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Eco-Beat

Placitas Recycling Center Tip of the Month:

Please remove and discard the caps before bringing plastic bottles to the recycling center, and remember to rinse out any residues that might be hazardous or attract vermin.


White Nose Disease on bat

Federal and state agencies determine some temporary cave closures are necessary to protect bats

Federal and state land management agencies will enact partial closures for some caves and abandoned mines on public lands in New Mexico in response to the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease affecting bats. WNS is responsible for the death of more than one million bats in the eastern United States and Canada.

Preventing the potential human transmission of the fungus associated with the disease into New Mexico and containing any occurrences discovered within the state is the focus of public land managers. The closures on New Mexico’s public lands will primarily affect caves and abandoned mines that are known to have significant bat roosts but will not affect developed caves like Carlsbad Cavern in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. 

To help ensure that visitors are not bringing the fungus into the cave, Carlsbad Caverns National Park will follow Mammoth Cave National Park’s lead and develop a process to screen visitors before they enter caves within the park.

“Our ongoing risk assessment has shown that most visitors pose little threat to the park’s bats since their roosts are far from visitor trails, “ said Carlsbad Caverns National Park Superintendent John Benjamin. “By keeping our developed caves open where the risk of this fungus transmission is low, we will be able to continue educating the public about bats and WNS.”

WNS has severely affected bats in the northeastern United States since it was first identified in 2007. Some affected sites have experienced more than 95 percent mortality of bats, making this one of the worst wildlife health crises in recorded history. 

In May 2010, the fungus associated with WNS was confirmed on a western bat species in a cave in northwestern Oklahoma. This is the most western report of the fungus to date and puts the presumed cause of WNS approximately 250 miles from New Mexico. 

“To date, the fungus has not been found in any caves on public lands located in New Mexico. However, biologists suspect that the fungus could appear in southwestern bat populations as early as winter 2010-2011 based on previous patterns and rates of spread,” said Bobbi Barrera, threatened and endangered species program biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region.

WNS is named for a white fungus that appears on the faces, ears, and wings of hibernating bats. Once a colony is infected, it is believed that the fungus spreads rapidly from bat to bat. Hibernating bats survive the winter by building up fat reserves during the fall that must last through the many months of hibernation. Some scientists believe the fungus irritates, then awakens hibernating bats, causing them to wake up prematurely. During these arousals, the bats use up their fat reserves and either starve or freeze to death during the remainder of the winter.

Bats are thought to be the primary vector for the spread of the fungus. Biologists also believe that people may be inadvertently contributing to the spread because the fungal spores have been found on clothing, packs, and shoes that have been inside affected sites. This cross contamination could also come from tourists who only visit commercial show caves. There have been no reported human illnesses attributed to the fungus.

Bats are a natural and important part of New Mexico and are extremely important to the state’s environment. Insect-eating bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects such as beetles, moths, flies, and mosquitoes. 

According to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) threatened and endangered species program lead, Marikay Ramsey, “Many of these insects are serious crop pests, and others can spread disease. Crop pests can cost American farmers billions of dollars every year. By controlling vast numbers of insects, bats help to ensure our environment’s health. When bat populations are lost, as we are now seeing with WNS, the repercussions may be extremely harmful to humans.”

New Mexico is home to 28 species of bats, two of which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Federal land management agencies, along with the state and federal fish and wildlife agencies in New Mexico, are working together to develop a coordinated and consistent approach to prevent and contain the spread of WNS and to inform the public of the actions they can take to assist in this effort.

Dreaming of a green holiday
Engage in Earth-friendly giving, entertaining this year

The holiday season is now in full swing—and along with good holiday cheer comes a lot of extra waste. Americans throw away 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s as compared to any other time of the year. The extra waste amounts to about 1.2 million extra tons per week (or an extra six million tons during the entire holiday season) and is being predicted to be roughly the same for this year, even in light of the economic downturn. 

“We can all save money and time and reduce our impact on the environment by looking for more creative, sustainable gift options,” said Alberto Guardado, director of operations for Waste Management of New Mexico. “Whether it’s buying products made from organic or recycled content or giving the gift of time to a favorite charity, if each of us tried a few waste reduction efforts, we would see a significant positive impact during the holiday season. The packaging from gifts, food waste from the large meal preparations, and decorations really starts to add up.”


