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Tag Archive | "ranger steve"

Birds and Wind Turbines


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Recently wind turbines were briefly discussed in my nature niche column. Since then an environment report on Michigan Radio regarding wind turbine placement addressed important migration paths for birds along Lake Huron. I had mentioned how birds have their own superhighway routes in the sky.

Monica Essenmacher started an online discussion regarding inappropriate turbine placement. She stated, “Geronimo wind bullies its way out of bird-safe industrial wind-turbine placement. Plans are to go ahead with 50 turbines in an important bird area, where 168 already stand in the path of hundreds of thousands of bird and bat migrants.”

Kimberly Kaufmann, Director Black Swamp Bird Observatory, replied, “Another blatant example of the complete and utter failure of voluntary guidelines. It absolutely sickens me to watch these things penetrate the most sensitive bird areas while the industry thumbs its nose and is then allowed to hide evidence of the real impact to birds.

“Another reminder that this isn’t merely a battle; it’s a war on habitat.”

Kimberly Kaufmann further commented, “Activism requires absolute dogged diligence. We have to tell the story over and over and over and over and over in every possible way. People generally get burned out and give up just when their message is starting to reach the right people.

“Effective activism demands a tremendous amount of time, hard work, experience, and very thick skin! Getting people to take action on anything is a challenge, but this issue is exceptionally hard for people.

1) Most people understand that climate change is real and that we desperately need a cure for our addiction to fossil fuels

2) No one ever wants to discuss the real problem: the fact that the world is overpopulated and unsustainable

3) With no regulations, the industry controls the mortality data, so we never get an accurate assessment of the real environmental impact.

4) The industry is supported by so much $$ and embroiled in so much politics that they control almost everything.

5) Organizations don’t want to be considered “anti-green” by speaking out against any alternative to fossil fuels.

Kim said, “Don’t give up, Monica. There’s still a lot of important work needed. Fighting for transparency of the post-construction monitoring data should be high on your list. We’re currently fighting that battle in Ohio with the state’s largest wind factory.”

Remember, there are many that support you, and as we continue to fight for transparency, people who care about birds and wildlife will be more inclined to join the battle if we can show them just how many of their favorite birds are being impacted.

In my nature niche articles, I strive to suggest how we can behave responsibly toward other species sharing Earth’s Ecosphere. Like Kim mentioned, it is necessary that human numbers do not exceed the Earth’s sustainable carrying capacity. Previously I mentioned we could reduce the number of people on Earth by 40 percent if we simply wait until we are in our 30s to bear children. This would result in three generations living at once instead of five generations. It is an individual choice to select the age we bear children.

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

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Bird migration safe passage


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Birds are migrating from wintering grounds to breeding grounds. High mortality occurs. It is a challenging endeavor for few ounce birds to fly from South America, Central America, or southern North America to Michigan or places farther north. Those surviving hopefully have success raising enough young to replace those lost during the year.

If enough young survive to replace those lost, the population remains stable. More surviving means the population increases. In the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century, many species have been unable to successfully keep up with mortality rates.

Many species are in decline and some are in great decline. Some causes are clear while others are not fully explained. Outdoor cats kill about one billion birds annually in the United States. It affects bird species survival but humans are reluctant to keep cats indoors. For a century, radio towers have been known as death traps for migrating birds. Cell tower abundance has increased the death hazard. Human convenience takes priority over sustaining Earth’s biodiversity.

In an effort to reduce cell tower deaths, varied plans are being tested with some success. One test used white lights on towers at night instead of red, and it was showing promise. In a wealthy West Michigan community, there were complaints that white lights at night were too bright, so the red lights were used again. The stewardship value of saving migrating birds was not as important as our human desire to have seasonally red tower lights in spring and fall.

Light from tall buildings draws birds to their death. To reduce mortality, lights above the second floor can be turned off or windows darkened with shades during spring and fall migration. The safe travel initiative can save birds and perhaps species. Encourage businesses and high rise apartment buildings to turn off lights or shade window at night above the end floor to save energy and species. Building collisions are most frequent on foggy nights. Several cities have adopted “Safe Travel” initiatives.

Windmill energy production holds promise for reducing dependence on fossil fuels that cause habitat loss through climate change. Migrating birds collide with wind towers but placement location can reduce problems. Choosing the safest long-term energy production challenges society. Carbon release causes habitat alterations that are economically, socially, and environmentally destructive for future human and wildlife populations. Many problems are evident at present.

It appears wind energy might be preferable provided windmills are properly placed away from primary migration routes. Birds have their own super highways in the sky similar to human expressways. Towers along heavily used lakeshore areas and choice travel routes can be avoided. Local Township and city planners largely determine site selection. Appropriate human behavior for sharing living space with other life forms can ensure healthy nature niches remain for our children’s children.

