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Strategic Alignment for Smart Decommissioning Planning & Permitting

By Amber Jackson

The oil and gas industries, in the U.S. and abroad, have entered a new era of outer continental shelf activity. As the fixed structures of offshore drilling’s past slowly creep towards the end of their useful production lifetimes, the accelerating decommissioning market continues to evolve. From the Gulf of Mexico to areas off the coasts of Africa, the North Sea, and Malaysia, the decommissioning market is adapting to serve a range of depths and structures.

Traditionally, the decommissioning plan has defaulted to complete removal. In this process, the well is sealed, the drilling rig and all associated infrastructure are removed, and the seabed is ostensibly restored to its original condition. However, some of these platforms with their lattice-work superstructures of pilings, columns, beam, and pipes, have been quietly serving another purpose, below the surface, offering an artificial rocky substrate for a variety of economically and ecologically valuable fishes, including threatened species (i.e. rock fish in California and red snapper in the Gulf), invertebrates, and marine mammals.

Offshore platforms provide a refuge for vulnerable marine species, which is becoming especially relevant because nearshore habitats are more vulnerable to degradation through anthropogenic run-off, pollution, and overfishing.

Decommissioning these facilities into artificial reefs through the Rigs to Reefs (R2R) program presents an alternative to complete removal that may meet or surpass the level of environmental protection mandate by regulators. In fact, a recent study found that in California, the oil platforms “are among the most productive marine fish habitats globally.”

Fish at an Oil Platform

But not every platform is a suitable candidate for the R2R program. That’s when Great Ecology steps in. Using data collected both in the field and through scientific research, Great Ecology develops cost-effective and sustainable decommissioning strategies. We examine all options, from complete removal, to reef, to partial removal, to re-use to determine the strategy that would best serve to optimize your decommissioning project.

We understand that decommissioning planning is often an after-thought to the rush of oil exploration and the operation of offshore facilities.  However, strategic decommissioning planning can result in major benefits: cost savings; streamlined permitting; regulatory compliance; environmental enhancement; and stakeholder engagement.

Discover a way to reduce costs by optimizing your decommissioning strategy and contact us today.

Amber Jackson is an ecologist at Great Ecology and co-founder of Blue Latitudes.

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Five TED Talks to Watch This Weekend

By Liz Clift

One of the gifts of TED talks is that you can learn a lot about a concept, idea, or experience in a fairly short amount of time. This may spark your interest enough to do further research on your own, provide fodder for a dinner conversation, help you reimagine the world, or reconsider your own preconceptions and biases about a particular topic.

Every so often, we post a list of TED talks we’ve especially enjoyed that are (at least roughly) related to our line of work, which we think you may enjoy as well. Here are five more we think you’ll enjoy.

In The Magic Ingredient that Brings Pixar Movies to Life (Danielle Feinberg, ~12 minutes), Feinberg discusses how the movie Finding Nemo creates a believable world that an audience can immerse themselves in (and understand some more abstract concepts, such as evoking sadness because of pollution in the Sydney Harbor or creating a more visual East Australian Current). This discussion of color and lighting can be applied to how we communicate difficult concepts to audiences, and serves as a good reminder for how we can get strangled by science when we remove it from art. Feinberg says, “It’s this interweaving of art and science that elevates the world to a place of wonder, a place with soul, a place we can believe in.”

What would a symphony of barometric pressure, wind, and temperature sound like? If you watch Art Made of Storms (Nathalie Miebach, ~4 minutes), you’ll have the opportunity to find out. As you know, if you’re a long-time reader of our blog, we’re always interested in unusual ways to convey (often dry) data and this is another great example—and she also creates 3-D models that show behavior relationships that might not be evidentif you’re just studying graphs.

Have we limited our idea of nature too much? Emma Marris, in Nature is Everywhere – We Just Need to Learn to See It (~16 minutes) argues that all landscapes are humanized to some degree, and that the results of our altering ecosystems (and the pure fact of animal extinctions) has changed landscapes. Marris proposes that if we define nature by where life is thriving, then we can see nature all around us, including in urban landscapes—which is important since 71% of people in the US live within a 10-minute walk of a city park. If we redefine nature to include that which we can touch, including the nature right around us, then we can inspire people to care.

