Green Tips For The Holidays

The mosquitoes are still out but there is a slight crispness in the air. Fall and the holidays are approaching fast. Time flies when you’re writing environmental articles every week! It’s been a while since I’ve done a quick reminder column of things you can do to get your mind thinking about the true cost of your decisions. And you’re about to be inundated with holiday shopping hoopla, family knows best talks and workplaces teaming with water cooler crap. Here’s a list of environmental decisions and some quick tips of how to spread a little sustainable cheer the next few weeks.

First up, Thanksgiving. Where are you headed? How are you getting there? Prep your vehicle in advance. Properly inflate tires, check oil, drive the speed limit and keep your gas tank over one-quarter of a tank. Prep your own fuel for the road, too. Don’t rely on poor quality and high environmental cost fast food to get you to your destination. Pack a small cooler with food for the road. I’ve even packed hot food and used a gas station microwave before to heat up my soup. Delish!

Make real food for Thanksgiving. I feel like Thanksgiving has been taken over by crap food. Stuffing should not come from a pre-made bag full of preservatives that just needs water. Buy the bread, season it and make your own. The quality is better for you and the environment. Check your turkey’s ingredients label. You’ll be surprised. Who knew a whole turkey had ingredients on the ingredient label?! It does and you’ll be shocked. Don’t buy crap.

I’ve already received some invitations for some potlucks and parties. If your work event is a potluck, make something homemade, organic, tasty and healthy. What?! Yes. Just do it. You’re not going to win everyone over but it’s subtle encouragement for people to enjoy the lavish food but not to go completely rogue. There are healthy options. I’ll be making a healthy version of mini pumpkin muffins to replace the piece of pumpkin pie everyone wants. Tweet me for the recipe (@naimajeannette).

The other quick tip about potlucks and work events is to throw a reusable to-go container in your purse or bag. You can use it to eat off of instead of the paper plates or, even worse, styrofoam and then you can pack up some leftovers to take home or leave in your office fridge for the next day! So simple and quite possibly my best tactic for potlucks. Everyone always comments on the genius of it and I hope it secretly plants a seed in their mind.

Alright, let’s talk about the onslaught of consumerism that’s about to occur. Don’t let the marketers and culture fool you. You do not need to buy random crappy gifts for everyone on a huge holiday list. I repeat: you do not need to buy gifts for everyone. Thoughtful moments, experiences and small gestures go a long way instead of a random mug full of candy and Post-it notes. Stop the insanity. Start now.

How will you honor the people around you this holiday season? We usually honor our family with food. Living in Dallas gives us access to a ton of food options that many places simply do not have. We load up on speciality food items like sweet potato noodles (glass noodles), organic cheese and fresh homemade bread and fill our family’s bellies. This year I’m considering making a donation to a nonprofit for both sides of our family. Something that is meaningful for all of us. What could you do that’s out of the box and yet still meaningful?

REI is promoting their #OptOutside campaign this year for Black Friday. Their doors are closed on one of the busiest days of the year to encourage people to think differently and spend time outdoors. Fight the commercials and ads and go outside this Black Friday. I promise, you’ll be happier with yourself at the end of the day.

Bring on fall and bring on the craziness. I’m prepped, ready and going in with a positive mindset to think about how every one of my choices and purchases affects the environment. I’m ready to counter with creative ideas that minimize environmental impacts. I hope you are too.

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Palm Oil Update Fall 2017

Whoever first put chocolate and peanut butter together was a pure genius. It’s the time of the year when candy surrounds us. It’s in huge bags at the stores, in everyone’s office bowls, at friend’s houses and, of course, on our own coffee tables. To me, when I think about candy, I think about milk chocolate and peanut butter but, when I see it, all I see is palm oil. It’s like I have X-ray vision for palm oil.

I have the same vision when I see make-up, lotion, soap, milk, cookies, crackers and anything that’s in a box and has a label. Palm oil is in nearly everything — over 50 percent of the products in the grocery store. I am a compulsive checker of labels especially of soap, always on the search for palm oil-free soap. I have found one small soap company that sets up shop at the Dallas Farmers Market that doesn’t use palm oil.

