Posted by: Renee Owens | June 5, 2013

Wild Zone Photo Blog: Fun with Frogs

Welcome to my blog about the misadventures of a wildlife biologist and photographer.

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Homes for Herps (short for ‘herptiles’, a term that refers to all reptiles and amphibians)

June is shaping up to be a busy month. It began with a call to our wildlife exclusion business to rescue a ‘few’ tadpoles from a much neglected swimming pool. The homeowner had called a pool cleaner who told her it would be impossible to clean the pool without killing the teeny tadpoles now calling it home. Like most of our customers, she figured there had to be a way to accomplish what she needed to do without killing anything, so then she called us.

tree frog rescue pool sm

Off we went with a bucket, nets, and a specialized pump that we modified so that one can indeed pump water out without sucking in and killing the tadpoles. We arrived to find her pool and Jacuzzi full of algae, unidentified smelly goo, native California tree froglets and tadpoles (Pseudacris cadaverina), and no shortage of mosquito larvae to boot. (A good reason to stock your ponds and non-swimming pools with mosquito fish. You can get them free from the county).

ca tree froglet

Five messy, mucky hours later, we had over a hundred little froglets and tadpoles ready to be liberated! I have no doubt there are a lot of people who wouldn’t bother saving these little buggers. But considering that almost one third of the world’s amphibians are in danger of extinction  – yes, one third, thanks to things like pesticides, and other pollutants, climate change, and vast habitat destruction – we think it’s worth it, and we are very happy the homeowner did too.

 tadpole sm

Speaking of herps, we’ve been visited again by our unexpected house guest – a little known reptile called a  granite night lizard (Xantusia henshawi). These guys are not geckos, though somewhat similar looking. The neat thing about this species is that they can change very quickly from a dark phase, during the day, to a light phase at night, which is when they are most active. Wary and secretive, they are not fond of hanging out near humans as a rule, and so they aren’t easy to spot. If you go looking, the best place to find them is in the desert or dry side of the mountains where there are a lot of big boulders, slabs, and rocky places to hang out. (Or, you can come over to our place and sit on the porch at night as he (she?) catches the bugs attracted to the light.) I’ve read that they eat scorpions, and considering how I found one in my BED (auugh!) a few months ago – this lizard is more than welcome.

night lizard xantusia sm

To read my latest article published on San Diego Loves Green’s website, click on this link, or simply read below. To see some of the other interesting articles on environmental news, visit San Diego Loves Green website here.

coyote and pup

Coyotes: the Media’s Modern Bogeyman

At this very moment scientists are growing algae for biofuel, making contact lenses that change color to alert diabetics of low blood sugar, and doctors are fighting cancer using sound instead of radiation. When such amazing advances are becoming the norm, why is it we are continuously befuddled and alarmed by something that has lived in our midst, unchanging, for centuries? Not only has it lived quietly among us, it shares more than 99% of its DNA with our beloved canine children.

I am of course speaking of the coyote, Canis latrans, a species native to all states in our nation except Hawaii. We have crossed each other’s paths for hundreds of years, and yet Homo sapiens are increasingly resistant to the idea that coyotes are an integral and permanent part of our shared wild landscapes.

San Diego county is a recent casualty of this conundrum. Just last week the local television news ran a story about a coyote that nabbed a poodle from its yard while the owner was at work. The reporter gave no further information, except to exclaim “the coyote lives in this canyon behind me, the very same one that kids ride through on their way to school!” Real news must have been scarce that day, because the inference that coyotes are waiting in the bushes ready to snatch the nearest unsuspecting child is science fiction. Throughout history coyote attacks on humans have been exceedingly rare and almost never cause serious injury, statistically you are more likely to be attacked by an indignant chicken than a coyote.

Sadly, such fear-mongering is quickly outpacing reality. NBC ran a story in May where the reporter quoted a homeowner speculating about an observed coyote’s next victim, “[it] could be a baby crawling on a blanket in the backyard, [while] mom’s in the kitchen watching him. This coyote would size up just about anything”, and “there’s one extra-large one that kind of looks like a wolf.” (As a biologist who has studied truly dangerous creatures including crocodiles and anacondas, one thing I have learned is that the perceived size of an animal is directly proportionate to the fear held by the person relating the story. Those who are phobic see animals of truly monstrous proportions.) Devoid of facts, the story leaves the reader wondering about the resident’s imaginative storytelling, which has nothing to do with real coyote behavior.

This problem is that sensationalism and fear-mongering about carnivores results in much worse than irresponsible journalism. At present there is an ongoing contest in New Mexico, where residents are being encouraged to shoot as many coyotes as they can, the prize being a new shotgun. This is alarming when you consider that the endangered Mexican gray wolf, numbering fewer than 100 and hanging on by a thread in New Mexico, and could easily be mistaken for a coyote by an overeager hunter. Such hunts not only result in a high illegal take of non-target animals, they promote an attitude that denies the reality that coyotes are integral, sentient cogs in the wheels of our ecosystems. These contests are often followed by a significant rise in rodent populations, as the loss of carnivores inevitably disrupts the balance of predator-prey relationships.coyote leg hold trap

Homeowner complaints about coyotes too often result in government employees called in to kill the problem. By far the preferred method of killing continues to be the cheapest:  trapping. This is despite the fact that steel leg-hold traps and snares are not only indiscriminate to species, but have been declared inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, and the National Animal Control Association. Even the Sierra Club, a group demonstrably supportive of hunters, has adopted a national policy opposing use of body gripping traps for any reason. Their motivation isn’t rocket science: whether it’s a coyote or your house cat, a trapped animal does not die a quick death; it is a slow, agonizing process of strangulation, blood loss, or exposure. Be aware that even in California where it is illegal to trap for sport, the feds are permitted to set body gripping traps on public lands and within feet of your private property.dog in conibear

For decades taxpayers have paid tens of millions of dollars to the federal government for coyote eradication programs; specifically, to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services branch. Such management strategies have repeatedly failed to resolve any conflicts, nor have they reduced coyotes populations over time (see WildEarth Guardian’s 2009 report for details on how the federal government uses tax dollars to kill thousands of predators annually). They have also resulted in countless protected species being accidentally killed as a part of the archaic practices of the USDA’s animal killing agents.

The reason coyote elimination strategies fail is because Mother Nature has a way of adapting where she can. Biologists know that when coyotes are removed from an area, the neighboring coyotes will move into the newly unoccupied niche to take advantage of available resources, or if there are resident coyotes remaining they will produce more pups per litter, and possibly more litters per year.

