Summer in Wisconsin: Woodlands, Wetlands, Monarchs & More

[This is another post in the series, Summer in Wisconsin: Woodlands, Wetlands, Monarchs, and Rocks.” What began as one of several items for a “roundup” of summer notes, has grown into five separate blogposts, published one at a time in this first and second week of August. You can access all the Summer in Wisconsin series by clicking on those words; they are listed among the categories at the end of each post.]

A Walk in the Woods Can Change Your Mind

We’ve always known this, intuitively, right? A walk in the woods, or on a path next to a stream or lake, is good for us, and good for our mental health. Now a research project at Stanford University seems to offer the science-based truth of this common sense belief.

I found the news of this all over Facebook – in my own news feed and at pages I often visit such as Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Door County Land Trust, and Gathering Waters. For those who may not have seen it, I pass it on.



     [The author of The Badger & The Whooping Crane has been lucky, this year, experiencing a number of really wonderful woodland walks. Here are photos from four favorites – beginning in Wisconsin’s Door County, January 3rd, at the North Bay Preserve – left, and below.]





Published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study by a team of Stanford researchers asserts that there is a growing body of evidence that links urbanization – or “decreased nature experience” with the “development of mental illness.” Wanting to know more about that, the team focused on a negative thinking pattern commonly known as “brooding,” – described by cognitive scientists as “morbid rumination.” Others studies have shown that such thinking can be a precursor to depression and is more common among city-dwellers than people outside urban areas.





[On the left, Spanish Moss hangs from the trees on one of the many loops of  the Hiking Nature Trail that extends nearly 40 miles through the Myakka River State Park. This Florida state park is nine miles due east of Sarasota.  Below right, the trail runs through a marsh. Both the hike and the photos were taken March 30, 2015.]






In this just-published study the research included brain scans of 38 healthy, urban-dwelling volunteers who had spent 90 minutes walking; half walked in a natural setting, and the others spent their time walking in an urbanized, heavy traffic area. The part of the brain associated with brooding – the sub genual prefrontal cortex – showed less blood flow, therefore less morbid rumination activity, among those who had spent their time in the natural world.




[On Memorial Day weekend I joined one of the many field trips sponsored by the Natural Resources Foundation, and spent a morning getting to know the ecology of Moonlight Bay’s bedrock beach (pictured below, right), and hiking through the adjacent State Natural Area.]




It may seem like a “no-brainer,” but really, discovering how a part of the human brain reacts to this natural remedy – getting outdoors for a long walk – is news that could potentially be used for the good of everyone by other professionals; pros like architects and urban planners, perhaps.

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[This was a beautiful summer day in mid-June, and a hike to Mosquito Beach (see the trailhead, left) at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was followed by a stop at the Miner’s Castle Information Center and Overlook, where the photo (below right) featuring a glimpse of the Miner’s Castle rock formation, was taken.


2015-06-16 17.31.54To read more about this study linking nature walks with good mental health, you can visit the link above (to an item at the New York Times) or at this one to The Atlantic. The Times includes a link to an abstract of the study itself. The Atlantic has a link to a long-ago article in its archive by one of its authors who described the benefits of the natural world over the developed one. And you probably can guess the name of that author: Henry David Thoreau.

News briefs: The conservation edition

Look here, at the end of every week, for a collection of short news items and links to stories, events, and issues regarding Wisconsin’s whooping cranes, conservation issues, get-outdoors opportunities, and, perhaps other nature-based happenings.

It’s Earth Day Everyday !

How many times did you hear that phrase on Tuesday, April 22nd? A reminder that Earth Day shouldn’t be limited to just one day a year? Perhaps that idea’s catching on; there are a number of Earth Day activities (rounded up by the Green Bay Press Gazette) continuing near me this weekend. And the International Crane Foundation is celebrating “Party for the Planet” on Saturday (an initiative of the American Zoological Association). ICF is involved in several other weekend observances of Earth Day, as you can see via that link above, to its calendar. What’s happening where you are?

Sand Mining: Wisconsin’s new conservation issue 

In Wisconsin, sand mining is a new addition to the well-known list of conservation issues (water, air, land, energy and climate issues). Wisconsinites, like people everywhere, want and need more jobs, and the state has added some by mining Wisconsin’s plentiful sand and selling it to the hydrofracking industry.

A map of Wisconsin's counties. The counties most impacted by sand mining, including Monroe, Tremplelau, Pepin, and Chippewa, are on the western edge of the state. (from Wikimedia Commons)

A map of Wisconsin’s counties; those most impacted by sand mining, including, Monroe, Trempealeau, Pepin, and Chippewa, are on the western edge of the state. (from Wikimedia Commons)

Unsurprisingly, though, new jobs that involve mining and selling the state’s natural resources, come with some built-in conflicts. This article in The Great Lakes Echo takes a good look at how sand mining is “reshaping the resident’s lives” – in ways positive and not-so – in four counties in western Wisconsin: Monroe, Trempealeau, Pepin, and Chippewa.

I called the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters for some more input on the growth of sand mining in Wisconsin, and learned this: In the last five years, “Wisconsin frac sand facilities have grown from less than a handful to more than 100.” The group’s Executive Director, Kerry Schumann, and Field Director Tom Stolp, made a fact-finding, photographing tour of some of the sand mining areas in September 2013.

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)


One Man and 673 State Natural Areas

Fortunately, Wisconsin still has more State Natural Areas than most people will experience in their lifetimes. Have you visited any State Natural Areas?  Do you have a favorite?  If so, you’re sure to enjoy this link to an article at the Journal Sentinel Online about a contemporary explorer of Wisconsin, and his quest to visit each and every one of Wisconsin’s designated State Natural Areas. Does that sound difficult? It is! And even more so than you might realize, as the article explains. One DNR employee, conservation biologist Randy Hoffman, has done it as part of his job, and it’s taken him nearly 30 years to complete the assignment.

But this story belongs to Joshua Mayer, a research associate at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, who has been pursuing a personal quest, since 2009, when a few nature hikes with a new camera led to bigger thinking. “I got a few under my belt, and I thought I might make this a little project,” Mayer told J-S writer Lee Bergquist.

The view from Observatory Hill in Marquette County. Photo by Joshua Mayer who is visiting and photographing all of Wisconsin's hundreds of State Natural Areas.

The view from Observatory Hill in Marquette County. Photo by Joshua Mayer who is visiting and photographing all of Wisconsin’s hundreds of State Natural Areas.

To date he has visited 337 of the natural areas, and has posted over 10,000 photos, documenting these excursions, at Flickr! Here (above) is one of them, showcasing the view from Observatory Hill which is in John Muir Country in Marquette County

Get Outdoors and Enjoy Yourself !

Here’s one more way: Grab a pair of binoculars and head outside for some birding. Are you a rookie birder? Would you like to be one? Read this, and you can soon be on your way. Andy Paulious, a DNR wildlife biologist, offered these birdwatching tips and suggestions on Wisconsin Public Radio earlier this month.