My palm oil vision glasses started years ago when I found out about the palm oil industry in Indonesia. Indonesia has done a very good job at building their palm oil business, but it’s come at the expense of millions of acres of rainforests and a sharp decline in many species including endangered orangutans and tigers. That’s the kind of stuff that trumps a piece of chocolate and peanut butter for me.

I’ve watched as the industry has risen to a worldwide infestation in our products, including baby formula. I followed the journey of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, led by large palm oil executives, who tried to shade their way into promoting sustainable palm oil with questionable ethics. Now, products proudly display “sustainable palm oil” on their labels.

But where are we? Can we trust those labels? Can we eat the candy?!

Earlier this year, the European Union (E.U.) announced plans to ban palm oil in biodiesel and other products. The E.U. is the second largest export destination of palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia. The palm oil industry has been working hard to strengthen their reputation in the E.U., but it’s not working. The palm oil companies are having trouble hiding their environmental issues. The E.U.-commissioned report on energy sources said that the production of palm oil creates more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. Not good.

Instead of refining their practices, the palm oil industries in Indonesia and Malaysia are searching for new markets to sell their product. Who will overlook the environmental effects and buy into the product? I have one idea.

Greed still leads the palm oil industry. “Sustainable palm oil” is still not an accurate representation of what we want it to be. Therefore, I can do without the candy that contains palm oil, without the lush soaps that boast about their use of sustainable palm oil and every other damn thing that contains it! Ok, it’s actually nearly impossible to go completely palm oil free because it’s often hidden in your products. But, you can avoid it as much as possible. Get a pair of palm oil glasses and check your labels.

What if we saw the impact of every product we bought listed on the package? What if there was a section on the nutrition facts that listed environmental damage? Would we consume as much? Would we shift our economy to more sustainable methods that factor in people, profit and planet?

Enjoy the Holidays and do me a favor, read your candy labels before you buy. Surprise, surprise! There are still issues with palm oil and sustainable palm oil.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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Wild Film Tour Across Texas

A rare night in Dallas is happening on October 25th. No, it’s not a crazy Halloween bash, it’s a night to view rare short films, three of which are premiering in Dallas. An intimate evening in Oak Cliff to watch short films that highlight wildlife and outdoor adventure.

The Wild Film Tour will tour thirteen Texas cities this Fall. Each stop on the tour will highlight 4-6 short films and host speakers from around the state. In Dallas we will have the opportunity to hear from Donald Beard, Superintendent of Caprock Canyons State Park, home to the Texas state bison herd. We’ll also hear from Ben Master’s the creator of the Wild Film Tour. You may have watched Ben’s popular documentary on Netflix titled, Unbranded in which four men (including Ben) take a herd of mustangs on a journey from Mexico to Canada to inspire adoptions for wild horses and burros.

One of the films premiering on October 25th is from the Texas Living Waters Project (TexasLivingWaters.org). They will be premiering their short film about the beauty and concerns around water in Texas. During droughts in Texas there is not enough water to fulfill the water rights promised to people. We’ve overpromised water that literally doesn’t exist, and as our population continues to grow this issue will be at the head of the table. How will this effect our ecosystems from fresh water rivers to the Gulf of Mexico? How can we manage our water resources to maintain human needs and ecosystem health?  These are important questions of our future.

Another film premiering in Dallas will highlight the concerns of the border wall on wildlife and biodiversity along our Texas/Mexico border. Ben spent a few months along the border filming and speaking with ranchers, biologists, Border Patrol, immigrants and more to gain perspective on what building a wall will mean for all parties involved, including the voiceless. How will genetic diversity continue if same species can not travel across political borderlines? In a dry desert environment, how will species survive without access to the Rio Grande, the only reliable source of water? These questions shape our decisions on whether to extend a border wall that in some places already exists naturally and man made.

