first frogs calling!

Ok, now it’s springtime!

These are the first Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) that I’ve heard calling this year. The location is a small depression within one of our pastures. The air temperature was 61 degrees Fahrenheit when I heard them. Most of the snow and ice has finally melted, although a few patches remain.

Regular readers may remember that it was almost a year ago that we conducted a nighttime frog survey, right before Indiana entered our coronavirus lockdown.

For a neat audio/visual representation of the different frogs and their calling seasons, click here.

Our own Adam Calhoun recently captured a flock of migrating Sandhill Cranes practicing their dance moves in our corn fields. Apparently this dance involves flinging chunks of manure up in the air. Hey… who am I to judge their culture? It seems to work for them.

Sandhill Cranes dancing (photo: Adam Calhoun Photography)

You’ll notice that the birds are already somewhat two-toned. Only one of the colors is their actual plumage; the other is decoration. Here’s a video from a year ago where we caught them putting on such body paint. Between camouflage and dancing, Sandhill Cranes are obviously great patrons of the arts!

news round-up: spring cometh edition

We’re certainly not out of the chance of blizzard yet, but it sure feels like spring. The Cranes are calling. Prescribed fire season has begun. Spring Peepers should soon follow.

Enjoy reading over my shoulder on pieces I’ve been looking at the last two months.

‘There’s a red flag here’: how an ethanol plant is dangerously polluting a US village (The Guardian) Situation in Mead, Nebraska, where AltEn has been processing seed coated with fungicides and insecticides, is a warning sign, experts say

How the Loss of Soil Is Sacrificing America’s Natural Heritage (Yale e360) A new study points to a stunning loss of topsoil in the Corn Belt — the result of farming practices that have depleted this once-fertile ground. Beyond diminished agricultural productivity and more carbon in the atmosphere, it is a catastrophic loss of an irreplaceable resource.

How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves (Mother Jones) And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.

St. Joseph County Recognized for Being “Solar-Friendly”, Promoting Pollinator Habitat Conservation in Clean Energy Projects (Press release, MACOG)

Indiana Energy Grid Operator Finds “Transformational Change” Required to Integrate More Renewable Energy (IER) Report released by Carmel-based Midcontinent Independent System Operator finds amount of renewable energy in system could double by 2026, but coordinated action by utility members is necessary to achieve more than 50% renewable energy.

I came across this very brief and readable summary of what a typical ecological restoration project looks like, from the Lake County Forest Preserves, and thought it worth sharing.

Climate-Proofing Your Home: How to Electrify (Bloomberg) Replacing your gas furnace, water heater, stove, and clothes dryer promises to lock in long-term environmental and economic benefits—but beware of surprise costs.

The Lepidopteran Life Aquatic (Entomology Today) A new-found wasp that hunts for caterpillars underwater, reported in November 2020 by scientists with an obvious eye for newsy names like Microgaster godzilla, amazed people worldwide, but news reports omitted an obvious question: What’s a caterpillar doing underwater in the first place?

Meeting People Where They Are (The Prairie Ecologist) getting public support is absolutely critical to our success. There’s no way conservation can succeed if the majority of the world doesn’t see it as relevant and important.

After Alarmism (NYMag) The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news

The Climate Crisis Is Worse Than You Can Imagine. Here’s What Happens If You Try. (ProPublica) A climate scientist spent years trying to get people to pay attention to the disaster ahead. His wife is exhausted. His older son thinks there’s no future. And nobody but him will use the outdoor toilet he built to shrink his carbon footprint.

This Week May Turn the Tide on Two Centuries of Emissions (Bloomberg) China will present climate and energy plans that could determine the fate of the planet. If they live up to their promise, we can reset expectations for decarbonization. 

Changing the Global Food Narrative (Dr. Foley) The dominant story about the future of the world food supply is logical, well known and wrong.

Outdoor Elements – Smart Streets (WNIT PBS) Krista hops on her bicycle for a ride around the new smart streets of South Bend and talks with Chris Dressel about some of the new features, what the signs mean, and how to navigate a round-a-bout. Then she rides with South Bend Tribune reporter Joseph Dits to get feedback on what people are saying about the new smart streets.

Top 5 Restoration Ecology 2020 Articles (Society for Ecological Restoration)

Americans Are Moving To Escape Climate Impacts. Towns Expect More To Come (NPR) The impacts of climate change could prompt millions of Americans to relocate in coming decades, moving inland away from rising seas, or north to escape rising temperatures….

talking bees for Little Learners Story Time with the Plymouth Public Library

I recently had the opportunity to share with Miss Kirsten during Plymouth Public Library‘s Little Learners Story Time. She’s done an amazing job of producing videos for children in the Plymouth area. The videos usually include a book reading, an interview, and crafts. We talked about honeybees, as well as Indiana’s native bees. And I got the chance to dust off my insect collection from my college entomology course.

