Stan Temple: What Did We Do to Deserve Cranes?

The Aldo Leopold Foundation:

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In recent years islands and sandbars along the Wisconsin River have hosted ever-growing numbers of Greater Sandhill Cranes as they prepare to depart for their wintering areas. In Fall 2015, flocks that swelled to upwards of 10,000 birds converged on the stretch of the river above and below Aldo Leopold’s Shack. That’s a large proportion of the cranes that now nest in Wisconsin. Why has there been such an impressive resurgence in the crane population since Aldo Leopold worried about its impending extirpation 80 years ago, and what attracts all these birds to the vicinity of the Shack?

A lot of people worked hard to save habitat, so when the population would recover from over hunting there would be a place for this beautiful bird.

Siobhan Leddy: Read more Ursula Le Guin

The Outline:

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The generative potential of storytelling is especially pronounced in speculative fiction, a genre that mines our current reality as raw material for imaginary worldbuilding (this includes things like sci-fi, fantasy and horror). The genre’s patron saint, Ursula Le Guin, died last year aged 88, but she left behind her a breathtaking legacy of fiercely intelligent books and short stories imbued with her own anarcho-feminist, anticolonial politics. One of her best-known novels, The Dispossessed, imagines a small, separatist planet administered according to anarcho-syndicalist principles, what she subtitles an “ambiguous utopia” full of contradictions and complexity. On the planet Anarres, prison does not exist, work is voluntary, any claim to ownership is dismissed as “propertarian” — yet, despite all this, greed and power can still take hold...

The kind of story we need right now is unheroic, incorporating social movements, political imagination and nonhuman actors. In this story, time doesn’t progress in an easily digestible straight line, with a beginning, middle and end. Instead there are many timelines, each darting around, bringing actions of the past and future into the present. It collapses nature as a category, recognizing that we’re already a part of it. In a climate change story, nobody will win, but if we learn to tell it differently more of us can survive.

Caleb A. Scharf: The Urgency of Agency

Scientific American Blog Network:

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I recently noticed something about myself. Whenever I am thinking about the nature of living systems (as happens a lot in the field of astrobiology), and reading or studying work done on evolutionary biology, I have to refresh my mind constantly about the central tenets of Darwinian selection. This is not because they are particularly complex. Indeed, their remarkable simplicity is what makes the ideas so powerful. Instead it is because of what my mind wants to do with these ideas.

Putting aside the specifics of phenomena like DNA and genetics, the most critical element of Darwinian evolution is that biological forms exist, species emerge, change, persist or go extinct, entirely because they can. In a purely probabilistic sense. We look around at the world and perhaps marvel at the exquisite adaptations of an organism, but in truth those adaptations are just the result of a very refined winnowing out of other experimental possibilities that don’t increase the probability of reproduction and survival in the same way. And it is almost certainly a temporary victory amidst the turbulence of change and interaction that life deals with every millisecond of every day.

Insightful article on our often misunderstandings of nature.

Will Cushman: The Health of Lakes

WisContext:

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The destruction of shoreline and near-shore habitat can also take a toll on aquatic life, Sorge said. This process is often instigated by development of buildings and other shoreline structures, which often transforms biodiverse native habitats into species deserts.

Shoreline development also increases runoff into lakes, Sorge added. “Once we get to even as little as 15% of [a lakeshore] lot covered with rooftops, sidewalks, walkways, driveways, you’ve increased the mass loading of phosphorus from that parcel of land by a factor of six,” he said. “Our lakes cannot sustain these types of increased inputs if we don’t manage them.”

Please watch the video of Buzz Sorge’s presentation!

Laurel Wamsley: Eliminating Single-Family Zoning

NPR:

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Oregon is on its way to making a significant change in what housing is allowed to be built in the state. The state’s House and Senate have now both passed a measure that requires cities with more than 10,000 people to allow duplexes in areas zoned for single-family homes. In the Portland metro area it goes a step further, requiring cities and counties to allow the building of housing such as quadplexes and “cottage clusters” of homes around a common yard.

House Bill 2001 will now go before Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, who is expected to sign it. It had bipartisan support and was approved on the last day of a wild legislative session that saw some Republican senators flee the state over a climate bill. Experts say it would be the first state-level legalization of a housing type that has become very difficult to build in much of the U.S.

Matt Simon: Remote Lakes and Microplastic

Wired:

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THE MICROPLASTIC MENACE is a maddening conundrum: The pollutant shows up everywhere, but science knows very little about it. Microplastic particles blow to the peaks of pristine mountain ranges. They swirl hundreds of feet deep in the sea. They clot ocean critters, from shellfish to regular fish.

