A Day of Trail Volunteering in Albuquerque (Back When We Still Could)

When my husband and I were transitioning out of full-time camper life last summer, we made a list of things we wanted to do when we plopped down somewhere. On this list were travel goals like doing more intentional trips, creative goals like taking craft classes, and domestic goals like growing an edible garden. There’s are many things you can do while living nomadically on the road, yet lots of other things that work out better when you have a consistent home base.

A couple other goals on this list were doing some local volunteering and making new friends wherever we ended up. Over the past couple months, I started browsing meetup groups and event pages to see how we could break out of our little bubble and start building a bit of community here in New Mexico. An Albuquerque REI events page listing led me to discover a group called New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors, which is “an all-volunteer, non-political organization that is dedicated to improving trails and outdoor facilities throughout the state.”

This sounded pretty rad, so I signed us up for a trail-building project at Embudo Canyon, which is part of Albuquerque’s Open Space trail network. One of my favorite parts about the Albuquerque area (and New Mexico in general) is its wide-open spaces, so this seemed like a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

We arrived at the trailhead parking lot just before 8am and found a couple tables set up for volunteers. One table was packed with coffee, juice, and breakfast foods, while the other one had sign-up sheets and waiver forms. Compared to other outdoor volunteering projects I’ve joined in the past, this group really had its act together and was impressively well-organized.

There were about 20-25 volunteers who showed up this particular morning to build a new trail through the foothills terrain and close off an old trail that had become really eroded. Volunteer leaders from NMVFO and a few guys who worked for the Open Space Division briefed us on the different tools to use and where to collectively focus our efforts on various portions of the trail.

Before committing to this trail work project, I tipped the volunteer coordinators off on the fact that I was 33 weeks pregnant and might be taking it a bit easier than some of the other people who showed up. They reassured me that this was a chill environment and that there would be plenty of different assignments to do with varying degrees of intensity. I felt great working out there with a tiny human in my belly and largely attribute my easy and positive pregnancy so far to my staying active and getting reasonable exercise every day. Fortunately, there was also a port-a-potty at the trailhead for those frequent pee breaks that pregnant women around the world know all too well.

During the course of the morning, we used pick axes, McLeod tools, and shovels to remove brush, rocks, and cholla and prickly pear cacti from the new trail. Then we worked to level out and stamp down the terrain with a good slope to make it more hikeable. The most challenging part to me was figuring out the best slope/grade/angle for the new trail. Rather than stress about or waste time, I mostly just dug up stuff and left the planning work to the leaders who had done this countless times before. Other volunteers did “rock work,” collecting and carrying rocks to bank steep edges of new trail, and later transplanted removed debris to the old trail to block it off and discourage hikers from using it.

The group leaders and other volunteers were really friendly, welcoming, and just seemed like genuinely good people. They were patient while showing us the best ways to go about trail building and appreciative of even the smallest contributions during the day. Group shot!

By the end of the day, our group built 700 feet of new trail and closed off 600 feet of old trail in this beautiful open space. One of the volunteers, Kevin, made this great video that shows what trail work is all about. My interview even made the final cut – scroll to 1:09 to hear me blabbing about why I signed up for the project.

As the self-quarantine lifestyle has become our new normal, NMVFO’s upcoming volunteer meetups have been cancelled, along with pretty much everything else across the country right now. It’s necessary to keep people safe, but I’m just glad we were able to participate in one of these events before going on a more serious lockdown.

Although we can’t join any other meetup events for the foreseeable future, we’re already taking what we learned in Embudo Canyon and applying it to our own property. To make the most of our 2+ acres, we started building our very own trail around our house last weekend. There’s obviously a lot more work that needs to be done here, but once it’s complete, I think this will be an awesome place to take Monkey and Baby Boy out for walks – perhaps even being where the little guy goes on his very first hikes to explore the beauty of the New Mexico wilderness.

