more electric vehicle chargers coming to the Michiana area

The Indiana Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund Committee recently awarded funding for 56 Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations across the state, including 11 sites in the MACOG region in northern Indiana.

The projects follow an application filed in response to a request for proposals issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

MACOG coordinated an application for 10 locations, which were awarded a total of $90,000, including the cities of Elkhart, Goshen, Mishawaka, Plymouth, South Bend (in partnership with the Potawatomi Zoo), and Warsaw, the Town of Culver and the Goshen Public Library. MACOG is providing a $500 match for each station.

(MACOG)

Click here for the rest of the MACOG press release.

These are similar stations as was installed in the Peace Garden in 2017. In this case, I was able to work with MACOG and city leadership during the application process to evaluate proposed locations in downtown Plymouth. PHJC also provided cost-share funds for Plymouth’s proposal, critical to getting it across the finish line.

Even though we are still not moving fast enough to address the climate crisis, it’s always encouraging to see steps moving forward.

Sparky sips electrons at a public station in downtown Goshen, IN, looking on at the City of Goshen’s Tesla Model 3.

‘Running out of everything.’ Michiana doctors, nurses say COVID is pushing them to the limit

I wanted to share this article from the South Bend Tribune with testimony from our frontline medical workers in the N-Central Indiana region. It is short & direct, please read it.

Our family recently had a little medical scare and had to make a quick visit to the ER (everyone is fine now). We are very grateful that we were seen quickly and able to get the attention we needed.

The woman in front of us had a 1 year old that hadn’t been able to keep any food down for 48 hrs. On any given day, in addition to those with COVID-19 issues, we may find ourselves needing medical services.

We are all lamenting the disruption of our holiday routines, but we can be creative and make do without in-person family gatherings this year. We have technology. Our healthcare workers do not even have time for a lunch break, much less a holiday vacation.

I was updating my daughters yesterday on the COVID situation, the promise of a vaccine, expectations for the winter, etc. My daughter’s birthday is not until the end of next month. She said, “I already know I won’t be able to have my friends over. But that’s okay, because we have our family.”

Far too much will be asked of a few of us. But we can all help. Let’s consider all we can do to avoid any points of exposure that aren’t absolutely necessary, and find ways to stand in solidarity with our frontline workers during this trying time.

(UPDATE: here’s a note showing that contact tracers in Indiana and Michigan do not have sufficient staff do trace all cases)

Amber Hodges 1.jpg
(photo from the SBT article)



Marshall County: we need your help assessing community health priorities

The St. Joseph Health System does a survey every 3 years to assess the community health needs of the region. The results are only useful if we, the public, provide good data about our own needs.

Having had a few glimpses of the design, implementation, and analysis of this process for one 3-yr-cycle already, I will say I’m an enthusiastic supporter. This level of rigor is rare for social agencies/non-profits, and it’s sorely needed.

You are participate in the survey here (English & Spanish copies are available). The deadline is approaching soon. Thank you!

late season invasives spraying

And so begins the Midwest’s Season of Gray & Brown. Most of the green in the landscape is gone, the pretty leaves have flown off the trees (yes, now even the oaks are reluctantly letting go).

Most, but not all.

Many of the invasive species in our area (which I’ve written about them previously) maintain their leaves longer into the fall. Perniciously, they also emerge extra early in the spring. As Michigan State U. extension says:

All of these honeysuckles are especially successful in dominating natural areas because of their ability to leaf out extremely early in the spring and remain green well into the fall. This means they have a leg up in these settings, essentially shading and out-competing native plants. These honeysuckles can eventually form dense thickets where little else can grow, including tree regeneration.

Land stewards can use this to our advantage, however. For a few weeks, it becomes very easy to spot populations of autumn olive and bush honeysuckle. “Wait… when did that population show up!?? Sigh…”

Not only are they green and visible, they are still photosynthesizing, unlike most of the other (dormant) plants. We can thus target them with herbicide from a backpack sprayer, and the plants move the chemical into their vascular system. On cold days this the plants are mostly shut down, but there are several warm days (~50 deg F or higher) where this is an effective strategy.

Even a single person with a backpack sprayer can make a lot of progress in a short time.

Blue dye is mixed with the herbicide to help the steward visualize where the chemical is applied.

