Thursday, April 16, 2009
This is GSA's first full time scale revision in 25 years. The new revision did not await final resolution and international consensus. Debate continues among researches within the International Commission on Statigraphy, an international body meant to gain international time scale uniformity. The GSA chart anticipates changes likely to come as this debate settles.
According to GSA...
"Some aspects of the GSA Geologic Time Scale do not conform to the recommendations of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The names “Tertiary” and “Pre-cambrian” were not dropped on the new time scale. The Quaternary, the status and boundaries of which are still being debated, was modified to reflect some of the pending recommendations. These differences were retained to best reflect the needs of GSA members and Divisions."
Principal among important changes; The Pleistocene Epoch now begins at 2.6 million years ago. That's 0.8 million years earlier than before. The start of the Pleistocene Epoch marks the time when significant climate cooling resulted in significant changes in the fossil record (among other changes).
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics advocates sustainable outdoor recreation practiced using methods which greatly reduce visitor impacts to natural areas. The organization's mission is tightly focused on development and promotion of trainings and activities supporting outdoor ethics and skills through ascending scales of involvement. They have built an army of trainers and that army is on the march.
Outdoor ethics and skills, the road show...
A gathering of outdoor educators...
Outdoor Educators from four neighboring states representing diverse groups ranging from the Wilderness Education Association (WEA) to The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) gathered at BSA's beautiful Camp Lazarus near Delaware, Ohio to conference and catch-up on the latest advances and worldwide news about Leave No Trace progress and recent efforts, April 3-5, 2009. The conference was gathered and organized by Ohio's Leave No Trace State Advocate, Don Nash, of University Heights (Cleveland), and hosted by BSA's Simon Kenton Council Conservation Committee led by Chairperson and event co-organizer, Jackie Bain (your blogger's amazing wife) of Delaware County.
Leave No Trace programs support science-guided training...
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics gathers and guides resources; financial contributions, patron and partnership support, membership support, volunteer efforts, and professional and academic work product to support growing worldwide trainings offered by volunteers and professionals. Trainings are guided by ongoing academic research into reducing user impacts in our great outdoors while promoting outdoor recreation and values.
The "authority of the resource" sets Leave No Trace guidance apart from many environmental action groups and movements offering guidance based on less reliable philosophies. Researchers, led by recreation ecologists, bring research results to educators and work with educators to interpret and to translate findings into activity-based trainings. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics supports extraordinary integrative collaboration.
The integration of professional science and professional education with citizen science and citizen educators to influence widespread cultural practices in outdoors settings is a unique approach and a potent brew for stemming the upset caused by repeated misuse of our recreational environments.
The Subaru Traveling Trainers Team joined the gathering, too. JD Tanner and Emily Ressler, professional trainers, travel throughout North America (eastern mostly, this is their third year on the road) delivering trainings and building ethics and skills among school children and adults alike.
A little history...
Early efforts to reduce human impacts centered on big obvious (often roadside) insults like accidental fire and purposeful littering. These earliest efforts to influence human impacts on public wild lands focused on narrowly defined challenges using 'poster-child' images, mascots, or caricatures and slogans. These familiar early caricatures are iconic today, and still in use.
The early appeals tweaked emotions, particularly among youth. This 'warm--fuzzy' model was first introduced broadly by the USDA Forest Service with the adoption of their cuddly little mascot, "Smokey Bear" during 1944. Today's experienced outdoor educators grew up with a young Smokey Bear and his old slogan,
"ONLY YOU can prevent forest fires."
