an urgent note from one of America’s top restoration ecologists

UPDATE to add: The Society for Ecological Restoration has released a statement, ” SER stands united with those demonstrating peacefully to speak out against racism and injustice wherever they occur. Ecological restoration cannot be implemented without inclusion…” (full statement here).

Please read this latest brief reflection by Steve Glass, an ecological restoration practitioner and researcher in Wisconsin: “America In Crisis–It’s Worse Than You Think: What Can Ecological Restoration Do About It?”

Steve is a colleague whom I’ve interacted with for several years at conferences. By design, our discipline is values-based. So professional bonds are strong.

I consider Steve a friend and ally in our fight for a habitable planet, an a mentor in our discipline. He’s smart, gracious, and his writing is on-point. His reflections recently have cut through the layers of careful, hesitant words that most of us use in the day-to-day. Let’s be honest… we have jobs we want to protect, and institutions, and key relationships. Social mores are a function of all human societies, but they can often stand in the way of justice.

Steve’s growing urgency comes from years of accumulated experience & insight, and (I speculate) his tiring of having to watch the world suffer from wound after wound as we all dither, placating calls for justice with empty symbolism.

Without racial justice, social justice, and environmental justice, attempts at ecological restoration are meaningless, irrelevant, and futile…”

The idea that we can play safely off to the side without respect to political movements is a happy thought, but one that originates in privilege. We can ignore it (for a time), but our neighbors have the boot on their neck. And ultimately, it is an illusion. We drink from the same aquifer, we breathe the same air. We will only flourish or perish together.

I can think of no better imagery of this synthesis than that spoken by the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

#BlackBirdersWeek

I started working on a post that assembled a lot of birding observations from this spring. Lots of fun & beautiful stuff, but I’ll save it for another time.

In this time of social upheaval, I don’t want to be tone deaf by posting what may be received as trivialities. I watched a friend with Black children practically begging friends and family on social media today to respect the right of her children to exist in this world. While I am also concerned for my own children, the differences here are obvious. And it is a serious time.

The only thing I can think to share at the moment is #BlackBirdersWeek:
The campaign was sparked by the viral video in which a white woman threatened a Black birder in New York’s Central Park, announcing that she was calling the police “to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life[organizers] hope to boost visibility of Black nature enthusiasts, highlight the value of racial diversity and promote dialogue within the larger (and largely white) birding community. ” (more about #BlackBirdersWeek here)

I have been following the work of an amazing young biologist named Corina Newsome (@hood_naturalist) since I first saw her on Twitter. See her announcing #BlackBirdersWeek in this short video.

Follow #BlackBirdersWeek to see what people are posting.

Don’t know that I have much to add now, other than this nest a co-worker found today in a wetland, followed by some links.

Birding While Black: J. Drew Lanham on race, belonging, and a love of nature

9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher by J. Drew Landam (satire)

Diversifying Conservation (The Prairie Ecologist)

Astronauts scheduled to head to the International Space Station in an historic launch tomorrow

Not exactly ecological (though at some level, everything is…) but I thought many of you readers might want to watch this launch tomorrow live, online. Launch time is 3:22 pm EST tomorrow (Saturday).

More details here. Check SpaceX’s twitter page for updates.

SpaceX’s commitment to learning from failure is something I’ve watched & appreciated for some time. It’s allowed them to do some pretty amazing stuff. And if it eventually means human boots on the surface Mars, well… what can even be said of that?!

I’ll end with a picture of the steam trail I saw this January of a SpaceX rocket launch, from the other coast of Florida.

the start of something new

Marshall County has taken the first steps towards developing a Parks System for the residents of the county. It’s my great pleasure to be serving on the board! The county already owns a couple parcels, one of which has been used as a long-term timber harvesting demonstration site. So much potential.

I featured the Mill Pond Woods in an episode of Get Outside! This is just 5-8 miles from the home of one of our co-workers who was telling me about a bobcat that had been hanging around their property.

