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Tag Archive | "ranger steve"

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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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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