April, 2011

Memories

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Have you ever noticed how a song can take you back to your childhood or some long stashed away memory?  The same can be said about a smell, like a special recipe your mom made when you were a child or perhaps a particular flower. Even taste has its place in the storing of your lifetimes worth of experiences. The fact is that “all” of our senses seem to help attach themselves to a special moment of our lives and have the ability to open that part of our mind as if giving us an old unique key to a hidden door that we can suddenly peak into.  Amazingly our senses give us the ability to add a sort of protective layer around particular moments in time that might have been otherwise forgotten. Each second of everyday we are bombarded with information of some kind or another and its easy to see how many of the details become lost in the pile of countless pieces of information. By heightening the overall experience at the time of the event, it’s like using a yellow highlight marker on a particular sentence buried in 10,000 words. Suddenly its easy to find that particular spot.

Image from healthmango.com

Understanding how or why that works is fairly simple, think of it another way; imagine if you were to eat 1 bowl of plain oatmeal every day for 100 days and I asked you about your experience on one “particular” meal you probably would have no idea. You would also be pretty sick of eating oatmeal. Sure maybe you would remember the first bowl, or the last might stand out a bit but most meals would sort of blend over time. Now imagine one particular meal you were surprised because unexpectedly added into the bowl was smelly and super powerful hot sauce. Suddenly, that meal no matter which of the 100 days, stands out as unique. Years later if you smell or taste that same hot sauce you would certainly remember that moment in time and a large part of that day would probably come flooding back into your mind.

As we grow from childhood our young minds associate the many things we see, taste, touch, hear and smell with our experiences and those in many ways help create the building blocks of our minds. Since the nature of growing up means many of our memories are from a younger time, we tend to perceive the world with a heightened and nostalgic view. Perhaps an old street you lived on, place you visited as a young person etc becomes sewn into your mind.

Early Spring Nature Walk

Knowing this is a powerful thing for a parent. That means you have the ability to help ensure the experiences and reflections in the life of your child are wonderful ones worthy of that hopefully nostalgic view.  That is exactly why it is so vitally important that we all remember to take our children for walks into natural habitats to admire wildlife and appreciate “their” world. As we walk through a forest, meadow or watershed (or any other habitat) the smells of the trees and flowers, the songs of the birds all fill the senses with the wonder of “life” itself. Something all of us can relate too. That positive impression left in the mind of the child can last a lifetime and the love and endearment of the natural world means that you are helping to building a better future by ensuring people still “care” in future generations.

Imagine a person in government being asked to develop a particular habitat and suddenly hears the song of a bird reminiscent of his or her childhood. Perhaps that will mean that same person has pause before making a decision that would destroy the place that they hold close to their own heart because they would also understand its importance.  Now when I was raised before the internet, cell phones even “cordless homes phones” there wasn’t much reason to stay indoors. In fact I spent all my time outdoors so much so that I grew up to do things like become a conservationist (I like the term “preservationist” better btw). So my experiences as a child did directly impact the course of my own life.

The beauty of a healthy wild place

In today’s high tech world of the iPad and smart phone ensuring constant online communication with websites like Facebook it’s hard to imagine that people have time to be outdoors. As we spend more hours in front of a computer, sadly that means less time to see what is happening in a nearby forest preserve for example.

These experiences are not to be missed at any age, but it is absolutely imperative for a child to see. In nature the scent of wildflowers in a meadow, the sound of a birds, whales and wolves singing or the feeling of bark on a pine tree all create a world of wonder and awe that locks in to your consciousness for a lifetime.  I can remember watching a Luna Moth flying at night against the back drop of the moon or and eagle landing on a salmon and flying off. Those images have forever blended into my heart and my mind is inseparable from that humble feeling of respect. They are so powerful even as the years go by and I forget little things like “why did I just walk into this room” or “what was I looking for in this drawer” I never forget those magical moments exploring the beauty of Mother Nature and I never will. That is the point I suppose. Our “memories” are built on “experiences” so ensuring we spend quality time in places that reflect the best things in life i.e., “Nature” will ensure we hold a lifetime of wonderful building blocks for our future.

Mark Fraser

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Federal Budget Cuts and the Environment

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

When thinking about something’s “value” we often get confused by just exactly what that means. Seeing value in only direct monetary terms is short sided and can easily lead us astray. Think of it this way, compare the “value” of lets say gold, to the “value” of air. We think of air as free, and gold is – well, valuable – how odd is that?   Just imagine that if you take gold away, your fine but take air away and you’ll die. Seems to me that air should have far more value then gold since we can not live without it. Compare diamonds and water – do you see my point? These days we seem to describe something as valuable based on a flawed system. All too often we loose site of what’s really important and take them for granted. The children then grow up in a world where they are taught to hold monitory things as far more important then the natural world, which is dangerous for the well being of everything and is something we need to correct right away. If you replace the word “valuable” with the word “precious” it helps but still we see terms like “precious metals” as opposed to “precious forests”.

