Many people chose to serve their communities on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We meet some folks who serve year-round and approach volunteerism in ways you may never have considered.
“In nature, nothing exists alone.” – Rachel Carson
The world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since the loss of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
On this Earth Day, we discuss what’s at stake here in the Washington region: which plants and animals are threatened most by climate change, why it matters and what you can still do to help.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Macy Placide Protect Our Species Campaign Manager, Earth Day Network
- Jeanne Braha Executive Director, Rock Creek Conservancy, @JeanneBraha
Earth Day 2019
Nature's gifts to our planet are the millions of species that we know and love, and many more that remain to be discovered. Unfortunately, human beings have irrevocably upset the balance of nature and, as a result, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since we lost the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago.
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast the rise in ultra-runners in our region. But first, "In nature nothing exists alone, "said famed conservationist, Rachel Carson. It's Earth Day 2019 and the world today is facing the greatest rate of extinction since the loss of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. On this Earth Day we discuss what's at stake here in the Washington region, which plants and animals are threatened most by climate change, why it matters, and what you can still do to help. Joining me in studio is Macy Placide. She is Manager of the Protect Our Species Campaign at Earth Day Network. Macy, thank you for joining us.
MACY PLACIDEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Jeanne Braha. She is Executive Director of the Rock Creek Conservancy. Jeanne, good to see you again.
JEANNE BRAHAGood to see you too, Kojo.
NNAMDIMacy, I'd like to start with you telling us about the Protect Our Series campaign, why is this the theme for Earth Day 2019?
PLACIDEYeah. So the Protect Our Species campaign is the campaign issue that we chose at Earth Day Network, because we are seeing a six mass extinction taking place across our planet. We're seeing species going extinct at 1,000 to 10,000 times the rate of normal extinction rates. And so for us it's important to highlight what is happening on Earth. And so through our campaign we wanted to talk about a couple of things.
PLACIDEA couple of things we want to do is we want to achieve major policy victories that protect species in their habitats. We want to educate people about species extinction and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon. And we also want to encourage individual actions because individual actions can lead to great change. And so those are some of the things that we hope to achieve with a campaign.
NNAMDICan you talk a little bit about some of the human causes of mass extinction?
PLACIDEYes. So there are a couple drivers for biodiversity loss and those include overexploitation of species, climate change due to greenhouse gases predominantly from fossil fuels including oil and gas. We're seeing deforestation. The Amazon has lost 20 percent of its normal range in the last 50 years. And we're seeing species decimated from human activities and it's happening across our globe.
NNAMDIWhat needs to happen to prevent the disappearance, the decimation of species?
PLACIDEWell, there are a number of things and I think the biggest thing is that this is going to take a whole of society, a whole of government approach. However, Earth Day Network, we really want to drive home individual actions. And this can include not using herbicides or pesticides that harm pollinators. This includes picking up trash. Being a part of a global cleanup. This also includes, you know, taking part in--in your local campaigns to have congressional leaders who care about climate change and focus on protecting species. Voting for those people.
NNAMDIJeanne Braha, people might not think of Washington D.C. as an area teaming with wildlife. But I'm wondering, what threatened species are native to this region?
BRAHAYeah, we're actually really lucky here in Washington D.C. to have a giant patch of urban wilderness right, literally behind this studio here. And that is actually home to Washington D.C.'s only endangered species, the Hay's Spring amphipod, which is a tiny -- well, 10 millimeters long crustacean that lives underground. So it's really not possible for the common viewer to see. That is threatened by water quality issues.
NNAMDIYou are executive director of the Rock Creek Conservancy, which works to protect the lands and waters of Rock Creek Park. What specific threats are you trying to combat?
BRAHAWe focus primarily on two areas. One is habitat protection, which we largely do by removing invasive plant species, which are covering our native species, so really trying to restore those native habitats from a plant perspective. We also work on reducing the amount of storm water runoff that's entering Rock Creek both in Washington D.C. and Montgomery County.
NNAMDIYou mention the Hay's Spring amphipod. What does that offer to our ecosystem and can we actually see it?
