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The Nature of Things

A blog about nature and the environment

Archive for February, 2009

Dead skunk(s)


Why is it that skunks always seem to expire, to quote Loudon Wainwright III, “in the middle of the road?”

I spotted three dead ones this morning while driving to work. All were either in an interstate lane or on the double-yellow line. Deer and raccoons, though, always seem to make it to the shoulder.

February and early March are mating times for skunks, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which explains why they’re out and about now.

To see Wainwright, a one-time Bedford resident, expound on his skunk philosophy, go here.

(Skunk photo by TJN photographer Kathy Gardner.)

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, February 27th, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

Toilet paper: Soft on you, hard on forests


Seems like the softer toilet papers, while easy on you, are bad news for forests. As this New York Times article points out, only standing trees can be turned into the plush TP. Apparently, the “r” in recycled toilet paper can also stand for “rough” toilet paper. Who knew . . .

But fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.

Customers “demand soft and comfortable,” said James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia Pacific, the maker of Quilted Northern. “Recycled fiber cannot do it.”

The country’s soft-tissue habit — call it the Charmin effect — has not escaped the notice of environmentalists, who are increasingly making toilet tissue manufacturers the targets of campaigns. Greenpeace on Monday for the first time issued a national guide for American consumers that rates toilet tissue brands on their environmental soundness. With the recession pushing the price for recycled paper down and Americans showing more willingness to repurpose everything from clothing to tires, environmental groups want more people to switch to recycled toilet tissue.

Here’s a shopper’s guide to buying tissues, paper towels, napkins and toilet paper. As you’ll notice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the guide’s author, gives Charmin and Cottonelle a thumbs-down.

(Photo of four-seater outhouse by TJN photographer Stuart Bayer.)

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, February 26th, 2009 at 4:40 pm |

Protecting the state’s coastal waters and coastal communities


Want to weigh in on the state’s effort to get a handle on the “critical problems, emerging threats and troubling economic and environmental declines” that are affecting New York’s coastal waters?

You can read the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council‘s report, “Our Waters, Our Communities, Our Future” to find out more. Then, you can participate in a “Community Conversation for Public Input” on Saturday (2/28) at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Auditorium, Plant Science Building, 2801 Sharon Turnpike, Millbrook, NY in Dutchess County (from 2 to 4 p.m.).

You can also comment online about the report.

The report details the numerous challenges facing New York’s coastal ecosystems. Stormwater runoff and overflows from sewage treatment plans have impacted water quality. Declines in fish habitat have contributed to a nearly 80% decrease in commercial landings over the past 50 years. In 2007, ocean and Great Lakes communities lost valuable revenue because beaches were closed over 1,500 days due to pollution – an increase of 300 days over the prior year. Wetland losses have continued throughout ocean and Great Lakes shorelines, and the increasing demand for new sources of energy, has greater pressure on offshore waters.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, February 26th, 2009 at 1:32 pm |


Kids and weather


Are your kids interested in the weather? Do they ask why it rains or why the wind blows? If so, check out the latest family newsletter from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which provides answers for your child’s inner meteorologist.

Photo by TJN photographer Frank Becerra was made during an early morning thunderstorm in Aug. 2007.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 at 12:00 pm |

Caring-for-animals test


If “the selfless service of caring for injured, sick and orphaned wild animals” is for you, then April 24th is your day. That’s the one time this year the state Department of Environmental Conservation will give its test for those interested in becoming a licensed volunteer wildlife rehabilitator.

Read the announcement, which tells you how to get more information.

After the break is a story I wrote last year about a local wildlife rehabilitator. At the time, she was holding a “baby shower” and was seeking supplies to help with the inundation of baby animals she and other rehabilitators see each spring. Her phone number and email are at the bottom of the story and I know she’s looking for supplies again this year.

Read more of this entry »

Posted by Mike Risinit on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 at 2:42 pm |

Cardinals, the bird, not the religious official


Maybe they’re anxious for spring, but I’ve been hearing and seeing northern cardinals singing the past few days.

The “northern” in the bird’s name refers to North America. Several other species of cardinal call South America home.

Until the late 1800s, the birds were only found in the Southeast. Since then, they’ve expanded their range into the Northeast, making use of parks and gardens, the brushy remains of farms, bird feeders and, some say, warming temperatures.

The birds, of course, take their name from the office of cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinals (as in the religious figure) wear red skullcaps and other vestments.

(Bird photo by TJN photographer Stuart Bayer, 2004 Cardinal Edward Egan photo by TJN photographer Rory Glaeseman.)

