Wonderful Trees and The Merits of Forest Bathing

Highland Park Wetland Trails, West Monroe.

Highly accessible paths through woodland at Highland Park Wetland Trails, West Monroe.

You may have noticed that woodland walks are refreshing. Soon I’ll be making a short public presentation to my colleagues on the positive impacts of time spent among trees. I’ve always liked trees and I spend a lot of my free time walking in woodland.

My wife, Kimmie did a research project on the subject of Forest bathing for her Master Naturalist certification, and I feel the subject is so interesting that it deserves wider circulation. Here is a link to a dedicated Forest Bathing page on the Louisiana Master Naturalist Association Blog with a link to her pamphlet as a pdf.

The Japanese coined the term Shinrin-yoku, “Forest bathing” in a 1982 initiative by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to encourage people to immerse themselves in woodland atmosphere for improved well-being. Research revealed that recreation in forested areas has measurable physical and mental health benefits!

Fresh air, refreshing sights, gentle physical exercise and exposure to daylight to create Vitamin D and melatonin are all beneficial in moderation.

Japanese researchers found that immersion in forest is calming and reduces stress hormones, pulse rates and blood pressure. They also found that the trees emit phytoncides, natural chemical compounds as their defense against pathogenic fungi, bacteria and viruses. The trees defense happens to protect other plants and animals around them. These phytoncides increase NK, ‘Natural Killer’ activity.

Natural killer cells or NK cells are a kind of white blood cell that contain granules and enzymes that kill tumor cells or cells that have been infected by a virus by forcing cell death, apoptosis.  A study in Japan in 2005 revealed that forest bathing increased NK cell production after one day spent in the woods, and then again after the second day, with effects lasting up to a week.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20074458; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341

New efforts to restore tree cover in urban locations are very encouraging. Forester Matt Courtright presented on the subject of urban trees and forest bathing to the Master Naturalists of Greater Baton Rouge in this video on LMNA Channel.

LMNGBR Nature Notes ~ Forest Bathing: Boosting Immunity and Mood~Scott Courtright

Tree factoids.
According to Scott Courtright in his LMNGBR Nature notes video:
  • Trees can store up to 150 kg of carbon per year.
  • Urban trees in the US store 700 million tons of carbon valued at 14 billion dollars with an annual carbon sequestration rate of 22.8 million tons per year valued at $460 million dollars annually.
  • Trees also clear the air by absorbing carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide , nitrous oxide and other pollutants.
  • Trees shade cars and parking lots and reduce ozone emissions from vehicles.
  • Trees give us oxygen, clean the air and filter airborne pollutants. Urban trees in the US removed 711,000 tons of air pollution annually at a value of 3.8 billion dollars.
  • Trees conserve energy, properly located around buildings they reduce air conditioning needs by about 30% and serve as a windbreak to reduce heating needs too.
  • Trees and vegetation can raise property values up to 37%, they have to be the right trees in the right places.
  • Trees can reduce annual storm water runoff by 2 to 7%.
  • Trees provide habitat for hundreds of species.
  • The net cooling effect for a healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room size air conditioners operating for 20 hours a day.
  • Hospitals with views of healthy trees have improved rates of recovery over ones that have only urban views.
  • The USDA states a 10% increase in tree canopy has been associated with roughly 12% decrease in crime. https://www.fs.usda.gov/research/pnw/news/highlights/more-trees-less-crime

Yes, there can be biting insects, but this is far less of a problem in the early mornings. Will a walk in your local woodland benefit you? Try it and find out, it may become the habit of a longer lifetime! 😃

Want to plant a tree for wildlife benefit? In Louisiana top wildlife trees are the Oaks, Sugarberry (Hackberry), Willows, Hickories and Black Cherry.

For eye-opening reading about trees and forest communities try “The hidden life of trees” by Peter Wohlleben and “Entangled Life” by Merlin Sheldrake.




Earth Day’s Promise

A fine message for Earth Day 2022

Louisiana Master Naturalists - Northeast

LMN-NE is pleased to share our member Anne Frazer’s letter that was published in the Ouachita Citizen, April 21, 2022. Thank you, Citizen!

Earth Day is a hopeful celebration held around the world on April 22nd. More than a billion people participate to “change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.” The theme for 2022 is ‘Invest in our Planet.’ It recognizes that “this is the moment to change it all — the business climate, the political climate, and how we take action on climate” (www.earthday.org).

This theme is especially timely in 2022. Congress enacted bipartisan climate legislation in the omnibus bill at the end of 2020. This is an excellent start, but not sufficient to mitigate the climate harms we increasingly experience. It’s time to address the major driver of climate instability – the burning of fossil fuels, which releases climate warming carbon dioxide…

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Earth Day Hikes!

