We are struggling through an unprecedented time with this world-wide pandemic. One positive change I have seen personally nearly every day is this - people are outside hiking, biking, running and enjoying nature. This is so awesome to see! Today as I jogged around our lake I saw ducks skittering along the shoreline...I heard a loon calling with its beautiful tremolo. I heard tiny chickadees flitting from tree to tree, and I watched sandhill cranes flying overhead. It is so important for our mental health that we get outside (still practicing social distancing) and LISTEN to the earth's creatures, NOTICE the emerging beauty around us, and smell the leaves and damp soil beneath our feet. I am deeply grateful for the beauty of our earth!
There is an interesting TV show on Animal Planet these days, Extinct or Alive. It follows an enthusiastic fellow, Forrest Galante, who searches for animals that have been declared extinct, seeing if he can find even one remaining living member of the species. He sometimes then removes the one remaining animal he finds to attempt to breed it with another of its kind (as he did with the Fernandina tortoise he found still alive in the Galapagos). I have mixed feelings about this. This might possibly work in that hopefully then the offspring could eventually be reintroduced into the wild...IF...the pair are able to be bred in captivity. Often this is problematic. I'm happy he is finding creatures that were previously thought extinct...yet it worries me that meddling will destroy their desperate chances of long term survival. At least the show highlights the sad fact that we are destroying earth's animals and their habitat at an alarming rate. We need to each do what we can in our sphere of influence to teach others to treasure every single creature and the incredible diversity and beauty of our planet - before it is too late.
Think about what you notice has changed in our world today? As a child, I remember chasing thousands of fireflies on a dark summer night. Now, I typically only see a few at night. I recall evenings hiking near the woods and seeing dozens of bats flying overhead chasing a dinner meal. Now, I rarely see any bats at all in the night sky. Butterflies used to be regular visitors in the fields, gardens and roadsides of my youth. Now their numbers are significantly diminished. Entire ecosystems are being affected by human life! Insecticides are wiping out insects from bees to butterflies. White nose syndrome has devastated our bat populations as a result of climate change. Plastic suffocates our oceans and enters the ocean food chain building up in the bodies of marine wild life. We are the cause and it is up to us to reverse the course of this deadly downward spiral. STOP using plastic in its many forms. STOP spraying fields with pesticides. Start buying organic non-GMO food. Plant flowers and plants like bee balm, milkweed or blazing star that offer a way station for monarchs, bees and other beneficial insects crucial to our fragile food chains. One person at a time - we CAN make a difference.
There are many amazing young people who have stepped up to the plate to fight for a better planet by trying to make a difference with regard to climate change. Our earth is in serious trouble at this point - and these young activists are working hard to make a difference. Of course, most people have heard of Greta Thurnberg, but have your heard of Isra Hirsi or Autumn Peltier or Mari Copeny? CNN points out these youth are working hard to bring attention to the serious problems our earth is facing from water pollution, to global warming, to ecological devastation, to pollution and land destruction. For more info on these young activists, visit this link below:
If you live near a lake, even just lake access, I highly recommend that you stop using Tru Green or any lawn fertilizer services! Why? Fertilizer runoff enters the groundwater carrying harmful chemicals such as phosphorus that eventually work their way into nearby lakes and streams, causing harm to the water quality. Pishaw you might say! Do the research...check your local lake's water quality...it really does make a difference! Our subdivision's lake, Dunham Lake, has experienced a degradation of quality due to people using excessive amounts of fertilizer (even those without nitrogen and phosphorus) and it is directly affecting the lake. Sadly, people prefer a "perfect lawn" to a clean lake. So let's all do our part! Let a few weeds creep in. Raise the blade a little higher and let the clippings stay on the lawn. Cancel that contract with the fertilizer company. For more info, read the resources on this link: http://www.canandaigualakeassoc.org/get-involved/lake-friendly-living/
Additionally, follow the below step-by-step guide to a healthy, lake-friendly lawn. http://www.canandaigualakeassoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Cornell-lawn-care-guide.pdf
While in Costa Rica this week, I visited an ancient Rainforest in Nosara. This protected space was teeming with wildlife covered by a canopy of huge, ancient trees that were hundreds of years old according to our guide (one was over 600!). I was reminded of America's redwoods and giant sequoias. These massive trees are protected and it is illegal to cut them down, but only within the ecological preserve. As we rode along on our horses, we heard the strange, haunting howls of howler monkeys, beautiful bird songs, and saw multi colored lizards and iguanas, red and black crabs, butterflies and trees with huge, emerald green leaves. After our horseback ride through the forest, we left the preserve and I thought I could hear the distant sound of chainsaws. As we came around a sharp bend, the dense forest opened up and I saw row upon row of hundred year old trees that had just been logged, lining the road. Sadly, they would never grow into the giants we had just encountered. Our code of life must include caring for our earth. Our treatment of the environment around us MUST change, before we lose the beautiful, incredible diversity of plants and animals we have been lucky enough to enjoy. I am reminded of a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash...
