Put Nature in Your New Year’s Resolutions

Here’s something special for you as the holidays wind down, a brand new year is launched, and – in places like Wisconsin – winter really takes hold. Frigid temperatures may have you wishing for “hot chocolate and down comforters” (a remedy the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin has acknowledged) but I’ve found the perfect inspiration to make you want to get outside anyway. Here are 10 Reasons Why You Feel So Good in Nature – from EcoWatch, a favorite website of mine for “green” news and lifestyle stories.

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Whatever the season . . .

We need nature “for our psychological well-being, because it’s in our DNA,” writes psychotherapist Kris Abrams. But that wasn’t enough of an explanation, she said, to fully understand what it is “about nature and our relationship to it, that brings us so much joy?” Over time she’s developed her own fairly elaborate theories to explain why nature “makes us feel good and helps us heal.”

Nature reminds us that we belong to the Earth, and are connected to a community of all living things, Kris writes. It connects us to the spiritual world, too, and “brings you closer to your own spirit.”

plenty of reasons . . .

And in nature, our minds calm down and time itself slows down – two very powerful reasons right there to motivate you to schedule more outdoor time. Here are just a few examples of places to spend winter time outdoors close to home in the Badger state.

Our State Natural Areas in Winter

Wisconsin’s abundant – 673 of them – state natural areas are everywhere and a few of them offer unique wintertime experiences whether they have designated trails, or not. The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF) has posted an interview with Conservation Biologist Thomas Meyer about winter aspects of his job with the DNR State Natural Areas Program.

 . . .  to seek some quiet time in nature.

. . . to spend more time in nature.

The NRF post draws some attention to the following State Natural Areas (SNA’s): Rush Creek Bluffs and Battle Bluff Prairie in southwestern Wisconsin; North Bay and the Bailey’s Harbor Boreal Forest and Wetlands in Door County; Mecan Springs in Central Wisconsin, and in the northeast, Van Vliet Hemlocks in Vilas County.

Winter Workdays in the State Natural Areas

And here’s another way to enjoy and get active in the State Natural Areas: the Wisconsin DNR sponsors Workdays at different SNA’s throughout the year. All levels of participation – from someone with no experience to others who qualify to become stewards of all the volunteer activities in a particular SNA.

Six SNA Workdays are scheduled in January and February of 2015 – all dedicated to brush cutting. Here are the properties, the counties where they can be found, and the dates for brush cutting: York Prairies in Green County, Jan. 10; Kettle Moraine Oak Opening in Jefferson and Walworth Counties, Jan. 10; Rocky Run, Columbia County, Jan. 24; Muralt Bluff Prairie in Green County, Jan 29 and 31; Bluff Creek in Walworth County, Feb. 14; and Magnolia Bluff in Rock County, Feb. 28. For more information contact Jared Urban, volunteer coordinator, 608-267-0797.

The trail along the gorge in Copper Falls State Park, a Wisconsin State Natural Area. (Photo by, Kelly W. Dora, used with permission.)

The trail along the gorge in Copper Falls State Park, a Wisconsin State Natural Area. (Photo by, Kelly W. Dora, used with permission.)

Finally, here is information about two venues that cater to anyone interested in watching the eagles that are wintering in the area.

Eagle Watching !

The little Wisconsin River towns of Prairie du Sac and Sauk City – known together as the Sauk Prairie area – have made themselves into the eagle watching capital of the state. Located a bit northwest of Madison and directly south of Devils Lake State Park, the area is home to the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council a local grassroots organization working to protect bald eagle habitat in the area since 1988.

You can observe eagles anytime from a public Overlook adjacent to the municipal parking lot on Water Street in Prairie du Sac. A permanent spotting scope is always available for people to view eagles on nearby Eagle Island, and those perching in trees along the river. Saturday mornings during January and February the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council staffs the Overlook with volunteers who can answer questions and direct visitors to additional watching locations.

Bald Eagle Watching Days, a special gathering with exhibits and presentations added to the usual eagle-gazing activities are scheduled this year for Friday night, Jan. 16, and Saturday, Jan. 17.

If you just can’t get enough of the beautiful bald eagle, and you’re curious, too, about its elusive “cousins” the golden eagles – they use the bluff lands of the upper Mississippi River Valley as their wintering territory – head on over to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN. This is right on the Mississippi River, about an hour’s drive southwest of Eau Claire.

With a staff of presenters and five eagles in residence, public programs are given every day at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Field trips, via bus, to view golden eagles in the wild, are scheduled for Jan. 24 and Feb. 7; bald eagle viewing field trips are scheduled for Feb. 28, and April 18.

