Endangered species

Selection cutting: Panacea or damage in disguise?

Selection cutting: Panacea or damage in disguise?

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 10/26/17

t’s not difficult to convey the environmental impacts of clear-cut logging; just look at the big, ugly bald patches of scarred earth after a clear-cut and you get it. But too often, an alternative to clear-cutting — known as selection logging — is offered as a panacea. Wow, it looks so much better than a clear-cut, especially when you’re looking at photos taken by timber companies doing the logging.

But if you get down into the weeds, so to speak, as forest scientists do, you start finding that selection logging also has problems…they’re just not as visible. One of the biggest problems of selection logging is the ground disturbance from the haul roads and skid trails cut into the forest to take the trees out.

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California state parks do more than provide public recreation

California state parks do more than provide public recreation

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 8/17/17

Have you noticed all the mountain bikes strapped on cars traveling over Highway 17, especially on weekends? Demand for biking and other forms of recreation in the public spaces of Santa Cruz County is steadily increasing and much of that demand is coming from “over the hill” in the San Francisco Bay Area. Apparently, people increasingly need to escape from the stress of living in Silicon Valley.

At the same time, California State Parks has cut way back on acquiring new parklands in Santa Cruz County and throughout the state, following a complete reorganization of state parks beginning in 2013.

As demand steadily increases for recreation, sometimes people forget that state parks — as well as county and city parks and other public spaces — were originally set aside to do more than provide trails for public recreation. They were also established as natural areas to preserve habitat for other lifeforms and to ensure that natural processes — part of our planet’s life support system — function properly.

 

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Is wilderness real? Is it worth restoring?

Is wilderness real? Is it worth restoring?

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

posted in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 7/27/2017

One evening last fall I nearly had a panic attack as I read the now famous 2003 article, “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” by Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher at the University of Oxford. Bostrom’s theory has convinced many physicists and futuristic thinkers like Elon Musk that the natural world — the Universe — is actually a computer simulation created by some advanced post-human civilization. I’m not exactly a sci-fi aficionado and I had to force myself to watch “The Matrix,” but Bostrom made a strong, logical argument that for a brief moment shook my life-long belief that nature is the baseline for everything else that exists.

As an environmentalist, I’ve always held to the notion held by deep ecologists that wild nature, as it evolved through the eons, needs to be preserved as the foundation for life on the planet. Wilderness areas (Earth’s least disturbed places) are a priceless storehouse of our planet’s biodiversity. We need to protect wilderness — or else humans, along with other species that we share the planet with — will perish.

 

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Conservation group’s winning strategy to protect island communities

Conservation group’s winning strategy to protect island communities

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 3/16/2017

Seacology, a Berkeley-based non-profit, got its start in 1990 when the island of Samoa’s government ordered the remote village of Falealupo to either build a new school house or lose its state-funded teachers. Desperate to continue their children’s educations, the cash-strapped community saw only one way out: Sell the logging rights to the 30,000-acre ancestral rainforest surrounding the village.

It just so happened that Dr. Paul Cox, an American ethnobotanist, was conducting field research in that same rainforest when he learned of the villagers’ dilemma. Shortly afterwards, Cox made a proposal to Falealupo’s leaders: If he could raise the money to build the new school, would the village agree to forever protect its surrounding forest?

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Cuba natural areas: From rainforests to desert islands

 Cuba natural areas: From rainforests to desert islands

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 2/24/17

Turkey vultures soar above in clear blue skies as I write from a hotel lobby on one of the 2,500 islands in the Jardines del Rey Archipelago off the north coast of Cuba. It’s day 13 of a 16-day tour focused on Cuba’s natural areas.

Our small group has been waiting here four hours to check in. Hotels in Cuba — even those billed as “four star” — seem completely overwhelmed by the booming influx of tourists from all over the world. Plumbing often leaks, Wi-Fi is sporadic at best, lights flicker, toilet seats are commonly missing, and towel racks dangle from the walls. But never mind, the music is infectious, the beer and rum flow freely, and the Cuban people are relaxed and friendly.

