Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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A few days ago we had a deer just outside our back door that looked horrible (see photo). I obtained a few photos of him and readers will see what the problem is from viewing the photo. Since it is a wild animal it is hard to get any closer or have them hold still while you examine them. Thanks to some very good friends who viewed the photo and did some research we have learned that this is fibermyosis. I have found two web sites that go into more detail regarding this disease and they are listed under references. The data states it is non life threatening to deer and occurs infrequently. Up close it looks pretty gross and the deer in the photo had large sacs hanging off it plus a raw wound on near its haunch that was approximately 6-8 inches in diameter and appeared to be raw and bleeding.

None of the reports I have read on fibermyosis actually had very much detailed information on the disease and stated its origin was unknown or possibly caused by insect bites or a virus. The last time I observed it on deer and elk was approximately 6 years ago when our community was spraying 2-4-D Amine 4 to kill Canada thistle. At that time I would see community volunteers spraying meadow areas and sometimes within 2-3 hours following the spraying the deer would be browsing in the same area eating the sprayed weeds. I had speculated at that time that their skin condition may have had something to do with consuming 2-4-D Amine 4, but had no proof the spraying was in any way connected with fibermyosis lesions and growths on the animals. I just assumed this because I had not seen animals in this condition before they started spraying weeds on our community’s 4000 acres of common land. Furthermore I could not locate any reports that indicated any connection between spraying herbicides and the condition I observed on their bodies. This appears on the deer like warts on humans but appears far more severe with sacs hanging off the animal and open raw sores.

After seeing this deer in this condition I checked to see if any spraying was taking place locally. I found that an adjoining community to the one in which we reside has been spraying noxious weeds with glyphosate or Roundup. Animals wander between our adjoining communities daily and having not seen fibermyosis on deer since the last episode of herbicide spraying I found this to be quite the coincidence and wondered again if there was any possible connection between spraying herbicides and the skin issue on this deer. If any readers have noticed a similar connection or have seen any study regarding the etiology please post in the comment section that reference study.

It seems to me that spraying noxious weeds presents a conundrum of sorts. The state Department of Agriculture (DOA) mandates the killing of certain noxious weeds and the preferred method is spraying them with a herbicide. If the reports I have read wherein several herbicides are clearly toxic to humans and domestic pets it can only be assumed that they are equally toxic to deer and elk. Whether the herbicides would cause this particular disease in deer and elk has apparently not yet been positively determined. If it takes many years for these studies to surface relating herbicide spraying to human health conditions it may take decades for a wild animal study to determine if the herbicides are connected to fibermyosis or not; Coupled with the fact that wild animals are not willing volunteers or participants in any such study. Also wild animal studies are not funded as well as human studies. It would however be prudent to err on the side and caution and stop spraying herbicides in deer and elk habitat. Since there is presently no scientific study that connects the two it is unlikely that will happen.

The studies I have read on this disease stated that this disease doesn’t seem to bother the animal nor does it affect the meat or internal organs. Hunters can safely eat the meat of these animals that they kill. They don’t think that the disease is transferable to domestic pets or humans but can‘t state absolutely that it won‘t happen. The reports on this ailment seem non-specific as to cause and treatment. I also don’t see how those reports can indicate that an animal isn’t bothered by these sacs hanging off it and open raw wounds. Some of these areas may be like large warts but others would appear troublesome to the animal from what I observed.

I find the fact that the only two times I have observed this condition were the two times herbicide sprays have been used and it may only be totally coincidence or non related. When I looked at this deer it is hard to believe that this condition does not irritate the animal in some manner. There may be absolutely no connection between spraying herbicides and fibermyosis but if on the other hand there is a connection perhaps more care could be exercised to resolve the disease. If per chance we humans are causing this it is my opinion that we should rethink our approach toward killing weeds with herbicide sprays especially in wild animals habitat or where deer and elk browse. The good part is this condition is not life threatening to deer but looks bad to uninformed viewers. 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and living with wildlife go to their blog.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Sometimes we wonder: How can I possibly make a difference? Does my modest yard of native plants actually help to protect birds and wildlife? Is there more I should be doing? A look at the bigger picture may help piece this puzzle together.

The United States encompasses 2.3 billion acres and almost 60 percent of that land is under private ownership. The most common land uses are woodlots (28.8 percent), ranches and pastures (25.9 percent), crop and farmlands (19.5 percent), and urban use and yards (2.6 percent). These acres are owned by individuals playing a part in affecting the local environment. It is this collective effort of individuals that defines the current state of the environment. When common goals align, like using native plants or reducing pesticide use, a team is formed with the power and potential to change the landscape, improve environmental conditions and start trends that encourage others to join in.