These hikes will be great fun! Join us if you can.

Louisiana Master Naturalists - Northeast

It’s Earth Day and Herp Day at Black Bayou Lake NWR. Friends of Black Bayou (FoBB) and Louisiana Master Naturalists–Northeast (LMNNE) are pleased to offer a pair of hikes that will get you moving and learning.

A green frog (Lithobates clamitans), wonderfully camouflaged against the muddy bottom of Black Bayou Lake near the boardwalk on a recent LMNNE outing.

The first hike will kick off from the Visitor Center at 10 a.m. This hike was initiated by Girl Scouts but is open to families who want to join in. Several Master Naturalists and Friends of Black Bayou will accompany the hikers to point out interesting flora and fauna along the boardwalk and answer questions.

The second hike will begin at 6:45 p.m. in the Environmental Education Center with a short talk about frogs and frog sounds–with examples to tune our ears. The hikers will then circumnavigate…

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If You Go Down To The Woods Today … You May Hear A ‘Kent’!


Matt Courtman, educating the public at Monroe's Biedenharn Bible Museum

Louisiana Ornithologist, Matt Courtman of Mission Ivorybill educating the public about Ivorybills at Monroe’s Biedenharn Bible Museum on Maundy Thursday with video of a closely-related species, The Imperial Woodpecker. C.Paxton image and copyright.

(Monroe, Louisiana, Saturday April 16th) This possibility is very hot news! To an ornithologist and most naturalists it would be the single most exciting sound to hear.  A ‘kent’? What on Earth is that? The kent is one of the trade-mark calls of one of the world’s most elusive birds, Campephilus principalis, The Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The debate whether kents can still be heard on Earth is something that is urgently required according to one of its most passionate advocates, ornithologist Matt Courtman. The presence of a CNN news crew at his presentation shows it to be worthy of national attention.

New Ivorybill Kent Recording Announced

During his comprehensive illustrated presentation at Monroe’s Biedenharn Museum on Thursday, April 14th, Matt tantalized us with news of his own recording, made April 12th at an undisclosed location in Madison Parish.

The kent is an onomatopoeia, named after its own sound. A kent sounds rather like a children’s toy horn and we first heard a recording of some at The Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge near Tallulah, Louisiana. This recording was made back in 1940’s and this refuge is thought to be one of the bird’s last homes. More recent recordings have been made. At the Biedenharn, Matt played us an example of one dating from 2005, but he reserved his own recording. He also played ornithologist Arthur Allen’s famous film of the birds at their nest hole and we were charmed by the delightfully quirky birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rather controversially proposed that the species Campephilus principalis be declared extinct in September 2021 causing great concern among those who believe that it may be extant in the deeper bottomland forest regions of Louisiana. Matt Courtman spoke briefly at a virtual public hearing held on January 26, 2022 and though the public comment period ended February 10, 2022, there is still plenty of scope for further debate according to Matt.  A final decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service is due by September 2022.

While listing of the bird as extinct would draw attention to the disastrous collapse in the US bird population, apparently we’ve lost about a third of our songbirds since that film was made, in order to declare it as extinct there has to have been sufficient exploration of its home habitat and this is not yet the case, according to Matt.

He advocates for legislation that would encourage landowners to report sightings of the bird without fear of Federal restrictions and appeals to hunters and other people of the woods to keep an eye out for the birds. He and his wife conduct environmental education in schools and the public arena.

The issue is important because it is thought that the endangered species needs large contiguous tracts of woodland for its continued survival. The potential presence of the bird helps protect habitat that is home for thousands of other species. As we are experiencing one of history’s worst biodiversity crises, this very attractive woodpecker is an important icon for endangered wildlife.

Matt Courtman’s presentation was both entertaining , educational and thorough, this subject has been a passion since childhood, he was a distinguished birder at the tender age of eight years old, has contributed to field guides and formerly served as President of the Louisiana Ornithological Society (LOS)!

The divergence of opinion regarding the possible survival of this bird has caused strong feelings on both sides of the divide. This Easter I pray that the search for the Ivorybills continues and dare hope that proof of rediscovery might heal any rifts that may now exist among ornithologists who have far more to unite them, than divide them.


Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge looking spendid in early morning mist. Taken on Pentax K-1 by C. Paxton.

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge looking splendid in early morning mist. Tensas River NWR is thought by some to be  the most likely refuge of the Ivorybills in Louisiana. C. Paxton. image

Suzanne Laird-Dartez talking about her grandfather Jesse Laird's work with the Ivory-bill

Suzanne Laird-Dartez talking about her grandfather Jesse Laird’s work with the Ivory-bill at Matt Courtman’s presentation to The Louisiana Master Naturalists at The Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe in 2020. C. Paxton image and copyright.



