Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As I was saying

The Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration
Five paid restoration internship positions available for Winter and Spring 2011 quarters. Interns gain experience in ecological restoration techniques including seed collection, plant propagation, restoration implementation and monitoring, and wildlife observation. Students will generally work with a project manager on a specific restoration project in the field. Students with a special interest in data analysis and synthesis may propose to include that in their experience. The internship requires a 6 hour commitment each week and will pay $300 for the quarter. To apply, send your resume, schedule and a letter of interest to jmyers@lifesci.ucsb.edu. Interviews will be scheduled at the end of the quarter before the internship or during the first week of the quarter.  Students who have already completed CCBER's 10 week intern training program will be given priority.

Are Conservation Biologists Wasting Their Time?

I just found out that Dr. Jai Ranganathan, a postdoc at NCEAS has a podcast where he interviews scientists (mostly ecologists) about their research. One of these interviews is very relevant to our course:

Are Conservation Biologists Wasting Their Time?

Ecologist Hugh Possingham argues that conservationists have made a fetish of monitoring ailing species, and what they should be doing isn’t counting but acting.

Conventional wisdom says saving threatened species requires closely track their numbers. As a result, conservation biologists around the world spend a lot of time and money keeping track of all sorts of species, from elephants to whales.
But is all of this species monitoring getting anywhere for real conservation?
Definitely not, says Dr. Hugh Possingham, an ecologist and professor at the University of Queensland in Australia. Not only is this monitoring mostly a waste, it is actually hurting on the ground conservation efforts by siphoning off money that could otherwise be used to save species. Instead of just squandering resources, blindly monitoring for monitoring’s sake, Possingham urges scientists to devote themselves to action plans that actually do something to save threatened species.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Last year I was planning to have a section on the exam where you prepared a brief answer for both sides of an argument. I eventually abandoned this idea but they still might form a useful review aid and/or food for thought.
  1. Species-based conservation is necessary because species are fundamental evolutionary units.
    Species-based conservation is impractical because we cannot save every species.

  2. Protected areas that exclude people are the only means to conserve biodiversity.
    Parks will fail unless meaningful inclusion of people’s needs are incorporated into their planning.

  3. Genetic studies provide necessary information for conservation efforts.
    Genetic studies are overly expensive diversions from more important conservation work.

  4. We should conserve the most vulnerable habitats first before they are lost.
    We should focus on preserving large areas of pristine habitat.

Just because he knocks....

 A former Director of Tanzania’s Wildlife Department
has commented that one hunter is worth 100 tourists to the local economy.

There are some interesting papers on hunting and wildlife conservation in the social science literature.

Here are a couple of papers - one very social science based looking at the US, and one more general looking at trophy hunting in Africa.

'Hunting and Environmentalism: Conflict or Misperceptions', Human Dimensions of Wildlife

This work examined some assumptions that underpin the conflict between hunters and anti-hunting movement. The moral contradictions of anti-hunting activism are positioned in the complex context of consumer culture, managed environmental protection, and industrial food production. The assumption that environmental groups are by definition opposed to hunting is investigated. Given that both hunters and environmental groups are interested in land conservation, and given the rapid habitat loss around the globe, the question is asked whether joint conservation efforts would prove beneficial not only to both groups' interests, but also to the fragile North American ecosystems and the species that reside in them. 

'Trophy Hunting as a Sustainable Use of Wildlife Resources in Southern and Eastern Africa', Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

Preserving wildlife in a pristine state on a large scale is no longer feasible in view of continued human population increases, economic development, habitat fragmentationand degradation, the introduction of nonnative species, and commercialisation of wildlife products. The wise use of the planet’s remaining wildlife resources will depend on management practices which recognise that indigenous people are integral parts of ecosystems. Community-based conservation, which attempts to devolve responsibility for the sustainable use of wildlife resources to the local level, can include consumptive activities, such as trophy hunting, as well as nonconsumptive forms of tourism. The trophy hunting management systems of six countries of eastern and southern Africa are profiled and critiqued, demonstrating a number of essential conditions for obtaining optimal wildlife conservation and community benefits.

In the six countries in southern and eastern Africa which allow trophy hunting, management systems have fallen short in these areas to varying degrees, reducing potential conservation and community benefits.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lion trophies

In the conservation example I ended with on Tuesday it is important to note that the main source of income to the villages in the area, and hence the reason they now support the conservation efforts, comes from safari hunting of elephant. This sits rather uneasily with many conservationists.

In the news this week was an exchange in the British parliament about whether the government should ban the importation of lion trophies.

