Friday, February 20, 2009
In order to examine these issues, Mountain Resorts takes an interdisciplinary approach, with contributions from ecologists and lawyers who focus on ski-related activities, increasing four-season use of the mountains and expanding residential, commercial and recreational development at the mountains' base. Its analysis of an array of US and Canadian federal, state and local laws provides a multifaceted exploration of the intersection of ecology and the law at mountain resorts.
VCE Conservation Biologists, Chris Rimmer and Kent McFarland, joined coauthors Alan Strong and Kimberly Hagen in a chapter titled, Effects of Mountain Resorts on Wildlife.
Reviews: 'A lucid analysis of the effects of mountain ski resorts on the environment. Applying the ecosystem concept – analyzing the movements of organisms, materials and water between landscape positions – to case studies in New England and Canada, Milne et al. provide an important critique of how ecology can work with the law to protect mountain ecosystems.'
William H. Schlesinger, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, USA
'Ski resorts are often focal points of conflict, with lawyers and ecologists in opposing camps. This fascinating book shows that their perspectives are complementary, and that such an interdisciplinary approach is required to understand and move forward with the management of mountain areas in a complex and increasingly uncertain world.'
Martin Price, University of the Highlands and Islands, UK
'As a boy my friends and I skied at Killington in Vermont every chance we got. We didn't ski a collection of trails; we skied "the mountain" . The authors of Mountain Resorts challenge environmental law to do the same thing – to manage mountain resort areas not as a forest here, a stream there, a meadow there, but as ecosystems. Using four mountain resort case studies, including my boyhood slopes at Killington, the book meticulously evaluates existing approaches and finds them lacking. The authors chart a clear path for the evolution of legal regimes and scientific research. The result is a book that offers lessons in ecosystem management law going far beyond mountain resorts.'
J.B. Ruhl, Florida State University, USA
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The North American Bird Phenology Program has added online data entry to allow volunteers to view records of historic bird distribution and input the details into a computer database. The volunteers will be able to view how many records have been transcribed (and of which species and locations) but it will take some time for them to be able to see the information entered. Eventually, our database will also be housed on the National Phenology Network website as well.
This program has approximately six millions records of migration arrival and departure dates from a 90 year span from 1880-1970, according to Jessica Zelt, coordinator for the program, hired as a contractor through IAP Worldwide services. The effort is sponsored by the U.S. Geological Service, and housed at Patuxtent, Maryland.
When the program was underway, more than 3000 volunteer contributors submitted information in a variety of ways, ranging from lists of species and dates, to descriptions and reports with related details on a species occurrence.
“Participants recorded their name, locality and year, along with arrival and departure dates, date of abundance, and if it was a common species to that location,” Zelt said. “Many field report files are also found among the records which include more detailed information including species behavior, habitat and a description of the sighting. The records are cataloged by species and locality, totaling approximately 880 species of birds ranging across North America. There are also a few records from other locations such as South and Central America, and going as far north as Greenland and the Arctic Ocean and as far west as Japan. However, these locations are few and far between.”
Volunteers Lauren Pulz and Derek Smith scanning cards for the phenology program. Picture courtesy of Jessica Zelt.
Since a majority of the information is handwritten, and cannot be recognized and converted by a computer, we rely on volunteers in the BPP office to scan the migration cards and then, with the help of worldwide participants, transcribe this historical data into our database, Zelt said.
“BPP volunteers who come in each and every week to make sure the program is a success are the backbone of this program. They handle, sort, scan and transcribe these records in preparation for scientific analysis.” The BPP has only one paid staff member.
“The cards are sorted by state and species and several species are a high priority due to the existence of comparable collections of recent arrival data (from 1970 to today), including species such as Purple Martins, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, orioles, waterfowl, and the Common Loon.
“The cards will be archived electronically and easily available to future researchers. A program on this scale could not be accomplished without the participation of the public.”
View of the online transcription screen.
