Inhumane, “Leghold” Traps Still Legal

Leghold Trap: Photo Credit: trapping is something born out of the subsistence lifestyles in the pioneer era.  It’s an archaic practice that most of us would expect to find in the pages of the, “Little House on the Prairie” series and not in modern day Nevada.  Yet Nevada, and the overwhelming majority of states still condone the trapping of furbearing animals.  Trapping may be performed in a semi-humane manner through the use of, “quick kill” traps. Quick kill traps use high levels of clamping force, killing the animal very quickly but even these highly effective traps may malfunction and trap an animal improperly. Although they are much more likely to prevent suffering than leg hold traps.

Unfortunately, many states, including Nevada, still allow the use of inhumane leg hold traps.  These traps are composed of a set of steel jaws that is spring loaded.  These jaws clamp onto an animal’s leg when it steps into it, thereby preventing its escape without damaging the hide.  Though the design may be rational enough, the result seems almost designed to cause pain and suffering.  Many animals have their legs broken in these traps and are then left for days before the trapper reaches them.  Trapped animals may also be preyed on or die of dehydration before the trapper arrives. Some animals are also caught in leg hold traps by their head or neck, leading to suffocation. In Nevada, the law allows trappers to check traps at a maximum interval of four days.  This leads many animals to gnaw off their limbs in order to escape.  Another problem with such archaic methods of trapping, is that house pets and endangered animals are just as likely to be caught in leg hold traps as a target species.  Many of these traps even have a locking mechanism that prevents an owner from opening the trap to rescue their pet.    
Thankfully, 89 countries and eight U.S. states have banned the use of leghold traps. In 1978, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service set out to measure public sentiment concerning leghold traps. They found that 78 percent of the U.S. population opposed the use of steel jawed leghold traps.  Moreover, many wildlife and conservation biologists hold the scientific opinion that wildlife management goals may be met without trapping.  Ultimately, it is wildlife management goals that are most important to maintain healthy ecosystems.  Biologists and government officials promote these goals to develop healthy ecosystems for the benefits to the state State’s economy.  These benefits come in the form of income and jobs created by recreation, hunting, logging, farming, and agriculture.  However, trapping only accounts for a miniscule portion of a state’s economy.  In fact, a 1991 study by the Missouri Department of Conservation, found that the majority of trappers themselves earn little to no income from the practice.  This study shows that there is no reason to continue to allow trapping, much less inhume trapping that relies on leghold style traps.

Trapping laws in the State of Nevada will be up for review in 2012.  Signing this petition will help lawmakers in Nevada know that public opinion is turning against leghold traps.  If enough support is generated, the new law code will ban this inhumane and anachronistic practice.

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Orangutans in Peril

Orangutans are on the brink of extinction.  Many conservation groups estimate that wild populations will only exist for ten to twenty more years.  Orangutans are a unique large primate species that is a part of the story of human origins.  They also contribute vital ecosystem services to the forests they inhabit.  Studies show that orangutans act as a keystone species by spreading biodiversity through the forest.  This occurs because orangutans are a highly mobile species that mainly eats fruit as it migrates.  However, this important species has been under threat for decades from hunting, habitat loss, and abductions of young orangutans for sale in the pet trade.  Drought and forest fire have also impacted the already dwindling population.  

 Orangutans have seen a steady decline of 40 percent in the last 20 years.  This decline has mainly occurred due to the conversion of lowland forest in to oil palm plantations.  This past year has seen the killing of 750 orangutans in Indonesia alone.  These hundreds have been killed as food but also as a way of protecting crops.  Humans and orangutans have come into increasing conflict as forests are cleared for farming communities.  However, habitat loss is just as much of a factor, as Orangutans need extensive tracts of forests habitat to survive.  The forest must also be lowland forest, as this is the only type of forest in the region that produces fruit year-round.  This is also the only type of forest with a dependable supply of water.  Unfortunately, this is also the most fertile farming land in the area.  

