INVADERS!

Invaders!

Invasive species threaten habitat and human health.

Whose fault is it? Who can fix the problem?

The word itself–”invasive”–blames unwanted behavior on the invaders themselves. Vikings storming through Britain; Imperialists denying the rights of native citizens;  Nazis invading, well, almost everyone: these suggest willful and aggressive purpose.

But when it comes to the environment, the term invader (or invasive) is misleading. Animal and plant invaders aren’t willfully charging into new environments to conquer them.

In addition to being hazardous to young trees, rabbits can also cause other problems (see Plant a Tree-Sunbreak Press)
Photo by Cherie Ude

The first step in understanding invasive species is to define what an invader is. With stomping boots, flailing swords, and booming canons, it’s fairly to define and denounce the aggressive behavior.

But what transforms a warm and fuzzy bunny into an invader? (See National Geographic for the history of  rabbits in Australia).

How does a species become an invader, destroyer of habitat, and a danger to human health?

Definition of Invaders

Defining an invasive species has proven controversial (Smithsonian Magazine). For the purposes of conservation, the definition from The International Union for Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) given in the Smithsonian Magazine article is commonly accepted:

“…animals, plants or other organisms introduced by man (emphasis my own) into places out of their natural range of distribution, where they become established and disperse, generating a negative impact on the local ecosystem and species.”

Clip Art Library Invasive Species Cartoon #2307916

In other words, humans not only identify and define the problem, they cause the problem.

Because of unthinking human behavior, defined invaders include animals and plants that we love and those we hate; those we brought with us on purpose and those who hitched rides on ships, planes, and even automobiles.

Because invaders enter new territory, they either quickly perish (wrong conditions) or thrive (no predators and more aggressive). Because of these factors (Invasive Species Specialist Group), invaders often eliminate natives and consequently alter entire ecosystems.

“Invasive alien species (IAS) are one of the five most important drivers affecting nature, and the fourth most important direct driver of species extinctions (Butchart et al. 2019; Ichii et al. 2019).” (PMC)

In other words, by creating this problem, humans are the cause of Invasive species that destroy habitat, damage ecosystems, and drive extinction. Since humans are the initial cause of the problem, humans must provide solutions. First, we must understand the problem.

Illegal Wildlife Trade–Many Victims

The illegal wildlife trade is responsible for many invaders. Animals are captured, transported, sold, and often die because someone wants the prestige of an exotic pet. Unfortunately, few people are able to care for exotic pets. People try, for instance, to keep full-sized jaguars in the city.

Even those who are supposedly professional find that providing fresh meat, ample space, and vet care exceed what they can provide (U.S. Department of Justice).

When care becomes too difficult or just boring, people “free” animals into the wild. Some don’t last long, but some find an Eden with no known predators, such as Burmese pythons and other exotic animals in Florida’s swamps National Geographic article.

Defying laws, people often think they have a “right” to own or consume any animal they want. However, wildlife trafficking is not a victimless crime. Consider this information from the 2022 US budget:

Law Enforcement—The 2022 budget provides $95.0 million, an increase of $8.1 million over the 2021 level, for the law enforcement program to investigate wildlife crimes and enforce the laws that govern the Nation’s wildlife trade. FWS continues to work with the State Department, other Federal agencies, and foreign governments to address the serious and urgent threat to conservation and global security posed by illegal wildlife trade and trafficking. A program increase of $7.7 million will provide for proactive law enforcement efforts to target and stop illegal trade; ensure sustainable legal trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; reduce demand for illegal wildlife products in consumer countries; and provide technical assistance and grants to other nations to build local enforcement capabilities. FWS will also continue to strengthen its smuggling interdiction efforts at the Nation’s ports of entry by using trained wildlife detector dogs in its frontline force and working with the State Department to support attachés in key wildlife trafficking countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

So the burden of policing and cleaning up after wildlife trafficking is placed on taxpayers. The same is true in other countries trying to prevent this crime. Citizens in these countries also suffer as animals go extinct and habitats are lost. Humans risk their health as well (World Wildlife Fund and above BBC article). Meanwhile, animals, too, endure capture, injury, and death.