Consider how you use the land; the applications of fertilizers and pesticides, the buildings, driveways, lawns and gardens, and how those uses affect:

• Soil: health and erosion; What is being added, leached out, washed away, or blown away?
• Groundwater: supply, infiltration; What is going into the supply through the ground, how fast is water being pumped out, and how much is lost to runoff?
• Vegetation: Identification, monitoring, control; What types of plant communities are on your property? Are there non-natives and how do they affect habitat, and structure?

1. “Where are we now?”  Assess the state and condition of your site.

2. “How do we get there?” List the strategies and actions that lead to the objectives. 

3. “How are we doing?” Monitor the success of the strategy, make changes to the plan. 

From dense urban neighborhoods to rural farmlands, all types of land use have dramatic potential to increase or reduce wildlife habitat and ecosystem processes. Land ownership, however, presents a plethora of opportunities to positively interact with the environment and be an important piece of the puzzle in conservation, restoration, and habitat improvements across the country.

To learn more about best practices in land management in your backyard or community, visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's YardMap program.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Management Approaches

Many of us are familiar with the term “agriculture.” Agriculture, according to Wikipedia, “is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi, and other life forms for food, fiber, biofuel, medicinal and other products used to sustain and enhance human life.”

Since 1978, another way of managing land has come into fruition too. According to founder Bill Mollison, "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”

In the forest setting, we have forestry. “Forestry is the science, art, and craft of creating, managing, using, conserving, and repairing forests and associated resources, in a sustainable manner, to meet desired goals, needs, and values for human benefit.”

Both agriculture and forestry share goals that meet mainly human desires. Permaculture, on the other hand, seeks to meet human-based goals while considering the entire ecosystem. There is plenty of overlap between these approaches, and their definitions can be highly subjective, but a general understanding can be reached.

Deer Management -  A Dead End Issue? 


Perhaps a new subset of these management systems could be Deerculture (You can insert your own term if you’d like). I just made this term up – as far as I know – since I know no other way to stress the importance of deer management. You might be thinking, “Isn’t deerculture too specific?” But is it? Deer are a keystone species throughout the eastern temperate forests of North America. I would argue that agriculture, forestry, and permaculture have all been compromised by the mismanagement of the white-tailed deer. Conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, “I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.” Deer are voracious eaters. One of them can eat 4 to 6 pounds of buds per day or between 1,460 and 2,190 pounds of vegetation annually. That adds up to a lot less vegetables; hay; apples; nut trees; timber trees; maple sugaring trees; mushrooms; ginseng; nectaries for bees; forest regeneration for biodiversity; regeneration for water quality and sediment control; cover for rabbits and songbirds, foxes, bears, grouse; landscape plantings; etc. No other species affects the forest understory – and the future forest – more than the white-tailed deer; except human beings that is.

Human-Deer Relationship

Our relationship with deer is not new; it spans thousands of years. Humans have been the primary predator of deer for a long time. Refuse pit-sites uncovered by archaeologists throughout the eastern US have found deer bones at historically known Native American settlements quite abundantly. We can debate how balanced and abundant the deer herd was during the Native American’s dominance in North America. However, it is well documented that many natives burned the forest in order to enhance young growth which fostered both fruit and nut trees, but also cover for the white-tailed deer. In order to illustrate this historical relationship, one author – who I cannot remember – remarked about the color of a deer’s coat. It blends into brushy areas and the forest edge. The deer’s color may be no accident, but an adaptation to thousands of years of human habitat manipulation. In other words, by satiating the forests chief ruminant (deer), the forest was able to grow beyond the reach of deer, and provide benefits for other wildlife and humans alike; a keystone solution to a keystone problem.

Let’s rewrite this scenario in a more familiar agricultural way. A pasture that has too many cows will be grazed down to dirt, offering diminishing returns to the farmer; a truly unsustainable practice. Such a practice wouldn’t be good farming and certainly not “permanent agriculture.” The farmer is left with two options: (1) He could provide more pasture to feed his cows; or (2) Have fewer cows so that his pasture can recover. The goal is to match enough pasturage with the number of cows. If he balances the two correctly, then both pasture and cows will prosper; offering more benefits into the future – milk, beef, cheese, etc.

