06/28/18

Salamander from the Rainforest painted on Catch Basin

Update from the corner of Bleecker Street and Central Avenue in Jersey City Heights!

 

Jersey City’s adopt a catch basin program is thriving! It’s very simple. Sign up to take care of a catch basin (storm drain) and the City of Jersey City will assign an artist to paint something original for you. It’s a win-win situation! The city receives help from the public to keep these drains clear of garbage and snow/ice in the winter and we get beautiful artwork that passers by admire. In addition, because they are of an environmental nature, it helps remind the public to keep the streets clean.

Swati Rastogi and Susan Newman salamander catch basin jersey city heights

Last year I noticed a beautiful artwork done by artist Swati Rastogi and requested her as the artist for my second corner (opposite last year’s frog). I was so excited when she contacted me this week because it was time for her to paint the corner.

Here’s what Swati wrote about this project:

“I never knew what a Salamander was until I was asked by the city to paint one at the corner of Central Avenue & Bleecker Street in Jersey City.

Susan Newman who adopted this catch basin has proudly named it “Biodiversity Matters” and is actively letting the residents know about the program.

Honestly this “adopt a catch basin” campaign is making the city much more vibrant and creating awareness for how important it is to keep the sewers clean.

Thank you for choosing me as your artist!.”

– Swati Rastogi

 

I wrote about this program last year in greater detail, so check out the article about the program and why it’s so important.

Adopt a Catch Basin Frog Art

04/22/18

Protecting Amphibians Through Correct Silvicultural Practices

Recent findings indicate that frogs could be going the way of the dinosaurs. Studies by scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) depicted that the number of amphibians is shrinking by an average rate of 3.7% yearly. Despite environmentalists championing for the protection of frogs, hosting amphibian themed art exhibitions and releasing publications to educate, among many other efforts, there is still a significant decline in the number of amphibians, especially frogs. Blame pollution, diseases, climate change and more importantly incessant deforestation.

Protecting amphibians and frogs through the correct silvicultural activities in forests helps in ensuring their continuity. While tree harvesting is essential for electricity poles, fuel, the paper industry, and construction, it should not be done in a way that it leads to the loss of amphibian habitats.

Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash

The Right Pruning Tools

In forest activities such as pruning, trimming, and the harvesting of firewood, chainsaws are preferably the best tools. Why? Unlike harvesters which fell many trees at a time, chainsaws cut down one tree at a time. This ensures animal habitats are not destroyed during the operation and that seedlings and saplings are protected. These machines are portable making pruning among other activities in various locations easier.

While chainsaws come in different sizes, small chainsaws are preferably the best, especially chainsaws powered by a lithium-Ion battery. These particular type of chainsaws are eco-friendly since they don’t release noxious fumes into the atmosphere when pruning or trimming trees. Furthermore, they don’t cause noise pollution and can be operated easily since they are not heavy. However, when operating a chainsaw it is very important to have the knowledge on how to operate one safely. Other brilliant tools you can use when pruning a tree post include loppers and pole pruners.

Correct Pruning

Pruning is done to remove any overgrown tree branches, stems, and any deformed tree parts. When pruning is done in the correct manner it results in high-quality timber which directly reflects on value and price. Correct pruning, according to A-Absolute Tree Services, involves making sure that a third of the living branches are left after pruning. Right timing on when to prune is critical especially if the area to be pruned is a wildlife shelter. Furthermore, it should be done in a proper way such that the game cover is not destroyed.

Recommended Pruning Techniques

Target pruning is one the best methods of pruning, as stated by Research Gate, since one is able to leave tree parts intact and minimize bole’s tissue damage. Canopy pruning is another recommended pruning technique as it enables light penetration. This allows for the growth of grasses and other plants and this encourages survival of amphibians and frogs. During pruning, the windward side should be taken into consideration as amphibians especially frogs which breathe through their skin, could be easily affected by debris-carrying wind.