Lions of West Texas will also be premiering in Dallas. One of the most charismatic species in Texas is the mountain lion. Part of their charisma and lure is their elusive and hard to spot behavior. Using trail cameras to capture intimate mountain lion moments, this film showcases the big cat’s lifestyle. The film follows scientists from the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI.sulross.edu) as they work to build a better understanding of mountain lion behavior, demographics and overall ecology.

Social hour at the film festival begins at 6:30pm. Come early to mingle with speakers, fellow attendees, and your chance to win prizes from sponsors Yeti, and Epic Provisions. Also on site will be representatives from sponsors Texas Parks and Wildlife, Borderlands Research Institute, Bat Conservation International, and Stewards of the Wild (TPWF.org/SOTW/). Films and official program starts at 7:30pm.

We will see you on October 25th at the historic Texas Theatre for a night of movies, conversation and my favorite… outdoor adventures!

Follow Wild Film Tour on social media for updates: Facebook.com/WildFilmsTour and Instagram.com/WildFilmTour.

2017 Tour Dates: http://www.wildfilmtour.com/dates
Amarillo – Oct 12
Midland – Oct 19
Marfa – Oct 20
Alpine – Oct 22
El Paso – Oct 23
Dallas – Oct 25
Fort Worth – Oct 26
Houston – Nov 10

wild film tour - mountain lion

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Heal Yourself To Heal The World

Every change of season is a reminder of the endless ebb and flow of our lives and to always expect the unexpected. This fall started with drastic changes around the world. Major flooding in SouthEast Asia affected over eight million people, hurricane Harvey hit south Texas destroying homes and businesses that will take years to recover, wildfires are still raging in the north west, floods in Italy, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit right off shore from southern Mexico while eastern Mexico was impacted by hurricane Katia, and most recently hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean and southern Florida. Wow, that’s a lot to handle to kick off our fall season.

As we sit in our cozy offices, homes, and coffee shops reading this column people around the world and right here in our backyards are going through drastic changes. It’s harder for us to empathize with people facing tragedies when we are living in luxury. Empathy starts from within. Take care of yourself, value being a human, and empathy for all other beings stems from making sure you are whole.

Yes, I’m arguing that making sure you are healthy actually makes you empathize not only with humans around the world but the environment. Not where you thought this column was going this week right?

I’ve noticed the people who care so much for others and our environment tend to have an understanding of who they are. So, I dug into some research. It turns out that in neuroscience the part of the brain, the right supramarginal gyrus, is an area that helps us distinguish our own emotional state from that of others and is responsible for empathy and compassion. If that part of our brain is not functioning properly our ability of empathy is reduced.

Research from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences found that doing compassion training led to participants experiencing significantly more positive emotions and increased resilience in stressful situations. Basically, we can shape our emotional reactions and alter the way we feel. As humans, we tend to use our own emotions to project onto others. If we can change the way we feel, we can change the way we relate and understand to other people and situations.

I’m definitely not a neuroscientist, I’m a wildlife biologist. So why am I interested in this idea? Forcing a view onto someone has been shown not to work. But, giving people the tools to understand and figure it out themselves may be the key to changing our current political environment and climate change trajectory.

In all of our western society we value material items – huge houses, big vehicles, high fashion and more. Our political leaders, thought leaders, and people we place high value on (celebrities) emanate these same emotions. In order to shift our culture to not value narcism and material items it’s worth a look inside our own selves. In environmental ethics there are three philosophical approaches. One is anthropocentrism – a human centered philosophy where we first think, how does it benefit me. Second is biocentrism – a life centered approach where we understand all organisms have a value and last is ecocentrism – all organisms and the health of the ecosystem have a value. Most people are very anthropocentric believing humans are the masters of this world. But this view doesn’t serve the health of each other nor the health of our ecosystems.

I think healing your own self and reconnecting to what’s really important will shift more mindsets to a biocentric or ecocentric approach. But how do we take care of ourselves? That’s the gold question right?! Especially when studies have found we don’t take all of our work vacation days, our jobs are our priorities, we want to make money to send our children to college, etc. How do we change this path?