One of the reasons this is effective is that it can be a great way to reduce collateral damage from overspray. Just “nuking” a wide swath around a single invasive plant is counter productive, because we are trying to get native species to occupy the same root space.

For example, in the photo below, the invasive Autumn Olive shrub is on the left, green and photosynthesizing. The location is a roadside ditch that has a substantial population of high quality native prairie wildflowers. On the right are the withered remnants of the leaves of the Prairie Dock. This perennial wildflower has abandoned this tissue for the year and survives overwinter as roots and buds, so it’s of little consequences if a few drops of herbicide land on the shriveled remains.

I was also hitting some invasive Poison Hemlock in the ditches, which is an increasing problem in the region. Then I came across the following:

There are some native Asters growing in and around the Hemlock. I could spray one without hitting the other. I skipped this one, knowing I could come back next spring and cut the flowering stalk of the Hemlock plant, interrupting it’s biennial lifecycle and giving the Aster the chance to spread.

These photos are all from Nov. 6. We’ve had a pretty hard freeze since then, so conditions have changed already. But there were still some goldenrods blooming, and insects foraging. The “growing season” is a simplification we use to make sense of our rhythms, but the reality is that many plants and creatures often live, move and have their being even in the cold. That’s a resilience we can aspire to!

1 Gigawatt

Since our first solar energy system came online in Sep. 2018, our total solar production has now exceeded 1.00 Gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity! Yes, that’s 1 million killowatt-hours (kWh), the units we are used to reading on our electric bills.

>> This has displaced more than 1.7 million lbs of CO2e (carbon dioxide-equivalent), in addition to other pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, lead, and others.

>> This is enough energy to power 111 Hoosier households for a year, or drive around the world 133 times in an electric vehicle, or power a single light bulb for 11,415 years!

And that’s not all!

A new report out covering solar installations at K-12 schools shows that Indiana is #5 in that nation for total solar capacity! 41 MW have been installed so far, or 6 watts per capita. Good work, Hoosiers.

Hoosier voters agree: our values compel us to act on climate change

The following op-ed was sent out to local media. Given that tomorrow is Election Day, I suppose it’s now or never for the blog! Enjoy.

By: Adam Thada, Director, Ecological Relationships at The Center at Donaldson

In the Nov. 17, 1899 edition of the Marshall County Independent newspaper, a Professor Arrhenius theorized that “an increase of carbonic acid (carbon dioxide) between 2 and 3 times its present amount would raise the mean temperature 15 degrees, and renew the hot times of the Eocene epoch.” His intuition 121 years ago has since been affirmed in recent decades by many thousands of modern scientific studies: human-caused climate change is happening, right now.

It’s no wonder that a recent poll found that 8 of every 10 Hoosier voters think that the earth’s average temperature is rising, and largely the result of human activity. Farmers are already adjusting their planting schedules and seed varieties to prepare for wet springs (like 2019) and droughty summers (like 2012). Marshall County saw serious flood damage to private homes and public roads in February 2018. Hoosier scientists are finding that these concentrated spring rain events are becoming more frequent.

Climate change also poses a problem nationally, forcing entire neighborhoods and towns to relocate due to flooding and fire. Back in 2010, the Department of Defense recognized climate change as a serious security threat, stating that it “may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”

Our ethical and spiritual values compel us to love and care for our neighbors, our children, and our grandchildren. How can we prepare our communities? What role do our elected officials have to play?

This fall, we can vote on these values. In fact, 7 in 10 Hoosier voters think the state and federal government should do more to address climate change, and voters rank environmental concerns of equal importance with economic growth. It is important to note that local officials also have a very important role, such as building smart infrastructure and cultivating green businesses.

Here are some climate change-related questions you can ask before you vote: 

For local elections, do the candidates understand renewable energy projects, like solar farms? Do they listen to knowledgeable people with experience in the field, or only the loudest voices in the room? Are they willing to commit to reasonable development standards that balance private property rights with public concern? Ask them.

Are your local officials talking about water quality and flooding issues when they make plans for the community? Are they proactively addressing these issues for the future, or just hoping they (we) will get lucky? Where are they locating development projects and why?

Our local flora & fauna will have to also adapt to climate change. Are local officials making parks & conservation areas a priority, supporting it with staff and resources? Ask them, then vote. 

