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The Disappearing Majestic MooseThe Minnesota Conservation Volunteer is the magazine of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  A subscription to the magazine is free to Minnesota residents, and is truly a wonderful publication filled with the flora and fauna of the Minnesota landscape.  However, I read the majority of the articles online because of the website’s fantastic online archive.

I chose the hunting story “Wilderness Moose Hunt” by Chris Niskanen from the magazine’s September-October 2006 issue for our Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article comment assignment because I am a hunter and an outdoorsman.  But the struggle of the Minnesota moose herd is a sign of our changing environment as well, and easily relates to the topics we have been discussing in People and the Environment.

I first came upon this article a few months ago while researching information for a post I made concerning the Minnesota bear and moose hunting license lotteries and seasons.  That post I made on April 6 has become the most frequently searched and viewed post on this website.  Echoing this statistic found in Niskanen’s article:

Moose hunting is enormously popular in Minnesota. In 2005 the DNR received applications from 3,060 parties of two to four hunters for 284 moose tags in 30 zones.

Niskanen explains the romanticism with a hunting story that takes place in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW):

Minnesota is among only a dozen states where moose are hunted and among fewer where the experience can demand wilderness canoeing and backcountry woods skills—the makings of an exquisitely primitive hunt. Only Minnesota residents can apply for and win the once-in-a-lifetime tag….

…Moose are North America’s largest deer species. Minnesota specimens, known as the Canada subspecies, can weigh up to 1,300 pounds. For their size alone, they capture the imaginations of hunters, present and past.

The range of the moose (Alces alces) still includes the habitat of the North Woods of Minnesota, although in recent years several factors have contributed to a steady, excessively high, non-hunting mortality rate.  This has led to the closure of the moose hunt in Minnesota’s Northwest region where numbers have fallen below a safe huntable surplus, and has recently become a bull moose-only-hunt in the state’s Northeast Arrowhead region.  The following excerpt from my April 6 post as well as the links to the articles I referenced explains the battle the moose is fighting:

Researchers are feverishly working to find the reasons why the population has seen such a drastic decline.  Some theories suggest that warming climates leading to heat stress, encroaching exploding deer populations, and parasites like liver fluke, brainworm, and winter ticks as well as predators and habitat loss are the contributors to the decline in numbers, but so far a hard and fast reason has eluded researchers.  It may be a combination of these reasons, so researchers are intensely studying the herd looking for clues that will suggest the cause and possibly ways to help the moose fight what is threatening the herd.  Declining moose numbers are not unique to Minnesota.  When I searched the web for information on some of these threats, I found numerous sites, studies and articles that have documented some of the research that has been done all over moose’s North American range.  Below you will find links to some of the best of those findings.

In reading the above selected articles, you’ll find that heat stress is not the only reason why the moose is in decline, but a warmer climate is definitely affecting the range where these majestic animals can exist.  Factoring in the ever encroaching human species as a contributor to habitat loss and introduction of disease via an exploding white-tail deer population gives a bleak outlook to the future of the moose herd in Minnesota.

I remember when moose crossing signs stood along the roadside of Highway 2 west of Bemidji.  Those signs are no longer there as the moose population in Northwest Minnesota has fallen to an estimated 84 as of 2007.  However, I saw a sign to give me hope while returning from a recent fishing trip to Upper Red Lake.  As I drove home through the bogs surrounding the lake, deep in thought remembering my day of fishing, something large came hurdling out of the bush on the right side of the road.  I didn’t immediately recognize the potential obstacle, but I knew that what I was seeing out of the corner of my eye was large enough to impede my safe passage down the highway.  I instinctively swerved into the empty oncoming lane in order to give this unexpected traffic a wide berth, and as I crossed its intended path it pulled up to a stop.  At the moment of realization that the danger was gone, I was amazed to set my eyes on the source of my sudden deviation in course, a cow moose with her newly born calf in tow.

I have seen moose in the wild before on hunting and fishing trips to western states and Canada as well as a particularly close encounter of my own in the Boundary Waters some years ago with a cow moose and her two calves.  However, in the light of the current situation of the species here in the region I call home, this sighting was certainly a wonderful surprise.  My thoughts along the road home of the day of fishing quickly changed to guesses at where this family was coming from and where they were headed at the moment of our chance meeting.

