By Staff Writers Ethan Barber and Marshall Byington
Graphics provided by Timothy Koontz
Sunday, March 3, was World Wildlife Day. Designated by the UN as an annual celebration of the diversity of wildlife around the world, the event also raises awareness of the dangers humans pose toward animals.
What is World Wildlife Day?
Proposed by Taiwan during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, World Wildlife Day is a day dedicated to nature and the creatures that live within it. It may be hard to take time to fully appreciate nature, so World Wildlife Day gives you that opportunity.
Every year the event adopts a different theme, and this year’s theme is “Life below water: for people and planet”. The topic explores the ocean and its impact on all of the Earth’s systems. The Earth’s ocean covers nearly 70 percent of the planet’s surface, and inside it lives “nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may be in the millions.”*
What are some problems that wildlife face?
Wildlife is abundant here in Olympia and Lacey. Just by taking a look outside, you might be lucky enough to catch sight of a grazing deer, the occasional rabbit or squirrel, or even an eagle or hawk. Nature is all around us, and it’s important to know how to behave around it. Knowing the ways we can harm the environment is just as important as knowing how to prevent them.
The AP environmental science class, taught by teacher Timothy Koontz, listed a few environmental issues to consider.
Chemical runoff. Chemicals can flow into the ocean via stormwater, rivers, or streams. A few, like phosphates and nitrates, can significantly increase nutrients available to plankton. These microorganisms use the abundance of nutrients to reproduce rapidly, creating spots of dense plankton called dead zones, where fish and other wildlife cannot swim. The plankton can clog fish’s lungs and cause organ damage, leading to their death.
Habitat destruction. Deforestation, urban development, and wildfires are some of the biggest causes of destruction to natural habitats. Forests provide shelter for smaller plants and animals, and change little from day to day without human interference. However, humans can make rapid changes to these habitats that can cause a big disruption to any animals that live there. While wildfires can be caused by natural means like lightning, factors also include human activities such as unattended campfires, activated fireworks, and discarded cigarettes.
Roadkill. Animals like birds and small mammals are affected heavily by roads that cut through their habitat. A study at Oklahoma State University showed that around 340 million birds yearly are killed by cars, and mammals with small populations are especially at risk. The AP Environmental Science class tendered the fact that deer kill more people in the U.S. than any other animal, largely due to their involvement in car accidents.
How can people help?
The AP environmental science class also gave some suggestions that students could use to help prevent harm to wildlife.
Be aware of the speed limit. Animals can end up as roadkill if drivers are not cautious. Following the rules of the road and being aware of your surroundings while driving may prevent accidents involving animals. If you are going too fast, you might not be able to react in time to an unaware roadside rodent or deer.
Don’t litter. As much as 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic litter the ocean, according to National Geographic. Plastic litter can take hundreds of years to decompose, and breaks down into smaller pieces that affects the breathing of sea wildlife. Litter can also contain harmful chemicals, which affects wildlife as well. To prevent this, people could avoid littering by discarding their trash in the proper places. All parks and public places are mandated to provide places for trash, and if you aren’t near a trash can, you can hold onto the trash until you are.
Carpool. To reduce the amount of harmful chemicals released as well as the roadkill caused by cars, it’s best to use them as little as possible, and an easy way to do this is through carpooling. Instead of driving yourself to school, get a friend to, or drive them instead.
Reduce car washes. If you wash your car yourself, chemicals in the soap used can flow into storm drains, which lead to lakes and other bodies of water. These chemicals can not only cause harm to fish and other wildlife, but the phosphates in some of these soaps also promote algae growth, which can build up to dangerous levels over time. Algae requires oxygen to survive, just like any other organism in the water, and too much algae can drain the water of that oxygen, killing off all the organisms in the vicinity and creating a dead zone in the water, where no life can exist.
Be careful around cigarettes and campfires. Careless cigarette users are one of the largest starters of forest fires, alongside unattended campfires. Preventing fires caused by cigarettes can be done by avoiding their use altogether. To prevent forest fires caused by campfires, be sure that they are extinguished all the way before leaving them unattended.
Reduce meat consumption. Some students suggested vegetarianism, but any decrease in consuming fish and red meat can help preserve animal populations. Currently, many species of fish, including salmon, are suffering from being overfished. Hunting and trapping also decrease the numbers of wildlife on land, so consider doing these in moderation.
Don’t feed the ducks. It may be fun or relaxing to do, but some nutrients in the bread or other food fed to wild animals can have various impacts on the environment. For one, the animals could start relying on humans as a food source instead of their natural methods like foraging or hunting, severely impacting them when their human food source is cut off. Second, the processing of our food incorporates elements that are unhealthy for animals. Finally, the leftover food remains in lakes and ponds where algae and plankton can consume it, overpopulate, and form dead zones.
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the following statement to Timberline students for World Wildlife Day:
“The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife celebrates world wildlife every day, particularly the marine and terrestrial species that create a rich tapestry of life here in the State of Washington. As the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities, we are encouraged by and support the growing recognition of the importance of habitat and species by the international community.”
-Jason Wettstein, spokesperson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
*From the “About” section of the World Wildlife Day website. Written by António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, and Vonne Higuero, the CITES Secretariat Secretary General. https://www.wildlifeday.org/