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June 30, 2007

It'a All in the Comeback

Just in time for the Fourth of July, the bald eagle is back:

The American bald eagle marked a four-decade fight for survival Thursday as the government declared the bird - a national symbol - no longer requires the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act.

"Today I am proud to announce the eagle has returned," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proclaimed at a ceremony near the Jefferson Memorial.

The Interior Department made the recovery official by removing the eagle from the list of threatened species under the species protection law. The bird had been reclassified from endangered to threatened in 1995.

Today there are nearly 10,000 bald eagles in the contiguous 48 states, compared to a documented 417 in 1963 when the bird was on the verge of extinction everywhere except in Alaska and Canada where it has continued to thrive.

Aside from the symbolic aspects of a thriving national symbol, this is good news in and of itself -- the resurgence of this species bodes well for North American biodiversity overall.

Although the US is routinely disrespected in the international arena for our non-compliance with Kyoto, we are, in point of fact, the birthplace of the environmental movement. 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt took the unprecedented step of designating more than 150 national forests -- some 230 million acres of protected land. He also vastly expanded the amount of land devoted to national parks, a project begun much earlier by Andrew Jackson and furthered along by Abraham Lincoln.

Conservation is an extremely important component in the environmental movement, and I'm pleased that the US has been a leading -- if not radical -- player in introducing the idea of conservation to the world. But another important component -- possibly more important -- is recovery.

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When I was a kid, we were told in school that bison and bald eagles were on their way out -- that we would live to see that last of their kind. A few years ago, my brother and I got fishing passes via lottery to some very lovely lakes in an area that used to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal -- once widely described as the most toxic patch of ground on earth. The Arsenal land became a protected wildlife refuge in part because it was discovered that it was nesting grounds for a thriving population of bald eagles. A herd of bison was recently introduced there as well. Speaking of bison, I should also point out that -- dire predictions aside -- I can get in my car and drive 20 minutes to Buffalo Overlook, which provides nice view into a valley where one of Colorado's many herds of these magnificent animals live.

Conservation and prevention are a big part of the environmental story; recovery is the other. We're bringing endangered species back. We're seeing to it that our rivers no longer catch fire. When the time comes for real solutions to global warming and elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere -- not just political posturing -- I believe the US will be at the forefront of implementing them. Here's one idea for how to deal with that actual warming. Here are several thoughts on what we might do about CO2 levels (here, too.) And, of course, that's assuming that something needs to be done. Sometimes a certain amount of recovery is built in.

January 27, 2007

Sea Monsters Live!

Who needs a fake...

lochnessmonster.jpg

...when you can have the real thing? Here in the city of Tokyo (where business travel has brought me for a few days) there have been recent sitings of a rare prehistoric creature, the frilled shark. Unlike Nessie, the frilled shark is unquestionably real. Thought to have been long extinct, the species was found in the 19th century to be alive and well and living in the (deep) waters in the vicinity of Japan.

According to Wikipedia, these monstrous, eel-like fish live at depths of 120 to nearly 1300 meters deep. (That's well over half a mile for the metric-resistant.) So when a specimen showed up in a harbor south of Tokyo earlier this week, an alert fisherman was quick to notify the management of a nearby marine park. Photgraphers from the park managed to get some excellent phots of the shark before it (unfortunately) died, probably because it couldn't handle life in shallow water.

Check this thing out:

Frilled_shark.jpg

It's too bad we lost this one, but it's encouraging to realize that we live on a planet that supports such incredible diversity of life. It's also good to know that these things are usually found only in the very deep water. I, for one, wouldn't want to run into one while snorkeling in water 10-15 feet deep.

So here's to the frilled shark. My trip to Japan can only get better if Godzilla himself shows up.