Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I and the Bird #31 now online

A very creative version of the "I and the Bird" blog carnival has just been posted on migrateblog. Mariya creatively writes a Haiku for each and every post. My post below on Peregrine's in Boise is featured in this edition.

Here is the Haiku:

Rob's raptor photos
A captivating trio
Soars over Boise

Read them all, and the articles they reference at migrateblog.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Boise Peregrine Falcons

On Monday morning I walked downtown to catch the bus to work. I took the usual route walking 15 minutes down to the coffee shop, enjoying my coffee for a few minutes before walking to catch the bus. As I stepped out of the coffee shop I heard the loud screeching of a juvenile Peregrine Falcon. At least I assumed it was a Peregrine. Dialing up the sound of the Peregrine on my Birdpod (Birdpod is a product that loads all of the bird sounds for your region onto your ipod), I confirmed the identity. Walking down the street, I saw three Peregrines fly overhead about three stories up. The third in the line was screeching non-stop. I watched them fly in and out between building until it was time for my bus to leave.

I have heard that we had Peregrine's nesting downtown for the last few years but, I haven't ever seen them. This week it has been hard to miss them.

On Wednesday morning I again walked down to the bus and witnessed another impressive flight display with the loud screeching echoing down the street. I could hear them from three blocks away. Boise is somewhat quiet at 6:30 in the morning! Last night we drove down to the parking garage to get some pictures. Here are a couple:

They flew around for 20 minutes or more before flying out of sight. We waited a while, but they did not come back. Karyn joined me this morning on my walk to the bus to watch the show. The three Peregrine's flew in to a perch and waited there until my bus left. A short while later, they put on a good flying show for Karyn. I plan to work on some better photos in the next few days.

UPDATE 8/24: We went out this evening. Counted four Peregrines. Confirmed that at least two are juveniles, but did not confirm the others. Here is the best shot of the evening:

This article is featured in the I and the Bird #31 blog carnival.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Is every species of living thing on the planet equally deserving of protection?

The people over at ScienceBlogs have a feature called, "Ask a Science Blogger". This feature poses a weekly question to the scientists hosting their blog on the ScienceBlogs site. In some cases the questions are submitted by readers, submit your question here. Some or all of the members then post their response on their respective blogs. You can view the full archive here.

In July, a particularly interesting question was posed that I would like to answer - Is every species of living thing on the planet equally deserving of protection? Lots of different potential answers come to mind - yes, no, everything except for mosquitoes, etc. After deep consideration, I have come to the conclusion that no, not every species is equally deserving of protection. I will explain my rationale here.

First of all, my personal value around species preservation deals with natural ecosystems. I believe that the best chance that all life has on this planet, including human life, occurs in the presence of strong, natural, balanced ecosystems. These balanced ecosystems help to maintain healthy and ever evolving populations of species. The absence of critical ecosystem participants causes the natural balance to be disrupted.  This lack of balance usually allows some species to over populate, providing unfair advantage over other species. The disadvantaged species are reduced or eliminated, causing a further cascade through the ecosystem.  While the over-populated species have a short term advantage, they quickly suffer from their own success. By eliminating or at least decreasing their food source, many will starve, but more importantly, the chance for further evolutionary species growth will be inhibited (my personal theory, I have not read any studies to this effect).  This limitation in further evolutionary growth can mean the end of that species.  This results in further cascades through the ecosystem. The elimination of a minor species from a balanced ecosystem can set off a chain of events resulting in a complete collapse of species diversity.

In evolving research, it is becoming apparent that the elimination of wolves in Yellowstone in the early 1900 allowed the elk population to grow uncontrolled.  The elk quickly ate the willows and cottonwoods growing near the rivers.  The reduction of willow and cottonwood trees caused a dramatic reduction of beaver colonies.  The lack of beaver colonies reduced the habitat for native trout species.  The chain goes on. The over populated elk also contracted diseases which were spread by sick animals which would survive longer in the absence of wolves, spreading the disease to more elk.  The elimination of wolves also allowed the coyote population to grow uncontrolled as wolves and coyotes compete for territory.  The over population of coyotes resulted in the reduction of ground squirrels and other food sources.  The coyote population then became diseased as well, with a pup survival rate of less than 10%. All of these changes, and many more, were the result of the elimination of a single species - the wolf.

 On the contrary, evolution occasionally produces dead end species.  Species have regularly gone extinct over the history of life on this planet. I do not believe that these species should be preserved beyond their natural existence. Thus, the real challenge is for humans to determine which species are being threatened by our own over-population and which species are being threatened by purely natural processes. I don't have much confidence in our current ability to make these determinations.

In conclusion, I don't think all species are equally deserving of protection.  Specifically we should not be protecting species which are being naturally removed from the ecosystem through evolutionary dead-ends. Since many more species are threatened than I believe are naturally evolutionary dead-ends, and we do not have the current ability to completely evaluate a single species role in a healthy ecosystem, I believe we should error on the side of over protection.  In practice, this means that we should work to protect all species.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Boise mayor commits to global warming agreement

About six months ago I sent an email to the mayor and city council of Boise Idaho urging them to sign onto the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement. Since I never heard back I concluded that it was another futile attempt to convince politicians to save our city from unhealthy growth and unhealthy industries. Much to my surprise today, the news came out that Mayor Dave Bieter signed the agreement. I believe this is a huge step forward for Boise and gives me hope for a city which is experiencing dramatic increases in polution (we entered our first ever red air quality alert yesterday). While I doubt that my message six months ago had any direct effect, it does provide me some encouragement to continue to try and influence our community in a better direction.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

City Club of Boise - Rocky Mountain High: Global warming in the West

Back on July 24th, Karyn and I attended the City Club of Boise luncheon on global warming titled "Rocky Mountain High: Global Warming in the West". The session was very interesting and very well attended. Here is a brief summary of the highlights.

