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Friday Finds: Predator vs. People

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22 July 2011, 10:26 AM
Fishy cleanups, meaty eco dilemmas, dirty soaps
Grey wolves in Yellowstone help keep the elk population in check. Photo courtesy of Arran_Edmonstone

Environment loses in predator versus people standoff
A new study has found that the decline of the world’s largest predators is wreaking havoc on the rest of the ecosystem, reports the Washington Post. Nature abhors a vacuum, and by killing off large sums of the world’s wolves, lions, buffalo and wildebeest, humans have inadvertently opened a door to other, sometimes less beneficial, wildlife. For example, the decimation of lions and leopards in parts of sub-Saharan Africa has allowed disease-ridden baboons to thrive, sometimes venturing into populated areas. And in the U.S., the hunting and killing of wolves in Yellowstone Park has incresed the numbers of elk and deer, which devour the forest food supply, leaving less food for other creatures. Deer also carry ticks that spread Lyme disease, an emerging infectious disease that can affect the joints, heart and central nervous system in humans.

Though the authors of the report acknowledge that it can be difficult to predict the effect that the loss of a large predator will have on the environment, what is clear is that no species is an island unto itself. In fact, the reintroduction of a native species can sometimes have a positive effect on the environment. For example, a reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone back in the 1990s has helped keep the elk population in check, thereby allowing other creatures like beavers and birds to bounce back. Said William Ripple, co-author of the international report, “It’s amazing the effect one species, the wolf, can have on the entire ecosystem.”

Fish cast a line into lead cleanup
Environmental engineers are taking a new approach to dealing with the remnants of America’s lead paint and leaded gasoline past, and it involves grinding up a lot of dead fish, reports the New York Times. Since fish bones are full of calcium phosphate, which binds with lead and transforms it into a harmless mineral, government cleanup crews have started mixing fishbone meal into contaminated soil in places like west Oakland, Calif., where one neighborhood’s average lead contamination levels are twice the federal limit. The practice of using fish bones is fairly benign, especially when compared to other lead cleanup efforts like excavation. And, it’s often cheaper, which may be why even the Michelle Obama has caught onto the trend by putting ground crab shells in the soil after a small amount of lead was found in her vegetable garden. Though products with lead have largely been phased out, at least in the U.S., a number of general aviation airports still use leaded gas, the single largest source of lead emissions in the U.S. and a significant threat to public health. Now that we know lead exposure can lead to learning disabilities, nerve damage and even death, it’s high time that airports got the lead out.
Eating meat makes an environmental stink
It turns out that the KFC Double Down sandwich isn’t just bad for your health (not to mention your image). According to a new Meat Eater’s Guide by the Environmental Working Group, beef and cheese top the list of foods that are the worst environmental offenders in terms of greenhouse gas production, reports the LA Times. That’s because raising the animals means that we also have to feed them, resulting in the use of about 149 million acres of cropland, 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer just to grow livestock feed. That doesn’t even include all of the cow and sheep farts, which release “substantial amounts of methane”—a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Since it’s pretty unlikely that most Americans are going to switch to veganism anytime soon, the EWG report is quick to point out that eating one less burger per week over the course of a year is equal not driving your car about 300 miles. Now that’s success you can bite into.
Retailer’s summertime soaps have a dirty little secret
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics wants personal care retailer Bath & Body Works to stop using triclosan, a pesticide linked to hormone disruption, in its new line of summer soaps, reports the LA Times. Other companies, such as L’Oreal and The Body Shop, either no longer use the chemical or are phasing triclosan out, but Bath & Body has yet to sniff around for alternatives. That’s too bad considering that triclosan use has been fingered for creating germ superbugs and poisoning aquatic life. Studies have shown that triclosan is no more effective at stopping germs than plain old soap and water. So far about 7,000 people have sent messages to the EPA asking the agency to protect people from triclosan exposure by making companies wash their hands of this nasty chemical.

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