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!
[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.
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
Let me begin by saying I am somewhat biased since I was raised by an avid environmentalist, Audubon enthusiast and scientist - my mother. In her kindergarten classroom, five year olds sorted and classified feathers matching them with actual bird mounts. Her children went on wildflower walks and mixed baking soda and vinegar to make volcanoes. Science was fun! As a Huron Valley art teacher with a minor in science, weaving science into art lessons has been a passion for me as well.
I strongly believe that science is crucial to our understanding and appreciation of the world around us! It has been a disturbing trend in recent years that what is tested too often is the focus of what is taught. Thus, language arts and math have been the primary focus in elementary grades, with science falling by the wayside. On a positive note, I am thankful that our school district (Huron Valley) will be adopting a new science curriculum this year.
So what can we do in the meantime? Children and adults would greatly benefit from time spent outside observing animals and their interactions. I recall lazy summer days lying in the grass watching ants and insects interacting...wondering about ants and how they evolved their intricate societies. There were summer nights my brothers and I lay outside on blankets watching the stars and chattering away about life on other planets. Let's put the wonder back into the lives of our children! Let's encourage them to collect and classify leaves, then make an artwork from them. Let's take them on a canoe trip on the Huron River and watch for different turtles splashing into the water or scan the skies for hawks and migrating sandhill cranes. Nature has so much to teach us, yet it is our charge to instill not just awe and wonder, but also to teach a sense of empathy, reverence and responsibility to the earth and animals around us.
For a good article by Warren McLaren on this subject, visit this link: http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2012/11/12/3629731.htm
For a very interesting NOVA special (which sparked this blog), watch Lord of the Ants featuring Harvard scientist Edward Wilson and his important research on ecosystems:
Photo courtesy of USARK - United States Assoc. of Reptile Keepers
This is the time of year for turtles to start crossing the road. A couple of quick things to remember if you are like me and like to rescue these wayward reptiles from the dangers of motor vehicles. First, place them off the road IN THE DIRECTION THEY WERE HEADED and shoo them further away from the road if possible. Second, each turtle has its own habitat so do NOT take them to a nearby lake or stream. They live nearby and need that specific habitat in order to live and reproduce. Third, never pick up a turtle, even a large snapper, by the tail (as it will harm the turtle). Rather, get a towel, or sweatshirt and lift it carefully by the shell. I keep a cloth bag and old towel in my van for just this purpose. But be careful, snappers can do some serious damage so hold onto the portion of the shell near the back legs and scoop it into a bag or bin. Then place it where it was headed, way off the road. Thanks for your help! The rare Blandings turtles will be out on Tipsico Lake Road and nearby areas, so do your best to WATCH THOSE ROADS!
Each year with the arrival of spring comes a new onslaught of invasive plants. There are new characters each year to add to the old "favorites." Pictured above is Garlic mustard, a particularly insidious plant that can turn a forest of diversity into a mono-culture in no time. As soon as you spot this and other invasives, pull them out and dispose of them immediately so the seeds do not continue to spread. They are already flowering here in Michigan so don't wait!
Announcing the 18th National Water Trail
Recognizing the achievements of federal, state, and local partners, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has designated the Huron River Water Trail as the 18th trail of the National Water Trails System. From construction projects that fix up dam portages, increase accessibility and provide new launch and landing spots, to new way-finding signs, to a waterproof map book and online trip planning tool, the Huron River Water Trail has come together. The Huron River Water Council led the initiative and application for the National Water Trail designation. Their vision is of a Huron River that is a focal point for recreational activities, while boosting local economies and adding a richness and breadth to historical and cultural events along the river. How exciting to achieve national visibility! This designation will bring positive economic impacts including increased tourism, assistance with stewardship and sustainability projects, assistance with recognition and special events highlighting the trail, and more.
The National Water Trail System is a network of national exemplary water trails from Puget Sound to the Hudson River. It is an inter-agency collaborative effort administrated by the National Park Service. LEARN MORE at www.hrwc.org! For a full article on the efforts of the HRWC to make the Huron River more accessible for river-goers, read this article: http://www.annarbor.com/health/huron-river-watershed-council-hopes-water-trail-will-boost-river-tourism/
Schools in the Huron Valley District and throughout Oakland County have been growing greener each year as a result of a grassroots initiative originally started at Hartland High School in 2005. This effort resulted in Governor Jennifer Granholm signing Public Act 146 into law in May of 2006. Oakland County jumped onboard in the 2007-2008 school year, and awarded the Michigan Green School designation to 45 public and private schools during the first year. Oakland County had more schools participate than any other county in the state.
To become an official green school, schools need to do things such as recycle paper, batteries, cell phones, and plastic. They also create student run programs to save energy, order recycled materials, and involve students in a variety of activities to raise environmental awareness.
Last year, 2013-2014, Oakland Schools and Oakland County designated 191 schools a Michigan Green School. There were 52 schools that also received the special designation of Emerald status by successfully earning an additional 15 points for extra activities and 100 schools earned the Evergreen status, by receiving an extra 20 points. The awards ceremony is held every April.
