Posts Tagged ‘Forests’

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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The End of the World

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

If I had a dime for every time in my life that I heard the end of the world was coming, I would have a lot of dimes. Many people talk about end of days predictions and put them in to religious context that fit neatly into one belief or another. Now that may be convenient when trying to understand life on this planet from a religious point of view but I have to say in my opinion that doesn’t have anything at all to do with the future of our home world. There is no need to sell your house or live frivolously since you might feel that very soon “it won’t matter anyway” in fact, that would be a bad plan and lead you in the wrong direction. You see the world has been around for “billions” of years so long in fact that our species entire existence on this planet is a mere blink in the context of history. End of the world predictions make great headlines and get lots of attention from their sexy media hype and fear factor. All that emotional momentum  is great until the day “after” the supposed end when everyone who publicly believed that the end was actually arriving and ran around at the brink of insanity suddenly is left with that Y2K feeling of “whoops”.  H.G Wells knew all about the power of that belief and also how upset people get the next day.

I do not live life worrying about not being alive,  that doesn’t make any sense at all to me as I would much rather spend life paying attention to the wonder of being alive in the first place and cherish the time I do have.

From George Pal's "War of the Worlds" 1953

See when we incorrectly think “it doesn’t matter anyway” that false hopelessness creates an opportunity for excuses causing some to take the easy route in life. That in turn can actually incorrectly justify a behavior that is bad for the health of our home, the Earth. When you think it makes no difference then why recycle?  Why spend time worrying about preservation of wildlife habitat, etc. That kind of thinking is what needs to come to an end of days.  The Earth is a special place, truly a sacred gift. Just for a moment take a deep breath and appreciate you are floating in space in this mostly liquid bubble. There are millions of life forms on the planet right beside you that all do their part to represent the overall bounty of life on this planet which also “includes” us humans.

Once along the banks of a lake in the mud I found a great fossil, which upon review turned out to be a Trilobite. Now this species has been extinct for over 350 million years. So I am looking into a window in time, showing me a world of life long before we were worried about the end of a Mayan calendar. I suppose all things considered the end of days did come for the Trilobite – they went extinct after all; but that came at the end of a mass extinction when the Permian epoch came to a close. Many species were lost during that very difficult time and yet even then, life continued. Hundreds of millions of years later as humans showed up on the scene we certainly have made an impact on the planet.

Trilobite Fossil Image from South Dakota Museum

We are capable of such amazing and wondrous things and sadly are also capable of so much destruction. All things considered we are an amazing species in our own right. Sure we stumble and make mistakes some much larger then others but we are also capable of music and art, dancing and love. We can help other species when they are in harms way and possibly, one day even protect the entire planet from a comet or asteroid.  So for all our flaws we carry our own beauty to the planet we share.

So let’s get back to the “End of the World”. It does happen according to species like Mammoths that have gone the way of the Trilobite. They are gone now so to them their world really is over.

Some day, our own species will exist no more as well and we will actually go to the place that all those who came before us have gone.

I just don’t think it will happen on a specific predetermined day. I think we can certainly carve out our own niche for now and someday if we are in fact faced with the end of our own specific epoch of history then I would rather have “lived” as well as possible long before that time comes to fruition. The truth is we need to plan on being here for a very long time which means we “do” need to watch how we utilize our natural resources and monitor our impact on the planets health.   If we treat the world like the sacred gift that it really is and learn to truly respect the health and well being of all the other species we share this amazing planet with, then I believe our time here will be a happy time.  Let’s ” discuss saving our planet ” this way  instead of the so called “End of Days” lets think about the “beginning of a new day” when we celebrate life on the beautiful gift, “Mother Earth”.

