There is an interesting TV show on Animal Planet these days, Extinct or Alive. It follows an enthusiastic fellow, Forrest Galante, who searches for animals that have been declared extinct, seeing if he can find even one remaining living member of the species. He sometimes then removes the one remaining animal he finds to attempt to breed it with another of its kind (as he did with the Fernandina tortoise he found still alive in the Galapagos). I have mixed feelings about this. This might possibly work in that hopefully then the offspring could eventually be reintroduced into the wild...IF...the pair are able to be bred in captivity. Often this is problematic. I'm happy he is finding creatures that were previously thought extinct...yet it worries me that meddling will destroy their desperate chances of long term survival. At least the show highlights the sad fact that we are destroying earth's animals and their habitat at an alarming rate. We need to each do what we can in our sphere of influence to teach others to treasure every single creature and the incredible diversity and beauty of our planet - before it is too late.
While in Costa Rica this week, I visited an ancient Rainforest in Nosara. This protected space was teeming with wildlife covered by a canopy of huge, ancient trees that were hundreds of years old according to our guide (one was over 600!). I was reminded of America's redwoods and giant sequoias. These massive trees are protected and it is illegal to cut them down, but only within the ecological preserve. As we rode along on our horses, we heard the strange, haunting howls of howler monkeys, beautiful bird songs, and saw multi colored lizards and iguanas, red and black crabs, butterflies and trees with huge, emerald green leaves. After our horseback ride through the forest, we left the preserve and I thought I could hear the distant sound of chainsaws. As we came around a sharp bend, the dense forest opened up and I saw row upon row of hundred year old trees that had just been logged, lining the road. Sadly, they would never grow into the giants we had just encountered. Our code of life must include caring for our earth. Our treatment of the environment around us MUST change, before we lose the beautiful, incredible diversity of plants and animals we have been lucky enough to enjoy. I am reminded of a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash...
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
and feed them on your dreams
the one they pick
the one you'll know by...
I think what is most disturbing to me about the current administration (and I will not go into politics here) are the changes to our environmental policies. Believe what you want, but there are real statistics available to us on how our animals, plants, trees, and oceans are being harmfully affected by what we humans have done in the past 200 plus years. First, if you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, watch it. If you have no idea what is happening to our climate, seek out vetted news, read and explore scientific information. If you are wealthy enough, visit the arctic circle and watch polar bears and penguins. Travel to Africa and observe poaching first hand. If you are not wealthy (like me) take the time to watch Nature or other shows about what is happening to our planet. I am deeply distressed that our country is not doing everything we can to make a difference for the animals and creatures of our planet. Climate change and things like the hole in the ozone layer (which we DID do something about) are not "fake news". I wish all this was fake news. It is not. Things like melting glaciers, loss of animal populations, and destruction of animals and animal habitat are measurable.
My husband sometimes kids me that I care more about animals than I do about people. Well, possibly... because animals do not have a voice! They can't do the things that need to be done to reverse this dangerous trend. Animals can only try to adjust, not an easy task when natural adaptation or finding a new habitat (if it is even possible) can take centuries... When I see the extensive bleaching of coral reefs, starving polar bears, monocultures devoid of healthy ecosystems, slash and burn farming in the rapidly disappearing rainforests, animal species going extinct - I am not proud to be a human. I am sad.
So of course, there are thousands of websites that offer constructive suggestions for how to make a difference. I suggest at a minimum you do this: Study the views of future candidates and vote accordingly. Teach your children how to care for all animals, how to plant a garden, how to cherish the earth's creatures, how to sit still and watch the wildlife around them, how to be empathetic, how to make a difference, how to live differently. Then do the same!
As an environmentalist, one of the most disturbing trends I am seeing is the widespread destruction of animals and animal habitat all around the world. In just 300 years, our planet has been transformed - and not in a good way for earth's animals! I'm sure everyone has heard about the steady burning down of the Amazon Rainforest. Yet habitat destruction takes place in America too. Gone are the tall grass prairies of the American midwest and the ancient old growth forests that covered America. Habitat is fragmented with each new subdivision and city. As alarming as this is, loss of habitat is only a small part of the picture. There is also the impact of climate change, the explosion of our human population, and the widespread extinction of earth's diverse plants and animals. So what? Who cares? I strongly believe that it is our job to educate our families and children about the importance of every creature in a food chain - to introduce them to nature, plants, flowers, insects, reptiles - and teach them the beauty and fragility of every living thing. It should never be "what's in it for me" rather "how can I help and give back to the earth"?