You can read the whole piece but here are some relevant facts:
  • Although total lion populations may be around 20,000 in Africa, only some 3,000 of those are males, which means the species is even more at risk. 
  • Sport hunting mostly targets adult male animals. Hunters regard them as the most impressive to kill.
  • Between 2000 and 2008, some 4,250 wild lions were exported as trophies. 
  • Lions have not even appeared on the CITES agenda in 2007 or 2010. It should be noted that CITES votes are often influenced by powerful lobbying and special interest groups. 
  • The African lion is presently on appendix II, which allows for regulated and sustainable trade.
  • (T)he UK is a relatively minor importer of wild lion trophies overall, having imported about 50 between 2002 and 2008, compared with 317 for Spain, 274 for France, 170 for Mexico, 146 for Germany and a staggering 2,792 for the United States.  
Part of the government response:
Trophy hunting is often an emotive subject, but many recognise that, if managed properly, it can actually benefit conservation. Hunters can pay large sums of money for the privilege of hunting, particularly for Africa's "big five", which includes the lion. If it is managed properly and the income is fed back into conservation schemes and the local community, trophy hunting can have, and has had, a positive effect.

Two thousand seven hundred and ninety two.....

A quick search of the internet suggests that a lion hunt is likely to cost $20,000-$25,000 for the trophy fee. eg Nyala safaris or Phirima Safaris plus the cost of the safari itself (Nyala suggest another $30,000).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Conservation Ecology redux

Well, I'm going to be out of town for a few days so there will be no daily posts from me until the weekend. I'm not actually going away for Thanksgiving but I will be away over Thanksgiving (subtle difference I guess). In the spirit of television I bring you some Conservation Ecology classics from the archives. Oh, alright, they're repeats, but they are selected repeats. Have a happy and safe thanksgiving

Monday, November 22, 2010

Land Trust for Santa Barbara County

The Conservation and Restoration Seminar tonight, Nov. 22nd, will be presented by

William Abbott of the Santa Barbara Land Trust on their experiences and lessons learned in the
implementation of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Restoration.

-- 6pm, CCBER Classroom, Harder South.

The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County have a nice website with details of their various purchases and conservation easements. There are further details of the Capinteria Saltmarsh project. Other projects you may be familiar with include Fairview Gardens, the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, and the UCSB South Parcel (a conservation easement). For another example of conservation easements see the history of the Sedgewick Reserve, a UC Reserve, which some of you may have visited on field trips:

In the early 1990's, motivated by research scientists, artists and preservationists, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County agreed to lead a "Save the Sedgwick" campaign to acquire the 782 acres from the heirs to the Sedgwick estate. In complex, several year effort, the Land Trust succeeded in raising $3.2 million from local, state and foundation grants, and a great many individual donations, to purchase the heir's parcel. We then negotiated convey it at no cost to UCSB, based on the agreement that the land would be placed under a conservation easement to permanently protect it from development and that it would become part of the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS). The NRS has managed the Sedgwick Reserve since 1997.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

They broke it, you fix it

Maybe not the hottest game on the internets and maybe not really a game, but this little budget puzzle from the New York Times last week has attracted quite a bit of attention.

Today, you’re in charge of the nation’s finances. Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings. When you have closed the budget gaps for both 2015 and 2030, you are done. Make your own plan, then share it online.

It's an interesting learning exercise that is more relevant to conservation than you might think. Have a go. Then take a look at a summary of people's solutions.

My conclusion? It's surprisingly easy to balance the budget and even to generate a surplus to bring down the debt. However getting people to agree which plan to adopt is going to be very, very hard.

Oh yes, and for extra bonus points - which of the various policy choices would have conservation implications?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tough turtle

I don't know if any of you received this e-mail that has apparently been doing the rounds recently:

Aha, maybe we have just discovered why the sea turtle is going extinct & it is not global warming. !!!!!!!....

Sending you an e-mail of the turtle poachers on the beaches of Costa Rica.
What have they they all gained for the future of Costa Rica's Marine Life protection? World Wide shame in COSTA RICA.

As you might expect, the situation is not quite this simple. Yes, these people are collecting turtle eggs for sale and consumption (the original e-mail contains seven more pictures) BUT the collection is legal and some conservation organizations support these actions. How can that be?

For 10 months of the year, usually around the third quarter of the moon, olive ridleys swim by the hundreds of thousands to a single mile of beach at Ostional in an ancient reproductive rite little understood by scientists. They scuttle onto the sand, dig a hole with their flippers, and drop in an average of 100 leathery, white eggs the size of ping pong balls. Over the course of a five-day "arribada," literally, an arrival, nesting females will leave as many as 10 million eggs in the black, volcanic sand. Mass nesting is nature's way of ensuring that after the turkey vultures, feral dogs and raccoons have eaten all the fresh eggs they want, there will be enough left over to produce a sustainable population of olive ridleys.

