Poisoning Wildlife

photo by Liz Grogan

photo by Liz Grogan

Bad news for prairie and mountain predators: according to an article in the High Country News, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of Kaput-D and Rozol, brutal rodenticides that target prairie dogs. The poisons work a bit like the Ebola virus, causing massive hemorrhaging through every pore in the rodent’s body. Upon ingestion of the poison, it may take several days or weeks for the prairie dog to die. In the meantime, the rodent gets weak and more susceptible to predators. If the predators consume a poisoned prairie dog, they could become poisoned themselves. The Center for Biological Diversity has made their stance on the poison clear: the EPA should withdraw prairie dog poisons, not approve more. Poisoning prairie dogs can have devastating effects on a wide range of animals, including: whooping cranes, American burying beetles, foxes, golden eagles, bald eagles, hawks, mountain plovers, burrowing owls, coyotes, bears, wolves, and black footed ferrets, just to name a few.

Pollution is also poisoning Rocky Mountain wildlife. An article in the Salt Lake Tribune claims that excess nitrogen due to fertilizers and vehicle exhaust is causing algae populations in Rocky Mountain lakes to boom. An excess of algae results in high-nitrogen but low-phosphorus “junk food” for fish and microorganism. The low nutrient diet threatens endangered fish species, like the cutthroat trout. Scientists are studying the impact for the rest of the mountain ecosystem in order to determine how best to solve the problem.

It’s not all doom and gloom for wildlife in the Four Corners. The Arizona Daily Sun has good news for endangered Mexican wolves. In order to increase public support for the Mexican wolf reintroduction program in Arizona, federal wildlife officials and the National Fish and Wildlife Federation have agreed to start a trust fund for ranchers in the Southwest. The fund, estimated to be a few million dollars, will both compensate ranchers for livestock losses and contribute to improved security. A Mexican wolf reintroduction program was started in 1998, with 50 wild wolves now roaming Arizona and New Mexico. Wildlife officials are hoping the trust fund will satisfy ranchers and keep them from illegally killing the wolves.

Liz Grogan

The Missing Lynx

Drawing by Liz Grogan

Lynx and Bobcat - by Liz Grogan

The San Juan Mountain range has lost yet another endangered lynx. Early in October, a four year old male lynx was killed with a bow and arrow near Silverton. He is just one of many lynx that are unable to survive in their Rocky Mountain home.

The last native lynx died in the Colorado Rockies around 1973, but in the past decade officials have released over 200 cats from Canada in a precarious reintroduction program. The lynx have been struggling to survive due to climate problems, habitat destruction, and, occasionally, illegal hunting.

While lynx are federally protected, their close cousins the bobcats are not.  Lynx and bobcats look very similar, especially from a distance, but there are a few key characteristics that distinguish them. Lynx are larger, with longer, solid grey fur. Bobcats are more colorful; their coats are a reddish-grey color, and have more prominent spots. Lynx have shorter tails than the bobcat’s, and are not striped.  Unfortunately, the most distinguishing features of the lynx, the black ear tufts, are difficult to see unless you’re right up next to them.

Lynx are also facing difficulties due to climate change. Warmer temperatures at higher altitudes, paired with decreased precipitation, means snow cover is shallower. The lynx prey almost entirely on snowshoe hares, and are perfectly adapted to hunt the animals through deep snow drifts. However, as snow depth decreases, the hares are unable to hide from competing predators. As a result, opportunistic predators such as coyotes easily snatch up the prey, leaving lynx to starve. Survival rates for lynx are alarmingly low. In Canada, where lynx are relatively numerous, up to 80 percent do not live longer than 3 years. It may not be a problem for the natural lynx in Canada, but it’s a huge problem for those in our San Juan Mountains.

Lynx already struggle to survive; the least we can do is ensure we do not directly contribute to their deaths. Just by learning the differences between lynx and bobcats, and not shooting when in doubt, hunters can play their part in protecting the beautiful Rocky Mountain lynx.

– Liz Grogan

Eat Your Dog?

photo by Liz Grogan

photo by Liz Grogan

Earlier this year, two sustainability advocates in New Zealand released a shocking new book: Time to Eat the Dog: the Real Guide to Sustainable Living. The authors, Robert and Brenda Vale, don’t actually condone eating our canine friends; the book merely assesses the huge impact they have on the environment. A medium sized dog, for example, has an ecological footprint of 0.84 hectares, more than twice that of an SUV (although the book does ignore the fact that most dog foods are made from the leftovers of ordinary meat and grain processing, which would otherwise go to waste). The authors propose that in order to be sustainable we should focus our resources on “useful pets” such as chickens, and ditch our relatively useless dogs and cats.

While it is undeniable that pets can have a negative impact, many people like me find it impossible to imagine living in a world without them. Over the years, we have bred dogs and cats to rely almost entirely on humans, and we now have an obligation to care for them. Pets are also beneficial for humans, providing services such as guarding houses and livestock, aid for the disabled, and, most importantly, companionship.