As an educator of young children, I regularly teach units on animals, trees, food chains, ecology - not just for earth day. We investigate habitat loss, are animals endangered by melting polar regions and warming seas, what happens when animals are hunted for ivory or fur, how important is each animal to the food web? We think about and brainstorm what we can do to make a difference. Simple actions like turning out the lights, using less plastic, or planting milkweed plants for migrating monarchs can help! I invite you to examine the impact you are making on our earth and investigate how you can make a difference. Then teach your children. They are the ones who will inherit this fragile earth.
Are you seeing many bats this summer? I've seen a few, but nowhere near as many as I used to see careening through the evening skies. White Nose Syndrome is a growing problem, attacking bats around the U.S. In a nutshell, the fungus is spread to a cave full of hibernating bats. It causes the bats to awaken from hibernation far more often than normal (every 3-4 days instead of the usual 10-20 days). Since it is winter, there are no insects for the bats to eat and eventually they die of starvation. So what can we do? Do not touch bats or visit their caves. If you must go caving, destroy clothing and clean and bleach boots to prevent the spread of this horrendous disease. Work with your local scouts or others to build and install bat boxes and research how to install these in bat friendly locations. For a detailed explanation and an excellent article on this problem and ways to help, visit the bat conservancy website:
Photo courtesy of USARK - United States Assoc. of Reptile Keepers
This is the time of year for turtles to start crossing the road. A couple of quick things to remember if you are like me and like to rescue these wayward reptiles from the dangers of motor vehicles. First, place them off the road IN THE DIRECTION THEY WERE HEADED and shoo them further away from the road if possible. Second, each turtle has its own habitat so do NOT take them to a nearby lake or stream. They live nearby and need that specific habitat in order to live and reproduce. Third, never pick up a turtle, even a large snapper, by the tail (as it will harm the turtle). Rather, get a towel, or sweatshirt and lift it carefully by the shell. I keep a cloth bag and old towel in my van for just this purpose. But be careful, snappers can do some serious damage so hold onto the portion of the shell near the back legs and scoop it into a bag or bin. Then place it where it was headed, way off the road. Thanks for your help! The rare Blandings turtles will be out on Tipsico Lake Road and nearby areas, so do your best to WATCH THOSE ROADS!
"I can't wait to get out fishing!" exclaimed my brother as we chattered away on our way to my lakeside cottage up north. Just then I slammed on the brakes! "What's wrong?" my brother cried. "A turtle!" I yelled as I leaped from the car and raced to the side of the road. I grabbed the huge turtle just as another car was rapidly approaching behind us. Saved! Rushing back to the car, we examined the huge reptile. "It's a box turtle" Ben insisted. "And look, its been hit before." Nope, not a box turtle - I was sure. But what kind was it? "Remember when we tried to raise a box turtle as a pet and it got away after one day?" Dan mused. "Crawled right under the chicken wire and it was history! (My mother was a kindergarten teacher and avid amateur scientist so we had lots of pets as kids...snakes, a praying mantis, turtles, an alligator, a horned toad, frogs, fish, many guinea pigs, and rabbits). As soon as we got back, I checked my mom's old pocket guide, the Golden Book of Reptiles. It was a Blandings turtle! Rare, endangered! Wow. Habitat? Woodlands, vernal ponds, marshy, swampy areas...hmmmm. Not lake turtles. Okay, but behind the neighbor's barn was a huge wetland and swampy area teeming with frogs, insects, snakes and other critters. Perfect! After one last look, we released him into his new, safer habitat.
Lying in bed, I was thinking about Jacque Cousteau and the animal and nature shows I used to be able to watch on Animal Planet and PBS. It was time to show our students a good, short documentary on endangered animals and the importance of saving them from extinction. As a board member of the Highland Conservancy, I decided this should be the theme for this year’s Huron Valley Earth Day poster contest. It’s so important that our children understand how the loss of one animal in an ecosystem can have huge implications. It was also time for some research and in-depth study!
Students at Oxbow Elementary visited appropriate websites such as National Geographic to learn about different endangered animals, and how and why they are heading toward extinction. They studied how each animal faces a different set of problems such as being hunted for their beautiful fur (which are made into coats and hats) or loss of habitat due to slash and burn farming or other poor farming techniques, or poaching due to the ivory trade. There are some great websites for students. Visit the World Wildlife Fund, click on species and click on endangered species. You’ll find a photo and extensive information about each endangered animal…http://worldwildlife.org/species/directory?sort=extinction_status&direction=desc
You can also visit: http://animalstime.com/endangered/
In kindergarten, first and second grade, we watched an Eye Witness video on Insects and then made Shoe Bugs. We talked about what an insect is, metamorphosis, predator and prey and other insect facts…how some insects like the praying mantis are rare and how important it is to leave these creatures in their natural homes and not try to catch them for pets. This was a review of last year’s insect unit and a preview for our upcoming butterfly lesson on vulnerable monarchs! Third through fifth graders watched several short vignettes by Jeff Corwin on how and why the polar bear and sea turtle and few other key species are going extinct. Students then spent several weeks completing their Endangered Animals posters targeting a specific species and including facts and solutions to save them from extinction. You might say, "Wait, is this an art class or science?" Don't worry, we still learned about layout, focal point, contrast, color, and variety but in an authentic way! These and other earth day posters will be on display at the Huron Valley Earth Day Festival at Carl's Family YMCA in Milford, MI. Join us on April 27th from noon to 4pm for this family friendly event! Below is an earth day poster from a White Lake Middle School student - a runner up for this year's 2014 contest.
