Kicking Peterson’s Tongass

Re: Shake Dat Tongass

Dear Editor:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

U.S. Representative John Peterson (R-Penn.), who commented that old-growth forests don’t support the kind of wildlife he and his fellow hunters like, is right. That’s because they live in Pennsylvania where (presumably) their prey is the White-tailed deer, a species that thrives on the edges of mature eastern deciduous woodlands and in recently cut-over areas.

Here in Alaska, the situation is different. Multitudes of spawning salmon die each summer in old-growth forest streams, delivering their nutrients to adjacent vegetation (and to bears and other predators). With salmon as nutrient engines, the unfragmented habitat in Tongass old growth has plenty to offer hunters, and, obviously, anglers! In contrast, U.S. Forest Service studies show that forest roads destroy salmon habitat. Salmon productivity diminishes and with it the plants and animals that rely on salmon nutrient inputs.

Access to the Tongass is not limited merely by the presence/absence of forest roads. Unlike the areas Peterson probably hunts, much of the Tongass is located far from U.S. population centers. Even if forest roads existed, hunters like Peterson would need to travel to southeast Alaska by jet, cruise ship, or ferry and then take small planes and/or boats to reach the roads.

It’s only fair that non-hunting taxpayers would want to question the substantial federal subsidies Peterson seems to be seeking, both for the timber products industry (including many non-U.S. companies), and for hunters.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Cassie Thomas

Anchorage, Alaska


Better Mice Than Us

Re: Letter My People Go

Dear Editor:

I am an animal lover and can truly relate to what Karen O’Donnell said about animal testing; however, her statement that “toxicity studies on animals are egregiously cruel, and yield very unreliable results and therefore a waste” isn’t completely accurate. It depends on what you are testing for.

And, the sad truth is that without toxicity testing on the products that we use regularly, testing is being done on us, without our permission, while the manufacturers profit. As a parent, this is particularly disturbing.

Inhalation toxicity testing using mice accurately detects the physical reactions of mice to breathing a real-life dose of the chemicals that vaporize from shampoos, markers, disposable diapers, cleaning products, and more. This is very different than the cruel eye-irritation tests such as Draize, or the LD50 tests, which don’t give us much useful information. The inhalation testing, on the other hand, gives useful information, uses four mice per test — and there isn’t any other non-animal alternative yet.

Doesn’t Karen care that she is using a whole host of products (cleaning and body care products, synthetic carpets, paints, etc.) that contain untested toxic chemicals? And any domestic pets that live with her are also exposed to these toxic chemicals? That seems cruel to me.

Amy Todisco

Huntington, Vt.


Dying for the City

Re: Diana Williams, Urban Ecology

Dear Editor:

As a former environmental activist (Earth First!, Greenpeace, etc.) and now an environmental attorney, I could not disagree more strongly with Diana Williams’ statement that “cities are good for the environment.”

While I agree that human density is far better than human sprawl, ecologically speaking, the opposite of your statement is true: Cities are grossly overpopulated ecological sacrifice zones.

First, paving the earth is never good for the environment. Doing so kills whatever plants (and microorganisms) were previously living there, the animals that need those plants for survival, and, in turn, the animals that need those animals for survival. Paving is also a way of killing the earth, and support for paving any land shows a profound lack of sensitivity toward nature.

Second, and more importantly, the root of the problem is human overpopulation, the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to discuss. While cities built so that people can walk, bike, or take public transit to work, shopping, entertainment, and school (and otherwise built for density instead of sprawl) are much less destructive than building to the contrary, unnaturally large numbers of any species concentrated in one place are ecologically destructive. Just the waste created by unnaturally large concentrations of people would totally destroy that population center ecologically, unless the waste was shipped elsewhere, as it is, thus destroying open space.

Until the number of humans is greatly reduced, the problems about which you are concerned cannot be solved, but can merely be mitigated to some extent. I urge you to educate people on the need for limiting their families to one child at most, so that the root of these ecological problems can be solved.

Jeff Hoffman

San Francisco, Calif.


