Future Conservation Leaders: Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California, is home to bald eagles, scrub jays, and the most adorable foxes you may ever see! This summer, the island is also home to high school students from the Los Angeles area, working side by side with scientists. Co-host Caroline Raville spent some time with these young people to learn about LEAF, Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future. This Nature Conservancy program not only gives high school students a chance to enjoy nature, but provides a spark for many of them to pursue careers in science and conservation.
Natural Resources Revival: A county in eastern Oregon has transformed from being dependent on timber, to being a pioneer in using its natural resources. Lake County is known as the “Saudi Arabia” of geothermal power. Its schools and hospitals are already taking advantage of sustainable energy sources including solar and wind power as well. Folks who used to be at odds, from the lumber industry and conservation groups, have put aside their differences to come up with sustainable answers for the future.
A Fight for Frogs: A third of the world’s amphibians face extinction, with more than 400 animals listed as “critically endangered.” Habitat loss is one major threat, and that’s the challenge for the gopher frog. Their population is now at an alarming low. These amphibians need both sandy, forested areas, and wetlands in order to breed. But development is making it tougher and tougher for them to survive. Sharon Collins of Georgia Public Broadcasting shows us how scientists are working to save these animals.
Saving the Upper Rio Grande: In northern New Mexico the Rio Grande runs through a spectacular gorge formed by a rift in the Earth’s crust. This river corridor is a critical flyway for migratory birds, and the arid plateau on either side of it is a major migration habitat for elk and deer. A pending bill in Congress would protect these areas as the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area, in addition to designating two majestic cinder cone mountains east and west of the plateau as protected wilderness. The bill has widespread support among local Hispanic farmers and ranchers because it would allow their traditional hunting, grazing, fishing and wood-gathering to continue, preserving the culture that developed there over hundreds of years.
Facing Climate Change with Wind Power: Severe drought has taken a toll on farming and ranching communities in Eastern New Mexico. Residents are trying to adjust for prolonged dry times, and some are finding salvation in wind turbine projects that generate revenue for them as well as power for the Southwest.
Flying Aces of the Insect World: Just how do these insects pull off complex aerial feats, hunting and reproducing in midair? These four- winged insects pre-date dinosaurs, and can fly straight up, straight down, or hover like helicopters. Researchers are getting some inspiration from these insects, to improve small- scale aircraft design.
Peel Watershed: A hundred miles from the Alaska border in Canada’s Yukon Territory, the Peel Watershed is a huge area of wild and pristine rivers, arboreal forests and mountain ranges. Caribou from Alaska migrate to and from the region, but they face threats from a modern day gold rush that also threatens other wildlife including grizzly bears and wolverines. Efforts are underway to protect this land, and these fragile ecosystems. But it looks like a fight is brewing with miners and developers.
Indigo Snakes: Known as the “Lord of the Forest”, the eastern indigo snake is the largest native snake in North America, averaging six to seven feet in length. Endangered and in decline, this nonvenomous reptile is extinct from a third of its former range, the coastal plain of the Southeast. The Orianne Society is using cutting edge science, fire, and longleaf pine restoration to ensure the survival of not only indigo snakes, but an entire complex of animals that inhabit this unique landscape.
Idaho Wilderness: Its wild residents could fill a volume of some of the most iconic American wildlife: From elk and moose to spawning salmon, mountain goats and sheep to black bears and cougars. Efforts are underway to protect central Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds Mountains, designating 330,000 acres as wilderness. The proposed federal legislation would both protect these lands, and ensure economic sustainability.
Loggerhead Turtles: These animals make one of the most treacherous journeys of any creatures, without any parental involvement. Human development is making their survival even more dangerous. Sharon Collins of Georgia Public Broadcasting shows us how these amazing reptiles struggle in an epic journey. These large sea turtles are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Sandfish Lizard: The sandfish is a little lizard that lives in the Sahara Desert. Scientists are fascinated by its slithering moves. It can tuck its limbs close to its body, and literally “swim” through the sand, just like an eel wiggles its way through water. Physicists are studying this little creature, and using it to inspire new robotic moves that could one day help search-and-rescue crews find survivors in piles of rubble, left from disasters like Hurricane Katrina. The little sandfish is teaching us a lot about what it takes to worm through rugged terrain and debris.
Wrangling Water: Cattle are not the only things being rounded up in Florida. Ranchers are also herding water! For years, experts have searched for answers about how to increase water storage in the northern Everglades, and reduce the pollution levels. A pilot program pays ranchers to use their low-lying lands for “environmental services” – namely to store water. Water that’s captured during the June through October wet season can then be slowly released during dry months into the tributaries of Lake Okeechobee.