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Calling all earthlings: Planet at the crossroads

Calling all earthlings: Planet at the crossroads

I spent the past 10 days in Honolulu with some 9,500 conservationists from 192 countries, attending the IUCN Worldwide Conservation Congress, “the most important conference going on in the world today, but most people don’t know about it,” according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

“We tend to think that the biggest threat is ISIS or interest rates ... amazing that we don’t think about the state of our biosphere,” Friedman added.

Conference attendees didn’t need any convincing. The 2016 conference theme “Planet at the Crossroads” highlighted the urgent need to change humankind’s path toward irreversible climate change and unprecedented species extinction.

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A glimpse of Galápagos life before man intervened

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 4/28/16

 The author next to a Galapagos giant tortoise in the wild on Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

The author next to a Galapagos giant tortoise in the wild on Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

In month 10 of my yearlong trip around the world, I flew from Quito, Ecuador, 600 miles west to the tiny Pacific island of Baltra in the Galápagos Islands. From Baltra, I took a spectacular cruise on a 75-foot catamaran, exploring six of the islands.

On this eight-day voyage, I was thrilled by the unique natural beauty of this volcanic archipelago. I also learned about some egregious human impacts that have taken a big toll here and the extraordinary efforts underway to reverse them.

The Galápagos, of course, are famed as the site of Charles Darwin’s epic 1835 journey on Captain Robert Fitzroy’s HMS Beagle. The strange wildlife endemic to this place — most notably Galapágos finches and giant tortoises — started Darwin’s wheels turning about natural selection and led to his eventual publication of “The Origin of Species.”

My longtime fascination with the Galápagos is shared with some 150,000 tourists who visit each year. Since 1959, most of the entire land mass of the Galápagos Islands was designated as a national park and as a World Heritage Site protected area. So, tourism is regulated, especially extended cruises, where trips to each island are professionally guided and well-coordinated.

Most of the islands still seem pristine and are incredibly beautiful. We hiked across huge spreads of black Pahoe-Hoe lava dotted with cacti. We got up close to some of the rarest birds in the world, including red-footed boobies, Galápagos finches and flightless cormorants. We plodded alongside huge Galápagos giant tortoises and land iguanas in the wild.

 A marine iguana on Isla Santiago, Galapagos Islands.

A marine iguana on Isla Santiago, Galapagos Islands.

We snorkeled with sea lions, penguins, and Pacific green turtles and walked among hundreds of marine iguanas piled up on the beach like stacks of pancakes.

But, as our guide carefully explained, the monumental efforts now in place to conserve biodiversity on the Galápagos got a late start.

When the first Europeans landed in the Galápagos in 1535, there were no humans living there. The islands’ remoteness, inhospitable terrain and scarcity of water would have made permanent settlement very difficult indeed.

In the 1700s, the Galápagos became a frequent port for whalers, because of the islands’ proximity to prime sperm whale habitat.

In the 1800s, whalers aggressively sought out the slow-moving Galápagos giant tortoise as a food source. Because these reptiles can survive for months without food or water, they could be easily be kept alive on board ship before ending up in the stew pot.

Whalers took more than 100,000 giant tortoises from the islands. As tortoise populations plummeted, whalers looked for a new food source. They released a few goats to one of the islands, intending to return periodically to hunt them.

But the goats, without any natural predators, quickly reached a population of 100,000 that devastated the island’s native flora needed by the tortoises — another step down the path to extinction.

Similar stories have played out throughout the Galápagos with goats, dogs, pigs — and lately, a fly maggot — all continuously being imported by people and wreaking havoc on native ecosystems.

In 1959, when the Galápagos Islands was declared a World Heritage site, UNESCO partnered with the Charles Darwin Foundation to fund research, conservation, and education strategies to protect endemic species of the islands.

Since then, the Galápagos Islands have attracted top conservation scientists and witnessed some of the most extraordinary invasive species eradication projects anywhere. For example, Project Isabela, overseen by Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation, has eradicated feral goats and pigs from Santiago and Isabela islands.

While tourist dollars help fund conservation efforts, tourists also unwittingly import new invasive species every year. If you go, be prepared to have your baggage inspected!