This reality comes on the heels of other myths, such as the idea more coyotes observed means their population is ‘exploding’, or that coyotes near our homes means they have lost their fear of us. In actuality coyotes are shy animals who shun close contact with humans. What they have learned, however, is that human residences offer a smorgasbord of food: garbage, bird seed, smelly compost, lawn-loving rabbits, rats, and yes, small pets. Without even exiting our cars we can purchase a day’s worth of calories for two bucks at a burger joint; we easily forget that for wild carnivores successfully procuring enough food to survive is a lifelong struggle.

coyote coupleIf you find the presence of coyotes in your neighborhood alarming, be aware they have been quietly foraging around suburban areas for years. As we develop and fragment more of their native habitat at an exponential rate, they are forced to look for food wherever they can, fear of deadly roads and humans notwithstanding. Yet there is more to the coyote than just its drive for food. For example, a recent study from Ohio State University discovered that all of the urban coyotes observed were monogamous – they mate for life. And they eat much more than clueless house cats; it is widely known they play an integral role in controlling rodent populations, and thus could reduce rate of outbreaks of rodent-borne diseases contagious to humans.

So how do you keep coyotes from invading your personal space? Most importantly remove food lures, reinforce exclusion devices like fences, and urge your neighbors to do the same. Keep your cats indoors (the birds will thank you for it), and don’t leave small dogs unattended in a yard with a fence that can easily be hurdled or dug under. For more on how to keep your pets safe from coyote predation, see the Humane Society’s coyote page, and check out Roll Guard’s latest invention.Coyotes in Littleton, Colo

On a personal note, the irony of my own ‘coyote problem’ is not lost on me. On the floor by my desk is our latest ICU patient: a fat hen named Puff. She is one of my best layers, and even after being rescued literally from the jaws of a coyote (by our rescued American Dingo who is part time couch potato, part time watch dog), she produced an egg while recuperating, despite four puncture wounds and a bruised backside.

I understand that our coyote neighbors are trying to survive, and that we moved into territory they occupied long before we arrived. The aging fence around our property needed minor repairs; we didn’t notice. The coyotes did. Obviously I don’t appreciate the coyote’s penchant for my otherwise happy, free-range chickens. But we have accepted that like or not, the coyotes are here to stay, and our best option is to find a way to coexist. And although Puff might disagree, I would find life at night a bit emptier without the coyotes’ boisterous, staccato  howls echoing across the canyon, reminding us what the call of the wild really sounds like. It is a simple thing that hasn’t changed in our increasingly mechanized, technophilic world, and I hope it never does.

coyote howl

To request a workshop on coyote exclusion, contact the author at renee@wildlifezone.net or visit http://www.projectcoyote.org/resources.html

Posted by: Renee Owens | March 3, 2011

Wildlife Conservationist Certification Training

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I invite you to check out information on our new pilot project,

Wildlife Conservationist Training Certification

It is announced in this month’s Hi Sierran, page 9 or for more information you can also read about it here on San Diego Audubon’s website. We will be offering this program annually.

So what is it?

This is a new program directed by San Diego Audubon’s Conservation Coordinator Shannon Dougherty, with lead instruction and curriculum development by yours truly.

I developed this program from an idea I had, one that came about over the years as I repeatedly heard from friends, acquaintances, even strangers who would tell me how much they are interested in wildlife. They’d say they wanted to do something to enhance wildlife conservation or awareness in their community, but really didn’t know where to begin or with whom. Many felt they could contribute, but didn’t have the ‘expertise’ necessary, or felt shy about dropping in on a conservation committee or board room and announcing their interest.

So I decided to come up with a short series of classes and field trips to help them do just that: get involved in a way that is collaborative, hands-on, and yes, definitely fun. The program is part evening classes, part field trips, and part volunteer time commitment.

There will be field trips (Mission Trails, San Diego River, Tijuana Estuary, Anza Borrego desert) and guest instructors, wildlife and conservation experts who are familiar with our region’s conservation history and priorities. Thanks to a generous grant from Audubon, the program is FREE (pending a fully refundable deposit).

This unique series of classes has been organized to train a small group of dedicated volunteers who are interested in wildlife and want to become more involved in conservation efforts or programs locally. We are currently seeking endorsement from a couple government wildlife agencies, if acquired it would apply to all individuals receiving certificates.

The certification requires a modest volunteer time investment in lieu of payment (other courses like this typically cost several hundred dollars at least), but that volunteer time is the real meat of the training, it will give you an opportunity to work with others on a project or conservation issue of interest to you. And, you will have an entire year to fulfill your 30 hour commitment.

The volunteer effort will incorporate a conservation project or issue that the Audubon Society is interested in, however the program encourages collaboration with other conservation related groups. After all, successful conservation often crosses many borders, Board room tables, and community organizations.

So feel free to share this with any interested parties, and thanks much for checking it out!

Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glenn, NY

Recently I came across a discussion about pig research, pets, and the role of science in animal welfare. (For the entire blog, well worth reading, go here.) Thanks Barbara King, you got me thinking about what has become a conundrum for scientists, animal-lovers, meat-lovers, and vegetarians alike.

To give you some background: the pig research discussed is a somewhat unusual study, unusual in that the researchers were exploring the question of how to enrich the lives of  farm pigs that are destined for slaughter. The study is titled “Autonomic reactions indicating positive affect during acoustic reward learning in domestic pigs,” and written by scientists at Germany’s Institute for Farm Animal Biology.

To summarize, the researchers took 24 domestic pigs and exposed them to a “cognitive challenge integrated into their familiar housing environment”. Pigs were rewarded with food after they mastered the discrimination of  a particular sound followed by an operant task (pressing a red button). Not surprisingly, the pigs learned quickly to complete the correct series of tasks necessary to receive food (e.g. hear a certain sound, press red button). While this process was happening, the researchers kept tabs on some baseline physiologic data of the pigs, namely heart rate and its variability. To summarize the study’s findings in the authors’ own words,

“We concluded that the level of cognitive challenge was adequate and that the observed changes in the autonomic tone, which are related to different dimensions of the affective response (e.g. arousal and valence), indicated arousal and positive affective appraisal by the pigs. These findings provide valuable insight into the assessment of positive emotions in animals and support the use of an adequate cognitive enrichment to improve animal welfare.” (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, they are suggesting that when pigs were allowed to provide themselves with a food reward, when given the opportunity, they had a physical reaction that might be viewed as positive. In other words, research pigs housed in a lab seemed to like giving themselves a snack.

Gestation crates

Are we really scratching our heads, wondering how in the world we can improve the welfare of the  modern day factory farmed pig?  These are highly intelligent animals housed in extremely  cramped living conditions, females confined for their lives to cruelly small crates for gestation and nursing (photo, left), fed pounds of antibiotics to resist the spread of disease in such dense, unclean conditions, and doomed for slaughter? And yes, the experimental pigs were slaughtered subsequent to the study.

