2021 has been an active and tumultuous year for wolves in the US both good and bad. On the feel good front, big news rocked the wolf world last week when an Oregon wolf, dubbed OR-93, trekked nearly 400 miles into California to the Sierra Nevada.
This is the furthest south a wolf has been spotted in California in nearly 100 years! So this is a major development.
Conservationists and wolf advocates are hoping this is a sign of more to come, that OR-93 is possibly tracking a wild mate that we don't know of, and will form a new pack in California, where only 7 known wolves exist prior to OR-93.
On the other hand, ranchers and hunters say this is a threat to livestock and a threat to people. Even though there is ZERO evidence on the latter (there have been 2 known human deaths from wolves in the lower 48 states in the last 100 years, less than the total deaths in that time from cattle, yes cattle) and there is no true threat to livestock if they are properly cared for and not left to open grazing beyond their property limits.
The good news is in California, wolves are protected at the state level, and while this doesn't mean some douchelord is not gonna still go and try to hunt down this line male, it does mean it's against the law and will help deter someone from doing so.
Here's rooting for OR-93 and that he finds a mate and settles down in what is an absolutely beautiful part of the country. Which will be even more so if wolves can successfully return.
2021 Has Already Been A Lot for Wolves
Ok so a ton has happened in 2 months for wolves so let's try and recap for you:
- BAD - President Trump took Gray Wolves OFF the Federal endangered and thus protected species list just before leaving office. Why? Cause he sucks
- GOOD - Colorado passed Proposition 114 to reintroduce wolves into the state for the first time in over 100 years.
- BAD - Idaho, following Trump's delisting, opened up killing once again and set a quota to reduce it's wolf population from 1,500 to 500
- GOOD - OR-93 makes it further south in California than any wolf in a century and could end up being a catalyst to returning wolves to the Sierra Nevada
- BAD - Wisconsin legalized wolf hunting just as Nevada did after the delisting, and set a quota last week to eliminate 119 wolves from the wild to aid livestock owner concerns. Then hunters went wild and killed 216 in just 3 days with seemingly no consequences
Back and forth we go. Wolf conservation has been a divisive political issue dating back to the extermination of wolves in the 19th century, and will continue to be so sadly. Ranchers and hunters want them gone. Conservationists and for the large part a majority of citizens want them around. And so does nature - it's been proven again and again how much entire ecosystems benefit when wolves are returned to their proper place as apex predators. Here is a piece on the Yellowstone Reintroduction from 1995 proving this to be the case. And a video on it too for those of you who prefer it :)
What is drawing OR-93 So Far South?
Wolf biologists know it's that he is seeking a mate. However, in discussing this recent development with Amaroq Weiss from the Center for Biological Diversity, scientists still don't know if:
1) OR-93 is tracking another wolf's scent this far south, or
2) OR-93 is moving fast because he is looking for a scent to track and unable to find one
Or something different altogether, since there is still so much we don't know about the natural world and how it operates.
What we do know is that OR-93 needs our protection. Wolves like OR-93 are trying to do their part in restoring order and balance to the natural world despite our best efforts to prevent them from doing so. Let's get out of the way and let them do the job that clearly we've been incapable of doing.
An Ode to OR-7
Perhaps you've heard of OR-7, quite possibly the most famous wolf in US History.
OR-7 was born in Oregon in 2009 and left his pack in 2011. He was the first wild wolf to set foot in California in 88 years. In the years that followed he was watched and celebrated by the public and wolf advocates everywhere. He mated several times and one of his lineages is the primary pack still living in California today - the Lassen Pack.
We recommend you find time to watch this incredible documentary retracing OR-7's journey that will leave you in a similar magical state that films like My Octopus Teacher did. Make the time, we promise it is worth it!
The Fight for our Future
By Rylee Brooke Kamahele
We have a Plastic Problem!
I was 8 years old when I started getting involved in the Hawaii state legislature. Now, at the age of 13, I still cannot wrap my head around why we have to fight so hard to protect basic human needs so that future generations can live a healthy life on a healthy planet. One of the biggest battles I continue to face has been against plastic, the major effects that we are starting to see caused by plastic pollution, and the unknown future effects that plastic will leave behind. Even for someone like me who consciously makes an effort not to use unnecessary plastic, plastic has become almost impossible to avoid. It is simply everywhere.
