Saving the Scottish Wildcat from extinction

February 24, 2020 by  
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In the wilds of Scotland lives the elusive Scottish wildcat, denoted scientifically as Felis silvestris grampia and colloquially as the “Highland tiger.” Considered as one of the planet’s most endangered animals, and possibly the world’s rarest feline, it is estimated that there are fewer than 50 purebred F. s. grampia individuals left, which accounts for their vulnerability. Meager population estimates, and a lifespan averaging 7 years in the wild, lead many biologists and conservationists to conclude that there might no longer be a viable enough Scottish wildcat population extant in Scotland’s wilderness. Ruairidh ‘Roo’ Campbell, priorities area manager for the Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) program, said, “There are very few pure wildcats — the worry is that none are left. About 12% to 15% of cats we see look like they could be pure.” Related: How hobbyists are saving endangered killifish from extinction F. s. grampia is unlike the domestic cat in several ways. The species is a larger, more muscular relative to the tamed housecat, with the former exhibiting a powerful, stocky body conducive for pouncing. Its legs are longer and larger. The Scottish wildcat is also highly adapted to survive in the wild with its thick, dense fur. This fur tends to have tabby markings with distinctive black and brown stripes, yet no spots. Plus, its feet are not white, nor is its stomach. The tail is blunt at its end rather than tapered. The F. s. grampia ’s head is flatter, with ears that stick out of the side. Evolutionary-wise, F. s. grampia has been isolated from other wildcats for millennia. It is surmised to be “a descendant of continental European wildcat ancestors that colonized Britain after the last Ice Age (7000 – 9000 years ago),” according to the Scottish Natural Heritage . F. s. grampia is unlike its continental cousin, Felis silvestris silvestris , for example, by being even larger. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , curiously enough, does not consider the Scottish wildcat as a subspecies, which is why on the Red List , it is grouped together with other Felis silvestris . Yet authorities elsewhere recognize the Scottish wildcat as a distinctly different wildcat. Some would say the moniker “Scottish” might be slightly misleading, given that only recently has this feline been restricted to the Scottish wilds, for it had previously roamed more widely in Great Britain. Nonetheless, because it can now only be found in Scotland itself, this feline wonder is highly regarded, particularly by Scottish biologists. As David Barclay, cat conservation project officer at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), described in The Tigers of Scotland , F. s. grampia “is Scotland’s only native cat, [but it’s] more than a native cat species . It’s a symbol for Scotland, a symbol for the wild nature that we have.” Unfortunately, historical persecution, habitat loss from mismanaged logging and genetic integrity dilution from interbreeding with either domestic or feral cats have all pushed the Scottish wildcat closer to extinction in the wild. Mismanaged logging has adversely affected the Scottish wildcat, particularly in altering the landscape it has called home and the food web it relies on to thrive. In fact, the Scottish Natural Heritage reported, “Scotland has much less woodland cover than other countries in Europe, although it did increase in the 20th century. In 1900, only about 5% of Scotland’s land area was wooded. Large-scale afforestation had increased this figure to about 17% by the early 21st century.” Environmental advocates have been diligently pushing for conservation of this treasured feline. This wildcat has not only become an icon and legend for the Scots, but F. s. grampia has likewise come to represent the need for wildlife conservation and reforestation to restore the Scottish, and by extension the British, countrysides. “The reality is we just don’t know how many wildcats we’ve got left,” David Hetherington, ecology adviser with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said in The Tigers of Scotland . “Estimates vary from as low as 30 to as high as 400, but we just don’t know. We’re still trying to ascertain just how many there are, where they are and where they’re not.” Several conservation plans have been implemented, even at the national level, to save the Scottish wildcat from extinction . These include initiatives to restore the feline’s habitat and its population numbers. By expanding the woodlands of Scotland through reforestation programs with the help of organizations like the Scottish Woodland Trust , it is hoped the wildcats have a better chance of averting extinction. Woodland expansion would create viable habitats, in which the wildcats can flourish. But rewilding Scotland by planting trees is not enough, because Scottish wildcats are also being threatened by other factors. Threats of hybridization with domestic or feral cats, minimizing disease transmission, reducing accidents (trapping, road impacts, mistakes by gamekeepers) and boosting genetic integrity all need to be curtailed. The Aigas Field Centre , for instance, has the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Breeding Project that endeavors to mitigate the “greatest threat to the gene pool of the Scottish wildcat.” With a captive population at Aigas, the genetic purity lines are safeguarded. When the captive breeding progeny lines are viable, they will be reintroduced into the wild in regions that are heavily forested and protected to ensure survival success. Additionally, the Aigas Field Centre has an adoption program that encourages donations toward food, veterinary costs and healthy stewardship. Barclay said, “We know the road ahead for wildcat recovery will be challenging, but our strong partnerships with SWA and international conservation specialists give us an incredible opportunity for success.” Images via Peter Trimming ( 1 , 2 and 3 )