Today, Smokey Bear is middle-aged and his deep gravelly voice-over is provided by a popular screen actor. His 21st Century slogan is worded a little differently for a new generation of forest managers who regularly use fire as an important natural area management tool. Beginning in April of 2002 Smokey's slogan became:
Another early mascot (1970's) addressed litter through our mythical wise owl, Woodsy,
Woodsy Owl has enjoyed a make-over, too. He has a new look and a new broader slogan,
Our expanding transportation system during the 50's and 60's, culminating in the completion of the Interstate Highway System, brought the wilderness into reach for many families, hunters and fishermen, and adventurous youth. Old style high-impact camping approaches entered our remote wild lands along with proliferating new cars, trailers, and sundry accouterments supporting a gasoline-powered onslaught of impacts. New environmental impacts followed...
Slogans and images meant to reduce litter and other impacts proliferated and were posted throughout public areas ("Take only pictures--leave only footprints."). Federal land-holding agencies during the 60's--90's increasingly worked together to unify efforts.
A new era of cooperation and effectiveness began with the new century and with the Leave No Trace organization.
A new message and a new method for a new era...
Today's Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an independent non-profit organization, a direct descendant of the earlier multiple-agency efforts to reduce abuses in the backcountry and wilderness. And, it's a hybrid. A new partner, The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) brought new leadership and professional educators to the problem of impacts during the 1990's and developed comprehensive skills-based approaches which informed inter-agency task forces searching for solutions.
Today, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is fully independent of federal agencies (no government funding) and reaches further and deeper into our recreation practices than all earlier approaches to managing human impacts in natural settings.
An army of educators...
The Leave No Trace training effort is reducing impacts from millions of visit-days in public outdoor settings, particularly in backcounrty and wilderness areas. Volunteer and professional educators take the message to outdoor enthusiasts through a network of state advocates coordinating trainer-trainers known as LNT Master Educators. Master Educators train Leave No Trace Trainers. Leave No Trace Trainers offer public meeting presentations, awareness workshops, youth group programs, school programs, and mentoring.
Leave No Trace programs for frontcountry...
Frontcountry programs developed by Leave No Trace are all about Conservation of Recreation Spaces. Our roadside parks and other public areas are developed and hardened with roadways, manicured trails, toilet facilities, and turf so these frequently visited areas can sustain high traffic while remaining natural. Even so, the user impacts to frontcountry public areas are often serious. Frontcountry outdoor recreation spaces are the best places to introduce concepts for reducing impacts everywhere.
Outdoor ethics in practice...
Your blogger held the after lunch agenda block so we offered a walk-and-talk to explore for user impacts and to discuss possible training approaches to reduce impacts. Along the way we introduced and practiced a 'recognition model' guided walk aimed at helping hikers learn and practice Leave No Trace skills in our frontcountry camp setting. We gathered outside the camp dining hall where we discussed the Three R's of the recognition model, Remind, Recognize, Recommend. The recognition model is not an LNT-developed approach (though there are many similarities), rather it stems from a body of literature guiding skills-based training (coaching models) used in industrial settings.
Remind frontcountry (or wilderness) users of their immediate opportunities to reduce impacts...
We began by reminding hikers of immediate opportunities to practice simple skills leading to reduced impacts on the frontcountry camp, such as stepping on durable surfaces, (remind is not the same as correct--reminders are opportunities reviewed before the action, not unwelcome corrections along the way).
We invited everyone to talk about what LNT skills "look like" when practiced. For example, stepping in the muddy trail-center to avoid stepping off trail--a high impact practice that leads to trail spread--you know--when the trail loops wider and wider to each side as the center mud puddle grows). Building outdoor ethics requires introducing principles, then reinforcing them through practice. Acknowledging and talking about specific skills during training sessions is a great way to develop and reinforce outdoor skills along the way.
Next, hikers paired-up to offer casual recognition to one another when seeing ongoing skills practiced during the hike. While we talked, before departure, we passed around a box of ziplock bags to help carry out any litter we might find along the way--a great reminder to pick up litter!
Recognize frontcountry (or wilderness) users practicing skills along the trail and in camp...