There are no safer places to be right now than in the outdoors at home, so while we wait for the next volunteer opportunity to get involved with, this little trail in our yard gives us a fun project to focus on while staying active and giving us an extra boost of hope for the days ahead.

Exploring a Monkey Jungle in Miami

If you haven’t noticed a trend in my posts lately, I’m a big fan of primates…the non-human ones in particular. This year I visited a chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, in Louisiana and a gorilla sanctuary, Dewar Wildlife Trust, in Georgia.

Related: A Visit to Chimp Haven Sanctuary – Keithville, Louisiana

RelatedGorillas in Georgia?! A Tour of the Dewar Wildlife Trust Sanctuary

So when I recently found myself in Southern Florida, I did a quick search to see what furry friends might be in the area to greet me.


I came across a wildlife park called Monkey Jungle, which was established in 1933 by Joseph and Grace DuMond. It was Joseph’s dream to establish North America’s first free-range colonies of monkeys for researchers to study them in a natural habitat. The couple relocated from Connecticut to South Florida and purchased 10 acres of land because the climate here was similar to the monkeys’ home in Southeast Asia.


He began charging curious visitors $0.10 admission to fund his scientific studies, and there were originally no barriers between the public and the monkeys. However, Java monkeys are super territorial and after aggressively defending their new homeland a few too many times, Joseph put cages around the public walkways, thereby still allowing the monkeys to roam free.


I was initially a little skeptical about this place? Was it more of a sanctuary or more of a zoo? What’s life really like for the monkeys inside and what brought them to this strange, foreign place?


Although not a true sanctuary, Monkey Jungle is considered a “bio park” where conversationalists conduct projects and guests and learn about different primate species. About 400 monkeys roam around Monkey Jungle today, which now spans 30 acres, including an Amazon Rainforest area.


During my visit, I checked out four primate presentations put on by the staff. The first featured a feeding of treats to Java monkeys in a natural pool of water.


Then I “met” Mei, Monkey Jungle’s lone orangutan and King, the one and only Western Lowland gorilla on site. Finally, I watched an Amazonian Rainforest feeding with howlers, black-capped Capuchins, and squirrel monkeys.


My favorite of the four presentations were the Wild Monkey Swimming Pool. The Java monkeys truly seem to truly have it best at Monkey Jungle. Unlike the Diana Monkeys and the White Handed Gibbons, the Javas really do have free reign of the place and green space to climb and play. Meanwhile, some of the other species were kept in were kept in cages that resembled clean, yet zoo-like conditions.


One of the most fun aspects of visiting Monkey Jungle was feeding treats to the primates through tubes and hanging baskets. For a small fee, you can purchase raisins in tiny boxes at the front desk and feed the monkeys from a safe distance. I am terrified of raisins due to bad childhood memories, so I opted for some tasty cranberries instead. They wait patiently (or not so patiently) for visitors to drop fruits in the metal baskets and then yank them up for a mid-day snack.


To prevent endangered monkeys in the wild from becoming extinct, Monkey Jungle breeds monkeys like the Golden Lion Tamarin. Less than 500 of these exist in the wild.


The wildlife park recently broadened its conservation efforts to create a sanctuary for parrots that have been domesticated and then ditched by their owners. It works with the Wings of Love Foundation to build aviaries at Monkey Jungle to house parrots who have been displaced and can no longer be cared for.


To add to the mix, there were also some tortoises randomly roaming around…


And an lazy lizard that was working its way towards a whole new layer of skin!


It costs $29.95 to get in, however you can print a $2 coupon from the website to save a couple bucks for the snack bar. There’s also an amazing gift shop here that has everything a stuffed pink monkey lover could ask for.

12Monkey Jungle is located just off U.S. 1 in South Dade, a short drive from the beach and bar scene of Miami. It’s an excellent pit stop on a road trip to Key West as well. Monkeys sure aren’t native to South Florida, but it seems like they’re doing well and enjoying themselves down here!


