TLC's Blog (132)
What is conservation? The definition is “the careful preservation of something.”
Conservation is talked about typically in the context of nature, water, soil, a historic structure, artwork, and the like. In other words, there are many different things that can be conserved.
When people talk of land conservation, what do they mean? A quote from Aldo Leopold may help clarify: “Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” Thus, conserving the land is conserving life itself.
Recently, someone asked me whether farming is compatible with conservation.
Oh boy, where do I start?
The Federal agency that works with farmers is called the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Since 1935, the NRCS, and its predecessor, the Soil Conservation Service, has worked with farmers to help ensure farming is done in a way that conserves both soil and water resources on the land so the land will be available for crop and livestock production forever.
The agency was formed as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1935 during the Dust Bowl when Congress passed Public Law 74-46, which states "the wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands…is a menace to the national welfare....”
Maybe you saw Ken Burns’ documentary “The Dust Bowl,” but if not, here’s a quick summary: in the 1920s, areas of the great plains (Central United States and Canada) were being over-grazed and intensively farmed in ways that left top soil exposed to the elements. When an 8-year period of severe droughts hit the area in the 1930s, the soil literally blew away – as far away as Washington DC and New York City. In some places, 75% of the top soil was lost.
National leaders recognized that the rich prairie soils of our country were one of the most valuable natural resources the country had, and steps needed to be taken to ensure it was not wasted.
At the time, the new agency’s mission was to help farmers take better care of the land.
Today, the mission is to provide “America’s farmers and ranchers with financial and technical assistance to voluntarily put conservation on the ground, not only helping the environment but agricultural operations, too.”
To extend soil conservation to more farmers, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) were formed. NRCS staff work closely with the local SWCD staff to provide technical assistance on natural resource issues for landowners, farmers and other local individuals and organizations.
McHenry County is served by the McHenry-Lake Soil and Water Conservation District office in Woodstock that was formed in 1947 under the Soil and Water Conservation Districts Act: of 1937. The act states that it is " in the public interest to provide (a) for the conservation of soil, soil resources, water and water resources in the State, (b) for the control and prevention of soil erosion, (c) for the prevention of air and water pollution, and (d) for the prevention of erosion, floodwater and sediment damages, and thereby to conserve natural resources….”
There are various funding programs offered by the USDA through the NRCS. Examples include:
- the Wetland Reserve Program where landowners are paid to convert farmland permanently to wetland
- the Conservation Reserve Program where landowners are paid to convert farmland to grasses or trees for a set period of time (usually 10 years)
- the Conservation Stewardship Program that pays farmers who implement soil and water conservation practices such as no-till farming, use of cover crops to build organic matter in the soil, field buffers, grass waterways, management of habitat for wildlife, and many more things.
It is up to each farmer to decide what soil and water conservation practices he or she will use on their farm, but there is no shortage of good information and technical experts to help them make decisions that will conserve their land.
I cannot recall the last time I experienced silence - the complete absence of sound.
Sure, there have been times that I would describe as “quiet,” even very quiet, but not silent. Even late at night when Harvard is asleep, I can hear the train engines idling a mile away.
The lack of silence in our lives is a health problem that also affects our mental capacity. This fact was first recognized over a century ago. Florence Nightingale, famous British nurse and activist, declared back in the 1800s that noise inflicted on patients was “cruel,” as it hindered their recoveries. Additionally, her American contemporary, writer Herman Melville wrote: “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”
“The fog comes on little cat feet” wrote Illinois poet Carl Sandburg in 1916 as he watched the fog roll in at the Lake Michigan shore in Chicago. The next line, “It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on” describes the fog as it settles in for a while before retreating again.
This is a story about the birds and the bees (and the bats and the bugs).
That’s right, it’s a story about plant pollinators. Insects like bees and butterflies, as well as animals such as birds and bats, are responsible for pollinating two-thirds of the world’s food crops.
Have you ever heard of middens? They are basically really old landfills.