I’m hoping a cool spring and summer will help that mother nurture her calf to a fortuitous start in life.  I hope to one day have an amazing story to write about my own Minnesota moose hunt, but I hope the massive bull of my dreams will not be a ghost story of a species lost.

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Have we reached the Earth’s carrying capacity?  Well, perhaps I can offer my answer to this question by first defining carrying capacity and then establishing the Earth’s carrying capacity as assessed under current natural and social conditions.

As defined in The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:

  • car·ry·ing (kār’ē-ĭng) ca·pac·i·ty (kə-pās’ĭ-tē) n.  
    • The maximum number of persons or things that a vehicle or a receptacle can carry: a van with a carrying capacity of 12.
    • Ecology The maximum number of individuals that a given environment can support without detrimental effects.

As explained by the Carrying Capacity Network, a watchdog organization of sorts, presenting “Real Solutions for America’s Problems”:

A common fallacy is to equate existing and seemingly open or “unused” spaces with the kind of resources and ecologically productive land needed to support human life under modern conditions. In fact, the criterion for determining whether a region is overpopulated is not land area, but carrying capacity.

Carrying capacity refers to the number of individuals who can be supported in a given area within natural resource limits, and without degrading the natural social, cultural and economic environment for present and future generations. The carrying capacity for any given area is not fixed. It can be altered by improved technology, but mostly it is changed for the worse by pressures which accompany a population increase. As the environment is degraded, carrying capacity actually shrinks, leaving the environment no longer able to support even the number of people who could formerly have lived in the area on a sustainable basis. No population can live beyond the environment’s carrying capacity for very long.

The average American’s “ecological footprint” (the demands an individual endowed with average amounts of resources, ie, land, water, food, fiber, waste assimilation and disposal, etc. puts on the environment) is about 12 acres, an area far greater than that taken up by one’s residence and place of school or work and other places where he or she is.

We must think in terms of “carrying capacity” not land area. The effects of unfettered population growth drastically reduce the carrying capacity in the United States.

In a post titled “Living Above the Line,” Environmental Research Foundation Precaution Reporter, Peter Montague, reiterated the assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme‘s fourth Global Environmental Outlook Report (GEO-4) in order to answer this question

…GEO-4 concluded that we humans presently require 22 acres per person to support our global average lifestyle — but, the report said, Earth has only 15 acres per person available.

In other words, we have already exceeded the Earth’s “carrying capacity” — it’s capacity to “carry” (or support) 6 billion humans. And the human enterprise is poised for a massive spurt of economic and population growth — expected to raise our numbers to 9 billion by roughly mid-century and to double the size of the human economy every 23 years….

Looking at the findings for the world as a whole presented in GEO-4, taking into consideration my own personal results I found in the ecological footprint quiz, and taking into consideration all of the other factors we have been discussing in People and the Environment lectures, such as the rate at which the Earth’s population is doubling, it is hard to argue against the fact that not only have we reached the Earth’s carrying capacity, but for many reasons we have long since exceeded the upper limits of population the global ecosystem can support.  However, I hope that we have recognized these statistics in time to correct the situation.  I believe the global society’s recognition of the mismanagement of our natural capital in time to continue to make strides toward a sustainable society, and setting and attaining hard and fast goals to meet sustainability, may provide the hope for our future and our grandchildren’s future.

My Ecological Footprint

After retaking the quiz to determine my personal footprint using the ecological footprint calculator on the Global Footprint Network website, there is still an obvious need for me to change my ecological footprint.  I took another run through the quiz because after receiving a score of needing 10.3 planet Earths “if everyone lived like me” on the Basic Information version of the quiz, I felt that there were many aspects of my lifestyle I could not express in that basic form.  Thus, the basic format did not make considerations for certain distinctions which would more accurately define my footprint, such as the fact that I rarely buy meat or fish from a grocery store.

Almost all of the meat and fish I prepare at home are a product of my personal hunting and fishing harvests.  These are wild animals that are not costing the Earth in the usual, and more expensive, way a farm raised animal would.  Yes, I do expend fossil fuel in pursuing them and I do puchase goods that are the tools for my harvest, but there is no way wild game costs the Earth as much natural capital as farm raised animals  

Retaking the quiz in the Detailed Information format made an enormous difference in my footprint.  The detailed format brought my ecological footprint down to the need for 4.4 planet Earths “if everyone lived like me.”  According to this figure, it requires 19.7 acres of the Earth’s productive area to support my lifestyle.  I still have some reservations about not being able to go even more in depth with the way I feel I work to conserve and preserve our natural capital, and with the assumptions that are made because of the country in which I live.  I agree that America is a throw-away society, but, like in all aspects of society, it is not fair to stereotype by nationality.  Also, the fact that my footprint jumps from 10.3 to 4.4 between the two versions of the quiz makes me hesitate some as well about the accuracy of the final tally.

