Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Sunday, March 14, 2010

State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change

Climate change threatens to further imperil hundreds of species of migratory birds, already under stress from habitat loss, invasive species and other environmental threats, a new report released today by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar concludes.

The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change, follows a comprehensive report released a year ago that argued that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline. The report is available online at http://www.stateofthebirds.org/

“For well over a century, migratory birds have faced stresses such as commercial hunting, loss of forests, the use of DDT and other pesticides, a loss of wetlands and other key habitat, the introduction of invasive species, and other impacts of human development,” Salazar said in a press relase issued last week. “Now they are facing a new threat–climate change–that could dramatically alter their habitat and food supply and push many species towards extinction.”

According to the reports authors, which included the collaboration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and experts from some of the nation’s leading conservation organizations, climate changes will have an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats, with oceanic and Hawaiian birds in greatest peril.

Key findings from the “State of the Birds” climate change report included in the media release include:

• Oceanic birds are among the most vulnerable species because they don’t raise many young each year; they face challenges from a rapidly changing marine ecosystem; and they nest on islands that may be flooded as sea levels rise. All 67 oceanic bird species, such as petrels and albatrosses, are among the most vulnerable birds on Earth to climate change.

• Hawaiian birds such as endangered species Puaiohi and ’Akiapōlā’au already face multiple threats and are increasingly challenged by mosquito-borne diseases and invasive species as climate change alters their native habitats.

• Birds in coastal, arctic/alpine, and grassland habitats, as well as those on Caribbean and other Pacific Islands show intermediate levels of vulnerability; most birds in aridlands, wetlands, and forests show relatively low vulnerability to climate change.

• For bird species that are already of conservation concern such as the golden-cheeked warbler, whooping crane, and spectacled eider, the added vulnerability to climate change may hasten declines or prevent recovery.

• The report identified common bird species such as the American oystercatcher, common nighthawk, and northern pintail that are likely to become species of conservation concern as a result of climate change.
White-tailed Tropicbird chick by Elena Babij

Birds are considered indicators of the health of our environment. The reports offers suggestions such as conserving carbon-rich forests and wetlands, and creating incentives to avoid deforestation and reducing emissions.

The report is the product of a collaborative effort as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, between federal and state wildlife agencies, and scientific and conservation organizations including partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tracking Adirondack Natural History Firsts

As spring works its way northward, at about sixteen miles a day, we start to take note of the changes around us: birds absent since last fall return, buds swell on trees, the first flowers push through the thawing ground and begin to open. Many nature enthusiasts keep lists of these seasonal events, recording the arrival of the first robin, the opening of the first pussy willows, the songs of the first frogs. This study of seasonal events, whether formally or informally done, is known as phenology.

The word phenology comes to us from the Greek word phainomai, which roughly translates as “to appear” or “to come into view.” » Continue Reading.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Commentary: Monetizing the Forest Preserve

Ever since 1894, when delegates to a New York State Constitutional Convention voted to keep the Adirondack Forest Preserve “forever wild,” conservationists have come up with any number of arguments in defense of wilderness. Some have been utilitarian, some populist, some historical, some spiritual. Those arguments have always been necessary, because the opponents of maintaining the Forest Preserve as lands forever wild have been many, and at times powerful.

In fact, one of the few valid reasons to oppose another constitutional convention is the political fragility of the state constitution’s Article XIV, the clause that prohibits the destruction of the Forest Preserve. The more astute politicians among the conservationists have always understood that it is the better part of prudence to avoid endorsing a single defense of wilderness, thereby retaining the support of proponents of all other possible arguments.

In part because of that catholic perspective, the Adirondack Park has been able to support “a multiplicity of visions,” as Dr. Ross Whaley, the co-editor of “The Great Experiment in Conservation: Voices from the Adirondack Park,” puts it. But new arguments in defense of wilderness can only buttress the cause, and here’s one that’s beginning to emerge: forests offset greenhouse gas emissions and thus play a valuable role in slowing climate change.

In a 2008 issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Society of Biological Sciences, researchers quantified the amount of carbon that Midwestern forests keep out of the atmosphere. They concluded that the forests could offset the greenhouse gas emissions of almost two thirds of nearby populations. While deciduous forests are very good at storing carbon, boreal forests are even better, says John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council, and, he adds, the Adirondack Park contains approximately 800,000 acres of those boreal forests. That’s reason enough for New Yorkers to support the preservation of even more land, if not by New York State, than by conservancies and land trusts.

