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Tag Archive | "ranger steve"

First bull experience

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A visit to Uncle Al’s farm when I was seven gave me a first close encounter with a bull. Uncle Al was actually my dad’s uncle. While my dad and he visited or did whatever adults do, we were sent to a harvested cornfield to salvage corn the machine missed. Following that chore, we headed to the barn to put hay in cow feeding troughs. When our work was finished we got to play.

We decided to jump from the loft into a large pile of hay. That all sounded simple but I had a big, fearful challenge. When we entered the barn, it was necessary to walk past the cows to get to the hayloft ladder. In the first stall was a bull with a metal ring in its nose. I was ok walking past cows but I feared the bull would kick me for sure. He was looking over his shoulder at me.

He was surely planning how to take me out if I tried to walk past him. My older brothers and other great-nephews passed without incident. It was still too frightening for me. When I heard others having fun, I needed to build courage to risk my life by racing past the bull to join the others.

I had seen matadors on TV with a bull attacking and one matador was gored. Bulls are to be feared. My brothers and the others survived passing the bull so I darted past without incident.  My fear was unfounded. With more farm experience by age 7, I would not have hesitated walking past the bull.

As director at Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), I greeted student groups. Some groups came with wild nature experience. Others came from the city and had no experience in the woods. Some students had parents and grandparent that took them to parks, national forests, or wild natural areas.

For those that had never been exposed to wild nature niches there was great fear. I was asked if they would be attacked by tigers. Their knowledge of Michigan wild animals was a misconception. They only knew nature from TV. Like my farm experience, their visit to a nature center provided a new and unknown experience.

I did not fear going to a farm and the trip was filled with wonderful excitement until I encountered a bull. I wonder if students that had never been in wild areas were sick with fear as the bus traveled from school to nature center. The bus left the city, traveled to the north woods through the Rogue River State Game Area and finally stopped in the desolate wooded parking area at HCNC.

Unfounded fears are real and we all have them. I am comfortable backpacking in remote wilderness areas where mountain lions and wolves are present. I know elk are more dangerous and kill more people. I have greater fear for unsavory people in large cities than I do for large predators in the wild.

Our daughter used to pick up stones and fill her cheeks like a chipmunk when she was two. When we noticed bulging checks on our hikes, we would say give mommy or daddy the stones and she would spit out a mouthful. We figured stones in the mouth would build her immune system. Others feared disease or choking but gumballs were ok for their kids. We just called her our little geologist.

As adults, it is important that we provide diverse experiences for coming generations. Wild areas are shrinking and becoming more foreign to youth. Knowledge is often dominated by TV exposure and it often shows risky, dangerous encounters instead of normal reality.

Take kids to the Howard Christensen Nature Center, 16190 Red Pine Drive, Kent City, MI 49330 for a wonderful positive nature encounter. Leave your own fears behind.

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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World heroes

Ancestral perennial corn.

Ancestral perennial corn.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Honey Bees and native insect pollinators keep food on our tables. Our society would crumble without insect pollinators that keep flowering plants thriving. Pollinators are real heroes that we should honor, respect, and care for by how we treat yards, farms, forest, and fields. If you ask people who they owe their health, wealth, and security to, I expect most would not reply “insects.”

Perhaps this is because the importance of ecological sustainability is not integrated into child upbringing by parents and is marginalized in school education by political forces and narrow subject focus. Ecological literacy is integral for maintaining sustainable economic, industrial, and societal community success. That was my focus as director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center and Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center’s cross curriculum instruction. Our survival is dependent on keeping essential workers like insects on the job.

As nice as it is to recognize the work of people we depend on, other life forms are equal or more essential. To help develop appreciation for life in our neighborhoods, Nature Niche articles highlight creatures with whom we share Earth. However, this week I would like to recognize a human world hero with whom I have had limited personal experience.

I met with Dr. Hugh Iltis at the University of Wisconsin when I was deciding a career path for graduate school. I was considering botanical studies with him as my advisor. Hugh had recently become aware of a perennial corn in Mexico, and he and his colleagues named the ancestral perennial corn Zea diploperennis.

