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May 052011

Full moon rising over the gypsum dunes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. (Photo: PRNewsFoto/The Nature Conservancy in Texas, NPS/Doug Buehler)

From Green Right Now Reports

The Nature Conservancy today announced it has donated its 177-acre Gypsum Dunes Preserve in the famed Texas panhandle to the National Park Service. The preserve, which is part of the second largest dune field in the continental United States and possibly in all of North America, will be incorporated into the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

“There is literally no other place like this in Texas and very few places on Earth that compare. These dunes not only provide some of the most enchanting views you’ll ever set eyes on, they are incredibly important from an ecological perspective as well,” Laura Huffman, state director for The Nature Conservancy of Texas, said in a statement. “We are delighted this extraordinary place will remain in the public trust for the people of Texas and visitors from all over to enjoy for generations to come.”

Projecting into the northeastern corner of the arid Chihuahuan Desert, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is often described as one of America’s best-kept natural secrets. Filled with magic and majesty, the park ranges more than 5,000 feet in elevation from the desert floor to Guadalupe Peak, the tallest point in Texas. The landscapes within the park span from starkly beautiful gypsum dunes and salt flats to lush streamside woodlands, rocky canyons and mountain forests, where more than 400 species of animals and 1,000 species of trees and other plants can be found.

The gypsum dunes were donated to The Nature Conservancy in the early 1980s by the estate of Dorothy Croom. More recently, the Conservancy managed the property in cooperation with the National Park Service, which owns the Salt Basin Dunes surrounding the preserve, and the Hudspeth Directive for Conservation (HDC).

The dunes are located approximately nine miles outside of Dell City, Texas, just west of the historic Butterfield Stagecoach Trail. The public can access the dunes by hiking in through the western park boundary or by contacting the Pine Springs visitor center.

“Places where the public can explore and enjoy the rugged beauty of wilderness are so revered in Texas because there is very little public land. Severe cuts to vital conservation programs make collaboration between private, public and non-profit agencies all the more important,” said John V. Lujan, former superintendent of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Get more information at nature.org/Texas.

Oct 062010

From Green Right Now Reports

Chalk up yet another potential furry victim of climate change: The Inyo chipmunk. Once a regular in California’s Sierra Nevada, the

The Inyo chipmunk lives in the alpine regions of the Sierra Nevada mountains. (Photo: Center for Biological Diversity).

brown-eyed, orange/black-tailed creature is nowhere to be seen these days.

“We have not been able to find it anywhere,” James Patton, a retired UC Berkeley professor of zoology who has spent the last two years in search of the species, told the Sacramento Bee.

What happened? Some speculate that the Inyo fell victim to air pollution or competition from other chipmunks. Others cite climate change that has produced warmer temperatures, earlier snowmelt and a shift in overall forest conditions as having negatively affected this alpine species.

“As near as we can tell, it is gone from the Sierra,” Patton said.

Inyo chipmunks can still be found in the nearby White Mountains, but their departure from the Sierra may be cause for even more concern.

“Who knows where they are going to disappear next?” said David Graber, chief scientist for the Pacific West region of the National Park Service.

To learn more:

Apr 202010

From Green Right Now Reports

With Earth Day approaching, and summer just around the corner, thinking about getting back to nature is, well…natural.

Image: National Park Foundation

Image: National Park Foundation

The folks at the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation think so, too. In honor of National Parks Week (April 17-25), they have released their list of the “Top 10 Things You Can Do to Celebrate National Parks Week 2010″:

1. Share a park, and shape a life: Introduce a young person to our national parks. Go to nationalparkweek.org and download the brand new free resource for families: Parks for Play: 35 National Park Adventures for Kids of All Ages which features 35 great national parks for families with tykes, teens and everyone in between.

2. Visit a National Park for Free: The National Park Service has waived entrance fees to all 392 national parks through Sunday, April 25, 2010. Need help locating the closest park to you? Visit the NPS webpage on this event. 

3. Plant Native Species: “Everglades National Park was the first national park in America established to preserve, protect, and restore a unique and fragile ecosystem,” said Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades National Park. “You can protect the environment in your community by planting native plant species in your home gardens and backyards. Non-native plants can adversely impact native wildlife, wreak havoc on nearby natural areas and waters, and interfere with our efforts to restore imperiled ecosystems like the Everglades.”