However, for the simplicity of the quiz, I realize some assumptions must be made.  That being said, there are still changes I need to make to improve my ecological footprint, obviously, because we don’t have 4.4 planet Earths – we have one.  If I want this one planet to be a livable place for my children’s children and grandchildren, then I need to adjust my worldview from a mix of planetary management and stewardship to at least a mix of stewardship and environmental wisdom if not making a total lifestyle commitment to environmental wisdom is not possible.

I can make changes to certain aspects of my lifestyle that will benefit my footprint, such as purchasing more organic foods.  I like my toys and gadgets, but I have subdued my obsession with these things.  When the urge arises in the future, the better option would be to buy used.  I am already a diligent recycler inside and out of the home, but there is still much more I can do to reduce the amount of unnecessary waste and the amount of natural capital that is necessary to produce, dispose, or recycle it.  I can use less fossil fuels in my home and on the road by using my mountain bike for the commute, keeping an even closer eye on my energy saving thermostat, reducing the amount of time energy spent manicuring a park like acreage and allowing the growth of more native plants, and substituting the motorcycle for the truck on longer journeys – now if I only had a sidecar for the dog!  I draw the line at my house though – because I like it.  I won’t trade it in to pitch a tent somewhere just because the dog and I are the only ones using this space.  I am making the effort to consolidate more individuals under the same roof however, so I guess that is a work in progress.

Hobson Forest

Hobson ForestOur field trip to Hobson Memorial Forest on Thursday offered a chance to spend part of the morning in nature’s classroom.  Prior to the field trip, I didn’t know that BSU owned a piece of the forest, so it goes without saying that I had never been there.  But any day in the woods is a good day.

After a short drive to the forest northeast of Lake Bemidji and a short hike through the rustic log cabins area on our way to the amphitheater for a quick briefing, we were turned loose to explore in solitude.  Leaving the amphitheater area, I anxiously looked for a way to separate myself from the group and an alternate exit down a game trail helped me slip out of sight within seconds of departure.  We had a half hour.  I didn’t have a watch.  There would be a whistle when time was up.  I was soon out of whistle range.  Now, what natural wonders could I find?

Before I could escape deeper into A Beaver Boardwalkthe woods, the ridge trail I followed dropped into a clearing where a boardwalk snaked through a bog leading to a beaver lodge.  It looked as though the beavers could have designed its route themselves – easy access to the shoreline timber, but a long drag back.  I didn’t dare pay a visit; I was unannounced and the first few steps down the boardwalk looked precarious at best. 

Back up the ridge, I came across a deer enclosure where university scientists study the affects of the white-tail herd outside the enclosure versus the protected vegetation inside the enclosure.   Time to get off the game trail, and deeper into the woods.  I cut cross-country between the ridge and swamp.  Weaving through deadfalls and blowdowns in the soft soil just above the water table, I came across a favorite perch of a resident squirrel where winds had found the breaking point of an immature oak.  No chatter of discontent with my presence, but it left behind part of its cache for later, or for better feasting elsewhere.

Squirrel LeftoversWorking away from the water and into the woods, I interrupted two male American Redstarts squabbling over something so intensely that their game of give and chase brought their course within inches of me.  In fact, I had to side-step them as they dove through the underbrush.  A second later, I gathered myself and my camera to capture brilliant black and blaze woods warblers, but they called a cease to their dispute to elude their intruder.

I must have hit some tall grass somewhere because a half dozen wood ticks were making their way north along my legs looking for a warm spot to engorge with indulgence. 

The forest, bursting with growth from a late spring of blanketing snow and soaking rains, created such a fluorescent green, I strained to remember the last time I had seen as rich a color.  Tiny pops of lavender and red were revealed along the way deeper into the woods.  The whole place Wildflowerssmelled washed clean by the rains the day before.  The rains had also left the forest floor damp, soft, and quiet, perfect hiking conditions for discovering something with the element of surprise.

