We try to focus on positive stories and developments here at Animalia, but sometimes we have to flag the negative ones so they don’t go unnoticed, especially when they are happening in our own backyard here in the US.
Last week Idaho legislature passed a devastating bill that would result in killing 90% of the wolf population in the state. A population of an estimated 1,500 wolves today that have been built back up for 25+ years dating to 1995 Yellowstone reintroduction. This bill would wipe out 2 decades of progress nearly overnight.
All it needs now is approval from governor Brad Little, who has an awful track record on environmental and wildlife so we can sadly assume this bill as good as passed barring someone talking sense into him.
The details of the bill are as disturbing as the headline.
Hunters will now be allowed to do aerial hunting, a practice that even most hunters dislike because of how easy it makes it to take out large quantities of wolves very quickly.
It also opens back up the right to use snares and traps on private property, which also damages all other forms of wildlife and even people’s dogs.
As if that wasn’t enough, it also permits hunters to invade wolf dens and slaughter pups.
$300,000 is being allocated towards killing wolves who kill elk, which is NOT livestock, but the hunters want to kill the elk for themselves. Individuals can get “expenses” reimbursed from these funds, which is a backdoor way of creating the bounty-system that eradicated wolves back in the 19th and early 20th century.
Why is This Happening?
Sadly because our society has a lot of hateful, sinister people. And when these people are in power, these things happen.
It’s being pushed by ranchers and hunters. And while we acknowledge that wolf-livestock conflict is real and in the past some legislation in the US has genuinely been meant to manage it, this one is not based on data or facts at all. It is pure hatred, fear mongering, and misinformation.
Republican Senator Mark Harris, a rancher himself, was quoted as saying: “These wolves, there’s too many in the state of Idaho. We’re supposed to have 15 packs and 150 wolves. They are destroying livestock and destroying wildlife.”
Oh really Mark?
The elk population in Idaho today is just over 120,000. The same exact level it was at before wolf reintroduction started in the 90s. Not only that, but studies show that wolves actually help elk populations because they often prey on the diseased and weaker elk, which then builds resiliency. Here are details on that study.
As for livestock. In 2020, 102 cattle and sheep were killed by wolves in Idaho. There are 2.8 million of them. This is .000036% of the population. Oh, and these ranchers are also reimbursed by the state when they lose livestock to a wolf killing.
There is zero data to defend this. This is based on hate and emotions, not science or facts.
Even the Idaho Sportsmen Group - the major hunting association in Idaho - called this “senseless.”
The bill was passed through Idaho Senate and House so quickly that the Department of Fish and Game was never consulted. Every single environmental and scientific body in the state has spoken out against this.
Oh and that 150 wolf target that Mark Harris shared? If the Idaho wolf population dips below it, the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service could take over, which is not what he wants with a pro wildlife, pro environment administration. So as long as they keep to that low baseline number, it’s open hunting season.
How You Can Help
Please sign this petition on Change.org and share it.
"Plastic- Eating Bacteria” sounds like a headline that should appear next to the other series of unusual 2020 headlines we saw last year, but don’t worry; what sounds like scary news could actually be the start of a major, positive impact in the world of plastic pollution.
Thought you’ve seen it all? Think again
On April 23rd, 2021, a team of researchers from the Institute of Oceanology at China’s Academy of Sciences in Qingdao, China were published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. Led by scientist Sun Chaomin, the team was able to isolate a combination of bacteria that were found to cause “serious damage” to films of Polythene (PE) and Polyethelene terepthalate (PET). Plastic bottles and other common plastic products are made from PET, and plastic bags are synthesized from PE. Polythene (PE) is the plastic that is the source of much of the plastic pollution in our oceans. Prior to this research, there were no known organisms or enzymes that could break it down. There have been extensive studies that have found organisms and enzymes that break down PET, but comparatively, research on PE degrading organisms was lacking.
The research team added bacteria to samples of PE and PET and saw significant cracks and holes in the plastics. The combination of the three types of bacteria show promise for isolating plastic-degrading enzymes, but further research must be conducted in order for that to happen. Despite these exciting findings, we are still a long ways away from being able to use these “plastic- eating bacteria” to solve our plastic pollution problem.
Even if You Throw it Away, Plastic is Here to Stay
If you are anything like us over here at Animalia, you say, “No, thanks, I brought my own bag” when you go grocery shopping, or you carry around a reusable water bottle everywhere you go. It’s no secret that single-use plastic is being created and consumed at impossible rates worldwide. If you're reading this, you're probably one of the people on this planet who cares enough to make a conscious effort to reduce your use of single-use plastic. The thing about plastic is that it’s durable and inexpensive to produce, which makes it easy and convenient to use in the production of goods. It allows us to package and protect things like food or water, and since it’s so cheap, we can throw it away easily right after we have used it. It’s convenient- except for the fact that it can take decades to centuries to break down. In the meantime, it makes its way into landfills, streets, and the ocean.
What Does All This Mean?