Yet we have little data on how microplastic might be affecting the animals exposed to it, and we certainly don’t know how the stuff could be affecting whole ecosystems. A system of small, isolated lakes in Canada, though, could help unravel those mysteries. The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area, or ELA, are testing grounds that allow researchers to isolate a pocket of water within a lake and add pollutants like hormones and flame retardants—and now potentially microplastics—and watch how the ecosystem responds. The microplastics program is in its very early stages, but it could turn into a one-of-a-kind platform for testing how this omnipresent pollutant might be stressing ecosystems.

Ed Yong: Reared Monarchs Don't Migrate

The Altantic:

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By testing monarchs bought from a commercial supplier, Ayse Tenger-Trolander from the University of Chicago showed that they make terrible migrators. While their wild counterparts have a strong tendency to head south, the mail-order insects flew in random directions. Tenger-Trolander also found that wild monarchs became similarly inept if she raised them indoors, even if she tried her best to mimic natural conditions.

“It’s a powerful study,” says Sonia Altizer from the University of Georgia, a monarch expert who was not involved in the research. “It’s the first to definitively show that captive-bred monarchs won’t show the same orientation behavior that wild ones will.”

Selecting individuals to rear leads to domestication; domestication leads to trouble.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Mercury and Climate Change

Milwaukee Sentinel:

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Watras and Rubsam walk onto frozen Little Rock Lake in Vilas County near their base at the University of Wisconsin’s Trout Lake Station. They are scientists for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and the state Department of Natural Resources.

After decades of water sampling on Little Rock Lake and two other nearby lakes, Watras concluded that climate change is causing fluctuations in the level of dangerous methylmercury in the environment. That finding added to the list of negative effects of climate change, which include making storms more powerful, increasing the Earth’s temperature and causing polar ice to melt, which causes sea levels to rise. Watras discovered that accumulations of the toxin in fish fluctuate as water cycles driven by climate change raise and lower lake levels. When the water levels go up, Watras found, levels of mercury can increase to unsafe levels in walleye, one of the state’s most prized game fish. When levels go down, concentrations in walleye go down to levels considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency...

Mark Brigham, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Mounds View, Minnesota, said fluctuating mercury levels could make it harder to know whether fish are safe to eat. People who fish could easily underestimate or overestimate the risk at any given time. “It’s entirely possible that people, when they look at the fish consumption advisories for a given lake, they could be looking at advice that’s out of date or doesn’t reflect current conditions in the lake,” Brigham said.

Mike McFeely: Bigmouth Buffalo Centenarians

Duluth News Tribune:

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Don’t call the bigmouth buffalo a “rough fish,” a common and derisive moniker slapped on species viewed as less desirable than the sainted walleye and other hotly pursued fish. “They are amazing,” said Alec Lackmann, a North Dakota State University researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences. “They are one of the most exceptional freshwater fish species in the world.”

Lackmann would know. He led an NDSU team that unearthed this amazing fact: Bigmouth buffalo can live to be more than 100 years old, making them the oldest age-validated freshwater fish in the world. Lackmann’s study included one specimen that was 112 years old, and most of the fish he researched were more than 80 years old. The oldest fish came from lakes near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota...

According to NDSU, the bigmouth buffalo is now known as the longest-lived freshwater teleost (ray-finned fish) and the oldest age-validated freshwater fish in the world. “This is a paradigm shift in how we’re looking at these fish and should open a discussion about their real value,” Lackmann said. “They should not be called ‘rough fish,’ which carries a negative connotation. They should be viewed as an ecological asset.”

Tessa Plint: The Extinct Giant Beavers

The Conversationist:

Illustration by Scott Woods/Western University

Illustration by Scott Woods/Western University

Giant beavers the size of black bears once roamed the lakes and wetlands of North America. Fortunately for cottage-goers, these mega-rodents died out at the end of the last ice age.

Now extinct, the giant beaver was once a highly successful species. Scientists have found its fossil remains at sites from Florida to Alaska and the Yukon.

A super-sized version of the modern beaver in appearance, the giant beaver tipped the scales at 100 kilograms. But it had two crucial differences. The giant beaver lacked the iconic paddle-shaped tail we see on today’s modern beavers. Instead it had a long skinny tail like a muskrat. The teeth also looked different. Modern beaver incisors (front teeth) are sharp and chisel-like; giant beaver incisors were bulkier and curved, and lacked a sharp cutting edge...

Towards the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, the climate became increasingly warm and dry and wetland habitats began to dry up. Although the modern beavers and the giant beaver co-existed on the landscape for tens of thousands of years, only one species survived. The ability to build dams and lodges may have given the modern beaver a competitive advantage over the giant beaver. With its sharp teeth, the modern beaver could alter the landscape to create suitable wetland habitat where it needed it. The giant beaver couldn’t.