There are currently about 150 MILLION TONS of plastic in our oceans today. More than 8 MILLION MORE TONS of plastic are dumped in our oceans EVERY YEAR. Over 300 MILLION TONS of plastic is produced EVERY YEAR, 50% of which is single-use plastic, including 40 billion plastic utensils. Simple items, like straws, are used once and then thrown away. In the US alone, we use and toss 500 MILLION straws a day. That is over 180 billion straws in ONE YEAR. Every year, 15-20 TONS of that plastic washes up ON OUR SHORES IN HAWAII. As an island culture, the damage being done to our oceans impacts everything in our life. Make no mistake, we are really talking about the well-being and health of our people, our wildlife, and our environment. Microplastic particles are showing up in our seafood and humans are ingesting an average of a credit card size worth of plastic EVERY WEEK.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been at war with plastic pollution for 5 years now. How does a kid get caught up in politics? Well, I founded an organization at the age of 8 and the work that we do for ocean and environmental conservation and animal rescue is very often directly impacted by plastic. My organization, The Catalyst's Club, does work in the community in various ways. Our main focus and mission is to create and provide opportunities for children and youth to be a catalyst for change that makes a positive impact in the world. What fueled my passion to build future leaders was really the realization that changing the world cannot be done alone.
Coming from Hawaii, I grew up in the ocean. While a lot of little girls would try on their mom's high heels, I was the kid who couldn't wait to grow into her diving fins. Even though I spent so much time at the beach, I never really knew how bad plastic pollution was or how much it affects Hawaii until a fateful day in 2016. I was snorkeling with a friend when we noticed a sea turtle with fishing line wrapped around its fin and called NOAA to get it help. My friend's family noticed how concerned I was for the turtle and they told me a little about how litter and plastic were harming marine life. They invited me to a beach cleanup and my family decided we should go. It was at a much less frequented, secluded beach on Oahu's North Shore. When I got there, I remember being so shocked at how badly littered the beach was. I was expecting a clean-up where we pick up the kind of trash you see in the city, like fast food litter, but the beach was covered in plastic pollution that was washing up on our shorelines from the Pacific Garbage Patch. We still found Styrofoam, straws, and your basic irresponsible human litter, but there was plastic washed up from all over the world, huge fishing nets, and microplastic that basically covered the beach. This was really my first encounter with microplastics. We cleaned the beach that day and I was so proud of the difference we made. We went back to the exact same location a week later and I was in shock because the beach was even worse than the last time we were there. I couldn't understand how, in just one week's time, the beach could be covered in plastic, trash, and marine debris again. I remember feeling so frustrated because it was the first time I really understood how big of a problem we were dealing with and I wanted to fix it. After that, I really dug in and started to research plastic pollution and brainstorm how I could help.
Being Solution Oriented
I created three programs to focus on ocean, environmental, and wildlife conservation. Each one is managed and run by kids. We advocate, educate, and do hands-on service and outreach. Realizing we were in a never-ending cycle of work, I finally decided that I needed to work on implementing bills and policy if we wanted to see real change. Politics is definitely not my favorite thing to be involved in especially as a young kid, but civics is important because a lot of the changes we really need and are fighting for need laws to back them. I started with lobbying for bills to protect animals and our wildlife at our state capitol and at city hall.
Shortly after this, during one of our annual youth beach cleanups, there was a Japanese scientist taking water samples from the shoreline. I was watching him collect ocean water in glass bottles, shake them around, and look curiously at them before setting them into a collection bin. I had to know what he was doing so I made my way over and started a conversation with him. What he told me was something that stuck with me and really fueled my passion to work on bills that fought against plastics. He was researching plastic pollution in our oceans, and the effects that it will eventually have when all of the plastic in our oceans break down into their chemical components. Up until this point, I was only familiar and dealing with microplastics. I never thought about what happened beyond that. I never thought about what it would mean when 150 million tons of plastic in our oceans eventually breaks down into chemicals. 50-80% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean and the ocean that I love and have treasured my entire life was 100% at risk. I sprung into action, lobbying for plastic straw, Styrofoam, and single-use plastic bans. Along the way, I created friendships with organizations who have been fighting this same battle since before I was even born. I started meeting other kids who were passionate and involved in the battle against plastic, too. At some point, a clip of my speech to ban straws was shared in a news story and, while I got a lot of negative feedback from people who love the convenience of straws more than protecting the planet, we started to see more and more kids show up at hearings. We were gaining momentum and eventually, the joint effort of many organizations, passionate youth, and a progressive city council, a single-use plastic phase out was passed in Hawaii.
