Monday, April 24, 2017

Environmental and Science Documentaries at the Montclair Film Festival

The Montclair Film Festival (April 28-May 7) has in its offerings this year a group of documentaries that should be of interest to readers of this blog and anyone who is concerned about the environment, science and activism.

You can find these films at but here are those films with some information and links to purchase tickets.

Bill Nye is on a journey to change the world! Once the host of a popular kids’ show, Nye has transformed himself into a leading voice against the forces that would deny the value of science. Nye not only is speaking out, he is leading by example, on a mission to launch a solar-powered satellite into the cosmos and advocating for the importance of research and discovery. The film is a urgent portrait of a scientist on a mission, taking on climate change deniers and creationists in the real world to create a more scientifically literate and engaged universe. Directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg   There will be a post-screening conversation between Bill Nye and Stephen Colbert, co-Presented by Audible.

DO DONKEYS ACT?    May 4 and 5
This film by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin is an unexpectedly moving, one-of-a-kind documentary that seeks a new form of empathetic understanding. Shot entirely on farms dedicated to rescuing beasts of burden from abuse and overwork, the film is a conversation between human curiosity and the experience of the animals. Immersed in their world, the camera never leaves the animals, constantly looking into their eyes and searching for meaning and comprehension of their lives. Featuring a warm narration by Willem Dafoe and filled with warmth and grace, DO DONKEYS ACT? is a must-see for those who love animals

TROPHY   May 6
In their new documentary TROPHY, filmmakers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz take an in-depth look into the powerhouse industries of big-game hunting, breeding, and wildlife conservation in the U.S. and Africa. The film is unflinching in its examination of the push and pull of illegal poaching, sanctuary, and legalized hunting, revealing a complex economic ecosystem manufactured by humans to both take and preserve the lives of the animals they covet. Featuring stunning photography that is at once intimate and terrifying, TROPHY is a necessary portrait of human behavior, unravelling the complex consequences of treating animals as commodities.

Follows art collective Postcommodity as they strive to construct Repellent Fence, a two-mile long outdoor artwork that installs a series of 28 huge, inflatable spheres that stretch across the U.S. – Mexico border. THROUGH THE REPELLENT FENCE is an adventure in the artistic process and a road trip of discovery, exploring how land art can generate community interaction and perceptual shifts in how we interpret, engage, and draw inspiration from our natural world. Director Sam Wainwright Douglas

NO MAN'S LAND April 29 and 30 
In recent years, a new battle between ranchers and the federal government have arisen in the American West over the issues surrounding federal land use and the lines between private business and the public interest. Bitter antagonism between right-wing militia and the federal government has boiled over into rebellion, with recent events in Nevada and Oregon creating a firestorm of recrimination, politics, and tragedy. NO MAN’S LAND is director David Byars’ incendiary look at these battles, following the insurrection from inception to demise and exploring the issues and people that are reshaping what remains of the American frontier. In Person: Director David Byars

DOLORES    April 29 and 30
This film is a reclamation of an heroic American life. The film sheds light on the enigmatic, intensely private Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers union and among the most important activists in our nation’s history. But as woman standing atop an organization of men, her constant battle against injustice was mirrored by the gender discrimination she faced internally. Featuring interviews with Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, and Luis Valdez, the film reveals her ever-expanding wave of influence through decades of activism, and leading many to ask why her contributions have been erased from our history. In English and Spanish with English Subtitles. Dolores Huerta in attendance on Saturday, April 29

BENDING THE ARC   April 29 and 30
Thirty years ago, a group of improbable heroes came together on a mission that was medical and moral, and, by everyone’s estimation other than their own, highly unlikely to succeed. Their goal was simple but daring: to make high-quality health care available to everyone, even in the world’s poorest countries. Fighting entrenched diseases, political and bureaucratic machinery, and the charity-industrial complex itself, these crusaders forced the international community to embrace the idea that health care must be a basic human right in every society. BENDING THE ARC is a story of hope and courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable barriers. In English, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Kinyarwanda with English Subtitles.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Earth Day 2017 and the March for Science

Tomorrow, APRIL 22, is Earth Day.

