Children and Nature: Audubon Center of the North Woods

Less than 30 minutes a day. That is the average amount of time a child in the U.S. spends outside. This represents less than half the time kids spent outside just a generation ago. During this drop-off, screen time has exploded and now exceeds more than 7 hours daily. While the advances in technology are remarkable and make our world more efficient, connected and better in many ways, the loss of time outside is not without consequences. The last few decades of decreased outdoor time has coincided with spikes in childhood obesity, behavioral disorders and a fundamental change in the way kids communicate – through screens rather than in person.

We are living in extraordinary times where the world is literally at our fingertips, but we are also living in challenging times. 2014 and 2015 both set records for the warmest years in history, and 2016 is on pace to break them both. In fact, this August marked the 16th consecutive warmest month on record. Let that sink in for a moment. We are seeing the effects of climate change in Minnesota as we become not only warmer, but also wetter with increasingly frequent extreme rain storms. There are myriad effects we are only beginning to understand and address with climate change. The Earth needs our help and the children of today will be the decision makers of tomorrow. That is why it is so critical to get them outside and help them learn about the environment, understand what is around them and develop a connection to it.

For many of the 4,000+ K-12 students that attend the Audubon Center of the North Woods’ (ACNW) programs annually, this is the first time they have had any direct experience in nature. While here they learn about natural systems and the incredible diversity, beauty and ingenuity of life on this planet, and realize they are a part of it and have a role to play. With ACNW’s ability to provide lodging and meals along with educational programs, students have a truly immersive and impactful experience. The magic of a residential experience is that for a few days, they are living, breathing, eating and sleeping in their classroom. The classroom is the 535 acre campus of ACNW.

Studies show that the more time a child spends in nature, the more powerful the experience is. As a residential environmental learning center, ACNW can reach children on a deeper level than day-use nature centers can. We can not only fill their minds, but more importantly we can touch their hearts. We can leave them with an experience that they’ll carry with them and will impact their decisions and actions for years to come. We know the value these trips have and want as many children as possible to experience nature firsthand through a residential experience.

We are extremely grateful for MRVAC’s support of ACNW through K-12 scholarships that help south metro schools and youth attend our programs. If you have a connection to a school as a faculty or staff member, parent or grandparent, please consider talking to your school about an ACNW residential experience. We have scholarships, first year discounts, and fundraising options to help finance your trip. We also have a terrific staff that will work with you to make your school’s visit incredible. Your support allows us to make a difference in the lives of thousands of children every year. Thank you so very much.

Refuge Friends Focuses on Education

Refuge Friends Inc. (RFI) was formed about ten years ago in December 2006. Since then we have worked with the staff of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR) and its various partners to connect people with nature through environmental education, outreach, partnerships and advocacy. Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter (MRVAC) is one of the outstanding Refuge Partners.

With the New Year, RFI begins a new decade and welcome Kelly Cain and Stephen Thomforde as our new President and Vice-President as well as several new Directors including Greg Burnes, MRVAC Liaison. Visit www.refugefriendsinc.org to see our new logo and details of our flagship programs.

RFI operates the Blufftop Nature Store; profits from sales are a primary source of revenue for the Blue Goose Bus Fund. MRVAC and RFI members are eligible for discounts on items purchased so shoppers can enhance their Refuge visit and save while helping kids.

Our most important role is building capacity for MVNWR’s Partner Schools/Teacher programming with surrounding schools. In 2015, over 1500 students learned about nature in the outdoor classrooms of the Refuge thanks to transportation support from the Blue Goose Bus Fund.

Watch for more RFI news next month.

What Hath We Wrought?

By Don Arnosti, Isaak Walton League 

Of all the people in these United States, we Minnesotans should have some understanding of what just happened politically at the national level. Those of us older than 35 remember the 1998 election for Minnesota Governor, which brought us Jesse Ventura. He, too, ran “against the system” as a plain-speaking regular guy. He was a skilled public performer. We were sick of “same-old, same-old” and went for the outsider in a last-minute emotional wave.

The danger is to think that “it will be alright” just like in 1998. To paraphrase, “Donald Trump is no Jesse Ventura.” The reality is, almost no one knows what Donald Trump believes, much less what he’ll do with regard to the environment. (I think “no one” includes the President-elect, himself.)

