More than just CO2?

I was looking through the Clean Coal website today, and ran across an in-house blog post that annoyed me.

Clean coal — it's more than just CO2

So, I posted the comment below. We'll see if it gets past the moderator.


I think the title to this post sums up the main problem with "Clean Coal." The fact is, CO2 and other greenhouse gases are the main environmental problem of our time. Without addressing CO2, you don't get special points for simply complying to relatively weak environmental standards. Those standards address the problems of the past without addressing the problem of the present. Coal is the biggest point source emitter of greenhouse gases, so its up to you to step up to the plate.

Until you (the coal industry) have demonstrated that you can actually build a plant that will reliably sequester CO2, we can't afford to build a single conventional coal plant. Any coal plant that is built should have something to prove, a solid commercial demonstration of a carbon sequestration technology. We had a plant out here in Virginia that tried to claim it was "clean coal compatible" by setting aside a piece of land where they would place a sequestration plant when it became available. The claim was shot down because it was patently ridiculous.

Until you can demonstrate sequestration technology works, you cant build any new plants and truthfully claim that they are "Clean." Building plants now on the hope that this unproven technology works is a risk we simply can't afford to take.

The Plan

Allow me to explain my dream to you. I want to make ecological restoration pay for itself by building an organization that grows as it restores more forests. The organization would be focused on a replicable and self-replicating model which could adapt to any type of social and ecological environment. The model would work something like this:
  • We buy or are granted a piece of land, preferably with some forested and some degraded habitat.
  • We establish a small business* that uses the resources of the forested land sustainably.
  • We use revenues from that small business, donations, and grants to plant more forest, thereby increasing the potential and future size of the enterprise.
  • 10% of "profits"* from the small business go into a fund to get another piece of land and start the cycle over.
I believe the biggest obstacles to this plan are land acquisition and profitability. Another concern is that we would become so focused on profit that we lose sight of reforestation. Let me know if you'd be interested in helping with this effort.

*See my previous post, The Question, for a list of ideas for such businesses.
*In the non-profit world, what is normally known as "profits" are called "net-positive revenue." The difference is that this revenue cannot leave the organization.

Abingdon, VA

I've been in Abingdon for a little over two weeks now, staying with the executive director of Appalachian Sustainable Development, Anthony, and his wife Laurel. It's probably been the most sustainable time of my life. Almost all of the food I've eaten has been either organic, locally produced, or even grown right here on the farm. I've planted strawberries, split logs for firewood, even driven a Prius! For Thanksgiving, the highlight of our meal was a pasture-fed turkey that had been raised and slaughtered by our host, Kirsty.

Since I arrived the week of Thanksgiving, I've only done three days of actual work on my internship. The rest of my time has been spent doing farmwork, other household chores, and having amazing conversations with Anthony about the ins and outs of running a non-profit. Among these was the time I asked him about the origins of ASD. My paraphrased version of what he said, in quotes as always:
"Well it was the early '90s, and everyone was talking about 'jobs versus the environment.' Unemployment in the area was extraordinarily high, and a lot of people saw environmentalists as people who were trying to take their jobs. A group of us got together and started talking about, well, maybe we can create jobs and protect the environment at the same time. And that's all it was, at the beggining, a group of people meeting informally to talk about how to create a local, sustainable economy here in this area."
This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Appalachian Sustainable Development now has an office in Abingdon, a packing house (for organic local foods) in Duffield, and a sustainable wood processing center in Castlewood. It has created jobs, opened farmer's markets, and even begun creating "outdoor classrooms" at elementary schools. What I'm saying is, if they can do it, so can I, and so can you!

- Lets get to work

120 Acres?!?!?

I spent much of Today at the Appalachian Sustainable Development office in downtown Abingdon. I was researching carbon markets and sustainable forestry certifications. This is the main research component of my internship, with the ultimate goal of getting the forestry operations certified so we can get carbon credits for them.

There are two main certification systems that allow a firm to claim that their wood is "sustainable." The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was designed by the wood and paper products industry, is the most popular system in the U.S. and seems to be only marginally better than nothing. For example, there's this little quote:
"Average size of clearcut harvest areas does not exceed 120 acres, except when necessary to respond to forest health emergencies or other natural catastrophes."
120 Acres?!!? Average?!! Except??

I took a few minutes to compose myself after reading this amazing example of greenwashing, and then took heart that although SFI is the most popular standard in the US, it is not generally accepted as "green" by anyone reputable. From "LEED," the green building standard that stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, to environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation, most legitimate environmental organizations do not consider SFI to be a true standard for sustainability.

Instead, these organizations and many others use the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, standard. FSC was designed by environmental organizations and is generally considered to be the greener of the two standards. However, not everyone agrees with FSC. When I mentioned to Chad the Horse Logger the other day that part of my internship was to get FSC certification, for Sustainable Woods, he told me that he didn't think it went far enough because it allowed for some clearcutting.

I've just started my research, so I don't know the extent to which FSC allows for clearcutting. I only hope its less than 120 acres...

-Peace and Plants


Sustainable Forestry Initiative:
SFI vs FSC (pdf):

Quality Control

We've been having some quality problems as of late*, so I spent all day today going through every piece of flooring in an order to look for defects. Thankfully I did not do this alone. Allow me to introduce a couple of my co-workers:

Kathlyn's job is to make the business operations of this non-profit more, well, profitable. This includes both Sustainable Woods and ASD's agricultural operations. My main boss, she is a bright-eyed, energetic woman whose attempts to avoid cursing can be extremely amusing.

Nick takes care of sales for sustainable woods, and seems like he might be more at home on a college campus than a sales seminar. He knows a lot about sustainable wood products, and he has to: his job is to convince people to buy our products rather than, say, bamboo flooring. From the fact that bamboo is invasive in the US to the fact that its disappearing in China, the reasons to go with a local, sustainably harvested floor are many, and Nick's job is to explain them all.

-Peace and (Native) Plants

*This post was written in December 2008. Sustainable Woods has since switched their milling contract and resolved the quality issues described here.

Sustainable Woods

On the first day of my internship in Southwest Virginia, I went over to the wood processing center for Sustainable Woods. Part of Appalachian Sustainable Development, the wood processing center focuses on making and marketing flooring from sustainably harvested logs. They help landowners apply a forest management plan to their land and take far less wood than a traditional logging operation. They even use methods like horse logging, the practice of pulling logs out of the woods using horses. This reduces soil compaction and other disturbances compared to using heavy equipment. Sustainable Woods is my main interest in ASD and the focus of my internship.

It was a wet, cold, miserable day and yet I still learned a ton! For starters, running a "Sustainable" wood processing plant is a lot like running a regular processing plant. It takes saw operators, laborers and managers, all of whom can still wear camouflage and continue to be "joe six pack" while contributing to the efforts of an environmental non-profit.