Deeper into the older growth trees and thicker underbrush I lost the cool breeze of the morning and waves of mosquitoes began to sing into my ears.  I’ll cross one more ridge and then I’ll turn back, or maybe the next ridge after that.  I don’t want to turn back.  I have to have been gone for a half hour, but I’ve only just begun to explore this place.  To turn back now would be anticlimactic.  I didn’t have enough time to even begin to map things out in my head.  But fresh white-tail tracks told me it was Burst of Redtime I make tracks myself before someone sends a search party.

I picked up another class member along my way back who had neglected any recognition of a watch as well.  Together, we rendezvoused with one of the instructors who was on his way back from looking for stragglers at the amphitheater.  I never heard a whistle.  We were the last ones back.  Nearly left behind.  I took only photographs, and left only footprints, as the saying goes, but my senses were still computing all the information they had just received.

I wonder what was over that next ridge?Fresh Tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talloires DeclarationOn Tuesday we took a little stroll around campus discussing some of the ways Bemidji State University demonstrates its responsibility as an institution for higher education by creating an educational environment that pledges to work towards sustainability.  As a public educational institution producing tomorrow’s leaders, the university needs to set an example for the generations of the current and future environmental stewards it prepares for graduation into society.  If our society is to change its practice of mismanagement of our natural capital, we have to learn how to change.  By establishing educational resources for the study of how we can successfully become a sustainable society, Bemidji State University joins a commitment to environmentalism with other leading institutions and organizations working to provide a healthier future for our local and global ecosystem.  The president of the university, Dr. Jon Quistgaard, promises this obligation by uniting with over 350 university presidents and chancellors in over 40 countries around the world in the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future through the Talloires Declaration, and the university community expects a proposal to further this promise with a future signing of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Other examples of Bemidji State University’s commitment to an ecocentric environmental worldview are detailed in these press releases from the university on November 29, 2007:

Other campus projects I find to be equally important, if not on the same scale as the above mentioned movements of environmentalism, then on the measure of what can be done by the individual or small group to renew and improve our campus and community are:BSU Campus Shoreline Habitat Restoration Project on Lake Bemidji

  • The Shoreline Habitat Restoration Project performs the following benefits for our local ecosystem and our downstream neighbors:
    • Restores a buffer zone using native plants
    • Provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife
    • Filter out pollutants and runoff that degrade water quality
    • Prevent shoreline erosion by absorbing wave action
  • The implementation of a Rain Garden to reduce runoff and naturally filter storm water.

What is a Rain GardenA BSU Rain Garden

  • Landscaping with Native Plants such as a Butterfly Garden provide multiple benefits:
    • Native plants have evolved and adapted to local conditions over thousands of years.  Once established, they require no irrigation or fertilization.  They are resistant to most pests and diseases, and require no mowing.  Thus, native plants, conserving water and fossil fuels, and requiring less work to maintain, are less costly in the long term.
    • Native plants have longer root systems than non-native species which helps rainfall percolate into the soil, reducing erosion and runoff, and recharging ground water and improving water quality.
    • Native plants provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other desirable wildlife.

BSU Butterfly GardenThis little tour around campus inspired me to begin planning some improvements to my own property’s landscape.  I have always favored native plants for their simplistic beauty and minimal maintenance.  I especially have affinity for trees.  After discussing the question of why we mow and manicure our lawn with Professor Bailey-Johnson when a thoughtfully landscaped native plant ecosystem provides habitat for beneficial species, such as dragonflies – which prefer longer grasses while mosquitoes do not and dragonflies eat mosquitoes, I would rather have more habitat and wildlife on my property than an aesthetically pleasing keeping-up-with-the-Jones’-look.  Also, there is the consideration of time spent mowing – three hours per tour for me, but I have plans to cut that in half – and the incredible fact that 5% of all emissions in this country come from lawnmowers.  I mean really – why?

“How Much is Clean Water Worth?” is a fascinating feature article written by Jim Morrison for the Feb./Mar. 2005 issue of National Wildlife, the magazine of the National Wildlife Federation.  There are some staggering, almost unfathomable, numbers in the form of dollar amounts calculated when it comes to the value of our global ecosystem – something that really should need no dollar value as it is invaluable to all of us using this planet.

