Saturday, February 26, 2011

Walking across boulders

During winter months, I take literally hundreds of photos that (upon a quick scan of each folder) all look the same: golden grass, gray trees, blue skies, dolomite boulders. I like the structure of the winter landscape, the silvery old growth chinquapin oaks, the open-grown post oaks, and the exposed geology. I've taken so many winter woodland and glade photos that my slideshows can be, um, predictable:
"Looks like grass," he says.
"No, but look! It's a huge glade (with an average FQI of 4.9-5.5)!"
"Sort of looks like an old field..."
Winter landscape photos can be truly stunning, but photos of spring in the Ozarks commands a wider appreciation.

After seeing the mourning cloaks and little brown bats flying around during the spate of clement weather, I went on a search in deep, forested coves of the northern Ozark Highlands to look for the first leaves of spring wildflowers to find one anemone in bloom alongside a frequently traveled trail. Aside from the strange little area around Bagnell Dam where spring wildflowers bloom almost two weeks before the rest of the wildflowers in the state, I appreciate true forest in early spring for the early wildflower displays. But I cherish forest in the winter when the ferns and mosses remain brilliant green, even in snowpack, when the woodlands are a uniform brown.

So I spent an appreciable amount of time this afternoon scanning through my winter photos from the past three years, sitting crosslegged in my chair so long my foot fell asleep. I opened each folder and quickily looked for green. I saw almost 500 various moss photos, possibly every commonly encountered moss in Missouri. Many of the moss pictures look just like this one:

Variations on a theme. If I were diligent, I would copy all the moss photos into one folder with the location and date of each photo so that when I needed a moss photo, I could go directly to a single folder. It's precisely this diligence that I lack, and am therefore in the situation I am this afternoon when I want to write about walking ferns. Like moss, walking ferns intrigue me, and I take photos of them almost every time I see them. I have great diagnostic photos of them and all their parts, but the walking fern photos are buried in folders, mixed in with other green things. I thought I could always find walking ferns in folders of photos taken in late winter when I migrate to anything green. Alas, I'm stuck with this mediocre and overlit photo taken last week in the forest, the only green photo I took that day:

With a widespread distribution in Missouri, and known from likely every county in the Ozark Highlands, walking fern Asplenium rhizophyllum inhabits moist calcareous boulders in shady woodlands and forests. It can grow through thick mats of moss, dependent on the constant source of moisture in limestone, dolomite and less commonly on sandstone. Walking fern possesses a truly fascinating ability to produce small plantlets at the tips of mature blades. Often in the Ozarks, one can find a boulder literally covered with walking ferns of various age classes and sizes, large plants surrounded by plantlets where the leaf tip landed on the moist rock. In the lousy photo above, one small plantlet can be seen in the right hand corner where the leaf tip hits the moss. The sturdy, exposed white rootlets of the very young plantlets penetrate the moss layer to reach the rock substrate upon which they will remain.

Ferns of the genus Asplenium can readily hybridize. Asplenium x kentuckiense is a cross between A. platyneuron and A. pinnatifidum, and is loyal to sandstone bluff crevices. Both A. platyneuron and pinnatifidum occur in Missouri, but I'm unsure whether anyone has discovered the sterile hyrbid in Missouri. Of course, like all cool plants, kentuckiense can be found in the Arkansas Ozarks (because they have more sandstone crevices than we do). Asplenium x herb-wagneri is another Arkansas-but-not-in-Missouri Ozarks hybrid; another sandstone Asplenium, this one is a cross between A. pinnatifidum and A. trichomanes. Both parent species occur in Missouri. LaBarque Creek country has the potential to harbor these hybrids.

On a warm February day in 2008, I went to one of only a handful of Missouri locations of Asplenium x ebenoides, a cross between walking fern and A. platyneuron. A. platyneuron is at home in dry woodlands as well as old fields. A. ebenoides takes on the walking fern's habit of living in limestone boulders, but does not have the ability to form little plantlets from the mature tips. Nevertheless, we hiked for an hour through nice chert woods to the historic population of this fern to find no fern. My fieldmate had seen the cross in this location for 20 years, but only walking fern was present, no ebenoides. Unfortunately, my fieldmate said it was likely jacked by a botanist. Very uncool treatment of a very cool plant. I'll keep looking and if I ever find it, I promise to take a better photo.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Biodiversity loses

By Tom Dunkel
Part One: Why Is The Nature Conservancy’s Ecologist in Chief So Concerned About Humanity?
Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist and resident straight-talker, admits he’s “not a biodiversity guy.”