Providing web-based entry will improve access for viewing the scanned cards and allow volunteers with internet access to help with computerizing the information. “An open field on the data-entry screen will allow participants to transcribe exactly what is written on the card” as shown in the PDF file, Zelt explained. “An online training process will be provided on the website to walk participants through the process of data entry.
“We are looking forward to engaging volunteers from around the world to participate in this program and get more involved in science and birding. Eventually, we want people to collect the same type of bird data and submitting that information as well. We are also looking forward to producing a publication on the topic of climate change and how it is affecting bird migration times on a national scale.”
Phenology is the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena, and the “information that can be extracted from these records will provide critical information on bird distribution, migration timing and migration pathways and how they are changing,” Zelt explained. “These records hold intrinsic scientific value but also have specific importance in the context of climate change. Shifts in bird arrival times has demographic consequences, as birds arriving earlier may not arrive in conjunction with their peak food resources which could result in high mortality rates.
“Thus far, there has been very little literature published on bird phenology due to the relatively recent focus on the topic and the lack of existing historical data. Currently, there has been more literature produced in Europe than in North America due to their success in documenting and maintaining records on migratory bird arrival dates as well as egg and nest records.”
Sam Droege, who is involved with the project, “made an assessment of the value of these cards in 2003, and provided recommendations for further analyses and recreating a network of new observers,” Zelt said. His findings were published in an article titled “Spring Arrivals of Maryland and Washington, D.C. Birds,” in Maryland Birdlife (volume 59, No. 1-2). The history and description of the bird occurrence data is given in the article, along with a characterization of a small sample of the data from the State of Maryland.
Some initial funding for the BPP was provided by The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Wildlife Society to develop the data entry system and analyze the dataset. Partial funding was also received from the USGS Data Rescue Fund in 2008.
Completion of data entry for the project will be entirely dependent on the help of volunteers. Thus far, more than 82,000 records for many species – such as the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Purple Martin and Black-throated Blue Warbler - have been scanned.
“I look forward to volunteers getting involved and helping in this important scientific endeavor,” Zelt said. “Their assistance to make the information available in a database is essential to help further the understanding bird migration and occurrence.”
Friday, February 13, 2009
Next summer, VCE will be placing these devices on Bicknell's Thrushes across the breeding range in the Northeast with partners from the International Bicknell's Thrush Conservation Group!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Dartmouth University and the American United for Separation of Church and State are hosting "Unintelligent Design," a public lecture on the flaws of the human body from an evolutionist's point of view. The event is being held in the Filene Auditorium of Moore Hall from 7:30-9:00 pm.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Analyses of citizen-gathered data from the past 40 years of Audubon's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) reveal that 58 percent of the 305 widespread species that winter on the continent shifted significantly north since 1968, some by hundreds of miles. Movement was detected among species of every type, including more than 70 percent of highly adaptable forest and feeder birds. Only 38 percent of grassland species mirrored the trend, reflecting the constraints of their severely-depleted habitat and suggesting that they now face a double threat from the combined stresses of habitat loss and climate adaptation.
Population shifts among individual species are common, fluctuate, and can have many causes. However, Audubon scientists say the ongoing trend of movement by some 177 species-closely correlated to long-term winter temperature increases-reveals an undeniable link to the changing climate.
"Birds are showing us how the heavy hand of humanity is tipping the balance of nature and causing ecological disruption in ways we are just beginning to predict and comprehend," said report co-author and Audubon Director of Bird Conservation, Greg Butcher, Ph.D. "Common sense dictates that we act now to curb the causes and impacts of global warming to the extent we can, and shape our policies to better cope with the disruptions we cannot avoid."
Movements across all species-including those not reflecting the 40 year trend-averaged approximately 35 miles during the period. However, it is the complete picture of widespread movement and the failure of some species to move at all that illustrate the potential for problems.
- Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, and Boreal Chickadee have retreated dramatically north into the Canadian Boreal, their ranges moving an estimated 313, 246, and 211 miles respectively over 40 years. Continuing warming and development are predicted to have adverse impacts on the boreal forest and the species that depend on it.
