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Tag Archive | "ranger steve"

Only You Can


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Many of us recall the US Forest Service billboards stating, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That changed a couple decades ago when the forest service began promoting “Only you can prevent wildfires.” In the 1930’s, scientific study demonstrated the importance of periodic forest fires to promote healthier forest ecosystem niches, prevent the spread of devastating pestilence, thin forest, provide essential nutrients for tree growth, increase the tree growth rate, and enhance wildlife reproductive success, among other benefits. 

Most Midwest forest fires are understory fires that burn near the ground rather than through the canopy. Canopy fires burn haphazardly and skip through the forest leaving a checkerboard appearance with unburned sections. 

The 1988 Yellowstone crown fire that swept the park and national forest improved the forest health and its wildlife populations. Immediately, it left black desolated areas that were unpalatable for many that were taught forest fires are “bad.” They claimed the fire ruined the park. I hiked Yellowstone in 1996 where lodge pole pines dominate. The pine is a fire dependent species that reseeds itself with the aid of fire. Like local jack pines, lodge pole pines depend on fires to open areas to full sunlight and to release seeds.

In 1996, eight years after the fire, crowded young trees were three to six feet tall. They continue to struggle for light, space, and nutrients as they grow and self-thin the forest. I do not understand why the park service spent time and money replanting trees when the tree’s adaptation is fire adapted to reseed itself. 

A couple reasons might be that efforts to prevent fires for decades caused ground duff to become thick and it burned hot destroying released seeds or bowing to political pressure to plant trees demonstrated humans were doing something. Some areas might not have had an adequate seed source to establish a forest rapidly. 

When I fought fires at Bryce Canyon National Park in the 1970’s, the policy was to quickly extinguish them. Fires I fought were caused by lightning. We hiked to them carrying heavy loads of firefighting equipment on our backs. Fire breaks were built to contain fire spread and they were allowed to burn out. We camped by them as needed to prevent spreading. During later decades park policy changed to have “controlled burns” to provide healthier conditions for trees, wildlife, and people. It also helps prevent large uncontrollable fires. 

We have seen news broadcasts that share the devastation of uncontrollable fires that sweep large areas. Frequent controlled burns during carefully selected times and weather conditions allow “safe” burning that does not burn homes, create conditions for deadly and destructive mudslides or cause massive wildlife destruction. It is important to call to get a burn permit from your township fire warden who will verify conditions are safe for you to burn brush. At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, we cut and haul to a burn area or create wildlife brush piles. 

During the Yellowstone fires, large animals like elk were frequently seen grazing in areas where fires jumped through the forest. Ungulates laid and chewed their cud. There were elk, bears, and many animals that did not escape flames and died. New regrowth, allowed remaining animals to have more successful reproduction with improved conditions of greater and more accessible food availability for grazing. Predators found more prey. 

Human attitudes have been slowly changing during the past 90 years since we began to understand the valuable role of fire in ecosystems. Our knowledge remains inadequate. When to burn, how frequently, and how large an area to burn is different for survival of various species. What works well for plants might be too frequent for insect herbivores that support bird and mammal populations.

This same conundrum causes many people to reject what is known regarding the effects of climate change for our lives and health. Hopefully it will not require 90 years for us to embrace corrective actions. Studies indicate human carbon release increases climate change that increases fire frequency and intensity. Variables prevent complete understanding. “Only you can” support policies that shift us from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

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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Enhancing community health


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Nick Sanchez, our district forester with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is sharing a cost-effective incentive to help protect our health, stream health, ground water, and air quality. A healthy community depends on people caring for themselves, neighbors, and community. The program available was included in the Farm Bill in 2014 that Congress approved.

Nick states, “Trees have many benefits. They provide food and a home for wildlife, and even help keep your family happy and healthy! Did you know that trees filter dirty water and keep our topsoil from washing away? Trees also help store water underground, preventing flooding in the spring and low levels during summer drought. Even the shade from trees provides a benefit, keeping streams clear and cold, ideal for fish like trout! Planting trees along a stream provides big benefits and we want to help you keep our home rivers clean and healthy for your family, fish, and other cool wildlife!” 

He would like community members and farmers know about the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. A representative from the Rogue River Partners came to Ody Brook to enlist my advice for protecting the quality of the local environment for the benefit of people and wildlife. 