That’s right. The ecologist who leads some 500 scientists at the worldwide organization whose mission statement extols safeguarding “the diversity of life on Earth” does not believe species preservation should be Job One.

What deserves higher billing?

“The ultimate goal,” Kareiva says, “is better management of nature for human benefit.”

That people-centric message—heretical in some environmental circles—is at the core of Kareiva’s worldview and implicit in just about everything the man writes, says or does. Now that includes a new college textbook, published in October, with the crystal-clear title Conservation Science: Balancing the Needs of People and Nature (Roberts & Co., 2010). With it, Kareiva and frequent collaborator Michelle Marvier aim to shake up the teaching of environmental science by making people an integral part of the conservation calculus.

The way Kareiva does the math, it’s possible—no, make that imperative—to meet mankind’s basic needs (food, clothing, water, shelter) without hopelessly trashing the planet, which may bend but won’t break. Call it realpolitik environmentalism.

Whatever you call it, here’s the beauty of that new approach: Ultimately you advance the cause for conservation if you make the case that nature is relevant to human lives. In blunt Kareiva-speak: It’s the people, stupid.

That kind of thinking is catching on. As one of the most provocative voices in biological science and a trusted advisor to the Conservancy’s CEO, Kareiva is helping to usher in a new era of conservation—one that takes people into account from the get-go.

All Science, All the Time
It’s no surprise that Kareiva is regarded as a dissident by some. Yet he can’t be easily dismissed. At 59, he’s a contrarian who boasts a powerhouse résumé: A member of the elite American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a former Guggenheim fellow and Oxford visiting fellow, he pioneered the use of math modeling to analyze conservation data. He has authored or coauthored more than a hundred papers and has mentored scores of doctoral students. His byline frequently graces the pages of Nature, Science and Scientific American.

In short, he’s a scientist’s scientist. “One of the sharpest, most incisive scientific minds,” says Kent Redford of the Wildlife Conservation Society Institute. “He’s intolerant of bad science.”

“All science, all the time,” agrees Gretchen Daily, a biology professor at Stanford University and a Conservancy board member. “He’s insatiable.”

And influential: Kareiva draws a crowd at the Department of Defense when he talks about biodiversity on military bases, he sits on a panel that advises the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and he gives counsel to the Conservancy’s top brass. “For every big decision that faces the Conservancy,” says Mark Tercek, the Conservancy’s president and CEO, “I want Peter to weigh in.”

Yet Kareiva refuses to don the mantle of wise ecostatesman. He almost pathologically avoids anything that could be seen as elitist. His customary work clothes—worn whether conducting a writers workshop for scientists or attending a Conservancy board meeting—are denim shirt, basketball shorts and sneakers. The concept of dressing for success has never registered. In fact, years ago Kareiva was invited to address a meeting convened by the prestigious Royal Society in London, the world’s oldest scientific body, founded in 1660. He arrived in sweatpants. To hell with those stuffy Brits.

More than dancing to the beat of a different drummer, Kareiva seems to move to a whole marching band banging away inside his head. He’s reluctant to shake hands and eschews small talk. He sleeps only a few hours a night, never uses an alarm clock and, when he’s under the weather, consumes his own breakfast of champions: oranges, beer and herring from a jar. He travels frequently on Conservancy business, carrying a duffel bag instead of a suitcase. Last summer, Kareiva broke his eyeglasses playing one-on-one basketball at home in Seattle with his 19-year-old son, Isaac. Five months later, he was still navigating the world with a replacement pair borrowed from his wife, Hania Surowiec. Her prescription almost matches his.

Is the man shy, rude, oblivious?

“I don’t think Peter’s interested in social gamesmanship,” observes Redford of the Wildlife Conservation Society Institute.

“There are consistencies in Peter’s personality and his way of approaching science,” says Steve McCormick, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, who hired Kareiva in 2002 when McCormick was president and CEO of the Conservancy. “He doesn’t lapse into orthodox ways of thinking. He’s an iconoclast. The best scientists constantly question.”