BRAHASo you can't see it. There are researchers, who study the Hay's Spring amphipod including a couple here at American University. It is only 10 millimeters long and it lives underground in these seeps that are really sensitive to prevailing water conditions especially those coming above ground from the storm water runoff that I just mentioned. So all those individual actions we take, the cars we drive, the fertilizers we put on our lawn, as well as some of the sewage in certain parts of the city that are -- during a big storm come out into the storm drains can all go into these underground waterways that the Hay's Spring amphipods live in. So generally good stewardship broadly of Rock Creek will help protect the Hay's Spring amphipod as well as many of the other species that live here.
NNAMDIOn to Kathy in Fairfax, Virginia. Kathy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHYHi, Kojo. I'm a vice president for a nonprofit conservation science organization called NatureServe. And we provide the foundation of conservation work in the Americas by identifying what species are at risk, where they are, and how they're doing. We provide the foundation of information that allows for listing of endangered species. And our partners are everywhere in the U.S. and Canada. And they collect information on this in the same way. And so the result is this database that contains over a million documented locations of at-risk species in the U.S. and across the western hemisphere.
KATHYWe keep track of the scientific information that tells us how rare and threatened they are and wherever they occur. So I just wanted to tell you about that and let you know that there's a website called Nature Serve Explorer. You can get to that from explorer.natureserve.org. And it provides a summary of this information that's searchable by species and location and conservation status. So if you want to know more about the specific species that are in our area you can look at that resource. And our partners in the Maryland Natural Heritage Program and the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage and the D.C. Fisheries and Wildlife Agency all contribute to that effort.
NNAMDIThank you for sharing that information with us. Jeanne Braha, you wanted to say?
BRAHAYeah. Nature Serve actually has a fantastic wealth of resources about Rock Creek Park including maps of all the habitats in the park. So you can see the types of plant assemblages that you can find if you go out and visit Rock Creek. As well as the animals that would live in those areas. So it's a tremendous resource to our restoration efforts at Rock Creek Conservancy and a great resource for the casual visitor.
NNAMDIKathy, thank you very much for your call. Have there been any species returning to Rock Creek? I've been hearing about an influx of herring in the water.
BRAHAYes. I had a chance to see a herring about a week and a half ago. I was down at the fish ladder right outside Peirce Mill. Thanks to a restoration effort to build a fish ladder outside of Peirce Mill where there still is a dam, the herring, which are an anadromous fish so much like salmon. They swim up creeks and rivers to spawn in the spring. They couldn't do that in Rock Creek, because the dam was blocking them, the dam that provided water power to the mill historically. The fish ladder gives them a literal ladder like little series of steps that they can jump up and you can actually go out and watch them run. It's really fantastic, a silvery mass kind of running up the stream.
NNAMDIWatching them run is one thing, but is it safe to eat fish from the waters of Rock Creek?
BRAHAThere are a number of advisories. There are several types of species of fish that you should not eat at all. And most other species of fish the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends you eat them only sparingly, because of the pollution that we have in our water.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from the Barnesville School that says, "Seventh graders planned a day of events to reinforce ongoing lessons for pre-K to eighth graders about human impact on the environment." So good for you Barnesville School. Macy Placide, we need to talk about the Chesapeake Bay, which is home to some 3600 of species of plants and animals. Are any in danger of disappearing?
PLACIDEYes. Well, there are a number of species that we're looking at that are currently threatened or endangered from the impacts of climate change in addition to other several factors. When we think of the Chesapeake Bay, we immediately think of, you know, blue crab and oysters. And unfortunately their numbers are alarmingly low. In the 1970s, annual oyster catch was about 25 million pounds per year. And blue crab harvest contributed nearly a third of the nation's catch. However, today the Bay's oyster population is a mere two percent of its historic levels.
PLACIDEAnd reduced amounts of underwater grass habitat threaten the blue crabs habitat as well. And there are a number of other species we're looking at, you know, the Atlantic Sturgeon and the Shortnose Sturgeon, which are prehistoric species of fish. They've been in the Bay for at least 70 million years. However, there are a number of harvesting pressures and water pollution quality issues that are really putting the species to really alarmingly low levels.
NNAMDIWhat is putting that ecosystem at risk?