Gorillas in Georgia?! A Tour of the Dewar Wildlife Trust Sanctuary

Georgia sounds like the absolute last place on earth that gorillas would be living in the wild. But there they were, roaming around on a couple hundred acres in the mountains of northern Georgia.


Over a decade ago, a software engineer decided to switch gears, follow his passion, and build a gorilla sanctuary. His name is Steuart Dewar, and he made a good chunk of his gorilla-funding fortune developing a calendar application for the Palm mobile operating system. After some other land deals fell through, one worked out – a plot near Blue Ridge and Morgantown in the rolling mountains of northern Georgia.


Dewar’s goal was to build a facility to care for gorillas that couldn’t otherwise be kept at zoos because of their medical or social issues. He built 14-foot concrete walls that enclose about eight acres of green space and indoor enclosure spaces for them to sleep at night. By enlisting the help of well-regarded veterinary facilities and veterinary professionals, the sanctuary earned the approval of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


When I arrived at the gorilla sanctuary for my scheduled tour, I unknowingly expected to find lots of gorillas living behind these fences. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that only TWO gorillas lived on site. The current residents are Kidogo and Jasiri, and they’re both about 15 years old.


A former resident, Joe, arrived at the Dewar Wildlife Trust (DWT) in 2003.  In July 2012, Joe had to be euthanized “at the conclusion of an emergency immobilization following a recent marked decline in his health along with ongoing chronic health conditions that included advanced periodontal and cardiac disease.” Although Joe was born in the wild in Cameroon in 1963, he was captured and contained in a series of zoos in Birmingham, Denver, and Brownsville, Texas.


DWT took on a gorilla named Oliver in 2006, but he was later moved to Ohio to live in the Columbus Zoo and father his first child. Kidogo and Jasiri, the third and fourth residents, both arrived at the facility from Zoo Atlanta in March 2012 after causing a ruckus and fighting with younger gorillas in designated bachelor groups.


This nonprofit organization isn’t technically open to the public, but they still offer tours and host school groups. To get in touch, I contacted Steuart’s wife, JoBeth Dewar, by calling 706-374-5109. You can also email her at [email protected]. Keep trying and leave messages if you don’t get a quick response.


These gorillas are tucked away in the absolute middle of nowhere, and your vehicle had better have four-wheel drive if you’ve booked a tour. Steuart and JoBeth don’t advertise the GPS location of the sanctuary until your tour is on the calendar because they’re afraid of high school kids sneaking in to mess with the gorillas. To respect their privacy, I’ll just say that the roads to reach DWT are dusty, windy, hilly, narrow, and a bit treacherous. There is absolutely no signage along the way to let you know you’re on the right track.


After rerouting my Jeep a couple times, I called JoBeth to let her know that I had arrived for the tour. Apparently, my boyfriend and I were the only ones scheduled for this tour, which worked out well since the drive from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee took longer than expected.


JoBeth and Steuart pulled up in a (much older and rugged) Jeep of their own and told us to hop in. They took us to the front office, which was unassuming and featured little more than a small TV set and a decade-old laptop. Steuart shared a PowerPoint side presentation with us about how he started DWT and the gorillas that had lived here. Then we hopped back in the Jeep to meet Kidogo and Jasiri.


Although Kidogo and Jasiri live behind a large concrete wall with a ton of open space, they stay in one place. JoBeth and Steuart brought a bag of apples and grapes to let us feed the gorillas between metal bars beneath windows in the concrete enclosure. Given their sheer size and power, I was surprised at how gentle the gorillas took food from our hands.


Oh by the way, gorillas smell absolutely terrible. Apparently baths aren’t part of a gorilla sanctuary care regimen.


Now you need to understand that my boyfriend and I aren’t just casual wildlife observers. We’re really into primates, having recently visited the Chimp Haven Sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana, supporting the Born Free Primate Sanctuary in rural Texas, and watching every documentary out there. So we had a ton of questions about caring for the gorillas, and Steuart and JoBeth did an excellent job of answering all of them.


