TLC's Blog (170)
Drought. It's a serious problem this year, but I have been reluctant to write about it. Frankly, the images that come to my mind are not pretty.
I think of famine and pictures of small children with distended bellies and pencil-thin limbs.
I think of the Joad family in John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath." Families destroyed by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. "Okies" moving to California - leaving home and property behind, hoping to find work somewhere, doing something, for someone. (If you never read the novel, I suggest adding it to your summer reading list).
I think of the shrinking amount of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, and wonder about Global Warming. Looking at the maps showing the extent of the drought in just the United States, and reading the statistics of how many thousand "record" high temperatures have been broken in the US this year, I wonder if this is finally the moment when our country will acknowledge that this weather is far outside any statistical "norm."
I keep trying to think of the "bright side" of drought. No mosquitoes. That's good, right? Lots of sunshine! I have not had to mow the lawn since late May! Woo Hoo!
But then I think of the many birds and bats that count on the skeeters each summer for food. What are they doing? I guess the lack of insects explains why I've been seeing unusual birds at the bird feeders - like the Warbling Vireos. They are insect-eating birdsusually heard at the tops of trees, but with a lack of insects, they have to find food somewhere, so they visit the feeders.
Friends ask if they should be watering their oaks. I ask how large the tree is before answering.
If the oak is small, and was planted in the last few years, definitely water it - at least two gallons a week. And keep it mulched, but DO NOT pile mulch up around the trunk.
If the oak is mature, I remind folks that the tree has been through many droughts. The 2005 drought, the 1988 drought, the 1956 drought, the droughts in the 1930s, etc, etc. One of the reasons oaks are the signature tree of the prairie is because they were the tree species still standing after wildfires roared across the plains during the mid-summer droughts. Mulching at least out to the drip line of the tree is good - helps retain soil moisture, but otherwise, you just have to trust that mother nature will manage.
What about native plants like Purple Coneflowers, Milkweeds and Black-eyed Susans? Well, like the oaks, these flowering plants evolved in the open plains of the Grand Prairie. For thousands of years, they regularly were burned down to the ground, and re-grew from deep roots. It is their nature. They would not be native to this area if the occassional drought or devastating fire meant the species' demise.
Like the early European settlers who moved here looking for land to own and tend, the plants of the Grand Prairie are tough. Any plants that could not adapt to the harsh conditions (bitterly cold winters, summer heat and drought) did not make it.
How quickly will we - people, birds, insects, plants and animals - adapt if 2012 is in fact a preview of a "new normal"?
Do you remember writing haiku poems in Grade School? They are short - a classic haiku is just 17 syllables, in a three line, 5-7-5 format. In Japan, where this form of poetry originated, there is almost always a reference to nature and/or the seasons. You can read up on the history and variations of English language Haiku poetry on Wikipedia.
I've been trying to write haiku's about oaks - sticking to the 17 syllable, three line format, but finding it too hard to adhere to the 5-7-5. (I'll keep working on it though).
Oaks can be so massive, and the diversity of species of oaks across the planet is huge, so I find something appealing about trying to capture some aspect of these amazing trees in a scant 17 syllables. Here are my first two:
(Quercus Haiku 1)
Alba's cap is too small
Rubra's fits just right
Bur hides her face with fringe
(Quercus Haiku 2)
An April birth
Decades to maturity
Centuries of fall leaves
(Quercus Haiku 3)
Once an acorn
A squirrel's lost meal
Fed generations of his kin
What do you think? Do you have one to share?
There is a bur oak at Woodstock’s Hennen Conservation Area that has come to be called “Granny” oak, in recognition of multiple generations of her progeny that are found all around her. At 49 inches in diameter, she is over 300 years old (born circa 1700).
Take a short ride to visit the Hennen Park on Dean Street, nearly three miles south of Route 14, hike back past the pond, through the woods, across the Eagle Scout-constructed bridge, take a left, and follow the trail until you reach Granny.
She sits on the fence line between the park and a tree nursery to the north. This accident of birth location proved to be quite lucky for Granny, as she was spared the ax when most of the trees around her were cleared for farming in the 1800s.
