Beware the wrath of the birding legions!

(Title borrowed from a column by the late, great Molly Ivins.)

On Monday morning, the New York Daily News broke a story about the Port Authority killing Snowy Owls at airports in New York City. Follow-up articles contrasted trigger-happy NYC with the more responsible and humane policies of Boston’s Logan Airport (a famous location for wintering Snowy Owls). The story quickly spread via Facebook, prompting a petition and phone campaign to stop the carnage (three owls had already been shotgunned by the PA’s euphemistically named “wildlife specialists” after five others struck planes).

Usually such efforts take days, weeks, or months to bear fruit, and some never do, but by Monday evening the PA had come around and agreed to stop slaughtering the owls and cooperate with trapping and relocation. The outrage from the public, including the birding community, was so swift and so fierce that it overcame bureaucratic inertia.

Every day on social media we see calls to action in support of one good cause or another or against the latest outrage. It’s good to know that raising our voices and signing our names can make a difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  — Margaret Mead

Bad news about free-roaming cats

Lucky Wilbury, our most recent shelter cat, lounging on the cat throne. We have no intention of allowing Lucky outdoors off leash, as much for his protection as for the wildlife. Our previous cat, Bart, snuck out the door one night when the coyotes were howling and Great Horned Owls hooting. He was never seen again. We feel like we let him down and only hope that he met a quick, merciful end, not like the weeks, months, or years of suffering endured by most stray and feral cats.

There’s been a recent flurry of bad news about free-roaming cats, which is timely considering a recent visit to the comments section of one LB&E post by an incipient cat hoarder. His last comment was so out of touch with reality that I did him a favor by declining to publish it. That’s tragically typical of the breed, but I hold a polyanna-ish confidence in the power of facts to overcome the disinformation thrown around by obsessive cat defenders (OCDs).

Oregon Plague: Woman Contracted Disease From Cat

Thought theBlack Death” was history? Think again. These days, plague is usually contracted from the bites of fleas in and around rodent colonies, but cats and dogs that eat infected rodents can contract and transmit the disease and/or bring home infected fleas to their human families. (Warning: The article is headed by a grisly photo of the original victim’s blackened hand.)

Rabies threat prompts town to trap feral cats

A kitten adopted from a TNR program tests positive for rabies:

The kitten was friendly and domesticated, according to the family that adopted it. Because of its demeanor, police aren’t sure that the kitten was part of the feral colony – there is a chance it was abandoned in the park. [emphasis mine]

One big reason that TNR is such a failure at reducing, much less eliminating, feral cat colonies is that the conspicuous presence of “managed” colonies in public places tends to attract people looking for places to dump unwanted pets. Inadequate commitment to vaccinating all cats in a colony at recommended intervals to prevent outbreaks of rabies, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia virus, etc. makes it a public health failure, too.

Study Finds Free-Roaming Cats Pose Threat from “Serious Public Health Diseases”

This press release from the American Bird Conservancy reports on an important new paper published in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health: “Zoonotic Diseases Associated with Free-Roaming Cats,” by R.W. Gerhold and D.A. Jessup (2012). The study reviewed the various diseases that infect free-roaming cats and the implications for public health of trying to manage feral cat populations via TNR. Three significant findings related to the second story above:

  • Free-roaming cats are disproportionately responsible for exposing humans to rabies.
  • Cat colonies “managed” by TNR attract unneutered, unvaccinated cats and increase their survivorship and reproductive success, leading to increases in colony size and potential for disease transmission.
  • Feeding stations for feral cats attract wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes that may transmit rabies and other diseases to the cats and/or carry feline diseases into the wild. (Wild predators that prey on free-roaming cats are also vulnerable to their diseases and parasites; strains of feline leukemia virus that have killed critically endangered Florida Panthers have been linked to domestic cats.)

An even more insidious public health menace related to free-roaming cats is toxoplasmosis. The organism that causes this disease can infect many animals, but cats are the only ones that pass the parasite’s infective oocysts in their feces. A cat may only shed oocysts for a couple of weeks early in the infection, but they can persist in contaminated soil—garden beds, children’s sand boxes—for years. Authors Gerhold and Jessup cited a 2011 study that found that 63 percent of the patients with acute toxoplasmosis had become infected through contact with cat feces.