Quality Habitat is Key

Majestic Animals Or A Pest?

Deerculture seeks the same balance into the future, but on both field and forest. We have a certain amount of deer in the Catskills and Hudson Valley that in some areas seems too high. However, there may simply be a lack of quality habitats to support them, rather than too many deer. Either deer must be reduced, or quality habitat must be enhanced, just as the farmer’s dilemma in his pasture. So what to do? Well, we could treat deer as a pest, and simply kill them all. I don’t agree, but let’s run with that for a moment. First, deer are owned by the government (NYS DEC). Sure they claim it’s “in trust” but they are charged with their management. Second, even if the NYS DEC wanted to severely reduce the herd, they do not possess the man-power to do so directly and therefore must rely upon recreational hunting or hired sharpshooters. Yes – believe it or not – some municipalities are turning to sharpshooters. However, even if deer numbers are somewhat controlled, we’re still leaving out a large piece of the pie. NYS DEC may own the deer nibbling on your tomatoes and apple trees, but you own the land and access to them. You hold the most precious key to this keystone species – the land and how it’s managed. You own that “pasture” or back five or ten acres of woods. You own the habitat. So, how is your habitat serving those woodland goats anyway? We’ll get there.

Wildlife management has done a good job at monitoring populations and setting harvesting limits thus far. Where wildlife management has failed is in managing the habitat. The number of deer is important, but the quality of habitat dictates how many deer the environment can hold or its carrying capacity. Habitat is what brought the deer back in the 20th century after farm abandonment. Farms failed, the forest grew back and so did the deer in turn. Sure, there were some game laws attached to this regrowth, but the young forest that grew in provided the best salad bar buffet deer have yet seen in the last 150 years; and it was merely accidental.

The accidental forest regrowth has now matured. Shade has set into the forest understory offering less for deer to eat. Many people prefer park-like forests and this is understandable; the forests’ cathedral-like foliated ceiling is mesmerizing, while it’s easy to walk through too. However, as our addiction to mature forest spreads, the white-tailed deer’s stomach groans, creating barren deerscapes rippling through forests, backyards, farms, and gardens.

We believe the lack of habitat management has led to severe deer impacts today. We need to get back into our woods and provide some sunlight into the forest understory. We need to provide cover and more browse for deer in order to remediate impacts outside the woods. We need to cut some trees to save others; both vegetative and animal. We need to also have a discussion about other potential solutions to this deer issue; its effects are widespread upon rural land uses. What about densely populated areas where deerculture and recreational hunting seems impossible? Perhaps selling venison should be legalized instead of importing it from New Zealand. Perhaps hunting rules and regulations should be further liberalized. Maybe landowners need more incentives to enhance wildlife habitat. We will be discussing these topics at this year’s event: The Growing Deer Debate, held October 31st at Margaretville Central School, Delaware County. For more information on attending this event, please contact CFA @ 845-586-3054.

You may not be able to control your neighbor’s deer, but in the mean-time you can at least improve your forested habitat for wildlife today by taking advantage of CFA’s Forestry for Wildlife program. We’ll try and overwhelm that deer belly just yet. Cat Skill Forest

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


green city 

Traditionally, going green in American cities hasn’t been a top priority. We pale in comparison to the efforts put forth in many European countries. The efforts in the United States, however, have hit roadblock after roadblock. This is a multifaceted problem, brought about by understanding, competition, politics and economics.

However, despite all of that, some cities have decided to take matters into their own hands. They’ve chosen to give green energy the green light, and have made efforts to support it. Part of that might be driven by the local aspectst — sunny places are more likely to gravitate toward solar power for example — but the push is real, and it’s gaining momentum.  

If you plan to travel this summer and you’re looking to travel green, there are a few options you can investigate. Here we can take a look at 3 cities that are making serious efforts to reduce their carbon footprints.

Honolulu, HI

It shouldn’t be too surprising to hear Honolulu is leading the charge for green initiatives. The city is well positioned for solar, wind and certainly geothermal power. So it shouldn’t be surprising to learn the city has decided to set the ambitious goal of being run entirely on renewable energy sources by 2050.

Currently, the city of Honolulu is famous for its clean air and the plethora of residents who use solar power. With about 12% of the city’s residents using solar power, the highest in the nation, Honolulu is currently a battleground for electricity. Electrical companies are losing money but are still being forced to provide the infrastructure for these new systems. How this plays out in the long-term could provide an interesting perspective for the rest of the country.

