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Green Guru
Advice for the eco-minded.

 

Did turkey species used to roam all over the United States? If so, why do we eat one variety at Thanksgiving?
—Juan Tullis, Santa Fe, NM

That bird baking in your kitchen is a descendant of the wild turkey, one of two wild species on this continent domesticated by the Aztecs nearly a thousand years ago. The second, the ocellated turkey, heralds from southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

When European settlers arrived, this country had an estimated 10 million wild turkeys, which roost in trees and have been clocked flying 55 miles an hour. Researchers have identified six genetically and geographically distinct subspecies in North America: eastern, Osceola (or Florida), Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and Mexican.

Due to overhunting and habitat destruction, fewer than 100,000 wild turkeys remained by the early 1900s. “We thought they might go the way of the passenger pigeon somewhere around the 1920s or so,” says Tom Hughes, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation. Using money from hunting licenses and taxes on guns and ammunition, wildlife agencies and conservation organizations bolstered waning flocks, eventually boosting the population to seven million, which now supports a $4 billion hunting industry. “By and large we have restored the turkeys to all available habitat across the country,” says Hughes.

Ninety-nine percent of domesticated birds are broad-breasted whites, which reach a hefty weight of 32 pounds in 18 weeks. Heritage breeds (domesticated varieties that mate naturally, have a productive lifespan of about five years, and grow slowly) like Narragansett and Bourbon Red take longer to reach market weight but taste better and have more genetic diversity, says the Heritage Turkey Foundation. This Thanksgiving a turkey by another name may taste even more delicious.
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Are there cougars on the East Coast?
—Jacqueline Montgomery, Portland, ME

Despite accounts of tawny tails and paw prints in the mud, eastern cougars are most likely extinct. Easterners have reported hundreds of cougar sightings, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—the agency that researches the federally endangered cat’s populations—says the sightings are probably released pets and not the cougar subspecies that used to roam from Maine to South Carolina. Because European settlers saw cougars as a threat to their livestock, most of the cats had been killed by the late 1800s.

“There’s no evidence that native cougar populations have survived along the East Coast,” says Mark McCollough, a biologist with the FWS who completed a study of possible eastern cougars this year.

If the big cats, which can weigh up to 220 pounds, did still live among the East’s deciduous forests and meadows, McCollough would probably know. “Wherever even small populations of cougars exist, there’s plenty of evidence that they’re there,” from unmistakable tracks to deer carcasses, he says.

The Midwest’s cougar populations, however, are growing and expanding their range. Last year officials in Chicago shot a 150-pound male, an animal researchers eventually traced back to South Dakota and Wisconsin using DNA testing. There are still many ifs: If cougars make it all the way to the East, which McCollough believes could happen if the populations continue to build, they will find suitable habitat and plenty of their primary prey: white-tailed deer. 
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I’m moving and would like to do it in an environmentally friendly way. Any suggestions?
—Perry Jordan, Savannah, GA

When it’s time to pack up and relocate, there are many ways to lighten your load on the earth.

A growing number of moving companies are incorporating green aspects, like using corn-based tape or offsetting their carbon emissions. A good place to begin your search is GreenMoversUSA.com, a website started by Mark Ehrhardt, whose own moving company, Movers Not Shakers, in Brooklyn, New York, uses biodiesel trucks and reusable plastic containers that he drops off a week before the move.

When packing, consider using reusable plastic containers or recycled cardboard boxes. Stuff your containers with biodegradable or recyclable cushioning, like newspaper, cornstarch packing peanuts, or popcorn. If you use cardboard, put an ad on Craigslist.com when you’re done announcing free boxes for pickup to ensure that they’re used again.

It pays to pack the truck efficiently so you have to make only one trip. “You need to be playing a game of Tetris,” says Ehrhardt. Boxes first, then larger pieces of furniture like bed frames and bureaus that fit together in logical ways. Once you get to your new pad, you can rest assured you’ve made the right move. 
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Send your most vexing questions to greenguru@audubon.org.