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is taking a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Flying like a bird to support forest restoration

by Betsy Herbert

Earth Matters column, published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 01/22/16

 Contributed This zip-wire tour aims to educate visitors on the disappearing birds of New Zealand.

Contributed This zip-wire tour aims to educate visitors on the disappearing birds of New Zealand.

Up 120 feet in the forest canopy last week, I launched off a platform surrounding a towering 1,000-year-old kauri tree in Dansey Forest, Roturua, New Zealand. Holding onto my harness straps, I pushed off with my feet, surrendered my weight to the zipline, and went flying 720 feet through the treetops. About halfway through the flight, I let go of the harness, leaned back and spread out my arms. Exhilarating!

I had a little help of course. I was part of a group of 10 zipliners led by guides Scott and Kathy, locals employed by nonprofit Rotorua Canopy Tours.

During our three-hour adventure, we whizzed over .75 miles of ziplines, traversed three swinging bridges, and hung out on five tree platforms, all the while learning about the plight of New Zealand’s native birds and the group’s ongoing efforts to help them survive. By the time the tour ended, I was glad to know that a portion of my ticket price would be invested in supporting these efforts.

Kathy explained that 51 bird species endemic to New Zealand including the moa and other flightless birds are now extinct, while many other species are in decline. Because New Zealand birds evolved in isolation when there were no existing land mammals to prey on them, they never developed natural defenses needed to fend off introduced mammals.

While humans hunted the moa and other large birds, the nail in the coffin for many extinct bird species was the introduction of exotic mammals such as the possum, rat and stoat (a type of weasel). Fur traders introduced the possum because of its value in pelts, the rat came into New Zealand as a stowaway on ships, and the stoat was introduced in hopes that it would prey on rabbits, which were themselves introduced earlier with prolifically tragic results.

Some of the favorite foods of the possum are the new growth on New Zealand’s native trees and the eggs of its native birds. There are now some 30 million possums in New Zealand, so their impact is astounding.

The rat also likes to eat native birds, as well as the seeds and fruits of the native trees, inhibiting their ability to propagate. Perhaps worst of all is the stoat; once introduced to New Zealand, the stoat lost its taste for rabbits and instead took to preying on native birds, especially the kiwi, New Zealand’s national icon.

As all of these exotic mammals were being introduced, New Zealand’s native forests were being decimated by logging and slowly replaced with introduced tree species like Monterey pine, which is now the country’s leading commercial timber tree. As native forests were replaced with exotic tree plantations or converted to farmland, the habitat of New Zealand’s native birds took a huge hit.

What could be done to turn this around? The founders of Rotorua Canopy Tours, James Fitzgerald and Andrew Blackford, decided to create a successful eco-tourism business to support the active trapping and killing of possums, rats and stoats on this 1,235 acre Dansey Forest to bring back native bird populations. The group joined into a partnership with the New Zealand Department of Conservation, which owns the land.

Their efforts have paid off. After testing different kinds of traps, the company now has installed more than 1,000 instant kill and humane traps in the forest. To date, 10 percent of the Dansey Forest is free from these exotic predators. Zipliners can now hear the birdsongs of the native North Island robin, the tomtit, tui, and the kaka, which are returning to the forest.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is on a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Western Australia: Dolphins, dead ‘roos, and dazzling coastline

by Betsy Herbert

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 12/17/2015

 Limestone columns rise from the yellow dunes of Pinnacles in Nambung National Park (photo by Betsy Herbert)

Limestone columns rise from the yellow dunes of Pinnacles in Nambung National Park (photo by Betsy Herbert)

Just 10 days ago I was lazing on the beach in Phuket, Thailand, reflecting on my travels over the past three months in Africa and Asia. The next day I boarded a plane in Bangkok, headed for Perth, Australia.

Ah, Australia! I’d be able to drink tap water without worrying about getting sick. I was also looking forward to renting a car. In Africa and Asia, driving a rental car would have been suicidal for a Westerner.

Decades ago, I’d lived in Australia for about seven months, so I’d visited Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, Alice Springs, Uluru and Darwin.