Why Wildfires Have Gotten Worse – And What We Can Do About It (Paul Hessberg, ~14 minutes) examines the reasons megafires have become more common and explores the ways that we might escape the current trajectory we’re on in terms of fire management and patterns of development. Hessberg argues for “patchy” forests, meaning multi-age forests, with a combination of closed and open canopies as well as meadows, and for greater awareness of where we build.

An Economic Case for Saving the Planet (Naoko Ishii, ~14 minutes) In this talk, Ishii discusses how to avoid the tragedy of the commons, by accepting that our economies are no longer local and that the earth does not have unlimited capacity to self-repair. Ishii argues for green cities, changing our energy systems, changing our consumption patterns, and reimagining our food systems.


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Fire Takes a Toll

By Liz Clift

We’ve watched the West burn. If you look at a map from last year—current as of December 28, 2017 at the time of this writing, the majority of the state of California appears freckled with fires of various sizes. Idaho and northern Nevada look much the same.

Property damage is what a lot of people think about first when they think of fire impacts—and not necessarily damage to the land itself, but the homes and businesses—and associated equipment, livestock, vehicles, and other tangible items on those properties. This damage is, at least, moderately easy to quantify, though devastating for the people impacted.

Often as a second thought, some people may consider the damages to the ecosystem and ecosystem services. For landowners, there may be a high intrinsic value on their land—but additionally, fires have implications for erosion, water quality, habitat, local temperature regulation, and more. These things can be harder to quantify—and to restore.

Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of impacts to ecosystem services over the past few weeks were the landslides in Santa Barbara County. These landslides were, in part, a result of the fired that destroyed many of the plants that help stabilize the ground and slow water during rain events. Additionally, the scorched ground made it more difficult for water to penetrate the surface of the soil (fire scorched soils often become hydrophobic), which meant that more of the rain ran off. So, when California’s winter hit the area post-fire, there was little stopping the water from gaining momentum.

The result, unfortunately, was rivers of mud.

In addition to causing earth movement, as landslides are often called, landslides have implications for water quality through increased erosion and disruptions to habitat for a variety of species, among other ecosystem impacts.

This adds another layer of complexity to assessing the damages from the fires—and highlights the importance of restoration work in areas impacted by fires. It’s not as simple as just spreading some seed or planting some saplings, especially in areas where fires burned extensively and sterilized the soil. Additional measures are needed to help restore the soil, decrease erosion, and improve habitat—particularly in areas that are known to provide a home to threatened or endangered species.

To restore these damaged landscapes, landowners must coordinate with a variety of stakeholders to complete the permitting efforts and get informed on fire ecology and the ecology of the region. Additional coordination includes: landscape design, the provision of the actual seeds and plants necessary for restoration to occur, construction of the restored landscape, and ongoing monitoring to ensure project success. And, of course, if a landowner’s insurance didn’t (fully) cover fire or land movement, funding the restoration could cause additional difficulties and delays.

You don’t need to go this alone. Great Ecology specializes in assessing damages to natural resources and impacts on a landscape scale, establishing a restoration plan, developing construction documentation, construction and post-construction monitoring, and providing litigation support.

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Species Spotlight: Limber Pine

by Liz Clift

“What we contemplate here is more than ecological restoration; it is the restoration of relationship between plants and people. Scientists have made a dent in understanding how to put ecosystems back together, but our experiments focus on soil pH and hydrology—matter, to the exclusion of spirit.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist and writer

Pinus flexilis, the limber pine, has gained some level of notoriety in recent years—in part because these trees have the ability to live for a relatively long time and in part because they are competing with bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva, Pinus aristate, and Pinus balfouriana) in movement upslope, in response to climate change. The oldest limber pine is estimated to be roughly 3,000 years old, and is located in Alberta, Canada (the oldest living bristlecone pine is estimated to be approximately 4,765 years old, for the record, and it lives in an undisclosed location in eastern California—in fact, it’s the oldest known living tree).

