Pocket Gophers Serve as ‘Ecosystem Engineers’

By Gail Gallessich, 8/2/04 
Santa Barbara, CA

(Portland, Ore.) –– Love them or hate them, pocket gophers have an important effect on the soil and plants where they live.  They serve as small “ecosystem engineers” generating major impacts on the physical environment.

Baby Pocket Gopher

Jim Reichman, director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at UC Santa Barbara, will present findings on North American pocket gophers, entitled “Bioturbation by subterranean mammalian herbivores and its impact on ecosystems,” at the annual meeting of the Ecology Society of America in Portland, Ore., the first week in August. Eric Seabloom of NCEAS is a co-author.

Pocket gophers are named for their fur-lined pouches located on the outside of their mouths. They use the pouches to carry food, hence the name. The rodents vary in length from six to 13 inches. As with most burrowing mammals, pocket gophers have poor eyesight. However, they compensate for this with other, well-developed senses, such as large whiskers, which are sensitive to movement and help them in dark tunnels.  They have powerful claws and teeth for digging.  They are vegetarian, or herbivores, surviving mostly on roots.

Mama and baby Gopher

“Gophers live below ground so people don’t think much about them, but they change the landscape and the nutrient availability of the soil,” said Seabloom.  “They act like little rototillers, loosening and aerating the soil.  They loosen the soil and the speed at which plants decompose, causing higher production of plants, and they may be important to the biodiversity of plants.  They definitely have an important effect.”

Reichman explained that gophers were part of the natural system historically, a major part of the natural habitat.  “Gophers were part of the ecosystem before grazing and before people arrived,” he said.  He is researching the differential effect that gophers have on native plants versus invasive species.  This research is contributing to efforts to restore native habitats.

In his presentation, he will explain that gophers have an energetically “expensive” life habit in which burrowing through the soil costs 360 to 3,400 times as much energy as walking the same distance on the surface.  To keep up with this output they consume large amounts of vegetation, primarily roots, which significantly impacts plants.


“Excavation behavior, which involves construction of long burrows by displacing soil into mounds on the surface, generates major impacts on the physical environment,” said Reichman. “These produce a complex mosaic of nutrients and soil conditions that results in vertical mixing (through burrow collapse and moving deep soil to the surface) and horizontal patchiness (in relation to the hollow burrows, refilled burrows, surrounding soil matrix and surface mounds).”

This research may lead to a better understanding of native ecological communities in California, and perhaps even allow opportunities to restore native grasslands.  He explained that ecological conditions on the planet have deteriorated, but now ecologists are learning more about how natural systems work.  He noted that marine reserves are an example of one action that is already improving an ecosystem.

“Ecologists have been known for ‘gloom and doom,’ but now we are making recommendations for things that can be done,” he said.

Stop the impending hippo slaughter in Zambia

It will soon be open season on hippos in Zambia: The government claims that the population is out of control and damaging the river ecosystem. It wants to allow wealthy big-game hunters to kill 2,000 of the iconic river creatures. A conservation measure? NO; HUNTING NEVER HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH CONSERVATION! This is all about money. Speak out for the hippos!  Whenever someone is trying to defend hunting animals they will always blame it on something that never makes sense or is a big stretch. They will use hunting as a population control excuse but this is something that is never needed. In nature as nature does a perfect job of keeping the perfect number of each animal. When there is an imbalance it is always from hunters killing too many of one animal or killing too many of the natural predators.  Hunting is never the answer and it is never ok.

A safari hunting company in South Africa called Umlilo Safaris has already started promoting the hunting excursion to Zambia, allowing trophy hunters to kill five hippos for $14,000.
The cull has been blasted by Peter Sinkamba, the president of Zambia’s Green Party.
“The Luangwa valley is not overpopulated as they claim,” he said, claiming that the population has actually dropped by 14-20 percent in the last 30 years.

“The culling policy is motivated by pure greed,” he added.

recent article alleges that the cull really isn’t about too many hippos but about a poorly-written contract signed with hunting outfits in 2016. According to the investigative piece, the Zambian government is looking to avoid a lawsuit by Mabwe Adventures Limited for canceling the cull last time by giving them, via Umlilo Safaris, another chance at killing hippos. Umlilo Safaris did not respond to requests for comment.

Playful young hippos show their teeth as they splash around in the water.
 Playful young hippos show their teeth as they splash around in the water. Photograph: Stacey Farrell / Barcroft Media

But are the hippos of Luangwa really overpopulated? Or — unlike so many other wildlife populations worldwide — just doing well?
And here’s a much bigger question: do we, as humans, now see natural abundance as somehow unnatural?

