The Predator-Prey relationship.

The history of conservation and preservation in America, especially of animal species, has been a constant teeter-totter.  First there was the competition for game resources and the hunting off of predators like wolves and coyotes.  Then there was the destruction of habitat for those game animals as well, occasionally marked by the wholesale slaughter of the animals themselves, as with the bison herds.  Of course, we realized our mistake here, and tried to ameliorate it by protecting deer and elk from hunting on certain public lands.  Then they overpopulated and started starving themselves to death, without any natural predators.  Finally, the use of chemicals in farming and industry, which had unintended consequences on a variety of species, such as the bald eagle.  Now that we’ve banned DDT, everything is hunky-dory and they’re coming back.  In each of these cases, we ‘learned our lesson’.  We are now preserving threatened predators – wolves have been reintroduced to Yellowstone, and more mountain lions added to the existing population to sustain it.  But finding the delicate balance between managing a population of animals, preserving something of the wilds for future generations and our own enjoyment, and complying with the needs of man and economics.

Take this recent tussle between preservationists and ranchers near Yellowstone.  On the one side, you have people sorry for the madcap (and, from all written accounts, visually disturbing) slaughter of the bison herds, and on the other you have cattle farmers trying to preserve their livelihood.  But it’s not only a case of man vs. beast.  It’s also a case of how much.  How much land should the bison be given?  They have no natural predators, and they are big animals that it takes a fair amount of pasture to feed.  Are 500 bison enough to preserve, and how much land to they realistically need?  As naturally wandering animals, they are not easily contained in one area, even an area as big as Yellowstone.  Does that mean we should go ahead and kill them off to preserve the grazing land and health of cattle?  Does it mean that we should designate ever-widening areas of preserve? Does it mean the bison should be allowed to roam free – even across private property and at the expense of others?

There are no answers to these questions, no real solutions.  As best we can manage an unsteady balance.  Bravo to the Parks Service for doing so thus far.

More drugs in the water.

A day after the Associated Press came out with their findings on pharmaceuticals in our drinking water, more findings are being published regarding the impact on various plants and animals. While the primary studies are in and around Lake Mead, where water consumption is high as well as where Vegas’ sewage treatment plants exit, there have been other related studies done around the world, confirming the extent of many of these impacts.

There were a few I found particularly interesting. First, the hermaphrodite tendency. While it remains unclear (at least to me) whether or not this tendency is caused by hormones like estrogen and testosterone being released into the water, it is possible that this reaction could be a direct correlation. But basically, it has resulted in a bunch of partially hermaphroditic fish. Walleye and carp males have been reported as producing ‘egg yolk proteins’, females have actually developed male genitals, and bass of both sexes that produce sperm and eggs at the same time. Second, there’s algae. Evidently the trace amounts of pharmaceutical slop inhibits its growth. I evidently need some Lake Mead to fill up our fish tanks – but then, we’ll probably never see more fish babies after that either.

The most alarming portions of the article are not focused solely on aquatic life. Plants such as corn, lettuce, and potatoes – so staple foods – fertilized either with livestock waste or waste-water showed amounts of pharmaceuticals. So that chicken without growth hormones probably was a good buy, because we’re already registering trace amounts of that hormone being passed along. In addition, you may even be getting cholesterol medication in your daily fruits and veggies. Yum. Finally, there was an almost complete die-out of vultures in Pakistan due to eating livestock remains. So your new liver problem may be about your steak, rather than your alcohol consumption.

While researchers are already working on ‘cures’ such as bacteria that eat estrogen, maybe there’s another solution. Maybe we should stop taking so many drugs.

Organics, vegans, the environment, and lots of other stuff.

This will probably be interesting to a fairly wide readership, but perhaps not everyone would be able to implement something similar.  In talking in the car drives yesterday, the whole idea of NOT buying organic came up in the car.  Anna was kind enough to pass along this article that gives quite a few specifics about what products you should not fork over extra cash on for that special ‘o’ sticker.  Basically it focuses on individual health vs. cost.

I knew it wasn’t the whole story – in particular, I remembered reading about seafood and fish that were farm-raised in a way that had less environmental impact.  So I set out to find it.  I didn’t succeed in getting an overall list of what should be purchased to less negatively impact the enviroment, but I did find this.  I also managed to locate a number of articles about why organic produce bad or harmful to the environment.  Mostly this has to do with shipping and CO2 expenditures to move product across the globe, but this can be easily avoided by buying local if you’re careful.

There is also the whole vegetarian policy of less impact being caused by eating items lower on the food chain.  Usually, it costs less resource-wise to sustain yourself on rice and millet than on the comparative amount of cow that eats rice and millet.   Still, this lifestyle can be pretty difficult from a personal health standpoint.  In addition, not eating meat doesn’t necessarily mean you have less environmental impact.  Eating fruits and veggies that have been farmed in a typically industrial way, or even that are grown organically in Malasia and then sent here for your consumption, is probably more environmentally harmful than that free-range chicken.  Of course, strawberries locally grown using sustainable methods probably have less impact than both (mmm!  strawberries).

Most interesting was this study, which covers a range of information I found elsewhere, but is by far the most comprehensive and also gives some tips for greener eating.  Enjoy!