Advancing aquatic vegetation management for fish

Lake and Reservoir Management Journal:

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ABSTRACT
Despite the known linkage between aquatic plants and fish communities, research that quanti- fies the relationship between aquatic habitat and fisheries management is lacking, particularly for lakes. Lake management is often driven by recreational interests and fails to evaluate out- comes or identify conservation benefits. Effective management of vegetation to benefit fisheries will require information on how fish utilize aquatic plant stands, as well as how they are affected by changes in vegetation coverage or richness. Management strategies will need to account for both local and large-scale effects on aquatic plant habitat. Studies that assess the economic ben- efits of aquatic plants to fisheries will provide support for sustainable aquatic vegetation man- agement approaches. Finally, natural resources managers (including both aquatic botanists and fisheries biologists) will have to collaborate to identify priorities to implement and evaluate vege- tation management activities. Marine seagrass and fisheries research is presented as a means to provide guidance on aquatic plant inventory and monitoring, as well as potential research opportunities to better understand aquatic plant and fish relationships and the implications for lake management.

This article is available as a pdf for a limited time at this link.

John Meyers: Lake Volunteers Needed

Duluth Tribune:

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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is looking for volunteers, nearly 700 of them, to measure water quality across many of the state’s lakes and rivers.

The PCA, which is tasked with both monitoring and protecting the state’s 12,000 lakes and 92,000 miles of streams, this year is asking for volunteers to monitor 676 high priority sites on rivers and lakes, including many in the Northland. Data gathered by volunteers is reported back to the agency and used to track the health of waterways.

Valerie Vande Panne: Battle for Rights of Lakes

EcoWatch:

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In February, the voters of Toledo, Ohio, passed a ballot initiative that gives Lake Erie and those who rely on the lake’s ecosystem a bill of rights. The idea is to protect and preserve the ecosystem so that the life that depends on it — humans included — can have access to safe, fresh drinking water.

On the surface, it seems pretty logical: Humans need water to survive, and if an ecosystem that is relied on for water—in this case, Lake Erie — is polluted (in this case, with algae), then the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (or LEBOR) would ensure the rights of humans would come before the polluters (in this case, big agriculture).

Except, that’s not what’s happening.

Rather, in a perhaps unsurprising move, the state of Ohio has at once both acknowledged rights of nature to exist, and taken them away, with a line written in, of all things, the state budget: “Nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate in or bring an action in any court of common pleas.”

Jonathan M. Gitlin: Bike Lanes Need Physical Protection

Ars Technica:

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A study from Monash University in Australia suggests that merely painting bike lanes onto the roads may be counterproductive. The researchers conducted an observational study, gathering data from 60 cyclists in Melbourne, Australia. For a week or two, the cyclists were equipped with sensors and cameras to capture data over the course of their riding. GNSS satellite navigation was used for location, ultrasonic sensors measured the passing distances of objects as the cyclists rode, and cameras allowed the researchers to classify passing events—was the bicycle passed by a vehicle, did the pass happen while the cyclist was in a bike lane, and so on. Over the study period (between April and August 2017) there were 422 trips covering a total of 3,294 miles (5,302km), 91 percent of which were on-road.

Across the entire data set, the researchers identified 18,527 instances where a vehicle overtook a cyclist. Of these, 1,085 happened with less than 39 inches’ (100cm) passing distance between bike and vehicle, a distance that’s considered “close” under Australian law. The majority of passes occurred in areas with 37mph speed limits (60km/h), with an average passing distance of 75 inches (190cm). But those distances were much closer in areas with lower limits (66 inches/168cm in 40km/h zones, 67 inches/170cm in 50km/h zones). Somewhat worryingly, drivers were also more likely to get closer (60 inches/154cm) to cyclists when passing in 100km/h (62mph) zones.

Rebecca Hersher: PFAS Health Effects

NPR:

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Scientists are ramping up research on the possible health effects of a large group of common but little-understood chemicals used in water-resistant clothing, stain-resistant furniture, nonstick cookware and many other consumer products.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are generally referred to by their plural acronym, PFAS. PFAS are resistant to water, oil and heat, and their use has expanded rapidly since they were developed by companies in the mid-20th century. Today, PFAS’ nonstick qualities make them useful in products as diverse as food wrappers, umbrellas, tents, carpets and firefighting foam. The chemicals are also used in the manufacture of plastic and rubber and in insulation for wiring. In short, they are all around us. And as a result, they’ve found their way into the soil and, especially in some regions, into our drinking water.

”We’re finding them contaminating many rivers, many lakes, many drinking water supplies,” says Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. “And we’re finding them not only in the environment, but we’re finding them in people.” “Essentially everyone has these compounds in our blood,” she explains.