But if the Adirondack Park has value as carbon storage, we asked Sheehan, could a price be attached to that value? Could the Adirondack Park, for instance, be awarded pollution credits that could be sold for the economic benefit of its residents? Here’s Sheehan’s response: “We are working with a few people right now to see what value could be placed on the global ecological benefits of lands on which we know the trees will continue to grow for centuries to come, that is to say, in the Forest Preserve and in wilderness lands on which New York State holds easements.”

As to whether the Adirondack Park could be awarded credits for storing carbon that would otherwise be sent into the atmosphere, Sheehan said, that’s conceivable. “We think we can seek and win federal credit for those Adirondack communities as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or in a carbon trading program adopted by Congress.”

While our thought was that any funds derived from the sale of credits should somehow be apportioned among local governments to offset property taxes or to create jobs, Sheehan said, “We think the state should direct the money it receives into the Environmental Protection Fund, and the communities could use the money for planning or for grants to residents and businesses for energy conservation.” But however the funds were used, local governments might now have some financial incentive to support (or at least not oppose too loudly) the preservation of the Adirondacks.

Of greater importance, understanding the role that the Adirondack Park plays in slowing climate change can only deepen our appreciation of these woods – and of those who fought to make and keep them forever wild.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror http://www.lakegeorgemirror.com


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Paterson’s Deficit Proposals Mean For The Adirondacks

Late last week Governor David Paterson announced a two-year, $5.0 billion deficit reduction plan that he claims would “eliminate the State’s current-year budget gap without raising taxes, as well as institute major structural reforms.” The plan includes a second raid on the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which the Governor swept clean of $50 million at the end of 2008, and a raid on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) carbon allowance auction proceeds. Those funds, amounting to about $90 million, had been slated for energy conservation and clean energy development.

“Energy conservation and clean energy development,” says Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan, “are two areas where the investment would have provided both real savings for the taxpayer and clear benefits to the environment and public health.” None of the money collected from the carbon auctions since the New York began participating in January has been spent on energy programs according to Sheehan, who added that “this may be the first time in history that a dedicated fund was actually raided for another purpose before one cent of it was spent on its intended purpose.”

The proposed $10 million dollar raid on the EPF is the second within a year. About $500 million has been diverted from the fund for non-environmental purposes since 2003. The EPF is supposed to fund major environmental projects and provide local tax relief for landfill closures, municipal recycling facilities, conservation agreements, and expansion of the state Forest Preserve.

“A month or so ago, we wondered aloud why the Governor wasn’t spending the Environmental Protection Fund money that had already been collected since April 1,” Sheehan wrote in a recent e-mail to the media, “Now we know why.”

The governor’s announcement comes just a week after he said he would cut ten percent from the budgets of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). The Governor’s plan announced late last year to cut state property tax payments to Adirondack municipalities that host state lands was rejected by the State Legislature this spring.

EXCERPT FROM GOVERNOR’S PRESS RELEASE:

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)/EPF Transfers
(2009-10 Savings: $100 million; 2010-11 Savings: $0 million)

This proposal would transfer $90 million in RGGI proceeds and $10 million from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to the General Fund. It is currently expected that RGGI proceeds through the end of 2009-10 will total $220 million, allowing the state to meet its $112 million commitment to the recently passed Green Jobs legislation, as well as this $90 million General Fund transfer. Additionally, it is fully expected that after implementation of the DRP, the State would still be able to meet its original 2009-10 EPF cash spending plan of $180 million, which is equal to record 2008-09 levels.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Adirondack Events for Saturday’s Day of Climate Action

Several local events calling for drastic reductions in fossil fuel emissions are planned for Saturday, October 24. They’re all part of an international day of climate action organized by 350.org.

In the Adirondacks so far nine actions have been announced. People are invited to hike a High Peak, kayak Lake Champlain, carpool, attend seminars, stack firewood, make a mural, and gather at a ski area, among other things. They will stand together for group photos that’ll be displayed on 350.org’s Web site to send a message to policymakers. 350.org hopes grassroots activism will encourage world leaders to enact a meaningful global climate treaty this year at their meeting in Copenhagen. Below are in-park event locations with links to more information, including how to participate.
 