We change our priorities. We value our physical and emotional health above all else. It takes time and the influence at first is subtle, but I’m optimistic it’s one of the ways we can change our world – human and environment. Just think about it.

Let me know your thoughts on social media at @naimajeannette (Facebook.com/NaimaJeannette, Twitter.com/NaimaJeannette, or Instagram.com/NaimaJeannette) or email naimajeannette@gmail.com.

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New Bike Shares In Dallas

To be honest and frank, Dallas is not bike friendly. Our roads are designed for cars with little to no shoulder space, which is often littered with trash, dirt and sharp objects. Our bike lanes are shared spaces with much larger vehicles. Many businesses do not have bike racks for employees and visitors. The city hasn’t had much success moving forward on bike initiatives. Dallas is a culture of big trucks and SUVs, not personal bike transportation … yet. If there is one thing that is constant, it’s change. Nothing stays the same.

The City of Dallas has opened up our streets to new bike share programs. Three new bike share companies are scattered throughout the city. With their bright colors, the bikes themselves attract attention and inherently start a conversation. “What are those?” “Who’s going to use them?” “When did this happen?”

My husband and I set out on a mission to try all three current bike shares available in Dallas. All three use an app to find nearby bikes. We headed to the Katy Trail where there were a plethora of bikes available. All three new systems do not use bike racks. They all lock with a back tire lock system that can be used anywhere.

Katy Trail Dallas

David and Kemosabe trying out Lime Bike on the Katy Trail, Dallas.

I hate to even write a review comparing all three bikes because the reality is, they are all good for the city. Each one of them provides an alternative form of transportation that we are not used to seeing in Dallas. With every ride, it shifts culture, just a smidge.

The rides are all around $1 for 30 minutes. Extremely affordable for a commuter, errands or just for a little bike play time. Each bike share is easy to download the app, find a bike and unlock. Give it a try! If you have a helmet, bring your own. None of the companies offer head safety.

For those that want a bit more detail on each bike share, here’s what I thought of all three bikes:

1. Spin Bike: Bright orange colored, these bikes are easy to spot. The front basket is a nice touch to hold belongings. Spin Bike was super light and easy to lift, but I think that actually made riding it worse. It seemed flimsy. Our seat adjuster was broken and we rode around with a constantly moving seat. The brakes squeaked a high pitch, scaring the crap out of my dog every time I had to slow down. Easy to use the app and links with Apple Pay which means you don’t have to enter your credit card information — major plus for me.

2. Lime Bike: Yellow and green makes these bikes stand out. This was the best riding bike of all three. It felt sturdy, easy to steer, and I was confident in the brakes. But, because of the sturdy, smooth ride, this was the heaviest bike of all three. There’s no way I was lifting this bike much higher than a few inches off the ground. The app worked just as easy at Spin Bike and locking it was a breeze. Easy peasy. I did have to enter my credit card number, but only once and it’s stored.

3. VBikes: I honestly didn’t even know this company was on our streets, but turns out it was the first! As we were pedaling down the trail I noticed a few of the VBikes parked along the side and knew we had to try it. The app downloaded fast but I wasn’t happy with the $99 deposit it made on my account (update on Aug 18 – no more $99 deposit!). And then it works like the Starbucks app – you load your account with money and then apply that to each ride. So I loaded $5, used $1 and will probably never use VBikes again, so I wasted $4. VBikes is the simplest ride of all three, with no adjustable seat and no gears – nothing to mess with. But, way too small and awkward for this 5’8” gal.

Again, all of these are great additions to Dallas. The Spin Bike app allowed me to let the company know that my bike wasn’t working, so hopefully bikes will be in constant repair. I think that will be what gives an edge to one company — who can maintain their bikes the best.

Get out and ride!

Katy Trail Dallas

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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Another Missed Conservation Opportunity By A Zoo

Now that it’s come and gone, I can write about it and your perspective will hopefully be a bit more clear. I’m talking about the big missed opportunity from the Dallas Zoo’s “splash dancing” Zola the gorilla video.