Although many species come from other countries, we can’t simply blame other cultures for illegal wildlife trafficking. No one would capture the animals unless the market existed. For instance, social media has helped make the pangolin one of the world’s most trafficked animals – and not just because it’s cute. People unabashedly buy products made of their scales. World Wildlife Fund Is this a non-issue in the U.S.? No. This Portland, Oregon woman was selling the scales in the US U.S. Department of Justice.

The US is one of the largest consumers of illegal wildlife and products (One Green Planet: America’s Role in the Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Trade and How to Stop It).

The cute and cuddly aren’t the only deliberately purchased wildlife. Consider the lionfish, originally from the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, are now found in Florida coral reefs (NOAA ). People buy and then release these and other tropical fish in the sea. Now bounties are being offered to divers for killing lionfish (who have no local predators) before reefs are devastated. Again, the clean-up is costly and the environmental destruction extensive.

Kudzu sculpting a different forest landscape. (Photo by Kerry Britton, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

With plants, people who think something is pretty or interesting can create a serious environmental problem. Kudzu is swallowing up some landscapes.

At the same time the Himalayan blackberry offers a tasty treat, it can also overwhelm native plants (and even houses).

In some cases, the plants that take over an area can be hazardous to livestock and humans, such as tansy ragwort.  Tansy (WSSA World of Weeds ) has been in the States for hundreds of years, and is considered noxious everywhere. It probably came over on ships accidentally, in ballast or agricultural products.

Invader Laws Vary

Every location that has had humans also has invasive species, both plant and animal. Each place has different rules and laws for invasive species management. For instance, the eastern grey squirrel is considered a “non-native” species in Washington State where I live. It’s legal to kill them, but illegal to move them off your property. Debate continues about how seriously they threaten native wildlife.

On the other hand, the European green crab (brought to the country aboard sailing ships) is a serious threat, and people are encouraged to report sightings. Check out National Invasive Species Information Center for specific information for your area. If you violate wildlife laws, you become subject to prosecution according to your state’s laws.

What Can You Do?

Be part of the solution.

  1. Read all labels when you purchase items, from clothing to furniture to toys to food. What are the materials and where do they originate?
  2. Buy certified products (US EPA Identify Greener Products and Services)
  3. Don’t buy exotic pets. If you want a pet such as a parrot, check out rescue centers. Many exotic pets need homes. Understand the animal’s needs before obtaining it.
  4. Don’t support markets or pet stores that sell any products that aren’t certified.
  5. Report any illegal wildlife trade. Share information about the problem with friends and family.
  6. Eco-tourism choices will help support local environmentally friendly economies.
  7. Support charitable organizations that fight wildlife trafficking. Check out World Wildlife Fund to start.
  8. Be informed. Do some research. Then be ready to speak out in person, on social media, or in letters to newspapers or congress about the problems and solutions.

Be part of the solution!

Next post will be on WATER in early March

Plant a Tree

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
― Chinese proverb
Big Leaf Maple-Photo by Marian Blue

To plant a tree in the 21st century is to think in more complicated ways than in the past if you consider today’s conservation needs. Providing for wildlife and planting for future climate changes are considerations, along with concerns people have always had: beauty, shade, and other value.

Planning for wildlife has become increasingly important as pollinators (such as bees and butterflies) are on the decline. Yet we often think in terms of flowers or shrubs only. Pollinators also rely on trees. Trees provide shelter, food, and nesting sites for birds, bats, raccoons, frogs, and more.

When you plant a tree, you’re creating a substantial resource for decades, maybe centuries.

To Plant a Tree

Step One

Red-bellied woodpeckers love trees and the food they host. Photo by Cherie Ude

The first step in planning is to consider your site, both geographically and in details. What seed zone are you in and how is climate change apt to affect that? The forest service has a mapping tool for considering both these issues: USDA Seed Zone Applications. If you want something less complex, many nurseries and other organizations provide seed zone maps online or in their garden centers. If you’re thinking in terms of climate change, don’t make significant changes–move south one or two hundred miles and go for that seed zone.

