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Archive for March, 2008

You’ll never guess what we’re celebrating this week

It’s “International Scoop the Poop Week.”

The Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists (aPaws) was founded by a group of professional pooper scoopers who believe that every dog should have its day. In recognition of what it says is a growing problem in our communities, aPaws says it established this special week to help educate pet owners on the importance of cleaning up after their dogs.

I say they are doing this to drum up some business, because aPaws is also promoting a Web site with a directory of member pooper scooper companies in different states who can help dog owners who are looking for someone to hire to keep their yards cleared of dog poop.

Hey, whatever. If you’re too pooped to deal with it yourself and want to find a professional pooper scooper to do your work for you, checkout

Whatever works. /Gary

Posted on Monday, March 31st, 2008
Under: dogs | No Comments »

Bees are dying … don’t spray the flowers!

I found this in my morning mail:

I wrote the letter below to send to the editor, but decided to pass it to you instead. I am not asking you to reprint it, just use whatever parts you may find suitable. There is just no need for people to be spraying so much pesticides in the first place, and don’t they know how much humans need bees? (Elwira Stankiewicz)

Bees have been lately in the news, with their mysterious and frightening disappearances. Our bee disappearance in the Estates neighborhood of Concord, California, was not quite so mysterious, but it certainly was frightening and heartbreaking.

Right after Easter our bees started suddenly dying. They crawled in masses away from their home, twitching and jerking (it is a dying bee’s last gift to her sisters to take herself away). Thousands died inside, littering the top and bottom of the hive. Many just never made it home. In a few days our beautiful happy hive has gone silent and still. Dreaded Colony Collapse Disorder?

Nope. According to a professional beekeeper I consulted, it was a simple case of one of our neighbors, somewhere within a half mile most likely, going too happy with a can of pesticide.

Perhaps the people who did it saw bugs around their backyard and sprayed everything. Perhaps they even believed bees attack people, while pesticides are harmless to children. But whether the cause was indifference or ignorance, the bees that only pollinate our gardens died.

It seems like a microcosm of what’s happening on a larger scale. In coming years, while someone enjoys a buzz-free yard, the rest of the neighborhood will ponder the low yields in backyard gardens. And while our chemical agricultural practices persist, wild bees disappear and commercial beekeepers go bankrupt, U.S. consumers will ponder skyrocketing prices of produce dependent on bees for pollination, and not just almonds.

There are products to repel or destroy pests in garden and home that are safe to humans and bees. Diatomaceous earth is by far my favorite, a true gardener’s best friend. There are wasp repellent sprays that do not harm picnickers (or nearby bees). And even commercial pest control companies have options for keeping “bugs” away without wiping out all the beneficial insects at the same time, and they usually know it is against the law to apply pesticides while bees are foraging.

But my bees are out of there. We moved what bees remained to a new, hopefully cleaner place in hope the queen was not fed the poison, and lives and enough of them survive to nurse the next generation.

So, there is hope for them. But is there a hope for humanity when many of us don’t realize “environment” is not some leftist/commie/liberal slogan, but the food on our table, our own health, and our survival as a species?

Sad bee friend in Concord, CA (Elwira Stankiewicz)

“About a third of the American diet can be traced back to bees,” says May Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois. Honeybees pollinate the flowers of an alphabet of crops: almonds, apples, asparagus, avocados, blueberries, broccoli, cantaloupe, celery, cherries, cranberries … the list goes on and on and on. Think about it. No pollination … no crops.

Want to hear something shocking? More pesticides are sprayed, dusted, dumped and poured in suburban and urban backyards than on all the farms in the country.

Just walk into any hardware or garden supply store … or down certain aisles in your local supermarket … and take a BIG sniff. Ah … the bittersweet smell of poisons … just waiting for you to take them home and use them!

