Matthew’s Musings – September-October

One of the pleasures of serving on the MRVAC Board is encountering interesting, kind people. A very recent encounter included meeting with a recently bereaved woman and her son to receive a generous donation in the memory of her husband Tim Leahy who had long valued MRVAC. To everyone’s surprise, it turned out that our past Treasurer, Bob Williams, was related to them! 

Those married to dedicated birders might be familiar with the kind of behavior Jared Diamond relates about himself in The World Until Yesterday while he is floating in the sea off the Indonesian coast with several other unfortunates many miles from shore holding onto the wreckage of a capsized canoe. While aware that he has only an hour or two to be found prior to the abrupt tropical sunset and ensuing darkness ending any probability of surviving, he still finds himself noticing the beauty of the natural scene around him and paying attention to and striving to identify the birds flying around him. Even in dire situations we can still find some joy. 

In my last musing, I admitted my despair. Kind people have responded with encouragement to keep fighting and not succumb to despair. That is not a danger for me. I firmly believe it is healthy to be honest about the existential realities of living – we are creatures bounded by time, certain to die, weaving the threads of time and space that constitute being within a process we call evolution which takes no prisoners. At some level, we all know this. The current dire environmental situation brings it to the fore of consciousness where it becomes hard to ignore, and where the appropriate evaluation of our odds does merit despair. Yet we are all still attuned to natural beauty, enjoy our families and have good days. 

I went to Isle Royale National Park in June with my son, our first trip to the archipelago. In the trip report I’ve written for the Geological Society of Minnesota, I write that I have never taken more congruent breaths in my life! John Keats might indicate why: 

Song 

I had a dove and the sweet dove died;

And I have thought it died of grieving.

O, what could it grieve for? It’s feet were tied,

With a silken thread of my own hand’s weaving.

Sweet little red feet! Why would you die –

Why should you leave me, sweet bird! Why?

You lived alone on the forest-tree,

Why, pretty thing, could you not live with me?

I kissed you oft and gave you white peas;

Why not live sweetly, as in the green trees?

On Isle Royale the habitat was congruent with what our ancestors experienced during the long duration of hominid evolution. Only in modern times have our feet been tied by a silken thread; civilization’s delicacies have entailed the loss of the forest green. It matters. To the dove inside each one of us, and to the birds and other creatures still trying to survive in a denuded and rapidly altered world.

I will keep up the fight, even with incongruent breath. My current priorities are preserving the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. Please join me! 

Matthew’s Musings: July/August

It’s hard to know, but the world may have ended the day the uber-handsome Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, bought the moribund Kinder-Morgan pipeline for 4.5 billion dollars. Part of me hopes he did it in order to shut it down. The rest of me suspects he has revealed that Canada is a petro state. That Canada is not any different from Russia or Saudi Arabia (or what used to be called the United States). That the Earth as we know it has ended. As Bill McKibben says – “game over.” 

How is it we continue to live in a post-apocalyptic world? It’s not something I can wrap my mind around. 

Trudeau’s incredible betrayal is matched by the infamy of my local politicians at the local level. Here in pseudo-liberal Minneapolis I am told that it is too expensive to build carbon neutral housing. (It’s not too expensive, really, it’s just that the return on investment might take a little longer – or have to take account of environmental costs…) If Minneapolis can’t/won’t do it, I guess nobody will. The situation is disgusting, and these people disgust me. Individual bad choices or unwillingness to make the tough, right choice is going to continue to get us in trouble. But this is nothing compared to dooming Gaia itself – this good Earth and all its creatures – to ecocide. 

Yet we go on. I go to work. I read. I play the piano. I maintain my MRVAC affiliations. I bird. I enjoy my children and my grandchild. Nothing I do anymore, however, is taken for granted. The birds I see today I know I may not see tomorrow. My grandchild I know may die of asphyxiation if the ocean’s bluegreen bacteria stop producing oxygen in sufficient quantities. Or he may die due to a run-away greenhouse gas reaction, leaving the Earth in the Venusian condition. What a tragic waste of a beautiful thing, a water-blessed, blue planet, maybe the only one in the cosmos. 

Tell me what to do with this. 

Meetings Resume in September

The next general MRVAC meeting with a speaker will be on September 27, 2018. Steve Weston, MRVAC Vice President and the speaker coordinator promises a great lineup for the upcoming program year, but can’t yet reveal any specifics. Plan to join us at the Bloomington Visitor Center of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. 

In the meantime, if you need a project, think about local habitat improvements. Could you add some (more) native plants and trees in your yard? Perhaps volunteer with your city, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge or Great River Greening on some habitat project. 

