31 March 2014

Backin' Black

A new photography project asks us to embrace the power of the dark side.

Dogs with black fur tend to have trouble getting adopted. According to this article from The Huffington Post, it's due to "black dog bias." Because of a fear of black dogs, a phobia fostered by stories in books and movies, people shy away from adopting them.

Through the Black Dogs Project, photographer Fred Levy hopes to give black dogs a new image and a better chance of adoption. Levy photographs black dogs, capturing their personalities and raising awareness of the bias that makes them less likely to be adopted. To view his work, click here.

When it comes to perceptions, the power of images cuts both ways. Some images limit our thinking, but others expand it. That's one reason photography is so special.

With his pictures, Levy shows us the light about black dogs.

29 March 2014

The Art of a Child

Some are born to be wild, and as the story of a nine-year-old Oregon boy shows, some are born to protect the wild.

According to this article from The Oregonian, Harper Graham-Nye has turned a passion for animals and a recent trip to Africa into art, a business, and a conservation effort--all before the age of 10. While visiting Africa, he learned about the impacts of poaching and met a wildlife photographer named Julien Polet.

The experiences in Africa combined with what appears to be a natural interest in animals and sparked Graham-Nye's creativity. He used editing software to alter Polet's digital pictures, creating pieces of art. Teaming with Polet, he put the images on T-shirts. The shirts are sold, and half the proceeds go to help stop poaching. To check out Graham-Nye's project, visit his Web site, Happy Tusk.

The things that interest us when we are young tend to influence our career and life choices. Graham-Nye simply has a particular affinity for the environment and a head start in turning that interest into his life's work.

Children might be the future, but this one has created a better present for wildlife.

27 March 2014

It's All So Familiar

My concern about global warming goes back many years, but the issue recently hit home for me in new ways.

Born in Washington, I know about the state's climbing snow lines and how warming helps spread a fungus that poses risks for the region's iconic Douglas fir. Still, seeing the following video from the National Parks Service really impacted me. Watch it below:

Washington's coast has a special place in my heart. To see the signs of change underway feels like watching a friend have trouble.

The film also contains a second powerful aspect, and this one leaves me with a better feeling. As it presents the scientific story of the Washington coast, the film acquaints us with Steven Fradkin, an ecologist whose work allows that story to be told. By doing so, it humanizes science and makes the environment more relatable through Fradkin.

Clearly, to know science, we must really know science.

25 March 2014

Just Popping In

To burst on the scene, occasionally, we must burst the scene.

The idea of repairing our broken items has enjoyed a renaissance lately. In fact, last month, I blogged about an Oregon State University program that helps students learn to repair their stuff. That example took advantage of the resources and setting of a university to introduce students to repair skills.

Sometimes, however, we have to make our own opportunities if we want to raise awareness about an idea. Realizing this, an organization called Pop Up Repair has found a daring way of bringing repair back. The project pops up in temporary locations on the East Coast. While it's in an area, Pop Up Repair fixes broken things people bring in, extending the usefulness of the objects.

The project does more than bring things back to life though. By emerging from a void created by a throwaway culture, Pop Up Repair changed the game. After seeing the popularity of their work, the founders of the project began helping spread the pop-up operation. They provide assistance to those attempting to offer similar services. For more information about this repair revolution, click here.

It's never been more true that if you want something done, do it yourself.

23 March 2014

Wild Inspiration

We need reminders that it's okay not to have everything under control.

In our relationship with nature, we tend to like it only up to the point where our assumed power over it starts to weaken. For example, we kill off wolves in the wild but attempt to keep them as pets, and when we lose control over them as pets, we get rid of them.

A new film, which just won National Geographic's first-annual Wild to Inspire award at the Sun Valley Film Festival, shows some of the impacts our desire for control has. Wolf Mountain tells the story of a woman who cares for wolves that have been raised as pets and turned over by their owners. Because of human efforts to domesticate them, these wolves can never be released into the wild. Check out the film's trailer below:

Wolf Mountain from Dan Duran on Vimeo.

