Green Scene: What’s new, pussycat?

Boys will be boys: Two energetic, young male cougars have moved into the updated habitat that opened recently at the WNC Nature Center. Now nine months old, the brothers were born in the wild in Oregon, where they were found after apparently losing their mother. photo by Jonathan Welch

Cougar brothers

The WNC Nature Center’s cougar exhibit reopened last month with some new energy: two eight-month-old cubs. Born in the wild in Oregon, wildlife-agency found the then-six-week-old brothers after they had apparently been abandoned by their mother. At first, the cougars stayed at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, home of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Animal Management Program, which places the big cats in facilities across the nation. Then last September, they arrived at the Nature Center, where they’ve spent the last few months acclimating to their new digs and new caretakers.

The cubs’ arrival required some major changes to the cougar exhibit, says Nature Center Director Chris Gentile. Previous (and older) cougars, such as the 19-year-old female Val, didn’t test the exhibit they way young cougars do, Gentile tells Xpress. The youngsters are “climbing to the tops of the trees in the exhibit; they jump from the rock work near the waterfall some 10 to 15 feet to the ground below,” he says, as they chase each other about.

“They’re pretty active,” Gentile says, adding: “I think morning is the best time [to visit] if you want to see interaction” between the young cats, since as all cat owners know, felines usually take some time later in the day for a kitty siesta.

Where’s the buzz?

If you’ve noticed that there aren’t many honey bees buzzing around your yard this spring, you’re quite right: There’s a local and national decline in bee-colony health (see “Green Scene: New Year’s buzz,” Jan. 4 Xpress). As we’ve reported,beekeepers report seeing “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious malady that leaves a live queen and immature bees but few or no adult workers.

Unfortunately, the news this spring is not much better. “Bees are being lost in the same numbers … and we’re no closer to isolating a single cause,” says Carl Chesick, director of the Center for Honeybee Research, a recently formed natural-beekeeping group here in Asheville.

David Tarpy, Associate Professor of Entomology at North Carolina State University, agrees, adding his concern that the problem isn’t getting the same level of public attention as before. “Because colony collapse disorder has not yet been ‘solved,’ the media hasn’t been focusing on the issue like it was when first described,” says Tarpy. “Nonetheless, the threats facing honey bees have not changed in recent years, with almost one-third of the managed beehives in the U.S. dying each year.”

Fortunately, the local group Friends of Honeybees is stepping up with some solutions. In addition to a restaurant campaign (with its so-called “life’s work amulet,” a necklace containing a drop of honey, the life’s work of a single bee), the group is launching some new outreach projects including its “Black Jar” honey-tasting competition. The competition is unique, group representative N’ann Harp says, in that the judges will not actually see the honeys as they usually would: They will compare on taste alone. (Contest entries will be accepted beginning in June; winners will receive awards of $300, $150 and $75. Entry forms are at friendsofhoneybees.net.)

Bees provide pollination services for billions of dollars worth of agricultural crops each year; Harp considers the threats facing bees as a wake up call for the rest of us.  “Basically, we’re all dead-and-don’t-know-it if we refuse to wake up, follow the bees’ lead, and build a global colony of humans working in a gracefully-synched way, to save the best friend our species has got: the honey bee.”

Save energy, build community

A WNC Green Building Council initiative, the Neighbor Saves program aims to help participants save money and energy, improve comfort and build community. And organizers are looking for a few more souls to add to the ranks of those redeemed through green home retrofitting.

Attic insulation, duct sealing, caulking and weather stripping, water heater and hot water pipe wrap, programmable thermostat installation, showerhead and faucet aerator change-outs, fireplace pillow installations, and carbon monoxide detectors — these are just a few of the available projects. After taking a two-hour class, participants form teams of three to eight local households, sometimes made up of neighbors, friends and coworkers. Each household undergoes a home-energy audit, and team members schedule the needed work-party days.

The Self-Help Credit Union also helps qualifying residents participate with one-hundred-percent financing. And, says WNCGBC’s Jake Sadler, the first 10 homes to enroll in the program get $25 in free materials for their green-retrofit projects.

Want to sign up? Point your Web browser to wncgbc.org/neighborsaves.

— Susan Andrew can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 153, or at sandrew@mountainx.com.

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