You "Otter" Know...
Friday, February 27, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Look at this -- a Friday Fun Fact on Friday!!! Small miracles happen every day.

Today's "wow" factor comes from the sea otter, a charming little mammal that inhabits the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California, Alaska, and Siberia. Otters have the thickest fur of any animal in the world and rely solely on that fur for insulation in the chilly aquatic home. They have no blubber beneath their skin, so if that fur becomes slicked down by oil or other contaminants, the unlucky otters will quickly die of exposure.

Otters are the largest members of the weasel family, weighing in between 45-65 lbs in their southern range, but reaching a whopping 100 lbs in the northern reaches of their territory. They also have the distinction of being the only other mammals besides primates to routinely use tools -- I'm sure we all were charmed growing up by footage of sea otters lying on their back in the water, cracking open tasty abalone with rocks.

So this Friday, take a minute to appreciate these fascinating furry beasts -- they are a crucial part of the coastal ecosystem and are still threatened after being driven nearly to extinction by pelt-hunting two hundred years ago. They are constantly at risk from oil slicks and entanglement in nets and fishing gear, so we need to do our best to ensure that the probability of otter encounters with these risks are minimized. They do fall under the jurisdiction of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, which also shelters whales and dolphins. You can help them by adopting an otter through Defenders of Wildlife. You can also learn more and take action throuhg The Otter Project and at
Don't Trash This Bright Idea
Thursday, February 26, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs): great for saving energy and last much longer than conventional lightbulbs. By all means, buy them and use them in the place of the old incandescent bulbs. They even have great natural light now, no more harsh florescent glare.


All CFLs contain mercury, which we all know is bad to release into the environment. It is toxic to humans and animals -- put in landfills, it leaches through the soil into groundwater and you drink it. Once it's in the water, it is also bioavailable to fish and, through the food web, is integrated into their tissues, so when you eat them, you get an extra dose of "quicksilver." Mmmm-mmmm, mercury! Well, crap, you say, what the heck am I supposed to do with the stupid things if they burn out or break then?!

Green Guardian is a great start for any questions on how to dispose of pretty much anything you can think of -- for CFLs, just click on "florescent bulbs" in the dropdown list. Your county will also have an answer for you.

And just in case you're feeling particularly lazy (hey, I don't like working too hard either, you never know when it might kill you!), I've got some ready options for you right here!

(1) Home Depot has a nationwide CFL recycling program, just drop 'em off
(2) Check your local Ace Hardware, availability may vary.
(3) My favourite because you don't even have to leave home: Waste Management's LampTracker program -- they send you cartons, you pack up your bulbs and just mail them back. Think of it as Netflix for CFL's!
What's Up With Water?
Monday, February 23, 2009 | Author: eventer79
You'll hear me talk a lot about water -- things that influence it, creatures that live in it, how we depend on it, how we hurt it. And you may wonder why; "Is she just really thirsty? Did her mother give birth in a lake? Is she part fish?" Well, ok, I am a bit thirsty right now, but in truth, water is not only a part of us, it is a formative force in our lives and without it, we literally could not exist. For the next few days, I will be away at a conference, but I will leave you with these words from my favourite naturalist, William Beebe, to ponder. He transcribed his thoughts in 1934 after reaching record oceanic depths in his explorations of life at ALL elevations.

"One thing we cannot escape--forever afterward, throughout all our life, the memory of the magic of water and its life, of the home which was once our own--this will never leave us."
Go Speed Racer, Go!
Saturday, February 21, 2009 | Author: eventer79
It's time for your Friday Fun Fact! On Saturday! Hey, nobody's perfect....

The world is full of animals, all running, jumping, hiding, crawling, flying, and digging. If you could see them all from space it would probably look like a ball of jumping beans. If beans could jump. But everyone moves at their own pace, some with jaw-dropping speed, some...not so much.

For comparison, the pathetic human being can reach a blazing speed of 4.1 mph in water. Ouch. Swordfish put us to shame, gliding along at a smooth and confident 68 mph.