Hungry? Don’t spray pesticides in your yard! /Gary

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2008
Under: Bee decline, beekeeper, bees, Pesticide | 3 Comments »

Gloria Estefan’s “Turn the Beat Around” not popular with rats

My friend Karen is always sending me interesting little stories like this one:

“A friend went on holiday and left her car in the garage with a window open. When she returned she found a hole in her front seat. A rat had decided to make her car, a nice Mercedes, its home.

“The hole kept getting bigger but searches for the rat were fruitless. (The size of the poops suggested a rat.) She didn’t want to kill the little bugger, as most people would. First she tried a humane trap but was just left with the trap and no cheese.

“A wildlife rescue friend suggested playing loud annoying music in the car non-stop all night. Gloria Estefan’s “Turn the Beat Around” was what drove the rat to search for, well, maybe a Bentley or something. I was really proud of her for not killing the rat. In the end the solution was free and easy, except for having to repair the front seat. (Karen Benzel, cyberspace)”

The right sounds have been known to humanely resolve many an animal problem.

Raccoons are a classic example.

In California in early fall when the hills are turning brown, suburban raccoons will turn to the lush green lawns in local backyards in their search for food. A small group of 2-5 raccoons can use their hand-like paws to roll up an entire back lawn in one night as they search for earthworms, larvae and other insects and small rodents to eat. The destruction is massive.

About 10 years ago, after getting a LOT of letters and e-mail complaining about this problem, I wrote a column asking my readers if they had discovered any humane ways to keep the raccoons from destroying their lawns.

I was inundated with answers, some of them having to do with sound:

** We back up to the hills and have always had a good rapport with the raccoons until they tore up the new lawn! I tried everything, including coyote urine (that was stupid since we also have coyotes in the hills and they sure have not been cause for the raccoons to stay away).

Finally, I took my portable boom box, wrapped it in a garbage bag to keep it from getting wet, tuned it to all-news radio KCBS and left it on all night. I made sure it wasn’t loud enough to disturb the neighbors, but at least loud enough to trick the critters into believing a human was out in the yard. It worked! I left it on each night for about three weeks and have not had a problem with them tearing up the lawn ever since. (Laurie Leone, Danville)

** A radio in the yard on a talk radio station does the trick. (Marilyn Borchardt, cyberspace)

** Last year we tried our solution in one of our yards when they appeared, this year in another yard. It worked both times. We first turned on our outdoor lights. It worked for a day or two, but they returned, digging in the shady areas. Then we also put out a radio around 10 to 20 feet from their activities. It was turned up loud enough to hear it clearly 20 to 30 feet away. The raccoons disappeared.

To answer the most obvious question, we tune it to KGO. As an added benefit to our solution, if KGO’s nighttime sponsors in Danville or Alamo note increased business from local raccoons and skunks, radio may have found a new market. (Bill Souveroff, Danville)

I can just hear their new marketing promotion: “KGO Bay Area raccoon and skunk repellent radio. They can’t dig it!” Ah, the sweet smell of success.

Personally, I think we should just get rid of all the lawns. It takes waaay too much water to keep them green, anyway. /Gary

Posted on Thursday, March 27th, 2008
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Spring on Mount Diablo, a beautiful island in a sea of green

Another note from my friend Brian:

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s Spring!

There is an unusually spectacular display of California poppies along Northgate Road to brighten up your trip up Mount Diablo, with other wildflowers soon to follow. (Brian in Walnut Creek, CA)

Brian’s point is well taken. Get thee up beautiful Mount Diablo this weekend so you can stand on top and look around and be overwhelmed by the roiling sea of green foothills lapping at your feet in all directions.

Take your time on the way down so you can enjoy the wildflowers. Spring only happens once a year, you know, so you don’t want to miss anything! /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, March 26th, 2008
Under: Spring, Wildflowers | No Comments »

Wolves lose federal protection. Now fair game for hunters, ranchers

After many years of federal protection that cost millions of tax dollars, gray wolves will be fair game for hunters and ranchers in most of Wyoming when the animals are removed from the endangered species list on Friday (Mar. 28).