Many zoos around the country have conservation as part of their missions. Conservation is the ethical protection of natural resources to maintain the health of our ecosystems and biodiversity. Conservation can be done at many levels and many zoos operate on the notion that first viewing an animal creates a connection to it and starts a level of respect and care for wildlife. The idea that we can’t protect what we don’t know about is at its core. Studies have shown this to be true. Building a connection to our natural world does increase empathy towards the protection of wild spaces and wild animals.

This connection to our natural world happens in many ways, from exploring your own backyard to visiting zoos and museums. The next vital step is understanding how we as humans fit into the ecosystem and how our everyday actions affect the environment. Changing some of our small daily actions can have a great impact on the health of our ecosystems and help to conserve wild spaces for wildlife.

Zookeepers are the heart and soul of every zoo. The everyday care they put into their animals is unwavering. I should know, I used to be one. Zookeepers do everything they can to provide stimulating enrichment for each and every animal. One of the best feelings is watching an animal enjoy enrichment you put love, time and effort into creating. When I saw the video of the gorilla dancing in his plastic pool, my heart connected to the cheerful zookeepers heard giggling throughout.

But, the marketing department missed a huge opportunity with the video. They were sitting on a viral video with no plan to connect it back to their conservation mission.

I thought back to the viral movement of the “ice bucket challenge” that raised money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). More than $115 million was donated through the ALS ice bucket challenge during an eight week period in 2014, and $77 million was dedicated to research that led to three new genes discovered in the last two years that will help identify new therapies. The silly fun made a difference.

How could we have connected the gorilla dancing video to a conservation movement?

The video made a huge splash and now it’s gone. Instead, we could have used the video to launch a fun way to engage in conservation. Conservation has many paths and exposing people to it in unique ways is imperative to extending it’s reach beyond the core community. In order to be successful in conserving our ecosystems our reach needs to extend into everyday culture.

Gorillas are facing extreme challenges in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) lists both the Eastern and Western gorilla as critically endangered. Hunting, loss of habitat from forest clearing for agriculture and timber, and disease threaten the continued survival of gorillas. The need to conserve gorillas is at a critical point.

Here’s some fun ways we could have paired the viral video with a conservation movement:

• Modeled off of the ice bucket challenge: #ZolaDanceChallenge. Encourage everyone to film themselves doing their best Zola impression and post to social media. Participants then challenge three others to do the same or donate to gorillafund.org. Partner with wildlife social media influencers and celebrities to help start the movement and, poof, you’re off to doing more than sharing an awesome video.

• Run a contest for the best editing of the video. Allow people to use the video to come up with their own conservation message. One person added the Flashdance song, “She’s a Maniac” to the video and it went viral as well. Get more interaction and ideas from the internet to increase conservation.

• At the very least include a message about gorilla conservation in the video. Connect it back to the very phone that 80 percent of people use to get online and watch the video. The mineral, coltan is needed to make your phone and is harvested in mountain gorilla habitat in the Congo.

When you have something that will reach people far and wide, use it to your advantage to do something different to serve a core mission.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly

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Looking For A House So I Can Be A TreeHouse Customer

I need to buy a house. I need to buy a house to outfit with all the environmentally-friendly products from the new TreeHouse store in Dallas at 8021 Walnut Hill Lane. Bring your truck, it’s worth a visit. TreeHouse in Dallas

No matter what you’re interior design style is, you’ll find products to fit your taste. Gone are the days where environmentally friendly meant boring colors and only straw hut homes. Your creativity and style can shine through using eco-friendly products: Soy-based concrete that comes in 24 colors, Romabio mineral paint in just the shade of purple I want in my bedroom, and too many styles of bamboo flooring for me to pick just one. Would it be too much to have a mish-mashed home of a variety of styles?

Beyond the stunning open and clean layout as you walk through the glass sliding doors, there’s something else just as noticeable in the TreeHouse building: the people. I was impressed with all of the TreeHouse employees I interacted with. They were local, knowledgeable and happy to do their jobs. We chatted about bidets, flooring, elegant quartz bathroom and kitchen counter tops, energy efficiency, employee training and the recent bee keeping class upstairs. What was this place?

