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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.

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Radioactive Rain

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

There are two things that I think should not be used in the same sentence, “radioactive” and “rain”.  It is already serious enough to live with the impacts of “Acid Rain” on our watersheds thanks in large part to the use of Coal. There was a time when news like “Radioactive Rain” would have sent people into a serious frenzy. Officials saying “nothing to worry about” would have a very bad day as the concerned public would be out making statements of protest showing real and honest concern for the health of our environment and families. My, the things we can get used to hearing about are truly surprising. Over the years subjects that were once cause for real concern and even uproar seem to be old hat these days. Take “climate change” I remember not long ago when that was a serious subject, yet these days when I speak with people about it, I often hear people say they heard it was not an issue or even a political hoax. Even more scary; is when people say “I don’t like snow anyway”. Of course there are so many things that could be said about all of that but I will sum it up as that it leaves me sort of baffled. When exactly did that happen? How did we get so desensitized to the things going on around us?

I suppose that is why I was not very surprised seeing a lack of uproar at the local weather report. I was listening to a meteorologist the other day in the Boston area talking about “radioactive rain”. He proclaimed that it was no big deal and that it was less then getting an X-Ray exam. My first impression was “so is this person a physicist and also a PHD who studied the impact of radiation on human health over time?” If not, respectfully we all need to ask our own questions, and I feel we should be concerned for the potential “long term” impacts as the ecosystems around us are now absorbing radiation from this disaster.

You see being a conservationist I pay close attention to pollutions impacting on the natural world. Things like lead, mercury and plastics have an impact that has a very unique characteristic. It’s called “bio-magnification”. Basically that term describes how pollutants magnify in the food web. One example is when something consumes something else as prey, when the prey has been contaminated. The predator eats many of the prey, and therefore has a far greater amount of exposure to the pollutant. This works its way right up the food chain and includes you and I by the way. There are real examples of that all over nature. Takes Loons, they are contaminated by lead and mercury pollutants from things like “lead sinkers” used by fisherman that for some reason are still sold in stores to this day (crazy, I know).   Since Loons eat many fish that are contaminated and lead stays in their bodies a very long time, it then magnifies as more and more lead is ingested. This problem is not only very real but actually threatens their very survival. This same bio-magnifications impact Eagles as well.

Image from USGS

In fact, to some degree it can impact nearly everything. Salmon, considered a super healthy food for humans because of Omega3 fatty acids is also a fish that comes with a warning. If you eat Salmon too often then you can increase your own exposure to mercury (Hg) and so on. Ok so now that we understand “bio-magnification” lets talk about the radioactive rain that keeps popping up on the news. It doesn’t require a physicist to explain how the radioactive particles traveled around the world on the wind and are now washing down in the form of rain. There are lots of warm and fuzzy reports about it stating that “you can get more radiation from flying or from an XRAY”.  The problem is that as this crisis at the Fukushima plant is ongoing. It continues day after day while TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) tries to battle this horrific environmental disaster but each day those same radioactive particles continue to dust across entire the ecosystem. They concentrate in rain and on to our crops. That would include grass, eaten by milking cows that we get our milk from by the way. So “biomagnification” can occur right in our own home.  As always there are lots of would be experts speaking about how everything is fine and that there is nothing to worry about. It reminds me of the BP Oil spill how for a while the news reports about the oil inteh Gulf said “it just evaporated” while local residents continued to try and report the truth about what they actually see on the site- and they still do by the way.  Now in this case, this catastrophe is no doubt causing serious ecological impact. Radioactive water has actually run into the ocean. What sort of impact does that have on sea life and how long will it last? I do not think anyone really knows.  One thing is for sure. We are seeing the truth about our choices for energy. Nuclear, Oil, Coal, Natural Gas all come with “very serious” ecological impact often overlooked because those who support it are backed by billions of dollars of profit (also called lobbyist) while those who fight to protect the health of the world are often not funded at all. I believe we need to pay “very” close attention to what is going on in the world around us. Our insatiable appetite for more and more power needs to employ far more wisdom with each of the steps we take.

Like DDT, Mercury, Lead and other environmental pollutants, when “our” habitat has been contaminated the ramifications can be vast, especially when considered over time.  Even when readings start off very low, we need to carefully monitor the complex web of ecological relationships now infused with the offending pollutant. Considering the long term potential health impacts of even small amounts of radiation, I wonder if this Nuclear event combined with the massive BP Oil spill, will finally allow us to take a far more serious look at our choices going forward. Hopefully in time, we can use these tragedies as a catalysis to make better choices about the real use of Geo Thermal and renewable energy sources in the future. In time I’m sure we can learn to make the right decisions, I hope so because as I type this article and look out my window, I see that it’s raining…

Mark Fraser

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Renewable Energy

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

Finding an abundant energy source is not restricted to the realm of humanity, in fact the quest for energy exists throughout the natural world. Looking for sunlight is a common beginning to that quest. I mean it makes sense, the sun is right there only 8 “light” minutes away and thankfully shining on our planet. This abundant energy source allows living species (plants) to take advantage of that energy derived from sunlight with the process of photosynthesis. I think we should give plants credit because they seemed to have solved the energy crisis without having to ask the question about renewable energy in the first place.

