A Good Day for Chimps

It has been a season of good news for wild animals in captivity. I recently posted an article about SeaWorld’s announcement that it will be ending (some of) its killer whale shows. While this big announcement amounted to no more than media spin to deflect the public outcry raised by the film Blackfish, it does look like SeaWorld is eventually going to have to bow to pressure and end its captive orca programs entirely.

Now, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which has long been the government body tasked with approving research projects using chimpanzee test subjects, has announced that it will no longer be keeping a supply of captive chimps for this purpose. It will also continue to phase out all the chimp research funding it has, in the past, provided to outside facilities.

Since 2013, the NIH has been in the process of reducing researcher reliance on chimps. Most of its 360 captive chimps were to be retired, with a group of 50 to be kept in case they were needed for future research. Now, in a document leaked by an NIH employee, the head of the agency has stated that these last 50 chimps would be retired, as well.

Last June, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed captive chimps under the Endangered Species Act, making it that much harder for the NIH to approve them for research uses. In addition, any researcher wanting to use chimps would have had to show that the planned research would in some way benefit wild chimps. These strict conditions were apparently enough to deter new chimp-based research, because no new applications for chimpanzee projects were received after the status change went into effect.

Some who would like to have access to captive chimps for use in studies to benefit wild chimps and other primates may be disappointed by this news. Chimp research has already been outlawed in many places. So, overseas researchers who, for example, wish to test ebola vaccines meant for wild chimps on their captive cousins may have trouble finding test subjects. The NIH’s director, however, believes that other species of primates still available to researchers can serve as suitable test subjects for these types of vaccine trials.

The NIH is in the process of preparing a retirement plan for its captive chimps as well as those in other facilities it has been funding.

View the Science magazine article here.

A Beautiful Photo: Little Pika

These little guys, which have been described as a cross between a bunny and a mouse, are undeniably adorable. They are also very picky about where they live. Their physiology requires them to always stay cool, so they can only live at very high altitudes. They can actually die when exposed to temperatures over about 78 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours. They are primarily found in the high Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains.

Photo credit to Jon LeVasseur (www.sharetheexperience.org).

View the original UDSI post here.

Wilderness Therapy and Healing the Wounds of War

Watch this beautiful video, and try not to cry. I dare you.

There’s something about the power of wilderness to heal the wounded soul. From PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating condition that plagues many veterans) to physical ailments like traumatic brain injury, spending time in the great outdoors can provide a great healing force.

The Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program aims to connect active military and veterans through backcountry adventures. It may seem intuitive that time in the outdoors can heal, but the Sierra Club is taking this work one step further. In partnership with the University of California Berkeley, they are collecting data on their veteran adventurers so that they can quantify how vets get better. The ultimate goal is to use this data to persuade the Veterans’ Administration to provide funding for nature-based therapy for wounded warriors.

2015-5-Feature-Cedar-Mesa-veterans-tattoo-WB-3

I really enjoyed this story of a group of vets undergoing a sweat lodge ceremony to release past traumas and visions of horror. From my own experience with the sweat, I know this can be a very powerful tool — one among many.

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 1.04.28 PM

Here’s another great video, this one from Outward Bound for Veterans. This program works with the reality that adjusting back to “normal” life after the intensely bonding teamwork of deployment can be a process of grieving. These adventures for veterans and active duty servicepeople are one way to bring back some of that missing sense of belonging.

Here’s something that’s not okay in any way, shape, or form: “More soldiers have died from self-inflicted wounds than service members died in combat between 2002 and 2013.” That horrifying fact comes from this recent High Country News feature on wilderness therapy for vets which also notes that in 2010, 6,000 vets committed suicide … 20 percent of all U.S. suicides.The V.A. mental health system is overwhelmed, and may not have access to the best tools for healing soldiers. According to a recent survey, one-third of veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injury stop going to treatment, and another one-third never go to be treated in the first place. Clearly, our veterans need access to more meaningful healing opportunities than that which the federal government can currently provide.

That’s why it’s so important for civilian society to step up. As with Sierra Club Outdoors and Outward Bound for Veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project’s Project Odyssey provides a series of nature-based odysseys to help vets in “overcoming adversity and finding the way home.” Project Odyssey’s goal is to help veterans struggling with combat stress move beyond it to reconnect with society and family.