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Saving the Scottish Wildcat from extinction

What do Americans think about fake meat products?

February 21, 2020 by  
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The topic of how we produce food is commonplace and more relevant than ever. After all, the way we choose to grow produce affects waterways, soil and air, which in turn, affects each of us. When it comes to raising animals for meat, the stakes are even higher. Report after report doles out alarming numbers regarding pollution related to the practice. Plus, animal activists frequently remind us about how animals are treated when they are raised as food sources. The rise of fake meat With all of this in mind, it’s no wonder that food scientists have been investing copious research and development time, money and energy into finding meat alternatives. Some have already been around for decades, while new alternatives are consistently hitting the market. Although beef replacements are the most common, you can find pork, chicken and even fish alternatives. Related: Vegan and lab-grown meats predicted to take over meat market in 20 years Opinions on meat substitutes So what do people actually think about this “fake meat” phenomenon? A research group called Piplsay posed the question nationwide in a January 2020 survey and received 31,909 responses from individuals aged 18 years and older. The results show an overwhelming interest in the products and an underwhelming satisfaction. Specifically, 51% of Americans have tried meat substitute products at least once, a majority of which (53%) said they tried it because they were curious. Another 32% responded they tried it due to a concern for the environment or for their health . Others say they are trying to go vegan or vegetarian and were wondering if the meat substitute would satisfy the longing for meat (15%). Why are people trying fake meat? The results show there are a variety of reasons people try or continue to consume fake meat, none of which seem to be because they actually prefer the taste. In fact, out of 31,909 responses, fewer than 30% gave the products a thumbs up. When it comes to health, the debate rages on to whether fake meat has anything to offer. Even though 27% felt fake meat was a healthy and eco-friendly alternative, a slightly larger 28% felt these meat alternatives can’t beat real meat. Another 20% suggest the products are highly processed, counterbalancing any potential benefits from avoiding meat. A quarter of the respondents said they didn’t know what to think of them. Related: Beyond & Impossible alternative meats — are they healthier than the real thing? The most popular brands for meat substitutes When Piplsay asked people what brands they had tried, a group of big names were, not surprisingly, in the top five. Seven percent of respondents had tried Hormel, and another 7% tried Perdue brands. Impossible Foods is relatively new to the market, but at the time of this survey, 11% of respondents had tried it. Tyson garnered another 13%, and the most-frequently tried products are produced by Beyond Meat (15%). The type of meat substitute that people were interested in trying varied, too, with beef being the most popular at 38%. Chicken came in at 29%. There was a significant drop for pork at 18%, but it is a newer product to the market. Finally, fish swam in at just 15%. Study demographics One interesting result of the survey is that there didn’t seem to be a huge geographical discrepancy. The top three states where fake meat is consumed “quite often” are Washington (18%), South Dakota (20%) and Vermont (26%). These numbers don’t represent the populations as a whole, but rather the frequency of respondents who say they eat fake meat quite often, which is 12% of overall respondents. In contrast, 23% said they’ve had it once or twice and 16% admit they’ve only had it once. Age is one category where the survey highlights fairly large differences. Millennials are by far the most likely to eat fake meat on a regular basis. Although only 16% of millennials eat fake meat regularly, that’s twice the reported number from baby boomers, at only 8%. Not only do millennials rank the highest for consuming the products, but their reason for doing so stands out as well. The report shows that 23% of millennials eat fake meat for health and environmental reasons , which is highest among the age groups. In contrast, the age group with the largest number of people saying they have no interest in even trying fake meat goes to the baby boomers, with 52% opposed to the idea. The fake meat trend has room for improvement All in all, the survey revealed that while many people are interested in trying, have tried or regularly consume meat alternatives, most people feel these products leave more to be desired in terms of flavor and healthful ingredients. Still, people seem to still eat many of these fake meats for betterment of the planet, and there is still plenty of room in the industry for existing and new brands to grow and innovate. + Piplsay Images via Shutterstock