TreeHouse In Dallas

I gallivanted through the store, checking out each section and thinking about how I never made it down to the original store in Austin. Immediately, I worried about the growth of TreeHouse. As they continue to grow and reach more markets across Texas and the country, will they lose the personal knowledge-based staff and local feel?

Enter the co-founder, Jason Ballard. The fact that I was able to ask an employee for someone I could get a quote from and within five minutes the co-founder was shaking my hand … I have no words. I realized quick, the TreeHouse employees are insightful and conscientious because their leader is. Ballard studied ecology and biology at Texas A&M University and used to be a conservation biologist. His passions led him to solve some of the big issues affecting our environment today — home energy and water use. They now filter employees looking for college-educated, experienced and caring individuals. And then they extensively train them.

All of the interior design services at TreeHouse are available at no extra cost to the consumer. You can plan your kitchen from top to bottom with the help of a specialized designer knowledgeable in environmentally friendly products. The products range from ultra high end, like the fancy Nebia shower head, to affordable and comparable pricing to traditional products.

Let’s talk about another product. TreeHouse is the first authorized retailer to sell Tesla Powerwall battery packs. The batteries aren’t on site quite yet, but they have a space outlined on their back wall ready for arrival. The powerwall battery packs are smaller than expected at about the size of a thick small desk, without the legs of course. With a few solar panels on your house, or solar tiles, and a set of battery packs you could run your Texas-sized home off of the sun’s energy. The store itself runs off of over 530 solar panels on the roof powering two huge powerpacks on display in the center of the store. Actually, more than enough energy is produced from the solar panels, so TreeHouse is feeding the grid solar energy. Energy positive.

“When we come to town, things get better” said Ballard. Treehouse is renovating the entire northeast intersection of Walnut Hill Lane and Interstate 75. Soon there will be a Houndstooth coffee shop next door, and a Tesla super charger station, the first one inside the city limits of Dallas. They’re organizing a farmers market in the fall and the community is utilizing their public space for various meetings.

TreeHouse is a store for people who care about the “home” they live in — the physical house and our larger Earth home. You don’t have to sacrifice style, taste or price to do good for your family and the environment.

If I can find a small, reasonably priced home in the area, you’ll find me at Treehouse every weekend.

David Trubridge

TreeHouse introduced me to the inspiring art and business ethics of David Trubridge. Click the photo to find out more about him. Amazing.

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iNaturalist Nature Challenge And Snakes

Update: Final iNaturalist numbers – Dallas was #1 for the most observations in the country with 23,957 observations!

A snake is such a silly thing to be petrified of. Snakes should be respected like every other living creature, but they should not cause overwhelming fear that leads to rocks smashing their heads. Here’s why:

Ask yourself, why am I afraid? Because you have a perception of snakes as slithery, slimy, creepy, deadly animals? Now ask yourself, what shaped that perception of snakes? Was it media highlights of rare occurrences people suffering a snake bite but no information on the species of snakes in our area, and why the person was affected by the bite? Or was it a movie or television show using snakes as villains and portraying them as something to be feared? Or maybe it is the people around you who know someone who knows someone that was bit by a snake and died? Have you stopped to question why you’re so scared? Most people simply can not answer this question — or they answer, “I don’t know, I just think they’re gross.”

That’s not a good enough answer to smash a snake’s head in like I saw this past weekend while out participating in the City Nature Challenge. The challenge was a fun collaboration between by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Master Naturalists, The Audubon Society and others to see which city across the U.S. can document the most species (plants and animals) during April 14-18. In Texas, we had a local challenge between Austin and Houston, and so far (Tuesday April 18) the numbers are close. It looks like Dallas has the most observations (15,149) but the fewest species (1,788) compared to Houston (11,038 observations, 1,928 species) and Austin (11,331 observations, 1,921 species). But the final counts won’t be in until after this week’s paper is out.

