foxes about

We’ve had a lot of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) sightings over the last couple months. There appears to be at least 2 or 3 that have dens on our property, and they are not shy about running around during the daytime.

It didn’t take long for people to take notice and even begin naming then. As an ecologist trained in the Western-scientific tradition, I try to keep some professional/emotional distance from the creatures around here, but… with a fox I have to admit that’s difficult! They are such interesting and curious creatures.

“Moonie” jogs behind the Ancilla College residence halls on a sunny December morning.

It appears that one has a serious case of sarcoptic mange, caused by a parasitic mites that causes a lot of itching in the host (which could also be a dog or other mammal). A lot of it’s fur is missing from its hind end.

Sarah from our communications department snagged some great photos when Moonie was down by the labyrinth, cleaning up a dead racoon. Thanks Moonie!

I was happy to see the “Grow Zone” signs (also designed by Sarah) in the background. We stopped mowing up to the edge of the lake and planted native grasses and wildflowers. Even this narrow strip of habitat provides space for grasshoppers and small mammals, which make up the bulk of the red fox’s prey.

I thought it fitting that St. Francis was watching nearby, the Patron Saint of Ecology.

I should note that the Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is also known to be in this region, although it appears to be much less common. (You can find these observations logged on iNaturalist in neighboring counties, sometimes with trail cam photos). They are more common in the heavily forested southern areas of the state. Gray foxes can even climb trees (while Red Fox cannot).

ephemeral Red Fox tracks
been finding a lot of this too…

There appears to be some debate about the origin of the Red Fox in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. The Indiana DNR Red Fox page still states, “The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is likely not native to Indiana.”

I came across this paper published in 2012 that ran genetic analysis on red fox populations from across the continent, and concluded that there is essentially no European genes in N. American populations:

Red foxes were historically absent from much of the East Coast at the time of European settlement and did not become common until the mid-1800s. Some early naturalists described an apparent southward expansion of native foxes that coincided with anthropogenic habitat changes in the region. Alternatively, red foxes introduced from Europe during Colonial times may have become established in the east and subsequently expanded their range westward

We found no Eurasian haplotypes in North America, but found native haplotypes in recently established populations in the southeastern United States and in parts of the western United States. Red foxes from the southeastern United States were closely related to native populations in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, suggesting that they originated from natural range expansions, not from translocation of European lineages, as was widely believed prior to this study…

Although European red foxes translocated to the eastern United States during Colonial times may have contributed genetically to extant populations in that region, our findings suggest that most of the matrilineal ancestry of eastern red foxes originated in North America.

I talked with a local hunter who is a keen observer of ecological trends in the area. Anecdotally, he thinks red foxes have declined with the boom in coyote populations. They fill a somewhat similar niche, so it makes sense that they would compete for space. Even so, we’ve had no shortage of fox dens around campus. They prefer open country, farms, and fields.

According to Bruce Plowman, a wildlife research biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources: “There has been a suppression of the red fox as coyotes have moved into these parts since the late 1970s and 1980s… Coyotes view the red fox as a competitor and will defend their territory and their food resources, killing and even eating them. We will see fluctuations of red fox numbers from year to year.”

I’ll end with a shot of boxing foxes our wildlife cam captured in 2017 (highlighted in this post).

new coal bailout bill before Indiana legislature

The Indiana legislature is back in session.

House Bill 1414 just passed out of committee and will soon be voted on in the house. You can see coverage here and here and here. It would essentially add an unnecessary stage of delay to closing uneconomic coal power plants in the state.

Coal is no longer economic compared to renewable alternatives and plants are closing fast. These closures are saving tens of thousands of lives and rapidly reducing carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy production. The closures have not appeared to have any negative effects on the reliability of the electric grid.

The old guard do not appear to be making many pretenses about the bill. In my opinion, it seems to be again the issue of flexing power for narrow economic interests against the interest of the common good and the integrity of our biosphere. Those in opposition to the bill include the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, electric utilities, environmental groups, solar energy business owners, rate-payer advocates, and the NAACP, to name a few. Jared Noblitt of Indiana Conservative Alliance for Energy says called it an “affront to conservative values.”

We have tried our best to walk-the-walk at our own property, investing in the largest solar installation at any Indiana college or university to date. The energy transition is one of the largest stories of our species, and there are more changes coming.