Ornithologist, Matt Courtman showing the distinguishing characteristics of Campephilus principalis to a roomful of people at the Lousiana Master Naturalist Northeast event in the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge Visitors' Center on January 19th 2020.

Have you seen this bird? Ornithologist, Matt Courtman showing the distinguishing characteristics of Campephilus principalis to a roomful of people at the Lousiana Master Naturalist Northeast event in the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center on January 19th 2020.


Drought Increases Poaching Pressure in Kenya. Chake Conservancy Rangers Seek Funding

Chake Conservancy Rangers holding poachers' snares

Chake Conservancy Rangers holding poachers’ snares that they find and remove on patrols. Chake Conservancy image and copyright.

Chake Conservancy in Maasai Mara Region Seeks Funding For Rangers Activities.

Drought is hitting the East African region and tourist numbers haven’t yet recovered from the Covid pandemic. The normal revenue streams from ecotourism are no longer supporting communities that traditionally benefitted from overseas visitors.

Chake’s rangers participate in:

  • reducing human wildlife conflict
  • patroling to reduce wildlife and forest crime
  • local reforestation efforts
  • community environmental and healthcare education
  • and even serve as emergency paramedics

Chake Community Conservancy in Narok, Kenya is appealing for money to support their essential ranger patrols.

Failing crops puts extra pressure on the wildlife from the Bushmeat trade.

Chake’s Outreach Officer, Julie Rack has organized a Gofundme Campaign for Chake Rangers.

The rangers need equipment such as tents, boots, uniforms and binoculars for their regional patrols.

They would greatly appreciate contributions large and small. This is a sustainable development crunch.


Seeking The Revenue Streams To Fund Riparian Forest Restoration

A map of Scotland showing the location and relative quality of riparian vegetation. Source Riverwoods Science Group Evidence Review

The Riverwoods map. A map of Scotland showing the location and relative quality of riparian vegetation. Areas shown in red offer greatest opportunities for improvement. Source & Copyright Riverwoods Science Group Evidence Review.

Scotland has led the world in so many scientific and engineering endeavours historically that I have no doubt that great things will come of the COP26 and of Riverwoods plans to restore Scotland’s riparian forest to make  “a network of thriving riverbank woodlands and healthy river systems across Scotland.” (Source the Riverwoods website)

Restoring Scotland’s riparian forests would no doubt add beauty and character to the lovely landscapes, sequester a lot of carbon, stabilize soils, wick moisture, help clean the air, provide shade and shelter, feed and home wildlife, and allow livestock more scratching points, may God bless the Duke of Argyle! How might it also be a sound financial investment?

There’s an interesting multi-million dollar question, and with the right answers a very great deal might be achieved!

Today I joined a fascinating conference hosted at Ross Priory which focused on conservation finance for the restoration of Scotland’s riparian woodland. Nicola Melville, Senior Scientist at the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) shared a map with Scottish rivers outlined in various colours denoting its current quality of riparian vegetation or other habitat and we all instantly saw what a vast area of land was represented. She made a strong case for replanting riparian woodland and those gathered (including some 200 virtual attendees) then brainstormed ideas about investment. Over the microphone, on the Miro board and in the zoom chat window the questions, comments and ideas flowed in, giving everyone food for thought. One contributor said that it was important to be presented with the whole picture, the bigger vision, so that investment could be made at scale. He said Bankers and financiers don’t necessarily have to make massive returns on environmental investments but they need a clear mechanism with a value proposition so that investment risk can be hedged over a reasonable time-frame, twenty years for instance. Someone suggested that this risk management presents landowners with a valuable opportunity to diversify their business / sources of income. Another said that educating landowners about their options is important. Someone else pointed out that in many floodplain areas the land fertility is high and planting trees would conflict with traditional agricultural practices that aim to maximize returns from farming. Another questioned whether the current regulatory frameworks should be reviewed.

Someone else said that there’s been useful work in the USA reducing risks through an Environment Impact Bond with performance-related returns on green infrastructure. That sounds like something you could hang your hat upon.

I think flood insurance premium reduction is a valuable end in itself. It might be the case that when annual flood risk insurance premiums downstream are established at a certain figure and then the actual flood risk for those properties is reduced by mitigation upstream and then premiums can be reduced a real value is manifested in the pocket – the cost difference represents a value that is quantifiable and worthy of investment on a property-by-property basis.

I recently attended another interesting zoom presentation in Louisiana, well worth watching, linked here on YouTube called “Five Tenets of Mitigating Flood Ri$k for everyone interested in property” by Bob Jacobson.

