Tag Archives: conservation

Afflicted Bats Need Avengers; Bat Counters Needed

Lots of people are talking about “Batman.” Why did the “dark knight” choose bats as a symbol for his vigilantism?  In the comics, Bruce Wayne creates his ‘Batman’ identity when he conquered his childhood fear of bats. He created the illusion of having the speed, agility and nocturnal instincts of the only mammal able to sustain flight: the bat.

Although some people readily see the value of bats—including wetlandkeepers—other people are afraid of bats. Myths about bats, such as that bats carry rabies, are unfounded. Less than 1% of bats carry rabies. An individual is more likely to come across a skunk or domestic dog with rabies, than to encounter a bat with rabies. However, it is likely nowadays to find a bat infected with another disease. That is, if you can find a bat at all. Bats are sending up their own “bat-signal” of distress and need our help.

Currently bats in the U.S. are suffering the plight of white nose syndrome, a deadly fungus infection affecting a growing number of bat populations in North America. It started in New York in a bat colony in 2006. The fungus, Geomyces destructans, is considered an invasive species (Lanwig, Frick, et. al. Ecology Letters, 2012). Five years later, the disease has spread to 19 different states.  The death toll of North American bats succumbing to white nose syndrome was 5.5 million as of January 2012.

Myth: Bats will (not) entangle in your hair. Fact: Bats are natural pest control for crops. Myth: Bats suck blood. Fact: You’d have to leave the United States to find a vampire bat. The most common bats in the United States eat insects. Those of us in mosquito-stricken areas of the country, like Maine, are aware of bats’ ability to consume thousands of mosquitoes in a single night. Bats like to swoop through wetlands and riparian areas, and in turn, bat guano fertilizes vegetation. What most people don’t know is that “bat guano is big business” outside the U.S. as a source of fertilizer.  Also see: Effects of wetland network distribution on bat activity.

The most recent studies show that the more “social” the bats are, the tighter the cluster of bats in a colony, the more likely the disease is to spread. The grim reality is that the fungus has wiped out bat populations by the hundreds of thousands throughout the country. It’s in Delaware. It’s in Missouri. It’s in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.  White nose syndrome has been confirmed in Wyoming and Maine, too. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a protocol for treatment and reduction of spreading the white nose syndrome in June 2012. For instance, if you handle a bat with white nose syndrome while wearing gloves, be sure to wash the gloves in hot water afterwards.

What’s strange is that not every bat infected with the fungus is dying. Sometimes a bat infected with white nose syndrome can live for a full year or longer after infection. In other cases, such as the big brown bat, scientists don’t know how the bats are avoiding the white nose syndrome; it might have to do with migrating south as opposed to huddling together in the infected caves, where the fungus is present. The endangered Indiana bat has not been hit as hard as biologists feared (their population is down about 70%).  One of the most common bats in the Northeast, the little brown bat, has taken a nosedive –its population plummeting by 90% due to white nose syndrome. SeeNortheastern Bat Update and Bats on the Brink.  There has been some hope in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire:  some of the little brown bat colonies are surviving and having pups, based on reports from state Fish and Game agencies. State agencies are calling for citizens to count bats and help promote awareness about them. In addition to research in the U.S., this year happens to be ‘Year of the Bat’ for international research and awareness about bats across the globe.

For the FWS’ blog on White Nose Syndrome, visit:http://whitenosebats.wordpress.com/
For information on Vermont’s Bat Program, click here.
For information on New Hampshire’s Bat Program, click here. 
For National Park Service (KY)’s Bat Program, visit:http://www.nps.gov/maca/whitenose.htm
Also see related blog post, White-nose syndrome confirmed in endangered gray bats


Restoring Lost Ecological Connections: Fish Ladders and Dam Removal

Growing up in midcoast Maine I was accustomed to celebrating the return of the alewives, an anadromous, or sea-run fish, each spring. Recently a project to restore the fish ladder for the alewives has neared completion in a stream at Damariscotta Mills. The Maine state legislature called for a fish passage in 1741, which led to the town finally building the fish ladder in 1807 to allow the alewives to return to Maine’s streams, ponds and lakes to spawn. The project to rebuild the old fish ladder began 200 years later in 2007 and has entered a final phase in 2012. One challenge for the restoration crew has been to make sure that the fish ladder was functional for the alewives each season. The running of the alewives just occurred in late May/early June.