While we hiked around camp to study the cumulative impacts of 86 years of very heavy use by youth and adults recreating in the great outdoors, we talked about the challenge of bringing lots of traffic into the natural setting of a nature-based camp without losing the nature in the natural setting. Conversation about "durable surfaces" and other concepts was interrupted (by design) by frequent individual and group recognitions,
The group quickly recognized the power of simple acknowledgment, a casual,
The phrase, "Thank you" and other simple acknowledgments are powerful tools for reinforcing simple skills used along the trail.
We found the camp well designed with durable but permeable roads and trails, copious turf for running and playing and team sports, and plenty of well preserved natural landscapes inter-fingering along forested drains, bringing nature close in. We found 'hardened' surfaces designed to sustain traffic, and we found compacted surfaces in need of recovery. Most of the impacts observed centered on camper compliance with required camp methods such as proper ash disposal, avoiding casual trail development, and migrating campfire rings. These common camp problems are solvable through developing outdoor ethics and skills!
Recommend ideas to frontcountry users to help them plan ahead and prepare...
Recommend frontcountry (or wilderness) visit dates, route ideas, and equipment suggestions to aid users in their planning and preparations for their future visits: And, recommend frontcountry park and camp maintenance and management needs to assist camp and park professionals (for example; a brush pile to block a feeder trail to an informal social trail network forming on a steep shale slope).
Discussing "lessons learned" captures important ideas for preparing for future visits. When we ask outdoor users to use reduced impact approaches, and they try, they discover roadblocks. Recommendations can help remove personal roadblocks and make frontcountry areas more user-friendly for reduced impacts.
One great example of a personal recommendation from our hike was trying-out rubber-bottom boots. Rubber-bottom type boots or trail shoes keep your feet dry when you step through trail-puddles.
The popularity of expensive designer sneakers and hiking shoes is one important cause of increased trail-widening and new trail short-cuts in my opinion. Hikers wearing clean expensive designer sneakers or sophisticated trail shoes usually go to great effort (way off trail) to keep their expensive shoes clean and dry--their shoes are part of their 'look', on trail and off. They need to keep them clean for the restaurant they will visit later in the evening. Rubber-bottom boots or shoes stay on trail--mud is no problem. I just hose-off my rubber-bottom boots when I get home.
Venerable outdoor supplier, L.L.Bean Inc., is a 2009 Special Projects Partner and longtime supporter of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Partnerships between outdoor gear suppliers and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics are vital for continued success.
Next we returned to the dining hall for more great programming and networking to conclude a successful summit of outdoor educators.
About forty-five people participated in the conference, odds are we'll do it again next year for even more LNT advocates!
The LNT message is summarized in Seven Principles:
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
See my post from May 5, 2008 for more about Leave No Trace and a Leave No Trace Master Educator Course.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
These gentle giants barely ripple the surface of warm water rivers and springs they visit during wintertime.
Native oak scrub (at right), one of the most endangered habitats in Florida, supports more endemic species than any other. Citrus at left. We are looking down slope from the crest of the Lake Wales Ridge toward Archibold Biological Research Station, near Avon Lake, central Florida.
So many families thread connections to Florida from around the United States and Canada, the place has become a central element in the tapestry of the American experience. Aged generations move there for warm retirement, younger generations follow for fun and sun. Native flora and fauna move aside or integrate along the margins of human habitats.
Many families; Snowbirds and vacation visitors, know Florida only marginally; the beaches, the roadsides, the social environments and cultural attractions. My family is firmly threaded in this tapestry, but I was fortunate to have been introduced to the depths of the Florida experience; the plants, the birds, the mammals, the geology and fossils, and a little history. My grandfather and father reached into the sands, the skies, and the waters of Florida. I have followed them. Florida is a remarkable place, the more so beyond the margins.
My connections with Florida began during my teen years visiting grandparents wintering in Daytona. My father followed them, building and retiring in Sebring, Florida. I have followed for family and natural history visits, but I will not pursue retirement there where there is now too little room for me with surviving native species. I will visit again and again with my son and I hope he will know, appreciate, and help to protect natural Florida.