Let’s get this canceled and save the lives of these innocent hippos

You may wish to send a letter to  President Edgar Chagwa Lungu of Zambia.  A few samples of what to say;
Message Samples
Sample 1: Your Excellency,
I am distressed to learn of plans to reinstate the hippo cull in the Luangwa Valley. There appears to be no scientific justification for the cull, and the culls are being marketed to fee-paying hunters for a high price.   Your Excellency, please intervene and stop the cull. Start off your comment or letter with ‘Your Excellency’ and sign off ‘Yours respectfully and sincerely’.

Sample 2:  Your Excellency,
Zambia is renowned for its natural beauty. Your country has a reputation as a world-class destination among wildlife enthusiasts. However, your government’s plan to kill up to 2,000 hippos could permanently damage the high esteem in which Zambia is held. There is no scientific evidence for the overpopulation of hippos, nor for the effectiveness of a cull in containing future anthrax outbreaks. Also, Mother Nature is an excellent caretaker of the animals and nature in general.  Please let the hippos be and live their lives!

Hippos are listed as vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for    Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). A mass slaughter of hippos in Zambia would, therefore, send a devastating signal. Please drop your plans for this pointless cull at once.
Yours respectfully and sincerely,

Postal Address:

  • State House P.O. Box 30135 Lusaka, Zambia


Mobile Numbers:

  • (260) 955-857632
  • (260) 977-857632
  • (260) 966-857632

Fax Number:

  • (260) (211) 292252



Hunting for Euphemisms: How We Trick Ourselves to Excuse Killing

 james mcwilliams 

In a recent Atlantic post, Barry Estabrook confessed, “As a journalist who takes issues surrounding food production seriously, I too have things that drive me crazy.” Well, Barry, I’m with you. Add me to the list of writers occasionally driven to the brink. And note that fewer things make me crazier than the inevitable rash of late autumnal pieces on how hunting connects us to meat.

I was reminded of my distaste for this media trope just last week when WNYC reported on Peter Zander’s popular hunting workshops in Columbia County, New York. The story explained that Zander’s motivation “for killing deer is to maintain the most intimate connection to the meat he eats.” A friend emailed me the piece with the subject line “this will annoy you.” Annoy me? The damn piece kept me up at night.

Zander makes much of his desire to deliver a quick death. The blow, he explained, should be merciful. “I don’t really want it [the hunt] to be evenly matched, I’m there to harvest my food … I don’t want to take a chance with [a weapon that is] under-powered or questionable. I want a sure shot that will take the animal out as humanely as I can.” Most readers, I imagine, will applaud this logic, acknowledging Zander’s compassion for the hunted. What initially strikes me, though, is Zander’s language. Consciously chosen or not, his words mask the inherent brutality of his profitable hobby.

Zander’s claim that he entered the woods “to harvest my food” is a common expression among conservation-minded hunters. The primary meaning — and clear implication — of “harvest” is, according to the OED, “to reap and gather” a cultivated crop. Not until the 1940s did hunters begin to apply the term to animals. While technically correct, Zander’s use of “harvest” is intended to soften hunting’s violent edge. The act of unnecessarily shooting an innocent animal — which is, when you reduce it to its essence, gratuitous violence — is cloaked in the innocuous language of plant-based agriculture. Zander refuses to take a chance with an underpowered weapon. Clearly, he feels the same way about an over-powered but deadly accurate word: kill.

More problematic is Zander’s desire for “a sure shot that will take the animal out as humanely as I can.” I get — and respect — the wish for a quick death (if one absolutely must hunt). But again, the terminology is worth unpacking. The most violent connotation I could find for “take out” was “the striking of an opponent’s stone out of play” in the sport of curling. But anyone who watches mafia movies knows the deeper implication of Zander’s use of “take out.” It’s to murder somebody. Brutally. In the Wikipedia entry for the Italian mobster Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese — Lucky’s one-time underboss — is said to have “wanted to take out” Lucky’s competition.

And boy he did. But no one would describe Genovese’s mob hits as being done “courteously,” “kindly,” “compassionately,” or “benevolently” — all used by the OED to define “humanely.” The whackings were cold and gruesome. Zander believes he can “humanely” “take out” a deer. But that’s about as possible as Sonny Corleone getting humanely taken out at that toll booth in The Godfather. Do note, though, that high-powered weaponry delivering “sure shots” render the harvesting of Corleone masterfully efficient. Humane? Not so much.

Zander’s wife thickens this stew of euphemism with a few choice additions of her own. Not a hunter herself, she nonetheless attended one of her husband’s ventures, and reported the event to be “transformative because I saw first-hand … the reverence that the hunter has for the woods, and all of mother nature, and the animal that they’re hunting.” There’s a lot to grumble about here, but let’s focus on the assertion of reverence for the hunted animal. The OED primarily defines reverence as “deep or due respect” marked by “deference.” Reverence also means “veneration” as a result of “a sacred or exalted character.” Did these hunters defer to, venerate, or in any way exalt the sacred character of the deer they hunted and killed?