“Green infrastructure" - as opposed to traditional built infrastucture like roads - includes the living systems like wetlands and woodlands that provide essential support to our communities in the form of reduced flooding, improved air quality and enhanced water quality.
The illustration shows a classic green infrastructure network of core areas linked by corridors.
The recently unveiled McHenry County Green Infrastructure Plan identifies a network of undeveloped lands that will help ensure the county’s human and natural communities can support one another in perpetuity. The plan includes recommendations for preservation of the existing wetlands, oak woodlands, prairies and streams, use of built green infrastructure like raingardens and green roofs, and the needs of green infrastructure to supports the county’s full diversity of plants and animals. A copy of the plan and maps can be found at www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/planninganddevelopment/.
A green infrastructure vision for McHenry County is also included in the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision (CW-GIV), due for release later this month. Chicago Wilderness covers an area that extends from southeast Wisconsin all the way around the southern end of Lake Michigan and into southwestern Michigan. The CW-GIV will be a guide to “creating a region where healthy ecosystems contribute to economic vitality and a high quality of life for all residents” (www.chicagowilderness.org). Additionally, the vision will provide a blueprint for preservation of the region’s biodiversity by focusing conservation efforts on preservation and restoration of the lands and waters necessary for the full diversity of native plants and animals found in the region to thrive.
Back in 1999, Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance of more than 200 conservation organizations, published a Biodiversity Recovery Plan for the region. It may come as a surprise, but the Chicago Wilderness geographic area is home to an amazing diversity of globally rare plants, animals and natural communities.That’s right, despite a human population of more than 8 million people, plants like the prairie white-fringed orchid, animals such as the Blanding’s turtle, and natural communities that include fens, bogs and oak savannas all survive on the planet due – at least in part – to conservation efforts in the greater Chicago region.
Part of the ecological success is due to more than 370,000 acres of land that has been preserved by local, state and federal government agencies. However, the vast majority of land in the region is owned by individuals – it always has been and always will be – and the decisions those landowners make to preserve, restore or develop their land will determine the character and environmental health of the region.
When one looks at the portion of Chicago Wilderness that is in Illinois, there is one county that stands out for the remnant natural communities that exist – and natural areas that could be restored: McHenry County.
For those who live here, that fact is no surprise. Local rivers and streams, including the Nippersink and Kishwaukee, are among the highest quality in the entire state. The local oak woods – while greatly diminished from the 1830’s – are the most substantial remaining oak woods in northeastern Illinois. A great diversity of wetlands from sedge meadows to fens and seeps are still found here. Plus, more than half of the land in the county is farmed, so many of the wetland areas that were drained for farming 80 or more years ago are still farmed today, meaning that there is an opportunity to restore those areas someday.
Private landowners have left an amazing legacy in McHenry County – in some cases by accident, in others, by design. The green infrastructure plans articulate a clear vision that all landowners, conservationists, local governments and developers can follow to ensure that the future balance between people and natural resources in McHenry County is not left to chance, but is preserved by design.
Crystal Lake's North Elementary School students learned about caring for the Earth during their Earth Day Recycled Art Contest, and then chose to donate the funds they raised to support a local nonprofit that cares for the Earth in McHenry County: The Land Conservancy of McHenry County.
The school's art teacher, Sue Jensen, invited students to create a piece of art made only from recycled materials. All contest entries were displayed during Earth Week in April. Students used "penny" voting to select their favorite piece.
Penny voting allows people to place pennies in jars located in front of the art work(s) they like the best.
After all the pennies were tallied, Victoria Ostrow from Mr. Moylan’s 4th grade class was the top vote getter with her creation of an ocean scene using a variety of recycled plastic items.
The money raised from student votes was donated to The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, and will be used to support TLC's Project Quercus Oak Conservation Project.
It seems that local trees have been in the news a lot this year. And it looks like the trees are often losing to "progress" or "infrastructure."
Here are just a few of the items I've heard about recently:
Utilities wanting greater power to remove trees if they think they are a potential problem.
