The Nature of Fire

By Colleen Beaty, Conservation Content Writer|May 19, 2016

Unimin - controlled burn

By now you’ve almost certainly heard about the massive wildfire that has devastated Fort McMurray, Alberta, nicknamed “the beast” by local firefighters. This wildfire has so far destroyed about 10% of the city of Fort McMurray, as well as hundreds of thousands of acres of native boreal forest in the surrounding area. As of this writing the fire is still not under control and additional evacuations have been ordered. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Fires in nature act as a clearing mechanism for accumulated organic debris, and in some ecosystems fire is actually required to release seeds from pinecones or to stimulate seed germination. In North America, naturally-occurring fire regimes historically ranged from frequent, low-intensity fires that cleared the understory every few years, to infrequent, stand-replacing fires every few hundred years. However, the former is much more common, with many species in fire-adapted ecosystems able to withstand these low-intensity fires.

However, policies that result in the total suppression of wildfires in many areas has led to the accumulation of fuel on the forest floor – dried leaves and pine needles, branches, etc. If a fire burns through areas with this kind of accumulated fuel, the fire burns hotter, taller, and faster than the forest can withstand, leaving little unburned. You can see in this video from the Guardian the flames in the Fort McMurray wildfires were sometimes so tall and hot they engulfed entire mature trees.

Dry conditions like Alberta experienced this winter and spring increase the likelihood that fires will start from lightning strikes or other ignition sources. A dry fuel load and low humidity exacerbate the intensity of fires that do ignite.

One effective compromise between the need for fire to maintain fire-adapted ecosystems and the desire to protect homes, businesses, and wildlife from uncontrolled wildfires is to use controlled burns, in which land managers intentionally set, contain, and manage a controlled, low-intensity fire.

For more information about the Fort McMurray wildfire and the role of wildfires in ecosystems, I encourage you to read this article by Leyland Cecco, which uses the Fort McMurray wildfire to provide an in-depth analysis of the conditions that lead to the destructive power of these kinds of wildfires.

Read more WHC blogs.

Taking Nature Out of the Corner and Into the Spotlight: Biodiversity and the Circular Economy

By Margaret O’Gorman, President|May 16, 2016

WL_blue orange bird_Unimin - bluebirdIn the now classic movie, Dirty Dancing, the final scene starts with everybody’s favorite movie line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!” This iconic line comes to mind every time I see an infographic explaining the circular economy, but the “Baby” in this case happens to be nature, expelled from the closed loop although materially impacted by it.

Circular economy or closed loop systems are, depending on who you ask, merely grandiloquent terms for recycling or the next best thing to address the impact of industrial processes on the planet. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, one of the leading voices on circularity, presents the various schools of thought on the concept with a diversity of approaches to circularity, some of which are more transactional than others.

William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle manifesto is one of the few to address nature and its needs as an integral part of the system, beyond being just an ingredient within the system. His circular model calls for respecting biodiversity as a value rather than an input. This respect for biodiversity is contained within McDonough’s ethos of a respect for diversity in all of its forms. In contrast, the concept of biomimicry views nature as a commodity, providing its biology, chemistry and engineering to solve human problems.

Circular economy approaches are very valuable at driving innovation in manufacturing processes, waste management and consumption patterns. Removing waste from industrial and consumption cycles, reducing materials used to make goods, and encouraging cascading benefits of by-products are all positive steps toward decreasing our collective weight on the planet and increasing the life of our natural resources.

But this approach shares many of the same weaknesses with respect to nature that natural capital accounting, ecosystem service valuation, and other economy-first initiatives share ― they all put biodiversity in the corner to the detriment of all life on the planet.

As McDonough says in Cradle to Cradle, “When diversity is nature’s design framework, human design solutions that do not respect it degrade the ecological and cultural fabric of our lives.” It doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s just the easier to extract a process and close it than attempt to interweave processes the way nature does in the ultimate closed loop that is planet Earth.