On land, we do slightly better, leaping to maximum of 24 mph. Hey, at least we are faster than a snail, who cruises through life at 0.000362 mph. Plenty of time to stop and smell the roses!

Even the behemoths leave us in the dust: elephants can run 25 mph in the open and a charging rhino barrels down at 30 mph. We'd have even worse luck with a hungry cheetah who would be whipping past at 70 mph.

No one can hold a candle, though, to the frigate bird. These adrenaline junkies can dive at 260 mph. See ya later, Earnhardt!
Friday, February 20, 2009 | Author: eventer79
So sorry, so sorry for my lapse in posting. Travels, work, they all get in the way of what SHOULD be the most important part of my life -- entertaining YOU!

So back on the 9th of February, I believe I promised you how we could solve a few of the ills of parking lots and their rather catastrophic levels of runoff. Well, look no further, wanderers, for the answer is a simple one: use smart design to let nature do all the work for you for free!

The concept is very simple, as shown by this diagram.

You dig a hole. Install a pipe that is an underdrain for excess. Dump in some gravel, some nice sandy/loamy stuff on top of that that drains well. Then plant some native plants that like living in soggy places. Voila! Lovely stormwater control that filters AND drains water far better and much more prettily than any conventional engineered solution!

We are all used to the stupid useless landscaped islands that are standard issue for parking lots -- some pine straw or mulch with a thirsty looking tree or some scruffy bushes sitting there. They are usually elevated above the lot surface and mounded so that little if any water is actually absorbed by plants and soil. Each one a collassal waste of time and money.

You can easily and cheaply install a raingarden in the place of each of these during initial construction or retrofit later. Key elements: (1) The elevation of the soil surface must be slightly lower than the lot itself. (2) Vegetation must be appropriate for wet environments so it doesn't drown. (3) Curbs must be notched to allow water entry into each patch of raingarden. To the right is a great example of parking lot application.

So why aren't these already all over the place if they are so easy?? Simple: developers and engineers seem to be rabidly afraid of change, even when it saves them money and looks better. The train of thought appears to be that the way things must be done is the way they have been done for the past 30 or 40 years. But you don't have to stand for this. Call or email your local government, city planner, county commissioner and ask that these raingardens be required in all new development. They are an effective and beautiful addition to residential lots too; you can easily add one to your own yard, let your creativity run wild and set an example for your community. Wouldn't you love to have this beautiful garden in your yard? I sure would!

I'll Be Back....
Thursday, February 19, 2009 | Author: eventer79
(That was supposed to be read in an ominous Terminator voice) I'll have new posts soon, I SWEAR! I'm just swamped with meetings and prepping for a conference this week. I have not forgotten you, wanderers (all three or four of you...)!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Ok, ok, so I promised I would solve the world's parking lot problems in my next post but frankly, it is late and that is wayyyyyy to much like work for right now, so you'll just have to wait until my NEXT post to satisfy your undying curiosity. I know it will be hard to stem your enthusiasm until then, but do try, for both of our sakes.

In the meantime, I will drop a plug for my favourite society, both professionally and personally. The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) is an international conservation organization that puts out a wealth of information and connects conservation scientists all over the world. I had the priveledge of attending and speaking at their annual conference last year and it was simply awe-inspiring. For a few brief days, I truly felt my place as a part of a global effort to protect all things bright and beautiful, as it were. I also felt a huge wave of relief and gratitude that there were so many compassionate, talented, and enthusiastic people giving their heart and soul even though they may never hear a single "thank you" from the masses. And that was enough to get me through another year in the trenches!

In addition to their professional journal, SCB also puts out a phenomenal magazine for broader public consumption. I highly, highly recommend it and can honestly say that I have never gotten through an issue without saying "Wow, no way!" at least once!!

(And yes, I DO steal topic ideas shamelessly from them, so deal with it!)

A Monday Minute
Monday, February 09, 2009 | Author: eventer79
The week begins again and my brain already has its gears grinding in neutral. I have been wanting to start a feature on here inspired by Fugly Horse of the Day's "Friday Featured Rescue" spot, only instead of torturously charming rescue prospects, I offer you Friday Fun Facts. However, since I have a fun fact now and it's Monday, I don't care and I'm going to give it to you anyway!