Mark Fraser

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You Are Not Alone

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

A long time ago in North America, a great man that came to be known as the “Peacemaker” met with representatives of many northeastern indigenous nations to demonstrate the power of unity. He held a single arrow in the air and with a quick snap demonstrated how easily it could be broken as a single individual. He then took many arrows and bound them together, and tried to break them with all his might but could not. “Together we are strong” he proclaimed. That inspirational meeting led to the founding of the “Haudenosaunee” also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. The social implications set into motion a chain of events which eventually traveled around the entire planet as European settlers in America were inevitably introduced to their first democratic participatory system before the United States ever even existed. That amazing political and social model of representatives from different groups and nations to vote for the overall benefit of everyone created a model that influenced everything from the United States constitution to the assembly of the United Nations. Though today those facts are often overlooked in many of the history books, a little digging clearly demonstrates the power of unity of thought, or another way to look at it is “To be of one mind”.

“We Are All related” and very much so in fact, every atom in our bodies has the same origins as every thing else on this amazing planet. That is not a gesture; it is science and is one of the amazing truths to life on the Earth. So we are connected in ways that most, hardly even understand or are aware of. Knowing that together we really are strong and that we each are connected is a great place to start from when talking about the environment as whole.

With the world economies in serious turmoil, what environmental laws there are to protect our forests and watersheds seem to be on the chopping block yet again. Unlike the social activism of the 1960s and 1970s recent generations have quieted down to a point where many of the things we believe in and care for have honestly come under very serious and real threats. If we do not stand up for what we believe in, then who will? Our willingness to preserve natural resources is the only thing stopping big business from literally leveling everyplace we know and hold sacred for the pursuit of money, a particular kind of hunger that can “never” be satisfied.

Remember that many arrows bound together will not break; the point is that when we all stand together with pride and honor then we are strong enough to be capable of creating real social change. You are “not” alone at all in fact there are millions of us who really do care about wildlife and the health of the natural world. Even many environmental groups have become businesses as opposed to voices for the people so efforts to protect wildlife often focus on cute cuddly species that are easy to raise money for.

It is time for “all” of us to be heard. The natural world is not an object to be bought and sold like a product at a retail store; it is the habitat that “we” need to survive. Humans and wildlife all share a common destiny, what happens to wildlife really does happen to us. That is much more then a nice saying, it’s a fact… When you hear about species extinctions on television or online remember you are also a species and the habitat loss causing that extinction is working its way into your own habitat as well.

We have reached a fork in the road of our history like never before and have to now decide which way to go. Do we sit back and let big businesses decided what happens to the clean and wild places we all love and cherish or do we grab the steering wheel and change the course of our destiny to a better place?

“We decide”. Just know this for those of you who do stand to help preserve clean and healthy wild places, to raise your voices to be heard in your communities you remember that “You are not alone” and I am standing right beside you, we all are.

Mark Fraser

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Real Magic, it’s all natural

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

Yes, I said “real magic”, I am not referring to a parlor trick like pulling a domestic rabbit from a top hat or making flowers appear from a cane.

I actually mean everything from levitation to the ability to make one’s self invisible. In the natural world, we see wonders that make the best high end Las Vegas magic show seem at best, cute. No offense to those who make their living that way but

let’s face it, that’s smoke and mirrors.When we look at “Mother Nature”,  it is not only reality it’s biological.

I have been Scuba Diving of the Massachusetts coast for over 20 years. Now some would argue that the colder murky green waters in the north east offer far less to admire but I am here to tell you that is far from the case.

I have seen the most amazing things diving in less than 65 feet of water that sometimes defy logic yet there they were. Let’s take “invisibility” for example, well that’s no problem for species of fish I commonly see like the incredible “Flounders”. This oval shaped fish has several types like the “Winter flounders” and is commonly found off the New England coast as is the similar albeit rounder “Window Pane”. They can change both their color and patterns on their skin to match the surrounding sea floor so perfectly they become literally “invisible”. Sure they are not as famous as the cuddle fish for such abilities but they deserve a sea full of respect for their amazing art of camouflage or as they like to say in the magic business “invisibility”.

