Nature and Environment

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

Add to My MSN

2/3/2016

Black squirrel staying well-fed

This past week a friend asked me about a meme I re-posted on Facebook. The image included was a lovely painting of an earthly maiden wakening beneath the surface of the ground. The words proclaimed there were only a few days left until Imbolc—a Celtic celebration of the very first stirrings of springtime. My friend wanted to know more.

I gave her a short-versioned response. She was able to Google for more and found varied and plentiful information. What the Wheel of the Year (a sort of calendar for earth-loving folk) gives to me are sweet reminders of what I love about each part of the year.

Imbolc, at the beginning of February, marks the halfway point between winter and spring. In places with distinct seasons, this is the time we start shifting toward full-on growth—the first bulbs start to emerge, mammal bodies prepare for imminent birthing, and robins reappear.

My own imagination runs wild. I love the idea of there being so much unseen activity just beyond our reach. Seeds and bulbs beneath the soil snake to the surface, an adventurous nuzzle upward to test the air temperatures. Sap inside trees begins to return to the tips of branches, fueling flower and leaf buds. It’s easy for me to imagine fairies and earth maidens nurturing this life behind the scenes that we humings normally see. Just envisioning such changes makes me smile with anticipation.

In my physically real world, my gardening room starts bustling with plans for the coming year outdoors. I print my seed-starter sheets so that I can track germination and potting on dates. I gather other supplies, ready my seed trays and soil, and separate my seed packets in order of planting times. These activities serve to direct my excitement and energize me while helping to slowly move me away from the arting I’ve been doing during the late fall and winter.

One of my favorite things about celebrating by the Wheel is sharing the art that inspires me (like in the meme mentioned above). I also love how my own art reflects whatever part of year we are experiencing. I recently laughed after figuring out clues in a few pieces just completed. It’s fun to find the awakening reflected in my creations.

One piece nudged me for a month or so. I started working on a couple of its elements, then was able to carve out the time to put it all together and finish up. Turns out, in reflection, that the timing was perfect. My Bear Medicine Gourd was completed just as real bears are coming to the end of their hibernation period for the year.

Bear Medicine Gourd

Next came two goddess gournaments—Flora and Fauna. The first had her face appear a few weeks ago, then she whispered a need to me for flowers and leaves in her curled hair. Once she was completed, her sister demanded to follow. Fauna has seven animals peaking out from her much straighter hair, as if from nestled burrows. These sisters hinted at the emerging soon to follow outdoors.

When creating each of these pieces I was simply following an inner voice. I don’t pretend to know where this whisper comes from, I can only say that it is strongest and loudest when I actively listen. It often takes me onto different pathways and directions than I expect when I start working on a piece. Only in retrospect did I realize that these three pieces lined up perfectly with the shifting of the Wheel.

I am nearly always humored and enlivened when I find such alignment—and it happens all the time. In fact, at this point in my lifing I should expect the free-flow aligning since I so closely follow natural cycles, the weather, and energy flow. Still, I can’t help but enjoy the clicking into place of these puzzled pieces of surprise.

Though we recently enjoyed a few days in the mid- to upper fifties, I skipped doing even a few outdoor chores of preparation because I know my indoor arting hours are becoming more limited as the Wheel continues to turn. I’ll soon have my seedlings to contend with and more outdoor chores will become insistent. I have soil to turn, more rabbit and cat proof fences to erect, and I need to prep some of my beds for different crops than they previously held. Then there are those three pesky stumps in my reclaimed garden section that need to come out continuing to tap their little roots at me.

I am so grateful to be able to blend my time between the tangible arting of indoors with a more physical art of gardening. I continue to convert our garden from the plain expanse of lawn to a sculptured pathway that wanders by vignettes of interest. The best compliment my dear friend Henry paid me last year was that my garden was definitely looking Blythe (in other words, it was certainly reflecting my personality). That was high praise indeed. Here’s to each of us creating sacred space that shows who we are and what we love.

What are your favorite times of the year? Are there ways that you reflect the season changes in your personality? Are there particular activities that you repeat year after year? Does your garden reflect your tastes and that of those you love? Do you replicate the things you see elsewhere that speak to you? What can you do to more fully share who you are through your gardening?

Flora and Fauna Gournaments

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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.