Doing Things His Way
Questioning has always come naturally to Kareiva, who grew up blue-collar and independent minded. His father, Valentine Kareiva, was a foreman for a landscape company who later started his own business, which went bankrupt. There was only one edict in the Kareiva household: Peter had to be out of bed every day by 5 a.m. No slacking allowed. He still adheres to that early-bird routine. It may be the only rule he has ever followed.

The priests at his Jesuit high school in Rochester, New York, get credit for lighting an intellectual fire under him. “I’ve never had it that tough since,” Kareiva says. “You had to write and reason and do analysis and defend your arguments.”

Rejecting his father’s argument that college was a waste of time, Kareiva moved from a world of blue collars to blue bloods. He went to Duke University, majoring in zoology, then on to the University of California at Irvine, earning a master’s degree in environmental biology. Next stop, the Ivy League: Cornell University for a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology. While there, he also took graduate-level courses in stochastic processes, partial differential equations and game theory, thus becoming one of the few ecology/biology Ph.D.s at the time with a grounding in applied mathematics.

He taught briefly at Brown University, garnering attention and publishing his first peer-reviewed papers. Then he moved to the University of Washington, where he became a full professor. He stayed 15 years, developing his specialty in agricultural biology, doing things his way. He avoided most committee work by volunteering to teach courses nobody else wanted to touch. Eventually, Kareiva began teaching environmental biology courses because his students were clamoring for them.

Despite his career path, Kareiva never took the ivory tower too seriously. At the University of Washington, he once forged the signature of his colleague, Robert Paine, on a prank letter he mailed to the university’s vice-president for research. As Paine recalls it, the prank letter had him requesting that the sea palm—a strain of kelp he was researching—be given its due and designated as UW’s research logo. (Administrators were not amused. But Paine has a sense of humor; he and Kareiva still meet regularly for dinner—“blood and bourbon,” as they call it.)

Kareiva left academia to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he played a lead role in Pacific salmon recovery efforts. It was during his two years there that Kareiva moved beyond theory and learned something about doing conservation in the real world.

In 2002, biologist Dan Simberloff, a former member of the Conservancy’s governing board, recommended Kareiva, also a former board member, for the newly created lead scientist post at the Conservancy. Simberloff admired Kareiva’s “unique” combination of quantitative skills and fieldwork.

But Kareiva didn’t fit the Conservancy mold. Although he had hiked and camped as a kid, he never experienced an environmental epiphany, never dreamed of someday saving endangered species or cleaning up polluted rivers. He still prefers cities to natural areas.

Simberloff admits he had some reservations about the fit. Would Kareiva feel stifled working at a large environmental organization? Could the Conservancy tolerate his quirkiness?

Kareiva himself insists he fell into this line of work, a twist of biographical fate he considers a plus. “That’s partly why I can be so skeptical,” he says. “Everybody else is such a true believer, whereas I question everything.”

“He’s probably the most creative person I know,” says Simberloff. “And it seemed to me, at that time the Conservancy needed some creativity.”

Rattling Cages
That creativity, coupled with his penchant for plain talk, rankles some colleagues, particularly those who fall into the category Kareiva once described as “myopic biodiversity-besotted conservationists.” But those who admire Kareiva commend him for refusing to pull punches. In fact, with regular coauthor Marvier, a Santa Clara University biology professor and Kareiva’s former postdoc, he has landed plenty of one-two punches.

Their new textbook is just the latest in a string of Kareiva-Marvier collaborations that challenge prevailing assumptions among ecologists about the relationship between man and nature.

In 2003, less than a year after Kareiva joined the Conservancy’s staff, he and Marvier wrote an article for American Scientist that questioned the practice of designating biodiversity “hot spots” based on the number of threatened species found within a particular geographic area. It’s sham science, they alleged, and it puts too high a premium on plant life and lush tropical climates while ignoring other credible valuation yardsticks.

What about “cold spots”—ecosystems with few species that primarily benefit humans?

That article kicked up a lot of dust. Steve McCormick recalls that a leader at Conservation International, the group that promoted hot spots, took umbrage. The official phoned McCormick and asked him to reel in the Conservancy’s marquee scientist. McCormick declined: Part of Kareiva’s job was, and is, to question conventional wisdom and rattle cages.

In 2008, Kareiva and Marvier were at it again, doing a random-sample study of World Bank development projects. The results showed that the inclusion of a biodiversity component had no bearing whatsoever on a project’s ultimate success or failure. Therefore, they concluded in an article written for Science, there was “no excuse” for the World Bank not to be a more active proponent of biodiversity. Development and conservation aren’t mutually exclusive.