It’s not just fish that have this ability, Take the American Bittern. A medium sized heron species with golden stripes on its belly. Standing in its grassy habitat it also will rely on its own form of magic. If it wants to disappear, it will look up to the sky and start to sway it’s body from left to right mimicking the grass swaying in the breeze so the patterns on its belly look undetectable against the surrounding grass. I had no idea how incredible this ability was until I had the honor of seeing a Bittern in the wild standing still in an open field. I watched as it lifted its head looking up to the sky and began to sway “perfectly” matching the grass swaying in a gentle breeze, then within in a second, it disappeared and I could no longer see it until it started to walk away. Ok Los Vegas, give that one a
try! Evan some species of lizards have the ability to blend in to their surroundings so well that you would hardly notice they were there at all.

So let’s talk about levitation. For this, I will leave the sea out of it because that is not only common but as a diver I can do that one myself with the right balance of air in my vest called a “BCD” and weights. What about out of the water, and in the open air and to make it more interesting, not including birds like the Hummingbird since we all know they have that down to a science.   How about spiders? Yes that’s right they can levitate themselves. It’s called “ballooning” and many species can travel this way and even amazing distances. They use a silk called “gossamer” or “Balloon Silk” to weave their magic to life. There is evidence they can travel up to 16,000 feet in the air and over 1000 miles far beyond the distance of any great magician’s theater at the finest venue. They walk to tallest point in the immediate area, then create their “balloon silk” waving it in the air where the tiniest of breezes can carry them away. Even the young “spiderlings” of many species get in on the act as a way to leave home and start off on their own life’s journey. There are even caterpillars and mites that also have this amazing ability. Of course this is an old hat trick when talking about plants like Milkweed or the Dandelion that like many species use levitation to transport their own seeds.
In nature “Levitation” is not only real its fairly common among many species.

So in review, we have covered both invisibility and levitation in the natural world.

Ok no big magician act is ever complete with out a bonus “encore” presentation for the audience. Have you seen a magician saw someone into pieces? Of course we know that’s done with the help of a couple assistants squished into boxes one with the feet hanging out and the other showing the top half to appear as if they were actually cut into pieces. Thankfully that’s fake, just a trick.  Now let’s look at another animal magician, the Sea Sponge. Although they look more like plants they are actually animals and they have a trick that would put any would-be magician out of business. If they are actually passed through a tiny screen mesh, they come out on the other side and start to regroup back into a sponge. Not that I would ever want to do that mind you but it’s not trickery, it’s the real deal.

Is their “real magic?” there answer is; yes very much so and it’s all natural. All we need to do is look it’s actually all around us.

Mark Fraser

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Living with Carnivores: The Coy Wolf

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

Wildlife comes in all shapes and sizes and I truly love them all, but let’s face it some species have a bad rap.  Carnivores for example seem to suffer from a skewed public image.  Let’s talk about that for a moment. Cats are carnivores, and very serious ones at that. When domestic cats are left outside suddenly cuddly little fee-fee is pouncing on Chipmunks and songbirds and in fact “millions” of birds and many other species are taken each year from our domestic pets.  Despite this fact, Cats are considered “cute” so regardless of the science about what really happens, they are left outside and continue to harm local wildlife because they are lucky or even smart enough, to make friends with humans. That’s an important survival skill for a carnivore these days since we are still learning how to coexist with wildlife.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