One more cat item that relates to the “kitty-cam” study in Georgia:

Opinions from the Front Lines of Cat Colony Management Conflict

The authors conducted a survey of opinions about feral cats and their management with cat colony caretakers (CCCs) and bird conservation professionals (BCPs) across the United States. Naturally, they found strong polarization between the two groups (even though substantial portions of both described themselves as both cat- and bird-people), and they also documented how poorly informed/in denial CCCs were about the impacts of free-roaming cats on wildlife and public health. Even among the BCPs, awareness of feral cat issues was lower among respondents who lacked college degrees, so there’s a need for outreach and education even within the bird conservation community.

The authors suggest:

To the extent the beliefs held by CCCs are rooted in lack of knowledge and mistrust, rather than denial of directly observable phenomenon, the conservation community can manage these conflicts more productively by bringing CCCs into the process of defining data collection methods, defining study/management locations, and identifying common goals related to caring for animals… Our findings suggest that when such collaborative measures are not logistically possible, CCCs may be more likely to accept scientific results framed in terms of directly observable phenomenon (e.g., feral cats kill wild animals) rather than indirectly observable phenomenon (e.g., feral cats contribute to global declines among songbird populations). For instance, most CCCs see direct evidence of cats killing wild animals and would find denying those experiences difficult without creating some degree of cognitive dissonance.

In discussion of the Georgia “kitty-cam” study, OCDs glommed onto the low number of documented kills by the pets in the study, even though a conservative extrapolation of the results suggests that free-roaming cats kill more than 2 billion animals per year. It seems obvious that feral cats, even those that are being fed, will hunt more than well-fed, part-time outdoor pets, but seeing might be believing. It’s time to put “kitty-cams” on feral cats in managed colonies so that CCCs and OCDs can see the carnage up close and personal.

“Kitty-cams” document lives of outdoor cats

Injured phoebe

An Eastern Phoebe with a mangled wing awaits death at the jaws of a pet cat.

The National Geographic Society and University of Georgia recently teamed up to apply “critter-cam” technology to understanding the lives of pet cats, documenting not only their predatory habits but the many hazards they face.

The team, led by Kerrie Anne Loyd of the University of Georgia, attached small video cameras to 60 outdoor house cats in the city of Athens, Georgia. The cats’ owners were recruited through newspaper ads and assisted the team by doing daily downloads of video from the cameras.

The most important findings were about cat predation. Loyd said:

In Athens-Clarke County, we found that about 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful in capturing and killing prey, and that those cats averaged about one kill for every 17 hours outdoors or 2.1 kills per week. It was also surprising to learn that cats only brought 23 percent of their kills back to a residence. We found that house cats will kill a wide variety of animals, including: lizards, voles, chipmunks, birds, frogs, and small snakes.

It’s no wonder so many cat owners are unaware that their pets ever kill wildlife. Even if they found every animal their cats brought home, they’d still miss more than three quarters of the death toll.

The cats in the study were outside for only 5 to 6 hours a day on average. It’s sobering to compare these well-fed pets to homeless/feral cats that are outdoors 24/7/365 and may hunt for survival as well as recreation.

Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, found the project’s findings alarming:

If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats, we find that cats are likely killing more than 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds. Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline.

Think about that: 4 billion animals, including at least a half billion birds, that die purely because of human irresponsibility.

The cameras also documented risky behavior that should alarm cat lovers: crossing roads, hiding under vehicles, climbing trees, exploring roofs and storm drains, confronting dogs, opossums, and other cats, and killing small mammals that are vectors for diseases such as toxoplasmosis and Lyme disease.

The National Geographic & University of Georgia Kitty Cams Project

American Bird Conservancy: “KittyCam” Reveals High Levels of Wildlife Being Killed by Outdoor Cats

American Bird Conservancy: Cats Indoors

HOAX: Gum does NOT kill birds

BOGUS: Gum does not kill birds

This blatantly manipulative hoax keeps going around and around and around Facebook, and I’m beyond sick of it. One version currently has 8,725 shares, even though people have debunked it over and over in the comments. It’s frustrating as hell to see a debunking comment followed by a string of “aw, poor birdie” comments, then another debunking and another string of… well, you get the idea.

No one seems to be taking credit/blame for this garbage, but the originator is an idiot who’s needlessly upsetting goodhearted people.

There are three huge problems with this image:

  1. Wildlife biologists and rehabilitators don’t report birds dying from gum clogs (Google it).
  2. Birds aren’t so stupid that they can’t tell gum from bread (which they shouldn’t be eating either).
  3. The birds in the photo are swallows, which eat only insects, and the dead one has been hit by a car.