One inch of rain falling on one acre of native, forested land produces zero runoff. That water is absorbed into the soil and vegetation where it is filtered and returned to groundwater and streams until it evaporated by a plant or sucked up by you to drink (after being treated with your stunning new UV filtration system, of course!).

One inch of rain falling on one acre of concrete produces a little over 27,000 gallons of runoff. Just stop for a second and think about how much water that is: 102,206 one liter water bottles all dumped out at the same time. 772 bathtubs full of water all getting the plug pulled at once. That's a crapload of water, folks!! In many cases, this is funneled into storm drains which then drain directly into streams (no, they do NOT, in most cases, connect to the sewer system). This water carries with it all the chemicals, sediments, and other pollutants it has picked up as it flows across the concrete, including copper from brake pad dust, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's, a carcinogen) from exhaust, oils and antifreeze from leaks, pesticides from yards, etc. All these goodies shoot straight into your water supply completely unfiltered along with a massive quantity of water that is guaranteed to erode the banks off of whatever unlucky stream is its recipient, unleashing a whole host of new problems that will need their own post!

Moral of the story: concrete BAD, native vegetation GOOD (note, fescue grass is NOT native vegetation). Planted swales along street sides GOOD, curb and gutter BAD (we will explore that more in the future as well). Forests GOOD, shopping malls, big box stores, and ginormous parking lots with no opportunities for soil infiltration BAD.

Obviously, much as I desire it, we cannot get rid of all the parking lots and warehouse-sized buildings in the world. Sigh. But we can make them MUCH more functional and MUCH less damaging. It's all about good design. And you'll just have to stay tuned until the next post to find out!

Here's a hint until next time:

Water, Water Everywhere...
Friday, February 06, 2009 | Author: eventer79
…yet you should pause before you drink.

I have about 412 water-related issues I want to address, but today, prompted by a friend’s helpful tip on Facebook, I want to talk about water treatment, i.e. the process of making streamwater (yup, this is where all your drinking water comes from) into the tapwater that you drink (bottled water included since it is just water that came out of a tap somewhere else, another topic for another day).

By my count, there are basically four ways to treat your water.
(1) Municipal water treatment done at plants off your property.
(2) If you have a well, a filtration system coming into your house
(3) Sink mounted filters
(4) Pitcher filters

We will be discussing primarily option 1. Ok, we won’t really be discussing it, I will just be telling you about it!

Today, probably 99% of municipalies (towns, counties, cities) use chlorine in combination with mechanical filtration to treat their water. Chlorine sucks and I will tell you why.

(1) It is an archaic method of treating water. We are using technology that originated over 150 years ago, even though there are cleaner, safer, and more cost-efficient options out there.
(2) Chlorine is a toxic gas. It causes choking, vomiting, lung damage, and at high enough concentrations, death. Yummy.
(3) When you put chlorine in water (i.e. water treatment), it breaks down into byproducts including trihalomethanes (THMs) which are carcinogenic and can cause spontaneous abortion. Other byproducts, bromate, chlorite, and haloacetic acids increase cases of bladder and rectal cancer (boy, doesn’t that sound fun!), can cause anemia in children, degrade nervous system function in adults, and create kidney and liver problems. Double yummy!
(4) Chlorine is toxic to aquatic life, so when chlorinated water runs out of wastewater treatment plants into streams (which it generally does), the critters living in that stream go belly up – fish, mussels, snails, insects, crayfish, it’s a little holocaust.
(5) Over time, chlorine produces a buildup in water lines that clogs and damages pipes. Guess how this is usually addressed? Flush super-high concentrations of more chlorine through it!

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough for me to say I don’t want this crap anywhere near my water and neither should anyone who wants to avoid lovely experiences like vomiting, loss of nerve function, and ass cancer. In addition, numerous studies have shown that chlorine is not very effective at destroying viruses and of course does NOTHING for pharmaceuticals (oh, you wouldn’t believe what kinds of drugs you’re drinking, wastewater treatment does NOT remove them from water), heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs – hint, things you don’t want to ingest). So the only thing it really is doing (in a piss-poor way) is killing bacteria.