Bob suggests that within the next decade we won’t see any mortgage agreements made without flood insurance. He’s keen that the risks are properly evaluated and charges are fair and represent reality.

Some fabulous riparian forest of Caledon! A nature photographer’s paradise! C. Paxton image and copyright.

There is unarguably plenty of real value to restoring riparian woodland. The pictogram below shows the projected benefits of Riverwoods in terms of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals helping meet the twin challenges of averting climate change and biodiversity loss, while reducing flood risk, improving water quality, adding recreational value, and improving conditions for salmon fisheries and distilleries and nature lovers! Yes, it’s long term investment, but that sort of thing pleases pension fund managers and as one contributor suggested, the government has a role in de-risking the long-term commitment.


A pictogram showing river woods' contributions towards sustainable development goals. Source Riverwoods Science Group Evidence Review.

A pictogram showing Riverwoods’ contributions towards sustainable development goals. Source & Copyright Riverwoods Science Group Evidence Review. 


Thank you COP26 for restoring nature’s place at the heart of the debates!

Climate Change Leadership Displayed at COP 26 in Glasgow

Glasgow's Riverside Project

The eyes of the World are fixed on Glasgow, now hosting the COP 26 Climate Talks! The Riverside Project. Photo Andy Luck, copyright Visit Scotland 2015.

Climate change is hurting us, but the world is rallying to respond appropriately.

by Charles Paxton

The city of Glasgow is currently hosting the 2021 global Climate Conference (COP 26) and the parties that comprise this conference are working hard to meet the hopes and allay the fears of the whole world.  Vast forest fires, stronger storms, faster and deeper floods and surprise freezes have impacted many parts of the world directly, and many more indirectly. Anyone with access to the news has witnessed increasing damage from more frequent and more destructive weather-related catastrophes and there is no doubt now that climate change presents a significant threat to the well-being of humans and wildlife alike.

Good news from COP 26 is accumulating! A hundred and twenty-eight countries are committing to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use this represents over 33.7 million square kilometres of forests needing protection according to this digest article by Euronews which states “The pledge is supported by nearly €16.5 billion of public (€10.3bn) and private (€6.24bn) money. The public finance comes from 12 countries, including the UK, set to be provided between 2021-2025.” This is a massively important initiative! Thank you to all involved!

It is greatly encouraging to see some of the world’s wisest heads and most powerful political, scientific and business leaders engaging in the process of building a better future. Global leaders have pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% over the next decade!

The official website puts it best perhaps:

Leaders made clear that climate change is a global problem. The world is welcoming in a new era of economic and political partnership with climate action at its heart. The task of the decade will be to deliver the finance, resources and tools to rapidly deliver climate action at scale.

The Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, and COP President, Alok Sharma, called on leaders to empower negotiators to deliver an outcome that responds to the best available science and the demands of people the world over, to urgently accelerate climate action and ensure that finance is flowing to support this transition, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.  (Source COP26 Presidency Summary)

Personally, I am very glad that the United States of America is back in the fight against climate change, we need all hands to the pump. Watch Gina McCarthy explaining how the US is planning to reduce its most potent warming emissions, HFCs and Methane in this video.  Louisiana will play a strong part, aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 30-40% by 2030 and to be Carbon Net Zero by 2050. Carbon Net Zero is the term used to describe a system that balances carbon production with consumption, effectively producing no new accumulation of atmospheric carbon.

Louisiana Governor Edwards said in his presentation at COP26 “… You know, all of our states are different, and we’ve all been effected by climate change but I would make the case that no state has been as adversely affected by climate change than the State of Louisiana. We’ve had in 14 months, 5 major hurricanes making landfall within our state. Two of them, one last year and another one in August this year, two of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded making landfall in Louisiana.” Along with flooding and tornadoes, Louisiana has lost 2000 square miles of coastline in the past 50 years he says, and ” If we don’t do anything we’re going to lose another 1800 square miles of coast. I can bring this full circle by saying that every acre of coastal marsh will sequester as much carbon as 80 acres of forest.” He says losing coastline is thus a double loss as it also removes the buffer between our populations and the Gulf of Mexico and that is why we have an absolute need for climate change mitigation. He also says Louisiana is the only state in the nation where more than half of our C02 emissions don’t come from power generation, they come from industrial and chemical manufacturing and refineries. He sees Louisiana leading in this space and great potential in working with other states to reduce these emissions.

In a press release October 14th “Gov. John Bel Edwards and Air Products’ Chairman, President and CEO Seifi Ghasemi announced Air Products will develop a $4.5 billion clean energy complex near Burnside in Ascension Parish. This will also be the world’s largest permanent carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration endeavor to date. Air Products will construct a blue hydrogen manufacturing complex to produce more than 750 million standard cubic feet per day of blue hydrogen (click here to see the spectrum of hydrogen production), with carbon dioxide from the manufacturing process captured and permanently sequestered.