Many of us are, perhaps, particularly fascinated with long-lived trees now that we know that they might not always be around. Take, for instance, the news that’s been trickling in over the past few years about the decline of the redwoods in California or the logging of old-growth forests. These old trees provide habitat for a variety of animals and plants and can also tell us a lot about ourselves, if we take the time to study the rings and the forest around them.

At the Denver Botanic Gardens, there are several examples of limber pine I like to visit. They are small and look sturdy against the landscape, and I have to remind myself that although small, these trees are not all that young—some are older than I am. They’re set in an area that represents Colorado’s more extreme soil conditions: dry and rocky, and yet they’ve found purchase. There’s a lesson in that for all of us, and this is part of what makes the limber pine one of our more resilient trees in montane and subalpine ecosystems.

Limber pine is a keystone species in these montane and subalpine ecosystems. It provides food for a variety of animals, including bears, small mammals, and birds—and its needles are the sole food of a small ermine moth. Nutcrackers, a type of bird in the jay family, rely heavily on limber pine, particularly in certain areas—including Craters of the Moon National Park—where few other coniferous trees exist. This relationship is mutually beneficial, as nutcrackers create caches of seeds for the winter, but don’t return to all the caches, which allows these newly planted seeds the opportunity to take root.

Limber pine is also an effective pioneer in colonizing disturbed areas, and is able to stabilize soils in places where few other vegetative species thrive. Despite this, limber pine is rarely used in restoration projects because it is so slow growing—which makes achieving results within standard monitoring time frames a challenge, and as a result, the average landowner does not easily recognize the ecological value of using limber pine for restoration.

There’s something to be said for developing more patience with these, and other, slower-growing trees. It might not be us—or our children, or theirs—that see slow-growing trees reach maturity, but in this way we can be stewards of the environment for future generations. We can also learn, again, how to build a relationship with plants, to understand the role they play not only in the ecosystem, but in our lives.

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How Bigger, Badder Wildfires are Changing Ecosystems

By Kay Wiseman and Liz Clift

Fires in the west have become larger, more frequent, and more severe in recent decades. This upward trend is likely to continue, making it vital to understand the implications these massive fires have on our landscapes.

For nearly 100 years, fire management policy has established a best practice of  suppression to control potential fires and sources of fire. However, suppression can lead to the disruption of natural fire regimes essential for fuel load reduction, seed germination, and soil nutrient cycling. Despite best efforts for prevention, fires continue to ignite and spread and with nearly a century worth of fuel accumulation, a wildfire can quickly turn into a devastating threat.

While there is room for debate as to what defines a “severe wildfire” in differing ecosystems, it is well documented that for the United States’ dry western landscapes fuel accumulation has been a major component for increased fire intensity. Heavy fuel loads can have multiple negative impacts:

  • Prevent the fire from sweeping quickly across the landscape and concentrating the heat in localized areas. Intense, slow moving fires can cause combustion beneath the soil surface and spread underground. Underground fires can cross fire breaks and pop up several hundred feet in any direction putting firefighters and protected structures at risk.
  • Cause a fire to burn especially hot, which can lead to the death of soil microorganisms, effectively sterilizing the soil and can also create a hydrophobic layer in the soil—and making it difficult for water to penetrate This can cause recovery to take a significantly longer time.
  • Impact water quality, through increased erosion and downstream sedimentation.
  • Allow fires to reach into tall vegetation and trees creating large, fast-moving crown fires. Crown fires move quickly through trees releasing hot embers that travel farther than would be possible for low intensity ground fires. These travelling embers have the potential to ignite spot fires outside of the projected burn path—because crown fires can move independently of a ground fire. Some crown fires do not even touch the ground, which can leave a forest permanently damaged—and filled with more fuel for a future fire.
  • Present treacherous obstacles for firefighters traversing the landscape.

