Warfare, wildlife, and biodegradable bullets

The winner for strangest environmental concept this week goes to the biodegradable bullet. I have seen this news story all over and I’m not sure how I feel about this idea. I am not really pro-gun in any sense. I concede that for people in rural areas, who may hunt or need to scare off predators, a firearm (like a shotgun) is a practical tool. Otherwise I don’t see why anyone needs or wants one.

8073823931_de7c8f2c8f_m(photo credit: John Spade, Flickr)

However, I am aware that shooting ranges exist and some people do that for fun. As an environmentalist, an initiative to reduce the amount of toxic metal mined, and then left to pollute the earth, is an intriguing idea. Add in potential for regrowth through seeds held in biodegradable capsules and suddenly this sounds more like a science fiction than real life.

But the US Department of Defense has been looking into these bullets to replace the live rounds currently used in their training, so it’s not fiction. This might be the first time I have ever heard of an army intentionally attempting to mitigate environmental costs; although, I have heard of accidental environmental benefits of warfare.

The area between the North and South Korean borders is called the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ). It’s often considered the most dangerous border in the world. In 2012 the Guardian ran an article about this border and its surprising status as a wildlife haven. The political situation that makes it so dangerous for people has created a place that shelters several endangered and rare species. I would not call it a silver lining, because war is a terrible and heartbreaking condition of humanity. But it is a reminder that while we go about doing wonderful and terrible things to each other, the world lives on regardless.

It seems spectacular, and ridiculous to think that someone decided to turn something deadly into a source of life and rejuvenation. It makes you think that the way through to a better future just requires looking at what seems to be inevitable and then changing the rules.

Sources: IFLScienceSBIR/STTREarth NutshellThe Guardian


Discover Parks Canada

c150-discovery-pass   2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canada, and all National Parks are free for the year!

I have already ordered my Discovery Pass and I am very excited to spend as much time as possible in the National Parks this year.

The National Parks were created for preservation of habitats, wildlife and ecosystem diversity, with an eye to preserve that which is most unique in each of our natural regions. They range vastly in size from 14 km2 to almost 45,000 km2. The total area protected is roughly 300,000 km2 or 3% of the entire country.

The system began in 1885, when a portion of land was set aside for public use – the Cave and Basin Hot Springs, the beginning of what is now known as Banff National Park. It grew in bursts, beginning with sectioning off more pieces of land for the public, until eventually an organization was created to combine these spaces and create new ones.

I have been telling friends and family about the free park passes in order to share this awesome occurrence with as many people as possible. I have already begun planning on visiting new parks, and more parks than usual, due to this deal.

What I did not anticipate was the backlash. The nature gatekeepers, if you will. The people who commented under articles about this opportunity that their favourite places will be ‘ruined’ and that there will be a wave of ‘city’ people, tainting the parks, making a mess or otherwise behaving in an unfit manner.

I have met amazing, friendly, lovely, outdoorsy people. I meet them while hiking, or camping, or biking, or enjoying a nature trail at a sedate rate. Everyone is always so energized and happy to be outside, to enjoy our abundance of nature, to make the most of our beautiful country and our occasional good weather.

It was upsetting to see that so many people have this ‘us’ or ‘them’ mentality. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the free time and funds to frequently visit parks. Some people just don’t feel the need to go very often, but will take advantage of the lack of fees to spend some time there this year. Regardless, the parks are for everyone – and hopefully an increase in interactions with the parks will continue to inspire people to protect what we currently have for future generations.

According to Parks Canada: “[Parks] are protected for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, while being maintained in an unimpaired state for future generations.”

Note the first aspect is understanding. People can’t appreciate or enjoy what they do not know or experience. The second aspect is what worries others – that uncaring droves of tourists might mess up the parks. There will always be people to whom the state of our natural world is not a priority but they are vastly outnumbered not only by those who do care, but by those who simply do not know what it is they should be protecting. Those people deserve a chance to explore the parks and get to see what’s around them.

While some parks have experienced a decrease in visitors, overall there has been an upward trend. The number of people who used the parks (including the marine areas and reserves) in 2010-2011 was 12,529,627. Last year that number rose to 14,469,008.