If you have thoughts on this proposal, you may find your legislator’s contact information here. Probably sooner rather than later.

The old coal plant in my hometown of Crawfordsville, IN, on the banks of the Sugar Creek. While it did provide electricity for my home where I grew up, it also dusted our property in coal dust, poisoned the river, the lowhead dam has caused at least one or more drownings, and the industrial clean-up is a massive burden on the people who still call the area home.


There are a lot of quotes that could be shared from Rev. Dr. King on his day of celebration, today. His life was an inspiration for our nation… as a movement leader, a Christian preacher, an American icon.

A good practice would be to simply read his “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.” It’s short enough to read and reflect on before work or after dinner, but long enough to be more than a few inspirational lines.

I was e-mailed a blog post this weekend from an Indianapolis author reflecting on the history behind MLK’s most famous speech.

His reflection is called “I Have a Demand” and I’d thought I’d share it here.

King wasn’t murdered because he was a moderate, extolling a “can’t we all just get along” philosophy.  King was killed for his demands and not his dreams.

King did not mount those steps in 1963 to celebrate a dream.  King came to collect a debt.  And, like him, a part of me wishes he had never added those words about his dream…

news round up (2020 kick-off)

Happy Belated New Years!

2020… I remember back in the ’00’s when I heard “we are going to [do this thing] by 2020” and thinking it was so futuristic and far off. What’s the urgency anyway?

Well… here we are! I guess this is a just a reminder that today was at one time someone’s distant future. And we are living with the consequences of the many decisions that echo down through the generations.

It’s hard, but I try to remember this when I hear about “by the end of the 20th century.” I’ll be gone, but by then my children (Lord willing) will be old folks, and presumably still in need of the basics we all crave: food, water, shelter, a safe society, warm & compassion & human belonging. What we do now really does open up or foreclose the opportunities for them.

Ok, that got deep! If you are bundled up inside today, here are a few headlines that I’ve been reading the last several weeks. They are in no particular order, so feel free to scan headlines to find what interested you. Enjoy:

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health (Yale 360) A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

Eliminating food deserts won’t help poorer Americans eat healthier (The Conversation) In the U.S., rich people tend to eat a lot healthier than poor people. Because poor diets cause obesity, Type II diabetes and other diseases, this nutritional inequality contributes to unequal health outcomes. The richest Americans can expect to live 10-15 years longer than the poorest. Many think that a key cause of nutritional inequality is food deserts – or neighborhoods without supermarkets, mostly in low-income areas. The narrative is that folks who live in food deserts are forced to shop at local convenience stores, where it’s hard to find healthy groceries. If we could just get a supermarket to open in those neighborhoods, the thinking goes, then people would be able to eat healthy. The data tell a strikingly different story…

And related…

Why community-owned grocery stores like co-ops are the best recipe for revitalizing food deserts (The Conversation)

Mowing urban lawns less intensely increases biodiversity, saves money and reduces pests (

Vatican calls Greta Thunberg ‘great witness’ of Church’s environmental teaching (Crux)

Research: Coyotes don’t reduce deer populations (Journal of Wildlife Management)

Bob Murray paid for science denial instead of his coal workers’ wages as company went bankrupt (Electrek)

Pinebrook, UT Net-Zero Electric Home including one electric vehicle (with two years of data)

New Indiana fish species discovered (well, in 2006, but this was a fun note from I-DNR on Facebook)

Tainted Dreams: Chernobyl survivor, organic farmer faces new contamination problem in Indiana (Indiana Environmental Reporter)

The coal industry is dying. Indiana should let go. (IndyStar) Indiana is about to lose a substantial chunk of its coal mining jobs in one fell swoop — a reminder that, despite the political forces propping it up, the coal industry is much less important to the state’s economy than you might think.

IPL to retire 2 coal-fired units in southern Indiana (WishTV)

NIPSCO fined $1 million for discriminating against 1,500-plus female, black job candidates, court records show (NWI Times)

Scientists have gotten predictions of global warming right since the 1970s (Vox) The first systematic review finds that climate models have been remarkably accurate.

Chicago among cities requiring spaces for apartment, condo dwellers to charge electric vehicles (GreenCarReports)

BloombergNEF: Average Battery Prices Fell To $156 Per kWh In 2019 (InsideEVs) According to BloombergNEF (BNEF) research, this year the average EV battery pack prices decreased to around $156/kWh, which is some 87% less than it was in 2010 (over $1,100/kWh).