Orlando, FL

Having a major tourist attraction seems to be a good thing for a city’s carbon footprint. Orlando seems to be doing pretty well, and there have been recent reports of a company that plans to build a solar farm there shaped like — you guessed it — Mickey Mouse’s head!

In addition, Orlando has been working to team up with other cities to try and reduce traffic, something any tourist is going to be a fan of. A private company in the state is working on new public transportation initiatives, which will allow people to travel by rail from Orlando to Miami, with stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.  

This means those who would find it cheaper to fly into Fort Lauderdale won’t have to rent a car for the trek up to Disney World. Instead, they can just hop on the train and spend the time relaxing before they have to deal with the crowds and bustle.

In addition to a train within the state, there’s also an auto-train that runs from Washington D.C. down to Orlando. An auto-train is a train you can take your car on; you can just drive it up, lock it, and grab a room to rest in. It’s much cheaper, safer and better for the environment.

New York City, New York

NYC isn’t always considered the greenest city, but it’s top of the line in terms of public transportation. The number of people who walk or ride public transport to and from work is high, higher than most other cities in the U.S.

In addition, the tightly packed metropolis has become very good at building small, which may make you feel cramped, but it is actually better for the environment.

Combine those factors with the green initiatives former Mayor Michael Bloomburg announced, and you have a city that’s making serious steps toward a lighter footprint (pun intended). Mr. Bloomburg announced about 30 ideas back in 2009, including making the taxis more environmentally friendly, cutting greenhouse emissions, and creating more green spaces throughout the city. They are slowly but surely making headway.

So no matter what part of the country you plan to visit, you can find areas that are green. It might be easier to find them out in the country, but don’t limit yourself. Part of the fun of travel is finding new things and learning about new ideas. Get out there and get inspired!

Image by Life of Pix

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Eleven acres of heavily wooded land and the wood lot maintenance seems to never end in keeping it clean and non combustible. Since the land is steeply sloped doing the woodlot maintenance with our tractor is out of the question. It is steep and rocks of all sizes are everywhere therefore we have to keep it maintained using nothing but physical muscular power. There are many considerations to employ as we maintain our woods. This blog will embrace some of those considerations and how we maintain our thick woods.

dead trees 002.jpg

I have been called derogatorily a “tree hugger” by a few people. They think that will bother me in a demeaning way but on the contrary I take it as a compliment and am extremely proud of my stance on the environment. I’m sure I have earned some negative comments since I opposed the blockage of a viable creek without having first obtained governmental permission and spraying 2,4,D Amine 4, where it is hazardous to humans, pets and our abundant wild animals. I have found that many people are quite content to allow destruction of our environment as long as someone else will speak out against it. Most people avoid controversy and take the low road in opposing environmental damage. I also would like to avoid conflict when possible but when it comes to the destruction of our finite resources my core being just won’t allow for me to remain silent or acquiesce to potential permanent damage. “Proud to be a tree hugger!”

This core instinct also plays a large role in sensibly maintaining our wood lot. Our trees are Fir, Spruce, Pine, and Aspen. We have some trees that are up to 30 inches in diameter at the base and the rest tend to taper down in size to saplings. We started almost two decades ago by cutting branches from trees to about 18 feet high and then mulching the limbs. Our community also provides sites where we can haul our branches and small trees and stack them where they can be safely burned when there is snow on the ground. By trimming branches we were then more able to maneuver through the woods and could address the thinning of trees. We started near the house and worked over the years in concentric rings working further and further out. We dislike cutting a live tree unless it poses a threat to our home or is in danger of falling. Sometimes it is necessary for the overall health of surrounding trees in spite of our reluctance to cutting a live tree.

We cut many of the dead trees and found in doing so that opened up the woods considerably and made cutting live trees less necessary. Some trees have and continue to die from old age, some from beetle infestation, some from over crowding and some for no apparent reason. Survival of trees in a semi arid environment makes it hard to thrive to begin with and over crowding compounds good growth. We have noticed that trees which have grown weak from over crowding tend to be prone to infestation by insects. While they are a good food source for woodpeckers we prefer to remove them. The larger trees we cut into logs and mill out lumber for various projects. The remainder of the trees are cut up for firewood. Some we burn ourselves and some we give away to friends, charitable groups, or those who sell firewood. We are only part way through the concentric rings but we have been taking it a section at a time making steady progress.

