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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Gift of Christmas birding


By Ranger Steve Mueller



You, your family, and friends are encouraged to participate in a day with the birds. The purpose of the Christmas Bird Count held between 14 December and 5 January is for people and for birds. Frank Chapman began the annual count in 1900 as an alternative to an annual event where people killed as many birds as possible on Christmas Day to see who could shoot the most.

This year marks the 118th year for the count. It is the longest and largest existing citizen science survey. Over 40,000 people survey specified count circles each year for comradery with others interested in the gift of seeing birds and to gather population data that assists scientists. Discovering winter bird population abundance, distribution, and changes over time helps us understand bird ecology. 

Some bird species are increasing while others are declining. One aspect frequently reported in the news is the change in where birds are found in winter. Several species are occupying more northerly locations as climate changes. The Christmas Bird Count supplements the Breeding Bird Surveys to provide a more complete understanding for species. Our local count is the Saturday after Christmas.

Mark December 30 to search for birds with the Grand Rapids Audubon Club (GRAC). Meet at 7:30 a.m. at Wittenbach/Wege Agriscience and Environmental Education Center (WWC), 11715 Vergennes Rd. in Lowell, Michigan 49331. Field teams depart by 8:00 AM. Return around noon for lunch. Joan Heuvelhorst will prepare a lunch. Lunch costs $5.00 or you can BYO. Choose to participate part or all day. 

The GRAC count circle surveyed has its center at Honey Creek and 2 Mile Rds. A radius of 7.5 miles is consistent among all count circles in North, Central, and South Americas. Our group of 40 to 60 people assembles between 7:30 and 8 a.m. to divide into small survey teams. Each team surveys birds in selected portions of the count circle. Experienced observers assist with identification and help participants learn about species’ nature niches. Most birding is done close to the car as teams drive specified areas. Some birders participate during the morning and others continue all day. 

I compile the data and submit it to the National Audubon Society where statistical analysis is addressed over a period of months and years to discover trends and changes in bird population numbers and movements in the Americas. Participation is free but donations are welcome to support the National Audubon Program.

Wear layers of clothing so you can add or remove items to remain comfortable. Binoculars and field guides are helpful but Audubon members will share if you do not have them.  

Plan on having a great time enjoying birds and bird watchers. Make new friends.

Direct inquiries to count coordinators:

Tom Leggett: (616) 249-3382, email tomleggett@hotmail.com or Ranger Steve (Mueller) 616-696-1753, email odybrook@chartermi.net.

Visit the Grand Rapids Audubon Club website (graud.org).

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Rain catching leaves

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Recently it was brought to my attention how events in nature frequently slip past me without notice. In the book A Year in the Maine Woods, Bernd Heinrich noted water droplets bead on the undersurface of fallen leaves during a rain if they land bottom side up. I have noticed water beads on leaves but had not noticed them being restricted to the lower surface. 

After the next rain, I investigated while walking the back 40. The upper surfaces were evenly wet while clusters of silvery bead beauties radiated light from the bottom surfaces. I should have noticed this sometime during the past six decades. If I had, it did not register in the recesses of my memory. 

A friend that teaches botany at a local university told me he had not noticed it either. It is amazing how everyday events escape our attention. 

I had not mentioned it to Karen but a couple weeks later she made the discovery herself. She decided to capture the richness of water drops on fallen leaves. Thousands of leaves covered the ground and a recent rain insured there would be drops on leaves. She headed out with high hopes and camera in hand. 

She found leaves with water beads on the duller bottom surfaces and continued the search for beads on bright red upper surfaces. She found leaf upper surfaces she wanted to photograph but they lacked water beads. The water evenly covered those surfaces enhancing a red gleam. Her search failed to find leaves having bright upper surfaces with tiny silver domes. Only duller lower surfaces held droplets.

She shared her discovery with me and I told her that I had recently made the discovery after being alerted to it by reading about it first. It was wonderful she made the discovery independently through careful observation while exploring outdoors. I wish I were as observant as her. 