In the early 1980s, scientists learned that because of limited space on the beach, females arriving later destroy the first laid eggs. The researchers wondered: why not let poachers have the doomed eggs?

Under a law written especially for Ostional, the government allows an egg harvesting cooperative to collect all they can during the first 36 hours of every arribada. Coop members then truck the eggs around the country, selling them to bars and restaurants. In return, the community must protect the olive ridley. Coop members clean debris from the nesting areas and patrol the beach day and night for poachers. Forty days later, when the hatchlings emerge, children from the Ostional Primary school run to the beach. "
We protect the tortugitas when they crawl to the ocean. If we don't, the vultures will get them and bite their heads off," says a local 8-year-old boy, breathlessly.

Read the full story: Costa Rican Villagers Sell Turtle Eggs to Save Sea Turtles, but Feud with Scientists. One interesting consequence of this 'legal poaching' is that it drives down the price of turtle eggs reducing the incentive for illegal poaching.  The final paragraphs provides food for thought:

Globally, few efforts to save sea turtles succeed. Moreover, it's hard to find a community development project in any field where a town has for 10 years been responsibly managing and protecting a valuable resource. Biologists say that is what sets Ostional apart from other more peaceful, but disappointing projects around the world.
Despite its problems, Ostional continues to serve as a model of sustainable development. Researchers from neighboring Nicaragua and Panama - which have their own, smaller arribadas of olive ridleys - will soon visit here to find out what they can learn from the successes of Ostional. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fear itself

Clothed in innocence, the treaty is in fact designed to radically transform Western Civilization into a society where wolves and other entities of nature have more rights than humans.
Biodiversity treaty more than senate willing to pay.
Sovereignty International Corporation

I've tried to look into this several times but it's just not easy for me to understand exactly why the US did not ratify the Convention on Biodiversity. In search of answers I've been doing some reading on websites written by those who opposed the Convention. This has proven more enlightening but the level of paranoia is scary.

The open letter to congress I mentioned in class (from 293 signers, representing four million American voters) only specifically mentions two issues - alien species and the transfer of technology. However the testimony given to congress focused on a third issue - private property rights and the threat of a massive property grab by the federal government if not the United Nations themselves. Here is testimony given by Senator Hutchison (Texas) from the Congressional Record S13790, Friday, September 30, 1994.

I am especially concerned about the effect of the treaty on private property rights in my State and throughout America. Private property is constitutionally protected, yet one of the draft protocols to this treaty proposes "an increase in the area and connectivity of habitat." It envisions buffer zones and corridors connecting habitat areas where human use will be severely limited. Are we going to agree to a treaty that will require the U.S. Government to condemn property for wildlife highways? Are we planning to pay for this property? One group, the Maine Conservation Rights Institute, has prepared maps of what this would mean. I do not know if they are accurate yet, but that is my point. Neither do the proponents of this treaty.

This is the map, presented on the Senate floor, that quite possibly convinced them to vote against the ratification of the Biodiversity Treaty. Note the heading - As mandated by the convention on biological diversity.

The areas you see in red represents "wilderness reserves" which will be off limits to humans. Areas in yellow represents highly regulated buffer zones where human existence will be greatly restricted. The areas in green represent zones for normal use of high density mixed use urban areas.

In the minds of some the UN Convention on Biodiversity has become associated with the Wildlands Project (now known as the Wildlands Network). This organization focuses on scientific and strategic support for creation of “networks of people protecting networks of connected wildlands.”  They identified existing protected areas and proposed wildlife corridors that would connect them as pathways for wide-ranging species in need of room to roam. Their ideas are not exactly radical and their maps are very general but it is these rather general maps that were apparently the inspiration for the scary map above.

Worst of all, the basis for protecting biodiversity and ecosystems was to be centered on what is known as the Wildlands Project. This draconian plan calls for setting aside vast areas (about 50 percent) of America into reserve wilderness areas, interconnecting corridors, and human buffer zones where human use would be eliminated or severely restricted. According to the June 25, 1993 issue of Science magazine, such a system of reserves and corridors would create "an archipelago of human-inhabited islands surrounded by natural areas."
Biodiversity treaty more than senate willing to pay.
Sovereignty International Corporation

The Rewilding Project is brought to us from the United Nations. A relevant tentacle of Agenda 21, the Rewilding Project is designed to restore a major portion of the planet to its 'original' state before man came along and messed it all up; however, it could not be happening if it were not being implemented by state and local legislation.