Can we please point out the sentient, intelligent, able-to-feel-love-and-pain elephant in the living room: I contend that we don’t need one more study that tells us what our instincts, or if you prefer, intuition, or better yet, common sense tells us. And if common sense isn’t good enough, how about the collective knowledge of independent family farmers over the centuries? This study applauds the finding that pigs, seriously confined and enduring lives of deprivation and often pain, never getting to express their naturally evolved behaviors – get excited when allowed to give themselves a treat. Just not earth-shattering as eureka moments go. And who in this world of struggling economies funds such hooey? I call it such not for its lack of baseline scientific rigorousness, but that’s just the problem.

If a scientific experiment on animals is cruel, or ignores the role cruelty plays in the system being studied, but still diligently pursues objectivity, rigorousness, and the rules of adequate experimental design and statistical analysis, does this mean it is valuable and should be funded?

Where is that debate among ethical scientists? And why is there a tangible avoidance of this topic by otherwise compassionate, intelligent people? (And if research considered valid is not rigorously done, what then? Go here for an article in the Guardian on a new investigation that reveals how many tests are full of flaws.)

If such a debate sounds subjective, it should, since we as humans are highly subjective creatures living in a subjective world of preferences and judgment when it comes to what we consider valuable. But the margins of subjectivity should overlap with a serious discussion of ethics when the topic – and the research – directly impact the lives and welfare of other sentient beings.

While always eschewing subjectivity as scientists, we accept the very subjective determination that testing on humans against their will to be unethical, therefore not allowed, and obviously not funded. This is relatively new determination, where as recently as the mid-20th century men, women, and children were unwilling experimental subjects – not only at the hands of Nazis in Germany, but other scientists in Russia, Japan, China, and even the United States. The United State’s infamous Operation Paperclip gave sanctuary to several of these scientists, one who helped research the hardy bacteria that now causes devastating Lyme disease.

Can we not, both in the scientific world of our peers, and in the public court of moral considerations regarding the lives of non-humans, begin having a serious dialogue about what studies are truly valuable, as well as ethical? I don’t believe the definitions of these terms, valuable and ethical, are mutually exclusive.

Now we are getting to the heart of the taboo subject: The belief by many scientists and their peers that, by striving for objectivity in the scientific methodology of an experiment – as is appropriate – we scientists by default must make our entire existence and day-to-day lives more objective; an unquestioned goal to strive for. Not only is this naive, it is a dangerous illusion.

Along those lines of thinking it is widely accepted that the expression of any viewpoint or opinion about the subjects on which scientists experiment – despite such opinions being expressed outside the realm of experimental reporting -  are deemed to weaken respectable reputations and erode scholarly personae. By purporting to have no strong opinions on research of questionable value and ethics, these same scientists are viewed by their peers as more astute and better prepared, ironically, to make judgement calls about what is acceptable behavior when it comes to how humans use sentient, feeling non-human animals in research.

Incidentally, if you think only those studying animal science in laboratories are guilty of this behavioral fallacy, think again.

Driving Miss Anaconda

It is common practice for us wildlife researchers, such as a biologist radio-tracking lions, not to give their research subjects human names due to the idea beaten into our heads as graduate students that to do so risks our getting too ‘emotionally attached’ to the animals we have decided to spend our lives studying. This idea is founded upon the assumption that emotional attachment  – such as having compassion for the welfare of your subjects – is believed to, by its mere existence, eliminate objective or analytical thinking by the scientist towards their research. I can honestly say this assumption is wholly without merit. I have given human names to over a dozen radio-tagged wild anacondas, a bunch of banded birds, and a few collared capybaras, the latter being very high on the cute scale. I conducted objective research and analyses on them all, and while I made it a priority to minimize any negative impact my involvement in their lives had on their welfare, I also resisted inviting them to dinner, teaching them circus tricks, or setting up a college fund for any of them. (However there was that one time emotions got the upper hand, and I let an anaconda drive without a license.)

Image from Wired.com

I call foul on the entire subjective-objective zeitgeist. We may think logically and analytically, conduct experiments as objectively as possible, but in our motivation and daily decisions we remain feeling, emotion-driven, fear-driven, pleasure- and pain-driven creatures from birth to death, and we consider empathy to be one of the most enlightened and evolved of those emotions. It is because of this fact we should be able to relate to animals better than we do as a society, since we are not so different as we’d like to believe.

What precludes us from being highly analytical and rational, emotional and passionate, and ethical, all wrapped up in one thinking mind and body, all at the same time? Nothing, actually, many of us manage these complex cranial conundrums, with compassion, every day. Many simply don’t like to admit it, if  they are scientists; when convenient they ascribe to the cop-out that passion is the equivalent of irrational behavior, especially whenever the idea is whispered that considerations of animal welfare is a basic ethical responsibility.

Beware when scholars or scientists (or anyone else) criticize an opponent by equating the mere existence of emotions or compassion – the essence of being human – with irrationality, unprofessionalism, or lack of scholarly aptitude, for they do so to give credence to their rationalization for committing irresponsible or unethical acts.

Go ahead and thank Francis Bacon’s ghost for giving the scientific method clarity, but I wouldn’t recommend embracing his philosophy on life, especially when the man claimed “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief,” and was also known to say, “it is impossible to love and be wise.”

It is passion, compassion, and courage – not objectivity – that drives us to do wonderful things, make historical discoveries, create beautiful masterpieces, be heroes in our own lives. Objectivity belongs in the scientific method, which is an inanimate process. Those who apply the process are human; innately full of reason, emotion, and hopefully a moral imperative to do what is ethical.

Ig Nobel Research award recipient

This essential discussion should not be limited to a war of words  between animal rights groups and medical laboratories, it should be a required discussion among scientists and others, and it should include serious debate about the value of entire groups of experimentation. Isn’t it time we started calling out the plethora of research that is really telling us something we already know*, (or don’t need to know), even if it hasn’t been assigned a statistical p value, and especially when such research subjects other sentient beings to hardship at the very least?

Do we really need studies such as these to learn how to enable pigs – like those pictured below – to live healthier, and happier lives, even if they end on the dinner table? It does not require a PhD to understand the amoral profit motives of capitalism that drive cruel and environmentally destructive factory farm practices, endorsed by mass public denial. It is not thanks to science – or mere anthropomorphizing – that we can all agree that the pig pictured at the top of this blog (with my mother, at Farm Sanctuary) is happier than the ones pictured below; as it is allowed to pursue innate, natural behaviors in a relatively well-fed, comfortably housed environment where pain and stress are not ignored as an unimportant consequence necessary to promote enhanced profit, medical research, or otherwise.

