29 September 2013

Duck, Duck, Plastic

The writers of all those messages in bottles were on to something: If you want to find connections, the ocean is the place.

However,  today's connections are being established through plastics, not bottle messages, and it's not a love story in the making. The following video helps explain how plastics accumulate in the ocean and what some of the consequences of this might be:

Although the video makes some great points, especially those concerning how our actions are interrelated, I disagree with one point: the idea that the only option for dealing with this problem is to make plastics that break down. This may be a good option, but it isn't the only option. A stronger solution would be to cut back on our consumption, decreasing the need for plastics.

I think understanding how we are connected to the plastic problem is a step in the right direction. The video helps with that. Another tool is offered by Adrift.org, which uses a virtual rubber ducky to give people a sense of how their plastics can spread in the ocean. Simply place the duck in an ocean somewhere and watch as the plastic it represents spreads. Click here to check it out.

The masses of plastics floating in our oceans are sending us a message: The accumulations start with a single purchase. It's time we get that message.

25 September 2013

The Olympic Experience

They see more than they're seen.

The Olympic Mountains of Washington state hide out in the rain and fog of the contiguous United States' northwestern corner. They're often overshadowed by their cousins to the east, the Cascades, which boast the volcanoes like Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. However, the Olympics have views of the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, several temperate rain forests, and most of western Washington, so getting to know them may be one of the quintessential Pacific Northwest experiences.

Now, more people can appreciate this unique range because Crest Pictures, a film-production enterprise from Robert and Kathy Chrestensen, has released Out of the Mist, a documentary about how four people experience the Olympics. Check out the trailer below:

"Out of the Mist - Olympic Wilderness Stories" Trailer from Crest Pictures on Vimeo.

For more information about the film and how to see it, click here.

Inside the mist, you'll find a place of incomparable beauty and surprising power.

22 September 2013

License Not to Kill

Wolves: You can live with them if you really want to.

Opponents of wolves typically say that living with wolves is not possible, but that seems to be more of a perspective choice than an absolute reality. Washington state is demonstrating that people make the difference in determining the outcome of human-wolf interactions.

As this polling shows, residents of Washington, Oregon, and California are supportive of having wolves around. Therefore, it's no surprise that Washington is finding ways to support wolf populations. The latest piece of the strategy moves into place on October 1 when car owners in the state can begin purchasing vanity license plates that fund non-lethal wolf-management tactics, including range riders, which I blogged about two weeks ago. For more information about the plates, how to get them, and the programs they help fund, visit this page on Conservation Northwest's Web site.

Washingtonians' efforts to make a place for wolves ultimately show that the fate of these animals will come down to our willingness to share an existence with them.

19 September 2013

Curiosity and the Cat

We all know what curiosity supposedly did to the cat, but maybe, a little more curiosity on our part would help cougars.

Usually, we don't think of cougars as living close to us, and most of the cougar encounters we hear about are negative ones (for example, a cougar attacking a person or a domestic animal). This has helped produce the perception that having cougars close by is a bad thing, leading to extermination efforts.

On the other hand, our perception of cougars might be different if we realized just how much they are around us, and all it would take is a little investigating. Fortunately, technology is making such investigations easier, and efforts like the Santa Cruz Puma Project (SCPP) are providing information about an animal we know surprisingly little about despite it sometimes being literally in our backyard. Watch some of the work by the SCPP in the video below:

For more information on the SCPP and to learn more cougars, click here.

We overlook a lot of opportunities to see how we connect with our environment, but we have the ability to make the most of those chances and further that relationship if we'd just take a closer look.

17 September 2013

Go Fisher

Although it's an awesome place, the Pacific Northwest isn't complete.

Several species were either entirely or partially wiped out from the area in the 19th and 20th centuries. These included the wolf and the fisher.

Those missing pieces have started a comeback, and people can help them take a next step. In 2008, fishers were returned to the Olympic National Park through a successful reintroduction program. Now, the National Park Service is proposing to reintroduce this member of the weasel family to the Cascade Mountains, and the agency will be taking comments on the plan until September 30. To voice your support for this next phase of reintroduction, visit this page from Conservation Northwest.

By bringing fishers back to another part of the Pacific Northwest, we help restore the full promise of this great area.

11 September 2013

It's in the Genes

We learn as children to know what we are putting in our mouths, but with the increase of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), that's becoming difficult.

GMOs are organisms that have been scientifically engineered and include plants and animals. Their growing presence in our food has started to get more attention lately and sparked attempts to have all foods containing them labeled as such, but companies that produce and sell these foods have fought the proposals.

GMO OMG, a documentary being released on Friday, attempts to shed light on GMOs and the industry behind them. Check out the trailer below:

GMO OMG Official Trailer from Compeller Pictures on Vimeo.

Our pursuit of science began with the goal of gaining more knowledge. Science shouldn't leave us further in the dark, especially on an issue as basic and important as what we eat.

05 September 2013

A Range of Options

The simplest answer isn't always the right one.

In dealing with wolves, we can take the easy route and exterminate them again, or we can look for solutions that allow us to live with them. The second option is infinitely more complex in terms of both its challenges and its opportunities.

Living with wolves requires planning and work, but it also has impacts that reach far into our ecosystems. For example, the presence of wolves decreases bank erosion along rivers because they keep elk from eating all the vegetation beside the streams.

Here's some news from Conservation Northwest that shows living with wolves is possible if we embrace more developed ideas. To sum it up, the article talks about the use of "range riders," who are individuals that watch over livestock herds. The strategy virtually eliminates predation by wolves.

The easy road is to ignore science and delist wolves, turning them over to state governments whose intention is to kill wolves, not manage them.

We have more and better options though, and it's in the interest of both humans and wolves that we choose them.

03 September 2013

Extraordinary Everyday

Rare things are commonly seen as special, but common things rarely are.

That's an unfortunate truth when it comes to the human experience, and it is very apparent in how we think about our birds. We get excited about a bright, migratory western tanager, for example, and pay little notice to the LBBs (little, brown birds) we walk by on a daily basis. Well, Ordinary Extraordinary Junco, a film project from Indiana University, is attempting to bring attention to one of these overlooked species, the junco. Check out the trailer below:

Say Hello to the Junco (Intro/Trailer) from Ordinary Extraordinary Junco on Vimeo.

For more information about the film and where to see it, click here.

When I was young, I would feel disappointment about some species or the other not living in the Pacific Northwest, but we always had plenty of Oregon juncos, the PNW subspecies of the dark-eyed junco. In time, I realized the juncos were indeed special, partly because of their toughness and ingenuity and partly because they were common, which made them a defining part of the area.

Rare things can certainly be special, but when we realize how special the common things are, that's a truly amazing experience.

01 September 2013

Sounding the Call for Birders

As the fall migration for birds begins, bird-watchers are on the move as well.

Birding festivals, like the Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds, Washington, take advantage of migration season to give birders maximum exposure to the birds moving south for winter. This year's Puget Sound Bird Fest is September 6-8.

The festival includes presentations on birds, bird-watching, photography, and native plants. It also features guided walks and activities for children, and it's a chance to see both migratory and non-migratory birds. For more information about the event, click here.

Fall means the last call to see certain bird species for a while, so get out there, and wish them a safe journey.