This time I wanted to see parts of Australia I’d missed before, so I started in Perth and drove up Indian Ocean Road and Route 60, along the sparsely populated Turquoise and Batavia coasts. The roads in this part of Western Australia are well maintained and there is little traffic other than huge “road trains” of triple-trailer trucks.

Countless turnouts allowed me to observe the astounding desert and coastal landscapes here. The Pinnacles rock formations in Nambung National Park rise out of bright yellow sand dunes. Further north, the natural bridges of Kilbarri National Park rival those of Utah. But in this part of Australia, the red rocks contrast spectacularly with blinding-white sandy beaches and the crystal clear blue-green Indian Ocean. To add to the eye-candy, many of the shrubs of the coastal heath, including hakea and banksia were still blooming, thanks to some late spring rains.

 Natural bridge at Kilbarri National Park, Western Australia (photo by Betsy Herbert)

Natural bridge at Kilbarri National Park, Western Australia (photo by Betsy Herbert)

I was saddened that the only kangaroos I saw on this trip were dead ones; the roadkill was shockingly plentiful. On one 50-kilometer stretch I saw at least 10 dead ‘roos on the side of the road. Almost every car in these parts has a hefty grill protector mounted across its front.

After another 400 kilometers, I crossed the 26th Parallel, which officially marks the boundary of Australia’s Northern Territory. Soon after, I reached Shark Bay, a World Heritage Area, where the world’s largest spread of sea grass provides wonderful habitat for dolphins, dugongs, loggerhead turtles, green sea turtles, tiger sharks, and manta rays, to mention a few well-known megafauna.

Monkey Mia, a beach at Sharks Bay, is renowned for its daily visits from wild bottlenose dolphins. The park rangers there can identify each individual dolphin by the scars and outline of its dorsal fin.

I took a half-day cruise on Shotover, a 60-foot racing catamaran, which is now used for sea life spotting expeditions in Shark Bay. Our boat was accompanied at times by pods of dolphins, most of whom first mate Kate knew by name. We also caught glimpses of dugongs and green sea turtles.

Shark Bay is like a living laboratory where you can view the Earth’s oldest surviving organisms, the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. Stromatolites are limestone structures resembling meter-wide cow pies. Each is formed over thousands of years by single-celled blue-green algae, which thrive in extremely salty water.

Though they’ve been around for some 3,500 million years, stromatolites still survive at Hamelin Pool only because of the high salinity of the bay here. These conditions are created by Shark Bay’s huge seagrass meadows, which form sand bars and shallow bays where water evaporates quickly in the hot dry climate allowing salt to build up.

No wonder Shark Bay is a World Heritage Area!

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is on a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Thailand’s efforts to help endangered Asian elephant

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel November 19, 2015

 Elephants are bathed at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, outside the city of Chang Mai in Thailand. Photo by Betsy Herbert, 2015

Elephants are bathed at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, outside the city of Chang Mai in Thailand. Photo by Betsy Herbert, 2015

After camping among wild African elephants in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, last September, I greatly anticipated visiting wild Asian elephants in Thailand this month. But when I arrived, I found that finding wild elephants in this country is a little tricky.

Like their larger African cousins, Asian elephants are a highly endangered species. According to the the American Museum of Natural History, hundreds of thousands of elephants roamed Asia until only about 100 years ago. Today, they have been wiped out from large areas of India, Southeast Asia and China, leaving fewer than 50,000.

I found three great places to visit Asian elephants in northern Thailand, all about an hour’s drive from the city of Chang Mai. Trouble is, the elephants in these places are not exactly wild. That’s because 95 percent of Thailand’s elephants are living in captivity, and nobody really knows how many wild elephants are left.

A friend and I drove to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in the densely forested hills near Lampang. The TECC is a government-sponsored elephant camp that houses more than 50 Asian elephants (including six of the Thai Royal family’s white elephants). TECC seeks to educate tourists about the plight of elephants and to raise money for their conservation.

We watched the elephants bathe and frolic with their trainers in the creek flowing through the TECC grounds — truly a highlight of this trip!