Blue Mountain Lake

Keene

Lake Champlain (Westport)

North Creek

Paul Smith’s College and neighbors

Saranac Lake

Tupper Lake

Parkwide (cool commute)

Also, the coordinator of the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Steward Program is planning a hike up Mt Marcy to take photos with a banner. Others are invited to participate, though pre-registration is necessary because of group-size limits in the High Peaks Wilderness. Contact Julia Goren via summit@adk.org.

“As NY’s highest peak, Mt. Marcy seemed like an obvious choice of an iconic location for this event,” Goren e-mailed. “The Adirondack High Peaks Summit Steward Program is a partnership of the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and the NYS DEC. We work to protect alpine vegetation atop the highest peaks, so the effect of climate change on this special ecosystem is of particular concern. We will discuss some of these effects during the hike. ADK will also be participating in the 350 event on October 24th at the Heart Lake Property as well.”

Read here for information on why some scientists think 350 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 is an important threshold for all life on earth, or read here for an explanation of the number’s significance.

For more information see 350.org, founded by End of Nature author and former Johnsburg resident Bill McKibben. Late-breaking events may pop up on that site during the week, or you can organize and list your own action.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Commentary: Birding And Climate Change

An ornithologist visiting Oseetah Lake this summer thought he heard the call of a fish crow. Being a scientist he is a careful person, and when I contacted him he said he really couldn’t confirm his observation—there may be hybrids of fish crows and American crows out there.

The common American crow has been in the Adirondacks at least since colonization, in the mid 19th century. Fish crows, which are smaller and voice more of an awh than a caw, reside primarily in the coastal southeastern United States and were once restricted in New York State to Long Island and the tidal Hudson River, according to The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State (2008) and John Bull’s Birds of New York State (1974).

I was curious about the possibility of a fish crow near my home, but in a different way than I would’ve been a decade ago. If one were here as an “accidental,” a bird blown off territory by a storm, it would be a novelty, occasion for birders to go out with binoculars and add it to their lists. If, however, fish crows were establishing themselves near Saranac Lake and even breeding here, it would mark a milestone in a northward and inland expansion that began in the last third of the 20th century. » Continue Reading.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Bill McKibben on Why 350 is the Most Important Number

In the past month Bill McKibben has been in India, the Maldives, Lebanon, Oman and Dubai. And last weekend he seemed delighted to be in Newcomb, population 472, catching up with Adirondack friends. The writer told Nature Conservancy members gathered at the Newcomb school for the Adirondack Chapter’s annual meeting how new information on atmospheric carbon has made him a global activist, and why he’s spreading the message that we must do more than install low-watt bulbs if we are to keep climate change from spiraling entirely out of control.

Two years ago arctic ice began melting dramatically faster than computer models had predicted, McKibben said. Scientists had projected that the natural systems that gave rise to civilization and the current array of life on earth would be disrupted when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 450 parts per million. A recent paper by NASA scientist James Hansen and others puts that tipping point at 350 parts per million. The planet is already at 390 parts per million.

McKibben referenced several places where life as people know it is changing, perhaps irrevocably: Glaciers that feed rivers supporting hundreds of millions of people in Asia are melting. The Maldives, a nation of coral islands preparing to be swallowed by the Indian Ocean, is essentially shopping for a new homeland. “Hundred-year” rainstorms are becoming routine. A problem that McKibben thought would manifest in the time of his children and grandchildren appears to be unfolding now.

“We need to make [the transition away from fossil fuels] happen quicker than is economically or politically comfortable,” McKibben said. And that means more than reducing personal carbon emissions; citizens must pressure government and industry to change, he argued. “We all need to play a role of some kind in that solution.” Action taken in the next couple of years will determine “whether we get out of it at all,” he said.

McKibben is trying to engrain the number 350 in the minds of policymakers and citizens worldwide. As director of 350.org, he’s organizing a day of global activism on Saturday, October 24, encouraging people to go public in support of the 350 ppm goal. So far, 1,323 actions in 91 countries are planned, including some in the Adirondacks.

The Adirondack Council, based in Elizabethtown, is looking for 350 or more people who will commit to an alternative commute to work or school the week before Oct. 24. Paul Smith’s College, which coincidentally will have an incoming freshman class of 350, is organizing an event, details still to come. The Adirondack Green Circle in Saranac Lake is planning to do something as well, and other communities are early in the planning stages. You can visit 350.org to find an action near you or to register your own.