Utility Poles

In the United States, most utility poles are made of wood, despite the emergence of steel utility poles. This is because wood is a good insulator and is relatively cheap due to the high availability of trees. Among the trees popularly used are red cedars, Southern yellow pines, and Western yellow pines as they produce straight poles. Poles are selected while still standing in the forest, then the felling process begins.

Most of the times the right procedures and techniques are not used in this process. Unfortunately, flush cutting is observed on pruned trees that are meant for utility poles. Tree topping is also another wrong technique that not only gives an ugly view of the forest but also, has zero considerations for potential wildlife habitats. If the right equipment is not used, the forest environment could be adversely affected. This is why knowledge on the right way of pruning and harvesting trees is key, especially with the high demand for poles and timber.

Amphibians and reptiles make the environment greener. They help in natural pest control and act as food for other wildlife. The contribution of frogs to modern medicine is another reason why frogs are so important. With the above-given statistics, it is evident that more needs to be done in order to care of and protect them. Proper environmental care, especially in the forest, and curbing pollution will go a long way in preserving these species for generations to come.

Written and researched by Jennifer Dawson

06/29/16

Junior Herpetologist of the Year Sarah Brabec

Frogs Are Green is proud to repost this wonderful article sent to us by Lisa and Sarah Brabec. We couldn’t agree more and look forward to hearing from Sarah when she’s closer to us on the East coast!

By Anna Spoerre
Journal Star reporter

BRIMFIELD — To Sarah Brabec, herpetology is more than just the study of reptiles and amphibians, it’s a lifestyle.

On a recent day, the 90-degree weather didn’t seem to bother Brabec, 14, as she waded barefoot through a creek at Jubilee College State Park, a small green net in hand. Two large tadpoles resurfaced with the mesh — an exciting catch for the Junior Herpetologist of the Year at the 2016 International Herpetological Symposium.

“(Herpetology) is more than just a hobby,” Brabec said. “It’s a passion … something I want to spend my life doing.”

Brabec is presenting at the 39th annual International Herpetological Symposium that began Wednesday and runs through Saturday in St. Louis. There, she joins experts in discussions and programs about the scaly, cold-blooded creatures.

Sarah Brebac

“It’s just amazing how much she’s been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time,” said Jill Wallace, an environmental educator at Sugar Grove Nature Center in McLean, where Brabec likes to visit with her family.

When she was 6, Brabec joined the Central Illinois Herpetological Society. During her time there she’s presented in front of hundreds of people and helped to start a junior program within the society, said Doug Holmes, president of the society.

She said last year’s international conference in Austin, Texas — which she participated in as a runner-up — taught her that herpetology is about more than saving frogs. It’s about helping to promote public interest, she said, which falls in line with increasingly popular education-based global sustainability practices.

“The key need in conservation success is education of younger kids,” Brabec said.

Sarah Brebac examines amphibian

She began teaching children to conserve and save animals in Peoria, going into classrooms and talking to grade-schoolers about reptiles. Sometimes she brings her favorite creatures along to engage the students.

“You can hold frogs in your hands,” Brabec said. “Kids can really connect to that.”

She would know. Brabec’s mother, Lisa Brabec, said she started chasing reptiles when she was 4, always returning home with a new animal hidden behind her back.

“When they find their passion, feed it,” said Lisa Brabec, who often takes her daughter exploring at nearby creeks and ponds.

When asked about some of the more interesting moments that come with having a house full of reptiles and amphibians, she said with a chuckle, “my Mother’s Day gift went missing one year.”

Sixth months later they found the runaway snake hiding between their kitchen cabinets. Despite this, Lisa Brabec said she’s grown fonder of all slimy, slithery creatures her daughter introduces to the family.

“My parents are troopers,” the younger Brabec said with a smile.

Last year, Sarah Brabec even began writing a children’s book with a local herpetologist. But, the project has been put on hold.

“I learned that all it takes for kids is adults who think they’re capable,” Lisa Brabec said.

Though Sarah Brabec said she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do in the future, she said saving wildlife is crucial, and she wants to continue playing a role in that endeavor.

In the meantime, she and her family are preparing to move to Atlanta later this summer, where Sarah Brabec said she’s excited to find eastern narrow mouth toads.