One environmental thought leader who expressed the need to integrate biodiversity loss into environmental impact assessments and to think about species beyond their use as resources is Pope Francis, writing in Laudato Si, a document released by the Vatican in June 2015. Although this papal encyclical has been politically reduced to a plea for action on climate change, the Pope covers a broad variety of environmental issues and says that “a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.” He’s not just talking circular economy in this passage, but he certainly highlights the shortcomings of a closed loop process that ignores the thing on which it sits.

There are many things that industry can do to address its impact on nature and embrace the restorative imperatives contained within circular economy models. Where impacts are direct ― like on lands used for extraction ― approaches to land management during operations and design of reclamation and restoration can focus on exceeding regulatory requirements to provide maximum benefit for biodiversity. At its Marblehead Quarry in Ohio, LafargeHolcim is actively managing for the recovery of the rare and endangered lakeside daisy by using crushed limestone screenings to create the alkaline conditions required by the plant, whose only known occurrence in the state is in Ottawa County where the quarry is located.

Across all industrial sectors, non-operational lands can be managed to respect biodiversity and restore nature, rather than managed in ways that limit its exuberance  such as through frequent mowing or landscaping with non-native species. By including the entire industrial footprint in the closed loop, a circular process can have a significant restorative impact on biodiversity. WHC’s recent white paper, Prioritizing Pollinators in Corporate America, shows how easily an entire footprint can be utilized for positive outcomes that meet a national need.

No loop is fully closed or sealed off. Every process contains manufactured goods and the ingredients that make them – all must be moved across the globe, and these movements create pathways for the spread of invasive species and wildlife diseases. By including product movement in the closed loop, operations along the manufacturing process, from extraction all the way to retail, can have an impact on two of the greatest threats to biodiversity worldwide.

Finally, the needs of biodiversity can be considering in the cascades, or by-products of a closed system.  General Motors set – and already surpassed – a global goal to achieve 100 landfill-free facilities by 2020. They are creating circularity in their manufacturing processes in many ways. The company also has a biodiversity goal that all of its manufacturing facilities worldwide secure WHC These goals became intertwined when GM started to , cascading a product to benefit biodiversity.

Whether it’s called circular economy, regenerative design, cradle to cradle manufacturing or any other fancy word for recycling, it’s not necessary that these waste elimination and resource-use reduction processes and approaches be laminated onto nature. They in fact can include nature in many ways and fully embrace the restorative imperative. We just need to open the closed loop and take biodiversity out of the corner.

Read more WHC blogs.

Going Native in Your Urban Garden

By Colleen Beaty, Conservation Content Writer|May 5, 2016

Many corporate facilities are located in urban and industrial areas, where wildlife habitat tends to occur in small, isolated patches. In areas such as these, projects like native gardens are all the more important for the conservation of pollinators, birds, and other native animals.

LS_Landscaping_artificial_habitat_stockUrban gardening with native species is suitable to a variety of settings, from urban corporate landscapes to home gardens. Like urban tree planting initiatives, native gardening projects provide multiple benefits for urban neighborhoods. They can help to revitalize urban neighborhoods by improving visual aesthetics and providing a place for people to reconnect with nature and with their neighbors. Urban gardens also contribute to cooler urban temperatures, produce oxygen, filter rainfall, and improve infiltration. In addition, urban gardens that include native plants can provide habitat for pollinators, songbirds, and other urban wildlife.

Not sure where to begin? Whether you’re starting from scratch with a new garden or revamping an existing garden at your facility, it will be easiest to first decide what your goals are for the garden. Do you want lots of colorful, delicate butterflies, or maybe zippy little hummingbirds? Try planting some colorful nectar-bearing flowering forbs, vines, and shrubs. Or maybe you’d rather attract birds that will fill your garden with their songs? You’ll want to plant shrubs that produce lots of berries and forbs that produce seeds, as well as trees for nesting if you have the room. Or perhaps you’d prefer to manage stormwater runoff with your garden—you could plant native vegetation that can tolerate occasional flooding to create a rain garden.

We’ve got a number of articles and other resources in our Knowledge Center to help you learn about native gardening – check out some of these to get you started:

If you’d like specific recommendations on how to design your urban garden for wildlife, don’t hesitate to contact us at WHC@wildlifehc.org.

