The business of conservation usually involves land. By securing and protecting specific zones, wilderness or roaming areas for wildlife can be preserved, giving them a sanctuary from development. So, it’s been a common strategy for many conservation groups to get into the real estate business with the intent of securing, owning and protecting wilderness areas with one of the most capitalist of protections, property rights.
However, in 2022, the definition of what a conservation project should be has been redefined entirely by what will turn out to be Canada’s largest conservation effort located in northern Ontario. The National Conservancy of Canada spearheaded the Boreal Wildlands Project, in partnership with Ontario Province as well as Canada’s national government agencies for the environment. The project involved will cover a region including 1,300 kilometers and 100 individual lakes. In between those boundaries, it includes dozens of rivers, shores, creeks, streams, forest, meadows and many other wilderness zones typical of greater Canada. The full boundaries of the project reach 1,500 square kilometers in total, and it easily outsizes the city of Toronto in comparison.
From the National Conservancy’s perspective, much of the area included is under critical stress and, without protection, will likely die off permanently. The property involved was originally forest harvesting land owned by Domtar. The company liquidated the holding at a discount so that it could be afforded by the National Conservancy. To date, $46 million has been covered, and a remaining $13 million remains on the balance due.
The area was for years a resource production zone for wood pulp that would in turn be used to produce paper for the Ontario markets. However, in the last 10 years or so the area has been left untouched. Given the unlikely possibility that harvesting was going to restart any time soon, Domtar decided it was a smarter business move to cash out. Domtar not only gets the goodwill benefits from being involved in the conservation project, it also realizes far strong bonds with government agencies that will likely return dividends later in the future.
For the Nature Conservancy, taking on the 1,500 kilometer project will be its biggest venture yet. Two-thirds of the zone is already under active conservation protection, and the remaining third is in negotiation with local municipalities also affected by the change. Ideally, many want to see results from eco-tourism as well as balancing interests with indigenous rights to the region as well, such as the Constance Lake First Nation.
On the government side of things, regulators are watching the deal given that it is technically entirely private side. The government expects to see a continuing partnership with the Conservancy in the matter going forward, and the Province is interested in the creation of parks as well in the future.
Fundraiser Helps Achieve an $87 Million Bridge for Cougars
When it comes to being a conservationist, Beth Pratt has leaped the Grand Canyon. It’s one thing to support the protection of an endangered animal. It’s quite another to come up with $87 million to help protect the ability for a pack of cougars to cross a major highway safely and without being killed by a vehicle traveling 70 mph.
The particular stretch of road involved is state route 101, cutting through the Agoura hills in Southern California. This particular stretch is home to a number of wildlife species, and the highway itself might as well be a giant wall, since trying to cross it as an animal is practically a death sentence. Those that do succeed generally find a lucky moment, usually at night when the traffic is less.
Beth Pratt understands the economics of saving valuable land for wildlife. While morally, folks should just make it possible, the fact is that property ownership and rights dictate American life, especially when it involves land. So, rather than fighting a useless fight trying to stop an already built highway from killing cougars, she went in the opposite direction by coming up with the funds to build a wildlife overpass so that cougars and other species could cross safely.
There’s no question that Pratt is dedicated to the cause. She literally has a cougar tattoo’ed on her arm, a very big one. So, after spending a decade making the impossible happen, Pratt is now on the cusp of seeing her dream of a path over the 10-lane 101 highway a reality. Named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, the idea borrows from projects already doing the same in Europe, reshaping the land so that vehicle roads and highways become neutral to the territories and wildlife areas they cross.
Measuring some 200 feet from one end to the other, the bridge is no small path either. It measures almost as wide as it is long, approximately 165 feet across. It’s a fat swath of land for all types of creatures to move easily. The cougars will definitely benefit. Biologists and researchers have concluded one particular pack is practically trapped on the south side of the freeway, suffering from gene pool deficiency as they are unable to find additional mates outside of their small group. If nothing is done, the same species is likely to disappear entirely by extinction in a half century. By providing a pathway across the 101, the cougars can travel again, find additional mates and increase their gene pool tremendously.
The project was seemingly on the 11th hour run, trying to find its last $5 million last December. However, fortunately, things pulled together and by January the bridge project had its funding. It was going to become a reality that Pratt had worked on, sweated over and put her name on for ten long years. Pratt worked the beat tremendously, trying to generate the funding needed via donations from Los Angeles supporters.
Today, Pratt knows the cougar bridge is a game-changer, setting the example of how to protect and live with wildlife versus developing it out of existence. Hopefully, the pattern sticks long after Pratt can’t work the phone anymore. But that’s a long way off, and even in her 50s, Pratt is already working on new conservation projects. There’s no time to rest.