And it’s proving to be a good thing both for the economy and the environment.
Montana Wilderness: There’s an ambitious plan to protect 700,000 acres of new wilderness in Montana. And after many years of argument, it looks like local residents, loggers, hikers, and conservation groups have put aside their differences so nature is the big winner. You’ll meet one veteran outdoorsman, Smoke Elser, who’s almost as comfortable in this back woods as the elk and the bears are!
Bald Eagle Recovery: It was almost a national tragedy. The bold symbol the United States, the bald eagle, was nearly wiped out when pesticides interfered with their breeding. Our national bird has made quite a comeback, but there are still mysteries to solve in keeping the population healthy. Oregon Field Guide takes us to a “convocation,” a gathering of these regal birds, and introduces us to some of the heroes who saved them from extinction.
Lionfish Derby: It’s one of the most dramatic displays of how an invasive species can upset an ecosystem. Lionfish, originally from Asia, have found a comfortable home in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Government and conservation organizations have come up with some sporty ways to control these aggressive fish, because they are competing with commercially important species like snapper and grouper. We’ll take you to one “Lionfish Derby.”
Arctic White Geese: Snow geese and Ross’s geese make an almost unimaginable 3,000-mile migration each year. So it’s no wonder they enjoy spending a month or so in eastern Oregon, “bulking up” on tender grasses and nutritious bugs. The folks from Oregon Field Guide have captured the beauty of thousands of these birds on their stopover to the Arctic. Dedicated “citizen scientists” spend time during the birds’ respite to study them. Some say the sky is so filled with geese that it often looks like a snowstorm!
Veterans in the Great Outdoors: Some military veterans returning from combat have physical scars. Others have mental stresses that can also impact their families. We join the Sierra Club’s Stacy Bare, a U.S. Army veteran, on an adventure down the Colorado River, where veterans deepen their connections with the land, and one another. The camaraderie and the healing power of nature come through in this beautiful and rugged setting.
Tracking a Coral Killer: It’s a detective story that has unfolded in the waters off Key West, Florida. What’s been killing the Elkhorn coral? Biologist Kathryn Sutherland has identified human sewage as the source of the coral-killing pathogen that causes white pox disease. Elkhorn coral was listed for protection as an endangered species in 2006, largely due to white pox disease. Sutherland works with water treatment facilities in south Florida to try to make sure water is cleared of this pathogen before it goes back into the Atlantic.
Digging for Dinosaurs: Talk about a special delivery! Co-host Caroline Raville got to witness the recovery of thousands of pounds of dinosaur fossils by helicopter, deep in the Utah desert. Paleontologists from the Bureau of Land Management call Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument one of the best “bone yards” on the planet. Scientists continue to identify new species of dinosaurs and other reptiles in this remote area. Many are 75 million years old!
Sonoran Desert Protection: There’s a quiet beauty in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. A wide range of residents work to make sure wildlife and ancient artifacts here are protected, now and for the future. You’ll meet a pastor who’s come up with a game for his young parishioners to learn about nature. Local farmers embrace the daily visits of wild animals to their land. Conservationists, and even the U.S. Air Force, realize the need to keep this land safe for future generations.
“Swamp People”: The Okefenokee Swamp is constantly changing, from its river trails to its alligators and beautiful bird populations. Sharon Collins of Georgia Public Broadcasting joins some self-proclaimed “swamp people” who make their living in this National Wildlife Refuge. It is a wetland of international importance, but for anyone who visits, it is simply a captivating place to watch plants and animals.
Beaver Builders: Beavers are nature’s engineers. It turns out they are also good at restoring ailing ecosystems. In eastern Oregon, researchers are doing some extreme fieldwork (snorkeling in rivers and streams in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter!) to learn more about how beaver dams are helping create healthier streams and rivers for salmon, trout, songbirds, and for nearby communities.
Wrangling Water: Cattle are not the only things being rounded up at some Florida ranches. Residents are also herding water! And it’s proving to be a good thing both for the economy and the environment. A pilot program pays ranchers to use their low-lying lands to store water. Water that’s captured during the wet season can then be slowly released during dry months into the tributaries of Lake Okeechobee.
Body Electric: Ever listen to a fish? It’s possible with an electric knifefish! While better known electric eels use electricity to stun their prey, these creatures use electricity to navigate and communicate. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are intrigued by this sixth “electro sense,” and are learning more about how these fish use this tool to find their way around— and locate their next meal.
