Tom Andersen

Bird flu and birders

Avian flue expert calls on birders to become first-alert front

Like anyone who's neither an idiot nor willfully ignorant, I've followed the avian flu issue with enough depth and interest to know that it's scary as hell. Yesterday I happened to pick up a copy of the International Herald Tribune (it was in the lobby of the Zurich hotel we stayed in after a week of skiing in the Alps; yes, I know, life is tough) and read a scary piece about how avian flu has turned up on a poultry farm in France, forcing French health authorities to quarantine a farm family. The family's young daughter was away from home when the outbreak was discovered and she's not allowed to return home, and because the local postman is afraid, he leaves the family's medicine on the road near their farmhouse. And then I read a scary piece about how avian flu is likely to make its way around the globe, written by Laurie Garrett, who apparently has written a scary book about the topic. Her analysis is fascinating, but so is her solution -- mainly because it relies heavily on the longtime footsoldiers of grassroots environmental activism. Writes Garrett: "One of the best untapped resources in this epic battle against influenza is bird-watchers, who are among the most fanatic hobbyists in the world."

Activist prosecutor chasing environmental crimes

Gets national reforms on the basis of local violations

Can somebody with more knowledge and experience tell me if something extraordinary is going on in the office of Kevin J. O'Connor, the U.S. Attorney for the Connecticut district? It certainly seems extraordinary to me -- and deserving of wider notice and praise.

John Behler's neighborhood turtles

Famed naturalist and herpetologist dies

Great wildlife biologists are foremost great animal enthusiasts, people who get off on encountering cranes or mountain lions or, in John Behler's case, snakes and frogs and turtles. The few I've known have held on to a capacity to be delighted by nature, not just the exotic but also the ordinary beauties and surprises that come close to home. John Behler -- the curator of herpetology for the Wildlife Conservation Society, who died last week at age 62 -- was responsible for great conservation victories in Madagascar and Southeast Asia, and he co-wrote The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians. But he studied spotted turtles for years in a county park a short drive from his home, and he could be as enthusiastic as a kid -- albeit a well-educated kid -- when he made a discovery in his neighborhood.

Blissful ignorance on Fishers Island

For five years a ferry was dumping sewage directly into Long Island Sound, and no one noticed?

It's not every day that someone in America goes to jail for an environmental crime. But yesterday, Mark Easter, the operations manager of the Fishers Island (N.Y.) Ferry District got hit with 30 days, for dumping raw sewage into Long Island Sound and the Thames River, in New London, Connecticut. And the federal magistrate in Hartford who is overseeing the case hit him with a $10,000 fine for good measure. It's hard for me to say whether the punishment fits the crime here. But I have a feeling that someone is being let off the hook, politically if not legally -- and I'm not saying it's Mark Easter.

Suburban sprawled

Hunting deer amidst strip malls

To the usual problems of suburban sprawl and strip development -- the traffic, mind-numbing visual blight, and acres of pavement -- add another: It's not easy enough to hunt deer. That's the situation in Milford, Connecticut, where the owner of the local Honda dealership has asked the town for permission to put in a gravel road so he can hunt, with bow and arrow -- not on a remote tract deep in the woods but on a 100-by-100 plot behind his showroom.