Nick would like all to know, “Conservation partners have teamed up to bring farmers and forestland owners access to a unique pool of funding to help them take actions on their land to help prevent soil loss, and to create and improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Rogue River and Indian Mill Creek watersheds, a 250 square mile area in northern and western Kent County. Financial assistance is available now to help you plant: filter strips, grassed waterways, cover crops, and riparian forest buffers, as well as many other options to help in this effort. This special opportunity is available through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) over the next four years. Call Matt Soehnel, NRCS District Conservationist, at (616) 942-4111 ext. 3 for more information!” Programs are available for others besides farmers. Give Matt a call to learn how NRCS can help you be a good land steward in your neighborhood. 

I receive requests asking me to address the PFAS groundwater issue, the water mining issue impacts on wells and wetlands, and other pressing issues. I could write an article a week on issues for the entire year. Environmental quality for our lives depends on sound science-based data being scrubbed from the EPA website. Information is being censored to downplay the impact of human caused climate change that is degrading the environment. The long-term cost of anti-environmental policies threaten a sustainable economy, our health, and future generations. Scientific data supported by decades of research is not “fake news.” 

I encourage people living in the Rogue River Watershed to take positive action locally to enhance the health of the environment that supports our physical and financial health. First contact the NRCS at the number listed above to learn what you can do on your property and in the community to enhance the health of our neighborhoods. Second contact your US Representative and Senators to protect environmental laws established in the 1970s that are currently on the chopping block. They protect a sustainable economy and our health. Both actions are important for your family. The current administration is working to remove Water, Air, Endangered species, and Wilderness Act protections. Such actions will allow a return to things like PFAS dumping that was stopped decades ago. Things like the PFAS contamination that occurred prior to the federal environmental protection acts could result again if laws are dismantled.

It is less expensive to protect the environment that supports our livelihoods and health than to try to clean it up after we discover it is injuring our health, killing people, and causing economic hardship such as lowering home and property values. Contaminated fish and wildlife affects their health. It makes them dangerous for us to eat.

Nature niche health for fish, bees, birds, and mammals ensures healthy conditions for people. The triple bottom line of economic, social, and environment stewardship protects your family’s future. 

 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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Enjoying the beauty


A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) perched in the branches of a Weeping Holly tree.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Imagine a bird slightly smaller than a cardinal with a brown crest that it can raise or lay flat on its head at will. It has a black “lone ranger” mask outlined with white “eye-liner” surrounding the black. From head towards the tail, its russet brown head subtly grades to an olive brown on its back to gray wings and rump. On the gray wings are tiny splashes of red on the secondary feathers next to the large primary wing feathers. It appears these smaller wing tip feathers have been dipped in red wax. 

The light golden brown on the head, back, and chest, transitions to become lighter and changes to yellow on the belly and sides. The yellow belly gives way to white under the tail. The tail above is gray with a rather abrupt change to a black crosswise band near the tail’s end. The terminal end has a bright yellow band. 

When the bird stands on branches, it is more erect than many birds. One often expects birds to stand horizontal with head out front and tail protruding backwards like a robin. A cedar waxwing posture angles from head to tail at an angle steeper than 45 degrees. Its black mask provides a penetrating look even though it eyes are quite hidden in the mask. 

Waxwings became a favorite beauty for me in the 1970s because their brilliant colors blend in a manner that creates a gentle over-all appearance that must be studied for details. The beauty of goldfinches, cardinals, and blue jays grab our attention with flamboyance. Cedar waxwing colors are vivid but hidden in plain view among subtle transitions.

Even their calls are someone secretive. They have a high-pitched simple call that I can no longer hear. The calls are not meant for me anyway. The waxwings travel in small to large flocks where they cluster in trees and maintain vocal contact. This morning I saw a half dozen together with four eastern bluebirds. Last week I saw 100 together. 

During the winter, they seek shrubs and trees with berries. As I waded a stream one early summer during a mayfly hatch, waxwings fluttered from tree branches to snatch mayflies in the air like one expects from a flycatcher. 