At times, the sanctuary area made me feel like I was the one in the cage, while the gorillas roamed “free” in open space. To my relief, they don’t seem the least bit crowded and they get along marvelously. We watched Kidogo and Jasiri tease each other, play-fight, and even grope each other a bit. I suppose it gets boring without having any female gorillas around to play with.


After feeding time, the couple took us to the upper “observation deck” area to watch the gorillas interact without our intrusion. Then we went down to the nighttime enclosure space, which has large cages, hammocks, and a few toys.


We also got to see the veterinary hospital room, with its large operating table and medical equipment. Both gorillas recently underwent routine cardiac ultrasound exams to test them for cardiac disease, which is the #1 cause of death for gorillas living in captivity.


According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Zoo Atlanta pays for two full-time curators, Horton and Bobby Fellows, to care for the 14-year-old gorillas, both of which remain property of the zoo. The zoo also supplies other in-kind support, including gorilla chow. Apparently, Zoo Atlanta remains interested in working with DWT to find solutions for some of their 21 male gorillas who don’t assimilate well with groups in the zoo’s small 3-acre space. The Dewars don’t live on site, but rather travel back and forth from Texas in their live-in RV for tours and other gorilla business.


After it was all said and done, the Dewars spent a couple hours with us and really seemed to enjoy working with “the boys,” as they call the gorillas. Group tours cost $39 per adult and $19 per child, usually start at 1:00 pm, and last for 2-3 hours. These group tours are scheduled on select Saturdays from May through September, otherwise you’ll be paying $495 for a private tour scheduled at a date of your choosing.


Aside from the small number of gorillas living onsite, two other things surprised me. There is a ton of underutilized space at DWT that has never been built out. Steuart indicated that maybe someday they would be able to take on other types of animals and use the vacant buildings and land spaces for unrelated conservation use. But for now, the buildings are empty and the construction materials lie in stacks.


Finally, there is a thrift shop onsite. A full-blown thrift shop with dusty furniture, lamps, and knickknacks – I’m not even kidding. After JoBeth sold her six-bedroom home to live a gorilla-filled life on the road with Steuart, she had a lot of extra stuff at her disposal. Every DWT tour ends at the thrift shop in case you’d like to buy anything or make a tax-deductible donation of your own unwanted junk. All for the sake of fundraising!


I must say that I absolutely loved spending a Saturday afternoon with Steuart and JoBeth, who were some of the most interesting characters I’ve met in a very long time. Although the need for a gorilla sanctuary isn’t incredibly great, there is still is a need. As someone who has come to hate everything that zoos stand for, I think DWT is making the best of these gorillas’ situations and helping them live out their adult lives more peacefully.


Kidogo and Jasiri were sweeter, calmer, and more playful than I would have ever expected them to be after all they’ve been through. DWT has a Facebook page, however, most of the updates are about general animal conservation topics rather than what Kidogo and Jasiri are up to. But I still check in every now and then to see what shenanigans these teenage gorillas might be getting into. And I wish them both the very best!

For more information on visiting Dewar Wildlife Trust, visit Steuart and JoBeth’s tour page: http://www.dewarwildlife.org/tours.htm and register online.

A Visit to Chimp Haven Sanctuary – Keithville, Louisiana

What better way to kick off the new year than with a bunch of chimpanzees?!

One of many great facial expressions

Chimp Haven is a national chimpanzee sanctuary located 22 miles southwest of Shreveport, Louisiana in the Eddie D. Jones Nature Park. My boyfriend and I have been moderately obsessed with monkeys and apes for awhile now (yes, there’s a difference – learn about it!).

Informational sign

While randomly trolling the Internet for monkey pictures on a lazy Saturday morning, we stumbled upon Chimp Haven’s website. And unlike the other sanctuary we follow and support, the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, Chimp Haven opens its doors to the public a couple times a year.