We have noticed that as we clear some of the small trees and dead trees that the remaining trees become more healthy and also the ground supports more wild grasses and undergrowth. Many people in our area heat with wood to either stay warm in the winter (as we do) or for the ambiance of having a wood fire. By removing dead or dying trees the remaining trees become stronger and are able to fend off disease, insects and wind plus heavy snow. It was very daunting when we first started to maintain our wood lot but by taking it one section at a time it has started to produce dividends. We now have more wildlife and more birds because they have clear corridors to walk and fly through. The animals have a better sight line and often bed down on our property without fear of a predator sneaking up on them.

It just makes sense to properly manage your wood lot for ease of being able to utilize your property and to help the trees become healthier. It also provides secure space for wildlife and birds. Taking the time to assess your particular situation and then developing a plan to methodically approach improving your wood lot is environmentally practical. When we allow others to cut trees on our property I have found it is best to be present. We had one person start cutting every tree in sight and fortunately we were there to stop that before it upset our plans for environmentally controlling our trees. While we desire to have the dead trees removed to thin out the woods and open up space for the remaining trees we do not allow irresponsible cutting of the trees. If you do not personally know who is cutting trees it is best to be cautious until you know they are responsible.

We have also found over the years that the most coveted firewood are the culls left over from milling lumber from our trees. Having a personal lumber mill has saved us thousands of dollars in projects around our homestead. For example when we needed a picnic table we cut some large dead standing trees and milled them into lumber to make the table. That table has lasted for many years with only a coat of wood sealer every few years it is in as good condition today as it was when we first built it. Our trees are all used efficiently and not much goes to waste. It all started many years ago when we first assessed our situation and devised an environmentally favorable plan to manage our wood lot. Each year when we see new growth on our trees and observe how healthy they have become by having the dead trees removed and the smaller trees thinned in places we can begin to see good progress. Having a good plan and then following it produces favorable results. It has taken perseverance, patience and lots of hard physical work but it sure is rewarding to see positive results.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to their website

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page


Energy Star Logo SmallHave you ever stood in the supermarket aisle, looking at rows of detergent or snacks, trying to decide which one's packaging and ingredients would do the least environmental damage if it landed in your shopping cart? Have you found yourself fretting over whether the conventionally grown tomato from your local farmer would be better for your children's future than the organic one from half a world away? Spent endless hours calculating the benefits of keeping the old workhorse-but-power-sucking refrigerator you've got versus getting a new, more energy-efficient one?

As environmentally concerned citizens, we've all experienced the uncertainty when it comes to making choices that best reflect our values of living in balance with the planet. Being born into modern civilization, almost all of our movements and transactions are tied into complex industrial processes in which each of us is but a tiny link at the end of long and often invisible chains of extraction, manufacturing, shipping, and distribution. In many ways, the same technological advances that have enabled us to escape from the confines of our immediate environment have also made it increasingly difficult to trace our very own footprints.

Understanding the true impact of our daily decisions to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves thus requires an endless set of magnifying glasses spanning the entire globe. And yet, even if all the links in the industrial chain were transparent (which they aren't), none of us individually would have the time to thoroughly assess every single thing we come in contact with. For example, just trying to figure out where in the world all the different parts that comprise the device you're reading these lines on were sourced and how much energy, water, and labor it took to get it into your hands is like dissecting dark matter. Go ahead, give it a try!

Thankfully, there are rating systems that do some of the work for us. The EPA's popular Energy Star label, for example, identifies and promotes energy–efficient products, helping us to better facilitate the above-mentioned refrigerator conundrum. The USDA Organic Seal guarantees food free from pesticides and antibiotics, and has become a leading global standard. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a certification program that recognizes best practices in green building and architecture.

But how do we move beyond viewing our relationship with the material world and with each other through isolated, microscopic lenses? How do we account for more complex systems and mechanisms that comprise a whole range of processes in which any single object and activity is but a tiny and temporary snapshot of a much larger and constantly evolving landscape?

Well, there are some standards out there that account for more dynamic processes and entities: Cradle to Cradle, for example, assesses the entire life cycle of a product, from source to sink, including material health, recyclability, energy and water use, and even social impact. B Corp certification verifies the impact of a company in areas of governance, workers, community, the environment, as well as the product or service the company provides. However, there are millions if not billions of products and companies in the world, and to get enough of them to sign on to a standardized ratings system to have a global impact would seem to be a near insurmountable task.