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Light pollution, habitat loss and pesticides push fireflies toward extinction

February 7, 2020 by  
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There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies, and scientists are sounding the alarm that some of these species are on the brink of extinction . Research published in BioScience indicates that habitat loss, light pollution and pesticides are threatening these delightful insects. According to Tufts University biology professor Sara Lewis, the study’s lead author, “If people want fireflies around in the future, we need to look at this seriously. Fireflies are incredibly attractive insects, perhaps the most beloved of all insects, because they are so conspicuous, so magical.” Related: New Animal Endangerment Map shows global distribution of threatened animal species Habitat loss is the main culprit disrupting the environmental conditions and cues conducive to firefly development and lifecycle completion. One example cited was the Malaysian firefly species Pteroptyx tener , which needs particular mangroves and plants to breed appropriately, but their mangrove swamp habitats have been displaced by aquaculture farms and palm oil plantations. The second issue leaving fireflies vulnerable is light pollution . As CNN reported, light pollution can arise from “streetlights and commercial signs and skyglow, a more diffuse illumination that spreads beyond urban centers and can be brighter than a full moon.” Artificial lights can interfere with firefly courtship. Male fireflies flash particular bioluminescent patterns to attract females, who must flash responses in return. Unfortunately, artificial lights can mimic and thus confuse the signals. Or, worse yet, light pollution can be too bright for the fireflies to emit and properly recognize their ritual signals for mating to be initiated or completed. Thirdly, pesticides have been a significant driving factor in the decline of firefly populations. The Center for Biological Diversity has documented that “Systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids that get into the soil and water harm firefly larvae and their prey. Also, because fireflies are generally found in wetland habitats, they are threatened by insecticide spraying targeting mosquitoes.” As a result, the larvae either starve or have developmental anomalies that prevent population growth. Public outcries by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Firefly Specialist Group as well as the Fireflyers International Network have raised some awareness about the dwindling firefly populations. Yet, as stated by the Center for Biological Diversity, “There are at least 125 species of fireflies in the United States, but despite the many threats they face, none are protected by the Endangered Species Act.” To protect these luminous insects that have long captivated the imagination with their fairytale-like lights, much work still needs to be done, especially given the U.K. Wildlife Trusts ’ similar report on the ‘quiet apocalypse’ taking place now, wherein 41% of global insect species face extinction. + BioScience Via CNN , the Center for Biological Diversity and The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Light pollution, habitat loss and pesticides push fireflies toward extinction