Front entrance

We attended a “morning edition” of Chimp Chat & Chew at the nonprofit sanctuary last month. This event included a behind-the-scenes tour, staff presentation, breakfast, and an up-close visit see the sanctuary residents. Most of the residents come to live here after being retired from research laboratories, and others are rescued people who’ve unsuccessfully tried to keep chimps as pets. These programs last for two hours and cost $50 for adults and $25 for children.

Parking lot

The sanctuary entrance was tucked away and unassuming. We pulled up to the gate and called the office on the intercom to be let in. There were only a couple other cars in the lot, and only three other people waiting to attend the event in the lobby area. The lobby walls were lined with photographs and maps of the sanctuary’s construction back in 2003, which began on 200 acres of forest donated by the residents of Caddo Parish, Louisiana

Sanctuary lobby

One staff members, Andrea, led us five chimp enthusiasts to the back of the facility to collect on the breakfast we were promised. Breakfast consisted of mini egg & sausage sandwiches, bagels, fruit, coffee, and juice. Once we were settled around the table in the conference room, Andrea cued up a power point presentation and told us about how the sanctuary has grown over the years.

Chimp generosity

Then Skye, a chimp caregiver, gave a presentation about the most common facial expressions chimpanzees make and what they mean. Both staff members were incredibly well-educated about chimpanzee behavior and very open to answer all our questions.

Chilly morning for the chimps

One of the most social chimps, Henry, “interrupted” the presentation by climbing to the top of the tallest structure in his enclosure and capturing the attention of all of us gazing out the window. It was feeding time, so we were led us out onto the roof to watch the staff toss bananas, onions, cucumbers, oranges, and cabbage down to the chimps in two separate enclosure areas.

Stereotypical banana eating

It was a chilly day in January (about 40-degrees Fahrenheit), so most chimps briefly popped out of their enclosure windows to grab the produce and pop back inside. Some of the more agile chimps actually caught the fruits and vegetables in their hands as they plummeted down from the roof.

Fruit sharing

Chimps climbed to the top of their wooden structure, wandered around to get our attention, and basked in the warm sunshine. One castrated male chimp slung a pink and brown stuffed monkey on its back and carried it around like it was his own baby. Andrea said that Grandma, a 60-year-old chimp, loved playing with stuffed animals too.

Stuffed animal caregiver

After feeding time, we boarded an open-air, tractor-pulled wagon to tour the grounds. Although we didn’t see any chimps playing in the woods (probably because of the cold weather), they apparently have free reign of the open space. The trees here aren’t exactly tropical, but it’s nice for them to at least have some trees around to climb and play on.

Boarding the tractor wagon

The sanctuary is expanding, which is great news considering how many research laboratories are closing and how many more chimps are in need of a safe home. We saw lots of construction was going on as we rolled by on the wagon near the sections for quarantined chimps infected with Hepatitis C, HIV, and AIDS. The sanctuary has around 70 residents now, so I’ll be curious to see how many more move in after the new construction is complete.

New construction

There are a few baby chimps living at the sanctuary, not because Chimp Haven breeds them, but because sometimes vasectomies just don’t stick. Andrea told us the story of one particular male who had a vasectomy three separate times and still impregnated a female. Clearly, that’s a body programmed to procreate! Although it was only through a fence, I did catch a glimpse of the ridiculously adorable Valentina Rose, a one-year-old chimp that I recently donated to as a Christmas gift.


The tractor pulled us along a small river, which serves as a protective barrier since chimps aren’t able to swim. Andrea encouraged us to take as many pictures and ask as many questions as we wanted so we could learn as much about the habitat and species as possible.

One of the chimp enclosures

When the wagon ride came to an end, we filed back into the presentation room to view some of the artwork created by the chimps. I’m not ashamed to admit that their abstract paintings are on par with my own. They had a slew of merchandise available for purchase, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, polos, artwork prints, and postcards. Since it’s all just stored in tubs and carried in on demand, I couldn’t help but think a little store would be a great addition to the visitor’s center.