This is the lake where I live, Dunham Lake, which is amazingly pristine and beautiful! One reason it is still so natural and unblemished is due to the greenbelt that encircles a large portion of the lake, protecting it from development and encroachment. Though lakes in New Hampshire and Maine are routinely protected like this, it is highly unusual to find this in our state, let alone in Oakland County. Several factors have gone into the preservation of our lake... one being the forethought of conservation minded land owners and consortiums, along with the diligent efforts of the lakes property owners and board.
If you are interested in a little history, the following is taken from the Dunham Lake website... "In the 1920's, the Wallace family bought up all available land around the lake in an effort to keep the area in its natural state. One day Wallace heard a talk by the noted Canadian bird enthusiast, Jack Miner, who had a bird sanctuary in Ontario along the migratory flyway. The sanctuary is still there today.) Wallace was so impressed by Miner that he decided to use his Dunham Lake property the same way.
Trees were planted caretakers hired and wild rice sown in the shallows of the lake to attract Canada Geese. The area became a State Wildlife Refuge and Federal Game Preserve. Wallace continued to increase his land holdings on both the Hartland and Highland sides of the lake and the refuge prospered.
Upon Wallace's death in 1949, the property was put up for sale. A consortium of five businessmen, headed by former governor of Michigan. Murray D. Van Wagoner (1940-42) purchased it in its entirety. However, the seller imposed certain restrictions on the deed. The area could be developed, yes. But the firing of guns, and hunting of any kind was prohibited. And the purchaser was required to submit a plan to preserve the beauty and purity of the lake.
It was Van Wagoner who came up with the idea of the greenbelt. The other members of Dunham Lake Development" Corporation were doubtful, but Van Wagoner prevailed The greenbelt was incorporated into the development plan. it was to become an area for recreation and beauty, but also a valuable guard against pollution. In 1984 the Dunham Lake Property Owner's Association dedicated its park to Murray Van Wagoner in recognition of his foresight.
Dr. Fusilier (a water quality investigator) reports...“The most important factor for maintaining the high water quality of Dunham Lake in the future is the attitude of the residents. If they maintain their current level of concern and vigilance, no change in the lake water quality should be visible in their life-times."
I would argue that it is equally important to protect all our lakes in Michigan. Unfortunately, it is too late to establish greenbelts around most of them, but there are other lessons to be learned from Dunham Lake. First, when possible, purchase conservation easements to provide as much natural parkland as possible. Second, be vigilant in fighting invasive plants, shrubs, trees and aquatic invaders by educating your neighbors and friends about cleaning their boats thoroughly between launching, and what to plant and what invasives to remove on land surrounding the lake. Third, educate yourself on the types of earth friendly fertilizer to use around your lake. Finally, consider natural shorelines with buffers to prevent excessive runoff and erosion. Let's do what we can to protect all the beautiful lakes of Michigan.
While driving to work yesterday morning, I was once again reminded of the importance of maintaining wildlife corridors. Four deer crossed from a nearby stream into the greenbelt that surrounds Dunham Lake. As fences have gone up around woodlands and nearby fields are developed into subdivisions, the deer and wildlife are struggling to find new corridors. I realize fences are used to keep humans out, but they force local wildlife to navigate busy roads and backyards to reach new areas to graze. It makes me so thankful to hear about the work of Ted Turner and other wealthy folks who are purchasing easements on vast tracts of land to create wildlife corridors across America. Kudos to them!
A wonderful mix of families, adults, teens and children came out on Sunday, October 16th to plant trees along White Lake Road near Eagle Road in Highland as part of the Faith in Action initiative at Highland United Methodist Church. Working with Jim Lloyd, President of the Highland Conservancy, Mary Lloyd of the Highland Beautification Committee, and many dedicated individuals from the church and community, we were able to plant white pine, red pine and other evergreen trees. Several years ago the area had become degraded when a developer bulldozed the area, sold off all the top soil and left the land to be overgrown with invasive weeds such as spotted knapweed, which makes the ground toxic to native growth.
Everyone pitched in digging holes, spreading organic mulch and planting trees to help in the effort to regenerate a healthy ecosystem in the area. Several people wondered why someone would strip off all the top soil and then leave the land covered in stone and sand, unable to sustain plants and animals that formerly flourished there? Good question! [But that is a fight for another day]. Kid's Church teacher Mary Lloyd helped the children learn the importance of planting a variety of trees and how we need to be good stewards of our planet. She showed them how to plant the trees and then we got to work.
Finally, we returned to re-mulch and spread wood chips around the evergreens that were planted several years ago in the same area. The only down note was that of the 2,500 acorns that we planted in 2009, less then 5% managed to sprout and grow into young saplings. (The biggest problem again has been the spotted knapweed that prevent the oaks from getting enough sunlight or nutrients to get a foothold.) The best news was that this time around, we planted much larger trees that Jim Lloyd had carefully nurtured and raised in large pots, allowing them to grow into 2 to 3 foot trees. Thanks to Jim and Mary for all their ongoing work mowing, weeding, watering and tending of the area.