I’m excited about all the possibilities before us to safeguarding the land community for future generations and make it available to the public.

the energy transition continues: in Plymouth & nationwide

Electricity consumption is down big, due to COVID-19, but renewable energy installations continue each year. (I’ll be providing a half-year update on our system sometime shortly).

Renewable energy production surpassed coal for the first full-month ever in April 2020. Renewables keep grabbing more and more marketshare as fossil systems enter a death spiral, even though it looks like the public will have to pick up much of the ecological & financial clean-up tab for the ruination done to the public good by slash-and-burn development. Indiana is looking at a clean energy “pipeline” filled with lots of solar gigawatts.

It’s time to keep pushing at all individual and institutional levels for the future that we want for our children.

I’m very happy to pass along this press release from the REES Theatre (photos from their Facebook page). Enjoy this gallery and the news!

Click here to see some drone footage/film.

NEWS RELEASE – MAY 14, 2020

REES Solar Donation Goes Through the Roof!
Submitted by The REES

Co-chairs: Bill Langdon & Jim Hartung

It has been a busy three years for The REES Project Committee and through the generosity of many, this project continues to move forward with sights set on a celebratory re-opening in the Spring of 2021 which is some good news to look forward to.

The REES is nearing the completion of Phase 3 and it has taken the project to new heights with a new roof, rooftop heating/air-conditioning units and now, we are pleased to announce that an advanced technology solar energy system is in operation.

Thanks to the generosity of a philanthropic Marshall County family, 100% of the cost of the system has been underwritten. Solar committee co-chairs, Bill Langdon and Jim Hartung agreed: “We are ecstatic about this donation from a donor that shared our vision for an efficient, responsible and sustainable electric source. This project ‘checks all the boxes’ even a lobby monitor that will give patrons a “real-time view” of its performance. It will be a teaching tool as it will show each panel’s kilowatt hours of energy output as well as the total system’s electric production!” The donor wished for The REES to be a model in clean renewable energy. This is undoubtedly a first of this magnitude in downtown Plymouth and in consideration with other decisions that makes this project ‘green’ driven.

The REES solar committee has spent the past year analyzing a system’s economic feasibility. Langdon and Hartung, along with a committee of three others, researched several solar installations and interviewed numerous installers and owners. The group also attended the Michiana Area Council of Governments’ (MACOG) solar education seminar and gathered information from a solar expert panel discussion at Ancilla College’s solar project ribbon cutting. Director of Ecological Relationships with The Center at Donaldson, Adam Thada, consulted with the committee as well as Leah Thill, Senior Environmental Planner of MACOG and Kelley Davies, Commercial Account Manager of NIPSCO.

After considering a half-dozen solar companies, The REES solar committee requested proposals and presentations from the ones they considered the top three. The committee ended up unanimously choosing Green Alternatives of Kokomo, a company they felt represented The REES’ best value due to outside-the-box thinking, a customer focus and a proven track record. According to Thada and Thill, this application would not even have been possible ten years ago, but significant solar efficiency increases, solar cost decreases and NIPSCO’s net metering have ‘changed the game’. Net metering allows The REES to produce energy credits that goes out on NIPSCO’s energy grid and then allows The REES to utilize them at any given time. “This generous donation will allow The REES to produce energy credits over this next year putting the theater in a great situation for sustainability,” said project co-chair Randy Danielson.

The new rooftop system, consisting of 76 portrait mounted panels and two inverters with optimizers is expected to produce about 35,000 KWH annually – the majority of the electricity needed to run everything from the air conditioning and lighting to the popcorn machine. The one-week installation was recently completed by the Green Alternatives crew in conjunction with Banner Electric and energized on Monday.