After sharing with many people, I have been asked why one surface holds beads and the other does not. I am not completely sure but I have a good hypothesis that needs testing. The upper surface of leaves has a thick waxy cuticle that helps prevent water loss when exposed to sun and wind. The lower surface is more protected from direct drying by sun. Wind moving air across the pitted lower surface of leaves has better protection. 

We are familiar with how moving air causes “wind chill” by sweeping heat away from our skin to make the temperature feel cooler. It hastens water evaporation from our skin causing rapid heat loss. 

The bottom surface of leaves is covered with tiny pores called stomatas, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. The pores create a rough surface compared with the smooth waxy upper surface. I suspect the rough surface holds water droplets while the smooth upper leaf allows the water to flow easily. 

For those of us observing nature niches in our backyards, it is amazing how much we walk past without notice. Exercise your observations skills and have fun challenging friends and family to make new discoveries. There is always something we have passed unnoticed.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Value of wild places

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


In 1975, I began sharing my passion for preserving what is now known as Grand Staircase National Monument. It was established in 1996 using the Antiquities Act. I have been presenting a program titled “Wilderness, Unique Treasure” advocating for wilderness protection for that area and others for 42 years. Thanks to efforts by Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago, the Antiquities Act was created allowing presidents to create national monuments on publicly owned land to protect and preserve areas for present and future generations. Congress then has authority to make it a national park, leave it as a monument or eliminate it.

Roosevelt established national forests as another means for maintaining economic, social and environmental sustainability. Michigan has national and state forests with wilderness areas within them.

The Bureau of Land Management is another agency charged with protecting and managing public lands. Each is governed by you and your neighbors collectively under the name government. When using the term government, think of it as you and your neighbors instead of some nebulous thing called government. 

My wilderness program is based on a book written by Aldo Leopold who was designated as the most outstanding conservationist of the 20th century. In “A Sand County Almanac,” he shared the significance for preserving remnant wilderness areas for recreation, science, and wildlife. 

My program, with photographic slides, includes prose and poetry and is accompanied by Leopold’s reasoning for preserving wilderness. It is my most popular and well-received program. Email me for a program brochure and request your organization to invite me to present. Wilderness protection is of immediate concern. 

You and neighbors are represented by a majority in the US House and Senate that are considering proposed legislation to prevent establishment of new national parks and to give the president authority to reduce the size of current parks without Congress approval so they can be mined for oil, coal, and be timbered. Congress and the judicial branches represent you and neighbors to limit the president from making unilateral decisions that only represent him and a limited number of people. The public comment period regarding the issue had 99 percent of 2.8 million comments say leave the parks alone. The three branches representing you and neighbors protects from dictatorial decisions by those expected to represent all Americans and not just 1 percent.

Presidents, like other elected people, tend to represent a limited number of people instead of representing all Americans through compromise. Presidential actions are balanced by Congress and Judicial branches representing you. When Congress struggles to protect your inalienable rights, it requires compromise to meet the desires of the real government that I refer to as you and your neighbors. Our current president stated Congress and Judicial branches prevent him from accomplishing work he wants done and he wants authority to make decisions without their approval. That would move us towards dictatorial leadership. 

Aldo Leopold who was an avid hunter and advocate for protecting wilderness stated: “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away them.” Now, we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech. 

Elected officials should represent all of us and appoint agency heads that focus on agency missions. They should be staffed with skilled people that make decisions based on the agency mission for present and future generations. My program will help provide understanding on why Roosevelt and Leopold advocated for protecting parks and wilderness. Hopefully, you will agree with them. Not only is Utah’s Grand Staircase threatened with elimination but parks across America might lose protected status. National Parks have been said to be America’s best idea. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The growing season is senescing. In the temperate region, it would seem that most plant life grows old at the same time and dies. Many species complete their adult life cycle by late fall. It appears life comes to an end with death surrounding us until new life and growth resurges in the spring.  

No more strawberries, raspberries, or apples to harvest. Fortunately, we are still able to pick and enjoy apples late into fall in our backyard tree. Deer also enjoy them. The raspberries are gone by late summer. Strawberries from the garden are a distant memory from early summer. Each plant has its own moment in the sun. 