Fast-forward to the textbook, which airs plenty of against-the-grain opinions, like the contention that nature is more resilient than most environmentalists realize (Kareiva won’t even utter the adjective fragile when discussing ecosystems) or the unsentimental assertion that the days of pristine wilderness are long gone. Mankind’s fingerprints can be found everywhere on the planet. Get over it, Kareiva would say. And start focusing on preserving what’s left of the good (if no longer great) outdoors.

The book ticked people off even before it was finished. After Scientific American ran a work-in-progress excerpt in October 2007, two university professors wrote a blistering letter to the editor, blasting the book’s situational-ethics environmentalism: “If the movements for abolition or civil rights had adopted Kareiva and Marvier’s approach … we would still be living with Jim Crow.”

The completed manuscript also alarmed some people. Early reviewers, says Kareiva, “felt that it was selling conservation short to put people into the equation so prominently.”

But Tercek, the Conservancy’s president, thinks Kareiva has got the formula right. The book “gets into real-world issues,” says Tercek, who read it in galleys months before publication. “Conservation is not airy-fairy stuff.”

Conservation in the Real World
According to Kareiva’s line of reasoning, conservation in the real world should go something like this: Concentrate on protecting those essential things that the natural world provides us—like clean water—and we’ll wind up better stewards of nature in the long run. Make nature relevant to everyday lives and you can produce billions of grass-roots conservationists, each with a vested interest in seeing a workable balance struck between human beings and the environment. “Look,” Kareiva says, “we’re in nature. The deal is how to work with it and how to help it work for us.”

“People are an inextricable part of virtually every ecosystem on the planet,” adds Tercek, “and people depend on nature for their survival. The better we are at ensuring that people get [nature’s] benefits, the better we’ll be at doing conservation.”

To that end, the CEO and his chief scientist are aligned in pushing the Conservancy to reach out to new constituents, particularly minorities. Diversifying makes practical as well as moral sense. It’s impossible to influence something as vast as the global environment, Kareiva argues, by marshaling only a fragment of the population. So more people of color need to embrace green, which means the Conservancy needs to think outside the usual large-landscape box. Cities and urban parks offer opportunities to expand the movement, says Kareiva. “You could certainly touch people immediately.”

In another effort to make conservation more meaningful to the masses, Kareiva, Stanford professor Daily and Taylor Ricketts, head of conservation science at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), founded the Natural Capital Project. A joint effort of the three institutions, the project employs economic models to measure the value of ecosystems. How much is a clean stream worth? What are the hidden economic assets of a rainforest?

Detractors argue that nature has intrinsic worth, that preservation can never be reduced to cash-register considerations. But the naysayers, Kareiva contends, are slowly coming around to his way of thinking.

And other things are going his way. When he was hired by the Conservancy, Kareiva was given the mandate to encourage his colleagues to publish more—and better—research papers. He estimates that 99 percent of all scientific studies vanish without a trace. Why? The resulting peer-reviewed articles are densely written and mind-numbingly boring. Nobody reads them. That’s unacceptable, Kareiva says. If scientists can’t do a better job of communicating with the public and rallying popular support, the environmental movement will run out of steam, despite all that hot air.

Witness climate change.

“The failure with climate change should be a wake-up call,” he told a group of scientists who gathered for a workshop in California in August. The environmental community has been talking over people’s heads, lecturing rather than educating.

The takeaway message? Make science writing compelling and relevant to regular Joes. The conservation battle will be won incrementally, article by carefully crafted article, sentence by shining sentence.

The Endgame
Kareiva has already planned the next phases of the battle to put people first in conservation, starting with a focus on students. He’s taking a partial sabbatical at Stanford in 2011 to teach a conservation-for-people class to grad students. Next, educate the conservationists already in the field: He’s awaiting publication in the spring by Oxford University Press of another book, a how-to guide for practitioners trying to measure the economic value of nature’s benefits to humans.

But what do all the books and classes add up to? What is Kareiva’s endgame? Nothing short of recharging the conservation movement, now at risk of stalling.

It’s certain to conk out if we keep talking about biodiversity, says the guy who shuns the word. So Kareiva will keep preaching people: conservation of the people, by the people, for the people.