With Louisiana’s vast matrix of pipe-lines, he sees great opportunities to reduce the escape of Methane, that’s 80 times more powerful a warming gas than CO2 . By securing this system and plugging 4,600 orphan gas wells government and industry will be doing much to reduce the more potent warming emissions.

The Governor stressed the need for multiple solutions: Methane reduction, Carbon sequestration, phasing out a coal power station and building renewable energy resources. Coupled with the expansion and interconnection of protected areas, I think we have a real chance of turning things around.

I’m impressed from what I’ve learned so far from COP 26! Thank you all in Glasgow.




ARCAS has now registered as a 501(c)3 charity in the USA!

ARCAS logo

Help ARCAS to save Yellow-naped Amazon parrots in Guatemala!

ARCAS is a wildlife conservation and environmental education NPO based in Guatemala that annually funds the rescue of between 200 and 600 wild animals confiscated from wildlife traffickers operating in Guatemala, and rescues up to 50,000 sea turtle eggs from poachers (no pun intended), releasing the hatchlings back into the Pacific Ocean.

One of my old friends from my Japan days, Colum Muccio is one of the ARCAS directors and he regularly sends me news updates. 

Today he sent me a mixture of good and bad news and the September 2021 edition of the COLORES Newsletter . The ARCAS project to save Yellow-naped Amazon parrots (Amazona auropalliata) is known as Colores.

ARCAS is now an officially registered 501(c)3 charity in the USA and can receive help from people working for the government and armed forces (and retirees) through the Combined Federal Campaign

Colum Muccio of ARCAS

Colum Muccio, ARCAS Director.

Colum writes “Without a doubt, this year was a tough one. We lost a stalwart defender of wildlife, our good friend Pedro Viteri (murdered by poachers while attempting to defend a Yellow-naped Amazon parrot nest), and the pandemic continues to disrupt lives, businesses, and our work.”

ARCAS’ work is very dependent on both volunteers and funding donations, and both have been impacted by the pandemic.

“However, in the midst of these grave challenges, COLORES also made some advancements in its work saving the parrots of Guatemala.
Here, we are presenting our 2021 count and nest monitoring data, and educational and enforcement efforts. Although we are presenting these data, we also acknowledge that due to a lack of resources and the inherent difficulty of counting parrots and determining nesting success, these data are not as precise as we would like, and we need to continue improving our methodology, which requires more presence in the field, which in turn requires more staffing and funding.

Our experience with protecting nests is mixed. Nests can be poached in areas relatively close to homes and where guards or farm workers reside or patrol. Poachers know the terrain and the
habits of guards and even closely-guarded nests can be poached. Trees that are dead or rotten and unsafe to climb, or that have bee hives, can offer some protection, as can deep or difficult to access nest cavities. Also we continue to only identify a small number of active nests each year so we really can’t generalize and say what is happening in other areas apart from our hotspots…”

“In April, we held the first annual Pedro Viteri luncheon where we shared results, experiences,
grief, and motivation. During this time we outlined some plans for the future:

1. Place as many artificial nest boxes as possible. This is an activity in which we can easily involve students, new hot spot collaborators, and other people and organizations. We need to form a climbing team that can safely climb trees and place nests

2. Work with CONAP, DIPRONA and hotspot owners to better enforce wildlife laws and prevent
poaching in the hotspots and on trafficking routes. This has been made more difficult with the
onset of the Coronavirus pandemic and with the general lack of security in the area, but it is
something that must be strengthened.

3. As much as funding allows, increase education and awareness-raising efforts.

4. As much as funding allows, increase the monitoring and protection of nests, and increase the
precision of our population counts and fledgling success estimates.

5. Involve more local residents in these activities, providing meaningful livelihoods and promoting
ecotourism as an economic alternative.

6. Include additional hotspots in the COLORES program.

7. Funding permitting, unify efforts to save the yellow-naped amazon on the Pacific coast with
similar efforts being carried out on the Caribbean to save the yellow-headed amazon (Amazona
oratrix), two species that are genetically very closely related and who face some of the same

Later in the report,Muccio writes “This year, we are grateful to have the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the Wagmore Foundation join us in the fight to save the yellow-naped amazon in Guatemala. ABC is helping
us with anti-trafficking posters, billboards and enforcement patrols. The Wagmore Foundation is
helping us with the installation of artificial nests and with environmental education activities.