When you know your seed zone it’s easy to find out what trees are recommended for your area. Local conservation districts are a good source (as well as nurseries). My local conservation district provides information, resources, and an annual plant sale: Whidbey Island Conservation District. Because it’s local, the plants are already selected for the area. Note that for pollinators, the trees Madrone, Big Leaf Maple, Black Hawthorne, and others are included. Sometimes species that provide important resources for wildlife might surprise you.

Some northwest recommended wildlife trees are included at National Wildlife Federation Ten Favorite Trees for Wildllife

Step Two

The northern cardinal brings flashes of brilliance.
Photo by Cherie Ude

Consider your specific site and personal goals. Even sites in the same area can vary radically.

Space–how much open area do you have? Does it suit the future size of the tree you’re considering?

Location—will roots be too close to septic tanks, power lines, or house foundations? Will spreading branches overshadow gardens that need light? Will the tree eventually be tall enough to threaten buildings from falling branches or the tree itself? Also keep in mind that different towns have different rules about trees; some neighborhood associations are particularly restrictive. Even if no restrictions are enforced, consider how your tree will affect your neighbors.

Light—Shade is lovely, almost as effective as AC, but will the tree eventually block a view or windows? Also, how much light is available for the tree? Some trees are shade tolerant…some are not.

Drainage—What kind of soil do you have? More clay means slower drainage whereas sandy loam will drain well. Also, is the tree in a low wet spot? A high, dry spot? You can dig a hole, fill it with water, and see how quickly it drains to get an idea of drainage. You might want to also evaluate the pH values of the soil.

Future plans and goals—If you’re thinking of enlarging your home or putting in gardens or selling in the near future, consider how the tree fits into those plans. Do you want the tree to be a legacy tree, a place for a tree house, a graceful setting for family gatherings or lounging in a hammock? Are you thinking long-term?

Douglas Squirrels cone-bearing trees, favoring those such as Douglas fir.
Photo by Cherie Ude

Pests–Will this tree lure in unwelcome guests? Consider what sort of insects and animals are apt to arrive as the tree becomes more inviting; this will vary with geography. Some people, for instance, want squirrels, raccoons and/or opossums; some don’t.

Purpose of tree–Perhaps you want something that provides color changes through the year or maybe an evergreen that keeps its foliage. Maybe you want to harvest fruit or berries. Maybe you want to plant memories. To this day, I remember the weeping willow that filled my aunt and uncle’s front yard. We played hide and seek among its branches that swept the lawn, and we could swing from those same branches.

Step Three

Planting a tree should be a thought-out process. Depth and width of hole, root conditions of sapling, etc. Remember that this is a future fulfillment. This Seattle government site has a ton of good information about planting: Planting and Care of Trees

Deer and rabbits can be hazardous to young trees.
Photo by Cherie Ude

Protect the tree after planting. Rabbits and deer are particularly hard on young trees. Deer can damage or even kill older trees by rubbing their antlers on trunks and foliage to remove velvet. Many products are available, from fencing to repellents, to help with this. Humanely Protecting Young Trees and Shrubs provides some quick tips on ways to protect your plants.

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Every day we’re learning more about trees and their roles in our world. A delightful Webinar about how trees communicate and bond with each other and with us is at Daily Dose of Nature Webinars.

When you’re planting a tree, you’re making a statement about the future and how you want it shaped. Remember, trees are valuable even after they die; see Snags . Consider getting the whole family involved in the process.

“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.”
― W.S. Merwin

Next month’s blog “Invaders!”

 

The Nature of Pets

WE LOVE OUR PETS!

Haiku and Rhododendron
Photo by Marian Blue

But…

is it in the nature of pets to love the environment?

Are we damaging nature with our pet love–fish to cats, birds to dogs, snakes to rats?