A special thanks to all who turned out to make a difference!
Alas, after eight years of treating our three stately ash trees up north, I am sad to say I am losing the battle against the emerald ash borer. We faithfully drenched each tree every spring with a product called Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub that contains imidacloprid. My neighbors' trees have all died but I was delighted mine were protected - until this year. I noticed all of the ash trees showed significant die back and created a massive amount of seeds - exactly what happened to the other trees on our street before they died. Nasty ash borer! Alas, I could not afford the expensive injections suggested by my local tree company who charged over $700 a year to treat my trees previously. Instead of these beautiful canopy trees, we are planting red and white pines. As I drove home last weekend, it was sad to see the highway was lined with dead and dying trees. These were not just ash trees but also included maple, pine and what appeared to be poplars. Our native trees are under attack because folks move firewood infested with insects like the emerald ash borer for which our native trees have no defense. (The newest invader is the Asian Longhorned beetle currently found in New York, Ohio and Massachusetts, and Chicago). Our twin lakes in Iosco County were first hit when a thoughtless person ignored the DNR warnings and brought up firewood and the ash borer quickly spread from yard to yard and into nearby forests. So as you go up north this fall, please do not bring firewood! [Update: It is now summer 2015 and the ash trees are still hanging in there. I doubt there will be many leaves next spring. Sad to see these beautiful canopy trees go!]
This spring, volunteers from the Highland Conservancy will again be conducting a frog and toad survey at different sites throughout Highland, including Highland Oaks. Michigan is home to several rare and endangered frogs and we will be listening carefully to see if we can locate some of these in our area. Amphibians such as frogs are indicator species. That is, they can indicate the health or decline of our natural environment. This survey is part of Michigan's annual frog and toad survey established in 1988 by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Thousands of volunteers will be crouching in mucky swamps and meandering through woodlands to identify calls from Michigan's 13 different native species of frogs and toads.
Lori Sargent, the survey coordinator, reports that frogs and toads are ecologically important because they control insects and feed other wildlife. "And because amphibians are sensitive to environmental quality, they provide an early-warning system for declining ecosystem health", she said.
“They’re a first response to problems in the water,” Sargent said. “And this is a group of species that have been around since the dinosaurs. They’re pretty resilient, so if we’re seeing a decline now, it could be serious.”
Unfortunately, frogs are declining. TV actor and spokesperson Jeff Corwin has reported on the mass decline of worldwide amphibian populations recently. In tropical areas, frogs are being killed off by a fungus, with entire species being wiped out as this menace has relentlessly spread from pool to pool. From the rocky streams of coastal Australia to the jungles of South America, and even to the American West, the world's frogs are vanishing at alarming rates. Frogs and their relatives have thrived on earth for more than 360 million years, but now they're under serious threat. Experts believe that as many as one-third to one-half of the planet's 6,000 amphibian species are in danger of disappearing — victims of one of the most significant mass extinctions since the dinosaurs.
Here in Michigan, the DNR and local conservation groups are working hard to collect and analyze data to better understand and protect these animals locally. To find out more on the global work to protect these amphibians, visit:
Michigan State University Extension is offering the Michigan Conservation Stewards Program in Oakland County starting in February. This intensive 10-week program consists of nine Monday evening classes (6-9 pm) and three Saturday field sessions (9-4 pm) from February 26 through April 25, 2011. Monday evening sessions are held at the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Rd, Waterford. Saturday sessions will be held at the MSU Tollgate Education Center, Indian Springs Metropark, and Independence Oaks County Park, February 26 - April 25, 2011. These classes are held yearly so check the MSU extension website for updated classes: www.oakgov.com/msu/Pages/classes_activities/natural_resources_classes.aspx_
Are you looking for a great opportunity to learn about conservation and natural science and assume leadership roles through volunteering your time, knowledge, and skills in conservation management in your community? Individuals who take part in the Michigan Conservation Stewards Program (CSP) can learn how to effectively take part in informed, scientifically based conservation and resource management and work to sustain healthy ecosystems across Michigan.
Michigan State University Extension and its partners are offering this volunteer training and leadership program designed for individuals who are interested in natural resource conservation and ecosystem management, natural history, outdoor recreation, natural areas, the region’s environmental issues and challenges, and strategies to help restore and conserve ecosystems in Oakland County.
Topics will include Conservation Heritage, Ecological Foundations, Making Choices to Manage Natural Resources, and Managing Forestlands, Grasslands, Wetlands, and Lake and Stream Ecosystems. There will also be a volunteer expo highlighting conservation opportunities available in southeastern Michigan. The series of classes, led by experts in various fields of conservation and natural resources, will include lectures, interactive learning and field experiences. The registration fee is $275 per participant.
You can obtain a brochure and an application packet online at https://www.oakgov.com/msu/Pages/classes_activities/natural_resources_classes.aspx or call (248) 858-0887 to request an application by mail. Email email@example.com for more information.
This is our ongoing blog with articles on the environment, local news and events, and issues related to land conservation.