John Myers: BWCAW turns 40

Duluth News Tribune:

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It passed the U.S. Senate in the last minutes of the last day of a Congressional session that may have been its last chance to pass.Democrats were in power in Minnesota and in Washington, and several Minnesotans were in President Jimmy Carter’s administration when the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act passed Congress on Oct. 15, 1978. That included Vice President Walter Mondale and Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland, whose department oversaw the U.S. Forest Service that managed what was then the BWCA.

The issue of wilderness, the definition of what wilderness should be in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, was dividing the party at home, and DFLers were anxious to put the issue behind them.

After years of rancorous debate, the Senate quietly passed a version of the bill late at night on Oct. 4, 1978, by a voice vote, with no record of who voted yes or no. Eleven days later, after an all-night session, the House passed the bill 248-111 early on a Sunday morning... The Senate concurred at 12:30 p.m. that Sunday afternoon. By 3 p.m. everyone had adjourned to go home. Carter quietly signed the BWCAW bill into law Oct. 21.

The article is a reminder of the struggles it took to designate this wonderful place for enjoyment of wildness. The struggle continues.

Maggie Koerth-Baker: What is an Invasive Species?

FiveThirtyEight:

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This isn’t just trivia. Invasive species control is always expensive, and you only get the resources to launch a full-court press against a plant or animal — like the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the last six decades to get sea lamprey populations under control — on the rare and shining occasion when everyone in power agrees on what “harm” is. And so the definition of invasive species has also created fights within the biological sciences. In 2011, Mark Davis, a biology professor at Minnesota’s Macalester College, published an essay in Nature in which he and 18 co-authors argued that the field of invasion biology had become too weighted toward viewing all non-native species as bad and worthy of eradication. “Harm,” he argued, had come to mean “change.” “And, boy, this world is a bad place to be if any change is viewed as bad,” Davis told me.

Mark Schapiro: Uphill Battle for Clean Water in Corn Country

Yale E360:

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“Health trumps politics,” said Iowa State Senator David Johnson before taking the stage at a raucous rally in Des Moines last winter to support strengthening the state’s water quality. In the marble rotunda of the state capitol, he rose to denounce the nitrogen and phosphates that have been flowing in ever-increasing quantities into Iowa’s public water supplies — and was cheered by the small crowd of family farmers, concerned mothers, and his new political allies, the legislature’s drastically outnumbered Democrats. Johnson had been one of the longest-serving Republicans in Iowa until he left the party to become an independent in 2016 after defying it repeatedly on one of the most divisive issues in Iowa — the integrity of the state’s water.

Iowa’s nitrogen load has been accelerating despite more than $100 million spent by the federal and state governments to rein it in. Starting in 1999, the concentration of nitrogen in the state’s major waterways has increased almost 50 percent, according to a study from the University of Iowa, published last spring in PLOS One. The battle over Iowa’s water had long been posed as one between rural and urban interests, until Johnson, whose district is one of the most thinly populated and heavily farmed in the state, came along...

More than 750, or 58 percent, of the state’s rivers and streams do not meet federal water quality standards and are designated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as too contaminated for swimming or consuming fish caught there — making a state once renowned for its lattice of waterways into a mess of inaccessible creeks, streams and lakes. Another 23 percent fall into a category of being “potentially impaired,” which the state defines as, “waters in need of further investigation.” Ninety-two percent of the nitrogen and 80 percent of phosphates in the state’s waterways, says the DNR, come from farms and animal feedlots.

Jonathan English: How to Fix American Mass Transit

CityLab:

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The maps illustrate the vast swaths of urban areas untouched by full service bus routes. For those who do live near one, it’s quite likely that the bus wouldn’t get them where they need to go, unless their destination is downtown. A bus that comes once and hour, stops at 7 pm, and doesn’t run on Sundays—a typical service level in many American cities—restricts people’s lives so much that anyone who can drive, will drive. That keeps ridership per capita low.

