To The Point

by Caren Cowan

Polar Bears Are Running For Their Lives!

Gosh I wish I was clever… or at least a better liar. Maybe if I was … or some of us were, we would have the funding we need to win the battles we are in.

This email popped up in my spam box … and I just couldn’t resist reading it:

Polar bears are literally running for their lives — evading melting sea ice in search of remaining habitat for their hunt. With melting sea ice such a huge threat to the polar bear population, we must do everything we can to protect polar bear habitat.

Every year, summer sea ice shrinks and melts for longer periods of time. Polar bears are finding less and less ice available as habitat while they hunt. Without a space for hunting, the polar bears starve. They’re forced to rely on fat stores until more ice freezes.

Polar bears can’t afford any unnecessary stress to their already vulnerable population.

There are less than 25,000 polar bears left in the wild. If climate change continues unabated, this number will keep shrinking. Support saving polar bears from industrial impacts, climate change, and other threats.

Notice that the sad story of the polar is one that evolving. Now are counting polar bears, we are no longer relying solely on the loss of critical habitat. Now we are worried only about the ice melting in the summer, apparently admitting that the ice is fine the rest of the year. Sort of like we evolved from global warming to climate change as climate “deniers” continue to come up with supportable data that the globe is in fact not warming.

If you look at a literal definition of climate change, it is hard to argue with. The climate is changing virtually every second of every minute of every day and it has been since time began. The argument about whether or not man (or woman or child) is causing that will be on going.

It is interesting that while countless animals do pretty much the same thing humans do in terms of bodily functions, it is only the humans, along with the dreaded cow that is polluting the environment. Wait, let me correct that. Word is now that dogs are as bad as cows and SUVs.

Everything you didn’t know about dogs … and probably don’t want to know.

Two books have come out in the past few years that are an all out assault on man’s (in the global sense) friend. One book by New Zealand-based authors Robert and Brenda Vale suggests owners should consider doing without, downsizing or even eating their pets to help save the planet.

The book Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living is based on the authors’ findings on the amount of land needed to grow food for pets ranging from budgerigars (small bright green parrots with yellow heads) to cats and dogs.

According to British writer Paul Stokes in the UK Telegraph, the book claims that the carbon footprint left by domesticated animals is out of proportion to the size of their paws. A medium-sized dog has the same impact as a Toyota Land Cruiser driven 6,000 miles a year, while a cat is equivalent to a Volkswagen Golf. However, rabbits and chickens are eco-friendly because they provide meat for their owners while a canary or a goldfish has little effect on the environment. A pair of rabbits can produce 36 young annually, which would provide nearly 60 pounds of meat and help decrease the owner’s carbon footprint.

At the same time a pair of hamsters do the same damage as running a plasma television, They say an average Collie eats nearly 365 pounds of meat and nearly 210 pounds of cereals annually, giving it a high impact on the planet.

Mr. Vale, an architect who specializes in sustainable living, said: “There are no recipes in the book. We’re not actually saying it is time to eat the dog.

“We’re just saying that we need to think about and know the (ecological) impact of some of the things we do and that we take for granted.”

He explained that sustainability issues require us to make choices which are “as difficult as eating your dog”. Mr. Vale added: “Once you see where cats and dogs fit in your overall balance of things, you might decide to have the cat but not also to have the two cars and the three bathrooms and be a meat-eater yourself.”

What some urban dwellers do with their time…

According to a L.A. Times op-ed by Judith Lewis Mernit, Stephan Budiansky claims in his book The Truth About Dogs that dogs serve as reservoirs for 65 diseases that can be transmitted to humans. A dog, per pound of body weight, produces 10 times the fecal coli form of a cow. Dog poop does contain nutrients — the kind that, when washed down storm drains into streams and the ocean, fuel toxic algae blooms that suck up oxygen and turn coastal habitats into dead zones.

Some may think that picking up after your dog is futile, a bit like driving a Prius to fight climate change or jumping up and down to affect the orbit of the Earth. Even the 62 percent of dog owners who responsibly pick up after their pups exact a toll on the environment just by having a dog.

Plastic bags of poop account for four percent of the municipal waste in San Francisco’s landfills, as much as the whole city’s disposal diapers. And every ounce of it produces methane — a greenhouse gas 30 percent more powerful than carbon dioxide. The city of Chicago’s 68 million pounds of annual dog poop creates 102 million cubic feet of unburned methane.

And the environmental problems actually start long before a dog even produces a waste stream.

The writer owns 55-pound pit bull that consumes about 500 pounds of meat a year, half of it lamb. The production of one pound of lamb, says the Environmental Working Group, releases 85 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so just feeding that dog loads the planet with more than 21 tons of heat-trapping gases.

So what can be done, the author asks? First, the food: Feed made from chickens and rabbits have a far less negative effect on the environment than feed from cud-chewing ruminants; one can easily swap out lamb for a more benign meat source. Dogs can also eat vegetarian or dog owners can forgo meat so dogs don’t have to.