“You can just tell some kids are really hooked,” Holmes said. “I think eventually she’ll make a career out of it.”

Anna Spoerre can be reached at 686-3296 and aspoerre@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/annaspoerre.

04/27/16

The Bully of All Toads

Currently in Madagascar there is a bully. But, this is not your typical bully. This bully is the Asian toad, also known as Duttaphrynus melanostictus. The toads are threatening rare wildlife and frightening locals.

Madagascar provides a niche-like haven for these primarily lowland dwelling toads. Photo © Arthur Chapman Courtesy of Amphibians.org - Amphibian Survival Alliance.

Madagascar provides a niche-like haven for these primarily lowland dwelling toads. Photo © Arthur Chapman Courtesy of Amphibians.org – Amphibian Survival Alliance.

The theory on how they got to Madagascar is that they hitched a ride in some shipping containers from Asia between 2007 -2010. While Madagascar doesn’t have native toads, people who saw these bullies roaming knew something was wrong. And still no one knows why they have decided to make Madagascar their new home.

These toads are endangering locals, harming snakes, lemurs and exotic animals that are unique to the island. If they feed off these toads they will be poisoned, since these toads are known to be very poisonous. Smaller animals can shrink in size and as species, become extinct.

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone.

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone.

Scientists are still trying to come up with ideas on how to get rid of these toads and such measures wouldn’t be horribly expensive. It would cost about $2 million to $10 million (the effort would need only a wealthy backer from the West) — but that’s really just a guess. No one knows exactly where the toads are or precisely how many are in Madagascar. There’s no easy way to find them, and there’s no quick method of dispatching them, at least not in the numbers necessary for eradication.

And then there’s the fact that no one has tried to remove invasive toads on such a scale before. There have been three successful removal projects, but they were all in much smaller areas.

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone, close up

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone, close up.

So it looks like eradication won’t be possible, the scientists conclude, at least without a lot more research that would let managers and the government overcome many hurdles. And by that time, the toads will probably have become so numerous that, like in Australia, any such efforts would be impossible.

 
Leight-Ann BradyGuest post by Leigh-Ann Brady, who resides in NJ with her 8 year son. She is an artist and writer who is also concerned about the environment.

11/28/15

How Bd has impacted Arizona’s amphibian species

A Frogs Are Green eco-interview with Nick Massimo and Evan Brus.

When was your organization founded? Please tell us a bit about its/your mission, goals… When did you first begin this important work?

Evan and I are both PhD students studying the disease dynamics of a deadly fungal pathogen that infects amphibians all over the world. The pathogen is Batrachochtrium dendrobatidis (Bd), and it causes the disease called chytridiomycosis. This disease was first noticed in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a wave of mass amphibian mortality events swept through Central America. Further research linked Bd to mass amphibian die offs and the extinction of multiple amphibian species all over the world.

Recent research has created a picture of how this pathogen may have originated in Brazil and spread to North America over 100 years ago. The oldest amphibian specimen that’s tested positive for Bd was in Illinois in 1888. Then, in the 1920s Bd was detected in California. Approximately 50 years passed before Bd was detected again in southern Mexico in 1972. The detection of Bd in Mexico was then tracked south into Central America where researchers first noticed the dramatic effects Bd could have on amphibian communities. The goal of our project is to better understand how Bd spread in the Americas, possibly passing through Arizona and to determine how this pathogen has impacted Arizona’s numerous amphibian species.

What is your educational background and what lead to wanting to specialize in this area and/or create your organization?

Nick Massimo

Nick MassimoI received a BS in biology and nutritional sciences and a minor in chemistry from the University of Arizona in 2011. After I graduated with my BS I spent two years working on numerous research projects studying species such as the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum), desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii), fungal endophytes (fungi that live inside plants), and several other herpertofauna species from the southwestern United States. I gained these experiences working with the University of Arizona, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and a not-for-profit group, Friends of Saguaro National Park. The combination of knowledge I gained from mycological and herpetological research in Arizona provided a great platform for me to pursue my PhD at Arizona State University studying how a fungal pathogen affects Arizona amphibians.

