Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): habitat

From satellites to artificial intelligence, how tech will change conservation as we know it

Wyoming is known for its panoramic landscapes, jagged mountains, and herds of pronghorn and bison. This imagery is associated with parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. But not all of Wyoming's landscapes are encapsulated in iconic national parks.

In southern Wyoming, the continental divide splits to form an enormous arid basin marked by vast sand dunes and grey, alkali lakes. The largest unfenced area in the lower 48, this region is known by Wyomingites as the Red Desert.

The Red Desert stretches across 4 million acres in south central Wyoming. It is home to the largest herd of pronghorn in the continental U.S., the largest desert elk herd, and the longest migrating mule deer herd in North America. Nearly three quarters of the area is covered by sagebrush grassland, and sage-grouse leks are present in much of the region. In the Red Desert's northeastern corner, a series of alkali lakes known as the Chain Lakes provide critical wetland oasis for migrating shorebirds like ducks, trumpeter swans and white pelicans.

What differentiates the Red Desert from Wyoming's other iconic landscapes is the rapidly increasing land use for energy development.

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How the farm bill helps landowners and wildlife thrive together

This week, the Senate advanced a farm bill that includes many important provisions for conservation on America’s working farms, ranches and forestlands. Among these provisions is language codifying the Working Lands for Wildlife program that helps farmers and ranchers restore habitat for at-risk wildlife. It’s the first time the program has been formally recognized in the farm bill.

Thanks to the work of private landowners, conservation groups, tribes, and state and government agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in September 2015 to remove the New England cottontail from the endangered species candidate list due to recovery. (Photo credit: Brian Tefft, Principal Wildlife Biologist at Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife.)

Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service program, USDA provides technical and financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily make improvements to wildlife habitat on their property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pairs this with regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s a win-win approach for improving agricultural productivity while enhancing habitat for wildlife.

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Posted in Endangered Species Act, Habitat, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

How can communities get the most from investing in nature?

In places like Nevada, ranching has been a way of life for generations, and industries like mining provide key drivers of economic growth and community stability. But these landscapes also hold economic, historical and cultural values tied to the health and stewardship of natural resources.

The same is true for other communities across the country that are striving to address growing needs for infrastructure, economic growth, clean air and safe drinking water.

Balancing community resiliency, economic stability and stewardship of natural resources is no easy task. But a new funding mechanism is gaining traction on the ground in key places, providing proving grounds for how communities can make cost-effective investments in their futures. Read More »

Posted in Coasts, Ecosystems, Habitat Exchange / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

To help the environment, we must first help people

Author Audrey Archer explores her natural surroundings and assesses need for conservation practices

Now living in Austin, Texas where diverse wildlands are numerous and easily accessible, Audrey takes any opportunity she can get to put on her hiking boots and explore her natural surroundings. She also volunteers with the City of Austin to give guided hikes on preserves. Credit: Rob Binder

I grew up in the high and dry panhandle plains of Texas, where trees are scarce, wind is always blowing, and the smell of feedlots lingers in the air. Needless to say, I was not overly inspired by my surroundings – at least not at the time I lived there.

Had I not traveled with my family growing up, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. Throughout these travels, I became enraptured by the biodiversity and lushness of other ecosystems and felt compelled to learn as much as I could about them.

But the stark contrast between some of the natural ecosystems and working landscapes I was exposed to led me to develop a pretty pessimistic view of humans’ impact on the environment. Surely, there had to be a better way of balancing human needs for things like food, water and shelter with nature’s needs.

Determined to tackle this problem, I got my Master’s in Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and took a job at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), where I had heard that scientists and economists were developing incentive programs for landowners to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore habitat for at-risk wildlife.

Little did I know my worldview was about to be turned upside down.

Putting people first Read More »

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Three threats to the monarch butterfly’s winter habitat and what we can do about it

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree.

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree. Photo credit: Pablo Leautaud (license)

Just as some people travel great distances to spend the holiday season with family and friends, monarch butterflies, too, make a long journey to spend the winter gathered together in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico.

The eastern population passes through Oklahoma and Texas on its annual migration south, stopping periodically to fuel up on nectar, ultimately reaching their destination in the mountains of central Mexico.

Unfortunately, the monarch’s winter home is under stress, which has contributed to a 90-percent decline in the species’ population over the last two decades. Read More »

Posted in Ecosystems, Habitat, Habitat Exchange / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Read 7 Responses

Will Trump’s victory defeat the environment? It’s time to rally around shared values

Farmers and ranchers across the country value the benefits of environmental protectionsLike all Americans, I woke up on November 9 to a new reality: A few more Democrats in Congress, and yes, a President-elect who promised to dismantle our nation’s core environmental protections.

Though the overwhelming majority of rural counties voted for Donald Trump, I do not believe they voted to increase air and water pollution or jeopardize wildlife.

