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Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

This foggy bog is one of the many randomly selected sites that Lisa Smith has placed phototraps. Don't let the vegetation fool you; you will sink into the murky water if you step off of the plank (L.Weisenfluh/July 2010).

Steady, steady. Be graceful—like a tiger. You can do that, right? Heh—who are you kidding? You have the grace of an elephant, remember? Add it to a dose of morning grogginess, and boy, you’ve got quite a show. After all, one momentary lapse could result in a cold, muddy “Good morning!” because I wasn’t scaling an ordinary wooden beam—there be boggy waters below!

No, I hadn’t gone stir-crazy. And no—I hadn’t mistakenly entered these mysterious waters. In fact—quite the contrary. As a science communication intern, I had the opportunity to go out into the field with a graduate student from the University of Maryland at Frostberg, Lisa Smith—an opportunity which resulted in exploring a watery bog at early hours of the morning. She is currently conducting research on the wildlife species composition on the Schoodic Peninsula as a part of her Master’s Thesis. Her project is a part of a much larger scheme: researchers are hoping to install a wildlife corridor throughout the Schoodic Peninsula.

Why are such corridors needed? Habitats have become fragmented with the increased flux of people coming through the area. Roads have been built. Properties have been developed. The result is a bleak picture for wildlife: isolated in smaller habitats, they have fewer resources available—whatever it may be, whether food, mates, or territory. As a result, ecosystem health diminishes. Conservationists hope to reverse this process by putting the fragmented habitats back together through small pieces of land that re-connect the fragmented habitats—wildlife corridors.

But where to place them? That’s the tricky part and where Lisa Smith’s research comes in. She hopes to locate where and what types of animals are located throughout the Schoodic Peninsula so that wildlife corridors can be assigned appropriately. Lisa Smith randomly picked out sites (like the watery bog) to place phototraps. Phototraps are cameras that take pictures when triggered by motion or heat. In other words, these cameras will capture all instances of wildlife passing by it—everything from raccoons, bears, or porcupines. And what attracts the animals to the phototrap sites? Some good ol’ fashioned lures, of course!

But before re-setting the trap with numerous lures, the cameras need to be checked to see if they are working. After safely making it across the bog (and yes—I miraculously managed to avoid plunging to the watery depths below), Lisa Smith approaches the phototrap, opens it up, and checks for photographs. No photos on this one. The meat is gone….but where are the photos of the creature that took the meat? Is it working? She decides to re-place the camera. Next off, she needs to re-set the site with a variety of scents and bait. Mmmmm—buffet time.

Lisa Smith administers cat nip oil to the hanging feather scent lure (L.Weisenfluh/July 2010).

As Lisa Smith opens her red case of lures, a peculiar scent fills the air—a strange combination of urine, meat, and skunk. There are several types of lures that she employs to draw animals to the phototraps. First, she re-administers the hanging trap, comprised of a film canister and feather. The film canister is filled with a mixture of Vaseline and skunk spray. She sprays cat nip oil on the feather below. On the site below, she fills two old empty bullet castings with a variety of things, including beaver castor (a secretion used for scent marking). Last, but not least—a small suet of meat. And…bon appetite! Aren’t you hungry now? While the menu may not sound appetizing to the normal human being, these lures have been specifically designed to attract carnivores—animals that will be afftected by wildlife corridors through their large ranges.

After replacing the dysfunctional phototrap with a functional phototraph, we head off to the next site. Lisa Smith spends her entire day driving from site to site, re-administering lures and setting up new traps. Out of 60 traps, 50 appear to be working, leaving her with 50 lure sites throughout the Schoodic Peninsula. She leaves the traps out for ten days at a time, re-luring and checking each site on day five of each ten day period. Lisa Smith wishes to cycle these phototraps through three to four cycles of these ten day periods, hopefully giving her lots of wildlife sightings (and therefore lots of data). Personally, I am excited to see what her results may bring, and more specifically, how they will help implement successful wildlife corridors. Until then, take caution to avoid any particularly odd smelling areas while exploring the lovely Schoodic Peninsula; you could be on camera!

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Welcome to your new tropical abode, Gilligan. Sure, the scenery's great, but the potential wife factor is extremely lacking (L. Weisenfluh, January 2008)

Ecologically, isolation can be detrimental to a habitat. Think about it in terms of your own relocation. You move to, say, some newly discovered island off the coast of Costa Rica.

What biological processes do you need to conduct in order to live and perpetuate your genes? You need to eat. Okay, so learn to hunt wild boars (mmmm… bacon). But what happens if you over-hunt the local boar population and cannot find anything else to eat (yes, everything else is poisonous, for the sake of this argument)?

Better yet, what happens when you wish to perpetuate your fitness? Even if you have brought along your significant other, who will your children mate with? Don’t even think about inbreeding–this will seriously decrease your genetic fitness by revealing those nasty little recessive deleterious traits.

A classic anthropogenic barrier--a road (G. Weisenfluh, April 2008)

Now, make this less personal, and think about it in terms of animal populations, animal populations that have been isolated (or fragmented) due to ecological processes, such as fires or human activities (roads, cities, and so on). How do we revive ecosystems that have been fragmented? You guessed it: by putting them back together.