Read more WHC blogs.

Bats and Birds Will Eat Your Mosquitos

By Colleen Beaty, Conservation Content Writer|April 14, 2016

Hate mosquitos? You’re not alone! Although they are an important part of the ecosystem, too many mosquitos can create quite a nuisance. They buzz in your ear and leave red, itchy welts when they bite, and some even transmit diseases like West Nile Virus and malaria.

You wouldn’t know it from their cute faces, but these little brown bats are voracious insect predators, and can eat thousands of mosquitos in a single night. Source: USFWS.

You wouldn’t know it from their cute faces, but these little brown bats are voracious insect predators, and can eat thousands of mosquitos in a single night. Source: USFWS.

Luckily, nature has provided us with many natural mosquito predators to help keep them under control.

Bats in temperate areas of the world tend to be insectivorous, with voracious appetites for mosquitos and other flying insect pests. A single bat can eat about 1,200 insects an hour, and about 6,000-8,000 insects a night. Female bats that are nursing young may even eat up to their weight in insects nightly.

Insectivorous birds like purple martins, swallows, eastern kingbirds, and yellow warblers are also known for eating flying insects, including mosquitos, though to a lesser extent.

Purple martin gourds placed in appropriate habitat are a great way to attract purple martins to your site.

Purple martin gourds placed in appropriate habitat are a great way to attract purple martins to your site.

So if you have a problem with mosquitos and other flying pest insects, try enhancing your site’s habitat to attract these natural insect predators. You could install artificial structures that provide nesting and roosting habitat, such as nest boxes for birds and bat houses or other artificial roosts for bats. You should also make sure the surrounding habitat provides the resources and complexity needed by the species you want to attract, including plenty of native vegetation that will provide additional food sources and cover habitat. Not only will you contribute to conservation of these species, you’ll also be helping yourself!

It’s important to remember that none of these species will provide a singular solution to controlling mosquitos in all locations. Rather, attracting natural predators is an important step in long-term planning for reducing mosquito numbers in your area.

Read more WHC blogs.

Conservation Certification Website is Live – Users may now register their conservation projects and submit applications

By Monica Keller, Director, Marketing and Communications|April 8, 2016

SILVER SPRING, MD, APRIL 4, 2016 – Today, Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) made available its new certification website and online application for WHC Conservation Certification.

Users are able to go online and register, add projects, upload documentation, submit applications and make payments. This new, entirely virtual application experience allows for greater productivity and organization of conservation projects, and allows users to focus on biodiversity activities instead of paperwork.

Over three years in development, WHC Conservation Certification recognizes meaningful and committed conservation programs on corporate lands, and replaces WHC’s previous certification programs, Wildlife at Work and Corporate Lands for Learning.

“WHC Conservation Certification provides a clear and consistent path towards high quality projects that bring value to the environment and business,” said Margaret O’Gorman, President, Wildlife Habitat Council. “Recognition of corporate conservation practices can help companies meet global biodiversity goals while demonstrating long-term commitment to managing habitat for wildlife, education and community engagement.”

“We’re excited to participate in Conservation Certification,” said WHC Board Chair Kevin Butt, Director, North American Environmental Division, Toyota Motor North America, Inc. “Not only will the new website help better organize our conservation activities, but Conservation Certification provides an important suite of metrics that can assist in our reporting of sustainability goals.”

Built around 26 possible habitat, species and education projects encompassed in the newly published Project Guidances, Conservation Certification is designed to be accessible, flexible, credible, and ultimately drive change on corporate lands of all types. Project Guidances define the components of an outstanding conservation effort, and were developed with the collective knowledge of experts from academia, government, corporations, consulting firms and NGOs.

To make the transition from paper to web an easy one, WHC is offering free training webinars to walk users through the functions of the website. Registration for these free training webinars is available here.