In a way, ASD defeats the stereotype of environmentalists as "hippies" or "outsiders" by creating local sustainable jobs. For example, Chad is a horse logger on a contract with ASD. His accent is more Southern than Appalachian, his demeanor friendly and intelligent. Because the big loader wasn't working, Tim (a hardworking laborer with a sometimes incomprehensible accent) had to unload a truckload of huge logs with a tiny forklift. Since this took a while, Chad and I got to talkin'.

I wrongly assumed that sustainable logging was more of a side job for Chad, so I asked him how often he logged. "Every day," he responded, "we log full time." Chad has a distaste for environmental activists who "do nothing but talk." He considers himself an "active-ist," someone who's out there "doing the work, practicing good forestry" rather than just talking about it. When I told him that part of my internship was seeking Forest Stewardship Council certification for the forests he logs, he revealed that he doesn't think FSC goes far enough. "These people allow for clearcuttin'," he told me.

Chad doesn't like it when people talk about horse logging in terms of going back to an older way of logging. He considers horse logging to be very modern, and explained to me that the horse breeds have gotten bigger and the tools more efficient since the old days. Chad represents what ASD is all about-changing the system from within rather than from without. When someone like Chad talks to his friends and neighbors about sustainability, they listen in a way that they would never listen to a liberal college boy like me.

---- More dispatches from the hills soon, so stay tuned!


I touched base at home in Williamsburg and have spent the last couple of months finishing up a mapping project I started while in school. The Williamsburg Land Conservancy actually wrote a grant so they could hire me on as a GIS Consultant!!! The idea of the project is to figure out what areas the conservancy should target for conservation. In order to figure this out, I've basically become a data eating machine, finding and incorporating data on everything from endangered species habitat and forest cover to historical sites and agricultural land. Whenever a property has one of these features (and there are more than 10) it gets a point, and the property with the most points wins.

The project is especially exciting because Caren, my boss at the Conservancy, is ready to start using the data as soon as its done. The data is also going to be incorporated into the James City County 5 year plan, and hopefully will lead to amazing new areas being bought up and protected by the county.

Since I've been in Williamsburg, which is both my home and my school town, I've had the best of both worlds. Hanging out at my house with my mom, learning how to make amazing Mexican foods, while at the same time being able to visit friends that are still in school.

My next stop is in Abingdon, Virginia, a little town up in the Appalachain Mountains where I'll be working on sustainable forestry with Appalachian Sustainable Development. It sounds really amazing and I'll tell ya more about it when I get there!

PS: OBAMA WON!!!!!! :) Woot amazingness.

Leaving Oklahoma

Its been a long, hot and rewarding summer. As I leave Oklahoma, a land of prairies and superhighways, of buffalos and football, I look out the tiny porthole of the plane. To my surprise and delight through the clouds I spot the familiar shape of Spaddadock pond, as well as the larger ponds and the rest of the greenway system. In a couple of minutes all is obscured by clouds, but the image and the memories will stay in my head for much longer than that.

Spaddadock Pond II: Planting

So once the design was done, we got the plants from a kooky old lady with a backyard nursery operation. She kind of reminded me of the Nox from Stargate. One major concern with purchasing native plants is the purity of the plant material you get, i.e. whether or not it is mixed with potentially invasive or aggressive weeds. Although her garden was quite beautiful, John, Justin and I definitely exchanged doubtful looks. The real kicker came once we had bought the plants, because we had asked for Bull Tounge, Sagittaria graminea, but instead got arrow head, Sagittaria latifolia. That may sound a little picky, but although both plants are native, latifolia is much more aggressive and we were worried that it might take over the pond and push the other plants out.

Once we had bought the plants, the real fun began. In one of my favorite days of the summer, Justin and I spent all day planting the shorelines of the pond. Rather than digging a hole (which is hard to do in underwater muck) we just stuck the shovel in and wiggled it around to open up the sediment.

As we were planting, people would come by and talk to us or just yell "good job!" One guy was especially talkative, and offered a perspective on the environment rooted in his Christian faith. It is extremely heartening to see the Christian environmental movement begin to take hold in the United States. Its been so long that the right wing has had a hold on Christianity in our national discourse, sometimes its hard to remember that Jesus' actual teachings were actually quite liberal. Concern for the poor, pacifism, and yes, even stewardship for God's creation (the environment in liberal-talk) are all more prominent in the Bible than Republicans would have you believe. So anyhoo the guy was awesome and Christianly environmental.*

Through out the day, we were not only adding native "good" plants to the pond's shores, we were also pulling out a lot of Cattails. Cattails are native to most of the United States, but they have become a nuisance because they have a habit of completely dominating disturbed wetland systems, which can turn a very diverse system with lots of wildlife value into a giant cattail monoculture. Its interesting to note that a lot of invasive plants are the ones that are adapted to thrive in disturbed conditions. They are the pioneers, adapted to start a colony after a hurricane, fire, or tornado. Before our civilization got enormous, these species would decline as the system lent itself to secondary species that were adapted to the conditions created by the pioneers, and others that were adapted to the secondary species. This pattern continued with time since disturbance until you had a really complex, rich wetland. Now that we're around, however, disturbance happens so often that it can be hard for systems to ever move past that first stage, and you end up with lots of Cattail-rich wetlands and not so many of the good kind.

By pulling out the Cattails and planting a diverse array of other species, we're trying to simulate a later stage of ecological succession. Its also fun to pull Cattails out of the muck and scream at them, as you might have seen in the picture... oh yes, totally badass.

As we kept right on planting, we immediately started to see wildlife come by and check out the new additions. First a dragongfly, then a few birds, and later even a turtle! (So maybe the turtle was already there, but it definitely looked happier.) We realized some of the Bull Tongue we planted early on was high and dry, so we had to replant those a bit lower, especially since we were anticipating a drought. Once we were done planting the things we had bought, it was time for the grand finale.

We headed over to another pond to fish out some "Spaddadock" (a native water lily) and bring it back. By the way, the pond got its name when we were in the planning phase. Justin famously and gloriously misspelled the word Spatterdock on one of the design grids, and we never let him down for it. He also pronounces it in that distinctive country/Michigan accent of his, so that it sounds a lot more like the way he spelled it. Anyway, we waded into this fishing pond to pull out a big chunk of this plant, and ended up having to dig up a gigantic root mass. We definitely got more than we bargained for! And yet, for redundancy, we grabbed a second, smaller Spaddadock with much more finesse. Practice makes perfect! We threw the water lilies in the Mule and rushed to our pond like doctors preforming an organ transplant. I guess you could say we were doing the ecological equivalent of an organ transplant, but I'm not going to because that's lame.

The final piece in place, Stage 1 of our wetland design was complete, and we called it a day. According to Justin and John, I was glowing with joy the whole time we were planting and for the rest of the day after that. Its that feeling of actually doing something, physically, that makes a place better. Give me more days like that, world, and I shall be a happy man.

Justin and I survey the scene.

A newly planted "Powdery Thalia" surveys the scene.