1/18/2016

 

Indian pipe

Parasite - the very word is enough to send shivers down the spine. It conjures images of blood-sucking leaches or worse, the chest burster scene from the movie Alien. We have a deep evolutionary disdain for organisms that make a living by living in or off of something else. However, I think it is due time to drop our preconceived notions of these organisms. Far from being antagonistic or detrimental, more and more we are discovering that parasites play important roles in the ecology of our planet. They can serve as indicators of ecosystem health and even promote biodiversity, something we are all scrambling to understand and preserve.

It is estimated that nearly 50% (give or take) of the lifeforms on this planet are parasites. The animal kingdom is full of them and, indeed, those are the ones we are most familiar with. However, there are plenty of parasitic plants out there as well, roughly 4,000 species actually. Some of these are subtly parasitic whereas others are so specialized that one would hardly recognize them as a plant without a bit of scrutiny. Parasitic plants are quite diverse, hailing from many different families. There is no way to generalize them all but I would like to give you an introduction to this group. At the end of this, I hope you walk away not only with a new sense of wonder for the botanical world, but also a greater appreciation for parasites as a whole.

The world of parasitic plants can roughly be broken down into two major categories - stem parasites and root parasites. As you can probably guess, this has to do with where their parasitism occurs. Stem parasites include some of the mistletoes (order Santalales) or dodder (Cuscuta spp.), which tap into their hosts tissues through their stems. The root parasites do all of their parasitizing under the soil. Their roots tap into the roots of the plants growing around them. All this is done using specialized structures called "houstoria."

houstoria

There is another group of parasitic plants that do something entirely different. These are called the mycoheterotrophs. Plants like Indian pipe(Monotropa uniflora) and the coral root orchids (Corallorhiza spp.) fall under this category. These are not only some of my favorite types of plants, but they are also some of the strangest. Most of these plants have given up on the photosyntehtic lifestyle altogether. Instead, they cheat mycorrhizal fungi into forming a one-way partnership with their roots. The fungi gain nutrients from the photosynthetic plants they partner with and the mycoheterotrophs steal some of it. In a sense, these plants are indirect parasites on other plant species. 

We go a bit further with categorizing parasitic plants. In doing so, we have to take a closer look at how dependent the parasites are on their host. The least parasitic of the bunch are the facultative parasites. These plants can grow with or without a host, though they usually perform much better with. The yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) of Europe and Asia falls under this category. On the other end of the spectrum are the obligate parasites or those that require a host. These come in two different lifestyles. Hemiparasitic plants are only partially dependent on a host plant. They derive some water or nutrients while still photosynthesizing on there own. This group includes plants like the Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.), many species of mistletoe, and the witchweeds (Striga spp.).

Even stranger are the holoparasitic plants. Plants in this category have gotten rid of photosynthesis altogether. Instead, they gain all of their nutrient and water needs from their hosts. Some members of this group would hardly be recognized as plants at first glance. One of the oddest holoparasites, Hydnora africana, looks like something out of the Super Mario franchise. Because of they don't need sun, many of these species spend most of their lives underground or in the deep shade of other plant species. They only become obvious when it is time to flower.

Rafflesia arnoldii

Some of these holoparasites have even gone as far as to give up most of their "body." Instead, they exist inside their host's vascular tissues as a network of threads resembling fungal hyphae. We only become aware of their existence when their flowers burst forth from their host. Oddly enough, the species that produces the largest single flower in the world lives in this way. Native to Sumatra, the corpse flower (Rafflesia arnoldii) parasitizes vines. When the timing is right, a large bulbous growth begins to grow from the vine. This growth gradually swells like some sort of tumor until it unfurls to reveal a flower 3 feet in diameter and weighing up to 24 pounds!

Throughout all of this you may be asking yourself "what are the costs to the host?" Certainly this is worth asking. In some cases, the hosts don't suffer terribly, in others, the host is slowly drained over time. However, this is a matter of perspective. Sure, individual plants are harmed but what are the effects on the ecosystem as a whole? Taking a holistic perspective on parasitic plants paints quite a picture indeed!

More and more we are realizing the profound effects parasitic plants have on the ecosystems in which they exist. They are often keystone species as well as ecosystem engineers. Because their numbers rely on the density of their hosts, they can have a stabilizing effect, not allowing certain species to become too prevalent. This in turn opens up space for other species. Parasitic plants also alter the way water and nutrients move through the environment, creating a patchwork of habitat for other species to colonize. Time and again research is showing that parasitic plants actually increase biodiversity where they are native. What's more, many of them offer food and habitat for other organisms such as birds and mammals.