Census in the Smokies: This nature audit has been going on for 10 years and gives scientists a good idea about the trends of life in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A small army of “citizen scientists” help researchers collect specimens, and then analyze their findings.
Canyon Mysteries: A canyon can be an inspiring classroom, whether you are eight or 80. The stories behind two Georgia canyons could not be any different: Cloudland Canyon in the north is a natural wonder. But Providence Canyon in the southwest is now a tourist destination, in spite of the way earlier residents abused the land. Both intriguing stories come from Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Ailing Alligators: It’s hard to imagine many threats that alligators can’t handle. But in one Florida lake, chemical pollution is devastating these big reptiles with genetic birth defects. A disease sleuth is trying to get to the bottom of this bio-medical mystery, and his findings could help humans as well. We’ll take you to Lake Apopka in Central Florida for some daring scientific discovery.
Lights, Camera, Photosynthesis: Ready for your close-up? Some crops in Wisconsin are getting more than their 15 minutes of fame. As they sprout, hundreds of corn plants will have thousands of photos taken, to help researchers learn precisely how they grow. Researchers can track the function of specific genes, with the goal of creating hardier plants that can stay healthy in harsh conditions.
Wild Horses: There’s a romantic notion of wild mustangs, running free across the American West. The reality is more complicated. Horses are long-lived and don’t have many natural predators, so their populations can quickly get out of control. Adopting one of these magnificent animals can change the lives of horses, and humans. In eastern Oregon and across the West, a lot of animals are looking for loving homes. Find out what’s happening to protect them as well as the other wildlife in this beautiful landscape.
Bison Homecoming: The buffalo are back! One hundred years after Native American Michael Pablo sent his captive bison herd to Canada to help preserve the dwindling species, dozens of their direct descendants were released into the bison herd on the American Prairie Reserve in northern Montana. The World Wildlife Fund has been collaborating with the American Prairie Reserve to help restore the grasslands habitat for the bison, birds, and other important native species that roamed the region when Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805.
Preserving Tribal Languages: The passion of tribal elders and 21st century video technology are merging to bring new life to the Ojibwe language. Using “home movies” that depict everyday scenarios, experts at the University of Minnesota-Duluth are helping new generations learn and appreciate the language and culture.
Peregrine Protection: Peregrine falcons are making a comeback—in some most unusual places. With help from bird lovers in Iowa, this once nearly extinct raptor has a new place to call home—atop an Iowa skyscraper! Once nearly wiped out by DDT, local falconers and the state Department of Natural Resources helped design a nest box that’s keeping peregrine parents safe and cozy, and helping provide for a healthy new generation.
Soaring with Paragliders: Jumping off a cliff has never been so spectacular! Daredevils in Oregon use thermal currents in a sort of “yacht race in the sky.” 160 pilots joined the “Rat Race” in the intricate sport of paragliding. Their only source of power is the thermal lift from hot air. Even the crew of “Oregon Field Guide” at Oregon Public Broadcasting got in on the act during this breathtaking event.
Fiddler Crabs: Between their digging and mating rituals, fiddler crabs can amuse us endlessly! That big, odd claw on the male can be a weapon or an enticement to a female. But these little crustaceans also have a big impact on their environment. From watching them surround their burrows with mud balls, to viewing a parade of thousands of crabs scurrying across the wetlands, scientists are still trying to understand just where these animals fit into the coastal ecosystem.
Disappearing Chincoteague: Virginia’s Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge gets 1.4 million visits a year, making it one of the most popular in the country. The refuge is part of Assateague Island, home of the world famous Chincoteague ponies, and also 300 species of birds. But this tourist destination is changing rapidly. Rising sea levels will likely turn grasslands into marshes, drown the wetlands, and erase parts of the island completely. We’ll show you how the island is preparing for this dramatic change in landscape.
California Desert: The rugged desert around Death Valley, California is teeming with life. But you need the proper guide to make sure you see it all. 75 year-old Tom Budlong knows this wild place better than just about anyone. And he wants to protect the junipers, the Joshua trees, and the piñon trees from mining and other development. Nearby, date farmer Brian Brown helps eco-tourists learn more about the rich history of the land. They are working with many others to protect this stark but dynamic ecosystem.
Hurricane Sleuth: Not all hurricane hunters need to stand out in a storm to understand these powerful weather events. Geologists are taking a look back, using core samples to study deposits that were washed in during hurricanes. These archives from Mother Nature can paint a picture of the drama that took place hundreds of years ago. Researchers are also exploring the link between climate change and hurricanes—to help determine whether warmer oceans will mean tropical storms will get more intense.