There are valid reasons to toss chewing gum in the trash instead of on the street, but saving birds isn’t one of them. Please don’t “like” these posts, don’t share them, and inform any friends who share them that they’re perpetuating a hoax.

Mountain-Gem Arts update

Lucifer Hummingbird Heart I

Lucifer Hummingbird Heart I

Wow. My polymer clay jewelry has been really well received. Most of what I’ve added to the shop in its first few weeks has already sold, and to fill demand I’ve made new versions of popular designs, including four Lucifer Hummingbird Hearts (so far). I’ve received other special orders, too. This is truly gratifying, and I thank everyone who has made a purchase from the bottom of my heart(s).

The holiday shopping season is the perfect time to start something like this, so I don’t expect this run to continue, but that’s just as well. I do art in part as a way to keep burnout at bay, so I wouldn’t want it to turn into drudgery.

There is one major but hopefully temporary change in the shop: I’ve disabled the shopping cart by marking available items as out of stock. You can still buy them, but only by contacting me directly. I regret adding this extra step to what should be a seamless process, but I no longer trust PayPal with my money. The company has a nasty habit of putting holds on customers’ accounts for extremely flimsy reasons (too few transactions, too many transactions, transactions not marked as shipped, alleged violations of the TOS, etc.), all to earn more interest off the money before its rightful owner can withdraw it.

I never used to worry when I used PayPal only to make payments. Since the Regretsy Secret Santa debacle, though, I live in fear that the company will freeze my account and deny me access to funds I need to pay for supplies and postage, buy groceries, pay bills, etc. This is predatory behavior and a serious burden to microbusinesses like mine that depend on electronic payments. Until PayPal changes the way it does business, I choose not to do business with PayPal.

At present, PayPal is the only payment option available from my storefront host, Storenvy. If that doesn’t change soon, I’ll be looking for an e-commerce alternative. In the meantime, I’ll be setting up accounts with other electronic payment services and will accept prepayment by personal check.

One positive development is that my sickly laser printer has received an overhaul and is working again. That clears the way for the next version of the Supplement to A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America. I’ll be busy through the end of the year with jewelry orders, Christmas Bird Counts,  field trips, etc., but watch this space early next year for the announcement that the new edition is ready.

Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast: an endangered hummingbird hot spot

A female Lucifer Hummingbird, one of Ash Canyon B&B's star attractions

Hummingbird enthusiasts and other bird lovers around the world have been following the complex and contentious controversy over access to Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast in southeastern Arizona.

Resentments that had apparently been festering for years erupted after the Cochise County Planning & Zoning Commission granted owner Mary Jo Ballator a special-use permit to formalize the day-visitation portion of her operation. Owners of several neighboring properties responded by filing an appeal to have the permit revoked.

Yesterday, the county commissioners held a hearing to consider this issue. The neighbors were allowed to air their objections, including irrelevant complaints about trespass by hunters and hikers and transparently self-serving claims that 1) feeding is harmful to birds(!), 2) the Plain-capped Starthroat that summered with Mary Jo in 2002 and 2003 was a random, one-time thing(!!), and 3) Lucifer Hummingbirds can be seen in many locations(!!!).

I wasn’t the only member of the audience flabbergasted when one complainant took the stand with a copy of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds in hand, sticky notes marking passages he hoped would support these claims. When my turn came to testify, I spent most of my precious three minutes refuting disinformation and defending my book’s integrity instead of praising Mary Jo’s exemplary hospitality to both birds and people.

Despite expert testimony and passionate testimonials from many members of the birding community (including over 350 letters of support), the issues of traffic, noise, privacy, trespassing, and easement interpretations remained, and the commissioners voted 2-1 to revoke the permit. There’s still hope that a compromise can be worked out to allow Mary Jo to continue welcoming visitors while reducing their impact on neighbors. Otherwise, the easement issue may end up being decided in court.

For the time being, Mary Jo will continue to welcome her friends in the birding community on a limited basis. She now has only 6 parking spaces and can no longer accommodate RVs or buses. With this change in operations comes a reduction in income, so Mary Jo needs our support more than ever. If you’re lucky enough to visit her yard this spring or summer, please make a generous contribution to the feeder fund.

Though I doubt she’ll ever see this post, I’d like to thank (again) Bisbee’s representative on the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, Vice-Chair Ann English, for casting the sole vote in support of Mary Jo and against the appeal.