Consider the deer’s perspective on the question. Female deer — which are often targeted for the purposes of population control — are deeply devoted mothers to their initially helpless offspring. Fawns, which weigh only a few pounds at birth, are vulnerable. They cannot stand with assurance until they consume their mother’s milk. Afterward, the mother feeds her offspring (usually one or two fawns) for several months and then proceeds to teach them where they can forage on their own. Once independent, deer join packs that are often monitored by a dominant male. When we see a deer munching berries, we too often fail to recognize the network of dependent relationships that define that deer’s existence.

So let’s say that one of Zander’s’s hunters got a mother deer in the crosshairs of his assuredly potent weapon. And let’s say the mother’s fawn was curled up in a perfectly camouflaged ball 20 yards away. And let’s say the hunter fired that ever merciful sure shot, felling the mother deer in an instant. Is there reverence in this act? Given the deer’s evident interest in not only her own life but the life of her offspring and pack, I’m hard pressed to find any hint of deference or veneration in an act that, you will recall, Zander himself declared should be unevenly matched. The only thing deferred to or deemed sacred is the hunter’s hubris.

The text version of the WNYC piece ends with — surprise! — a recipe. And with that comes the last critical euphemism, one that happens to be about 800 years old. Nobody wants to cook “Five Spice Stew With a Mother Deer Shot With a High-Powered Rifle While Her Baby Slept Nearby.” But what about “Five Spice Venison Stew”? Much more palatable.

Considering these verbal dodges, I’m left wondering: What kind of connection are we really seeking when we hunt for our own food? The standard line is that by hunting, butchering, and cooking animals we own the animal-to-menu supply chain and, in so doing, demystify the source of our meat. Sounds fine. But when we tell ourselves that we’re humanely harvesting venison out of reverence for the deer — rather than killing a sentient being to satisfy our palate — we’re not so much connecting with our food as we are manipulating language to avoid knowing what we don’t want to know.

JAMES MCWILLIAMS is an associate professor of history at Texas State University, San Marcos, and author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.

Killing Deer is Not the Answer 


Killing deer is not the answer

By Allison Lance  11.29.2018

I attended a meeting at the library last night on deer population here on San Juan Island and what I walked away with is: KILL DEER! My take is different than pretty much everyone else’s point of view at what felt like a Cabela-sponsored rally. We humans seem to have a psychological need to blame any living thing other than ourselves for the ecological and economic mess we find ourselves in. Deer are not the problem – we are

If we truly cared about the native plants, birds, and insects, we would take a hard look at ourselves and shape up. Human overpopulation is the driving force of the problem. Deer, cougar, wolf, and bear were all native to San Juan. Along comes man and we eliminated all of the apex predators that kept the island’s fragile ecosystem in balance.

The islands were gorgeous, flourishing with indigenous plants and animals. Fast forward today, The San Juans have been transformed, ecologically mutilated. Native wildlife has been sacrificed for the production of cattle pigs, chickens, sheep, and llama. Our old-growth forests have been clearcut, plowed under and replaced with plantations, field crops, exotic flowers, grasses, alfalfa, and hayfields.

Several hunters were in the audience and they talked about needing to feed their families and that there is not enough land available for them to kill on. The parks are loosely protected (poaching a norm on San Juan) and therefore they are only allowed to kill deer on their own property or get permission from other property owners to hunt on their land.

This is a generous community with many resources for the less fortunate. I find it impossible to believe that deer are their only, or even primary, source of protein. We have a wonderful Food Bank and right next door to it Family Services will provide for the destitute and the hungry. A few hunters in the audience claimed abject poverty; to the contrary, it is their excuse to justify their blood sport, their urge to kill.

For the non-hunters out there, let’s start living with our fellow species; they were here first. It is so pompous and shortsighted of us to move in and push the True Natives out. Sound familiar? Hunters, if you are able to “harvest” (as if these animals are crops) as many deer as the law allows and the deer vanish (because as the speaker/hunter/biostitute told us, we have no idea how many deer are on this island) how will you feed your families then? Islands are tricky environments, where ecological collapses can happen suddenly, leading to the unexpected extirpation of indigenous species.

What species will we blame for the next catastrophic loss of native plants, bird and insects? Hunting is not an ecological management tool. There is nothing scientific about it. Let’s be honest and call it what it is: Killing For Sport. I am not opposed to a reduced deer population, but let’s be fair and remove some of the true culprits as well: cows, pigs, chicken, sheep and llama. And then we can restore the land.

Lastly, in most places, 95 percent of the land, public and often private is available for hunting. The parks are almost always the last sanctuaries. Now the hunters want to breach that? And after they get in, they are followed by timber industry (logging parks to “improve” forest health, et al.) When hunters are banned from private lands, it is usually because they act like slobs or engage in dangerous shooting practices.