The word comes from an old Scandinavian word, moedding, which means an old dump for human domestic waste.
People have always produced waste. That is why we know most of what we know about ancient cultures that did not have a written language.
I understand that it is welcome to see something green in the woods after winter, but please keep in mind that the welcome glint of green you see spells trouble for our native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.
That green you see is honeysuckle. Soon to be followed by buckthorn.
The honeysuckle was early this year. I can usually count on it starting to "leaf out" by April 12th, but first noticed it March 31 this year!
Did you see it? A beautiful sunset on your drive home at 6:30 in the evening.
I smelled it the other day. The scent of rich soil heated by the midday sun.
Surely, you heard it! Red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, even Sandhill cranes! If you listen in the evening, you might even hear some chorus frogs!
Sunday, March 19 at 11:30 pm was the Vernal Equinox in the Central Daylight Time zone. The Vernal equinox, also called the Spring or March Equinox, is the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north. (The celestial equator is an imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator.)
My friend Ken Williams, a horticulturist at Ringers Landscape Service in Fox River Grove, wrote a great blog post about TLC's 25th Anniversary Brunch last month. I think it captures the spirit of the event and the essence of TLC.
Of the January 31st event, Ken observed: "A room full of local folks who see the wounds [in the natural world] and strive to heal them. A room full of people who don’t just walk the walk, but live the life." Sounds like TLC's members to me. Keep reading for the full article. Thanks Ken!
Interesting weather this winter, wasn’t it? Last December brought tornadoes to the south and a blizzard to west Texas. Locally, we set some near-records for daily high temperatures in late December and again in January and February.
Coming on the heels of the Paris Climate Change conference – which resulted in an agreement for nearly every nation in the world to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide through energy efficiency, reforestation, transition to renewable energy sources, and many other means – my first instinct was to attribute the extreme weather to climate change.
Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong.
I remember the first time I heard a loon. My husband, Tom, and I were camping one summer in northern Wisconsin near a small lake. That first night, we heard an eerie sound that I didn’t recognize.
“What is that?” I whispered. “That’s a loon,” reassured Tom.
Loons called from the lake each evening, providing a memorable soundtrack for what was a very relaxing vacation. The calls we heard were a “wail,” which is the sound a loon makes in the evening when it is looking for its mate.
If you’ve never heard one, take a moment to find a sample “loon wail” on the Internet. The sound is like some ghostly wolf howling, but spookier. You can listen to a variety of loon calls by clicking here.
Governor Rauner officially declared October to be OAKtober this year to help raise awareness of Illinois’ oak legacy.
The white oak, Quercus alba, is the state tree because of the tree’s importance to the natural heritage and economy of Illinois. White oaks occur in every county in the state.
The wood from these tall, sturdy trees was used by early settlers for furniture, fence posts, barrels and flooring. Native Americans used white oak bark and roots to make medicines to treat a variety of ailments ranging from mouth sores to asthma.
Have you driven through Iowa? The roadsides are beautiful. Native wildflowers and grasses line the roads throughout much of the state, offering habitat for wildlife, especially birds and insects. (Iowa roadside in photo on left)
Further, Iowa state law prohibits the mowing of roadside meadows until after July 15 except under very specific circumstances. The delay in mowing allows for birds that nest in the grasses to finish raising their chicks before the mowers destroy the nests.
The highway prairie program applies to all public roads in the state, and approximately 50,000 acres of roadsides have been planted with native grasses and wildflowers. Not only does wildlife benefit, but so do the tax payers as fewer resources are spent mowing roadsides.
It is iconic. The American lawn: green, neatly cut and free of any plant but grass. No violets. No clover. Definitely no dandelions!
It ranks right up there with motherhood, baseball and apple pie as a symbol of America. Think of those lush, green golf courses in the deserts out west, or the photos of Phoenix transplants from the Midwest with lawns. The American lawn is more than a stereotype – it is an expensive addiction.