Friday, July 6, 2012

The Last of a Dying Breed

We hear the word "extinction," and many of us still think dinosaurs. The last of its kind? My kids' thoughts turn to scenes from The Last Unicorn

"She's the last unicorn in the world," laments Schmendrick the
blundering magician (self-proclaimed last of the red hot swamis.)
But extinction is not a prehistoric concept, and "last" is not simply a work of fiction. Just ask Lonesome George:

Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise. Photo by putneymark / Wikimedia
Well, you can't really ask George. He died last Sunday, and with him died the entire subspecies of the Galápagos Pinta Island tortoise, which is said to have weathered the ups and downs of some 10 million years. 

George was, in fact, the last of his kind. 

But, hey, we humans have a knack for the quick and dirty, and it seems our species' sudden prevalence was more than even this hearty chelonian could endure.  

"My son, your ineptitude is so vast, your incompetence so profound, that I am
certain you are inhabited by greater power than I have ever known. Unfortunately, it seems to work backwards at the moment, and even I can find no way to set it right. It must be that you are meant to find your own way to reach your power in time; but frankly, you should live so long as that will take you. Therefore I grant it that you shall not age from this day forth, but will travel the world round and round, eternally inefficient, until at last you come to yourself and know what you are. Don’t thank me. I tremble at your doom." - The mighty magician Nikos to Shmendrick the magician in PeterS. Beagle's The Last Unicorn

Perhaps Schmendrick the Magician was a metaphor for humankind all along. Who knew? But, let's bumble our way back to George …

For better or worse, George was not a wild tortoise, at least for the last half of his life. Rescued from a solitary struggle for existence on goat-trampled Pinta Island where he hatched approximately 100 years ago, he spent his latter 40 years in an enclosure at the Charles DarwinResearch Station on the island of Santa Cruz

George was a big, strapping fellow weighing in at 200 pounds and measuring 5 feet in length. Nevertheless, he was an incurable loner. Much to the dismay of his 2-legged benefactors (and environmental advocates at large), George refused to contribute his genes to a new generation of hybrid Galápagos tortoises (even when enticed by an ambitious zoology student steeped in female tortoise hormones). The frenzy over impending extinction was lost on George. 

Perhaps instinct, like ignorance, is bliss.  

George's death, it seems, was unexpected and rather untimely for a tortoise. “It is a very sad story for all of us,” Santa Cruz park ranger Christian Saa told The New York Times. “We were expecting to have George another 50 years.” 

Tomorrow is promised to neither man nor tortoise, I suppose. The question is: 

Will we lose another species today?

If you'd like to read more about Lonesome George, delve into the TheLife and Loves of the World's Most Famous Tortoise.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wild Wednesday Jobs Post

Stick around. You've reached a vantage point. 

As a former field biologist who has worked her way around the country, I know where to "go for the goods" when it comes to employment opportunities, and I'd love to help you land a job you love. I'll round up new announcements each week, and I'll post 5 findings here every Wednesday. 

Whether you're a newbie technician or a seasoned professional, you're likely to find a lead worth following. 

Barn owl photo by Phil Haynes via Wikimedia

Job Title: Fall Owl Bander
Location: Duluth, Minnesota
Basic Requirements: Skill requirements include a minimum of one season of previous mist-netting and banding experience and tolerance of harsh weather conditions (heat, cold, wind). Must work well alone and with others and have own personal vehicle.
Duration: 1-3 Months
Application Deadline: Open until filled

Location: Long Creek, OR
Basic Requirements: The Restoration Projects Coordinator must be proficient in vegetation identification and plant community associations, interpretation of hydrology and fisheries, GPS operations and ArcView GIS procedure, technical writing, contract development, supervision, and data collection. Must enjoy living and working in a small rural community, distant from many services.
Duration: Permanent
Application Deadline: Open until filled

Employer: Stantec
Location: Fort Collins, CO
Basic Requirements: BS in Biology, Ecology, Plant Science, Environmental Science, or Natural Resource Management required; Master's degree is a plus. A minimum of three years of experience performing wetland surveys, sensitive plant species identification, noxious weed identification, NEPA permitting, etc. Must have knowledge and training in plant taxonomy. Ability to recognize common plants of the desert and intermountain region of the western U.S. Ability to interpret satellite and aerial photography and read and interpret maps. Willingness to work in the field in remote locations for extended periods
Previous field work experience.
Duration: Permanent
Application Deadline: Open until filled

Location: Hinton, Alberta, Canada  
Basic Requirements: A Masters Degree or PhD in a related discipline. Membership or eligibility for membership in relevant professional organizations. A minimum of five years experience in ecological studies. Experience with aircraft operations related to wildlife research. Supervisory experience. Experience and proficiency with firearms, ATV’s and 4-wheel drive vehicles. Experience in the capture and collaring of wildlife. Experience managing datasets and databases. Proven record of scientific writing and publications. Highly motivated and able to work in a team environment. Strong oral and written communication skills.
Duration: Permanent
Application Deadline: Open until filled

Employer: U.S. Forest Service
Location: Many vacancies - United States
Basic Requirements: 90 days on-the-line wildland firefighting experience gained through containment, control, suppression or use of wildland fire. Successful completion of the Primary NWCG Core Requirements of Firefighter Type 1 (FFT1). Successful completion of NWCG Course # S-290 Intermediate Wildland Fire Behavior.
Duration: Permanent
Application Deadline: December 05, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Independence (From Plastic Bags)

We all know what tomorrow is, what it stands for, and how important it is.

But how about today?

Hold on to your fireworks, my friend, because I'm here to tell you …

It's International Plastic Bag-Free Day.

I'm guessing you didn't know that. I didn't until I saw a post on Facebook this afternoon. Don't worry if you just became enlightened--there's still time to celebrate, and there is always time to act. 

Photo of bagged coral courtesy of NOAA.

First, a few plastic facts from

  • Plastic bags are among the top two items of debris found most often in coastal cleanups (Ocean Conservancy)
  • Plastic bags wrap around living corals, quickly "suffocating" and killing them (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • Approximately 500 nautical miles off the California coast sits a growing "plastic island," a gargantuan patch of floating plastic trash held together by currents stretching across the northern Pacific almost as far as Japan. This "plastic island" is made up of about 7 billion pounds of plastic garbage, and measures about twice the size of Texas.
  • Of 500,000 albatross chicks born each year on Midway Atoll, about 200,000 die of starvation (including the endangered Laysan variety). Adult albatrosses mistake plastic trash for food and end up feeding it to their chicks (L.A. Times)
  • Since water keeps the plastic cool and algae blocks ultraviolet rays, "every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there somewhere" (Research Triangle Institute)

How Are Other Countries Celebrating Plastic Bag-Free Day?



Citizens of Quezon City joined members of EcoWaste Coalition, GAIA, Mother Earth Foundation, Greenpeace, and Miss Earth to encircle the entire perimeter of Quezon City Memorial Circle with a plastic-bag chain, demonstrating the magnitude of our planet's plastic problems. 

·    1. You've heard it before, but this time, really, forego the plastic and bring your own bags. If I forget mine this week, I think I'll pile all my groceries in the cart unbagged. Bet I won't forget again! 

·    2. Buying fireworks for the big celebration tomorrow? Skip the plastic bag there, too. You can carry all plenty of Roman candles and sparkly-boom-bangers under your arm (if not, bring your own bag). 

·    3. Find (and use) a plastic recycling center near you.

·    4. Lend your support to the cause by signing this pledge. The Foundation for Waste Reduction and Responsible Consumption is gathering global support in favor of phasing out plastic bags.

Want More?

Find out about plastic bag bans in states across the U.S.