If you missed McKibben’s talk last week and can’t catch him tomorrow at a Protect the Adirondacks benefit in Olmstedville, you can watch him surviving this interview on the Colbert Report Monday.

Also, here’s a little of what Bill had to say about the Conservancy’s Finch lands purchase, and here is an excerpt from his Newcomb talk, broadcast earlier this week on North Country Public Radio.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bill McKibben, Bat Expert Al Hicks in Newcomb Saturday

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, has been rallying support from around the world to call for a fair global climate treaty. Wildlife biologist Al Hicks trying to prevent the extinction of bats in the Northeast. McKibben (left) will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Land Trust on Saturday, August 15, at the Newcomb Central School in Newcomb, NY. Hicks’s lecture, The End of Bats in the Northeast?, is one of three field trip/educational opportunities being offered before the meeting formally kicks off at 1:00. The event is free and open to the public. Participants are asked to register in advance.

McKibben is founder of 350.org, which according to the website, “is an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis–the solutions that justice demand.” Their stated mission is to”inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis–to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet.” The number 350 refers to parts per million, and represents the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.

The meeting will also feature a conservation update from Michael Carr, delivering the latest news on historic land protection projects involving the former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands and the Follensby Pond tract—175,600 acres in all. Attendees will find out how sustainable forestry fits into part of the conservation plan.

At 11:00 a.m. in the Newcomb Central School Auditorium, state wildlife biologist Al Hicks will give an up-to-the-minute account of “white-nose syndrome,” a mysterious affliction causing bat populations in the Adirondacks and at least nine northeastern states to plummet. Hundreds of thousands of bats, including animals from well-established colonies in the Adirondacks, have already died. Hicks has been on the frontlines of this environmental crisis since the outbreak was first discovered in 2007.

Participants should plan to arrive around noon for the annual meeting, or before 11:00 a.m. to attend the special lecture. Bring a bag lunch or call ahead to reserve an $8 lunch from Newcomb Central School students raising money for their trip abroad.

To register for this event, reserve a bag lunch, or obtain more information, contact Erin Walkow at (518) 576 – 2082 x133 or ewalkow@tnc.org.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Climate Change Talk at Adirondack Museum

“Fifty years from now we may have Adirondack winters without snow and ice and forests that are the biological analogues of the dying coral reefs seen in the tropics today: stressed, structurally altered, not reproducing, and unable to support the birds and animals that once lived in them” Jerry Jenkins wrote in the Adirondack Atlas (2004). On Monday, August 3, 2009, Jenkins, co-author of The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park, will offer a program entitled “Climate Change and the Adirondacks” at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. Part of the museum’s Monday Evening Lecture series, the presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for museum members. Admission is $5.00 for non-members.

Jenkins, a researcher for the Wildlife Conservation Society, will discuss
the impacts of global climate change on the region. He is trained in philosophy and mathematics, and works as a botanist and geographer. He has thirty years of field experience in the North Country, working as a naturalist and natural resources geographer for government agencies and non-profit groups including the Nature Conservancy, the State of Vermont, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Together with Andy Keal, Jenkins co-authored The Adirondack Atlas a Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park, perhaps the most significant Adirondack book in a generation. Bill McKibben describes the atlas as a “great gift…that marks a coming of age.” Jenkins recently contributed to an anthology Acid Rain in the Adirondacks an Environmental History, which one reviewer called the “definitive work on the topic.”


Monday, July 20, 2009

DEC’s New Greenhouse Gas Review Policy

The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that Greenhouse gas emissions will be included in New York’s environmental review of large-scale projects under a new policy that becomes effective August 17th. The new policy will apply where DEC is the lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). SEQRA requires that a “lead agency” identify and assess actions for their potential adverse environmental impacts, and in certain cases, develop an environmental impact statement and propose mitigation strategies.

“This initiative builds on Governor Paterson’s commitment to continuing New York’s fight against climate change,” DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said in a press release. “DEC anticipates that, more and more, the public will raise the issue of climate change in the SEQRA process, and this policy will ensure that climate change impacts are considered in a consistent and fair manner. It includes a menu of design measures that can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, such as energy-efficient construction, use of renewable energy technology and waste reduction. While helping guide DEC staff, the policy also will help raise awareness of all the actions that can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The policy, proposed in March, is available at www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/56552.html.