4. Help Support the Parks at Macy’s: If you can’t make it to a park, consider a gift of any amount and Macy’s will match your gift up to $1 million through the end of April. Macy’s support of the National Park Foundation is helping bring more than 100,000 youth into parks this spring. You can help by visiting your nearest Macy’s store or going online at to the Macy’s Giveback program.

5. Celebrate Earth Day in the Parks, and Leave Your Car Home: Did you know that there are many options for visiting national parks without driving your car? In Boston, on April 21st and 22nd (Earth Day) park rangers will be picking up visitors at MBTA (“The T”) and offering rides to 12 area parks. Take the train through Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. Or, think about carpooling with friends to the park nearest you.

6. Use Reusable bags: “Replace disposable bags with reusable ones,” said Rich Weideman, Chief of Public Affairs at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “Everyone has seen old plastic bags stuck in trees, littering our roadsides and in our streams, and that’s just one of the signs of waste we face in an urban national park like Golden Gate.”

7. Volunteer: Help pick up trash, mulch a trail, pull weeds – or whatever else your local park needs. Find out how you can volunteer too by visiting nationalparkweek.org.

8. Buy Locally Grown Produce: “When you buy your fruits and veggies locally, you’re saving on the fuel and energy it takes to transport and store them,” said Joan Anzelmo superintendent of Colorado National Monument, where park rangers participate in the local farmers market in Grand Junction, Colo., each summer.

9. Help turn one of America’s best parks into one of America’s best classrooms: This spring, the National Park Foundation will bring Bryce Canyon National Park into classrooms across the nation through our Electronic Field Trip. It’s free for teachers to register their classes for the live broadcast and interactive curriculum. Click on this link to sign up.

10. Use Water Efficiently: “A whopping 30 % of the city of Seattle’s electricity comes from hydroelectricity generated within North Cascades National Park,” said Chip Jenkins, superintendent of North Cascades National Park. “Every time you conserve your water usage, that’s not only more clean water for drinking and water for wildlife, but potentially creating more water for clean energy.”

For more information about National Park Week, visit the National Park Service webpage on National Parks Week.

Sep 152009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Midway into Ken Burns’ new ode to American history, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (starting on PBS Sept. 27), the filmmaker tells how the nation’s early park caretakers realize that wildlife is integral to preserving the parks.

You’d think this would have been obvious. But it came as an epiphany in the 1930s, decades into the development of the park system.

Oddly, until then, the public had been so busy ogling mountains and gaping at the exotic canyons of America’s national parks, that the animals seemed secondary, even incidental. Wildlife appearances were welcomed, of course. Bison wandering through a Rocky Mountain meadow enhanced the mountain vista beyond. Mountain sheep verified that one was high in the Rockies and the faithful appearance of the Yellowstone bears at the “bear dumps” or roadside feeding stops made an excursion to see Old Faithful complete.

Meanwhile, though, the wolves, bear, foxes, deer, elk and moose were still vigorously hunted, even on public lands. Government logging continued, degrading some of the very areas being preserved. And those Yellowstone bears were becoming a public menace, through no fault of their own, living on public handouts.

It took some new people in Washington to see what was wrong with this picture. One was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a champion of conservation who added national parks to the system nearly as fast as he added government programs to shore up the ailing 1930s economy.

Another key figure was George Melendez Wright, the first chief of the Wildlife Division at the National Park Service.

Wright saw what most others, at least those in the federal government, had failed to see: That leaving the wildlife alone to thrive in the parks without human interference would strengthen the ecosystems and assure the park’s sustainability.

He saw the nearly extinguished Trumpet Swans, for instance, not as potential hunting trophies, but as a species to cherish and be preserved in the wild. He understood the need for predators in the parks, and to balance the rampant recreational use of the parks to keep it in harmony with nature.

Tragically, this forward-thinking man, died in his early 30s in a car accident near Big Bend. But before he did, he pushed his philosophy forward enough that the parks were never viewed quite the same way again.

This is just one vignette in Burns’ monumental six-part, 12-hour series, which begins on PBS channels nationwide on Sept. 27 and will make Sunday evenings learning about National Parks the next best thing to going there. The film, five years in the making, is directed by Burns (who previously gave us the definitive epics, The Civil War, Jazz and Baseball) and written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan. Needless to say, the cinematography rocks (and not just the footage of the Rockies), and the collection of historic photos and clips presented is awesome. (Thank Burns and his chief cinematographer Buddy Squires.)

Burns excels at homing in on the poignant moments and historic pivots, and there are plenty here, as he and and Duncan tell the sweeping history of the parks through a series of smaller stories about the people who started them, shaped them, revered them and dwelt in them.

