Touching the Taiga – Making Connections that Matter
Victor Alm – Oakland Zoo, Zoological Manager
Today we went out on the Tundra Buggy and took a drive to the transitional forest (Taiga); it borders the tundra where we have so far spent most of our time during leadership camp. On our way there, we were lucky enough to see a gray wolf along with an adult male caribou.
We were also allowed briefly off the buggy, as there were no polar bears in the area, and walked around to experience the landscape. It was incredible as the ground was very spongy and full of the most beautiful mosses, lichens, and cracks in the ground called frost heaves.
However, we are not just here to sight see but to experience the landscape that is used by the female polar bear, for creating maternal dens. The females do this by digging into low banks and ridges made of peat that supports small trees. The trees and their roots give stability to the den on the top as well as the hard layer of permafrost (ground that is continuously frozen) on the bottom. With warming temperatures in the arctic, there has been alteration of weather patterns creating a warmer drier environment that is more susceptible to fire and the melting of permafrost. Both of these changes effect the den of the polar bear, making them less stable and prone to collapse. This can kill bears or cause them to abandon their dens. This has the potential to cause even greater stress on the polar bear population near Churchill, which is already loosing numbers due to loss of their productive sea ice. On top of this, it has been shown that the melting of permafrost can release another type of trapped gas called methane, which can amplify the warming effects in the atmosphere already seen from increased carbon emissions.
However, there is still hope and simple things we can do to help such as taking public transportation or carpooling to work. By doing this, you can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, such as carbon, that are going into the atmosphere. When small actions are taken collectively, they can be very effective. But, if you want to cause a more lasting and meaningful change in the long-term, you should ask for higher fuel efficiency standards for our vehicles. This is just one way we can have meaningful impacts towards stabilizing the tundra and taiga ecosystems, polar bear populations, as well as the numerous other ecosystems and animals that face habitat alteration due to a warming climate.
Other examples have been seen with numerous local AAZK (American Association of Zoo Keepers) chapters: group tree planting or incentives for using home energy efficiency kits. Check out my next post coming soon which talks about our final day in leadership camp. Also, continue to follow our group blog from leadership camp