Youth Hunting

Bad for Animals, Bad for Kids

Written by Tracy Reiman 

It’s a sensitive topic—one that brings the NRA down on any legislator’s head who dares to link guns to any undesirable effect. But the facts scream at us, and we ignore them at our own peril: Giving young people guns and encouraging them to go out and kill living beings is resulting in dead kids. Our own government is helping to make this happen, as I’ll explain.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooter Jaylen Fryberg was just a few years older than my own son, but unlike my son, who has never touched a gun, Fryberg was a hunter. He often bragged about hunting and posted gruesome photos of the animals he’d killed on his social media accounts, with captions such as “oooo kill ’em.”

How did this happen? Fryberg’s parents gave him a gun for his 14th birthday. Only three months later, the freshman walked into the school cafeteria and shot five students at close range, killing four of them, before reportedly turning the gun on himself.

It’s not the first time that a young hunter has gunned down fellow humans.

In June, 15-year-old Jared Padgett opened fire at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., killing another student and injuring a teacher before killing himself. A friend told the media that Padgett liked to hunt rabbits. In 2009, an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy shot his father’s pregnant girlfriend with a gun that he had received as a Christmas gift from his father, who was reportedly teaching the boy to hunt. In 2005, Pennsylvania teenager David Ludwig—whose social media page was filled with gory hunting photos—shot and killed his girlfriend’s parents.

Nearly all the students involved in mass school shootings in recent years first “practiced” on animals, including Kip Kinkel, Luke Woodham and Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Jonesboro, Ark., shooters Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden used the hunting guns belonging to Golden’s grandfather—who had taught the boy to hunt—to ambush their fellow students, killing five people in 1998.

As a mother, I would never hand my son a gun and instruct him to kill living beings for “fun.” Yet government agencies encourage and promote youth hunting programs that turn children into killers, despite the fact that most kids have no interest in hunting. According to one hunting survey, the majority of kids who responded said that they didn’t hunt because they “love animals” or “don’t like killing animals.”

Many states allow children of any age to hunt as long as they are accompanied by an adult. One of those states is Nebraska, where a fatal school shooting took place in 2011. Undeterred, a rural Nebraska school district recently voted to allow students to pose with guns and the animals they had shot for their senior yearbook photos. We asked for a copy of that yearbook to put in a time capsule, as surely we will not be this foolhardy a few decades from now.

Virginia—which has the dubious distinction of being home to the nation’s deadliest school shooting, at Virginia Tech—also apparently has few qualms about encouraging children to take up arms. A student at a high school located just a couple hours’ drive from Virginia Tech contacted PETA after his school started allowing students to pose with dead animals in yearbook photos and was even broadcasting schoolwide announcements promoting hunting. After the student approached the principal, the school agreed to end the announcements, but hunting photos are still allowed in the yearbook.

People who pick up guns, aim them at another living being and fire must deaden a piece of their hearts—or, worse, feel a rush of power that they wish to feel again and again. Can we be surprised then when troubled children pick up hunting weapons and attack their classmates?

Schools are now putting up fences and hiring security guards to protect children from their classmates, but there’s a simpler and less expensive solution to this problem: Stop allowing kids to hunt.

A Suckling Pig?

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and she was telling me about a conversation she had with a coworker about her vacation and a dinner she had at a restaurant in Spain. Her main dish was “Suckling Pig” the coworker noticed the look on my vegan friends face and quickly said that “they treat their pigs really good in Spain” 

First of all, I have never even heard of such a thing as a “Suckling Pig” but in guessing it sounds like a baby as a baby is a suckling and looking up the definition i found “un-weaned child or animal”  In further research I found that a suckling pig is pretty much the same as a veal calf except it is a baby pig and they are killed at this age for the same reasons. One description about “roasted suckling pigs is incomparably moist, tender, and delicate, bursting with sweet, sticky juices”   

Seriously people is one meal really worth the 114 days of pregnancy that the mom goes through and after 2 weeks then her baby is taken from her to be hit on the head with a hammer, yes this is the preferred way to kill baby pigs for the “Suckling Pig” manually applied blunt force trauma to the head, either with an implement or by striking the head against a surface, has been shown to cause immediate unconsciousness and rapid death when performed correctly on young piglets. It must be performed correctly so it does cause immediate unconsciousness and rapid death. If it is not done correctly, it is neither effective nor humane 

Is nothing sacred anymore? Are our appetites so important that the trail of misery, terror, and horror it leaves not even a consideration?

Or perhaps we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves things to make us feel better like “they treat their pigs really good in Spain” Let’s have a look at a pig farm in Spain and this farm is a distributor to restaurants and grocery stores in Spain