"Liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets—what to do? Look in health food markets for natural essential oil- or vegetable-based liquids from Seventh Generation, Ecover, and others—or try Maddocks Static Eliminator, a non-toxic, hypoallergenic reusable dryer sheet. Better yet, says Green Guide, add either a quarter cup of baking soda or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle (but not with bleach)."
—From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: Which is better for our environment: to use dryer sheets in the dryer or liquid fabric softener in the wash? It seems they both have properties that are not very green.—Deborah, via email
If you’re concerned about the health and safety of your family members, you might want to stay away from both conventional dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners altogether. While it may be nice to have clothes that feel soft, smell fresh, and are free of static cling, both types of products contain chemicals known to be toxic to people after sustained exposure.
According to the health and wellness website Sixwise.com, some of the most harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener alike include benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract irritant), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders), limonene (a known carcinogen), and chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen), among others.
Since fabric softeners are designed to stay in your clothes for extended periods of time, such chemicals can seep out gradually and be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin. Liquid fabric softeners are slightly preferable to dryer sheets, as the chemicals in dryer sheets get released into the air when they are heated up in the dryer and can pose a respiratory health risk to those both inside and outside the home.
For those who don’t want to give up the benefits of fabric softeners but are afraid to risk exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, National Geographic’s Green Guide recommends adding either a quarter cup of baking soda or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Either one will soften clothes, while the latter will also address static cling. (Be sure not to mix either with bleach, though, as resulting chemical reactions could cause noxious fumes.) If eliminating static cling is your top priority, try drying natural-fiber clothes separately from synthetic materials. The combination of cotton and polyester is often the culprit behind static cling. Better yet, reports the Green Guide, line dry synthetic clothing, as it tends to dry fairly quickly anyway.
A few companies have heeded the ever-increasing call for greener, safer ways to soften clothes and reduce static cling. Seventh Generation’s Natural Lavender Scent Fabric Softener and Ecover’s Natural Fabric Softener are both good choices that rely on vegetable products and natural essential oils instead of harsh chemicals to get the job done.
Another safer option is Maddocks’ Static Eliminator, a non-toxic, hypoallergenic reusable dryer sheet made out of a proprietary, chemical-free polynylon. The Canadian company Maddocks originally developed the material to rid industrial-scale mechanical systems of explosion-inducing static electricity, but soon realized that it could benefit consumers as well, who can now buy the sheets—each one is good for some five hundred wash loads—from natural foods retailers as well as from several online vendors.
Do you have an environmental question? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, PO Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/; or email email@example.com.
The forester’s log: bears and burns
Fresh burn areas draw all kinds of curious animals, and foresters are among the crowd. From the years of mopping up forest fires—spending the last few days on assignment putting out any smoking log or duff that is near the control line—I have witnessed many animals that find fresh-burned ground fascinating.
The elk come in and browse on the needles of remaining saplings as if they are discovering a smoke-flavored delicacy. The raptors fly around, hoping to catch some rodent emerging from the safety of their burrow but no longer into a world that offers immediate camouflage. The bears saunter through, turning over rocks and logs and generally just seeming to look around.
Often we debate if we see so many bears after a fire because bears are attracted to burn areas, or if bears are always this close in the woods, but until the brush has burned away, they are just hidden from our view.
Therefore, I should not have been so surprised that afternoon, when marking trees on Buddy Elkins’ ranch outside of Grants, to hear three sharp whistles coming from the drainage below me.
As I am a homeschooling parent and a consulting forester, my kids often work with me. In this instance, my work was to mark leave trees on a private salvage sale after a major wildfire. The work required me to evaluate every tree in the area, which meant continually moving up and down the slope.
My seven-year old twins preferred playing in the drainage bottom while I worked the hillsides, marking trees that had the best chance of post-fire survival.
We all had whistles, and through the day we would communicate. One whistle was a simple question: ‘Everything is fine, but where are you?’ This was answered with a single whistle. Throughout the day, each ten to twenty minutes, we would signal each other. I would also leave my gallon paint cans with the kids, and tie in with them in person each time I emptied the quart-size paint gun I carried with me.
The two-whistle call was more serious in nature. It meant come here as soon as you can, even though it is not an emergency. Usually the kids used this call to signal they were ready for lunch, or that they needed a jacket from the car, or some other pressing reason to ask Mom to set down her paint can for a while.
The three-whistle call was a real emergency, and up until this day, we had never used it. When I heard it, I immediately came crashing down the hill slope in the direction of the kids. As soon as I spotted Roland, he was waving his arms at me to stop.