Most animal researchers aren’t making millions or listed in the Fortune 500, although most do live quite comfortably. So what really motivates them? A key question here resides in asking what drives some to live their lives embracing ethical ideologies in their careers and daily lives, while others who behave morally and compassionately in other facets of their lives can rationalize away or sublimate these ethics under the guise of scholarly research, advancing scientific knowledge, or tenure promotion.

And when does this transference from compassion to rationalization occur? In graduate school? When one’s career is taking off? When tenure is pending? When a bigger house is desired? Or when peer pressure rewards competitiveness and denial over all other considerations? Perhaps it begins much earlier, when we as children learn to ignore what our conscience tells us is right, in our imitation of adults.

It follows that we parents and teachers need pay special attention to how we embrace compassion for all, especially as we set an example for those in their more formative years.

Belly rubs at Animal Acres farm sanctuary

To sum up: I’m not a farmer, and I don’t have pet pigs. However, I know how to make my dogs happier, and how to enhance their welfare, through a connection I have made with them that has little to do with science or rigorous experimentation. I have done so subjectively, yet successfully, through developing a conscious awareness very much bound up in that incredibly subjective thing called love, and also respect. Sure, I’ve used some cues from my knowledge of canine behavior, but mostly I use intuition and observations based on a desire for all of us to be happy, as much as can be achieved living in a human dominated world with human directives. I have not conducted one single controlled experiment on them, I have no p, z, t, F, or chi squared value to support my conclusions on how to make my dogs happier. But I have results, based on what I feel, and my observations of their actions, feedback, their state of health, and sincere efforts on behalf of all parties to understand the language of another species.

I daresay that no one need develop a study to demonstrate that my happiness, upon seeing my dogs content, is real. Neither need anyone pursue statistically significant data that represent my autonomic system being positively stimulated. As far as my dogs go, if you can’t take my word for it that they are happy, you will have to ask them. But be advised – you’ll have to get them to put the ball down long enough to do so, and don’t even ask to share the couch after dinner.

* For those out there familiar with studies like Harry Harlow‘s famous surrogate mother macaque experiment, do you wonder that mothers worldwide didn’t exclaim loudly about the obvious conclusion they already knew: that babies (of intelligent, sentient, social animals) need not only food, but nurturing and love in their early development to thrive? The idea that we need scientists to tell us this after thousands of years on this planet as Homo sapiens is, well, disturbing.

Below is an essay by Marc Bekoff, from the website Change.org, July 23, 2010.

Marc Bekoff is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado. He has published numerous essays and books, and has received several awards for his work with animals.

~ Note from the blogger: I think this article is an excellent reminder of how animals – wild and domestic – and excursions into the natural world provide a perfect opportunity for conversations about ethics with today’s kids, a topic I find all too often missing in the conversations (and actions) of the adult world.  Teaching in nature is a logical and effective way to relate to kids the importance of compassion to all the creatures of the world, humans and non-human alike. ~

Children are inherently and intuitively curious naturalists. They’re sponges for knowledge — absorbing, retaining and using new information at astounding rates.

We all know this, but often we forget when we’re helping to develop their roles as future ambassadors with other animals, nature and ourselves. Some are also future leaders on whose spirit and good will many of us will depend. That’s where Jane Goodall’s global  Roots & Shoots program comes in, to engage young students in discussions about animal behavior, ecology, conservation biology and the nature of human-animal interactions through activities focused on care and concern for animals, human communities and the places in which we all live together. The basic tenets of the program are that every individual is important and every individual makes a difference.

In a third grade class that was part of the Roots & Shoots program, I posed the following question as a often-used thought experiment to a group of young students: There are three humans and one dog in a lifeboat that can only hold three bodies — which of the four should be thrown overboard?

How Would You Resolve the “Dog in the Lifeboat” Question?

- The dog should get equal consideration; if one of the humans is old or sick, the dog stays.
- I’m with the kids, there has to be a way to save everyone.
- Human lives are more valuable than animal lives, the dog has to go.
Generally, when this situation is discussed, many people agree that, all other things being equal, reluctantly the dog has to go. But then I started to introduce variations on the theme. For example, perhaps two of the humans are healthy youngsters and one is an elderly person who is blind, deaf, paralyzed, without any family or friends, and likely to die within a week. The dog is a healthy puppy. The students admitted this was a very difficult situation and that maybe, just maybe, the elderly human might be sacrificed because he had already lived a full life, wouldn’t be missed and had little future. Indeed, this is very sophisticated thinking that perhaps the elderly person had less to lose than either of the other humans or the dog. Let me stress that all students agreed that this line of thinking was not meant to devalue the elderly human. And, in the end, the students, like most people, reluctantly concluded that regardless of the humans’ ages or other characteristics, the dog has to go.
But the students didn’t give up easily.

The level of discussion overwhelmed me. Students raised considerations of quality of life, longevity, value of life, and losses to surviving family and friends. But what really amazed and pleased me was that after we discussed alternatives, the students wanted to work it out so that no one had to be thrown overboard. I experienced this line of reasoning in numerous different countries in similarly aged kids.

Why did any individual have to be thrown over? they asked. Let’s not do it. When I said that the thought experiment required that at least one individual had to be tossed, they said this simply wasn’t acceptable! Then they started to generate ideas about how all individuals could be saved, such as having the dog swim along the side of the boat and feeding her, having them all switch off swimming, taking off shoes and throwing overboard all things that weren’t needed in order to reduce weight and bulk, and cutting the boat in two and making two rafts. All students thought that even if the dog had to go, she would have a better chance of living because more could be done by the humans to save the dog than vice versa. Very sophisticated reasoning indeed.

I’ve discussed this example many times with numerous different groups of older students and adults, and never before had a group unanimously decided that everyone must be saved. I sat there smiling and thinking, now these are the kinds of people in whom I’d feel comfortable placing my future.

In the future, these youngsters will be other animals’ and our voices; indeed, the voices of the universe. So, it makes good sense to teach children well, to be role models, to infuse their education with kindness and compassion so that their decisions are founded on a deeply rooted, automatic reflex-like caring ethic. If we don’t, the children, adults, other animals, human communities, and environments will suffer.

These children will be the ones rowing the lifeboat for all of us.

Photo credit: hillary h

A Pisces flounders in an ocean of sand.

Until recently I’ve been a luke-warm fan of the desert. With fair skin and Welsh grandparents, I’m not natural desert material. Don’t get me wrong, I find the landscape intriguing, but when given the choice I head to the forests and cool water to explore.  Besides, the thorny landscape makes it challenging for those with canine kids to enjoy camping without constantly whipping out the tweezers.

The desert is no place for wimps.

