Insect calls and power plant fuels

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Following is an addendum to the column I wrote last week on the proposal to lease 43,000 acres of the Talladega National Forests for oil/gas exploration and extraction. First, I omitted the ultimate letter “e” in the spelling of Cleburne, a lapsus menti. Second, I stated that the national forest attracted 100,000 visitors each year. The correct number is closer to 600,000!

I implied that visitors visit the forest because of its scenery, and hiking trails. I failed to mention that it also attracts hunters, anglers, bird-watchers, and equestrians. I also failed to point out its valuable contributions to watershed protection and aquifer regeneration.

Unless I am mistaken, planning for our national forests must take into consideration “highest and best use” as the primary guideline in how the forestlands should be managed. Implementation of the plan proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management could not possibly be construed by impartial land management authorities to exemplify “highest and best use” of Talladega National Forest lands. Some readers may disagree, and I welcome dissenting opinions.

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Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. I’ve always been interested in the subject, and until I got lazy, I kept a journal noting the dates when various native plants began blooming, the seasonality of frog calling, birds’ singing, and the calls of insects. Regarding insect calls, common ground crickets have been chirping for quite a while. They usually begin about the time lightning bugs begin flashing.

About two weeks ago, I heard the first katydid. It has been joined by increasing numbers of the species on consecutive nights, and now a full-blown chorus of katydids can be heard nightly, rivaling the choruses of green treefrogs and Fowler’s toads calling from my pond. It won’t be too long before the high-pitched ‘tsee-tsee’ calls of tree crickets will join the katydids’ chorus.

Cicadas of several species dominate the aural ambience of the woods in daylight hours during summer, but it will probably be a week or more before cicadas begin to call. One sings mostly during the morning and others in mid-day to late afternoon. In late summer, the low-pitched humming sound of one I call evening cicada will be heard, from dusk until nearly dark. If you own a computer or an i-Pad you can google “songs of cicadas,” and a number of sites provide photos and calls of numerous cicada species. I was unable to google a picture or the song of the ‘evening cicada,’ not enough light to get a photo I guess.

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I’m beginning to wonder if, in the overall sense, natural gas is a better alternative than coal as a fuel to generate electricity. A superficial analysis indicates that it would be, but recent disclosures suggest otherwise. The July-August issue of Sierra addresses the issue in an article written by Edward Humes. In it, he describes how the hydraulic fracturing of gas-containing shale formations (“fracking”), the procedure being used to obtain nearly all the gas, is causing a multitude of problems in areas where the procedure is occurring. Natural gas advocates claim that a 100-year supply of gas is available, but Humes states that recoverable shale gas may last only eleven years, and that extreme measures needed to extract it may make it a dirtier fuel than coal. Cornell scientists contend that nearly eight percent of the fracked gas, which is methane, escapes into the atmosphere. Methane is a major contributor to climate change.

The article is lengthy and contains a wealth of information that has resulted in a position change by the Sierra Club, which accepted a $20 million contribution from Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest producers of natural gas, to help finance the Club’s campaign to prevent more than 100 new coal-fired power plants from being built. The Club’s new executive director, Michael Brume, turned down an additional $30 million promised by Chesapeake and severed its relationship with the company.

The Club issued a policy statement that included the following. “We view natural gas as a significant source of air and water pollution…. Its extraction is having a big impact on rural communities, state forests, and the landscapes we’ve worked hard to protect. Our primary goal is to retire coal plants as quickly as possible and to replace them with genuinely clean energy like solar and wind…so we want to leapfrog gas as we move to a clean energy future.”

 

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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