecosystem?
  2. What is the relative abundance of the species found in the ecosystem?

So let’s start with the basics – what is a species?  A species is a group of organisms able to breed successfully and produce fertile offspring over several generations.  Dogs are a species; monarch butterflies are a species; willow oak trees are a species. 

When scientists want to determine the biodiversity in an ecosystem, the first number they need is the number of species.  Many methods exist for counting species.  In the case of plants, scientists can count the number of different species in a set area (1 meter square; 1 mile square) and perhaps extrapolate the number out to a large area, depending on the distribution of the plants.  Since animals can move around, methods for counting them are a little different.  For animals that live in the open, like the arctic, herds of animals can be counted from planes.  I counted butterflies for my dissertation by walking “transects” or paths to count individuals.  More “shy” animals, might be caught and recaptured to calculate a species number.

The second step in the process of determining biodiversity is figuring out the relative abundance of the various species.   Two forest stands with 100 trees of 5 different species don’t necessarily have the same relative abundance.  One forest stand could have 96 trees of species 1, and 1 tree each of species 2,3,4, and 5, and have very different relative abundance from the other forest stand with 20 trees of each species. 

Once scientists have both species numbers and relative abundance, they combine these numbers to determine biodiversity.  What’s the goal?  In biological conservation, the healthiest ecosystems are considered the ones with the greatest biodiversity.  This biodiversity is said to give the ecosystem the best resilience to change and shocks.  Just like the old adage says, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” a diverse assortment of species helps to sustain life in an ecosystem.  Do we expect all ecosystems to have the same biodiversity?  No.  Tropical ecosystems and aquatic ecosystems, such as coral reefs, have very high biodiversity, while others have fewer species.  Just as we greenmomsters try to maximize the individual potential of each of our kids, the conservation goal in ecosystems is to see each one maximize its expected biodiversity.

So there it is, biodiversity in a nutshell.  Next science class, we’ll talk about how land managers are trying to apply this concept in the real world.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Meat-Free Friday–Corn Dogs!

Morningstar Farms Mini Veggie Corn DogThis week’s meat-free Friday choice is a prepared product, rather than a recipe.  Many times, moms who want to try some vegetarian meals with their families mention to me that there’s not enough time to cook vegetarian meals from scratch every night.  Fair enough.  Sometimes a greenmomster just needs something quick from the freezer.  Morningstar Farms makes yummy corn dogs and mini-corn dogs – add a salad and a veggie, and you’ve got an easy Friday night vegetarian meal for the family.  Full disclosure – I received absolutely NOTHING for this endorsement Smile  Just love the product and thought I’d pass it on.  Have a happy Friday!