Is Translocation the Right Thing to Do for Maintaining Biodiversity in the Mojave Desert?

My earliest encounter with efforts to maintain biodiversity came when I was a Marine stationed in 29 Palms, CA. The terrain on the base (the largest Marine Corps base in the world) was rugged and unforgiving for Marines. For the species that called the high Mojave Desert home, the environment was ideal. Ideal until the expansion of base activities and other off-road ventures by residents and visitors. I was a tank crewman and our company went on several field operation training missions monthly. We were provided with a wealth of information related to training safety and desert survival, but one part of our briefing that stood out were the instructions we were given on how to deal with the native Desert Tortoise population. The basic rule we were to observe was to avoid disrupting the creatures at all costs. I was able to see how seriously this rule was taken when a line of 20+ tanks stopped on a trail to the final training site because a Desert Tortoise had ventured into our intended path. We waited for well over an hour until the route was clear. Knowing how rigid our schedules were and how seriously our leaders took sticking to a strict timeline, it was apparent that protecting the tortoises was high priority – even higher than our routine training events.

Part of our training in how to deal with the Desert Tortoise was a briefing that explained what would or could happen if we disturbed one of the reptiles. We were told that direct contact or near contact with a human would elicit a stress response in the tortoise that could cause it to empty its body of all of its water. This response would prove hazardous to the health of the tortoise and leave it vulnerable to attack for other indigenous predators. Years later, I saw a highlight of a professional golf event where a turtle of some kind had wandered onto the course during the tournament. Another player rushed over and grabbed the turtle and walked briskly off the course. While removing the animal, a stream of water began flowing from the rear of the shell. The broadcast crew, as well as the patrons, were amused at the sight but I remembered what I had learned about the Desert Tortoise and feared for its safety.

The Desert Tortoise had been established as an endangered species in 1994 (shortly before I was stationed in 29 Palms). This designation was no doubt part of the reason for the serious effort by the Marine Corps to treat the tortoises delicately. Soon after the late-1990s, a plan was initiated to relocate the population of Desert Tortoises to a more remote location for conservation and maintenance of biodiversity in the region. This plan appeared to satisfy all parties involved: The tortoises would be spared the intrusion by Marines operating on the base, the Marines would be able to conduct their important exercises, and wildlife officials would have found an equitable solution to assuage their fears of extinction and the ramifications of a reduction in biodiversity in the Mojave.

Experts, however, disagree on the efficacy of a translocation plan and conflicts have arisen with regards to the Marine Corps’ plan as well as other plans to build infrastructure for renewable energy facilities in the desert. The crux of the disagreement is in the viability of the displaced populations. Concerns such as disruption to social compacts, disorientation in terms of resources the tortoises need for survival (water, shelter), and the spreading of disease from one specific species to others. Recent data has shown that the fears of conservationists who were against translocation proved warranted. From 2004-2014, a similar relocation project transplanted 9,136 tortoises from Las Vegas to a nearby federal translocation site. Only 370 of those relocated could be located for review in 2015. It is apparent that a hasty plan to remove the animals and relocate them elsewhere serves the interests of the human population (military, recreation, renewable energy plants) but does not adequately address the needs of the Desert Tortoise and the overall biodiversity of the region.

Natural Disaster Assessment – Pittsburgh, PA (Julian Pamplin)

Using the Nathan World Map of Natural Hazards, the type of natural disaster that is relevant to Pittsburgh, PA is an Extratropical Storm. The Nathan Map is not an extremely detailed reference to use for assessing the specific risk extratropical storms and other natural disasters pose for Pittsburgh, but the risk shown on the map and designated by green bands of different shades does include Pittsburgh. Furthermore, when under La Niña conditions, the likelihood of storms affecting Pittsburgh and vicinity rise. Other types of disasters that have shown to potentially affect Pittsburgh are tornadoes. Again, the Nathan World Map of Natural Hazards shows a basic risk of tornadoes for Pittsburgh but getting a specific reading on the level of the risk is difficult given the scope of the map.

A type of disaster in progress is a tornado in Eldridge, AL. Pittsburgh is at risk of tornadoes as multiple reports of damage from the disaster have been reported within my lifetime. The risk, however, is lower in Pittsburgh than it is in other regions of the country. Given the nature of tornadoes and the weather conditions that create them, areas closer to common paths of extreme tropical weather systems, along with lower plains states, are at a much higher risk. The current tornado in Alabama compares to Pittsburgh in a few ways. First, the size of the area affected by the tornado is not a condition that influences whether or not Pittsburgh or any other place is more or less likely to experience the event. Second, Alabama is much closer to the Gulf of Mexico where weather systems fueled by warm Gulf water are more common and stronger than systems that reach the Midwest and western Pennsylvania. Those at greatest risk of damage of a tornado in Pittsburgh include residents in mobile homes or homes without subterranean levels.

