Friday, April 25, 2014
Precious Sierra Water, Nevada Wilderness, Rallying to Save a Watershed
Climate change portends less snowfall in the Sierras, and that means less water in California's Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds, two of the nation's most important and sensitive estuary systems. Snow melt from the Sierras feeds $400 billion in economic activities, supports four million acres of farmland, and supplies drinking water for more than 23 million people. In another look at how the Natural Resources Conservation Service works with communities, farmers and agencies, we follow the Cosumnes River and see how NRCS advisors assist in improving water quality and quantity along the downstream flow from the mountains to the coast. In the dry, harsh landscape between Las Vegas and Reno, most people see only a wasteland without much value except as a site for gold and silver mines. The mining boom days are long past, yet they still affect the way many people think about public lands like Emigrant Peak, Volcanic Hills, and Silver Peak. But now a growing number of Nevadans are beginning to appreciate the sustainable value of these lands as destinations for outdoor recreation. Visitors see a stunning variety of landscapes: the dust-dry Mojave desert, verdant marshes and pools, a maze of steep canyons with near vertical walls - a rugged and serene world that is far away in both distance and time. In Colorado, the Hermosa Creek Watershed north of Durango encompasses one of the state's largest, biologically diverse forests, including some of the biggest stands of old-growth ponderosa pine remaining in the San Juan Mountains. Most of the watershed is roadless and generally unblemished by past human activities, so it's an ideal home for native Colorado River cutthroat trout, rare Canada lynx, and vast herds of deer and elk that draw thousands of hunters annually. An expansive trail system attracts countless hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, horseback users, and other recreational enthusiasts. In a landmark collaboration, a working group of diverse local interests has developed a long-term conservation plan to manage
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Prairie Chickens and Bog Turtles, Watershed Filtering, Bycatch Survival
Maintaining extensive tracts of open, well-managed prairie is critical to the conservation of greater prairie chickens, a species of grouse found in parts of 10 states. In Kansas, where 97 percent of the land is privately owned, ranchers are the most important stewards of the prairies, and they get assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to clear their land of invasive trees like the eastern red cedar, improving grassland habitat for prairie chickens as well as for cattle. A similar program helps landowners protect wetland habitat for threatened bog turtles in Delaware and other areas on the East Coast. In an Oregon high school, students design and develop a "bioswale", a strip of land with plants that filter silt, oil and grime out of the runoff from the school's parking lot - "hands-on" learning about pollution, watershed management and environmental impacts. Off the coast of San Diego, marine biologists test a new device for increasing the survival rate of fish caught as bycatch by sport fishermen. Entered in a competition sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, the SeaQualizer is proving effective as a solution to the problem of barotrauma with bottom-dwelling fish that are released at the surface as bycatch. The expanded bladder prevents the fish from returning to their original depth when released at the surface as bycatch, and mortality is very high. The SeaQualizer employs a non-invasive method of returning fish to depth and is highly effective at increasing the survival rate. "If it can't bite you, it's not interesting," laughs Mississippi State University biologist David Ray, who does very interesting studies on alligators, crocodiles, bats, and flies, among other creatures. Mapping alligator and crocodile genomes is helping scientists with everything from trying to save the odd-looking Indian gharial, to tracing the links between modern reptiles, dinosaurs, and birds.