The 753 Mile Journey into Fire

“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”

A dear friend gifted me a frame with this quote on it as I was leaving Michigan and beginning my 753 mile journey  back to Minnesota. While I did not look back, I will never forget the memories and accomplishments I had while being in Michigan and the friends I made along the way.  From the exciting adventures with my landowners (you know who you are!), all the crazy phone calls and the many laughs among colleagues and friends Michigan will be in my heart.

While letting landowners, colleagues, and friends know that I would be leaving they question did arise if I would continue to blog.  Well my friends, the definite answer now is YES! This post is just a basic update and then we will get back to the “good stuff”… TREES!

It has been over two months now at my new position and so far so good- a bit crazy at first.  I arrived and by the end of my first week I was out on a fire! A WILDLAND FIRE!!! Fire season should have been over by the time I started mid-May but things were so dry with the lack of rain it extended on and on and on!  That first weekend I was here, I was given fire gear, a radio, and reminded that I was on call to have phone near me.  Saturday afternoon, I see my co-workers name come up on my phone and my heart starts racing, it was time to face my first wildland fire.  Racing down the highway, looked at my co-worker in the truck next to me and said “Fun Fact: Fire is one of my biggest fears, but let’s do this”! Shaking in my boots as we pull up, I see the smoke, the fire creeping along the field, firefighters on the ground and a helicopter in the air I thought to myself what did I get myself into? I used to just hug trees and now I am going to fight fire, WHAT?!  We went to asses the situation, where it started, how it started and rate of spread. Once we had that information, I was handed a bladder bag (backpack with a spray nozzle full of water) and proceeded to march through a cattail slough.  Hip deep in muddy water surrounded by cattails and other tall grasses I struggled to get myself to higher ground!

When I got back to my place that evening, my body and clothes were black from the ash, my legs tired from the weight of the pack and hiking, and was blowing black snot (yes gross but so true) and I thought to myself, why?  Why am I fighting fire?  After much thought, I compiled my best answer for this, Mother nature- trees.  I do it to protect our natural resources.  Fire is a good tool for management- but that is when it controlled and not threatening anything (people, structures, critical habitats).  Fire can help fight invasive species, promotes regeneration of native plants and shrubs.

Anyways, all ended well- I managed to make it through first fire and was sent to the fire academy the following week and am officially certified to fight fire.

More updates to come…and good information of course!!

“Always look forward- Condensed advice from trees –> Be Strong, Be Solid




Side view of fire- from outside the hardwood forested area into field

Check out that Norway!

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”        – Warren Buffett

Do you ever sit under a tree and think about how it got there?  Was it a volunteer, meaning did it naturally regenerate and grow there? Or did someone years ago, maybe decades ago plant it?  Did someone take the time to dig a hole and plant a seedling tree- hoping that one day it will grow up big and strong in hopes that someone sits under it and wonders or that wildlife is enriched by all the trees benefits.  Seriously…how did it get there, what has the tree seen, what kind of tree is it even!? If only trees could talk; the stories they would tell! Would you take the time to listen?

A few days ago I had a couple stop by the office carrying a large garbage bag and inside was a tree branch! They began to tell me about the tree and how they had 35 acres of these trees! I looked at it, felt the needles and said well “its a spruce, but I do not want to give exact species without seeing them”.  They had told me that the previous owner planted some 13,000 of these for a Christmas Tree Farm, but passed and the wife did not keep up with it so they just grew.  I did not want to confirm the exact species because partly I wanted to see these trees in real life and because I was not 100% certain on it, I told them I did not want to say white spruce and be wrong, in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t.  It was very bright green..but all I could think was black or white spruce for holiday trees but I just had a feeling it wasn’t because the branching and the pure green color.  In the back of my mind I am thinking can this really be a Norway Spruce and is just a young or upper branch?  But, Norway is not a common holiday tree here…  This was a brain teaser at best! I could not get it off my mind, so I talked it out with a friend…walking through all the trees it could be.