A tiny butterfly, the Poweshiek skipperling, (Oarisma Poweshiek) is likely to be designated as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service this year. Once found in eight states and in Canada, the Poweshiek skipperling’s population has precipitously declined. Michigan holds the world’s largest population of the insect. With most of its habitat now gone, it's only found in a few places, including isolated fens. Michigan Nature Association this month reported only seven active sites known in our state - and two of those sites are very close to Dunham Lake, where I live. Dunham Lake straddles the county line of Oakland and Livingston and comprises part of the headwaters of the Shiawassee watershed.
The Poweshiek skipperling is dark brown with a light orange head with a one-inch wingspan. When resting, the undersides of its wings appear, showing its white veins, which make the wings look striped. The caterpillar is pale green with a dark green dorsal band outlined by cream lines. This insect spends its winters in caterpillar form on the ground, emerging in the spring and developing into an adult butterfly in late June to mid-July. The adult only lives one or two weeks, mating and laying its eggs. One of its preferred foods is Shrubby Cinquefoil nectar.
I first learned about this tiny near-endangered butterfly this fall from our land steward consultant, Rick McAvinchey, as he wrapped up his study of the Dunham Lake Greenbelt. As Greenbelt chair, I conferred with Rick for much of 2013. A major greenbelt concern was in protecting the wetland in the south end of the lake where North Ore Creek flows. We looked for the elusive Shrubby Cinquefoil and Prairie Thistle plants, identifiers that this was in fact the remnant of a prairie fen. No luck, but the grasses, sedges and forbes were amazingly varied and the tiny insects hopped and fluttered about in abundance.
Finally, a lead DNR wetland botanist, Mike Penskar, volunteered his time to assess our wetland. Within two hours, he identified nearly fifty plants, including indicator plants of prairie fens. In Mike Penskar’s final summary he said that our prairie fen remnant, though small, is a rich, sensitive natural community that should be conserved and protected.’ The wisdom of Penskar’s advice was soon underscored by the news that two sites were habitats for the Poweshiek – one south of Buckhorn Lake in Oakland County and the other west of Bullard Lake in Livingston County. These two sites, on either side of Dunham Lake, are within a few miles of each other.
I contacted MNFI lead conservationist for the study of this insect, David Cuthrill. He is interested in including our fen in his study. Small fen areas are apparently promising habitat for the Poweshiek and may well support other endangered insects such as the Lake Huron leaf hopper, an even rarer insect. He stated, “If you are saving the Poweshiek, you are saving a whole suite of species, some that we don’t even know about yet”
One of the most disturbing things I hear on a regular basis at my school goes something like this..."Guess what Mrs. Krupa?" What? "I found a turtle and my parents said I could keep it." Oh really, so what are you feeding it? "Oh, I don't know. I gave it some ants and bugs but it wouldn't eat them. What do turtles eat?" Honey, you really should let it go, it's a wild creature. They don't do well in captivity. A week later, So did you let that turtle go? "No, I still have it. I'm feeding it dead worms." But is it eating them? "No, but my Dad said I can keep it." PLEASE let it go, it's fall and it needs to find a good place to go to sleep for the winter. Another week later... So I hope the turtle is free now? "Nope, it died (said very matter of factly). It wouldn't eat."
This drives me crazy! I talk to all my classes about the importance of leaving wildlife alone. Turtles, snakes, frogs, walking sticks, a praying mantis...no matter what it is just let it go where you found it. I know, I know, even I as a child had painted turtles we kept for a few days but my mother was smart enough to insist we let them go. The one pet she gave in on was a baby alligator that I got to keep for a month. Of course, it refused to eat and died and I felt eternally guilty! Wild animals just do not make good pets. Period.
Worse yet to an animal lover like me is hearing about all the abandoned kittens mewing under houses or the dozens of cats roaming our nearby neighborhood. Get your animals neutered now! Okay, I will keep working away bit by bit on the students at my school but I hope you will do your own part and teach your children to just let those critters go. As for the cats? Rescue them and take them to a shelter. Get your pet neutered! Put tags on it! Register your microchip! Now I'll get off my soapbox for today.
This is our ongoing blog with articles on the environment, local news and events, and issues related to land conservation.