Films sometimes represent our illusions. Wolf Mountain questions our illusion of control over nature. By showing the effects of humans trying to tame wolves, the film suggests just how little control we have. When we attempt to assert power over the wild, the problems we create quickly become too much to handle.

We need inspiration to let the wild be, and it's good to see the Wild to Inspire award recognizing films that provide such a push. The Sun Valley Film Festival already has plans to bring back the award next year, so it will be interesting to see what new visions for our relationship with the environment filmmakers present.

When it comes to control, you can't lose what you never had, so go wild.

22 March 2014

Say Hello to Your Little Friend

Adopting a behavior is the ultimate goal of most campaigns, and it's especially important when adopting is the behavior.

With this in mind, The Humane Society of the United States, Maddie's Fund, and The Ad Council created The Shelter Pet Project. The campaign aims to boost adoption of shelter animals. To achieve this goal, The Shelter Pet Project works to connect shelter animals with people. Check out one of its meet-a-shelter-pet ads below:

The ad introduces a pet (Stetson) and the desired behavior of adopting a shelter animal. Think of it as a relationship that begins through a mutual friend. The campaign Web site provides more opportunities for connection with its interactive features.

After the connection is made, the possibility for adoption increases. In fact, according to the campaign's Web site, adoption of shelter pets has risen since 2009 (when The Shelter Pet Project began) despite a poor economy. To get additional information and interact more with shelter pets, click here.

Oh, and the next time you're looking for a pet, take the next step in your relationship with shelter animals.

21 March 2014

It's Always Sunny in Washington State

If you wanted to put solar panels on a house, would you go to Arizona or Washington state to do it? The answer is Washington, of course.

We find the reasons for this answer not in the two states' natural environments but in their political climates. As this news article reports, last November, a regulatory agency in Arizona approved a proposal to charge people monthly fees for installing solar panels on their roofs. This meant that anyone who installed solar panels after the policy was put in place would have to pay $4.90 per month just to have the panels. This week, the Washington state legislature rejected a similar idea, according to this report.

To understand why people would be charged for having solar panels and why Arizona and Washington have taken different stances on the issue, let's look at two current trends. First, solar panels have become quite cheap compared to their prices when they were first introduced and relative to traditional forms of energy like fossil fuels. With this decrease in price comes greater availability. In fact, as discussed here, Best Buy now sells solar panels. 

The greater availability and lower prices of solar panels have made them a true threat to traditional energy providers. With the panels, people can make their own energy and no longer have to get it from utilities. The energy industry sees what this means for its profits and is using proposals for monthly fees like those approved in Arizona to fight back.

A second trend explains why Washington chose a different path than Arizona. Conservative politicians have adopted a stance that supports traditional industries and fossil fuels and have thrown up roadblocks to alternative energy sources. (Note in the article about Washington state's legislature that the proposed bill resulted from a collaboration between conservative lawmakers and the energy industry.) The monthly fees on solar panel ownership are an attempt to make getting solar energy harder again and prevent a move away from traditional energy sources. Washington state simply has a less conservative political climate, and that has made all the difference.

Thanks to a government that supports alternative energy and better ways of living within the environment, the future for solar power remains bright in Washington.

19 March 2014

Everything and More

We've all had people give us too much information about themselves, but TMI no longer applies when birds are the subject.

My blog entries frequently mention the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds Web site because it provides great information about birds. In fact, after exploring the site, one might think it really has all the bird information ever collected. It turns out, however, that there's more, and the Cornell Lab's latest offering gives us additional insight into the world of birds.

All About Bird Biology, a recently released (they say, "hatched") companion site to All About Birds, focuses on the biological aspects of birds. For example, the first collection of information looks at feathers. The site is interactive and already contains nearly a hundred videos about birds.

Billing (get it?) itself as a resource for birders, teachers, students, and just about anyone curious to learn more about birds, All About Bird Biology moves public knowledge of ornithology up a notch. As someone who once had an entire science fair project dedicated solely to feathers, I love it. To check out the site, click here.