We hear about the odd, but visionary, John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, whose love of Yosemite Valley (“the grandest of all the temples of nature”) created the concept of national parks. Later, there’s Teddy Roosevelt, who vigorously promoted the idea of parks preserves but also hankered to nab a cougar whilst visiting Yellowstone.

“Roosevelt will always baffle people who don’t hunt, because he loved the animals and he loved to hunt,” notes one of the many historians and park rangers who narrate this documentary. (Park rangers who are eerily eloquent like Gerard Baker, a Native American ranger, Detroit-native Shelton Johnson, who missed his calling as a writer, and former Ranger Nevada Barr, who did become a writer.)

We learn how George Bird Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society (and yes, that’s his real middle name), helped save the bison from extinction. And how onetime Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, described as “ruthless, unethical and highly effective” public leader abolished segregation in the National Parks and fended off special interests to create more protected spaces.

This hall of fascinating figures includes both the virtuous champions of the cause and those who undermined it. We meet defenders of rare birds and the nefarious absconder of ancient artifacts from Mesa Verde. The fun folks elevate the story so far above the “travelogue” that critics were worried would emerge, it doesn’t even bear fretting for one minute more about that.

Burns, master of his craft that he is, does not forget the common man/woman. Somehow, he has unearthed precious home memoirs of park aficionados dating back to the turn of the century. We follow one brave couple from Nebraska, Edward and Margaret Gerkie, as they tent alongside their car in various developing parks . We meet another man, a Japanese-born artist Chiura Obata whose spiritual connection to the “Holy Mountain,” Mount Rainier, leads to his life’s work painting scenes from the national parks. And naturally we meet Ansel Adams, photographer extraordinaire of the American West.

Just as the U.S. bureaucrats finally remembered to include wildlife in their plans for the nascent national parks, Burns remembers to put the people into his chronicle, turning what could have been a grand, but monotonous travelogue into a spirited exploration of our social and natural history, our culture and values.

But we would expect no less from our de facto national documentary filmmaker as he expounds on our nation’s presumed “best idea”.

About that claim, some will argue that America’s best idea was something else; something like, say, modern democracy (if you leave the ancient Greeks out of it) or representative government (skipping over the Iroquois here), or great TV sitcoms (a possible contender).

But Burns and team make a good case that the parks, set aside for all to enjoy, are uniquely American and embody our democratic spirit and more.

“The country (and therefore the parks) belong to the people. They are not for the rich alone,” says FDR, in a segment about how this nature-loving president, unable to hike or even walk far, greatly expanded the number of parks including some remote places.

Burns’ mega documentary, all 12 hours of it, is carefully organized, following the chronology of the parks from their inception in the 1800s, spurred by naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir, to about 1980 (a little disappointment there, given there are so many parallels with current park issues).

But his execution is multi-layered, creating a nuanced version of history with a panoply of interesting byways, detours and surprises.

He presents the parks as they were first viewed – as amazing spectacles that any American would be lucky to see and follows them though their various incarnations as vacation spots, points of education, and finally as core of our identity.

Our string of magnificent National Parks, concludes Sierra Club executive president Carl Pope, seems to suit a nation of immigrants, giving us places of peace and land that endures:

“They are the meaning of home for many of us.”

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jan 212009

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

It’s about jobs.

America’s newly inaugurated President, Barack Obama, has a Herculean task ahead of him, no question. Virtually everyone from the far right to the hard left agrees that if the new leader wants to rescue America’s economy, it’s all about jobs.

And as Mr. Obama promised, the buzz is about green jobs – a green economy, greening our buildings, revamping parks, wildlife refuges and public spaces. These involve “shovel-ready” jobs, some of which can be started within 90 days of Obama’s inauguration, say eco-leaders, who’ve been lobbying Washington to fund what could amount to an environmental restoration of the United States.

Last week, when the U.S. Congress presented its $825 billion recovery package, legislators gave the first hint that they are listening. The package proposes $90 billion for infrastructure and $54 billion to support renewable-energy production and research — all aimed at modernizing the economy and stopping the river of pink slips that claimed two million jobs in just the last four months of 2008. As Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. David Obey, (D-Wisc.), pointed out – without the recovery plan, the country could face 12 percent unemployment in 2009.

That’s precisely why now is the time to bust out the shovels and dig in, say people like Noah Kahn, manager of the national wildlife refuge program for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us, he adds. And what’s being proposed by Congress is only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what could be achieved in a green-jobs economy. Continue reading »