Anywho, so as I drove through the muddy back-roads to their property, it hit me like a cold snowball in the face and I yelled (all alone in my truck) I KNEW IT!! As I pulled into their driveway I had the biggest smile on my face because right in front of me, plain as day, rows and rows and rows of NORWAY SPRUCE!!!  I met up with the landowners and said, I am so happy I did not let you leave my office without setting up a visit-because these are Norway Spruce.  In shock we began to walk towards the trees and I explained how Norway’s branches droop down.  I have never seen a plantation of these species before, I was in awe.  It was a beautiful day, reaching 64 degrees Fahrenheit but when we walked into the trees it dropped roughly 10 degrees!  This beautiful, green carpet of trees stand tall all because some 26 years ago a gentleman decided to plant 13,000 trees!

Next time you pass a tree on a walk/run/bike or sit under one to cool down and take in its shady canopy take a moment to think- how did it get there? What has it seen? What species of tree is it?  If you do not know what species of tree it is, take a picture or note things about it and go that extra step to look it up!

Thank that tree for Clean Air



Let Mother Nature Take Her Course

“The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been waiting quite some time to be able to start with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I have finally been inspired by a landowner where it fit- on top of his bucket list was being able to escape the trifles of life and live surrounded by nature and being within the trees.  Recently retired he was able to finally escape the hustle and bustles of work and live out his life long dream of trees and wildlife! There is pure comfort in being able to know what you do to positively impacts the land.  This landowner was searching for all the right education to better sustain his property for the future all all wildlife that lives among it; even the families of squirrels!  Not many landowners I meet care for the squirrels!! Go Squirrels!

This landowner had just purchased the property and called me up a couple weeks prior to our visit very concerned about what previous landowners had done with logging it.  He is not against logging, but was very concerned with how it looked “butchered”.  I pulled up curious of why he was concerned…I saw no immediate concerns.  We began to talk about the property, a bit of history, and I simple said “I think it looks great”.  He took a stutter step backwards and had a huge smile on his face! He told me I made his day, I said great my work is done and jokingly acted like I was going to leave! He began to explain how this is his life’s dream, his top of the bucket list adventure, his true passion.  He was so incredibly worried about the forest and purely wanted to know everything he could do to make it better, was geared up to learn and do everything in his power to make it sustainable. We chatted about the basics- he has oaks so I filled him in on oak wilt and Asian- longhorn beetle for his maples.

We began our trek through the forest, well the sprouting of a new forest! I began to explain to him about how great it looked, you could see the baby red and white oaks covering the ground and the maples sprouting like crazy! He asked what he needed to do with everything and my answer for everything was “just let nature takes its course”.  Forests have been doing their thing for many years before us so they know what best to do naturally.  Now, if he did not have the ample regeneration he had, we would have been compiling a planting plan! Instead, we discussed adding fruit trees, hazelnut trees and some pines around the property lines for edge to enhance for wildlife and biodiversity. Forest land is so fragmented, split into parcels and one way to help wildlife feel safe in an area is to have forest edge and enclosure.

Just let Mother Nature do her thing!







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

Rain equals Water

Water is the Driving Force of all Nature  -Leonardo da Vinci

Sitting inside while it is raining outside all day- gets me thinking.  Water is some ares of the planet is a commodity we take for granted- here in Michigan we don’t even worry about it because we are surrounded by the Great Lakes- doesn’t get much better than that right?! No- just because we are surrounded by freshwater does not mean other parts of the world are struggling for clean water to drink, bathe in, or use for cooking.  Look at California- a place kind of like home since it is the US, they are struggling right now and have been for awhile.  It is said they only have a year left, maybe less, of water availability.   According to  “750 million people in other countries lack clean water”.  That fact is sickening!! Now, because we do have water at large here in the Midwest, I want to take a moment talk about Rain Barrels!!