Let’s look at another species, the “Coy-Wolf” also sometimes called the Eastern Coyote. This is a large predator with some animals reaching huge sizes of 50 to 60 pounds double their western cousins and is actually due to the genetics of being a hybrid between the Western Coyote and the Eastern “red” Wolf.  Like the Cat, this animal is a true carnivore and in the case of the Coy-Wolf is also a very intelligent opportunistic and social hunter.  Unlike that Cat, the Coy-Wolf suffers from a very serious public image problem. They pay a terrible price for that fact and are hunted relentlessly in many areas of their habitat and despite their wild beauty, haven’t yet been able to win over us humans.  Coy-Wolves are a “stunning” looking animal reminiscent of wild times long ago and one would think that people would warm up to them.  They look like, and are very closely related to dogs who are our best friends so what exactly is going on? Well first of all we can’t tame them and many people are bothered by that.  They are really wild, not like the domestic cat who just acts like that when you’re not looking.  The other problem is a real one – they sometimes will eat unprotected cats that are left outside. Our pets are our family and people who have lost a small dog or cat to a coyote or Coy-Wolf certainly have good reason to be upset.  There is however more to the story, and rushing to judgment isn’t always the best approach.  Living with carnivores requires some disciplines to ensure the safety of your household pet as well as the safety of the wildlife. Think of it this way, living next to a road (like most of us do) is far more dangerous. We learn common sense rules at a very young age. “Look both ways before crossing”, “stay in your lane when driving” and the list goes on and on. Following these rules is the best way to ensure your safety. Would you let your small dog or cat cross a busy highway?  Of course not, that’s because you know the rules and the consequences.  Living with carnivores also comes with rules and is by far, much safer then the highway. If you leave food outside for your pet you most likely will attract wildlife including carnivores.  So leaving a doggy dish with food in it can attract Coy-wolves.   Leaving your pet outside unattended is taking a chance that could put your pet in harm’s way so try and keep a leash on your pet or at a minimum stay with your pet. Most importantly, do not let your pets out at night. There is no need since you can easily set a schedule with your pet so they go out when it’s safe to do so. If you must let them out at night for some reason remember the earlier leash rule.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

Like the highway, following all the rules doesn’t mean that something unexpected can never happen however, it will greatly reduce the risk of an incident that can hurt your pet, and the wildlife.  People often ask if humans are at risk from Coyotes and Coy-Wolves. The answer is certainly “no” you are completely safe I have been in the presence of these animals many times. Here is another way to make the point. Every year, there are more fatalities from “domestic dogs” then there are from coyotes or coy-wolves in “all of recorded history”. Please read the previous sentence twice, it’s important.

The environment flourishes when there are carnivores its nature’s way and trust that she knows exactly what she is doing-she has had alot of practice.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

The world is far better with Coy-Wolves.  Mother Nature chose them to fill a niche in the natural world fixing an apex predator void that we humans created. Learn about this beautiful species online from scientists studying the species like Dr Way http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com and cherish their incredible songs. Recently I had the honor of spending time with Dr Way tracking radio collared Coy-Wolves during the night and studying them.  His critical research is helping to better understand this amazing and yet poorly understood species. You’ll see more about the Coy-Wolf and observe some actual film taken during the research trip in the coming weeks on the Nature Walks Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/nwwmark

They are as beautiful as any species you will meet and I hope in time we all can learn to both appreciate, and live “with” this beautiful singing wild k9 called the Coy Wolf.

Mark Fraser

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Native Wild Flowers a magic place

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

These days many of us are caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives hardly noticing the goings on in a forest or swamp. Even within feet of our own homes wildlife continue to carve out a niche. At night while we sleep many species begin their moonlit search for food. Life in the wild can be tough especially these days where their habitats are so very fragmented between the ever growing developments of humankind.

I know many of us wonder “how could I help” sometimes thinking that the big picture is out of our hands. Some even think that there’s an agency or government group that will come by and save the day however that is not going to be the case. You see each of us individually contribute to the problem and therefore, we are each part of the “key” that will unlock the solution.  The fact is “you” do matter and “your” input is critically important.

What if we looked at our residential development in a brand new way where we consider our overall ecological impact? Is that so radical of a thought? The good news is that when you actually think about it, it’s really not very difficult at all.

We could look at each of our own yards as eco-friendly habitats where birds were safe from toxic poisons like lawn chemicals. We could inspire native plant species to thrive and therefore help insects as well.  These simple steps only make our yards much more beautiful and allot healthier then a chemical filled nearly sterile lawn. For example, imagine if every home created something as simple and beautiful as a native wildflower garden section right in the yard. This would allow pollinators like wild native bees and many other insects to find a source of food. That in turn creates food for birds and so on. Simple steps like this can make an enormous positive impact on a very large scale when you think of the big picture and make a great contribution to the health of wildlife species that live right in our own backyard. You see that is something “you” can personally work on taking care of your part, in the big picture.  If many of us did this throughout a community we can make a huge impact, this can grow to a national or even a global scale. That’s the power of working together as a collective. It’s a trick found in nature from ants and Bees as well as many species around the Earth. There is strength in numbers and it all starts with each one doing their part. That means both you and me right in our own backyard.