Tom Bain Jr. was born into that muscular post-war generation that wrestled abundant living from global tensions and globalizing prosperity. Dad rounded his life by helping to build scores of homes in central Florida, working with the generous folks of Habitat for Humanity, Highlands County, Florida. Dad, full of years--full of experience, slipped the surly bonds of Earth March 8, 2009.
Contributions in Dad's name to Habitat for Humanity are greatly appreciated by the Bain family and by many deserving Florida families helping to build their own futures.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
We find local "trail trees" among the mix of tree damage types in a wind-shear zone...
We made another visit to Bent Tree Trail, Amy Clark/Bader Bird Sanctuary, Preservation Parks of Delaware County, to chase birds, check for signs of Spring, and ponder the bemusing shapes of the many damaged trees found along the trail.
We brought along our camera to shoot a sequence illustrating natural development of contorted trees into shapes known as "trail trees."
A living small branch of the pinned tree re-oriented and grew toward the sunlight, against gravity, and shot upward with vigorous growth during one growing season. Growth inhibitors manufactured by canopy leaves had suppressing growth of low branches like this one until the crown was pushed down, away from sunlight. The new growth is now the dominate growth. The pinned crown has withered and is dying.
A nearby tree exhibits a later stage along the development path our pinned tree will likely follow as it survives future decades. This tree was pinned, I'm guessing, twenty years ago. A small branch originally well below the crown became its new dominate growth (apical dominance) as it recovered from the insult. The original crown, and the segment of tree trunk feeding the original crown, are now gone. A naval scar (ring-scar) is all that remains of the withered trunk and crown.
Stage three continued...
My lovely field assistant brightens the forest with her smile as she stands in for scale (my wife, Jackie). Maybe I'd better say that I'm HER field assistant...
Folklore suggests that Native Americans made "trail trees" (A.K.A. "signal trees," "warning trees," "compass trees," "boundary trees," and so on...) by tying down saplings so they would survive to grow pointing in the direction of a trail or toward an important resource, a spring or a landing for a portage trail, and so on.
Some enthusiasts suggest Native Americans had a secret method of creating the cubby-hole (the ring-scar seen in the photograph above) by inserting a piece of charcoal or some secret concoction that made the tree grow a hollow they would latter use to leave secret totems, messages, and the like. This young tree made its own cubby-hole without assistance from humans (unless some secret practitioner of the lost art of cubby-hole creation still prowls our forests--anything is possible).
Another nearby tree exhibits a much later stage along the development path our pinned tree will likely follow, if it survives many future decades. This old survivor is much too young to have been the project of a Native American trail-blazer. It too is a product of wind damage. Nevertheless, it illustrates the potential for survival after violent paroxysms mangle trees, whatever the origin of the damage. The open trunk of this tree suggests it may not survive another decade or two, but who knows.
Countless examples of all stages of "trail tree" development are scattered throughout our Eastern Deciduous Forest. I've seen hundreds of examples at all stages of development, far prettier than those pictured above (I'm going to have to start carrying a camera all the time). Some "trail trees" are so perfectly formed, they seem to approach artistic expression. At first, it seems these beautiful trees must surely result from intervention by human beings.
Through time, and broadening experience, I've encountered many trees exhibiting a complete continuum of development of these contorted shapes, all randomly distributed throughout the forests I've visited--though more frequently found in recurrent windfall areas such as wind-shear zones or along steep slopes with loose eroding soil. Nature makes "trail trees." You may label me skeptical, but my skepticism results from thousands of hours of work and recreation in our forests while pursuing professional and avocational projects.
The folklore of "trail trees" is fun, and it's very understandable. Check-out the many Internet sites offering pictures of these beautiful and bemusing trees. Large trees are inspiring regardless of personal beliefs.