Suffice to say that when they want your property you WILL sell and at a price they set. Otherwise, they'll remove you forcefully. Private land is being taken all over America by local, state and federal governments under 'eminent domain'. ... In the case of Wildlands and their Corridors, it will be dedicated exclusively to plants, insects, bees, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and animals. Carnivores figure heavily in their plan.
From The Rewilding Project

This video tells the complete story (check out how the map changes at 3:34 to 'simulated map'). Wetland mitigation, critical habitat and conservation easements are all part of the same conspiracy....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Endangered species act in the news

There's an article about the Vandenberg monkeyflower in the Santa Barbara Independent this week. Note that this species has been added to the candidate list (ie the backlog), not the actual list.

Go Bonkers for Vandenberg Monkeyflower - Feds Put Recently Discovered Plant on Endangered Species Candidate List

 Despite its rarity and the fact that threats are considered imminent, being named as a candidate for the endangered species list won’t do much other than raise awareness. This annual list is put out by the Fish & Wildlife Service in hopes that knowledge of a species’ status will alert landowners and resource managers to be aware of its existence and work toward conservation. 

 Err, okay. How's that been working out for you?

In other news the agency responsible for listing marine species has moved further down the path to actually listing a new species -  the Hawaiian insular false killer whale. The current population is though to number less than 170 whales but only 46 breeding individuals.

In taking this action, NOAA’s Fisheries Service reviewed the extinction risk of this distinct population segment, the factors for decline and efforts being made to conserve the species. The analysis identified 29 threats to the species’ survival, such as their small numbers as well as hooking and entanglement of false killer whales in fisheries.
Given the identified threats to the population and the results of quantitative and qualitative risk analyses, NOAA’s Fisheries Service believes that Hawaiian insular false killer whales are at high risk of extinction as a result of either small scale incremental impacts over time or a single catastrophic event.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hearing loss in stranded dolphins

New research into the cause of dolphin "strandings" - incidents in which weakened or dead dolphins are found near shore - has shown that in some species, many stranded creatures share the same problem.
They are nearly deaf, in a world where hearing can be as valuable as sight.
That understanding - gained from a study of dolphins' brain activity - could help explain why such intelligent animals do something so seemingly dumb. Unable to use sound to find food or family members, dolphins can wind up weak and disoriented.
Researchers are unsure what is causing the hearing loss: It might be old age, birth defects or a cacophony of man-made noise in the ocean, including Navy sonar, which has been associated with some marine mammal strandings in recent years. 

Press report from the Washington Post, original research is from a PLoS ONE paper out last week:  Hearing Loss in Stranded Odontocete Dolphins and Whales
Thanks to Josh for the tip.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shagged by a rare parrot (again)

I try to make the vast majority of the blog postings topical, and therefore new, but sometimes there's just something too good not to repost. Here's a clip of the Kakapo I posted last year.

I mentioned the dangers of imprinting on humans briefly today. Sirocco suffered from a respiratory illness as a very young chick which meant he had to be hand reared and, unfortunately, he imprinted on humans. Although this means he is unlikely to be a successful breeder the viral success of the video clip above has led to Sirocco having his own Facebook page, Twitter account, and he is now an official spokesbird for conservation.

For more Kakapo fun, including more inappropriate mating attempts, check out this video of a video at the Te Papa museum in Wellington, NZ.

Monday, November 15, 2010


It's that time of the year when the Monarch's start arriving at the Elwood Grove to overwinter.

If you've never been to see them then you should. It's only a short bike ride from campus. Directions can be found at The Coronado Butterfly Preserve page.

The photograph was taken there yesterday morning and posted on edhat.

Become a Coal Oil Point Reserve Tour Leader

Coal Oil Point Reserve is a 170-acre nature reserve owned by UCSB, located just west of UCSB's West Campus.
Volunteer tour leaders provide two-hour tours to university and elementary school classes and community groups several times per month.

The time commitment for this volunteer job is around three hours per month.
Advanced training is provided on Coal Oil Point Reserve and local natural and cultural resources, research, resource management and conservation, as well as many other interesting and important environmental science topics.

This is an outstanding opportunity to practice and improve your public speech skills, and to make a significant contribution to our community and our environment in Santa Barbara.
And all this, in a beautiful natural reserve by the ocean, just a five minutes bike ride from UCSB.
For more information and to apply, contact me at: coprstaff@lifesci.ucsb.edu
Ofri Gabay
Ofri Gabay
Tour Program Coordinator
Coal Oil Point Reserve

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A thousand words part 2

Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.
Although if the bear is a grizzly bear and you are a salmon it's really more of the latter.