Illegal logging is another threat to Orangutan populations.  Illegal logging forces many orangutans from their native habitat.  This causes overcrowding, starvation, a lower birth rate, and conflicts with humans.  Loggers also remove trees that are essential to the growth of strangler figs that comprise much of the orangutan diet. This causes stresses to the population when and if they return to their native habitat. There is hope in protecting the last vestiges of this amazing primate species, but we have to act fast.  One of the first ways you can help is by signing this petition to Indonesian President Yudhoyono encouraging him to invest more in the protection ofOragnutans.  Another way to help is by joining campaigns by the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace that are both working to protect this amazing species from extinction.


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Pleistocene Rewilding: Conservation Benefit or Folly?

One day, elephants and lions may once again roam the great plains…of Iowa? That’s right, Pleistocene rewilding proposes the reintroduction of large mammals as a way of ensuring natural ecosystem controls. The theory arose when archaeologist Paul S. Martin compared the extant large mammals of Asia and Africa, with the fossil evidence from North America.  Scientists found that North America once had the same proportions of large mammals as Africa and Asia.  However many of these animals went extinct during the Late Pleistocene 50,000 – 10,000 years ago. Scientists have proposed that these species were decimated by skilled big game hunters that populated the continent about 13,000 years ago. 

These extinctions are problematic for ecosystems because many of these large mammals were keystone species. Keystone species have a transformative effect on the ecosystem that benefits many other species.  For example, Elephants effectively, “create” savanna by uprooting trees.  This leads to increased grazing land for animals like gazelles and their predators.  Conservation biologists argue that the reintroduction of keystone species will create healthier ecosystems for all species.  Plus, many of these large species, such as the, “Przewalski’s Horse”, are facing extinctions in their natural habitats.  Pleistocene rewilding would ensure healthy genetic stocks of these species into the future. 

Rewilding of large mammals has already been implemented in a number of different countries.  Norway reintroduced the musk ox in 1932, after the population was destroyed by over hunting.  Other parts of Scandinavia have progressed even further towards the goal of reintroducing large grazers.  In Oostvaardersplassen, a nature reserve in the Netherlands, hundreds of Heck cattle have been reintroduced to the wild.  Heck cattle were bred to physically resemble the Auroch that went extinct from Europe in the 17th century, due to over hunting.  Rewilding also includes the reintroduction of large predators such as lions.  However, this has not been attempted yet due to safety and livestock predation concerns.  However, Rewilding does not only involve the reintroduction of large mammals.  It also involves increased freedom of movement of existing species.  Examples of this are highway overpasses in Canada that allow for animals to move more easily from territory to territory.

The best example of a Pleistocene rewilding project is the, “Pleistocene Park” created in Siberia in 1988 by Russian scientist Sergei Zimov.  The park aims to create the Siberian grassland ecosystem that existed during the Pleistocene.  Genetic scientists in Japan have recently begun a project to genetically reproduce a mammoth using dna and an elephant mother.  Zimov has proposed that the mammoth would be the primary keystone species in the ecosystem.  He has proposed reintroducing the bred mammoth to Siberia if the project is successfully completed.  

Pleistocene rewilding does have it’s detractors in the scientific community.  Many claim that ecosystems have evolved without these megafauna, and that Pleistocene rewilding may distrupt those ecosystems.  Overall the reintroduction of many of these species will lead to increased genetic diversity and the survival of these rare species into the future.  If you would like to learn more about efforts towards Pleistocene rewilding and ways to get involves, please visit the Rewilding


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The Perils of Ocean Acidification

Effect of Ocean Acidification on ShellOcean acidification is one of the under explored consequences of global climate change on the worlds oceans.  Ocean acidification is a process that occurs as a result of chemical reactions between carbon dioxide in the air and carbonate ions in seawater.  These reactions cause the lowering of seawater pH.  This acidification causes an ensuing reduction in calcium carbonate concentration.  The increase in acidity has a very detrimental effect on entire classes of ocean creatures, specifically calcifying or shell species.  This includes clams, arthropods, plankton, and coral.  High acidity causes the shells of these species to slowly disintegrate, as in the photo, eventually killing the organism.  