Choose not to use chemicals and research the impact they have on birds and other species that can eat poisoned insects and even unknowingly feed them to their young ones. You see your part in keeping the world green, clean and healthy literally depends on your choices and your ability to share those good choices. If you allow for a “green patch” of wild flowers and share that story with others you may actually inspire them to do the same.

Then the idea can grow wild, on its own, just like the flowers themselves. If you have children show them the magic of all the different species that live in your native wildflower garden and research the many species you may find there.

You may even find unexpected things like Eft Newt, Frogs and countless others species. There’s a magical world of wonder to be found even in small patches of native wild flowers and you can help protect wildlife with something that takes no more effort than to simply not mow it down.

It seems like a wonderful trade when you think about it!

Mark Fraser

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The Brilliance of Autumn

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

Most of my life I have lived in the North Country in one area or another. That has allowed me to appreciate the brilliant fall colors during their annual return. Sure the autumn is brief, but certainly everyone will agree it is by far the most beautiful of seasons. The weather and moisture can have a huge effect on the fall colors. If the season is too wet, fungus like tar spots and anthracnose can create brown patches on the leaves.  Wind storms can remove the leaves too early in the season. This year in 2010, everything was just right in Mother Nature’s kitchen and the fall is absolutely breathtaking.

The colors on a sunny day are so bright that I have on many occasions had the vibrant yellow and brilliant reds seemingly burned into my vision after walking through the forest and I’ll have splashes of color in my mind for weeks to come.  The nights are just right for sitting by a campfire and that allows us to listen to the sounds of the forest. Species from Owls to Coy-wolves sing to the night giving us the magic sound of the chilly autumn nights.  

Wooly bear caterpillars can be seen roaming the ground across the autumn leaves and ungulates like Deer and Moose are engaged in the rut so the bucks are boasting their striking antlers as they fight for the right to procreate.  There is something wonderful about the change of seasons. A cyclic change happening each year and if you were raised in a part of the world where you can enjoy this phenomenon then every few months you’ll seem to naturally expect even yearn for the pending change.

As autumn quickly passes by, we see the leaves earn their namesake and “Fall” until all deciduous trees are bare, remaining dormant until the following spring.  This survival tactic has allowed them to survive the harsh cold of winter. Conifers keep their needles and are protected from frost with a natural wax coating. The same trees are a crucial survival food for species during winter like Red Squirrels who are safe in their dens with food caches of “Pine Nuts” loaded with Vitamin C that represent  a great food for them.

Some species like Wood frogs are able to “freeze” nearly solid to survive winter and only their most vital organs are barley thawed until spring when they come back to life.

Insects hide in the bark of trees and Black Bear prepare their dens where they will rest off and on through the winter months.

The autumn is both a time of beauty and a time of change.  Each year I look forward to it, and often I will later reflect on it. Soon the colors of autumn will be gone and the world will again change this time to the white blanket of snow covering the leaves that are now falling.

They will decompose into the soil, returning their nutrients into the Earth as they continue a cycle that has happened since long before any human roamed the Earth.

I love all the seasons each for their own natural beauty but of all, the autumn gives us the wonder and joy of appreciating the beautiful painting Mother Nature creates for us each and every year.

Mark Fraser

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Dragonfly

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

Lately, I have been paying close attention to the details of the many species of Dragonfly that can be seen swarming on these long hot summer nights.

They seem to be having a population boom as of late. I assume with the longer hotter weather lately there is more food for them, so that makes allot of sense.

The more you look at these incredible insects the more fascinating they really are. Just imagine millions of years ago during the Carboniferous period the fossil records indicate there were species of Dragonfly as large as a Seagull with a wingspan of 2.5 feet!

Even today we see species that boast a very impressive size in fact, the largest of the species these days still has wingspans over 7 inches which for an insect is enormous in its own right.

