Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Did the Florida Panther Cross the Road?

I just got back from Cougar Country this past week. Well, actually it was Panther Paradise. The Bald Cypress National Preserve is home to many of the 100-150 remaining Florida Panthers. Even though the scientists we spoke to had seen panthers in the area, luck was not on our side for getting a glimpse of the rare and elusive cats. Even though the habitat we hiked through was perfect for these predators, factors such as increasing populations of panthers and increasing urban sprawl has pushed them closer to dangerous situations. This year alone 9 panthers have been killed by car collisions. That is a lot compared to how many are left in the wild. I found an article this week about what scientists are doing to provide safer passage for panthers when they move from one Everglades water conservations area to another. I believe it is a great idea for the benefit of all Floridian wildlife and hopefully will allow panther to pass freely through the region. Check out the article from the Sierra Club website: Panther at the Crossroads. and check out the AMAZING photos Heather Green took of Florida Panthers in the Bald Cypress National Preserve in her flickr photostream.

Friday, August 5, 2011

This I Believe: Mountains

This I Believe is a collection of short essays by people from all walks of life, famous and everyday. We all have a story and a belief. Our Natural Resources students this semester are going to read the essays and write their own essay about their connection with Natural Resources. I thought I would like to share one of my own.

I believe in mountains and their preservation. Returning from a long trip to Ohio, I saw the mountains again, and let out a breath, as if I were holding it all the while I was away. For me, the mountains are home. These are the rolling monuments of green forests that are home to a diverse array of ecosystems and creatures. They are the temples I have grown up around, but now they are in trouble.

When I looked upon the moonscape in front of me, I had the same initial shock one has when viewing the Grand Canyon. This time, it wasn’t a feeling of awe; moreover it was incomprehensible to my mind the size and bleakness of the destruction which stretched before me. The enormous area of rubble was a Mountaintop Removal mine in West Virginia. One of hundreds, just like it. The devastation was so horrible, I had to look away, but I couldn’t, my eyes glued to the scene of the murder. Yes, a murder. What was once a beautiful mountain, teeming with life is now a desolate moonscape. This mountain was brought to its knees by greed. Yours and my greed, for coal.

My great-grandfathers were both coal miners. They endured dangerous conditions, dark tunnels, and black coal dust to give their families a heat source. Coal powers thousands of power plants across the world which in turn run our; TVs, air conditioners, computers, refrigerators, clothes washers and phones. I can trace my electricity use back to the power plant, and even the mines where the coal comes from, including this very one I stood on.

But mountaintop removal is much more than a way to satisfy a country’s hunger for energy. It literally brings the whole mountain crashing down. The skin of the mountain is peeled away as the living forest is cleared, gone forever. Then its bones are broken as the very rock is blasted and dumped aside. Only then can the black blood from the veins of the mountain be extracted. An entire mountain vanishes from existence.

Maybe never will this once-skyscraper be the site of life which it used to know. Gone are the trees, flowers, birds, deer, bear and butterfly which called the mountain home. Moreover, mountaintop removal mines impact people. Homes are destroyed from the mining, sometimes buried under the rubble and rock removed from the peak. Toxic dust and metals leach into the air and water, affecting humans and wildlife far from the epicenter.

The mountains are so much a part of me; I feel the loss of that mountain, and many others like it. You can try to patch the scar, but it will never be the same again. This is why I also believe in green energy. Alternative energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy can sever our dependence on coal and save our mountains. These alternative sources of energy may not only save the mountains, but our world from increased Global Warming. As for the mountains, they are still part of me, no matter where I go.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Connecticut Cougar!

There has been some nationally new of the cougar front. Since the delisting of Eastern Cougars on the Endangered Species List, one popped up in Connecticut. Strangely, the same week I was also in Connecticut. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, the Connecticut cougar was found killed on a road (very sad for all us animal lovers) BUT it was a way to prove its existence in Connecticut. First theories were that it was an escaped pet which didn't know how to avoid humans and cross traffic and got killed. A typical belief to dismiss any belief about wild populations.

HOWEVER.... after a DNA test, there was a revelation in the origin of this animal. I feel like I'm writing a origin story about a Marvel superhero called Connecticut Cougar. Well, the life of this cougar is nothing but extraordinary. The cougar's home is the Black Hills in South Dakota, a small, known population of cougars. Then, how did this one get to Connecticut? This is the best part, the cougar made a journey of 1,500 miles; the longest ever recorded journey for a mountain lion.

It was a young male, looking for more territory and girl cougars (the feline type). They are known to travel, but not more than 100 miles for a mate. I cannot say if he ever found one. This journey is very important in the view of cougars and dispersal into historic eastern ranges. It means that a cougar can travel across about half of the US to find greener pastures, and that may mean they can reach any state in the Eastern US. This is amazing news for us conservationists and cougar zoologists. It may mean that soon (if not already) my state of Virginia will have cougar(s) from South Dakota.

These aren't "Eastern" cougars, but who cares? Our forests and ecosystem needs these top predators. I can't wait until one pops up in my trail camera photo and we can all ponder more rationally if it is a wild one or a released pet. Because the one pioneer which sadly lost his life, has spread the word that not all "eastern" cougars are former pets. Thank you friend.

To learn more about this particular cat, follow the link.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eastern Cougar Delisted from ESA

Yeah, I've been reluctant to post this news because its a blow to any cougar existing in the eastern US. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has found no indication of cougars inhabiting the eastern United States including (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Maine.

SO from here..... we push for reintroduction. Yellowstone did it, why not places in the east with cougars? Virginia is reintroduction elk, how much harder would mountain lions be to reintroduce? Probably not from an ecological standpoint, but from a citizen standpoint, there is much conflict. Chin up everyone, and don't stop believing. I know that I will continue to prove their existence.....

Here is a link to cougar delisting articles...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Camera Trapping at the Kill

The long wait is over to find out about activity near the deer carcass I found recently. I let the camera sit for a month up near the carcass itself (which was just off a trail). In this time we left it we had snow, freezing rain, warm weather and freezing cold, so I was amazed to find the camera working perfectly.

I can now add several animals to the list of creatures I've "camera-trapped." There is a great diversity. Past animals: Deer, Black Bear, Raccoon, Opossum, Woodchuck, squirrel, donkey (seriously), robin, crow, house cat, person.

Now I can add: coyote, Red Tailed Hawk, and Grey Fox to that list.

a red tailed hawk scavenging on the deer:

Grey Fox:

A coyote which I had believed to have eaten on the deer when we first saw the carcass.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Predator or Prey?

When the cold had settled in and the snow partially melted, we knew the time had come to revisit our favorite mountain ridge. It requires several creek crossings to reach, so we only traverse that far when we have time and no weeds to deal with. So we pulled our waders on and headed back into the mountains.

It didn't take long to reach the first creek, and after the first faithful step into the creek, waded across the 20 foot width.

On the other side of the second creek, I was ahead when I heard my brother say something. Returning to where he was pointing, I saw what made him stop. The remains of a deer were strewn around, half eaten. Several bloody paw prints were leading in and around the remains. They indicated canine. I was surprised to find two other deer in various state of decay in a 20 foot radius of the first. The cold wind created an eerie chill to the situation as a light rain began to fall. It was probably the work of hunters that brought down the deer, but it wasn't humans that ate it. Feeling uneasy, we decided to backtrack for the day and go home.

The next day we returned to the carcass of the deer to place a trail camera. It isn't legal to bait in Virginia, but when one finds an already dead deer, I'm sure nothing prohibits placing a trail camera near it. Hopefully in a few weeks I will get some spectacular photos of scavengers.