Eating our pets seems like a radical idea to me. Fortunately, it is easy to make your pets environmentally friendly. Here are just a few of the ways to reduce the ecological footprint of man’s best friend:

1) Choose your pet’s diet carefully. Most cheap dog foods contain waste meats and grains, and are extremely unhealthy for the animal. Instead of buying processed food, you can feed your pets a “raw diet,” just like their cousins dine on every day. Your dog will require a lot less food, because he won’t be eating fillers. If you buy local meats, you will be supporting the economy as well as the environment. Just don’t forget that dogs also need plant material – vegetables, fruits and calcium – in order to stay healthy. Consult your veterinarian to ensure your pets get the nutrition they need.

2) A raw diet is not for every dog. Animals with compromised immune systems, for example, cannot handle the bacteria in raw meat. If you are concerned about health, or unwilling to feed Fido raw meat, look for a local or green pet food business. For more information on buying environmentally friendly pet food, visit The Green Guide. In Durango, Zuke’s offers a wide variety of healthy and all-natural treats for dogs and cats.

3) Toys, beds, blankets, shampoos, and everything else your dog needs to be happy are also available in environmentally friendly forms. Some online lists of green toys are GreatGreenPet.com and OliveGreenDog.com. Better yet, find a local store that makes and sells dog toys, or make your own.

4) Adopt pets from animal shelters, and always spay or neuter them. There are millions of animals in shelters around the country, and although puppies may be adorable, breeding your animals just contributes to the pet overpopulation problem.

5) Pets can be devastating for local wildlife. Teach dogs not to attack small animals, and keep them on a leash whenever they’re away from the yard. Clean up after your dog on walks, and dispose of the waste in biodegradable bags. Finally, bells attached to your pet’s collar work as excellent intruder warnings for small animals.

Dogs may have a negative impact on the environment, but that’s no reason to go out and destroy them. Even a dog, at 0.83 hectares, has a smaller global footprint than a human – the average estimate for the United States is 9.7 hectares per person!

– Liz Grogan

Think Local: Save the Frogs!

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Save the Frog - Liz Grogan

In the world of preservation all animals may be equal, but some are definitely more equal than others. We tend to focus on exotic endangered species rather than our own “mundane” local ones, even those in great danger.
There is no reason to believe that tigers are ecologically more valuable than Colorado’s own boreal toad, yet there are hundreds of “Save the Tiger” campaigns, and zero “Save the Toad” lobbyists. Plants are ignored completely. Most people don’t even realize plants can, in fact, become endangered, and are just as necessary for a stable environment as animals.

Thousands of species on this planet are facing extinction due to human destruction. The World Conservation Union lists 3246 species that are critically endangered, with thousands more endangered, vulnerable, or threatened. Less than 300 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild. 150 Iberian lynx survive in all of Europe. There are only 125 kakapos, a type of parrot, still alive. Echo parakeets are finally recovering from a drop to 10 individuals in the mid-80s. So yes, some species are more endangered than others, and most of those do not live in Colorado.

Thirty-three endangered plants and animals live in Colorado. Amphibians face fatal mutations because of our polluted rivers. Fish are dying off and unable to reproduce because of hormones and heavy metals in the water. Not to mention the effects of development and overfishing. Birds have trouble migrating because city lights interfere with their navigation. Large carnivores such as wolves, lynx and grizzly bears are either extinct in the state or nearly so. As long as we live here, we cannot forget about those 33 species. No matter how boring they may seem to us, we need to do all we can to protect them. Without them, our entire ecosystem will collapse.

You can find a complete list of local endangered animals here and plants here.

– Liz Grogan

Lone Wolf

Five years ago, a lone wolf found himself in Colorado, over a thousand miles away from home, and was killed on I-70. Earlier this year, a new female made her way to our mountains, but she also died within weeks. Wolves are still endangered, yet officials in the Northern Rockies, particularly Yellowstone, are pronouncing success – apparently enough to allow hunting this fall. The Obama administration affirmed a plan to resume wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana this year, originally a product of the Bush administration.
Consider the numbers: a century ago, wolves dominated the West, with an estimated 500 individuals in Yellowstone alone, but they were completely exterminated by the mid-1900s. In 1995, a controversial plan reintroduced 14 wolves to Yellowstone, with low expectations. Now, just 15 years later, approximately 1500 wolves can be found in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with about 150 total in Yellowstone. Even though this is just a fraction of the original numbers, state officials are considering it a “population boom” which is now growing out of hand. The plan is to ultimately reduce the numbers to 600.
600 wolves, 3 states. Ecosystems already struggling to hold together will soon have less than half as many wolves to maintain the balance between predator and prey.
What does this mean for Colorado? Due to the lack of predators in the mountains, prey populations, particularly elk, have been a significant problem. One solution which has yet to find enough public support is to reintroduce both Mexican and grey wolf “trial” populations into Rocky Mountain National Park. However, Colorado is officially at a standstill. While refusing to officially fund a reintroduction program, claiming it is too difficult to maintain due to herd migration and the associated risks of predators to livestock, children and pets, state officials claim they will protect whatever wolves happen to wander down to Colorado.
It’s a good idea in theory, but the only two wolves known to have managed the thousand mile trip still died within months.

– Liz Grogan