What we do know, is that because this wave of populism swept one party into power at all levels from President (and therefore Supreme Court) to Congress, to both houses in Minnesota, we are very likely to get a strong push to fulfill every wish of every major donor to that party.

In Minnesota, we can only guess what the single-party legislature will propose? Last year, we witnessed roll backs of pollution requirements for the taconite industry, unnecessary subsidies to the Koch Refinery, and strong efforts to eliminate energy efficiency and renewable energy requirements for utilities (which support solar and wind generation across the state.) In a democracy built on a complex system of checks and balances, we have lost nearly every check…

Except the people of this great nation.

There are two essential forms of power in our country. We are all aware of the great, distorting power of money in our political system. I have personally witnessed this here in Minnesota, at work in our legislature, just this year.

The second form of power exists in organized groups of citizens working together with purpose and determination. Nothing can resist this, even concentrated money.

At times of crisis, our nation rises to the challenge. Our history is replete with examples. The flaming Cuyahoga River galvanized a nation to demand the Clean Water Act. Must we see more “flaming rivers” to unite in our defense of clean water? Clean air? Wildlife and habitats? Action to preserve a livable earth for our grandchildren?

We must now step forward, united, to guide our new political establishment to understand that an election “rejecting the status quo” does not mean turning over our public lands for resource extraction. It does not mean rolling back or failing to enforce environmental standards. We must unite and speak firmly to power.

Join the MRVAC Conservation Committee to stay informed and to join with people across Minnesota to stand up for conservation. Contact Greg Burnes at gburnes@comcast.net or keep an eye on the MRVAC Facebook page for updates

In addition, consider joining the “Ikes and Friends” Conservation Committee to stay informed and to join with people across Minnesota standing up for conservation. Contact me to get involved: donarnosti@gmail.com.

Support Lead-Free Public Lands and Waters

Ashley J. Peters, Audubon Minnesota 

Audubon has a long history of working to remove toxins from our environment and toxic lead shot is no different. Every year, eagles, swans, ducks, and other birds get sick and die when they ingest lead shot that remains in wetlands, waterways, and injured or leftover game after a hunt. Just one or two lead pellets is enough to kill a Bald Eagle.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has proposed a rule change that would ban the use of toxic lead shot within certain wildlife management areas (WMAs) and when hunting rails and snipe statewide. Audubon Minnesota supports this proposed rule change because it allows for a reasonable, phased-in approach toward minimizing unintended bird deaths and reducing lead shot deposited on our public lands.

As the DNR works to finalize the rule change next year, we’ll need you to advocate for the use of nontoxic ammunition on WMAs. Learn more about this issue by visiting mn.audubon.org and watch for updates in the next newsletter.

Audubon Minnesota in Action at the Legislature

By Molly Pederson, Executive Director, Audubon MN & Kimberly Scott, Legislative Liaison 

Minnesota is a better place for birds and people because of your commitment to fighting for clean water, reducing carbon pollution, and making homes and communities more bird-friendly. Regardless of political affiliation, we must continue to work together as conservationists to address issues that impact us all.

The Minnesota Legislature kicks off the 2017 legislative session on January 3rd. Your voice is needed to protect, restore, and conserve our natural resources.

What to Expect 

This will be the first year of the legislative biennium, which means legislators will focus on funding the state’s budget. In order to pass a new budget or make other legislative changes, Republicans will need Democratic Governor Mark Dayton’s approval. Gov. Dayton has signaled his continued desire to support clean water programs and policies and Audubon Minnesota will assist those efforts by advocating for budget outcomes that promote clean water.

The 2017 legislative session is not a bonding year, however, both majorities have expressed interest in passing a pared down bonding bill.* An important project that was included in the 2016 bonding bill was funding for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP benefits clean water by helping landowners install and maintain perennial grasses and flowers on their most erodible acres. Many of you wrote and encouraged your legislators to support bonding for CREP last May. Because of your action and others, CREP was included in the 2016 bonding bill for $10 million. Disappointingly, the overall 2016 bonding package failed to pass the Legislature, but we will need your help again to appeal for the inclusion of CREP in any bonding bill considered this session.