Search of the Week: “care for feral cats”

Two simple steps:

  1. Trap them. Animal control agencies often have cat-sized traps to loan. Canned cat food and sardines make good baits where you’re not likely to catch a skunk or other wild animal; otherwise, try catnip.
  2. Take them to the nearest shelter that will rehome or permanently house them, or euthanize them if all else fails.

Alternatively, have them neutered and vaccinated and confine them to your own property in a predator- and escape-proof enclosure.

Do not leave them out on their own. Cats are domestic animals, and prolonging their homelessness to the detriment of your neighbors, other pets, and wildlife is almost as irresponsible as abandoning them in the first place.

“Managing” feral cat colonies: kindness or cruelty?

Bart, a former stray that rules our house

At left is Bart, Prince Among Cats. Ordinarily my husband and I adopt from shelters, but Bart found us first.

He showed up in our driveway one scorching June afternoon in 2004 to scrounge from our garbage. When I arrived home and let our dog out of the car, she made a beeline for the trash cans and stuck her nose between them. A high-pitched keening rippled through the air like an audible heat wave. Pulling Josie back, I peered into the shadows to find the source of the noise: a tiny, terrified brown and white kitten.

After a brief struggle I managed to get the little guy inside, locked up Josie and our other cat, put out some water and food, and left him alone. Within 30 minutes he’d refreshed himself, taken a short tour of the kitchen and living room, and curled up to sleep atop the couch cushion behind my head. When Tom came home, he rolled his eyes at my foundling, but within 24 hours we both had abandoned any thought of sending the little stray to the shelter and an uncertain fate.

Bart will never know how lucky he is. Though still in the prime of his life, he’s already outlived the average homeless cat. He’ll never be ripped to shreds by dogs, eaten by a coyote or bobcat, shot, hung, set on fire, or skinned alive by a sadistic teenager, or crushed under the wheels of a car. He’ll never again go hungry, nor will he ever suffer from malnutrition, parasites, communicable diseases, insect or scorpion stings, snakebite, or abscessed wounds from fighting. I expect to have another eight to ten years to enjoy his company and cater to his whims. If the consequences of quantity of life diminish his quality of life beyond reasonable limits, we’ll do the responsible thing and allow our vet to put a quick, humane end to his suffering.

Millions of other cats die each year simply because there are too many pets and not enough caring, responsible homes. The lucky ones are euthanized at shelters or veterinary clinics. The unlucky may spend weeks, months or years scrounging on the streets or in the wild before dying from disease, starvation, predation, accident, or malicious acts. Thousands of self-identified cat lovers compound this cruelty by supporting programs to “manage” colonies of free-ranging homeless cats, which only prolongs these animals’ misery, jeopardizes the health of people and pets, and results in the needless deaths of neighboring wildlife.

I give most feral cat defenders the benefit of the doubt for good intentions, even though an obsession with prolonging the lives of as many cats as possible even at the cost of millions of other animals’ lives seems more like hoarding than humanitarianism. I’m equally certain that some leaders of this movement manipulate big-hearted but naive or emotionally vulnerable people into doing their dirty work: wasting their own time and money subsidizing feral cat colonies, badgering humane organizations and animal control agencies into promoting and conducting in situ feral cat “management,” agitating against cat-control ordinances, etc.

Rather than plow into the growing mountain of evidence demonstrating the damage free-roaming cats do to wildlife, their threats to human health, and the ineffectiveness of TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release, also known as Trap-Test-Vaccinate-Alter-Release) in controlling, much less eliminating, populations of feral cats, I’ll refer you to the excellent resources compiled by the American Bird Conservancy:

“Managed” Cat Colonies: The Wrong Solution to a Tragic Problem

Domestic Cat Predation on Birds and Other Wildlife

Impacts of free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) on birds in the United States: a review of recent research with conservation and management recommendations

Cats, Birds, & You (PDF brochure, excellent for handing out to people who let their pets roam)

There’s more on this issue at Making Tracks, the blog of The Wildlife Society.

This scientific study debunked some of the common claims of TNR advocates.

Another summary site that includes critiques of TNR-biased research studies: TNR Reality Check

I’d also like to send a National Feral Cat Day message to the ostensibly respectable “humane” organizations that support TNR:

If you really care about feral cats, the only truly humane, ethical, and environmentally responsible alternative to euthanasia is TAPPIES:  Trap, Alter, and Permanently Place In Enclosed Sanctuaries.

Perch hypothermia rides again

You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.

— attributed to Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745

It was too good to last. After four years of keeping under the radar, Montana wildlife rehabilitator Judy Hoy is once again warning the public about the evils of perches on hummingbird feeders.

