I recently posted a story about the return of American bison to the state of Colorado. Looks like this great effort is shared with our brothers and sisters on the European continent. Thanks to Gordon Eaglesham for writing the story below. Three cheers for rewilding!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
What a cutie.
Photo credit: Howard Sheridan, National Wildlife Federation wildlife contest.
So, this video is pretty inspirational:
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.
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.
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.
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.
More good news from northern Colorado! I recently posted a story about the return of wild bison to Colorado for the first time in over a century. Now, 30 black-footed ferrets, an endangered species once so rare that only 18 of them remained in the wild, have been returned to a 1,300 acre prairie dog colony north of Fort Collins.
They will join the over 500 other ferrets that have been reintroduced into the wild since they almost went extinct in the 1960s. They are still critically endangered, but they are on the rebound!
[Image downloaded from Wikipedia.]
Known as the “The Devil” by law enforcement who conducted a year-long manhunt for him, Boniface Matthew Mariango was arrested in Tanzania a few days ago. East Africa’s most prolific elephant poacher and illegal ivory trafficker, Mariango was responsible for thousands of elephant deaths.
Earlier last month, task force members of the National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit were also able to arrest “The Queen of Ivory,” Yang Fenglan, who was responsible for a worldwide network of illegal ivory exports. The Devil was her major supplier; he also supplied weapons and vehicles to his own network of poachers. Having these two major players in custody, along with commitments by the U.S. and China to ban ivory, should lead to major breakthroughs in international ivory trafficking.
A documentary film crew was embedded with the task force and will be releasing a film about the manhunt for the Queen of Ivory and The Devil next year.