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will take over full “management” of the wolves, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ending its wolf recovery effort.

In northwestern Wyoming, the state will continue a federal policy allowing ranchers to kill on sight wolves caught in the act of attacking their livestock or domestic animals.

They are allowed to kill the wolves, even though Defenders of Wildlife has provided a compensation program to ranchers for livestock killed by wolves. Can you believe it? The latest figures I could find show Defenders had spent $200,000 on this program by the end of 2003.

In the rest of Wyoming, the rules will allow people to kill wolves at any time and for any reason. (Can you spell H-U-N-T-I-N-G?)

Amazing, isn’t it, how our government has been able to bring the wolves back from the brink of extinction … so that Wyoming, Montana and Idaho can issue licenses to hunt and kill these animals as a very profitable source of revenue for the states?

Just remember … YOU helped pay for this. Kinda makes you feel warm all over just thinking about it, doesn’t it? /Gary

Posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2008
Under: Endangered species, Hunting, Wolves | 1 Comment »

Pet owners unintentionally harm thousands of pets each year

In the average household, many pets are only one bite away from disaster.

I found this information in my morning mail. It’s definitely worth a read:
Veterinary Pet Insurance of Brea, California, recently analyzed its medical claims data to determine the most commonly ingested household toxins and poisons. VPI ranked the toxic substances by the number of claims received in 2007 for each type.

Shockingly, the most dangerous poisons by far appear to be human medications intentionally given to pets by their owners!

Here is the list of top household toxins, with 2007 claim counts and prevention pointers for each.

1. Drug Reactions (3,455 claims) — VPI received more claims for drug reactions than all other poisoning claims combined in 2007. Many of these claims involved pets given drugs intended for human consumption, such as over-the-counter pain relievers. Pet owners often give pets over-the-counter or prescription drugs for their ailments, unaware that even given in small amounts, many of these drugs cannot be metabolized by pets fast enough to prevent an overdose. Never give pets medications without consulting a veterinarian.

2. Rodenticide (870 claims) — Even if these poisons, most often sold in pellet form, are placed away from pets, rodents can carry them to pet-occupied areas. The taste and smell of rodenticides is designed to appeal to small mammals. Pet owners should consider other options for eliminating rodents.

3. Methylxanthine (755 claims) — The methylxanthine class of chemical compounds includes theobromine and caffeine, both of which are common ingredients in chocolate. Toxic amounts of theobromine can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, hyperactivity, abnormal rhythms of the heart, or even seizures in pets. Unsweetened baking chocolate contains much higher levels of theobromine than milk chocolate, causing toxicity with the consumption of much smaller amounts.

4. Plant Poisoning (466 claims) — Many household plants can be toxic to pets, including sago palms, tulips, oleander, hyacinths, poinsettias, azaleas, lilies, and amaryllis. Other plant products including onions, grapes and raisins are also categorized under the company’s plant toxicity code. Pet owners should exercise extra caution when pets are near these plants and abstain from giving grapes and raisins as treats.

5. Household Chemicals (313 claims) — Pets will get into just about anything with bright colors and strong odors. Ingestion of cleaning supplies such as bleach, liquid potpourri, even deodorant or toiletries can result in an ill pet. Keep these items secured.

6. Metaldehyde (88 claims) — This deadly component of snail bait can also attract pets. Signs usually occur quickly and include vomiting and whole body tremors. Pet owners should consider alternative methods for getting rid of snails and slugs.

7. Organophosphate (60 claims) — This group of insecticides works to inactivate acetylcholinesterase, which is essential to nerve function in insects and pets. Ingestion can occur through skin absorption or oral intake. The chemicals degrade quickly after being sprayed outside, but pets should not be exposed to any area that has recently been sprayed.