Between All About Birds and All About Bird Biology, we can know birds inside out.

17 March 2014

Strategic Reserves

In Jurassic Park, John Hammond says, "Creation is an act of sheer will." However, when it comes to the creation and maintenance of aquatic reserves, Washington state turns to collective will.

A partnership between the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), environmental groups, Native American tribes, and other residents has produced seven aquatic reserves throughout Washington. Each reserve sets aside state-owned land for preservation and restoration.

The process for establishing these reserves provides a model for strategic public handling of environmental issues. First, an individual or organization proposes a site. DNR evaluates the plan and decides whether to make it a formal proposal. Once DNR submits a formal proposal, the public has the opportunity to comment.

Even the management process employs public participation. After a proposed reserve has been accepted, a management plan is created. Currently, citizen committees manage five of the seven sites. Along with DNR and the tribes, partners in the Aquatic Reserves Program include the Washington Environmental Council, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, and Whidbey Watershed Stewards. For more information about the program, click here.

Collaborations like Washington's Aquatic Reserves Program show the potential of harnessing our collective power to make positive environmental impacts.

15 March 2014

Getting to Know Yew (and Other Trees)

There's a stranger in town. It's tall, quiet, and probably green.

Doesn't that sound like someone you'd like to know more about? Well, if you're in the Emerald City, the Seattle Audubon Society will make the introduction for you. 

Realizing that we often overlook trees and the important role they play in cities, Seattle Audubon has created the Seattle Tree Map. A citizen-science and community-improvement project, Seattle Tree Map lets Seattleites discover and learn about the city's trees. The project also calculates the economic and environmental value of having living trees within the city. Citizens can participate by contributing new or updated information about the trees. To learn more about the project, click here.

We tend not to associate nature with cities, so we miss many opportunities to connect with it. However, the trees are right there, waiting to show us the roadmap for an urban relationship with the environment.

After all, the ecological community doesn't stop at the city limits.

13 March 2014

Missed Note

Seeing is believing, but in birding, so is hearing, and a new movie with bird-watching as a theme misses this point.

A Birder's Guide to Everything comes to theaters March 21 and revolves around some teenagers' search for the Labrador duck, an extinct species. Of course, the bird angle caught my attention. However, when I saw the trailer, I couldn't believe my ears. Check it out below:

The issue I had with the trailer involves the way the joke at the end presents a narrow idea of bird-watching. When Ben Kingsley's character says, "Absolutely anyone can be a birder--except for blind people I suppose," he's more than just wrong.

Despite the term "bird-watching," sound serves as probably the most reliable way of identifying birds. Often, birders only have sound to go on when noting the presence of species. With this in mind, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology requires its students to be able to identify birds just by sound. The fact is that a blind person with the ability to hear and knowledge of birdcalls would have an advantage over birders who simply relied on sight.

I don't want to discourage anyone from seeing the movie. Taken as a whole, it might turn out to be great, but the joke about blind people didn't strike me as funny or even accurate.

Seeing birds is certainly a great joy, but it's only part of the birding experience.

11 March 2014

Flickring of Interest

This story begins with a boy and a camera that had fancy-looking lighting settings.

I received my first camera when I was about seven years old. Its sophistication level went far beyond my knowledge of photography at the time. (I thought the lighting settings were pretty cool because they featured icons of the sun for sunny days and clouds for cloudy ones.) I used the camera a lot, mostly for pictures of nature scenes and animals of course, and the seeds of an interest in photography were planted.

Today, I have a different camera, which was a graduation gift from my family. Like my first camera, it exceeds the skill level of its operator. However, I still enjoy capturing the environment in photographs.

I tell this story because I recently started a Flickr page to display some of my photos. You'll find a widget with a link to the site on the righthand column of this blog, and you can also access the photostream by clicking here.

Just remember that if you take a look at the pictures, you're probably viewing the world through the eyes of a child.

09 March 2014

Deep Connection

An upcoming documentary prepares to dive into our relationship with water.