Red-Headed Woodpecker Recovery

Final Report for MRVAC for 2017 Summer Research Season

By Keith Olstad, Convener, Research Team, RHWO Recovery Project, (612) 940-1534

Last December, our Red-headed Woodpecker (RHWO) Recovery research team submitted a grant application to the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter. Our primary request was for funds to defray expenses for increased volunteer and professional field-work to begin to answer these questions:

  1. What factors govern RHWO nest productivity and survival of juveniles into the next year?
  2. What “internal” factors (e.g., sex, body condition) and/or “external” factors (e.g., food availability, weather, population density) drive RHWO to overwinter at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) or migrate?
  3. Where do RHWO go when they migrate? Do they migrate to the same place each year?

We were deeply gratified to receive a $3,000 grant from the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Club in 2017. We express a small part of our gratitude with this report on the application of these funds to critical research done this past summer, and offer to do a program for MRVAC detailing our work to date.

With support from a variety of funding sources (as reported in our initial grant proposal), we were able to hire a post-doctoral research coordinator, Dr. Elena West, to coordinate the work of our field research team. Dr. West worked half-time through the summer, and will continued to work this fall through December to analyze our data and formulate our research field work for 2018. Working with Dr. West at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) were two full time seasonal research assistants, Candace Stenzel and Jesse Beck. Resources provided by MRVAC defrayed expenses for field work done at CCESR by this team and by about thirty-six volunteer “citizen scientists”, and helped with laboratory expenses for data analysis.

During the course of the summer, the field research team “processed” sixty-six RHWO at CCESR, fifty adults and sixteen nestlings/fledglings. (“Processed” refers to capturing, banding, taking measurements, drawing blood samples and feather samples for DNA analysis, and possible use of location devices, listed below.) Thirty-nine RHWO were newly banded, and twenty-two nests were monitored. Twenty adults were outfitted with geo-GPS backpacks, of which eight were recovered in late summer and early fall, meaning that CPS and/or geo-locator data were gathered from these birds. Fifteen juveniles were “marked” with radio backpacks, allowing their movement to be tracked. In all, seventy-two birds were captured.

Parallel to the work of the field research technicians, thirty-six citizen science volunteers contributed 1,550 hours to the 2017 summer RHWO research season. They worked on five specific projects:

  1. RHWO nest location;
  2. RHWO parental effort in feeding nestlings;
  3. Food use identification;
  4. Oak tree tagging;
  5. Nest cavity porthole installation.

Data collected to date will be analyzed for preliminary results during late fall and early winter of 2017. Blood samples taken from summer RHWO captures will receive lab analysis over the 2017-18 winter. Spring 2018 recaptures of transmitter birds will allow downloading data regarding winter locations of these RHWOs.

In addition to the research conducted on RHWO, over the summer fifteen guided hikes and programs about this project, led by RHWO Recovery Project volunteers, provided rich educational opportunities to over 200 people at CCESR.

The research team of the RHWO Recovery Project created a partnership with Dr. Henry Streby at the University of Toledo, who is initiating similar research in Ohio and other states. This partnership will make it possible to compare different population’s genetic patterns and adult and juvenile activities on a broader geographic scale for more conclusive research results.

A new round of grant requests will be issued in the coming months to support and expand our exciting research.

And thank you once again for your most generous contribution to the recovery of this splendid bird.

Elect 2018-2019 Board Members

Please join us at the meeting on Thursday, May 24 to vote on the slate of nine candidates for the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter board of directors. At present, here’s the list, but there may be last minute changes;

  • President: Matthew Schaut
  • Vice President: Steve Weston
  • Treasurer: Walt Stull
  • Secretary: OPEN
  • Members at Large (5): Becky Lystig, Ken Oulman, Monica Rauchwarter, Rita Baden, OPEN

Matthew’s Musings

The January 2018 Refuge gathering was an enjoyable affair. What is better than hearing about, and seeing video of penguins in action?

In the audience was a young professional biologist. In her early teens she had applied for and received money from MRVAC to attend environmental summer camps. She sited these camps as one of the key reasons she chose a career studying and positively impacting our precious environment.

If you are aware of an interested youth, or a program which serves youth, now is the time to submit your proposal! This can be done at http://mrvac.org/grants/ or talk to any board member for more details. MRVAC’s mission is to support environmental education with the donation dollars we receive from each of you. Thanks!

It doesn’t seem possible, but the environmental assault seems to have accelerated over the last couple of months. The coastlines have been opened up to unlimited drilling, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been put at risk, multiple national monuments are being opened up to mineral claims, 30% tariffs have been put on imported solar panels, the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty has been degraded in its ability to protect nonhuman beings, and the Polymet environmental review process truncated – all by executive fiat.

