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Tag Archive | "Ecosystems"

We’re still here: what’s happening at Howard Christensen Nature Center


You will see all kinds of wildlife and plant life at Howard Christensen Nature Center. Courtesy photo.

By Kim Gillow

While riding on our float in several parades, I overheard members of the crowd saying, “I thought they closed.” “I remember going there as a kid.” “My sister got married there.” Well, we are still here. Kids still come with their schools and people still get married here. The Cedar Springs Post has been kind enough to list our events in “Hometown Happenings” but that is just part of our story. We are in the midst of a massive renovation and upgrade. Our biggest project is the building of dioramas inside the Interpretive Center to mimic the various ecosystems on the land. We are also planning to restore the planetarium and create an interactive, hands-on area in the former library space. This is all being done through volunteer time, money and energy. As a nonprofit, with no outside funding, we are totally dependent on revenue from our events and donations. We rent the property from KISD but we are responsible for the upkeep and repairs.

Howard Christensen Nature holds many types of events for all ages. Courtesy photo.

Our mission remains the same: To inspire appreciation and respect for the natural world, to increase awareness of environmental concerns and encourage individual’s to maintain earth’s ecology through scientific and educational activities. We have had to institute an admission fee to help with expenses. It is $3 per person for anyone 16 or older. This has led to some disgruntled comments but we do have to keep the lights on. And we want to be able to keep the cost of school trips and other events at a level that isn’t prohibitive.

We are busy staining our tables and benches at the center and are setting up a picnic area near the playground. Volunteers are repairing the boardwalks that have been damaged by weather and vandals. We have a new shed to house our snowshoes and cross country skis, courtesy of  Daniel Mills’ Eagle Scout Project. Fairy doors are appearing along the trails. We dream of paddle boats on the pond and a challenge course.  Plans are in the works for our fall events: Red Pine 5k Run, Fairy Festival, scarecrow and gourd craft day, pumpkin carving and spooky walk, haunted house, pie making, and  wreath making/make and take to name a few. For more information, call (616) 675-3158 or register on our web site: www.howardchristensen.org.

Planning an event? Rent Camp Lily’s, a private retreat center on the north end of the property. There is a large building with meeting space, full kitchen and rest rooms plus a pavilion and camping areas with picnic tables and fire pits. It is the perfect place for a family reunion, graduation party, wedding or corporate retreat. We continue to improve the venue and hope to have an indoor shower by next spring.

Next big thing! We are cleaning out the barn and other nooks and crannies. Mark and Ann Petersen are offering their services for a benefit auction on Sunday, August 27, starting at 3 p.m. The public is welcome to come any time after 1:30 p.m. to get your bid number and preview our wide variety of items that are ready for a new home. And it is a variety: electric clothes dryer, display cases, waders, filing cabinets, fencing, etc. Watch for a complete list on our web site and sale bills around town when we get closer. There will also be raffles of a child’s quilt and baskets of goodies, a bake sale, and hot dogs, popcorn and drinks for sale.

How can you help? Come and see us, become a member, attend an event, volunteer for an individual project or join us to help with an event, rent Camp Lily’s, make a tax deductible donation, wave at us in a parade, let people know—we’re still here!

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Students use leaf packs to monitor Cedar Creek


N-Trout-unlimited-CSHS1

Trout Unlimited’s Home Rivers Initiative is continuing to train young scientists in the Rogue River Watershed. This fall, students from Cedar Springs High School have worked with Trout Unlimited on the Leaf Pack Network, a network of citizens, teachers, and students investigating their local stream ecosystems.

N-Trout-unlimited-CSHS2Students from eight science classes have designed experiments studying stormwater pollution, lack of riparian buffer, excess sediment, and other factors to better understand their local trout stream, Cedar Creek. They created artificial leaf packs and placed them somewhere in the creek, depending on their experimental conditions. The students waited for the leaf packs to stay in the stream for 4 weeks so that they could be colonized by macroinvertebrates.

On Monday, November 16, Trout Unlimited took the students back out to Cedar Creek to collect the leaf packs and the macroinvertebrates within. On Tuesday, they worked in the lab to identify the bugs and get a stream quality score. The data, which varied from scores of excellent to fair, will be uploaded to the Leaf Pack Network, where schools from all over the country have entered local stream conditions. Additionally, TU can use the macroinvertebrate data to prioritize sections of the creek for restoration or to identify sources of pollution.

To date, the Home Rivers Initiative has worked with over 550 students on the Leaf Pack Experiment. The experiment is a great way to give students hands-on, real world research experience while raising awareness of the importance of streamside forests to the ecology of rivers and streams and to promote their stewardship.

The Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative Project is funded by the Frey Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Wege Foundation, the Wolverine World Wide Foundation, and the Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited.

 

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Wolves in Ecosystems Part 3


The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

In wilderness ecological functions can maintain natural processes with limited human influence. Human activity in non-wilderness areas results in significant disruptions. Society does not maintain many large intact wilderness areas but those that do exist allow species to go about their business. Such areas allow scientists to study ecological nature niches to learn how ecosystems function. George Monbiot wrote about the role of wolves driving trophic cascades that cause changes from top carnivores down. I outlined in part 2 of my series how hares caused plants to die to the ground causing hares to starve and that in turn caused top predators to starve.

No one species drives all major events in ecosystems but individual species do drive major changes. Overriding physical influences such as global climatic change and pollution have impacts making it difficult to determine how even “pristine” environments function unhampered. It is an over simplification to attribute credit or blame to a single species. The hypothesis about how trophic cascading works in nature is a self-correcting study in progress.

After writing parts 1 & 2 about social, political, and ecological aspects of wolves in ecosystems, L. David Mech, a world-renowned wolf researcher wrote me regarding trophic cascades and human views towards wolves. Dave has conducted wolf research on Isle Royale and has been involved in biological and social aspects of wolf study across the continent since 1958. My articles were reasonably accurate. There are aspects that could use clarification. It is an enormous challenge to adequately discuss a topic in short space. George Monbiot’s description has validity and supportable evidence but L. David Mech and I think other variables influence how much wolves direct trophic cascading. Evidence-based scientific studies will help self-correct current knowledge.

Key points from the previous articles were that some people want wolves protected, others want them exterminated, while others want them managed to protect livestock, pets, and wildlife populations while allowing wolves to thrive. The November ballot options were both defeated. One ballot proposal would have allowed a small politically appointed group to make decisions regarding hunting. The other would have created a wolf-hunting season managed by DNR wildlife biologists. The current practice to manage wolves on an individual basis when and if a problem develops will continue. That is social/political aspect.

The greatest numbers of votes were probably cast on emotion rather than science supported data. Most people do not have the time or inclination to read scientific studies before decision-making.

Scientific research gathers data to draw conclusions. It is the nature of science to challenge all studies and look for weakness in study design and conclusions. Through the process, studies are repeated to verify data accuracy and to correct errors. Science is self-correcting and is constantly refined toward making accurate conclusions.

Our instant satisfaction society wants definitive answers and conclusions immediately. Such conclusions are often applied to all situations instead of being applied to specific circumstances. Historically wolves were hated (emotional) and extirpated from most of the United States. The Endangered Species Act allowed recovery in some regions including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where biological recovery has been achieved. The species was delisted in recovery areas but most of the continent’s historic wolf range remains without wolves. That is the scientific aspect.

Studies regarding wolves as the driving force behind trophic cascades in ecosystems continues. Wolves do cause elk and deer to move and evidence indicates vegetative communities recovered where once stationary elk moved from degraded overbrowsed habitat. Other natural factors have influence. No one species is responsible for ecosystem changes.

In national forests, where human alterations are used for watershed management, timber harvest, cattle grazing, hunting, hiking, other recreation, and mining, there is greater impact on plant growth and associated animal species than is caused by wolves. Human activities dramatically alter non-wilderness areas. Though Yellowstone National Park is massive in size it is not adequately large to meet wolf needs. Wolf hunting is allowed outside the park in national forest. Management plans are working to largely exterminate wolves rather than manage a healthy population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Even a radio collared research pack was killed when it entered the national forest. You can review part 2 of this series regarding trophic cascades by Googling Cedar Springs Post, click Outdoors, and click Nature Niche to read previous articles. You might want to read George Monbiot’s book, Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea, and Human Life and Mech’s book, The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

 

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Wolves in Ecosystems (Part 1)


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wolves crossing the Straits of Mackinaw to the Lower Peninsula (LP) seems unlikely, but it was reported three crossed on ice near Mackinac Bridge. A shipping lane is open all winter but it froze long enough. It turned out the canines were dogs and not wolves.

The Northern LP is heavily populated with people so it is likely human/wolf conflicts would require DNR intervention. Coyotes sometimes take livestock and the DNR receives trapping requests for offending animal removal. This occurred near Rogers City. The farmer was issued a permit to trap the coyote. To everyone’s surprise a wolf was trapped. That is the only wolf known from the LP in almost a century. No tracks, sightings, characteristic predation, or road kills have been found since.

Four wolves were reintroduced to the Upper Peninsula (UP) in 1974 but vigilantes illegally shot two, one was trapped and killed, and a vehicle hit the fourth. Later wolves immigrated on their own from north of Lake Superior in Minnesota, expanded into Wisconsin and reestablished a population in Michigan. They arrived in the western UP about 1984. I personally saw one in the eastern UP that year.

I was conducting contract insect research for the MDNR in Schoolcraft County in a forest clear cut when a wolf stood with forelegs on a cut tree to look at me. My 85 lb. German Shepard was 300 feet to the east. The wolf was about 300 feet to the west. The wolf was larger than a coyote. Coyote’s weigh about 35 lbs. Coyotes are skittish and depart quickly. The wolf paused to look at me before dropping to the ground and disappearing in the open clear cut. That is also typical wolf behavior, while coyotes typically run. I was amazed the wolf could sneak away unseen in a relatively open area. Jim Hammill, MDNR wolf biologist, agreed it was probably a wolf based on the behavior description.

Wolves are predators and were eradicated from Michigan. Following forest logging in the 1800’s, the deer population grew. Few hunters venture into the depths of regenerating forest and many prefer bucks with large antlers instead of does. The deer herds grew until the 1950’s, when a series of hard winters decimated the population. Since then deer herds grew with some reduction years.

The MDNR is responsible for managing wildlife population sizes where political and social motivations often have priority over ecological science. One MDNR wildlife biologist told me he knows hunting licenses pay his salary so it makes it right to base his decisions on license fee promotion rather than sound ecological science. He tries to balance both when possible.

Devastation of plant and animal populations caused by deer feeding habitats has concerned people. Most people, however, do not read supporting ecological studies. Some State Parks and nature centers began politically challenging deer hunts to reduce the devastation. Hoffmaster State Park hosted a Trillium Festival where deer eliminated most trilliums and reduced other plant and animal populations. Objections to these hunts are often based on emotional responses and personal desires rather than nature niche ecology.

Four conservation groups visited Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary during September and were pleased with the abundance of native species compared to exotics species. The back 40 acres have been leased for hunting for decades and it helps keep the deer herd in ecological balance. Several years ago, the hunters told me poachers shot several deer and left them to rot in the woods. If the deer meat was processed, it would have been reported and hunters prosecuted. The sanctuary is surrounded by agricultural land so I suspect a local farmer did the poaching. The MDNR will issue harvest permits for deer causing damage to farmers, so poaching is not necessary. The same is true for wolves where they live. If wolves were present here, the deer population would probably not be as large and fewer would be killed annually on the road at Ody Brook. Unfortunately there would be social/political wolf problems in Kent County because of our large human and domestic animal populations. Wolves will kill pet dogs and domestic animals.

Wolves in the UP now exceed the target population of 200. Some conflicts exist between farmers and wolves. The MDNR inspects problems and specific wolves are removed. This helps prevent wolf packs from learning to take domestic animals. I waited to share this until after the recent wolf ballot election to avoid the ire of people voting based on emotion and personal interest and those preferring scientific research study decisions. Details of the role of wolves in ecosystems will be described in Part 2 of this article next week. Suffice it to say for now, I am pleased both issues were defeated. The first ballot issue was to create a hunting season on wolves managed by the MDNR. It was the better of the two but political pressure similar to deer hunting pressure would be significant. The 2nd ballot issue would have placed decision control with a small politically appointed group that could accept or reject scientific findings. I expect there will be a time when managed hunts might be appropriate.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net. Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. Phone 616-696-1753.

 

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