* For more thoughts on religion and such, check out my other blog at
** Photo Credit for Spatterdock image:

Spaddadock Pond I: Design

All summer Justin and I have been planning, on rainy days and during off times, a wetland planting for a small pond dug out for fill about ten years ago. Since all of the topsoil was removed, wetland vegetation has been slow to take hold. The pond is right next to a running trail that runs through the Tinker Air Force Base Urban Greenway. The goal is to establish plants around the pond that will take care of themselves, improve the wildlife value of the pond, and look great when John takes people on tours. This last one was especially important because the pond is in the first section of the greenway, which is meant to serve as a model and a demonstration.

We started by coming out with a species list, generated by looking through native plant nursery catalogues, wildflower guides, and wetland rehabilitation guides that were lying around the office. Very early on we realized that we were coming up with an enormous number of species, more than we could ever use on the site. So, we tightened up our criteria and started eliminating species. For starters, we got rid of any plant that was not native to the central portion of Oklahoma, the Central Great Plains. Since our pond was in the sun, we got rid any species that would wilt in high sunlight. Plants that need rich organic soils were the next to go, since our soils were anything but. This went on for a while until we arrived at a list that was almost manageable, and with nothing else to eliminate, we just went through and kept the species we liked aesthetically.

Once we had our plant list, it was time to decide where to put what, which turned out to be more complicated than I would have ever expected. Much to John and Justin's amusement, I made like 30 different versions of each of the drawings, and finally produced the three phases below:

In Phase I, which we planted today, all the aquatic and emergent vegetation was
planted, mostly because its so dry in the summer so the only plants we could put in
the ground were those that "had their feet wet."

In Phase II, to be planted this fall, we added all the shore plants around
the pond to give it a finished look. We also added two trees, shown as circles, a cottonwood
(male so as not to bother people's allergies to the cottony seeds) and a redbud.
One surprising thing we had to consider was the height of the plants, since we
don't want to put tall plants right in front of the trail, where they would block
the view of the pond and bother runners by leaning into the trail.

In Phase III, to be planted this fall or later as time/money allows, we focused
on an intermittently flo0ded area that flows into the pond. We added several more
solid single-species stands, as well as two "Mixed" areas. The Wet Mix is meant to
be a sort of seed dump, where any extra seed from the other zones is planted to
see what takes. The Sun Mix is meant to connect the area to the rest of the reserve.

An environmentalist's dream, an airstrip's nightmare

Today Justin and I tooled around with Clark and Kenny, the USDA wildlife management guys whose job it is to keep birds and other animals away from planes on the airstrip here at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. During the summer business is rather slow, so when we went on the airstrip we just chased a couple of birds off the runway in the truck. Later, we got to fire off a couple of rounds on the pop-gun that they use to scare bigger flocks (with a little shotgun reinforcement once in a while). Apparently its not legit to use what Kenny termed "redneck radio talk." Words like "10-4," "over and out," and "roger that" are among those excluded from official Air Force parlance. So, as he takes his finger off the radio, Clark turns to Justin and says: "10-4 bubba, over and out."

As I said, summer is the slow season, so we took a little drive. Clark told us about an egret population that gave them quite a bit of trouble a while back, with a few thousand birds on the runway and nothing he could do to get rid of them. Since egrets are migratory, they're protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918! In terms of environmental regulation, it might has well have happened at the beginning of time. Originally between the US and Great Britain (i.e. Canada), the act has since been expanded to include Mexico, Japan, and Russia. Its a pretty strong law banning the ability of people to
"pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird."
So basically it says don't do anything to mess with these birds. Personally I think the law is incredibly awesome, but of course Clarke and Kenny don't feel that way. The egrets establish rookeries, basically huge breeding colonies, for several years at a time, but don't seem to be terribly picky about coming back to the same place if the habitat changes. Interestingly, they seem to really like small patches of forest surrounded by houses. Maybe they can see predators better, maybe the houses shield them from the wind, maybe its a fluke since N=2 so far. Anyway since he couldn't mess with the birds while they were around, Clarke decided to modify their habitat while they were gone and get them to pick a new spot to breed. Since they like rather dense forest, Clarke thinned it out, turning it into more of a field with some trees than a patch of woods.

When the birds came back that summer, they moved on to a different place far enough away from the base that they are no longer a problem. Having nothing better to do and with no animals on the airstrip, we headed out to see the new location. Again showing their preference for areas right next to housing developments, the birds have colonized a tiny patch of woods surrounded by apartments. Walking in and seeing the thousands of birds was an impressive sight, and an even more impressive smell! The birds were constantly chattering away, creating a cacophony that you had to shout over to be heard, even across the car. Justin got out of the car and got some pretty amazing shots:

Look Closely, and you'll see that this picture is full of egrets!

It wasn't all egrets, though. Here's a small heron joining the rook.

In this individual shot, the egret looks a bit pretentious, or maybe majestic. I report, YOU decide.

Someday I'll get caught up on these posts... :)

* Source: Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Photo Credit: The Radio pic came from

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve!

Justin, John and I visited the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northern Oklahoma today*. The preserve is the largest protected prairie remnant in the world. I assumed it was a national or at least a state park, but it turns out the whole thing is run by the Nature Conservancy! We met with Bob Hamilton (in between Justin and I in the picture below), basically the ecosystem manager of the preserve. He has been working with the preserve since before it started in 1989, so the Prairie is basically his baby.

As soon as we got in, we experience what happens when two incredibly talkative ecosystem managers (Bob and John) get together... just about 2 hours of introductory conversation! Fortunately it was actually quite interesting, with Bob describing to us the process of setting up and starting up the reserve and managing the huge Bison herd on the site. One of the main things that prairie ecosystems need in order to sustain themselves is disturbance, and Bob explained to us that in this area, disturbance has historically come from a combination of grazing animals like Bison and human induced fires. I was surprised to learn that he doesn't consider lightning to be a significant source of fire. Bob has surveyed the area after lightning storms, and found that what little fires they do start usually die out after burning a small circle around the strike site. If it wasn't for humans, Bob claims, the entire prairie would be a part of the eastern deciduous forest! Talk about slamming down the barrier between humans and "nature."

To replicate this disturbance pattern, Bob uses a combination of Bison and massive prescribed burns. He started with a small Bison herd of ~500 and used the existing fences that were there when the property was bought to slowly give the herd room to grow. Basically, whenever the herd gets too big for the enclosure its in, a fence is removed and the herd allowed to use the next enclosure. The herd now has free roaming rights around most of the preserve and numbers more than 2000 head of Bison. The most amazing part of that number is that every year, most of the herd is rounded up for monitoring, medical attention, and science! I say most of the herd because apparently there are some very stubborn old bulls that refuse to be rounded up. In the beginning, the preserve used four-wheelers and cowboys (real cowboys!) to round the shaggy beasts up, but now they make the bison come to them. They use "Bison Treats" and a siren to attract the native cattle to the trucks, and round them up from there.