Between us there was a large black bear that was fixed on something behind the kids. It only took a second to realize it was a bear cub. I hollered at the bear to let her know I was behind her and to distract her from my children. Then I told the twins to start moving slowly up the drainage toward our car away from the bears.
Mama Bear must have had the same idea, because she growled at her cub and the little guy started moving down the drainage. In less than a minute, I was reunited with my cubs, and she was reunited with hers.
I’m not sure what the bear family did the rest of the day, but we broke camp and headed home. I left the kids with their father, and finished the marking job alone.
Mountain wildflowers of the Southern Rockies and Central NM
Pinedrops Pterospora andromedea Nutt.
Indian Pipe Family—Monotropaceae
—Carolyn Dodson and William W. Dunmire
Bell-shaped flowers hang from the top third of a two-foot-tall unbranched, asparagus-like stem. Scattered scales below the flowers represent vestiges of leaves. Sticky hairs cover the stalks and the five long red sepals that enclose pink flowers. Pterospora means “winged-seed,” alluding to the minute wind-dispersed seeds of this genus. Pinedrops are common in dry ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir zone forests, their stiff hairy stalks persisting through the winter.
Most plants manufacture food from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. A few, however, have evolved a different strategy to obtain nutrients. These plants are easy to spot because they are leafless and never green. Some, like pinedrops, are saprophytes, obtaining complex nutrients from decaying organic matter in the soil.
Their underground stems form a compact mass enveloped by fungal strands that break down the organic matter and pass sugars, along with minerals and water, to the saprophyte host. Freed from the burden of manufacturing food, saprophytic plants only emerge above ground to flower and set seed. They can grow on the floor of dark forests where sun-dependent plants cannot, but their pollination cycle and seed dispersal are identical to those of their green relatives.
Excerpted from Mountain Wildflowers of the Southern Rockies, by Carolyn Dodson and William W. Dunmire. Published by University of New Mexico Press.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife service releases annual list of candidates for endangered species act
—U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its Candidate Notice of Review, a yearly appraisal of the current status of plants and animals that are candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Two species have been removed from candidate status, one species has been added, and eleven have a change in priority from the last review in December 2007. There are now 251 species recognized by the Service as candidates for ESA protection.
As part of this review, the Service is soliciting additional information on these candidate species, as well as information on species that may be eligible for addition to future candidate updates. This information will be valuable in preparing listing documents and future revisions or supplements to the notice of review.
“We strongly encourage collaborative conservation efforts for all candidate species from federal agencies, tribes, and private organizations,” said Service Director H. Dale Hall. “The Service will continue to offer technical and financial assistance to support these efforts.”
Candidate species do not receive protection under the ESA, although the Service works to conserve them. Identification of candidate species gives an advance notice of species in need of conservation, allowing them to address threats before the species is listed.
All candidates are assigned a listing priority number based on the magnitude and imminence of the threats they face. When discretionary funding becomes available, the Service addresses species by priority numbers first. The eleven changes in listing priority announced in today’s notice are based on new information in the updated assessments of continuing candidates. Four species have had their priority increased, while seven species have had their priority lowered. The net result of these changes is the new number of candidates assigned to the top priority category for listing (i.e., full species facing threats of high magnitude that are imminent) will change from the current number, one hundred, to ninety-nine.
The lesser prairie-chicken is one of the four species whose priority increased. Habitat loss and fragmentation continue to be the greatest threats. A conservation effort launched earlier this week in New Mexico between the Service and Bureau of Land Management holds promise.
Landowners, energy companies, and ranchers would voluntarily agree to conservation measures that protect and restore habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken and sand dune lizard in southeast New Mexico. In return, if the chicken is given protection under the ESA, private landowners are assured they will not be required to do more than they have pledged through the conservation program.
The two species removed from candidate status are the Ogden mountainsnail, a mollusk species found in Utah, and the Florida indigo, a plant species native to tropical regions. The Service removed these species after new scientific information led to changes in taxonomy. As a result, both species have been found to be more widespread than once believed.
Today’s notice also identifies one new candidate species, the Gierisch mallow, a plant species found in Arizona and Utah. For the nine known populations of this plant, the primary threats are ongoing gypsum mining in Arizona and potential impacts from off-road vehicle use in Utah.
The Service has several tools for protecting candidate species and their habitat, including a grants program that funds conservation projects by private landowners, states, and territories. In addition, the Service can enter into Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCA), formal agreements between the Service and one or more parties to address the conservation needs of proposed or candidate species, or species likely to become candidates, before they become listed as endangered or threatened. The CCA participants voluntarily commit to implementing specific actions that will remove or reduce the threats to these species, thereby contributing to stabilizing or restoring the species.
