Monday, January 27, 2014

Cars vs. wildlife: Cars keep on winning

It didn’t take long for the new year’s first car vs. wildlife milestone to reach the headline-making point. The Associated Press report: “An endangered Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) has been killed in a three-car crash in southwest Florida.
“It's the first recorded Panther death of the year. Wildlife officials say collisions with vehicles pose a significant threat to the rare cats. Roughly 100 to 160 adult panthers remain in the wild. (Read a fact sheet about the species at
“Darrell Land of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the Panther fatally struck by a vehicle Thursday along Interstate 75 in Collier County was a young male that weighed up to 120 pounds. Biologists believe he was the same cat that has been roaming a Naples neighborhood recently.  Florida Highway Patrol officials say minor injuries were reported after the crash.
“Land says 20 panther deaths were recorded last year. Most of the Panther deaths recorded in recent years are caused by collisions with vehicles.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracks such data because the Florida Panther is among the most critically endangered native mammals and it has management authority through the Endangered Species Act. The Florida FWCC helps simply because it’s Florida.
While in Boise, Idaho, for three weeks of visiting my sister and her family and our mother, tradition called for me to head east to the much smaller city of Mountain Home – first, to visit an aunt and uncle (Bob, like me, is retired from the Air Force; he’s a chief master sergeant, the top enlisted rank), and then to shop at the Mountain Home Air Force Base “Base Exchange” (known to retired and current military people as the BX).
To get there meant driving a stretch of I-84 that’s famous (or is it infamous?) as the place where, just over the last decade alone, dozens of Barn Owls have been hit and killed by passing vehicles.
The Idaho Fish and Game Department collects roadkill data on this owl species because there, like Pennsylvania, it’s a species of special concern, one that demands a conservation strategy of its own.
The plus side: Since moving to Vermont in 2011, I’ve seen only two roadkill white-tailed deer along a highway shoulder. That’s a heartening anecdote since roadkill whitetails were often-times found on this or that street in Conyngham Borough through my two decades of residency there.
A fundamental truth about America’s century of love of the automobile is this: The infrastructure (roads, streets, freeways, highways, driveways) associated with the nation’s automotive fleet is directly responsible for ongoing and deepening reductions in our natural heritage; what conservation biologists call “biological diversity or simply “biodiversity.”
The principal issue is fragmentation – the fragmentation of otherwise quality habitat by the construction of a road and the sprawl development that often accompanies new strips of asphalt.
And for more than two decades now, the tailpipe emission from that fleet of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide has worsened what scientists have warned over those same years is causing our planet’s climate to change.
This isn’t a far-fetched liberal fantasy, or something dreamed up by progressives. It’s real and is happening. The Arctic cold snap that we Vermonters just endured is weather, not climate.
In Boise, the daily  three-mile walk between my mother’s assisted living center and the hotel I stayed in gave me – as walking always does – a chance to see the world one can’t get close to while seated in the cockpit of a car, SUV or truck. I coined the term “carbon dioxide factory” to describe the daily mishmash of traffic jams – some of them extending down Cole Road or Fairview Avenue or Milwaukee Street for two-plus miles at a hack.
An addendum: Boise, like many other municipalities, does a lot and spends a lot to make life better for cars. But what about people who choose to walk or bicycle?
Yes, Idaho’s capital city does seem to have more bicyclists per capita than any metro area in Luzerne County, Pa. And it was especially heartening to watch cyclists riding on snow-and-ice-covered bicycle lanes on the busiest arterial streets (see the list above).
But Boise is especially emblematic of the environmental and societal ills that always accompany a city’s reliance on private automobiles. On each of my three treks to The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey (10 or so miles south of the metro area), I passed through a space-time continuum known by the nation’s planning and zoning officials as “sprawl.”
The high desert habitat that once widely separated city from a part of the Great Basin  Desert has been paved and built on to the very political (not ecological) boundary of federal public land.
And it was reliance on the private car that made it possible. Our fellow Americans who choose to live in this and other asteroid belts of sprawl must drive their car, SUV or truck to complete the most mundane of household chores, like buying a half-gallon of milk.
Crank your car’s engine to life and it too becomes part of the carbon dioxide emissions factory.

The EPA: “While not regulated as an air pollutant, (carbon dioxide) is the transportation sector’s primary contribution to climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions are essentially proportional to fuel consumption (and inversely proportional to fuel economy) – each 1 percent increase in fuel consumption results in a corresponding 1 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions.

“About 19.4 pounds of carbon dioxide is produced for every gallon of gasoline combusted.”

For advocates of conservation focused both of habitat (the land) and wildlife,  “Present-day protected areas will not be enough to help wildlife survive the coming impacts of climate change,” states a release from the Wildlands Network. “Conservation biologists now believe that the only way to accommodate the needs of wildlife as unpredictable climate patterns emerge is to protect, restore, and connect a larger mosaic of habitat and vegetation types – much of it outside the outlines of today’s national parks, monuments and wilderness areas.”

Natural Resources Defense Council: “Moreover, the loss of undeveloped landscapes threatens economic as well as psychological values. Over 130 million Americans enjoy observing, photographing, and feeding wildlife and fish, thus supporting a nature-oriented tourist industry in excess of $14 billion annually.

“The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation found that 77 percent of the U.S. population enjoys some form of wildlife-related recreation, and a 1987 poll sponsored by the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors found that ‘natural beauty was the single most important criterion for tourists selecting outdoor recreation sites.’ Independent of recreation and tourism, proximity to open spaces has been found to raise the value of residential property by as much as a third in some cases, raising property tax revenues as well.”

If you walk to your workplace and/or walk to the food market, congratulations for doing your part (i.e., burning calories, not a fossil fuel). If you’re walking is limited to, for example, getting from your front door to the garage door, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.

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