At the state and federal level, do the candidates realize that renewable energy jobs are among the fastest growing sector in the economy? Do they support these industries with reasonable policies and incentives, or do they funnel money to declining fossil fuel companies?

Marshall County is blessed with two beautiful rivers and dozens of lakes. Protection of these natural treasures depends in a large part on state and federal laws. Ask the candidates how they stand on strengthening smart policies that protect our water.

Local businesses, schools, and non-profits have been addressing climate change, too. Solar energy systems have sprung up at Argos Schools, John Glenn Schools, Ancilla College, The Recycle Depot, the REES Theatre, and more.

Volunteers and community groups came together to fill sandbags and provide aid to flood victims in 2018. 

We all have a role to play. Will our elected officials do the same? Express your concerns, offer your assistance, and then vote your values. For more information on climate change and questions to ask political candidates, you can find a voter guide at www.poorhandmaids.org.

great coronavirus visualizations

Not ecology per se, but I thought I’d share this link to some amazing aerosol transmission visualizations, showing relative risks of the coronavirus & the impact of mitigation strategies such as masks, air circulation, and distancing.

As you may have read, the situation throughout Indiana has deteriorated. A statewide record number of new cases was set yesterday, at 3,649. The positivity rate is back up to 14%, the highest level since early May, indicating “a that more testing should probably be done—and it suggests that it is not a good time to relax restrictions aimed at reducing coronavirus transmission” (Johns Hopskins). Likewise, our local numbers in Marshall County are also at a new all-time high, with a positivity rate above 20%.

God bless our front-line workers in the healthcare field right now, as the regional COVID-19 census is more than double the late April peak.

I don’t really have much to add, other than this photo of a recent quick trip to Turkey Run State Park. Stay safe, and stay in touch.

news round up, fall edition

Indigenous fire practices once shaped the Northwest — and they might again (Crosscut) For centuries, settlers suppressed the Native burning and wildfires that enriched and protected Western ecosystems. Four experts explain why we need it back.

Our Burning Planet: Why We Must Learn to Live With Fire (Yale e360) By suppressing all wildfires and incessantly burning fossil fuels, humans have upset the role that fire has historically played in providing ecological balance. We need to rethink our view of fire and accept its presence by changing how we manage lands and plan our communities.

Imagining a Different World (Stephen Glass blog) To Save the Earth will take much energetic ecological restoration and much more. This is a time for the bold and the need for ecological restoration has never been greater. Not only do we need the technical and scientific knowledge and skills of ecological restoration, but we also for the assumptions about the world and values that infuse and inspire ecological restoration.

Our Burning Planet: Why We Must Learn to Live With Fire (Yale e360) By suppressing all wildfires and incessantly burning fossil fuels, humans have upset the role that fire has historically played in providing ecological balance. We need to rethink our view of fire and accept its presence by changing how we manage lands and plan our communities

As Miami Keeps Building, Rising Seas Deepen Its Social Divide (Yale e360) The science of what is going to happen here — higher seas, increased heat, intensifying storms — is certain. Still, the developers, real estate agents, and many buyers continue to play a long con against the rising tide, pretending that all is well in South Florida, even though some 10 percent of its land area will be under water if the ocean rises just 2 feet. The irrational exuberance of the high-end real estate sector is fed, in part, by foreign investment seeking to park excess capital in luxury, high-rise beachfront condos.

Duke Energy Receives Floating Solar Contract from Fort Bragg (Solar Industry) The U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina will soon be home to the largest floating solar plant in the Southeast – a 1.1 MW system as part of a Utility Energy Service Contract (UESC) awarded to Duke Energy.

Vistra to retire 6.8 GW coal, blaming ‘irreparably dysfunctional MISO market‘ (Utility Dive) The company owns seven coal-fired power plants across the Midwest, mostly within the territory of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), and would retire the majority of its plants through 2025-2027 “or sooner should economic or other conditions dictate,” the company said in a statement. Alongside those retirements, Vistra plans to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century and add nearly 1,000 MW of solar, plus one energy storage project by the end of 2022.