What happened? Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.

Here’s how this has played out, era by era...

Aaron Bady: Heavy Stuff: Lead is Poison

Popula:

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It’s peculiar that we know that lead is poison, that there is no “safe” amount to put in your body, and yet we still put it in our bodies. It is peculiar because you would think that what we know would inform what we do; you would think, for example, that Flint, Michigan, would not choose to use a river that had been poisoned for nearly a century as its municipal water supply. The fact that it did—the impossible-to-avoid fact that this is the choice that was made in Flint, Michigan—forces us to re-evaluate the basis of that expectation. One of the terms is wrong. Is it “we”? Is it “know”? Is it “safe”? Is it “choose”?

Or maybe it’s the word “peculiar,” which has two primary but opposed meanings: “strange” and “particular.” Describing slavery as America’s “peculiar institution” in the 19th century, for example, was not meant to imply that slavery was strange, but that it was particular to the southern United States (the rest of the world having mostly abolished it). In this sense, it was anything but “estranged” or “alien”; precisely in its particularity, “the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States,” as John Calhoun put it, was what made his home what it was.

If it’s peculiar that we drink poison, as a society, then there are one of two choices: either it’s a strange and inexplicable practice, or it’s what makes us who we are. It might also, like the word peculiar itself, be a strange and particular combination of both.

Here is what we know....

Sydney Widell: Boat-Mounted, Real-time Water Quality Monitoring

UW-Madison Center for Limnology

Dubbed, the “FLAMe,” it is a limnological measurement system that University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers and freshwater ecologists from Emily Stanley’s lab at the Center for Limnology have been perfecting over the last decade. FLAMe stands for Fast Limnological Automated Measurements and it allows researchers to take near real-time samples of water at the surface of a body of water. Strapped to the back of the boat, the FLAMe’s intake pipe sucks water into the system and uses a series of tubes to pass the water over sensors measuring things like turbidity, free dissolved organic matter, temperature, dissolved oxygen and the presence of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane. That water is then ejected out of the back of the boat as new water is sucked in.

Mimi Kirk: Fertility -- Lead's Other Toxic Toll

CityLab:

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A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Toxic Truth: Lead and Fertility,” confirms this connection by providing, for the first time, causal evidence of the effects of lead exposure on fertility for large portions of the U.S. population, both male and female.

It’s a troubling new addition to the body of research examining the effects of lead poisoning on young people and families. American cities remain heavily laced with this toxic metal, which was once found in paint, plumbing, gasoline, and in various industrial usages. As the Flint water crisis demonstrated, its public health impacts are severe: Lead exposure in children is associated with serious health and developmental consequences. At least half a million American children under the age of five have blood lead levels higher than the point at which the Centers for Disease Control recommends public health intervention, and at least 4 million households are exposed to high levels of lead, the CDC says.

Many are clustered in low-income areas of cities like St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, where the effects of lead poisoning span generations. Some researchers have posited that chronic lead exposure is partially responsible for poor educational outcomes and high crime rates in some cities.

Jay Walljasper: A Green Neighborhood on the old Ford Plant Site

CityLab:

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Today, all that remains of the Ford factory is an expansive tract of bare land in the middle of the middle-class Highland Park neighborhood, where a lone smokestack juts up from the old steam plant. The top layer of heavily contaminated dirt has been scraped away and piled up in mounds underneath plastic covers, waiting to be removed. Diesel shovels and other heavy equipment dot the grounds.

But the Ford site is poised for a dramatic rebirth: Over the next 20 years, these 122 acres overlooking the Mississippi River are slated to grow into a dense mixed-use neighborhood designed to be a showpiece of energy efficiency, smart design, ecological stormwater management, and enlightened economic development. Last fall, the St. Paul City Council approved the Ford site master plan, developed by the city’s planning department after an intensive 11-year process. The plan maps out the vision for a transit-accessible community for up to 7,200 residents, an eco-village within the city that boasts a grid of bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets, abundant green space, and jobs for 1,500 workers—almost as many as the old Ford plant had at its height. Twenty percent of the development’s housing will be priced for lower-income residents.