They are among the fastest of all flying insects and some species like the Green Darner have been clocked at over 50 MPH!  Larger Dragonfly like the Darners actually live for several years and since they feed in the north country where the pending winter will mean no insect prey for them, they actually have evolved to migrate like birds traveling up to 80 miles in a day!

The smaller species live shorter life spans so migration is out of the question.

There are countless kinds of dragonfly with some of the most beautiful color patterns found in nature. A literal biological rainbow with species names like Yellow Winged Darter, Emperor, Downy Emerald, Common Hawker, Banded Pennant and one of my favorite Dragonfly names “Meadowhawk” as well as countless others.

These incredible insects start their lives in the water as a very effective aquatic hunter called a nymph. Complete with external jaws they much on everything they can find up to and including small fish! Then after in some cases up to the 3 years, they crawl from the water and molt their skin turning into the amazing species we know and enjoy.

In the North Country in early Spring, rings the dinner bell for a biting fly called the “Black fly”. Every hiker in May knows this species very well and dreads the pending swarms which are among the most antagonistic of all biting flies. Within a couple weeks of their arrival, as if timed to an ancient biological alarm clock the Dragonfly return feasting on these insects. In fact they are so efficient that within a short amount of time the reign of the Black fly is over as quick as it came.  The fact is that Dragonfly are a very important species that take up a niche within the ecosystem where us humans directly benefit.

So the next time your on a nature walk take the time to admire these spectacular examples of “Mother Nature’s” finest!

PS:The image on the right reminds me of a helicopter pilot hahaha.

Mark Fraser

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Kayaking for wildlife

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

This Spring, I decided to explore some remote rivers and look for wildlife along the banks.  I found what I was after in a great river near the Canadian border. Parking the vehicle, I could feel the excitement that I often get when exploring a habitat by kayak.  The access point was across the street so I decided to quickly run across the road to have a look at the river.  Being Spring,  the Black Flies were buzzing around me looking for a snack and getting what they came for :-) . As I took the first 4 or 5 steps to cross the road, I look over my right side and there is a beautiful and very large Black Bear also crossing the road fairly close. The Black Flies must have driven him out of the forest towards the river and by chance there we both are looking at each other with a “ruh-roh” kind of confused look hahaha.  I decide to try and get my video camera but sure enough the second I moved he was gone.  I took that as a great sign for the kayak trip and sure enough it was full of surprises! Well, come see for yourself! Enjoy this virtual tour of the trip!

Kayaking Riverside Habitats

Getting out and exploring wildlife is the best way to build a relationship with the natural world! One of the best ways to do that is certainly by drifting along in a kayak. For me there is no greater thrill then to slowly traveling down a flat water, slow moving river and exploring the exciting wildlife found around every corner. With the Gulf Oil Spill being on the news everyday and knowing what is happening to those important aquatic habitats it makes this all the more important. We need to pay very close attention to the natural world around us. When we teach our children to love and respect nature, we ensure there is a future place for wildlife to live.

When you get right down to it, if you do not know the native species of plants and animals are in your own area, then how do you know when non – native invasive species are introduced? How would you know when a species of plant or animal is “missing” unless you take the time to know what is there now?  That’s the whole idea, getting to know the amazing world we share and keeping an eye on it. With a flat water kayak trip, you can relax and drift along while admiring countless species of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals. Even the insects have a ton of surprises in fact some like the “Green Darner” Dragonfly actually migrate like birds!  There were so many amazing species found along the river it certainly speaks to the importance of protecting river systems. While we live out busy lives commuting on a highway (that’s a freeway for you California folks) that trip is not that different then a River Otter starting his or her day navigating the river looking for the bounty of food. It’s so important to understand that remote rivers must be kept so the species that survive there have a place that is protected and clean. 100% of their food comes directly from the habitat around them, so you can imagine what happens if that habitat becomes polluted.  The best part is that it’s simply an enjoyable thing to do. Like a healthy Nature Walk in the forest, kayaking allows you to be a part of the beautiful wild world we all share, so get out and enjoy it!

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