Illinois' State Rep from Marengo introduced legislation last fall that proposed giving electric utilities the ability to remove any tree that they deemed a potential problem if it were within 20 feet of one of their power lines. If the bill had passed, utilities would have been able to remove trees on private property, and it would have been a crime for the homeowner to interfere.
My response: Okay, the whole proposal was an enormous give away to the power companies. In communities where power lines run through back yards, it could have resulted in the removal of thousands of trees, forever changing the character of communities, in addition to increasing stormwater run off and reducing property values. The reason for the legislation was to reduce prolonged power outages due to downed power lines following storms. If the utilities really wanted to reduce power outages, they would bury the lines instead of removing the trees.
IDOT taking down "hazardous" trees along their routes.
You may have noticed that quite a few trees came down this spring along Route 120 between Woodstock and McHenry, and Route 23 between Marengo and Harvard. This work was commissioned by the Illinois Department of Transportation as part of their regular maintenance. Trees in the right-of-way that were dead or leaning over the road were marked and then removed to prevent them from one-day falling on someone.
My response: IDOT is well within their rights to do this, and their intentions are good. I just wish they didn't view the trees that are located in the right of way as "their" trees, and I wish there were some requirement that the public be notified when a project like that is proposed. The trees do not belong to the state, they belong to the residents of Illinois, and it seems the public should receive some notice before our trees are removed.
Municipalities proposing to remove many large, old trees to rebuild roads, put in sidewalks and/or install stormsewers.
Recent proposals in Algonquin, along Fleming Road, and Alden Road between rural Woodstock and the Wisconsin state line, all gained public notice in large part because so many large, old trees were proposed to be removed. To some people, if a tree is located in the public right of way, and the road authority wants to widen or "improve" the road with curbs and stormsewers, those trees are just in the way.
My response: There seems to be a general lack of understanding that trees are an important part of a community's infrastructure. They reduce stormwater run-off, clean the air, enhance property values, reduce the "heat island" effect in urban and suburban areas, provide habitat for birds and insects, and are generally good for our mental and physical health and well-being. Yet, rather than factoring tree preservation in to built infrastructure plans from the beginning, it seems that road authorities and local communities view even historic trees as just something to be removed if they are in the way. While sometimes there are provisions made to plant replacement trees, a 2" diameter tree is going to take a generation or more before it provides the benefits to the community that a 150 year-old bur oak provides.
Farmers removing fence row trees and tearing off tree branches that overhang their fields, all to get a few more rows of corn.
With corn and soybean prices at record high levels, we have been seeing some really aggressive tree removal by farmers who have a strong financial incentive to plant a few more rows of corn (or beans). In several cases, entire fence rows have been removed and burned. 150+ year old oak groves have been cut down and the stumps grubbed out to open up less than an additional acre of farmland. Some farmers have even used equipment to rip the branches off of neighbors trees if those branches overhang the farm field - otherwise the ginormous equipment used these days won't fit.
My response: Back in the day, farmers wanted to have diversified operations and land holdings that typically included a wood lot to provide fire wood, timber, grazing for the cattle in summer, etc. They also left large trees in the middle of fields to provide shady spots where they could stop and have lunch during the middle of a hot summer day. Now, many farmers don't even own the land they farm, and their only goal is getting as much income off the land as possible. Besides that, the combines and planting equipment have enclosed cabs with airconditioning these days, so there is no need to sit in the shade for lunch! A family's farm was their home back in the day, so most families tried to be good stewards of the land resources to be sure the next generation would be able to make a living there too. Today, land is seen as a commodity - something to be bought and sold. Something to wring the most money from today without a thought given to the next generation.
Some highway officials believe that shade from trees damages road asphalt.
There is a rumor that has been passed along for a few years now that says tree shade damages asphalt roads because it prevents them from drying following a rain storm. So, some road departments are getting rid of the road-shading trees. In the most obnoxious cases, road agencies have removed every tree branch that is overhanging a road, severing the branches in the middle rather than pruning them back to the trunk.