PLACIDEWell, like I mentioned. You know, water pollution is a huge factor. And as Jeanne, you know, nutrient runoff and pollution into the waterways and streams is really causing issues for these fish and other species. You know, the Eastern Black Rail is another tiny marsh bird whose habitat is at risk and that's largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation from humans. So humans are largely contributing to these factors, which is creating a biological annihilation of our animals.
NNAMDIErin from Greenville, Virginia called to ask, "The guests were mentioning that people should not use fertilizer. I'm a new homeowner. I don't know what fertilizers not to use, any advice?"
BRAHAFertilizer is safe to use, but you want to actually use it in the amounts that the packaging recommends. Most people take a "more is more" approach to gardening and in many cases that is a great technique. However, with the actual fertilizer you want to be very cautious and particularly also make sure that you're not applying your fertilizer just before a rain. If you do that, you're not getting the benefit of the fertilizer on your lawn, but it's rather running off into the creek or eventually into the bay.
NNAMDIJeanne, strangely the Chesapeake blue crab is experiencing a pollution explosion in of all places Spain, where it is seen as an invasive species viewed the way the snakehead fish are viewed in the bay, as a menace feeding on native species. Are you fending off any invasive species in Rock Creek Park and how do you manage that exactly?
BRAHAWell, we are fortunate to have an incredible team of natural resource managers that work for the National Park Service that oversee the management of that space. And they bring teams in each year that manage those exotic species. We also engage thousands of volunteers every year through the Rock Creek Conservancy. There's an opportunity every weekend to go out and pull up your sleeves. And it's very cathartic to go out and actually rip some of those plants out of the ground. Things like garlic mustard, English ivy, which is easy to identify for most people. Things like mile-a-minute.
BRAHAIn the park, though, it's important to follow the guidance of either the conservancy and our volunteers or the park staff, because it's easy often to confuse those invasive species for a native that is similar and that we want to have stay there. In your own yards, go crazy on that English ivy.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Perry who says, "I moved to Mount Pleasant in D.C. 21 years ago. At that time I identified 22 bird species in my backyard. Now I'm lucky to get seven or eight. I have seen one night hawk in five years, one titmouse, and no longer any merlin ruby crown kinglets and several others." That is indeed what we're experiencing in Rock Creek Park also.
BRAHAWe definitely are seeing overall declines in bio diversity in this area. The park does provide an important reservoir for song birds in particular and it's right on the migratory pathway as well for many bird species. Any one yard or place may see some variation. That's not necessarily indicative of overall trends, but we certainly are concerned in general.
NNAMDIPeople like to know what they can do. And on Earth Day, a lot of people do volunteer and clean up parks. But there are things -- are there things that people can do all year long? What are some of the concrete ways to help?
PLACIDEYes. Well, at Earth Day Network, we believe Earth Day is every day not just one particular day. And with Earth Day's 50th anniversary approaching next year it will be the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. We are going to be launching a number of campaigns and events across the globe. And we encourage everybody to join our global movement in ways to gets involved and become a voice for the environment. So if you have ways in which you think you cannot help, we have a number of lists of ways you can. And you can visit earthday.org to learn more.
NNAMDISame question to you, Jeanne. A lot of people want to know what can I do to help.
BRAHAVery simple things. Probably the most tangible -- we were just talking to your ultrarunning guests about plogging, which is picking up trash as you run, but you can do that when you walk or roll or otherwise move throughout the watershed. Really thinking carefully about how you're taking care of your personal space. We just talked about fertilizer and the plants that you choose in your -- whether it's your building or your yard. Also simple things like picking up pet waste. Pet waste certainly is a contributor to those nutrients that are coming into our waterways. So making sure you pick that up and put it where it belongs.
NNAMDINext year, 50th anniversary of Earth Day, any special events in the works?
BRAHAYeah. So like I mentioned, we're going to be hosting a number of great events, campaigns, global cleanup, reforestation efforts, and a lively event on the National Mall. So it should be really exciting and, again, we want everybody -- encourage everybody from all walks of life to join our movement.
NNAMDIMacy Placide is Manager of the Protect Our Species campaign at Earth Day Network. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Jeanne Braha is Executive Director of the Rock Creek Conservancy. Jeanne, thank you for joining us.
BRAHAThank you. Happy Earth Day.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. Happy Earth Day to you too. When we come back, the rise in ultrarunners in our region. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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