Op-ed: Clean energy powers thousands of Indiana homes. It also buoys the pandemic economy. (IndyStar)

Amazon unveils its Rivian-made electric delivery van with cool interior (Electrek)

New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States (ProPublica) warming temperatures and changing rainfall will drive agriculture and temperate climates northward, while sea level rise will consume coastlines and dangerous levels of humidity will swamp the Mississippi River valley… Taken with other recent research showing that the most habitable climate in North America will shift northward and the incidence of large fires will increase across the country, this suggests that the climate crisis will profoundly interrupt the way we live and farm in the United States.

IDEM Closes Door on Ephemeral Stream Protection (Indiana Environmental Reporter) Agency announces it will no longer regulate rain-dependent streams as part of its federal water quality certification

New poll shows Hoosiers prioritize the environment over the economy, even among Republicans (IndyStar)

Op-ed: Environment, political action are priorities for Indiana voters, poll finds (IndyStar)

The Age of Electric Cars Is Dawning Ahead of Schedule (NYT)

Walmart outlines climate-friendly goal to decarbonize operations within 20 years (Yahoo! News) Walmart (WMT) is doubling-down its sustainability efforts to combat climate change, laying out a plan to be a zero-emission company across its global operations by 2040. On Monday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the world’s biggest retailer wants to “play an important role in transforming the world’s supply chains to be regenerative.”

Marshall County Solar Task Force wraps up its work

Rural counties throughout the Midwest are trying to figure out how to appropriately deploy renewable energy investments across the landscape. Utility-scale wind farms came first. Up until several years ago, photovoltaic (PV) solar energy was something of an expensive “luxury” in these parts. But after consistent price declines and improved technology, we’ve arrived at the point where the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency said recently, “I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets.” The IEA’s recent report states “Solar photovoltaics are now cheaper than plants fired by coal and natural gas in most nations.”

During our solar research in 2017, we visited IMPA’s 700 kW solar park in Argos, built in 2015. It remains (until next year) the largest solar installation in North-Central Indiana. The new solar farm at Notre Dame will be 29 times larger.

This is in line with what our local utility NIPSCO found when they put an RFP out on the market for new energy. That this happened in coal-dominated Indiana sparked headlines across the country. On economic considerations alone, we have to switch sources, to say nothing of the massive human health and ecological benefits such a transition would mean.

In February of this year, the Marshall County Commissioners imposed a one-year moratorium on all PV solar installations greater than 10 acres. (For scale, our 515 kW (DC) solar installation at Ancilla College is about 1.5 acres). They felt that there were simply too many unresolved issues around large solar installations that needed careful review. The Commissioners then created a Solar Task Force that was to come up with the framework for responsible standards related to large solar farms.

a frosty sunrise shining on our first solar installation, at Moontree Studios

Myself and others were asked to be on the Task Force. We met in May, June, July and August, pulling in information from model ordinances that had already been adopted by other rural counties, and carefully considering how to balance private property rights & the public good. A few of us also participated in a regional workshop where many of these issues were discussed.

The process involved a good amount of back and forth, and I do feel that we were able to come up with reasonable standards. You can see these amendments to the ordinance at the following link (let me know if it doesn’t download):

The amendments were considered by the Plan Commission, and passed by that body on August 27th.

The ordinance then passed it’s first reading before the Commissioners on Sept. 21st. It is up for a second reading this coming Monday morning, Oct. 19th, around 9:30 AM EST. The ordinance needs to pass three readings in order to be adopted. I will be present in case any clarifications are needed about our process or the resultant amendments (see here for a fact sheet addressing many common concerns).

This current process is simply for creating a framework for responsible energy development in the county and is not about any proposed project in particular, which would have to pass through it’s own permitting & approval process.

If you’d like to reach out to the Commissioners, their contact information is here. There are certainly a lot of consequential decisions before us as a county, and I appreciate their work as public servants in trying to discern what is in the best long-term interest of our community.

The REES Theatre shows off it’s brand new PV solar installation. The final ribbon cutting on this amazing restoration project is scheduled for 2021.

yes, now we need to talk about flies

Last night was the one and only Vice Presidential debate.

It had everything we’ve come to expect: sharp barbs and side-eyes, answering questions that weren’t asked, and constantly running over the allotted time.

But there was quite a bit of buzz about a surprise guest appearance:

NPR’s headline this morning.

Yes, a fly landed on the Vice President’s head.

People on social media had many questions that night. After circumventing the plexiglass barriers and refusing to wear a mask over it’s proboscis, would the fly need to quarantine for 14 days? Would it be given equal time for answers as the other candidates? Would it prefer left-wing policies, right-winged, or be content to just have a balance of both wings? (And of course there were other questions and comments that aren’t fit to print here).