We always find what we dumped in.

Greg Stanley: Ice and Walleyes Signal Changing Climate

Star Tribune:

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Across Minnesota, lakes are losing up to four days of ice every 10 years, according to the state climatology office. And it’s not just Minnesota: Rivers and lakes across the continent are tending to freeze later and thaw earlier. “You think of all the ways people interact with lake ice — skating, fishing derbies, iceboats,” said John Magnuson, an ecologist and limnologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “And already, in some of these lakes you have about a month less to do it.”

... at the University of Wisconsin, the first school in the country to study the chemistry and makeup of inland lakes, scientists have been keeping that data for decades. The university has tracked ice coverage on Wisconsin lakes since the 1850s. In those days, ice harvesters needed to know when they could venture out on a lake to cut large frozen blocks to sell during summer; parents and school superintendents waited for ice roads that would connect Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands to the mainland.

The longer the data go back, the clearer the pattern becomes: Lakes have less ice now, said Magnuson, who is semiretired after decades with the school’s limnology office. Lake Mendota in Madison gets 30 days less ice coverage — a full month — than it did during the Civil War, the data show. And the thaws have been accelerating, Magnuson said. Six of Lake Mendota’s 10 earliest ice-outs have happened since the late 1990s.

Ice coverage is not just a function of temperatures in the spring and fall. It reflects two larger factors: the area’s average annual temperature and the depth of the lake. Every body of water is continually heating up through the summer. The deeper the lake, the more volume it has to collect and store that heat. The more warmth a lake stores, the longer it takes to freeze, Magnuson said.

For the first time, some of the deepest lakes in southern Wisconsin are starting to have years when they don’t freeze at all. As temperatures continue to climb, that will happen to more and more lakes in Minnesota as well, Magnuson said. The magic number seems to be about 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the average temperature for an entire year reaches that point, lakes that have historically frozen over every year start to see some years where they remain open.

David Freid: How New Zealand's Whanganui River Became a Legal Person

The Atlantic:

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For more than 700 years, the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, fought to maintain their spiritual connection to the Whanganui River. Mostly, it was a losing battle: Rapids were dynamited, gravel was extracted, and water was drained and polluted. Promises were broken. Generations of Maori looked on as awa tupua—their river of sacred power—was treated as a means to an end or, worse, as a dumping ground.

Then, in 2017, something unprecedented happened. The New Zealand government granted the Whanganui River legal personhood—a status that is in keeping with the Maori worldview that the river is a living entity. The legislation, which has yet to be codified into domestic law, refers to the river as an “indivisible, living whole,” conferring it “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities” of an individual.

David Freid’s short documentary The River Is Me seeks to understand how the landmark legislation came to pass, its significance for the Maori, and how the river’s new legal status will be enforced in future litigation. In the film, Freid interviews many experts on the subject, including the Maori leader and treaty negotiator Gerrard Albert and Chris Finlayson, the former attorney general of New Zealand who worked with the Maori to pass the legislation.

Alan Guebert: Corporations Have Rights; Why Not a Lake?

Farm & Food File:

If the ballot box is the ultimate source of power in the United States, then voters in Toledo, Ohio, used that power Feb. 26 to create what’s now being called a “Bill of Rights” for their wide, blue neighbor, Lake Erie. That vote, if it withstands court challenges (one was filed immediately after the referendum passed) gives any Toledo citizen legal standing to sue any person or corporation on behalf of Lake Erie over its “right” to be clean and environmentally healthy.

Lake Erie’s newly conferred/newly challenged rights have farmers in northwest Ohio deeply concerned because they have long been seen as a key source of the phosphorus run-off that fuels late-summer, toxic algae blooms in the lake, that also serves as Toledo’s public water source. But it’s not just Toledo. The toxic blooms, according to press reports, threaten the water supply of 12 million American and Canadian citizens living near Lake Erie and jeopardize more than $1 billion a year spent in Ohio on lake tourism.

Jason Bittel: Dragonfly Migrations

onEarth:

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JUDY GALLAGHER VIA FLICKR

According to a study published by the Royal Society last fall, common green darners, which are found from Cuba to Canada, make a long, complex journey that takes three generations and spans a distance of more than 1,500 miles. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how they do it, but temperature seems to play a key role in telling the animals when to move. Unfortunately, this means climate change could well wreck the whole event even before we fully understand it. Worse, it would leave much of eastern North America without an important member of its food web.

The news that dragonflies migrate probably won’t shock people who study insects, says the study’s senior author, Colin Studds, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Maryland. “We’ve had an inkling of how many insects migrate,” he says. “There are moths, there are beetles, and there are probably about 20 species of dragonflies that we have expected of migration. But we don’t know much about it other than that it’s a phenomenon.”