- Red-breasted Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, and American Black Duck, normally found in southern-tier states, have all taken advantage of warmer winter waters and have shifted their ranges north by an estimated 244, 169, and 141 miles. Still, they are likely to be negatively impacted by the increased drought expected in many parts of North America as global warming worsens.
- Only 10 of 26 grassland species moved north significantly, while nine moved south. Species such as Eastern Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, and Burrowing Owl were likely unable to move despite more moderate northern temperatures because essential grassland habitat areas have disappeared, having been converted to intensive human uses such as row crops, pastures, and hayfields. In combination, global warming and ongoing overuse of grasslands by humans will doom grassland birds to continued population declines.
"Experts predict that global warming will mean dire consequences, even extinction, for many bird species, and this analysis suggests that that the process leading down that path is already well underway," warned Audubon President John Flicker. "We're witnessing an uncontrolled experiment on the birds and the world we share with them."
Butcher explains that many birds move great distances to find suitable food and habitat, but questions how far they will be able to move in the face of climate change before they run out of habitat, food or even luck. "The long term picture is not good for many species, and even in the short term, a single harsh winter could have a devastating impact on birds that have moved too far," he adds.
New forward-looking research from Audubon California reinforces the national findings, predicting that about 80 of that state's native bird species will experience significant climate-driven reductions in their geographic range over coming decades.
Scientific models indicate that the magnitude of losses in California depends largely on steps taken now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The California Gnatcatcher could lose as much as 56 percent of its range, or as little as 7 percent, depending on how climate change is addressed. Projected range losses for the Bay area's popular Chestnut-backed Chickadee vary from 49 percent to as little as 16 percent.
Detailed GIS maps produced using the California research project where the birds are likely to be in 50 to 100 years. Findings will help policymakers and land managers augment efforts to mitigate the severity of global warming impacts with better habitat conservation investments to address changes that can't be avoided.
"The birds are giving us yet another warning that it's time for urgent action," added Flicker. "People hear about melting glaciers and changing weather, but now they can witness the impact global warming is having with the birds they see or don't see right outside their doors. These birds are our 'canaries in the coal mine' and they're telling us that we'd better do something fast to curb global warming and to protect habitat."
Critical steps citizens can take can be found online at Audubon.org and include signing a national petition demanding aggressive federal policy action. Habitat conservation efforts based on forward looking projections such as those from Audubon California are also essential.
Habitats already under siege from development, energy production and agricultural expansion and other human uses will require enhanced protection and restoration to sustain bird populations and provide ecological benefits essential to human health, economic prosperity and quality of life.
Audubon anticipates that the new avian evidence will help attract the attention and spark action among more than 40 million self-proclaimed U.S. bird-watchers, ten of thousands of whom contributed to the Christmas Bird Count data on which the studies are based. The 109-year-old census provides the world's longest uninterrupted record of bird population trends.
"Citizen Science is allowing us to better recognize the impacts that global warming is having here and now. Only citizen action can help us reduce them," said Butcher.
Monday, February 09, 2009
Bobolinks in Argentina (c)Juan Klavins
Where are all the migratory birds going?
The bobolink, a North American relative of blackbirds, finds its wintering grounds in South America by reading the sun and stars, Earth's landscape and magnetic fields, and polarized light humans can't even see.
This songbird travels 6,000 miles (9,656 kilometers) with no guide—and he's only a few months old...
See entire article
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Monday, February 02, 2009
As appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, January 30, 2009
Living in times of unprecedented climate change has given way to new uncertainties. Every day, new evidence points to fundamental changes in our natural world. Most recently, there is more news that warming temperatures are killing our forests (see Science vol. 323, "Widespread Increase of Tree Mortality Rates in the Western United States").
It's tempting to respond with radical new approaches to forestry beyond our base of knowledge. But a conservative, responsible outlook demands we take a deliberate accounting of what we know and what we can control. And that scientific accounting points decisively toward the most effective option within our control -- increased boreal forest conservation.
Global warming is likely to increase the rate of fires and insect damage in Canada's forests. This will increase the amount of carbon released due to natural events that are beyond our immediate control.