For today, no bird equals the beauty of these avian wonders. Tomorrow, next week, or month, a different species might claim the title as “my favorite.” Our choice of favorite depends somewhat on where we live and observe. When I was a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park for nearly a decade, the Green-tailed Towhee provided hidden brilliance of blended colors similar to what we experience with waxwings here.

Use a bird field guide to study the patterns, shapes, distribution, and habitats of moving beauties that come and go in yards. I am an old guy and still prefer to hold a book in hand. An Internet search provides hundreds of outstanding photographs for each species. You could while away the day with beauty on the computer screen but for me it does not match the joy of seeing these neighbors in real life. 

Your outdoor yard is the place to be or at least view from a home window. To attract cedar waxwings, provide for their needs by planting viburnums and other native berry producing shrubs and trees. Waxwings are not attracted to bird feeders. They seek yards with choice berry shrubs and insects. 

It is nice to see a dozen species that visit bird feeders daily. A yard and neighborhood planted to meet bird nature niche needs provides opportunity to enjoy the beauty of 50 to more than 100 species. Enrich your life by inviting birds of beauty by landscaping for wildlife. 

Hope to see you this Saturday, March 24, at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for the Modes of Animal Behavior program at 9 a.m. 

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

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Leg Joints


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

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

Diagram of a typical insect leg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Biting flies


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

At our annual Lehr family reunion in the 1950’s, we gathered at a city park. It was an event for my dad’s mother’s side of the family. I always looked forward to it. One year, I ventured away from family to the large swing sets. The swings sets were tall and we could swing higher than possible on neighborhood swings.

While swinging with pleasure, I suddenly started screaming bloody murder. I was too far from family for anyone to notice. Nearby mothers with their children took notice and came to my rescue but had no idea why I was screaming and in tears. They helped me stop the swing. I was slapping at my leg.

Under the right leg of my trousers was something horrible. A woman pulled up my pant leg to discover a horse fly biting me. It was worse than a bee sting but it did not inject venom. Not all experiences in the outdoors are pleasant and some people avoid outings because they fear the unpleasant. Positive events out number negative ones and hopefully bad events do not prevent time among nature niches.

Deer flies are more common than horse flies. They can drive us inside at certain times of the day and during some weeks of the year. Karen and I hiked in a western cattle grazing area on public land. At Deer Creek in Utah, we found it necessary to leave. The cattle could not. Deer could not. Other mammals could not.

They had to endure the onslaught of biting Tabinid flies. Fortunately, cows have long tails with a hair tuff fly swatter. Deer have shorter tails but one can watch them constantly twitching it back and forth.

Selected behavior helps deer and other mammals avoid painful “bites”. The flies do not actually bite. Their mouth parts are saw-like. They saw into the skin and lap oozing blood to nourish eggs in their abdomen. It is the female that seeks blood much like it is female mosquitoes that poke holes in our skin. Males feed on nectar and pollen at flowers.

Horse flies are much larger than deer flies and cause considerably more pain. Both lay eggs near water on vegetation where hatching young drop into a stream or other water body. The maggots go to the bottom where they feed on other insects and invertebrates. They grow and shed their “outer skin” known as an exoskeleton to reach a size for transforming from maggot to flying adult that leaves the water to mate and produce more flies.

Most of the biting flies do not survive to leave the water. They are eaten by other aquatic organisms from fish to insects. As adult flies, they are eaten by dragonflies and even frogs. Despite us not wanting to share the world with them, they are important for maintaining organisms we want to share time and space with like fish, frogs, and dragonflies. Birds pluck them out of the air for nourishment.

There are tricks that help us enjoy the outdoors despite the presence of biting flies. We can use chemical insect repellents and at times they seem almost essential. Effective repellents are often dangerous if applied to our skin. Most should be applied to clothing instead. I rarely use repellent insect creams or sprays.

Appropriate dress is quite effective. Wear light colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants to keep skin covered. Dark clothes attract flies. The deer flies like to circle around our heads and become a major nuisance. My friend Mary Miller taught me to pick a bracken fern and put the stem in a headband or hat so the leafy frond stands above my head. The flies circle the frond instead of my head.

Choosing where and when to spend time outdoors at certain times of the year helps. During fly season, it is better to hike at a distance from streams. There are many trails in the area, so select one away from deer flies. As August progresses, deer flies become less frequent and areas near water become suitable again. Hiking on breezy days sweeps flies away. Wildlife spend time away from water and in open breezy areas. Learn by watching and enjoying wildlife. Discover ways to keep spending time among nature’s outdoor wonders.

