Inviting Wildlife Into Your Life

 

dsc06366Enjoy bird song? The brilliant flash of butterfly wings? Or practical considerations like natural insect control? Then invite wildlife into your backyard.

Birds: Bird seed and suet will entice a surprising variety of birds to your yard. Provide a mixed seed collection to appeal to different palettes, and the birds will flock. Don’t worry about seed falling on the dirt. Ground feeders, like California quail and juncos, will gladly “clean up” after the messy eaters. Birdbaths, bird houses, and trees will also lure the feathered creatures, providing water and shelter.

Butterflies: Plant flowers* in sunny locations to provide nectar and the sun’s heat to warm these beautiful insects. In return, they’ll pollinate your flower garden. Butterflies like bright blooms that are flat-topped, clustered, or short tubed. Sow different plants to provide blooms for the whole of summer. Particular Utah favorites include butterfly bush, milkweed, verbena, clematis, salvia, lavender, and daisies.

Rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks: As you may recall from Peter Rabbit, long-eared rodents like lettuce and French beans. Rabbits also like broad-leaf weeds, berries, clover, and grasses. Squirrels enjoy a delicious blend of corn, sunflower seeds, and peanuts in the shell. Chipmunks are more omnivorous, chowing on bird eggs, worms, and frogs, as well as grains, nuts, and fungi. In addition to food, these skittish creatures need places to hide and nest. Dead wood and brush piles provide such enclaves of safety.

Bats: Did you know bats control insect populations? A single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 insects in one hour. Seventy percent of bats are strictly insectivores. However, because of chemical insecticides and habitat loss, the number of bats is plummeting. Invite bats to your yard with bat houses to provide them safety. Then, come dusk, sit back and watch their aerobatics as they swoop to catch their prey.

Bees: Bees are easy to entice: flowers, flowers, and more flowers and NO INSECTIDE. Bees are intricate to the pollination of most of the world’s flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruits, yet they too are threatened.  Plant a flower, if only to help save them.

*When planting, native flora is best. Natives are hardy and already adapted to our high desert conditions and soil, requiring less water, fertilizer, and general maintenance. Plus, native animals co-evolved with native plants; it’s their food of choice.

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picm_june2015First published in Pets in the City Magazine, June 2015

Anza-Borrego Super Bloom

This year, with the heavy rains, the California deserts were abloom. Absolutely gorgeous. I had a chance to catch them in their glory at Anza-Borrego State Park, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, and Carrizo Plain National Monument.

As the title suggests, here are some photos from Anza-Borrego. Click on a pic for identification.

Of Mice, Rats, Birds and Men

Facts are often stranger than fiction.

A case in point: The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that provides basic protections for animals used in laboratory research doesn’t cover 95% of those animals, including mice, rats, and birds. While dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and nonhuman primates must receive appropriate food, shelter, and medical care, the majority lack any such consideration. Instead, researchers can subject them to excruciating procedures without anesthesia, house them in overcrowded conditions or in isolation, and dispose of them as they see fit.

It verges on a horror story.

picture3What is the Animal Welfare Act?

The AWA is the federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers by setting minimum acceptable standards. In regards to research, the AWA requires suitable housing, veterinary care, and research being conducted in compliance with the “three R’s”: replacement, reduction, and refinement.

Replacement: Where possible, researchers should perform experiments on a replacement, such as computer simulations, mathematical models, and in vitro.

Reduction: Researchers should reduce the number of animals used to the smallest amount possible.

Refinement: Researchers should design experiments to minimize the animals’ pain and suffering.

A 1970 amendment to the AWA covered all warm-blooded animals. The federal anti-cruelty law did not specify protections but directed the USDA to adopt regulations to protect the animals.

Follow the Money

Despite direction from Congress, the Secretary of Agriculture promptly excluded the majority used in research. In 2002, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, amended the Farm Bill (H.R. 2646) to legally seal the deal to exclude these animals. Why? His top contributors included tobacco companies that experiment on these animals.

So, USDA veterinary inspectors do not oversee their care. Their numbers are not even reported (though estimated to be up to 100 million).

The economics also make the circumstances worse for these animals. Cheaply bred and sold by laboratory supply companies, they’re used en masse. With higher priced animals – say rhesus monkeys – the ledgers require more carefully designed research methodology to minimize variables. The higher costs of these animals also ensure they’re better treated because, by golly, they’re more expensive to replace.

Cheap animals are disposable. You can have a study involving a thousand mice with fewer controls for variables, because the large numbers themselves will ultimately bear out statistically significant results. (Apparently, some studies are so unconstrained that they cannot be replicated in different labs.)

“Ethically Indefensible”

Many researchers themselves, including the American Association for Laboratory Animal Sciences and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, say the treatment of these animals is “ethically indefensible.”

The lack of regulation even goes against the intent of Congress. Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-KS, has stated, “When Congress stated that the AWA applied to all warm-blooded animals, we certainly did not intend to exclude 95% of the animals used in biomedical research laboratories.”

The current law is even out of whack with the National Institute of Health’s voluntary industry standards to consider alternatives and minimize and avoid pain for all vertebrates (including cold-blooded animals, such as fish and frogs), as well as the National Academy of Sciences’ Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-VA, introduced a bill (H.R. 6693*) last year to include rats, mice and birds under the AWA, basically restoring it to its 1970 scope as the bipartisan framers intended. Unsurprisingly, the bill now lingers in the Committee on Agriculture.

While Utah does not have a representative on that committee, petitions are available on the internet to weigh in on the issue and help bring it to a vote. Don’t let Congress Mickey Mouse around on this.

*UPDATE: This bill died in Congress. Of course.

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picm_oct2013First published in Pets in the City Magazine, October 2013.