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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘phragmites’

50 Years After Silent Spring, Herbicides Are Everywhere

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 9, 2016

In a stand of phramites (Photo: Michigan Technological University )

In a stand of phramites (Photo: Michigan Technological University )

by Richard Conniff/

As I write this, I’m looking out at a salt marsh that requires regular spraying with the herbicide glyphosate (sold by Monsanto as Roundup) to keep it from being smothered under dense, eight-foot-high stands of an invasive grass called phragmites. At a nearby lake where I’m a member of a rowing club, the aquatic vegetation is now so dense that it’s being treated with another herbicide called flumioxazin. And along the roads back and forth, even more herbicides get applied, to keep down weedy vegetation along the edges.

More than 50 years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring first raised the alarm about their uncontrolled use, herbicides are everywhere in North American life. Use of glyphosate alone has increased 15-fold since the introduction of genetically modified Roundup Ready crops in the 1990s. In 2014, that worked out to 250 million pounds of the stuff—eight-tenths of a pound for every acre of U.S. cropland. And it’s not just about agriculture.

A new study in the Journal of Applied Ecology attempts for the first time to add up herbicide use on North American wildlands. “The numbers are much less than those for croplands, but they are astonishing,” said lead author Viktoria Wagner, a plant ecologist at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic. She and her coauthors found reliable information on just 1.2 million acres of wildlands, a fraction of the U.S. government’s 640 million acres of parks, forests, refuges, and rangelands. But in a single year, that sample was sprayed with

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Posted in Environmental Issues, Freshwater species | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Want to Save Salt Marshes? Send in the Goats

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 30, 2014

(Photo: Derek Davis/Getty Images)

(Photo: Derek Davis/Getty Images)

As I write this, I am sitting on my porch in Connecticut looking out at a coastal salt marsh, a habitat that seems to be increasingly under threat everywhere, in part because of a tall grass called Phragmites australis.  When I first moved here, the marsh was a wall of phragmites, in a dense stand 10-feet high, from one side to the other.  Hardly any wildlife seemed to live there, except redwing blackbirds.  The roots, or rhizomes, of the phragmites grew one on top of the other, crowding out native plants and threatening to turn the marsh into dry land.

When a study demonstrated that out-of-control phragmites are an invasive variety introduced in the nineteenth century from Europe, I went to work, deploying a one-man version of the anti-phragmites protocol now used by many state environmental protection agencies. Wearing a backpack sprayer, I cut tunnels through the dense foliage, then worked my way back out, spraying an herbicide called Rodeo, an aquatic variety of Roundup, on the leaves of the phragmites.  I wasn’t comfortable with the idea (and in neighboring New York the practice is illegal).  But it seemed to work.  The phragmites started to die back, and I saw a lot more wildlife, from otters to glossy ibis.

Now, though, a new study proposes a better way get the same results with less work, lower cost, and fewer environmental complications:

Send in the goats.

Duke University ecologist Brian Silliman got the idea while doing research on marshes in Europe.  He noticed that the same variety of phragmites turned up there mainly in drainage ditches and at construction sites.  But the marshes remained

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