Sustainable agriculture cleans up rivers in Cuba

February 7, 2020 by  
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New scientific findings reveal that Cuba’s rivers are in better health than the Mississippi River. The research was a joint effort between Cuba and the United States, marking the two countries’ first collaboration in more than 60 years. The work was part of a study on Cuba’s hydrology, focusing on the water quality of the island’s rivers. Despite centuries of cattle and sugarcane farming, research results reveal there hasn’t been much damage to Cuba’s rivers thanks to the country’s other sustainable agriculture methods. Compared to the Mississippi River, Cuba’s 25 rivers surveyed showed lower nutrient concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. This is likely attributed to Cuba’s shift toward sustainable agriculture , particularly the country’s shunning of imported synthetic chemicals. Related: Dutch company collects plastic pollution from rivers to make parks and products “A lot of stories about the value of Cuba’s shift to conservation agriculture have been based on fuzzy, feel-good evidence,” explained geologist and researcher Paul Bierman. “This study provides hard data that a crucial part of this story is true.” By contrast, the U.S. has more widespread dependence on chemical fertilizers . Hence, dead zones occur where the Mississippi River mouth opens into the Gulf of Mexico, adversely affecting the region’s marine ecosystems with dangerous bacterial and algal blooms caused by elevated nitrogen levels. Another interesting finding is that even though more than 80% of the Cuban river samples had E. coli bacteria, the source was found to be from fecal material by cattle and horses grazing along the riverbanks. The research team believes that this is partly attributed to “Cuba’s intensive use of horses and other draft animals for transportation and farm work.” The researchers concluded that the island country has been committed to promoting more sustainable agriculture to improve both its soil and water. The efforts have led to promising results. The American team was comprised of University of Vermont geologist Paul Bierman and Oberlin College geoscientist Amanda Schmidt. The Cuban team was led by Rita Hernández, representing the Cienfuegos Center for Environmental Studies, an ecological research group. Their joint research, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, was recently published in the GSA Today journal of the Geological Society of America. “This research can help the people of Cuba,” Hernández said, “and may give a good example to other people in the Caribbean and all over the world.” + The Geological Society of America Via Phys.org Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires

January 6, 2020 by  
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Record-breaking wildfires have ravaged millions of Australian acres for many months now. Ecologists estimate upward of 480 million mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects have died, as well as more than 8,000 koalas from New South Wales, equating to over 30% of the region’s entire koala population. Figures continue to rise as the fires rage on. Heat from the fires has driven many animals, such as kangaroos, to flee. But not all can escape, exemplified by flightless endemic birds unable to venture far from the ground. The plight is worse for koalas, already a vulnerable species experiencing significant habitat loss . Koalas are slow-moving by nature, incapable of escaping highly flammable eucalyptus trees. The flames will need to subside further before their losses can be fully assessed. Related: Koala-sniffing detection dog, Bear, helps save koalas from Australian bushfires Other species have been devastated as well. Insects, vital to pollination and nutrient cycles, have suffered massively. Many rare plants are also feared to be entirely decimated, with no chance of recovery for their species. These staggering losses jeopardize species populations and ecosystems in Australia. Environmental activists are consequently sounding alarms on climate change , demanding halts to logging and coal use due to their exacerbation of wildfire conditions. “The compelling issue here is climate change. Yes, Australia is burning, and national parks and our native animals are being decimated,” said Clover Moore, mayor of Sydney. “As the driest continent on Earth, we’re at the forefront of accelerating global warming . What is happening is a wake-up call for our governments to start making effective contributions to reducing global emissions.” Various animal care facilities are struggling to help the surviving animals. Eventually, once they have healed, these animals still need to return to their natural habitats. The surviving animals may have trouble finding food and shelter in the blazes’ aftermath. “We’re getting a lot of lessons out of this, and it’s just showing how unprepared we are,” said Kellie Leigh, executive director of Science for Wildlife, to the Australian parliament during an urgent December hearing regarding the koala population. “There’s no procedures or protocols in place — even wildlife carers don’t have protocols for when they can go in after the fire.” Typically, wildlife authorities advise against feeding wild animals . But the ravaging wildfires have prompted a message change — people are now encouraged to provide crucial food and water to wildlife in affected areas. Lands affected range from at least 8.9 million acres in New South Wales, 2.9 million acres in Western Australia, 1.8 million acres in Victoria, 618,000 acres in Queensland and 250,000 acres in South Australia. Via HuffPost Image via Simon Rumi

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Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires

Biggest environmental news stories of the decade

December 31, 2019 by  
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As we begin a new decade, we’re taking a look over the biggest environmental news stories since 2010. There’s a little good news, and a lot of not-so-good news. Still, we can look back and learn from what is happening in the hopes of taking action and restoring a brighter future for our planet. Climate change moves into the mainstream, and more kids get involved While a few climate deniers still fill high-ranking political posts, climate change is much more widely accepted as fact — rather than something to “believe in” — than it was in 2010. According to the TED blog, only four TED Talks specifically on climate change were posted in 2010 and 2011, although speakers mentioned the phenomenon. By 2015, TED said, people had shifted to seeing climate change as happening now, rather than in the far-off future, thanks to debates about whether or not places like the island nation of Kiribati were already sinking. Related: 12 good things that happened for the environment in 2019 By the end of the decade, climate change is on the forefront of many people’s minds, especially young people. Worldwide movements like Extinction Rebellion use massive, nonviolent protests to urge politicians to slow the warming. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg rose to international prominence, taking politicians to task about ignoring climate change and even being named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2019. Deepwater Horizon The decade started with a tragic oil spill on April 20, 2010, one of the worst in history. The explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico, killed 11 people. It leaked oil into the gulf for 87 days, for a total of 3.19 million barrels of crude oil polluting the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Images of people trying to wipe oil off pelican wings filled the news. Cleanup costs reached at least $65 billion . In addition to economic blows, especially to Louisiana’s shrimp and oyster industries, the animal death toll was high. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, about 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, 25,900 marine mammals and uncountable numbers of fish perished in the spill. Researchers are still gauging the long-term effects. Extreme weather events become more frequent As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned, global warming escalates weather disasters. The last decade saw 111 climate-related natural disasters that each cost more than $1 billion in damage. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, drought, heatwaves and winter storms. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, killing 2,981 people and costing an estimated $93.6 billion in damages. Notable U.S. disasters included Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Missouri tornadoes of 2011. Animal extinctions Humans continued to edge out other animals in the struggle for habitat and resources. According to the World Wildlife Fund , species loss currently stands at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, which is the rate Earth would lose species if humans didn’t exist. In 2012, Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise , died at over 100 years old. Formosan clouded leopards no longer slink across Taiwan. The Christmas Island pipistrelle, a microbat, has ceased its ultrasonic squeaking. No more baiji dolphins cavort in the Yangtze River. In this last decade, the planet also lost Caribbean monk seals, West African black rhinos, Madagascar hippopotami and Liverpool pigeons. Rainforest deforestation The decade’s final year witnessed much of the Amazonian rainforest go up in smoke. Brazil and Bolivia were particularly hit hard. Many attributed this tragedy at least in part to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s push for development over preservation. Horrifying photos from the National Institute for Space Research revealed enormous bald swaths where trees once stood. During its peak in August 2019, more than 70,000 individual fires were burning. The rainforest plays a critical role in regulating the entire world’s climate, so concerns stretched far beyond Brazil. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 Increase in ocean plastic During the last decade, plastic continued to fill the oceans. But awareness of ocean plastic also grew. A 2018 United Nations study reported that people dump approximately 13 million tons of plastic into the world’s oceans annually, and the researchers expected this number to grow. At the same time, many concerned citizens in cities around the world worked to decrease plastic waste by banning straws and plastic bags. Some hotel chains vowed to no longer stock beverages packaged in single-use plastic bottles. Many companies started developing products made from recycled plastic. Reusable water bottles became an important fashion accessory. China stopped buying American recycling Americans became more adept at recycling , but they weren’t necessarily aware where their recycled goods went. In 2018, China enacted a policy called National Sword. Suddenly, Americans realized their old plastic had largely been going to China , but China didn’t want it anymore. Now at the end of the decade, American cities are scrambling to save unprofitable recycling programs. Ironically, some cities have canceled these programs just when they’ve convinced people to recycle. Right now, it’s cheaper for American companies to produce new plastic than to recycle old. This is one of the many environmental problems that must be addressed in the coming decade. Images via Shutterstock

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Animal rights groups work to "Open Cages" of animals on fur farms

