Friday, February 12, 2016

2016 Isabella County Hazardous Waste Collection and Tire Recycling

The Isabella Conservation District is hosting two dates for Household Hazardous Waste/Clean Sweep Collection and two dates for Tire Recycling in 2016.

Dates for Tire Recycling are Saturday May 21st and Saturday September 10th.

Household Hazardous Waste/Clean Sweep Collection dates are Saturday May 14th and Saturday August 27th.

All collections run from 8:00AM to 12:00PM (Noon) and take place at the Isabella County Fairgrounds (500 N. Mission Rd, Mt. Pleasant).

Items that are accepted during collection are listed below.  For further questions please call the Isabella Conservation District at 989-772-5927 ext. 3 or visit our offices at 5979 E. Broadway, Mt. pleasant during normal business hours.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Upcoming Event - Learn About Timber Cruising (20 FEB 2016)


Join me next Saturday February 20th for an event at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve. 

Learn a little about how foresters evaluate and inventory a forest stand.  Learn how to use tools such as a tape or Biltmore stick to measure Diameter at breast height (Dbh), estimate the number of marketable logs (and height) in a tree, and perform a fixed-radius plot inventory to estimate the number of trees in a forest.

If you are interested in attending this event, please register with the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Native Species Profile - Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle - a bee/wasp mimic, note the yellow and black striped abdomen

In late summer and early fall it is common to see dozens of bees gathered on goldenrods, asters, and other prairie plants.  If you look closely you might discover that not all of the "bees" are really bees.  Many are mimics that use the aposematic coloring (warning colors) of bees or wasps to deter predators from attacking them.  One of the more common bee mimics that can be found in Mid-Michigan is the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus).

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle - note the dark spots on each elytra and the pronotum

The Goldenrod Soldier Beetle is a mid-sized beetle for Mid-Michigan, measuring about 1/2 inch in length.  It is yellow and black in color with prominent black stripes on its abdomen, a black spot on each elytra (leathery outer wings), and a black spot on the pronotum (plate covering the upper surface of its thorax).

This species is typically found in mid- to late summer and fall.  Adults are usually found on goldenrods and other flowering plants where they feed on nectar and pollen.  Look for them them along roadsides, in parks, old fields, meadows, and prairies.

Basic Information

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle
Chauliognathus pensylvanicus
Size: up to 1/2" long

Habitat:  prairies, meadows, old fields, roadsides, parks
Eats:  adults eat nectar and pollen; larvae eat insect eggs and larvae

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

More Mosquito Bites...

Last night (08 February 2016), the Mt. Pleasant City Commission met for their regularly scheduled meeting.  One of their agenda items included a proposal to cancel a contract with APM Mosquito Control for the summer of 2016.  This contract was approved during a Commission meeting in November and has been under scrutiny by the public since that time.  Several newly elected commission member requested that the issue be brought back to the table so the item was placed on the agenda for last night's meeting.

I think the commission was surprised by the amount of public input on this subject.  The commission received several written communications on the subject, mostly against spraying.  During the public comment period of the meeting, approximately a dozen people opted to speak on the subject.  I once again spoke about the potential long term ecological effects of long-term nuisance mosquito control.  I was quickly followed by a representative of APM Mosquito Control who quickly tried to refute several of the statistics that I cited.

Many city residents urged the commission to make an informed decision based on need for the proposed mosquito control.  I even stated that if there was a public health issue that I would support control measures, but because mosquitoes are currently only a nuisance I could not support the measures based on the science.

In the end, the commission voted unanimously to cancel the proposed mosquito control contract for 2016, but wants to work with APM to conduct surveillance of mosquito populations to establish a baseline of population data and determine if there is a significant disease problem in Mt Pleasant's mosquitoes..  I think this is a sensible approach that the commission should have taken from the beginning and I applaud their willingness to listen to both public opinion and scientific data.

To read more about this subject please check out this post from February 3rd.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Frogcicles, anyone?

Yesterday (07 February 2016) the temperature in Mt. Pleasant reached a high of 46 degrees Fahrenheit.  A blast of Arctic air is going to hit Mid-Michigan over the next few days, dropping temperatures down to near zero degrees by the end of the week.  This drop in temperature will make survival more difficult for many small animals.  The layer of snow that has been insulating the ground has all but melted away.  Animals such as voles, mice, and shrews are exposed to the elements as they forage.  These species all have high metabolic rates, they need to consume enormous numbers of calories for their size just to counteract the effects of cold.  Exposure for many of these species can quickly lead to hypothermia if they are unable to find enough food to maintain their metabolic rate.

Other small animals are less bothered by the change in temperature.  Some of these species spend the winter months securely hibernating below ground.  Mammals that hibernate reduce their metabolic rate and slowly burn through fat that they accumulated during the summer and fall months.  Even though their body temperature drops it remains above freezing.  For reptiles and amphibians this is not an option.  These species are considered ectothermic - meaning that they rely on the external temperature to regulate their internal temperature.  If the temperature of their surrounding is high so is their internal body temperature; if their surrounding are cold so is their internal temperature.