Based on a teacher’s kit developed in Mexico by Defenders of Wildlife/Teyeliz (Thank you!),
we developed a teacher’s guide on the parrots of Guatemala and we are currently developing a
parrot coloring book for primary school students. These publications are available on the
ARCAS website. And, as always, our many thanks to Dr. Joyner and One Earth Conservation,
as well as Colum Muccio and Manuel Galindo of ARCAS, CONAP, and all our hot spot collaborators for their continued support to the COLORES effort. We a really happy with the progress we have made so far in the project, but there is SO much more to be done!

Luncheon and meeting held in honor of Pedro Viteri in the Tarrales Reserve
Photo and copyright Manuel Galindo.

Read all in Colores Newsletter …

Chake Community Conservancy Launches Awareness Tours For Reforestation

Chake Conservancy Rangers with wire snares that they find on patrol

Chake Conservancy Rangers with wire snares that they find on patrol. Chake Community Conservancy image and copyright.

Equatorial Africa! Do any other two words convey such promise of romantic adventure?
Maasai Mara, perhaps. Most people know that Kenya’s Maasai Mara is one of the great wonders of the Natural World, but did you know that it relies heavily upon the local and indigenous communities to help maintain its primordial majesty?
Many tasks of stewardship fall to Kenya’s nature conservancies and without them this area of the World would be a sadly poorer place! I understand that each Kenyan conservancy is unique and has its own remarkable character and charms.

Apart from their nature stewardship, another thing the conservancies all have in common is that ecotourism is important in supporting their activities, just as their activities are important in supporting the ecosystem.

It’s what the UNDP would call a triple win: win for the economy, win for the community and win for nature! However the Covid Pandemic has hit the ecotourism sector very hard and now that vaccination is helping normalize travel and tourism again, all the conservancies, including Chake, are eager to welcome visitors back to this wonderful part of Africa!

So, what else sets Chake apart? Several things, really:
  • Chake is brand new! If you want to give them a helping hand it will certainly have good leverage! This is a Fledgling Community Conservancy directed by Honorary Ranger Charles Kinara and his board.
  • The word ‘chake’ in Kiswahili language means ‘theirs’ and reducing human-wildlife conflict is a core mission. Their whole outlook is nature-centered; they see the land as belonging to the animals as well in a common heritage, the human and wildlife community is worth protecting and as such they are opposed to hunting tourism, preferring sustainable eco-tourism instead.
  • To my knowledge, Chake is quite remarkable as many of the Directors and Rangers serve as medics and paramedics and teachers in the Narok area.  As well as conserving the natural splendour of the area by conducting reforestation and patrolling to prevent wildlife and forest crime, they help in health and environmental education.
  • I’ve been assisting Chake with their Chake Community Conservancy website (so any faults there are mine and I’d be grateful if you would alert me to them for remedy).
The Chake Directors welcome visitors to Kenya to sign up for a unique, day-long Chake Awareness Tour. Please see their Visitors’ Page for the details.  In so-doing you would be helping their sustainable development and advance the area’s reforestation!
In a nut-shell, the day tour is a personalized introduction to the Chake Conservancy guided by the Director Charles Kinara. Visitors can see conservation in action and by doing so, support this important work. Chake’s area of benefit includes important topographical and hydrological gradients and forest that is threatened by cutting for charcoal.
If you wish to support Chake Conservancy through booking local safari guides and accommodation too, that will help our community prosper! In the game park, wildlife observation is permitted by vehicle from dawn to dusk, but within the community conservancy area visitors can explore the elevated forest and rocky outcrops and ravines on foot. Much of the indigenous flora, fauna and fungi are best seen this way! Birds, reptiles and insects can add much interest to your Kenyan travel experience.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve offers visitors year-round wildlife watching in the world’s richest big game park. Sweeping vistas of grassland with characteristic acacia trees have hardly changed since the dawn of mankind! Lions, zebras, elephants, rhinos and hippos? They’ve got ‘em! That’s because they protect them and this natural heritage is worth far more to them alive as part of their living landscape than they would ever be dead or removed.

If you are considering a Kenyan holiday, please allow some extra time to enjoy and support the community and cultural context of the protected areas!


This article represents the author’s genuine opinions and the author Charles Paxton has received, and expects, no payment for this article.


A Talk In The Park — West Monroe Parks For Ecotourism and Much More!

Spider Lilies glow beside one of the forest trails in Kiroli Park

Red Spider Lilies (Lycoris radiata) glow beside one of the fine forest trails in West Monroe’s Kiroli Park. They completely lack leaves, and make up for that deficit with spectacular blooms! Kimmie Paxton

Article by Charles Paxton

Photos by Charles & Kimmie Paxton

While this article may be of most interest to people residing in or visiting the northeastern region of Louisiana, it may cause you to look again at your own local parks as great venues for ecotourism wherever you may be.  Think parks, think nature walks and wildlife photography, or just a good old mental and physical health boost! Some readers may remember that Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast visited Kiroli for a restoration ecology field trip with ULM Professor Joydeep Bhattacharjee. That was a great workshop.