Another idea for dog poop: Flush it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends flushing as the optimal solution, one that the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation supports. If you have a yard, you can bury your pet waste in a hole at least a foot deep, below the runoff zone. Just keep it out of your vegetable garden (yes, those diseases again).

All solutions, however, begin with excrement pickup. If you are among the 38 percent of dog owners who scoff at this duty, consider what DNA tests revealed about the bacteria in Seattle watersheds: Although 90 percent or more of it comes from animals in general, some of them wild, fully 20 percent of it is traced back to the guts of dogs. As EPA’s Clean Water Campaign puts it, “If you think picking up dog poop is unpleasant, try swimming in it.”

Why would I take the time and space to share all of this with you? In part trying to wrap my head around how elected officials could make statements like “agriculture and wildlife don’t mix” or “agriculture and wildlife are diametrically opposed” or “agriculture is commercial wildlife is not.”

Those are mindsets that we are totally disconnected from and it is incumbent upon us to find the way to bridge that gap.

Wolf Wars

No column would be complete without wolves. As expected, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) issued its final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Program followed closely by the final revised 10j rule in early January. It was no surprise that the documents confirmed the deal cut between the FWS and the Arizona Game & Fish Department (AZGFD) made last September. I guess it can now be called a deal because it is ink on paper. The litigation has already begun.

In between there was sandwiched another cutie. The FWS noticed a renewal of its’ own Mexican Wolf permit that embodied another gem from the AZGFD. The notice for the permit contained language would permit “wilding” wolves on Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico near the Colorado border where they would learn to hunt elk to then be captured and released elsewhere. (Sounds like someone in Arizona is yearning for a moving van headed east.)

The permit was among many the FWS noticed in batch. The comment deadline was February 17. It didn’t take long for someone to find the wolf notice and raising a lot of sand. The action clearly violated everything the FWS said about holding the wolves at I-40.

Oddly enough the FWS withdrew the permit and says they will re-file for it… without the Vermejo Park language. Their press release says:

As the Service developed its recently finalized revised rule under which the Mexican wolf reintroduction is                 conducted in Arizona and New Mexico, it had considered a proposal to conduct experiential training for Mexican                 wolves on the half-million-acre Vermejo Park Ranch. Consideration of a program to hone captive-reared Mexican wolves’ wild-survival skills at the ranch were discontinued in  order to focus on efforts that could contribute to the subspecies’ recovery south of Interstate 40.

In another strange move, the AZDGF has filed a notice of intent to sue the FWS on its’ lack of recovery plan. There is no disagreement that should be a recovery plan in place. But the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed that suit in Arizona Federal District some months ago. It isn’t clear why Arizona felt the need to file a notice of intent and wait the required 60 days instead of just intervening in the CBD case.

There may be a New Mexico intervention in the case. The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) elected not to be part of that case. NMCGA and others have often commented to the FWS that a recovery plan needed to be in place before all this rule-making took place. How can you issue a rule and an EIS for management when there is no goal?

Thus NMCGA would have to intervene on the side of CBD which would be just plain weird. Additionally resources are thin and there are several other New Mexico groups who are engaged in that effort. With resources so thin and the need to file litigation on the rule-making, there is a limit to what the Association can do.

There isn’t enough lipstick…

The New Mexico State Fair (NMSF) has asked the Legislature for $11.1 million in capital outlay funding. According to Albuquerque Journal staff writer Charles D. Brunt, who toured the Fairgrounds with NMSF staff recently, the ink was scarcely dry on that request when a legislative panel trimmed it to $4.5 million.

Since 2010, Expo has sought a total of $15.5 million in capital outlay funds and has received slightly more than $5.5 million, according to Expo communications director Erin Thompson. Of that amount, $265,000 was earmarked for Expo’s Sheryl M. Williams Stapleton African American Performing Arts Center or the Alice Hoppes African American Pavilion.

There is no doubt that the Fairgrounds and its’ facilities are in need of serious attention, but many in agriculture community wonder why the NMSF continues to treat those who populate the north end of those groups as red-headed stepchildren – I know this is probably not a politically correct statement in today’s society and I mean no disrespect to anyone red-headed, the term just seems to perfectly fit the situation.

There were great new lights put in the Dairy Barn for the 2014 NMSF, but how much light do you need for 70 steers? Steer numbers were down 30 percent from 2013 to 2014. They were down between 2013 and 2012 as well. Hogs and lambs were down about 100 head each year.

“We’re not just throwing a lot of lipstick on a pig anymore,” NMFS Manager Dan Mourning. “When we see a problem, we’re going to fix it right.”

We hope Mourning means fixing the whole Fair, not just the facilities.

The New Mexico 4-H Foundation along with concerned citizens from across New Mexico staged one of the best State Fair Junior Livestock Sales ever in 2014. Not only were the prices worthy of the young people who exhibited the sale animals, but those young people were paid for their animals well before the end of the year.