The complete notice and list of proposed and candidate species appears in today’s Federal Register and can be found online at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/candidates/index.html.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
Kyle Nitshke of Willis caught Budweiser ShareLunker No. 456 from Lake Conroe on December 13. The fish weighed 13.07 pounds and was twenty-five inches long and 21.5 inches in girth.
Everything is bigger in Texas
Teenager Kyle Nitshke of Willis caught Budweiser ShareLunker No. 456 from Lake Conroe on December 13. The 13.07-pound largemouth bass should qualify as the new junior angler state record by 0.01 pound. Ironically, Nitshke was fishing in the Ignition Bass Tournament with his friend Tyler Goetzman, who caught the former record from Lake Conroe on January 13, 2008.
“We had a limit by 8:40 and started culling,” Nitshke said. “We caught fourteen keepers. She [the ShareLunker] hit a crankbait in six feet of water about 12:30.” The fish was 21.5 inches in girth and twenty-five inches in length.
Nitshke and Goetzman won the tournament with a bag of 32.85 pounds of fish.
Lake Conroe has now produced thirteen Budweiser ShareLunkers and ranks number four in the number produced, after Lakes Fork, Rayburn, and Alan Henry.
For the past several years, Lake Conroe has been the site of intensive management of invasive aquatic vegetation by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, using triploid grass carp and chemicals. Local anglers, homeowners, and recreational users have cooperated in developing an action plan that is reestablishing native vegetation in the lake.
The Budweiser ShareLunker program is made possible through support from Anheuser-Busch, Inc. Since 1991, Anheuser-Busch, in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, has contributed millions of dollars in funding to support conservation causes and fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation programs in Texas.
Thin, dangerous ice forces Fenton Lake closure
Fenton Lake is temporarily closed to fishing because of a thin layer of ice that has created unsafe conditions for anglers, the Department of Game and Fish and New Mexico State Parks announced Tuesday.
Fenton Lake State Park will remain open for camping and other activities. The lake will be reopened for fishing as soon as officials determine the ice is safe for walking and angling. The ice will be considered safe when it is at least nine inches thick, according to criteria established by the Department of Game and Fish and State Parks.
The State Parks Division and the Department of Game and Fish jointly manage Fenton Lake and surroundings via a Joint Powers Agreement. According to criteria established by both agencies under the agreement, Fenton Lake State Park staff report the ice conditions to the Department of Game and Fish. When the ice thickness meets its requirements, the Department allows ice fishing on the lake. The Department of Game and Fish has the authority to open or close the lake to ice fishing. State Parks assists with the on-the-ground posting and enforcement of the ice-fishing determinations. In addition, State Park managers and superintendents have the authority, by regulation, to close or restrict access to areas of parks, as well as to restrict, limit, or prohibit activities such as ice fishing as conditions require. Such actions are taken in the interest of public safety and resource protection.
The State Parks Division has a formal procedure for checking the depth of ice. The ice thickness is measured starting at the shoreline and progressing out over the lake. When the ice is of a thickness that is considered safe, the lake is opened to ice fishing. Also, park staff continually make visual checks of the ice, looking for cracks, water on top of the ice, and open water, all signs that the ice may not be safe for anglers.
Special Game Commission meeting will address private-land access
The State Game Commission will have a special meeting in Albuquerque on Saturday, January 10, to hear public comments and discuss proposed rules regarding hunters’ and anglers’ access to private lands.
The special meeting was called to gather more information from the public about proposed amendments to state hunting and fishing manner-and-method rules, specifically how property is posted against trespass. The proposed amendments also address responsibilities of landowners, hunters, and anglers in obtaining or granting permission to hunt or fish on private land.
The meeting will be from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Saturday, January 10, in the first-floor multi-purpose room of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, 1801 Mountain Road NW, in Albuquerque. More information is available by calling (505) 476-8008.
The State Game Commission is composed of seven members who represent the state’s diverse interests in wildlife-associated recreation and conservation. Members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Current members are Chairman Jim McClintic, Albuquerque; Vice-chair Sandy Buffett, Santa Fe; M.H. “Dutch” Salmon, Silver City; Alfredo Montoya, Alcalde; Leo Sims, Hobbs; Tom Arvas, Albuquerque; and Oscar Simpson, Albuquerque.
If you are an individual with a disability who is in need of a reader, amplifier, qualified sign language interpreter, or any other form of auxiliary aid or service to attend or participate in the meeting, please contact Shirley Baker, (505) 476-8030. Public documents, including the agenda and minutes, can be provided in various accessible forms.