One of the chimp enclosures

At the end of our Chimp Chat & Chew event, I felt more attached to these primates than I ever had before, and more educated about their behavior, mannerisms, and challenges. As we were getting our last photographs of the chimps and saying our goodbyes, Andrea mentioned a resident volunteer program that the sanctuary offers. The sanctuary has a couple trailers available onsite for volunteer lodging, as long as you put in 20 hours per week – something I would like to try later this year.

Chimpanzee Place

If you’re interested in learning more about Chimp Haven’s volunteer program, reach out to Education Specialist, Andrea Falcetto at 318-925-9575 or [email protected]. To donate to Chimp Haven, visit the sanctuary website or check out the chimps’ wishlist of desired toy, food, nesting, and sensory enrichment items.

chimp stretch

So if you ever find yourself anywhere near northern Louisiana or eastern Texas, check Chimp Haven’s website to see if they’re hosting a public event at that time. Or simply plan a road around their schedule, like we did, to experience a truly unique habitat and support a great cause.

Posing with "my apes"

It’s not a zoo, not a roadside attraction, and not a breeding ground. It’s a safe, caring, and comfortable home for wild chimps who were deprived of a natural life and have been given a second chance. I found inspiration at Chimp Haven, which is the best souvenir I could ever hope to bring back home.

Pre-Shutdown Weekend at Padre Island National Seashore

Tent site above the beach

Tent site above the beach

Undoubtedly, there are thousands of blog posts flying around in a political uproar over the federal government shutdown. Although there’s a political science degree hanging on my wall, this is not a political blog and it never will be.

But as I sit here on Shutdown Day 2, one particular closure hits close to home.

Sunset stroll

Sunset stroll


I spent last weekend at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas. I packed up for home on Monday, as scheduled, which happened to be the day before the Shutdown. I must admit I’m having a hard time believing that the beautiful place that I called home for four days is now barricaded and vacant.

Pavilion setup - #24

Pavilion setup – #24

I wish I could provide you with a link to the campground I stayed at, but as with all of the national parks, the Padre Island website has been replaced with this ominous closure message:

Due to the lapse in appropriated funds, all public lands managed by the Interior Department (National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management facilities, etc.) will be closed. For more information, FAQs, and updates, please visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.


Malaquite campground

Malaquite campground

So until those idiots pull their heads out of their asses, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Malaquite Campground is the main campground inside the national seashore boundaries, and it’s situated along the dunes of the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s a semi-primitive campground with fifty sites: eight are tent-only and twenty-six can accommodate RVs. You can’t make advance reservations here, so you have to take your chances and show up to see what’s available.

Sites cost $8 per night here, but you do have the “luxury” of flush toilets and cold-water pump showers. In actuality, these are the most luxurious campsites because the other camping areas have zilch for amenities.



The best place to kayak is Bird Island, but head to the windsurfing area and not the boat launch. You can put in anywhere along the shallow shore, and the waves are much calmer than over at Malaquite.

You can also camp over here at Bird Island, which has a couple pit toilets and a kayak rental shop, but not much else. Be prepared to shell out $5 at the front gate to do any of the above at Bird Island.

If you’re looking for a deal, you can camp for free at North Beach, but you’re pretty far from the facilities if you’re shy about pooping outside. It’s also totally acceptable to drive ON the beach, so your tent could very well come in contact with a Ford F-150.

Footsteps in sand

Footsteps in sand

When I asked a park ranger for hiking suggestions, I was reminded that there are seventy miles of undeveloped coastline to tread along. Silly me. Turns out, this was my favorite part of the park. The sand wasn’t too hot, the waves refreshing, the beaches uncrowded, and the water clean(ish).

Apparently, there are 380 species of birds here, but I can’t recall seeing more than four or five. You can find lots of crabs in the sand and along the shore here. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, and I even had the pleasure of chasing one of out of my shower with a flashlight!