Yeah a barrel and holds rain- WHO KNEW!? At the conservation district I work for, the administrator received a grant to help folks get all set up with a rain barrel.  If set up right, it can reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and save money on watering gardens, plants, and even the grass.  Best results the barrel is placed on a sturdy platform underneath a downspout to catch the rain from the roof.  A screen can be placed on top of the barrel to keep out bugs and other things that like water! (be sure to clean the screen from time to time–leaves and other things may get on there!!).  Also remember to clean the inside at winter time and before the first time you use it again in spring!  I heard that one rain barrel owner puts gold fish in theirs to keep it cleaner! Hey whatever works! Rainwater is actually “better” for plants, trees and lawns because it is naturally soft water and free from minerals or chemicals added to tap water- such as chlorine. Its important for us to do our part and conserve where we can and this is an easy way to conserve and reuse water.  Also, for you artists out there–fun project alert!!!- Painting the barrel to make it a nice visual piece in the yard!

Top 3 Benefits!!

1. saves money on tap water for plants, gardens, and lawns

2. reduces runoff into lawns (basements) and reduces the amount of runoff in large storms clogging road drains

3. can help save up water for times of drought

“Not safe for personal or pet consumption! Also- not recommended for veggie or fruit gardens! but great for TREES”!

Rain Barrel :)
Rain Barrel 🙂

Well Managed Versus Well Groomed

Being a good steward of the land is not about going through it with a fine toothed comb.

Whether its one acre or one thousand acres of forest land the key is knowing how to manage it.  When looking at a forested property I am looking for- diversity in trees, shrubs, and plants and if there are any water features.  Once I know what the species composition is and if there are any wetlands, creeks or ponds then I already know a great deal about that forested property. By the species present I can get a rough estimate of the type of soils present (well-drained soils or clay) and by the water feature I know if there is change in elevation and also indicates wet soils; meaning different species will likely be present.

Also, by knowing these two things I am able to look at the big picture for best management.  Awhile back I was asked to talk about wildlife habitat while walking through a community forest.  At first, I was pumped, “yeah a walk through talking about attracting wildlife”.  But as we reached the first place to speak, I froze and not just because it was negative 20 that day but because this forest was so groomed over that it was hard to see that bigger picture.  Don’t get me wrong this community forest was beautiful and did attract wildlife with cover and water feature.  However, I am used to walking through a forest with snags, fallen trees and limbs, and at least some ground cover.  Because this forest is well groomed for the public it does not have all these features due to safety reasoning.

Sometime folks get so caught up in trying to keep their property “neat and tidy” they don’t realize its not actually helping promote growth. Without the wildlife habitat spread of seeds decreases, reducing regeneration (not completely but kinda). The opposite of this is just as detrimental, letting a forest just grow, grow, and grow and not manage it at all.  Eventually that forest would all just be mature trees- they would grow old, die and little to no regeneration will happen and forest would be lost, or become a huge fire hazard.  We need to find that middle ground- where management is happening but not too much where the structure or composition of the forest is compromised.  Ahh, the beauty of best management practices!! Now, I could go on and on about this but I feel I have gotten my thoughts across so I will leave with one final thought.

Consult your local forester before doing any major logging, planting, or anything around a wetland; do the research.

See the bigger picture, not just whats right in front of you.


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!!

Three Days…No Flannel- Day 3

Mayor in TX: “I am going 100% renewable, but I am polar opposite of Al Gore”.

Al Gore: “Hey man, that works for me”!

This quote was quite funny, regardless if you like Al Gore or not Climate Change is real, renewable energy is becoming cheaper, and we need to do something about it before all is irreversible.   This Mayor is entitled to his opinion and just because he does not like Al Gore it does not matter because by him still going 100% renewable is the step everyone needs to take.  I am sure I will speak to folks who do not like me- but because the science, the facts, the reality IS real does not mean they will not change!

The third day, bittersweet.  I was filled with empowerment and knowledge but sad to be taken out of my safe bubble. Last night, at the board meeting I was asked what was one thing I found most beneficial with this training.  I responded with it was my safe place. I was given the opportunity to meet folks around the world and be in an environment to get the education, training, and empowerment to fight Climate Change.  Climate change in my area is still a taboo statement, so being able to be surround by folks with the same passion was one of the most beneficial things for me.

