Common milkweed isn’t a particularly finicky plant—it has “weed” in its name for a reason and can be found growing on roadsides, empty lots, and old fields. But over the last two decades, Asclepias syriaca, which is primarily found in the Midwest and eastern United States, has disappeared from most agricultural landscapes. Along with it, the population of the iconic migratory monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus plexippus, which relies on the plant for reproduction, has also crashed, so much so that it is being considered for endangered status.
According to researchers, 1.3 billion stems of milkweed have disappeared from Midwestern farmlands over the last 20 years. This has led to an 80 percent crash in the migratory monarch, which winters in the mountains of Mexico and breeds in the central and eastern United States during the spring and summer. Since hitting an estimated high of 682 million monarchs in 1997, the species dropped to just 42 million in 2015. According to another study, milkweed in and near cropland in Illinois, prime monarch habitat, has dropped by 95 percent over the same period—representing a 50 percent drop in the total milkweed population.
A new report from the National Audubon Society shows that two-thirds of North America’s birds face major challenges including extinction if global temperatures are allowed to increase 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. However, if temperature rise is limited to 1.5 degrees, the majority of those disruptions can be stopped.
The report, Society Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, is a major update of Audubon’s influential 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report, which examined the impacts and range shift of 588 birds in North America under various climate scenarios. In the new report, researchers looked at data for 604 species collected from 70 sources including over 140 million individual records of birds. They were able to overlay this information with data on human land use, agriculture, and urbanization trends that were not available in 2014. The researchers were able to model this data at a resolution of one square kilometer, 10 times finer than the scale used in the 2014 report.
Cause for Hope: We’re On Track to Move Beyond Coal:
If you’re alarmed or distressed by the major new climate findings released this week, I have good news to restore your hope and pull you back from the edge of despair. But first, in case you missed the headlines, the major scientific analysis released this weekend by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a staggering wake-up call to action on climate.
When we do that, we will not only maintain America’s leadership in the world but also continue the shift in the marketplace toward clean, renewable energy, which is already accessible and cheaper than coal in places all over the country and the globe. Getting off of coal and fossil fuels doesn’t just help curb the climate crisis, it saves lives and saves money by cutting toxic pollution from coal plants that makes people sick and drives up medical costs.
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Living in the threatened long-leaf pine flats, the dusky gopher frog needs fire, water, and earth to survive. Earthen tunnels, dug by other animals like gopher tortoises, are a damp refuge for these frogs when the weather is dry, while fire keeps the longleaf forest healthy and open, and the rainwater that gathers in seasonal wetlands serves as a perfect place to lay eggs.
With only a single population of about a hundred adult frogs in Mississippi’s Harrison County, these dumpy, speckly frogs are the rarest species of amphibian in North America. If startled, they cover their eyes with their front feet, and can also inflate their bodies to look bigger. The male frogs’ mating calls are said to sound like a human snoring.
Every year in early spring, Lane Green sets half of his property—100 acres of longleaf pine forest in the Red Hills region of the Florida Panhandle—on fire. Green, 73, has been burning this land since the time he learned to walk. His father would jury-rig a torch using a wire hanger and piece of cloth and tell him to drag it through the brush along the road—just as Green’s father had been taught before him, his granddad before him, and his great-granddad before him. When Green was young, his favorite time to burn was at night, when the air was cool, and the fire, creeping and crackling, looked as if the stars had been scattered across the ground.
Scientists and land managers almost universally agree that prescribed fire is the single best tool available to help mitigate wildfire risk. Landowners in the American Southeast use more prescribed fire than in any other part of the country. But across much of the American West—which has captured an outsize proportion of the public imagination around wildfire—scientists say land management agencies aren’t using fire nearly enough.