After bathing, about a dozen elephants were led to a ring where they performed before an audience of some 200 tourists. They bowed as they were introduced one by one and did some cute tricks like removing the hats of their trainers. Later on, the elephants demonstrated how in the past, they were used to drag enormous logs out of the forest and stack them with their trunks. Elephants are no longer used by the timber industry because the Thai government banned logging in natural forests throughout the country in 1989.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the timber industry greatly increased logging of native teak and other tropical hardwoods in Thailand for export. Loggers began capturing and training large numbers of wild elephants to haul and stack logs. At the same time, this extensive logging destroyed much of the elephants’ natural forest habitat.

In 1988, Thailand experienced its worst flooding in 300 years, due to unsustainable logging and extensive forest clearing to create more agricultural land. So, in 1989 the Thai government banned logging in all natural forests in the country.

This ban put loggers as well as elephants out of work. Maybe not such a bad thing if the elephants could return to their natural habitats, but there was no place left for them to go.

In 1997, the Thai government founded the Thailand Elephant Conservation Center to help care for these “unemployed” elephants. The center advocates using elephants in tourism to provide income to care for them. Tourists can pay to ride the elephants after they pay to watch them perform.

Another organization, the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is operated as a nonprofit to provide a natural sanctuary to treat and protect elephants from the sometimes harsh treatment in tourism as well as logging. They seek to re-introduce rescued elephants into the wild.

 Yes, elephant prosthetics are important as many Asian elephants have been injured by landminds.

Yes, elephant prosthetics are important as many Asian elephants have been injured by landminds.

Finally, the Thai Elephant Hospital, sponsored by Friends of the Asian Elephant, rescues and treats injured elephants. When we visited, we were introduced to Motala, a 50-year-old female elephant who was badly injured, like many others, by a land mine as she was working in the forest. The hospital manufactures prosthetic devices to fit these elephants like Motala to enable them to walk.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is on a year-long journey around the world. Read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website (www.betsyherbert.com).

 

Earth Matters: Tanzania welcomes tourists to help combat big-game poaching

by Betsy Herbert

Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 9/25/2015

 Boniface Faustine, now leading tours in Tanzania for Overseas Adventure Travel, previously worked as a park ranger in the Serengeti National Park.

Boniface Faustine, now leading tours in Tanzania for Overseas Adventure Travel, previously worked as a park ranger in the Serengeti National Park.

I’m sitting on my mosquito-netted bed in a thatch-roofed hut at the Moivaro Lodge on the outskirts of Arusha, Tanzania, typing on my laptop. In a few hours, our tour guides will take 13 of us to the Kilimanjaro airport. We’ve just spent the last two weeks on a thrilling photo safari in the Serengeti and Tarangire national parks and the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area in this east African country where big game poaching, especially of elephants and black rhinos, is part of a regional environmental crisis.

Boniface Faustine was the lead guide for our tour, which was organized by the American company, Overseas Adventure Travel (www.oattravel.com). Faustine worked as a ranger in Serengeti National Park for three years before deciding to make a career change. He says that long periods away from his family and very real threats to the lives of park rangers drove his decision.

A bronze plaque at the rim of Ngorongoro Conservation Area serves as a memorial to six park rangers killed by poachers and bandits.

Faustine’s passion for protecting Tanzania’s wildlife commands attention to his well-prepared lectures about local species including the “The Big Five” — elephants, lions, rhinos, cape buffalo and leopards — some of the most sought after subjects for photographers.

Faustine emphasizes that revenue from tourism and photo safaris in the parks contributes significantly to government projects that stem poaching by catching and prosecuting the offenders.

Poachers, who are funded by international buyers of ivory and rhino horns, are heavily armed, technologically savvy, and may use helicopters to search out and kill their endangered prey. Their modus operandi is to cut out the tusks and horns, leaving the carcasses.

Poachers also attempt to eavesdrop on park ranger communications to locate targets.

To learn about efforts to conserve and protect the black rhino, we visited the Michael Grzimek Memorial Rhino Post in Serengeti National Park. In 1997, after poachers had killed all black rhinos in the park, the Rhino Post — with government authorization — captured two black rhinos in South Africa and airlifted them in crates to the Serengeti and Ngorogorango parks in Tanzania. The crate used to transport the rhinos is on display at the post.