Approximately 10 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year. Over time, the plastic gets broken down into smaller pieces called microplastics, which then make their way into the food web in the ocean, and for those of us that eat fish, into our diets. Plastic makes up about 80% of the debris in the ocean and kills about 1 million birds and 10,000 marine animals annually. It is literally killing our oceans and threatening the security of our planet’s biodiversity. Unfortunately, large-scale ocean clean ups are tremendously expensive and difficult, and we are a long way from being able to use bacteria to help eliminate the plastic in our oceans. Still, findings like this are promising and a glimmer of hope toward a sustainable future. We have the technology to divest from using plastics, we just have to put pressure on the large corporations to make actual changes to stop using plastic in the mass production of their goods.
You can make choices every day to reduce your own consumption of plastics. Say no to a plastic bag, use reusable water bottles, carry your own reusable cutlery with you, bring your own containers or cups for takeout and coffee runs, don’t release your helium balloons into the air (what goes up must come down), recycle and reuse the plastics that you DO use, and keep the pressure on your governments to pass legislation to ban single-use plastics. Don’t let a bacterium be better at eliminating plastics than you are.
South Dakota Farm Shows Challenges of Organic Farming
We all should be fans of organic farming and pushing more and more consumer buying and agriculture this direction. In fact, our Animalia podcast episode just last week was with the Science Director of the Organic Center (listen below this article).
But this world is complicated. Marketing can come ahead of action. Organic standards are harder to abide by in some areas vs. others. And needs for yield and growth can sometimes drive cutting corners.
All of the above are happening right now on a massive organic farm in South Dakota.
To Til or Not to Til
In 2018, General Mills entered a strategic alliance with Gunsmoke Farms, a massive 30,000 acre farm, to convert it organic and agree to buy a minimum number of crops.
The problem started with tillage. Tilling soil is essentially the process of uprooting weeds and “softening” the soil to make it easy to plant in. The problem with this is it is highly disruptive to the soil, as it breaks down the root system underneath it and over time turns soil into a powder like substance.
This is particularly a bad idea in more arid areas like South Dakota, where soil health is harder to recover once tilled and once softened, it blows away easily in rough winds.
Non-organic farmers use herbicides to root out weeds so they don’t have to till, and special tools to plant crops without softening the soil. However for organic farms, herbicides are off the table.
Now, tilling soil is also not recognized as an organic practice, but as we learned in our podcast, there are custom standards applied to different areas. So it appears for whatever reason, Gunsmoke Farms believed it could use tilling while maintaining organic standing.
Crop Choice Matters
They were sort of stuck between a rock and hard place between tilling or using herbicides if they wanted to expand into wheat and peas, which General Mills likely wanted.
You see originally they planted alfalfa. Alfalfa does not require annual planting, it is a much more stable, almost grass-like crop. Furthermore, alfalfa helped Gunsmoke initially meet standards for having native grasses throughout the farm that helps protect tilled soil from blowing over.
But as they added wheat and peas and lowered alfalfa,that tilled soil became a problem.
Gunsmoke Farms is owned by a massive private equity fund, TPG. They then outsource the actual farming work, but get to call the shots. General Mills is of course a massive food company that carries a lot of weight with their demands as well.
So what happens when a massive private equity firm buys a farm and strikes a big commercial deal with a huge food corporation and they decide to slap an organic label on it for marketing before they really dig in to start implementing those practices?
Let’s hope this gets cleaned up. Here is a link to read more.
Big Win for Lions in South Africa
South Africa has passed a historic measure to end the captive lion industry, where it’s estimated 8,000 to 12,000 lions are held.
When these facilitates were originally opened decades ago, they promised to help with lion conservation by creating safe havens, controlling hunting, and building an eco-tourism industry that would help fund wild protection and other conservation efforts.
However, as we see often in the captive wildlife space, the marketing and messaging doesn’t often match the facts and practices.
Over the years these facilities aimed to maximize the number of lions they had with captive breeding while minimizing investment in their facilities, hygiene, food, and vet care all in the name of turning profit.
They use these lions for canned hunting - the practice of controlled release into a specific area to be hunted down for tourism - for lion petting, for selling young lions to other tourism experiences, and for selling lion parts to buyers that often end up in China for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (hyperlink to the Animalia podcast episode on this).
We have covered the controversy over captive facilities as a force for conservation before on Animalia, and while there are no doubt ways to do this right with safeguards that do contribute positively to species conservation, those that become a true business aimed to maximize profit simply always turn to unethical practices.
Phase Out Process
Across the board, conservationists and animal welfare advocates are shocked and ecstatic that this happened, as these types of sweeping changes to protect species at the cost of small businesses almost never do. This is a huge win, and it should be celebrated as such!
Now comes the phasing out process, which is tricky.
Sadly, these lions will not and can not just be released back into the wild. They would not survive and that would cause them damage as well as other species and habitat, and pose a threat to villagers given their over familiarity with humans.
The first step is stopping captive breeding immediately.
Then, an audit will be done to decide which lions can be moved into proper sanctuaries, and which ones need to sadly be humanely euthanized.
While that doesn’t sound fair or just, the long term implications of ending these captive lion facilities is such a big positive. And the conditions and day to day life these lions are living right now is so miserable and tortuous that keeping them in this state would be cruelest of all.
Kudos to the Minister in South Africa for getting this done and resisting the pushback from these facilities and the commercial community.