Call him an ecopopulist.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Back in Black

Last week, as temperatures climbed to the 40s, we joked about the mounds of soot-covered snow, suggesting they wouldn't melt until July. Fire season seemed like a dream to most of us, as the heavy snow melts it saturates the ground and the once fluffy leaf litter morphs into one continuous (unburnable) flat mat. Yesterday's 72 degrees, 40 mph wind gusts, 28% relative humidity under clear blue skies magically melted the snow and dried the 1 hour fuels throughout the Ozarks. Actually, in the St. Francois Mountains, fuels are a little too dry, with large 1,000 hour fuels burning to ash in an afternoon. May fire season begin in earnest now.

It's challenging, spending day after day inside because the roads haven't been cleared or 10 inches of snow will mandate your feet get wet just walking through the woods. Winter's not over, and more snow is expected in the coming weeks, but this week marked the first opportunity to visit one of my favorite restoration areas--a nice chunk of post oak-white oak woodlands with glade inclusions that were burned in November while I was visiting Jack before his death at the nursing home in Louisiana. No one wanted to tell me the area was burned because I love burning this tract. The gratification that comes from treating a once-damaged landscape with fire in an effort to coax it back into richness is unmatched. So no one told me the unit was burned without me, they just expected me to discover it one day. It's been under snow since December and this week was the first opportunity to see it all slicked off by fire, a clean landscape waiting for the warm spring rains to bring life anew to the understory. I'm sorry I missed the fire, not at all sorry I spent the time with Jack, and glad the area burned.

Unlike in other parts of the area, the dolomite boulders are significant features here--scattered throughout as though someone tried to bring a plow to the upper reaches of the Ozark dome. Extremely rugged landscape, plant diversity is characteristically high here. Big stands of Gama grass can be found throughout the woodlands and glades, sandwiched between the rest of the warm season grasses and conservative forbs like Helianthus occidentalis, Aster oblongifolius, and Liatris cylindracea. We're still playing the Winter Botany Game in Missouri, but I saw the very first Anemone in bloom in an ancient, sheltered sinkhole full of snow. High quality Ozark woodlands are sexy any time of year, any time of day, and especially after a winter burn. Clean slate.

The spring peepers are out with their high pitched chirping, and buds on the dogwoods are swelling. Turkeys are pairing up, an the owls are active. Warm February days can sometimes encourage little brown bats to break their hibernation, as some members of the species tend to congregate near cave openings in winter months, more attuned to natural weather fluctuations that way. Mourning cloaks and moths flew about today, along with resident field sparrows and Missouri's wintering yellow-rumped warblers who will be on their merry way north soon to make way for our breeding prairie warblers who are as common as ticks in my favorite woodlands.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February Fakeout

This happens every February throughout the cold climate regions--a warming spell in mid-February following a particularly cold, dreary, snowy, wet spell in January. In Oregon, they call it the February Fakeout: shun the muck boots for the week of warm, sunny temperatures that bring out cyclists! Hikers! Houseplants outside again! Spring is here! Alas, the February fakeout only lasts a week or so, leaving in its wake another 6 weeks of winter weather, potential for huge snow events, and so forth.

So, the Ozarks are in the midst of their February fakeout--five days of above freezing temperatures that will hopefully melt the 5 to 10 inches of snow that blanket much of the area. Down in Elk River Hills country last night, temperatures plummeted to 20 below zero, much below normal. But the next five days look bright and cheery, even pressing the 55 degree mark! (My sad little houseplants are going outside for a bit of natural light and much needed water.)

But we're not finished with winter. It's certainly time to start planning the spring garden, to order seeds, maybe start setting out indoor flats. The rule of thumb I learned when moving to Missouri maintained that loose leaf lettuces should be planted on St. Patrick's Day, mid-March. I'm not sure if that's still the case, but I'll likely plant my kale that day.

Admittedly, I'm still in the learning stages of growing food in the Midwest. (Grouse, grouse, grouse, in New Orleans I could put a seed in the ground every day of the year and it would produce food. I planted black eyed peas on Christmas Eve, Pacman broccoli seeds in July for crops that lasted through March.) My friend Peter says that the climate here is perfect for Cymbidiums--the cool nights, warm days, low humidity: "you can leave them outside under a shade tree all summer!." And my friend Travis harvests bushels and bushels and pantries full of vegetables from his small plot of land outside of St. Louis. We're in the proverbial breadbasket, after all, so the issues I've had with my little compacted soil, loess glacial till probably construction debris from the 1930s yard isn't a good judge of how to garden successfully in the Ozarks.