About Wildlife Habitat Council

Wildlife Habitat Council promotes and certifies habitat conservation and management on corporate lands through partnerships and education. WHC’s programs take corporate sustainability goals and objectives and translate them into tangible and measurable on-the-ground actions. WHC membership includes 85 corporations, many of which are Fortune 500 companies, including Bridgestone, Chevron, DuPont, Exelon, Freeport-McMoRan, General Motors, Pacific Gas & Electric and Waste Management. WHC-assisted wildlife habitat and conservation education programs are found in 45 states and 13 countries.

###

Cooperative Work Among Companies Creates Ecological and Community Connectivity in Northwest Indiana

By Colleen Beaty, Conservation Content Writer|January 28, 2016

On Thursday, January 21, about 15 volunteers from a diverse group of companies and conservation organizations, including WHC and members of the Indiana Coastal Cooperative Weed Management Group as well as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, ExxonMobil, ArcelorMittal, PRAXAIR, the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy, and the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, joined up to tackle the removal of invasive species from upland areas at ExxonMobil’s Hammond Terminal.

It can be difficult to find larger tracts of dune and swale habitat in natural or even semi-natural conditions in Indiana’s coastal region because of heavy urban and industrial development. Hammond TerminalThe 77-acre Hammond Terminal property includes a large amount of this critical Lake Michigan coastal habitat, so although former industrial uses left their mark on the site more than 50 years ago, it remains one of the most important tracts of shorebird habitat in the region and is key piece of the conservation and landscape connectivity puzzle.

The focus of invasive removal at last week’s workday was buckthorn, a non-native, invasive shrub that is a common invader in Midwestern forests, prairies, and oak savannas. The volunteers used a technique known as the “cut-stump method” in which the shrubs are cut down and herbicide applied to the stump to prevent regrowth. Also on the agenda was laying the ground for a new trail that will be used by East Chicago students and bird watching visitors.

During the workday, the group shared their common knowledge and experience of working on site and along the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, and learned that slag had been deposited on-site as far back as the 1940s and since then, a succession of native habitats developed throughout the site. The spread of invasive plants such as buckthorn, phragmites, purple loosestrife, and many others have impacted the ecological quality of this site over the past 10 years. Efforts to develop an ecological restoration partnership between the Indiana DNR, ExxonMobil, and BP have provided a unique regional example of how companies and natural resource agencies can work together to increase conservation in urban-industrial areas.

A volunteer applies Pathfinder herbicide to a buckthorn stump. The herbicide is dyed blue to help volunteers see which plants have already been treated.

A volunteer applies Pathfinder herbicide to a buckthorn stump. The herbicide is dyed blue to help volunteers see which plants have already been treated.

This cooperative workday at the Hammond Terminal is part of a larger ongoing collaborative effort, funded by Sustain Our Great Lakes Program and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to the Indiana DNR, to control invasive species and restore native habitats on public and private properties areas along the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. Other companies involved in this invasive species control partnership include BP and Valero. WHC is also working with ExxonMobil, ArcelorMittal, PRAXAIR, and Kinder Morgan on developing invasive species control programs on their working facilities under a grant from the Indiana DNR Coastal Program and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). Working collaboratively like this helps companies enhance the conservation value of their projects by aligning them with broader goals for the region. It also helps teams learn from one another by providing opportunities to share information about what worked and what didn’t.

For more details on how your company can contribute to conservation efforts in your area, contact WHC for tailored help or check out our Project Guidances for guidelines on designing and implementing conservation and education projects.

Read more WHC blogs.

Wildlife Habitat Council, Freeport-McMoRan and Oldcastle Leadership Selected to Speak at GreenBiz ’16

By Monica Keller, Director, Marketing and Communications|January 22, 2016

PHOENIX, JANUARY 13, 2016 – Margaret O’Gorman, President, Wildlife Habitat Council has been selected as a featured speaker at the GreenBiz 16, to be held February 23-25, 2016. O’Gorman, along with Hillary A. Johnson, Community Relations Director, Oldcastle, Inc., and William E. Cobb, Vice President, Environmental Services, Freeport-McMoRan Inc., will present on how to effectively incorporate conservation programs into corporate strategies.

