The Green Scene

Not your typical Venus fly-trap

Venus fly trap
Photo by Rebecca Bowe

How do you convert your average bunch of boys into lifelong environmentalists? Phil Sheridan, director of Virginia-based Meadowview Biological Research Station, knows the secret: lead them into a muddy bog to revive a plant that eats bugs.

On June 15, kids from the Falling Creek Camp for Boys in Tuxedo gathered with Sheridan at the Biltmore Estate to reintroduce the endangered mountain sweet pitcher plant, which, in North Carolina, is found only in Buncombe, Transylvania and Henderson counties. Lurking beneath the plant’s heart-shaped hood is a slippery tube that captures and devours unsuspecting insects. But the plant itself has been victimized by habitat destruction. To date, its population has dwindled down to a mere 12 sites, the newly installed colony at Biltmore Estate included.

The carnivorous species had vanished from the estate’s grounds — where it was originally recorded more than a century ago — until the recent reintroduction, which was funded by a grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We helped bring it back from extinction,” one of the muddy campers exclaimed proudly when he surveyed the replanted clusters. “It’s aliiiiive!”

When “snail’s pace” is an understatement

Not all tales involving endangered species and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have such happy endings. Local conservationists fear that the cerulean warbler, a tiny blue songbird whose sharpest decline has been in North Carolina’s forests, could disappear before FWS takes action to protect it. Amid the escalation of clear-cutting, development and mountaintop-removal, its population has dropped more than 80 percent since 1966. Chris Joyell of Asheville’s Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project says that petitioning FWS to protect the quickly vanishing bird has been an uphill battle, resulting in a lawsuit filed by SABP and allied groups against the agency for failing to meet its legal obligation to consider their petition, which was filed six years ago.

Nor is the warbler’s plight an isolated case. In a last-ditch effort to save 263 species awaiting threatened status under the Endangered Species Act, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit last month against FWS for allegedly delaying much-needed protection. According to the organization, at least 24 species have gone extinct while FWS dragged its feet, and a few of those bygone critters had been on the waitlist for endangered status since 1975.

The slippery slope of stewardship

A 300-acre gated community slated for construction along Madison County ridgelines might signify just another eyesore for many land conservationists. Promising “the best in large pristine mountain homesteads” on their Web site, Asheville-based developer Red Wolf Run has added a green twist to their project: a pledge to make substantial contributions to environmental causes.

A few weeks ago, the Red Wolf Run Foundation announced it would contribute two acres of land, $1,000 for every home site purchased, and $5,000 up front to the American Chestnut Foundation to bolster efforts to recover the American chestnut tree. Chestnuts were all but wiped out decades ago due to blight, and the two acres will be used to cultivate new saplings and facilitate research. The company’s also promised up to $250,000 over 15 years to the WNC Nature Center for preservation of red wolf habitat.

Will local enviros peg the contribution as just a bunch of green wash, or think it best not to look a gift horse in the mouth?

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