The Eco-facts – includes articles on wildlife, national parks, forests, water, wastes, and population

The Eco-facts – includes articles on wildlife, national parks, forests, water, wastes, and population – 1994-1995 Environmental Almanac

Lynda Jones

PRESERVING THE “WILD” LIFE

More than 99 percent of all plant and animal species that ever lived on Earth are now extinct. Today, species are disappearing faster than ever.

The U.S. fried to stem the tide of extinction with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The act protects more than 700 species by labeling them endangered (close to extinction) or threatened (likely to be endangered in the future). Killing listed species, such as the Florida panther (above), or destroying their habitats is illegal.

Now officials are working to strengthen the act, and protect even more species.

P.F.

Why species become endangered

This pie chart shows the top five reasons plants and animals become endangered.

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ENDANGERED SPECIES CASE STUDIES

This table lists “case studies” of eight species on the endangered list.

SPECIES

American bald eagle

YEAR LISTED

1967

POPULATION

1989: 2,660 breeding pairs

1994: 4,016 breeding pairs

HABITAT

Lakes, rivers, and wetlands ecosystems

STATUS

Still endangered in most of lower 48 states, but government protection–including a ban on DDT, an eggshell-damaging pesticide–is helping. Illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and water pollution still threaten the species.

SPECIES

Black- footed ferret

YEAR LISTED

1970

POPULATION

1986: 18

1994: 435

HABITAT

Prairie and grasslands east of the Rocky Mountains

STATUS

Endangered. Was thought to be extinct after ranchers hunted its main source of food–prairie dogs. In 1986, scientists bred the last few ferrets in captivity and are now releasing them into protected territory.

SPECIES

Palos Verdes blue butterfly

YEAR LISTED

1980

POPULATION

1980: 100

1983: presumed extinct

1994: 200

HABITAT

Coastal scrub in San Pedro, California

STATUS

Endangered. People built a baseball field over its only known habitat in the early 1980s. Considered extinct until March 1994, when a scientist spotted a group of them in habitat protected by the Endangered Species Act.

SPECIES

Chisos mountain hedgehog cactus

YEAR LISTED

1992

POPULATION

1992: 100–200

1994: unknown, estimates in the thousands

HABITAT

Flats of gritty sand deposited by the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, Texas

STATUS

Threatened. Cattle grazing, habitat destruction, and illegal collection killed off most of this species before 1992. Then botanists began hand-pollenating the plants and growing them in botanical gardens.

SPECIES

Florida panther

YEAR LISTED

1967

POPULATION

1989: 30–50

1994: 30–50

HABITAT

Pine forests and wetlands in Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades National Park, Florida

STATUS

Endangered. Panthers are extremely crowded in their remaining gabitat. Inbreeding among closely related cats results in unhealthy offspring that are unable to reproduce.

SPECIES

Kemp’s ridley sea furtle

YEAR LISTED

1970

POPULATION

1989: about 300

1994: fewer than 700 females; males unknown

HABITAT

Beaches and coastal waters on the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico

STATUS

Endangered. Biologists have bred turtles in captivity and released them, but none of those turtles has ever returned to its home beach to nest. Many young turtles drown in shrimpers’ nets.

SPECIES

Presidio manzanita (shrub)

YEAR LISTED

1979

POPULATION

1994: 1

HABITAT

A sunlit patch of acidic soil near San Francisco Bay, California

STATUS

Endangered. Only one of these plants lives today in very rare acidic soil that is toxic to most plants. Scientists are trying to grow cuttings from the plant before it dies.

SPECIES

American burying beetle

YEAR LISTED

1989

POPULATION

1989: unknown

1994: 2,000– 3,000 in Rhode Island (other states unknown)

HABITAT

Old-growth forests with deep topsoil in Rhode Island, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska

STATUS

Endangered. A mated pair of beetles “buries” a dead animal so the female beetle can lay her eggs in the carcass. The insects don’t reprocuce often because numbers of birds or rodents they select for “burial” are also declining due to habitat loss.

NATIONAL PARKS

The Endangered Species Act protects plants and animals that are already near extinction. A different approach: Protect habitats, places where species live, before the inhabitants become endangered. That’s one reason the government established a system of National Parks, where hunting species or destroying habitats is prohibited.