Bison Herds are Now Back at Rosebud
Most people who have studied American history in school learned at some point that buffalo used to roam the plains of the Midwest in the millions. Dubbed bison in biological terms, those same animal herds meant a viable resource for multiple migratory indigenous tribes until development arrived, first with the railroad and then with towns and ultimately over-hunting and decimation.
At a rate of 25,000 killed annually, the great bison herds eventually disappeared. And, with wars and containment, the indigenous peoples that survived off the bison disappeared from the plains as well. After that, the Midwest was parceled into state territories and fully developed into the modern U.S. it is today.
The number of surviving bison today is a splinter shade of what used to exist. At 31,000 animals across the entire country, American bison are practically museum relics of their ancestors. Worse, they break up into two types, plains bison at 20,000 and wood bison numbering about 11,000. However, with a recent project, at least 60 bison have been relocated to the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, once again creating a presence historically on a land that used to be their primary home in South Dakota.
Ideally, the number of bison expected to be in the region will total some 900 animals by the arrival of winter. And, with calving, that total should bump up to an even 1,000. In total, it will then become the largest herd in the U.S. managed by Native Americans.
For a bit, it was challenging to get the bison to roam. They were quite comfortable just sitting in the fenced-off corrals they had been in for years. However, once a few brave specimens got out and looked around, the rest of the pack started to follow. Now, the feeling of a bison herd on the move has returned to the plains. It’s not quite as thunderous as in the 1800s, but they can still be felt like a memory coming back to the land. For the residents of the Rosebud Reservation, it was a full-circle return of heritage to the area.
Ideally, by 2025, there should be a break off of five different herds, each totaling 1,000 animals. The rapid growth of the animal populations and herds is extremely promising in terms of restoring their presence again on the Dakota plains. Having been missing for almost a century and a half, the return of the bison now in 2022 is both real and spiritual for the Sioux residents and tribal members. The presence and attraction of the bison also provide a conduit for education about Lakota life, as it was historically and now, further generating new life on the Reservation for new generations to come.
New Zealand Embraces Wildlife Revival Amidst Conservation Craze
We are increasingly living in environmentally aware times. As more and more consumers turn to companies that embrace environmentalism, it is becoming increasingly clear that the world is in the middle of its conservationist craze. Nowhere has this been better embodied than in the capital of New Zealand, Wellington. Since the inception of Zelandia, a fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary, Wellington has been embracing an explosion of wildlife and a passion for animals that has seemingly changed the entire city.
Let’s take a closer look at Zealandia as we seek to better understand the conservation craze taking over Wellington.
Welcome to Zealandia
The implementation of Zealandia has helped Wellington experience an explosion in the wildlife that harkens back to its state of yesteryear, long before the arrival of humans and pests such as rats and birds that came along with them. Zealandia is the world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary and it is just a ten-minute drive from downtown Wellington. Zealandia seeks to emulate a part of Wellington’s past, bringing a slice of nature back to life reminiscent of the area some 700 years ago.
James Willcocks is the Project Director for Predator Free Wellington, a group that focuses on a community-wide effort to eradicate pests in the area. Willcocks spoke in an interview regarding Zealandia and its impact on the surrounding area. Willcocks said, “In this era where there are so many negative signals from the world – global species decline, COVID, climate change – there’s something people can do in their backyards.”
Willcocks and the team at Predator Free Wellington are focused on making the nation free from predators such as stoats, weasels, and rats – as well as other problematic predators in the area. In getting rid of these pests, Willcocks has been instrumental in helping to rejuvenate Zealandia.
Danielle Shanahan is the Chief Executive at Zealandia and they were quick to emphasize the work being done on a local level. Shanahan said, “I don’t think anyone could have predicted this level of success in terms of the bird community.”
Thanks to the efforts of Zealandia and Predator Free Wellington, Shanahan says, “Species that have been gone from this region for over 100 years (have returned).”
New Zealand has experienced many conservation success stories in recent years, with the most notable among them being that of the endangered kaka. The endangered Kaka is a large green parrot that faced extinction due to habitat loss and predation. Another similar success story in the rehabilitation field is that of the Tui, and the kereru pigeon.
Local sightseers are reveling in the ecosystem revitalization that Zealandia has been working on. Not only have bird encounters increased in the region, but marine animals have even returned to the water of the nearby harbor. Fur seals and dolphins are exceedingly common, while orca will arrive several times throughout the year to feed on stingrays.
Dianella Biaggo of the Wellington City Council said, “It’s pretty extraordinary when we have orca visible from our downtown buildings.”
Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas Population Is Growing
People oftentimes hear about various species becoming endangered and great lengths being taken to protect the numbers that are left. However, because such instances tend to be so distant and far away, many think that the efforts are useless. That’s why the mountain gorillas of Rwanda have been such a different case.
For generations, the gorillas have been profiled in National Geographic magazines, nature shows, TV specials, books, magazines and more. And as a result, unlike many other threatened species, the Rwandan gorillas have been watched and seen, year after year. Much of that exposure has been due to the work of Dian Fossey, a naturalist and scientist who put herself with the threatened gorillas, both to study them and protect the animals. Because of her work, Rwandan gorillas became visible and, more importantly, became a priority for the world. That made a difference.
When Fossey first started, the gorillas were down to 254 individuals, a miniscule number given they were the last of their species in the entire world. Amazingly, that number has now almost tripled. Further, there is now an additional 400 more in adjacent Uganda as well. It has taken decades, and Fossey’s work triggered a massive response partnership with government, scientists, conservationists, and human communities in the vicinity. The results have produced a chance of survival for the gorillas, something they didn’t have when Dian Fossey got started.
Locally, the mountain range that makes up the home area for the gorillas is known as Virunga Volcanoes. However, it was Fossey who gave them the title of the Gorillas in the Mist, a name that stuck and became popular in spreading awareness about the endangered animals.
Dian Fossey has since passed, but many dedicated personnel continue her work locally with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, a non-profit committed to the gorilla’s research and protection. That was well after Fossey herself spent 18 years plus working practically alone before her work gained attention. She was part of a critical group in anthropology, and shared work with names like Jane Goodall as well.
Today, the gorillas are part of a government-protected sanctuary. And they are not isolated in obscurity. Instead, the government allows groups of visitors, limited to a handful per trip, to travel with an expert and see the gorillas in person. The experience is both an income generator for additional protection as well as a chance for people to be educated in person about the Rwandan gorilla colony in its home. Additionally, the income helps the local villages as well, which goes a tremendous way in preventing poaching, a key activity locals were engaged in to make money when there was no protection and black market demand for gorilla body parts was in high demand.
There’s no question that the gorillas would not have survived had it not been for the popularity popular attention towards the animals. And, while some will complain that the monetization of the animals is just capitalism corrupting things again, the same income has been providing the resources to both protect the gorillas as well as help them grow in numbers.
Start-up Plans to Use Miracle Tree to Address Climate and Hunger Issues
“Miracle trees” known as Pongamia, which can thrive in parched deserts and produce goods akin to olive and soybean oil, are the goal of startup Terviva.
Canary Media’s Eating the Earth blog examines the link between our dietary choices and the climate in which we live.
It would be a miracle if the world could be fed without frying the world. We’d have to find a way to produce far more food while consuming far less land. We’d also have to plant a lot more trees if we wanted to lessen the quantity of atmospheric carbon while also increasing the level of carbon stored on Earth.
It appears that a miracle has occurred.
This tropical tree, known as Pongamia, has agricultural superpowers that make it look like a regular tropical tree. However, unlike soybeans, it can generate far greater nutrition for every acre than soybeans, making it a viable alternative to soybeans.
Even on the most deteriorated terrain, it may thrive without the use of herbicides or irrigation. Due to its ability to remove both carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, it rarely necessitates the use of fertilizer, which has the additional effect of speeding up climate change.
With this in mind, it can be said that it is the ideal crop for a planet that is becoming increasingly hot and hungry while also experiencing a severe pollution problem from agricultural pesticides. Modern farming is under fire for contaminating and depleting soils, but Pongamia can help stabilize and regenerate the soil.
While agriculture is responsible for one-third of global emissions, Pongamia farming reduces emissions by sequestering roughly five tons of carbon annually per acre.
Pongamia is a reforestation crop that can rebuild deforestation products like palm and soy oil with no need for the use of chemicals, diesel tractors, or even add water. Pongamia is virtually a response to prayer for the earth. In a warming world, it’s an incredibly hardy, self-sufficient tree that can thrive in the harshest conditions, even amid a jungle.
Pongamia, which has been growing wild in Australia and South Asia for many thousand years, has just recently been domesticated and reimagined as a power crop in the US. Even so, if we’re going to reach the objectives of the Paris treaty while expanding agricultural output by 50 percent for feeding 10 billion individuals, we’ll need some revelations.
A lack of familiarity with Pongamia suggests that this column won’t be a continuous stream of positive news about the world’s agriculture sector. As a result of devastating depletion in Africa and other countries and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the global food supply is in jeopardy.
However, the harvest is truly awe-inspiring and extraordinary. For the sake of humanity, it may be a boon to the globe. Tervita, the Oakland-based business attempting to make Pongamia accessible to the general public, also has a fascinating and amazing narrative to tell.
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