According to Langdon, “The bottom line is: The REES will have an environmentally friendly solar energy system that will offset most of the multi-purpose venue’s annual electric usage and a system that will serve as both an example and an educational resource for area citizens and students. The REES solar committee thanks the donor family, the City of Plymouth, MACOG, and NIPSCO for their commitment to sustainable energy in naming Plymouth a SolSmart-designated community. “

REES Project co-chair, Donna Pontius concluded saying; “Let the sun shine brightly on everyone, but especially The REES!”

Having been named a primary project on the list of the Marshall County – Crossroads Stellar Initiatives, The REES project is moving closer to its interior completion in Phase 4 that is expected to be underway in the Fall of 2020. Support is yet needed and those wishing to learn more or add their names to the donor list may do so through the website: www.reesproject.com or through the Marshall County Community Foundation, 2680 Miller Drive, Suite 120, Plymouth, IN 46563.

prescribed fire summary, spring 2020

Add to the many things that COVID-19 has disrupted: prescribed fire.

This dormant season, we were able to take advantage of 3 good days where conditions were ideal for the units we had intended to burn. Humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and available staff all impact where and how we burn each time.

On those 3 days (March 13, 17, and 22), we attempted to burn 7 units comprising 24 acres. We had several more units prepped, but the statewide stay-at-home order prevented us from being able to safely proceed.

One of the wooded units was being burned for the first time and so I ended up being too conservative with the burn conditions. The humidity was too high for the litter layer to burn well. So we quickly shifted over to an open grass wetland that did much better. In a grassland, the fuel is higher off the ground with more air (oxygen) mixed in. The fuel is also less shaded than a wetland and so dries out more quickly.

Rather than re-posting all the photos & videos inside this blog, I will provide a link to my public folder that has the majority of the fire photos. I have added comments to most of the photos for explanation.

Click here to see the photo/video folder online.

After the burns were completed, I put up a drone to get another perspective on the land. It always adds new insights.

For those units that we had prepared for, we will likely just shift those to early winter 2020 or spring 2021.

Enjoy the media. Stay safe!

immigrants: the essential workers our food system can’t survive without

The U.S. food supply chains, like so many things today, are being disrupted by the coronavirus. Food that was destined for now-shuttered restaurants can’t easily be re-routed to grocery stores. Relationships and contracts built up slowly over time were severed almost overnight.

You can’t talk about ecology in the U.S. – or at least the Midwest – without talking the history of agriculture, which spans 127 million acres in the Midwest. Most of the acreage is used for the production of meat and dairy products that the majority of us eat. Equally prolific have been the many food documentaries detailing this dynamic (with varying levels of accuracy) but I won’t list them all here.

I normally think of the story as starting with the forest clearing and drainage in the 1800’s, but of course agriculture was independently developed on the continent in multiple locations has been practiced and developed and honed over 10,000 years on the continent.

Corn, a human creation indigenous to the Americas, developed from the wild plant Teosinte. (Moontree Studios, summer 2019)

But with the plow and drain and engine came ever increasing intensification & consolidation. The closing of small meat processing facilities & concentration into fewer and larger corporate processing plants has been a multi-decade trend. Today, 84% of meat processing for a nation of 330 million people is controlled by just 4 companies.

This system values the maximum output of calories at the lowest financial cost. Just-in-time supply chains source labor from around the world to crank out a huge amount of food. And by those metrics, it has been remarkable successful.

When I go to rural Iowa now, where my ancestors made their way in the 19th and 20th centuries, I see a mostly empty landscape. Most of the old farmsteads have decayed back to the earth. The prairie is punctuated infrequently with massive facilities run by immigrant labor, a product of mobile finance that seeks the highest return on the shortest timeframe. The small farming towns are simply disappearing.

Just as one can’t talk about American ecology without agriculture, one can’t talk about agriculture without immigration.

I don’t have the qualifications to go into the full social-ecological history, but to mention only parts: European peasants who were given millions of acres in the west and midwest from which they could develop an economic base (my own heritage); Africans brought in chains to labor in agriculture and then freed without any recompense or economic base (see this amazing piece in The Atlantic about how this theft continues even through recent history); the terrible early 20th-century processing plants of Chicago detailed in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle; and waves and waves of laborers from Latin America and Asia connected to various regions and crops.

