Monday, June 7, 2010

What Snakes, Birds and Trees have in Common (hint: it's extinction)

snakes in decline: West African Gaboon Viper
It is being reported that scientists have determined that the population of snakes is decreasing...but they can't say why. I decided to write to one of the journalists who authored an article about the research, because it seems to me that there are so many species in inexplicable decline - birds, bats, frogs, butterflies, bees and now snakes - that there might be an underlying, universal reason other than the individual diseases, habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and invasive competition that all are subject to. For one thing, these are only some creatures that have been studied - there are most certainly others that nobody has noticed. Is anyone counting chipmunks and mice? I have been noticing for some time that the size of birds is shrinking, and now it is confirmed! (paper found at the exhaustively compiled AGW Observer). I am not crazy after all! (One of the other papers listed said: "...does not exclude the possibility that other factors, such as a decrease in food availability, contributed to the decline in body mass.These declines may have serious implications for community structure and competition among bird species and may affect the survival of small passerines."
snakes in decline: EKF00570
Dear Mr. Black,

I heard your story about declining snake populations on the radio this morning. As is the case with many other forms of life, from birds to bees to bats and frogs, researchers express puzzlement as to the cause. There are of course many pressures causing biodiversity loss, including habitat destruction and alien species and disease encroachment.

Unfortunately most researchers either ignore or are not aware that underlying the endangerment of animals is the decline of vegetation. Worldwide, the background level of tropospheric ozone produced from burning fuels is inexorably rising. It has long been established that ozone is toxic to both animal and plant life.

My particular interest has been focussed on trees, which are in the midst of a rapidly accelerating decline from cumulative, long-term exposure. More recently even annual plants have been exhibiting the symptoms of ozone poisoning. There is less for animals to eat - fewer seeds, nuts, berries and grains. This causes a cascading destructive ripple up the food chain.

This subject is well-understood and yet treated as taboo by foresters, botanists, and even environmental activists. I'm not sure why this should be so, unless the existential threat of acknowledging that we must stop burning fuel and switch to clean energy is too overwhelming to contemplate.

I have photographs and at the top a link to a page "Basic Premise" with a long list of scientific research at my blog,

I am hopeful that people will become aware of the gravity of this situation before it is too late (if it isn't already!)


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

I believe that we will look back upon this time as the slow death of terrestrial biodiversity primarily because food supplies are dwindling, starting at the bottom of the food chain - with plants. I know the trees are dying from exposure to ozone - and the shrubs and broad-leaved plants and now the grasses. This has to translate into a shortage of seeds, nuts, berries, and grains that feed so many creatures, which makes them more scarce for predatory species. Many of the studies of animals with declining population factor in lost habitat and other influences, and still have no explanation for their disappearance.

Over the weekend many large trees blew over in Boston so I wrote another letter, this time to the reporter at the Boston Globe who quoted the weather service as claiming a wind "Macroburst" had knocked the trees down (see the post immediately prior to this one that incorporates "Ozone for Dummies" which has more detail about symptoms of ozone exposure - and thanks to Susan from GWEN for bringing this storm to my attention).
A grove of weeping willow trees was toppled by the storm over the weekend on the Esplanade along the Charles River. Diane Dalmeida and David Gouverneur got a closer look at one of the trees.

Dear Mr. Abel,

I am writing in reference to this article you wrote about the fallen trees. I wonder if you are aware of the following stories in local papers, about the purported effects of natural gas leaks on tree health.

Patriot Ledger article May 8, 2010 article, May 5, 2010

Since those stories were released I have written to all of the people that were interviewed, to inform them that it is not only trees in proximity to natural gas lines that are dying. In fact all trees, of all species and ages, in every situation whether urban or wild are experiencing a rapidly accelerating decline that cannot be explained by exposure to leaks. It appears that Mr. Ackley and Mr. Schlichtmann have set up a supposedly public interest "Trust" that is going to line their pockets by convincing town officials that the local gas company is to blame for the expense of replacing dead trees.

I have been writing a blog with links to scientific research about the effects of ozone on vegetation at This subject is well-researched and documented by foresters andgovernment agencies - and yet for the most part, public discussion is almost taboo. There is much resistance to acknowledging the decline of the ecosystem, which I attribute to the existential threat inherent in tree death and crop failure.

Nevertheless there is an enormous story waiting to be told, if you are interested please write back. I would be happy to answer any questions. At the very top of the blog is a page link to "Basic Premise" that has a long list of published scientific research.

Chronic ozone exposure gradually damages the roots of trees, making them more likely to fall over in high winds and to lose branches. Of particular interest given the fallen trees in your region might be these quotes found at the EPA website about ozone impacts on trees which is linked to on this blog page:

In this example, O3 appeared to be a predisposing factor leading to increased drought stress, windthrow, root diseases, and insect infestation (Takemoto et al., 2001).

"Many studies have demonstrated that root growth is more sensitive to O3 exposure than stem or leaf growth."


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ
David Gouverneur took a closer look at the tree and was surprised to see rotten areas at the base.
The caption for this picture is priceless: "David Gouverneur took a closer look at the tree and was surprised to see rotten areas at the base."
Another view of toppled trees along the Charles River.
The Weather Service is inventing "Macrobursts" because there is no weather explanation for trees to fall over. If healthy trees fell over in windy weather, there would be no trees. I am afraid these trees are decidedly NOT healthy.
Berklee College students (left to right) Pam Autuori and Lydia Fischer had their photo taken in front of one of the trees.
What a terrible, irreplaceable loss.
People stopped to marvel at the downed trees while walking along the river.
People should be suing, for loss and property damage, but not just the supplier of natural gas. They should be suing the executives of coal companies, the gasoline companies, and the "regulators" of federal and state government agencies for allowing them to sell products that are destroying trees, the ecosystem and a habitable climate for eternity.
An SUV got covered with debris from a fallen tree on Chestnut Street in Newton after a powerful storm hit the area over the weekend.
All for short-term financial gain!!
Carlos Cabrera looked at his wife's car which had its windshield smashed and body damaged when a tree fell on Montgomery Street during Sunday's violent thunderstorm.
May their souls fry in hell.


  1. To me, who has very little material wealth, it seems the problem is entirely caused by an economic system that encourages, no demands, short term gain rather than sustainability. We desperately need to modify the system to prevent taking profit until AFTER a suitable length of time has passed, but it's not likely because of the inertia present to resist ANY change. Business As Usual.

  2. More to your subject:
    On Fresh Air yesterday was a segment about gas drilling leases in Pennsylvania not too far from Witsend. I'll bet methane causes damage to plants that's similar to what you document. Take a listen or read:

    I am sure there are internet maps of Pennsylvania and New Jersey that show the locations of leases and wells. I've seen one of New York.


  3. Oh yes. I caught that on the radio. The forced "leases" and pollution are an outrage! And I was just now listening to Joe Romm talk about the benefits of natural gas here, also saying the industry is disorganized when it comes to lobbying, which isn't what I heard!

  4. That snake is so spooky! Caught me off guard.


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