Some of the best things to see and do in Wisconsin in early 2015 are right outside. Make some plans now to get outdoors; resolve to add more nature activities to your life in the new year. You’ll feel good!

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Yes, Success! [For Operation Migration’s Class of 2014] & Other Whooping Crane News

Seven young whooping cranes, hatched in captivity in the spring of 2014, and costume-reared all summer at wildlife refuges, first in Maryland and then in Wisconsin, are now safe in Florida and well on their way to becoming wild and free. They’ve been there, at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, on the gulf coast just south of Tallahassee, a week now. This is The Badger & the Whooping Crane’s update on their ultralight-led migration and the outlook for the rest of their first year of life.

A Most Unusual Migration?

This had to be one of the strangest migrations led by Operation Migration, yet. It is migration #14 for the ultralight pilots and their partners in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. Each migration is unique with its own sets of challenges and memorable moments – weather calamities, injuries, a once-disputed FAA license, extremely cooperative birds, as well as unusually non-cooperating birds – all those are things I’ve noticed, and I’ve just been following this story closely since 2010.

This migration seems to have had a little of most of those things – minus any FAA disputes. As is so often the case, it’s that great imponderable – The Weather – that causes most of the problems that Operation Migration has to contend with; that’s probably never been truer than this year. Very specific weather conditions, including wind speed and direction, are required for the little ultralight aircraft to fly with large young birds that are closely following it. Generally good weather for these flights would be the sort of conditions you expect and routinely get – at least for a few special days – in the autumn of a place like Wisconsin.

Winter in Wisconsin: It’s No Place for Whooping Cranes

But not this year. I live here and can fully attest to the frustrating fall days 2014 produced; it’s not that we were having blizzards, or anything like that – just a lot of cloudy, windy, drizzly days, one after another; relentlessly. And eventually, fairly early in November, that began to feel like winter – and with it the very real possibility of blizzards.

At that point Operation Migration and its seven whooping crane colts, were still grounded in the middle of Wisconsin with only 50 miles of the 1100 mile journey behind them; one crane was still nursing a late-summer injury, and 3 others were seemingly recalcitrant about flying. So on the evening of November 14th (with predicted lows for the next week showing single digits) all seven cranes were packed into boxes and driven in a van to northern Tennessee. The story of that unusual road trip is told at the Field Journal, by conservation leader and OM board member Walter Sturgeon, who drove that van.

Once-Reluctant Cranes Become Masters of Migration

At first the weather in Tennessee seemed to mimic the nasty autumn of Wisconsin, but at last, during the week of our Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., both the weather conditions, and OM’s luck with the cranes began to change for the better. Before the week was over 5 of the 7 cranes had flown 3 long, perfect flights (65 miles, then 67 miles, and 111 miles)! It seemed an astounding performance from cranes who had last flown a month before, and then only for a mere 28 miles.

That very good news was followed on December 2nd and 3rd with another welcome announcement that all 7 of the cranes were now flying. They hopscotched down the length of Alabama and on Dec. 9th crossed over into the southwestern tip of Georgia. Less than 100 miles were left to their destination! Two short flights later the ultralights led the seven cranes down to their large winter pen site at St. Marks NWR in Florida. As the flying contingent got close enough, two costumed crane handlers “called them down” into the pen, and the ultralight pilots quickly climbed back into the sky alone.

Photographer Karen Willes, watching the Florida arrival of the Class of 2014 from the town of St. Marks,  caught this beautiful moment:  ultralight pilot Brooke Pennypacker had two of the seven cranes "locked" to each wingtip. (Photo used with permission)

Photographer Karen Willes, watching the Florida arrival of the Class of 2014 from the town of St. Marks, caught this beautiful moment: ultralight pilot Brooke Pennypacker had two of the seven cranes “locked” to each wingtip. (Photo used with permission)

And with that, the 2014 migration had ended. It’s final 16 days seemed as smooth and flawless as its first six weeks had been rough and fruitless. To recap this migration with a few numbers: it has ended earlier, December 11th, than most other migrations (you can check out the timelines for 2013 and ’14 here, and back to 2008 here). It probably has the highest percentage of “grounded” days: 51 out of 63. And it absolutely logged the highest number of miles that the cranes were crated and driven, since more than 500 miles were covered, by van, in one day, November 14th, between central Wisconsin and northern Tennessee.

But Will They Come Back to Wisconsin?