Meanwhile, another river in Maine supports the run of alewives, salmon, sturgeon and other sea-run fish: the Penobscot, Maine’s largest river. A major component of a restoration project to restore critical habitat in Maine’s largest watershed is underway this week along the Penobscot River. The Great Works Dam on the lower part of the river is being removed this week. See a video of this dam removal (June 11, 2012). This is the culmination of a lot of planning over the past eight years on the part of federal, state and tribal governments, along with nonprofit and for-profit parties.  These have included the State of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Penobscot Nation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation and other partners. Together they form the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. This project began in 1999, but an essential agreement formed in 2004 laid the groundwork for the collaborative restoration efforts. This unprecedented agreement set out to accomplish these things:

  1. Restore self-sustaining populations of native sea-run fish, such as the endangered Atlantic salmon;
  2. Renew opportunities for the Penobscot Nation to exercise sustenance fishing rights;
  3. Create new opportunities for tourism, businesses and communities;
  4. Resolve long-standing disputes and avoid future uncertainties over the regulation of the river.

The agreement further laid out a plan to remove two dams on the lower part of the river, including the Great Works Dam removed this week, and to construct fish bypasses by a third dam and to improve fish passage at four other dams. In 2007, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the project, and added that it would have far-ranging benefits on the Gulf of Maine, protecting endangered species, migratory birds, as well as riverine and estuarine wetlands. It would also enhance recreational activities, such as paddling and fishing and watching wildlife.  The riverine habitat is home to osprey, kingfishers, otters and bald eagles. The project has been widely known as one of the most innovative river restoration projects in the nation.

Some members of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust have made comparisons to the 1999 dam removal on the Kennebec, which was among notable dam removal projects that set a trend throughout the country. The two rivers share some of the same ecological communities. Those involved with monitoring the Kennebec since 1999, have noted a return of more birds, namely osprey and bald eagles, due to the increased number of alewives present, a food source for the birds of prey. “It’s restoring some of the lost ecological connections in the river. First, we’ve seen the rebuilding of the herring run. And now we’ve seen the building of the eagle and osprey populations,” according toAndrew Goode of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The Penobscot River and its tributaries flow through the Maine North Woods to Penobscot Bay, in midcoast Maine. Scientists began collecting baseline data for monitoring wetlands, rare plants, invasive species, geomorphology, water quality, smolt telemetry (tagging and monitoring the actively migrating young salmon), tracking fish movements and fish communities, including sturgeon, salmon and other species, in 2009. See monitoring poster. For more information about the monitoring work with sturgeon,click here.

Dam removal, fish passage and river restoration projects are happening in other parts of the country, too. Trout Unlimited has recently blogged about the legacy of “Making rivers whole again” and what’s considered the largest dam removal project in the country is underway in the Olympic wilderness of Washington state. The Elwha Dam removal project began last fall to restore the Elwha River and ecosystem. It’s managed by theNational Park Service. A recent look at case-studies on dam removal and legislation in the U.S. from an energy perspective was provided in “Exploring the Reasons behind Dam Removal.” In addition, the Connecticut River has become the first National Blueway thanks to the efforts of over 40 local, state and federal government agency and nonprofit and for-profit coalition members. The designation will improve recreational opportunities for boating, canoeing, trail-building and conservation along the river in four states: CT, NH, MA and VT. The idea originated out of President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative. For a snapshot of other ideas in the Great Outdoors initiative, click here.