The other disturbance method is prescribed burns, and the Tallgrass Prairie takes these to a new level. We heard Bob describe a 400 acre burn as "pretty small." With just a couple of water trucks and some torches, these guys burn about a third of the 39,000 acre preserve each year! What I found really interesting was the interaction between the fire and the Bison. Each year, the bison find the recently burned areas and prefer them as feeding areas. After an area hasn't been burned for about three years, the bison lose interest in it entirely. The burn patches are chosen with a random center, and then a reasonable seeming polygon is drawn around it. I didn't see a single square on the burn map!

The preserve places a high value on creating habitat diversity by varying the timing and size of burns, and it seems to be working. By not doing any one uniform thing to the landscape, they prevent the boring, agricultural look of other rangelands, which are usually burned all at once or even worse, herbicided all at once. In the surrounding cattle ranches, the management style is to knock out anything that isn't a grass, because "If it 'aint a grass, its a weed." On the way in, we saw crop dusting planes doing just that, spraying a broadleaf herbicide from the air. It reminded me of agent orange and the damage it has done to Vietnam and Colombia's forests.

The Nature Conservancy has been trying to change all this, and is doing some experiments on alternative methods such as patch burning rather than full burns and spot spraying rather than aerial spraying. Both of these have been found to greatly increase biodiversity while providing the same amount of weight gain for the cattle.

The Nature Conservancy, long criticized for their sole use of parks as a conservation method, seem to have finally gotten past their "park" mentality and are now thinking about the entire landscape as a unit of conservation. In Osage county, where the preserve is located, most of the land is held by a few large landowners, including the Nature Conservancy, the Mormon Church, and Ted Turner. As Bob said it, "You have to own at least 20,000 acres or more to wear the big hat around here." This means the preserve only has to talk a few people into changing their land use practices, but it also means that if they can't talk one person into it, they lose a significant portion of the landscape. So far, though, it seems that they are making quite a bit of headway, getting their neighbors engaged in conservation.

Anyway, enough science, its time for pictures!

Justin overlooks the herd. From this point, the prairie stretched uninterrupted to all horizons.

A Bison cow and her calf nursing. Nature is so beautiful...

Well, most of the time.

*Note: I'm really behind on these posts, but I'm writing them as a diary anyway. Please ignore the dates on the Blog... :)


Man, I love flying. Its one of those singular experiences of modern times that I think people have become way too jaded by. When you're flying, you can see a great deal many things that normally you wouldn't see either on the ground or on a map. Developers can't fool you up here, you can see that they tried to pack as many houses as they could into their piece of land, that every house they built is an identical slice of the American dream.

The borders between one property and the next are clearly visible by the effect each owner has had on their land. One square is forest, the next a mowed field. A few squares form a golf course, pockmarked with sand traps. A big lake, clearly artificial, ends in a dam at the edge of the property line.

In a place as flat as Oklahoma, with nothing to curve around, the land is an almost evenly spaced collection of squares. Look away for a second to get a drink, and the plane will have
flown over the cloud line, blocking your view of the land but revealing a skyscape of blues and whites, tinged with the greens and browns of the land below. Sitting at the exit row, you can see the wing, floating and bending and bouncing its way across the landscape, reminding you that you're not just a floating head but a real, sentient being riding in a giant metal case. How does anyone sleep on flights?

Later That Night...

So after (actually right of the middle) of the powder tracking in the last post, we managed to get our truck stuck in the mud. The place we were tracking at is called the "EIG," a acronym that no one around here seems able to decipher. The EIG is a huge expanse of scrub and grassland separated from the main part of the base. Lots and lots of people come to the EIG to enjoy driving trucks, riding four-wheelers, and drinking copiously, sometimes all at the same time. The area has also become a dumpster for random large items, such as couches, jacussis, doors, and even piles of carpeting.

Now you can imagine how a place like the EIG might not the best place to be alone at night, especially if you're on all fours, holding a blacklight and carrying way too much equipment for one person. To avoid muggings, Rem, Rebekah, Justin and I were down there that night, takings turns being on all fours and still carrying too much equipment. We took Big Blue, John's government truck, with us to make things go a little quicker. It did nothing of the sort. As we were headed to track the third lizard, Justin and Rebekah moved the truck while Rem and I walked to the area where we'd last seen it.

On the way, we looked to the road (really just a series of tracks in the dirt) and heard Justin slam the truck door and utter something that wasn't quite a curse word. Rem and I looked at each other like "aw, shit" and walked over to investigate. Sure enough, the truck had gotten stuck in mud so deep and so invisible that you could step on an area that looked dry and sink to your knees. Each one of us discovered this independently.

We tried just about everything. We tried rocking it back and forth to pushing it to standing over a tire that wasn't quite making contact. We even tried digging the tires out by hand. Nothing worked, and every thing did seemed to make the truck deeper and us muddier.

Justin suggested we just ask Bruce to pull it out in the morning, so we started walking and called security forces for a ride. On the way, we came upon the piles of junk. We had to try it. We grabbed some pieces of an old door and headed back for a final shot, laying them under the tires and gunning it. Nope. We walked out to the nearest gate, covered and mud and generally miserable looking. You can imagine the reaction of the gate guard, who had not been told we were coming and in fact didn't even have the number for security forces, when four mud-covered kids arrived at her gate.

We explained to her what had happened, and she agreed to let us wait for our ride, retreating back to her little gate house. The security forces car showed up a few minutes later, and we rode in the back on seats that looked like they were designed to be easily washable, lest a belligerent passenger soil it. The cop car had plexiglass between the front and back seats, which made it difficult to understand the conversation that Justin was having with the cop while riding shotgun. Justin is forever calling shotgun on people, which is especially entertaining when its inappropriate, such as when he called on Clarke and Kenny in their own truck as a joke. It was a lively conversation, and I gathered that the cop's name started with a G, that he enjoyed drinking, and that he was not from the state. It was the first time I'd ridden in a cop car, and the circumstances couldn't have been better.

So what I'm saying is, I can't wait to tell my mom that I rode in the back of a cop car. Lolz and Goodnight!

Tracking Lizards!

We've spent the last couple of days with the Lizard team, tracking Texas Horned Lizards and doing miscellaneous wildlife monitoring work. Vick, the PhD student that leads the wildlife field work, has two separate grants. One of them is his actual thesis, which involves tracking and modeling the movements of Texas Horned Lizards, and the other is general wildlife monitoring work, everything from frog call surveys and turtle traps to camera traps for mammals. The way it works out is that in a given day we work on the Lizards and then do one "other" wildlife tracking activity. Rem, one of the interns on the project, said that by the time you get through all the different ones its time to do them again, so its a constant source of wildlife data for the base.

Most of our day today, which started at 2 PM (man that was nice), was spent tracking lizards. Each lizard has a radio attached like a backpack, with silicon gluing it down and a little collar around its neck. Its basically adorable. We use an antenna that looks like it came off of a hillbillie's roof and a walkie-talkie looking receiver to listen for the ping of the radio, which pulses every couple of seconds. The louder it gets, the closer you are, so its kind of like playing the warm/cold game I used to play as a kid (you're getting warmer, warmer, hot! ... and now you're cold.) After a couple of tries Justin and I have gotten the hang of it. Its really cool when you get to the end and you're really confused and then you just see the little guy in front of you and you're like "There he is!"