If we answer these questions honestly, we have to admit that pet care often equals environmental damage.

Here we’ll pause to acknowledge that pets provide many benefits.

It’s the nature of pets to:

  • assuage loneliness.
  • help us stay physically fit.
  • probably help lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, aid sleep.
  • teach children responsibility.
  • act as service and rescue animals.
  • and, if nothing else, make us laugh and play.
  • and more Benefits from Pets.

Few (any?) people advocate eliminating pets. Does that mean that environmental damage must continue to be in the nature of pets? Or can changed human behavior change that?

Change Can Happen

In the past, people have adapted, changed their behaviors.

For instance, when I was a kid in the 1950s, leash laws were a rarity; dogs trotted freely from yard to yard and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. My mother and other shoppers regularly included one or more of their small dogs in the cart kiddie basket as they wandered grocery store aisles.

Buying pet food was optional. Dogs usually got scraps off the table. Cats earned their living off rodents and birds as well as scraps from dinner tables and trash cans (where dogs also often dined).

As for picking up poop–! I was an adult before I saw a person cleaning up after a dog. Not until the 1970s did poop laws appear.

Today, leash laws are common, poop bags are ubiquitous, and pet food is a multi-billion dollar a year business.

Change For the Good

Unfortunately, many of those changes are now damaging our environment, not because the changes are bad but rather because hindsight is better than foresight. The changes didn’t incorporate today’s awareness of environmental issues. Consequently, pets and the pet industry contribute tons of plastic, carbon, and waste to the environment.

The good news is that we can make wise changes to improve the situation and keep our pets, too.

Pick It Up—Then What?

We mostly acknowledge that picking up pet poop is essential for the environment and for our health (see…Scoop the Poop). Unfortunately, we mostly use plastic bags to do the job. Even worse, some people leave the poop-filled bags on the beach, hanging from branches, or hidden under rocks.

First, you have alternatives to plastic: Paper waste sheets, paper bags (such as Pooch Paper), newspaper, portable tools, and some bags that aren’t plastic (plant-based). Unfortunately, there are a host of bags marketed as compostable or biodegradable that aren’t.

Picking up poop and leaving it for someone else to pick up? Pick up then dispose of responsibly. Photo by Abandoned Poop Bags

Read the label, which should advise what the bag ingredients are, how long break-down takes, and how to best dispose of the bag. Using alternatives to anything plastic is best. However, if you’re a user of plastic in the home, at least re-using the plastic is helpful rather than buying poop bags.

Once you’ve picked up, dispose of poop appropriately, usually in the trash.  The city of Bothel has these excellent hints. Safe Poop Disposal

Cats Poop, Too

While thinking about poop, remember that cat poop isn’t sweeter, better for the environment, or cleaner than dog poop. Dispose of cat poop and litter in the same way as dog poop. Avoid using plastic to line litter pans.

Cleaning up after cats is complicated by the fact that cats, unlike dogs, wander where they want. Unfortunately, that means cat poop can wind up in someone’s flower or vegetable garden or even in children’s play areas. This saves concern for owners who chose to let their cats wander, but makes cat poop other people’s problem.

Don’t believe that cats are somehow wilder than dogs. See Wild Things Sanctuary. Why do we treat cats as free agents? This site addresses some our social history regarding cats and why they aren’t legally required to be contained: Michigan State University

Attitudes about cats are changing. Keeping your cat on your property (or on a leash) might well be required in the near future. People are building catios and making their yards secure. Check out the Humane Society page. This not only benefits people who object to cat poop, it also protects birds (American Bird Conservancy), squirrels, and the cats themselves U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Beyond Poop

Plastics for pets: leashes, treat packaging, the lining of food cans, can covers, dental supplies, water/food dishes, toys (and even squeakers in toys), medical containers…our pets are plasticized. Photo by Marian Blue

When buying pet accessories–toys to food to beds to dishes to cleaners–consider ways to avoid plastic, especially one-use plastic. This includes bags and packaging. Pets, like people, aren’t helped by ingesting plastic. Plastic and Your Pet Note that plastic is often hidden in what you buy, such as the lining of pet food cans.