The third day was geared towards using the knowledge we gained and present with the most impact. One of the sessions was all about words, body language and tone.  According to The Truman Security Project words count for 7%, body language 55% and tone counts for 38% of the presentation.  Basically, no one hears the content of the presentation unless all other things are in line.  Another key point I took from this presentation was to identify shared values, when talking about Climate Change it can be difficult but for me personally I can connect “My Story” with folks by talking about trees.  Since it is what I do, I know my landowners share the value of wanting to preserve their forests so that is my main hook to keep my audience engaged.

It is now time for me to take what I learned and find my path to Climate Reality and get the message out there! Even if I reach one person at a time- that one will tell another and it will spiral. We have to come together and make a change.  This is the future of humanity- so wake up!

Oh, and I survived the three days…no flannel challenge!

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes”

“Blue Marble”
The Climate Reality Project
The Climate Reality Project
Table 36- Canada, Holland, US, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria
Table 36- Canada, Holland, US, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria
I graduated! :)
I graduated! 🙂

Three Days…No Flannel- Day 2

“There is a device that pulls CO2 out of the air, and turns it into a useful product… It’s called a TREE”- Al Gore

Day two- uffda! After finally settling into hotel and coming down from the excitement of the first day I managed to get some sleep to get back to the venue for round two.  Day two was primarily focused on Al Gore and dissecting the presentation for everyone to understand it in order for us to take it back with us and use in our personal presentations.  Now, I could tell you all about this presentation but I won’t.  I want to just talk about a couple of key stories and overview of a few things.

First of all, Al Gore is an incredible speaker- he is very passionate and has a way of empowering folks with the content by the tone of his voice.  One minute he would be there speaking to us as a normal presentation then all of a sudden a huge build up would lead to a passionate tangent, where again he would yo-yo it back in and make perfect sense.  Al Gore works on his presentations up to the last minute, right before he start presenting.  The information is fresh and relates to the audience he is speaking to.

Al Gore split his 500+ slide presentation up into 3 sections and at the end of a section each table would submit a question for the Q & A part.  I remember my table discussing what they wanted the question to be, listening to them talk I couldn’t help but interject.  They had wanted to know if there were any technologies or solutions to trap CO2 or just take CO2 out of the air, I smiled and said “A TREE”.  Now, remember these 5 gentlemen were brilliant but I think they over thought the question or wanted to know if there was a bigger solution! Through the day and half I knew these guys they already were caught up on my crazy love for forestry and trees so they were polite but still wanted to submit the question.  After the question was asked to Al Gore…he talked a little about a contraption that can take out CO2 but has to be buried in the ground away from all things and left there- we don’t have space or time for this and it can only hold small amounts compared to the amount of CO2 in the air.  After this long explanation this was said “There is a device that pulls CO2 out of the air, and turns it into a useful product… It’s called a TREE and many trees is a FOREST”!  I was SHOCKED…I looked at my table with a huge smile and they were all smiling and cheering me on and I jokingly took a bow! I looked back at Al Gore made eye contact and was just on cloud 9!! Sometimes I know what I am talking about!

A fun yo-yo moment was when Al Gore was talking about aerial photos to see all sides of the Earth.  Back in the day he tried to launch a satellite to get photos of the Earth from all sides, I think he mentioned a 24/7 photo set. Anyways, he told us all about this and how it did not get launched because no one thought they would want to see that many photos and such because it would be like “watching your grass grow, and no one likes that”.  But this is not true because the lawn care is a 40 billion dollar industry! “I guess people do like to watch their grass grow”! -Al Gore Needless to say, Al’s satellite is finally in route and will reach destination in June and start sending photos!

Day two– Still surviving without a flannel!

Outside on a break :)
Outside on a break 🙂 Check out the matching shoes that’s riiiight!!
Day Two with map of the locations of leaders!
Day Two with map of the locations of leaders!