Both types of natural disasters listed above are rare. Extratropical storms are the more common of the two as Pittsburgh is situated in a path of common Atlantic Ocean weather systems that travel from the south and into New England. The risk of systems strong enough to produce extratropical storms depends on both the strength of the system (gained by the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico) and the track the storm travels as it curves through the region. Systems originating in the Great Lakes region are more common and depend on different factors. Also, Lake-born snowstorms may carry heavy amounts of precipitation but do not have the characteristics of wind speed to rival extratropical storms. Tornadoes are rarer, still. There is not a specific set of conditions that makes the likelihood of a tornado greater or reduced but the prevailing conditions that lead to tornadoes are not often visited upon Pittsburgh. The 1985 tornado outbreak was a particularly devastating event. The National Weather Service ranked it as the 12th most significant tornado event of all time (Carpenter, 2005).

Actions that can be taken to reduce the vulnerability of extratropical storms include pre-event preparedness measures that include warning systems and methods for delivering forecasts to residents as far in advance as possible. Emergency response systems are also vital in reducing Pittsburgh’s vulnerability. For tornadoes, a reliable system for identifying and warning residents of tornado sightings is important to withstanding an event that can be deadly. Accurate information including the location, severity (magnitude), and path of a tornado are valuable facets of the type of information emergency response organizations can deliver to residents to ensure the best opportunities for seeking safe haven. Personally, to prepare for either event and reduce my family’s vulnerability against these and other natural disasters, having a plan in place is key. Understanding the potential consequences of each potential event, where to go for assistance, and what steps are most likely to keep us safe until aid can arrive are the most important steps in being prepared should disaster strike.



Carpenter, M. (2005). The day the twisters came. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from

Food Choice and Social Norms – Julian Pamplin

As a Marine, I never felt compelled to adjust my diet other than to ensure I was providing my body with enough calories to sustain training and other activities. The options for food were consistent with what I had eaten growing up. When I was stationed in 29 Palms, CA, one of the units attached to my platoon was a foreign force; The Royal Mountain Marines from Great Britain. I became friends with one Royal Marine, Brian Stokes. When Stokes first arrived, he regularly chose chicken as his source of protein during lunch and dinner. Gradually, Stokes began to choose beef, probably because the vast majority of Marines in his new unit used beef as a staple. Brian Stokes had access to beef his entire life but it was socially normal in his family to choose chicken or another alternative over beef, 10 to 1. The new social norms included a significantly higher proportion of beef and Stokes’ diet gradually changed as a result. After a few months, he was eating beef every day after living his entire life eating beef less than once per week.

The food choice described above has several societal issues attached. Though the social norms were formed without consideration of the ramifications of the choice, those ramifications existed regardless. The first way the social norms impacted society was the expense in getting the beef to our tables. 29 Palms sits in the Mojave Desert, far away from where the beef was grown and delivered from. The cost to keep our unit sufficiently supplied meant raising cattle and all of the resources devoted to that endeavour, as well as shipping the beef many miles to our base. Another impact the social norms and food choices made on society included fostering a less diverse agricultural operation. The farms that supplied our beef were influenced to grow crops for the paramount goal of feeding livestock. This lack of diversity undoubtedly caused the land to be less stable and required the use of nitrogen fertilizer to maintain production regardless of the environmental conditions in a given season. foodchoice_diagram-jpp21

Mozambique and Mobile, Alabama. Sustainable Development Studies.

The first case study reviewed involves dam construction and management along the Zambezi River. Recent developments of dams and hydroelectricity facilities have caused problems for residents of the region that are exacerbated by changes in climate. The two large dams that were most recently constructed have been the source of false comfort by local residents as they have moved into regions that are susceptible to periodic floods. The goal of the dams was to harness the power of hydroelectricity by using river water to power the facilities. An unintended consequence of the construction includes a lowering of the levels of the floodplains. This leads to two types of problems for the region. First, elimination of the floodplains means less area for fisheries, wildlife, and agriculture. The second consequence is that residents have migrated closer to the rivers as a result of a perceived lower risk of flooding. Instead of relying on larger dams that are likely to fail in extreme weather, local officials propose reinforcing smaller existing dams to use water for hydroelectricity projects and provide better flood management.

The second of the case studies involves transportation avenues and issues related to traffic under conditions of rising water in Mobile, Alabama. The main concerns in Mobile involve an increased flow of traffic, aging infrastructure, and effects brought about by current and future changes in climate. To address these concerns, the local operations and management departments of the state government have commissioned studies intended to gauge the risks to the transportation infrastructure and steps that can be taken to alleviate the effects of a variety of stressors. Among the plans to solve the issue are initiatives to repair roadways and traffic signals to operate better in times of heavy traffic and extreme weather. These initiatives involve evaluating planned and on-demand circumstances affecting conditions on the transportation routes. Planned circumstances are routine and include preventative measures while on-demand circumstances involve reactive or corrective steps that can be taken.