8. Toad Poisoning (58 claims) — Some species of toad, particularly along the Gulf Coast, secrete a toxic substance when threatened — or licked by curious dogs. Toxic effects are immediate and can be life-threatening. Make sure to regularly monitor pets when outdoors to reduce exposure to hazardous creatures.

9. Heavy metals (48 claims) — Mercury, lead or excessive amounts of zinc, iron, cobalt and copper can cause serious illness in pets, especially if allowed to accumulate in a pet’s body. Pets may be exposed to heavy metals through lead-based paint, ingestion of pennies coined after 1982, vitamins, soil contamination, or water pollutants.

10. Antifreeze (36 claims) — The sweet taste of antifreeze appeals to pets. While most people are aware of the poisonous potential of antifreeze, they may not notice a pool collecting from a leak beneath a car. Regularly give a glance beneath the car and clean any spills immediately.

Please make sure the above information doesn’t apply to you.

Are you using poisons in your house or yard? Don’t. Are you giving human drugs to your pets WITHOUT the recommendation of your veterinarian? Don’t. Do you have any poisonous plants in your house? Get rid of them. Is there any spilled antifreeze on your garage floor? Clean it up.

And PLEASE make sure you know the phone number and location of the nearest Veterinary Emergency Clinic to your house … just in case. The life you save may be that of your beloved pet. /Gary

Posted on Monday, March 24th, 2008
Under: Cats, dogs, Pesticide, Poison, Poisonous plants, Toxic | No Comments »

Martinez beavers are worth a dam

Hey beaver lovers, I just received the following update on the status of the beaver family that lives in the downtown Martinez (CA) area of Alhambra Creek.

Apparently the plight of the Martinez Beavers, made famous through YouTube videos, national news outlets and this very blog you are reading, still hangs in the balance.

Check this out:

In response to overwhelming political and special interest pressures to relocate the beavers, and out of a sincere desire to create workable solutions that allow for coexistence, “Worth A Dam,” an association under the umbrella of Land4Urban Wildlife has been formed.

MARTINEZ, California — Worth A Dam ( — Worth A Dam, hosted by the 501(c) Land4Urban Wildlife and headed up by Heidi Perryman, will tackle the ongoing challenges of beaver coexistence. The non-profit will act as the fulcrum between City Officials/Staff and community volunteers. The first order of business will be the redesign of the existing Martinez Beavers Web site to allow for individual contributions to projects such as willow tree plantings.

“Ultimately, though, our charter hinges on the outcome of the City Council vote to either keep or evict the beavers,” says Perryman. The City Council meeting on April 2 is the date being floated for that final vote.

As if to emphasize Ms. Perryman’s concern: in an e-mail response regarding publicity for the upcoming meeting, Martinez City Council Member, Lara DeLaney wrote, “ … we will need all the public support we can get to pressure those members of the Council who are leaning (strongly) toward removal/relocation … ” Those members referred to are Mayor Rob Schroder, Council Member Janet Kennedy and Council Member Mike Menesini.

While it appears that the vote will fall on the side of removal/relocation of the beavers, Ms. Perryman is still optimistic about the beavers’ fate.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes any attempts to relocate or euthanize the beavers that have colonized the downtown area of Alhambra Creek, as well as any attempts to irreparably harm their lodge, dam, and surrounding habitat,” Perryman said. “Clearly a good many of you have already embraced the idea of stewardship concerning these animals. That can easily broaden into a larger ecological awareness that creates personal and civic pride in living in harmony with nature.”

Noting a recent mention by the San Francisco Examiner which characterized November’s meeting as a ‘“grand protest,” Ms. Perryman acknowledges the upcoming City Council meeting on April 2 needs an even greater number of attendees.

“Cheryl Reynolds just shot a picture of what appears to be a very pregnant female beaver. Even if we were going to relocate them, the experts agree that fall would be a much safer time.”

You can see the pregnant beaver photo at

Mission statement: Maintaining the Martinez beavers through responsible stewardship, creative problem-solving, community education and involvement.

