Richard Sullivan checks in at Freshkills Park, formerly the site of New York’s Fresh Kills landfill.
While the following graf is somewhat alarming,
Freshkills is possibly the least likely poster child for urban ecological restoration in the world, and it is radical not just for the way it works — by encouraging flora and fauna do as they please — but for its sheer size. It is almost unbelievable that New York City would set aside a parcel of land as big as Lower Manhattan south of 23rd Street — and just let it go to seed.
Sullivan reports that biodiversity is making progress:
Back in 2015, I was teaching a science seminar at CUNY’s Macaulay College when I visited Freshkills along with hundreds of sophomores, all of us part of a bioblitz, an invasion of citizen scientists who in this case documented Freshkills’ growing list of flora and fauna: bats skittering past the methane recovery stations, herons wading in the murky trash-bottomed tidal streams. My first trip in 2001 was marked by sightings of mostly gulls; that weekend, our group reported 314 species in North Park’s 233 acres. Our bioblitz team was said to be the first to spot a blackjack oak tree on Staten Island, formerly a resident exclusively of the south, now showing up in New York as New York warms.
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Meanwhile, newly planted grasses in Freshkills have attracted a steady population of birds, including the largest colony of grasshopper sparrows in New York State.
Nevertheless, when Freshkills opens to the public,
I’ll also think of the new Amazon fulfillment center nearby that’s standing on what could have been restored wetlands, another sad trade-off.
Some links, Wild Card Edition:
- Andrea Appleton’s report: Chris Swan uses vacant lots in Baltimore (there are 14,000 at present) as experimental ecology plots.
- Callan Bentley road tests a tool for teaching his geology students what went on in the mid-Atlantic: a worksheet matrix that brings together the What (e.g. Culpeper Basin), the When (e.g., Taconian orogeny), and the Why (evidence, to be filled in by the student).
- Like Ducks? Thank a Hunter, by Wes Siler.
There are 47 million birdwatchers in the U.S., but only 2.6 million waterfowl hunters. Conservation of wetlands falls disproportionately on the shoulders of hunters. And that’s a problem because hunter participation is decreasing. With fewer hunters, who’s going to pay for wildlife conservation?
Birds, habitat, coffee agriculture—and 10 ways of looking at Northern Virginia.
I finished my second cycle of writeups of National Wildlife Refuges that owe their existence to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the Duck Stamp. Rounding out the tour in USFWS Region 8 is Merced NWR, in California.
… one small, one large.
Since I’ve started serving with Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp, I am more attentive to equivalent efforts at the state level. The state of Ohio promotes a Wildlife Legacy Stamp. I bought one when I was in the Toledo area for the Biggest Week in American Birding. For $15, you get a stamp, of course, but you also get package of collateral: stickers, a thank you card, and a very fine pin that you can attach to the back of your favorite birding cap. Funds are collected by the Department of Natural Resources and support
- habitat restoration, land purchases and conservation easements
- keeping common species common
- endangered & threatened native species
- educational products for students and wildlife enthusiasts
- wildlife and habitat research projects
“Keeping common species common:” I like that.
Last year, when I was working onsite, I got a message from my colleague Erin, who was prepping a move to the Pacific Northwest. She wrote something to the effect of “I have this book about birds that’s too big for me to pack; would you like it?” Figuring it was some inconsequential coffee table book but to be gracious about a gift, I replied, “sure, thanks.” It turns out that the volume in question was a copy of the National Audubon Society/Peterson and Peterson reprint of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. This book is gorgeous. It’s also huge: it weighs 18 pounds. It’s a good thing that my own coffee table has a top made of two inches of solid walnut. Thank you, Erin!
Many conservation-oriented links piling up on my virtual desk, unremarked—so this needs must be a roundup post.
- Sharman Apt Russell describes her experiences collecting phenology data for Nature’s Notebook.
- Caren Cooper summarizes the findings in her recent paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management: birders and hunters alike are more likely to engage in conservation-supporting actitivies. Cooper’s “conservation superstars” are birders who are also hunters: these people are even more likely to donate money for conservation and do other things to preserve our legacy.
- Jason Goldman sings the praises of shade-grown coffee from an unexpected part of the world: Ethiopia, the land where Coffea was first domesticated.