December 24, 2019 by  
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The fashion industry has recently experienced a rise in fur bans , thanks to successful pressure by animal rights advocacy groups and heightened consumer awareness. But these fur-free policies also need to extend beyond the haute couture sector to change the agriculture industry as well. This is where the work of organizations like Tušti Narvai and Open Cages come into play. In 2014, Tušti Narvai, which translates from Lithuanian as Empty Cages, was founded in Vilnius. Its English branch, Open Cages, was then established in the U.K. four years later. As their names symbolize, both sister nonprofit organizations strive to “change the world for animals” by strengthening the protection of farmed animals , improving animal welfare and preventing their suffering. In fact, one of the key projects by Tušti Narvai and Open Cages is to end fur farms. The groups do so by mobilizing the public through education and legal change. Related: Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s to be fur-free by 2021 But who are Tušti Narvai and Open Cages? These organizations are members of Anima International (AI) , a coalition of European animal protection advocacy groups that “envisions a world where animals are not treated as products.” Both sister organizations have been conducting several campaigns to better the situation of farm animals by minimizing animal cruelty and demanding compelling change. These campaigns include the improvement of chicken welfare, the elimination of cages in industrial farming, the ban on foie gras and fur bans. Learn more about these campaigns here . The fur ban has been gaining traction within the fashion industry , in many ways due to the ongoing and very visible anti-fur movement by various animal rights groups. Tušti Narvai and Open Cages have jointly added to that momentum. In Great Britain alone, Open Cages has implemented the #FurFreeBritain campaign, together with the Humane Society International (U.K.). It is projected that the ban on fur will adversely alter the supply chain, therefore reducing incidences of unnecessary animal torture and mortality that stem from cramped living spaces, malnourishment, neglect and even brutality. For instance, Open Cages shared an exposé on a fox that was recently saved from a fur farm. “Now he lives happily in a sanctuary and is an ambassador of this cruel industry,” says the Open Cages website. Scientific American and the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) have stated that the majority of the fur industry’s pelts are now sourced from farm-raised animals, specifically mink, fox, chinchilla, lynx, muskrat and coyotes. Moreover, most of the remaining fur farms in the world can be found in Europe. These facts are what motivate the work of Tušti Narvai and Open Cages. From now until December 31, for every 10 euros in donations to the fur ban initiative, an anonymous sponsor will match them by $100. The campaign efforts are all to help in the fight against fur farms. In the words of Tušti Narvai, “Together, we can change the fate of animals kept on farms.” + Tušti Narvai + Open Cages Image via Clem Onojeghuo

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Animal rights groups work to "Open Cages" of animals on fur farms