Posting about the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award below made me think about the power of photographs. Joel Sartore, whose photograph of dead frogs in the Sierras won a highly commended in the One Earth Award, has a great website with thousands of his images - many taken on assignment for National Geographic.

He also has a blog and a FAQ with lots of great information about being a wildlife photographer.

To make this topical check out his gallery on Endangered Species:

Writer Douglas Chadwick has said that there is as much beauty and importance in the beat of a butterfly wing as there is in the howl of a wolf. Such thinking forms the basis for a remarkable law, the Endangered Species Act.

Since its inception in 1973, the ESA has become the most important tool in the fight to save animals from extinction. Though much maligned and woefully underfunded in the past eight years, the law protects all creatures great and small, from ocelots to beach mice. It even protects a single species of fly found on the California coast.

By isolating species on black and white backgrounds, all are given equal consideration (and hopefully equal attention) by readers. Public support of the law is vital to its continuance, saving hundreds of species for future generations.

Photograph shows A St. Andrew beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus peninsularis), a federally endangered rodent, in Panama City, FL. This and several other beach mice subspecies are imperiled due to beach development.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Color changing whales

Google News lists 418 News articles picking up on this paper published in Proceedings of the royal Society this week:
Acute sun damage and photoprotective responses in whales
We conducted photographic and histological surveys of three seasonally sympatric whale species to investigate sunburn and photoprotection. We find that lesions commonly associated with acute severe sun damage in humans are widespread and that individuals with fewer melanocytes have more lesions and less apoptotic cells.

 Typical news stories by CNN: Whales suffering from dramatic' sunburn and Time: Brave New World: Thinner Ozone Layer Means Whales Are Changing Color?

I think CNN is my favorite since it helpfully offers targeted ads from Google for Skin Rejuvenation, Skin Peels, a Skin Care System and a New Melanin Tanning Pill. No word on whether any of these are available for whales.....

Friday, November 12, 2010

Emu Wars

I use the Wikipedia main page as the homepage on my computer. There's something interesting, something educational and something bizarre to read every day.

This item under 'On this Day' caught my attention today:

1932 – The Australian military authorised the second phase of a "war" against Emus, a flightless native bird blamed for widespread damage to crops.

The Emu War, also known as the Great Emu War, was a nuisance wildlife management operation undertaken in Australia over the latter part of 1932 to address public concern over the number of emus said to be running amok in the Campion district of Western Australia. The attempts to curb the population of emus, a large flightless bird indigenous to Australia, employed soldiers armed with machine guns – leading the media to adopt the name "Emu War" when referring to the incident.

 You can read the complete article, but it is interesting that the emus appeared more than a match for the machine guns sent against them

The machine-gunners' dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.

 The ability of the emu to face up to machine guns obviously made a deep impression on the officer commanding the force sent against them.

If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world...They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.
Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery

There is clearly an important question being left unanswered here - should emus ever choose to 'run amok' again how will we stop them?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A thousand words

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is an annual international wildlife photography competition  It attracts over 30,000 entries from nearly 100 countries and is one of the most prestigious photography competitions in the world.
The One Earth Award highlights conservation issues or actions and the interaction between humans and the natural world. Images must demonstrate the power and resilience of our planet and its impact on us. Whether graphic or symbolic, each picture must be thought provoking, memorable and encourage respect or concern for our natural world. 

Here are this year's winners and one of the runner's up from this category:

Jordi Chias Pujol (Spain)
Turtle in trouble
It's an image that communicates in one emotive hit the damage being done to the world's oceans. Jordi came across this desperate scene when sailing between Barcelona and the Balearic Islands, hoping to photograph dolphins. 'I spotted the abandoned net drifting along the surface,' says Jordi. As he dived down to investigate, he could see the loggerhead turtle tangled up in the netting. 'The poor creature must have been trapped for some days, it was so badly knotted up.' Though it could just reach the surface to breathe by extending its neck, it was still sentenced to a long, cruel death. 'I felt as though it were looking at me for help as it tried to bite through the netting.' Jordi released it, allowing one individual a second chance. Given that all species of sea turtles are endangered, they need all the help they can get.