Shrieking in horror, you are now calling your city hall and demanding to know why they are trying to kill you with water (Yeah!!! Way to take action!!!). However, in order to be taken seriously, you must present a viable option. Happily, you have a GREAT one to offer!

Ultraviolet light. UV treatment is slowly building momentum in the wastewater treatment field and is more and more often used to treat well water on-property. Pretty sad considering the technology has been around at least 50 years and is very well-documented. The way it works: multiple UV tubes (think florescent office lights) emitting a specialized frequency are enclosed in sleeves. Water is pumped through the sleeves so that everything is exposed to the light and bacteria and viruses are effectively wiped out. Their DNA is scrambled and all hope for them is lost. You do a happy dance.

Now, in order for this to work, the water must be clear and free of sediments so the light can penetrate it and reach all the nasty bits, so pre-filtration through some kind of mechanical filter is usually required. Installation costs are relatively low and any gaps are rapidly closing because since the ‘70’s, rising energy costs (producing chlorine is VERY energy intensive), freight costs and safety issues have bumped up the price of chlorine steadily. Other reasons UV rocks:
(1) No chemicals are put in the water or used during production = no chemical safety hazard. No byproducts, no associated health risks.
(2) Treatment occurs VERY quickly, almost instantaneously, no soaking or retention time is required, so efficiency is increased.
(3) No wildlife kills, unless you count bacteria as wildlife and well, sorry bacteria, I don’t want to drink you.
(4) Not only do you take out bacteria, but you also take out viruses, molds, yeasts, fungi, nematode (worm) eggs, and algae. Yes, all things that are highly undesirable to find in one’s water glass.
(5) No extra cost whether you treat 10 gallons or 10,000 gallons.
(6) It doesn’t stink or taste bad.

I know which one I vote for! So, wanderers, let your city officials know! The facts are out there and if you need more information, just google “UV water treatment” and a wealth of knowledge and reliable cited research is at your fingertips. Push hard and don’t let lazy municipalities with engineers stuck in the dark ages slowly poison you because change is so harrrrrdddddd! Call them up and give them the kick in the ass they need!

Take a Bite Out of...Your Footprint
Tuesday, February 03, 2009 | Author: eventer79

It's hard to be insightful, educational, and entertaining when running on exhaustion and dark chocolate M&M's (Best. Invention. Ever). So I will totally cheat and just point you towards someone else's hard work! Check out Ideal Bite: this snappy little service not only gives you a website full of ideas, but will send you a daily email full of tips on how to live just a little more gently and a little less high on the eco-smashing-hog. I get their emails and they are short, sweet, to the point and even if they aren't always something I necessarily want to run out and do right away (I was all OVER the junk mail manager, didn't give a damn about organic makeup since I'm not in the habit of putting much crap on my face anyway...), they are always interesting and more than once have directed me towards something cool and new I would never have found on my own. My favourite part is that the topic varies wildly by the day and many suggestions are very doable, even for a despicably poor person such as myself. So wander over and poke around, you just might find something handy!
From the Well of Wisdom
Monday, February 02, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Years ago, my grandmother gave me a book of the writings of May Sarton (From May Sarton's Well), a writer and poet whose like I have not encountered since. I must have been in high school then and I remember reading through her words, graced with the photography of Edith Royce Schade, and feeling like someone had interpreted part of my soul. Sarton had a deep love for the natural world, as well as an uncanny insight into the workings of human thought and emotion. Her words were at once inspiring, challenging, and haunting and several passages have stuck with me over the years. One in particular I wanted to share with you evoked a sharp longing for what I desired for my own life:

I would like to believe when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows seeds every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not loss, it is adding to future life. It is the tree's way of being. Strongly rooted perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind.

May we all have the grace and generosity to live as the trees do and add to the future by conserving the beauty that surrounds us in the present.