The two cases relate to my hometown (Pittsburgh, PA) because of our continuing concerns about water levels, traffic, and use of waterways at the confluence of the three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers). The three rivers of Pittsburgh provide transportation routes for cargo and passengers, are the sources of drinking water for Western Pennsylvania residents and others, and pose a risk to homes, businesses, and roadways along the rivers. Dams and locks along the rivers have provided a measure of security for residents who seek riverfront living and places to locate their businesses, but as is the case in Mozambique, those various structures have shown over the years to be insufficient to safeguard from the damage severe weather can inflict. Similarly, the erosion of land at or near the river banks is an on-going concern as higher water levels can compromise the integrity of the land nearest to the river; putting structures and roadways at risk of damage or making transportation routes impassable during a severe weather event.

Water Usage Exercise – Julian Pamplin

As a resident of Plum, PA, my water is sourced by the Allegheny River at the Nadine Intake in Verona, PA. The intake of water is managed by the Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority before it is diverted to serve communities in the suburbs east of Pittsburgh including Plum, Oakmont, and Monroeville. Plum Borough Municipal Authority is scheduled to switch to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County next month. Once received into the Plum area, the Plum Borough Municipal Authority operates pump stations to distribute water throughout the community. The pump station that provides water directly to my home is located on Saltsburg Road. Sewage maintenance is managed by the Sewer Department of the Plum Borough Municipal Authority. The Sewer Department is responsible for sewage treatment as well as the transmission of sewer water to disposal. The Plum Creek watershed is the primary location of disposal for Plum residents including myself.

According to the USGS site, my family uses an average of up to 335.9 gallons of water per day. Personally, I use an average of up to 76.24 gallons per day.

World average water consumption (per capita): 36 gal/day

U.S. average water consumption (per capita): 158 gal/day

My family water consumption (total): 335 gal/day

My personal water consumption: 76.24 gal/day

  • 20 gallons for showering
  • 6 gallons for toilet
  • 8 gallons for sink
  • 12 gallons for dishwashing
  • 31 gallons for laundry

The primary areas of water use for my experiment involved bathing and cleaning. I cut down to one two-minute shower and brushed my teeth once using less water than usual. I flushed the toilet four times and drank 4 glasses of water. I did not use the dishwasher or wash a load of laundry. The experiment was a significant failure for several reasons. I found myself conserving for the day but had no way of conserving for longer than one day. For instance, though I refrained from washing clothes, there is no chance of sustaining that practice for longer than about 10 days. I did not wash dishes and I would normally need to at least wash dishes once daily. I do not have a super-efficient toilet so flushing was unavoidable and require water even if I flushed once every two times for liquid waste. My experience in trying to conserve as much water as possible caused a drastic shift in my daily routine and in my attention to water use. Still, I used more than 10 times the limit imposed by the exercise. Geography matters to water use for a few reasons. First, in areas such as my own, fresh water sources are readily available and the infrastructure allows for easy access to clean water. In areas where the infrastructure is lacking, combined with the inhibited access to fresh water, water supplies are determined by climate factors and general supply. Salt water sources are not potable and absent expensive desalination treatment apparatus, don’t benefit people who live in coastal areas.

Module 3 – Ethics (J. Pamplin)

Is it more important to be a good person or to perform good acts?

I believe it is more important to perform good acts than it is to merely be a good person for several reasons, chiefly because of the tangible and intangible impacts of performing good deeds. Another reason I favor the performance of good acts is because it has a greater chance of inspiring other good acts and other good people. What I find trickiest about the question is the definition of the word “good.” Also tricky is the definition of “acts.” Would inaction be considered an act? For example, if a person who aims to perform a good deed resists giving money to a panhandler because the s/he feels the contribution enables the panhandler, is that inaction an act? To carry the scenario further, would a person who fears giving to the panhandler enables them chooses to do so because they want to help the person in the immediate future (versus sending a longer-term message) be considered a good person performing a good deed or a good person performing a harmful deed? Those questions aside, I believe it is more impactful to perform good deeds because the products of those deeds will more often than not result in or contribute to a good outcome. Simply being a good person seems to me like potential energy whereas performing good deeds is more kinetic.

Does the process by which decisions are made matter more than the outcomes of these decisions?

