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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Post-hurricane tree help, tiny turtles make comeback in Mexico

Although we were spared the brunt of the five named storms that hammered Florida this summer, we did catch glancing blows that ripped off shingles, destroyed docks and uprooted trees.

Tree debris is still being picked up on the Island, and there are branches down and lots of leaning plants caused by the high winds.

Something called the International Society of Arboriculture offers some post-storm advice to help save some damaged trees.

First, the group said, is "do not try to do it all yourself. If large limbs are broken or hanging, or if ladder or overhead chainsaw work is needed, it is a job for a professional arborist."

The organization suggests you carefully assess the damage by determining if the trees are healthy, if major limbs or the leader (the main upward-trending branch on most trees) branch is still remaining. If at least 50 percent of the tree's crown - branches and leaves - is still intact, and if remaining branches exist that can form a new structure, then there is a good chance for complete recovery.

Of course, the group suggests you hire a professional arborist to aid you in the tree recovery operation.

If a tree has been partially uprooted, there is also a good chance that it can survive, despite the fact that most folks seem to figure the damage as fatal. The problem is that until the roots, well, re-root or take hold, they are subject to toppling again and need to be propped up.

Price-gouging is also a threat by less-than-scrupulous tree people. The association said that "A reasonable price for professional tree work in Florida ranges from $75-$125 per worker per hour. This price includes liability and worker compensation insurance, as well as bucket trucks and equipment. It does not include heavier specialty equipment that may be needed such as cranes or loaders, or hardware that may be installed in the tree."

ISA also said that tree losses may be deductible from your taxes. To make the claim, be sure to document the tree damage or loss with photos and an evaluation from an arborist with experience in appraising tree problems, and talk to your tax expert about what sort of claim you may make.

Of course, "pre-planning" is the best avenue to avoid tree problems, and the time to do that is not when the winds are starting to howl. Get the trees trimmed early, remove any damaged limbs and, if the tree is old or hollow, remove it before the winds do the job for you.

Be sure that any canopy close to your house is removed, too, unless you want an uninvited branch in your living room during a storm.

And "do not top your trees," the group said. "Untrained individuals may urge you to cut back all of the branches on the mistaken assumption that it will help avoid breakage in future storms. However, professional arborists say that 'topping' is extremely harmful and unhealthy for your trees. Stubs will often grow back and many weakly attached branches are more likely to break when a storm strikes. Also, topping will reduce the amount of foliage, on which the tree depends for the food and nourishment needed for re-growth."

For more information on trees and to find an arborist that can care for your landscape, go to www.treesaregood.com., or locally www.floridaisa.org. Or you can call 342-0153.

Yikes!
Here's one from the truly paranoid file.

"We live in an age where terrorists and rogue states have an ever-expanding target list: Civilian casualties and damage to military, commercial and even residential properties. Meanwhile, pipelines in the Middle East are constantly targeted for destruction. Preventing every attack is difficult, if not impossible. Yet there is a means to protect lives and property even if an explosive device is detonated."

A Clearwater-based company is here to help us.

Using something called BlastGard, the material "effectively mitigates the explosive effects of a bomb by reducing the blast effect, extinguishes the fireball and capturing the deadly fragmentation."

The stuff apparently works on oil pipelines, grenades, trash bombs, airline bombing threats, and all those other problems with things that want to go "Boom!"

Let's hope that BlastGard remains a very, very tight niche market.

Amphibian declines worldwide
The frogs are dying! The frogs are dying!

That call is the latest in the global outcry about habitat destruction impacting the world's critters. A "comprehensive world survey of frogs, toads and salamanders" has revealed that up to 122 amphibian species have disappeared since 1980, and another 1,900 are in danger, according to the Washington Post. Results of the study were published in the journal Science last week.

Causes for the extinction include climate change, habitat loss, pollution and deforestation.

An official with Conservation International likened toads and other such creatures "canaries in the coal mine," since their permeable skins make them extremely sensitive to changing environmental conditions.

"This is the first group being affected by a death of a thousand cuts in the way that we humans have been affecting the biosphere in the past 50 or 100 years," he said.

The United States hasn't ignored the problem, and is spending something like $4 million a year to identify amphibian threats nationwide.

Guess it's time to hug a toad.

Reptile races in Mexico
Our marine turtle season is effectively over, but on the Pacific coast of Mexico the female egg-laying time is in high gear.

And the numbers are staggering compared to the paltry few loggerhead turtles Anna Maria Island sees every summer.

Oliver Ridley sea turtles come ashore on Escobilla Beach in waves about every 28 days from June to December. Earlier this month, over a three-day period, an estimated 311,000 females crawled ashore to lay eggs in the sand before lumbering back into the water.

Scientists estimate about 1 million female turtles will lay eggs this season.

What makes the story more interesting is that it's only been in the past 15 years that sea turtles were protected from hunting or poaching in Mexico. The Oliver Ridleys were on the brink of extinction up until only a few years ago, when the species made a turnaround and is now expected to survive.

Hundreds of thousands were killed every year previously for their skin, meat and eggs.

The Mexican government isn't taking the importance of the turtles lightly. Armed agents from the Federal Agency of Investigation patrol select turtle-nesting sites during the season to chase off or arrest egg poachers, who usually run away when they see the guns pointed in their direction.

Sandscript factoid
Oliver Ridley turtles, by the way, are the smallest sea turtles in the world at about 24 inches in length. They grow to about 100 pounds, are found both north and south of the equator and range from Mexico to India.

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