PPL is truly a community treasure.

a few timely items: solar, taxes, and wetlands

Ok, a blitz of several things here at once.

First, our dear friends at the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (who were instrumental in guiding our solar energy initiatives) are crowd-funding for another solar project. Phase 1 was for the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens in Ashville, NC. They are now on to Phase 2, a project designed for St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church. See much more at this link, and please consider donating via the PayPal link. Every little bit helps.

Second, it’s tax time. And you know what that means, right? But of course! It’s time to enter “Nongame Wildlife Fund”, it’s 3-digit code (200), and your donation amount on Line 1 of the Schedule 5/Schedule IN-DONATE form, and then add your amount to Line 17 on the main IT-40 form! (Kinda just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?)

Why would you do this? Well, just try looking at these little turtle eyes and telling him “no”.

An Eastern Box Turtle at the edge of a oak woodland in Starke County, IN, May 2020.

You can’t do it, can you?

Game animals in Indiana and elsewhere have a long-running and well-established system of funding through the sale of hunting licenses and special taxes on ammunition. Non-game animals – like bald eagles, box turtles, whooping cranes, and the like – are equally deserving of protection & scientific study. For every $5 donation to the Nongame Wildlife Fund, Indiana is eligible to receive an additional $9 in federal funds. It’s a great way to show your support for wildlife to policymakers. Read more here.

Thirdly, a brief update on the 9th Road Fen restoration project. We just squeezed in the dormant season seeding this week. It was really difficult to time properly; the soils are rich in carbon and very squishy for most of the year, so in order to get a tractor on site without getting stuck, we have to go during or just after a long, deep freeze. We seeded right on top of the snow as the sun was starting to melt the top layer, within just a couple hours, the seeds were melting their way downward to the soil. By the afternoon, the soils were already getting too soft in places, so we switched to hand-seeding. On this scale, it really doesn’t take much longer and allows some additional control. Here are a few photos:

Lastly, the Provincial Leadership of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ have released a statement on SB 389, the proposed legislation that would eliminate protection for isolated wetlands in Indiana. You can read it here.

Marshall County Parks & Recreation welcomes it’s first mountain bike trail (in process)

Last summer, in the midst of COVID-19 turmoil, Marshall County started a new chapter by creating the Marshall County Parks & Recreation Department.

I was asked by the County Council to join the 5-member, all-volunteer board. I was very happy to start this 4 year term, what a privilege!

A view from the DNR’s Mill Pond boat ramp, just north of the county’s Mill Pond property

We have been meeting monthly. Meetings are public, of course. I truly hope we can build a parks department that all residents feel they have ownership of.

Oh, while you’re reading, please click here and (if you have a Facebook account), click “like” on our official page.

walking the Mill Pond property, dreaming

Starting with zero budget and staff presents challenges, but also opportunities. It allows us to be unhindered from the “we’ve always done it that way” attitude that hampers forward movement. We also benefit from fresh energy and perspectives. Building something new is a great was to get people engaged.

The Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG) has graciously offered to assist with the creation of a 5 Year Plan, a necessary step for accessing crucial grant funding.

As that gets moving, an ad-hoc committee of mountain biking enthusiasts have already set to work on a new trail at the Mill Pond property. While not an official park yet, Mill Pond is a county-owned property that has been used for a couple decades as a timber harvesting demonstration project.

These volunteers are really restoring my confidence in civic participation… they are pulling together expertise & tools & volunteers to get the work done. When I talked with some of the folks knowledgeable about trail design, I was surprised how much trail we were going to be able to fit on such a small acreage. And now I have just the excuse I needed to buy another bike! Look for soft & hard openings of this trail later in 2021.

Apologies if some of these photos are tilted:

laying out the trail with flags
creating some fun features to play on
avoiding mud ruts with a simple bridge
rock features to make it interesting

While walking the Mill Pond property this summer, we came across a large population of Tall Thistle (Cirsium altissimum). Readers of this blog know that thistles aren’t something to be feared, but celebrated! This Tall Thistle was right at home in a mature hardwood forest, and the plants towered over my head. What a treat! Land stewardship can be daunting, but it’s filled with rewards. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses (or thistles) when you get the chance.

Electric vehicle adverts

Ok, time for a brief moment of funny. Will Ferrell never fails to get a laugh from me.

Did you watch? Ok, now we can finish with the post.

EVs face some marketing challenges in the U.S., to put it lightly. Motoring is so deeply ingrained in American culture & history that our brains have a hard time contemplating any alternative.