However, the past three years I’ve been spending many hours  surveying and exploring parts of the Imperial Valley and Mojave desert, and I’m learning to deeply appreciate that je ne sais quoi that all my desert rat friends extol. That’s not to say the desert is for everyone, and it is no place for wimps.  San Diego may have the world’s most enviable weather (subject to debate, especially for those of us who really enjoy variety? Changing seasons? Thunderstorms?) But just two hours away is the land of extremes: unforgiving sun, freezing winter nights, winds that whip you with a fine layer of stinging sand, or a stifling blanket of heat that leaves you begging for a breeze to cool the sweat that is purportedly being “wicked away” by your recently purchased REI triple-layer 300-count fiber hemp and titanium blend NASA tested Patagonia Extreme Expedition shirt.

When the sharp, bright skies finally close in with rain clouds, the flash floods are truly exhilarating.  It is an amazing thing to watch a river pour in where one didn’t exist moments before. Simple precautions and common sense go a long way in keeping you safe, but if you aren’t paying attention Mother Nature can sneak up behind when you and goose you in an unforgettable show of power. Who can forget Aron Ralston, the guy who became famous for cutting his own arm off when he was trapped by a boulder in a Utah desert crevasse, now a major motion film?  He was no slouch, but he had trotted off on a hike by himself, without telling anyone where he was going. Ever been guilty of such? (Not to worry, Mom, I never do that.)

I’m reminded of the time my cohorts and I were returning from a working birding trip. We were traveling through the desert in northern Baja, Mexico, after a big thunderstorm had washed half the dirt roads away. Every hour or so we would encounter a group struggling to extricate their vehicles from the middle of a fast flowing river; ones less than a foot deep had people seriously stranded. One such family sounded particularly alarmed, we stopped to see if everyone was okay. Their vehicle was mired up to axles on both sides, but the family was on the bank of the wash, seemingly healthy, but looking stunned. They told us they were all fine, except for their 6-year old daughter. We asked if she needed first aid, and they said they didn’t know. She had disappeared when the flash flood hit their camp during the night.

If risk of heat stroke, hypothermia, dehydration,  heart attack, and snake bite isn’t enough for you  urbanites to contemplate, check out this fun-filled website titled “Most Popular Ways to Die in the Wilderness“.  But when you do, keep in mind that Interstate 5 in California takes many more lives annually than any desert anywhere combined, and over 90% of all the snake bites in the nation happen to participants of rattlesnake roundups and other runners-up in the Darwin Awards.

The desert is more than a shooting range or an Off Road Vehicle (ORV)  theme park. Just ask the lizards.

It goes without saying that the desert is way more than a playground for the Bud Lite swilling, weekend off-road vehicle addicts and target shooting fanatics. I remember coming home several years ago from a government hearing regarding future land management of the Algodones Dunes, a desert dune habitat and wilderness unique to the nation. The local ORV coalition was hell bent on parceling out what was left of the federally protected wilderness for their own recreational purposes. Well over half of the dune system had been sacrificed years ago for use by ORVs, but the 200 plus attendees from the coalition kept yelling that us environmentalists  – all five of us ‘greenies’ as they fondly called us) were greedy for wanting the remaining dune ecosystem to be preserved.

Of course none of the foxes, birds, lizards, snakes, bats, or other creatures were available to speak in defense of their home, so we five had to. As I left the meeting, two coalition gentlemen bade me farewell yelling (and I am not making this up)  ‘yeah, why don’t you go home, stop wasting our time, because you know what, the desert is just a buncha STUPID LIZARDS AND SH**!’ (Emphasis theirs.)

I didn’t reply, at a loss to match such profundity. But the story doesn’t end there. The universe has a sense of humor, because soon after this hearing one of these classy guys became my neighbor. Upon seeing me outside holding my bright yellow Bearded Dragon ‘Puff’ – a small-ish laid back lizard and grade school mascot – my nosy neighbor fell in love. (In lust? she was quite pretty as Beardies go.) He kept hounding me to give him one of my lizard’s babies, remarking “That is like, the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Dude, does she get really big?” or ” What does she eat? When can I get one?”, etc. I was harangued by these questions for a while, despite repeatedly telling him I wasn’t breeding my Beardie; that she is a non-native and that much as I enjoy her company, she was a rescue and I wasn’t in the practice of breeding anything (beyond the contempt of some select anti-environmentalists, though that goes without saying). I’d let him hold and admire her but he kept pestering me for her first born. I was seriously tempted to ask him, ‘why bother?  After all, she is only, you know… just a stupid lizard and shit.’ But I didn’t. I just let him stand there, petting my lizard before he went back to cleaning his candy red 4-wheeler.

In search of sidewinders, stargazing, or flower power? Apply here.

kit fox 2It doesn’t take a hugely discerning eye to discover what is so mesmerizing about this place, though it does require a big floppy hat and as much water as you can carry without weighing you down so much you get stuck in the kangaroo rat hole cave-ins you inevitably stumble upon. (Just try not to trample the hole with the napping sidewinder inside.) More than anything it helps to want to breathe clean air, or hear silence broken only by the barely audible squeaky Peep! of a shy round-tailed ground squirrel. But don’t let the silence fool you, life is humming just beneath the sandy surface, waiting to emerge with the cooling temperatures of evening. This is not the place to camp with your giant flat screen TV. This is the place to wander at nighttime to experience the busy lives of kangaroo rats, hunting bats, elusive color-changing granite night lizards, or a silent sidewinder hoping to catch a k-rat with its guard down. If you are really lucky, during the day time you may catch a glimpse of a bobcat, kit fox, or an endangered bighorn sheep . (Desert tidbit: it isn’t the rams sporting those huge racks that are the real leaders of the herd, it is the dominant ewe, or female.)

Biodiversity in the Desert? Like you’d never believe.

owlets1 sm Before I became enamored with the desert, I was a an all-things-rainforest snob. To see wildlife I went to wherever there was water, and lots of it. But I learned the desert has many surprises. On some days, given the right temperatures, I have observed a wider array of snakes and lizards than I have anywhere closer to the temperate coast. The list of interesting creatures I have spotted without really trying is long and varied: kit fox, bobcat, badger, burrowing owl (watching the babies play is a hoot), golden eagle, endangered bighorn sheep (25 feet from the Anza Borrego Palm Canyon trail head), rare flat-tailed horned lizards, desert tortoise, and many, many more. Are you a birding fan? Just about every oddball species you can imagine migrates through our deserts, and many hang out for a while to take advantage of the flooded agriculture fields. Aside from the usual desert suspects, I’ve seen anhingas, cormorants, grebes, all kinds of warblers and vireos, rails, ibis, oodles of hawk species, multi-colored hummingbird migrants, pelicans, the list goes on and on; I’ve even seen snow geese, yes SNOW geese. During spring and fall migration you can head to Borrego to see literally thousands of Swainson’s hawks roosting for the night as they make their way to and from nesting grounds and South America. These are no ordinary hawks; though they are nearly the size of the more common red-tailed hawk, their diet is comprised mostly of grasshoppers and ants. Yes, tiny ants that they catch in the ‘palm’ of their foot. If you are an ecologist, you can imagine that fact pretty much blows Optimal Foraging Theory out of the water, as far as we can surmise.