Growth and life cycles in nature niches are linked with day length. More accurately I should refer to night length. It is the hours of darkness that most influences the timing of annual flowering and fruit production. As the hours of darkness increase during the fall, senescence advances.

When the girls were young, we had a wonderful raspberry garden in the front yard and a strawberry patch in the backyard. Raspberries seemed to attack with serious thorns when we tried to harvest fruit. Strawberries were not defensive in that manner but required more bending. As the girls aged, we added what I called patch gardens. They were small 4 by 6-foot flower gardens that were their responsibility. It was a good way to introduce them to the value of caring for life. They selected the plants they wanted to grow.

Plants in our produce garden served some nutrition needs and the flower gardens were feasted on by eyes. Besides glorious feasting for our eyes, flower gardens provided food for small neighbors like bees and butterflies. They attracted birds and small mammals into view that enriched our lives. 

When I was young, my mother was busy in fall canning tomatoes and other produce in Kerr jars. She aged and her own senescence arrived. A few years ago, we emptied her residence and found Kerr jars that were passed on to others. Canning from personal gardens is done by fewer people now in this age of economic richness. 

People complain about the bad economy but nearly all families have more economic resources than families had 60 years ago. People now afford warmer homes, more travel, an abundance of electronic gadgets, outrageously priced phones and service instead of party phone lines. Many have phones for each family member instead of several families sharing a party line. We have more clothes than needed and most kids no longer go to school with patches sown on pants except for stylish appearance. Most can afford to buy food and do not need to grow their own. Today, many grow food to avoid pesticides and herbicides. Our apple tree is chemical free providing healthy apples.

Looking beyond our personal needs, we see wild neighbors struggle to survive in balance with natural life cycle influences of season, precipitation, soil nutrients, predators, necessary plants and animal associates. Fall signals, it is time for plants to senesce. Their demise is hastened some years by an early killing frost. This year, frost delayed to late October. Plants still progressed with their aging and decline. 

Metabolic activity and cell growth came to a season’s end without a killing frost. Many plants die to the ground and store personal produce in roots for a spring resurgence. The roots and stems of others die completely but their kind survives because they leave behind seeds to replenish the Earth. 

Senescence comes to us all. Along the way we can experience and enjoy the abundance and variety of life when we allow wild neighbors to provide real richness in our lives. As I pen this, red leaves on maples, yellow on cherries and maroon on oaks signal the annual passage of time. I wonder how many more cycles of color and falling leaves I will experience. 

It is always sad to see summer go but I have great hope and anticipation for spring that I am sure will come.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Lost in Time

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


I experience no past and no future. All is present for me. When family talks about something we did, I refer to it as if it just occurred. They tell me that it was ten years ago. My mind keeps things from yesteryear current and the distant future as if they will occur immediately. 

In one sense, this is good. I plan Earth Care for coming centuries as if it will occur in the immediate future. Sustainable living conditions for my grandkids 50 or 100 generations hence is an immediate concern. Care for ecosystems and nature niches today determines the health and wealth of great-great-great-grandkids we will never meet. It is hoped behavior during my short life will provide sustainable conditions for distant generations. 

We each have unique greatness and limitations. For those that know me, it becomes obvious the interworking of my mind blends the distant past and future into the present. Friends I danced with at a 1966 teenage dance and the discovery of climbing nightshade that year, using the book Shrubs of Michigan, in my mind just occurred. 

I still feel the warmth of a girl’s embrace on the dance floor and I can see the location of the climbing vine on a log that has surely decomposed during the ensuing years. It’s senseless to family and friends when I refer to things past as if they just occurred. They must transfigure what I say from a different time to understand me.

Living conditions 1000 years from now are reflected in actions taken today. Much of what I do to enhance biodiversity at Ody Brook is temporary. We can only maintain conditions that maximize living conditions for the greatest number of species during our short lives. Conversely, we can eliminate living conditions that support species and healthy habitats that support distant generations of grandkids. Hopefully our kids and grandkids will learn Earth Care from us and each generation will pass it on to next.