Despite their importance parasitic plants are largely ignored or, even worse, flat out maligned. Sure, they can become crop pests, however, that has more to do with the unnatural ways we grow our food rather than the parasites themselves. We can't pick favorites when it comes to conservation. Provided they are native, parasites have their place in the ecology of ecosystems around the world. It is time for a fresh perspective on parasitic plants.

Rafflesia arnoldii image by Henrik Ishihara

Matt Candeias is a plant fanatic. His current research is focused on how plants respond to changes in their environment, which takes him to the southern Appalachian Mountains where ample topography and seemingly endless plant diversity offer a window into how and why plants grow where they do. He operates a daily blog and a weekly podcast, In Defense of Plants.


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.



1/6/2016

JT image 1

Over the last 18 months, several studies have begun a fresh debate about whether battery-powered electric vehicles are really better for the environment than gas-powered ones. The key point is asking how much the source of the electricity that powers an EV contributes to its green credentials. The answer: significantly.

Christopher Tessum, author of a November 2015 University of Minnesota study on how the various ways to power a car affect human health, told Popular Mechanics that many alternative fuel vehicles don’t end up leading to significant decreases in “air quality-related health impacts.”  

Tessum added, "The most important implication is that electric vehicles can cause large public health improvements, but only when paired with clean electricity. Adapting electric vehicles without taking steps to clean up electric generation would be worse for public health than continuing to use conventional gasoline vehicles."

A working study on the environmental benefits from driving EVs published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in June 2015 came to a similar conclusion, with more of a focus on geography. “What we find is that the benefits are substantially different depending on where you are in the country,” Stephen Holland of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, who co-authored the study, told CityLab. “The real big take-home message is: location, location, location.”

Why Does It Matter Where I Live?

The key problem is that many parts of the United States still rely on electricity generated by fossil fuels. According to the EPA, the electrical power sector accounted for 32 percent of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, with fossil-fired power plants being the largest source of CO2 emissions. The worst offenders are coal- and gas-fired power plants. According to Tessum, without the continued development of cleaner electricity, EVs powered by fossil fuels would eventually be worse for public health than conventional gas-powered cars.

This is called the “long tailpipe” argument. While EVs have zero tailpipe emissions, their true “tailpipe” comes out of the large smokestacks you see above power plants. As science overwhelmingly tells us, electricity generated from fossil fuels contributes toward unhealthy air quality, acid rain and global climate change.

In the short term, if you live in an area where fossil fuels are not the primary source of electricity generation, then there is little to no argument that your EV is better for the planet than a gas-powered car. You can check where your power comes from with the EPA's “Power Profiler.” Simply enter your zip code and compare the fuel mix and air emissions rates of the electricity in your region to the national average, which is 30 percent gas-powered, 37 percent coal-powered, 19 percent nuclear and 12 percent hydro and non-hydro renewable.

Does This Mean I Shouldn't Drive an EV?

Taken at face value, these two reports seem to indicate that you should only drive an EV if you live in an area that generates a substantial amount of clean electricity. However, according to a two-year study published in November from the Union of Concerned Scientists, that statement is misleading. The UCS study concludes that over their life cycle, current EVs powered by current electricity sources still beat current gas-powered cars in lifetime global warming emissions.

By applying the cradle to grave methodology, the UCS says EVs produce less than half the global warming emissions of comparable gas-powered cars (even when factoring in the higher emissions during manufacture, courtesy of the EV’s lithium-ion battery). According to the study, the average EV produces global warming emissions equal to a 68 miles per gallon (Mpg) fuel economy gas car. While UCS concedes that EVs contribute a not-insignificant amount of global warming emissions from their operation, driving the average EV in any region of the country produces lower emissions over its lifespan than the average gas-powered car clocking in at 29 Mpg. Additionally, the potential for EVs to be powered by clean electricity exists, much more so than with gas-powered vehicles.

JT Image 2 

 Image link

This graphic from the Union of Concerned Scientists illustrates how driving an EV in each region compares with driving a gas-powered car when it comes to emissions. The regions are based on the group of power plants that serve as each one’s primary source of electricity.

To determine how green driving an EV in your area is today, use the UCS's EV Emissions Tool. This calculates how much global warming your EV will produce based on your locally available power sources. For example, a Nissan Leaf charged in South Carolina will produce as much pollution as a gas-vehicle getting 70 Mpg, whereas in Idaho it would be closer to 104 Mpg. But wherever you are, according to the UCS, an EV is still greener than a gas-only car.

Can My EV Ever Be Truly Green?