Springtime after the rains is the best times to visit the desert, whether you power hike or bike or drive or wander aimlessly. A place that was a sea of sand literally turns into a stunning carpet of flowers far beyond what your wide-angled lens can appreciate. For the new tourist, the hot spots east of  San Diego county are many, like Anza Borrego State Park the Northern Algodones Dunes Wilderness (see also here), and the unique salty inland oasis and spectacular avian hangout that is the Salton Sea. Spring brings great opportunities for the perfect Kodak moment, where the diversity of life in such an extreme climate is a profound thing that photos just can’t do justice to. But be sure and take your camera anyway, you won’t regret it.

Whether you are into wild places, unusual creatures, interesting geology, fossils, or an unadulterated view of the milky way, just about any time of the year is an exciting time to visit. Certainly during the summer months I suggest night visits for maximum enjoyment and creature-viewing; when it is 110 + degrees by 10 AM the only animals dumb enough to be wandering around mid-day are the occasional overcooked biologist, lost tourist, and a few curious grasshoppers.

But whether night or day, spring or fall, go and seek adventure in the desert. I promise you’ll have new stories to tell once you do.

For more information on how you can get involved in desert conservation in southwest California, visit HERE .

Posted by: Renee Owens | October 4, 2010

A Desert photo Whiz of a Quiz

QUIZ TIME! See if you can name all of the species represented below, they were all photographed in the Imperial County desert.  Most are very common, except for one or two. To see them larger, just click on the photo.

Number 1

Number 2

Number 3

Number 4

Number 5

Number 6

Number 7

Number 8

Number 9 (the bug, not the plant)

Number 10

Number 11

Number 12

Number 13 (the little live critter in the middle, not the dead plant)

Number 14

Number 15 = (the extremely cute bug )

Number 16

Number 17

Send me a reply with your answers, and I’ll let you know how you did….!

Posted by: Renee Owens | September 6, 2010

Finding Harmon-y in the Desert

I’ve acquired a lifetime supply of new freckles and wrinkles, but I’ve only just begun to really plumb this southwestern desert’s desserts.

Did you know with the help of a UV light, scuttling scorpions glow like little purple-white neon signs? For me, there’s so much yet to discover in this vast desert. I’ve listened with a bat detector to the foraging bats as they snag a late night dinner (or is it breakfast?).  I managed to get up close, if not personal, with endangered big horn sheep, and crossed paths with a badger in the middle of a flash flood. I’ve been seeing bobcat and even mountain lion tracks for weeks but no glimpse of the real deal for a while, the felines seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once. But like many I am worried: the southwestern desert has become no less than an environmental sacrificial  lamb for all kinds of development under the very hot sun.

neonate FTHL 3 - amy

And so I’m thinking it is time to visit my friend again, a hard core desert rat if ever there was one. She lives in a tiny oasis of green in the middle of this place of extremes. She doesn’t use air conditioning, has kit foxes sleeping on her roof, and doesn’t break a sweat until the temps reach at least 105 F. She cooks in an outdoor brick oven of her own creation and bathes in her cold-water-only outdoor shower. When asked the last time she went to the movie theater for fun, she thought for a moment, and said, “1975,  maybe?”  When we invite her over and  serve spaghetti with soy meatballs (no, really, they’re good) by candlelight, she calls us elegant and thanks us as if we just lent her the crown jewels.

Perhaps you are having visions of a female Thoreau collecting prickly pears for the dinner table (yes, also outdoors), surrounded by a towering stacks of books and papers.

Aproposkit fox 2 as these images are, a hermit she is not. Despite having to drive over 100 miles to engage in her volunteer activities (or to go shopping, for that matter) my friend is a fierce defender of the environment and her community, having won many battles  for her efforts over the decades. I can say without a doubt she is one of the most tenacious  and enduring partners you could ever ask for in a fight against an entity who is threatening a community and its environment. Not only that, her research endeavors in support of her battles put lawyers and professors to shame. She has spent many a night sleeping in a government office parking lot because she wasn’t able to copy all of the relevant documents she needed in one visit, and her most common battle cry is “I won’t be sleeping again tonight, because I have to complete my 100+ page comment letter as I was busy all day giving expert testimony to the (fill in the blank).”

Approaching storm

What I find most inspiring about my friend is that she is an unassuming and unsophisticated powerhouse.  She is guileless, and she wouldn’t be caught dead in a power suit. This is not to be confused with naivete. However, when not in the throes of the latest campaign,  she comes across as almost shy; and there is a vulnerability to her that she makes no attempt to hide with a professional veneer. Because of this she is underestimated, and this is her most powerful asset as a veteran soldier. Never turn your back on a junkyard dog – or an environmentalist motivated by love of place. You’ll regret it, as my friend Edie has proven time and again.

Edie Harmon is one of  those real life heroes, something we urgently need more of in a world over-saturated with people so plugged into their technology they have  unplugged themselves from real life, living in a world where judgment and negativity rule the media and mindset of our youth, and where all those who are not momentarily worshiped as pop stars of modern culture are deemed unworthy and “voted off” whatever fatuous pseudo-real life drama is on prime time. I’m not so idealistic to suggest we all can – or even should – aspire to live just like Edie, although we’d certainly be able to celebrate our huge reduction in global greenhouse gases (and not just because everyone would be driving on the freeway at a teeth-grinding 41 mph in an overstuffed minivan).  What Edie does is restore my hope in a world where people strive for the good things they believe in; no matter the odds, no matter the size of the corporation, and no matter what anyone else in the world thinks.

Lately my dear desert friend has been battling some demons closer to home, physical ones that are giving her the fight of her life. She has reached the point where she needs to slow down and smell the desert verbena and fight what may be her toughest battle, that is, whether or not she can pass  – ok, let’s be realistic, share – the torch for a little while. Her dilemma is such that she feels she will let down her community, and lose the desert she loves, if she takes an open-ended vacation to fight for her health and well-being.

Such is the dedication and enduring love of place that I’ve come to respect in people like her, whether their calling is for the desert, the mountains, the tropics, or for individual creature inhabitants themselves.

For the rest of you readers I say to you, if you love your wild places do not sit idly by while the dedicated few forge ahead holding the flag. Such dedication needs nurturing, and can’t survive on its own in this shrinking world of corporate power, a superficial and formidable power that invalidates the soul of all things wild. These real life warriors need our help, so yes this blog is in part a call to arms, pure and simple:  don’t hesitate, get involved, even a little, to save the wild places that support and nurture us and keep us alive.