 

Evan Brus

Evan BrusI received my B.S in Zoology, French, and Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2011. During and after college, I worked in a social insect behavior lab studying the signals and cues that regulate nest construction in Polybia occidentalis, eventually traveling to Costa Rica to do research there. While studying for an ecology course, I happened upon the book Extinction in Our Times by my current advisor, James Collins. I was immediately intrigued by the story of amphibian declines, and I applied to do my PhD in his lab at ASU the following year.

 

Who would say has influenced you or your work?

Nick Massimo

I was inspired to pursue a career in biodiversity conservation by my early childhood experiences where I spent time with my family enjoying the great outdoors. Through these experiences I developed a deep appreciation of our beautifully complex natural world. The time I spent at the University of Arizona pursuing my BS continued to guide me to pursue a career in conservation due to some of my wonderful professors. Dr. Robichaux, Dr. Bonine and especially Dr. Arnold helped provide me with fantastic experiences and mentoring opportunities at the University of Arizona. Towards the end of my bachelor degree I received an internship with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. My advisor, David Grandmaison, introduced me to a wide array of projects focusing on conservation strategies for mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian species in Arizona.

After I graduated, I received a job with my most influential mentor, Dr. Betsy Arnold. During my time working with Dr. Arnold, I gained a large amount of experience on how to develop, conduct and conclude an intricate research project working with fungi that live inside of plants. Without the help and mentorship Dr. Arnold provided me, I would not be where I am today. Dr. Arnold has been my most influential mentor.

 

Evan Brus

Like many biologists and ecologists, I grew up with a deep appreciation for nature. I was lucky enough to live in a relatively rural area of Wisconsin surrounded by streams and forests, which I relished as a child. My early experiences exploring the outdoors informed my initial choice to study biology, but I credit several college professors for helping me refine my interests and encouraging my work. My undergraduate research mentor Dr. Robert Jeanne, as well as his grad students Ben Taylor and Teresa Schueller, taught me the culture of academia and the skills needed for data collection, analysis, and eventual publication. Without my experiences in this research group, I probably would not be a scientist today. My other major influence was Dr. Calvin DeWitt, who taught my introductory ecology course with fervent enthusiasm and took personal interest in all his students. I learned from him how to pursue my passions and how to visualize the myriad connections between humans and the natural world in everyday life. Currently, I draw inspiration from the broad community of scientists researching amphibian decline and chytridiomycosis, too many to name. The quantity and quality of research produced in our field is remarkable, and everyone is willing to help one another and collaborate. It’s a very welcoming and dedicated community.

 

Please share the details of your work: the medium, technique and discoveries.

Our project will analyze how Bd may have been introduced into Arizona and how its introduction could have shaped Arizona amphibian distributions. In order to investigate these questions amphibian specimens housed in natural history collections will be assessed for the presence of Bd. Our work will determine at what time were certain species infected with Bd in the state, and do these historic infections help us understand the dramatic decline of leopard frog species in Arizona.

testing Arizona frogs for Bd

Our work will rely on testing amphibian skin for the presence of Bd DNA. In order to do this, we will swab amphibian specimens stored in natural history. DNA extractions will then be performed following protocols used by other researchers who have recently completed similar projects analyzing museum specimens. After DNA extractions are complete, real time PCR will be used to determine if fungal pathogen DNA is present and if so, quantify the pathogen load on the specimen. Once all of this data is collected we will gain an understanding of the disease dynamics of Bd in Arizona. This information will help determine when this deadly pathogen arrived in Arizona, what species of amphibians it infected after it arrived across time, and a possible mechanism that brought it to the state (e.g. invasive species, the bait trade etc.). Finally, this information will be used to help establish management plans to mitigate the spread of this pathogen in amphibian populations that are currently infected with Bd and also provide critical information on how to keep Bd out of populations that are currently uninfected.