Increasing human abundance is rapidly eliminating living space for other life forms. If people wait until they are in their 30’s to bear children, we would have three generations per century instead of five caused by having children at age twenty. It would reduce the world population by 40 percent by having two generations instead of five living at the same time. Spacing of human generations would benefit migrating birds and result in less human crowding, social strife, wars, and natural resource conflicts.

For the present enjoy bird migration and participate in the Bird Migration Count on the 2nd Saturday of May annually. Count birds in your yard or larger area. Add your observations of bird locations for the continent on one specific day. To participate in Kent County contact Steve Minard by e-mailing him at sdminard@gmail.com or call 616-942-7165. Count day is May 9 this year.

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

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Reader’s genocide concern


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Recently a reader expressed dismay with efforts to remove Mute Swans from the lake where he lives. The exotic swans cause problems and death for native ducks and geese by preventing their nesting. I know of at least one instance where a Mute Swan killed an elderly man in his boat. Mute swans compete with native Trumpeter Swans being restored in the Great Lakes ecosystem where this native species was near extinction.

The reader told me that management to safeguard native ecosystem species is genocide of Mute swans. I stated that exotic Mute Swans of European origin are causing genocide of native wildlife populations. Wildlife biologists are working to prevent genocide of native species. He said he is also of European origin and killing exotic swans equates with killing people of European origin that settled North America.

I commented that social and political aspects for sustaining native ecosystems are often driven by emotions and/or short-term personal and economic interest instead of ecological health. We were present for a conservation fundraising banquet and the program was about to begin. We did not get to continue the conversation. I would like to know how he felt regarding efforts to kill and eliminate other exotics species that cause ecological and economic havoc in native community nature niches.

Environmental groups and governmental units are working to prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes where they will cause major economic, ecological and genocide problems for native species and will result in billions of dollars in environmental damage. Exotic species replace native plant and animal species and reduce biodiversity. Native species eliminated by exotic species is also genocide. Human efforts strive to protect native species evolved in ecosystems from genocide caused by exotic species. Native species help maintain the “Triple Bottom Line” of social, economic, and ecological integrity of the natural world that sustains our human culture.

We often choose beauty over ecological value. Purple Loosestrife is a beautiful exotic plant in wetlands that eliminates food and habitat for native species. Like the Mute Swan, its beauty makes it difficult for us to want it removed. The tall feathery seed headed grass called Phragmites (Common Reed) is replacing cattails and associated native wetland birds, mammals, insects, and plants. Removal of native species by Phragmites disrupts nutrient cycles and energy flow in ecosystems essential for sustaining breeding habitat or fish, birds, mammals, insects, and other life forms. Many eliminated native species have direct economic and social importance for human communities and businesses.

Many exotics lack the emotional appeal of Mute Swans and might fail to raise the genocide concern of the reader that spoke with me. Zebra Mussels cost Grand Rapids millions to prevent clogging of water intake pipes in Lake Michigan. I wonder if the reader is concerned about mussel genocide.

Exotics like Gypsy Moth, Quaga Mussels, Garlic Mustard, Emerald Ash Borer, Autumn Olive, Oriental Bittersweet, and swallow-wort are more than direct economic problems. They cause ecological disruptions and genocide in native plant and animal communities. Most exotic species arrive accidentally. We have quarantine inspectors working 24/7 to safe guard our livelihoods by preventing additional exotic species from disrupting native communities, agricultural timber, and food crops.

Exotic Garlic Mustard pulls are sponsored to prevent it from causing genocide to native wildflowers, associated insects, birds, and mammal that evolved locally over expansive time. How should we address difficult issues? “Triple Bottom Line” management addressing social-economic-ecological problems becomes a means for maintaining and sustaining a healthy society.

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

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Ranger Steve receives excellence award


 

Ranger Steve Mueller with the Thomas Say Naturalist Award for Excellence.  Courtesy photo.

Ranger Steve Mueller with the Thomas Say Naturalist Award for Excellence. Courtesy photo.

By Judy Reed

Cedar Springs naturalist Steven Joel Mueller, known as Ranger Steve to many of us, was recently nominated and won the Thomas Say Naturalist Award for Excellence. The award was presented to him in November, at the National Association of Interpretation in Denver, Colorado.

“It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by colleagues,” said Mueller. “Colleagues throughout my career mentored me and made it possible for me excel. I have worked diligently to become competent in a broad spectrum of natural history subjects and to hone interpretive skills.”