There’s a balance though between removing fuel and allowing some of the vegetative fuel to stay because of the role it plays in a biotic community. Vegetative material that could easily become (excess) fuel provides beneficial soil stabilization and habitat areas. Fuels, such as senesced grasses, may allow soil to hold moisture more effectively or provide bedding or nesting materials for a variety of animals, as well as providing cover to small prey animals. Larger fuel, such as tree snags or “standing dead” trees provide nesting habitat for a variety of birds as well as a rich environment for a diversity of beneficial insects and fungi that provide decomposition—thus enriching the overall nutrients within the soil (and which may also be forage for a variety of animals, including some songbirds). Trees, even dead ones, may also provide soil stabilization for many years.

Additionally, if these fuels are fully cleared soil is exposed to sunlight and wind creating dry conditions more conducive to increased fire intensity or increased erosion. The presence of fuels is also essential for topsoil production and nutrient cycling—nutrients from vegetative fuels cycle back into the soil as they decompose—which is another reason that it should be considered undesirable to completely remove fuel sources from the landscape. Therefore, fuel management can be a delicate balance between leaving too little or accumulating too much. Other than the human safety aspect, why should we concern ourselves with fire intensity? Let’s dive more deeply into the points made in the bullets above.

Fires that burn underground—especially those burning peat—can release inordinate amounts of stored carbon. That’s because peat, which makes up only 3% of the world’s surface contains 25% of the world’s carbon soil. What does that mean? It means that there’s currently about as much carbon in the air as there is in all the peatlands in the world.

That’s not all. According to Guillermo Rein, an expert on smoldering fires, “Once ignited, these fires are particularly difficult to extinguish despite extensive rains, weather changes or firefighting attempts, and can persist for long periods of time (months, years), spreading deep (5 meters) and over extensive areas of forest subsurface” (as summarized by Andrew C. Revkin, for the New York Times). These fires occur in tropical, temperate, and boreal forests around the world—because peat exists on all seven continents, including places you might not expect if you don’t know much about the landscape.

Although it’s often easy for anyone who isn’t a soil scientist to see the soil as dirt, it is, in fact, alive with microorganisms and invertebrates which are integral to overall soil health. Additionally, a complex mycorrhizal (fungi!) system exists beneath the soil, which is integral to soil health (in particular helping different plants receive nutrients). Hot fires can kill this mycorrhizal system, which can take years or decades to restore. These intense fires can leave soils not only hydrophobic (which has implications for loss of soil function and may increase risk of erosion or downstream flooding and sedimentation), but effectively sterilizes the soil, leaving it a “moonscape.” This isn’t a reference to the moon that controls the tides—it refers to a post-fire devoid of all vegetation, potentially for years after the initial devastating fire. Moonscapes burned so hot below ground that seeds, soil microbes, and even the compounding properties of inorganic materials in the soil have been expunged.

Without protective vegetation and woody debris, the soil is left exposed to the elements. Exposure and water repellency increase the erosive potential of soil and the subsequent runoff after fires cause stream sedimentation and low water quality, because plants that may have normally acted as “filters” to rainwater or other precipitation were removed from the ecosystem as a result of the fire. In addition to increased repellency, the absence of plants in the landscape means that there is little to slow down precipitation—which can further decrease water percolation into the water table.

Crown fires—especially in the absence of intense ground fires—can provide new opportunities for younger trees and understory growth to flourish. However, the loss of the tree canopy can result in greater vulnerability for some canopy dwelling organisms, can increase damage to lower forest strata during precipitation events (canopies can effectively slow down rain, hail, for instance), and increase surface soil temperatures, due to the absence of the shading properties a full canopy provides during the hottest months of the year.

Restoring areas hit by severe wildfire is resource intensive and expensive but is also necessary to immediately stabilize soil and prevent future erosion, along with reviving ecosystem function. There are a variety of options for short term soil stabilization, and remediation, which can help limit some of the impacts of a fire on an ecosystem (and the human community that depends on that ecosystem as well). Long-term solutions must take into account the current soil quality, options for soil remediation (if appropriate), appropriate (native) plant communities, planting plans, and land management to support revegetation. Other abiotic factors, as well as the pre-fire history of the landscape, may also provide important clues about what restoration techniques will work best for the landscape.