The problem when you think about it comes when we get greedy. You see at some point, life forms on Earth realized they could steal energy from other life forms that collect it in the first place. Another way to say that is “Predator – Prey” relationships. When you think about that,  it is a species (predator) taking the energy stored in the (prey). Even herbivorous prey species like Deer for example get their energy from plants that in turn get their energy from the sun.

Image from NASA.gov

So the renewable energy seems to work its way throughout the natural world both directly and indirectly. Remember food “is” energy, it’s easier to wrap your mind around that statement when you call food “fuel” then it makes more sense.

Ok so back to renewable energy. When you hear about horrible nuclear disasters like what has happened in Japan after the tragic Earthquake and Tsunami, people quickly look for alternate sources of renewable energy. Since Coal causes Acid Rain (which is extremely bad) for the natural world, finding “clean” energy is also critically important. Nuclear is so popular simply because it creates an awful lot of heat, which makes steam, which runs turbines and makes electricity. The added and very impressive benefit is that it doesn’t create Acid Rain in the process. It does however have many problems of its own, especially when dealing with the so called spent rods (they are radioactive after all).

Now let’s look at things from a different point of view. Nature does a really good job at showing us the way when we give her a patient glance with an open mind. Some forms of life on Earth do not even use Photosynthesis for energy, they instead take advantage of the hot thermals on the oceans floor. So there are chemical forms of energy as well. Taking advantage of hot thermals is a very interesting idea. Any trip to Yellowstone national park will quickly show you just how hot the world below can be as you witness amazing blasts of steam erupting from the Earth. There are even incredible forms of bacteria tinting the watersheds with impressive pastels that are using the nutrient energy themselves.

Image from NASA.gov

Taking advantage of the warmer subsurface temperatures is not new to science and creates several opportunities for renewable energy since the Earth is heating itself and we can take advantage of that. Geo-thermal power is not new and does exactly that by creating electricity from the naturally occurring heat generated at thermal vents. This process is already being used in several countries. Taking that down a notch to a residential version is important when trying to bring a renewable resource to fruition.  The first and what I would argue to be the most important step is to make “all” homes Geo-Thermal capable. There are two basic types; the closed loop and also an open loop system for residential application. The principle for both is the same. Take advantage of the stable water temperature below the ground then use that to cool your home in summer and heat it in the winter. Below the frost line in the ground the water temperature is very constant between 50 and 60 degrees all year “regardless of the season or temperature” above ground.  So you can use

Image from NASA.gov

that constant resource to control the temperature in your own home. You would only heat from approx 55 deg

rees to 68 or whatever your normal temperature is and for those who need coolant more than heat, the same applies in the other direction. The net benefit is enormous savings per month especially at the extreme climate times. It also means far less demand on other sources of heat and coolant nationally and or globally if we all adopt this method.You might wonder why everyone doesn’t do this. That’s because the cost can range from 10 to 20 thousand dollars to create depending on the contractor, etc. However, if “all” new construction was required to be geo-thermal compliant, wouldn’t that create jobs? A boom in the Geo-thermal market means people working in manufacturing, maintenance and construction and all that for a far reduced heating and cooling demand. At the same time making this process common would dramatically reduce the cost as we see in any other growing business. Therefore, when we talk about renewable energy methods such as wind and solar solutions are great augmentations to the electric grid but let’s also put focus on each of our homes own consumption with a Geo-Thermal “renewable energy” type solution.

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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A Universe unto Itself

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

Living our daily lives we hardly notice the goings on in the natural world. I suppose in all fairness they probably do the same. A close observation of a flower will reveal to you that it is not only a place for an insect or hummingbird to find nectar, but it is also a home for a wide variety of insects looking like representatives from an alien world. The range in color in body shapes is as varied as their roles. There is everything from miniature predators like spiders waiting to ambush other species looking for nectar to herbivores taking advantage of the plant itself. In some cases there is even species looking to simply catch a ride on other species like some sort of a biological bus station.

Each zone in the natural world is like its own world with its own set of rules just like each continent on Earth has its own unique accent of plant life and fauna. These same rules apply both above and below the waterline where each habitat range provides a bounty of sustainability to its own fauna and plant life. During a recent dive into Lake Champlain I found that depth and lighting created a universe unto itself allowing specific species and survival techniques to flourish.  Just imagine that this particular lake is 120 miles long. However it varies in depth from very shallow to an amazing 400 ft depth.

The amount of sunlight varies greatly as well so the deeper you go the less sunlight makes it to the bottom. This means the greatest amounts of algae are in the areas that allow near constant bathing in sunlight.

Life in the Shallows” seems to be driven by the very sunlight it self. The abundance of light allows for blooms of algae that in turn is food for species including filter feeders like invasive Zebra Mussels whose razor sharp shells seem to cover the bottom until you go deep enough that they are starved for algae due to the eventual decrease in sunlight. Amazingly some species of birds and fish do actually feed on Zebra Mussels so although they are invasive, they are now another food source and also abundant.

