Introducing triple-win climate solutions

By Mary Jane Curry • Guest Columnist

“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”

— William Wordsworth, 1798

Agreeing generates peace and optimism — emotions hard to come by over the past year. Fortunately, a growing majority of Americans do agree that we must do more to lessen the climate crisis and they want to be part of the solution. But how and what?

A saint among us: a new Thomas Berry biography

I was one of the lucky ones. I met and befriended Thomas Berry on Earth Day in the late 1980s during his youthful middle age and at the beginnings of his meteoric rise to prominence as an author of books on spiritual ecology. These were books that raised the bar on the beginnings and what would become the awareness and movement regarding what was then being labeled “Global Warming” and what is now a full-blown “Climate Change Movement” that is global in scope and scale.

The Naturalist's Corner: Climate change brings more challenges

WNC Climate Action Coalition’s screening of David Weintraub’s new documentary “Guardians of our Troubled Waters” is both a history lesson and a call to action. 

The film, made in collaboration with the Wilma Dykeman Legacy Foundation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Conserving Carolina, Mountain True, Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee, Friends of the Everglades and Haywood Waterways Association, will be aired at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Lake Junaluska Assembly Terrace Auditorium at 689 North Lakeshore Drive. There will be a panel discussion following the film. The panel will include filmmaker David Weintraub, Eric Romaniszyn of Haywood Waterways, Callie Moore of Mountain True and more.

Like canaries in a coal mine

By Sandi Sox • Guest Columnist

I have been haunted this week by words Kathryn Stripling Byer wrote in a piece about changes around her home near Cullowhee. “We are losing our homes,” she wrote. 

Denuding paradise to erect strip malls and apartment complexes is certainly heartrending, especially when ugliness slouches ever closer while you watch from your front yard. 

Climate change – deadly serious

The last installment of “The Naturalist’s Corner” began kind of tongue-in-cheek, referring to climate change in Trumpian terms of a global hoax. But climate change is no hoax and it’s not amusing… it is deadly serious. I ended the last column talking about the alarming rate of sea level rise over the last century, “ … global sea level rose nearly 8 inches in the last 100 years or so and the rate of sea level rise has nearly doubled in the last two decades and has been rising every year.”

Signs the Chinese are very good hoaxers

I’m sure many can remember what President Donald J. Trump, a legend in his own mind, has had to say about climate change, i.e., anthropocentric global warming. 

Comprehending climate: Smokies seeks to understand impacts of shifts in seasonal patterns

According to the National Phenology Network, Punxsutawny Phil had it all wrong when he emerged from his hole this month to declare six more weeks of winter — across the Southeastern U.S, the NPN’s data shows, spring 2017 is arriving three weeks earlier than the 1981-2010 average. 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is looking for volunteers to help gather the data that will bring such generalizations down to a more local level. Phenology — the ways that plants and animals respond to seasonal changes — has been the subject of increasing interest as discussions about climate change have heated up, and the park is now four years into a volunteer program to collect data for the larger NPN project.

Putting the squeeze on trout: Study says that acid and warming waters could make life harder for trout

out frFrom habitat destruction to competition with non-native trout, Southern Appalachian brook trout have met their share of challenges over the past century. A new study illuminates another issue that trout — and not just brookies — might have to contend with in the years ahead.

Actually, a pair of issues — acidity and warming water temperatures. Neither of these are newly identified problems, but the study looks at their combined effect. The verdict?

Global warming imperils Golden-winged warbler

out frThe steady decline of the Golden-winged Warbler on the Southern Appalachian landscape is a trend that not only threatens the future of the bird in Western North Carolina but also puts in peril the species as whole.

During the past century, it has experienced one of the most precipitous population falls of nearly any other songbird species. Brought on by habitat loss and interbreeding with a more dominant species of warbler, less than 500,000 exist in the United States.

A sanctuary for scientists: Smokies’ slopes seen as frontier in global warming research

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most studied national parks in the country. It consistently ranks in the top three for the number of research permits issued every year — a whopping 184 in 2008.

The influx of researchers to probe science in the Smokies provides valuable insight — even if not apparent at first. Such was the case with a researcher who spent years collecting fruit flies in the park. Fruit flies once found at a particular elevation have shifted higher up the mountain — most likely due to global warming that has sent cool climate species higher in search of the temperatures they’re used to.

“The researcher’s been doing this so long, he can actually document changes in distribution that could actually be related to climate change,” said Park Ranger Paul Super, the research coordinator for the Smokies who is stationed at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center in Haywood County. “You go from something that doesn’t sound that important to something that can help us better understand changes in the park.”

Much of the research in the park now has a global warming angle. A researcher from Minnesota ventured to the Smokies to study the adaptability of salamanders under rising temperatures — one being the red-cheeked salamander.

“It is one of our flagship species. It is found nowhere else in the world except the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” Super said. “Can we predict where it is going to retreat to and can we protect those areas under climate change?”

The Smokies’ status as a research magnet is helped by the plethora of universities within a half-day drive. Another reason is the varied ecosystems available to researchers. Need craggy 6,000-foot peaks? No problem. Boggy low-lying wetlands? Got them, too.

The Smokies has also been a hotspot for researchers in the past decade because of the All Taxa Biological Inventory, a massive undertaking of taxonomists to document every living species in the park. So far, nearly 900 new species have been discovered in the process.

The number of researchers who have dabbled in the Smokies allows the park to tap into expertise across the globe. Super is on a first-name basis with researchers from the University of Gwelp in Canada who used the Smokies for cutting-edge research involving DNA bar-coding.

The relationship came in handy when a whippoorwill killed by a car windshield fell into Super’s hands last summer. Nocturnal birds like whippoorwills are in decline. The loss likely stems from a similar decline in large moth species suspected as their main food source, but no one knew for sure exactly what these birds ate.

So Super cut open the whippoorwill, pulled out the bits and pieces of moths from its stomach, and sent them off to the DNA experts in Canada. Using their new barcode technology, they identified the unrecognizable moth parts.

“Now we have some of the first definitive data on what whippoorwills eat,” Super said.

Part of Super’s job when issuing permits is weighing the loss of the plants and animals plucked from the park by researchers with the potential benefits to the park. As a haven for wild things, the park forbids taking even the most benign things from the park — catching fireflies to take home in a jar, picking flowers, even putting a pretty rock in your pocket is illegal. It’s part of being in an unaltered ecosystem.

So Super takes the requests seriously. Specimens that leave the park — from stacks of pressed ferns to slime molds in Petri dishes — mean little slices of the park have taken up residence in labs and universities all over the county.

“Federal law requires that anything collected in the park is still the property of the park service,” Super said.

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