But, these are reactions. We should also be having proactive conversations about how fire management plans can be effectively and appropriately incorporated into a variety of landscapes. These conversations—and the implementation of plans—will likely help fire managers effectively and safely reduce the fuel load that’s resulted from decades of fire suppression.



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Species Spotlight: Lynx

By: Liz Clift

Not too long ago, sand cat kittens were filmed for the first time, and the internet went gaga over the brief video—especially the portion of the internet that’s convinced the internet is for cats.

So, I pose this question to you: what could be better than cats wearing snowshoes?

Yes, these exist.

Well, sort of.

Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) are a member of the cat family that lives primarily in boreal forests that receive high levels of snowfall—and so in the US are generally found in Alaska and in montane forested areas along the Canadian border; although, they can also be found in high elevations further south in the contiguous US. They have giant paws that help distribute their weight over the surface of the snowy areas in which they live—which allows them to more effectively pursue their prey.

Lynx populations—like many other predators—fluctuate in response to their food supply. Lynx primarily eat snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), so when populations of snowshoe hare decrease, so do populations of lynx. Lynx typically have litters of up to five kittens, but particularly food-rich years and a fertile mother can lead to litters of up to seven. In years of scarcity, these litters are smaller, which helps keep populations in check (there’s no evidence of significantly higher adult mortality when prey populations are smaller).

Lynx populations are dependent on areas with stands of conifer (also a preferred habitat of snowshoe hares)—which are areas that can be disturbed by forest fire or landslides, but also human-caused disturbances such as mining, logging, and infrastructure or housing development, all of which can cause habitat fragmentation and loss. Additionally, with lynx, there’s evidence that competition from other predators can also impact lynx populations—and that this competition can be increased as other resources, including habitat, become scarcer.

This has implications for how we think about restoration—and how we think about development projects. Do we include wildlife corridors as a part of our planning process (even while development or logging or mining is happening)? Do we try to replicate natural patchiness upon restoration, and provide phased restoration work that will provide a mix of older and younger conifer forest? How do we best pay attention to all the factors that make up critical habitat for species of concern?

These questions are important for considering how this species can be de-listed (it was listed by US Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened in 2000). For this to happen, its population will need to continue to increase, which means we must work to negate habitat loss and fragmentation.

And we should do this because lynx provide economic benefits by controlling snowshoe hares and its other prey animals, which are considered agricultural and silvicultural pests, because these animals have evolved to be part of our boreal forest ecosystems, and because most of us want more cat videos on the internet.


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Mange as Population Control in Foxes

By Kay Wiseman

When was the last time you observed a healthy fox in Colorado?

I moved from the mid-west to Fort Collins, CO in 2011. I work and play in the outdoors so I tend to take notice when nature seems a bit “off.” No sooner had I settled into my new city that I began seeing foxes (Vulpes vulpes) scamper about neighborhoods and green spaces. But something about them just wasn’t right.

They were out in the open in the middle of the day.

They didn’t shy away at the first sign of people.

They looked absolutely dreadful; scrawny, dirty, scabby, tailless.

They were not the foxes I remember from back east. What I soon learned from my colleagues was that I had apparently moved to the Front Range during a major sarcoptic mange outbreak.

Natural systems have a process of checks and balances for populations. Populations generally fluctuate in regular cycles over periods of time. In some instances, a species population can seemingly grow exponentially until it reaches a certain carrying capacity1 and then rapidly decline. If you paid attention in middle or high school science, you’ll remember this as a “J-curve” pattern.

While there are many causal factors that must be taken into account for these declines, one factor that contributes significantly is disease. A species approaching carrying capacity is competing with itself for resources. As resources become scarce, the health of individuals may decline, which increases their susceptibility to disease. For the Front Range foxes, disease came in the form of sarcoptic mange, and to a lesser extent, rabies and West Nile.