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

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Butterflies and citizen science


photos from West Michigan Butterfly Association’s website, http://www.graud.org/wmba.html

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join on one or more fun citizen science outdoor field studies. Discover butterflies in a variety of local habitats with people knowledgeable in butterfly identification. It is a great way to learn some of the 170 species known to Michigan. Join with the West Michigan Butterfly Association for fun discovery.

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 documenting butterfly abundance, distribution, and trends throughout North America. Scientists make use of citizen science data. Between 17 and 22 different counts are held in Michigan annually and you can contact Ranger Steve about other Michigan counts. Your help spotting butterflies is desired. Knowledge of butterflies is not required.

To find species and count numbers, we carpool to various sites in the designated count circle with a 15-mile diameter. Have a good time discovering in the outdoors, learn species identification, habitat associations, behavior, and nature niche needs. Participate for part of the day or stay all day.

Bring a bag lunch, plenty to drink, snacks, camera, and dress with lightweight long sleeves and pants to protect from biting insects or raspberry thorns. Some optional exploration is off trail.

Dates and meeting locations:

July 1, 2017 (Sat) 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 5, 2017 (Wed) 9:00 a.m. Newaygo County Butterfly Count – Newaygo Co. 

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) Meeting at the Leppink’s grocery parking lot at the corner of M-82 & M-37 in Newaygo. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 8, 2017 (Sat) 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 22, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co.

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

Rain day alternates will be the next day. It is suggested to sign up with Ranger Steve so unexpected changes can be shared.

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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Spring progression


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Expect the same sequence of change but not the same timing annually. I attempt to record dates when plants and trees first flower to compare changes from year to year. Butterfly appearance is a special treat for me and an excel file is maintained to record the species sightings daily. Daily bird sightings are recorded. A narrative is written in my journal of nature niche occurrences like the location and abundance of Earth Star Fungi and Ebony Spleenwort Ferns.

It is an impossible task and for many species an X on the excel file suffices to document a species has been sighted this year. Busy life activities keep us all from noticing the first day when each species makes its grand appearance. Accurate phenology progression can be important to document things like Climate Change. For most of us, it is more important to experience the wonder and joy of life as it unfolds each day of spring.

I try to walk among the abundance of life daily witnessing what neighbors are doing. I am a nosy sort of guy. Ephemeral neighbors like hepatica, springs beauty, trout lily, bloodroot, marsh marigold, and skunk cabbage race to flower before tree leaves expand and shade the ground. Flowering is an energy expensive activity and for many it needs to be completed before intense tree canopy shade reduces access to adequate sun energy.

Some plants like marsh marigold spend the summer slowly storing energy so when spring arrives they have adequate energy to produce flowers and seeds. Others like the trout lily gather sunlight during the short period before tree shade reduces light. Their flowers and leaves decay by June ready for new growth next spring. Evidence of their existence is only visible for about six weeks annually.

Butterflies have certain flight periods that result in a sequence of appearances and disappearances for various species throughout the warmer seasons. Most have their activity linked with specific plants their caterpillars feed on so their flight is timed with the plant’s life cycle for egg laying.

Join for a couple hours of ephemeral exploration at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club on 6 May from 2 to 4 p.m. Park at V&V Nursery on Northland Drive about a mile south of Cedar Springs. The sanctuary does not have adequate parking space so V&V Nursery has kindly allowed parking. Considering shopping for plants at the nursery before or after the wildflower walk.

This year many species of flowers are blooming one to three weeks earlier than last year. Plant activity is weather dependent. During years when cold and snow persist well into April flowering is delayed. Other years early warm weather encourages ground thawing and sap flow in February. Wildflowers progression advances flowering dates in warm springs. This year it was necessary for maple syrup tree tappers to begin in February to capture the first dense sugar surge rather than wait until March.

I am waiting with anticipation to discover when the trilliums, baneberry, saxifrage, wood betony, and many other ephemerals bloom. I expect they will be in flower during the 6 May field outing. Though the sanctuary’s purpose is to primarily enhance survival success for plant and animal species, we are pleased to share the beauty of nature’s bounty with our human neighbors and to encourage you to discover the opportunities provided by the Michigan Botanical Club.