Anyone who wants the beavers to stay where they are in Alhambra Creek should obviously attend that very important April 2 Martinez City Council meeting. They need all the support they can get.

Please add your comments or ideas about the beavers below. /Gary

Posted on Friday, March 21st, 2008
Under: Beavers | 7 Comments »

Easter ducklings & chicks pose environmental & health hazards

PLEASE! No live pets for Easter!

Every year, children become ill with Salmonella poisoning from handling baby ducks and chicks, typically sold only during Easter. Dumping those ducklings at your local pond or community lake is also disastrous — to the ducklings and to the environment.

The International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia, CA, sent me a note earlier this week asking me to alert you about the serious consequences that can occur when baby animals are purchased on impulse. They provided the facts listed below.

The problem worsens this time of year.

Easter baskets containing live animals are not only cruel, but also dangerous, as children can become infected with Salmonella by handling them. Yet pet shops and feed stores, even ones in urban areas, continue to sell live ducklings, goslings, chicks and bunnies, with no regard for the animals, the environment, or the people who buy them.

Most of these animals will live short miserable lives. When the novelty wears off and the reality of caring for an animal with special needs sets in, these animals, typically bought “on impulse,” usually end up abandoned in a local park to fend for themselves.

Many people think that all ducks and geese are the same but the reality is that domestic ducks and geese have been bred to be slow and flightless. They can’t fly to escape the jaws of dogs, raccoons and other predators.

When food supplies run out, they can’t fly to other lakes and ponds like wild ducks and geese. Or, the problem goes the other way, with overpopulation occurring.

On top of that, it may seem innocent, some think even kind, to feed bread to those “park ducks.” Well-meaning people feed them bread, crackers, popcorn and other junk food that fills them up, but offers no nutritional value. This leads to malnutrition. A steady diet of bread and crackers can even kill them.

And as they weaken they are more prone to disease which will affect the wild waterfowl populations that come and go around them. Botulism, Newcastle disease, duck virus enteritis (DVE), and avian cholera are all diseases that domestic ducks can spread to wild flocks. Outbreaks have caused the deaths of thousands of birds at a time.

The IBRRC center’s rehabilitation professionals see the end results of selling live ducklings at Easter. “One of the biggest problems is hybridization,” says Karen Benzel, spokesperson for IBRRC.

Wildlife rescue centers readily accept wild native ducks that are injured or orphaned but will not take domestic ducks, or hybrids, which result when domestics mate with wild ducks, like mallards. Local humane societies are typically not equipped to handle the needs of waterfowl or chickens and also become overwhelmed with unwanted pet rabbits.

IBRRC, which manages two rehabilitation centers in California, specializes in waterfowl and aquatic birds and in educating the public to the problems they face in the environment.

For the complete article about abandoned ducks and geese and the problems they face, visit the IBRRC Web page at:

International Bird Rescue Research Center, 4369 Cordelia Road, Cordelia, CA 94534, is a leading expert in the rehabilitation of waterfowl and aquatic birds, especially victims of oil spills. Founded in 1971, IBRRC’s staff and oil spill response team members have responded to over 200 international oil spills involving wildlife, treating over 100,000 birds and over 400 species.

IBRRC and their staff and volunteers (like you!) were there to care for oiled waterfowl when we needed them after the ship hit the San Francisco Bay Bridge last fall and dumped 50,000-plus gallons of oil into the Bay.

IBRRC manages three wildlife rehabilitation centers in Cordelia, CA and San Pedro, CA, for the state of California and the Alaska Wildlife Response Center in Anchorage, AK. For more Information about their centers, history, programs, to make a donation or volunteer, please visit their Web site at

Want to give your kids a nice, safe gift for Easter? How about a BIG chocolate Easter egg? YUM! /Gary

Posted on Thursday, March 20th, 2008
Under: Chickens, ducklings, Easter, Oil Spills | 3 Comments »

Swan finds real love at German zoo; relationship with boat is on the rocks

The Associated Press always comes up with such romantic stories.