Brian Skerry (United States of America)
Tears of blood
Each year more than 100 million sharks are killed worldwide, threatening the surival of most species. The slaughter is in part driven by the high price paid for shark fins on the Asian market. Brian went to Baja California, Mexico, specifically to document the killing. There is no restriction on shark-fishing in the Gulf of California, and using gillnets, fishermen will fish out an area and then move on. This female mako shark was pregnant with nearly full-term pups. 'I was concentrating on composing the frame to show the finning of this beautiful fish, with the fisherman sharpening his knife in the background,' says Brian. 'It was only afterwards that I noticed the poignant "tear of blood".'

Discussion Question 10 (Solutions and Review) comments due Nov 23rd

Are poverty and the conservation of biological diversity linked, and if so, how? Should these problems be attacked together or separately?

Discussion Question 11 (Solutions and Review) comments due Nov 23rd

Conservation biologists have been remiss by failing to link human health to healthy ecosystems. Consider an ecosystem of any size in your region and ask how might protecting or restoring that ecosystem benefit human health?

Discussion Question 12 (Solutions and Review) comments due Nov 23rd

Discuss some of the potential opportunities for and problems with possible ecotourism ventures near you. What issues would need to be addressed to ensure that ecotourism would be sustainable and not damaging to natural areas?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whooping Cranes

Since we mentioned Whooping Cranes in the last class (as one of the drivers of the original Endangered Species Preservation Act) and we will discuss some of the problems of captive breeding in the next class I thought it would be relevant to post a video of the Whooping Crane breeding program, and, particularly, how they teach them the migration route. Although the video is really quite uplifting it does end with a bit of a downer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Exporting pollution

There are a number of reports about the export of electronic waste from the west to developing countries such as Ghana. The New York Times had a photo-essay recently about Agbogbloshie, a slum in Accra, the 
capital of Ghana, where adults and children burn computers from abroad 
to get at the precious metals inside. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Last year the PBS show Frontline had a segment on this same place: Ghana - Digital Dumping Ground. It really makes you think twice about what you do with your old computer.

November 15th Monarch Docent Training

The City of Goleta's monarch docent training has been scheduled for Monday, November 15. Here are the details:

Monarch Butterfly Docent Program

Interested in learning more about butterflies?

Already a fan of monarchs?

Become a Monarch Butterfly Docent!

Since 2007, the City of Goleta has trained volunteer docents to provide information to visitors at the Elwood Main monarch butterfly overwintering site, located along Devereux Creek.

Each fall, monarch butterflies in the western United States migrate to the coast of California from various locations west of the Rocky Mountains. Goleta is home to one of the premiere monarch butterfly overwintering
sites in California.

The butterflies arive in mid-October and remain until mid-to-late February. Each winter, our docents can be found at the Elwood Main site
on Saturdays and Sundays between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Interested in volunteering?

Attend our docent training session!
Monday, November 15
5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at Goleta City Hall
130 Cremona Drive, Suite B
Pizza provided

RSVP with Jessica Haro at 961-7510 or jharo@cityofgoleta.org

Monday, November 8, 2010

Grizzly Bear Economics

I only got around to looking at the Sunday paper this morning and there's an interesting article in the LA times this weekend about Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone.

Grim outlook for grizzlies in Yellowstone region
With milder winters affecting their food and hibernation habits, they're forced into a meat-dependent diet – putting them at odds with humans and livestock. They could end up as despised as wolves.

An interesting connection to our discussion on economics is the suggestion that the resumption of hunting may actually benefit the grizzlies in the long run.

"Public tolerance is starting to wane somewhat," said Mark Bruscino, bear management supervisor for Wyoming's Department of Game and Fish.

To Bruscino, it's simply wise game management to "harvest" animals, and might be better for bears. "Right now there's no value on bears," he said. "If people are allowed to compete for a limited number of hunting licenses, people will start to [ascribe] more value to bears."

The animals may be a victim of the success of conservation efforts. In 2007, the species was considered to have recovered enough to be taken off the endangered species list. But a court overturned that decision last year and returned the bears to "threatened" status, a decision U.S. Fish and Wildlife is appealing.

Wildlife officials meeting last week in Montana concluded the region's grizzly population is about 600, nearly three times the 1975 numbers. Some concluded that the increased bear conflicts signal that the region has reached its carrying capacity for grizzlies.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ballotpedia again

Having recently discovered Ballotpedia I have been meaning to find some time to browse the fate of measures and amendments affecting conservation in the recent election in states other than California. Not exactly comprehensive but here are a couple from neighboring states that caught my eye.

Oregon Lottery Funds for Natural Resources Amendment, Measure 76 called for continuing lottery funding for parks, beaches, wildlife habitats, wastershed protection that are set to expire in 2014. The measure passed by a 2:1 margin. It is interesting that this passed so easily when California's proposition 21 (car license fees to fund State Parks) failed - although they do differ in several important ways.