There’s no denying that the mosquitoes were horrendous. Spray yourself with insect repellent ’til it seeps from your pores, but it won’t even make a difference. It’s also crazy windy here, especially when setting up a tent, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rogue tree in the gulf

Rogue tree in the gulf

Padre Island National Seashore felt like one of the last undeveloped places of its kind. It could have easily turned into another Miami Beach, with sprawling hotels, cocktail bars, and tourist shops.

However, this place was a true example of nature at its finest. To me, there are few finer things in life than waking up on the sand to the sounds of crashing waves and the first rays of morning light.

Political commentary aside, I truly hope that this and the other national parks will be reopened soon so we can continue having these experiences and loving the good parts of our country.

Sunset on Padre Islanad

Sunset on Padre Islanad

Enforce stricter regulations on bottled water

bottled waterIf you can look past the flashy marketing for a moment, you’ll see that bottled water is no cleaner or safer than bottled water. While tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bottled water is in the hands of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Underfunded and understaffed, the FDA sends representatives out to bottled water plants on an infrequent basis and does not enforce stringent labeling standards on bottles. An overwhelming percentage of bottled water is coming from municipal tap water supplies, but at a cost of about $1 to $3 per bottle. Force the FDA to enforce stricter regulations on bottled water to prevent large, money-driven corporations from profiting at the cost and health of the American public.

The EPA requires municipalities to report where tap water comes from, how it was treated, and the results of the water quality tests. However, very few bottled water companies report and publicize this information, mostly because they aren’t required to. Environmental Working Group studies have shown that many of the top bottled water companies allow pollutants and man-made chemicals to enter into their water supplies.

Even though regulations for small towns are often stricter than those in big cities, even big city regulations are stricter than those required for bottled water. A good portion of bottled water is bottled and sold in the state, so it slides under the radar of FDA regulation anyway. Please sign my petition to urge the FDA to enforce stricter regulations for bottled water companies across the country.

Urban Farming: Not Just an Urban Legend

There are at least 61,777 residential and community gardens that are part of the “urban farming global food chain.” Urban farming is doing more than just providing city folk with a way to grow their own salads. Today’s version of urban farming establishes organic gardens in vacant lots and unused spaces to grow crops for people that have trouble accessing healthy foods. When city-dwellers notice urban gardens springing up in their neighborhoods, they become more aware of their own health and inspired to help others eat healthier too. Not only do urban farms help cut grocery bills, but they also provide communities with jobs and bring people together for the common benefit.

Situated in the agricultural mecca of the Midwest, yet far removed from it, Chicago has embraced the concept of urban farming in unprecedented ways. The city’s poverty-stricken South Side is being transformed into an urban farming district, known as Growing Home, which will make use of thirteen square miles of unused space and at least 11,000 vacant lots. Chicago hopes that the farms will bring healthier food options to a notoriously obese community, create jobs, and attract new businesses to the area. Another local organization, City Farm, offers volunteer and internship opportunities for residents to get their hands dirty and learn about growing and selling produce to local markets. But urban farms aren’t just limited to vacant lots around the city. Entrepreneurial businesses like FarmedHere have been financing vertical farms in cities, hoping to grow millions of pounds of chemical and pesticide-free leafy greens to feed local communities.

But Chicago isn’t the only city jumping on the urban farming bandwagon. Rio Grande Community Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, California, Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, Alabama, and Brooklyn Rescue Mission in New York are making a huge impact on their communities as well. The urban farming wave might seem like a new concept, but it actually dates back to ancient civilizations in Egypt and Machu Picchu. Since more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, where millions of hungry people are struggling to live every day, urban farming holds a lot of promise for the future. So if you live in a high rise apartment with little more than a balcony amidst a jungle of steel and concrete, do a quick Internet search to see if any urban farms are growing nearby. Do yourself and your community a favor and get involved!