Checking-out the natural mechanisms creating such beautiful mysteries is even more fun. Nature does not need our help to create beautiful mysteries.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Asteroid 2009 DD45 unexpectedly whizzed close by Earth a couple of days ago, giving just a couple of days warning. Closest approach came less than five Earth diameters away. The lump of rock was between 19 and 43 meters across--more than big enough to equal the Tunguska Event, a massive air blast over Siberia which leveled 800 square miles of ancient Siberian forest in 1908. Most investigators think the Tunguska Event resulted from the explosion of a similar size asteroid as it entered the atmosphere.
Today, the impact of an asteroid of this size would result in human and economic, and natural catastrophe, wherever it occurred, whether or not we saw it coming.
The time scale of human life, even that of human civilization, is small compared to the frequency of catastrophic impacts of all sorts, both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. The geological record is punctuated by countless catastrophes.
Even as we reflect on the occasions of the 200 year anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and the 150 year anniversary of the publishing of his On the Origin of Species; do we fail to fully encompass the stochastic nature of change that resulted in today's diversity and distribution of life?
Charles Lyell, geologist, proponent of "uniformitarianism," published his influential three volume Principles of Geology in 1830-1833. He gave Darwin deep time in which to operate his slow agents of change. And, he gave us all the next best thing to no change at all--gradualism, slow change we can live with comfortably.
If our lives spanned millennia rather than decades, maybe we'd have a better grasp of the importance of the sudden hiccups that shake things up and change outcomes globally. Maybe then we would encompass the meteoric speed of change Homo sapiens has brought, and the Earth-changing impact of that collision.
Asteroid 2009 DD45 details can be found at Tom's Asteroid Flybys Webpage.
See goodSchist for a discussion of asteroids and cosmic precursors for life: Cerces, Dawn and (no) Panspermia.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Record low temperature did not dissuade hardy birds or the hard-core birders determined to discover them at The Wilds. About one-hundred and fifteen birders gathered with all manner of winged-things wild and free for the Ohio Ornithological Society's (OOS) 4th annual winter raptor rendezvous at The Wilds, January 17.
Bulky-bundled birders exhaled swirling breath-clouds into piercing sub-zero air while gathering in The Wilds' visitor's center parking lot to organize eight field teams early in the morning (my vehicle thermometer dropped to 12 below zero Fahrenheit while passing through low hollows among surrounding hills).
Birding teams were dispatched in rotation through eight breezy observation areas by OOS organizers Marc Nolls and Cheryl Harner to ensure good habitat coverage and good birding. Teams canvassed grassy reclaimed hills and swales searching high and low for winged-things wild and free. Raptors were abundant and birders were not disappointed.
Here, at The Wilds, over ten thousand acres of rolling grasslands and shrub-steppe habitat interrupt and diversify the steeply divided deciduous hillsides of eastern Ohio's Allegheny Plateau. Here, open-country birds of the northland find new winter habitat where forests once dominated.
Ninety-percent of the acreage at The Wilds has been surfaced mined for the bituminous coal that powered economic growth during the Baby-boomer heyday in the Midwest. Award-winning reclamation, and partnerships between AEP, The Wilds, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, inspired by a new era of reclamation legislation in Ohio, resurrected this wild area from a post-mining spoil wasteland to its youthful steppe ecosystem friendly for vertebrates, wild and semi-wild. Today, The Wilds is home to conservation science and research and home to some 29 species of rare mammals from around the world, some no longer found in the wild. The Wilds is a giant research zoo; and, The Wilds is a winter raptor magnet!
Some of the raptors and other birds my group enjoyed seeing:
Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl. Other groups spotted a Merlin, too. Snow Buntings made an appearance. A number of waterfowl kept a small spot of water open below the visitor's center. Among them were Tundra Swan, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Hooded Merganser, and Lesser Scaup.