It is a reasonable plan. One hopes that the car-free elements are expanded as development progresses.

Leyla Acaroglu: Use System Thinking to Solve Our Problems

ENSIA:

From the hypothesis-to-outcome structure of scientific investigations, through to the hyper-structured and inflexible departments of government ,  we have designed systems of silos that don’t connect to the bigger picture. These isolated systems create very linear perspectives of problems and limited approaches to solving them.

Here’s the thing: Problems never exist in isolation; they are always surrounded by other problems.

As renowned environmental scientist Donella Meadows put it: “Let’s face it. The universe is messy. It is nonlinear, turbulent, and dynamic. It spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. It self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity and uniformity. That’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful, and that’s what makes it work.”

If we really want to start to address the highly complex, often chaotic and incredibly urgent social and environmental issues at play in the world around us, we must overcome the reductionist perspective and build thinking and doing systems that work for all.

For more information, I suggest reading Thinking In Systems by Donella Meadows and the following website: http://donellameadows.org/systems-thinking-resources/

 

Ron Meador: Lawsuits on Minnesota Mining Leases

MinnPost:

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Ask yourself: Would it be OK to revoke a mining company’s rights in the same way that these leases were restored?

Two more lawsuits were filed this week against the Trump administration’s about-face on Twin Metals Minnesota’s mineral leases at the edge of the Boundary Waters, bringing the total to three.

The documents bring some clarity and concision to the tangled procedural history of the leases’ renewals, cancellation and re-granting. And on mining’s threat to area businesses centered on paddling and quiet recreation, they present some compelling illustrations of potential job losses. But perhaps their main value will be the focus they bring to this question: Has ours become a government of whim, or do the law, the rules and settled procedures still matter?

For several years now, ever since Twin Metals’ challengers began to gain traction in Washington for their objections to industrializing the edge of a prime American wilderness, the company has asserted that its leases along the South Kawishiwi River carry an automatic right of renewal. Given that TMM’s renewal applications have undergone repeated review for potential impacts on the Superior National Forest and on waters downstream, that’s an odd position — at least, it’s odd if you make the common-sense assumption that the fact of review carries the possibility of rejection.

Kelly April Tyrrell: Heavier Rain Means More Polluted Runoff

University of Wisconsin - Madison:

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Phosphorus, a nutrient found in the manure applied to agricultural fields, makes its way to Wisconsin waters (and waterways elsewhere) in runoff following rain storms. When the weather is warm, it can lead to the foul-smelling water and toxic algae blooms that plague lakes like Mendota, which is situated in an agricultural landscape.

This runoff may be getting worse, according to a recent study from researchers with the Water Sustainability and Climate Project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. With a changing climate, the frequency of high-intensity rain events is on the rise. These storms bring heavy rains over a short period of time and exacerbate phosphorus runoff from manure-covered agricultural fields, more so than scientists expected.

“Both things are bad for water quality – too much manure is bad and too many intense storms are bad, too,” says lead author of the study in Environmental Research Letters, Melissa Motew. “This is a story about how one problem really compounds another problem.”

Lauren Chambliss: Fishing Tackle Kills Loons

All About Birds:

Roberta Olenick

Roberta Olenick

Loons still face many threats today, including the lead commonly used in fishing tackle. Decades after the U.S. government began regulating lead out of our environment through lead bans in gasoline, household paint, and the shotgun ammunition used for hunting waterfowl, the poisonous soft metal is still being directly introduced into lakes and waters via fishing tackle. In the contiguous U.S., lead is a leading cause of death in the Common Loon. And now for the first time, researchers in New Hampshire have discovered a much worse population-level impact than previously suspected.

In Minnesota, an estimated 100 to 200 loons die each year from lead poisoning. 