As a result of this and other conservation projects, the black rhino is again breeding naturally in these parks, though rangers will not release actual population numbers or locations, so that poachers can’t retrieve that information.

While dismayed by the continuing problem of big game poaching, our group was somewhat relieved to know that photo safaris such as ours help to combat the problem.

No doubt, some impacts to wildlife are inherent in such tourism. From what I saw, though, these magnificent animals, especially the big cats, seemed to ignore us and our safari vehicles, which are strictly confined to park roads. They continued to hunt and be hunted, graze, bathe, nuzzle each other and loll about.

 Elephants cross the roads in Serengeti National Park whenever they please, ignoring or at times insisting that photo safari vehicles get out of the way. They never get an argument!

Elephants cross the roads in Serengeti National Park whenever they please, ignoring or at times insisting that photo safari vehicles get out of the way. They never get an argument!

The tour was a photographer’s dream. We observed all of the Big Five in their native habitats, including three rhinos, hundreds of elephants and cape buffalo and entire prides of lions. Giraffes, gazelles, zebras, hippos and wildebeests were too numerous to count. One of my favorite snaps was of a hyena pup, just a few weeks old, who curiously came right up to our open-topped vehicle to sniff us out.

We also filmed two lionesses as they began to devour their fresh zebra kill. As vultures descended, the lionesses dragged the carcass across the road to the shade of an acacia tree.

I came away from this tour with an enhanced appreciation of all wildlife in this region, as well as a great respect for the rangers and conservationists who put their lives at risk to protect them.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is on a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Enjoying and protecting wild Croatia

by Betsy Herbert

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 06/20/2015

Last week I left the beautiful old city of Dubrovnik, saying goodbye to Croatia and to the 17 other hikers, bikers and kayakers I met during our two-week Sierra Club International outing, “Jewels of Croatia: Forests, Rivers and Islands.”

 The famous Plitvice National Park draws more than a million visitors a year.

The famous Plitvice National Park draws more than a million visitors a year.

Starting in the capital city of Zagreb, our group, led by two Croatian guides, would travel by van roughly north to south, stopping to experience the country’s vastly different landscapes. We would hike through alpine meadows of the Velebit Mountains, cycle through valleys graced with small towns and vineyards, kayak on crystalline rivers, and sail to some of the 1,200 islands along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Before we left Zagreb, a scientist named Mate Zec briefed us about the natural areas we were about to see. Zec is employed by Association Biom, a nonprofit based in Zagreb and affiliated with Birdlife International, a nonprofit that manages 6,000 natural areas in 47 countries.

Croatia is about the size of West Virginia. Some 25 percent of its land is arable farmland and about 40 percent is forested. Fifty percent of Croatia’s landmass is limestone karst. Riddled with caves and underground cavities, limestone karst stores and exudes enormous amounts of water in the form of abundant rivers and waterfalls. Croatia’s coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot and dry summers, while its mountains, the Dinaric Alps, have cold winters and hot summers.

 Karstic limestone in the Velebit Mountains show signs of long-ago erosion.

Karstic limestone in the Velebit Mountains show signs of long-ago erosion.

These different climates and landscapes have produced remarkable biodiversity in Croatia. The network of subterranean limestone caves host species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. Croatia’s forests and grasslands are home to many different species including brown bears, wolves and lynxes. But many of these species, especially the native lynx, are threatened.

According to Association Biom, 8.5 percent of Croatia’s land is designated as some type of protected area. There are both national parks and regional “nature parks,” which are managed differently. Admission tickets to the more popular parks provide an important source of income for park management. The famous Plitvice National Park, for example, draws more than a million visitors a year.

Tourism accounts for about 15 percent of Croatia’s GDP. Croatia’s population of 4.5 million has an average per capita income of $17,800. So, income from tourism is especially important.

But tourism can also create problems for natural areas. For example, Zec explains that a few “rich parks” with high numbers of tourists have no daily limits to the number of visitors. Later, when our group visited Plitvice National Park, we found that even prior to peak season, we had to move single-file along the trails, reminiscent of U.S. national parks like Yosemite at peak season.