A long-term, national shift away from generating electricity via fossil fuels would result in EVs being powered by energy from entirely renewable sources. That is a true zero-emission vehicle. Thankfully, however, you don't have to wait for your local power company to install wind turbines before you can achieve this. You can take matters into your own hands.

To accurately regulate the cleanliness of the electricity your car uses, create your own. If you own your home, install solar panels on its roof to generate clean electricity, then purchase and install a Level 2 Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment unit (EVSE). These charging docks can be hardwired or plugged into your home (via a NEMA 14-50 outlet) and will charge your EV in as little as four hours (you can charge with a regular 110-volt outlet, but that takes 8–12 hours for a full charge).

The prospect of installing solar panels on your home once meant a bill in the tens of thousands of dollars. Today, options for financing and leasing can often result in lower monthly bills than you pay your power company. By pairing solar panels with an in-home EV charger, you can suck clean energy right from the sky and power your EV with virtually zero cost to the planet and, eventually, zero cost to you.

Jennifer Tuohy loves to use technology to help us live a more sustainable lifestyle. She gives tips on how driving an EV car and having a home charging station can reduce your carbon footprint.  If you are looking to install an electric car charger in your home, visit the Home Depot to see all your EV charger options.  


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.



1/4/2016

 

Photo credit Debbie DiCarlo

To begin, I would encourage you to read my last blog if you have not done so as yet. In my closing statement there, I shared these thoughts:

“When coyotes are present on your land, they are offering you the free services of the keystone carnivore, if you are willing to accept them. And they will continue to do so in ways that will astound you if you would first stop and take note of the results of their services and if you understand what they ask of you.”

So keep looking for the results of their services. If you keep looking, you will see. But what do they ask of you? The answer has a great deal to do with their resulting relationship with your farm animals.

They want you to understand that they have a life to live as well, and that their life means as much to them, as yours means to you.  But in order to really understand this, it is important to be aware of their complex social lives, and how our interactions with them can either support or destroy their social relationships. Again, I cannot reiterate the importance of this in regard to the safety of your farm animals.

Coyote Ecology and the Importance of their Social Life

Coyotes, like wolves, have evolved a complex social life. They are highly intelligent carnivores that require a stable family. Coyotes mate for life….until death parts them. When they find each other, they will define a territory where only they and their pups will live. Only once a year, in mid to late winter they will mate, and in April or May their pups will be born.

Their pups are born blind and helpless but within two months they will begin to grow and require an increased amount of food.  Their parents must augment their hunting forays in order to feed their growing pups. In stable coyote families there will also be grown up pups from their previous years’ litters. This extended family assists the parents in their hunting efforts. In a stable family situation like this, members of the family often rely on small prey like rodents or rabbits. There is not the need to take down larger prey, like livestock.

Along with the protection and feeding of their pups, and introducing them to their complex language, the parents and the other adults in the family will begin to teach the pups how to hunt. Coyote pups are not born knowing how to hunt. They may even be afraid of the first mouse their parent sets in front of them. Learning to be efficient hunters takes time and practice over an extended period of time. The pups watch their parents as they take down larger prey like wild turkeys, beavers, fawns, or weakened deer to name a few. Then they will attempt to do the same, often failing to be successful at first.

They need to learn everything about their prey~ who they are, where they are, what time of year they are most vulnerable, and how to successfully end their lives. They need to map out in their heads every corner of their territory. Learning these skills protects them from starving, and protects your livestock, for starving may cause them to seek easy food that they were never taught to hunt….namely your livestock.

So you see the complexity of a carnivore’s life as they seek to survive…just as you seek to survive. So what are Coyotes asking of you? They are asking you to let them live their lives, and by doing so, you protect your livestock.  Give them a chance, and they will respond.

 

Until the next time I would encourage you to read this absorbing, classic book "Don Coyote" by long time rancher, Dayton Hyde

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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.



12/31/2015

sea salt exfoliant

On December 28, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which will phase out the use of tiny plastic microbeads in personal care products, including facial scrubs and toothpaste. The national law starts by banning the manufacturing of plastic microbeads starting July 2017, and is followed by a ban on selling any “rinse-off cosmetic that is a nonprescription drug” and contains plastic microbeads in 2018 and 2019. Illinois was the first state (2014) to ban the future sale of cosmetics that contain microbeads, and a number of states followed suit, including, most recently, California.

