The ‘stuff’ we buy hurts the birds we love

Jeffrey Wells, San Francisco Chronicle
…Californians are part of a paradox that includes birders throughout the country. More and more scientific reports show that many of the birds we so love are in decline. That includes many of the species that San Francisco has always provided for each winter. Surf scoters have declined by 70 percent over the last three decades; greater scaup, by 50 percent.

So if the numbers of American bird enthusiasts are on the rise, why are our birds on the decline?

The answer is probably not surprising: Most Americans still do not make the connection between the “stuff” we consume and the impact it has on the environment. How many, for example, know that the United States imports more oil and gas from Canada than from any other nation? More even than from Saudi Arabia! How many understand that much of the junk mail and catalogs they receive is printed on paper made from virgin timber from Canada’s boreal forest?

That’s the same boreal forest that nurtures those surf scoters, greater scaup, and 3 billion more birds. The same boreal forest that is one of the last large remaining wilderness areas on the planet – one of a handful of places left on Earth where it is possible to fly over terrain for hours without seeing roads and cities and industrial complexes. And the same boreal forest, whose thick layers of moss, soil and peat form one of the world’s largest terrestrial storehouses of carbon, that offers a protective shield against climate change.

At 1.4 billion acres, Canada’s boreal forest is the largest intact forest and wetland ecosystem left on the planet. But Canada’s boreal – America’s bird nursery – is under siege from oil and gas drilling, mining and logging. Most of these resources are being consumed by those of us here in the United States.

Jeffrey Wells, senior science adviser the Pew Charitable Trust’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign, is author of “Birder’s Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk” (Princeton University Press, 2007). For more information, go to
(21 November 2007)

A future for fishing

Jim Webb, San Francisco Chronicle
…I’ve seen the effects of marine reserves in our ocean with my own eyes. Last month, I joined a group of anglers and scientists who are monitoring fish populations at Point Lobos south of Monterey, where a small marine reserve established in the 1970s just got bigger. The abundance of fish in this area was incredible – we caught fish so quickly that the scientists on board were barely able to keep pace. The abundance, size and variety of fish were unlike anything I have seen in more than 30 years of fishing the California Coast.

No one is more interested in the long-term health of the ocean than fishermen, which is why recreational fishermen demanded marine reserves in the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara. This is also why I participated in designing California’s plan for new protected areas along the Central Coast. These new protected areas were developed based on scientific advice but also with input from everyday folks, including fishermen like myself.

Jim Webb is an avid recreational fisherman who lives in Cambria (San Luis Obispo County).
(21 November 2007)

Earth’s Eighth Continent

David Reid, the Phoenix via The Tyee
It swirls. It grows. It’s a massive, floating ‘garbage patch.’

Located in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii and measuring in at roughly twice the size of Texas, this elusive mass is home to hundreds of species of marine life and is constantly expanding. It has tripled in size since the middle of the 1990s and could grow tenfold in the next decade.

Although no official title has been given to the mass yet, a popular label thus far has been “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

As suggested by the name, the island is almost entirely comprised of human-made trash. It currently weighs approximately 3.5 million tons with a concentration of 3.34 million pieces of garbage per square kilometer, 80 per cent of which is plastic.

Due to the Patch’s location in the North Pacific Gyre, its growth is guaranteed to continue as this Africa-sized section of ocean spins in a vortex that effectively traps flotsam.

…So far, no country has so much as proposed a solution, presumably because no nation wishes to claim responsibility.

Even if all plastic usage were to stop immediately, future geologists would be able to clearly mark the stratum designating the 20th and 21st century by an indelible layer of plastic coating the world’s oceans.
(21 November 2007)