So what happens next, after a winter of semi-wildness in a protected habitat at St. Mark’s? Will our seven youngest cranes find their way back to Wisconsin when they take off on their first unaided migration north come spring? OM Pilot Joe Duff wrote about this at the Field Journal when the “Plan C” to drive to Tennessee was unveiled: ” . . .they will have the knowledge of the direction from which they arrived,” he wrote, and from Tennessee “. . it’s a straight run north, and with luck, we will see them back in White River next spring.”

Of Course, Why not? (Maybe?)

Watching how the great majority of preceding ultralight-trained whooping cranes have aced this, it seems clear that there is a powerful attraction pulling the young birds back to the area where they first lived and fledged. I’m betting (and hoping!) that the first return trip to Wisconsin for these youngest whoopers will be as smooth as the last three weeks of their unusual ultralight-guided journey. But only time will tell, and this will be one of the most interesting stories to watch for in the new year!

 

And Links to Other Whooping Crane News:  A Lawsuit in TX, A New Cohort in LA,  and More!

Following are links to several other items of whooping crane news, including a blog post from Friends of the Wild Whoopers about a federal case involving whooping cranes, water rights, and the Endangered Species Act. The case has been making its way through the federal court system, first at the District Court level in Texas, and now at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The District Court found for the plaintiffs, The Aransas Project, that argued that 23 endangered, federally protected whooping cranes had died in Texas in 2009 because of state action that authorized certain water withdrawals which in effect wiped out the cranes’ food supply. Attorneys for The Aransas Project are hopeful that their case, won at the District Level, but lost at the Appeals level, will now be heard by the Supreme Court.

In Louisiana:  The newest cohort of juvenile whooping cranes to join the non-migratory flock of whoopers being established in Lousiana was delivered to the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, in Vermillion Parish, west of New Orleans on Dec. 4th. There were 14 young whooping cranes in this cohort, bringing the total Louisiana flock population to 40. Read the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for more about this new program.

From the International Crane Foundation:  A team of experts from ICF has published findings in the November issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management; Nathan D. Van Schmidt, Jeb A. Barzen, Mike J. Engels, and Anne E. Lacy have published “Refining reintroduction of whooping cranes with habitat use and suitability analysis,” which explains the process used in 2011 for selection of the White River Marsh Wildlife Area and Horicon Marsh as new release sites for wild whooping cranes.

Kentucky’s Sandhill Crane Hunt is ongoing right now, extending from December 13 through January 11, 2015. Here is an article in the Glasgow (Ky) Daily Times cautioning that there have been current sightings of endangered whooping cranes in Kentucky, and urging hunters to familiarize themselves with the differences between the two species. “If you shoot one,” said state wildlife biologist John Brunjes, “then you’re going to be in trouble.”

This, That, and a Few More Things: Conservation Stories

This:  Groundwater Issues and Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin  The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, fresh from the ups and downs of the fall election season, is sounding feisty. “The environment played its largest role yet in Wisconsin politics,” the WLCV states in its Winter newsletter. No surprise that The Badger and the Whooping Crane believes that’s a good thing for Wisconsin’s natural resources and all its creatures, critters, and living things.

Both the WLCV, and the national LCV it is a part of, targeted our re-elected Governor Scott Walker for the many “conservation fails” they’ve attributed to him. (See here:  The Dirty Truth About Our Clean Jobs,” and “Walker Blew It On Wind” and “Trashing Recycling” and “Mining for Money,” and . . . have a look, there’s more).

Even though that governor is back in the statehouse and an extremely friendly-to-Walker group of new and returning lawmakers will reconvene at the State Capitol early in January, Wisconsin’s own League of Conservation Voters remains undeterred in its non-partisan mission. In the short-term that seems to be taking shape this way: “for a proactive push to safeguard our precious groundwater resources,” and also to prod the state to rigorously monitor the frac sand mining industry (this is from the newsletter).

Ann Sayers, WLCV’s program director, told the Cap Times, in an article published December 8th, that parts of Wisconsin are nearing “a groundwater crisis.” She explained:  to accommodate a host of different users all looking to the same water sources – cranberry growers, farmers, businesses, and municipalities – there must be “protections in place . . . to properly allocate the supply in years to come.”

In last year’s state legislative session WLCV worked hard to bring about the defeat of what they labeled “The Bad Groundwater Bill” which would have curbed the Department of Natural Resources’ authority to regulate high-capacity wells; this would have allowed frac sand mining companies, factory farms, and other large water users to pull from the same water source.

Worth protecting:  Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters says "Public opinion on the environment hasn't changed."

Something to protect: Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters says “Public opinion on the environment hasn’t changed.”