For the third year, the Forum will bring together GreenBiz Group, The Sustainability Consortium, and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU to give attendees an unparalleled in-depth look at the key challenges and opportunities facing sustainable business today. The ninth annual edition of the State of Green Business report, combined with high-wattage stage presentations, workshops and networking opportunities will make the 2016 GreenBiz Forum an unforgettable event.

O’Gorman, Johnson and Cobb will be a part of the session, “The New Standard in Corporate Conservation: Embracing Accessibility, Enhancing Credibility and Driving Change.” The workshop will address on-the-ground conservation programs that enhance biodiversity and promote corporate goals, including those related to social responsibility, sustainability, employee engagement, community relations and STEM education. Attendees will benefit from the panel’s experience in aligning voluntary sustainability standards with contemporary conservation priorities and actions, and how to use data and results allow for evaluation of impact.

View speaker bios.

Presentation Details

What: The New Standard in Corporate Conservation: Embracing Accessibility, Enhancing Credibility and Driving Change

When: Wednesday, February 24, 2016, 4:30pm

Where: The JW Marriott Camelback Inn, 5402 East Lincoln Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85253

Produced by media company GreenBiz Group, the GreenBiz Forum will also feature The Sustainability Consortium CEO, Sheila Bonini; Ellen MacArthur Foundation Founder, Ellen MacArthur; Project Drawdown Founder, Paul Hawken; Biomimicry Institute Founder, Janine Benyus; Conservation International Executive VP & Senior Scientist, Dr. M Sanjayan; Disney SVP Environmental Affairs, Beth Stevens; Steelcase CEO, Jim Keane; PwC Chief Purpose Officer, Shannon Schuyler; JLL President & CEO, Colin Dyer, and many more speakers from a wide range of corporations, startups, think tanks, policy groups, and others.

For more information on the the GreenBiz Forum and conference agenda, visit the GreenBiz website

About Wildlife Habitat Council

Wildlife Habitat Council promotes and certifies habitat conservation and management on corporate lands through partnerships and education. WHC’s programs take corporate sustainability goals and objectives and translate them into tangible and measurable on-the-ground actions. Through a focus on building collaboration for conservation with corporate employees, other conservation organizations, government agencies and community members, WHC programs focus on healthy ecosystems and connected communities. WHC-assisted wildlife habitat and conservation education programs are found in 45 states, the District of Columbia and 13 countries. www.wildlifehc.org

About Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. (FCX)

Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE: FCX) is a premier U.S.-based natural resources company with an industry-leading global portfolio of mineral assets, significant oil and gas resources and a growing production profile. FCX is the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer.

FCX’s portfolio of assets includes the Grasberg minerals district in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits; significant mining operations in the Americas, including the large-scale Morenci minerals district in North America and the Cerro Verde operation in South America; the Tenke Fungurume minerals district in the DRC; and significant U.S. oil and natural gas assets in the Deepwater GOM, onshore and offshore California and in the Haynesville natural gas shale, and a position in the Inboard Lower Tertiary/Cretaceous natural gas trend onshore in South Louisiana. www.fcx.com

About Oldcastle Materials Inc.

Oldcastle Materials, based in Atlanta, Ga., is the leading vertically integrated supplier of aggregates, asphalt, ready-mixed concrete and construction services in the United States. The company employs nearly 18,000 people at more than 1,200 locations in 44 states and has a strong commitment to providing exceptional quality, service and value to customers. Oldcastle Materials combines the flexibility, speed and in-depth market knowledge of local businesses with the buying power, shared expertise and operational excellence of a national network. The company is focused on the safety of its employees and works to be an engaged partner in the communities where it operates. Oldcastle Materials operates under Oldcastle Inc. a division of CRH plc, the international building materials group based in Dublin, Ireland. www.oldcastlematerials.com.