Come mingle with plants and plant enthusiasts. I will meet you in the parking lot at V&V Nursery before 2 p.m. for our stroll through ephemeral days of spring.

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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Fishing with feet


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

A reader told me that I probably would not believe him but he said he caught a trout with his foot. Before he said more, I said, “I believe you because I have also.” How many others have done the same? Trout fishing season is under way but angling with feet is not a chosen fishing tactic.

The reader was wading a stream when a fish tried to dart past him just as he stepped down and caught the fish between foot and substrate. My experience was similar.

In Calf Creek in Utah, I was wading bare foot in a small desert stream fed by snow melt and ground water from Boulder Mountain. The mountain road summit was over 12,000 feet with a spruce/fir forest in highest locations and ponderosa pines in the 8,000-foot range. Down the mountain, pinyon pines and juniper trees reigned at 7,000 feet.

Calf Creek was at 5,500 feet but that water remained cold, rich in oxygen, and full of trout food. Willows and other woody plants were abundant along the three to ten feet wide creek. In most places the creek was one to twelve inches deep. A beaver constructed a couple dams and created a pond where it built a lodge. After a few years, the beaver exhausted its food supply. The pond filled and became a wet meadow full of life.

It surprised me to see a Great Blue Heron standing on a bare sandstone desert cliff over Calf Creek. It made sense because trout were present for the heron to hunt in the stream’s shallow clear cold water.

My barefoot walk for about two miles was in the stream’s cold water but the desert air was near 100 F. The stream bed was mostly bare sandstone a few inches deep with frequent holes a foot to three feet deep. Deep holes were places the trout hid in shadows. They often remained stationary in shallow water with use of their powerful tail muscles beating just enough to hold their stable position.

As I walked downstream, a trout facing upstream was alarmed by my presence and attempted to dart past me up stream. My right foot was just coming down as the trout slipped between my foot and rock. The fish’s body pressed against the bottom of my foot and was squeezed to the sandstone stream bed.

Quickly, I shifted my weight to my left foot to prevent hurting the fish. Too late. The fish began to roll downstream stunned by physical trauma. I picked up the fish and held it with head upstream to allow water to flow over the gills.

For several minutes, I hoped it would recover as it continued to open and close its mouth. Each time I released it, it could not swim and rolled in the current. After considerable time, I let the fish roll out sight.

Such events are now out of sight but not out of mind. It occurred in the 1990’s but stays with me. Previously, I wrote about this in my column. Like most stories shared with family and friends, they get repeated at gatherings, campouts, or in another group setting. We all have experiences to share and reminisce.

Many do not end in tragedy like it did for this trout. When you are fishing or on adventures into the wondrous world around us, remember to bring back fish stories or those of your personal experiences with wildlife and nature niches. Truthful stories are best and most interesting. Exaggerated “fish stories” are not necessary. The more time you are outdoors the more exciting stories you will accumulate for sharing.

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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Short-eared Owls


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Three friends and I visited eight Short-eared owls at meal time. The owls are smaller than Great Horned Owls and come south to our region in winter. There was a large grassland where they fed near Muskegon, south of M-46 near Swanson Road. A few years ago, building construction eliminated habitat and the owls.

We recently found a place where they are wintering on private land. When observing the owls, posted signs on private property stated “conservation easement.” You might wonder how to establish a conservation easement that will protect your land for your use and for future generations. On February 9, the Kent Conservation District is hosting a dinner and 45-minute program at no cost to you titled “What is the District doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

The presentation will bring attention to the resources available to Kent County residents such as the NRCS administered Farm Bill that offers easement programs to eligible landowners to conserve working agricultural lands, wetlands, grasslands and forestlands. The Forestry Assistance Program and the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative, Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program and invasive species strike team services are a few of the programs that will be covered during the presentation.

Please attend on February 9 for a 5:30 p.m. dinner with a 6 p.m. program at the Grand Rapids Township Hall, 1836 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. The Kent Conservation District Showcase is free to Kent County residents. RSVP to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/153931478427517/).