All you had to do to participate was upload photos of findings in nature onto the iNaturalist app or on their website at iNaturalist.org. Now that the challenge is over, the data gathering is not! Anyone at anytime can upload to the app and the best part is, you don’t have to know what the plant or animal is. Experts of all kinds use iNaturalist and identify your observations. iNaturalist is an easy way to answer the endless “what is this?” question.

iNaturalist began in 2008 as a Master’s project by three students at UC Berkeley. The website and associated app, “is a place where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world.” But more than that it’s a data collection of our natural world over time and we can use it to answer questions we have about our environment. Let’s take the snakes for example. On the website we can filter through observations to see what species of snakes we have in Texas, what has been observed, and if they have recently been found in our area.

There are over 68 species of snakes in Texas, and in Dallas there have been five observed species of venomous snakes. Quick side note: Snakes are venomous and not poisonous. Poisonous is something that gets on your skin or has toxins on the outside of its body for protection (poison ivy, poison dart frogs) and venomous is something that must inject its venom (certain species of snakes, spiders). In Dallas, the venomous snakes that have been observed are copperhead, cottonmouth, western diamondback, timber rattlesnake and coral snake (western massasauga’s have been observed short distance to our west in Fort Worth). These snakes are vital parts of our ecosystem that utilize venom to stun their prey to eat. Mice, small birds, lizards, other snakes, amphibians and insects are the types of prey for these snakes. Not humans.

When snakes are threatened (ie: when aggravated with sticks or rocks by fearful humans), their last defense is to strike. Stay away and the snake will. In 2001 in Texas 3,922 people died from auto related accidents, 207 from drowning, 59 from firearms, four from lightning and one from a snake bite. Change your perspective on snakes. Respect snakes, don’t attempt killing them.

Green Snake in Dallas

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What are you up to for Earth Month?

April is Earth month! It’s time to welcome in spring and let the abundance of life serve as a reminder that without clean air and water we would not have spring flowers, green trees and birds singing. Beyond the obvious superficial benefits, we should celebrate the ecosystem services provided by our natural systems. Acknowledge those services provided by our ecosystem that rarely have a monetary value attached to them, yet have incredible importance in our everyday lives.

Dallas outdoors nature • Waste treatment – Decomposers remove excess nutrients and pollutants from air, water and soil. Imagine the waste build up that would occur without fungi, bacteria and other decomposers.

• Erosion control – Colonization of vegetation holds soil in place and prevents gradual or quick destruction of landscapes.

• Nutrient cycling – Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous are cycled through ecological systems maintaining system health and providing nutrients for plant growth.

• Water regulation and supply – Vegetation in areas such as wetlands slows the flow of water allowing it to seep into the ground and create aquifers that can supply water for agriculture and residential use.

• Food and raw material – Ecosystems provide wild food items, and provide wood and minerals for building supplies.

• Climate services – Plants provide removal of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to reduce climate change. During the process of photosynthesis, water is evaporates off leaves, causing a cooling effect in the microclimate.

• Pollination services – One third of our food supply relies on pollinators for reproduction.

• Medicinal – Fifty percent of common drugs come from plants and animals.

• Bioprospecting is the exploration of biodiversity for commercially valuable genetic and biochemical resources. What if biodiversity is lost before we can harness its valuable uses?

The list reminds us of the importance of our environment, while Earth month brings awareness to action items we can use to protect our ecosystems. Spring is also a time of surviving and preparing for a long hot summer. Here are some spring green survival tips:

• Bug spray – Insecticides are causing the decline of pollinators, including native bees, across the U.S. Use all-natural versions of bug sprays on your skin and yards. Make your own bug spray mixing together witch hazel, lavender oil, vanilla extract and water in a spray bottle.

• Cleaning spray – Home chemicals and use of phosphates in soaps (laundry detergents and dishwashing detergents) sends harmful liquids down the drain into our water supply. Green your spring cleaning by making your own cleaning liquid using white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and tea tree essential oil.

• Get an aesthetically pleasing and ecologically healthy yard with native grasses and wildflowers. Buffalo grass is the easiest-to-find native grass seed available. Or skip the green yard altogether and xeriscape creating an inviting living space with drought and heat-resistant plants.