Sarcoptic mange is caused by burrowing mites in the Sarcoptidae family. The mites dig through the skin causing intense itching and inflammation. Foxes that have contracted these mites scratch and bite furiously causing skin damage and opening themselves up—very literally—to severe infection. Mange is highly contagious in mammals and can even be transmitted to humans through direct contact. In humans, sarcoptic mite infection is referred to as scabies…gross. Luckily, for humans and our domestic animal friends, there is treatment. Unfortunately for wildlife, nature must take its course.

As much as we complain about the sly fox breaking into our hen houses, these adorable little predators have an important role to play and sadly we never seem to appreciate that role until they’re gone. During the outbreak, the Front Range reported increased rodent populations such as rats (Rattus spp.) and rabbits (Sylvialgus spp.; Lepus spp.), as well as outbreaks of disease carried by rodents. Health departments across the state were reporting human cases of tularemia (rabbit fever), hantavirus, and plague. Without predators, like the fox, the rodent population was not controlled and their numbers skyrocketed exposing people to an elevated risk of disease transmission.

After this 2 to 3 year mange outbreak ended, I no longer observed foxes anywhere along the Front Range. In fact, it was the summer of 2016 before I saw my first healthy fox in Colorado. The fox was beautiful with a sleek red coat and fluffy white tipped tail. Over the next year, I observed multiple frolicking foxes and my face lit up with excitement each and every time. The once devastated fox population is rebounding! Watch your hens everyone!

Photo: Red fox observed in Fourmile Canyon, Boulder County. Photo courtesy of Michael Duran


1 The carrying capacity of a population represents the absolute maximum number of individuals in the population, based on the amount of the limiting resource available. An Introduction to Population Ecology – The Logistic Growth Equation. Brandon M. Hale and Maeve L. McCarthy

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Sea Otter Awareness Week

By Liz Clift

Sea Otter Awareness Week is September 24-30, 2017

This summer, I had the opportunity to watch an otter hunt in the surf off the coast of Olympic National Park, in Washington state. The otter rode the waves in, close to the shoreline, and then swam back out, repeating this routine a couple of times before settling on a rock to watch us humans.

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are the heaviest members of the weasel family (male otters weigh up to 100 pounds), and unlike other marine mammals, lack a layer of blubber to help keep them warm. Instead, they have the densest fur in the animal kingdom (as many as a million hairs per square inch). This means that though they may look wet, the water isn’t actually penetrating all the way to their skin.

Mother sea otter with rare twin baby pups, presumed to have been born just one or two days earlier on June 23-24, 2013. Photo taken 24 June 2013, Morro Bay, CA.

In fact, sea otter pups have such dense fur, they can’t dive under water until they get their adult fur. This is likely a survival adaptation: this dense fur will help keep them warm and also allows the mother to safely leave their pups floating on the surface of the water while they hunt for food.

Like other members of the weasel family, sea otters are carnivores. They eat urchins, shellfish (including mussels and clams), a variety of snails, squid, and a few dozen other marine species. Sea otters may store food they’ve gathered—or a favorite rock—in the large sections of extra skin near their armpits. This extra skin acts as a pocket (and who doesn’t want more pockets??).

A male might eat approximately 20 to 25 pounds of food a day! Much of this eating occurs on the surface of the water, and an observer might see an otter floating on its back and smashing a shellfish against a rock the otter has balanced on its chest in order to get at the meat.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to see sea otters regularly, you’ll notice that they float on their back for more than just eating. They’ll also casually float in groups, called rafts (and these rafts may include hundreds of individuals!) to rest. When they’re resting, they often wrap themselves in kelp to keep themselves tethered to a single area, and mothers will also do this to their pups.

Otters play a valuable role in kelp forest ecosystems by helping control the sea creatures (including sea urchins) that would otherwise eat (and devastate) these kelp forests. Unfortunately, due to fur trading, their historic numbers have plummeted, which means these ecosystems have changed. To give you an idea of the scale of devastation around the sea otter fur trade here are some numbers:

  • Historic population: estimated between several hundred thousand to more than a million
  • By early 1900s: worldwide numbers of 1,000 to 2,000 individuals
  • As of today: approximately 106,000

Although they have made a fairly remarkable recovery, sea otters aren’t in the clear yet. They remain on the IUCN Red List (endangered) and now face threats of infectious disease. As recently as 2015, hundreds of sea otters showed up sick or dead along Alaska’s southern coast as the result of toxins from harmful algal blooms and bacteria. There’s also the possibility that orcas (aka, killer whales, Orcinus orca) have started to eat otters as their other food resources have disappeared, although even if this is true, it does not account for the large otter die-offs.