Anyway, on Sunday, September 26th, Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast gathered again in Kiroli Park for a Nature Walk and Talk event to coincide with our third quarter board meeting. It proved an excellent venue!  In the first five minutes of chatting with our friends at the muster point surrounded by lofty Short-leaf Pines (Pinus echinata), we saw a magnificent Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) alight in a tall pine, and after a short while posing regally, it flapped off, no doubt on a quest for one of the plump resident squirrels.

Kiroli is a favourite haunt of The Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) C.Paxton image and copyright.

A female Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri).

Our walk revealed many points of interest. As we set off through mature woodland we were immediately aware of a bird wave. American Robins (Turdus migratorius) were hopping about in the undergrowth, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) was higher in a tree canopy calling across an area of open woodland where Red Spider Lilies (Lycoris radiata) raised their crimson heads on long green, leafless stalks and then we came upon a fine old hollow stump. There, our keen-eyed herpetologist revealed the lovely fox-brown form of a female Fowler’s Toad. She had inflated her pear-shaped form defensively, but had nothing worse to fear from us than  a series of photographic exposures.  Further along the trail, with an excited cry, our herpetologist saw something that my wife and I had been longing to see! Bird’s Nest Fungi!  They were like tiny, quirky looking brown cup-cake papers with three or more shiny grey ‘eggs’ nestled inside.


We were ecstatic and inspected them closely. Kimmie and I photographed them while the rest of the party eventually continued on into the deciduous woodland where they saw a Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus) hunting in a ravine below their suspension bridge.

When we caught up with them we enjoyed looking for wildlife there too. The Ribbon Snake had moved off, but we saw a young Southern Broadbanded Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata confluens) floating gracefully in a pool and some intriguing food prints of a mustelid, possibly an American Mink (Neogale vison) and Common Raccoons (Procyon lotor) in the river sand.

We hurried back for our meeting and a very interesting talk about the West Monroe Park System by Stuart Hodnett, Parks and Recreation Director for West Monroe.

He explained that there are eight parks in the city, they also manage the planting instalation in the roundabouts used to get to Kiroli Park, but they aren’t responsible for the road signage.  To get to Kiroli, when approaching from Arkansas Road go through the first roundabout (enter at 6, leave at 12 0’clock) and take the first right turn off the second roundabout (enter at 6, leave at 3 0’clock).

Kiroli Park is “a gem” and a big one, formerly a scout camp, it covers 150 acres, with 2 ponds, wetlands and woodlands and a richly varied topography of hills and valleys. There is a lot of wildlife and the large ornamental fishing pond is stocked annually, once in January with 500 lbs of trout and then again in late February and mid March with 1000 lbs of catfish provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries! That morning Stuart saw a flock of about 30 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) there!

Smiles Park is within Kiroli and has been open for ten years now and is a popular play area for kids, they also have a Dog Park for large and small dogs and 3.6 miles of trails. They are constructing new Mountain Bike Trails in partnership with the local police department — an outer one about 3.5 miles long and then an inner one that will zig-zag and together they’ll comprise 6.5 miles of mountain bike trail through high quality environment with new signage where they cross the footpaths. They hope to have this ready by November 1st! Wow!!

They hold regular events every year at Kiroli. The Celtic Festival with 2000-3000 people, great live music and about 60 vendors, also Family Date Night on Oct. 30th is a Halloween treat with a movie, spooky trail and games. It’s a fun place, but can be very peaceful and calming, there’s a super sense of clear vertical space between the elegant pines and who doesn’t love the smell of warm pine straw?

One caveat is to avoid the park when thunderstorms are likely. They’ve been cleaning up after two hurricanes, several lightning strikes (eight between July and August this year) and a microburst with 70 mph winds, also a deep freeze! So there’s never a dull moment! But Stewart explained he has a great team to work with, including Horticulturist, Hayley Martin. She’s got 8,000 plants in the greenhouse now that will be ready for next Spring! Altogether they’ll plant about 16,000 tulips. Usually they plant about 5,000 at Kiroli and 2,000 at City Hall. They’ll plant Red Spider Lilies and daffodils on the hill at Restoration Park. There are some erosion issues at the Dog Park, they put a splash-pad in there, so they will do some fund-raisers for Dog Park. They tore down the conservatory because it had become dilapidated, and they’re planning to make a Japanese Zen garden with all native plants, clean out the waterfalls and streams and make the gazebo look good. They’ll do some fund-raising for that. They just got tin rooves for the 9 shelters that can cope with acidic pine straw. They will also refurbish Kiroli lodge and make real fire places. They will work on the rentable Pavilions too.