Here are a number of ways to make this holiday season greener:

  • Consider giving no-waste gifts, such as music or sports lessons, memberships to a gym, symphony, or museum, favors like babysitting, or tickets to a sporting event or concert. Find out the gift recipient's favorite charity, and make a donation in his or her honor, or commit to volunteering time with that organization.
  • There are many products made from recycled or organic content that make great gifts—look for bags or fleece clothing made from recycled plastic bottles or organic cotton T-shirts or other apparel. Many online and catalog retailers sell these types of products. Whatever you give, be sure to buy durable, reusable products that will last a long time.
  • For the trendsetter on your shopping list, purchase vintage clothing or accessories from consignment or secondhand stores. Help keep the reuse cycle going by donating clothes and accessories you no longer want to these establishments or charities in your community.
  • Give potted plants, flowers, or trees that the recipient can plant in the garden or yard—not only will it be a gift that continues to be a beautiful reminder of the holidays throughout the year, but it will also provide benefits to the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the air.
  • Thousands of paper and plastic shopping bags end up in landfills every year. Reduce the number of bags thrown out by bringing reusable cloth bags for holiday gift shopping. Tell store clerks you don't need a bag for small or oversized purchases.
  • When packaging gifts, consider reduced or no-waste wrapping options. Put a reusable bow on the gift; place the gift in a reusable bag such as a backpack or purse; or package small, themed gifts in a larger item—such as plates or tableware in place mats or a tablecloth or kitchen utensils in an apron or decorative dish towel. Also, you can use last year’s wrapping as packaging material.
  • Make your own wrapping paper by using old maps, posters, or pages from the newspaper or magazines. Recycled-content wrapping paper is also available. Save bags and bows to use again, and be sure to recycle the newspapers or brown paper shopping bags after the gift is opened, or use it for padding when shipping gifts.
  • If you are attending a party or dinner and are bringing a dish for the meal or an edible gift for the host, be sure to package it in a reusable container. If the item is a gift, place it on a decorative holiday plate, in a washable kitchen container, or wrap it with a holiday towel.
  • Use e-mail for your holiday greetings—it’s a great way to share photos and keep in touch more frequently and saves paper and postage. If you send cards, make them with last year’s cards or wrapping paper.
  • When entertaining, use washable utensils, plates, glasses, napkins, and table coverings. Decorate with potted plants (that your guests may take home and plant) or candles. Be sure to have containers available where your guests can put recyclable cans and bottles. If you have leftover food, send it home with your guests in reusable containers or donate it to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.

With a little imagination and commitment, we can use this holiday season to create new traditions that help preserve the environment. For more information about Waste Management’s comprehensive list of recycling services, visit www.thinkgreenfromhome.com.


Landscaping made simple

—Mike Dooley

Go into any bookstore in North America, and you will find shelves of books on the subject of landscape plants. You’ll get list after list of possible plants that you can use in the landscape, broken down into plants for different climate zones, desert plants, plants for sun or shade, and so forth. You will find very few, if any really good, books on the subject of landscape design or maintenance. Let’s face—it the glossy full color books with beautiful photos of plant choices are much easier to sell than a book on maintenance or landscape design. My articles will focus on these two misunderstood subjects, so let’s get started with pruning. To be really helpful, I have to oversimplify the process, so you avid gardeners out there please be patient.

Let’s dive in with some very basic rules of what not to do for the novice:

  • Do not “top” big shade trees to reduce their size! (And do not hire a contractor that will.)
  • Be aware that you are taking a chance on freezing your new growth if you prune right around the average date of the last or first freeze. Pruning stimulates new growth, and then we get a late season freeze, and the tender new growth freezes. This won’t kill the plant, but it will set it back.
  • Do not trim your shrubs into boxes or balls and then wonder why it doesn’t look natural.