After we find them, we take a GPS point. We're also powder tracking some of the lizards with a fluorescent powder. When we find a lizard we're going to powder track, we cover the bottom of it in the orange fluorescent powder and mark the place where we set it down with some flags as a starting point. Earlier in the summer, the Horny Toad (Horned Lizard) team attached a little tuft of rabbit fur to the bellies of the Lizards we're powder tracking, so they hold more powder. So, not only are these poor lizards carrying a radio on their backs, they also have an unnaturally furry belly! Vick did get a picture of two lizards with radios mating, so I guess they're doing alright with it...

Anywho, once the lizards are powdered, its time to wait for night fall to track them. When we were out there, on our hands and knees with a blacklight, looking for the powder trails, and it kinda felt like CSI detective work! Where did the lizards go? Mostly they kept to bare ground and tried to avoid sticks and grass, although they did manage to lead me into a really thick gnarl of sumacs! Every time I thought (hoped) the trail had ended, I found more and had to keep going, for SCIENCE! So really what I'm saying is Science rulz.

I'll tell about the rest of that night in the next post, so stay tuned!

Saving the rainforest through sustainable forest products!

I don't normally post articles, but this one was so perfect that its hard to resist. It provides an overview of many different ways to make money off of a forest without logging, and evaluates the economic opportunities associated with each one.

Check it out here.

Bulldoze it!

Ok, let me explain. So Justin and I are going through the last patch of forest that we're flagging invasive trees in, when suddenly we turn around and realize we just flagged EVERY TREE IN THE FOREST. Not only that, but the understory is composed mainly of Serissia, Bush Honeysuckle, and Johnston Grass, all invasive species. I slowly realize that this forest is so far gone, so broken, that the only way to fix it is to bulldoze the thing and start over. We head back to the office and have something along the lines of the following conversation:

Justin: John, we have to talk.
Andon: You sent us into a warzone man!
John: Whaddaya mean?
Andon: We're basically flagging every tree in that forest.
Justin: Yeah, I'd say its about 95% lacebark. (one of the elms we're flagging) We're thinking you're gonna have to doze it.
John: Is it that bad?
Andon: Yeah, its really bad. Not only are the trees bad, but even the understory is all serrisia and Honeysuckle. Doze it or burn it, but there's no way you're gonna go in there and cut all that down individually.
John: Whaddaya mean burn it?
Andon: You know, burn it. What, you can't do prescribed burns on a forest here?
(Perplexed looks from both of them)
John: Nah, if that fire gets up in the tree canopy, it'll just be a disaster. Ya can't control it up there. You could cut it and then burn it, but thats it.
Andon: Ok, well doze it then.
John: Its really that bad?
Justin: Oh yeah, its that bad.
Andon: Its a warzone I'm tellin' ya!

After we convinced John that it was that bad, and I learned about the limits of prescribed burning in an urban setting, we wen't back out. Justin kept flagging everything ever, and I tried to rope off the area that we think needs to be bulldozed. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Of course, there were areas where it was simple to tell where the invasion came in, but other areas had some good native trees mixed in with all the bad, and making the decision of at what point to give up on a forest was tough! The main problem was that there were two
areas that were truly bad enough to be dozed, but only one of them was directly accessible.

To get to the other one, you had to go through a portion of forest that was pretty bad, but perhaps salvageable. There were a bunch of Ozark Orange trees, which are these really awesome trees with these brain like fruits, and also prone to spiking you with their thorns if you happen to snap a branch back. One of them hit me on the arm and drew blood! It felt like I was getting a shot cuz it was right on my shoulder. Anyway, they're an awesome tree and I made it my goal to save as many of them as possible. I'm pretty sure I only left one or two in the zone, and when John came out in the field said they could probably avoid those with the bulldozer, as long as Bruce is driving it. I've been saying all week that a bulldozer is not a scalpel, meaning that you cant have it working its way into tight corners, but if there's anyone who can get surgical with a bulldozer its Bruce.

When John joined us in the field, he agreed with us that the first area, with five to ten year old trees, should be bulldozed, but proceeded to give us a little lesson on the limitations of bulldozing. For the second zone, which had more like twenty or thirty year old trees, he said bulldozing would just create more of a problem with disposal of the stuff you take out. We'll probably end up using some type of selective cutting in that area, but we don't know what to do with the wood and brush. Robert, Bruce's summer hire and a really quiet kid, had the idea of using it for mulch, which I rather like. Over the next few days, we'll come up with a plan for what to do in that area.

Also, I had another one of those moments today, where I'm like "Dude, I'm making management reccomendations that will be used on a real forest!!!" Awesomeness.

I caught a snake!

WITH MY BEAR HANDS! And yes I do mean Bear hands, as in Bear Grillz (I don't think his name is really spelled that way, but it should be.) Anyway Justin and I were out in the woods tagging those invasive trees, when I just about ran into a snake that was crawling on the vines in front of me. You know when you're in the woods and you don't see a spiderweb until you're two inches away from a huge spider? Thats how close I was. At first I was freaked out, but then I got really excited. You see, we're required to pick up any reptiles we can catch and show them to the Horned Lizard team, and that includes snakes. I've basically always wanted to catch a snake, and I love it when nature show guys like Bear Grills pick up snakes like its not even a big deal. So now I had the opportunity, the mandate, and the assurance of Vick from the lizard team that there are no poisonous snakes on base.

I chased the snake on to the ground and tried to pin it down without hurting it or getting bit. It took a bit of chasing, but I finally pinned its head down with a stick and grabbed it right where the head meets the body (I guess you could call it a neck). We got out of the woods and Justin drove back to the office, and boy, that snake squirmed like crazy trying to get out of my grip. Almost did a couple of times actually.

We got to the office, put it in a tank, and identified it as a prairie king snake. Being a climber though, it got out of the tank and was sitting on top of it when I came back from the bathroom. Some of the guys at the office tried to get it back in with a stick, and when that didn't work I just grabbed it by the tail and flipped it in the tank. It struck at me pretty good but missed, and man that thing was pissed off! I may or may not have injured its tail with that flip, so I kinda felt bad about that, but I was PUMPED to have caught a snake!

Next up, biting a snake's head off and eating the body.

Man I love Bear Grills.

Trackin Storms, Deer and Planes

On Monday, after a hellaceous Oklahoma thunderstorm, we decided to hang out inside for a bit. We did a little wetland design stuff and mostly made fun of Justin for shaving his head.

It got fun was later in the day, when Kenny, one of the USDA animal control guys, took us out to find a deer that had wandered into the base. Their job is basically to keep animals and planes from mixing with disastrous results, and a deer on the runway is their worst nightmare. Anyway, justin and I each walked to the opposite edges of the forest, where we could watch the mowed line next to the fence. Kenny came through the forest itself, hoping to flush the doe out so it would crawl or hop the fence in the same way it got in. So, as I'm watching the line I decide to call my parents, and as I'm talking to my mom, the deer pops out of the fence, either sees me or sees that its out in the open, and immediately runs back into the woods. This takes about two seconds. The next thing my mom hears on the phone is a really loud "I SEE 'ER!!!" followed by a quick explanation: "I'm tracking a deer, I gotta go!"