Aside: Some of these ethnic groups – such as Italians, Romanians, and Irish – were eventually assimilated into whiteness. That’s a tale for another blog post, but relevant to the social-economic stories and patterns of today.

Aside #2: stop reading me and go listen to this 2 min clip of Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. describing much more eloquently the economic implications of how this played out.

More locally, many of Marshall County’s more recent immigrants from Latin America can trace their lineage to the agricultural migrant camps.

And so in this context I read the headlines about processing plants having to shut down as cases of COVID-19 spread through the thousands of laborers who are standing shoulder-to-shoulder while they earn their daily bread. It took the closure of just 4 individual plants to shut off 15% of the nation’s pork processing capacity. This consolidation has decreased flexibility and increased fragility.

But ecological systems – which is what agriculture is – cannot be turned on and off with a switch. Millions of hogs were planning on going “to market,” feed was scheduled to be delivered, and laborers were planning on working. We are now faced with the gut-wrenching proposition of having to euthanize 4,000,000 hogs, a quantity that would not even fit tail-to-snout between San Diego and New York City. Likewise, milk is being dumped down the drain chickens “depopulated“.

And now it is hitting close to home.

The Tyson plant in Logansport closed last week, after an outbreak of COVID-19 among the workers, the majority of whom are immigrant laborers. After all the employees were tested, hundreds of positive cases were identified. Now, the Tyson-related infections around 1,000.

Monday’s new COVID-19 cases in Indiana nearly hit 1,000, after hundreds of Tyson workers tested positive (Indiana State Department of Health)
Positive COVID-19 cases by Indiana county as of April 30 afternoon update.

Cass County now has one of the highest infection rates in the country. With 1,164 official cases in a county of 38,000 people, that’s 3% of the population. The official infection rate in hard-hit New York City is 2%.

I reached out to a friend familiar with the situation locally and they replied:

Two ways you can pray for Logansport specifically:   #1 That with all the positive cases (we currently have one of the highest per capita rates in the country/world right now – most communities with this many positives are exponentially larger), my prayer has been that most (if not all) will NOT move into serious or needing hospitalization (we are a small community with an amazing, but small hospital that can quickly be pushed past the limits if even a small percentage of our positive cases become serious or require hospitalization – we currently have 10 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and 2 deaths) and #2 Unity/compassion/love/juntos.  This is starting to wear our community down along lines of ethnicity, culture, language.  It is exposing frustration, animosity, and hatred towards “the other” – it’s easy to point fingers and blame Tyson and Tyson workers.  I think some community members have been waiting over 20 years (since Tyson arrived) to have some reason to blame Tyson and the population that came with it – and now they have their excuse.  I don’t want this to fracture our community even more – so I’m praying that Jesus will bind us together in this time more than ever.

I want to think the best of people (and I want others to think the best of me), but Tuesday night I had a rather dark thought: “You know, there are people who would force immigrants to chop up chickens even if it kills them. We won’t even stomach a minor change in our diet in order to help them in the midst of a pandemic.”

Immediately, and perhaps naively, I replied to myself: “Adam, you’re being too hard. Stop being so judgmental of others. Get off your high horse.”

And then the next morning I read this:

President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday aimed at addressing concerns about meat shortages.

The order invokes the Defense Production Act to ensure beef, pork, poultry and egg plants keep running.

“It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (“meat and poultry”) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans,” the order reads. “However, outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at some processing facilities have led to the reduction in some of those facilities’ production capacity.

And this:

Environmental Working Group called the order a potential death sentence. The United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement that if workers aren’t safe, the food supply won’t be either. At least 20 workers in meat and food processing have died, and 5,000 meatpacking workers have either tested positive for the virus or were forced to self-quarantine, according to UFCW.