The New Climate Math (Yale e360, by Bill McKibben) The Numbers Keep Getting More Frightening: Scientists keep raising ever-louder alarms about the urgency of tackling climate change, but the world’s governments aren’t listening. Yet the latest numbers don’t lie: Nations now plan to keep producing more coal, oil, and gas than the planet can endure.

Controversial Pesticides Are Suspected Of Starving Fish (NPR) There’s new evidence that a widely used family of pesticides called neonicotinoids, already controversial because they can be harmful to pollinators, could be risky for insects and fish that live in water, too.

Trump Pledged to Help Small Farms. Aid Is Going to Big Ones (Bloomberg) Half of the Trump administration’s latest trade-war bailout for farmers went to just a 10th of recipients in the program, according to an analysis of payments by an environmental organization. The study asserted that payouts have been skewed toward larger operations and wealthier producers.

This Solar Energy Company Fired Its Construction Crew After They Unionized (Vice News) Inspired by AOC’s Green New Deal, workers at Bright Power voted to form the first union at a solar power company in New York. On Monday, the company fired them.

What happens when the humble circuit breaker becomes a computer (Vox) The electricity system is evolving from analog to digital — and that’s great news for transitioning off of fossil fuels.

Update Given on Progress of the Yellow River, Kankakee River Basin Development Commission (WKVI)

the power of mission

I suppose it’s finally time I write about Tesla.

This fall we had all the 1st graders and Kindergarteners in Marshall County visit the campus as a part of Indiana Promise. I ran one of the education stations and focused on teaching them the basic idea of running our cars on sunlight. I had a mini solar panel and our Honda Clarity, a plug-in hybrid electric car.

I was quite surprised when on two occasions I had 5- and 6-year olds mention Tesla vehicles.

WHAT?! How does a Silicon Valley car company with $0 advertising budget have brand name recognition in the mouths of a 5 year olds from Marshall County, where only a dozen EVs can be found, let alone a Tesla?!!

Another strange story…

Why was Elon Musk, CEO of said company which was valued at billions of dollars, hanging out at one of their showrooms on New Year’s Eve, helping to deliver cars to customers desperate to meet a midnight tax deadline? Surely there were plenty of invites to fancy parties with other VIPs. Yes, even the CEO’s mother was there (which only reinforces the idea that deep down, everything we are striving for is really about gaining our parents’ approval!).

And one more…

Also at that showroom on New Year’s Eve day were volunteers from the local Tesla owners club. They were conducting orientations for new car purchasers. For free. On behalf of a for-profit multinational car company. On their day off.

Can you picture people on New Years Eve day crawling out from under their warm blanket and heading to their local Ford dealership to volunteer delivering cars to customer? No, you cannot picture it, because that would never happen.

Something about this entity is different, and it’s working.

Tesla remains 5+ years ahead of any other manufacturer in terms of EV technology and experience, taking over half of the U.S. EV sales (EV’s are about 1 in every 45 new car sales). They make 3 of the top 4 selling fully electric cars, and the quickest selling – the Model 3 sedan – outsells the nearest competing model (the Chevy Bolt) nearly 9-to-1. The cars’ software is updated over WiFi, constantly adding new features and abilities in the garage while the owners sleep. They’ve built an extensive charging network across several continents, extending even up into the Arctic Circle.

It has brand recognition with 5 year olds in Marshall County, gets its cars featured for free in trending hip hop videos, and has even police chiefs in small town Indiana buying the cars for their low operating cost and silent operation, and 8 exterior cameras that monitor the exterior of the car 24/7.

As a caveat, let me say no, of course no institution is perfect, nor any CEO.

But what is different about this institution? How can a start-up company come out of nowhere and change the game on legacy manufacturers with billions in capital that still haven’t been able to come close?

I think a lot has to do with it’s mission. It’s only 11 words long:

The founders laid out a “secret” master plan and published it on their website in 2006. They released “Master Plan, Part Deux” in 2016.

The logistics of what they have done have surely been painfully complicated. But simplicity was had in their master plan & the mission. In return, they’ve almost single-handedly helped disrupt one of the most polluting industries on the planet.

Whether a multinational corporation, a mom-and-pop pharmacy, a church, or an unincorporated enthusiasts club, it’s hard to discount the central importance of a simple & compelling mission.