Here is a new twist for you: buying wine with cork bottle stoppers is good for the environment. Who would think removing bark from cork oaks in Spain or Portugal matters. And this doesn’t hurt this tree’s life as it is being lifted, especially over a long period of time.

Moreover, cork forests contain some of the highest levels of plant diversity in the world. Actually, they come in third after Amazon and Indonesian rainforests. They also provide refuge for endangered species including Barbary apes, Barbary deer and Iberian lynxes — which are the most endangered feline in the world with fewer than 100 remaining individuals.

The Iberian imperial eagles here number only 150 breeding pairs. These Mediterranean cork forests are also an important migratory end point where some 60,000 Eurasian cranes stock up on cork acorns as they enter the breeding season.

The lynxes prefer areas of the native Mediterranean woodlands of the Iberian Peninsula with its native oaks and abundant undergrowth. More than 90% of daytime rest sites are in thick heather scrub. They move along the edges of meadows and more open grassland areas, especially around dusk and dawn, to hunt their favorite prey, the European rabbit.

Only when the rabbit population crashes due to viral outbreaks, do they look to other prey such as small rodents, birds, the young of wild boar, red deer, fallow deer and wild sheep. Leaves, soil and other debris are scraped over large kills to be consumed later.

The majority of den sites have been found at the base of an old, hollow cork oak tree, indicating how important these trees are to the female. The peak birthing season is March and April in central and southern Spain. Kittens stay in the natal den for the first 20 days, after which their mother moves them to as many as three or four other dens.

This may give them more room as they begin to develop their motor skills, as well as help protect them against being discovered by predators as fecal material and smells build up. It may also help avoid parasite build up in any single den.

Their numbers were decimated by rapid habitat loss, with scrublands converted to agriculture and pine and eucalyptus plantations. Human development such as dams, highways and railways also encroached on their native habitat.

I have previously come across magazine articles attesting to all this valuable existing habitat, but it still impresses me as a byproduct of our continuing use of real corks in wine bottles which we must get out with a cork screw, as inconvenient that is to do, along with needing some considerable skill.

If we stopped using the natural sustaining corks from the oaks because of increased use of plastic or aluminum bottle stoppers, these biologically diverse woodlands would be replaced with mono crops or cleared for cattle farms or shopping malls.

Defenders of wildlife discuss the life cycle of cork as providing the carbon offset equivalent to 17 solar panels per 1,000 cases of wine versus aluminum and plastic wine closures. And production of synthetic corks generates 10 times more CO2 when compared to natural cork.

Aluminum screw tops produce up to 24 times more CO2 per cap than cork does. A simple choice of tops can make a big difference for endangered wildlife a world away.

Furthermore, plastic stoppers are not biodegradable and are therefore not being recycled anywhere in the United States. The metal screw tops are difficult to recycle because of their small size which means municipal sorting facilities usually miss them.

So, consumer demand for cork products (flooring, footwear, and these wine stoppers) have long preserved ecologically important cork forests. It keeps them around. The specialized industry is a great incentive for locals to maintain their particular economy, supporting tens of thousands of jobs. It makes them want to plant more oaks, too, as well as maintaining them.

Cork trees are evergreen members of the oak family and anchor the soil with their roots, which helps to defend against desertification in the Mediterranean. And every year they effectively capture some 20 million tons of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas causing climate change. And we all know we have to take all we can get these days in that regard.

Because CO2 is stored in the cork bark as it regrows, these trees can absorb three to five times more CO2 than trees that are not stripped. Throughout the trees’ remarkable 200- to 300-year lifetime, hand harvesters sustainably remove the bark every nine years — perhaps up to 16 times without damage to the tree. Defenders mention in their surprising article, “cork oak trees are one of the world’s most eco-friendly natural resources.” So says Patrick Spencer who is the executive director of the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance.

Dave Eastman also broadcasts “Country Ecology” four times weekly over WMWV 93.5 FM. As vice president of the Lakes Region Chapter/ASNH, he welcomes you to monthly programs at the Loon Center in Moultonborough. He is available at: cebirdman@yahoo.com (or) countryecology.com for consultation.

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