We couldn't find her again after that, so we decided to let her hang out in the woodpatch for the night, hoping that she would wander back through the fence the way she came. The USDA guys try to avoid shooting animals when they can, but if they can't flush that deer out they're gonna have to hunt her down. I asked what they do with the meat, and they said they usually donate it to charity, which is great and all but also a shame because deer is delicious! We had some venison chilli the other day and it was awesome.

After that, we washed the truck off (completely spotless!) and headed out on the runway. Any little rock can cause an accident, so its really important to have clean tires. We watched a little training fighter jet and a navy cargo plane land, and it was AWESOME! I've never seen a plane land that close to me. The lingo and chatter on the radio was also cool, since you have to announce before and during any crossing of runways or side streets. Kenny told us they apparently hate it when you say "Ten-four" or "clear" or any of what he called "redneck radio lingo." Hopefully we'll get to go out on the runway again, because it was quite an impressive experience.

Over and out!

Invasion of the Trees!

Justin and I finished the "Phase 1" Wetland design, meaning the stuff that we can get and plant this summer. We're currently in the "red tape" stage, with forms moving through the proper channels and all that. So, maybe we'll get those plants ordered at some point this week.

The main problem with planting things in the summer is that you don't really get any rain, so you have to irrigate, which is not only lame and unnatural but also costly and time-consuming. Keeping that in mind, we're only planting things that actually go in the water this summer. The rest of the plan will be implemented without us during the fall and spring planting seasons coming up. I've been pretty impressed with John's willingness to let us design the whole thing, and though he has helped us and provided his input and experience, it really is our project. He's even thinking of letting us name it! However, we've been having trouble creating a name that either captures both our names (Jandon Pond? Andstin Pond?) or where we come from (Michigan-Virginia Pond? MIVA Pond? Northerner Pond?). All horrid names I know. If you have an idea, please help! Of course, we could just end up calling it Intern Pond.

With the prairie seeding done and the wetland project close to it, today we started on a new project: tagging the invasive trees in the wooded part of the Urban Greenway. Man it was thick! The forest is rather young, so its very hard to move through. When I say its very hard to move through, I mean its durn-near impenetrable and full of poison ivy. Thankfully, I happen to be immune to poison ivy for the moment, although every time you're exposed gets you closer to becoming allergic. Justin hasnt tested his reaction and I don't think he intends to. I'm definitely wearing a long sleeve shirt and gloves tomorrow, and Justin's gonna have to at least wear pants! That is, rather than shorts, of course...

Anyway the project is actually a redo of some tags that were done a while back, where some Virginia Tech folk (yeah hokies!) came out and tagged the lacebark elm and other invasive trees that were growing on the woodland. That was a year and a half ago, and since then the paint has worn off and the trees have grown taller and procreated. So, we're retagging them and hopefully they'll get pulled out either this summer or this fall. I still wish there was something we could think of to do with all that wood, though. Anyway, Gore just endorsed Obama, so thats about all I can handle for today! Goodnight!

Catch'n Up

Well, haven't posted in a while, so here's what's been goin' on:

We finished seeding the Urban Greenway! The upland sites are seeded with a stock mix of native prairie grasses, the lowland sites with lowland switchgrass, and the sides of the trail with a native turf called buffalo grass. Of course, there's plenty of areas in the greenway that still need to be worked on, but we got done what we could before the planting window closed. The first area we seeded is germinating well, with plants coming up about every foot or so, which is the spacing you want them to be at so they come in thick but don't crowd each other out. We've gotten plenty of rain (for Oklahoma anyway) so that should help.

My only worry is that we haven't seen any plants come up in areas that were covered in grass-cutting thatch, which we were trying to remove when we prepared the sites for seeding. These open patches could provide a corridor for invasives like Johnston grass or bermuda grass, and if they do, its on the people who prepped the site (thats us). It seems Justin and I got better as we went on, so hopefully subsequent sites will have less of these patches. As a positive, open areas do provide some habitat variability, and might make a good place to plant wildflowers when John's ready to introduce that component into the system. John said we should see some decent sized plants come up before the end of the summer, so we'll know whether we rocked them native prairies before we leave in August.

The wetland planting design project is almost finished, with Justin and I spending most of this week indoors working on finalizing a plant list and laying where we're going to plant what. Its a mix between restoration, gardening and landscaping, which makes it both challenging and interesting. In addition to trying to figure out whether a plant is native to our area of Oklahoma and whether or not it will survive where we put it, there's also non-ecological considerations like plant height and trying to plant short things toward the trail, with taller and taller things toward the back of the pond and the wet meadow. This is because if you plant something tall right in front of the pond, nobody on the trail will ever see the pond!

We also have had a run-in with the dreaded government red tape: it seems that when you buy something (such as plants and seed in our case) you have to find at least two suppliers to show that you shopped around. You don't have to actually buy from both, just provide two suppliers. We had originally just gotten prices from one nursery in Missouri, which seemed to have almost everything we asked for. We're going with mostly plugs and plants rather than seeds because its too late in the season to plant most seeds, because its difficult to get seeds established out in the field, and because when the Botany Club and I tried to plant wildflower seeds at William and Mary it didn't seem to go too well (thats right, I admit it). I get the feeling that as a rule of thumb, you shouldn't plant wetland seeds that are smaller than a pistachio. Maybe someday I'll test that.

The Question

So for the past year or so, I've been thinking constantly about the answer to a single question. I came up with several ideas on my own, then began asking the people around me for their ideas. Although some people thought it was weird when I pulled out a notebook to write their ideas down, ultimately I've come up with a pretty decent list of answers. The question is:

How can one make money off of a forest without killing it?

To explain a bit, when I say "forest", I mean it in a broad sense, including forests here in the US as well as rainforests in Latin America and other types of forests across the world. When I say make "money off of", I mean using either the forest's resources or simply using the fact that the forest is beautiful to start and operate a business. Finally, when I say "without killing it", I mean without completely clear-cutting all the trees. There's definitely a range of acceptable disturbance from doing things like giving tours to cutting mountain biking trails into the forest.

The list is in no particular order, and includes ideas that range from the whimsical (Treehouse Village!) and hippieish (Alternative Medicine Retreat) to the recreational (Camping) and outdoorsman-like (hunting). Basically anything you can think of is a good idea, so please add to the list by commenting, ask me questions about the list or the question, and start thinking about this as you go on about your day!