Sadly, this confirmed my dark premonition. Above all, the system must be preserved.

I’m someone who has “disassembled” exactly one chicken (taking as much time that professional workers probably do 100’s). I’ve done a lot of field work, but nothing near as back-breaking as migrant laborers. So I won’t pretend I have the answer. I know that certain sectors of the economy can provide opportunities for families that they would not have elsewhere. The American in me is deeply proud of being a historic place of refuge and opportunity, as checkered and blood-stained as that history is.

But it boils my blood to watch our immigrant friends, neighbors, and spouses be so consistently and methodically vilified, demeaned, and harassed while we dine on the fruits of their labor. We are clinging so hard to our racial-economic hierarchy that we won’t even let go to butcher our own food. (See here for the Poor Handmaids’ 2017 statement on immigration, along with Bishop Rhoades).

Residents of Marshall County hear immigration testimonies at the courthouse in Plymouth during the nationwide rally “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps” July 12, 2019.

When my (American) friend first moved to Bolivia, she lived with a middle class host family. They employed an empleada, a woman who performed all the cooking and cleaning tasks. This is a pretty common arrangement for middle class households across the world. Years later, my friend herself would hire an empleada to help raise their 4 children.

My friend quickly saw how disrespectfully her host mother treated the empleada, who kept the house in order, but was always kept in her place: below everyone else.

My friend tried her best to respect cultural differences, but she’s also very passionate about her beliefs. After all, she moved to another continent to serve the most marginalized of the poor.

One night she had had enough. She told her host mother that she would not be eating dinner unless the empleada was allowed to eat at the same table with the family. It made for an awkward dinner, but they all ate together.

At the risk of making the powerful person the hero of the story, I will say this: She leveraged the power afforded by her wealth and nationality to lift up those who were ignored. Not in charity, but in solidarity. She literally made space at the table, extending the boundaries of kinship instead of respecting barriers.

Sorry, this post is getting painfully long. Before I wrap up, know that several Indiana non-profits have started a support fund for undocumented Hoosiers. As you probably know, they are not getting the federal stimulus checks that the rest of us are, and many have had their work hours cut. They’ve raised nearly $30,000, but the need is huge and that is only the equivalent of 25 stimulus checks; you can give here if you wish.

Reflecting on what this whole situation could mean as we re-imagine what a new and better “normal” might look like… I return to Pope Francis’ Laudato si‘, the encyclical that was written 5 years ago this May. I will leave you with portions from paragraphs 28 & 29:

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines…

In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

news round-up, spring edition

More readings from hither and thon across the world wide web. Enjoy.

hungry for reading material? I’ve got some; Eastern Bluebird hatchlings, 4.26.20

For residents of Marshall, Kosciusko, St. Joseph, and Elkhart counties: please take this short Equitable Mobility Action Plan Survey. This plan is intended to identify needs and gaps in transportation services and establish strategies, policies and local actions designed to improve people’s ability to reached their needed destinations. This survey gathers information related to how people travel in the region, what barriers they encounter, and ways in which their transportation choices can be enhanced. 

Amish Community In Elkhart County Makes 4,500 Face Masks For Goshen Health (WVPE)

Nebraska farmers fear euthanizing hogs as meat-processing plants close (WVLT 8) It’s a gut-wrenching situation hog farmers across the nation were hoping to avoid; an estimated 3 to 5 million pigs are now expected to be euthanized as more and more meat-processing plants shut their doors.

As people stay home, Earth turns wilder and cleaner (AP) An unplanned grand experiment is changing Earth. As people across the globe stay home to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, the air has cleaned up, albeit temporarily… People are also noticing animals in places and at times they don’t usually.