According to the National Association of Interpretation website, Thomas Say (1787-1834), identified more than 1,500 species of insects and animals unique to North America (including the coyote), and was one of the brave naturalists who helped blaze a trail for future naturalists. Say was said to represent innovation, commitment, and a passion to contribute to science.

Those are all qualities that Mueller exhibits, and it shows in his Nature Niche articles each week in the Post.

Ranger Steve Mueller is also known for his photography. Courtesy photo.

Ranger Steve Mueller is also known for his photography. Courtesy photo.

Mueller grew up in Saginaw, and held several different jobs related to the nature field over the years. He was a high school science teacher in Alpena, Michigan, Dry Ridge, Kentucky, and Kenosha, Wisconsin; an urban forester for Dow Chemical in Midland; a state park ranger in Traverse City; a ranger/naturalist at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah; where he discovered a new species of moth; and a teacher at Jordan College in Cedar Springs. Many know him best as the director of Howard Christiansen Nature Center for over 20 years. When that temporarily closed in 2005, Lowell Schools hired him to direct the program at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-Science Environmental Center. He retired from there in 2008 due to bone cancer. Besides those programs, Mueller has been President of the Grand Rapids Audubon Club, President for the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education, West Michigan Butterfly Association, and Grand Rapids Camera Club. He has won several other awards.

Mueller was nominated for the Thomas Say award by Ray Novotny, a founder of the NAI and life member. “Steve has consistently demonstrated his passion for our profession,” wrote Novotny.

He also received several letters of support. “Steve is a driven individual, whether following his own curiosity in research and exploration or in his indomitable spirit to not let his cancer interfere with what he loves,” said Dorothy F. McLeer, CIT, CIG, MALS, Program Coordinator/Interpretive Naturalist for the University of Michigan-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center. “There is a lot left that Steve wants to do in his life, and how he is dealing with his illness is also inspirational. It has been my privilege to know and learn from “Ranger Steve” Mueller throughout my interpretive career.”

Mueller has a passion for nature that his cancer cannot diminish. He attends professional conferences with specialists in entomology, ornithology, botany, and interpretation annually. “When I am with specialists in each field, I am humbled by how limited my knowledge is but I learn so very much from each… It is the broad spectrum knowledge in many fields of natural history that has allowed me to be effective with natural history interpretation,” explained Mueller.

He said it is the continued curiosity about the natural world around us that made it possible for him to discover a new species to science, find species at Isle Royale National Park that had not been found previously, and to discover a breeding colony of Northern Blue Butterflies new to Michigan.

“I am fortunate to continue my work after going home from work,” remarked Mueller. “My supervisor told me it must be nice to have my work also be my passion.”

Other awards Ranger Steve has been honored with include:

2013 – Grand Rapids Camera Club hall of fame inducted Feb 2013

2011 – NAI Senior/Retired Intepreter,

2010 – NAI Distinguished Professional Interpreter (Region 4’s highest honor),

2008 – Mary Jane Dockeray Award – Outstanding Environmental Educator form the Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

2005 - William Stapp Environmental Education Award, Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education,

2002 – Charlotte Runnels Conservation Award, Grand Rapids Audubon Club,

2000 – Michigan Audubon Society Member of the Year,

1985 - Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Recognition for Peregrine Falcon reintroduction,

1979 – Special Achievement Award from the National Park Service for outstanding performance as director of the Environmental Education.

Congratulations, Ranger Steve!

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Carry On


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

As I begin a happy and joyous new year, I have been contemplating years past. A poem I wrote, in 1972, carries an important idea, from when I was a young man. The idea holds true as I age. I remain functional and hopefully productive despite a new normal, and experimental cancer treatments received at the University of Chicago hospital twice weekly. Though the cancer is not curable, it is treatable. I fully expect to thrive for many years and continue as a productive citizen for human and non-human communities.

The coming year is bright and full of cheer. Plans for enhancing life at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary are many. Plans for maintaining and enhancing nature niche conditions for fellow species are reason enough to “Carry On” myself. How we live in neighborhood nature niches that we share with life on Earth is vital for the wellbeing of future human generations. It is impossible to live, much less thrive, without other species that maintain a healthy biosphere.

Carry On

A person’s body is only a means

to carry his ideas into the world.

Death should return his body to the soil

while his ideas live on in others.

A person’s philosophies need be passed on

and not his picture or mummy.

Embalm me not, destroy my body,

but put my thoughts to use.

Though people like recognition,

their names are on the books,

It’s of no value to my cause

to memorize my name.

Continue where I leave

so my goals might be achieved.