Back to the owls. My mother once told me that when habitat is destroyed, like occurred with building construction at the Muskegon site, the animals need to move someplace new. Unfortunately, there are not adequate places remaining for relocation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Short-eared Owls’ population has declined by 80 percent between 1966 and 2013. Similar declines are occurring for many species as habitat is destroyed to accommodate a growing human population.

Conservation easements can help species survive by curbing habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development that are major causes for species declines. Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology states the “owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, and they appear to be particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation.” Habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, have shown some success in restoring suitable habitat for Short-eared Owls.

Local farmers and landowners have entered land into the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs that are beneficial for our natural heritage and the owner. Such programs not only aid owl survival but help reduce flooding in downstream areas. The conservation programs have significant economic benefits for the community. There is an economic cost that pays for itself in benefits by preventing flood damage losses, soil erosion fertility loss, pollution damage to streams, and it slows loss of wildlife.

The conservation programs can provide hunting easements on private land. The landowner receives financial rewards from the government and community members have access to land. It is considered a win/win for land owners, community members, and declining populations of plants and animals that can now survive. The new Federal administration does not recognize the value of an economic, social, and environmental bottom line. The focus is only on a short-term economic bottom line. Efforts are underway to eliminate many conservation programs that include social and environmental benefits that serve the triple bottom line.

Elimination of conservation programs is not good for the owls that have suffered an 80 percent decline. Elimination is not good for the public at large for flood control, or future generations. Attend the presentation to learn “What the Kent Conservation District is doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

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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Growing Cardboard


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child, I observed toilet paper rolls were not wrapped around a cardboard tube. By the time we removed the paper, a cardboard tube had grown on the inside of the roll. I remember my mother telling me a rock on a street corner near her house grew larger as she was growing up.

Our observations were faulty. Both my mom and I thought we made good observations. I looked inside the paper roll and did not see the cardboard. I was not perceptive enough. Mom did not make measurements on the rock to verify growth.

I recall taking local middle school students to Costa Rica to learn about Tropical Rain Forest. We visited schools to plant trees with students. We shared that forests are a renewable resource that were being cut faster than they could regenerate. Some rainforest soils get baked to laterite rock when cleared of trees.

Sustainable practices that support future generations of people living in the rainforest and here need to manage rainforest differently if we desire to have toilet paper or other forest products in the future. Some apply temperate forest management practices there and are unwilling to change because they desire to think it will work anywhere. As adults, we are not making accurate observations based on sound scientific investigations.

Naturally, tree harvest industries are most interested in cutting trees and shipping them. They keep moving and clearing rainforest without adequate concern regarding the impact on the local community or future generations. For some, the goal is only short-term profit for the company. Many people feel that is in their best personal interest and it is particularly true if they invest money in mutual funds that include that forestry company.

Others seek socially screened industry investments that work to provide healthy economic, social, and environmental practices for both present and future generations. It is known as the triple bottom line.

A recent national survey prioritized 12 US citizen concerns. Environment was number 11 of 12. The only one of less concern was immigration. Political policies are based on constituent desires. It is good when people develop good observation skills and behave to support the triple bottom line for the present and future.

When I was director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, it was operated by the Kent Intermediate School District serving Kent County public and private schools. One purpose was to provide hands on learning to help students develop careful observation skills and to learn how scientists constantly review the work of other scientists to find flaws and correct them. When studies involve things like how nature niches work in forests, we can improve best practice management. Science has self-correcting peer review.

Field trip learning helps children develop accurate observations in fun natural locations. They learn to draw better conclusions than I did regarding toilet paper growing cardboard while on the paper holder.

The Kent ISD superintendent, in 2005, told me they were closing the Howard Christensen Nature Center because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. He stated he was not saying it lacked importance but only it was no longer a priority in America. In the presidential election prior to 2005, Al Gore, with a sustainable environment policy, won the popular vote but lost the electoral. The recent election went the same way with the sustainable environment policy candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election. Environment was only one of twelve American priorities but indicated a sustainable environment for future generations is low on our priority list. The role of environment for sustaining a stable economy is important.

Encourage your children’s teachers to go to HCNC. It is now operated as an independent nature center. Purchase a 2017 family membership. Rent snowshoes there and have fun outdoors. Emotionally connect with the environment that supports us and our future. It will help raise a sustainable environment priority.

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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