How zip lining impacts tree health, according to experts

December 24, 2019 by  
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Outdoorsy people have long enjoyed hiking on remote trails or rafting on rivers. But aerial views have been harder to come by, until the recent popularization of zip lines. Although varieties of zip lines have existed for hundreds of years, they have become widespread in recent years. It’s a popular outdoor activity, but how does it impact trees? Zip lines originated 2,000 years ago in mountainous areas of China , India and Japan, where people first used them to transport supplies from one place to another and to traverse dangerous areas. Later, European mountaineers navigated between high points with zip lines. In the 1970s, wildlife biologists built zip lines in the Costa Rican rainforests to cause minimal environmental disturbance during their studies. These Costa Rican ziplines soon caught the attention of tourists, and entrepreneurs latched onto the idea, opening recreational zip lines in Costa Rica and then other parts of the world. Related: Inside the Mohicans — an Ohio treehouse empire The United States’ first recreational zipline, the Haleakala Skyline Tour in Maui , launched in 2002. Fewer than 20 years later, commercial zip lines operate in at least 72 countries on six continents, with more than 400 zip courses in the U.S. alone. Obviously, zip lining is popular with people. But what effect does it have on trees and forests? Inhabitat spoke with four zip-line experts to get their views on the subject. Designing a zip course When planning a zip course, designers look at topography, using hills, valleys and water features to their advantage. “People like to zip line because it makes them feel like they’re flying,” said Jon Johnson, owner and builder of Zipline Utah in Deer Creek State Park. “So, if you think about a bird flying through the air, you don’t want to fly over a parking lot. That’s no fun. You want to find some piece of ground that has unique features and aspects to it.” In Ohio, Larry Gerstner, co-owner of Hocking Hills Canopy Tours , had some advantages when he designed their second zip course. “I’m a civil engineer by trade,” he said. “When we had our first course built, it was built by Bonsai, which is maybe the leading [zip course] builder in the country. I worked with them when they built it and picked up a lot of information to go with my engineering background.” Since Gerstner already owned the property, he was familiar with its features when he designed the second course. “It’s more taking the terrain and the trees and using them to the best advantage. You need to start out high and end up low. We don’t have enough fall to do the whole thing. So all of our courses have a walk in the middle where you gain some elevation, so that you double-use the elevation.” Gerstner took advantage of the unusual Hocking Hills topography to end one zip line inside a shallow cave and cross a river several times. Attaching cables to trees The biggest danger to trees comes from attaching cables and bolts to them in order to hold up platforms. According to a report by the engineering firm Robson Forensic , “Drilling any hole into a tree creates a wound that makes the tree more susceptible to infection and decay.” So trees need to be chosen carefully. They should be healthy , sizable and of a species that can compartmentalize damage and limit the spread of decay around a wound. “We need to protect them as much as we can, and we do love our trees,” Gerstner said. Hocking Hills Canopy Tours hired an arborist to evaluate its trees and pick the best candidates for platforms. Gerstner explained that when attaching platforms to trees, they stack bolts on top of each other so that the cambrium, or growth tissue of the tree, is only disturbed in one spot. “You’re only taking a little bit of the tree that you’re using out of commission for a brief period. It does grow back around that.” Other attachments to the tree use oak blocks to minimize damage. “We cut oak blocks and put them around the tree, and put our cable through the oak blocks so that it never touches the tree and the tree can grow.” Putting a cable all the way around a tree would kill it. “We also ‘guy’ the trees, so that where we have the force of a zip line on the tree, we’ll have a guy that goes the opposite direction that holds that force, so there’s nothing really pulling on the tree,” Gerstner said. “The tree has to be able to move back and forth some, but we limit that moving back and forth to keep it strong.” Ongoing tree health Once a course is in use, staff and arborists frequently inspect trees to ensure health. Adventures on the Gorge in West Virginia operates Tree Tops Canopy Tours, a 10-zip course with five sky bridges that wind through an ancient hemlock forest. According to Roger Wilson, CEO, its Bonsai-constructed course uses the block-and-cable system. “As trees grow, the blocks and cables can be readjusted with minimal impact on these ancient trees.” In Trinidad, ZIP-ITT Adventure Tours operates a course including an 800-foot line with a stunning view of Macqueripe Bay. “We would like to think that we have enhanced many of the trees in our area as we continue to look after them, including regular spraying for termites,” said Matthew Devaux, ZIP-ITT’s director. Gerstner watches his Ohio forest closely for sick or dead trees. “So it’s not quite a natural thing. We take better care of it. It’s a managed forest.” In Utah, the way local wildlife interacts with zip lines has surprised Johnson. Unlike canopy courses that are built in trees, Johnson’s platforms are all on constructed towers. “We get a lot of hawks and a lot of bald eagles,” Johnson said. “We’ll see them swoop down and catch a fish in the lake. We’ll find half-eaten fish on our towers. They use our towers as perches.” Getting in touch with forests Zip lines are more than just an adventure. They can be a powerful way for people to connect with forests. “We would like to think we have brought an awareness to the green environment and that feeling of being one with nature as you zip around our course,” Devaux said. “Moving into Macqueripe 6.5 years ago, we brought such an awareness to our staff, who now understand the effects of littering and the impact it has on the environment. They are now like ambassadors for the area, which is a great achievement for ZIP-ITT. The team has embraced keeping the forest clean and educating those who come about the area and the flora and fauna we enjoy because of it.” Many zip guides make sure to slip some education into the adventures. Gerstner said that most of the Hocking Hills guides are ecology majors who talk about tree characteristics during the tour. “We get a lot of people from the city, and they’ve never been in the forest,” Gerstner said. “They get a bird’s eye view of being up in the trees. Most people never get that in their life.” Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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How zip lining impacts tree health, according to experts