- And Goldman summarizes a paper by A.M.I. Roberts et al., working with 222 years of phenology data collected by Robert Marsham and his descendants from the family estate in Norfolk, UK. For certain tree species, “winter chilling” turns out to be a more important factor determining leaf out than the warmth of “spring forcing.”
I posted some notes on Perfecto, Vandemeer, and Wright, Nature’s Matrix: Linking Agriculture, Conservation, and Food Sovereignty (2009) to my Goodreads account.
My 2014-2015 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps) arrived in the mail today. Have you bought yours?
Joshua J. Tewksbury et al. make the case for restoring natural history’s importance to answering questions of public health, food security, and biology as a whole. They see citizen science projects as an important means of working with big data that can’t be developed in the lab or in silico.
As evidence of natural history’s contribution to public health, they relate the anecdote of a simple means of blunting cholera epidemics: filtering drinking water through the cloth of human garments.
The discovery that Vibrio cholerae has free-living populations associated with copepods and other zooplankton (Colwell and Huq 1994) forms the foundation of model predictions of temporal and spatial changes in human cholera outbreaks, because these models are based on the dynamics of the zooplankton and phytoplankton on which they feed. With this natural history in hand, public health experts now use satellite sensors to monitor phytoplankton chlorophyll as an early-warning system for cholera outbreaks. The same discovery also explains why filtering polluted water through cloth is surprisingly effective in reducing exposure to cholera: although the cloth does not capture V. cholerae individually, it filters out the zooplankton to which most V. cholerae are attached (Huq et al. 1996).
And, in the area of natural history and recreation and conservation, the Federal Duck Stamp program gets a shout-out:
It is often the collective focus on natural history by hunters, fishers, wildlife watchers, and conservationists that allows consensus-based management of fish and game species. The waterfowl conservation movement in the United States serves as an example. This partnership was set in motion in the early twentieth century by observations of large-scale duck mortality caused by botulism brought on by invertebrate die-offs in wetlands and by lead poisoning in high-intensity hunting locations. In both cases, observations by hunters and bird watchers alerted managers to the issue. The initial focus on disease was fortunate, because it provided a common enemy, and, at least for botulism, the most effective management centered on the designation of federal and state bird refuge areas in wetlands (Bolen 2000). More generally, the many groups that came together to change state and federal policies around these issues led to the creation of powerful hunting and conservation groups. These collaborations also led to a hunting license fee structure that supports the more-than-500-unit federal wildlife refuge system in the United States. The success of waterfowl conservation efforts, and the hundreds of other species that they support, comes in large part from the diverse interest groups that recognized the importance of basic natural history in setting management and policy objectives and that created a stable funding stream to support the collection of that information.
A roundup of conservation and natural history links:
One of my writing projects for Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp has been to assemble profiles of National Wildlife Refuges across the country that owe their existence to the Duck Stamp. For many of our NWRs, virtually all of the property was both or leased with money from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, and the money that hunters pay for Stamps goes into the MBCF.
To date, I have written up Camas NWR in Idaho, Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, and Tamarac NWR in Minnesota.
Our target audience is mainly the birding community and bird-inflected readers, but I do slip a little natural history from other realms into my descriptions.
Rick Wright offers some of his unconventional picks for this season’s art competition for the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.
This is not a decoy, not a duck, but the self-conscious simulacrum of a duck/decoy, and in its grotesque combination of the organic and the artificial, the living and the not, this figure brings together eloquently the concerns, shared and conflicting, of hunters and birders, reminding us all of where the duck stamp comes from and all the fine things it has led to over the years.
It might win, but it won’t. I predict that next year’s stamp will be pedestrian and placative, like all its predecessors. I’m still buying it, though.
A new insurance product, one that I wish there was no need for: A grantor of a conservation easement sells his property. The new owner (usually one with deep pockets, because conservation land trusts don’t use easements to protect economically valueless land) decides to do what he likes with the property, contracts be damned. The volunteer-run, cash-strapped trust (if it weren’t poorly funded, it would have bought the land outright) has to take the new owner to court, and that gets expensive.
Now, as Felicity Barringer reports, a new non-profit insurance company, Terra Firma, is there to offer a policy to the trust to mitigate the legal fees needed to defend the easement.
Land trusts usually win in court — though many cases are settled, according to alliance records. One common denominator: the wealth of the property owners challenging restrictions.