Briefly, Hoy believes that hummingbirds that perch to feed on cold sugar water are at risk of hypothermia. From her recent article in the Great Falls Tribune:

If the outside temperature is below 50[° F.] and the sugar water is cold, the birds can become completely hypothermic after drinking two crops full without flying. They then fall to the ground and eventually die from cold and lack of food or are eaten by magpies, cats or other predators.

Hover-feeding isn’t a problem, she says, because the muscle action helps to warm the bird’s body.

She claims that hummingbirds, especially Rufous, are “dying by the thousands every spring” from this phenomenon and is understandably frustrated that hummingbird researchers, feeder manufacturers, and government agencies won’t take her seriously. In this latest article, our self-styled Cassandra gets a little testy:

You may get the impression from this post that I am running out of patience with stupidity and I am!

Same here, Judy.

By her own account, Hoy started her anti-perch campaign in 1985. A quarter of a century is plenty of time to gather an enormous amount of support for her claims, so where is it? Despite repeated requests from skeptics, she hasn’t produced any photos, videos, necropsy results, or other objective evidence to demonstrate that feeder perches cause hypothermia in otherwise normal, healthy hummingbirds. Instead, she continues to rely on anecdotes, opinions, and misinterpretations of cherry-picked scientific research, ignoring more relevant research that refutes her claims.

Over the same 25-year period, people who host wintering hummingbirds have amassed hundreds of thousands of observations of birds perching to feed when the temperatures of both the air and the sugar water are well below freezing (20 degrees or more colder than Hoy’s hypothetical hypothermia threshold), and showing absolutely no ill effects. Additionally, hummingbird banders in the southeastern U.S. have documented hundreds of hummingbirds, including Rufous and Calliope, returning year after year to the same wintering sites. Many of these birds take their first sips of frosty sugar-water every winter morning while resting on feeder perches. Though this doesn’t “disprove” Hoy’s perch hypothermia claims, it does strongly suggest that it’s at worst an extremely rare cause of mortality.

Anna’s Hummingbird in my southeastern Arizona yard on a snowy day

None of this seems to make a dent in Hoy’s belief. She responded to these challenges by adding increasingly elaborate and often conflicting justifications for the lack of independent verification: most people never see hypothermic hummingbirds because predators get them first, it happens mostly in “Canada, North Eastern States and…Western Montana,” Rufous are particularly cold-sensitive (!), different species have significantly different “thermodynamics,” pesticides and herbicides sprayed in her area damaged their mitochondria and/or thyroid function.

Unlike Hoy, I don’t expect anyone to take my word on something without evidence. That’s why I wrote a detailed analysis of perch hypothermia way back in 2006, after a message she posted to an online discussion group was forwarded to other groups by well-meaning participants. At Hoy’s request, I sent her all of the evidence refuting her claims, with faint hope that we might lay perch hypothermia to rest once and for all. No such luck. Like True Believers® in so many other crackpot ideas (young-earth creationism, alien abductions, “rods,” homeopathy, etc.), Hoy’s faith is unshakable.

The latest version of her story adds a new and ominous detail, but one that’s easily debunked. In the Great Falls Tribune article, she says:

…Rufous and Calliope are now on Audubon’s red list.

Nope. Both species were listed on the 2002 Audubon Watchlist as yellow (declining), not red (declining rapidly). The 2007 Watchlist includes only the Calliope, still in the yellow category. It’s disappointing, but far from surprising, that even her “new” information is both overstated and outdated.

Removing perches from hummingbird feeders is unlikely to do any significant harm, but it’s equally unlikely to do any significant good. Birds need well-informed friends to help protect them from real and growing environmental threats, so I hate to see the same alarmist claptrap making the rounds over and over and over. Cut the perches off your feeders if you like, but don’t let misinformed prophets of doom distract you from doing things that actually help hummingbirds:

And if you’re still worried about “perch hypothermia,” make your feeder solution richer (3:1 instead of 4:1) during cold weather so that the birds have to take in less cold solution to get the same amount of energy.

Salting the earth, oiling the sea

For the last few months life has been an emotional roller coaster. The weather here in southeastern Arizona has been insane. Wildlife and people alike are still hurting from last summer’s drought, despite abundant winter rains that produced a good spring wildflower show and renewed the flow of creeks and rivers. A snowstorm struck the high desert and sky islands at the end of April, during what is usually the peak of spring migration. Seeing Red-faced Warblers and hummingbird nests in the snow was an unforgettable yet heart-wrenching experience.

