Category Archives: wetlands

Greylag Geese and a conservation story for the new year

As we count down to the end of the noughties (which in so many ways have been quite dismal for biodiversity on our planet), it is nice to find some rays of hope, some silver linings, so we can look forward to the next year and the coming decade not entirely bereft of optimism. I am glad, therefore, to share with you, this guest post from Sumit K. Sen who offers just such a story of reconciliation ecology in action in one of the poorest regions of India:

Greylag Geese and a conservation story for the new year
The new year is always a time for good cheer and hope. It has been some time since I have found anything to cheer about in terms of conservation success as far as birds are concerned. All I have seen and read are about the struggle of selfless individuals against the forces of destructive development. But for me the best stories are the ones that are spontaneous – those that come from enlightenment and not mere education. To witness such spontaneous acts of conservation has been a life-enriching experience for me – and I have found some true conservationists in places like faraway Mizoram, and closer home at Santragachi and Rajhat.

Last Saturday, Bhaskar Das and I ventured on a 250 km drive from Kolkata to a small unheralded village in Birbhum District of rural West Bengal – to the agricultural settlement of Parulia. Parulia is an impoverished village living on the brink of existence. Its inhabitants, like most people of the district are a mix of tribals and other locals. All meat-eaters, and many partly hunter-gatherers. Little is known about Parulia except that it came into prominence in early 2008 because of the spread of bird flu in the district. There were talks of cull of migratory ducks and tales of local resistance – one villager being quoted as saying: ” The birds come here every winter. We love them.”  That was about all that was known about Parulia as a place for birds or about its conservation success.

The existence of Parulia and its association with birds would have passed into obscurity for us had it not been for Mr. Anup Kr. Dey. Mr. Dey is a bird lover and his passion for birds and birding was fueled by the internet and the presence of websites such as ‘Birds of India’ and forums like ‘Bird Photo India’ and ‘Bengalbird’. In these he found cyber companions to encourage and support his lonely  pursuit of birds of Birbhum District – and I was lucky that he chose to share his pent up passion with me over mail/phone. Being a District Engineer, Mr. Dey knows every nook and corner of his district, and it was his description of Parulia that urged our 4.30 am departure on a cold and foggy morning.

We reached Parulia by 9.30am, guided by Mr. Dey from Suri onwards. An agricultural landscape dotted with small ponds took us to a square irrigation tank 170 meters across. In it were about 400 Greylags – some  feeding,  others resting while the rest of the village went about their business ~ with some even washing utensils while the geese swam past. It was an unbelievable sight to us from eastern India – a sight which is proof that conservation is way beyond some forest guards doing their duty or some highly educated people making their passion and presence felt. This is grassroot conservation from the heart and I wish that there are many more like these.

I could not think of ending 2009 with a better story. Here is hoping that there will be more like this in 2010.


1. Parulia is here: . It is 3kms north-east of Santhia town.
2. Greylag Geese: Greylag Geese are winter visitors to India from eastern Europe and Asia from the Urals eastwards. Asad Rahmani & Zafar-ul-Islam in Ducks, Geese and Swans of India (BNHS 2008) estimate that about 15,000 winter in India. 1% population (150 in this case) in a single area is considered significant for conservation. This is the biggest known single site for this species in West Bengal at present times.

Waterfowl groups oppose proposed Central Valley power line routes

Isn’t it enough that the once expansive wetlands of California’s great Central Valley have already been drained, squeezed dry, filled with agricultural runoff, and put under plow and bulldozer, reducing them to less than 10% of their original area? We now have to put new power lines through them also? Why? The question is raised by several conservation groups, including some representing hunters who want to save the waterfowl so they can shoot them for recreation! (an aside for my reconciliation ecology class: Robin would have loved this, eh?) as reported in this LA Times blog:

Ducks Unlimited and the California Waterfowl Assn. are calling on members, waterfowl hunters and conservationists to voice their concern and opposition to a new power line construction proposal, stating that the suggested routes will negatively affect many of the waterfowl habitats and hunting areas in central California (for maps of area involved click here).The Transmission Agency of Northern California Transmission Project would place transmission towers and lines along approximately 600 miles, including portions of numerous wildlife refuges.

