Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

2011 Recap

January 2, 2012

It’s time to tally up my hours of volunteering as a Minnesota Master Naturalist. In 2011, I logged 40.5 hours (including travel time) doing the following activities:

  • Assisted visitors with snowshoes and techniques for measuring trees at Fort Snelling State Park for the National Park Service.
  • Chaperoned a 5th grade field trip to William O’Brien State Park to learn about and catch bugs.
  • Gave tours of my native plants garden for Wild Ones.
  • Gave feedback to staff of Great River Greening regarding a presentation they developed.
  • Represented the MN Master Naturalists at the first annual Landscape Revival: Native Plant Expo & Market. Talked to attendees about the Master Naturalist program and about the benefits of native plants.
  • Represented Great River Greening at a fundraiser at Ten Thousand Villages store.
  • Collected sap from maple trees at Tamarack Nature Center.
  • Weeded the native prairie demonstration plot at Crosby Farm Park for St. Paul Parks.
  • Removed invasive burdock from Hidden Falls Park for the Mississippi River Fund.
  • Planted native plants in a terraced forest at Como Park for St. Paul Parks.
  • Searched for Jack-in-the-Pulpit berries/seeds and picked up trash at Coldwater Springs for the National Park Service.

I enjoy getting outside to volunteer for the benefit of the environment. Being a Minnesota Master Naturalist motivates me to do so. Master Naturalists pledge 40 hours of their time each year to protecting nature and often end up enjoying it at the same time!

2010 Recap

January 2, 2011

I’d like to take a moment to look back and see how I’ve enjoyed and protected nature in the past year.

• I took up a new hobby in 2010—birdwatching. I was fortunate enough to tag along with a group of expert birders, logging about 40 hours with them. Not only did I see many birds I had never seen, I also visited many local parks I had never visited. Thanks Monday Morning Birding Bunch!

• I enjoyed the company of my husband and my dog during two relaxing camping trips at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area—near Ely and on the Gunflint Trail. Canoeing, hiking, swimming, birdwatching and stargazing were excellent.

• I attempted to make healthy and sustainable food choices by shopping at a local food co-op and supporting a local farm through a CSA membership.

• I watched my 2nd-year native plants garden grow and observed how the butterflies, bees, caterpillars and birds are attracted to native plants.

• In my own small way of trying to get others interested in nature, I gave Toastmasters speeches about the Minnesota Master Naturalist program and about my EcoStrides blog.

• H and I purchased snowshoes for our Minnesota nieces and nephews for Christmas and then we all went on a short snowshoeing and sledding adventure.

• I logged 47 hours of volunteering as a Minnesota Master Naturalist. My projects included:

  1. Pulling invasive garlic mustard at Crosby Farm Park for Friends of the Mississippi River
  2. Weeding at Como Lake’s shoreline for St. Paul Parks
  3. Removing invasive burdock from Como Park Woods for St. Paul Parks
  4. Collecting seed of native prairie plants at Woodbury Conservation Corridor and Lost Valley Scientific and Natural Area for Great River Greening
  5. Supervising teens in stacking buckthorn at Lost Valley Scientific and Natural Area for Great River Greening
  6. Spreading mulch under new shrubs under the Xcel Energy High Bridge for Great River Greening
  7. Cutting and piling brush at Lost Valley Scientific and Natural Area for the Minnesota DNR
  8. Cleaning seeds previously collected for Great River Greening
  9. Talking to visitors about native plants during a neighborhood garden tour
  10. Addressing envelopes for the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
  11. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count

Here’s to 2011 and more outdoor escapades!

Peaceful Paddling

August 17, 2010

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a treasure chest full of lakes and rivers, islands and forests. We Minnesotans are fortunate to have a true wilderness getaway in our own backyard. A five-hour drive from the Twin Cities will bring you to a place where there are no motors. A place where you might catch glimpse of a bear, moose or wolf. A place where you depend on yourself and your companions. If you haven’t experienced the Boundary Waters yet, I urge you to go.