Leidy Klotz: Little-Known Behavioral Scientist Who Transformed Cities

The Behavioral Scientist:

Cris Tagupa/Unsplash

Cris Tagupa/Unsplash

“Why are you architects not interested in people?” Ingrid Gehl asked her new husband, Jan. “What do you think about the fact that your architecture professors take their photos at four o’clock in the morning … without the distraction of people in the photos?”

In the early 1960s, and in many cases still today, these were forbidden questions, particularly among those we think of as designers—architects, city planners, and engineers. Then and now, designers consider human needs for health, survival, safety, and comfort through building codes and best practices. Psychological needs are only an afterthought—at best.

Ingrid, however, was no conventional designer—she was a psychologist. And by entertaining such questions, Ingrid and her husband took the first steps on a journey to create city spaces for the full range of human needs. The Danish couple’s ideas have since made life better in cities like New York, Moscow, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and London. Of course, many parts of many cities still seem optimized for buildings and cars. But the story of Ingrid and Jan is a model for what partnerships between behavioral scientists and designers can look like today.

In the 1960s and 1970s, William Whyte was studying human behavior in New York City and applying similar thinking in the United States.

David Tenenbaum: Sand County Irrigation Water

University of Wisconsin-Madison:

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More than 14,000 years ago, receding glaciers left a broad, deep swath of sand and gravel across central Wisconsin. Today, the Central Sands region hosts a thriving agricultural economy, but the sandy soil renders most of the crops dependent on irrigation that originates in groundwater.

About 13 years ago, streams, lakes and marshes in the Sands started to dry up, and some observers blamed the growing number of high-capacity irrigation wells. Even though the water level in these fresh waters has improved, the number of high-capacity wells continues to rise, and so the question remains: what is the best route to sustainable irrigation that serves the farm economy and the environment at the same time?

One key question is this: How much water — whether from rain or irrigation — is used by plants, and how much moves deeper, to augment groundwater?...

Already, says Isherwood, the groundwater problem is serious. “The number of high-capacity (irrigation) wells in Portage County just reached 3,000, and there are areas where some lakes are strongly impacted. I’m not one to say that I know what the solution is, but I think farmers need to understand that we have to play a part in this. I think the question becomes, what is my fair share of the aquifer to use?”

John Timmer: How a Rare Butterfly Vanished Then Returned

Are Technica:

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Humans, and the invasive species we bring with us, are frequently viewed as destroyers of ecosystems. But we alter them just as often, inadvertently picking winners and losers from among the species as we transform their environment. A paper out in today’s Nature describes a case where our actions made a butterfly species a winner but then changed the game so fast that the local population went extinct. All of this because one man died and his cattle ranch shut down.

"be not too eager to deal out death in the name of Justice ... even the wise cannot see all ends.” Gandalf, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

One wonders if our in haste to control non-native species at almost all cost that our selection of so-called "good" species might be misplaced and unwise.

 

Vinicius J. Taguchi et al.: Urban Stormwater Phosphorus Dynamics

University of Minnesota:

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There is evidence that aging stormwater ponds can become net sources of phosphorus to receiving waters during high flow events. For example, the total phosphorus (TP) concentration in the pond should be equal to or less than the typical inflow TP concentration (due to settling). To evaluate this, we examined data from the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District (RPBCWD) in Minnesota. Between 2010 and 2012, the RPBCWD surveyed 98 ponds and observed high TP concentrations in a number of them...

All of the pond sediments released ortho-P under low DO conditions (< 0.5 mg/L) , as shown in Table 1 and Figure 5). By contrast, ortho-P release was negligible under high DO conditions (not shown). We used the calculated P flux rates for each pond to approximate the potential impact on the overall TP concentration in the pond (Table 1)... Stratification during the summer with turnover and mixing in the fall and spring are normal in large lakes, but small ponds were thought to turn over diurnally or at least during large storm events. Instead, regular manual temperature profiles throughout 2017 revealed evidence of stratification throughout most of the year, with DO concentration below 0.5 mg/L at the bottom sediment surface.

