On a sunny January afternoon, as a steady wind sweeps across Costa Rica’s Pacific slope, 18-year-old conservation worker Dunia Garcia settles down to sort the insects she has collected during the past week. From the porch of her two-room, wooden biological station perched on the shoulder of an idle volcano, Garcia has an astounding view – literally from the continental divide to the Pacific Ocean. Her view also defines the choices facing Costa Rica. Will the Central American country follow the path Garcia can see to the West – where dusty pastures stretch without relief to the Pacific shore, on land that was once dry tropical forest? Or will it choose the path she sees to the north and east, in the protected forests of the three national parks within the Guanacaste Conservation Area?
On the cold deserts of the Colorado Plateau, Dr. Jayne Belnap, research ecologist for the National Biological Survey, scours the ground for footprints. Not for Coyote or dinosaur footprints, but for the markings of hiking boots and cloven hoofs. She’s looking for damage to the desert’s "cryptobiotic" crust – the dark brown, almost black layer of soil. Composed of bacteria, lichen, moss, and microfungi, this protective cover, just two to four inches thick, prevents wind and water erosion, absorbs moisture and provides nitrogen and other important nutrients to plants in an otherwise harsh environment. But a footprint or tire track can do the damage that the harsh weather can’t.
Adrian Wydeven spreads his feet, tips his head back, and howls long and low into the summer night. His mimicry is perfect – plaintive, mournful, stirring. As the last notes fade into the Wisconsin woods, he waits, listening for a reply from the wolves he knows are near. As a timber wolf biologist from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Wydeven and his colleagues trap, radio collar and monitor wolves in remote areas of northwestern Wisconsin. During the day, they check traps and track animals by telemetry; at night they howl.
Eating chocolate may be one of America’s favorite sins. We have carried it along in deep space on NASA flights and into combat – during Desert Storm, soldiers were issued special bars that wouldn’t melt in the Saudia Arabian heat. Perhaps because we open the wrapper already feeling guilty, we rarely ask the hard questions about popular food: Where is it from? How is it farmed? Josh Taylor, president of Cloud Nine company, has an easy answer for our guilt. "Get as much fat out of your diet as you can, so you can put a little back in with our chocolate bars."
The Kennecott copper mine in Binham Canyon in the mountains southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah is a National Historic Landmark. And it should be. As the largest open-pit mine in the world, it gapes as if a giant pyramid were pulled from the gray-and-brown earth, a monument to our consumer civilization. Some 200,00 tourists a year drive up the winding canyon creek road, beneath the high ridges covered with waste rock from the pit as if sand dunes had spilled across the mountains. They park at the vista view on the rim and admire Kennecott’s answer to a volcano. Even through the public 25-cent binoculars, the heavy dump trucks on the spiralling road to the bottom look like matchbox toys and the drilling rills like penny nails.
The Arthur Kill estuary runs for 15 miles between Staten Island and New Jersey, a shipping lane kept busier than the Panama Canal by garbage barges destined for the Fresh Kills landfill, tugboats pushing white mustaches of surf and oil tankers that dock at the refineries that fill the skyline with odd smokestacks. Some flare like cigarette lighters, while others have frets on their side like flutes. "If you blindfolded me, I could still tell you where we are on the Kill by the smell," says Carl Alderson, a restoration ecologist for the New York City parks department, giving a tour in his Boston whaler.
In their determination to remove big, lucrative trees from impossibly steep slopes, logging companies have turned to helicopters. The chopper hovers while the ground personnel wrap its "long line" around a log, or bundle of logs, on the hillside. Then the chopper lifts the logs down the moutain to a yard, where a truck awaits.
Environmentalists are optimistic that President Bush’s appointment of career scientist Steve Johnson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signals a renewed scientific focus for an agency bogged down in political skirmishes for the last five years.
According to a recently released report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 52 percent of the world’s fish stocks are "fully exploited" as compared with 47 percent just two years ago. FAO officials warned that the increased harvesting was unsustainable against the backdrop of rising consumption.