What makes Dr. Iltis a world hero is his recognition for the importance of an unknown plant that is restricted to a few square miles on planet Earth and his efforts to preserve it. It is a true grass related to Zea mays, our domestic edible corn. Mexican and Nicaraguan governments have taken action to preserve these plants. Why?

It has potential for use in breeding insect resistance, perennialism, and flood tolerance into domestic corn. Can you imagine if farmers no longer needed to plant corn annually because it sprouted annually on it own? If we can breed domestic corn or genetically modify it to become perennial, it would have significant impacts for agricultural economics.

What if we could breed it or genetically splice insect resistance from ancestral corn back into corn that was lost during domestication 10,000 years ago? We could perhaps reduce human dependence on insecticides that pose dangerous health concerns for our families and other life forms.

The tolerance of Zea diploperennis to floods could possibly increase domestic corn survival if its genes were incorporated to help it survive when corn fields flood and soils become water logged.

Wild corn was thought extinct at the time this ancestral corn was discovered. Many people and perhaps most on Earth do not recognize the importance and need to preserve species in our neighborhoods. Their importance and value will be lost to us and future generations if we do not honor, respect, and care for the health, wealth, and security that other species provide in ecosystems that support us.

I did not take the road to study plants under Dr. Iltis’s direction. Instead, I chose graduate study in entomology and ecology, with a subsequent career in environmental education. I focused energies toward environmental stewardship essential for sustaining society and life on Earth, by following Dr. Iltis’ lead and that of other heroes that help sustain society. Hail Hero to Dr. Iltis, who is now 90.

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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American Chestnut


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Benefits of the American chestnut tree were important for building United States society but a disease, unknowingly imported across the ocean, has mostly eliminated benefits. This happened to elm trees when Dutch elm disease was imported. Recently this occurred when the Emerald Ash Borer beetle was imported in 2002. Our livelihoods, economy, and landscape ecosystem functions are dependent on preventing exotic species from becoming established in native nature niches.

The rapidly growing chestnut was highly valued as a durable wood. Important uses included tool handles, furniture, doors, plywood, poles, fencing, railroad tires, and tannin. It had little shrinkage, minimal warping and good gluing qualities. The tree provided fruit that was roasted and sold in markets.

American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) were a co-dominant species in the oak-hickory-chestnut forest that extended from Maine to Alabama and from the Atlantic Ocean to Michigan. Now the forest is referred to as oak-hickory. Southeast Michigan was the western range limit for the chestnut. Individuals at the edge of their range are considered ecologically important because they seem to offer more hope for adaptive genetic change. Fringe individuals might be better able to survive in new and changing environments. Their DNA might provide what is necessary to help the species survive in a changing world provided the living conditions do not change too rapidly.

Introducing new diseases that a species has never experienced is often devastating. It is a major reason Native American populations died when diseases like small pox were introduced by Europeans to America. Disease introduction to the American chestnut caused it to disappear from most of the landscape and ceased its function as an important ecological contributor in the eastern deciduous forest.

Fortunately, there were individuals that survived for some reason in outlying areas of the species range. The reason for survival has not been clearly determined. One factor could be fringe range individuals might have genetically variability that helps survival. Natural abundance ended in southeast Michigan but individuals lived farther west and north in Michigan. I have seen American chestnuts in Saginaw, Grand Traverse, and Kent Counties as well as many other counties. It is especially considered a rare sighting to find a large chestnut because few survive the disease to reach large size.

A fungus blight (Endothia parasitica) introduced from eastern Asia in the early 1900’s arrived in imported exotic chestnut tree species and devastated the ecosystem. The blight affected countless species beside humans that used the American chestnut trees for survival. We worry about diseases like Ebola and a variety of diseases that might challenge human survival. Diseases that challenge the survival of chestnuts, elms, and ashes also have great ecological significance on biodiversity. Other species like Purple Loosestrife, Garlic Mustard, and Phragmites crowd native species and eliminate them from healthy nature niche communities.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is home to a large reproducing American chestnut that has a diameter of three feet. Hope continues that a disease resistant variety might be able to help the species reclaim its place the Eastern Deciduous Forest.