Stop Bear Hunting Cruelty in the Northeast

Bear huntingThe state of Maine harbors some of the cruelest methods of hunting bears anywhere in the world. Hunters in the state favor a hunting method known as hounding, where a pack of dogs harasses a bear for miles until the exhausted bear seeks refuge in a tree. The hunters use GPS devices to track the dogs and shoot the bear off of the tree branch it is clinging onto. Dog-bear fights often ensue, resulting in the death of one or more of the animals, which are simply pawns in the hunting game.

Not only are the bears in Maine treated inhumanely, but the hunting dogs as well. Maine animal shelters have reported an increased number of bear hounds being dumped at their doors, after being subjected to improper veterinary care and nutrition. The Humane Society of the United States proposed a legislative act that would stop inhumane and unsporting methods of bear hunting. Since the legislature has failed to act, it is now up to the voters to decide the fate of the bear species.

Sign my petition to urge the government in Maine to reject voter suppression legislation that would  keep the cruelty of bear hounding and baiting out of the public eye. We must protect our right to freedom of speech while also protecting the bear species from senseless destruction.

Photo credit: Cowgirl Jules via Flickr

Demand Cleanup of the Susquehanna River

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently discovered that two of four water sampling sites along the Susquehanna River were severely polluted. Despite these findings, the DEP has failed to designate the river as impaired. An “impaired” designation would propel cleanup efforts forward. Without an “impaired” designation, the river’s pollutants may never be cleaned up at all. Demand cleanup of the Susquehanna River’s pollutants now before it’s beyond repair.

A DEP report, which was also approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, noted that the quality of the Susquehanna River’s water doesn’t meet the Clean Water Act’s standards to justify an impairment designation. This report came as a shock to local environmental groups, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, because the DEP’s prior investigation corroborated evidence that the river is in bad shape.

Smallmouth bass have been dying in unprecedented numbers in the Susquehanna River. Not only do the fish populations affect recreational fishing, they are also indicative of larger issues involving human food consumption and public swimming areas.

“Despite this setback, we will continue to work collaboratively with DEP and others to collect the necessary data to prove by whatever measurement necessary that the river is impaired,” commented John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “Our anglers and the smallmouth bass that remain in the river deserve our full attention while we continue to debate their fate.”

Ultimately, the DEP’s report has delayed cleanup efforts for at least another two years. Given the level of toxicity in the river, waiting another two years could very well make the river irreparable. Sign my petition to urge the Pennsylvania DEP to reconsider the evidence and designate the Susquehanna River as impaired so cleanup efforts can begin.

Protect Ecuador’s Forests from Destructive Mining

Ecuador’s government is proposing a plan to build a large scale copper pit mine right in the middle of one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. The potential economic gains for the people of Ecuador and Chile pale in comparison to the lasting environmental damage and strain on the farming communities presented to this region. Protect Ecuador’s forests from destructive mining and preserve habitats that exist nowhere else.

Ecuador-Cloud_forestThe enormous mining project would operate in the Intag region, which features small farms, low-income communities, and a lack of economic development. As developers have noticed, the Intag region is also rich in copper and gold mineral deposits. However, the ecosystem in this region is home to nearly 20% of the world’s plant species and as much of the world’s bird diversity.

If mining efforts in the Intag region are approved, native habitats will be destroyed and the air and water quality will dramatically decrease. Toxic waste will infect the food chain, and climate change will become inevitable. If approved, the open pit mine projects will contaminate the air, water, and soil quality of the forest, making it unlivable for species who have nowhere else to go. Mining in these small, rural communities will also bring corruption, disease, inflation.

Local environmental groups need our support to purchase 600 hectares of existing forest land and abandoned agricultural land to build the reserve. The reforestation efforts will not only preserve native species, but also boost the local economy and prevent labor migration to nearby cities. Please sign my petition to support the efforts of the Pucará Community Cloud Forest Reserve to purchase existing forest land and build a habitat corridor.