DEC has also started a process to redesign the environmental assessment forms which used in SEQRA reviews. The update of this form will include the addition of questions related to energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, among other issues according to Grannis.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Bloom Index, Part II

It’s a fresh new month and time for an update to our bloom-dates table. But first, my friend Gerry Rising, Nature Watch columnist for the Buffalo News, reports that phenologists are asking regular jamokes to share their observations of trees and wildflowers. You can become a citizen scientist by noticing when chokecherries or even dandelions bloom in your back yard.

Two Web sites collect this information: the National Phenology Network and Cornell University’s Project Budbreak. Plant and animal life cycles can be susceptible to climate variations, so phenologists (the people who study seasonal patterns) are interested in your observations.

Following are median bloom dates for June from Mike Kudish’s Adirondack Upland Flora. Mike says the dates are most accurate for 1,500-to-2,000-foot elevations (the “Adirondack upland”).

June 1: Jack-in-the-pulpit, chokecherry, Solomon’s plumes
June 2: Low sweet blueberry
June 3: Wild sarsaparilla
June 5: Clintonia, bog rosemary
June 6: Bunchberry and white baneberry
June 7: Canada mayflower and bog laurel
June 9: Starflower and black chokeberry
June 10: Fringed polygala, three-leaved false Solomon’s seal, nannyberry
June 12: Labrador tea, Indian cucumber, small cranberry
June 13: Pink lady’s slipper
June 14: Hooked buttercup (Earliest sunrise, 5:13 a.m.)
June 15: Blue-eyed grass
June 17: Wild raisin, common cinquefoil
June 20: Sheep laurel
(June 20-23: Longest days of the year, 15 hours, 41 minutes)
June 26: Bush honeysuckle and tall meadow rue
June 27: Wild iris
June 29: Wood sorrel

The late naturalist Greenleaf Chase made a list for the Nature Conservancy of rare blooms on some of its Adirondack protection sites. On alpine summits he found Lapland rosebay aflower in early June, Diapensia, Labrador tea, bog laurel and mountain sandwort in late June. Greenie would visit the Clintonville pine barrens in early June to see Ceanothus herbacea (prairie redroot). Viola novae-angliae (New England blue violet) also flowers in early June on the Hudson River ice meadows near North Creek; Listera auriculata (a native orchid called auricled twayblade) blooms there in late June.

Lastly is a list of plants that amateur botanist and hall-of-fame pitcher Christy Mathewson identified around Saranac Lake in June 1922: wild carrot, bunchberry, mountain laurel?, sheep laurel, wintergreen, trailing arbutus, labrador tea, star flower, moss pink, forget-me-not, heal-all, ground ivy, bluets, ox-eye daisy, dandelion, hawkweed, Canada hawkweed, spring beauty, yellow pond lily, live-for-ever, horsetails, blueberry, twin flower, red berry elderberry, hop clover, harebell, yellow wood sorrel, sundrop, dewberry, wild red raspberry.

Boys, take note: being good at sports is nice. Being good at sports and knowing your wildflowers? That’s hot. Special thanks to Adirondack Daily Enterprise columnist Howard Riley for finding Mathewson’s handwritten list in the Saranac Lake Free Library archives and sending me a copy.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adirondack Conference to Focus on Alpine Zones

Researchers, summit stewards and others interested in protecting northeast alpine zones will gather in the Adirondacks May 29 and 30 to explore the impact of climate change on these fragile ecosystems. The Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering is held every two years to allow researchers, planners, managers, stewards and others to share information and improve the understanding of the alpine areas of the Northeast. The 2009 conference, the first to be held in the Adirondacks, will feature presentations by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and award-winning photographer Carl Heilman.

Alpine zones are areas above the treeline that are home to rare and endangered species more commonly found in arctic regions. In the Adirondacks, alpine zones cover about 170 acres atop more than a dozen High Peaks, including Marcy, Algonquin and Wright. Because these summits experience heavy recreational use, New York’s alpine habitat is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the state. Alpine vegetation is also highly susceptible to climate change and acts as a biological monitor of changing climate conditions.