Restoration Park is about 48 acres in size. LMN-NE visited for a restoration ecology field trip with ULM Professor Joydeep Bhattacharjee. It was formerly an open cast gravel pit and then used as a garbage dump. It was bought by the city in 1989 and though it is being cleaned up you can see there is still old machinery and other stuff among the trees. It seems symbolic of nature growing back and gradually over-growing the junk from the past. It has 1.3 miles of trails and is great for birding too. It’s notable for its beautiful ponds and beaver dams. Stuart likes it especially because it is very popular with out of town visitors. Several trees fell there in the recent hurricanes.  I’ve stayed in a hotel there, right by the park and it is a wonderfully accessible wild-space! Discover the wonderful wildlife of Restoration Park in West Monroe, Louisiana.

Lazarre Park extends to 90 acres and is a point, surrounded by the Ouachita River on three sides, it also has a pond, so its great for birding. Stuart cleaned the place up and beefed up police patrols, there are plans to lay tracks there and people enjoy disc-golf, bass fishing tournaments and the annual River Rat Challenge. Camping with permission is allowed behind the Pavillion! He’d like to open up the back part and make it a camp ground because it is so beautiful. The river rises in spring but drops again by mid-may. 

Lazarre Park is also a site of scientific significance with turtles laying above its beaches. Turtle nests can too often be predated by Common Raccoons and Red Foxes.  This site doesn’t suffer raccoon predation so much, but it’s thought that Red Foxes will take eggs if they can. Recently Professor Carr of University of Louisiana Monroe’s (ULM) Biology Department and his students conducted a public release of freshwater turtle hatchlings there on the sands beside a shallow bay. He says it was a great success and Carr’s project was strongly backed by The Mayor. The released turtles were raised in the ULM Biology department’s incubators from egg clutches unearthed at Lazarre Park to prevent their predation. This year has been wetter than most due to the La Ninja phenomenon. Professor Carr stresses the importance of Lazarre Park as great turtle habitat and turtle nursery. He says that the timing of the rain just after laying may have helped obscure the mothers’ tracks this year and may have resulted in a better than normal reproduction rate for this location! Isn’t it great to hear some good news? Two of the species he released are of conservation concern — The Smooth Softshells and endemic Ouachita Map turtles. He also released Mississippi Map Turtles. It was a super event enjoyed by local and visiting families and Louisiana Master Naturalists Northeast.  Watch the turtle release on YouTube, (be advised YouTube sets cookies).

Next he talked about ‘Gator Park on Mitchell Street, saying it is a small but beautiful community park of 3 acres that’s on the way to Lazarre Park, with wonderful, old Live Oaks.  They planted Crepe Myrtles there four years ago and they’ve just refurbished it and put in new Play equipment there for the residents, and they love it. 

Facen Park was another small community park behind Golden Pier Seafood, on Benson and North 6th St. Though just a small community play park (approx. 1/2 acre)

Bryan Smith Park is off Lee St. Again, it is a small community park, it is distinguished in having one of those old carousels along with the swing sets. So anyone interested in indulging in some playful nostalgia, take note!

Alley Park is another small but distinctive park, it was a road at one time. It’s managed very capably by Adrian Wells and they hold a lot of concerts and events there, now there’s a shade structure and a stage and they hold an outdoor market there sometimes, the Mayor has been very supportive of all this and it features regularly on the local news.

The Riverbend Community Health Park was sponsored by some local businesses and the school board and is smaller still at 1/4 acre, it lies between the Community Center on South 5th and the Riverbend Elementary School and it has a popular walking track. 

The new Highland Park Trails is where the old golf course was, it is under construction and will also open this November. It may have a pavilion, and 1.13 miles of trails through a wetland area. On each side of North 7th there’ll be retail space and between there’ll be a central park with ponds and native plantings with 2 big double bridges. People will be able to drive through part of it but it’ll be mostly for pedestrians.

Then Stuart dropped the good news bombshell! News of plans to connect all the parks together with a cycling path!! That sounds great, our greenspaces will become more accessible.

In the Q & A session he talked briefly about the planned Indoor Sports Complex on the Frontage Road. It’ll be an open court sectioned off with curtains, suitable for basketball, volleyball, pickleball etc. They’ll hold cheer-leader competitions and any kind of tournaments you can do indoors, there’ll also be a huge meeting room to accommodate 90+ people and it will have its own cafeteria.

So it looks as if there are some great green and recreation spaces in our area and from November there’ll be even more options! 

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