Ways to make money from a forest w/out killing it:

Horseback rides
Frisbee Golf Course
Lacrosse - Originally played in the woods!!!!
Apple orchards
Pumpkin Patch
Workshops, education, classes
Timber, then plant product plants
Alternative Medicine Retreat
Mountain Bikers
Treehouse Village
Gnarled root woodcarvings
Talk to Villagers, see what skills they have already
Native Stories
Ropes course
Insect Collecting
Ginseng or other valuable plants
Baby Groves/ Weddings, etc
Burials (w/ headstones)
Pay me internships
Camping (limited)
Click to Donate/Advertising on website
Hunting (Limited)
-Hay marsh (Pheasant hunting) -$12 per bird in scratch hunts
-deer preserve (white tail)
-Hunting Club - $200,000 per year sometimes
-Dog Training - people training bird dogs
-Bird Dogs - renting them out
-Scratch hunts
Hunting Products
-Pro Shop (Hunting Accessories)
-Products made from animals killed
-Taxidermy, deer mounting, etc.
-Feather Products
Small amphitheater
Craft classes w/ forest products (sell products in store)
Field Trips
Zip Lines!
Canopy walks
Paintball? Or maybe lazer tag!
Carbon Neutralization
Nature Videos
Nature Photography
Nature Video/Photography Classes!
Summer Camps
Day Camps
Flowers/Flower Pickin'
Berries/Berry Pickin'
Conservation Easements
Eco-Lodge - Combining all of the above?

Lets make this list huge and all encompassing! :)

The Restorationist

Today we had a wetland design session in the morning, followed by an afternoon of prepping sites for seeding. My GIS (Geographic Information Systems) skills are coming in handy for the wetland stuff. If you're thinking about doing anything environmental and have a chance to take a class in GIS, do it. Its one of the most useful skills in the world, it will make you think in a whole new way, and it will get you jobs. With my mad skillz, I was able to get into the base GIS server and pull out a contour map, a vegetative communities map, and several areal photos. It took 30 minutes and impressed everyone around me.

I found a book on creating prairie gardens, and it had this really cool drawing of a planting that was laid out on a grid, with different species planted in randomly selected blocks. So, I took one of the areal pictures of the pond and the surrounding wetland area and laid a grid over it to make what I call a "design grid." Its like graph paper for landscapes! Justin is coming up with a wildflower mix for us to plant, poring through catalogs, native plant lists, and growth charts to come up with something that will grow in full sun, enjoys wet areas, and will bloom through out spring, summer, and fall. In other words, we're having a raging good time.

After our design session, we went out to look at the sites we need to seed before we get too far into June. John showed us how to tell a good site from one that needs to be mowed, cleared, and seeded. The strategy is to get a decent stand of native grasses all over the place and worry about the wildflower component later. Bruce mowed, Justin used the lawn sweeper, and I had a rake to get the small stuff. Ten minutes in, Justin drove the lawn sweeper into a hole that was covered up by grass clippings. As we were trying to fix it, Bruce had the idea of borrowing a big blower that we could use to uncover future holes. Turns out, the massive backpack blower is just as good or better at removing grass clippings than the sweeper! That thing was amazing, like having the power of Wind in your hands. We got the sweeper fixed and prepped a decent amount of area before heading home.

As I was driving the sweeper (max speed 5 mph) back to the shed, I had an epiphany: I am doing exactly what I want to be doing in life. Keep the mix of design, management, and direct work going, and I'm gonna be one happy little Restorationist.

From left to right: Restored native grass (about 3 yrs old) native buffalo turfgrass buffer around trail, area we just seeded with native grasses

Justin on the lawn sweeper, prepping some sites.

My farmer shadow.

Texas Horned Lizard ROUND UP!!

Today we held a Horny Toad roundup! (if you want to annoy a Texas Horned Lizard biologist, call them horny toads... works every time) We got about 20 volunteers to sweep an area of habitat that is going to be developed in two months. The goal was to collect as many of the lizards as we could so we could relocate them to a new home. Too bad we only found one new lizard. :( However, we did find box turtles, snakes, and a legless lizard! Check out all these pics:

Ray explains to the crowd what's going on.

Form a line!!! Its like we're on a military base or something...


* Source: The horned lizard picture was taken by Ben Goodwyn and found at

Why Burning Rocks

Since all we did today was clean up a native flower bed, I'm gonna take this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics: prescribed burning. Although many people think of fire as a purely destructive force, its actually necessary for many ecosystems to exist and thrive. For example, Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) cones are sealed with resin until fire melts it away and releases the seeds. This plant not only withstands fire, it needs it to reproduce! How cool is that? Also, Wikipedia rocks.

In our current system, the North American Prairie, fires have historically been started by lightning and have kept the system as a Prairie by burning off the cypress trees. Once Westerners came (ironically from the east), we started suppressing fire all the time. This let the cypress trees take over, which you would think was a good thing except for the fact that they tend to grow in single species stands which have way lower biodiversity than the prairie itself. In the last few years, ecologists have realized that since we can't just let wildfires run, well, wild, we have to recreate the fire regimes of the past by starting the fires ourselves. These prescribed burns are usually really controlled, with fire breaks built before they start. They keep invasive species out, help regeneration and allow you to reseed an area without having to clear it with, say, a leafblower.

But perhaps one of the coolest and weirdest aspects of these systems that need fire is the surprising fact that they might actually store and sequester just as much carbon when they are burnt than when they aren't. You would think burning a grassland or cypress forest would be a net release of CO2, but you'd probably be wrong (silly you). This is because as long as regeneration is allowed or even encouraged, the fast flush of new growth quickly makes up for the carbon that was lost by sucking it up to build stems and leaves and roots. Of course, this is a really, really new area of research, so I could be wrong (silly me). Anyway, I've got to go to bed ridiculously early so I can start ridiculously early like the "real" adult I'm becoming.


On Friday we seeded three different sites with native prairie grasses!!! Planting is the most exciting part of any restoration project for me, so I get really excited when I physically help to put seed in the ground. After all the blowing and raking by hand, Bruce (one of the field laborers) let us know that there was a machine called a lawn sweeper that could do the stuff that took us 20 minutes in about 2. YAY! Basically, the machine has metal brushes under it and kicks the mowed clippings up into a bin, which you can then dump when it fills up. I'm wondering if there's anything useful we could do with the clippings, such as feed them to animals as hay or use them for erosion control. The second option might introduce things we don't want to new areas though.

Once we had the sites prepped to seed, Bruce came over with his tractor and used a no-till drill native grass seeder to plant the native mix. The machine is actually designed for the fluffy texture of native prairie grasses! We planted a mix of western wheat grass, side oats gramma, blue gramma, switchgrass, indian grass, little bluestem, and big bluestem. Seven species isn't bad in terms of an initial planting, but a real prairie would also have non grass herbaceous species like wildflowers and such. John's methodology is to get these grass species established first, choke out the invasives, and then figure out what to do about other native plants. We tossed around ideas on how to do that, everything from planting wildflowers after a prescribed burn to just hand seeding in open patches.