The effect on coral is the most tragic because of the critical role that coral reefs have in the ocean ecosystem.   Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world.  They have been referred to by many scientists as the, “rainforests of the ocean”.  Reef animals are also very important food source for many human communities.  Coral is particularly threatened, because it has higher calcium carbonate requirements than other shell producing species.  This results in a much faster rate of ocean acidification damage in coral reefs.  Some scientists project that the complete extinction of coral reefs may occur in the next 100 years, with a terminal decline occurring in 2050.  

However, there is hope in combating this destructive phenomena.  The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends the creation of international marine protected areas.  These areas would be critical to the survival of biodiversity in an acidic ocean.  International treaties could go a long way towards banning overfishing in sensitive ocean ecosystems.  Ultimately, the end of ocean acidification will occur from dramatic reductions in atmospheric CO2.  You may take part on an individual level, by decreasing your amount of driving, making your home more energy efficient, and eating locally.  However, the real change will occur by getting active.  Joining the NRDC or signing a petition will help their efforts in bringing public awareness to the issue of ocean acidification.  The NRDC has also created a very informative documentary called, “Acid Test the Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification”.  Sharing this documentary is a great way to share the basics of this problem with your friends and colleagues.  Another way to get involved, is to become an active volunteer in the organization is an organization that working to to help bring an end to government policies that encourage climate change.  It is really up to each of us to become part of the solution to save ocean life from certain destruction.

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Biochar: Improved Agriculture and Reduced CO2

Global climate change and soil degradation from industrial agriculture are threatening the world food system.  Extreme weather events, brought on by climate change, will likely make food even more difficult to grow in the coming decades. These added costs to food production are also due to increases in the price of oil.  A higher population will also drive up demand.  As a result, Oxfam International has projected that food prices will double in the next 20 years.   Biochar is the answer to this looming crisis.  Biochar was first discovered in an investigation of the extremely fertile, “terra preta” or black earth of the Amazon.  This soil was created by an early Amazonian civilization hundreds of years ago, and continues to be productive today.  The productivity of the soil owes itself to the micro pore structure of the biochar itself.  The pores of the biochar hold nutrients essential to plant growth, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, in the soil.  This allows for farmers to decrease the cost of food production while using less nitrogen fertilizer derived from fossil fuels.  This is critical to the most poverty-stricken areas of the global south often that do not have access to artificial fertilizer.

Africa is one of the areas in which biochar has shown the most promise. Africa has some of the worst soil in the world and is also most affected by famine.  Yet a recent study in Cameroon, demonstrated that biochar and organic fertilizer increases grain yields by 140 percent.  Similar studies from around the world show increased production in other food staples such as potatoes, corn, soybeans, and wheat.   Biochar also retains water better then un-amended soil, allowing for lower irrigation rates.  Less irrigation means conservation of dwindling water resources, lower food cost, and better resilience to climate change induced drought.  Water availability also helps to increase root growth and density leading to healthier crops that are more able to meet global food demand. If that was not enough, biochar also increases the growth of micorhizzal or root fungi.  These symbiotic fungi increase the surface area of plant roots, allowing for even more efficient absorption of water and nutrients.   

The agricultural benefits of biochar are many, but you may be asking how is biochar made and what is it made of?  Soil scientists found that biochar is produced from the burning of organic matter in an artificially created low oxygen environment, through a process called pyrolysis.  In other words, wood, plant waste, or other agricultural byproducts are baked at an extremely high temperature.  This process converts the plant material to carbon.  When organic waste is converted to carbon it removes carbon from the carbon cycle, storing it in the soil for thousands of years.  Pyrolysis, effectively produces the, “carbon sink” that climate scientists have proposed as a solution to global climate change.  The process also creates a combustible byproduct called wood gas.  Wood gas is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide that has been used as fuel for standard internal combustion engines. This could one day entirely replace the use of oil.

Overall, biochar is a true panacea to many of the current problems of global food security, resource depletion, and climate change.  It all starts with soil, black soil.  If you would like to learn more about current studies of biochar please visit the International Biochar


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