Apparently, that is how our government now works? I don’t know if lawsuits will slow these unconscionable actions, but they will not hurt. I do know that resistance means gumming up the works in every way possible. We must also know what we want and accept no less. (The other side has a clear picture of what it wants – and stops at nothing.) We must do what reason and conscience prompts – and never forget the spirit of Standing Rock or Martin Luther King Jr.’s Arc of Justice. The planet needs this.

The Culture of Make Believe, David Jensen

I’d like to share a book with you, Derek Jensen’s The Culture of Make Believe. It is a model of conscience and soul-searing reflection on the processes in American history and psyches that have always been there, but which we often repress. The book seems prescient because the unacknowledged cruelty has been unmasked by the Trump Presidency but the injustice to the environment and to the disenfranchised have always been dominant processes in our society.

Our Constitution has never fully protected anyone from being enslaved, lynched or from having their village wiped out. Nor, to be frank, did our Founding Fathers. If the current tribulations cause us all to do a little more soul searching and become more engaged in politics, we will all be better for it.

Jensen is a perfect guide. He is passionate, he feels the pain, he refuses to turn a blind eye, he witnesses – and he is kind. I cannot think of a better book to read for these times.

Take care out there.

Matthew’s Musings

Happy New Year! I’m glad it’s a little bit cold and some places are getting snow. There was snow in Texas and Florida, lake effect snow around the Great Lakes. All that moisture in the sky due to the added heat in energy. Speaking of which, the upper Midwest has seen the largest Winter temperature gains as a result of climate change in the continental USA. Canada – an upper Midwest writ large, has even higher gains (along with its peninsular appendage, Alaska. And that other appendage, Antarctica???).

As I write, the US Congress may pass a particularly grim trickle-down tax “reform” bill. I pray the Senate and the House of Representatives will be unable to reconcile their versions. Patagonia has gone to war against the Trump administration and its Interior Department hatchet men in reaction to the “decision” to shrink Bears Ears and other national monuments to benefit uranium salesmen and fossil fuel speculators. Fossils, native art and artefacts, animals and ecosystems – be damned, all of you. You just don’t monetize well.

The oligarchs on the national scene play for big money. The money at the Minnesota State level can’t be as good, yet our US Representatives continue to be whittle away at our environmental legacy to benefit Chilean multinationals. I speak of Representatives Nolan and Emmers (different sides of the aisle, but, hey, you know… there’s dark money talking) efforts to bring sulfide mining to the Boundary Waters, while at the same time eroding the environmental review process and our rights as citizens to have input.

Our own good governor Dayton, of late, has raised his voice in favor of “some kind of sulfide mining” which is a position I can’t fathom. Dayton had seemed a friend to Minnesota’s waters after his efforts to establish standards for buffers along waterways. Now he appears willing to risk the Boundary Waters and the Great Lakes. Attrition may be at work, and the socialization of the wealthy wherein manliness is established by “making deals.” We don’t joust or duel anymore, we make deals. Early socialization is hard to overcome. It also matters who we spend our time with.

Corporate (and oligarchic) attrition is relentless, as corrosive force as powerful as water. The wealthy can afford to continually scratch at a door until a “no” becomes the “yes” they want to hear. To maintain a no is difficult. Obama seems to me to have been a master at avoiding the hard “no”, since that then becomes ammunition for manufactured media outrage. Yet a hard no is justified to prevent sulfide mining in Minnesota or a Line 3 pipeline “expansion.” The soft “no” enables endless cajoling by oligarchs with bottomless reservoirs of wealth – even more corrosive in our current dark money post-Citizens United environment – until eventually, enough decision-makers – lawmakers, executives, judges, — are turned and a project moves forward to its inevitably disastrous consequences. But who cares about that, the oligarchs have already left town before the clean-up starts, and their pockets seem to have gone empty!

We must stand strong against these corrosive attempts to destroy our environment. It might already be too late to prevent our dying in the currently accelerating climate change catastrophe. That is a just comeuppance to our complicity in creating the mass extinction event currently decimating the world’s flora and fauna.

Or, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have converted to solar and wind power and have absolutely no need for any more fossil fuel and water destroying nonsense. We can’t let what remains of our environmental rights and natural world be destroyed in a last, absurd, corrupt feeding frenzy at the dying of the fossil fuel age? It’s a shame we can’t count on our local representation to protect our neck of the woods. A hard “NO” would be kind of refreshing, like cold and snow in winter.

Call for Trumpeter Award Nominations

Mark & Becky Lystig receive the 2016 Trumpeter Award

Each spring for 14 of the past 16 years, MRVAC has presented the Trumpeter Award to one of its members for outstanding long-term contributions to MRVAC. We are soliciting nominations from you; tell us who you think should be our next recipient.