My response: This is a rumor based on partial information. This is one of the most dangerous kinds of rumors, because once acted upon, it is impossible to undo the damage done. Namely, once a tree has been damaged through irresponsible cutting of limbs, or removed entirely, it is ruined or gone forever. There is a kernel of truth in the rumor, as is often the case, but it isn't the whole story. Water on asphalt does damage the road surface, so the thinking is that anything that prevents the water from leaving quickly is bad. Thus, shade from trees becomes bad since it prevents the water on roads from evaporating as quickly as it would in direct sun. What this story omits, however is that branches overhanging roads actually reduce the amount of rainfall that strikes the road. That's right, the tree leaves catch a good amount of the water, especially during a light rain, so the road actually may stay dry under the tree. The tree leaves also catch and slow the rainfall, which further reduces the direct impact of rain on asphalt. Plus, shade is only a factor on a sunny day after a rainfall. What happens when it rains at night? Trees or not, there is no sunlight hitting the road during the night. Additionally, trees only generate meaningful shade during the growing season - typically May-October in our area. That means for half of the year, shade from trees is a non-issue.
All this is a long way of saying that I wish more people would view trees as important cultural, historic, infrastructure, aesthetic and community resources, and do more to think about the ways trees contribute to our health and general well-being as a society, and stop viewing them as obstacles to be removed. In some cases they were here long before we were - and if we take care of them, they could be here long after we are gone.
The word infrastructure brings to mind roads, power lines, sewers and other built systems that support the human population. But there is also a natural, living infrastructure that is often overlooked: “green infrastructure.”
One definition of green infrastructure is “strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.” (The Conservation Fund, www.greeninfrastructure.net).
While a growing number of city planners view the trees, prairies, forests, rivers, creeks and wetlands as vital parts of a community’s infrastructure, there is still some discrimination in our society when it comes to infrastructure. Specifically, those things that cost a lot to build and maintain (e.g. roads, sewers, electric grids) are often given preference over the living systems that have been here for centuries.
How often have I heard someone say: “If we want reliable electricity, then the power company needs to cut the trees”? Or how about this one: “That tree creates a hazard for drivers on the road, so needs to be removed”? Why does the conversation always seem to pit the built systems against the living ones? It’s concrete versus trees, and tile lines versus wetlands.
Fortunately, financial realities of these times are causing communities to give the living parts of infrastructure greater consideration. The City of Crystal Lake has a green infrastructure plan, the City of Woodstock is developing a plan and the McHenry County Board will soon consider a countywide vision of green infrastructure.
One reason for the growing interest in green infrastructure is that a healthy natural system makes important contributions to society while requiring minimal maintenance. Rake up some leaves, keep pollution out of the creeks, allow sufficient buffers around wetlands, and generally the living infrastructure will work just fine. And, the living infrastructure provides a multitude of services to people for generations without having to be torn up and replaced like a road.
Consider that in the course of each day, a tree helps reduce the rate of storm water run-off, cleans the air by filtering particulate matter, provides shade, adds market value to our homes, provides habitat for many birds, insects and mammals, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.
Won’t it be wonderful one day when all infrastructure is treated equally?
There are several efforts nearing completion to define Green Infrastructure in McHenry County as well as the region.
The McHenry County Department of Planning is creating a Green Infrastructure Plan for the County. The plan’s main goal is to describe a desired network of interconnected natural lands along with appropriate buffers to help reduce future land use conflicts between people and the essential natural connections. The plan also will offer policy recommendations to support the network. After several months of working with many conservation professionals, municipal park managers, and trail planners from throughout the area, the plan is nearing completion. Please check the Department’s website for the latest information. http://www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/planninganddevelopment/Pages/GreenInfrastructure.aspx
Chicago Wilderness is set to release a Green Infrastructure Vision for northeastern Illinois as a guide to “creating a region where healthy ecosystems contribute to economic vitality and a high quality of life for all residents” (www.chicagowilderness.org). Additionally, the vision will provide a blueprint for preservation of the region’s biodiversity by focusing conservation efforts on preservation and restoration of the lands and waters necessary for the full diversity of native plants and animals found in the region to thrive.