###

Unusual Places with Unexpected Partners: Welcoming All-Comers to Restore, Improve and Protect Nature

By Margaret O’Gorman, President|January 20, 2016

WL_American Alligator Hatchling_Formosa

American alligator hatchling

I recently had the honor and pleasure of meeting Mary Robinson, the former and first woman president of Ireland, a global advocate for women and children and a leader in climate change justice. She was fresh from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris and optimistic about the result. As we talked, she told me that the two forces that could make a huge difference in progress toward COP21 goals were women and business. She felt it essential to harness the passion and power of women who, in the developing world, will be hardest hit by a changing climate, and to harness the power of business to create passion and momentum toward the goal of keeping global temperature rise significantly beneath 2 degrees Celsius.

Her exhortation that business is an essential player in this issue echoes so many others who are beginning to understand that business has, for many reasons, a key role to play in protecting our planet.

Wildlife Habitat Council’s mission is to facilitate business playing this key role with respect to biodiversity and the conservation of nature. Our “big tent” approach welcomes all-comers who want to work with us to restore, improve or protect nature.

If a company wants to act to improve its lands for nature, we want to encourage and enable them to do so, whatever the scope of their aspirations. We do this by working with them to design strong and appropriate projects and recognize their efforts. When we evaluate projects, we evaluate their impacts on nature, employees and community.

Our unstated mission is to place upward pressure on industry to adopt better practices in their operations and on their lands. We do this not by advocacy, policy or litigation, but through “show and tell,” by working with the individuals on the ground who conceive of the projects, implement them, own them and transmit their successes up through the corporate chain. Once this is repeated across locations within a company, it can become embedded in the culture of the company and lead to fundamental changes in both culture and operations. Imagine if conservation programs on corporate lands become as common as recycling in corporate offices. That’s the goal.

In terms of conservation outcomes, there are some compelling reasons to work where others may fear to tread:

Every act of conservation matters. A tree planted in the ground at a corporate campus, a ready-mix facility, or a restored quarry can be as valuable as a tree planted in protected woodlands. Habitat destruction and fragmentation remain the leading causes of biodiversity loss across the world, and by doing acts of conservation along the entire urban-rural spectrum, in unusual places with unexpected partners, we help create a mosaic of nature that fills the spaces in between, provides connectivity and increases population resilience.

Opportunity knocks on corporate lands. Natural resources extraction carried out by business leads to restoration, which can in turn lead to opportunities for ecological enhancement. Site clean-up and remediation, mainly the responsibility of business, can result in quality conservation outcomes. Maintenance and operations on corporate campuses and manufacturing sites can be altered to benefit nature by changing landscape management regimes to increase native plants or altering the movement of goods and materials to break invasive species pathways. Every corporate property has the potential to contribute.

Not all communities are created equally. Not every community has a well-endowed park, a vibrant nature center or easy access to safe outdoor recreational activities. In under-served rural and urban settings, corporate lands can provide a lake to take a child fishing, a nature center to teach environmental basics, or a trail to encourage exercise and provide the physical and mental health benefits of being in the natural world. By recognizing high-quality access and education, we encourage other businesses to open their doors and become true members of the community.

Most everything we buy, eat, wear, drive, look at or listen to is made by a company in a facility somewhere with the potential to contribute to biodiversity in a large or small way. Our approach is to help this contribution happen, recognize it when it does, and hope that the recognition in turn contributes to the program’s longevity.

There are many roads along which we all try to better the world. In the environmental community, some groups advance the cause of a healthier environment through litigation, regulatory change and advocacy. Some promote the road of direct action while others advance the cause through education and public awareness. WHC’s road is, with apologies to Robert Frost, less traveled but engaging business in conservation can make all the difference.

Read more WHC blogs.

The Carbon-Sequestering Power of Soils

By Colleen Beaty, Conservation Content Writer|January 10, 2016

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about soil.

Big bluestem is one of many deep-rooted prairie grasses in North America that can contribute to soil carbon sequestration.

Earlier this year, scientists announced that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had reached a record high of 400 parts per million (ppm), more than 120 ppm higher than pre-industrial carbon levels. It seems fitting, then, that I end this blog series with a post about the carbon-sequestering power of soils.

Carbon sequestration is the process by which carbon dioxide is moved from the atmosphere into a non-gaseous form, such as plant matter. Plants do this well, using sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and other compounds that ultimately turn into plant tissues. When more carbon is absorbed then released, the system is considered a carbon sink; the opposite, when a system releases more carbon than absorbs, is considered a carbon source.