Image from forestpolicyresearch.com

How does this poor use of the term valuable lead us astray? Take the recent budget cuts here in the United States. The goal was to cut spending so they pulled money from things considered less important, or to put it another way, less valuable. Being a naturalist all my life I knew what that meant long before anyone itemized the cuts because I have seen this many times. It means that laws protecting the environment, agencies whose job it is to enforce environmental protection even protected wildlife habitat all come under attack. That’s because of the confusion about value. There are those in government that want very much to exploit the natural world for profit and have a long track record of doing exactly that. Trading (air) and (water) for (gold) and (diamonds) when you think about it.

The irony is that I know we are better then this and so do you. I believe the majority of us care, I mean who wants their family to not have air and drinking water?  What I can not understand is why so many of us are all but unaware when these “precious and valuable” natural resources come under attack. Our future depends on our society learning to live “with” the natural world and not in spite of it. We all would rather see a clean and healthy watershed and forest then a devastated one.

Image from Care2.com

In the recent federal budget cuts were things like “lifting protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho. Now I am no economist mind you, but how exactly does failing to protect an endangered species help federal budget shortcomings? What that really is all about is special interest groups out west in this particular case, called “ranchers” who have been trying to open up wolves to hunting since they were reintroduced. The Wolf has as much right to exist on public land as any other species does and certainly more right then free roaming domestic cattle in my opinion. They are public lands we are talking about not just a particular piece of private land. Now in my case after being involved with these discussions and paying attention to what has been happening I no longer consume beef. I made that choice many years ago after hearing multiple reports of ranchers killing wolves. I figured that was the one thing I had the immediate power to do and that no one person or organization had the power to control. So instantly I was no longer their customer and therefore stopped supporting their business. When you purchase beef you are funding them after all. We have all heard the term “the customer is always right” because in business you want to protect the relationship with your customers because that is literally how you are paid. The point being if enough of the beef consuming public wants to “protect wolves” we could then demand it of the ranching community by our own purchase decisions. There are some ranchers, that have stood up and “do” actually work with environmental groups to protect their cattle but at the same time not harm the wolves. Those ranchers should get more publicity for their positive contributions and also provide a venue for those in that market. In this way, protecting wolves would become a reality because in the end of the day don’t “we the people” control that money. We just need to put our money in the right places where we see the most “value”. Imagine that instead of the flash mob phenomena simply dancing in a mall, we instead used the power of social media to take control of protecting wildlife by shifting our purchase power.  Rest assure that there is nothing that gets attention to a cause like moving our buying power money around from folks who hold that, as the most… “valuable”

Wolves are “valuable” because a clean and healthy natural world does consist of apex predators.

Image of Earth's water cycle from NASA.gov

Other recent cuts that gave me direct pause were things like the gut wrenching $1 billion from Environmental Protection Agency. Remember the EPA enforces laws to protect against greenhouse gases, clean drinking water etc. Think of what will happen at the hands of coal plants for example, without that level of monitored and safeguards in place. Other groups that received cuts were the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consisting of industry scientists around the world dealing with the impact of climate change. There was even $407 million from energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Ironic when you think about how they are cutting the funding protecting against greenhouse gases and then cutting the funding for new sciences to help break our dependency on things that produce, greenhouse gases. Projects like high speed rails not only help reduce greenhouse gases by providing alternative commuting but also create jobs so I found that odd that they have even cut funding to a high speed rail system. At the same time as we are talking about federal “overspending” I was curious about how much money was being spent overseas. What does it cost to be in Iraq and Afghanistan these days etc? A quick online search shows that we spent over 1.1 “trillion” (with a T) dollars overseas fighting battles in places that produce oil. A source of energy that creates greenhouse gases. I found this website with a chart showing how fast money is being spent overseas that is actually a near real time view. http://costofwar.com/en/ I am not affiliated with the site so I cant speak about it other then they have a great chart showing the cost.

Now let’s talk again about our use of the term “value”.

According to dictionary.com the top three definitions of value are as follows:

1. relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.

2. monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.

3. the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.

I still am not really seeing the point of why we think “money” is more “valuable” then “Clean Air”, “Clean Water” and “Wildlife”. I believe we have become confused about what’s important in life and those who would sacrifice all we have for a quick profit are making decisions that will profoundly impact each one of us, our children and the world we all share.

Nothing is more valuable then Mother Earth and its time we recognized that.

Mark Fraser

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The Jersey Barrier

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Many of us have a common path to commute from each day. Part of our normal routines headed both towards and back home from our place of daily work. Along my own commute I drive along this one particular highway that cuts in to the middle of some local conservation land. It’s a nice area with a lot of deciduous trees on either side of the highway and I have seen many species like Deer, Hawk and Fox on several occasions.