I asked John about how prescribed burns have gone over on base, and he told me a story about the first meeting between him, the fire marshal, some commanders, and an expert on prescribed burns that John had brought in. As the expert was setting up his powerpoint, the fire marshal said "Before you start, I just want to make it clear that we are completely opposed to this. We're here to put out fires, not start them." The quote basically sums up the attitude that people usually face when they try to do prescribed burns. After the presentation and a bit of wrangling, John was able to convince the commanders to do some burns. He said it was one of the most fun projects he'd ever undertaken!

We also viewed one of the most unmanaged portions of the greenway, a 50 meter stretch of the trail that is dominated by invasive and exotic trees. John thinks that these particular trees took a much bigger hit from an ice storm we had earlier in the year because they were exotic, an argument he's using to convince the base that only native trees should be planted from now on. If native trees are more resistant to storms, they're easier to maintain and will last longer. He asked us what we thought he should do with the area, and I half jokingly suggested that he simply burn it and start over. I guess the half joking part was lost on John and Justin, because they actually considered it seriously! Its true the the place had so many exotics that cutting them all out would involve cutting almost all the trees, so maybe its not such a crazy idea. I'd hate to see so much wood go to waste, but the base isn't really allowed to sell anything, so its not like they can gain anything from it. After that we had a relaxing three day weekend, with an air show, a party and a cookout all lined up! Until next time, peace and plants people, peace and plants.

Blowin grass onto other grass

Hey Yall,

Today we did a whole lot of blowin' grass clippings around, trying to get the sites prepped for the prairie plantings tomorrow. I also used a chainsaw for the first time!!! (Hippie friends: Don't worry, we just cut up a dead tree.) After that, John took us around some more and showed us what does and doesn't work in terms of planting, removing non-natives, and prescribed burns. They're using a native buffalo grass as turf grass, which is pretty awesome because most lawn grasses are horribly invasive, as we saw today when we were looking at some sites that were infested with exotic turf grasses. We also flagged some african weeping lovegrass for herbicide and probably prevented a pretty big invasion.

Oh yeah, and we heard GUNSHOTS!!! Justin and I were blowing grass and there was a live fire exercise at the rifle range, which is right behind our site. I guess I'm gonna have to get used to that sort of thing...

Third Day

Today we talked to two wetland consultants from a Texas experimental wetland research center. They were really great people and they knew everything there was to know about aquatic vegetation. It was funny though, anytime we asked about anything outside the water, both experts were stumped! I'm talking not even a foot out of the water!

John has put Justin and I in charge of designing the plantings around and in a created pond and the surrounding jurisdictional upstream of it. The consultants gave us a whole bunch of advice on which plants to use and where, and they're gonna get us a list of species. I want to use a little bit of randomization on this one, since we're gonna be planting multiple species. The pond might be too small for that kind of stuff, but the contours around it might work.

One of the consultants planted twelve lily pads out in a backed up stream that had an illegally high pH. Six were planted in cages, six just out in the water. There were two kinds of cages with three of each, a small mesh crab wire cage and a larger mesh cage. They staggered it, one open one cage in a straight line with about 5 ft between them. They said the lilies, Nymphaea odorata, would grow almost across the whole area by the end of the summer.

After that we went and blew some grass clippings around with leafblowers. We're trying to establish native grasses, and for the planting to work, the seeds have to make contact with the soil. When the exotic grass was mowed, some patches were so thick with clippings that you couldn't see the soil, so we were trying to minimize that. Whew it got hot! But it was a cooler day today and its gonna get a lot hotter. Goodnight!

First Three Days

I finally got to posting again after three amazing days at Tinker. I've been touring the base with John and Justin (the other SCA intern), checking out all the projects that the Integrated Environmental Team has going. Most everyone's civilian, and I haven't really interacted with too many Air Force people yet. The environmental team on this base is really impressive. You've got a guy for fisheries, two for wildlife management (mostly taking care of pest species), a GIS expert, a PhD student with three field techs studying Texas Horned Lizards, and John, who oversees the projects and is really into native plantings and restoration. That's just one office, but it covers most of the people involved.

The base has an Urban Greenway, which is a series of natural areas connected by trails. The goal is to have all the reserves connected by native plant species, including prairie, forest, and wetland areas. John's really focused on habitat variability, which is great because a lot of native plantings end up being monocultures. On the first day I got in and met John and Justin at the airport, after which we toured some of the base. On the second day we toured some more and checked out the native tree farm. The farm has sets of two rows of trees planted together and sharing an irrigation line. The trees are staggered, planted in big holes with a rootbag to keep it all together. The rootbag works better than a pot because they keep the roots from wrapping around in the pot.

The other intern, Justin, has an incredible amount of practical knowledge, especially when it comes to game-type wildlife. He's a Bio Major form Michigan and he's memorizing plant names way faster than me (story of my life!). He eventually wants to apply what he's learning here to land that he wants to buy in Michigan. Justin hates snakes, and he saw his first 4-foot wild black ratsnake snake today. He was peein' in the woods and almost peed on it!

We also had a fun experience in the office with another black ratsnake. The Texas Horned Lizard people usually keep the little "Varmints" (as John calls them) in burlap bags. So when I saw a bag that looked really full, I naturally assumed that it was a bag full of Lizards. Ray, the fisheries guy and practical joker, assured me that it was ok for them to all be together in the bag like that. Then he told me to open it, and when I did, I jumped back because it was another black ratsnake! Anyway I got to eat, but I'll catch up with day three soon!

Plane Ride

I'm on the plane to Oklahoma, and I'm looking down on our country and noticing all kinds of cool spatial patterns. I'm pretty sure you can actually see the effects of our wetland and stream protection policies from the air. In the Midwest, these have resulted in everything but a small buffer around the streams to be used for farmland or urban/suburban use. The buffer seems to be always uniform. It usually looks like the federal 100 ft buffer, but once in a while its uniformly bigger. I wonder if that's the result of better local protection laws, or just less usable land or wetlands that were not drained prior to the day we got smart and stopped draining wetlands.

Check it out:

Another pattern I'm noticing is that once in a while, especially while flying to my stopover in Ohio, I'll see a square patch of what looks like forest surrounded by agricultural fields. I have to wonder if those are old field re-grown forests, tree farms, or patches that have lain unfarmed for a long time.

I still have no idea what's waiting for me when this plane touches down. Will I learn all sorts of cool and useful stuff about forest management and ecology? Will I end up just doing a lot of unrelated stuff? Will I ever be able to explain what I did to my friends beyond a vague "Natural resource management on an Air Force base."? Well, the compy's runnin' out of power, so until next time, thanks for readin'.


I just found out what my first stop will be. I'm going to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Me and another Student Conservation Association intern will be working on the urban greenway, weeding out invasives, tagging trees, restoring native prairie and woodland habitats. There's also a native tree nursery which provides street and greenway trees. The expenses are paid so thats exciting, however I likely won't be making much money. Thats to be expected with any environmental work, though. It should be interesting to do restoration work in an urban setting, although from the aerial photos it looks pretty developed. It should also be interesting to work as a civilian on an air force base, especially if I end up living on base.