Last October, Congress set aside millions of acres of California desert for two new parks: Death Valley and Joshua Tree. These and the 51 other National Parks represent many different habitats (see map, right). Every year, millions of people visit these areas to enjoy unspoiled nature. How do the tourists affect the wilderness?

P.F.

National Park habitats

This map shows the National Parks and major habitats of the U.S.

Temperate rain forest

Ancient coniferous (cone-bearing needle leaf) evergreen forests; moderate temperatures and considerable rainfall year-round.

Temperate forest

Mixture of deciduous (autumn leaf-shedding) trees and needleleaf evergreen trees; warm summers, cold winters, with moderate seasonal rain/snowfall

Mountains

High-altitude needleleaf evergreen trees and open grasslands; cold winters.

Grassland

Open fields of grass; dry, windy summers and freezing winters.

Desert

Sparse shrubs, grasses, cacti, vines; hot and dry days and chilly nights, with very little rain year-round.

Wetlands

Water-soaked grasslands, swamps, bogs, and marshes.

Tundra

Sparse, subarctic grasslands with dwarf frees; very cold and dry nine months of the year, warmer and wetter in summer.

Tropical rain forest

Thick broadleaf evergreen forests; high temperatures and considerable rainfall year-round.

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FAB FACTS

* Most-visited National Park: Great Smoky Mountains. Least-visited: Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic.

* The Grand Canyon in Arizona may be the world’s biggest land gorge (21km at its widest point), but Kings Canyon in California is the deepest (2.5km).

* The 51 U.S. National Parks and the two new parks put together total more than 215,000[km.sup.2], an area roughly the size of Idaho.

TREES UNDER SIEGE

It takes just 10 minutes for a logger to cut down a 1,000-year-old tree. No wonder our forests are disappearing. About 10,000 years ago, trees covered about 36 percent of Earth’s land area. As civilizations sprang up, people cleared land for timber, farming, and cattle ranching. Only one fourth of Earth’s forests remain.

Protecting our forests is a global concern. Trees provide us with oxygen to breathe and regulate our climate (see SW 11/18/94, p.29). Forests are home to people and countless plant and animal species. The info here shows how critical the problem of deforestation is. What might you do to help?

L.J.

Growing up

In the U.S. only 10 percent of our old-growth forests remain. The timeline below shows how many years it takes for a forest to “grow old.” Scientists call this process succession.

0–5 years: BARREN LAND Animals or winds carry seeds from trees, shrubs, grasses, and weeds to barren land.

5–10 years: PIONEER STAGE First grasses, forbs (nongrass weeds), and shrubs appear.

10–20 years: SAPLINGS First trees grow.

20–65 years: SERAL STAGE Pole stands (groups of saplings) grow taller and block sunlight from reaching the understory–lower growing shrubs, grasses, and weeds.

65–90 years: INTERMEDIATE STAGE Understory species begin to die off. Other species that are more tolerant of shade, such as ferns, become established. Natural thinning of trees occurs due to crowding.

90–200 years: CONTINUED GROWTH

200+ years: CLIMAX STAGE Mature to old-growth (250-year-old) timber: As some trees die off and let sunlight through to forest floor, dormant seeds of understory begin to grow again.

How we use forest wood

Every year timber companies cut more than 407 million cubic meters of wood from U.S. forests. That’s enough wood to fill more than 100 Empire State Buildings. This pie chart shows what we use the wood for.

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Source: Scholastic Environmental Atlas of the United States, Scholastic Inc., 1993.

FAB FACTS

* The amount of newspapers you need to recycle to save one 11-12m tree: a stack 1.2m high.

* The tallest tree in the world: The 114m coast redwood in Redwood National Park, California. That’s as tall as 68 average-size teens standing one on top of another.

* The area of tropical rain forest destroyed every hour: 23.5 [km.sup.2].

WATER, WATER … WHERE?

The water you use today may have once quenched the thirst of a dinosaur. That’s because all the water we have on Earth now is all we’ve ever had–or will ever have.

More than 1 trillion kiloliters of water evaporates from oceans, rivers, and lakes each day. In the atmosphere, the moisture condenses and precipitates–falls to Earth as rain or snow. At any one time, 97 percent of the water going through this cycle fills Earth’s salty oceans. Another 2 percent is frozen. That means only 1 percent of the planet’s water is fresh and available for us to drink. Kind of makes you want to conserve and keep it all clean.