Whether you are supporting clean water, habitat for birds, or renewable energy, your voice will make a difference. Audubon Minnesota will endeavor to keep you informed of relevant actions at the Minnesota Legislature and assist you in making your voice heard.

We can help by scheduling and facilitating discussion between you and your representatives at the State Capitol.

Watch for calls to action and consider meeting with your legislators in person to advocate for these important issues.

You can also make an impact by writing a personal letter or phone call.

The best way to support policies and state funding for birds is to get involved. Let us know how we can help you participate in our joint mission.

As a result of the election, below is an update on the make-up of the House and the Senate: 

Senate 

  • ? Republicans have a new majority, led by Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.
  • ? The Senate majority will be held by a single seat (34-33) which will likely necessitate a higher level of cooperation with the Democratic Farm-Labor minority, in order to, pass most legislation.
  • ? Senator Tom Bakk will serve as Minority Leader for the DFL.

House 

  • ? Republicans have an expanded majority in the House (76 seats), led by Speaker Kurt Daudt.
  • ? The DFL will hold 58 seats and be led by Minority Leader Melissa Hortman.

*Bonding dollars generally go towards repair, renovation, or replacement of publicly owned buildings, property, and land. The state raises money for these projects by selling bonds on the bond market and then pays debt service to pay off the bonds over time.

Call for Trumpeter Award Nominations

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 Jan. 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:

  1. Find the nomination form at www.mrvac.org.
  2. Call Becky Lystig (651-452-1133) to have a copy mailed to you.

Completed applications can be sent to her 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

Frontenac – Minnesota’s Best Birding

By Bob Janssen, MRVAC President Elect 

It was May 11, 1947, a Saturday morning, and I was on my way to look at birds at Frontenac, the warbler capital of Minnesota. I was 14 years old and I couldn’t drive so my dad said he would take me and a friend on my first birding trip outside the Twin Cities area. We arrived at the old cemetery and it was loaded with birds, Blackburnian Warblers sitting on picnic tables near us. There were Mourning Warblers in the dense undergrowth that surrounded the cemetery. Black-throated Green Warblers were singing their “see-see suzy” song from the tall trees nearby. American Redstarts were everywhere. We spent the whole day watching migrating birds, sparrows, vireos, warblers, thrush’s, flycatchers and wrens pour through the woods at Frontenac. What an experience for a young teenager. I am forever grateful to my father for taking me on this magnificent trip.

A couple of weeks ago I saw the report of a Carolina Wren being seen at the old cemetery in Frontenac. I thought it was time to renew my acquaintance with this area and go and see if I could find the Carolina Wren which would be a new bird for my Goodhue County list. Sunday morning, November 27, 2016, I said to my wife lets go birding and see what the old cemetery at Frontenac looks like after the passage of 60 plus years; I didn’t mention that I wanted see a Carolina Wren. Suzanne is not a birder but she has put up with my birding activities for well over 60 years.

It was a cloudy, dreary day when we got to the cemetery, not a bird in sight, but the area looked just the same as it was many years ago. I decided to play the Carolina Wren song on my tape. No response, after several tries with the taped song. A White-breasted Nuthatch did respond. The best response was from a six foot six human who asked if I had heard the Carolina Wren. I said “No, but I did play the song from my tape”. His name was Ben and he looked disappointed. He said the bird had been seen and heard earlier down the road but he and his group had not seen it. I drove to this area and found five more birders, all of whom I knew. They had heard me play the tape. I suggested we play the mobbing tape and within two minutes the Carolina Wren put on a “show” right in front of us. There were over 25 Black-capped Chickadee’s, numerous Downy Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches with the wren that had been attracted by the tape. We had beautiful views of the Carolina Wren and it was a life bird for Ben! The Frontenac cemetery once again lived up to its reputation as one of Minnesota’s best birding destinations.

Refuge Friends

Every year we support the Refuge Friends to provide transportation for youth to attend a series of educational experiences at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge plus we help fund a summer intern. $2,000 of our grant is double matched by the MN Valley Trust and goes to the Blue Goose Fund that covers transportation costs for the Partner School Program and $1,500 funds an intern.