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Ranger Max Considers Trail Etiquette – Guest Post

Ranger Max - EtiquetteMax has been a Volunteer Ranger at Maryland’s Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) since he retired back in 2010. He made a personal goal of hiking each major trail in the park for the fun of it and so he could advise park visitors which trail best meets their needs-Easy? Scenic? Bikeable? Peaceful? Accessible?

One of the more frequently asked questions is about trail etiquette, especially when it comes to the encounters between equestrians, mountain bikers, dog walkers? The Rangers’ usual reply involves an understanding of right of way and park rules. We will discuss these one at a time. (more…)

Plant Meadows, Save Bees – Post by Mark Southerland

Native_no_sting

Everyone knows about the colony collapse disorder affecting honeybees imported from Europe, but few know that Maryland has at least 425 species of native bees ready to pollinate our plants, if we can reverse the loss of native meadows. The United States is home to about 4,000 native bee species, none of which live in hives nor do most sting. As Sam Droege of USGS says, “honeybees are from Mars,” and constitute only 1% of our local bees. Native bees deserve our attention for both ethical and utilitarian reasons. In essence, this native bee fauna is responsible for the wonderful diversity of flowering plants that we enjoy. In essence, the amazing architecture of flowers evolved to attract bees and other pollinators. In addition, many native bees are important pollinators of crops such as (more…)

Walking with Eagles

One That Almost Got Away...The Eagle, Not the Fish Like many others, I have been dropping by Wilde Lake here in Howard County to watch the eagles. I have counted as many as 8 bald eagles at a time. They have been hanging out here for the past two weeks! That is a rare event for this area. They perch in the tops of some of our largest trees, such as the champion Swamp Oak at the west end of Wilde Lake. They also fish and soar back and forth over the lake at both low and high elevations. It’s a blast!

My enjoyment has continued online through Michael Oberman’s photographs. Michael is a world class photographer who lives locally and spends a good deal of time photographing wildlife around the nearby lakes. If you like the images shown here, check out his Flickr site.

Juvenile Bald Eagle...Classic Fishing PoseOn our walks we are treated with great views of mature bald eagles with their bright white heads and tails as well as immature eagles who had not yet developed the white plumage – it takes up to five years. They are all fun to watch and we point them out to everyone we pass. A number of photographers patiently wait on the banks of the lake, trying to get the perfect shots to document the unusual sightings of so many eagles here on these suburban lakes.

Today we saw two eagles over Lake Kittamaqundi, and on Friday I saw one over Lake Elkhorn. What a joy! Many of the people I have encountered around the lakes are wondering where these great birds come from. I have heard a range of explanations – I love multiple working hypotheses. They could have flown over from the nesting population on the nearby reservoirs – especially since one of them has very low water levels at present. There evidently has been a fish kill recently in Wilde Lake as well – which would attract these scavengers. In addition to the resident eagles that spend the entire year here in the Chesapeake Watershed, others that summer in Canada come here for the winter. Maybe they are finally showing up now that the north country is getting snow and colder weather.

Fishing at Wilde LakeThe presence of so many of these great birds is a testament to how we as a society have learned to coexist with other forms of life on this planet. Thanks to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, as well as a loud outpouring of voices from across the country, and a responsive, bipartisan Congress, we collectively took the steps that reduced the indiscriminant use of pesticides that was causing a decline of our great raptors and a host of other birds. We owe those people back in the 1960s a major debt of gratitude for speaking out and changing what was our accepted but misuse/uninformed use of chemicals. By taking action over the past 4 decades, the eagles have come back.

One day last week, right after a rain, I did not see any of the eagles feeding. This may have been due to how brown the water was after the storm. I wonder what eagles do when they cannot see fish in dirty brown water. A lot of debris and silt must have washed off our backyards and into the streams. The silt made it hard to see into the water and the debris covered the surface of the lakes with a wide range of plastic bottles and trash – some of which must have looked like fish…..

I found this to be another reminder of how each of our actions do impact others and the environment that we live in. It is important for all of us to realize this and take actions like putting in stormwater controls in our backyards and controlling all of our trash so it does not end up floating on the lakes and in our rivers. I hope these eagles flourish and hang around so all of us can enjoy their majesty. I also hope all of us appreciate them enough to go the extra mile in protecting their habitat.

Take-a-way: Consider putting in rain gardens and reducing the stormwater runoff from your land. Carefully manage your trash. Go out and enjoy the eagles. Best time for viewing the eagles is 7 to 9am and 2-4pm.

Major Accomplishments of 2015 – The Slinky Effect

slinky on stepsThere have been numerous articles over the past few weeks suggesting the high points of 2015.  Many of these are looking at national or global issues. Some of the ones I have been reading summarize environmental initiatives and others discuss the progress in the adoption of  sustainable practices by business and government. Clearly the Paris Accord is a big step as is the movement on addressing carbon from multiple sources including the burning of fossil fuels. I was also pleased to see the progress and more competitive nature of the clean energy industries and the bipartisan support of continuing incentives for clean energy installations for the next 5 years.

I was equally interested, however, in local and state progress so I contacted people at both levels of government. I am awaiting their responses. If you have suggestions please send them to me and I will compile a list for a future blog.

The one things I have noticed over the past 8 years and it showed up more this past year is that there has been a shift in our culture that is reflected in our actions and even in the words of some of our elected officials as well. More people are thinking in terms of using less energy, polluting less, and considering cleaner forms of energy.

I was recently collecting my mail and I was approached by a neighbor who said he was interested in installing more insulation in his attic and was wondering who I used as a contractor. He had heard that I had cut my energy use in half and wanted to lower his costs as well. Another person joined us and asked why we had not installed solar collectors on our roofs. He then went on to discuss the need for Electric Vehicle charging stations in our condominium complex. These are all things which were not commonly discussed in the past around the mail box.  They are all on the table today.

Slinky in boxSo yes I think there were some dramatic events that happened in 2015 and they should be celebrated. But the shift in our collective understanding of our priorities and the slow shift in our behaviors may be just as important. I recall that in researching for my second book, Saving the Places We Love, I learned that behavior change often takes decades. I think that the environmental awakening of the 1960s may finally be going mainstream. It seems to me that progress is often like a slinky going down the stairs – if you remember that toy. Parts of our society push ahead, then other parts push back, and then all of it moves forward, but only one step at a time.

Take-a-way: Keep pushing ahead. Whether we change our wasteful energy behaviors for economic, health, or future environmental impact may not matter. What matters is that we do our best to understand our impacts and we take the steps to change.

Back to My Roots – Guest Post on Local Farming Movement

Darryl discingGuest post by Darryl Pastor

On April 10, 2015 my 3,500 mile journey from Florida to Oregon had ended and I was at Dancing Roots Farm as an organic farming apprentice, seeking to improve my relationship with food, the land, and work.

Like many people, my relationship with food started in the grocery store or restaurant and concluded at the end of my fork. This was my reality until my final semester as a public health graduate student (2013), when I led the development of a community garden and produce stand in a food desert in Gainesville, FL. This is when I began to recognize the power of sustainable agriculture to unite, educate, and nourish communities. The realization led me to leave my job in academia, in search of more meaningful work, a journey which ended in Corbett, Oregon, living with my dog, Ty, in a 12 foot (in diameter) yurt on a 10 acre organic vegetable farm.

high hoop tunnelFor seven months, I would rise with the sun, spend my days caring for the land, and my evenings enjoying the literal fruits of our labor. When I was not on the farm, I was enjoying the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, and its endless number of hiking trails, including the famous Pacific Crest Trail. I was in natural paradise.

After 12 years, I have returned to Howard County and I find myself looking at everything through green colored lenses. When I see wide open spaces, I automatically begin calculating the potential yields of tomatoes, peppers, kale, collards, and lettuce heads. When I come across an overgrown lawn, I can’t help to think of how many goats it would take to mow it down in a day, and how great that goat poop would be for the fertility of the soil. My parents are thrilled to have me around, in my new role as compost enforcer of the house. But most importantly, I have a much greater appreciation for locally grown/raised food and am always looking for opportunities to support local farms that produce food using environmentally sustainable and humane practices.

Now that I am back in Howard County, I am excited to see initiatives like “Live Green Howard” and The Howard County Conservancy. I look forward to using my experiences and my green lenses to help strengthen this community.

Darryl Pastor

Take-a-way: It does all of us good to get out and learn more about where our food comes from so that we can all work to save our farms and support locally grown foods.  Thanks Darryl for your interest and your commitment to helping make things better right here in Howard County. Editor

Why Support Land Trusts, Parks, Natural Places, and Open Spaces

philanthropyWhy should we support land trusts, parks, natural places, and open spaces? There are so many good causes that we often lose track of the importance of these organizations to our present and future health. Just consider for a moment that: (more…)

Pack It In/Pack It Out

pack it inMore and more parks across the country are moving to a policy of encouraging people to take their trash home with them. This is always a good policy. In the case of the parks it is also a cost saving measure resulting from the decision of many local, state, and national jurisdictions not to fund our parks sufficiently. It is also partly due to the increasing volume of trash we generate. Keeping our parks clean has become a major challenge. (more…)