As sea otter populations to continue to fluctuate, we should consider how this impacts our coastal ecosystems in the areas where they live—and how this, in turn, impacts our local economies since the  kelp forests that rely, at least partially, on otters (at least on the west coast) also provide shoreline protection against waves, and foster greater biodiversity of fish, crustaceans, bivalves, and other animals.

California Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) resting in a colony of a dozen sea otters and wrapped in kelp (Photo from Mike Baird, 2010, Flickr)

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Bullfrog as Invasive? Depends on Where You Live

By Liz Clift (with thanks to Joseph Ehrenberger!)

If you grew up in one part of the US (many of the eastern states extending into the Great Plains), the calling of the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) was probably a staple of your childhood evenings. If you grew up in other places, perhaps not so much.

However, this might be changing. The American bullfrog can show up as an aggressive—and invasive—species in parts of the US where it isn’t native, and is able to outcompete native frog species. It doesn’t just impact frogs though. The American bullfrog will eat anything it thinks it can get in its mouth, including small rodents, birds, and other frogs—which means it can have a detrimental impact on some threatened and endangered species or state-listed species of concern.


Of course, in the eastern US, bullfrogs will still prey upon native frogs and anything else they can fit in their mouth. But, there is a greater amount of water and more diverse aquatic habitats. This means that bullfrogs and other frog species are better able to co-exist. In general, bullfrogs are especially fond of slow-moving open bodies of water, while other frogs can happily exist where there are more aquatic plants or within damp forests.

In the western US, where for the most part, water is scarcer and where modifications (like dams) have altered natural watercourses, bullfrogs have a prime opportunity to outcompete other frogs. And, like other invasive species, once bullfrogs have invaded a place, they can be difficult to remove. This is due in part to the large number of eggs that they lay (females may lay a clutch of 20,000 eggs!) and the fact that removing adults can actually improve the survival of tadpoles, since the adult bullfrogs are cannibalistic.

In addition, they have lived for decades in many of the places where they are invasive, which means well-established populations must be dealt with (this is all the more reason to take steps to remove bullfrogs as soon as you notice them, if you live a place where they are not native). Bullfrogs can also travel nearly a mile in search of a new place to colonize, if something happens to their initial home—which could include draining a pond or other water resource, which is one of the methods of dealing with a bullfrog invasion.

Traditionally, practices for managing bullfrogs have included hunting/eating them, temporarily—and repeatedly—draining the ponds or other areas they have taken up residence, and potentially introducing (if necessary) predatory insects or other animals like largemouth bass into ponds where tadpoles are found. (Unfortunately, bullfrogs and their tadpoles don’t taste that great to many fish—so the fish may suck in a tadpole only to spit it back out.)

Northern Leopard Frog

However, these practices can only do so much on their own. Additional, and more creative, management options should be considered. If bullfrog populations are managed, then native frogs tend to move back in fairly readily (or will re-establish once re-introduced). This is promising in terms of increasing biodiversity in areas impacted by bullfrogs.

Great Ecology is working with Adaptation Environmental Services to develop and implement some innovative approaches to bullfrog management in Colorado—and citizen-science may be one of the ways to monitor populations of bullfrogs compared to native frogs, such as the northern leopard frog (a species of special concern in Colorado) before and after such measures are taken. Citizen-science can also help detect a problem early on, if frog monitoring is incorporated into a management plan.

Not sure you can tell the difference between a bullfrog and other frogs? One way is to listen to their calls. Here is your moment of bullfrog-sound zen (so that you’ll know when you’re listening to a bullfrog and when you’re listening to some other frog, say a northern leopard frog).


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Does Visual Note-Taking Have a Place in the Business of Ecological Restoration?