Other information abounds, including

Changing Lives

Every day brings opportunities to live harmoniously with all other life (see Living In Harmony With Wildlife ). By thinking more deeply about how to care for both our pets and our environment, we can bring ecological awareness into loving our pets. Then we can say that the nature of pets is good for people and the environment.

Next Month’s Blog: What Trees and Plants are Best for Your Yard?

Saving the Natural World

Saving the Natural World Feather by Feather
Photo by Cherie Ude

For those of us who love wild and natural places, saving the natural world for future generations, both human and wildlife, takes priority. Obviously saving the natural world isn’t a one-person job. Yet each of us plays a significant role by sharing our love of the natural world with people, showing them ways to enjoy and interact with wild and natural places. People love what they know.

 

SHARING YOUR LOVE OF NATURE

Educating people about our world doesn’t mean telling them what to think, how to think, or what to do. Nor do you have to be an expert yourself. Sharing your experiences doesn’t require an impressive resume.

Everyone has stories about nature. Even if you live in a megalopolis high-rise, you, yourself, are a part of the natural world, sensing the air, temperature, breezes, rain, and sun every day. You can find a lifetime of writing from your own backyard or window box.

You’ve interacted with fall leaves drifting down or you’ve fed wild birds or seen a butterfly exploring a flower. Books have been written about spider webs. Anything that captures your attention is subject matter.

Your encounters suggest ways in which other people can both experience the natural world and share those experiences.

If you enjoy photography, you’ve got people’s attention–perhaps without writing a word! For instance, this kayak photo lures the eye and mind out into the open water.

The story: Calm open water ahead!
This photo was used by Sound Water Stewards in their book Getting to the Water’s Edge.    Photo by Marian Blue

If you’re a little uncertain about your photography or how you can use it for saving the natural world, check out Court Whelan As a professional photographer, he provides these free Webinars that explore ways to tell stories through photography.

Combining a few written words with a photo can help someone’s imagination catch fire.

Type conservation in Twitter and see the many examples; some of these have thousands of likes. Photos catch the eye on Facebook but even a few choice words or a link in a colored box can have an effect.

One of my books, How Many Words for Rain, includes my poetry and Lynne Hann’s photos. These poems and photos aren’t meant to educate so much as to simply show beauty in the world and human connection to that beauty.

JUST A FEW HINTS

  1. Re-create the experience. Provide the colors, sounds, emotions. Let readers know how you felt at the moment, how you feel when remembering, or why you want to share. Don’t tell them; show them.
  2. Avoid expressing your personal opinions. Let the experience speak for itself. If you start lecturing, people will leave. For instance, my opinions about hunting crept into the first blog of this Conservation series. A professional forester called me on it, and I revised it.
  3. Read other nature blogs and newsletters from organizations such as Audubon. This is an international interest. Reading about conservation is a great way to find inspiration.
  4. Your writing can be in any genre: poetry, essay, fiction. It can also be for any audience, adult or child. You can slant it for interests, fantasy to realism.
  5. If you do wish to provide researched information (as I did in my two past blogs), make sure your sources are legitimate and vetted. Don’t grab information off a social media site or other random site. The best sources are .org or .gov or such. Check out this site for evaluating your sources: CMU library

LOOK FOR PLACES TO SUBMIT YOUR NATURE WRITING & PHOTOS

Many magazines that focus on nature love to receive submissions. For instance, Snowy Egret Magazine, published a short story of mine called “Badlands” years ago. This fictional story about an elderly man’s connection with his land was reprinted in my collection of short stories Sailing Off the Hook. Meanwhile, I have a short essay about a memories journey into the wild forthcoming in Snowy Egret.

A day in Viera Wetlands! Photo by Cherie Ude and poem by Marian Blue published together at Points & Parks online magazine.