That’s exactly what Dr. Robert Brooks of Pennsylvania State University hopes to do in downeast Maine from Schoodic Point to Schoodic Mountain. The region in between is ecologically diverse, with a wide range of habitats– everything from coastal to terrestrial to freshwater. By connecting these habitats in the form of a wildlife corridor, animals will have more habitat to live in and move through safely–this means more movement, more mixing, more food options, mating opportunities, etc., etc., thus a healthier population.

But in order to establish this wildlife corridor, scientists must first prove that these fragmented habitats are worth connecting–that is, that they contain species that need the wildlife corridor to thrive. Scientists are currently conducting research to survey for such wildlife. This inventory and monitoring work involves setting, baiting, and checking phototraps which attract mammals and then snap their portrait when they pass in front of camera (the animal’s body heat and movement triggers the camera). After surveying the animal populations in the Schoodic area, the research team will be able to better determine whether the wildlife corridor will help reduce fragmentation and therefore improve the health of the area’s ecosystems.

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A powerful symbol of hope that gracefully towers towards the heavens. Almost alien in appearance, the gigantic body and spinning head of the wind turbine could be the clean energy alternative of the future.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. The long blades capture wind energy and start rotating. This motion spins a shaft leading from the hub of the rotor to a generator. The generator turns that rotational energy into electricity that can be used to power homes and businesses.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Bang. A bat flies into the wind turbine. To say “ouch!” would be an understatement.

A researcher handles a brown bat (NPS photo).

During their migration paths, bats often encounter wind turbines. Most of them successfully avoid wind turbine blades, detecting them through echolocation (a type of biological sonar). So, why all of the concern? The trouble starts when bats encounter the pressure changes around the wind turbine; these pressure changes cause pulmonary lesions in almost all bats that encounter them, resulting in frequent internal hemorrhaging and eventually death. As a result, scientists are concerned about how wind turbines are affecting bat populations.

I know, I know–for something with as much promise as wind power, it’s hard to focus on negative ecological consequences. In fact, the Maine Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development has recommended that the installation of wind turbines should be “aggressively” pursued along the coast of Maine. After working so diligently to start the move towards clean energy, are they really going to stop pursuing wind power because of bat populations?

More research is needed. Timothy Divoll of the BioDiversity Research Center has spent the last few years looking at how the installation of wind turbines will affect Maine bat populations. Using acoustic sampling technology (to collect data on bat species and abundances), mist netting (to capture bats and see if acoustic technology and species identification are correctly matched), and banding (to see if bats return to same areas during migration), Divoll hopes to gain data about the species and abundances of bats coming through four different zones throughout Maine. This information can eventually help scientists and policy makers decide where to place wind turbines so that they do not obstruct bat migration paths and/or have minimal impacts on bat populations.

In this way, insightful research and careful decision making can help avoid an impossible dilemma: cleaner energy via wind turbines, or protecting the fascinating bats of Maine. So it doesn’t have to be bat versus wind turbine. I am optimistic that, with enough forethought, we can have both.

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When I imagine myself visiting Acadia National Park fifty years from now, I arrive in a public space shuttle, having just come from my lovely vacation home on the Moon. I step outside of my vehicle, and hop onto a hoverbus headed to Jordan Pond, where I will enjoy my tea outside while thinking to myself, “By golly, has transportation changed around here!”.

Okay, okay. So, maybe that’s a bit far-fetched. Let’s rewind: fifty years from now, I arrive at Acadia National Park from my vacation home in Canada by bullet-train, and jump on the bus to Jordan Pond House for scones and tea.

Sound far-fetched? Perhaps not…

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Acadia National Park, Acadia National Park provides free public transportation for visitors–a little something we like to call the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus. Personally, I was shocked to see such a progressive system in place.

If you are like me, you have grown up in a society where cars are not simply a luxury, rather a necessity if you would like to have any independence whatsoever. Sure, I ride my bike during the school semester, walk when I can, and love taking the train…but other than that, I drive. Psst, and I consider myself “green”.

It appears that members of the Federal Government have begun to understand this very conundrum. They also understand that road congestion is no fun for the average national park visitor. As a result, the Code of Federal Regulation states that parks and other public lands should make an effort to reduce private travel and encourage people to travel using public transportation. National parks are told that they need to use funds to establish public and sustainable means of transportation.

And the results of this are…? Well, the Island Explorer Bus, for one. But I’m hoping that’s just the beginning of it.

It sounds like I will not be disappointed. In fact, researchers from the University of Vermont are in the field this summer trying to understand what motivates people to travel like they do… is it related to money? Convenience? Enjoyment? And what motivations correlate with using the shuttle bus verses a car verses a bicycle?

How do you roll and what motivates you to do so? Or, even better: how can someone get you to do the green thing? Its a difficult question. Why would someone choose to give up their sense of independence to catch the 1:30 bus to Sand Beach? “Being green” and avoiding traffic congestion don’t seem to be motivation enough to encourage major reductions in the number of car users in the park. But, researchers are trying to pinpoint other motivations that will.

Me–I’m hoping that the hoverbus is not so far off in the future…but I’ll gladly take the shuttle bus in the meantime.

Planning a trip to Acadia NP? Use the Route Finder to find the right bus to get you where you want to go! For more on the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus, contact info@exploreacadia.com or visit http://www.exploreacadia.com or http://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/bus.htm.

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