This event was organized and staffed by generous volunteers with the Ohio Ornithological Society.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
The 'clincher' fieldmark is found just in front of the eye: The 'lores', between eye and bill is dark, continuing the strong eye-line evident behind the eye. This one fieldmark separates the Chipping Sparrow in winter from other similar species.
Chipping Sparrows are familiar springtime and summertime birds of lawn and garden, park lands and cemeteries, throughout Ohio. Their cheery trill announces their spring return with the emergence of showy wildflowers in April. Chippers are likely to nest in your yard and mine annually. With the advancing season their strong migratory impulse compels them to move well south of Ohio, most leaving by late October. Very few linger into December. January records are accidental to casual in Ohio. Warming climate and the proliferation of feeding stations are two possible reasons more and more Chipping Sparrows are reported each winter in Ohio and other northern states.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Conversion of North American ecosystems to support agriculture and development continues today, though our values and our challenges have changed. Today, we seek to preserve and recover remnants of the wilderness and the wildlife now mostly gone while attempting to sustain continued economic growth--the present economic "correction" notwithstanding.
Our pioneer ancestors faced challenges that we can't appreciate, today. Biological abundance was a fact of wild America. Spectacular wildlife populations and vast forests assured a prevailing mythology of inexhaustible abundance. Frequent depredations brought on by overwhelming hordes of gray squirrels or Passenger Pigeons, and some large carnivores, particularly wolves, to row-crops, orchards, and livestock excused excesses; regular slaughters ensued.
The mast forests of eastern North America; our abundant oaks, hickories, chestnuts (formerly abundant), and beech supported huge populations of squirrels and giant flocks of Passenger Pigeons, long ago. White-tailed deer and Wild Turkeys, Ruffed Grouse and Rusty Blackbirds consummed abundant mast, too. Mast trees, particularly the oaks, produced massive crops some years followed by small crops other years, regionally. This boom and bust crop was critical for vertebrate wildlife, and caused population growth, declines, and migrations on a grand scale.
Synchronized masting over large areas ensured superabundant crops would overwhelm ravenous wildlife populations so future forests could seed from mast left behind. Abundant years were followed by years offering hardly any mast. These sometimes unpredictable and irregular masting cycles challenged squirrels, intractably bound to the earth and trees by gravity. Passenger Pigeons, on the other hand, enjoyed the freedom of flight. Massive pigeon flocks simply flew away from barren areas to discover abundant crops elsewhere. When pigeons found a heavy mast, they descended like a "plague of locusts" and devoured it in a "biological storm" of foraging.
This combination of cyclical synchronized masts and random "biological storms" occasionally left squirrels with empty cupboards, empty stomachs, and an itch to flee to abundance elsewhere: The great squirrel migrations followed. As settlement spread, squirrels were pressed further, and the inevitable intersection with human agriculture followed by crop depredations made these migrations "plagues" in the view of settlers.
Local pioneers gathered seasonally for spirited competitions to see which 'side' could kill the most squirrels, pigeons, deer, rattle snakes, or a mixed-bag. The objective of these 'side-hunts' often centered on a local scourge, frequently superabundant squirrels, and anything else passing in front of their gun sights.
Frontier hunts were important social gatherings where men exhibited their hunting prowess, and women and families sometimes gathered to barbecue the bag, put-up food, and consider future pairings. The results of frontier side-hunts occasionally made newsprint, if first-hand reports made their way to distant printers.
An 1801 'side-hunt' for squirrels, near Lexington, Kentucky, was reported in an early regional paper printed in Chillicothe, Ohio:
Scioto Gazette vol.II No.58 Thursday, May 28 1801.
"On the 8th inft. the citizens of the
counties of Mercer and Lincoln, had
a hunting match, for a barbacue. The
match was to have been 25 hunters on
each fide, but only about 20 on a fide
met ; in the courfe of the day, they kil
led 5,442 fquirrels, and bets were offered
that the fame company could kill double
that number the day following. We have
the above information from one of the