This container home in Brazil helps its residents disconnect

December 24, 2019 by  
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The 2,766-square-foot Hanging House was designed by the architects of Casa Container Marília in the rural area of ??Campos Novos Paulista, Brazil. About 80 percent of the materials used in construction were recycled , including the primary maritime shipping containers that make up a majority of the structure. The home also lacks two major modern amenities — televisions and Wi-Fi — to encourage a digital detox. The Hanging House sits elevated from the ground, so the windows are level with the native trees abundant throughout the property. This also lessened the impact on the landscape. The wooden deck balconies blend in with the branches of the trees as well, making it feel much like a treehouse. It earns its name from the numerous hammocks that hang from the ground level, one of many places where the homeowners can kick back and relax. There is a modular green roof attached to the container home as well as a rainwater storage system that reduces the need for excess irrigation around the property. The interior doors on the first floor were made with reused plates of the containers. Following the completion of the project, 70 percent of the debris left over — mostly made up of wood and steel scraps — was also reused. No outside soil was brought to the site, and a minimal amount of concrete was used in the foundations to preserve and protect the soil drainage and root patterns. Related: This prefab weekend retreat made from shipping containers can be ordered online All of the walls are insulated with a thermoacoustic blanket, and the interior has a cross-ventilation system with wide openings to encourage airflow. Nestling the house under the trees also provided the building with plenty of shade. Thanks to this air exchange and thermal arrangement, the house has no need for an air conditioning system, even on the hottest days of the year. The container home has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a beautiful kitchen that opens up to the living spaces. The interiors are dressed in timber, creating a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. In an effort to allow residents to disconnect from the outside world and better connect with the surrounding nature, there are no televisions or Wi-Fi available on the property. + Casa Container Marília Images via Casa Container Marília

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This container home in Brazil helps its residents disconnect

Koala-sniffing detection dog, Bear, helps save koalas from Australian bushfires

December 11, 2019 by  
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Record-breaking bushfires are raging along the eastern and southeastern coast of Australia, burning through prime marsupial habitat and claiming the lives of hundreds of koalas, an already vulnerable species . Search-and-rescue teams are underway to locate surviving koalas, and they do so thanks to the efforts of koala detection dogs, like Bear, who has been trained by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Human-caused climate change is to blame for the severe temperatures, vegetation dry-out, worsening drought impacts and low-to-almost-no precipitation, all of which have exacerbated bushfire conditions in Australia. Raging bushfires have devastated the eucalyptus stands populated by koalas. Related: Koalas declared “functionally extinct” Koalas can survive weeks following a fire, but they are likely suffering from severe burns and smoke inhalation. Finding these surviving koalas, many of whom are injured and distressed, to provide them proper care and rehabilitation then relocate them to safer areas has been a challenge. That’s where the deployment of koala detection dogs, like Bear, can be of value. The University of the Sunshine Coast has been training canines at the Detection Dogs for Conservation Centre. These trained detection dogs locate koalas by recognizing the scent of koala fur as well as fresh koala scat. What makes a good koala detection dog? A canine must be disinterested in people and not have a strong prey drive. More importantly, they must be hyper-focused on koalas. Bear, now 6 years old, meets those qualifications. IFAW shared about Bear’s training and upkeep, “He was brought in for assessment at about 1 year old. Within minutes, the team knew he was ‘The One’ they had been looking for to train on live koalas. He is high-energy, obsessive, doesn’t like to be touched and is completely uninterested in people, which sadly means he doesn’t make the ideal family pet. But these qualities do make him a perfect candidate for a detection dog, which is exactly why he was chosen. He also has zero prey drive, which is essential for a wildlife detection dog, as they need to focus purely on the scent and not the animal, ultimately ignoring the animal .” Unlike other detection dogs that are trained to sniff out koala scat, Bear is trained to detect live koalas by their fur. Scat remains aren’t always effective, for they don’t always lead to the koalas who left them. But, with Bear’s abilities to detect koala fur, living koalas can be found even at the top of burned trees, giving them more chances of survival success. + IFAW Via People Photography by Fiona Clark Photography via IFAW

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Koala-sniffing detection dog, Bear, helps save koalas from Australian bushfires

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