October 9, 1972

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 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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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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Passenger Pigeon Extinction


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It has been 100 years since the last Passenger Pigeon on Earth died and joined the dinosaurs in extinction. It was on September 1, 1914, that the last remaining individual of its kind died, in the Cincinnati Zoo. We mourn the death of the last individual. Society experienced greater sorrow with loss of an entire species on that day. Gone were its contributions toward sustaining biodiversity in ecosystems.

The pigeon was the most abundant bird species, with a population that might have exceeded the number of all ducks combined. Its feeding activities likely controlled diseases like Lyme disease. Pigeon populations in the millions moved through the eastern deciduous forest feeding on acorns, American chestnuts, seeds and nuts. More than a billion total pigeons thrived. Their abundance removed food that would have supported deer and mice. This limited excessive deer and mice reproduction and resulted in fewer fleas. That reduced the spread of Lyme disease. Nature niche connections are often not obvious.

No Passenger Pigeons were left to pass on their genetic legacy into the coming millennia. An important thread in the fabric of life was stripped from ecosystems. It may seem the death of a species 100 years ago has no or little impact on people in the present. The increase in Lyme disease is just one impact that might have caused disability or even death for some people. Making absolute connections is not likely. Other connections relate to forest reproduction, abundance and composition of tree species. Pigeon feeding activity directed forest developed and numbers of other plants. In turn, it impacted the abundance and composition of animal populations present today.

Current scientific evidence suggests human activities are pushing many species toward extinction. The monarch butterfly population has declined due to land use practices. It numbered in the billions but last year’s winter population was only about 37 million. The Passenger Pigeon dropped below a threshold for survival and disappeared. There is concern the same might occur with the migratory monarch population. Several things limit monarch survival but one is human use of genetically modified crops that can tolerate herbicides so we can support an ever-growing human population. Crops growers increase the amount of chemicals on crops to eliminate wild plants like milkweed that are in or near croplands. With only a few milkweeds, monarchs cannot find food plants to lay their eggs as they migrate from Texas to Michigan.

All species strive to increase their kind but limiting factors keep them from continuous population growth. That is the case with the introduced exotic emerald ash borer that has largely eliminated ash trees in the landscape. In regions where they kill ashes, the beetles run out of food and their populations’ crash. It is a boom and bust population. People have found ways to delay human starvation for some regions. We have not responded by working to keep our population at or below the environment’s carrying capacity that would sustain our population for the centuries. Instead we are moving toward a boom number that will bust and crash. A continuous growing population will result in massive human death at some point. Human behavior today is not maintaining sustainable conditions to support future generations. Instead we focus on immediate personal interests and desires with boom and bust lifestyles.

Extinctions caused by human misuse of the Earth’s natural resources threaten other life forms but also threatens our own species long-term survival. Our population can sustain itself for millennia if we live within Earth’s carrying capacity. If not, we create a boom and bust that will cause massive deaths. Our behavior in the present is critically important for future human generations.

Many people choose to ignore evidence supporting the human influence on climate change or our impacts on species survival. Society’s behavior acted toward the Passenger Pigeon like society behaves toward climate change and species extinction threats. If we were interested in creation care and our offspring 20 generations hence, we would strive for sustainable lifestyles that do not squeeze other species off the planet. It depends on personal choices we make at home.

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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Lunar Eclipse


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It was one of those rare occasions when the Earth Sun and Moon aligned in a straight line. This does not occur every month so we do not experience eclipses often. If astronauts were on the moon, they would have witnessed a total solar eclipse while we watched the lunar eclipse. Earth cast its shadow on the moon when it was directly between Sun and Moon.

The Earth hides the moon rapidly unless one is too hurried to watch. Our patience is tried with the hurried business of our lives. I look forward to vacations when time is taken to contemplate the world and nature niches. It takes three days to slow down and shift my focus from work and home obligations.

One visitor joined me to see the eclipsing moon. He was having difficulty locating it and thanked me for being present. His arrival came when the upper right moon was just already starting to whiten. He thought it would was to be a blood moon. I commented that had already come and gone.

Watching the entire drama offers more than the great moments captured with a camera. The news showed pictures through amateur telescopes that were better than seen with the naked eye or binoculars but watching the progression exceeds the best still images.

Darkness began at the lower moon a gradually swept upward to the right until the Earth was centered between Sun and Moon. During the darkest phase the “blood red” hue was apparent. It amazes me how quickly the event comes and goes. Observers have a couple hours to enjoy an uncommon celestial event.