Presenter: Dr. Daniel Fagre, Ecologist/Global Change Research Coordinator, USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

Dr. Fagre started by presenting some very sobering statistics. For example, in 1910 there were 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park, today there are only 27; Red Eagle glacier has lost 50% of its mass in the past 5 years; Sperry Glacier had 60% more snow than last year, yet melted down 20% faster.

Dr. Fagre discussed how glaciers and mountain snowpack are important for our cities. Across the world, 50% of our fresh water is provided by mountains. In the western United States the range is closer to 70-90%. What we are seeing in some cases is greater snow fall, but faster run off, leaving less water throughout the year. In those years with less snow fall, the run off is even quicker. This presents a large threat to our cities.

The doctor then presented a number of ecosystem ramifications of this warming. Much of the focus of global warming has been on the high temperature, but most of the issues arise in a higher low temperature and shorter winter. The warmer winter temperatures are allowing the snow to partially melt and refreeze, creating a impenetrable barrier for mountain goats and other animals to break through to the food below. This is causing many animals to starve. Higher stream temperatures are killing off small aquatic insects, an important food for trout. Trees are invading high alpine meadows, further limiting the food sources for the animals that live in that area. Dr. Fagre showed a photo of Hidden Lake from this early 1900's and one from today. It was amazing how much of the alpine meadow has become forested.

During the question and answer period, someone asked if this is not a natural warming. Dr. Fagre indicated that people are accelerating and intensifying what might have been a natural warming process. The warming has been slower than expected as the oceans have been absorbing the CO2. Unfortunately the oceans are slowing their absorption as we are accelerating our CO2 output. There is a self correcting mechanism, but it has disastrous consequences for life. The build up of CO2 will warm the planet until the ocean currents stop, at which point the next ice age will begin.

When asked if he had ever been censored by the government, Dr. Fagre said no.

When asked about the uncertainty of global warming, Dr. Fagre pointed to a recent study of 1000 scientific articles. They were 99.9% consistent that global warming is real and so is the human impact on it. Media articles were only 50% consistent.

Dr. Fagre had three suggestions for us: 1) limit the damage (reduce, eliminate, reverse), 2)Take CO2 out of the system (increase vegetation, sequester CO2), 3) Build resiliency.

It was a fascinating presentation. Unfortunately it was way too short.

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Organic Dairy Report

My report earlier on Organic Standards reminded one of my readers (Karyn - my spouse), of a online rating system for organic milk products. If you care how the cows are raised to produce the milk you drink, take a look:

Organic Dairy Survey.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

I and the Bird #29 Online

The 29th edition of the blog carnival "I and the Bird" is now online at Alis Volat Propiis

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

USDA Considers Expanding List of Allowable Substances in Organic Meat

Whenever possible Karyn and I chose organic food products over non-organic. I realize most of these food products are developed by large industrial organic entities in non-sustainable ways. While there may not be a significant increase the nutritious values of these products, I still believe there is a value in the decreased chemicals both on me as an individual and the environment. We also try to take that one step further by purchasing local organic and non-organic products that are produced by smaller farms, as I truly believe that they are healthier for me and teh environment. We purchase some of our meat from a company called Daily Blessings. They alerted me to the changes proposed below.

I was upset a few years ago when the federal government relaxed the organic standards to enable more large producers to market under teh "organic" label. It would appear that they are up to it again. I will be writing my letter, I encourage you to do the same.

USDA Considers Expanding List of Allowable Substances in Organic Meat
Increased demand and limited supply of organic beef has led many to consider alternatives that would lead to increased production. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service is considering expanding the list of allowable substances that can be used in treating livestock, while still remaining eligible for organic certification.
The substances being debated include:

  • Atropine, a belladonna-derived antidote for poisoning after organophosphate pesticide exposure

  • Bismuth subsalicyate, an anti-diarrheal drug also used by humans.

  • Butorphanol, a short-acting painkiller often used before surgery.

  • Flunixin, a non-steroidal, non-narcotic treatment for inflammation or pyrexia.

  • Furosemide, a diuretic used to treat pulmonary and udder edema.

  • Magnesium hydroxide, a naturally-occurring mineral used as a laxative and antacid.

  • Peroxyacetic/paracetic acid, used to sanitize facility and processing equipment and as a topical disinfectant on animals and meat and dairy products.

  • Poloxalene, a synthetic substance used to prevent or treat bloating in cattle and as a stool softener.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and the USDA disagreed about the appropriate circumstances under which some of these substances should be used, and for how long. The NOSB recommended a withdrawal period twice as long as the FDA guidelines for butophanol and flunixin, and asked for an extended withdrawal period on furosemide as well. In addition, the NOSB recommended that poloxalene should only be used in emergency circumstances, while the USDA wanted it to be available as a preventative treatment.

Comments must be submitted by Sept. 15, 2006. They may be mailed to:
Arthur Neal, Director of Program Administration
National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-TMP-NOP
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Room4008-So., Ag Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250
Fax: 202-205-7808

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