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 2.01.12 PM

Veterans Expeditions, or VetEx, brings veterans into the mountains for training in mountaineering skills and camaraderie with fellow vets. Although they are a small organization, they are able to bring several hundred vets a year on their expeditions, according to this National Geographic article about them.

79550.ngsversion.1422286243589.adapt.1190.1

These and other programs are a great start. They are doing incredible work, and their reach will expand to more and more veterans who need their help. There is a large population in need, and so more programs are needed … who else wants to start a wilderness therapy program for vets?

[Featured photo and all videos and photo credit goes to the above linked articles and websites.]

Beautiful Video: A Love Letter to America’s Wilderness

So, this video is pretty inspirational:

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/380841/

What a lot of people don’t know is that much of the funding for the US to conserve these incredible places comes from a pool of money called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It was established over 50 years ago. It takes money that the government charges oil and gas companies for the right to operate offshore drilling platforms, and turns it into a fund to create national parks, forest, wildlife refuges, and so forth, and to protect them from development along their borders.

Each year, the fund provides about $900 million dollars, but Congress has habitually siphoned off most of the money for other uses, leaving only $100 million or so for land protection.

And now, the Fund has expired. Congress is working to renew it, but some in the House are trying to gut the law and make it even less potent than it was before. You can contact your senators and representative and ask them to fully reauthorize the LWCF.

There’s a lot more information about the LWCF here.

New Desert Energy Plan is Good News for Wildlife

Kim Delfino, California Director for Defenders of Wildlife and alumna of my law school, has written the post below, explaining the implications of the very important new Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. It’s a must-read!

One of the rarest sightings in the California desert is not what you think it might be. It is not the appearance of water, the presence of a desert tortoise emerging from its burrow, or even the spying of the mysterious mountain lion. It is the sighting of a Mohave ground squirrel above ground.

These elusive mammals spend perhaps two months of their lives above ground when conditions are right, and they can only be found in the West Mojave Desert of California. Unfortunately, the sighting of the Mohave ground squirrel is becoming rarer as their habitat is lost to energy development, industrial development and other land-intensive development and their population shrinks. The specter of large-scale renewable energydevelopment is the latest potential threat to the survival of this state-protected species.

Mohave ground squirrel, © Dr. Phil Leitner

Several years ago, the fate of the ground squirrel – along with other desert wildlife – hung in the balance as hundreds of thousands of acres of desert lands were proposed for industrial renewable energy development. Fortunately, California and the Department of the Interior joined together to propose a new approach to energy development – a landscape scale look across the California Desert to determine where projects could be placed on already disturbed and degraded lands, while protecting those areas most important for desert wildlife, recreation, and other natural resources. This new approach started with the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (Solar PEIS), but was significantly expanded in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).

The DRECP represents a paradigm shift in how renewable energy development is planned in California and nationally. If done well, the DRECP could mean that desert wildlife like the tortoise and the ground squirrel have a future even in the face of climate change.

This week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new part of the plan that addresses how and where different types of land will be used for renewable energy. It is an important step forward for the DRECP, and is expected to be finalized in early 2016.

There is a lot to celebrate in the BLM’s latest plan. It protects 3.8 million acres of lands with important natural resource, scenic and recreational values by designating them as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. Iconic areas such as the Silurian Valley, Chuckwalla Bench and the Amargosa River watershed are designated as National Conservation Lands. Most importantly, these protections are permanent and cannot be overturned in the future.

desert tortoise Joshua Tree, ©Phil & Loretta Hermann

The plan also includes 388,000 acres of BLM lands in the desert where renewable energy projects can be built without significant impacts to wildlife. These projects will help California meet its aggressive climate change goals without putting vital wildlife habitat under development.

So, is the new plan a win for desert wildlife conservation? Should we celebrate the conservation of desert tortoise and Mohave ground squirrel for future generations?

Not yet. While the latest plan has some important benefits, there are still pieces of it that are damaging to wildlife, and must be improved when the BLM issues its final plan in early 2016. The fate of the West Mojave hangs in the balance.

Continue reading New Desert Energy Plan is Good News for Wildlife

because we live in a beautiful world