Thursday, November 13, 2014
Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon:
Restoring the Ecological Heart of the Colorado River
Eric Balken, Programs Director, Glen Canyon Institute
Glen Canyon, which sits between Canyonlands and Grand Canyon National Parks, was once the ecological heart of the Colorado River. Since the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, over 186 miles of river and 125 side canyons were drowned by Lake Powell, creating what many consider to be the biggest environmental mistake in our country’s history.
With a growing water shortage in the Colorado River Basin, it is projected that both Lake Powell and Lake Mead will never fill again. This has posed a great challenge to the West, but has also presented a chance to restore the Colorado River. Join us to learn how Glen Canyon Institute’s (GCI) “Fill Mead First” proposal could save water and restore vital wildlife habitats in Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon and restore one of the world’s greatest natural treasures, the Colorado River, through Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon.
Eric is a Utah native who grew up hiking in the Wasatch Mountains and the canyons of Southern Utah. He has worked for GCI since 2006 directing GCI’s outreach, fundraising, advocacy, and education programs. Eric has a degree in Environmental Studies and Geography and is credited with founding Students for Water Conservation at the University of Utah.
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Greetings! Our year began with an enlightening discussion of how important dying and dead trees are for cavity nesting birds in oururban environment. Then in October we heard about a project to restore and protect Aliso Creek. This project is important to us in LWV because a section of this creek runs through our community and is a beautiful part of our park-like landscaping, not to mention it provides vital habitat for a variety of wildlife.
Once again, I want to call your attention to the zip code reassignment that will take place in January 2015. Enclosed in this issue is a flyer that explains this project (it’s the same flyer we enclosed in the last issue). You don’t need to do anything if you live in LWV or Laguna Hills. If you live outside of these areas and wish to remain a member of our Laguna Hills Audubon chapter, you must call National Audubon’s 800 number, and follow the instructions on the flyer. One phone call should be all it takes.
The end of the year marks the start of our Annual Fund Raising Drive. Your contributions in the past years have been very generous, despite our bad economic times, which have made it possible to increase our chapter’s contributions to worthy ecological activities (such as Starr Ranch). 100% of your donations go toward our running expenses (i.e., speakers, newsletter) and our chapter’s support of worthy causes. I thank you in advance for your generous support.
In closing, I wish you all a happy holiday season as you celebrate it with family and friends. I hope 2015 holds great things for each of us!
Looking forward to greeting you at our November meeting!
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2014 Birder’s Buzz
The 115th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place December 14, 2014 to January 5, 2015. The longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, the Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends. Sign ups begin in November on National Audubon’s website www.audubon.org. California Fish and Game Commission voted to extend endangered species protection to gray wolves. This decision was a blow to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife which was trying to pass a wolf management plan that would protect the animals while allowing flexibility for ranchers and others who say the predators attack livestock and decimate elk herds. Alpine Swifts fly non-stop for more than 6 months in their migration from Switzerland to Western Africa. Swiss Ornithological Institute and the Bern University of Applied Sciences attached electronic monitors to 6 Alpine Swifts to study their migration. The birds feed on “aerial plankton” – insects that are swept into the sky by high winds. Scientists believe they get much of their water from this prey, and also by skimming ponds and lakes while in flight. During the night, their wing flapping was greatly reduced, suggesting that they were gliding for long distances. Although it was created to kill rats, d-CON's super-toxic rat poisons have also been the source of deaths of hawks, owls, and many other birds. Finally, the “worst of the worst” d-CON products will be pulled from retail shelves by early next year. Plastisphere – what scientists are calling the particles of degraded plastic no bigger than grains of salt – is a product of discarded plastic that gets swept from urban sewer systems and river channels into the sea. Bacteria take up residence on these miniscule particles, then single-celled organisms feed on the bacteria, and larger predators feed on the organisms, and on up the food chain. Not only is the plastic itself dangerous, but also the toxic chemicals that the plastic had absorbed. This relatively new field of research is shedding light on the ramifications of our addiction to plastic.
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Whale Earwax: A Smelly Treasure Trove of Valuable Information
A recent study has revealed that whale earwax can provide a detailed story about not only the whale’s lifecycle, but also pollutants from decades ago. The hardened layers of the smelly substance, which is made up of mostly keratin (the material in hair and nails) and lipids, provides a detailed biography of its owner’s life from birth to death. “These types of marine mammals that are long-lived have a great ability to accumulate contaminants, and so they’re often perceived as being sentinels of their ecosystem,” said Sascha Usenko, an analytical environmental chemist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who worked on the study. Usenko and his team acquired a 10-inch earplug pulled from a 70-foot-long male blue whale that had been killed when it collided with a ship off the Santa Barbara coast. The earwax revealed a timeline of the whale’s hormonal changes, likely indicating the mammal reaching sexual maturity, competing for a mate, food availability, and changes in social status. The earwax also contained accumulations of chemical contaminants, including flame retardants, pesticides, and other pollutants. The researchers found several persistent organic pollutants, particularly DDT, even though this whale had been born more than 20 years after the ban. In fact, 96% of the organic pollutants in its wax came from four phased-out pesticides and a PCB, a type of chemical used in coolants and insulating fluids. Many of the pollutants in the whale’s ear plug, particularly the discontinued chemicals, were probably passed through its mother’s milk. This discovery is another indication of the long-term impact our pollution has on marine wildlife.
Source: “Whale gives researchers an earful”, by Amina Khan (LA Times, Sept. 21, 2013)
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ABC CHALLENGES ARMY CORPS’ PLAN TO KILL 16,000 CORMORANTS
The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has raised multiple objections to assertions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a proposal to kill 16,000 Double-crested Cormorants on East Sand Island over a 4-year period as part of a plan to reduce predation of juvenile salmonids including salmon smolt by the birds.
ABC’s Dr. George Wallace, who is the organization’s Vice President for Oceans and Islands, states that the proposal to reduce the colony to approximately 5,600 breeding pairs from its current 15,000 pairs is not based on any rigorous or peer-reviewed analysis. He also points out that there’s no direct correlation between smolt consumption and the birds’ colony size. ABC goes on to say that the expected benefits to the salmon population hinge on a long-term habitat modification plan in order to maintain the Corps’ target of 5,600 breeding pairs.
The proposal would reduce the entire western Double-crested Cormorant population by approximately 25%. It’s not clear if permits issued under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for this type of action can be legally used to reduce an entire regional population of a species protected under the MBTA.
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