2020 will mark the 50th Anniversary of this annual event that was first celebrated in 1970. Worldwide, various events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

Earth Day events in more than 193 countries are now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.

More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world through education, public policy, and consumer campaigns.

I recall the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. I was in high school and the events I saw had a "hippie" feel, but 20 million Americans from all walks of life participated and the day is viewed as launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed.

In 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage.

Some of the Trump Administration's objectives and views are certainly part of the reason that this year Earth Day will also be the March for Science, a rally and teach-in on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Science isn’t Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. Indeed, threats to science are pervasive throughout governments around the world.

There will also be local events for Earth Day and the March for Science. The New Jersey March for Science is a satellite march that will meet outside the Trenton War Memorial in Trenton, on April 22, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. The march will be approximately a half mile to the State House Annex where a short list of speakers will give a call to action.
In the nation's capital, the day’s program will include speeches and trainings with scientists and civic organizers, musical performances, and a march through the streets of Washington, D.C. The crowd will gather at 8:00am, and the teach-in will begin at 09:00am.

Science serves all of us and its ties to the Earth and environment are many. Science is how we protect our air and water, preserve our planet, save lives with medical treatments, create new industries, puts food on our tables, educate the next generation, and safeguard our future.

Lyme Disease Is Back in Season

As the weather warms up and more of us are active outdoors, Lyme disease again becomes a topic in the news.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to people by the bite of infected ticks. It is prevalent in New Jersey.

At one time, it was a disease associated with people who spent time in the woods - hikers, birders, campers, hunters and  fisherman. However, it has been more than four decades since it was first identified, and you are just as likely to get it in areas that are less than wilderness, like  a local park or your backyard.

Lyme disease gets its name from the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in the United States in 1975.

Lyme disease can cause a rash, flu-like symptoms, and aching joints. It can be treated with antibiotics, but without treatment, Lyme disease can cause serious, long-term health problems.

It is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium, or spirochete, called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks infected with the bacterium spread the disease to humans.

In the Northeast and Great Lakes region, Lyme disease is spread by the black-legged tick, which lives in wooded areas, grasslands, and yards.

Cases of Lyme disease have been reported by nearly every state in the United States, but the disease is concentrated in the east coastal states, the north central states, and northern California. Studies show that Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Wisconsin account for about 90% of all cases.

Ticks become infected with the Lyme disease bacterium by feeding on infected animals, such as mice, chipmunks, and other wild rodents.

Lyme disease is passed to humans and other animals when a tick infected with the bacterium bites the person or animal and stays attached long enough (usually more than 36 hours) to take a blood meal.

The tick that spreads Lyme disease has a 2-year life cycle, and feeds once in each of its three life stages -- larvae, nymph, and adult.

Though we tend to blame deer for the spread of the disease (especially in suburban areas), in the tick's larvae stage, it is tan, the size of a pinhead, and feeds on small animals like mice.

During the nymph stage, the tick is the size of a poppy seed, beige or partially transparent, and feeds on larger animals such as cats, dogs, and humans.

Adult ticks are black and/or reddish and feed on large mammals such as deer, dogs, and humans.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease
  • Tiredness
  • Chills and fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • A characteristic skin rash, called erythema migrans, that is a red circular patch about 2 inches in diameter that appears and expands around the site of the tick bite. The center may clear as it enlarges, resulting in a "bulls-eye" appearance. The rash may be warm, but it usually is not painful or itchy.
Unfortunately, some infected people do not recognize the early symptoms and are diagnosed only after complications occur.

Those complications include:
  • Arthritis (swelling and pain) in the large joints, which can recur over many years
  • Nervous system problems, such as numbness, meningitis (fever, stiff neck, and severe headache), and Bell's palsy (paralysis of the facial muscles, usually on one side)
  • Irregularities of the heart rhythm
Lyme disease is diagnosed by a physical examination and medical history. The clinical diagnosis is supported by laboratory testing. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult. Current tests are not completely accurate, and the symptoms can mimic those of other diseases. Diagnosis is easiest when there is a skin rash.

Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics taken for 3 to 4 weeks. More difficult cases may require longer treatment and combinations of drugs. Re-infection from tick bites is possible after treatment.

A Lyme disease vaccine is under development but is not yet available. The only sure way to prevent the disease is to avoid exposure to infected ticks. Especially avoid areas where wild mice might live, such as the edges of yards, fields, and woods with low, dense groundcover.

During outside activities, wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks. Wear a hat, and tie hair back.

Use insecticides to repel or kill ticks. Repellents containing the compound DEET can be used on exposed skin except for the face, but they do not kill ticks and are not 100% effective in discouraging ticks from biting. Products containing permethrin kill ticks, but they cannot be used on the skin - only on clothing.

When using any of these chemicals, follow label directions carefully and be especially cautious when using them on children. "Natural" products are also available, but are generally less effective, though many people prefer them.

Beyond insecticides, careful observation after outdoor activities, is also very important. Check yourself for ticks, and have a "buddy" check you, too. Check body areas where ticks are commonly found: behind the knees, between the fingers and toes, under the arms, in and behind the ears, and on the neck, hairline, and top of the head. Check places where clothing presses on the skin.

Remove attached ticks promptly. Lyme tick removers and testing kits for humans and pets are commercially available. Removing a tick before it has been attached for more than 24 hours greatly reduces the risk of infection. Use tweezers, and grab as closely to the skin as possible. Do not try to remove ticks by squeezing them, coating them with petroleum jelly, or burning them with a match.
NOTE: The large brown ticks that are commonly found on dogs and cattle do not carry the Lyme disease bacterium.

If you remove a very small tick and want to have it tested for Lyme disease, place it in a clean pill vial or tight-sealed plastic storage bag with a moistened cotton swab. Contact your health-care provider and local health department.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds Return to Delaware Bay


Late April means that a ritual of "living fossils" moving onto beaches will happen again.

The Wetlands Institute newsletter reminded me that the migration and spawning of horseshoe crabs has been happening for more than 450 million years is here again.

And where is the largest population of spawning horseshoe crabs in the world? Delaware Bay.

They can be found from Maine to the Yucatan Peninsula. Limulus polyphemus, the American Horseshoe Crab, is actually more closely related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions than crabs.

The migration and spawning also brings shorebirds who are migrating from Central and South America to Delaware Bay for a rest stop and critical meal. The shorebirds have a 3,000 – 9,000 mile annual journey to their Arctic breeding grounds.

Humans have a variety of positive and negative interactions with horseshoe crabs.

  • Native Americans along the Delaware Bay and River ate their eggs. 
  • They were used as fertilizer and hog food in in the 1800s and it was an active industry on Delaware Bay.
  • Their white blood cells contain a chemical (LAL) used to test for contaminants in injectable drugs and vaccines and other medical applications.
  • They are still used as bait to catch eel and channeled whelk, mostly for overseas markets, but NJ has a moratorium on the harvesting of the crabs due to over-harvesting.
  • Development along the Delaware Bay has reduced access for the crabs to spawn, but there are ongoing restoration efforts.

Baby horseshoe crab  - via Wikimedia
The combination of crabs and birds brings many people to the bay to observe. Besides the birds, you might see female crabs with males in tow coming ashore on the incoming tide. Her fertilized sticky, green eggs are placed in the sand in several nests, and the tide will take the crabs back out into the shallows to wait until the next incoming tide and the process will continue. A full moon (May 10) and higher tides are usually the peak times, and a female can lay 80-100,000 eggs during this spawning.

A number of groups participate in the reTURN the Favor project 
which works to rescue stranded horseshoe crabs by freeing crabs 
and working on projects  to help remove debris from beaches.

May 20-21 
with workshops, demonstrations, and field trips that focus on the crabs 
and their role in shorebird migration. 

Mating pair of horseshoe crabs   - via Wikimedia

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Does a Love Triangle Mean No New Bald Eagles at Duke Farms This Year?

In a page from a TV soap opera, two competing female bald eagles at Duke Farms resulted in a season with no eggs and no new eagles for the first time in 11 years.