Zec said that park management varies greatly throughout Croatia due to political influence. The result is that parks throughout the country have different levels of habitat protection, policies and investments in research.

Land-protection policies may be changing in Croatia, though, since Croatia joined the European Union (EU) in 2013. That’s because the EU has relatively high standards for protection of natural areas and endangered species that member countries must address.

Zec identified some threats to Croatia’s biodiversity on land outside of protected areas. These include increased development along the coast for tourism and increased construction of wind and hydro-power plants. While alternative energy projects help combat climate change, wind farms can spell death for migratory birds and dams can impact freshwater ecosystems.

Learning about Croatia’s natural areas enhanced our ensuing adventure. As we kayaked the wild rivers of Croatia and sailed the turquoise Adriatic Sea, we were newly inspired to help protect these natural gifts.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who serves on the boards of Sempervirens Fund and the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. She is on an around-the-world adventure, during which she will be filing monthly reports on environmental and sustainability issues she encounters. Contact her through her website, www.betsyherbert.com.




Learning about Croatia’s natural areas enhanced our ensuing adventure. As we kayaked the wild rivers of Croatia and sailed the turquoise Adriatic Sea, we were newly inspired to help protect these natural gifts.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who serves on the boards of Sempervirens Fund and the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. She is on an around-the-world adventure, during which she will be filing monthly reports on environmental and sustainability issues she encounters. Contact her through her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Stranger than fiction: The Anthropocene is upon us

Stranger than fiction: The Anthropocene is upon us

Last weekend, I was one of hundreds attending the international conference, Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, at UC Santa Cruz. The primary question driving the conference was "How can humans and other species coexist on the planet?" I came away, I think, with a better understanding of how humans, as brainy as we claim to be, have managed to get ourselves and other Earth inhabitants in such a pickle — with climate change, mass extinction, and accumulation of pesticides in our food and water systems.

I also came away believing that we must acknowledge how we got into this mess before we can make the changes in old ways of thinking and interacting with the world — changes needed to reverse the trend.

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Joshua Tree sojourn sheds light on desert solar controversy

Joshua Tree sojourn sheds light on desert solar controversy

Last December I drove south to Joshua Tree National Park to hang out with friends in the desert. I hadn't visited the area for decades, so I didn't anticipate the major sprawl around the desert town of Yucca Valley on Highway 62 leading to the park -- housing developments, a Walmart, a Home Depot, and other big-box stores.
To avoid the Yucca Valley sprawl, my friends rented a little house between 29 Palms and the town of Joshua Tree, just outside the park boundary. From our house, we could walk up the road a few hundred feet and venture into the park's vast stretches of red rock formations, punctuated with iconic Joshua trees, yuccas, and barrel cacti. Beautiful!
Looking across miles of big sky and expansive desert sands, I observed what appeared to be a strangely irregular, large blue lake. I asked my friend, "Is that a lake in the middle of the desert or is it a mirage?"

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Looking back on 2013: Environmental issues in the headlines

Looking back on 2013: Environmental issues in the headlines

With 2013 declared the driest year on record in California, water supply and drought top last year's list of environmental issues affecting Santa Cruz County. Below I list some of the milestones of environmental change for 2013:

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Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

It's the time of year to pause and reflect -- I list below some of the 2012 events that helped shape our Santa Cruz environment.

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Santa Cruz scientist initiates global effort to Save the Frogs!

Santa Cruz scientist initiates global effort to Save the Frogs!

Ecologist Kerry Kriger -- founder and director of the nonprofit Save the Frogs! -- is leading an international campaign to reverse the unprecedented and worldwide decline of frogs and other amphibians including toads, newts and salamanders.

"Frogs and other amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on the planet," said Kriger, who believes the trend can be reversed if people get involved and take action.

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Salmon will return if given the chance

Salmon will return if given the chance

It’s not all gloom and doom for the Pacific Coast salmon, whose plight has become a crisis. More than 650 scientists, students, land managers and policymakers attended the 30th annual Salmonid Restoration Conference in Davis April 4 -7 to share their work and ideas about restoring watersheds to bring back the salmon (www.calsalmon.org).

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