–P.F.

Water diary

What’s that going down the drain? Your soap? Your rubber duck? Your grades? No, it’s water–lots of it. This sample diary records how much water a teen uses in one day. Keep your own diary and compare. Can you think of ways to cut back?

Time/Activity Liters Used

7:00 AM

Got up:

Took 10-min. shower 208.0

Brushed teeth (with water running) 7.5

Flushed toilet 19.0

Washed hands 2.0

7:30 AM

Ate breakfast:

Drank orange juice (88% water) 0.21

Ate cereal with milk (90% water) 0.22

10:00 AM

Dissected frog in biology class:

Washed hands 2.0

12:00 PM

Ate lunch:

Drank apple juice (88% water) 0.32

Ate hamburger with lettuce and

tomato (59% water) 0.16

12:45 PM

Took bathroom break:

Flushed toilet 19.0

Washed hands 2.0

1:30 PM

Got sweaty in gym class:

Took a gulp at water fountain 0.24

Took 5-min. shower 104.0

3:00 PM

Home at last:

Snacked on muffin and milk 0.22

4:00 PM

Washed dog with hose 114.0

Had water fight with brother 34.0

5:00 PM

Flushed toilet 19.0

Washed hands 2.0

6:00 PM

Ate dinner:

Drank 2 glasses of water 0.48

Ate spaghetti with meatballs

(71% water) 0.38

Washed dishes (with water

running) 76.0

10:00 PM

Got ready for bed:

Flushed toilet 19.0

Washed hands 2.0

Washed face 2.0

Brushed teeth 7.5

Total = 641.23 liters

Sources: New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection; USDA Nutrient Data Branch

FAB FACTS

* The average human body is 65 percent water by weight; a tree is 90 percent water.

* If Earth were the size of a beach ball, all the water on the planet would fill one measuring cup. On that scale, just a single drop would be fresh enough to drink.

* 136L of water fills the average bath; a 10-minute shower uses 208L.

* A water molecule might “float” in the atmosphere for about nine days before condensing and falling as rain or snow. The same water molecule could remain in the ocean for 3,000 years.

* To stay healthy, teens should drink 2L of water each day.

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WARON WASTES

Is Earth turning into one giant trash can? Americans alone toss more than 234 million metric tons of garbage each year–more than any other country. That’s about 2kg per person every day! As the world’s population increases–and produces more waste–our options for waste disposal become more limited. By the year 2000, 80 percent of U.S. landfills will be full.

But the Dolphin Defenders, a kids’ environmental group (pictured above) from St. Louis, Missouri, say there is hope. Recycling trash, as they do, helps. And it makes money, which the Defenders have contributed to causes such as rain-forest preservation. Use the facts and figures here to see how you too can make a difference.

–L.J.

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WHERE DOES YOUR GARBAGE GO?

METHOD OF WASTE DISPOSAL

LANDFILL: A dump piled high with paper, plastics, glass, metals, rubber, wood, leather, textiles, and yard and food wastes; covered with earth.

% OF WASTE DISPOSED OF THIS WAY

62

PROS

Usually located far away from urban areas; cheapest method of waste disposal; sometimes provides land for recreational areas.

CONS

Lack of oxygen underground prevents waste from decomposing (breaking down); chemicals in waste may leak into water supply; fumes from buried garbage pollute the air and may cause respiratory illnesses.

METHOD OF WASTE DISPOSAL

RECYCLING: Process of sorting and reusing materials such as paper, glass, metals, textiles, rubber, and wood.

% OF WASTE DISPOSED OF THIS WAY

18

PROS

Decreases amount of waste buried in landfills or burned in incinerators; is steadily increasing in the U.S.

CONS

Expensive; not enough consumer involvement; demand for some products such as plastics and paper are low (but steadily increasing).

METHOD OF WASTE DISPOSAL

WASTE-TO-ENERGY INCINERATION: Burning paper, plastics, rubber, wood, yard and food wastes, and textiles as fuel to generate electricity.

% OF WASTE DISPOSED OF THIS WAY

16

PROS

Produces enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes nationwide.