With the ad above, GM is attempting to turn this giant Titanic. They recently committed to 100% electric sales within just 14 years. Even so, they only have 1 EV model for sale currently. One!

The infrastructure we decided to build in the U.S. has made a motor vehicle essential for fulling participating in our economic and culture life over most of the U.S.When I got my license in rural Indiana in the 90’s, it was a significant step towards independence. (Although those trends are reversing somewhat, for multiple reasons).

Ok, this post is already getting away from me… focus…

EVs require a shift in expectations of the driving experience. Like almost every new technology, early generations of EVs were expensive and full of compromises. People who jumped in too early or without educating themselves were soured at the experience.

But as supply chains have matured and improvements compound year over year, the market expands to more and more users, and compromises fade or even turn into advantages, all depending on whether the user is a fleet, individual, etc.

Here was a 2018 effort at brand-neutral EV advertising (required from VW’s legal settlement)

Anyway, the rollout has proceeded at different paces around the world, hence the comparison with Norway.

Norway invested heavily in tax incentives & charging infrastructure for EVs. These seem to have overcome some of Norway’s climactic disadvantages (EV’s work even in the bitter cold, but their range can be severely reduced). On the other hand, Norway has a relative small population (less than Indiana) and is mostly urbanized. As a result, EVs accounted for nearly 9 in 10 car sales in December of 2020.

EVs ended the 2020 calendar year with 75% marketshare (the #2 selling model is an American brand, Tesla), which leading the world by far. As recently as 2013, this value was only 5%.

EV sales in Europe really exploded this year, doubling in volume and capturing a full 10% of the marketshare. Many new models were launched. The industry expects that the trend is heading in a single direction, it’s just a matter of the speed.

On this side of the pond, the market was pretty stagnant. Manufacturers have been slow to release new options here and seem to be slow-walking the transition; that said, there are a lot of models rolling out in 2021 and 2022. The U.S. EV marketshare remained around 2% last year, with the state of California leading at 8% (and many other states still under 1%).

Transport emissions have been the #1 source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. for several years now. While advances in engine efficiency continue, this work has been completely swamped/erased by an insatiable appetite for larger vehicles. Not only in the U.S., but around the world. It’s… depressing, and I try not to think about it.

President Biden has promised to convert the federal vehicle fleet (n=650,000) to electric as soon as possible, as well as to incentive the installation of a half million charging stations this decade. But… so far we’ve only had time for promises. Let’s hope these folks can figure things out.

So, is the U.S. going to overtake Norway in EV adoption anytime soon? Uh… no, sorry Will, I don’t see those numbers adding up. But if there’s anything that motivates Americans, it’s a competition, so here we go. Either way, thanks for the laugh Will!

This graph shows not EV marketshare of new sales, but cumulative ownership of all EVs per capita. The northern Indiana region is around 1.0 per 1000 people, growing a good 30-50% per year, but starting from a low number.

100 days of masking to save thousands of lives

I shared a link in November that highlighted the many stressors that our local hospital system was facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a brutal winter, it’s not over, and it remains very serious.

I shift to a lot of administrative work in the winter, and the field work that I do is often solo or with small teams, so it’s not too disruptive to my work. (It did, however, disrupt one of N. America’s most iconic long term ecological research projects). Winter and early spring is also conference and annual meeting season; these gatherings bring fresh energy and life into our discipline, and online meetings just aren’t the same. It’s very disappointing, but it’s a light burden relative to what most are facing.

As we’ve discussed here, the pandemic is highlighting many ecological features of our common life together. Whether or not we learn the lessons, time will tell.

With the new year, however, has brought the promise of several highly effective vaccines. These are very, very good news. And now our difficult task is turning vaccines into vaccinations. This depends on the boring but vital public health and healthcare infrastructure that most of us in normal times take for granted.

I had the great pleasure to take advantage of our volunteer-time-off program to assist in the vaccine rollout at the local hospital. So did one of my colleagues, Debbie Palmer, the Executive Director of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council. You can read about her experience on her blog.

But if you are reading this post, you probably can’t do much to help manufacture more vaccines, or distribute them from the factories to the states. The rollout is starting slow and even with great effort, it is going to take many months to achieve herd immunity

I was very encouraged to see our new President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Tony Fauci gather together last night to announce our nation’s first federal plan to tackle the virus. The 15 minute address can be seen here:

A part of that plan we can all participate in is accepting the President’s challenge for all of us to mask up for 100 days. Scientists are telling us that making this behavior universal would alone save some 50,000 lives.

Read that again…

Unfortunately, masks were made into a political statement in the United States, when they are simply an evidence-based practice to reduce (not eliminate) the transmission of the virus. It does more to protect others than it does yourself.