What then would be an entity large enough in impact, small enough in units to account for, yet diverse enough by nature to reflect the totality of human activity?

Understanding the Complex City Organism

Cities are the biggest things that humans build. They accommodate two out of every three people on the planet (and rapidly growing) and generate the majority of the world's waste, pollution, and greenhouse gases. They constitute sample sizes big enough to be on a bioregional scale, but at the same time they are human-made organisms with physical and political boundaries, thus providing the tangible container needed in order to be measured. Really, if we could get an accurate accounting of everything that flows into and out of the world's cities, it would give us an honest assessment of large-scale ecological imbalances affecting the planet, and thus the tools to make meaningful changes.

Luckily, a growing number of people and institutions have recognized this need for understanding cities on a deeper level and the tremendous opportunities in addressing humanity's most pressing problems by doing so. There are already great efforts underway that seek to assemble the building blocks for assessing different elements of the urban ecosystem.


For example, the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) provides a framework for accounting and reporting city-wide greenhouse gas emissions. The Living Building and Community Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment. City Protocol seeks to define a common systems view to allow cities to communicate and operate across silos and across communities. Ecological Footprint accounts allow governments to track a city or region’s demand on natural capital, and to compare this demand with the amount of natural capital actually available. And the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, a proposed set of targets written to establish an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process on a countrywide basis, are very much applicable on a city scale.

However, the most comprehensive city-specific framework I know of is the International Ecocity Framework & Standards (IEFS).

A framework for an ecologically healthy city

Based around the ecocity concept that views cities and human settlements as living organisms intrinsically linked to the health of the larger ecosystems and bioregions within which they reside, the IEFS enables participating cities to assess their overall ecological condition while also providing support to successfully move toward becoming ecocities. Designed for a wide range of users, the framework charts a city’s steps forward along 15 conditions, with corresponding verifiable indicators, organized through four fundamental urban arenas: urban design, bio-geo-physical conditions, ecological imperatives, and socio-cultural conditions.

Here are the 15 conditions that address the full range of a healthy human civilization operating within the earth’s biocapacity:

1. Access by Proximity The city provides residents with walkable access between safe and affordable housing, basic urban services, and open/green space. It demonstrates environmentally friendly transport options and provides walking and transit access to close-by employment.

2. Clean and Safe Water Residents have sufficient and continuous access to convenient and affordable clean drinking-water and domestic use water; city water sources, waterways and waterbodies are healthy and function without negative impact to ecosystems.

3. Clean Air The city maintains a level of air quality that is conducive to good health within buildings, the city’s air shed, and atmosphere.

4. Healthy Soil Soils functions and operations meet their ranges of healthy ecosystem functions as appropriate to their types and environments; fertility is maintained or improved.

5. Responsible Resources/ Materials Non-food and non-energy renewable and non-renewable resources are sourced, allocated, managed and recycled responsibly and equitably, and without adversely affecting human health or the resilience of ecosystems.

6. Clean and Renewable Energy Energy is provided for, and extracted, generated and consumed without significant negative impact to ecosystems or to short or longterm human health and does not exacerbate climate change.

7. Healthy and Accessible Food Sufficient amounts of healthy and nutritious food are accessible to all and are grown, manufactured, distributed and recycled by processes which maintain the healthy function of ecosystems and do not exacerbate climate change.

8. Healthy Culture Cultural activities that strengthen eco-literacy, patterns of human knowledge and creative expression are facilitated, symbolic thought and social learning is developed.

9. Community Capacity / Governance Full and equitable community participation is supported in decision making processes along with legal, physical and organizational support for neighborhoods, community organizations, institutions and agencies to enhance their capacities.

10. Healthy and Equitable Economy The city’s economy consistently favors economic activities that reduce harm and positively benefit the environment and human health and support a high level of local and equitable employment options.

11. Lifelong Education Residents have access to lifelong education including access to information about history of place, culture, ecology, and tradition provided through formal and informal education, vocational training and other social institutions.

12. Well Being/Quality of Life Residents report satisfaction with their quality of life including employment, the built, natural and landscaped environment, physical and mental health, education, safety, recreation and leisure, and social belonging.

13. Healthy Biodiversity Biodiversity of local, bioregional and global ecosystems is sustained, including species diversity, ecosystem diversity and genetic diversity; natural habitat and biodiversity is restored.

14. Earth's Carrying Capacity Demands on ecosystems are within the limits of the Earth’s bio-capacity, resources are converted restoratively and support regional ecological integrity.