CONS

Buring trash gives off toxic ash, which may cause respiratory illnesses; cities must dump the ash in landfills; the numbers of waste-to-energy plants are decreasing due to low demand and increased recycling efforts.

METHOD OF WASTE DISPOSAL

COMPOSTING: Mixing organic materials (yard trimmings, paper, and food waste) with oxygen to promote decay. Bacteria break down the waste, releasing stored nutrients. Composting facilities sell the leftovers as plant fertilizer.

% OF WASTE DISPOSED OF THIS WAY

3

PROS

Used to fertilize crops.

CONS

Harmful toxins from metals in some waste materials may be present in the compost. These toxins could end up in the fertilizer and possibly in our food.

METHOD OF WASTE DISPOSAL

INCINERATION (without energy recovery): Burning solid wastes in a giant furnace.

% OF WASTE DISPOSED OF THIS WAY

1

PROS

Large cities use incinerators when landfill space is limited.

CONS

Burning may release gases and ash that may cause respiratory illnesses in humans. The ash pollutes the air, blackens buildings, and kills plants by clogging pores in leaf cells and preventing the plants from taking in carbon dioxide.

HAZARDOUS WASTES

Warning: Some wastes may be hazardous to your health. For example, toxic chemicals in some products (which you might even have at home) can seep into drinking-water supplies; poisonous gases can pollute the air and cause respiratory diseases. These wastes should be dumped in sealed containers that don’t leak. But some do leak.

In 1980, the federal government set up a program called Superfund to clean up more than 37,000 “leaking” hazardouswaste dump sites. Workers at these sites must wear protective gear to keep from being contaminated (see photo, above). So far, 346 sites have been cleaned up.

–L.J.

Superfund sites

Areas with the most Superfund (hazardous-waste) sites:

Metro area Number of sites

New York City/Northern

New Jersey 56

Philadelphia, PA 44

San Francisco, CA 29

Chicago, IL 22

Minneapolis, MN 22

Source: World Resources Institute

HOUSEHOLD HAZARDS

The average home contains 63 “hazardous” chemicals. Most are safe to toss in the trash. Listed here are three that need special handling.

PRODUCT/HAZARDOUS CHEMICAL(S)

ANTIFREEZE (ethylene glycol)

HAZARDS OF DISPOSAL

If dumped in landfill, may leak into soil and water supply; low doses may cause nausea, headaches, or digestive problems; high doses can kill.

PROPER DISPOSAL

Take empty containers to an auto service station that collects them for pickup and disposal. Some manufacturers recycle antifreeze.

PRODUCT/HAZARDOUS CHEMICAL(S)

MOTOR OIL (benzene)

HAZARDS OF DISPOSAL

If dumped in landfill, oil may seep into soil, poisoning groundwater and plants; low doses may cause nausea and digestive problems; high doses can kill.

PROPER DISPOSAL

Take to gas station or auto service shop that collects and returns the waste to the manufacturer; the oil can be recycled or burned for fuel.

PRODUCT/HAZARDOUS CHEMICAL(S)

BATTERIES (cadmium, mercury, lead)

HAZARDS OF DISPOSAL

If dumped in landfills, toxic metals may leak into groundwater; low doses may cause nauseau, headaches, or digestive problems; high doses may lead to brain or nerve damage or cancer.

PROPER DISPOSAL

Take to a shop that collects them for pickup; take to a recycling center; call your local Department of Environmental Protection for other disposal options. Use rechargeable or solar-powered batteries, instead.

POPULATION PUZZLE

In September, leaders from more than 180 nations met in Egypt to discuss the impact of the world’s growing population. More than 5.66 billion people inhabit Earth today. By 2050, that number could double (see graph).

Can our planet sustain the growing crowd? Or will Earth’s population rapidly use up the planet’s natural resources? The key may be in finding ways to share resources and limit environmental damage.

P.S. During the 9-day conference, the world’s population grew by 2.2 million.

–C.F.

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FAB FACT

How fast is the world’s population growing? Here’s the number of people born in one…

year 89,458,000

month 7,454,834

week 1,720,346

day 245,090

hour 10,212

minute 170

second 2.8

Source: USA Today

COPYRIGHT 1994 Scholastic, Inc.

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