Editor’s Note: The letter from “Dr. Thom” to Umbra, on seeking a job in the “eco-field,” contained no indication of Dr. Thom’s gender. Every reader who wrote in response about Dr. Thom, including those below, assumed that the good doctor was a “he.” Rather than edit all those he’s to he/she’s or they’s, we will simply scold readers for assuming that “doctor” must mean “male.” Shame, readers. Shame!



Resource Extraction

Re: Bake Your Cake and Eat It Too

Dear Editor:

Trust my hometown of Seattle to have an active chapter of Chefs Collaborative called “FORKS.” You’ve got to love it.

Overall, I liked your response to Dr. Thom, the chef/psychologist; most of us can certainly do more to “green” our current job descriptions. But as a boomer in full mid-life crisis mode myself, I recognized at once that Dr. Thom might really be seeking a major change, in which case I might be able to offer some tips.

During my career as a government biologist and bureaucrat, I’ve often been asked both formally and informally how one “breaks into” an environmental career. (You know, “nice work if you can get it…”) Truthfully, it’s usually best to start with a degree that fits the desired qualifications of the target job type. But one needn’t necessarily have a degree in a traditionally environmentally related field. In fact, a successful small business owner probably already has many skills that are in demand by “environmental” employers, particularly: administration and budgeting, planning, grant-writing, outreach and marketing, office and personnel management, etc. It might profit Dr. Thom and those like him to visit their local college career counselor. He may find that (as at my alma mater) they have a listing of alumni who are willing to advise or mentor prospective colleagues. They may offer career fairs and other re-employment services to alumni. At the very least he should be able to obtain a listing of Internet sources to tap for current job listings. By going online, he will be able to compare his skills and qualifications with those in demand by prospective employers.


Sacramento, Calif.


Net Working

Re: Bake Your Cake and Eat It Too

Dear Umbra/Editor:

Umbra did a great job advising the fellow who had no idea how to apply his skills to an eco-field. Alternatively, and shamelessly, I offer the following resource to anyone who’s looking for eco-employment who already has a sense for what kind of employment they want. The Orion Grassroots Network’s Internship and Career Service is a place where scores of people find a great match. Internships, jobs, Americorps opportunities, and apprenticeships in fields like environmental education, advocacy, social change, and sustainable agriculture are all there.

Erik Hoffner, Coordinator

Orion Grassroots Network

Great Barrington, Mass.


Catch and Don’t Release

Re: The Age of Aquariums

Dear Umbra/Editor:

As an avid aquarium enthusiast for the past 40 years, I enjoyed your response to the school teacher inquiring about buying aquarium fishes.

There may be an opportunity that the teacher has not considered. There are many colorful and interesting native freshwater fish well-suited to aquarium life. Going out in the wild with a net in hand really inspires students to learn more about their local waterways and gain an appreciation for indigenous fishes.

Simply viewing a pretty fish in a tank does little to inspire students. Catching a fish in its native habitat, learning its biology, and creating suitable conditions within an aquarium provides opportunities to study not only ichthyology and local ecosystems, but also applied physics and engineering. The net result is they gain a sense of how important it is to protect their local natural resources.

State regulations apply to collection. The majority of aquarium-suitable species are regulated only as “non sport fish.” Of course, one has to be familiar with listed species to avoid taking threatened, endangered, or species of special concern.

Thanks for all your sage advice.

Mark Spiller

Florida Wetlands Master Naturalist

Gainesville, Fla.


Fishing for Answers

Re: The Age of Aquariums

Dear Umbra/Editor:

I have a (fish) bone to pick with Umbra in her column regarding sustainable aquarium fish. I feel that her article was overly simplistic in her recommendations of farm-raised freshwater fish. She is right about the hazards of marine fish collection, however, she neglected to mention sustainable freshwater collection of certain species that protect ecosystems. For example, Project Piaba in Brazil, with the slogan, “Buy a fish, save a tree,” demonstrates that sustainable harvest of fish species for the aquarium trade can actually protect habitat if an economy is based upon healthy rivers. A healthy river prohibits destructive timber harvest and other poor agricultural practices. In this light, the cardinal tetra, the clown loach, and harlequin rasboras are good choices. Farmed discus, neon tetra, guppies, goldfish, koi, mollies, swordtails, angelfish and other cichlids actually compete with these sustainable native harvests and reduce the incentive to protect habitat.