TLC's Fourth Annual “Art of the Land” Art Show and Benefit for The Land Conservancy of McHenry County will take place at the Starline Building in Harvard September 21-22, 2012. Since 2009, TLC has worked with area artists and amateur photographers to produce a celebration of the land and all it provides. The show features artists from throughout Northeastern Illinois, music, storytelling, original video and local food. For the second year, storyteller Jim May of Alden will produce a special “Voices of the Land” feature on the first night of the event.
Those interested in helping to plan the event, or who would like to volunteer at the event, are encouraged to contact TLC for more information on volunteer opportunities and the time and location of up-coming planning team meetings. Over 300 volunteer hours were donated last year by individuals who helped set up the space, install lighting, hang artwork, paint walls, serve food at the event, bartend and other similar jobs.
Finally, businesses are sought as sponsors for the event. Sponsors receive recognition in all advertising for the event, on the invitations, at the event itself, and through TLC’s website and newsletter. Please contact Cheryl at 815-337-9502 for details.
This early spring brought some pleasant surprises. Chorus frogs were singing in early March. Apple trees were blooming in the fourth week of March. Virginia bluebells started blooming the first week of April. These delights were all about a month early this year!
Unfortunately, there were also some unpleasant early arrivals. Buckthorn and Honeysuckle started growing in mid-March. Reed canary grass was green and growing by the third week of March. And ticks were out in March too.
That's right, ticks.
The adjacent picture comes from a useful article about ticks and Lyme Disease on the Illinois Department of Public Health's webiste.
The most likely tick to see in this area is the dog tick, shown at the bottom of the picture. The dog tick can be nearly a quarter of an inch in size, with brown and cream markings on the back and underside. If you have a dog that has had a tick, it was one of these. Dog ticks are not known to carry Lyme disease
Occasionally, one might see a deer tick, the small black and brown one shown at the top of the picture. The deer tick is small - less than an eighth of an inch, and is all black and brown. These are the ticks that carry Lyme disease.
You have probably heard about the initial symptoms of Lyme disease: "bull's eye" rash, flu-like aches, fever, fatigue. Here's a picture of the rash.
The good news is that if diagnosed early, the disease will be cured in 80-90% of cases. However, in 10-20% of cases, patients will develop a chronic condition known as Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, so it is best to avoid getting the disease in the first place.
Some of the ways to avoid being bitten by a tick are:
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing with long sleeves, wear a hat, and tuck pants into socks when outdoors in wooded or areas of high grass during the growing season.
- Use 20% or stronger DEET or premethrin sprayed on clothing if going outside into tick-prone areas.
- Remove and wash clothing after coming home to destroy any ticks that may have hitched a ride.
- Take a shower within two hours of coming back indoors to wash off any ticks that may be on your body but have not yet attached themselves.
If you do find a tick has attached itself, use fine-tipped tweezers to remove it by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with a smooth motion - do not twist, as that may cause the tick's mouth part to break-off and remain in your skin. Once removed, wash the area. If the mouth parts are still in your skin, and will not remove easily with the tweezers, leave them there, and let the bite heal. You don't want to cause an infection or create a scar.
If the tick is a deer tick - also known as a black-legged tick - watch the bite location for signs of rash. Don't be afraid to talk to your doctor if you have any of the symptoms noted above, even if you do not develop a rash.
Fortunately, Illinois has a relatively low incidence of Lyme disease. In 2010, according to the CDC, Illinois had 135 cases of Lyme disease confirmed. Compare that with Wisconsin, which had over 2,500 cases that same year.
Don't be surprised with a case of Lyme disease. And don't avoid the outdoors because there are ticks out there! Just take the proper steps to avoid being bitten.
The proposed Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge just took one step closer to becoming a reality when the US Fish & Wildlife Service released an Assessment that recommends a location, configuration and habitat focus for the refuge.
There will be two public meetings the first week in April where the public can provide feedback and learn more about the agency's recommendations.