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
and feed them on your dreams
the one they pick
the one you'll know by...
As spring brings warm weather and the snow has melted, creeks and rivers are flowing stronger and spring peepers are busy calling for a mate. Thinking of kayaking in this warm weather reminds me of the importance of keeping our waterways and water sources clean and pure. There are simple things we can do to make a difference - from properly disposing of medications (drop them off at the pharmacy or police station) to keeping our waterways clean (don't pour oil or chemicals down drains, sewers or on the ground. They will eventually end up in our water. These can either be taken to hazardous waste day (check your local government website) or take car oil or antifreeze to a car repair facility that can recycle it. Don't fertilize lake lawns but if you must, be sure to use low nitrogen lake-friendly fertilizer OR plant native plants to replace grass. Finally, nothing belongs in the toilet except toilet paper (septic friendly) and human waste. Let's all do our part to keep our water clean and safe! For more information, visit this website: https://www.basementguides.com/water-pollution/ Thanks to Tyler and The Green Teens Club for this important information!
REDUCE instead of just recycling plastic. Just because you put something in a recycling bin, doesn’t mean it gets recycled! 50% of items put in recycling bins doesn’t get recycled. Why? China is no longer accepting as much recycled material, so now it is going into landfills. As a result, our earth is swimming in plastic. It is estimated that 14 billion pounds of plastic per year ends up in our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers 1.6 million square kilometers — 617,000 square miles — according to a new report from The Ocean Cleanup foundation. Wow! We need to focus more on reducing or stopping our use of plastic. Plastic is choking our oceans, killing our whales, dolphins, turtles and sea life. There are huge patches of floating plastic in the ocean, some bigger than the state of New Jersey! All this started around 1950 and it keeps getting worse every year. Let’s stop the madness! I challenge you to purchase items not packed in plastic. Don’t use plastic bags, don’t drink water from plastic bottles, don’t use straws or plastic or Styrofoam drink cups. Take it a step further and don’t purchase clothing made with polyester, nylon, acrylic and synthetic fibers. Re-use old clothing for rags, woven rugs, or dog bedding. If you must purchase polyester, buy polyester cotton blends which shed less plastic in the wash than pure polyester or acrylic clothing. Bring a glass container to take home leftovers from the restaurant. Place a thin mesh bag on the end of the washing machine hose to capture fibers. Most of all, change your life style and live more mindfully.
Recently, my aunt told me she was planning to cut down trees on her Maine tree farm as part of her Forestry Plan. I was glad she is protecting the area of old growth forest on her beautiful farm. Everyone who visits her small patch of mature forest, falls in love with the ancient white pines that stand like sentinels watching over the fern lined, mossy forest as it slopes toward the nearby pond. Oddly enough, I also stumbled across an article in a scientific magazine reviewing the amazing work of Peter Wohlleben who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (public library). In it he explains how trees form supportive networks, “families” if you will, nurturing and helping other trees to survive in surprising ways. He discovered this when he found an ancient tree stump felled hundreds of years before that was still alive! Trees nearby were “feeding” it with nutrients and sugars through their roots as well as using an interesting fungal network. Again, I thought of clear cut forests and even woodlands where many, but not all, trees have been culled. Often the few remaining trees die because they have lost their supportive network, their protection from wind, heat and sun provided by nearby trees.
“There are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.”
Interesting to me was the discovery that “mother” or parent trees were supporting younger saplings that struggle to reach sunlight in the dense canopy and were unable to easily use photosynthesis to convert sugar into food. Here the older nearby trees helped by sending sugar through their network of roots to feed the younger trees. We need to recognize that forests are families…interconnected ecosystems…and treat them with respect as we consider our forestry plans.
[Photo by Bob Moul}
Monarchs in North America are amazing in that they cover vast distances of up to 3,000 miles during their migration (or rather, several generations of monarchs eventually help complete the journey). Key to their survival are milkweed plants, the caterpillars only source of food. The trouble is many open fields that had milkweed have become subdivisions. Also, farmers spray weedkiller on their fields killing the important milkweed plants - not good for our faithful and beautiful monarchs. Can we help? Certainly. Plant milkweed! Buy organic fruits and vegetables. Lobby for protection of the oyamel fir tree forests and preserves in Mexico. Small steps DO make a difference.
My neighbor thinks he is zapping all kinds of harmful biting insects with his non-stop all night long bug zapper. Sadly, mosquitoes and gnats are not attracted to the zapper, but far too many beneficial insects are! So bugs that eat gnats and mosquitoes such as dragon flies, are zapped when they are just what we need.to naturally eat thousands of the female mosquitos that bite us. Moths are important night time pollinators, important for our flowers and fruit trees. Studies have shown that the vast majority of insects that end up zapped are moths, beetles, fireflies, and other insects that are attracted to the ultra violet light with few being biting insets. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide we breathe out, NOT to the zappers. Put a strong fan out on the deck or just skip night-time on the deck. Best too not to use any bug zappers - they are not good for the environment!