Phosphorus concentration is unusually high in roughly 1/3 of urban stormwater ponds, indicating that they are not performing as designed. Rather than capturing P, these ponds seem to be releasing P and polluting downstream waters. We believe the reason is the sediments are releasing ortho-P to the water column, a process known as internal loading. Phosphorus release from the sediments of ponds may be facilitated by low DO concentration. It appears that many ponds in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area are stratified through most of the summer by accumulation of road salt in winter and spring snowmelt, therefore leading to low DO concentration that promotes internal loading.

Cody Nelson: The Boundary Waters Future

MPR:

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The Boundary Waters may seem unchangeable and stoic. But humankind’s actions over time are far too much for nature. If you know where to look, you can already see the Boundary Waters transforming from a lush forest into a desolate grassland. Warmer temperatures caused by human greenhouse gas emissions are letting maple and oak to start invading the region.

”Later on when the summers get really hot, because it’s shallow rocky soil, most of the trees will die and it will end up being savannah,” said University of Minnesota forest ecologist Lee Frelich. “So grassland with scattered oak trees.” The Boundary Waters’ eventual transition to a savannah, as predicted by research from Frelich and others, is a stunning example of how climate change will affect Minnesota...

Rachel Ehrenberg: What Makes A Tree?

Knowable Magazine:

Thomas Ramsauer/Shutterstock

Thomas Ramsauer/Shutterstock

If one is pressed to describe what makes a tree a tree, long life is right up there with wood and height. While many plants have a predictably limited life span (what scientists call “programmed senescence”), trees don’t, and many persist for centuries. In fact, that trait — indefinite growth — could be science’s tidiest demarcation of treeness, even more than woodiness. Yet it’s only helpful to a point. We think we know what trees are, but they slip through the fingers when we try to define them.

Trees don’t cluster into one clear group: They emerge in multiple lineages and have adopted multiple strategies to become what they are. Take longevity. A classic example of the Methuselah-ness of trees is the current record-holder, a 5,067-year-old great bristlecone pine that grows high in the White Mountains of California. (That tree was almost 500 years old when the first pyramids were built in Egypt.) Scientists speculate that the hardy bristlecones owe their endurance largely to location: They avoid fires that sweep through lower elevations and pests that can’t stomach the harsh terrain of the subalpine zone. The giant sequoias, a short way down the mountains from the bristlecones, take an entirely different longevity tack. These beasts — their trunks can be more than 30 feet across — live thousands of years, fighting fire and pestilence with thick, resistant bark and plentiful in-house repellent compounds.

Some 400 miles to the east, a spindly wisp of a tree has both the bristlecones and the sequoias beat when it comes to lifespan — through another strategy altogether. The quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) — a tree you can wrap your arms around that rarely grows taller than 50 feet — excels at sending up new shoots from its base. This results in giant stands of “trees” that are, in fact, one genetic individual connected beneath the ground. A Utah colony of quaking aspen is estimated to be 80,000 years old. Neanderthals were around back then.

Speaking of Neanderthals, what makes a human?

Jennifer-Anne Pascoe: The World's Largest High Arctic Lake Changes

Folio:

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A 1 C increase in temperature has set off a chain of events disrupting the entire ecology of the world’s largest High Arctic lake. “The amount of glacial meltwater going into the lake has dramatically increased,” said Martin Sharp, a University of Alberta glaciologist who was part of a team of scientists that documented the rapid changes in Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island over a series of warm summers in the last decade.

“Because it’s glacial meltwater, the amount of fine sediment going into the lake has dramatically increased as well. That in turn affects how much light can get into the water column, which may affect biological productivity in the lake.”

The changes resulted in algal blooms and detrimental changes to the Arctic char fish population, and point to a near certain future of summer ice-free conditions.