We have not started our project yet. Other researchers who have recently completed similar projects have discovered Bd on amphibians in natural history collections in the past. Their work has helped us form our hypotheses on how Bd may have entered Arizona as it spread south into Mexico and Central America. Based off of a previous project we know that Bd was found on a Chiricahua Leopard Frog in Arizona as early as 1972. We would like to conduct an extensive project to discover the very important disease dynamics of Bd in Arizona, that’s why we are trying to raise funds for our research with the Instrumentl crowdfunding campaign (https://www.instrumentl.com/campaigns/history-of-a-deadly-disease-in-arizona-amphibians/).

how Bd may have spread through the Americas

How Bd may have spread to Arizona

What has been the most exciting discovery?

As we reviewed recent research conducted by other scientists we were intrigued to learn that this fungal pathogen has a very complex history. Unraveling the history of this extremely deadly amphibian disease is made even more moving as amphibians are the most threatened Class of vertebrates on the planet (IUCN Red List Report 2015). This information paired with recent research indicates that amphibians are experiencing extraordinarily high extinction rates currently than they have in the past. We find this information extremely motivating, as we’d like to conserve amphibian biodiversity for the well being of ecosystems and for our future generations.

What are some challenges you have faced and how did you deal with them?

The biggest challenge we are currently facing is obtaining funding to conduct this important project. The scientific field as a whole has been experiencing a shortage of funds to carry out extremely important research projects, and our field is no different. To combat this issue, we are currently exploring new avenues to fund our research endeavors. This is where the crowdfunding campaign (https://www.instrumentl.com/campaigns/history-of-a-deadly-disease-in-arizona-amphibians/) comes into play. We are trying to reach out to our community more directly and get them engaged with our project. We’d like to communicate the challenge we, as scientists face, as well as the challenges amphibians are now incurring.

How do you reach your targeted audience?

Is it through your website, exhibitions, advertising or social media or another route? Which is most effective and why?

We are exploring a variety of options to engage our audience. We have been reaching out to our close colleagues, research and herpetology community directly through word of mouth and email to generate support for our project. Additionally, we have also used social media (Facebook and Twitter) to gain support for our research project. Both of these avenues have provided support for our project but we’d like to reach more people. To do this, we are contacting people and groups located within Arizona to convey that this project will directly impact the amphibian biodiversity of our state and in other parts of the world.

How do you keep the audience engaged over time?

We’ve created a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/905234229573944/) to keep our audience up to date on the progression of our research project as it’s being conducted. This will keep our audience up to date on the current status of our project and the exciting discoveries we’re making. In addition to our Facebook group, we are also planning to present the results of our study in a scientific journal article and present this information to our community in a series of talks.

What can we do to inspire the next generation to want to help the environment and the wildlife?

The information we gain from completing this study will directly lend to the construction of effective amphibian biodiversity conservation strategies. Without the help from our next generation we are at risk of losing much of the amazing amphibian biodiversity on our planet. The Frogs Are Green organization could be a wonderful partner in helping us to spread our project to its supporters. We feel that this organization can help reach a younger and broader audience than we’ve been able to reach thus far. In order for the meaningfulness of our research to be effective we need our next generations to know about the wonderful and beautiful amphibian biodiversity our planet has to offer.

What can people do to help? Donate and/or share to your cause/work?

We would be most appreciative if individuals would pledge to share our campaign with friends and colleagues using social media. We hope to reach as many people as possible because we feel the current state of our planet’s amphibian biodiversity is at a critical point. As a community we need to act now to preserve these species to maintain healthy ecosystems and for future generations. Sharing our campaign would help us reach our goal however we would be extremely thankful if people would also donate to our project so we can conduct this extremely important research.

10/7/15

Does Fracking Threaten Drinking Water?

By Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a lot of debate about fracking in the United States right now. There are valid arguments and scientific studies on both sides of the argument. This can make it hard to figure out who’s ultimately correct. On one hand, environmental activists argue that fracking is responsible for the pollution of drinking water. They point to the large number of chemicals used in the process of fracking, and make the point that some of these chemicals must be leaking into the watershed.