15. Ecological Integrity Essential linkages within and between ecosystems are maintained and provide contiguous habitat areas and ecological corridors.

As you can see, this framework addresses a wide range of important measures, making sure that all areas that constitute a complete urban organism are covered. Charted from “unhealthy” through multiple levels of “Greener City,” “Ecocity”, and “Gaia" (whole-earth level) along each of the 15 conditions, a city will only reach Ecocity status when it achieves an “Ecocity” or higher designation in all categories.

Click here for a large version of the above image.

The beauty of this framework is that it can incorporate existing and proven rating systems as indicators for its various categories. For example, the EPA's Air Quality Index (AQI) may indicate the level of progress a city has made in the Air category. The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) offers a nuanced and comprehensive assessment of Well Being/Quality of Life. And the aforementioned Ecological Footprint account serves as an excellent tool to track how close (or far) a city is from being within Earth's Carrying Capacity.

Informed and guided by the Ecocity Framework, cities and citizens can move toward greater urban ecosystem health and sustainability by working at various levels from neighborhood to region — developing ecocity zoning and redevelopment plans to reshape cities towards greater energy and land efficient mixed-use centers, designing neighborhoods for improved form and function, creating specific action plans, or grappling with city, regional or country-wide programs that address broader policy and structural (i.e. educational, economic) impediments to creating Ecocities.

Needless to say, there currently aren't any cities on the planet that have reached "Ecocity" level in all 15 categories, which is why we're dealing with such global issues as climate change, resource depletion, and loss of biodiversity in the first place. Cities in developing countries most commonly struggle in the Water or Education departments, while most cities in the developed world fall short with their Access by Proximity scores and overshoot the Earth's Carrying Capacity by a mile and a half.

However, the fact that nobody really is "winning" at this point actually works in the framework's favor, as the spirit of the IEFS is not to pit cities against one another but to exchange knowledge and lift each other up. Integrating such a wide range of indices not only helps to paint a more holistic picture of a city's overall ecological condition, but it fosters the cross-border, -cultural, and -disciplinary collaboration needed to build the kind of global network of cities that help each other reach what must be humanity's ultimate common goal: to sustain a healthy, happy, and equitable life for all residents on this little round ball we share.

Sven has been in an advisory role with the IEFS since its launch in 2010. The framework is predicated on over 30 years of concept development, research and practice by some of the world's leading experts and practitioners in the ecocity arena. Sven's organization, UN-accredited nonprofit Ecocity Builders has been guiding the process of gradual refinement in conjunction with its lead academic partner, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) School of Construction and the Environment.

For more info about the Ecocity Framework, check out the IEFS brochure.

To learn more about the BCIT School of Construction and the Environment's Living IEFS Lab's goal to achieve a 75% reduction in energy and materials consumption in its educational program delivery, visit their Factor Four Initiative.

You can read all of Sven’s posts here.

Photos: Ecocity Builders & Sven Eberlein. Charts: Ecocity Builders.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Green Mountains 

“Grandfather walked in prayer, where every step he took blessed the earth.” —Tom Brown, Jr.

As every MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader knows, our Earth Mother is in peril. We can feel as if time is accelerating and the loss of vital resources, such as clean air and water, ecosystems and species, and our oceans, increases at an ever quickening pace. The task of turning around the cycles of violence pitted against the Earth at times feels overwhelming. Apathy and denial are a common response some people adopt.

The intent of this blog post is to present ways in which we can learn how to make a difference to stop this momentum toward the further destruction of our Earth, and to develop a relationship with the Earth that becomes an ongoing communication and a form of mutual healing. The lessons and skills of nature awareness, wilderness survival and a philosophy of living with the Earth that Tom Brown, Jr., received from his teacher and mentor, Stalking Wolf, focus on how we can establish a deeper relationship and connection with the Earth and all her creations.

Cultivate a Caretaker Approach to the Environment

Stalking Wolf’s approach centered around building an awareness of the environment, noticing what is in or out of context or harmony. When uncertain what course to take in a caretaking event, he would ask the Earth what actions would help nurture and re-balance the area.

Caretaking is actually a very old approach used by indigenous peoples worldwide. In order to “ask the Earth” how we can help her, we must accept the premise that everything, from a blade of grass to a rock has a spirit and is alive. Grandfather—as Tom referred to Stalking Wolf—taught how when we have a need to harvest a plant or dig up a rock for use in a sweat lodge ceremony, we first communicate our gratitude and thanksgiving, we honor the life we are taking, we learn to formulate our own prayer for the moment.