Some years back a project to widen the road began as a part of Massachusetts “Big Dig” project and the state began to open up the highway infrastructure in and around the city of Boston. For along time this had not impacted the commute in my area away from the city until finally they decided to work on the highways further north of Boston and then my normal predictable commute suddenly changed dramatically. That small little highway near conservation land was becoming larger and the work took off at a feverish pace for a couple of years or more. It took a long time for things to settle back down but in time, it eventually did. Although the daily roar of heavy equipment had stopped one legacy of the construction work remained, the “Jersey Barrier”.  For those of you who don’t know what a Jersey barrier actually is; they are those approx 3 foot tall cement walls made of snap together sections along the highways and even secondary roadways. They are made by pouring concrete into a re bar filled mold and have become all the rage in the construction world because they can be poured “as needed”. So widespread is there use as a highway traffic barrier that there hasn’t been much thought about their ecological impact. Imagine being a Mouse, Skunk, Porcupine, Opossum etc and being on the wrong side of a 3ft high smooth surface that you absolutely can not cross.

"Many species like this female Snapping Turtle run into serious problems trying to lay their eggs because they can't cross Jersey Barriers. This often causes them to become fatally trapped on the roadway."

What about a turtle trying to reach a pond? It is not a small unimportant consideration; it is becoming a very big deal. Once they were installed the forest on either side of the road was totally separated for smaller wildlife since between the north and south bound lanes were endless miles of tightly connected barriers, each tied together neatly in a long and seamless string stretching far beyond the actual conservation land and across countless towns. That habitat has been “fractionalized” into two separate non connected realms each only half of what its original size was. There are places that have water on one side in the form of a marsh and forest on the other.  The problem is that often individual towns conservation commissions miss the point since they simply see this as part of the highway department and are not necessarily thinking about the “connect-ability” of protected conservation land along the highway and rather just the single parcels themselves.

One of the most important things to consider when protecting wildlife is undoubtedly the preservation of habitat and lots of it. It seems simple enough at first thought; I mean what can be so difficult about remembering to leave some forest and wetlands aside so that our wild neighbors have a place to live? The problem comes down to more of a “big picture” scenario. By that I mean most towns and municipalities make jurisdictional laws specific for their own region, and list of conservation parcels.  This does not mean they consider the connection points between parcels especially when they intersect other towns or jurisdictions. Wildlife on the other hand doesn’t really care about what we humans call a town, state or nations border.  They are living with something we humans often idealize and rarely actually come to know and fully understand ourselves, called “Freedom”.
They will roam wherever they need to based on food availability, the search for a mate, curiosity about a new territory etc.

They don’t worry about taxes or town councils or even passports for that matter. They live a truly “free” lifestyle and do their best to live around and with, all of us. That is, until we create a physical barrier preventing them from moving across from one side of a habitat to another. Just imagine in an urban environment,  there are many roads with many Jersey Barriers.

Image from the Florida D.O.T Website

That means we can literally create “boxes” of island habitats where nothing small and flightless can get in or out from. Keep in mind “nothing will dig under a Jersey Barrier in the middle of the asphalt highway”. Just imagine if you were a small mammal and during the night attempt to cross the road to get to your drinking water, you could be in very big trouble. Wandering miles to find a place to cross trapped up against the Jersey Barrier and traffic. Too many times I have witnessed first hand turtles, opossum, skunks etc trapped up against a miles long barrier with traffic whizzing by on one side and the cement wall trapping them on the other. That being said there is a simple solution after all; why not create gaps at every few hundred feet?

It can be done and is in some case like in the image below where a simple gap has been left for wildlife.

Image from D.O.T Federal Highway Commission website

What is ironic is that image is actually from the “Department of Transportation” Highway Commission website and even comes with caption about the gap allowing wildlife to cross. Before any traffic engineers tell me that they need to connect to provide the safety benefit allow me to point out that I have also seen a few cases where there was gaps connected by a steel plate but leaving an obvious opening. I don’t know if that was made for wildlife or not but I assure you it works for their benefit. That simple act doesn’t come with a big price tag in fact it probably costs the same as not having them since you will save money buy needing slightly less Jersey Barriers to begin with but then buy the scrap steel connection braces (made from scraps of steel “Guard Rail” Material 2 ft or 3 ft long). A net cost of close to zero. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s cheap and it “works”.

You can help me spread the word on this one. If you like what you read in this article and live in a region where Jersey barriers are common without a gap for wildlife to cross please call or write to your local highway Department. Let me know what response you get by sending me an email at mfraser@naturewalkswithmark.org.  Working together we can make a difference and it’s about time we proved it. This simple and common sense consideration and action “will” positively help the lives of wildlife thanks to your own assistance within your community.

Mark Fraser

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