So how to species such as this survive the lows of winter?  If the temperature of their surroundings drops below freezing so does their body temperature.  This exposes their cells and organs to the dangers of freezing solid.  When a cell freezes, ice crystals form in the intercellular fluid - this can cause the walls of the cell to break, destroying the cell.  If enough cells are destroyed the animal dies.  (The same cellular freezing causes plants to die.)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mid-day at Mill Pond Park

On Wednesday (03 FEB) I had several programs scheduled at Ganiard Elementary in Mt. Pleasant.  I had one program in the morning and then two more in the afternoon with an hour-long gap at mid-day.  This gap was too short to come back to the office so I decided to spend the time at nearby Mill Pond Park.

I parked at the Leaton Street parking area.  This parking area is near the site of the former dam that gave the park its name.  Although the Mill Pond has not existed for many years, the old dam was only removed in 2002 and replaced with a series of weirs that step down the river and make it open to both fish and human navigation.

For nearly a decade I was a seasonal maintenance worker for the Mt. Pleasant Parks Department.  My main job for most of that time was to maintain the trail system in Mill Pond Park.  I am very familiar with what can be found throughout this park.

Because I didn't have a lot of time, I just decided to walk down a trail that allows access to the weirs along the west bank of the river.  I was not expecting to find much wildlife.  I really just wanted to get some photos of the river that had swollen from recent rains and snowmelt.

Walking from the parking lot to the river I passed over several well-defined sets of squirrel tracks in the snow.  Mt. Pleasant's parks are home to three species of squirrels: Red, Grey (including black morph), and Fox squirrels.  In the parking lot I watched a Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) digging through the snow, so it's not a stretch to guess that these tracks probably belonged to a Fox Squirrel.

The river itself currently has the color and clarity of chocolate milk due to suspended particles of silt and clay.  The recent rains and melting snow have carried these particles from upland areas into the river.  The Chippewa River generally runs pretty clear unless there has been a recent storm.  Unfortunately clear does not mean clean.  Testing over several years has found unnaturally high levels of E. Coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria due to contamination from both animal waste and human septic systems.  This is especially true during the summer months when the bacteria can easily reproduce in the warm water.

Much of Mill Pond Park lies within the floodplain of the Chippewa River.  A large section of the park is covered by a cattail marsh.  Other areas are covered by a floodplain forest.  This section contains one of my favorite understory trees/shrubs - the American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia).  Right now the Bladdernut can be easily identified by its namesake fruits.

Dangling from the branches of the Bladdernut, I found several faded maple leaves twisting in the breeze.

Another nearby find was the dried stalks of a White Vervain (Verbena urticifolia).  This relative of the common Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) is commonly found in shaded damp areas such as floodplain forests.

Mill Pond Park is home to a small herd of White-tailed Deer.  During the summer it is not unusual to see a doe and pair of fawns somewhere along the trail system.  This time I didn't see any deer but I did find their footprints in the snow.

Walking back to my truck, I decided to take a few more photographs of the river.  This bridge spans the former dam site.  One of the park's five weirs can be seen almost directly below the bridge.  Right now the water levels are so high that the rock used to construct the weirs is completely underwater.  During periods of low water, the rock is exposed and the water flows through a central spillway on each dam.

One final photo.  This shows a dead tree on a sandbar in the middle of the river.  Until the dam was removed from the river this tree stood on the shoreline.  Since the dam has been removed, floods have dug out a new channel between this tree and the now-current shoreline.  Several other trees have already been overtaken by the river.  This one will soon follow.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mosquito bites...

I try to stay out of politics.  My goal with this blog is to discuss nature and science, not to talk about politics, but every once in a while politics intrudes.  I just did a search of my archives and found that in the past I have written about politics only a couple of times on this blog.  In April 2013 (updated September 2013), I wrote about how a budget fight in the United States Congress resulted in the temporary limiting of access and services at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Also in 2013, I wrote about a proposal by the City of Mt. Pleasant to build a dog park at Mission Creek Woodland Park - the proposal passed and 2 acres of woods were cleared to create the dog park.

Recently local politics has again intruded into my life.

The subject this time?


A mosquito on a Tall Agrimony (Agrimonia gryposepala) plant

In November, the Mt. Pleasant City Commission hosted a public meeting to decide whether to enter into a contract for mosquito control in 2016.  I was asked by a concerned citizen to attend the meeting and discuss the environmental impact of mosquito spraying.  I did some research before the meeting and ended up addressing the commission during the public comment session.  Despite my concerns and the stated concerns of several city residents, the commission decided in a 4-3 vote to pursue a mosquito control contract for the upcoming year.

Now, a new city commission has been sworn in and the new commission wants to revisit the subject.  Since this was announced, I have been called by a representative of the mosquito control company that was awarded the city contract, asked to attend a meeting with the new mayor of Mt. Pleasant to discuss the situation, and visited at the office by members of the public.  I have also been quoted (and misquoted) in the newspaper several times.

I do not oppose mosquito control measures in all situations.  I just do not think that spraying for mosquitoes in Mt. Pleasant is currently warranted.  I also believe that the environmental impacts of mosquito control currently outweigh the benefits in Mt. Pleasant.  If situations change, I could change my mind.  That is the beauty of using science to make informed decisions.  I can change my opinion based on new evidence.  I want our local elected officials to use that kind of reasoning.