Please send in a nomination by January 31. The selection committee, which is composed of the previous years’ recipients, will review the nominations and forward their choice to the Board. The award will be presented at a subsequent meeting.

There are two ways to get a nomination form:

Completed applications can be submitted online, emailed to Becky  at markbeckylystig@comcast.net, or mailed to Becky Lystig, 1741 Sartell Ave, Eagan, MN 55122.

Previous Trumpeter Award recipients:

  • 2001 Karol Gresser
  • 2002 Joe White
  • 2003 Pat & Jack Telfer
  • 2004 Edith Grace Quam
  • 2005 Craig Mandel
  • 2006 John Rehbein
  • 2007 Lois Norrgard
  • 2008 Jack Mauritz
  • 2009 George Tkach
  • 2010 Bob Leis
  • 2011 Anne Hanley & George Skinner
  • 2012 Steve Weston
  • 2013 Bob Williams
  • 2016 Mark & Becky Lystig

Chip Notes: November-December, 2017

Kirland’s Warbler, Joel Trick, USFWS

My son and I took an epic road trip this August through Canada using Parks Canada’s national park pass. The day we arrived in the Yukon Territory the temperature was 94 degrees Fahrenheit. In the Northwest Territories, I swam in the Great Slave Lake. It was warmer than Lake Superior. The Native Dine people speak about the ominous heat of the last two summers. We did a big figure eight, came back from the high latitudes via the national parks in southern Alberta and British Columbia.

Dry dry dry.

Smoke from fires in British Columbia prevented a clear view of the mountains. Sections of Yoho and Mount Revelstoke National Parks closed due to active fires. We walked on the Columbian Icefield in Jasper, thrilling, but much diminished. We ended our national parks tour in Glacier National Park, Montana. Glaciers there, but so diminished they didn’t really make the experience for us. I feel we threaded a needle; we could see a couple of small fires the park was “keeping an eye on.” After we left, they turned into conflagrations.

Dry dry dry.

Canada bears a lot of the blame for global warming, despite its small population. You can’t drive through the prairie of Saskatchewan or the oilfields of Alberta and British Columbia without being confronted by agribusiness and petrodollars. Public radio is complicit. Every news item concerning Native Americans was preceded and followed by oil industry ads.

We all know the Earth has passed the threshold into a new reality. The hurricanes of 2017 are historic, and will be followed by the hurricanes of 2018 and 2019 and 2020 . . . . The Caribbean Islands and Gulf Coast may become uninhabitable. Will even the wildlife be able to survive if islands are continuously scoured of vegetation by hurricanes? There go wintering songbirds. There goes the Kirtland’s Warbler. The historic wildfires of 2017 throughout western North America. The high temperatures and new (lack of) moisture regime will continue. There is no refuge.

We could still do much to mitigate the impacts. But our leaders play. Truly they are execrable. We won’t mention the travesty that is our Presidential politics, and the damage currently in the EPA and the Agricultural Department, etc. I will mention just how diligently Rep. Nolan – DFL, is working tirelessly to desecrate Minnesota’s water’s, and Minnesotan’s right to due process and public input in environmental affairs — all to benefit the avarice of a multinational corporation.

What makes a public servant go rogue like this? It’d be nice to think the Democratic party politicians would be allies; few Republicans (name one) currently are. Nolan has apparently found a more rewarding constituency?  Being a steward of the environment, thinking unto the 7th generation so our descendants have a world to inherit. Doesn’t seem rewarding to so many in politics and industry. Why? Imagine if our governor was not an honorable public servant? We could have Flint’s water throughout Minnesota as well. Michigan’s governor simply does not care. Neither does Nolan, apparently.

Our leaders play games.

The heat rises.

The oceans roar.

The world burns.

Species go extinct.

Cultures die.

Fight people. Fight with all you’ve got!

Matthew Schaut

Give to the Max Day: November 16, 2017

‘Tis the season of giving, and as you plan your charitable donations for 2017, please consider donating to MRVAC. We’ve partnered with GiveMN.org to help make donations quick and easy: https://givemn.org/organization/Minnesota-River-Valley-Audubon-Chapter.

One of MRVAC’s main objectives is to teach children about the importance of getting outdoors, experiencing nature, and caring for wildlife and the environment. To achieve these goals, we provide birding curriculum materials to schools, provide funding to enable busing to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, and conduct and organize river cleanups in the community. We also provide funding to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center to hire interns.

GiveMN links donors with organizations that are working to make Minnesota a better place. Its online giving website, GiveMN.org, enables charitable giving any time and any place, allowing people to donate with ease and enthusiasm. GiveMN brings innovation, energy and fresh ideas to Minnesota generosity.

GiveMN is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and an affiliate of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners. Explore GiveMN.org today.