The attitude that humankind is better or more important than any part of the ecosystems we live in is faulty. We don’t really own the land, we are here to use our abilities to enhance the environment from a Caretaker’s attitude.

What will be left for our grandchildren's grandchildren if we fail to make this philosophical shift? That is a primary question we need to constantly be asking ourselves.

Comfrey Flowers 

Start with Inner Transformation

There is a school of thought from India called Gayartri Pariwar that proposes that in order for humankind to evolve toward living in peace with each other and the Earth, one must first initiate this change through ones’ own inner transformation. For over the past 75 years, this way of living has been embraced by more than 90 million people throughout the world.

This philosophy and way of daily living is similar in many ways to the philosophy that Grandfather lived and taught others through how he lived his life. He constantly focused on expanding his inner transformation, which connected to how he interacted with the earth, the natural world and the worlds of spirit. Stalking Wolf referred to the connecting aspect of nature as “the Spirit that moves in and through all things”. He also used the term “The Force,” taken from the Ch’i or Qi energy defined in many Eastern practices and philosophical schools for millenium.

Through accepting and internalizing a greater appreciation of how everything is related and connected, humankind can begin to break down their sense of separation between the individual and the environment.

Since Tom Brown, Jr., founded the Tracker Wilderness and Survival School in 1978, he has taught many of the skills and philosophical approaches he learned from Grandfather to thousands of students from all over the world. As a student of his since 1992, I have embraced the philosophies and skills Grandfather taught Tom mainly because I found that, for me, these skill and philosophy have worked for me in my own day to day life.

I presently have the honor of working with Tom on several projects. Tom, like Grandfather, is a Coyote teacher. What this means, is that when teaching a physical or philosophical skill, not all the ingredients for success are given to the student, it is not presented in a “cookie cutter” manner where A always leads to B. It is up to the student, through their passion to learn and the effort they put into learning the skill, to find the hidden pieces to the puzzle.

Tom often says about a skill, “Prove me right or prove me wrong.” This is also how Grandfather challenged Tom in his youth and Tom reports he has never been able to prove Grandfather’s lessons wrong.

Green in Vermont 

Exercises in Awareness: ‘The Fox Walk’ and ‘Wide-Angle Vision’

One path to that place of “Asking the Earth” what is needed is to slow down your walking pace and move more in a state of Earth Time. Stalking Wolf used a step he called the “Fox Walk.” It involves placing your toes down first, rolling along the outside of your foot and placing your heal on the ground before transferring your weight for your next step. You can try this certainly, but the object overall is to comfortably move slower and in your own rhythm.

First, move at 1/4 your normal walking pace. Feel your foot softly connect with the ground during each step. Then go even slower. By walking this way you make less of a disturbance in the rhythms of your surroundings.

Another skill Grandfather taught is termed “wide-angle vision.” The opposite of wide-angle vision is tunnel vision, that of focusing on one particular detail. In practicing wide angle vision, you gaze out just above the horizon, expanding your vision out to your sides and holding your arms away from your body, each hand is still seen peripherally. Holding out your arms is actually a good way to get a sense of it. Further relax your gaze and you’ll pick up the tiniest movements in the landscape. Watch how the wind or a breeze makes the trees move and flow with it.

In wide-angle vision, you will also experience the leaves catching the wind and lifting upward. It is a method used to view the wave of wind enter and leave the landscape. If you wear glasses, take them off at first, because the frames will break up part of your view.

Combining a slow walking pace and wide angle vision, after a few minutes you will find yourself moving into a deeper state of consciousness and awareness. You may feel drawn to certain plants or trees, rocks or places. Ideally, doing this in a natural setting works best, but you can practice slow walking and wide-angle vision anywhere.

As you practice, notice where dead branches have fallen on trees and plants. This is where the caretaker attitude comes in, as you begin to free the trees and plants of the dead branches pressing down on them, you build connections with the plants you are helping and at the same time, the entire landscape.

Future blogs will continue to explore this topic of living in harmony with the Earth. We will also explore ways to utilize a smaller footprint on the environment and to present ways to gain the skill and knowledge on how to make the “right” changes through Caretaking that enhance the landscape instead of destroying it. Also included will be stories and observations of Stalking Wolf and how his life was a continual act of Caretaking.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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