Still, Umbra was correct that farmed freshwater fishes are better than most saltwater ones. If the schoolteacher had her heart set on a marine tank though, Hawaiian and Caribbean fish species are decent choices (along with the suggested farm-raised) since those fish are hand-caught.

There is also the animal welfare concern. Although the percentage is different for various collection methods, fish do die in the collection and transportation processes. Also, once an animal makes it to the home (or classroom) aquarium, the aquarist may not be prepared to satisfy the needs of that animal. For example, animals that should not be kept are nudibranchs and seahorses. Nudibranchs will slowly consume their own bodies as they starve to death in your aquarium and seahorses are also very fickle in their dietary requirements (in addition to being overharvested).

My other issue is that Umbra’s advice was to ask the pet store owner if his or her fish are sustainable. For the most part, that’s like asking a pig farmer if eating meat is sustainable. I would not rely on the pet store owner to volunteer information about the problems with each particular species you are considering purchasing.

For a consumer shopping guide to sustainable fish, the Montery Bay Aquarium has a good list.

Stephanie Marsh

Westwood, N.J.


Potential Energy

Re: Jolly Good, Guv’nors

Dear Editor:

The Western Governors Association resolution for clean and diversified energy production in the Western states has the potential to be great, but I also think it has the potential to be nothing special.

The press releases play up the part of the resolution that calls for developing renewable energy resources. However, the resolution’s title is more realistic: Clean and Diversified. There’s no reason to assume that diversified energy resources will all be clean, and in fact the text of the resolution [PDF] on the WGA website indicates exactly that.

Section A7 states that, “Given the vast reserves of coal, the region is well suited to the development of new clean technologies to enhance the innovative use of domestic energy supplies in ways that minimize emissions while boosting domestic energy security.” While this statement does claim the resolution will pursue new, cleaner technologies, it still shows that the WGA will continue to rely on coal and will try to pass it off as part of its clean energy plan.

Section B2 states that the Western Governors will, “achieve a goal to develop 30,000 MW of clean energy in the West by 2015 from resources such as energy efficiency, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, clean coal technologies, and advanced natural gas technologies.” Here coal and natural gas are labeled as clean energy.

I think there are a lot of good ideas in this resolution, but I think people should pay close attention to the direction it takes. Historically, when renewables get lumped together with non-renewables, the renewables make up a very small percentage of total energy production. There is a lot of potential in this resolution to increase the use of solar and wind energy generation in the West. There is also a potential to simply push the truly clean, green technologies to the side in favor of traditional coal and natural gas production.

This resolution is obviously about compromise, and compromise requires balance. I fully expect the continued use of coal and natural gas at some level. I simply hope that this resolution is truly balanced and renewables get to play an equal role in the future of Western energy production.

Walker Larsen

Arlington, Va.


Umbra Umbrage

Re: Vegging Out

Dear Umbra/Editor:

As an inner-city dweller who has two community garden plots, I take umbrage with your frequent referrals to lima beans as unworthy or (gasp) disgusting.

I can only think your anti-lima prejudice stems from a spoiled childhood. My parents were not rich, thus vegetables of all kinds made up the bulk of our meals. While I confess to detesting okra due to its slimy texture and swamp-like taste and really go out of my way to avoid fava beans (thick skin, tastes like musty socks), I realize other people love them. If we hope to get along as a society, we must accept the veggie-lovin’ tastes of our fellow human beings.

Thus my plea for lima beans. I don’t know who made you eat them or how you developed a dislike for them but if you haven’t tried them in years, you really ought to. Adult taste buds are more highly evolved than those we had in childhood. Brie cheese is something no 8-year-old would eat but adults pay through the nose for it.

I invite you to stop by my house if you’re ever in Chicago. I’ll fix you lima beans like you’ve never had before. A bad cook can ruin just about any veggie. Perhaps you’ve been the victim of one.

In beans we trust.

Lisanne Freese

Chicago, Ill.