Posted by Mike Risinit on Monday, February 23rd, 2009 at 12:35 pm |


Economic crisis hits state campgrounds


The state Department of Environmental Conservation, in an effort to save money, is closing six campgrounds that it says do not attract a lot of campers. Read more after the break. Read more of this entry »

Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, February 20th, 2009 at 4:52 pm |

Three good things, at least


The Westchester Land Trust is billing next weekend, Feb. 28 and March 1, as one of “education, entertainment and the out-of-doors.”

The trust next week is celebrating the first annual Leon Levy Environmental Symposium and Winter Walk in honor of the late Lewisboro philanthropist. His family’s foundation donated money to help purchase and protect the 386 acres that make up the trust’s Leon Levy preserve.

The weekend celebration includes a talk on Saturday afternoon (2/28) by author and New York Times writer Andrew C. Revkin (“DOT EARTH: 9 Billion People + 1 Planet = ?”) and a hike on Sunday afternoon (3/1) at the preserve.

Everything is free but reservations are suggested for Revkin’s talk, which will take place in the Carriage House of the Waccabuc Country Club from 4 to 6 p.m. For a reservation, email info@westchesterlandtrust.com.

As for the hike on 3/1, just show up from 1 to 3 p.m. Excursions of varying lengths are planned, including kid-friendly ones. The preserve is at routes 35 and 123 in South Salem.

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Posted by Mike Risinit on Friday, February 20th, 2009 at 11:31 am |
| | 1 Comment »

Goodbye to some wetlands


An estimated 361,000 acres of wetlands disappeared from the East Coast of the U.S. and its watersheds between 1998 and 2004, according to a report released this week by NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The loss means that there’s less area to act as a nursery and feeding area for all sorts of wildlife. Wetlands also absorb flood waters and could be a buffer against rising sea levels that result from climate change.

“This is a troubling report because coastal wetlands provide flood protection as well as vital habitat for many species of fish and wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “It underscores the importance of moving quickly to protect, conserve and restore these vital coastal areas before they are lost forever.”

Read about the report here. Find a link where you can download the actual report on the FWS Web site.

The photo shows Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary on the Hudson River.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, February 19th, 2009 at 4:15 pm |
| | 1 Comment »


Where in the world?


In an effort to track birds who wing from North to South America or other world-spanning distances, scientists have fitted some of the tiny fliers with bird backpacks. The backpacks contain tiny sensors that allow researchers to see exactly what routes the birds take, where they stop to rest and feed and other untold, avian-only secrets.

From a recent New York Times story:

The new technology has opened up vast new possibilities for bird researchers. Already, it is yielding surprising findings — for example, that some birds fly even faster than previously thought. But its real importance, biologists say, is the opportunity to unlock mysteries of bird migration that could help preserve species threatened by habitat loss and climate change.

“We knew that purple martins went to Brazil and wood thrush went to Central America,” said Bridget J. M. Stutchbury, a biologist at York University in Toronto, who with colleagues fitted birds from the species with the sensors and mapped their migrations last year. “But the details of how an individual gets there, what routes they take, how fast they fly, how often they stop to rest — these are the kinds of details we have never been able to have.”

Here’s more from the journal Science, which includes a video of a wood thrush wearing a “geolocator.”

Weighing in at between 40 and 50 grams, songbirds are too small for satellite tracking often used to monitor larger animals such as wolves, elephants, and whales, and too weak to carry long-term tracking devices. So researchers investigating migration have been limited to techniques such as tracking flocks of songbirds with radar over short distances and studying them in their stopover locations. Based on these studies, researchers were able to figure out when and where songbirds bred, rested, and spent their winters, but they could not nail down where individual birds went or determine their long-term rate of travel.

The photo by TJN photographer Stuart Bayer shows Rich Anderson, assistant director of Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Garrison, removing a wood thrush from a nylon mist net in the summer of 2006.

Posted by Mike Risinit on Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 at 11:48 am |
| | 1 Comment »

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The Nature of Things provides a chance to talk about the wild denizens that share the Lower Hudson Valley with us and the natural settings that make this place home for everyone. From Long Island Sound to the Hudson River to the Great Swamp and beyond, almost anything related to the environment is fair game in this blog.


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About the authors
SBenischekJournal News staff writer Greg Clary writes Earth Watch, reporting on environmental issues in the lower Hudson region. Clary has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Journal News since 1988 and has covered police and courts, transportation, municipal government, development and the environment in the Lower Hudson Valley, among other topics.
Laura IncalcaterraLaura Incalcaterra covers the environment, open space and zoning and planning issues for The Journal News. A Boston College graduate, Laura grew up in Rockland, attended East Ramapo schools and has worked for The Journal News since 1993. Laura has written features and covered North Rockland, crime, government and a host of other issues.
SBenischekMike Risinit covers Patterson and Kent in Putnam County, as well as environmental topics touching on the Hudson River and the Great Swamp. Risinit has been a reporter at The Journal News since 1998.
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