Crowds are not fun for anyone. But I’d like to think the majority of people are encouraging newcomers to come see what the Parks have to offer, instead of chasing them away with the idea that only a limited number of people should have the privilege to be there.

Sources: Parks CanadaParks Canada AttendanceHistorica Canada

The Landlocked Dune


South of the downtown core, in a slow suburban area, the trees give way to an interesting sight. The ground underfoot loses the grass, becoming sandier, and the view gives way to reveal Piney Sand Dune.

The dune is located at the corner of Pineland Ave and Vaan Dr. It’s the only inland sand dune in Ottawa and has survived for an impressive amount of time – it dates back to the ice ages, some 10, 000 years. The dunes were created the usual way – in the waning years of the ice age the area used to be an inland sea that eventually drained and changed until only the dunes were left.

The dunes and surrounding forest became a conservation area in 1984 when donated to the NCC by Mr. Pinhey.

As one can expect from a unique ecosystem, there are several plants and animals that can only be found in this location. As can also be expected, it’s an environment that has required some special care in order to survive.

Biodiversity conservation was responsible for its restoration in 2011. In 2012 a non-profit, Pinhey Dunes Watch, took over stewardship of the area. Without this work it would probably take only a decade for the dune to disappear, taking its unique ecosystem with it.

The Biodiversity Conservancy maintains a list of the species that can only be found locally in this location, most of which are insects, beetles, and butterflies, along with specialized plants. The Ghost Tiger beetle that blends into the sand where it lives; the Antlion beetle that has a trapping method for hunting and eating ants; Carex rugosperma a grass that can only grow in sandy soil; Star Fungus, which grows primarily around the edges of dunes; the Pinklady Slipper Orchid which has a symbiotic relationship with fungus in the area and would not survive transplantation efforts.

There used to be thriving spider populations as well but an increase in herbicide usage nearby during the 80s led to their disappearance.

It’s an interesting relic from a different time – for those who like to explore the area they live in and find unexpected treasures in their backyard, Pinhey Sand Dune certainly fits the bill. An unexpected geographic feature tucked away, hidden unless you know where to look.


Sources: http://biodiversityconservancy.org/sand_dune.html; http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/greenbelt/southern-farm-pinhey-forest; http://www.ottawagatineaugeoheritage.ca/subsites/25.

The Doomsday Vault


The Svalbard Global Seed Bank, as the name implies, is currently home to over 430,000 species of plants, with room for up to 4.5 million samples. Svalbard naturally provides the perfect environment for storing biological supplies, as it is both very cold and low in humidity. The ambitious project was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and built into an abandoned mine site. The vault is also used for conferences and events, hosting environmentalists, policy-makers, and government personnel in order to tackle the environmental issues plaguing the world today.

While the project seems like an ambitious intellectual project its nickname as the Doomsday Vault gives rise to the more pessimistic side of seed banks, of which Svalbard is just one. While previous generations feared the apocalypse in the form of nuclear destruction, our generation fears a more biological destruction, a slow break down of order as extreme weather events, floods, and droughts make stable environments scarcer and more valuable. The vault protects against this some-what plausible scenario of future catastrophe. Most people in countries with stable governments fail to realize that these scenarios are already playing out across the world. The Svalbard Vault opened in 2008, and this year the first request has already arrived. A Lebanon-based seed bank that used to be located in Syria has requested that 130 boxes of samples they had previously stored in the vault be given to them as they relocate to a new location in Beirut.

If the Svalbard Vault did not exist there was a possibility that several germlines could have been lost during the ongoing war in Syria. The importance of having a global back up is clear, though it’s not a good sign that it’s resources have been required so soon after its creation. While the preservation of biodiversity is one of its main goals, the preservation of food security, through as many biologically distinct strains of edible plants as possible, is equally important and has been a growing concern. Between violence in countries like Syria, making regular farming and food production activities an impossibility, climate change driving extremes, and monoculture overtaking increasing amounts of farmland, vaults like the one in Svalbard will only become increasingly necessary.


Picture is the illumnated rood of the Svalbard seed bank, Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust

Source one, and source two