I believe the process by which decisions are made is important. What’s troubling is the potential for a solid process producing unfavorable outcomes. If a process were in place that would determine an environmental policy based on the number of votes each potential policy received, and the electorate was comprised of more voters who stand to benefit from an environmentally destructive course of action, then the policy that wins the day would likely be unfavorable to the environment. An alternative is to in some way disenfranchise those who have a conflict of interest so as to not arrive at the expected destructive policy. If done in this circumstance, the same would have to be done elsewhere. Then, for instance, minorities would or could be barred from voting on Civil Rights – a matter in which they might have substantially more to gain than the majority; hence, a conflict of interest. I believe the process should be the focus because it is able to be refined to preserve fairness. Different parties may disagree on the outcomes but can agree on the process. It is not lost on me that matters such as Civil Rights progress often faces hurdles because of process. Why vote on equal protection when it’s “obviously” the right choice? Still, if I have to choose one, I lean toward process as the more important focal point.

Is my own life worth more than the lives of others, the same, or less?

My life is more important to me than are the lives of others but my life has no greater value than the lives of others. In the abstract, it feels elementary to proclaim that the value of my life is equal to the value of the lives of others. Looking at the way I live my life, though, it’s clear that I think my life is more important. One way I know this uncomfortable truth exists is that I do not sacrifice all that I have above what I need in service of others. I volunteer regularly and have for my entire life (thanks to the example of my mother and others) and I give often to charities (almost as a reflex), but I have never given to the point that I was in serious discomfort after having done so. It isn’t that I don’t know ways of giving more exhaustively, it’s that I know and still choose a level of comfort over actions that I am sure would literally save the lives of others. What makes it easy is that most of those whose lives I would save are far away from me and I am able to resist thinking of them when I, say, spend more than I should for a luxury. I am also able to take comfort in the fact that I give more than most, even though I know I don’t give as much as I could. If I were asked to influence another person on whether to do something to benefit me or benefit someone else, to save my life or save someone else’s, in that situation my view of “value” would emerge; but left for me to decide, I have shown that I value my life and lifestyle over others.


Biogas Diagram — Julian Pamplin M02

The diagram I’ve created to illustrate the various systems at work in the video focus on the benefits of the biogas generator on the surrounding ecosystem and social system. The main influences on the social system include benefits of opportunities for women and children specifically, as well as a positive impact on farmers in the rural regions around Bangalore, India. Key to this diagram is how technology enables the installation and use of the biogas generators and how the products of that system feeds back into the technology in the form of children able to study and assume roles in the burgeoning technology sector in the city. Other factors that influence the balance of the two systems are the opportunities for farmers and women to earn a living. Use of the biogas generator enables families to amass compost to be sold to local farmers. The farmers pay the women (thus helping the families financially) and are able to produce more crops of higher quality to be sold. Trees are considered in this diagram though their direct impact is not mentioned in the film. By reducing the need to use wood from trees for burning, the surrounding ecosystem in benefitted by a more diverse array of plant life. More trees not only means better soil for farmers, it means better conditions for consistently obtaining potable drinking water for everyone in the area.

The diagram I’ve constructed and the diagram used in the reading are similar in that they both chart the benefits and interdependence of the various parts of the ecosystem and social system. My diagram does not include the issue of a greater population because the point was not included in the film. I am not aware as to whether the population in the specific region referenced in the movie is significantly influenced by the need to gather wood for burning.

I feel it is important to address in the diagram the impact of the opportunities afforded the children in the video. Without the worries of health and missing school and time for school work to gather wood for fuel, the family has a greater chance of improving their lives by taking advantage of vocational opportunities that education makes possible. Biogas_diagram.jpp21

Module -1: Getting to Know You – Julian Pamplin

Hello, I’m Julian. I’m a non-traditional student (read: old) originally from Pittsburgh, currently living in Plum. As I transition to a new career pursuit that will eventually take me to law school, I am finishing my undergraduate degree in Political Science. I chose this course, not only because it satisfies a required field of study for my degree, but because I feel geography is an important topic to understand for a variety of reasons. As we’ve all learned through the introduction of the course, geography, and related subjects, informs us on the impact of where we live and our intrinsic relationship with the world. I am hoping to receive an education that is well-rounded to include a deeper understanding of connections among commerce, energy conservation, and the politics surrounding both. As a former United States Marine, I’ve had the fortune to travel and see features of geographical diversity and I am eager to learn more about where we are, where we’re headed, and what we can do to preserve nature.

One area already mentioned in the course reading that is of particular interest to me involves sustainability and our overall interaction with the environment. While the political rancor in Washington and in state capitals around the country often oversimplifies the contours of environmental debate to motivate different groups of voters, I assume the actual facts are more complicated than politicians are courageous enough to champion. I intend to use this course and others to gain a more comprehensive grasp on the subject. I am hoping this class and subsequent courses will give me a depth of knowledge necessary to challenge those who would distort data to serve an agenda or minimize the actions that can be taken to solve impending trouble for the environment. Admittedly, I come to this topic from the left but I am open to objectively reviewing the information and adjusting my position to fit the science, rather than ‘cherry pick’ from the data to fit within a certain ideological predisposition. I’m excited to meet classmates who may have different opinions and I welcome the challenge I am sure they will provide.