On the other hand, groups in favor of fracking point to the numerous safety precautions taken by drilling companies. These companies are regulated by a series of laws intended to protect the environment and local drinking water. Recently, defenders of fracking have been given another piece of evidence that is giving them a solid platform to backup their stance with.

That piece of evidence is a recent EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) report. In the report the EPA states that fracking does not threaten local drinking water supplies. The report took place over four years and looked at fracking activities across the United States.

The EPA concedes that in a few cases fracking wells have been responsible for contamination. However, they point out that these cases are few and far between. In fact, in cases where contamination has been detected, it almost always happens at wells that are violating one or more federal safety guidelines.

Fracking companies are also quick to point out that the chemicals they shoot into the ground are injected well below the watershed. In most places the watershed rests at about 2,000 to 3,000 feet. The wells that fracking companies drill go well below the watershed, up to depths of 9,000 feet. That means that these chemicals stay down in the ground, as they cannot go against gravity, and transition thousands of feet up to the watershed.

Companies also take extra precautions to preserve the watershed. All wells that are drilled have an additional amount of protection near the surface. Large amounts of concrete are poured around the fracking well closer to the surface, just as an extra precaution against any leaks.

All of these precautions protect drinking water from contamination. By following federal regulations and reinforcing wells near the surface, fracking companies strive to make their wells as secure as possible. These precautions are surely one of the reasons that the EPA concluded that fracking does not contribute to the contamination of drinking water.

However, no industrial process that uses as many chemicals as fracking can be completely clean and contamination free. Every year, rigs inject billions of gallons of fracking solution into the earth. Most of this solution is water and a small percentage is chemicals, lubricants and other compounds. Even though the solution is predominantly water, even just 2% of a billion gallons means 20 million gallons of pure chemicals.

One of the problems with fracking is that a majority of this solution is left behind in the earth. Depending on the well, only 30 to 50% of the solution used in fracking is recovered from beneath the ground. That means that every year a nearly unimaginable amount of polluted water is being left underground.

Problems also arise when that water is above ground. The fracking solution is usually stored in large tanks and ponds. Unfortunately, these storage areas are prone to dangerous spills. When fracking solution spills above ground, two things happen.

First, the solution sinks into the ground. Since thousands of gallons can spill at one time, this can add up to a significant amount of spilled solution. This water can sink down into the watershed. There, it gets mixed with clean water and is eventually used for drinking water.

The other problem associated with fracking solution spills happens when that water leaks into a local stream, river, pond or lake. When this happens the solution is carried off and it becomes mixed with pure, fresh water. This is a big problem because this type of leakage cannot be controlled. Once fracking solution leaks into a river, for instance, little can be done besides warning local residents about the danger.

More than anything else, there is one law associated with fracking that is alarming when it comes to the quality of drinking water. Fracking companies are exempt from the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. That means that their activities aren’t regulated by two acts which are explicitly designed to protect drinking water.

One of the larger problems with the question of fracking is that neither side has enough science to entirely disprove the other’s arguments. People who support fracking point out that spills are rare and many precautions are taken to protect drinking water.

Environmental activists argue that every year, fracking rigs use millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, they argue that by leaving these chemicals in the ground, fracking companies are risking watershed contamination.

Ultimately, the best way to solve the question is by doing your own local investigation. If you don’t live near a fracking rig then it’s likely you have nothing to worry about. If you do, you can take water samples and have them sent into the EPA for analysis.

It’s as likely as not that these samples will be fine and your drinking water is safe to drink. On the other hand, if there are chemicals present, you’ll be able to research them and discover if they potentially came from a fracking rig. Once you know what’s in your water, you’ll be able to take steps. Buying a water filter or filing an EPA complaint are all valid options.

 

John Davis writes for YourWaterFilterGuide.com, a site dedicated to helping everyone find clean, safe, drinking water.

Sources

http://www.nrdc.org/energy/gasdrilling/

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Fracking_regulations

http://www.wsj.com/articles/fracking-has-had-no-widespread-impact-on-drinking-water-epa-finds-1433433850

http://www.rt.com/usa/study-claims-fracking-safe-324/

http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=244651