On December 4, 2019, the Honolulu City Council passed Bill 40, a single-use plastic phase out that went into effect January 2021. The new law was created to reduce solid waste, protect the environment, reduce climate change, and to protect the health of humans, animals, and marine life. The bill states that food vendors will be banned from providing plasticware, including utensils, straws, foam plates, food containers, and cups. It also expands the plastic bag ban. In January 2022, additional plastic food ware items will be banned, and all other businesses would have to follow this policy.
After fighting alongside so many passionate Hawaiian youth and adults for years, to finally see a single-use plastic phase out happening this year is incredible for all of us. I went through a drive-thru the other day and got a paper straw and wooden utensils and I was thrilled! I cannot wait to see the ripple effect this huge phase-out will have in encouraging other states to do the same, and I especially cannot wait to see how this might affect manufacturing. My hope is that if there is no demand for single-use plastics, manufacturers will have to change what they supply. That gives me hope that the endless cycle of plastic pollution we are fighting on our shores might one day start to get better.
Between marine pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, plastics, climate change, an impacted food system, the endangerment of wildlife, and destruction of habitats, we still have a long way to go. The dream is for people to value and understand how crucial it is to protect our planet, to set aside convenience, profit, and personal agendas and place priority on preserving the world they are leaving behind for us. I hope to have my own family one day and I want my children to have clean air, clean water, and wildlife to enjoy. I hope that they’ll be able to fall in love with beaches that aren’t covered in plastic pollution, and will get to dive with sharks, one of my favorite things to do. The change starts with each of us wanting to do better and then actually taking a step to make it so. Even the smallest gesture, like picking up a piece of litter you see while you’re on a walk, is important. As long as we each continue to do something, big or small, there is hope in the fight for our future.
In recent years the palm oil industry has come under fire for its role in deforestation and environmental degradation. And rightfully so. In Indonesia, 72% of the forests have been destroyed in recent decades and of this, 60% is estimated to be from palm oil plantations.
It appears the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia, world leading providers of palm oil, have been pushed over the edge by a recent announcement from the European Union that they will be phasing out biofuels derived from palm oil by 2030 and no longer recognizing them as biofuels at all.
The ramifications and response to this are detailed very well in this great piece on MongaBay.
To sum it up though, Malaysia and Indonesia are not happy. They say this is discrimination and misinformation about one of their most important exports in an attempt to prioritize local vegetable oil alternatives in the EU.
"Indonesia will continue to fight against palm oil discrimination" said president Joko Widodo on February 6th.
Eye for an Eye
Malaysia and Indonesia have declared that they plan on not only defending the palm oil industry, but smearing the vegetable oil industry in the EU. It seems like an ugly PR back and forth is upon us.
Many in Indonesia and Malaysia are trying to prevent this from happening. They don't agree with the approach, regardless of where they stand on the palm oil front. They believe that all the money and time that will be put towards this almost childish fight with the EU vegetable oil industry could instead be put into making the palm oil industry locally more sustainable and rehabilitating some of the degraded forests - basically cleaning up the palm oil reputation rather than going after the vegetable oil reputation.
Why Palm Oil is So Problematic
We've known for years that palm oil is so problematic. The rainforests it degrades are critical tools in sequestering carbon. And because palm oil trees are not truly native to these forests, they completely destroy biodiversity and harm soil for generations. The scale of the industry is so vast that orangutans are nearing extinction from loss of habitat, primarily from palm oil plantations.