Now, what to do:

  • Evergreen shrubs can be trimmed throughout most of the year (exceptions above). There’s no reason to trim at all except to make the plant fuller or to reduce its size. I suggest pruning only once per year in the winter. At that time, remove enough of the plant to last for the whole year. This technique will give you a more natural look. Just trim off a year’s growth or more, then leave it alone, and go pull some weeds!
  • Ornamental bunch grasses should be cut as low as you can in winter and then left alone. And then go pull some more weeds!
  • Perennials are what confuse a lot of people. Some perennials freeze to the ground every year, and some perennials will only freeze back a little, depending on the winter. If you remember nothing else in this article, please take this simple test with you. If you start at the top of any tree, shrub, or perennial and scratch with your thumbnail, you will either see green or brown. Brown is dead, and green is alive. Brown small branches are NOT dormant; they are dead and need to be cut off. With this in mind, some perennials will be cut back a little, and some will be cut to the ground once a year. No need to pull weeds—you did a great job earlier.

Vines need to be treated the same way as perennials. Scratch it; if it’s brown, that part of the vine is dead. Cut it back till you get to green wood.

For more information, log on to highdesertgardensinc.com.


Forester’s Log: Statewide assessment

—Mary Stuever

Wall to wall, all jurisdictions, all ecosystems.

These were the marching orders. Go forth, and find any and all data that told a story about New Mexico’s natural resources. Trees, grasses, water, wildlife. Pull it all together, and prioritize New Mexico watersheds in meaningful ways.

Developing the New Mexico Statewide Natural Resources Assessment, Strategy, and Response Plan was a team effort. With equally important guidelines from the 2008 U.S. Farm Bill and the 2004 New Mexico Forest and Watershed Health Plan, the time had come for a comprehensive geospatial analysis of the state’s ecosystems. The farm bill required that each state’s forestry program that received funding through the U.S. Forest Service would complete, by June of 2010, an assessment, strategy, and response plan for prioritizing funding based on resource need.

In New Mexico, an equally compelling document, the forest and watershed health plan, had identified a similar assessment need watershed by watershed of all natural ecosystems across all ownerships.

Approximately two years ago, the responsibility for coordinating this task was not so much dropped on my desk but placed there gently. The task was too large for any one person to tackle, but a handful of team members would join forces with a handful of contractors, mix-in a hundred or so “stakeholders” who would represent the diversity of opinions on our natural resources, and then run it past dozens of agency leaders. We would gather more than 70 different layers of data that tell multiple tales of earth, wind, water, and fire. With much input from dozens of organizations, we would combine these layers in various ways to identify where in the state we could focus our energies to be most effective. Although the task would dominate my working hours, I would only be one several folks who would find our nights filled with dreams of watershed boundaries.

As with all things complicated, we took the process step by step. Employed by a small state agency with limited people power, our first task was to contract the heavy lifting for the geospatial analysis and facilitation of the project. Fortunately, our project was building on previous efforts that focused on specific issues like water or wildlife. Many of these projects had partnered with the Nature Conservancy—New Mexico Chapter (TNC). TNC, partnering with the Forest Guild and the Trust for Public Lands, was awarded the contract and matched the value of the contract to double the impact of the project.

Our next step was to involve many stakeholders to insure that we were taking a balanced, practical approach to working with the data. We met first with tribal resource managers and then held a large meeting of diverse stakeholders. We formed nine interagency teams that developed eight different models: biodiversity, wildfire risk, forest health, water quality, water supply, economic potential, development potential, and green infrastructure. Each team gathered pertinent data layers, determined the value of the data and how to weight each piece in the analysis, and reviewed and tweaked the state maps that identified priority areas for their subject focus.

The intent was to use existing data, and, while finding that information, develop a list of what information did not exist. This list of “data gaps” was then prioritized by each technical team. Several teams identified the same gaps in information. As this data is collected, future updates to the statewide assessment will incorporate the new data, fine honing the results.

After the models were built, they were used to create multiple maps of priority watersheds. Each map emphasizes various objectives. Three major themes were 1) conserving working landscapes; 2) protecting ecosystems from harm; and 3) enhancing the public benefit of natural resources.

The statewide assessment is now available online at www.nmforestry.com. In addition to the document, there is a data atlas that describes the source and analysis of the input and links to the final maps and various Geographical Information System (GIS) layers constructed during the project.

Now, funders can require grant applicants to document the importance of their projects. Agencies can work together to target projects in high priority watersheds. Ultimately all of New Mexico benefits by getting the greatest impact with the limited resources available to improve our ecosystems.

     

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