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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

giant wind turbine blade

My wife was traveling westbound on US-30 the other day and witnessed this giant wind turbine blade at the intersection with US-421. Impressive!

We are truly living through the 3rd industrial revolution (as explained in this video).

I saw the early stages of commercial wind farms in northern Iowa, near my parents’ childhood home. It was erected in 2002. The turbines seemed enormous at the time. They stood 65 meters tall (at the central hub) and produced a maximum 0.676 MW of power.

Off-shore wind turbines (larger than the on-shore variants, and comparatively new) are now reaching even 13.0 MW, producing nearly 20 times the peak power of those 2002 versions (which I believe are being or have been decommissioned). The center hub stands 141 meters above the water. A single spin of this new wind turbine could power a home in the UK for two days!

While you’re here, you can find the details of any US wind farm on this amazing interactive map.

Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Technology Coming to Rural Indiana

Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Technology Coming to Rural Indiana

The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ is partnering with Fermata Energy to install a bidirectional electric vehicle (EV) charging system at its Donaldson campus

Donaldson, Ind. and Charlottesville, Va.– September 21, 2020 – The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (PHJC) is partnering with Fermata Energy to install a bidirectional electric vehicle (EV) charging system on The Center at Donaldson campus, located 90 miles east of Chicago, and 35 miles southwest of South Bend, Indiana.

Through collaboration, the Poor Handmaids sought to address the emerging needs of the surrounding communities through the lens of integral ecology, and saw an opportunity to build resilience into its sustainable agenda by installing a bidirectional charging system for its fleet of EVs. 

“The Poor Handmaids keep pushing the envelope with technologies that accelerate the shift toward renewable energy. The more we can produce, monitor and manage flows of energy at The Center at Donaldson campus, the better,” said Adam Thada, Director of Ecological Relationships at The Center at Donaldson. “Fermata Energy’s bidirectional charging system provides that flexibility and will help us continue electrifying our fleet in an affordable way.”

Fermata Energy’s bidirectional charging system for EVs is the first in the world to receive UL’s new North American safety standard, UL 9741, the Standard for Bidirectional Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging System Equipment third-party safety certification. Fermata Energy’s V2G technology uses bidirectional charging and proprietary V2G integration  software to turn EVs into sources of energy, giving their customers a clean and reliable alternative.  

“Our patented system works by turning an EV fleet or building into a revenue-generating, clean-grid supporting energy management platform, without the need for major capital expenditures,” said Fermata Energy founder and CEO David Slutzky. “Fermata Energy’s V2G solution will enable organizations such as the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to maximize the use of renewable energy sources and reduce grid-operating costs.” 

# # #

About Fermata Energy

Fermata Energy’s turnkey V2X system empowers electric vehicle (EV) owners to make money while their cars are parked. Fermata Energy makes it possible for electric vehicles to combat climate change, increase energy resilience, and reduce energy costs. For more information, visit, and follow us on Twitter (@FermataEnergy), LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram (@fermata__energy).  

About The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ

Called in Baptism to proclaim by our lives and our works the presence of God in the world, we Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ accept the invitation to live a vowed life in community.

We are inspired by Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Saint Katharina Kasper, our foundress, to listen prayerfully, live simply, serve joyfully.


Fermata Energy:       
Daniel Cherrin | | 313-300-0932

Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ:
Alicia Hammonds | | 574-935-1768

news round up, end of summer edition

Fall is almost upon us! Here’s some more links for your reading pleasure. And a picture of our favorite & frequent fowl family.

John Glenn School Board Moves Forward with Solar Project (Max 98.3) Johnson Melloh’s proposal for the [North Liberty Elementary] project came in at $701,000 for a 350 kilowatt system with an upgrade to LED lighting and updated lighting controls. The project is expected to be complete this fall.

The Most Important Number for the West’s Hideous Fire Season (The Atlantic) “If you’re having trouble following this year’s western fire season, you are not alone: The fire scientists are too. “There are two dozen fires burning right now that singularly would have been the top story on the national news 10 or 20 years ago,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told me…Several have swelled to a size of 100,000 acres—that is, more than 150 square miles—in the first 12 hours of their existence, Swain told me. “That statistic is so astonishing that I’m having trouble putting it into words,” he said.

Multiple Sample Collection, Testing Violations Found at Indiana Steel Mill and Testing Lab (Indiana Environmental Reporter) IDEM inspectors found “unsatisfactory” effluent sample collection and handling methods at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor steel mill and Merrillville lab testing the samples.

Lawn to Meadow – Part I (Lake Maxikuckee Environmental Council)

University awaits approval for on-campus micro-nuclear reactor (The Daily Illini)

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled (NPR)

Oil Demand Has Collapsed, And It Won’t Come Back Any Time Soon (NPR)

Pope urges respect for Paris climate accord, says ‘creation is groaning’ (Reuters)

Does over-seeding prairie plantings work? (Grassland Restoration Network)

Don’t crush that ant—it could plant a wildflower (Scientific American) Trilliums, bloodroot, violets—many wildflowers of spring in eastern North America bloom thanks to ants. The tiny six-legged gardeners have partnered with those plants as well as about 11,000 others to disperse their seeds. The plants, in turn, “pay” for the service by attaching a calorie-laden appendage to each seed, much like fleshy fruits reward birds and mammals that discard seeds or poop them out. But there’s more to the ant-seed relationship than that exchange

Bioblitz recap with the Marshall County Historical Society, Museum & Crossroads Center

I recently had the opportunity to share some updated results of last year’s Bioblitz, held at Moontree Studios on June 29-30, 2019. The virtual presentation was hosted by the Marshall County Historical Society, Museum & Crossroads Center.