Updated: April 4, 2013: Blocked Migration: Fish Ladders On U.S. Dams Are Not Effective

A Land Ethic 60 Years Later: Growth of the Land Trust Movement

A recent article in The American Spectator highlights the impressive accomplishments and growth of the land trust movement in the U.S. over the last 60 years. Census data collected by the national Land Trust Alliance indicates significant growth in land conservation by these private—and usually small—nonprofit land trusts since 2000. See Tocqueville Would Be Proud. There are more than 1700 land trusts in the U.S. that have conserved 37 million acres of land.

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949) and his other writings were highly influential to the conservation movement in the 1950s-1970s. Last week was Aldo Leopold Weekend in Wisconsin. His idea of a land ethic, a guiding principle for the actions of people and their relationship to land, evolved into some of the early visions of land trusts, now considered conservation leaders, beginning in the 1970s.

One example, Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), established itself as a conservation organization in 1970.  Through its “municipal program” (1975-77), the statewide land trust determined that conservation commissions were very important but local land trusts were also needed to perform the necessary land protection work throughout the state. “Local land trusts (LLTs) can provide response flexibility, confidentiality and credibility that is often lacking on the part of town government,” wrote Earl Ireland in an early planning committee memo to the Land Trust Program.  MCHT began to list “assistance to local land trusts” as part of its services in 1978. A number of other state-wide land trusts formed using that model in other parts of the country.

Ten years ago I conducted a research project on land trust collaboration, which continues to be a topic of discussion at the Land Trust Rally, an annual training event hosted by the Land Trust Alliance. The Land Trust Alliance is a national, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that provides leadership to the local, regional and state wide land trust communities across the country, as well as some international land trusts.

While I focused much of that 2001-2004 study on Maine land trusts, I traveled to meet with land trust and conservation professionals in Wyoming, California and Maryland, and attended the Land Trust Rally to learn about land trust work nationally. I also gained first-hand knowledge by working with Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

What struck me then was the difference in how people thought about “collaboration.” I had assumed that collaboration was a good thing but learned that some people saw it as “giving up” or “giving in,” while others defined it as “working together.” In success stories about local land trusts in Maine that collaborated by merging with neighboring trusts, a regional land trust could take on larger conservation easements, raise more funds, hire more staff, update/digitize maps, etc.  The Land Trust Alliance encouraged this mode of professionalizing land trusts throughout the U.S.. In success stories about local land trusts (LLTs) that collaborated in other ways—through partnerships, shared staff or shared GIS, peer-mentoring programs or regional coalitions, LLTs maintained their local identity and protected more land using ‘whole-place’ planning or a watershed approach and the benefits of working with conservation partners.

Since then, land trusts have turned collectively to the development of state conservation easement statutes and to new challenges, such as addressing climate change. LTA conducted a 2007 survey among land trusts and found that 60% of responding land trusts were incorporating climate change into their conservation action plans and 30% were engaged in influencing climate policy. Learn more about the developments of land trusts and climate change issues on LTA’s website.

ASWM posted a list of land trusts working to protect wetlands and provided a number ofpublications relevant to land conservation work on its website. In addition, visit ASWM’sLocal Wetland Programs page and its “I am a Landowner” page for related information about local governments, local land conservation programs and general information about wetlands protection for landowners.

Wild Things Look for New Haunts, Creep into Our World

Of all the Maine islands I visited during a summer field course on island ecology in summer ’99, Crotch Island seemed to me a ghostland: silent quarry equipment gave way to nature. Grasses and vines snaked over crawlers, ospreys nested atop cranes and frogs swam in pools that filled pockets in the granite. The island had an interesting history, too. When Jackie Onassis arranged for JFK’s Memorial in the Arlington National Cemetery, she picked the pinkest granite from Crotch Island, the last major island quarry operation in Maine. It’s a beautiful rose hue. The day I visited the island, I spotted wildlife that adopted the abandoned machinery like funny characters in an odd Wonderland. Rabbits flashed into view and disappeared through old tires, a magic trick.

