Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Threat

An atrocity coming: Proposed 3-D seismic exploration in our Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 

By Lois Norrgard, National Field Organizer, Alaska Wilderness League

Firth River, Arctic NWR (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Bureau of Land Management will soon announce a proposed plan for 3-D seismic exploration across the 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, with a public comment period to follow. 

The initial plan is the polar opposite of what drilling proponents promised when drilling language was passed in the tax bill last year. Instead of a small footprint and a careful process, they want to deploy a small army of industrial vehicles and equipment with a mandate to crisscross every square inch of the Arctic Refuge’s biological heart. This scheme will put denning polar bears at risk and leave lasting scars on the fragile tundra and its vegetation, all of this before a single drill rig has been placed or length of pipeline installed. The tracks left in the ground hold water and affect melting. 

The Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain is the biological heart of America’s most iconic wildlife refuge. Birds from all 50 U.S. states raise their young there, alongside other species including caribou, polar bears and muskoxen. The area is considered sacred by the Gwich’in people, who have relied on the Porcupine Caribou Herd for their food, and their culture, for thousands of years. Despite all the evidence that the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain has incomparable value for its wilderness, wildlife and subsistence resources, the plan fails to reference or say it would conduct any scientific study on the impacts. 

In the plan it calls for two massive teams of 150-160 workers, living in mobile camps that would be moved up to two miles every few days throughout the coastal plain by giant sleds, long-haul fuel tractors, fuelers, loaders and trucks. Working continuously in two 12-hour shifts every day from this December through May, these teams would cross the coastal plain in multiple 90,000-pound trucks that would send vibrations into the ground to map out oil and gas resources. That is 10,000 pounds heavier than the 18-wheeler trucks that traverse America’s highways. 

Seismic exploration does not belong in America’s largest and wildest refuge any more than development belongs in Yellowstone Park or the Grand Canyon. Please stay informed about this issue – and watch for the official public comment period to open. We all need to raise our voices against this atrocious idea! For more information email lois@alaskawild.org 

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. 

Bluebird Monitors Wanted

Wanted: A monitor to check an Eastern Bluebird trail at Southview Golf Course: 239 Mendota Rd E, West St Paul, MN 55118.

Duties include checking a dozen bluebird boxes once/week starting May 1st for a minimum of 12 weeks.

One line abbreviated notes are taken and summarized at the end of the year to report results to BBRP (Bluebird Recovery Program). Training and data will be provided.

Contact Jack Hauser at jgshauser@gmail.com or call 952-831-8132

Wetland Monitoring Opportunity

Hennepin County is seeking citizen scientists to gather data about the health of wetlands in their communities. Wetland Health Evaluation Program (WHEP) volunteers will work with other citizen scientists to monitor bugs and plants in wetlands. No experience is required, but an interest in wetlands, bugs and/or plants is encouraged. Hennepin County provides all of the training, equipment, and leadership.

Teams will be formed in the Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Corcoran, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, Medina, Minneapolis, Minnetonka and Plymouth areas. Everyone is welcome in these cities and neighboring communities to join a team.

Applications will be accepted through June 1. For more information, contact Mary Karius at mary.karius@hennepin.us or 612-596-9129

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.

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.

Wild Ones Native Plant Tour: August 13

Join the tour of five Minnesota River Valley yards with native landscaping; get some ideas for your own yard and see how various plants look ‘in person’.

An Aug 13 tour of native plant gardens in the Bloomington/Burnsville area includes gardens belonging to MRVAC members Becky Lystig, Liz Stanley, and Pat Stevesand. A 4th garden is a woodland reclaimed from buckthorn. All 4 gardens support bird habitat. The 5th location, adjacent to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, is a series of neighborhood curb cut rain gardens that mitigate water flowing into the Minnesota River.

For details go to prairieedge.wildones.org and click on Summer Tours at the top of the page. Then scroll to the bottom to Download the tour brochure. The tour is a fundraiser for the Prairie Edge chapter of Wild Ones.

Do You Remember When Turkeys Were Rare?

Do you remember when it was rare to see a turkey in Minnesota? I do. When I started my conservation career about 30 years ago, they were few and far between. Now, they’ve become a big nuisance.

“Turkey” is my theme for this year’s legislative session. Never in my 30 years’ experience have the results for conservation and the environment been so poor. Never. And, there was plenty of gravy for the special interests who came to feast on this turkey.

I don’t recall the election past being about subverting the will of Minnesota voters and shifting dedicated water clean-up funds to government salaries. Did I miss the promises to cut residents out of permitting processes for mining? How are we better off with the DNR prohibited from regulating lead shot…when there are effective alternatives? And, what has been so wrong about DNR wetland replacement decisions regarding mining – that they back-dated a law 26 years to 1991 to cover it up!?

I’ve heard that the 1% are getting ahead faster than most of us. That carried through into environmental permitting: companies with the means to pay to get to the head of the permitting line, can, to the detriment of other permit applicants. They also have the right to write their own Environmental Impact Statements…and keep their data and assumptions private. Don’t even ask: We won’t tell. Cities have up to sixteen years to comply with new clean water standards. Kicking the clean water can down the road.

Solar, wind and energy conservation programs were cut or repealed entirely. Residents who get their power from municipal or cooperative power companies lost the regulatory oversight from the state, leaving them open to excessive fees to hook up their solar or wind installations. Existing challenges to such charges were dismissed by law. Representative Gruenhagen from Glencoe, Minnesota, in a floor speech that was widely shared, said Global Warming, was “Global Lying” and that it was a United Nations plot.

We tied our hands when it comes to pesticide applications – Minnesota can’t require a “demonstrated need” before use of certain pesticides. Bees and other pollinators are to be researched with a little extra money, but we’ve already eliminated one possible way to help them. Finally, the rarest of wetlands, calcareous fens (groundwater-fed wetlands, with many rare plants) are now on a “Commissioner’s Choice” list. Because one farmer wants to irrigate corn near a fen and his Senator is in his pocket, our protective law dating back a quarter century is now permissive. A future DNR Commissioner may allow “seasonal drawdowns” of groundwater in fens…so that we can have a few more acres of crops. More “turkey trimmings” (and a few small edible bits) can be found in my full legislative report on our website: www.mnikes.org.

I have indigestion from this Turkey of a session, and so does Minnesota’s environment. We are moving backwards on our promise of clean water and our need to transition to clean energy. We are doing nothing to improve our state parks. Did I mention we barely avoided a freeze on further acquisition of public wildlife lands?

When you are out and about this summer in Minnesota’s Great Outdoors, look around you. Do you want to pass this along to your children and their children? If so, please tell every elected official that represents you: No More Turkeys!

Support a Great Native Plant Resource

The website https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/ is a great resource for learning about Minnesota native plants; you can find flowers by bloom date or color, for example, and lots of great photos.

From the website:

Our mission is to educate Minnesotans on our native plants, raise awareness on threats like invasive species, and inspire people to explore our great state, appreciate its natural heritage, and become involved in preserving it.

Over 1,300 plant species and more than 11,000 high quality photos are cataloged here, with more added each week, working towards recording all 2100+ plant species in Minnesota.

Help support this wonderful resource by contributing now to their fundraising campaign – at press time they were half way to their $10,000 goal.