We live in amazing times. Compared to 40 years ago, our environment is healthier, even as our economy has grown 300 percent.

But 40 years is a long time ago, and it’s easy to forget that progress didn’t happen overnight. It took Republican and Democratic administrations to put our bedrock environmental protections in place so the rules laid out in them could be enforced. These laws include:

  • A wildlife protection act that brought our national symbol, the bald eagle, back from the brink of extinction.
  • A clean air act that has helped to reduce smog and acid rain that was threatening our children’s health and killing our forests.
  • A water quality act that has cleaned up our rivers so they may never catch fire again. (Yes, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted that it ignited in 1969.)

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Posted in Ecosystems, Habitat, Habitat Exchange, Partnerships, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Despite a new political landscape, landscape conservation commitments remain

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

Sagebrush landscape in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

The presidential election has changed the political landscape both nationally and in the states we work. As we continue to make sense of the changes, what hasn’t changed is the commitment of many state leaders – Republicans and Democrats – to protecting our nation’s treasured landscapes.

In Nevada, the state just made a second wave of funding available to Nevada landowners who enhance and restore high-quality habitat for greater sage-grouse. This funding supplements an initial $1 million made available earlier this year to fund the first four credit projects through the Nevada Conservation Credit System (CCS).

Nevada created the CCS to keep the greater sage-grouse off the Endangered Species List and to provide a robust, efficient mitigation program for industries seeking to offset impacts to the imperiled bird’s habitat. Under the system, landowners sell credits to industries needing to mitigate future disturbances to the bird’s habitat in order to receive permits from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Read More »

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California’s new law means more bang for every buck invested in wildlife

The Swainson's hawk was listed as a threatened species in California in 1983 due to loss of habitat and decreased numbers across the state.

The Swainson's hawk is one of the at-risk species that AB 2087 benefits.

Prudent investors know to keep a few key things in mind. They anticipate the timing of spending priorities, like retirement, and evaluate investment risk accordingly. They might spread resources across funds to meet different objectives. And of course, they look to maximize their return on investment.

Why shouldn’t these same principles apply to investments in our natural resources?

Thanks to a new bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, these principles will now apply to regional conservation investment strategies for wildlife and other resource management activities in California.

AB 2087: A new approach to conservation planning and mitigation

Assembly Bill (AB) 2087 (Levine), will establish voluntary, non-regulatory strategies to help conservationists, local agencies and the state apply core investment principles when planning conservation or mitigation projects.

This legislation comes at a critical time. Expanding development in California has supported a growth in food production, flood protection, transportation and housing, but it has also resulted in various impacts on the environment. The loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat, in particular, has created a need for the state to restore and maintain at least 600,000 acres for multiple at-risk species in the coming decades. Read More »

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The snake at the crux of California's wildlife challenge, and the policy that can solve it

Giant garter snake

Giant garter snake (license)

Enter the giant garter snake. The giant garter snake is an aquatic species native to California and a federally-listed “threatened” species that largely persists today – along with many other critters – in the vast acreage of Central Valley rice fields and water distribution canals.

In the past, seasonal floods would transform California’s Central Valley into a great inland sea of floodplain habitats teeming with fish and wildlife, including the giant garter snake.

Over time, development of the flood and irrigation systems that enabled the Central Valley’s $17 billion agricultural economy has led to the destruction of 95 percent of the region’s historic wetlands, putting countless California wildlife at risk of extinction.

For example, ongoing flood system operations and maintenance activities—required to protect farms and communities in the floodplain—continue to disrupt giant garter snake habitat. What’s more, when drought or fallowing reduces water deliveries to rice growers, the snake’s remaining habitat can dry up.

We need a better way to protect and restore habitat for wildlife like the giant garter snake, before it's too late.

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Posted in Ecosystems, Habitat, Habitat Exchange, Water / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 5 Responses

What if God wants the lesser prairie-chicken to go extinct?

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

A version of this piece previously ran as an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

A few years ago, I was invited by Texas farmer David Cleavinger to visit his family’s farm near Amarillo. This was during a period of time when my organization, Environmental Defense Fund, was deeply involved in conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken, a colorful bird whose habitat is in decline throughout its five-state range, which includes the panhandle of Texas.

David picked me up at the airport and asked if we could make a quick stop on the way to his farm. That stop turned out to be at local radio station KGNC, where David had arranged for me to go on air and talk about wildlife conservation with a particular focus on the local implications for efforts to revive the lesser prairie-chicken.

I agreed to join the show with some trepidation, but it quickly subsided as we got into a lively discussion with the host, James Hunt, and several listeners. Toward the end of my appearance, a caller asked a surprising and provocative question – What if God wants the prairie-chicken to go extinct? Read More »

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