So, I asked Travis for a short list of vegetable varieties that perform really well in Missouri. The man is an encyclopedia of vegetable gardening knowledge in the area, a master pepper grower of so many different varieties he'd even be able to teach New Orleans growers a few things. A short list of Travis' favorite varieties and some of his vast font of wisdom. But, don't let the week of warm weather fool you into setting out pansies! Cold weather will, undoubtedly, return.

i can't think of many varieties of the plants mentioned that don't do well here. i think you need to work on your soil more. next time you are up this way, go by route 66 landscape supply in pacific and buy some of their compost. it's magic. the main things that don't work well are cabbage and cauliflower. spinach tends to bolt fast unless given some shade. to prolong lettuce harvest switch to planting only speckled romaine types once may sets in. they can handle the heat and humidity better. sorry i am not of more help here, i just can't think of many things that don't grow well because of where we are at. almost always it is soil issues.some of my fav's for yield and taste are
arcadia brocolli
sungold cherry 'maters
persimmon 'maters
missouri loveapple 'mater
joi choi asian greens
gourmet bell peppers
sweet italian peppers
crook neck summer squash
yard long beans
talon onions
those are probably my faves.

the great thing about yard long beans, if you are near the eastern portion of the state, is that japanese beetles won't touch them. harvest when about 18" long. eat like green beans. they make the best dilly beans ever.

also, always remember that pepper plants like to hold hands; meaning that you want the plants crowded together. given ample room, they get lonely and produce only a few small, weak fruits.
stay warm

Saturday, February 05, 2011

White-throated sparrows

Now that we have 20 inches of snow on the ground, the juncos and white-throated sparrows are able to reach the high seeds on the asters. Both species arrived in my backyard back in November, scratching around the brushpile, plucking seeds off some of the grasses. White-throated sparrows and juncos are among Missouri's more common wintering birds; they migrate from the rapidly disappearing boreal forests of Canada to fan out all over North America. Some white-throated sparrows fly all the way to the Amazon, making the route the longest of all migratory songbird routes. Our Christmas Bird Count participants logged 850 white-throated sparrows and 2066 juncos. Plenty of native seeds to go around for both species in my area, and while during the winter the sparrows forage for seeds and nuts on the ground, in spring and summer they live primarily on arthropods and spiders.

White-throated sparrows are the most abundant songbird in the boreal and the northern Great Lakes. 85% of their population nests in northern Ontario and Quebec, and the rest spend their breeding season in southwestern Yukon and the northern Great Lakes region. Their breeding biology is curious: there are two color morphs of the white-throated sparrow, one with tan markings on the head and the other with more noticeable white and black marks. As monogamous breeders, each pair consists of one tan striped and one white striped bird. The mixed pairs produce equal numbers of each color morph. According to the Boreal Songbird Initiative, there's a good reason for the mixed pairing:
"White striped males are more aggressive and territorial and less faithful than the tan striped males. Tan striped females provide more parental care than white striped females....Uniform pairs are deficient in either territoriality or parental care."

96% of pairs are therefore mixed.

The Canadian boreal forests contain 25% of all remaining forests on Earth. 80% of the forest remains intact, but is threatened by logging and oil exploration. The United States is the leading importer of boreal forest products; 2/3 of all the wood cut in the boreal is used to make paper products like catalogs and junkmail in America. Large retailers such as Home Depot will not sell products from the boreal, but other retailers aren't as conscientious. The destruction of the boreal directly impacts the white-throated sparrow populations, not to mention other songbird, mammal and countless other life forms that live there. White-throated sparrows are declining in the eastern side of its range, where the clearcut areas are reverting to second growth forest. Young, new forests lack the structural features and composition required for forest-dwelling songbirds to breed. The white-throated sparrow population is holding steady in the western reaches of their range due to minimal forest disturbance factors which cause periodic breaks in the canopy, encouraging rich understory production. The sparrow's wintering grounds are healthier than some parts of their breeding grounds and have been declared "sufficient." Backyard bird feeders, while not vital for their sustainability, certainly don't hurt populations.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Digging out