But this is not so uncommon! When nature resumes its role and vegetation grows over man-made structures, the creatures return, too. In other instances, wildlife sneaks into buildings uninvited and takes up residence, if only temporary. Recently a young Cooper’s hawk, probably enticed by pigeons that roosted in the rooftop of the Library of Congress, flew around inside of the dome-shaped ceiling for a week. It had to be lured down by frozen quail. Library staff consulted FWS, as the bird is an endangered species.http://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2011/01/watching-our-researchers-like-a-hawk/

Bats often use man-made structures like bridges, culverts, mineshafts, attics, and of course, bat houses, http://www.floridiannature.com/bats.htm. Porcupines, which live in hardwood forests and forested swamps, just want to be left alone to eat their veggie diet, preferably Eastern hemlock. But the tree has been under attack by an invasive insect, and that paired with habitat loss has sent the porcupines into man-made structures, where they will gnaw on anything from furniture to vehicle undercarriages. Supposedly the porcupine likes the sodium.http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_

Wind turbines have been a subject of much discussion over whether their presence will harm bird populations. Birds might think, “hey, this is a neat place to perch,” until they get knocked off when the turbines are in use. Newer models of wind turbines are designed to reduce bird mortality.http://science.howstuffworks.com/

While some people think that certain wild animals are “nuisance” species, others want to attract wildlife to their backyards. Here’s a USGS guide to attracting wildlife to one’s backyard—with some precautions to keep in mind:http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/wildlife/wildback/profiles.htm Eccentric folks like to create a way to enjoy watching wildlife, as seen here (in honor of Squirrel Appreciation Day) in this backyard “Mission Impossible” sequence: http://blogs.discovery.com/animal_oddities/2010/01/squirrel-appreciation-day.htmlThe Huffington Post recently posted a blog by a National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski on how to properly dispose an opossum with a hilarious video that lets viewers know about their options. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-mizejewski/how-to-properly-dispose-o_b_794889.html My favorite part is when “Pink Mama” proposes using cryogenics to freeze the opossum’s head, closely followed by the condolence card. More sensibly, the Southern Californian opossum enthusiast known as “Pink Mama,” advises contacting a wildlife rehabilitator in the event of finding a dead or injured opossum on the side of the road, but only after feeling its stomach to see if there are “squiggly babies” inside.

Basically, animals move into our world all the time, whether we want them to, or whether they’d rather be in more desirable habitat. Beavers and raccoons will travel through culverts and sewers, if there are no other ways to get from one wetland to another. Wildlife stream crossings research has been an important way for biologists to understand the movement of certain species in fragmented habitat, especially where roads have segmented a forest or wetland. For more information, visit:http://aswm.org/wetland-science/wetland-science/327-wildlife-friendly-stream-and-undercrossing-research

Update: Eagles Attack Customers at Post Office in Alaska

Mark Trail – What a Guy!

Mark Trail is my ideal man. He loves the outdoors—fishing, watching wildlife, whitewater rafting, blazing a trail through the woods. Mark Trail was an “environmentalist” long before it was cool to be one. He’s got well-established values but he’s also a forward-thinker. An old soul, forever 32. He’s a writer *swoon* and always getting into dangerous adventures. Often he discovers some kind of environmental crime and solves the mystery (sometimes punching the bad guy!) He loves animals, wetlands and hardheaded women. And did I mention his muscular arms and dashing good looks? Mark’s got that plucky hands-on-hips quality that makes me drool. Oh, wait, he’s married. Wait again, he’s a character from a comic strip. I always fall for the imaginary guys.

“Mark Trail,” a comic strip created by artist and naturalist Ed Dodd, later joined by Jack Elrod,  has been teaching people about the importance of protecting natural resources since the 1950s. Wetlands are one of Mark’s biggest passions. In a recent newspaper, I came across this comic that highlights the duck stamp program.

Apparently, the artists’ inspiration for the character came from the real life conservation hero, Charles N. Elliott (November 29, 1906 – May 1, 2000), a U.S. forest ranger who edited Outdoor Life magazine from 1956 to 1974. Mark Trail comics have been used in FWS publications to help educate children about conservation. The comic strip is featured in the cartoon section of 176 newspapers across the country.

For more information, check out the comic strip here:


Mark Trail