Plant and animal genetic diversity provides future generations opportunities for gene splicing that might prevent diseases or provide medical advances that we cannot anticipate. When species disappear, future generations have lost opportunity. Plants develop protective chemicals and some animals adapt to tolerate them. Keeping species alive is important for the future. Protecting wilderness where many species live is essential for people. 

Some people wonder why it is important to protect things like the federally endangered Karner Blue butterfly or the Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly. It costs money, human effort and requires protecting habitat that some want to eliminate so they can use it differently in the present. Different use is temporary and usually lasts less than a century. This could result in the loss of species that live there. I refer to protecting National Monuments from proposed reductions as Earth Care responsibility for future generations. Our yards also need Earth Care.

I go by many names: Steve Mueller legally, Ranger Steve professionally, and Butterfly Dreamer spiritually. I do not think people will easily recall Steve Mueller. It is trite and forgettable. Ranger Steve is easier to recall but many confuse me with Ranger Rick who is National Wildlife Federation’s raccoon much like McDonald’s “Ronald McDonald.” Butterfly Dreamer is an important part of my passion for preserving healthy economic, social, and environmental conditions for coming generations. Butterfly Dreamer lives to protect the future.

My eccentricity of having no past or future allows me to live in a manner that serves grandkids yet to be born centuries from now. Generations from future centuries are already in my “present.” I have not had the opportunity to meet those kids. If all goes well, they might meet me through writings like this one. My question for society is, how many people will read this as a passing curiosity and how many will maintain a portion of “their” yard with wild species to benefit generations of grandkids yet to be born? I place “their” in quotations because we do not own our yards. We hold them in trust for those that come after us.

I am lost in time with no past or future. It helps me live with past generations that made my present possible. It allows me to maintain healthy conditions for those that come after me. It is how I talk with those generations.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Like Lichens

By Ranger Steve Mueller

There are small beautiful brown moths with red stripes on their wings that run lengthwise away from the head. People occasionally notice their beauty and ask about them. They are Lichen Moths that likely feed on lichens.

These moths and lichens are creatures few notice. It is incredibly difficult to locate caterpillars on lichens. They are small and blend in well. To study the moth’s nature niche, scientists collect adults and place them in a container with lichens so the moths will oviposit their eggs. Then they can be studied as they grow.

I see a half dozen lichen moths each summer but tens of thousands of lichens grow at the sanctuary. Even if I knew one of the caterpillars was present in lichen, it would be hard to find because they camouflage well.

Lichens can be abundant but their numbers decrease rapidly in response to air pollution. Like all living creatures some are more resistant to pollution than others. They are used to monitor air quality and for fabric dyes. They have antibacterial and anti-germination chemicals studied for medicinal and agricultural uses. Perhaps your antibiotics are lichen based. That alone is reason for us to “like lichens” and protect the habitat. They are good neighbors growing on trees, rock, fences, or almost any place they can gain a foothold.

They use objects as a place to perch much like a bird uses a branch to stand on. They are not parasites penetrating the tissues of organisms for nourishment. Their nature niche method of survive is unique. A lichen is composed of two organisms that live together for survival. One is an alga and the other a fungus.

Visually think of a magnified lichen like a fishnet with tennis balls caught in open webbing spaces. The fishnet represents the fungus that cannot produce food but it holds water like a sponge. The tennis balls represent algae cells that capture sunlight energy to produce food. To survive the fungus grows hyphae that penetrate the algae cells to acquire food to live.

One might think of the fungus as parasite but instead scientists consider the algae and fungus as mutual symbiotic organisms that help each other survive. It is obvious that the fungus benefits by extracting food energy from the algae. The alga benefits because alone it would dry and die. It is like corn and people. We plant corn and it gets to survive abundantly even though we eat it. Without people, corn would be rare on Earth. Without the fungus, the species of alga that depends on the fungus would be extremely rare.

Walk around your neighborhood or visit a county, state, or national park and notice lichens. There are three major kinds or groups of lichens based on growth form. If you have noticed lichens, it is probably the leafy or shrubby growth forms that captured your attentions. Lichens do not have leaves but examine some growing on a tree. They tend to grow from the center outward forming a circular growth like a paper plate. They are thin from top to bottom and spread a few inches wide on the tree trunk. They grow on rocks in the same manner.

They need a substrate to stand on and do not use it for food. Most lichens are only an inch to a few inches across but several might grow together. The leafy ones shaped like a paper plates are called foliose. 

The second group is called fruticose because they grow like miniature shrubs. A striking one is the British Soldier or Red Caps. They have gray/green appearing stem-like branches capped with bright red tops. The red caps are the reproductive structures. These are found in a variety of habitats and frequently colonize bare sand where little else can grow. Keep in mind they are not gathering nutrients from the soil like farm crops. The fungus holds moisture the alga uses for adequate water for photosynthesis and food production to support both.

The third group is crustose and appears like a crust on the surface where it grows. They are often seen on gravestones. The three groups in the Great Lakes region have about 700 species comprising a miniature world. Like lichens, enjoy their beauty, and associated species like lichen moths.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Leg Joints


Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Femur, tibia, fibula, metatarsals, and tarsals comprise the bones in our legs and feet. Their arrangement allows movement. Other mammals have bones in different arrangements that serve their mobility for greatest survival. Other groups of organisms like birds and frogs have their own special configurations to meet their needs.

Diagram of a typical insect leg.

Insects do not have bones but have specialized leg joints. Insect exoskeletons are on the outside of the body instead of inside like ours. Leg section names are similar but are structurally different. Between the body and femur is a rounded knob called the coxa followed by another small section called the trochanter. The femur is often the largest leg section much like our femur. Though the name is the same, the insect femur is made of a hard chiton comparable to our fingernails that are on the outside to protect inner tissues and muscles. Consider an insect’s skeleton to be like a knight’s armor that protects from the outside.

To move, it is necessary to have flexible connective tissue between various sections of the leg like is used in a knight’s armor. Progressing from the body to leg tip, the leg sections have adaptations that serve the insects life style for survival in its nature niche. The tibia connects the femur with the tarsi. The tibia is comparable to the tibia and fibula of our lower leg.

A series of small leg sections called tarsi beyond the tibia allow flexibility. Most insects have three, four or five aligned in a row. Go outside to look at a large grasshopper or katydid’s leg joints. Some of the large Carolina Grasshoppers with black wings are still active. The last pair of legs on the grasshopper are large, adapted for jumping and are easiest for viewing leg construction. When you try to capture a grasshopper, it becomes obvious how well suited their legs are for escaping danger.

Crickets and long-horned grasshoppers, like the katydids, have an “eardrum” or tympanum at the basal end of their tibia. We have been enjoying the raucous sound penetrating the blackness of night. It is essential for noise making insects to hear the sexual calls at night for successful breeding. Instead of hearing in their heads like us, they hear in their legs.

There are more specialized leg structures than described here so consider visiting the library, the web, and spend time outdoors exploring. One very important feature not mentioned is tarsal claws. Most insects have small claws that aid gripping surfaces. When an insect stands on your arm, you often feel the claws grip.

The front legs of the praying mantis have a long femur and tibia lined with stiff spines that allow it to grip insect prey firmly. Its coxa that connects the femur to the body is long instead of small and round. It allows greater mobility for capturing prey. Each insect species has unique adaptations that meet its lifestyle. If you have been grabbed by a mantis, its spines might have penetrated your skin and even caused some bleeding.

Inside the exoskeleton leg, is where the muscles are attached. Our leg muscles extend across joints so when contracted they cause the leg to bend. If both ends were attached to the same bone, contraction would not result in movement. Insects are similar in muscle attachment except their muscles are inside the hollow exoskeleton but they stretch across joints. You will not find an insect with bulging muscles because they are hidden inside.

Beetles have interesting legs. They are sometimes quite easy to observe in fall because they frequently stand on flower heads for extended periods. Visit a goldenrod or New England Aster to watch. Notice how the front pair of legs reaches forward and the second and third pair of legs extend backwards. Some insects only use four legs (two pairs) when walking so watch to discover them. Observe leg movement and notice if the front and back legs on one side are used with the middle leg on the opposite side when walking.

Some insects like the blister beetle ooze a substance from their leg joints when disturbed. The fluid can cause skin blisters. There are thousands of insects with interesting leg joints. Take time to observe nature’s wonders.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Protecting Parks

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The results are in for the public comment period required by law regarding how Americans feel about eliminating or greatly reducing the size the of national monuments by Presidential Executive Order. When a president creates a national monument, it protects the area the same as a national park until Congress decides to make it a national park, eliminate or change it in some manner. The Antiquates Act of 1906 allows a President to create a monument to provide protection until Congress acts on the protected area. It takes years or decades to be debated and acted on by Congress.

President Trump instructed the Secretary of Interior to review national monuments created since 1996 because he plans to eliminate or greatly reduce the size of monuments by Executive Order. Park advocate groups like the National Parks Association, Wilderness Society, and many others claim it is beyond the legal ability of a President to alter the monuments created by previous presidents. Such changes are legally restricted to Congress. Before becoming President, Trump campaigned for changing parks from protected areas to being open to mining for natural resource consumption, turned over to private business management or even eliminated. The monument review is a test to see if he can eliminate them and possibly continue with elimination of the national parks by Executive Order.

The National Park Service was created in the Organic Act of 1916. The agency’s mission as managers of national parks and monuments was clearly stated.

“….to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance released the following statement to the media: “Secretary Zinke’s illegal recommendations to the President are the latest salvo in this administration’s attacks on America’s public lands. It’s outrageous that after 99 percent of the more than 2.8 million comments received by the Secretary supported keeping our monuments protected, Secretary Zinke is still recommending the President illegally attack our national treasures. President Trump should throw this report away.”

Other organizations have released similar statements to the media to let American citizens know that national parks are being attacked. An analysis of the public comments shows 0.8 percent of people commenting support the Presidents Executive Order and 99.2 oppose the EO. Those commenting from Michigan were 100 percent opposed to the Executive Order.

The report can be found at PublicSupportForPublicLands_FINAL_20170822.pdf. The following in italics are from the report conclusions. The public overwhelmingly opposes rescinding or reducing the protection afforded 27 national monuments and 5 marine national monuments established since 1996. This opposition cuts across geography, issue areas (environment, Native American rights and culture, recreation, economy, etc.), and it is not specific to any national monument.

Taken together this study shows that the people can and have been heard, and that they have spoken clearly and forcefully for the continued protection of America’s public lands and the natural, scenic, sacred, culturally and historically significant places they contain.

Despite public sentiment of 99.2 percent opposed, the interior secretary has recommended greatly reducing the size the monuments. That will allow mining development in areas that are currently protected for present and future generations. The parks protect nature niches and are our insurance policy that allows us to visit special treasures and preserves them for coming generations. Park protection is an important means for preserving biodiversity.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Native bees

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Various bee species have adaptations that serve them well for gathering pollen and nectar from various plants that serve our needs. Most people know something about the honeybees that are important to our agriculture industry. Native bees are also vitally important to nature niche plant and animal communities. The term native bees is used to specify species native to the Great Lakes region and our continent as opposed to the non-native honey bees that were brought to North America to aid agriculture.

It is not only the honeybee that is facing survival challenges. The economic value of bees is worth billions of dollars. They are insects important to our health, wealth, and survival. Native bees have declined for many reasons. They have fascinating life histories and are beautiful insects. Some are fuzzy with yellow, red, and black “hairs” covering their bodies. Others have a bright green exoskeleton or more obscure black bodies.

Look closely at what is visiting flowers in gardens or wild patches in yards. Don’t miss the pageant of activity right outside your home. Come learn about native bees at a free presentation hosted by the WILD Ones.

The River City WILD Ones is a native plant group that offers field trips and programs encouraging people to landscape yards with native plants that strengthen and maintain the health and wealth of the local landscape around our homes, neighborhoods, and community. To celebrate the organizations tenth year, they are hosting a community event for free on September 18, 2017 at 7 p.m. in the Calvin College Fine Arts Center, 1795 Knollcrest Circle SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. Park in Lot 9, 10, or 11. Enter off the East Beltline near the pedestrian overpass walkway. The Fine Arts Center is east of the E. Beltline.

WILD Ones write: The keynote speaker is Minnesotan Heather Holm a horticulturist and biologist, as well as a writer, designer, and publisher. In addition to taking part in native bee research projects, she informs and educates audiences nationwide, through her writing and many presentations, about the fascinating world of native bees and the native plants that support them. In her most recent research project, she assisted University of Minnesota Extension faculty in a two-year study to determine the types of native bees present in cultivated blueberry farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The study included developing customized plans to enhance and expand both forage crops and nesting sites for bees within the farms.

Heather has written for Houzz, a social media website, about pollinators, beneficial insects, and native plants. Her first book, Pollinators of Native Plants, published in 2014, established her as a knowledgeable resource on the subject of the interactions between native bees and native plants. Her new book is titled Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide. Both books will available for purchase at the event. 

WILD Ones invites the public to attend and would like people to register at the website: https://rcwo-10th-anniversary.eventbrite.com before attending.

Please beeline to the event. It will be enjoyable meeting and visiting with nature niche readers. To make it easy to find me, I will be wearing my ranger uniform.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Solar Eclipse and Science Credibility

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The enduring credibility of a scientist depends on the ability to remain vigilant in using physical evidence that supports conclusions. People often prefer to accept what they desire to believe rather than what is supported by physical evidence. Science is not about belief but requires physical evidence for determining acceptability.

Scientific conclusions are tested and modified to improve accuracy. Many people are not clear on scientific process. People expect that when a reputable scientist has made a conclusion, the conclusion is unchanging. That is not how science works. Science is self-correcting in the sense that continued research brings new information to light that modifies original conclusions. Faulty aspects are replaced to improve conclusions.

The advent of DNA and mRNA testing added a new dimension to help scientists draw more accurate conclusions. The new species of moth I discovered, Grammia brillians (Brilliant Virgin Tiger Moth), was beyond my resources and knowledge for accurate identification. The specimens collected did not fit any known species. My conclusion to species was tentative and later modified.

Help from scientific specialists was essential. Two of three scientists familiar with the Genus were contacted but were unable to identify it. A third took the specimens for intensive study. His specialty was the Genus Grammia and he did not recognize the specimens provided. He studied details of physical appearance (phenotypic characters). Phenotype helps distinguish species but some have nearly identical appearance.

He conducted genitalia dissection because characteristics have distinctive features often referred to as “lock and key.” The male and female genitalia often develop adaptations that only allow individuals of the same species to mate. Evolution is in progress so closely related species still transforming to new species sometimes mate to produce individuals with poor offspring survival. Behavior is important to prevent developing species from mating but that is a detailed nature niche separation subject of its own.

Lastly, he used the tools for conducting DNA sequencing to compare Grammia species. Based on the three forms of physical evidence, he recognized why I could not identify the individuals to species. They belonged to an unknown species and he named it.

Many people choose to be selective about what supported evidence they will accept based on what they desire to believe. Most people have come to accept that the Earth is not the center of the universe. They understand we can determine when the positions of solar bodies will produce the next solar eclipse. Some are still unwilling to accept physical evidence regarding climate change, for how our existence developed through evolutionary adaptation, or that the Earth has been present for nearly 5 billion years.

Scientists do not have the luxury of choosing to accept only what they desire to believe. Selectively choosing to ignore physical evidence undermines scientific credibility. Most observations Copernicus made in the 1400’s concerned eclipses, alignments, and conjunctions of planets and stars. He refused to recant physical evidence supporting the Earth goes around the sun instead of the sun going around the Earth. That resulted in his being placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. His vigilance for the integrity of scientific physical evidence allowed us to understand the solar system. It led to accurately predicting the timing of solar eclipses.

Whether it is the position of solar bodies, atmospheric climate change, or evolution of species, scientists are vigilant in using physical evidence for understanding how nature niches develop and function. Scientific evidence is currently being censored by political directives to stop government agencies from sharing physical evidence to prevent agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency from being open with research findings. It is similar to what occurred in the 1400’s. Encourage people to remain vigilant like Copernicus against the claim today that science is “fake news.” Science has a self-correcting process for maintaining credibility.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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