The presentation starts around the 9:00 mark at this link. After presenting results from the Bioblitz, I tried to place them in the larger ecological context of the last two hundred years of changes.


Oh, and in case you missed it, here was a preliminary blog post summarizing the event (with photos!).

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9th Road Wetland Fen Restoration

A version of this article appeared in the September 2020 edition (Vol. 9, #9) of Ripples, our internal newsletter.

“It’s not ours, it’s just our turn.”  Doug Duren

Years before “Marshall County” was established, in the year the white man marked as “A.D. 1830”, a surveyor pounded a metal marker in the ground at what is now a 4-way stop at the intersection of Union & 9th Roads. He took his 66’ length of chains and headed due east, past white & black oaks, hickories, hazelnuts, turtles, wildflowers and grasses of all sorts – a bounty stewarded by the Potawatomi peoples.

After 27 such lengths (1/3 mile), he came down into a “marsh, rolling and springy.” At 40 lengths, a white oak 17” in diameter, “No other tree” around. At 43 chains, “spring brooks.”

190 years later, those brooks still flow. At the corner of Tulip & 9th Roads lies a large fen, a special wetland that is fed year-round by groundwater, not rainfall. This means the ground is squishy even in the midst of summer drought. The earth imparts a particular chemistry, leading to unique plant communities found nowhere else. During our 2019 biodiversity, botanists found 250 species here, indicating a very high quality habitat.

An ecologist friend once told me, “Consultants don’t make fens, only ice ages make fens.” We simply don’t know how to truly replicate this complex hydrology. Once it is destroyed, it is gone forever. 

searching for old tiles

Since that original survey, the fen community has been modified. Gone are the large grazers: bison & elk. Fire largely ceased. Wetlands were mowed for “marsh hay.” Settlers dug a ditch down the center of this fen to drain the land for European-style agriculture; today it is a “legal drain” that taxpayers excavate periodically. Fences & cattle followed as well, but the squishy organic soils made for many a stuck cow. Then also came the drainage tile & plow, to raise row crops. But the dark, water-logged soils are too persistently damp for the demands of heavy equipment & commodities markets.

And so, despite this barrage, most of the fen has remained relatively intact. It was decided that the most heavily-degraded portion could be restored (to a degree) by redirecting the drainage tiles and creating a shallow pool for frogs, turtles, and migratory waterfowl. This work is being funded through a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

We just finished the earthwork recently. When I went to visit the following day, I already spotted the giant footprints of the Sandhill Cranes. Dragonflies dipped their abdomens on the surface of the growing pool, planting hopeful eggs. Killdeer gathered in a flock of more than a hundred, drawn by bare earth. Over the next couple years, we will be prioritizing invasive plant control & the introduction of native species.

Sandhill Cranes and Racoons showed up immediately

The idea of “seven generation stewardship” – said to be based on the Great Law of the Iroquois – is to make decisions based on the benefit of those living 7 generations into the future. What seems like an interminably long period is really not. This fen has already persisted for 7 generations since the year the Potawatomi stewards were removed at gunpoint.

Despite that happy feeling we might have when we pay off our home mortgage (someday…), the idea of ownership is still new and foreign to this land, a convenient myth we have built to organize the flow of capital. The name on the land’s deed today lists only the current, temporary stewards. The sun rises and sets on our time as stewards, the bonds between generations linked by culture, wisdom, and lovingkindness.

Which makes me wonder… when my daughter’s great-granddaughter stands on a rise in what is now Marshall County and looks to the horizon with her grandson, what will they see?

bloom report 2020

The coronavirus lockdown that began in March 2020 provided the perfect excuse for me to start on a project I had been mulling over for some time. I had always wondered how many blooming species were present in my yard, and when they were blooming throughout the year. This could serve as an indicator of nectar & pollen resources for pollinators.

Well, there’s only one way to find out. Count them! Over and over and over again…

Starting March 15, I have been going out every Sunday during midday to find & identify every blooming wildflower species on my little 0.4 ac suburban homestead. Each Sunday, I will mark every species as either 1) new for the season, 2) disappeared (I saw it last week, but not this week), or 3) reappeared (it was here, gone, then back this week).

I counted all species, whether they were wild, cultivated, native, or non-native. I did not make notes on bloom abundance. That is, even a single Tulip (bulb) flower counts that species as present, the same as the White Clover with many thousands of blooms across my lawn.

Up high or down low, each one counts (photo credit: my 8-year-old)

Preliminary Results:

I provided results last month in a mid-season update to residents of Maria Center, our independent living center. Sorry, no photos from that! But, a lively discussion on flowers & pollinators.

I’ve got too many iron(weeds) in the fire right now for a full report… I’ll save that analysis for the winter months. But here are some basic plant metrics, and two collages with blooms of all sorts.

Total Species: 132

Native / Non-Native: 62 / 70

Cultivated / Wild: 53 / 79

Weeks counted (so far): 23

Weekly metrics:

Bloom diversity seems to be peaking the last 4 weeks, as I’m consistently seeing over 50 species per Sunday count! I will expect this to drop pretty soon, and sharply. As the numbers above show, I’m averaging about 6 new blooming species each week.

The longest blooming species goes to the humble dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which I have found every week but 3. The average species blooms for about 5 weeks.

There have been several species that I had not seen before. It was a good opportunity to use keys and apps to learn some new species.

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