Help species survive by planting native species to help them and associated animals thrive where you live. Remove invasive exotic species. Encourage landscape nurseries to avoid selling species that crowd out native species when they escape the garden or yard. There are non-native species suitable for the garden and yard that are not invasive. Invasive species are harmful to society’s economy, livelihood, and functional ecosystems. Nurseries sell products to make a profit and choose stock that customers purchase. You determine the biodiversity we pass on the future generations by what you purchase and plant and whether your yard is maintained to encourage native species.

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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Human Health and Insect Surveys


OUT-Nature-niche-Swamp-milkweed-monarchSome people might wonder why the Monarch butterfly is currently proposed for Federal Endangered Species status. Monarch numbers have declined significantly during this new millennium and there are several contributing factors. One concern is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO). GMO crops have been genetically altered to be herbicide resistant so more chemicals can be used on crops, allowing higher yield to support our growing human population.

It is difficult for farmers to purchase seeds that are not genetically modified. The increased use of chemicals in farm fields has eliminated many of the milkweeds that Monarch butterflies require to successfully migrate from Mexico to Michigan.

Lincoln Brower conducted studies in the 1960’s to gain understanding about how Monarchs acquire chemicals from milkweeds that protect them from bird predators. Milkweeds developed chemical protections through natural selection that protected them from most insects trying to feed on them. Most insects cannot feed on milkweeds because of the plant’s poisons. Monarchs, milkweeds bugs, milkweed longhorned beetles and some others have developed the ability to feed on the plant and have developed ways to isolate the poisons without being killed.

Brower fed Monarchs to blue jays and the birds became ill, vomited, and had an irregular heartbeat. The birds learned to not eat Monarchs or other orange insects.

Later other scientists studied cardiac glucocides ingested by monarch’s from the milkweeds to learn how they affect the heart. It was discovered that if a person has an irregular heartbeat, the chemical could be used to help correct the heartbeat. After learning its medical value, the chemical has been manufactured in the laboratory and used to save human lives.

If monarchs were allowed to become extinct before the study, we might never have made the life saving discovery. Many, if not most, medicines first come from studying plants, fungi, and other organisms to understand their role in nature niches. Scientists do not just throw chemicals together and test them to see how they might be useful. They look to the natural world.

Butterfly and other insect surveys conducted by citizen scientists aid in monitoring the abundance and distribution of insects. Similar surveys for birds, mammals, and plants help us understand trends for various species populations. Most species have not been studied for their value to humans. The value of many has been lost to extinction and will never reveal their life saving secrets. What if the chemical in milkweeds and Monarchs was lost before the life saving use was discovered?

The recent local butterfly survey conducted by citizens like you has value for fun and learning about local nature niche relationships. It also is important in tracking population changes. The information can be used to preserve species that save human lives. Some people require a known human use before they are willing to support saving a species from extinction. It is impossible to know the value of each species. It is estimated that between five and fifteen million species live on Earth and possibly 30 million. We have named about 1.5 million so far and, for most of those, we know little about their value for us.

Insects that live in your yard might be human life saving organisms provided we do not eliminate them with pesticide and herbicide use. You have life saving control that is important for future generations. If we eliminate species, their value disappears with them. Encourage people to live in harmony with nature rather than trying to dominate it.

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

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Sunscreen in plants

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A red pigment called anthocyanin has been considered a sunscreen that protects plants from becoming sunburned, much like the sunscreens we use to protect us, from ultraviolet radiation (UV).

Look at newly emerging leaves from buds and notice the red color of the delicate tissues that have not yet “hardened.” When leaves expand from the bud, they are somewhat like a water balloon. They fill with water but the plant cannot build the necessary support tissues that rapidly. Feel newly expanded leaves to notice how delicate they are. The cellular tissues remain thin for days.

The leaves of trees and shrubs expand rapidly but it takes much longer to reinforce cells with cellulose and other strengthening tissues. The first line of defense to protect delicate tissues from UV radiation would reasonably be found in the protective outer cell layer called the epidermis. This layer lacks the green chlorophylls that make leaves green and it also has a low concentration of anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is more abundant deeper in leaf tissues called palisade cells, where vertical rows of cells stand next to each other and circulate green chloroplasts to capture sun energy. It also is more abundant in photosynthetic cells beneath the palisade cells know as spongy mesophyll cells. Studies are trying to understand the mystery UV protection.