Three Days…No Flannel- Day 1

“Be Nice, Be Kind, Be Respectful BUT Challenge Denial”!! – Al Gore

Last week, I had a life changing experience.  A while back I was accepted into the Climate Reality Leadership Corps where I would embark on a 3 day training to become a Climate Reality Leader.  I did not know what to expect at this convention except for the fact I would be trained by Al Gore on becoming a leader in climate change.  I went in to this thinking I would learn a thing or two to help further me in my career; I never expected to become part of something bigger than myself.  I joined a family of 122 other counties (22 different counties at this event) and thousands of other people who see the facts of life and realize that this is REALITY.  In future posts I will talk more about the science, but today I would like to share my story; my experience.

I am not going to lie, I was extremely nervous for this event.  Mostly because I did not know what to expect, we fear what we do not know and I was a classic case of this.  I prepared as much as possible browsing my climate change books (an inconvenient truth and Al Gore The Future) and even dressed for success.  I figured this event was more than a flannel and jeans type event- so I went outside my comfort zone of a flannel. Worked perfectly, it gave me the confidence to lead myself and lead for my work. A common question I was asked at the event was if I applied for pleasure or for work.  I responded with Both, it was originally for pleasure but when I thought about it, it IS my work, it IS my passion.

Anyhoot, Day 1- WOW!  I walked in, full of confidence ready to make a difference.  Everything I had expected was surpassed with pure greatness.  I received my recycled binder and 100% biodegradable name tag and table and went and started to mingle.  A friend from a neighboring environmental organization also joined me so it was nice to have some familiarity there in IOWA! We started to mingle with who ever we passed talking with folks from all over the states and from different counties.  The most familiar thing to me was the coffee…oh the coffee!!! Finally, it was about to start and I found my table.  Sat down, but no one was there- eventually I went out to information to see if there had been a mistake, no mistake, rather no one from my table had checked in.  So I politely asked to join the table of gentleman next to mine. BEST DECISION made!! Instantly I had 5 new friends all from different countries.  I was the only one from the US, it was incredible.  Incredible that they took the time to travel here and that they were not only representing Climate Change but they were doing it from other parts of the country; Nigeria, Canada, Pakistan, Brazil and Holland.  If we want to address Climate Crisis at a serious level the globe needs to be on board! Through my three days I began to collaborate ideas and inspirations with these 5 men.

Now, I knew that Al Gore would be present for at least a speech sometime in the 3 days but as I looked at the agenda I realized he will be with us all 3 days! Leading up to leaving for the convention and explaining to folks about this and mentioning Al Gore I got the looks- and I always responded…”put politics aside, this man is an environmentalist of our time and his message and work is real”.  As the Climate Reality president and director introduced themselves I was overwhelmed…but I had no idea what the presence of Al Gore would make me feel.  When they introduced Al Gore and he walked out on stage, I was overwhelmed with complete joy and comfort.  I sprung to my feet, hands rapidly clapping together with respect for what he is doing what he stands for; tears filled my eyes with happiness that I am about to be trained by a very influential person of my time.  For the first day Al Gore went quickly through his 500+ slide show on Climate Change, going off on tangents and passionate stories.  It was funny how after the fact when talking with others how sometimes a tangent seemed so absurd while he was talking and then BAM like a yo-yo he brought it back to his hand and it made complete sense.

I left that first day, having met handfuls of new folks, feeling empowered by the words of Al Gore and wanting to wake up early and start all over again.  I remember calling back home and saying “I feel safe, I feel so empowered, I am in a room with others who think like me, and all having the same goal”. Truly an amazing feeling knowing that—

Climate Reality–Its the face of humanity–WAKE UP!   #CRinIOWA

Standing in front of Map where all the other leaders are located!
Standing in front of Map where all the other leaders are located!

Climate Reality

Canada, Holland, US, Pakistan and Nigeria  Brazil-Not Pictured
Canada, Holland, US, Pakistan and Nigeria
Brazil-Not Pictured