While we wait for America and the rest of the world to stop burning fossil fuels, we can take small steps to do our own part to slow climate change. Really? Yes! Something as simple as planting trees and gardens or using your own compost goes a long way toward holding carbon in the soil. This in turn slows climate change. Eating homegrown vegetables and fruit also helps because this uses less fuel. Buying clothing in thrift stores or re-using items helps even more since there are so many steps in manufacturing clothing or furniture and then bringing them to market that use fossil fuels. It seems odd that such simple steps can leave a smaller carbon footprint, but each small change helps!
I think what is most disturbing to me about the current administration (and I will not go into politics here) are the changes to our environmental policies. Believe what you want, but there are real statistics available to us on how our animals, plants, trees, and oceans are being harmfully affected by what we humans have done in the past 200 plus years. First, if you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, watch it. If you have no idea what is happening to our climate, seek out vetted news, read and explore scientific information. If you are wealthy enough, visit the arctic circle and watch polar bears and penguins. Travel to Africa and observe poaching first hand. If you are not wealthy (like me) take the time to watch Nature or other shows about what is happening to our planet. I am deeply distressed that our country is not doing everything we can to make a difference for the animals and creatures of our planet. Climate change and things like the hole in the ozone layer (which we DID do something about) are not "fake news". I wish all this was fake news. It is not. Things like melting glaciers, loss of animal populations, and destruction of animals and animal habitat are measurable.
My husband sometimes kids me that I care more about animals than I do about people. Well, possibly... because animals do not have a voice! They can't do the things that need to be done to reverse this dangerous trend. Animals can only try to adjust, not an easy task when natural adaptation or finding a new habitat (if it is even possible) can take centuries... When I see the extensive bleaching of coral reefs, starving polar bears, monocultures devoid of healthy ecosystems, slash and burn farming in the rapidly disappearing rainforests, animal species going extinct - I am not proud to be a human. I am sad.
So of course, there are thousands of websites that offer constructive suggestions for how to make a difference. I suggest at a minimum you do this: Study the views of future candidates and vote accordingly. Teach your children how to care for all animals, how to plant a garden, how to cherish the earth's creatures, how to sit still and watch the wildlife around them, how to be empathetic, how to make a difference, how to live differently. Then do the same!
Invasive plants are a sad reality for Oakland County and all of Michigan. Yet there is good news! Highland Township is spearheading a unique opportunity to treat phragmites (see above photo) and other invasvies in our county. This must be done before the first frost, so Jim Lloyd and Lynn Hansford of the Highland Conservancy have been working with the Lisa Burkhart of Highland Township to GPS target areas for treatment. A contractor will be treating phragmites in the next few weeks throughout Highland Township, now that the paperwork has been completed.
In addition, each of us can educate ourselves on what to look for and how to remove invasives on our own property to help prevent their spread. Why does it matter? We have dandelions and worms and they were once invasive species right? Think of the Asian carp. This invasive fish has taken over a key spot in the food chain and wiped out a lot of other species as a result. Plants like Kudzu may be more familiar but here in Michigan, Phragmites, Garlic Mustard, Swallow-wort and Oriental bittersweet are just as harmful! With plants, we need to be alarmed when that plant turns a local field or forest into a monoculture, overwhelming and destroying that food web. A dandelion will happily live alongside the grass in your yard but doesn’t cause the grass to die out, or wipe out the local population of birds or insects. Not so with invasives such as Phragmites (frag-my-tees), a huge, towering, water-loving reed. It will take over a wetland area wiping out cattails and native reeds that birds and mammals rely on for a food source. This is when we need to step in and fight!
Be careful to do your research. Pulling up a plant like garlic mustard and throwing it on the compost pile or in a ditch can do more harm by spreading the seeds. Also, some plants such as oriental bittersweet or swallow-wort have root systems that need to be completely removed. Each species is different and has a different method of removal. Also, don’t plant invasives as ornamentals such as Purple Loosestrife or a food source for birds such as Autumn Olive or Oriental bittersweet (American Bittersweet is ok).
Finally, if you have Phragmites, contact Highland Township to join in on the latest effort to combat it. Currently there is a grant that will provide for a contractor to remove Phragmites from your yard free of charge, or in common areas in subdivisions, public spaces, and lake areas. Please call Lisa Burkhart at Highland Township immediately (248-887-3791) to arrange to be part of this important initiative!
An excellent guide to terrestrial invasives and how to handle them:
For a good visual with photos of invasive Michigan plants, click on this link:
This is a link to the Michigan Invasive Species Initiative of which the Highland Conservancy is a member:
Here is the Oakland County chapter of this network:
For more information, contact: Emily Duthinh
OC CISMA Chair
Join in on the fun with the Six Rivers Adventure League! Some events include: paddling scenic stretches of rivers, exploring rugged trails in local recreation areas, and biking through some of Michigan’s best trail networks. Check the schedule for upcoming events and bring the family for some great outdoor adventures!
This is our ongoing blog with articles on the environment, local news and events, and issues related to land conservation.