Science and Innovation

Earth Notes: Osprey

May 16, 2012

They’re sometimes called fish eagles, for good reason: their diet is almost all live fish. They’re big raptors, hard to miss soaring above the scattered rivers and lakes of the Southwest’s high country. They’re ospreys, birds that belong to the summer skies of the Colorado Plateau.

Promotheus Solar

Flagstaff’s Southside Murdoch Community Center is about to get solar panels installed on its roof. That’s not innovative—but the way the panels are being paid for is. Thanks to 87 small-scale investors and a company named Solar Mosaic, the center will enjoy long-term energy savings without big upfront costs.

Solar Mosaic focuses on financing clean energy projects with help from what it calls the “power of the crowd.” So far the company has funded five solar projects in California and Arizona. 

Few sounds in nature are as instantly recognizable and terrifying as the sudden rattle of a pit viper. No matter how often you’ve heard it, it’s a sound that sends a jolt of adrenaline and raises the hair on the back of the neck.

But look closely, because maybe what you’re hearing isn’t a rattlesnake at all.

It might instead be a close mimic, a gopher snake. With their speckled, earth-tone appearance, these common snakes look something like rattlesnakes, but they aren’t dangerous. In fact, they are highly beneficial and eat large numbers of rodents.

Those who have bloodied hands or arms on the inch-long thorns of a Russian olive, or dulled a chainsaw on its dense wood, know that it takes determination and brute force to clear away these tough nonnative trees. Since 2000, this formidable task has been underway along the Escalante River in southern Utah.

Introduced in the 1940s to combat soil erosion, Russian olives took to the Colorado Plateau with gusto. They have crowded out native willows and cottonwoods, forming virtually impenetrable thickets along hundreds of miles of washes and river bottoms.

Trees grace our sidewalks, house birds, feed squirrels, and furnish wood for everything from campfires to fences. And the oxygen plants emit allows us to live on Earth in the first place. But now tree huggers have a new way to assess the benefits our leafy companions provide.

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