- Tuesday, April 3 @ Lost Valley Visitor Center, Ringwood from 5-8pm
- Wednesday, April 4 @ Brookfield Middle School in Genoa City, Wisconsin, from 5-8pm
The project will be located primarily in the north central part of McHenry County, in the area found between Hebron, Richmond and Wonder Lake. The refuge is proposed to have a robust private land component where landowners will be given encouragement and assistance to manage their properties in ways that complement the goals of the refuge.
Migratory and grassland bird species will be the primary habitat focus of the refuge. Many grassland bird species have faced sharp declines in population over the years due to declining habitat of sufficient size.
Nationally, Wildlife Refuges can be economic engines for a region like McHenry County. People visiting a refuge for the day are likely to have lunch in a nearby town, fill up the car with gas, even do a little shopping. When one considers that McHenry County has a gorgeous landscape left by the glaciers, with rolling hills, clean streams, rich wetlands and remnant oak groves, the opportunities are limitless for this to become a regional tourist destination.
And, one of the best things about tourists is that they visit, spend some money, and then return home. Unlike an economy driven by home-building (which we once had), a tourist economy is actually sustainable, as the people whose livelihoods depend on it have a vested interest in maintaining the surrounding landscape & community character that makes the area so appealing!
So, I for one am very excited about the opportunity that a Federal Wildlife Refuge brings to our area. I hope that others will join me in embracing this addition to our community!
You've probably noticed smoke in the air recently. The season for burning natural areas in McHenry County arrived early this year!
Typically the temperature is still too low and the ground is too wet for land managers to burn wetland and grassland areas in the first part of March.
The recent mild temperatures, moderate humidity (not too high or too low) and light winds make conditions ideal for an ecoloogical burn.
Fire is a low-cost way to take care of natural lands like prairies, oak woods and wetlands. The process of burning off prior years' dead vegetation helps open areas up so that new vegetation can grow.
The fire kills off small, woody vegetation like buckthorn sprouts, keeping them from taking hold in sensitive areas. Another benefit of a periodic fire in natural areas is that it releases nutrients from the burnt vegetation and exposes the area so that the seeds of native species receive light and start growing.
Remember that before European-American settlers moved into the area in the 1830s and started farming, the land burned regularly through wildfires and fires set deliberately by native peoples to facilitate hunting. Also keep in mind that the plants native to our area are adapted to periodic fires, while many of the introduced species that compete with the natives do not tolerate fire well.
When land managers burn natural areas, it helps give those native species an advantage and temporarily knocks back the invaders. This benefits us all as the native plants provide needed habitat for butterflies and birds that we value - as well as the insects that many of our favorite birds eat!
While fire may be an efficient and inexpensive way for a landowner to manage his or her property, it is also a potentially dangerous undertaking. Knowing the basics about equipment used, proper weather conditions and correct technique are all important skills to have when burning land.
If you are interested in learning how to burn natural areas safely, TLC is holding a "Learn to Burn" class on Saturday March 31st at the Dunham Township Building on Airport Road in Harvard.
The class runs from 9-3, and cost for TLC members is just $20. Non-members pay $35, which gives them a year or membership too. The fee includes lunch. To register for the class, please fill out and mail in a registration form that you can obtain by clicking here, or by calling 815-337-9502.
What follows is an article from ScienceDaily regarding the results of a study that found nature appears to do as good a job as man when it comes to creating new wetlands...
ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2012) — Fifteen years of studying two experimental wetlands has convinced Bill Mitsch that turning the reins over to Mother Nature makes the most sense when it comes to this area of ecological restoration.
Mitsch, an environment and natural resources professor at Ohio State University, has led the effort to compare the behavior of two experimental marshes on campus -- one that was planted in 1994 with wetland vegetation and another that was left to colonize plant and animal life on its own.
The two wetlands now contain nearly the same number of plant species, and almost 100 more species than existed 15 years ago. When the two marshes were created, researchers planted 13 common wetland species in one marsh and left the other to develop naturally. Water from the nearby Olentangy River has been continually pumped into both marshes at rates designed to mimic water flow in a freshwater river wetland setting.
The wetlands' general similarities have persisted even after muskrats spent the winter of 2000-01 destroying most of the plants in both wetlands, either eating them or using them to build dens. Though the muskrats' favored cattails dominated the unplanted wetland at the time, bulrush grew back in the cattails' place as the marshes recovered from the animal damage. Trees also ring both wetlands, hinting at the possibility that the site could someday be transformed from a marsh into a forested wetland.
These developments suggest that as time passes, the initial conditions of the wetlands matter less than how they develop naturally on their own, Mitsch said.
"Both wetlands are examples of what we call self-design," he said. "Human beings can be involved in the beginning, but ultimately the system designs itself according to the laws of Mother Nature and Father Time."
The analysis is published in the March issue of the journal BioScience.
Mitsch is a staunch proponent of factoring wetlands' contributions to carbon storage, or sequestration, into worldwide strategies to offset greenhouse gas emissions. This study and his other research on freshwater wetlands suggest to Mitsch that wetlands could provide substantial support in this area.
At the 15-year mark, the unplanted wetland's rate of carbon retention stood at 266 grams of carbon per square meter per year, compared to 219 grams in the planted wetland. Mitsch noted that these are considerably higher than are the carbon sequestration rates estimated at a natural reference wetland used for comparison: Old Woman Creek near Lake Erie. Carbon sequestration rates there range from 125 to 160 grams of carbon per square meter per year.
One significant difference seen between the planted and unplanted experimental wetlands, however, was their rates of methane emission. Mitsch and colleagues measured these emissions from 2004 to 2008. The unplanted wetland emitted about twice as much methane as did the planted wetland, releasing 32 grams and 16 grams of methane per square meter per year, respectively.
"The planted wetland remained a little more diverse in plant communities, and biodiversity is good. The unplanted wetland appeared to go for power, in the thermodynamic sense, and had more productivity and more plants," Mitsch said. "In the end, that's the one that had more carbon sequestration, but it also had more methane. So you get the yin and the yang of carbon with the unplanted wetland."
Almost all freshwater wetlands are known to release methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, but Mitsch asserts that wetlands' role as carbon sinks more than compensates for the methane emissions. Methane oxidizes in the atmosphere while carbon dioxide does not, tipping the balance of value for protection against greenhouse gases in favor of wetlands because of their carbon storage capacity, he said.
These wetlands taught the scientists a number of lessons about wetland creation despite their small size. The 2 1/2-acre marshes are part of Ohio State's Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, which Mitsch directs.
If the soil is any indication, its adaptation showed that one can create a wetland anywhere there is a constant source of water. The soil at the site, former farmland, became hydric -- an indicator that a wetland exists -- within just a few years.
The wetlands were a bit of a disappointment in the area of nutrient retention, which relates to a wetland's work to purify water.
Phosphorus is problematic in inland freshwater systems, where, in excess, it can stimulate the growth of algae. The experimental wetlands at Ohio State started strong at retaining phosphorus, but the retention rate has declined over time, from 60 percent to about 5 percent over the course of the 15 years of study.
For nitrates, which can lead to algae blooms and kill some fish species in coastal waters such as the Gulf of Mexico, the rate of retention in the wetlands decreased from the early years from almost 40 percent to 25 percent, but now appears to have leveled off.
"The nitrate is a pretty good story, but the phosphorus retention is a warning that you can't get phosphorus retention from these wetlands over a really long time. They become saturated," Mitsch said.
He noted that a common discussion in ecology circles these days is a reference to "ecosystem services," where scientists and policymakers are asking, 'What can nature do for humans?' In Mitsch's estimation, wetlands fulfill all expectations: They purify water by removing nitrogen and phosphorus, regulate the climate by storing carbon, retain flood waters and, in the case of coastal wetlands, protect coastal areas from hurricane damage, and enhance biodiversity, in effect serving as natural zoos and botanical gardens.
In economic terms, that means preservation of wetlands could translate into less investment needed for the construction of water treatment plants, flood control reservoirs and carbon sequestration technology, he said.
Something that remains unclear about wetland creation, however, is whether planting or allowing for natural colonization makes any difference in the long run. Of the 13 species planted at the beginning of the experiment in the planted wetland, nine remain there; in the unplanted basin, only two of those species are growing there at year 15. In the meantime, dozens of new species grew in each marsh.
"At the end of the day I'm not sure one wetland is more important than the other. There are positives for both," Mitsch said. "We just wanted to see for as long as we could what happens over time when you plant one wetland and don't plant the other. I think they're converging, tending to be similar."
This work has been supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, Ohio State's School of Environment and Natural Resources and Environmental Science Graduate Program, and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
Co-authors are Li Zhang, Kay Stefanik, Amanda Nahlik, Christopher Anderson, Blanca Bernal, Maria Hernandez and Keunyea Song, all of the Olentangy River Wetland Research Park.
Below is a link to a bill introduced last November by State Rep Jack Franks that would effectively give electric utility companies carte blanche to remove any trees that can grow taller than 25 feet and are growing within 20 linear feet of their lines, whether or not the trees are on private property.
Read the amended version that was filed on Feb 28th: Click Here
Facts about HB 3884:
• Allows electric utilities to remove any vegetation with a mature height of 25 feet or more that is growing within 20 linear feet of their transmission lines carrying less than 100 kVs.
• The utility would be empowered to make the final decision as to which trees get removed.
• Trees located on private property or within the public right of way could be removed at the utility’s discretion without any requirement to notify local units of government or residents.
• It would be a crime to interfere with the utility.
• The utility is not required to mitigate the loss of trees through planting of new trees.
• The only lines that would be exempt are those that run to individual homes and the high voltage lines that carry more than 100kV.
From community character and property rights perspectives, this bill is a disaster. If passed, it has the potential to literally destroy the character of communities by giving the power companies the right to REMOVE trees that they deem a hazard -- regardless of whether or not that tree might be a 200 year old oak that was there long before their company (or the state of Illinois) even existed.
The one provision in the bill that seems reasonable would prohibit the planting of any vegetation that has a mature height greater than 25 feet within 20 feet of an electric transmission line. The bill should stop there.
Please do what you can to spread the word about this legislation and to contact Representative Franks directly to ask him to withdraw the bill. Here is a copy of this information in a Click Here that you can use.
There is a fill-in form for an email message to Rep Franks at this location: http://franks4illinois.com/contact.html
Phone number to the Woodstock office (south of the train bridge on Hwy. 47): 815-334-0063
Phone number to message Jack directly: 815-338-6363
Mailing address: P.O. Box 274 Woodstock, IL 60098
Since 2008, a small miracle has happened in Johnsburg. Through the efforts of one person, a landscape has been transformed. That person is Robert Roe.
He was featured in the recent "Everyday Heroes" section of the NW Herald - deservedly so. I know he doesn't do any of his volunteer work for attention, and I guess that's what makes him an everyday hero -- he does his thing whether anyone notices or not.
Robert's "thing" is restoring the land along Dutch Creek that runs through the Dutch Creek Estates Subdivision where he lives. And he has inspired a dedicated cadre of volunteers to work along-side him at the monthly restoration work days that he has organized for four years. He just put together a nice Progress Report through the end of 2011.
Nearly 3,000 volunteer hours have been donated to restoration of the site during that time! Conservatively speaking , the value of those donated hours is nearly $60,000. TLC could not afford to hire workers to do that amount of restoration at the site. We offer the use of some equipment and contribute herbicide to the project, but the heavy lifting (literally) is done by Roe & the other volunteers.
The natural area being restored is over 150 acres in size, and includes springs, seeps, oak savannas and one of the highest quality headwater creeks in the area. Roe points to three primary benefits of the project: aesthetic (restored natural areas do look better), ecological (the restoration is improving habitat for a wider diversity of species than would be found there otherwise) and economic.
When he talks of economic benefits, Roe refers primarily to the sense of community that projects like this provide. Over 200 individuals have contributed sweat equity to the project so far -- 98 individuals helped out in 2011 alone! Many of those people had never participated in an ecological restoration project before, and many of them had not previously worked together on a volunteer project.
This intangible but very real sense of camaraderie - of community pride & shared commitment to a place and a purpose - is an important part of what enriches our lives and our communities.
And that, as they say, is priceless.