Now, before you swarm me with partisan accusations, and lest you think flies are trying to make a political point, recall that President Obama also had a run-in with a fly:

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg was also visited by some winged insect during the presidential primary debates. Both Mayor Pete and current Vice President Pence being Hoosiers, I thought the insect quip of the night goes to this guy:

To be honest, I was simply happy for a moment of levity in an otherwise contentious and difficult time for our nation. If nothing else, it is simple reminder that we inhabit and are sustained by a living, breathing world.

In fact, the candidates were asked directly about about the climate crisis, and discussed wildfires, hurricanes, and soil & water quality. Voters should listen to the responses that were given.

BUTpeople are talking about flies! So yes, I’m happy to quickly talk about flies before the news cycle moves on!!!

“True flies” are insects in the order Diptera. Most adult insects have two sets of wings, but in Dipterans, the 2nd set has been reduced to knubs called “halteres” which they use as sensory organs for their acrobatic flight.

Nearly 1,000,000 species of flies are though to exist, though only 1/8 of these have been formally described by scientists.

We are all pretty familiar with house flies, and perhaps fruit flies. But there are so many more! Let me share a few photos of our fly “candidates” that I’m familiar with.

(After consulting with my lizard – err, I mean, my lawyer – I need to add this note: this post does not constitute an endorsement of any Dipteran family, sub-family, genus, or species).

Candidate #1 is a “hover fly,” from the fly family Syrphidae. One species of hover fly appears in large numbers in late summer to annoyingly but harmlessly cover exposed legs and arms. They are erroneously referred to as “sweat bees” but they are usually just small hover flies.

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Yellowjacket Hover Fly (Melesia virginiensis)

This hover fly, however, is substantially larger than the commonest species, and is the size and coloration of a yellow jacket wasp. Nice trick! It’s policy positions are often painted as extreme and dangerous, but it’s actually no revolutionary. It’s harmless, really. This one fooled me for a couple seconds before I got a closer look and a photo. Not everyone is as they appear!

Candidate #2 I found at home, a Robber Fly (aka Assassin Fly) from the family Asilidae. Don’t be fooled… if you are a small house fly, or frankly anything small, you’d better watch out for this one.

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This one doesn’t mind being painted as nasty and vicious – it is. It bides its time, then always goes for the jugular. Don’t expect it to play by gentlemanly norms and standards, it will do whatever it takes to win. Say what you will, but you can’t paint it as duplicitous.

Candidate #3 is a species of Bot Fly from the family Oestridae that I found here at work.

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Hmmm… just another House Fly-looking thing, right? Small, drab, harmless, perhaps a little homely. Hey look, it even provides pollinator services by visiting flowers! I’ll just vote for this one, it’s good enough.

WRONG! This sleepy thing is actually a mammal parasite. Why do you vote for policies that harm your own people?! I’ll never get it.

(Seriously though, there is only one species in the Americas that regularly parasitizes humans, it’s in the tropical regions only).

Ok, on to Candidate #4: the Crane Fly, from the family Tipulidae. Photographed here on my garage door.

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WHAT?!!! That’s a giant 2″ mosquito! Swat it! Certainly don’t vote for it! It will suck our national coffers dry and prey on your children!

Or… not. Sure it’s big and conspicuous. You may find one flying around in your house. But they can’t hurt you, at all. Once your pulse recovers to a normal speed, you might even appreciate it’s elegance. The other day when I went for a run, the lawn was filled with many hundreds of these rising up out of the grass.

Don’t judge everything by its appearance. Crane flies are pretty slow, ungainly fliers. Just catch it in a big plastic bag and let it outside.

You may be asking… what is the meaning of all these flies? Were they planted (or on plants?) Are they tiny government surveillance drones? Were they intentionally infected with COVID-19 and released into the room? Is it all a metaphor, a harbinger of the feast or famine to come in these Last Days?

Really, I’m just an ecologist from rural Indiana. I’m not being paid off by “Big Diptera.” Please trust me when I say this post is not meant to be a Rorschach-test with hidden messages about candidates, it’s just an opportunity that came along in an unexpected moment.

Truly, I made it up on the fly.