Video clip showing the tranquility of canoeing on Lake One near Ely, Minnesota

Restoring the Prairie

November 21, 2009
Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Lost Valley Prairie SNA

This fall I dodged raking leaves at home, but today I spent four hours raking twigs for the Department of Natural Resources. The reward was spending a beautiful autumn day outdoors. After raking down to the bare soil, we spread native grass and flower seeds.

Lost Valley Prairie is designated a Scientific and Natural Area with the purpose of preserving Minnesota’s diversity of plants, animals, and geological features. In this case it is a prairie on top of limestone.

The SNA Program’s goal is to ensure that no single rare feature is lost from any region of the state. This requires protection and management of each feature in sufficient quantity and distribution across the landscape.

Minnesota currently has over 140 SNAs, and wishes to have 500. Although SNAs are open to the public, they are not really parks, as there are no restrooms, trails, or major recreational opportunities. But you can still visit and enjoy the view!

Double Shift

October 24, 2009
The Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet

The Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet

I volunteered today at two separate events. In the morning I hauled invasive buckthorn out of the woods and picked up litter in Como Park. In the afternoon I spread native grass seeds in Crosby Farm Park, overlooking the Mississippi River. Working outside makes me really tired — in a good way. Coming home to a hot shower and a short nap is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Logging the Hours

September 29, 2009

As a Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer, I have pledged to spend at least 40 hours per year volunteering for the great outdoors. In 2008 I unfortunately failed miserably at reaching this goal. This year I am again struggling to log in that many hours, but I think I can still do it! I will need to devote most of my Saturday mornings to volunteering.

So far this year I have:

  • chaperoned kids on a snowshoeing/animal tracking excursion
  • pulled invasive species: burdock and garlic mustard
  • planted native grasses and flowers on a steep hillside overlooking the Mississippi River (then my legs hurt for 3 days!)
  • collected acorns for planting this fall
  • planted rain gardens at a school

If you are interested in habitat restoration in Minnesota, here are some organizations that host volunteer events. I hope to see you at some events this fall!

Slow But Sure

September 4, 2009
Plant it and they will come.

Plant it and they will come.

The end of summer is here, so an update is due regarding the native plants garden I started this May. Some species are growing strong, others are just hanging in there. Maintenance consists mostly of saving the little seedlings that get buried under wood chips, plus keeping everything watered.

Great Blue Lobelia

Great Blue Lobelia

Notes from the field:

  • Prairie Blazing Star: The monarch butterflies appeared the first day of the first bloom. If you plant it, they will come.
  • Great Blue Lobelia: Blooming strong and the bees love them.
  • Cardinal Flower: Blooming bright red. A few white flowers appeared, which can happen.
  • Pussy Toes: Spreading nicely.
  • Solomon’s Seal: All the stems broke off almost immediately. I wonder if they’ll re-appear next year?
  • False Lily of the Valley: I am nurturing just a few leaves the size of my fingernail.
  • Columbine: Shriveled up, but now is making a come-back.
  • New England Aster: Getting ready to bloom.
  • Grasses: Doing well; have bloomed with little tiny flowers.
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bishops’ Cap, and Baneberry: Needed more shade so I moved them.
  • Everything else: Slow but sure.

Last week I couldn’t help myself and purchased 21 more plants from the blogger at Urban Natives. I never used to be a gardener, but now I suspect I have found a new hobby.

Wind Power!

August 5, 2009

After reading that my friend over at Striving Green is participating in Xcel Energy’s Windsource, my household decided to do the same. Today we signed up for 100% wind power for our electricity! This doesn’t mean that our particular house is connected to a wind turbine, but the money we pay obliges the utility to invest in more wind turbines for the larger energy grid.

Windsource is the nation’s largest voluntary renewable energy program and goes above and beyond whatever renewable energy requirements are mandated to the utility. Although Minnesota Windsource customers currently pay an additional $3.53 per 100 kWh, they are exempt from the “fuel cost charge” billed to regular customers, so the net cost is about $1.00 per 100 kWh. However, last summer the fuel cost charge was so high that Xcel wind power proved to be a July bargain.

Our average monthly electric usage is 441 kWh. The extra ~$4.41 that we are going to pay is a small price to make the world a better place through renewable energy.

Bye-bye turfgrass. Hello native plants!

July 4, 2009

In my last post I talked about why to garden with native plants. Well, in an effort to provide food and shelter to wildlife (namely bugs and birds), H and I turned much of the front yard into a native plants garden. To see photos of the yard and all the new baby plants with their common and scientific names, visit EcoStride’s Flickr site.

Here are the steps we took:

  1. Learned about native plants and their requirements (Web sites, books, seminars)
  2. Drew a plan (It was hard to stick to, but you have to start somewhere)
  3. Ripped out lawn with rented sod cutter (You must be very strong to attempt this)
  4. Created border with pavers and added bird bath, large rocks and stepping stones (Hardscaping adds interest and improves the overall impression)
  5. Shopped for plants (A full day of shopping)
  6. Planted trees and shrubs
  7. Spread out wood chips (We had wood chips from a non-native tree we cut down)
  8. Planted native plants
  9. Shopped for plants again to fill in empty spots

May was a busy month of planning and implementing this garden. The portion of lawn we converted to native plants is roughly 450 square feet. If you’re wondering how much we spent on plants (so that you can start planning your own native garden) the answer is $450, so that’s $1 per square foot. We bought 1 small tree, 6 shrubs, and 210 plants. Most of the plants were just little “plugs”. To promote biodiversity we planted 5 species of woody plants, 7 species of grasses, and 39 species of forbs (flowers).

I find it ridiculous that the large, local garden stores sell hardly any native plants. I had to drive 45 minutes for a good selection, which I found at Prairie Restorations and Landscape Alternatives. These companies are committed to native plants and the environment.

Working on such a big project in the front yard can be quite a conversation starter. Neighbors and strangers alike would stop to talk about it. We also found plenty of takers for our old, weedy sod.

I still cannot picture what the yard will look like when these plants grow up, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Hopefully next year we can do something similar in the backyard.

Why Native Plants?

July 1, 2009

Minnesota native plants are those species that grew here naturally before European settlers arrived and began introducing plants from other areas. In the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota, Lynn Steiner explains the importance of native plants:

Unlike most introduced plants, a native plant fully integrates itself into a biotic community, establishing complex relationships with other local plants and animals. Not only does a native plant depend on the organisms with which it has evolved, but the other organisms also depend on it, creating a true web of life. This natural system of checks and balances ensures that native plants seldom grow out of control in their natural habitats.

Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist, recently wrote a very compelling book, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. His research shows that most native insects either cannot or will not eat non-native plants. Most insects are specialists and only eat plants with which they share an evolutionary history. Insects play a very important role in ecosystems. In fact, 96% of birds rely on insects and spiders to feed to their young. To protect biodiversity, we need to restore native plants wherever possible, including in our yards.

Tallamy describes how we have turned our yards into sterile environments:

All too often the first step in the suburbanization of an area is to bulldoze the plant assemblages native to our neighborhoods and then to replace them with large manicured lawns bordered by a relatively few species of popular ornamentals from other continents. Throughout suburbia, we have decimated the native plant diversity that historically supported our favorite birds and mammals.

Habitat destruction is widespread across the state. In Minnesota’s Natural Heritage: An Ecological Perspective, John Tester states that less than 1% of the tallgrass prairie remains. Nearly all of the Big Woods has been cleared for agriculture. Most of the red and white pine stands have been logged. Loss and degradation of habitat has been the primary cause of species becoming rare and endangered. Back in 1989, Minnesota had listed 57 species (plant and animal) as endangered, 49 as threatened, and 181 of special concern.

So little habitat remains for our wildlife, that we need to do what we can, where we can. Even a non-native plant that appears to do no harm is taking space that could be occupied by a native species. Not to mention that non-native plants often become invasive and compete unfairly with the native species.

We often hear that native plants don’t require much watering or pesticides. But the most compelling reason to garden with native plants is that our ecosystems are depending on us. Tallamy goes on to say,

… Gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to “make a difference.” In this case, the “difference” will be to the future biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.