These common landscaping plants are now illegal to sell in Indiana. Here’s why. (IndyStar)

A tiny scientific marvel: Olaf the IVF toad brings hope to at-risk species (The Guardian)

Crops were cultivated in regions of the Amazon ‘10,000 years ago’ (BBC)

The Real Economic Threat: Contentedness (Strong Towns) The longer the economy stays shut down, the more likely we are to recognize how little of it we actually need. Yes, we need food and medicine and other essentials, but what if we became content with less? What if we became content with much less?

Food Supply Anxiety Brings Back Victory Gardens (NYT) Americans were once urged to plant in every patch of available soil — and produced about 40 percent of the nation’s fresh vegetables.

The impossible for capitalism is suddenly possible (Fast Company) Just a few weeks ago, the changes we’ve seen companies make in the face of coronavirus would have seemed radical. When this is all over, can we go back? ... we will need a time of massive reconstruction. We will need to reconstitute careers, teams, companies, and communities. But having seen behind the curtain, and now knowing that the old premise of radical individualism and relentless shareholder primacy are mirages that don’t stand the test of time or strain, companies will be called to operate radically differently. After all the deaths, bankruptcies, government bailouts, and broken dreams, society will not slide back to where it was before COVID-19

The missing puzzle piece for getting to 100% clean power (Vox) It’s about using renewable energy to make gas.

Stories of Change (Purdue University Climate Change Research Center) Climate change is personal, affecting each of us in unique ways. From our hobbies to our livelihoods, a warming world matters. Through this series we will explore what climate change means in the day-to-day lives of Hoosiers, and those living around the world.

Annual report of the Purdue University Climate Change Research Center (for those who like reading reports)

This Pandemic Life: dispatches from the home front

I thought I would share some photos from recent weeks that are illustrative of our coronavirus shutdown situation. It will be a little random & unpredictable… sound familiar!?

All in all, we feel extremely fortunate to have a home to shelter in and work to do. All our play dates, activities, meetings, family dinners, etc are all cancelled. Not ideal, but otherwise we have our little backyard to explore (and parks), so spring carries on.

We have been meeting with our church (Kern Rd Mennonite) online once or twice a week. Not quite the same thing, but it is encouraging, and important to stay connected. We visited an older couple who lives in the next neighborhood over, by standing at distance out in the lawn while our girls drew with sidewalk chalk in the driveway. A strange visit, but heartening for all of us to know we weren’t alone.

Zoom Zoom Zoom: gathering together for sharing & prayer

My daughter discovered a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest in a neighbor’s oak tree, so we’ve been making repeat visits to check in on them. All we can really see is mama hanging out on the nest. More on that later!

We’ve been trying to get outside as much as possible, whether on local walks or trips to parks. Spring marches on! Here are some pictures from our forays.

Unfortunately we have to deal with ticks as well. Drat! For scale, this is a close up of my pinky finger.

I’m finally getting around to reading this book that I purchased at a conference in January 2019. Very interesting!

Sprouting garden seeds & painting eggs for Easter. An evergreen tradition.

I noticed this crane fly on the side of our house. They are pretty large – they look like a cross between a mosquito & a daddy long-legs – but they are harmless, and completely fun to watch.

To take a quote from Calvin & Hobbes, “The days are just packed.” Seen here: playing as “Zebras” in the long grass.

Picking up trash for Earth Day (both Moontree Studios & our county recycling center had virtual trash clean up events this year).

In the upper-right corner of the background, you can spot Green Alternatives installing solar panels on the roof of the Rees Theatre! Green Alternatives completed Phase 2 of our solar project.

The local paper put out a request for photos of creatures big and small, so I sent in this one of a native bee I was simply ecstatic to find in my lawn.

I’m still producing nature videos for kids stuck at home. But if young-at-heart adults want to watch them, well they can too 🙂

You can either watch them on YouTube below, or share them on Facebook via the Moontree Studios page.

Lastly, Purdue Extension educator Ashley Adair, in my home county of Montgomery Co, IN, has been doing weekly wildflower walks and making some really great videos on native wildflowers. Check it out: