Splish Splash & Bug hunting!

To Sit in Solitude, To Think in Solitude with only the Music of the Stream and the Cedar to Break the Flow of Silence, There Lies the Value of Wilderness. – John Muir

This past weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer with a local conservancy that received a grant to help monitor the Cedar River.  The grant is provided by MICorps (The Michigan Clean Water Corps) to monitor streams around Michigan to assess the streams quality.

Anyways, it was only 50 degrees out with cloud cover, some drizzling rain, and rather windy– but we put on our boots and headed out to our site.  I am always up for anything outdoors, but it even surprised me when I signed up to lead a team on searching for macro-invertebrates, you know…bugs! I do not really have a problem with bugs, but I have no clue what is living in the water, peel back some bark I know what I will find but to search the stream was new to me.  I had done some work with macro-invertebrates back in college but not as extensive as this.

Anyways, so we are setting up, wind blowing our hair and I begin the timer! T (the collector of my group) headed into the stream net in hand and began to search under logs, under vegetation, moving the sandy substrate below to toss up anything living!  As she would get things I would collect it and take it back to “H” who was sorting through and trying to locate little fellas! Because we were short handed and only had 30 minutes to search the stream, I helped out both T and H with their duties.  I began sifting through vegetation and sand looking for anything that moved.  Then I hit the mother load! An old branch that had fallen in the stream and made home there in the stream; had loads of little critters crawling! We picked and picked and picked and finally we felt confident that we had close to 100 macro invertebrates and began to identify what exactly we had and classified it to get a measurement of quality for the stream.  In our section we found that it was ranked excellent.  By what we found in the stream rated it healthy.  We even found a little tadpole, but we let it go!

The stream was very clear and had great buffer zones of trees and other shrubs to keep it cool and clean.  Trees and shrubs allow for stability of the banks that prevent erosion of sediment, pesticides, nitrogen and other pollutants into the stream.  If its a cold water stream that houses trout, it is crucial to keep the temperature down but shade trees in order to keep providing that habitat for trout.  It is important for us to monitor these streams, not only for water quality for ourselves but also for the wildlife using the stream.  As we continue to add more “plots” and monitor more sections of the stream we can asses the watershed as a whole and if any management needs to be addressed.

So as the stream flowed and the cedar trees broke the silence– we three enjoyed the wilderness of the stream, forest and wildlife that surrounded us.  We left the stream and stream bank un harmed- it was like we were not even there with the exception of T’s large boot hole where she sunk into the muck!

View of our section of the steam- we did 300ft of stream.
View of our section of the steam- we did 300ft of stream.
Night Night little macros!
Night Night little macros!
There is a bug in my hand- just hard to see with the other little vegetation piece.
There is a bug in my hand- just hard to see with the other little vegetation piece.
The Mother Load branch!!
The Mother Load branch!!
Solid proof- that I do work!
Solid proof- that I do work!
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Nature… The Storyteller for Generations

If you look past the products I can make for you and dig deep into my roots…you will see my story. –The Forest

Forests are not only a means to an end.  We sometimes forget that a forest is more than a group of trees that can make us money, or a habitat that will bring us the largest buck at hunting season, or a place to gather firewood, which are great too. However, Forests have stories too, if we think about the bigger picture in many cases and look beyond what is currently standing there we can begin to unravel what may have been before those trees we see now.

I had the opportunity to meet a landowner who has already done this.  He already looked past the current state of his woodlot and can now picture the men years and years ago logging off the white pine in Clare County.  His property is unique in its history for Michigan because it is a major landing ground for the logging done back in the 1870’s.  To this day you can still see where the old railroad track was; ties are still being found on the property and you can still see where men physically dug holes along skid trails to make a flat trail so they could haul logs by horse and not tip.  It was humbling and yet crazy to stand there and picture all those years ago men doing all this work.  Its rare to stand somewhere and really be able to picture what was going on hundreds of years ago. To this day, you can also see the old stumps of harvested white pines throughout the property- which leads to this landowner’s theory on more history to his property.

There is a drop off along the one edge/ corner of his property where you can see where stumps are then at the bottom of the hill there are no stumps to be found.  So we can only speculate that the amount of pine down the hill was not great enough for them to harvest and drag back up the hill.  There are still white pines down there- very large ones- that are assumed by the owners to be “virgin” pines! Ones left behind by the loggers back in the 1870’s because they were not worth it.  We walked around and looked at them, they could easily be 150+ years old!

Going back to just looking at the trees however, I was also blown away.  When this landowner approached me he said his property is one I HAVE to see.  He had read my blog and got the idea that I love forests and am a tree hugger.  Not a crazy assumption, he was totally right.  He began to tell me about how he has veneer size aspen and oaks.  Okay, I have see some nice aspen trees in my day- but the one monster of a tree I saw on his, had even me drooling! Normally when aspen starts to hit maturity it gets hypoxlyn canker or other diseases and decay.  Not this one, it stood tall and beautiful, took my breath away. I stood next to it and looked to the sky to see it standing straight and tall into the beautiful blue sky. Truly amazing!

I go on many site visits (beauty of my work) and every single one has something unique and beautiful to share.

Next time you are out in the forest…look past the trees and shrubs and think about the bigger picture.  Think about how it became a forest, where it came from, the history. 

I am more than just a group of trees…I am a story. –The Forest

A maple and Oak- grown together in harmony :)
A maple and Oak- grown together in harmony 🙂
Amazing ground view of the Aspen
Amazing ground view of the Aspen
Theory of the "Virgin" White Pine
Theory of the “Virgin” White Pine

Milk + Weed = Milkweed

I need it to survive, I need it like a fish needs water and a human needs air….

Milkweed….the plant of my existence –Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly is an iconic one; when the average person thinks of a butterfly- they are picturing that white spotted; orange and black butterfly.  Its orange wings illuminate against the green leaves of plants and trees in the summer time.  Its easily recognizable and is found in Mexico, Canada and the United States.  Now that you are picturing that bright orange, white and black little beauty- let me tell you this…it is in decline.  Reproduction of monarchs relies on milkweed plants- they do not lay their eggs on anything but milkweed! Crazy I know, but TRUTH! Milkweed is like a little hotel for monarch butterflies.

In the spring time, monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants and when they hatch the milkweed leaves becomes food for the larvae.  They eat, eat, and eat the leaves of the plant until they are a full blown caterpillar.  The monarch caterpillar is also beautifully orange, black and white.  When the caterpillar is fully grown it finds a safe place to form a chrysalis to become a beautiful butterfly- just like I learned in grade school!  Monarch butterflies also require nectar for food- gives them energy to fly and migrate- its their Gatorade!

I chose to talk about Monarchs and Milkweed because earlier this week I was out on a site visit doing the typical- hugging trees- I mean checking out oak wilt and other diseases on the property and I ran across on acre sized field of milkweed!! A Monarchs paradise! This summer at the conservation district we have really been focusing on planting native plants for promoting native pollinators.  Non-native plants do nothing for our local pollinators; bats, moths, butterflies, birds, bees, beetles and other insects all do their part to pollinate our foods such as fruits, apples, nuts, pumpkins and even chocolate depends on pollinators- so we need to provide those plants for them! Do it for the Chocolate if nothing else convinces you to plant natives!!

http://monarchjointventure.org/   -For more information on Monarchs and different species of milkweed

I fly thousands of miles back to show you my beauty and grace each year- but I cannot do it without a home provided to me with milkweed.  Go Native–Plant Milkweed!

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed
Close up!
Close up!

Black Walnut- Friend or Foe?

A highly valued tree; but at what cost?

When I was a kid, I would always go over to the neighbors yard because they had large trees that we could climb.  One of the trees was a black walnut, back then that was all I knew about the tree.  I knew it was a walnut tree and that it would drop these big green things and squirrels would hide them for later!

Black Walnut, Juglans nigra, is highly valued for its fine grained dark wood, used often for furniture. It is also a great food source for wildlife.  While it may provide beautiful veneer wood it also provides a natural herbicide called juglone.  Juglone is found in almost all the tissue parts of a black walnut tree, just in different concentration.  The highest concentration can be found in the fruit, the fleshy green layer of the walnut, with 100.  Like mentioned, the juglone is a natural herbicide produced by black walnuts so this is where the foe part comes in.  It prohibits new growth of certain plants, trees, shrubs, or flowers around it and if it is grown by already established things it can kill them off.  I recently went to a site visit where this was the case.  The landowner had a hobby farm, where he was growing black walnuts. The trees are doing great however they are now seeing that their plum trees and other surrounding vegetation is dying off.  As leaves, fruit, flowers blow off the tree and land on and near other vegetation they secret the toxic juglone.  It is also in the roots and trunk so it is leeching into the soil.  If the tree is cut down and removed the “herbicide” is still in the soils and can take years for it to be gone depending on the drainage of the soil.  Now, its not all bad, like I mentioned great food source for wildlife and humans like walnuts and it is a great wood for production, just have to be selective of whats around it.  Some plants are tolerant to the juglone and still can be grown.  Some examples of tolerant species include, beans, carrots, corn, black-eyed Susan, morning glory, trillium, Eastern redbud, dogwood, poplar, black raspberry, and soybeans.  There are several other species tolerant.  Most folks do not like black walnut trees because they are messy but now their minds will be blown- messy and toxic! Because of this if they are not out naturally growing in a forest; they are usually use for plantations for nut production or can be a yard tree with selective vegetation around it.

Side note: black walnuts are not the only tree that produce juglone- other members of the Juglandaceae also produce it as well as hickory trees.  Butternut, English walnut, bitternut hickory, pignut hickory, pecan, shagbark hickory, mockernut hickory are the common names of juglone producers!

Peach in decline--about 15 feet from walnut orchard
Peach in decline–about 15 feet from walnut orchard
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) tree with fruit
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) tree with fruit

Fire… FIRE!!!!

We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there. – Charles F. Kettering

As a forester, I am always thinking future- what can be done now to best manage forests and ecosystems for the future, because “guess what”, we will always be headed towards the future and we want to pave for a “better” future for younger generations.  This morning I was talking with a a colleague and he expressed his gratitude for me being of younger generation and being environmentally conscious.  Even at my age, I am worried about the younger generation because like my elders, I to am only borrowing this land from generations below me and I want to make sure I pave a better path then generations before me because I have the education and science to make it better.  I can not turn my head and say, well the next generation will fix it, I need to ACT NOW.

Anyways, off my soap box and to the point of this post.  Best Forest Management.  Recently, there was a small forest fire in my backyard and the yards around me.  One of my neighbors decided to burn leaves but did not consult Mr. Smokey first! If they had asked Smokey the Bear prior they would have know it was way to dry and the winds would blow the warm coals and catch fire. So a fire broke out, affected 5 property owners, my property included.  No building damages caused but the ground of the woodlot sitting between us all had been burned.

This type of fire is called a cool fire or surface fire, it was low burning and did not affect the canopy.  Although, this fire was not a prescribed fire it still has its benefits. I know some of the landowners affected are not happy, but I tried explaining to them that its actually “good” and since they did not lose any mature trees they will see in the near future that it has benefited them.  Forest fires have been used since forever because of all their benefits.  Fires can minimize the spread of disease and insects, it can remove the presence of invasive species that are not used to fire, it can improve habitat, and promotes the growth of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers!  The key here is native…fire helps bring back native species while burning out the non-natives and invasive species.  Some species require fire to regenerate! Serotinous cones such as the jack pine need fire to open up the cone and release the seeds. Fire is healthy when done correctly.

Although this was not a prescribed fire, I believe it will benefit the area burned in a positive way. But lesson learned to neighbors–consult Smokey Bear and do not burn leaves when its dry as dry out!

Best management for the future may include the scarier approach

Overview of fire- Notice only small brush was burned still ample regeneration left behind
Overview of fire- Notice only small brush was burned still ample regeneration left behind
Firebreak trench made by MI DNR
Firebreak trench made by MI DNR
3ft from my shed!!
3ft from back end of my shed!!

Trash to Land Ethic

 “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
― Aldo Leopold

 

If you ever get an e-mail from me, this quote is part of my signature.  I put it on there in hopes to get as many people to read it as possible.  My hope is it latches on somewhere in folks minds and the next time they are outside they will make “better” choices than the day before.

Yesterday, I went out for a site-visit with a landowner who had just acquired the 10 acres of property next to him and he wanted to manage it because the previous owners had not.  When I say they had not…I mean they really had not. Reflecting back to the quote we see the land as a commodity to us…the previous landowners saw just that.  Because they were the “owners” of this 10 acres of woodlot, they felt they could abuse/use it in anyway they wanted because it was “theirs”.  All over this 10 acres was old dying trees, it was overgrown and unproductive but this is not even the worst of it.  Scattered all around the 10 acres were piles of trash, tires and old bricks!  I even saw an old baby stroller!  The landowner who I was walking with made the comment “maybe they did not realize the trash was picked up weekly”!  Instead of recycling or throwing away all this trash they hid it in their back yard woodlot. What they could not see did not affect them. The good news is the new landowner is chiseling away at this trash and cleaning it out and harvesting it to bring it back to a natural forest again.

This all brings me back to the Aldo Leopold quote on seeing land as community versus a commodity.  Land is more than a “object” that we own, land can give us so many resources and gifts if we treat it as something that is living with us; part of us, not that we just own it. We need to grow and think about what Aldo Leopold said YEARS ago about Land Ethic. Ethics are our standards/morals we hold for ourselves and how we apply those standards when making choices. When you throw the word Land in front; Land Ethics are the standards we hold leading to the reasons why we do certain things to/on our land.  If we do not have good land ethic the land will continue to perish.

We need to work WITH nature not against it. Treat it like family/community not an means to an end.

Aldo Leopold aldoleopold.org
Aldo Leopold- pure contentment
aldoleopold.org
Young forest
Young Forest Regeneration

Wonders of the TREES

Ever walk through the forest and see something, stop, and go hmm?

Yesterday I was out on a 120 forested property with a landowner.  We were just cruising along, when we stopped and both looked up and went hmm.

Often when I go to properties with a lot of acreage to cover the landowners drive me around on 4-wheelers or gators so we can cover all ground and see EVERYTHING! So here we are vroom vrooming along when we had to hit the breaks.  Up above us was unlike something I have never seen before.  The tree branch was literally curling around making a doughnut shape! I thought perfect placement for a bird or squirrel nest.  Now, I have seen a lot of trees that grow around things, like a sign or nail or something like that. Trees have incredible strength to grow around inanimate objects in order to survive.  I have also seen trees that grow slanted to try and catch as much sunlight as they can, but never in all my days of hugging trees have I seen one curl around like this.  It is quite odd to me actually; what in the world  this tree branch thinking to grow like this?!

All Natural Curl Tree

To my next wonder of trees…the other day I was sent an article about trees and communication.  Whether or not trees communicate in ways underground through their root systems.  Now part of me is like yeah okay makes sense what she is saying and part of me is thinking no, competition and Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”.  Survival of the fittest is not saying the strongest always survives. It is often misinterpreted or maybe I am the one who misinterprets it but I believe it means the ones willing to change or adapt and the ones that are “smarter” are the  ones who survive. I am no expert on this!  So when I was listening to this forester talk about the communication with trees I obviously got to thinking about her theory.  When I was at this site visit he had a lot of regeneration. BABY TREES!!!! EEEE!!! Anyways, so I looked around at these baby trees and her theory did not sit right with me..if a “mom” tree is supposed to reach out and provide for the baby trees by giving nutrients then why are there a bunch of baby spruce trees growing under oaks? Does the “mom” not have to be the same species of tree?  Are the mature oaks providing for these white spruce trees?  Now I know, seeds travel by all sorts of ways but it was just a thought I had.  I like the concept of trees working together to survive…but I also believe in competition and space with trees all the trees are out to get the amount of sun they need, water, nutrients–why would it compromise its livelihood for a baby tree that may not make it? Her theory is valid and she has much more experience and knowledge then me, but I love the passion others have about trees and learning new things…its all a learning curve for the constant change and new discoveries people uncover!

It is all just so crazy to me, but I love the constant wonder…

Baby Balsam Fir Tree
Baby Balsam Fir Tree
White Cedar
White Cedar Horizon line 🙂