The conference, which will be held at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Lake Placid, kicks off Thursday evening with a reception and Carl Heilman’s multimedia presentation. Friday will feature a full day of sessions on such subjects as “The Effects of a Changing Climate on the Alpine Zone” and “Visitor Use and Management of Alpine Areas.”

On Saturday, conference attendees will have an opportunity to participate in a variety of field trips, such as guided hikes to a High Peak summit, a morning bird walk or a visit to the Wild Center.

The $40 conference fee includes Thursday mixer, Friday lunch, Friday dinner and Saturday bag lunch.

The 2009 Gathering is hosted by the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Steward Program, a partnership of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The Gathering is sponsored by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the Waterman Alpine Stewardship Fund. Conference partners include the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor’s Interpretive Center, the Crowne Plaza Resort, New York Natural Heritage Program, DEC, Paul Smith’s College and the Wild Center.

Rooms are available at the Crowne Plaza. For reservations, call (800) 874-1980 or (518) 523-2556. Camping and lodging are available at the Adirondak Loj, six miles south of the village of Lake Placid. For reservations, call (518) 523-3441. Additional lodging options may be found at www.lakeplacid.com.

For more information, call Julia Goren at (518) 523-3480 Ext. 18 or visit ADK’s Web site at www.adk.org.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Keeping Adirondack Skies Dark

From space the Adirondack Park is a dark spot in the Northeast, but even here outdoor lighting is starting to bleed into the night sky.

Tonight between 8:30 and 9:30 people around the world are turning off their lights to try to raise awareness about climate change. It’s also an opportunity to think about those lights.

Tonight’s dark-out is called Earth Hour. The movement began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 when 2 million households and businesses shut out the lights to send a message about overuse of fossil fuels. The gesture grew into this year’s global effort.

Meanwhile the International Dark Sky Association estimates that two out of three people in the United States cannot see the Milky Way because skies have become obscured by light pollution.

In the Adirondacks, astronomers are raising funds to build an Adirondack Public Observatory for stargazing in Tupper Lake. That’s one reason village planners there are encouraging “good neighbor lighting” that doesn’t stray upward or across property lines. The municipal electric department has also been installing more efficient streetlights for several years.

“We are installing full-cutoff lighting throughout the village to help put the light down on the ground instead of out and around,” said John Bouck, electric superintendent. “Our results have been good. We’re continuing on with the process. There are expenses involved so we’re doing it over a three- to five-year period.”

“An added benefit of this type of light fixture is that there is less sky glow that most people are used to seeing as they approach a community,” added Marc Staves, chief lineman as well as president of the proposed observatory. “In fact it’s about 40 to 50 percent less as compared to areas that do not use this type of lighting.”

Tupper is experimenting with photocell lights that turn themselves off halfway through the night when very few people are awake. If they test well, the lights will be installed on every other pole in selected areas, Staves said.

The observatory was originally planned adjacent to the Wild Center, but there was too much glow from the nearby headquarters of Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office, a state agency. So the observatory site was moved to the darkness on another edge of town. But light pollution is a curable problem, as Tupper Lake has figured out. Community awareness there continues to grow, household by household.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sweet Stuff to Do This Adirondack Weekend

Birder, Audubon field editor and field-guide author Kenn Kaufman will speak about our migratory birds at 3 p.m. Friday at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park office, 80 Scout Road in Wilton. It’s outside the Blue Line, but we know some Adirondack birders who are heading south to hear Kaufman. Talk is free but seating is limited, so pre-register by calling Wild Birds Unlimited at 226-0071.

Squeaker, Louie and Squirt are celebrating their birthdays with a party at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake Sunday. At 10:30 the otters will have an Easter egg hunt, and at 2:30 they’ll eat cake. In between there’s cake for people as well as otter-related storytimes, videos and art projects.

There will be good music along the East Branch Ausable River Friday night. Crown Point’s own Silver Family plays bluegrass at the Amos and Julia Ward Theatre in Jay at 7 p.m. (admission $5). And Willsboro’s own Hugh Pool plays bluesy rock and rocking blues at the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay at 8 p.m. (donations accepted).

Doomers like to have fun too. A new group called Tri-Lakes Transition is launching a Wake Up Film Festival on Friday with The 11th Hour, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. The documentary explores the perilous state of the planet, and how we can change course. 7 p.m. at the Saranac Lake Free Library.

In Blue Mountain Lake, the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts will hold a Ukrainian Easter Egg (Pysanky) workshop with Annette Clarke Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Our friend Betsy, who knows things, says, “It’s not for kids but the real deal with Ukrainian dyes, etc. Like batik with hot wax and cool tools but harder than you’d think.” Cost is $25. Visit the center’s Web site for more information.

It’s Maple Weekend Part II: The Far North. Festivities that began last week expand to reach the top of the state, where the trees are finally waking up. “The goal of Maple Weekend is to share the real taste of the mouth-watering maple syrup with the public while also demonstrating the various ways to make it,” the New York maple producers association says. And it’s free. For a list of participating producers, see mapleweekend.com.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Climate Change Insight From Historical Birding Records

On Nov. 1, 1933, Mrs. Bruce Reid recorded seeing both a male and female ivory-billed woodpecker in Texas. And on May 28, 1938, Oscar McKinley Bryans observed a ruby-throated hummingbird in Michigan, noting that the birds were most common when apple trees were blooming.

These are just two of more than 6 million personal observations scribbled and preserved on notecards in government files. The cards record more than a century of information about bird migration, a veritable treasure trove for climate-change researchers because they will help them unravel the effects of climate change on bird behavior, according to Jessica Zelt, coordinator of the North American Bird Phenology Program at the USGS.

That is — once the cards are transcribed and put into a scientific database.

And that’s where citizens across the country come in – the program needs help from birders and others across the nation to transcribe those cards into usable scientific information.

“These cards, once transcribed, will provide over 90 years of data, an unprecedented amount of information describing bird distributions, migration timing, and migration pathways and how they are changing,” said Zelt. “There is no other program that has the same historical depth of information that can help us understand the effect that global climate change has on bird populations across the country. When combined with current information, scientists will better understand how birds are responding to climate change and how to develop tools to help manage that change, especially for at-risk species.”

The millions of hand-scribbled cards sit in row upon row of federal green filing cabinets of ancient vintage in a modest and fittingly old office dating from before WWII. The cards contain almost all of what was known of bird distribution and natural history from the Second World War back to the later part of the 19th century, said USGS senior scientist Chan Robbins, who kept track of the cards’ whereabouts in attics and basements during the intervening years.

“When I go through the files, it is just amazing some of the stories that are recorded there,” said Jessica Zelt, who is an avid birder herself. “For example, one of our online participants recently wrote to tell me she had transcribed a migration card on purple martins by American ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice from 1926. It is exciting to see people today being linked to a piece of birding history.”

Participants recorded their name, locality and year, along with arrival and departure dates, date of abundance, and whether it was a species common in that area. Personal observations on the cards often caught the enthusiastic joy of a birder sighting a rare bird.

The collection, said Zelt, includes information on about 900 species, including some sightings of rare, extinct, or nearly extinct birds, such as the giant albatross, ivory-billed woodpecker and Carolina parakeet, birds whose very names make the hearts of avid birders go pitter-patter.

The BPP is joining efforts with the USA National Phenology Network, which has just kicked off a national program to recruit citizen scientists and professional researchers to monitor plant and animal life cycles, or phenology. The two efforts will complement each other flawlessly, with the BPP combining its expertise on historical bird data with the USA-NPN’s ongoing work to document changes in flowering, fruiting, migrations, reproduction, hibernation, and other plant and animal phenological events.

The BPP was started in 1880 by Wells W. Cooke, who wanted to broaden knowledge and understanding of migration. Eventually, famed scientist C. Hart Merriam expanded the volunteer network to include the entire United States, Canada and part of the West Indies. By the late 1880s the program had 3000 volunteers. Although the program was actively maintained by the federal government, in 1970 the program closed, until it re-opened again last year.

This program relies heavily on the participation of citizen scientists, said Zelt. It currently houses 6 million cards, which need to be scanned onto the website and then converted, solely by volunteers, into a database. Birders who want to concentrate on one particular group of birds can select that group or even a particular species.

To date, volunteers have scanned about 184,000 cards on hooded orioles, barred owls, spotted owls, scarlet tanagers, American redstarts, rose-breasted grosbeak and many other species. That leaves about 5,816,000 cards to go.

If you’d like to volunteer, visit the website. Remember that you can follow current sightings by Northern New York birders here.



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