However, simply replacing these is not so easy. For one, palm oil is highly efficient from a yield standpoint. It produces up to 10x more yield per acre compared to other vegetable oil alternatives, some of which are not as environmentally harmful. This tremendous yield is what makes palm oil so inexpensive and so widely used globally, and thus why it is such a massive export for both of these countries.
As such, it employs a lot of people. In Indonesia, an estimated 16 million people are employed by the industry. In Malaysia, that number is 600,000. And its impact goes beyond employment. The revenue palm oil brings in is critical to each country's economic sovereignty and overall budget. So it's understandable why they defend it despite it's environmental harm. It's easy for me to type this and say it should stop. I'm not an Indonesian whose family depends on this for survival. So that is the solution?
A Global Fund for Wild Ecosystem Protection
We've talked about this before on Animalia. We believe you can not just take away people's jobs - even if they are in environmentally damaging, archaic industries - without providing alternatives. That is just not fair to those people.
We know the rainforests in places like Indonesia and Malaysia are critical to carbon sequestering. We can calculate just how much carbon they capture and oxygen they produce and put a dollar value on that given we know how much additional greenhouse gases heat our atmosphere and oceans, the extreme weather this causes globally, and the economic damage from floods, droughts, hurricanes, and so forth.
Essentially we can find our way to putting a dollar value on critical wild ecosystems like those in Indonesia and Malaysia. Once we do, the richer, development nations in the world should all contribute to a global fund to then pay local communities to maintain these ecosystems. These funds are alternatives to the costs of repairing damages from more extreme weather - so they can actually SAVE contributing countries' money on the long term.
This way we can say to a country like Indonesia - we are going to pay for your forests to be protected rather than pay for your palm oil. This is extremely hard but economically possible, and we think is one of the best ways out of challenges like this.
Green Citizenship vs. Green Consumerism
Are you a Green consumer or a Green citizen? Do you know the difference? We were recently introduced to a 2017 study from the University of Michigan that helped articulate the difference and found it so informative, we wanted to share it here with our community.
Green Consumers are those who are making environmentally minded decisions when purchasing, such as buying locally, buying organic, and looking for eco-friendly certifications. They also make environmentally focused decisions when thinking about waste and disposal - actively recycling, using less plastic, and composting. All good things!
Trouble is, the study from Michigan, linked here for the full report and references, cites that over the years Green Consumerism only moves the needle so much. It may not be the larger more incremental change that we need, since it doesn't slow down consumerism itself, and can lead to one "checking the box" so to speak on being an environmental steward and not extending that to other more meaningful areas.
A Citizenship We Can All Aspire Towards
What then, is a Green Citizen in contrast?
Green Citizenship, as defined in a 2014 paper by Raymond DeYoung, holds a much deeper purpose. It involves a psychological motivation for frugal use of resources and a connection to nature. A Green Citizen actively seeks to consume less, not just greener, where he/she can. But more importantly it involves being active in local initiatives, seeking environmental positions when voting both locally and nationally, and actively learning and seeking knowledge beyond what is merely presented in passing.
The risk of being only a Green Consumer is that you are looking at yourself only as a consumer, and your impact is limited to only what you consume. This is not only limiting yourself, but limiting all of us. This is because it can lead to the perception that this is all that's needed, that beyond being a Green Consumer, it is up to corporations and government to take it from there.
Nobody wants to consume less or aspire for less comfort. We have an overwhelming motivation in society to be comfortable, even if while doing the right thing, over being frugal and resourceful. However, how much do we really need to consume and accumulate to be happy and comfortable if we stop comparing ourselves to others and start to find deeper, more intrinsic value and purpose?
How Do I Become a Green Citizen?
We thought you would never ask! Ok that's not true, but we hoped you would! Here are some examples of things you can do to move into Green Citizenship:
- Share More - the act of sharing resources, be it hand me down clothes or lending someone a tool is not only good for the planet but good for connection and relationships
- Participate in Local Green Initiatives - from beach and park clean-ups to tree planting
- Vote for Environmental Leaders - especially at the local levels, where there is not enough informed, active voting today
- Repair over Replace
- Reuse over Recycle
We are not knocking Green Consumerism - making changes to what we consume and how we dispose of things is so important. The message here is use this as a gateway and stepping stone into becoming a Green Citizen!