“We don’t really have time for politics where this issue is concerned,” Sayers told the Cap Times. She also said the last legislative session “was probably the most partisan environment,” that she has ever worked in, but expressed optimism for the 2015-16 for “a new spirit of cooperation” among a bi-partisan group of pro-conservation legislators elected to the State Assembly in November.

Because Wisconsinites value the state’s resources so deeply, conservation issues are on the minds of the state’s voters, Sayers affirmed.              [The above information was Updated, December 15, 2014.]

While we hope for “This” to be true, there’s also –

That:  Legislation to Restrict Local Authority Over Sand Mines

No sooner had I begun to write about the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, when a new email from Ann Sayers made noise in my In Box. It was alerting all WLCV members that the new Wisconsin legislature may soon reconsider legislation that would change “local authority over frac sand mines.” Last year the WLCV helped defeat “two bills that would have kneecapped local control and prevented you from having a say over what happened in your own back yard. These bills moved fast,” wrote Ann, “but we moved faster.”

A stockpile of Great Northern Sand arises on a Wisconsin prairie along Highway 53. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters)

A stockpile of Great Northern Sand arises on a Wisconsin prairie along Highway 53. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters)

The WLCV must be getting a little weary, but apparently there will be no rest. If you live in Wisconsin and think bills restricting local control sound like a bad idea you might consider joining WLCV. They are fighters and defenders; more members always mean more strength.

And then there’s . . .

That, Too:  Enviro Groups Sue Wisconsin for Poor Air Quality Standards

The Midwest Environmental Defense Center, Inc., and Clean Wisconsin have joined in a lawsuit accusing the state’s Department of Natural Resources of failing to enact higher air quality standards that should have been in place since 2010. These are standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for sulfur dioxide and smog-forming nitrogen oxide in 2010, and for fine particulate matter in 2012. The law suit was filed this week in Dane County Circuit Court.

So that’s that. But when it comes to the environment and conservation stories, there will always be . . .

A Few More Things To Share

As I write this, it is nearly the eve of the 115th Christmas Bird Count, organized by the National Audubon Society. The new CBC will take place December 14, 2014 through January 5, 2015.

Described so well as “the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world,” the Christmas Bird Count involves “tens of thousands of participants,” and it will provide critical data on bird population trends. The data from over 2,300 “circles” will be entered after the count and will become available to query under the Audubon website’s Data and Research link.

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A blue-winged teal (Photo at Wikimedia Commons, by Alan D. Wilson.)

Each count takes place within an established 15 miles in diameter circle, organized by a count compiler. Anyone – beginner to veteran – is welcome to participate, but there is a specific methodology to the CBC and participants must make advance arrangements with the count compiler to join a local circle. (If YOU are interested, this link to Audubon will help you find a local circle.)

If you are a beginning birder, you will be able to join a group with at least one experienced birdwatcher. Want to count from home? If your home is within the boundaries of a circle, you can stay right there and count the birds that come to your own feeder – as long as you’ve made prior arrangements with your circle’s count compiler.

 

This would be the time to mention that a recent contest to name America’s Best Birdwatching Destination has been won by Ohio’s Magee Marsh. Although this is not one of the contending spots that are closest to the hearts of the whooping crane’s many fans, it does represent an important win for wetlands – so on that score alone, Ohio’s win is also one for each and every conservationist. The Toledo Blade’s outdoor writer Tom Henry explains here why wetlands and preservation of the natural Great Lakes shoreline are of such importance to all of us.

Wetlands and Great Lakes shoreline were winners, too.

Wetlands and Great Lakes shoreline were winners, too.

By the way, this contest to name America’s Best Birdwatching Destination was co-sponsored by USA Today and 10Best.com – a travel website. Those sites that ended up in the Ten Best that are closest to the hearts of craniacs everywhere? Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the gulf coast of Texas, and the Platte River Valley in Nebraska.

 

Plastic Bag Bans and restrictions have been spreading across the U.S. by the way of various cities and local government units from Manhattan Beach, CA, to Nantucket Island, MA. But on Sept. 30, 2014, California became the first state to pass a statewide ban on single use plastic bags (although local legislation banning them in Hawaii does add up to a de-facto statewide ban, according to EcoWatch.)

The new California law will take effect in July 2015. Here is a wide-ranging history of the spread plastic bag restrictions from EcoWatch, and it includes an interesting “Short History of the Plastic Bag” in timeline form.

And finally, from The Cornucopia Institute (which promotes economic justice for family scale farming) here is a list of 10 Environmental Non-profit Organizations That Are Changing the World. Is there anyone, anywhere, that doesn’t yearn for ways to change the world? Here are 10 groups to help us all do that!