On the personal front, Tom and I are celebrating the engagement of one of our most cherished friends, but three other friends recently lost battles with cancer (two in one week), and three more are fighting it. Many of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues are still struggling with the effects of the economic downturn, and the picture got bleaker with Arizona’s budget crisis, radical cuts to funding for education, and a tourism boycott spurred by the passage of state legislation promoting racial profiling and banning ethnic studies.

A more distant landscape that we love and the communities that depend on it have been brutalized, perhaps beyond recovery. I’m not trying to make the Deepwater Horizon disaster about me, just saying that as a native Texan who spent many happy days on the Gulf Coast I can empathize with the maelstrom of emotions—grief, rage, helplessness, resignation—that residents of the region are feeling right now.

I have nothing but disgust for the cheerleaders for the oil industry who keep chanting “drill, baby, drill” and “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the face of this tragedy. Human lives have been lost. Millions of animals and plants, parts of a natural cornucopia of marine and estuarine ecosystems, are doomed. Traditional ways of life and the communities that depend on them have been devastated. That’s far too high a price to pay for the illusions of energy independence and economic security.

It occurred to me that the oil companies and other huge industries stand to win big from this disaster beyond a short-term spike in oil prices. With the poisoning of the Gulf’s ecosystems, thousands of residents who for generations have fed their families directly from the bounty of the coastal wetlands and the sea suddenly have no jobs, no money to buy food, few immediate alternatives, and little hope for the future. The tourism industry that struggled to recover after Hurricane Katrina was dealt another brutal blow, leaving even fewer options for small businesses and the people they employ. Families and communities will be strained to the breaking point and beyond, as they were in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez.

Into this economic vacuum and social chaos step BP, TransOcean, Halliburton, and their ilk. Having figuratively sown the earth with salt, destroying the fertility of the Gulf and the traditional livelihoods of its people, they’ve created an employers’ paradise now and for the foreseeable future. These companies and other corporate giants will have cornered the Gulf Coast job market. It’s already started, with BP offering to hire out-of-work fishing boats for cleanup work. What’s to stop them from controlling the entire economy of coastal communities, turning once proudly independent Americans into wage slaves?

Part of me wants to see all the U.S. assets of BP, its partners Anadarko and Mitsui & Co., and its contractors TransOcean and Halliburton seized and turned over to a trust to fund ongoing cleanup of the Gulf, restoration of wildlife habitat, rehabilitation of oiled wildlife, and support of communities whose traditional economic base has been obliterated.

Of course, it would be a huge mistake to tie the welfare of the Gulf and its people to continued exploitation of offshore oil. That’s what led us to this awful situation in the first place. Think about all the people who have had so little to say about the disaster because they depend on the petroleum industry for their income. This isn’t just employees of the oil companies and/or the contractors that serve them. It’s conservationists, too.

Members of the oil and gas industry are major contributors to conservation organizations such as TNC, Conservation International, and the Sierra Club. In return for the millions they donate to these organizations, the companies get photo ops and fake awards to dress up their ads and annual reports, putting on pretty “green” masks to distract their shareholders and the general public from the damage they’re doing to the environment.

Even the promising Teaming with Wildlife proposal was hijacked by oil interests. The original bill would have emulated the highly successful Pittman-Robertson Act and Dingell-Johnson Act, establishing modest federal taxes on wildlife-related merchandise (bird feeders, field guides, camping equipment, cameras, etc.) to fund nongame conservation and watchable wildlife programs. TWW had widespread support from the public, manufacturers, and retailers, but because “tax” is a four-letter word in some circles oil-friendly members of Congress cut a deal to fund wildlife programs with revenues from offshore oil leases. Conservationists were forced to accept a Faustian bargain that is now coming back to haunt us.

Yes, the deep pockets of the oil companies are tempting, but the costs are just too high. Thankfully, there are a few politicians who understand this and are willing to take a stand against the formidable petroleum lobby. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had previously proposed expanding offshore drilling to put desperately needed revenues into state coffers, said, “You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'” (Why indeed. Perhaps President Obama would like to answer that question.) “If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather find a way to make up that $100 million.”

I like to think that Gov. Schwarzenegger would come to the same conclusion even if the coastlines of his state were inhabited by working people of modest means instead of rich celebrities. Here’s hoping that other governors and the President follow his example.

Crude Awakening: An infographic to help you understand the oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and the incredible costs that will affect us all

Integrity in Science: Non-profit Organizations Receiving Corporate Funding