Round out your April by participating in Earth Day on April 22. Many schools and organizations are hosting events to celebrate our connection to the Earth and increase climate literacy. Head to Fair Park on April 21-23 for Earth Day Texas for outdoor fun, informative talks, interactive exhibits and many ideas to take action to protect our Earth.

Speaking of, what will you change this Earth month to have less of an impact on our environment? What can you do to use less resources? This year for the first time ever, I’m committing to make monthly monetary donations to climate research organizations. It doesn’t have to be a donation. There are many ways to decrease your environmental impact. Plant a garden, go meatless one day per week, avoid using plastic bottles, change your printer settings, invest in solar or create your own act of green. One of the biggest impacts you can make is sharing this info and building more knowledge. Let’s continue to learn about our Earth together — connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @naimajeannette!

bee pollinator

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You need to know about CRISPR

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It’s a genome editing technique that has turned the biomedical community on it’s head. Basically, CRISPR is a group of molecules that can edit DNA and unlike other gene-editing methods it’s cheap, quick and “easy” to use. In 2015, CRISPR was labeled the breakthrough of the year, and it could be the technology to cure many diseases, including cancer.

CRISPR-Cas9 can be programmed to seek and find a certain sequence of DNA, say a mutation you don’t want, and snip it out. By placing an alternate DNA code in the nearby vicinity, the new DNA will be repaired into the DNA code. For example many diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy, are the result of a faulty gene that could be replaced. Researchers have used CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the genome of mice with a severe form of muscular dystrophy. Their results show the mice were able to make an essential muscle protein allowing them to build strength during growth.

The Cas9 of CRISPR-Cas9 is a CRISPR associated protein 9. The Cas9 is the protein/enzyme derived from a bacteria used to unravel DNA and cut out the unwanted DNA. The enzyme (the scissors) is paired with an RNA strand that guides or programs the enzyme to the sequences at specific locations in the genome to cut. Together they can be programmed to cut DNA at precise points on the genome. This precision is extremely valuable.

Since the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, hundreds of papers have been published discovering the wide applications of CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Discoveries beyond the straight forward use have often been called, “hacking CRISPR.” Scientists have used the CRISPR technology to hack a way to help remove cancer cells from infected individuals. Cancer attacks immune cells, the very same cells that should destroy cancer cells. CRISPR-Cas9 can disable the gene that puts a stop on a cell’s immune response, giving them the ability again to fight and destroy cancer cells. The first clinical trials using some of this CRISPR-Cas9 technology in humans in the US will be sometime this year.

Another hack of CRISPR is using the technology to not just cut out DNA but to alter the epigenome. Simply, your DNA codes for proteins which make up your body. Not all of your DNA codes are turned on and many are turned off. By altering what codes are turned on or off, effects what your body displays. Think of twins – they have the same genetic makeup (same DNA), yet their physical appearance is different – they look and act different. This has a lot to do with their epigenome and environmental factors that have turned off some genes and on others. Using the CRISPR technology scientists are sending proteins to precise spots on the DNA to turn on or off certain DNA codes. This is yet another way genes can be altered to select for certain traits or lessen others.

This technology comes with great responsibility. Changing the genome of one organism in the population will effect the entire population, and what change will that cause in the ecologic system? Let’s look at the zika virus for a second. It’s a deadly virus carried by only a few species of mosquitoes. Using CRISPR-Cas9 scientists could alter the genome of a mosquito to make it unable to carry the zika virus. When this mosquito reproduced it’s offspring would carry the same DNA and soon the entire species would not be able to carry the virus, essentially destroying the virus. But, what if when the mosquito was altered it made it distasteful to it’s predators? The mosquito population would explode. And what if it could now carry a different even more deadly virus? The point is, the ecologic systems are highly complex and connected. If these CRISPR-Cas9 genes enter the environment, the ramifications could be extreme.

And how far are we willing to modify the human genetic genome? Would you like your child to express more of their DNA code for longer thicker hair? Would you like to ensure they don’t have the gene for early onset Alzheimers? Where is the line drawn?

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