A story on tells of how this February a young female bald eagle started moving in on and trying to replace the current resident female eagle.

The nest has been quite productive in the past. Between 2005 and 2016, it produced 23 bald eagle chicks that were given tracking bands on the chicks when they were approximately five to six weeks old.

That rival female appeared just in time to interrupt the resident couple's mating behavior of courting, bonding and copulation.

And next year? 

The parenting couple are still around the nest and there is a good chance that they will nest in the area and breed next year. The nest was knocked down during Hurricane Sandy and rebuilt by the eagles who like the location on the Raritan River.

From the Eagle Cam at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, NJ.
This YouTube Live feed can be rewound using the scroll.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bring Back the Bees

An interesting environmental advertising project - a billboard that produces real honey
for Honey Nut Cheerios.

What is the only insect that produces food eaten by humans? It is nature's most economical builders, bees. In 36 BC, Marcus Terentius Varro argued that honeycombs were the most practical structures around. Centuries later, Greek mathematician Pappus solidified the "honeycomb conjecture" by making the same claim.

The weather is warming and you're probably seeing bees out looking for spring flowers. Hopefully, you are a friend of bees. Of course, there are reasons to avoid doing things that might provoke a bee to go into a defensive mode and sting you. But encouraging bees in your garden and in nature in general is a good thing for all of us and for the planet.

The amazing little bees might surprise you with their good color vision. Flowers have many colors for that attractive reason. Bees especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.

Did you know that honeybees can make out faces the same way we do? They take parts—like eyebrows, lips, and ears—and cobble them together to make out the whole face. It's called "configural processing," and it might help computer scientists improve face recognition technology

We need bees. One in three foods we eat is made possible by bees and other pollinators who spread the pollen that crops need to grow. That includes many of our favourite foods like apples, almonds, coffee, and of course, honey. 70 out of the top 100 human food crops are pollinated by bees

An important part of sustainable agriculture is bees.

There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world. Honeybees have thrived for 50 million years, but colonies recently started dying in large numbers. 42% of bee colonies in the U.S. collapsed in 2015.

Why? Renowned entomologist and bee specialist Marla Spivak reveals four reasons why, and what we can do to help in this Ted Talk.

Common sense actions can restore and protect the world’s bees. Good starting places are:
- Ban the seven most dangerous pesticides.
- Protect pollinator health by preserving wild habitat.
- Restore ecological agriculture.

Cheerios cereal (General Mills) partnered early this year with Veseys Seeds to give away wildflower seeds so that people would plant them and make the world a bee-friendlier place. They quickly met their goal of distributing 100 million seeds.

The promotion hit a snag though because in sending free packets of wildflower seeds to people all over the country, they seem to have failed to take into account that some of the flowers included are invasive species in some areas that should NOT be planted there.  For example, Forget-me-not (which was listed on their site but supposedly not included in the seed mix) is banned as a noxious weed in Massachusetts and Connecticut. And the California poppy is good in California, but listed as an “invasive exotic pest plant” in southeastern states. Some of the flowers on there list are not native to anywhere in the US, so they are not necessarily good matches for our local bees.

Of course, you can still plant wildflowers on your own that are bee-friendly. This guide for the mid-Atlantic states is useful to grow pollinator-friendly plants. For other parts of the country, go to or check the USDA site to see if a plant is native to your state.

I am pleased to see General Mills making efforts for bees, even if this seeds project was less than perfect. By 2020, they expect their oat farms will host about 3,300 acres of nectar- and pollen-rich wildflowers, which are full of the nutrients bees and other pollinators need to stay strong.

Finally, it is important to remember that you can do more than just plant flowers to help create a bee-friendly habitat. Avoiding using pesticides outside on or near the flowers (including if you have a garden or lawn service spraying) is very important.

Also note that bees are not our only pollinators. Bees are the major pollinators - and this includes not just honey bees - but also hummingbirds and some kinds of butterflies, and to a lesser degree spiders, flies and wasps. Even bats who feed on the insects in the flowers as well as on the nectar and flower parts play a role in the pollination of over 300 species of fruit around the world.