In the coming years biologists will need to perform long term studies to understand the impact on the overall health of species like Yellow Perch that now include the Zebra Mussels on their dinner menu. The shallow zones of Lake Champlain are now synonymous with these prolific mussels but the well lit areas also have many other species carving out a niche in this shallow aquatic universe. It is hear that large predatory fish are taking advantage of those beams of light that makes their prey stand out in the brightly lit water. While exploring by scuba on water approx 8 to 15 ft I found they seemed to be patrolling parallel to the beach along the longer part of the lake and looked like some sort of aquatic bird of prey soaring like a Hawk waiting to flush out its prey as its eyes gazed with  deep intent at the world below.

With colors reminiscent of camouflaged soldiers trying to remain hidden the Log perch Darter fish blends perfectly against the grasses along the bottom. Their colors look like a beautiful design blending of jaguar and tiger patterns with a yellowish hue background against the black stripes. Like their namesake they seemed to “Dart” about within the small rounded rocks on the bottom quickly looking for food before once again finding a hiding place as the ominous shadows of the predator fish species like Smallmouth bass move with and eerie glide nearby.

With the lake having over 80 types of fish they come in may sizes. Some species in large freshwater lakes such as Lake Champlain can be enormous like Channel Catfish weighing well over 30 pounds to Sturgeon that can be 7 feet long and over 300 pounds! I did not see any during the recent series of diving expeditions however; I did come across a very large and exciting species to swim with which included the somewhat skittish Fresh Water Drum. I saw several of these very large fish in the shallows in water that was about 12 ft deep. They were very large and at least at a glance appeared to be well over 10 pounds. They added to the excitement of the exploration and gave an amazing sense of wonder to the shallows.

Like all things in nature, the most amazing things come when we actually pay attention to the fine details.

Seeing species taking advantage of “Life in the Shallows” introduced me to a beautiful world of amazement just beyond the beach and the glitter of the sun dancing on the waters surface. Understanding that each unique zone within such a massive watershed forms a universe unto itself means we can have a greater understanding their secret world.

Admiring the myriad of life in the shallow water zone is undoubtedly key to our own species appreciation of the health of the watershed and also the raw beauty that resides just beyond our site. I suppose that is what it’s really all about, taking the time to understanding our wild neighbors then gaining a better appreciation of them.

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 world is what we create

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

Nature- the word itself stirs the imagination in each of us. The more wild a region is, the more “pristine” a forest, then the more incredibly beautiful we perceive it. That love of the natural world is something I find with people from around the entire planet from every culture I have ever encountered.

Maybe there is something more to that, something deeper than what meets the eye. I mean why is it that we see a clean and healthy river as beautiful, yet a pile of discarded tires or batteries as ugly. From a biological standpoint is it possible there is something more instinctive at play here?  Deep down inside each of us there seems to be some lessons learned long ago that we each have buried within our brains.

That is what “beauty” actually is – isn’t it? The word describes a feeling; the feeling is created by our brains giving us positive stimulation. Why is it doing that? What’s the point?

Well it boils down to something important, the survival of ourselves as individuals and on the big picture, our entire species.  Eating poison is bad, rotten things are seen as ugly etc. It protects us so that we may live on. In the same way that bad feelings may warn us about pending danger and help protect us from harm the good feelings may also help by showing us the way. A natural built-in compass we are given to navigate through life.

Now let’s get back to the beauty of nature. Not long ago I rented a small aircraft to fly over a wilderness area and view it from above. As I looked over the millions of trees below I actually could feel my eyes well up with tears as if something long lost was remembered, something I yearned for. I even choked a bit trying to have a conversation with the pilot. It feels wholesome and “right” to look over a massive swath of healthy trees or to admire a Whale and hear its beautiful song.  It “feels” good.  You see nature is giving us a compass teaching each of us what is right from what is wrong.  So “why” would nature’s built in bio-compass teach us that we should protect the health of the forests or the sea?  It seems common sense really; we simply won’t have a future without the natural world. Just like teaching us to avoid poison is it so hard to imagine nature is teaching us to avoid destroying the habitat that we are connected too for our own survival? When we level a forest, exploit and damage the sea we are impacting our future as a species and that is very ugly. So follow your instincts – admire an ancient old-growth tree- smell the Balsams and Pine in the forest. Know that wonderful feeling you get is something more than just a great day about to happen. It’s the Earth itself talking directly to you, to each of us.

I sometimes wonder if wildlife that is certainly watching us walk through the forest on a hike or kayaking along is thinking “are they getting it yet?”  Perhaps one day more of us will pay attention to our biological -compass and navigate through life in a way that allows our wild neighbors to walk, swim and fly right beside us.  For now, we are literally at a cross roads in the evolution of our species.  We have never in history been more capable of both great things on a massive scale and also global destruction at the same time.  If we choose poorly and don’t listen to our compass I fear one day the ambers of our own species will shine no more like so many other species before us. If we choose well, we will enjoy a long and happy future on the very special living world we call both home and “Mother”, Earth.

Mark Fraser

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