Think of the palisade cells like a series of farm silos packed closely together to fill a checkerboard. They are tall and slim. Imagine each silo filled with water and beach balls. The balls represent the chloroplasts that form a moving loop inside silo like an internal Ferris wheel. The chloroplasts are like seats on the Ferris wheel following others as they rise to the top and circulate back down to bottom. The spongy mesophyll cells below the palisade cells are more globular in water filled spaces between cells.

UV can cause damage to DNA in the cells of the two layers, just like damage can cause cancer in our skin tissues. Anthocyanin filters radiation to varying degrees and helps protect plants. Melanin in our skin serves that function and is built when our skin is exposed to UV and makes us tan.

Shade tolerant plants in the understory of forests are protected from intense sun radiation by the forest canopy. When trees are clear cut, the ground plants are suddenly exposed to UV and respond. They produce large quantities of anthocyanin and become intensely red. Unfortunately, it is not adequate to save them and most succumb to sunburn. Plants adapted to tolerate open sunny nature niches colonize the new sunny habitat. When you see a clear-cut forest, stop to notice how red the ground plants become when exposed.

Explore with family members to notice new growth on dogwood shrubs, maples, sassafras, oaks, and cherries. Choose any tree or shrub and feel how soft and delicate new tissues are and that they are pigmented red until they harden and feel sturdy. It is universal that the new tissues concentrate anthocyanin. The water-soluble pigment has other functions also but it plays a role as protective sunscreen. Phenolic acids in corn and other crops are UV-absorbing compounds so anthocyanin is not the only sunscreen. More mysteries are waiting discovery.

Declining levels of ozone in the upper atmosphere have generated concern because more UV radiation is entering the lower atmosphere where we live. In our latitudes, UV has risen by 3 to 5 percent in recent decades. Closer to the poles it has risen 6 to 8 percent. Increased skin cancer in people is occurring. People are not the only species impacted by UV radiation but we tend to think we are isolated from nature niches. That is not now nature works. What happens to plants happens to people. We do not live alone and sustainable care for other life is essential for our own health. Food and forest productivity depend on how we care for ozone layers.

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 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

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Butterfly Counts


Please join some or all of the West Michigan Butterfly Association counts.

Counts are sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) and cost $3 for each participant. The money is sent to NABA to create a publication available to any one interested. Scientists make good use of citizen science data. Between 17 and 22 different counts are held in Michigan annually. As Michigan’s count editor, I review and write the annual Michigan summary report the proceeds the count reports.

To locate different species and count numbers we carpool to various sites during the day.

The purpose is to have a good time outdoors as well as to learn to identify species, learn habitat associations, behavior, and nature niche needs. Some families come for part of the day while others stay the full day. Also consider joining our West Michigan butterflies Association – membership $5/year.

Bring a bag lunch, plenty to drink, snacks, and dress with lightweight long sleeves and pants to protect from any biting insects or raspberry thorns. We explore off trails when searching for butterflies.

Dates and meeting locations:

July 5, 2015 (Sun) 9:00 a.m.

Allegan Butterfly Count – Allegan Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

Meet at the Fennville Allegan State Game Area headquarters, 6013 118th Ave, Fennville. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 7, 2015 (Tues) 9:00 a.m.

Newaygo County Butterfly Count – Newaygo Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

Meeting at Plum’s Grocery parking lot at the corner of M82 & M 37 in Newaygo. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 11, 2015 (Sat) 9:00 a.m.

Grand River Park Butterfly Count – Ottawa County Parks

Leader: Dennis Dunlap

Meet at Grand River Park, 9473 28th Ave., Jenison (north of Filmore St.)


July 12, 2015 (Sun) 9:00 a.m.

Rogue River Butterfly Count – Kent Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

(Kent, Newaygo, Montcalm Counties)

Meet at Howard Christensen Nature Center Welcome Center 16160 Red Pine Dr., Kent City odybrook@chartermi.net

July 19, 2015 (Sun) 9:00 a.m.

Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co.

Leader: Dennis Dunlap

Meet on Mill Iron Road from M-46 (Apple Ave.) east of Muskegon at second set of power lines that cross the road north of MacArthur Road. dunlapmd@charter.net

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 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.


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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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