But the simple reason we can take the time to put a piece of cloth over our faces is that we care for others. It’s not just about us, our feelings, or our comfort. We may also feel that it’s a patriotic duty, or we may want to show solidarity, to remind people that they are not alone in their struggle.

but in humility consider others better than yourselves, mask - Google  Search | Humility, Mask quotes, Cool words

Now, I’m not saying wearing a mask is some heroic act that deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. To the contrary, it’s a minor inconvenience compared to what so many have borne. But neither do I have much time for cynics who deride mask-wearing as holier-than-thou exterior signs of virtue. How childish! (I’d better mute myself here before continuing to write down my thoughts on that!).

There’s a sign in our Motherhouse that I love, and it states, “Please recycle. The Earth deserves our diligence.” It gets me every time. I’m not so important that I can’t spare 10 seconds to care for our planet’s community of Life. Nor am I so important that my freedom is more important than the community’s security.

(Speaking of diligence, here’s a picture of the hardest-working lumberjills I know. Let us do the work while it is still before us.)

I have verified with testing that I have antibodies from a previous, mild COVID-19 infection. This has relieved some anxiety about my own personal safety, but I will still wear a mask. (I was definitely glad I was wearing a mask when I had to take a family member to the emergency room for a non-COVID issue… it turned out I was likely infectious at the time). We still don’t know a lot about reinfection, we don’t know if the vaccines will reduce transmission or by how much.

But most importantly, there are still vulnerable people waiting for the vaccine, and waiting for economic relief. Or they live with someone who is medically vulnerable. Or they have decided not to get vaccinated yet (including a large number of healthcare workers). Or they are one hospitalization away from bankruptcy.

Those of us with some measure of protection via a previous infection, or a vaccine, and/or a low-risk workplace setting… we need to consider others. We’ve made it this far, now let’s hold the line.

This is going to feel like it’s taking forever, but it’s not forever.

100 days would bring us into April*, past the entirety of the Lenten season. During Lent we remember our mortality, our earth-iness, the brevity of life, and our reliance on our Creator, the Sustainer of the 13.8 billion year-old Cosmos. It seems like an apt practice.

(*We will likely need to rely on masks longer than this, but that’s for another post!).

Enjoying the 30,000 Sandhill Cranes migrating through Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, Porter County, IN. Clearly no one taught them about distancing! But humans were distanced and masked on the viewing platform.

news round-up: new year edition

Well, it’s only been 1 month since I posted some reading items, but there’s a lot to share!

Here’s a view of our Silver Maple during the ice storm + slushy snow:

The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere (Harpers) Fred Bahnson reports on one of Richard Rohr’s conferences, and speaks to the American spiritual landscape in a way that I had been unable to articulate.

Here’s a great example of using drones to teach about prescribed fire. This is educational video about specific prescribed fire techniques, produced by the Purdue University Extension. I appreciate all the work that Jarred Brooke, extension wildlife specialist, has put in to educated the public on this and many natural resource issues.

Food for thought? French bean plants show signs of intent, say scientists (The Guardian) Many botanists dispute idea of plant sentience, but study of climbing beans sows seed of doubt

I think I first found the Voyageurs Wolf Project via social media. They do some seriously top-notch science communication work, and publish results of their research in both popular and scientific journals. Take a look at this one:

This Winter Marks an Incredible ‘Superflight’ of Hungry Winter Finches (Audubon) Across the country, birders are being treated to one of the biggest irruption years of boreal birds in recent memory.

Stimulus Bill Is Laden With Climate Provisions, Including a Phasedown of Chemical Super-Pollutants (Inside Climate News) Lawmakers call it the most significant climate victory to pass Congress in a decade. It includes aid and tax credits for wind and solar, and requires phasedown of HFCs.

They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen? (ProPublica) This is a story about frustration, about watching the West burn when you fully understand why it’s burning — and understand why it did not need to be this bad.

Successful Recovery of Bald Eagle Marks Big Win (Wayne Dale News) Indiana’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) recently removed the bald eagle from Indiana’s list of state endangered and special concern species due to evidence of successful recovery.

The Resistance: In the President’s Relentless War on Climate Science, They Fought Back (Inside Climate News) The scientists’ efforts were often unseen and sometimes unsuccessful. But over four years, they mounted a guerilla defense that kept pressure on the Trump Administration.

Two centuries of energy transitions in one animated graphic: see how U.S. energy use has changed from 1800 to today (click to see the visualization).

How Did This Poisonous Plant Become One of the American South’s Most Long-Standing Staples? // The plant’s inherent toxicity hasn’t deterred those who swear by its delicious flavor and purported medicinal properties.