However, how does a controversial 1997 Nature report estimating the annual dollar value of the global ecosystem to be $33 trillion grab you?  That’s ($33,000,000,000,000.00) 14 zeroes in dollars and cents if you’re counting – and I was.  Apparently it grabbed some the wrong way:

One report by researchers at the University of Maryland, Bowden College and Duke University called the estimate “absurd,” noting that if taken literally, the figure suggests that a family earning $30,000 annually would pay $40,000 annually for ecosystem protection.

But, if not taken literally, how can we begin to make exponentially important decisions about the future of our society as a species, and the managing species, on this planet.  If we continue to ignore stewardship of our natural resources as a society by not assigning an economic value to something that is invaluable, when will the price tag to correct our mismanagement exceed our natural capital?  Or have we already reached a point where we are writing checks our collective butts can’t cash?

The article is packed full of amazing examples of stewardship and recognition of our natural capital in the form of monetary valuation that gives me some new hope in our society.  Examples of restoring what nature had intended all along; restoring for not only natural instrumental benefits, but the intrinsic social, economical, and ecological benefits as well.

If the planet is still offering us the chance to fix our mistakes in stewardship, and if the best way to recognize the benefits of fixing those mistakes is by assigning a dollar figure to enhance the understandability of the big picture, then, I say, give me a price gun and I’ll help price tag the place.

What did it cost you to read this rant?  Time.  What did it cost the earth in natural capital to provide you the opportunity to read this rant?  Time.  If, as the old saying goes, time is money – which is more valuable to me?  And do you really want to know my answer?

The online article “How Nature Nurtures”is a book review by Connie Matthiessen of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.  Matthiessen explains:

Louv presents a compelling argument that children, and the rest of us for that matter, require regular contact with nature to maintain physical and emotional health.

Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the consequences of separating children from the natural world.

Personally, this is the first I have heard of this term, but it is something I can relate to by observing the youth of family and friends and the students in my hunter education classes.  The goal of the very first assignment I give to the students in my classes, an essay entitled “Why I’m Taking Firearm Safety,” is to get them thinking about the outdoors and the reasons why they desire this experience, whether it be for the excitement of the hunt, family involvement, building relationships with family and friends through the outdoors, just the pure joy that is exploring nature, or all of the above.

Matthiessen goes on to state:

Many parents of hyperactive children notice the calming effect nature has on their sons and daughters. Recent research supports these observations. Louv cites several studies showing that contact with nature can improve a child’s concentration. One study found that even a view of greenery through a window reduced attention-deficit symptoms.

One can see the young mind at work with the fuel of imagination in the series of essays I have started on my hunter education website with the contributions of some of the young, and older, authors.  Many of the students write some truly compelling responses in this task, and the reason I have chosen to share their work is to demonstrate that our outdoors heritage still runs strong in our youth of today.  Offering the opportunity for our children to gain the experiences the outdoors can provide, as it did for our generation and every generation before us, is now a serious issue for some.

Matthiessen shows that Louv points out that it doesn’t take much effort:

Establishing a relationship with nature requires nothing more than access to a vacant lot or a small patch of woods. You can nourish your child’s spirit by giving him opportunities to garden, care for animals, explore tidepools, or build a fort in the woods.

This is what I have tried to provide for the young lives I have had the good fortune to touch in my life.  When I was younger, it was all about camping, fishing, or working together outdoors with my parents and siblings.  Then as I got older, it was about sports when it came to family gatherings, and in fact the sports event themselves became family gatherings.  Recently, it has been mentoring my siblings and nephews in our outdoors heritage of hunting and fishing.

Matthiessen’s summation of Louv’s work is valuable advice for us all:

Last Child in the Woods amounts to a warning to society to take action before it’s too late. Nature-deficit disorder threatens the well-being of our entire planet. If our children and grandchildren become alienated from nature, they are unlikely to protect it. Louv points out that environmentalism is a value that springs from an early and profound childhood experience in nature. Children raised on video games, trips to the shopping mall, and vacations in Disneyland are unlikely to become defenders of the natural world. When nature itself suffers a deficit, we’ll all be in trouble.

One final point, I would just like to reiterate that it is not only about the youth of today, but about us all.  I can attest to the fact that, when I don’t personally get a chance to get outdoors during any extended period of time, it definitely has an affect on my emotional state and therefore affects production in other facets of my life.  While the technological world we live in today is changing the way our youth experience life, there is a warning for the older generations as well to remember to take time to renew your outdoors heritage and share those experiences with our youth.

Check out some of the ways organizations are working to change the Nature-Deficit Disorder: