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Tag Archive | "erosion"

Shifting Sands


A sand dune at Silver Lake swallowed up a house in April. Photo from woodtv.com.

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Reading the landscape is a development skill taught in middle school Earth science. It is taught to preschoolers by parents. Young minds are open to learning.

The local news reported advancing sand dunes are burying homes. An Earth science lessen is easily forgotten without experiential learning. The dangers of building or buying a home too close to the big lake can be seen during family or school outings. It is a gamble to determine exactly which homes will get buried.

A trip to Lake Michigan’s shoreline dune complex for a swim will be a fun outing where one can see trees buried by moving sand at Hoffmaster State Park or in other parks. Some of the trees have adaptations allowing them to produce adventitious roots from tree trunks as their original roots get buried too deep to survive. The new roots give the tree continued life under tough circumstances.

At some future date, the sand dunes will shift and uncover tree trunks, exposing the roots developed from the growing trunk that was previously high in the air before being buried. If fortunate, the tree will have lived and died before sand is blown away to expose its skeleton.

One might refer to sand dunes as a living, moving, entity, but by reading the landscape, we discover they are not. Moving dunes bring life or death to species by the lake and will crush buildings. Contractors build and sell homes close to the shoreline. They arrive, construct and leave with a profit. The buyer that did not learn to read the landscape might lose their home to the crushing weight of sand depending on where the home was built.

The news showed a cottage that collapsed under the weight of moving sand. People were interviewed about nature’s destroying power. Owners are hiring bulldozer operators to move sand to save homes and resorts. The reporters hoped the home owners would win the fight against nature’s forces.

A fight is not necessary. If the people refused to buy homes close to shore or on shifting dunes, their homes would not be endangered. Many want the shoreline view and are willing to gamble their home’s future. The result is their home might be buried or washed into the lake. A Go-fund-me account has been established to help save homes because people cannot afford to hire contactors to keep moving sand.

Learning the school lessen might have resulted in choosing to live in a safer location. In the 1980’s I observed homes falling into Lake Michigan when high lake levels undercut foundations. I witnessed multi-million dollar homes fall into the Pacific Ocean as erosion undercut cliffs. The homes were too large to move and should not have been built close to the ocean.

Homes are built on barrier Islands along the Atlantic Ocean even though barrier islands are known to move and wash away. Classroom education is valuable but field trip experience is essential for learning to read the landscape. Book learning requires supplemental practical experiences to learn to read the landscape. That is the purpose of places like the Howard Christensen Nature Center and for parents to take families to natural areas.

I began as director at HCNC in 1986 when an Environmental Education Advocacy Council and School administrator agreement required some Kent ISD teachers to bring students to HCNC. I was told HCNC was securely funded by property taxes. As time passed, and shifting sands of education politics changed. I was told environmental education was no longer a priority in America after the early 2000’s presidential election. The Kent ISD stopped funding HCNC. An impact of that decision might result in students losing their homes to nature’s forces when they are grown. We are in a phase of political temperament again when many want to focus only on the present without considering the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental impacts for the future. Economic health cannot be sustained without social and environmental sustainability. Security in our personal nature niche depends on the shifting sands of politics and how well people learn to read the landscape to protect their wellbeing and investments.

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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Wolves in Ecosystems Part 2


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

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

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wolves’ presence and behavior increases wildlife populations despite their killing individual prey. Their predatory role in ecosystems has significant positive impacts on animal and plant communities. For thousands of years their presence in Michigan nature niches fluctuated in relation to plant and animal population abundance.

Canada lynx studies found plant populations control top predator populations. The Hudson Bay trapping records show snowshoe hare populations increased despite lynx, wolf, and other predators until the hares over browsed the plants causing hare starvation. When hares died the predators starved. Predation slowed hare population growth that helped maintained healthier communities.

When wolves were returned to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, they caused elk and other prey species to roam more. This saved shrubs and trees from being over browsed in valleys along rivers. Shrubs and trees regenerated habitat when protected by wolves.

Mice, rabbits, and other herbivores were able to find food where deer and elk had previously devastated wildlife communities by overgrazing. Songbirds moved into areas when vegetation recovered. Beavers found rapid growing aspens provided essential food that allowed their return to streams and rivers. They built dams creating rich floodplain habitat that had been lost and washed away in the absence of wolves. Wolves eat beavers when the opportunity arises but these rodents reproduce more rapidly than predators kill them. Large fires in the Yellowstone region also rejuvenated early succession communities but wolves caused elk and deer to move preventing overgrazing.

Beavers created wetland habitats, stabilized stream banks, and reduced soil erosion. Fish populations found healthier streambeds for egg laying. More oxygen in less silted rivers aided fish survival.

With increased landscape vegetation that resulted from wolf presence, plant-eating rodents increased and resulted in more predators like hawks, eagles, weasels, foxes, and badgers. Carrion left by wolves allowed bears, ravens, and other animals to provide more food and it improved their health and reproductive success. Increased shrubs provided more berries needed by bears, birds, and many other animals. What inferences can be applied to Michigan ecosystems? No one animal or plant is responsible for all positive or negative changes. It is a community effort but some animals like the wolf start what is called a positive “trophic cascade” in how they change animal movements and cull animal populations with selected animal predation.

The wolves even changed the course of rivers. Overgrazed landscape along rivers cut straighter channels when wolves were removed but with the wolf return stream meanders returned. Vegetation recovery along banks reduced erosion causing stream meandering. More pools developed with more fish hiding places. Waterfowl increased. Wolves transformed the landscape to healthier nature niches for plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and a host of native wildlife that had diminished in wolf absence.

Human social and economic aspects of wolf presence have been beneficial in the Yellowstone ecosystem but not completely. Ranchers drive cattle into the national forest and leave them unattended to feed. In Michigan, farmers graze animals on their private property and care for their livestock. The national forests are public lands used for watershed flood management, timber harvest, grazing, hunting, hiking, camping, recreation, fishing, and mineral extraction. In short they are all things for all people.

This becomes a management challenge when people consider their interests more important than their neighbors and it results in Congressional gridlock. Maintaining healthy ecosystems to provide for future generations of our families requires decisions beyond one group’s personal self-centered interest.

There are times when wolf management is important for our neighbors. At present in Michigan, each case is addressed when a problem arises. Legal hunting might one day be appropriate in balance with the multiple uses of our National and State forests in the UP. Decisions should be ecosystem focused for maintaining society’s sustainable needs. Plants and animals have essential roles in ecosystem sustainability that we cannot duplicate. Future generations are as important as our own but decisions frequently place priority only on the present.

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.

 

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