By Liz Clift

Visual note-taking, sometimes also called sketchnoting or graphic recording, allows you to represent ideas non-linguistically. And considering that the written word is a relatively modern invention (in particular, it wasn’t until very recently in the history of human beings that the written word was something most of us in the Western world, at least, have access to), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an estimated two-thirds of people are visual learners.

Visual note-taking of a biological processes

As a perpetual doodler, who has always been drawn to less traditional forms of note-taking, learning about visual note-taking was eye-opening for me.

At last, I had a name for the thing I used to do—and the thing that “being a professional” had nearly stolen from me.

“Content-driven doodling” on the other hand, has the potential to spark creativity and improve comprehension, and to help people (like me) who learn better visually and kinesthetically, rather than aurally, retain information in a meeting or presentation—or a site visit or reading.

Visual note-taking can be as linear or as creative as you need (or as the presentation dictates), but visual note-taking usually utilizes some combination of the following:

  • Text – meaningful quotes, key points. Use flourishes or other typographic treatments to emphasize key points or add interest to large blocks.
  • Containers – Enclosing words in shapes (thought clouds, boxes, circles, or quote bubbles)
  • Connectors – Connect ideas or pieces of a story with arrows and lines
  • Frameworks – how you understand the underlying structure or model of a presentation, which might look like a 2×2, Venn diagram, or continuum
  • Icons – allow you to distill reality into a simple drawing (i.e. – a stick figure, a basic tree or flower, a suggestion of a building)
  • Shading – allows you to add dimension and contrast to notes
  • Bullets – that are interesting and distinctive, or help you remember if your team is responsible for that action item or someone from another team is responsible.
  • Color – May depend on the content of the presentation and your ability to maintain your note-taking workflow, but color can allow you to differentiate or distinguish info and then come back. You may want to limit yourself to 2-3 colors.

What, you might be wondering, does this have to do with ecology or restoration or actual design of places?

Kent Johnson, Architect uses visual note-taking to understand place

I may be biased (I am a writer), but so much of the work we do as environmental professionals is about telling a story—and then helping it come to fruition, perhaps as a restoration project, a management or strategic plan, or an educational tool (like interpretive signage). For instance, depending on the project, you might be helping to tell:

  • The story of a place. Past, current, future. Maybe one of these, maybe all of them. Most of us think visually about these histories. Visual note-taking can help us figure out how we want to tell that story to a client, the public, a regulator, or another stakeholder (in a way they will appreciate).
  • The story of a species. The passenger pigeon used to migrate in flocks so large they would fly past a particular location for hours. The wolves have returned to Yellowstone, and in their return have influenced ungulate behavior, which allows aspen and willow trees to once again thrive alongside rivers.
  • The story of a disaster. The way that water breached a levee. The way a reactor’s radiation spread. The way that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responded, and what the will be the next steps.
  • The story of recovery. What does the site look like in Year 1? Year 3? Year 5? Year 20?

Visual notes might spark exactly what you need to help you write a memo, report, interpretative signage, or your next presentation. Why? Because you’re already thinking outside the box. Something might be the beginning of a conceptual design or a presentation to the community or a sketch that eventually gets transformed into a publicly consumable good on a brochure.

Or, less immediately relevant but just as important, visual notes really can help you remember what you and others at a meeting or training discussed. Doodling does help people retain information (29% more than non-doodling counterparts) and improves overall problem-solving.

Plus, in many ways, visual note-taking is an extension of the type of field notes that our predecessors have used extensively—ranging from more detailed botanical drawings to a quick sketch of what the site looks like—and that we may even use ourselves.

Visual note-taking as a way to better understand an organism

Will you get it right the first time? Probably not. I’m certainly still practicing. But “not being able to draw” isn’t an excuse (google: “Star People: How to Storyboard”). Is it for you? Maybe. Maybe not. You’ll have to try it to figure that out.

But if it means that you retain more information, it’s more visually appealing, and it might help you make more creative connections that could improve your problem-solving ability, maybe it’s worth a shot.

Author’s attempt at visual note-taking based on Twitter on #NPS’ birthday

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