Recently, one of my poems, combined with one of Cherie Ude’s photos, was published this year at Parks & Points Parks & Points Magazine.

The poem tells a story about a day at Viera Wetlands, and the photo illustrates both dawn and twilight.

 

 

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Your only limitations come from doubt. In essence, writing about and helping to save the natural world is as much a part of you as breathing.

Get started now by taking a look at  International League of Conservation Writers

 

Next month: Preserving the wild while living with pets.

Wildlife Corridors–Living in Harmony with Wildlife

Losing Your World

Imagine this as your front yard.

Imagine walking out your front door, perhaps to go to work or shopping, only to discover that all roads, sidewalks, and paths have vanished. Trees are growing where roadways should be, where you were cursing chuckholes the day before. Creeks are chuckling along, gleefully replacing bridges and culverts. Bogs and rocks and fallen trees have taken the place of mowed parks and groomed yards. You can’t tell where your yard ends and a neighbor’s yard begins.

Through determination and ingenuity, you find your way to a grocery store, but a big gate is across the doors. If you figure out how to get through the gate, you find that individuals start shouting and shooting at you. The world you and your family have known is gone.

Saving and Building Environments

Wildlife faces challenges daily very similar to the above idea.

Humans often develop their nests by destroying the preexisting environment.

Suppose the above woods went to this overnight? Image from South Whidbey Record

They mow down wildlife’s homes and food sources to pave roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. Wild places of safety are replaced with groomed yards full of hazards: domestic animals, poisons, dead ends at gates and fences.

Desperate to protect their nonnative bushes, trees, and pets, people use poison, hunting seasons, traps, and other lethal measures to eliminate hungry and homeless wildlife.

Even if these animals are only trying to travel from one native food or water source to another, their routes are turned into deadly mazes of highways, fences, and bare landscapes where they and their young are vulnerable to death or injury.

You have a choice

Such situations aren’t inevitable. Each person can do something about the conundrum of living harmoniously with wildlife, which, it turns out, we need to do to maintain the healthy environment, including air and water, that humans also need to survive.

Conserving Natural Environments Harmoniously

  1. Support the idea of intelligent planning on the part of your neighborhood, town,

    Planning green areas improves water and air quality for all life. (Image from SmartCitiesDive)

    county, and state. Make sure development includes corridors of easy travel for wildlife from one natural area (parks, streams, beaches) to another. Help make every park connected to every other park with areas of native trees, bushes, and free-flowing streams. These are areas where snags provide food, places to hide, and nesting spots for birds and small mammals; where brush provides shelter with berries and insects; where fallen debris creates brush piles where animals can hide. If roads are nearby, control where these corridors cross; animals will use safer areas. This protects both wildlife and humans. Tunnels, overpasses, and high fences funneling to crossing spots also help. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Corridors and New York Times article, May 31, 2021:Wildlife animal crossings provide more information.
  2. Plan yards that fit with the environment. You can plant native plants and trees for both beauty and for wildlife habitat. This can be designed to fit within the area’s corridor plans. If you want exotic plants or if you want to raise vegetables, fence them securely. If you plant within an animal’s home and then spread a tempting buffet, you can expect them to try it out. Keep poultry and other small animals secure as well.

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Animals feel safe when they know they can escape into wooded areas. This corridor passes between homes and pastures.
Deer, coyotes, and many other animals and birds use this forested corridor between Glendale Creek and Holst Road on South Whidbey Island.

 

Summary

Problems with wildlife are usually the result of human behavior within the environment. People can live in harmony with their environment and wild creatures. Think ahead. Plan wisely. Relish the world around you and think about how to preserve it for all life.

You’ll find many resources online about living in harmony, about helping to create a healthier environment for all life. Natural Habitat Adventure Travel (in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund) is a fun way to start learning about living with wildlife. Check on this and other videos: Daily Dose of Nature Webinars. This is also an important resource for living harmoniously with wildlife: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Next blog: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about snags (http://sunbreakpress.com/2021/09/05/snags-for-healthy-habitat/)