BERLIN — A love story is over at a German zoo: Petra the swan and her boyfriend, a swan-shaped paddleboat, are parting ways.

Petra, a black swan, became so attached to the boat — shaped like an oversized white swan — that she refused to leave its side. Officials in the western city of Muenster decided to let Petra stay with her special boatfriend over the winter, bringing both bird and boat into a city zoo.

However, Petra met a real live swan at the zoo. The swan and her new mate — a white swan — are building a nest together.

Realizing their relationship was sunk, the boat is returning to its owner.

Sad. I think I have something in my eye. /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, March 19th, 2008
Under: Swan | No Comments »

Is clear-cutting of California forests causing loss of wildlife habitat & wildlife?

Dear Gary:
I found your blog while searching for information about Fish and Game Commissioner Judd Hanna (booted off the commission for promoting a ban on lead bullets in the endangered California condor range. /Gary).

I am a biologist in the Placerville area, working with a loose coalition of like-minded people trying to figure out what in the world we can do to stop the insane amount of clear-cutting that is being approved by state agencies (CDF/Calfire and CDF&G) by SPI (Sierra Pacific Industries) in California … basically converting our native forests into pine tree farms, with little value for wildlife of any kind.

Deer are starving to death in the winter in the Sierra Nevada, and SPI’s policies (and the Forest Service isn’t much better) are the biggest contributor to this.

I thought that because you published that letter from Judd Hanna, and that you are friends with Eric Mills (Action for Animals), that you might have some ideas about who to talk to and how we can get more visibility for this issue among your colleagues, networks, and circle of friends. I would appreciate any ideas you have.

Clear-cutting is approved through Timber Harvest Plans (THPs) on a daily basis, and also after wildfire.

When there is a wildfire, the timber industry and the federal managers jump in immediately to cut the scorched trees — most of which have been shown to be alive still — and cut them in so-called “salvage” timber sales.

Most of the regulatory rules for timber harvest in California, under the “Forest Practice Rules” are suspended during this process. Then the industry proceeds to plant dense rows of mostly single species, commercial ponderosa pine at levels that create huge fire hazards (the pine plantations have been scientifically shown to be more of a fire hazard than native forest, brush, or grassland).

Then they douse the ground for several years with chemical herbicides which kill the native re-growth of shrubs and herbs, and oaks … the very species which deer need to survive on. And the early successional forest is the very foundation of the native forest food web.

Absent wildfire, the state approves thousands of acres of clear-cuts in California which then undergo the same chemical and planting regime.

The upshot of all of this is that deer and many other species of birds and mammals (not to mention the frogs, turtles, butterflies and everything else which no longer have habitat for food, nesting and reproduction) are declining throughout our forests in California.

I know that many hunters are very upset about this too, but there is no organized effort to force the state to take action. We desperately need to get all interested and affected citizens together to fight this outrage.

Here is a recent article on SPI’s clear-cutting practices from Amador County’s Ledger Dispatch:

It is so rare to actually see the press get this right. You won’t see the big papers reporting on this issue. (Vivian Parker, Placerville)

Your message is getting some of that much-needed visibility right here in my blog.

You should also contact as many of those newspapers that you say aren’t reporting this to see if they’ll let you write a forum/op-ed piece about this problem for their editorial pages. Most newspapers have the mechanism in place to accept and print articles like you’ve written above. Be sure and footnote all the points you make.

You should submit your op-ed piece to papers like the Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Chico Enterprise-Record, Redding Record Searchlight, etc.

Anyone else have anything to say on this? Please add your comments below.

Be sure and click on the link and read the above story in the Ledger Dispatch. They’ve got a pretty interesting grassroots thing going. /Gary

Posted on Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Under: Habitat, Logging, Wildlife | No Comments »