‘Ducks Unlimited and waterfowl hunters are not opposing the new energy in the region, we would just like to see wetlands and other wildlife habitat protected from the placement of power lines in these proposed routes,’ Rudy Rosen, director of Ducks Unlimited Western Regional office said.

“Ducks Unlimited and waterfowl hunters are not opposing the new energy in the region, we would just like to see wetlands and other wildlife habitat protected from the placement of power lines in these proposed routes,” Rudy Rosen, director of Ducks Unlimited Western Regional office said.

The DU website states that less than 250,000 acres of wetland remain of an area that once encompassed 3 million to 5 million acres. The proposed power lines will threaten this relatively small acreage that wintering and breeding waterfowl are dependent on.

Waterfowl experts say that large power lines impact birds, especially in foggy conditions when large waterbirds such as geese, cranes, herons and swans are killed or injured when they hit the lines.

“California’s Central Valley winters or provides migration habitat for 60% of the Pacific Flyway’s waterfowl and 20% of North America’s waterfowl population,” added Rosen. “This is not just a California issue but should be addressed by everyone in the U.S.”

Could the mulch in your suburban backyard have been absorbing hurricanes instead?

mulch-madness-320x324.jpgAnd wouldn’t that be a better use for that organic matter, in a more global scheme of things? Sure, you can make your landscape look nice, your flowerbeds and shrubbery healthy, and perhaps even more naturalistic, with some good old nature-grown mulch. What could be so bad about that? Well, it kinda depends upon where that mulch is coming from. What if it is made of wood harvested from the cypress forests on the Louisiana coast? The same forests which are probably the best buffers against the next Katrina or Rita? And what if you have no way of knowing if that bag of mulch in the hardware /garden superstore contains any of that valuable Louisiana cypress? This story in Mother Jones sure has given me much to ponder before our next trip to the garden store, which I suspect will come sooner rather than later now given the nice spring we are in the midst of (but I can put any mulch-related bad karma on to my better half’s account since she’s the one with the green thumb!).

This paragraph from the excellent article really rung my irony-meter (and you know how I like that):

After the 1920s, when loggers hacked down the last of the old growth, the timber industry more or less forgot about cypress. With levees newly in place, the Gulf of Mexico crept inland, and the second-generation cypress matured in shallow, brackish water. They grew tall but skinny, making them worthless for lumber—you might get one decent plank out of a whole log—so nobody bothered to cut them. That is, until a housing boom cranked up the demand for landscaping mulch. Between 2000 and 2004, new home construction in Louisiana soared by 56 percent. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, home construction spiked another 26 percent; in addition to mulch surrounding new construction, homeowners replaced mountains of old mulch that were washed away.

So, here’s the development cycle for you: Build new homes along the lovely Gulf coast by clearing some of the forests that keep that coast lovely and protected from hurricane damage; cut down more of that same protective forest to make mulch to make your new homes lovelier; watch all that lovely mulch get washed away along with your home when the next really big hurricane or two come along; and a couple of years later… rinse, and repeat?!!

Ain’t it wonderful how we keep coming up with new ways to unintentionally threaten our own habitats while trying to make them look prettier? O Biophilia where will you lead us next?

Peatland Alert: peatland loss fuels climate change

From Wetlands International comes this short video about the loss of peatlands and how that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. The film highlights one of the projects run by this NGO to restore peatland in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. It is being shown at major international meetings such as last December’s UN Climate Conference in Bali and the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn in May 2008 as part of an effort to advocate for more peatland restoration efforts to mitigate against greater CO2 and methane emissions. Of course, you don’t have to wait until then to watch the video and read this report and this more comprehensive one to convince yourself that the world needs more peat: