Thursday, September 28, 2006

Top 10 Ways to Help Wildlife

Here are 10 things we can all do to help wildlife, both locally and globally.

1. Reduce greenhouse gases by driving fuel-efficient cars. Global warming is destroying wildlife habitats at an accelerating rate, from polar bears on melting ice caps to marine life in overheated ocean currents, to breeding songbirds whose seasonal insect prey emerge at the wrong time, to mountain ecosystems restricted to higher and higher altitudes as temperatures rise.

2. Live close to where you work and shop. Walk, bike, use mass transit. These habits not only reduce greenhouse gases from vehicles, they also reduce your reliance on roads. Roads chop up animal habitats, breaking up animal populations into isolated groups too small to sustain themselves. Car collisions are also a leading cause of wildlife deaths.

3. When you choose plantings for your yard, choose native plants that feed wildlife. To find out what plants are native to your area, see the section on the National Wildlife Federation web site about creating a wildlife habitat in your yard. Or google "native plants" plus your state. Many states have a "Native Plant Society"; also, most areas have nurseries that offer some native plants. Examples of native plants that feed birds are dogwoods, persimmon trees, mulberry trees.

4. Keep cats indoors. Housecats kill about one billion small mammals every year, and at least 400 million songbirds every year, just in the United States. Many of our songbirds are migrants who are already in trouble from deforestation of the tropics. Cats kept indoors have a much longer life expectancy and are much less likely to have accidents leading to expensive vet bills.

5. If you are serious about helping wildlife, don't eat fish. Modern fishing practices, such as blastfishing, "long lines", and gill nets, kill much more than the targeted fish species, including marine mammals and seabirds such as albatrosses and puffins. The "bycatch," thrown back dead, often exceeds the targeted catch.

6. That includes farmed fish. Many fish farms are enclosures at sea. Antibiotics, antifungal agents, and dyes to color the fish's flesh are dumped into the fish enclosures, but only a fraction of these substances stay in the enclosure. The remainder drifts out and pollutes ecosystems in the vicinity. If you must eat fish, check the "Oceans Alive" website for guidance.

7. Don't buy anything made of wildlife body parts, including traditional medicines, belts, shoes, carvings, gifts, novelties, dried sea creatures in surf shops. If you're not sure what it's made of, ask, and ask again.

8. Don't buy wild-caught pets of any kind. If you must buy pets that we usually think of as wild animals, make sure the animal was bred in captivity. This includes lizards, snakes, turtles, birds, primates, and just about anything else. The blackmarket trade in wildlife and wildlife parts is second only to the trade in illegal drugs as the most lucrative blackmarket enterprise on the planet. It's depleting many wild populations. The nation that imports the most primates each year? The United States. We import 20,000 primates per year, many of them wild-caught, because wild ones are cheaper.

9. Eat fewer animal products. And choose pastured animal products. Factory farming is extremely damaging to the environment, which means wildlife habitats. Livestock gobble our grains, thus requiring a lot of land to raise grains for them. Controlling the waste of 50,000 animals on a factory farm is impossible. Even the best-managed waste lagoons leak, quite legally, into rivers and streams and well water.

10. When you make choices in favor of wildlife, be vocal and visible about it. If your community holds public hearings about land-use decisions, go and speak out in favor of saving county properties as nature preserves. Support your local land conservancy. On a day-to-day basis, tell store managers how wildlife concerns affect your buying decisions. Ask your Home Depot and other nurseries to carry native plants and tell them why. Ask your neighbors to keep their cats indoors. Write a letter to your newspaper. Grassroots efforts like these can make the difference!

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