The Arizona Land Conservation Fund Transfer, also known as Proposition 301, would have transferred $123.5 million from a land-conservation fund to the general fund. The measure was introduced in order to help balance the state budget. In a state that voted for a GOP sweep of statewide offices the proposition failed  by a margin of 3:1. It would be nice to read this as a vote for conservation but the Arizona Republic suggests it shows public distrust of politicians - by refusing to allow the Legislature to raid funding for early-childhood education and health and land-conservation programs - which is, I suppose, a vote for Conservation.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dam Goats

I'm usually on top of the internet memes but this photograph of goats on a dam was apparently all over the internet recently. Although many people thought it was a fake it is in fact real - albeit not in the US as it was reported. The pictures are in fact from the Cingino Dam in Italy  The goats are attracted to the dam's salt-crusted stones because they don't get enough of the mineral in their vegetarian diets.

There are a couple more pictures at the National Geographic Website. I thought you might enjoy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happiness in Bhutan

Last week I briefly mentioned Bhutan, a small country on the Eastern end of the Himalayas, as a country that has a lot of forest left. Bhutan is largely a budhist country and it is one of the few countries in the world to have embraced happiness. Bhutan is the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world based on a global survey. The government must consider every policy for its impact not only on Gross Domestic Product, but also on GNH: "Gross National Happiness".

I mention Bhutan and happiness because it illustrates why this topic is important to conservation - Bhutan's gross national happiness measure has led to decrees that 60 percent of the country remain covered in forest.

However other measures, whether you agree with them or not, involve a lot more government intervention than most Americans would he happy with. The examples are from this BBC article in 2006 but there are lots of articles on Bhutan and its quest for happiness - just google Bhutan and happiness.
  • Bhutan was the last nation in the world to introduce television in 1999. Recently they banned a number of channels including international wrestling and MTV, which they felt did little to promote happiness.
  • Bhutan has banned plastic bags and tobacco on the grounds that they make the country less happy.
  • Bhutan had one traffic light but they got rid of it because people found it frustrating. There's a person directing traffic there now.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Easterlin Paradox

The data I presented in class about happiness is actually so well discussed that it has its own name - The Easterlin Paradox

1) Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.
2) But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies
3) As countries get richer, they do not get happier.

Richard Easterlin offered one explanation to his paradox, arguing that only relative income matters to happiness not absolute income.

Recently two young economists from the University of Pennsylvania presented a rebuttal of the paradox arguing that money indeed tends to bring happiness, even if it doesn’t guarantee it. This debate, with a response Richard Easterlin is nicely summarized in a NY Times article, Maybe Money Does Buy Happiness After All. For a more in depth analysis the Freakonomics blog had a six part series on the economics of happiness which reanalyzes the traditional story.

My yacht is bigger than your yacht

Oh Internet, is there any question you can't answer? The ludicrously large yacht that was seen in Santa Barbara this summer was the 'A' - a mere 390' super yacht owned by the Russian Andrey Melnichenko.

This doesn't even crack the top ten of super yachts, by size at least, with the Eclipse owned by Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich currently topping the chart at 557'.

Neither of these yachts is thought to be James Bond proof.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Harry Potter killed my owl

Owls with "ears" are thought to possess greatest magical powers, so birds like this owlet are given false decorations

A former student in this class passed on this news report to me from the Time newsfeed:
Are Harry Potter Fans Killing India's Owls?
India has a problem, an owl problem, and the government is blaming Harry Potter.
Following a report released by conservation group Traffic this week, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh blamed fans of the Harry Potter series for the dwindling number of wild owls.

Check out the linked report, Black magic behind illegal owl trade in India, it's interesting and eye opening (albeit less Harry Potter related).

Shri Jairam Ramesh, Hon. Minister of Environment and Forest said at the launch, “Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition. India's wildlife already faces many pressures; the additional burden of being killed out of ignorance and fear is not one that has any place in our modern society.”

“Owls are as important to our ecosystem as the Tigers or any other better known charismatic species. It is important that the threat to owls is brought to light during the festival of Diwali and concrete ground action is undertaken to curb such trade” he further added.

The TRAFFIC investigation also finds that besides black magic, owls are trapped and traded for use in street performances; killed for taxidermy and for their meat; their parts are used in folk medicines; even their claws and feathers are sometimes used in headgear. Live owls are also used as decoys to catch other bird species. 