For years, evidence has been mounting that the tiny plastic microbeads found in personal care products are too small to be removed by wastewater treatment facilities. The microbeads enter our waterways at an astounding rate; it’s estimated that 8 trillion microbeads are released from waste water treatment plants in the United States every day. The flood of microbeads pollutes waterways and is washed into oceans where the beads are consumed by marine wildlife that can’t differentiate the plastic beads from food. The microbeads and other plastic debris have become so rampant in our oceans that 25 percent of fish sampled from markets in California and Indonesia contained man-made plastic debris. To make matters worse, microbeads attract and absorb pollutants, including flame retardants and DDT. After the chemical-soaked microbeads are ingested by marine animals, they’re able to make their way into our food system.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait until 2018 to purchase personal care products that are free of plastic microbeads. The organization Beat the Microbead has assembled a list of products that use biodegradable exfoliants, including sea salt, crushed apricot pits and walnut shells. You could also try making your own body care products. Check out these recipes for easy homemade toothpaste and sea salt exfoliating treatment to get started.

Photo by Fotolia/Ekaterina Garyuk: Biodegradable exfoliants, such as sea salt, are better options for our skin and the environment.


Hannah Kincaid is an Associate Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. She works on the magazine’s natural health beat, and in her spare time she focuses on restoring her century-old farmhouse, studying native plant medicine and practicing yoga.



12/28/2015

 

With winter in full swing, wild animals are having a harder time finding food. Putting out food for the wild birds in your area will help them get the nutrition they need to thrive through the cold months. Avian nutrition means much more than tossing out a few seeds. If you’re not sure what to put on your wild bird grocery shopping list, check out this list below to get started:

Suet

Fat is an excellent source of energy for birds in the winter. If you don’t already own a suet feeder, there’s no need to worry — you can drop the suet in an old mesh onion bag to hang up outside for the birds. If you have other curious critters around that may be attracted to the food, be sure to hang the bag up high to discourage other feeders that could pose a threat to your avian visitors.

Peanuts

This high-protein food will attract all kinds of birds in the wintertime. Place out peanuts that have been shelled and dry-roasted, but be sure to get a variety with no added salt — the birds can do without all that sodium.

Seed Mix

Bad seed mixes have lots of filler most birds won’t even eat, so finding a mix that is simple and nutritious can take a little bit of research. A good seed mix should have a variety of items like sunflower seeds, cracked corn and white proso millet. Proper nutrition is important to bird health, and lack of vitamin D can result in immune suppression for birds, which leaves them vulnerable to a variety of illnesses.

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Almost any bird will eat black oil sunflower seeds. The outer shell is thinner and easier for most birds to crack, but the kernel inside is bigger than that of other varieties of sunflowers.

Fruit

Fruit is an important element in diets of both humans and birds. When available, birds will eat rose hips and pokeweed fruit, but the freezing winter weather can make it difficult if not impossible for birds to find fruit in the wild. Set out slices of citrus fruit, pieces of apples and bananas or grapes for your local bird population to chow down on. Apricots and mangoes also make tasty treats for birds. You can mix in some leafy green veggies like broccoli and kale as well.

Mealworms

Mealworms can be found in almost any bait store, but if you don’t have one in your area, don’t get distressed — pretty much everything is available on the internet these days, mealworms included. Almost any feeder bird except goldfinches will eat mealworms, which makes them a perfect option for winter nutrition. Putting the mealworms in a glass bowl with rolled oats makes a tasty dish for your birds, and the slippery sides ensure the mealworms can’t crawl out before they’re eaten.

Safflower Seeds

Safflowers have harder shells, which can make it difficult for some birds to open them, but cardinals absolutely love this treat. Chickadees, doves and some sparrows will also happily chow down on safflower seeds placed out for them. An added bonus of this bird food is that squirrels don’t seem to care for it, keeping your bird food safe from their curious hands.

Homemade Bird Treats

Not satisfied with your store’s food options? Skip the store altogether by making your own bird treats. Make snack blocks for the birds by melting suet and adding little treats inside such as pieces of peanut, apple bits or raisins. You can pour this mixture into ice cube trays, allow them to harden into cube-sized servings and place them out for the birds in your area. You can even put the food straight on the trees: Try rubbing peanut butter or other nut butters on your tree bark and poking bits of nuts and seeds into the peanut butter.

Whether you decide to make treats at home or buy a prepackaged mix, there are tons of ways to keep the birds in your area happy and healthy this winter. Place out some food and keep an eye out to see what the birds seem to prefer. Then you can adjust your feeding plan to suit their tastes. When warm weather comes back around, you’ll have a bunch of fat and happy birds ready to fill your trees with songs.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity Theory. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


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.