I also write this blog not only to honor her beloved desert, but to tell ALL the Edies out there loud and clear: go ahead, take a break, enjoy the view for a while. Goodness knows you’ve earned it. And above all, stop worrying, for now. The rest of us aren’t going anywhere; you need us just holler (loudly sometimes), because when push comes to shove we’ve got your back.

me ‘n Edie

Posted by: Renee Owens | June 28, 2010

Zoos as advocates of endangered species conservation

Pachyderms in Paradise – or Purgatory?

Below is my 2010 letter to the editor to the local newspaper the San Diego Union Tribune, regarding their recent article extolling the San Diego Zoo’s success at having another African elephant birth.

Zoos like the San Diego Zoo have long expounded on their contributions to conservation by creating a self-sustaining captive population, or at the least, frozen egg and sperm banks. Since we know well that only extremely rarely are captive zoo animals ever be released back into the wild (and at huge expense, e.g. the million dollar California condor), I often wonder just how their captive populations, whether live or as of yet represented by frozen gametes, actually contribute tangibly to real, on-the-ground conservation.

Nothing says conservation like a vat of frozen sperm.

If there is no stable, viable habitat for these endangered (or extinct in the wild) species to live, what good is a frozen zoo of the future, not to mention live captive animals that will never be released?  I don’t know about you, but as a conservation biologist there is nothing I find more morally contentious than using the torch of endangered species conservation to pad the bonuses of  administrators and the like -  especially when these big zoos do have the power and money to carry out real conservation, but rarely choose to do so beyond the conservation of their own very comfortable profits.  This is not a popular topic to shine a light on, and thus neither has it been politically correct among many biologists or environmentalists, but denial does not a good, ethical conservationist make.

And going beyond conservation to humanity: just how compassionate is it to keep the largest brained terrestrial animal of our planet, a highly social herbivore that can cover hundreds of kilometers in days, enclosed in a an acre or  less for its entire life? Kind of like keeping a condor in a cage on your patio, don’t you think?

Applied conservation: let’s hear more success stories.

We know that programs such as CRES (the research section of the San Diego Zoo) have spawned some interesting research (and indeed pay the bills of  many biologists, often a good thing), but we rarely hear of just how much of this research – the majority of which has to do with genetic analysis of captive species – is being applied to the real world, to wild species, and most importantly, to their habitats.

There are some zoological societies associated with zoos that have contributed marvelously to endangered species survival and conservation, but why are these success stories so few and far between? Why aren’t we asking that these zoos who spend hundreds of millions on public relations and purported “conservation initiatives” do more for habitat conservation, since we know this is the logical first (and middle, and often last) step to saving the vast majority of endangered species? Is it really such an unreasonable question to ask, from such powerful institutions who have the ability to educate millions to boot?

Where will the in vitro elephants of the future be released, when even now wild elephants compete with development, farmland, poachers, a black market, and not enough habitat or wildlife corridors to sustain them? Perhaps we should just not worry about it, and trust in the power of capitalism to always do the the best for humans, species and habitats. I don’t know, but I’ve gotta run – looks like there is a sale on baby elephant t-shirts at the gift shop.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/jun/26/letters-zoos-elephants-and-conservation/

Letters: Zoos, elephants and conservation

San Diego Union Tribune

Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.

In your June 17 article, “Baby elephant birthrate soars,” you characterized the decision by the San Diego Zoo to import wild elephants for their new enclosure as a “public relations risk.” This is perhaps the understatement of the year. Not only were local animal rights groups against this decision, so were dozens of internationally respected conservation organizations and biologists worldwide. The San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club also was vehemently opposed; the zoo’s decision was controversial enough to land in the federal courts. Why? Because by importing wild elephants, the United States, on behalf of the San Diego Zoo, violated the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, created to regulate the international trade in wild animals and enhance conservation initiatives globally. For decades, the United States and other nations have been lobbying African nations to support CITES by not trading in wild elephants or parts. We had slowly been achieving results, in part by setting a good example, until this effort was undermined in one fell swoop by the zoo’s decision to boost its profits by importing pregnant wild elephants, international treaty be damned. The zoo did so knowing that maintaining healthy elephants in captivity is extremely difficult, and captive elephants suffer high infant and adult mortalities, a fact recognized by the American Zoological Association.

What your article also failed to mention was that the elephants that already were in residence at the zoo, some for decades, were quietly, during the night, shipped out to other zoos to make room for the newcomers. Three of these discarded animals (Winky, Tatima and Peaches) died shortly after being relocated.

While other zoos across the nation are recognizing the difficulty and questionable ethics of maintaining such a large, socially and physically complex and intelligent species by permanently closing their elephant exhibits, our zoo has denied this reality. Instead, they are applauding their new $45 million elephant enclosure as providing seven acres for these pachyderms to roam; however, the Union-Tribune’s Jeanette Steele reported in 2009 that, in actuality, the elephants can access only three of these acres. Profits garnered by baby elephant births arguably may be justified if they actually were applied in a measurable way to elephant conservation; however, the San Diego Zoo repeatedly has failed to demonstrate any such conservation connection to wild populations, despite giving it much lip service. In fact, the Union-Tribune reported several years ago that the San Diego Zoo spends less than 10 percent of its budget on conservation efforts for all its species.

This begs the question: just how, exactly, does the zoo contribute to the conservation of an endangered species by removing healthy animals from the wild? And practically speaking, what good does a “self-sustaining” captive population in the U.S. do for the wild populations, whose biggest threats are poaching, development and political instability?

RENEE OWENS

Wildlife ecologist, Sierra Club Conservation Committee Chair San Diego

Posted by: Renee Owens | May 25, 2010

There’s an Ahab in the White House

BLOG update: The following blog was written in May, 2010. As of late 2010, it is still timely to contact the people at the links below to endorse maintaining the IWC whaling moratorium. Luckily the ban was not eliminated in June, however the international whaling nations are still pushing hard to remove the ban and allow commencement of sensitive and endangered whales again. Your support is still needed to send a message in support of conservation to the White House, the IWC,  Ms. Lubchenko (NOAA) and Mr. Salazar (Department of the Interior).

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On May 23, 15 counties in California held “Save the Whales Again Day” rallies, to show opposition to  a “conservation proposal” – a spectacular euphemism – drafted by the U.S. and other delegates to the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The IWC is comprised of 88 member nations, and this proposal would actually end the moratorium on commercial whaling that was enacted in 1986 by the IWC.  Yes, it will make global whaling legal.