Watermark, which hits theaters April 4, presents water as more than just a necessary element for life. Water takes on a life of its own in the film, influencing and responding to our actions. It touches us on a deep level, forming our most enduring relationship. Watch the Watermark trailer below:

Because of its basic link to us and all other life on the planet, water contains the ability to show us connections we rarely consider. The creators of Watermark realize this potential and use the film to show the bigger picture. For more information about Watermark, click here.

Coleridge was right: Water, water everywhere ...

07 March 2014

Natural Personality

Prepare to meet your match.

A new survey from the National Wildlife Federation offers a fun opportunity to anyone who's ever pretended to be an animal. NWF community manager Dani Tinker recently created a series of questions that help people figure out what kind of animal they'd be.

The survey serves as more than a basic personality test. It highlights the ways we relate to our environment and shows the links between those relationships and our actions. Still, it's hard not to get excited about finding your animal alter ego. To take the survey, click here.

By the way, in case you're wondering, my wildlife personality is Sporty Steelhead. Since I've done quite a bit of fishing, and the steelhead is the state fish of Washington, my home state, I feel that's a pretty good match.

Now, go find the animal inside you.

05 March 2014

Little Library, Big Idea

It was so small, I couldn't miss it.

When I first saw a Little Free Library, I had other things on my mind, but this wooden box placed on top of a post would not be ignored.

Nothing stands out like the odd. In this case, not many libraries fit on the end of a pole, but the clear door of the box revealed books inside, and then, I saw "Little Free Library" written on the wood. That was all I needed. I committed the name to memory and looked it up when I returned home. What I learned about it made me think of the environment.

Little Free Library is a book-sharing project, and like its name suggests, the books are free. No one "checks out" a book, and books have no return dates (in fact, the books might not be returned at all). People simply take and/or leave books.

The program has spread to 50 states and 40 countries, and each library is built from materials in its local community. That's one cool environmental aspect. Another is the idea of book sharing.

Book sharing maximizes an information resource while minimizing the use of natural resources. Of course, traditional libraries mastered book sharing long ago and are great alternatives to buying books. However, I think the Little Free Library offers a neat option for exchanging certain common books like small, inexpensive paperbacks. For more information about the program, click here.

This is one time when it's okay to make some library noise.

03 March 2014

A Wolf Runs Through It

Do you see the paw prints of wolves when you look at a river?

Given that wolves occupy only 15 percent of their historical range, you probably don't see many actual wolf tracks. However, even if you are lucky enough to glimpse some, I'm talking about something a little different: the influence wolves have on river systems.

Research on wolves in Yellowstone National Park shows just how big of an impact they have on ecosystems, and the following video makes the connection between these animals and the rivers in their range. Check it out:

One part of the video that stands out for me comes when the narrator talks about wolves giving life. It challenges our traditional understanding of predators, and we see that predation involves more than killing. The video also provides a great description of the links between all members of an ecosystem and challenges us to consider this broader picture.

To paraphrase writer Norman Maclean, eventually, all things merge into one, and it's a wolf.

01 March 2014

DiCaprio's Big Scene

Leonardo DiCaprio's most important role is no act.

To be honest, I haven't always liked DiCaprio's movies (though he's starting to grow on me as an actor), but I appreciate his work on environmental issues. Many celebrities sign their names to nonprofit efforts, but endorsement of and actual work on social issues are two different things.

DiCaprio backs up his words with involvement. In 2007, he produced The 11th Hour, a documentary on global warming. He's also met with world leaders to find ways of protecting tigers. Most recently, his foundation made a $3 million donation to Oceana's efforts to protect marine habitat in both the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. For more information on his foundation, click here.

Yesterday, I saw a news article talking about why DiCaprio hasn't won an Academy Award. Although I'm sure he'd love to win one, he seems to realize he's playing in a much larger theater, and I think he would be willing to trade an Oscar for the chance to make an impact on environmental issues.

Sequels rarely appeal to me, but I can't wait for the next installment of DiCaprio's environmental work.