12/24/2015

bear.jpg

Since moving to the mountains of Southern Colorado, we have encountered many black bears and because of those encounters, we have learned much about the species. I have posted several articles on bears in the past but I’m not sure enough can be said about these interesting animals.

I seem to be constantly looking up black bear characteristics or traits on the internet to be better informed. Perhaps one of the best sources of information and a site I access is called the North American Bear Center in Minnesota (NABC). There seems to be an abundance of misinformation about bears that circulates and every time there is a human encounter that goes bad, the bear is the one pictured in a bad light.

This time of year, our bears are in hibernation and being able to do that has always fascinated me. Now that we have them around frequently and I have been able to observe them over the years, I have come to really appreciate this often maligned animal. When it comes to parenting, I believe the human species could learn much from the black bear.

I have observed the mother bear with their cubs on many occasions and they are a no-nonsense parent to the young. When the cub does something wrong, the mother is not at all hesitant to make a firm correction. I also have witnessed the love and affection they demonstrate and how protective they are of their vulnerable young — all aimed to help the cub live on their own in the wild.

We once had a young cub (very small) wander through our property. It was wet and looked miserable but we knew enough not to go to its aid. A short while after it left, we saw the mother coming down the road with a determination I had never witnessed on a mother bear before. It would have been a huge mistake to get between her and her cub, which was probably several hundred yards away by then, as she was in no mood to be deterred from her objective.

I find it incredible that bears and other smaller critters can hibernate. Our winters are sometimes 7+ months long, and for any animal to put itself into a dormant state for that long is simply amazing. Their heart rate and metabolic rate is greatly reduced. It is during this hibernation period that they give birth.

During this hibernation they live off the body fat they have stored up. Just prior to hibernation, they consume huge amounts of water and food. From what I have observed, they eat mostly grasses, vegetation, berries and insects. We note in the fall rotten logs torn apart where the bear has apparently been seeking ants and grubs. While they hibernate, they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate.

I had always heard that they eat roughage to create a plug in their intestine. From reading the NABC data, they actually create that plug with secretions and residual matter in their intestinal tract. The former was strictly myth. Just imagine if we humans could hibernate and shut down our systems where our bodies would live off our body fat. Eureka! Diets and obesity treatments would no longer be needed.

We have discovered a den that has been used over the years by bears to hibernate toward the top of our mountain in a prominent rock outcropping. It is just large enough to accommodate a full-grown bear and there is evidence they are using it regularly. Being equipped with the ability to hibernate and give birth is a unique ability that is mostly associated with black bears.

Incidentally, black bear is a species and while most are black in color, I have witnessed them blonde and various shades of brown. I can see why teddy bears are so popular with people of all ages, because if you have ever seen a black bear cub up close they, are adorable.

I have observed the incredible strength of bears and perhaps that is why people fear them. I have had to use a 5-foot steel pry bar to move the same rock that I observed a black bear move with one arm effortlessly. They will roll over or lift up a large rock to get at the edible insects under the rock.

Their strength is certainly something to be cautious of, but I have not run into any purely aggressive black bears. Usually they are curious or just making sure we are no threat to them. When there is a bear-human encounter and the human is injured, it always seems to be reported all the news venues. Such stories seem to demonize the bear and do not hold the human accountable for the encounter — hence the bear usually pays with its life.

If the human doesn’t suddenly surprise the bear, and if the human remains calm and talks in a calm voice and slowly backs away giving the bear space, the chances for a sudden encounter ending favorably for both human and bear is greatly enhanced. If we humans emit a scent of fear that triggers an attack by a bear, every encounter would end with an attack. It would be the very rare human who, when suddenly encountering a bear, isn’t afraid. It is your body movements and how you conduct yourself that presents a threat, or not, to a bear.

It seems every year we have at least one unexpected encounter and we have yet to have a serious encounter from a black bear in 18 years. Living with nature, I find the black bears’ ability to hibernate for 7 months a year as astounding as the tiny hummingbirds ability to migrate hundreds of miles and stop at the very same spot along the way each year and then to return to a feeders specific location.

Nature is amazing and the hibernation ability of the black bear is especially interesting to me.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their wildlife observations and lifestyle go to: McElmurray's Mountain Retreat. Read all of Bruce's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Source: North American Bear Center.


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.









Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.