When plants die, they decay and become part of the soil. Over time, this process allows soils to store large amounts of carbon and serve as carbon sinks, especially in soils where the decay of organic matter back into carbon dioxide is slow, such as colder regions and areas with low soil disturbance.

Prairie soils can be particularly good carbon sinks. Prairie grasses and wildflowers develop deep, extensive root systems; some prairie plants grow roots up to 15 feet deep! As these root systems decay, organic matter in the soil builds up relatively quickly. In fact, prairies can store more carbon underground than forests can store in trees aboveground.

Corporate conservation programs can help contribute to soil carbon sequestration in a number of ways. As mentioned above, planting native vegetation that is good at sequestering carbon, including trees and deep-rooted grasses and wildflowers, is a great way to do this. Teams can also manage existing habitats in ways that reduce soil disturbance and erosion, improve soil structure, and increase soil organic matter.

So the next time you hear about atmospheric carbon levels, consider how the soil under our feet is so closely linked to the air above our heads!

Read more WHC blogs.

6 Tricks for Better Species Identification

By Colleen Beaty, Conservation Content Writer|January 9, 2016

P_boy with bird book_Amway_square2Learning how to identify plants and animals–especially when you’re first starting out with a conservation project—can be seem pretty daunting at first. Once you get the hang of it, though, I promise it gets much easier! Here’s a list of six tricks I use all the time when I’m trying to identify wildlife in the field.

  1. First, get yourself some handy identification tools.

There are so many species, how could one possibly learn what they all look like?  Answer – you don’t.  Instead, you learn how to use tools like field guides that will help you figure out which species you’re looking at.  Field guides are generally designed to be small enough to carry around while also providing an identification tips for a group of species like birds.  There are also numerous apps for your smartphone that can supplement or replace field guides, like Audubon’s bird guide app and LeafSnap.

  1. Take photos!

Take photos of the animals and plants you see, especially if you aren’t sure what species it is.  You can then examine the photo in detail and zoom in on your computer’s monitor, and take as much time as you need to compare it to books and online guides.  You can also submit photos to a variety of experts online who can help with difficult identifications, such as BugGuide.net or a local naturalist.

  1. Get expert help in the field.

In addition to getting help with identifying species you photographed, it can also be advantageous to have one or more experts with you in the field while you are monitoring your project.  They can give you hands-on training in implementing a monitoring technique for your project as well as with in-the-field identification.

  1. Learn how to “break it down” into manageable parts.

One of the best ways to keep from feeling overwhelmed by everything going on with the way a species looks or sounds is learning how to “break down” each plant or animal into a bunch of manageable “parts” that will help you identify it. So if you’re trying to figure out which bird you’re seeing, you can break down the visual observation into things like relative size, bill length, bill shape, tail shape, colors on various parts of the body, and distinctive markings.  Animal songs and calls can be similarly broken down into things like pitch, rhythm, melody and harmonics, complexity, tone, timbre, and mnemonic association.

  1. Use all of your senses to observe plants and animals.

The most common way to identify plants and animals is by sight, of course but your other senses can help you too.  Many animals sing, call, or make other noises, and with some practice it can be easy to distinguish many of the common bird songs, frog and mammal calls, and such.  Some species have a distinctive smell, such the lemony odor released by lemon beebalm when its leaves are crushed, or that very distinctively noxious odor when a skunk sprays to protect itself.  Touch and taste can also be useful for helping identify certain plants, such as rough tree bark or minty-tasting leaves (taste should be used with lots of caution, however, as many wild plants can be poisonous!)

  1. Consider your location.

Remember, species occur within specific ranges and habitat types.  The species you might find when you’re out on your company’s land will therefore depend a great deal on where you are in the world and what habitat you’re looking at.  You wouldn’t find a tropical marsh bird in a temperate desert, now would you?

I hope these tricks give you the confidence you need to go out there and try your hand at species ID!

Read more WHC blogs.