Just as an aside if any of you would like to see an owl in action then take a walk up the road that goes from the bridge between Devereaux Slough and the Ocean Meadows golf course towards the Venoco Oil storage containers at dusk. You access this road from Storke Road opposite the Santa Catalina Dorm. There are at least two large owls that hang out there that will silently swoop down at your head. I'd always heard this about owls but it is worth experiencing to find out just how silent they really are when they fly.  If you continue on into the Eucalyptus you'll then encounter a lot of bats at dusk which seem tiny after you've just been mugged by an owl. The bats tend to fly right at you and swerve at the last minute.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Great undergraduate research opportunities: Presentation Nov 4th

Interested in Field Research Experience?

Track lions and elephants in South Africa, dive with Whale Sharks in Mozambique or study the behavior of Howler Monkeys in the Amazon Rain Forest. Take your pick!

Operation Wallacea runs biodiversity monitoring and conservation management research in various remote forests (eg Honduras, Peruvian Amazon, Guyana, Indonesia, Madagascar) deserts (Egypt), savannah (South Africa) and marine sites (Indo-Pacific, Indian Ocean, Caribbean).

Students can join these projects either for experience/course credit or to gather data for a senior thesis over their summer vacations.

Learn more
Thursday November 4th at 3pm
Marine Science Research Building Auditorium
Room 1302
and visit www.opwall.com for more info

Turtle Excluder Device or Trawler Eliminator Devices

Turtle excluder devices turn out to be fairly cheap -you can buy one here for $240. The main problem is that fishermen, who believe that the device causes their nets to dump 20 percent or more of the shrimp as well, call them "trawler eliminator devices" and have a variety of ways to avoid using them even if they are installed.

During this years Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill the New York Times had an article claiming that most of the dead turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico were a result of shrimp boats taking advantage of more lax marine enforcement during the Gulf oil spill:
Turtle Deaths Called Result of Shrimping, Not Oil Spill.

Dr. Brian Stacy, a veterinary pathologist who specializes in reptiles, said that more than half the turtles dissected so far, most of which were found shortly after the spill, had sediment in their lungs or airways, which indicated they might have been caught in nets and drowned. 

“The only plausible scenario where you would have high numbers of animals forcibly submerged would be fishery interaction,” he said. “That is the primary consideration for this event.” 

Many times the usual number of turtles have been found stranded this year, but NOAA has cautioned from the beginning that the oil spill is not necessarily to blame. 

Shrimp boats are the chief commercial fishing danger for turtles because they tow their nets underwater for long distances, and turtles trapped in them are unable to come up for air. Shrimpers are supposed to equip their nets with turtle excluder devices, which help turtles escape. But environmentalists have complained that some shrimpers disregard the law or do not install the devices properly.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Proposition 21

California Proposition 21 on the ballot tomorrow is likely to have some fairly direct consequences for conservation in the state. The measure is a proposal to increase vehicle license fees in the state by $18 a year in order to raise about $500 million a year in a dedicated fund for the state's 278 parks. The new fee would apply to about 28 million vehicles.

It's a relatively easy proposition to sell - who doesn't like the State Parks?

So why have numerous papers in the state recommended a No vote on this proposition?

San Francisco Chronicle: "With Proposition 21, California is taking the wrong path for a good cause. The measure carves out a hands-off budget for state parks, which badly need financial support. But this piecemeal approach to budgeting via the ballot box is not the way to set priorities in a state with myriad pressing needs, especially in these lean years."

LA Times "California's sprawling network of state parks, covering 1.5 million acres and one-third of its coastline, preserves natural space and historical sites and provides a democratic, low-cost form of recreation. But as proud as we are of our parks, are we willing to increase their funding at the expense of, say, medical treatment for children whose parents have no insurance? Are they a higher priority than home health aides for elderly people who otherwise would have to go to a nursing home? Or the public college and university systems that no longer can afford to offer needed courses? These are difficult questions, and the problem with Proposition 21, the car tax for state parks, is that it pretends to make the answer simple. It is another well-intentioned effort at ballot-box budgeting that limits the Legislature's ability to set spending priorities."

So it seems like a worthy cause but the wrong way to go about things. Or is the system so broken that the only way to get funding is to bypass the budget process?

Santa Rosa Press Democrat: "Let's be straight. There are some good reasons to oppose Proposition 21 on the Nov. 2 ballot. Chief among them is a reluctance to contribute to the delinquency of California's absurd system for funding public programs, resources and everything else. Why add another bell and whistle to this Rube Goldberg-like piecemeal system? Here's why: Because the alternatives are worse. And we saw hints of what could be worse last year when the governor proposed shutting down 212 of the state's 278 park." 

Newspaper endorsements were all found at Ballotpedia a very useful website. Check out their Prop 21 page.