The IWC meets mid-June (2010) to determine whether or not to adopt this proposal that would remove the 24 year old ban on commercial whaling.  Doing so, under this plan, would allow a “yet-to-be-determined” number of whales,  including highly endangered species, to be hunted legally by the very nations who have regularly ignored international law for decades, namely Japan, but to a lesser extent also Norway, Iceland, and Russia.

The fact that these countries have been whaling is not a secret whatsoever, they have been doing so under the “scientific research” loophole of the IWC since its inception.  In other words, the moratorium has an exception that allows the occasional whale to be taken for “scientific research”. The Japanese have maximized this loophole to the tune of thousands of whales a year hunted and sold for whale meat, some legally, some on the black market. Speaking of shady things like the black market, the corruption around the IWC and the Japanese is no secret, as a recent Sunday Times investigation has fully exposed (full article here).

(To see What You Can Do, scroll down below the photo of a whale tail.)

If you were around in the 70′s or 80′s, and are thinking this sounds  like deja vu, you aren’t the only one.  In fact, I was so dumbfounded by this conservation oxymoron of a proposal that I helped organize a rally here in San Diego (with  assistance from Patrick Hord and Greenpeace,  and funded by the Sierra Club and San Diego Animal Advocates ). The illustration we used on our flyers and t-shirts  was the same one used in the mid 80′s for Save The Whales Rallies!

What are Mr. President and Ms. Lubchenko (the head of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency in charge of marine mammal protection) thinking?

Or maybe that’s the problem in a nutshell, thinking has gone out the window, sacrificed in the name of bureaucracy and political posturing once again. Nothing has effectively captivated and popularized the environmental movement over 30 years ago as much as the plight of the whales did, and now we seem to have an Ahab in the white House who has thus far given his blessing to this disastrous plan.

If you are thoughtful person you may be thinking, well,  this Proposal must make some sense, or President Obama would oppose it, we just don’t have the whole story. He likes whales…right? I wanted to believe this, too, and so I read the proposal to the IWC to see what magical formula would somehow allow whaling and yet conserve whales for the future at the same time. My conclusion? I am wondering exactly what bribe the Japanese have offered the United States behind closed doors to generate this complete and utter sell-out. And an embarrassing one at that, at least in the name of conservation science.

In only takes a little bit of digging to discover that the IWC is not a bastion of transparency.

Very few can even tell you who all the U.S. delegates to the IWC are, not to mention how they are appointed, on what basis of experience they are hired for the job, and from whom do they receive oversight? NOAA ? President Obama? Mr. Salazar? All of the above? And where do they get their scientific facts from, such as current  population estimates? Surely they must have these, as they are proposing whaling to be legalized internationally?

Not really: the IWC‘s own website admits, “…because of the considerable scientific uncertainty over the numbers of whales of different species and in different geographical stocks, the International Whaling Commission decided in 1989 that it would be better not to provide whale population figures except for those species/stocks which have been assessed in some detail.”

This hardly inspires faith in their management proposal, when many of the population estimates that provide are 5 to 20 years outdated.

The proposal itself neither inspires much promise for success. In essence it claims we will ‘save whales’ by allowing hunting, but asking the egregious whaling nations to sign on by agreeing to kill fewer whales, as long as we allow them to do so legally. I wonder if they are asking the Japanese to cooperate with a “pretty please, with sugar on top”, because that’s about as likely to succeed as this ‘conservation package’  is. The authors claim there will be stricter enforcement of laws, however they allow major loopholes, such as the one where boat captains can opt out of compliance. They say the plan will create a fair and restricted market that eliminates the black one, but they don’t offer the specifics about how this will be accomplished, or how they will finance it, although they do concede it will cost more that what the IWC spends now on such operations.

What is this whaling Proposal really all about? At face value, it is about selling whale meat. A few of the widely published facts:

- Most whale meat has a mercury content so high it can’t be sold legally. For an excellent article on this, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-christian-hall/toxic-or-not-commercial-w_b_518075.html

- Most large whales are endangered. The Proposal hardly sets any quotas on how many can be hunted. Sound like good science to you?

- The logic is wholly skewed. We are rewarding the  nations who have broken international law for a quarter century, and thereby invalidating, the 80+ other nations who have complied.

- Iceland and Norway have been discovered shipping toxic (mercury and PCB-laden) whale meat to other countries; either for human consumption or ground up as livestock feed. Do we really need endangered sperm whale meat to feed our pigs and chickens?

- What do you think is truly motivating the IWC delegates from the United States? Are the diminishing whale meat profits honestly that important to both Japan and the U.S.? Or, is it something else, something being discussed in all of these closed door sessions at the IWC, such as a deal that allows our military to remain in Okinawa with its nuclear arsenal, even though we are hugely unpopular there at them moment with the locals? Just food for thought…

Either the Japanese delegates to the IWC have some very powerful mojo, or some under-the-table deals are being made that none of us little people – the international community concerned for our largest world inhabitants – are privy to.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Contact the White House comment line  – 202-456-1111 – and tell President Obama to keep the moratorium on whaling intact! You can also post a comment by email, but calling is  more effective.

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The following are the latest actions demonstrating opposition to this ban:

Bills Introduced to Restate Opposition to Commercial Whaling

On May 18, Rep Faleomavaega, Eni F.H. (D-AS) introduced Bill HR 2455 to amend the Whale Conservation and Protection Study Act to restate opposition to allowing commercial whaling or weakening of the moratorium, increase protection for whales from shipping noise and injury, and increase whale conservation research.  The bill has 54 cosponsors and has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife.  For more information, visit: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R.2455:

A similar Bill was introduced to the Senate by John Kerry, S 3116. for more information go here.

Like many this year, both these bills have been stalled in committees. Regardless of the outcome of this month’s IWC proposal, I urge you to contact your Congressional Representative or Senator to move these bills to a vote by the House and the Senate.

Senators Boxer and Feinstein drafted a letter to the President, urging him to oppose ending the moratorium. A total of 17 Senators have signed on to this letter. For more information see the U.S. Humane Society press releases here.

California Coastal Commission Passes Resolution to Oppose Renewal of Commercial Whaling

On May 12, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) unanimously passed a resolution urging President Obama to oppose the proposed agreement by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to renew commercial whaling and set ten-year subsistence quotas and commercial catch limits for numerous whale species.  The resolution also requested that the U.S. support an end to all commercial whaling, including “scientific whaling,” and focus on protecting whales and whale habitat, encouraging the use of non-lethal and non-harassing uses of whales for education and scientific study, and address global environmental problems than endanger whale populations.

The resolution was forwarded to the President in an effort to implore a strong U.S. position at the upcoming IWC meeting in June.  California’s Congressional delegation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Majority Leader of the Senate also received copies of the resolution.  For more information or to read the resolution, visit:  http://documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2010/5/W20a-5-2010.pdf


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