It has only been hundreds of years since Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for explaining the science behind celestial objects and described that Earth is not the center of the universe. A great number of people do not accept scientific process or scientific findings because it does not align with what they “know” or want to believe. Scientists mathematically predict events like the lunar eclipse and it occurs rapidly enough for people to watch from beginning to end. Events like extinctions and global climate change are not easily observed and many people dismiss the evidence as too elusive to accept. In some ways we are no different from people of the 16th century.

One beauty of the eclipse is that we watch phases of the moon come and go in a couple hours instead of over one month. The events simulate the new moon, quarter moons, and full moon. Unlike the new moon, the arc of darkness is in the opposite direction at the beginning, but when the lighted portion begins to show, it appears like the new moon. The quarter moons are not divided with half dark and half light. Instead we see the arc of Earth’s shadow on the moon. Always watch for subtleness in nature.

The use of binoculars allows us to see ridges and craters along the edges of the moon. Toward the center we can see light and dark portions but the mountainous relief is only apparent near the edges.

Decades ago about 40 people joined me at Kent County’s highest elevation at Fisk Knob County Park to observe Haley’s comet. The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) is too wooded for good viewing of the horizon just before sunrise. I set up a telescope and many people from the Grand Rapids area arrived to witness the once in a lifetime event. Some expected a comet to be the size of the moon. Instead it was star-sized with a faint tail. I searched the dark sky unsuccessfully. Finally as the darkness of night began to fade, Haley’s comet came into view. I described the location for those using binoculars and hurriedly encouraged all to look through the telescope. They viewed the comet and saw its tail. The tail was not easily visible. People said they would not have seen it without help.

Check the HCNC web site for program details or better yet visit. Real experiences in nature exceed the ease of the internet’s vicarious exposure. Individuals and families getting into nature remind us we are a part of nature instead of merely being observers from a distance. When immersed in nature, at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary or HCNC, nature comes alive.

To cap the enjoyment of another fine day, a yellow-rumped warbler was gathering breakfast among dimly lit tree leaves, as the dawn arrived at the eclipse conclusion.

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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Colors In the Wind


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Red Maples in swamplands are the first to show fall color. It is typical for stressed plants or weak dying plants to change color earlier. Difficult growing conditions in swamps are demonstrated by the red appearing first on the maples in standing wet conditions.

Sassafras trees show red or yellow depending on the amount of sugar, anthocyanin, and carotenes present in the leaves. Sumacs change early to become a beautiful crimson. At the equinox, color change picks up speed. Green still dominates the landscape.

Uppermost tree leaves change color first. Treetop leaves are exposed to chilling cold before more protected inner leaves. This results in color changes at the top first and is usually followed by leaf color at the tree canopy edge.

Fall breezes rustle leaves and we get to see the first colors in the wind drifting to the ground, as leaves break free. A few fall until a gust of wind fills the air with a couple hundred leaves. Cherries begin shedding leaves before many other species. Their leaves are not cherry red like the fruits but are yellow.

Aspen colors draw our attention as green and amber leaves quake in the slightest air movement. The leaves have a flat petiole that holds the blade to the stem. The flat petiole makes them quake easily. The movement captures our eyes and the sound of wind among the leaves draws attention. As fall progresses, aspens become beacons of reflected amber light in the setting sun. Amber aspens are like massive streetlights beginning to glow in the dimming evening woods.

Closer to the ground, dogwood shrubs are a deep dark maroon and raspberries are a rich red. Among the most brilliant fall colors are the Virginia creeper vines clinging to trunks of dead trees. They are exposed to full sun and have more sugar in the leaves. The exposure to sun aids pigment richness. The creepers that are more shaded from full sun are usually yellow.

Watch trees in various nature niche situations to discover subtle variations occurring where individual plants work to survive in their unique location. Discover trees of the same species with one growing in less ideal conditions and notice it changes color before others of it kind growing in better conditions.

Plants shed leaves in preparation for winter by producing an abscission layer between the petiole (leave stem) and the branch. This is a layer of large cells that seals fluid movement from leave to stem or stem to leave. If weather conditions prevent leaves from shipping sugars from the leaves before the abscission layer forms, sugar gets trapped and fall colors become more beautiful.

Large cells of the abscission layer create a weak area where the leaves separate from the tree to create colors in the wind when they fall.

Sugar maples hold leaves well and then suddenly drop them in a few days. Karen’s parents often visit for her October 20th birthday. When they arrive, the two maples by the house still have many leaves. Her parents are always amazed by the time they leave three days later that most of the leaves have been shed.

Oak trees do not form a good abscission layer. The result is many of the leaves remain on the tree into winter or even spring when new growth pushes the old leaf off. Sometimes oak leaves turn red but it is usual for them to simply brown. Enjoy the flitting and fluttering of colors in the wind, while taking notice of individual trees.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net

 

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