But apart from fire and insects, there are measures that we can readily control. We can reduce forest-related carbon emissions by reducing industrial disturbance in our forests.
Canada's boreal forest plays a unique role in the global carbon equation. Stretching across our north, our boreal forest stores more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem on earth making it the world's largest terrestrial carbon storehouse.
The more we disturb our boreal forest with increased industrial activity, the more stored carbon is released. To mitigate global warming we should be finding ways to decrease carbon released from industrial disturbance, not increase them as some are suggesting.
In a future affected by global warming, our boreal forests have other important roles to play in addition to storing carbon.
Forest birds and wildlife will need to shift their distributions northward in order to survive. This necessary migration will be eased by leaving large northern forest ecosystems intact. Limiting disturbance will help maintain the resiliency of our forests to adapt to global warming.
Last year, I was one of the 1,500 scientists from around the globe who urged Canada's governments to do as much as possible to protect Canada's vast boreal forest. I continue to advise the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, a scientifically driven project of the Pew Charitable Trusts that recommends protection for at least half of Canada's boreal forest.
Scientists worldwide recognize that Canada's boreal forest is one of largest, most intact old-growth forests left on Earth. Rivalling the Amazon rainforest in size and ecological value, the boreal forest provides globally important, irreplaceable ecosystem services. These include tremendous carbon sequestration and storage capacity, vast reserves of fresh water, the world's most extensive wetlands, and habitat for enormous, healthy populations of wildlife, including migratory waterfowl, songbirds and caribou.
There has been much recent progress in parts of Canada to increase protections of the boreal region with commitments to protect tens of millions of acres from industrial disturbance. For example, the government of Ontario recently promised to permanently protect 55 million acres of boreal forest, one of the biggest land protection commitments in history. This commitment was largely motivated by the opportunity to protect the forest's enormous stores of carbon.
As we learn more about global warming, we continue to recognize that decreasing industrial emissions of carbon is always the No. 1 priority. In Canada, we have the additional opportunity and responsibility to be effective carbon stewards by maintaining large areas of our boreal forest off-limits to industrial disturbance.
Protecting our large carbon stocks and other values in our boreal forest is a crucial tool in our fight against the negative impacts of global warming that is readily within our reach.
Andrew Weaver is a professor and Canada Research Chair in climate modelling and analysis at the University of Victoria. He was a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and advises the Pew Charitable Trust's International Boreal Conservation Campaign (www.interboreal.org). His most recent book is Keeping our Cool: Canada in a Warming World.
The Rusty Blackbird Hot Spot Blitz will occur February 7-15, 2009, throughout the Rusty Blackbird winter range (southeast US). Participants will simply be asked to visit locations where they have previously sighted or would expect to encounter Rusty Blackbirds and submit their observations via e-Bird. There are no datasheets or daily time restrictions. You can go wherever you like, whenever you like, and as often as you like anytime between the dates of February 7-15, 2009. We are simply seeking observations on the number of birds present at each location visited, along with very basic habitat information. If you are unfamiliar with areas which may support Rusty Blackbirds in your region, contact the Blitz coordinator for ideas. As a result of these efforts, the RBTWG is hoping to create maps of wintering Rusty Blackbird "hot spots" that will help direct research, monitoring and conservation attention.
If you don't use eBird regularly, please consider entering all your observations of Rusty Blackbirds (even outside the Blitz period). Your observations of will be used by researchers currently studying their steep long-term population decline.
Additional instructions and information on identification, habitat preferences, etc., will soon be posted on the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center's Rusty Blackbird website.
Information and instructions are also available on eBird.
As a breakfaster, Bridget Stutchbury enjoys a good cup of coffee. As an ornithologist who studies songbird migration, she knows her choice of coffee can make survival more difficult for those birds.
Read the Burlington Free Press article
Join us for the VCE-sponsored "Birds & Beans" talk by Bridget Stutchbury, Feb. 5th, 7pm at the Montshire Museum