A Real Resolution For the New Year – Reduce Your FootPrint

Earth-Recycle-concept-smallEvery year people around the world make dozens of promises, often with the best of intentions in mind, only to break them less than six weeks later as the reality of crazy work schedules, children’s extracurricular activities, cranky spouses and the inedible easiness of fast food all begin to take their toll on our lives.  These promises, that we all know as “New Years Resolutions” are so likely to be broken that there have even been studies commissioned to be done regarding how long they actually last!

vector-recycling-frog-prev-by-dragonartOkay so maybe a third of us will break our promises to ourselves about finally turning the garage into a cabana, or toning our muffin top into abs of steel. But there is a resolution we should keep, one that isn’t just a promise to ourselves. This year I made a decision, along with my family to reduce our household footprint, in a promise not to us, but to Mother Nature and to future generations of our family and yours; Because we want to the planet to still be a nice place to be 25, 50, even 100 years from now.

In our family 13 is a lucky number. So we are making 2013 our year to make some real2013 b changes in the way we do things, and you can too. Hopefully these changes will inspire those around us to make some changes in their lifestyles as well. You can join us in making these changes for a healthier, happier planet in 2013 and if you have suggestions for eco-friendly changes or want to share your resolution story, I’d love to hear it in the comments section!

For my family, the decision to reduce our household’s footprint was a gradual one. We were already recycling , using reusable bags, making less trips with our car and using a water filter rather than buying bottled water. But it was my son who pointed out one day that despite these actions, we still had as much garbage on trash day as most other people on the block. That thought really bothered me. Now maybe I am a little hypersensitive…after all I am an ecologist, and a conservation-ecologist at that, but I think this went deeper than that. More than just being a good steward for the planet by ecomanbeing eco-conscious, I really wanted my kids to develop an understanding, a sort of compassion for the planet they were living on, that would compel them to make certain types of decisions. I wanted them to have the mindset that would assume that living this way was the norm’.

It will take adjusting too, for all of us, as even I slip up now and then! But the great thing is that we are committed as a family to making positive change for our future, the planets, and for yours too.

So here are some tips and ideas to help you create a resolution for reducing your family’s footprint of your own, broken down by type of material. Remember that there is so much more than just recycling! I have included links to helpful sites where you can find additional information. Happy New Year!

Ways to Reduce Your Footprint
Use a Clothesline

Give your dryer a rest and take advantage of some solar power. Invest in a clotheslineMEN-JJ09-clothesline1 and you will not only be reducing your footprint, you will be reducing your electric bill too and not just a little bit. I checked around and according to multiple sources you could end up saving anywhere from $100-$250, and who couldn’t use a couple hundred extra dollars in their pocket right?

Reduce Packaging

When grocery shopping look for items with the least amount of packaging. For most of the foods we buy this can be difficult because it seems that everything is heavily packaged, but that it should do is make you think long and hard about what you are putting in your mouth day after day. I have found that if you stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket you get much less packaging. You can certainly skip the frozen pizzas, Hot Pockets and individually wrapped packs of snack crackers and survive. This also means buying fresh fruit and veggies rather than ones that have been prepackaged. Sure those ones in the package may look prettier, but they have also been treated with chemicals* to make them look that way. You also end up with all that packaging (mostly plastic) that usually ends up in a landfill. Some stores are beginning to embrace the idea of consumers wanting to reduce the amount of packaging and offering certain items in BYOC quantities – that’s Bring-your-own-Reusable bagscontainers for those of you new to this! In Athens where I shop, Earth Fare does a great job of this, allowing customers to purchase nuts, cereals and other dry goods in BYOC quantities. Athens Store Manager Kristi Ludlow told me they also provide boxes and paper bags to customers who do not have reusable grocery bags. Oh and those cups, plates and flatware you get at their salad bar and cafe…those are all biodegradable which makes the prices you pay for the food seem much more reasonable! I’m also a fan of Trader Joes although they readily admit they aren’t as eco-friendly yet as they’d like to be. They do provide reusable bags and paper bags but haven’t gotten into the BYOC business yet. One good thing about them that you may not know though, is that they take all kinds of recyclables. When I spoke with Josh over at the Athens location he said that the store will take cardboard, plastic bags, glass, bottles and cans and recycle them for you! That’s a convenient service for people who don’t have it offered to them by their trash service, or who can’t afford it. Of course packaging isn’t limited to just food of course. You should keep the goal of less packaging in mind for whatever you shop for. For example, at Pet Supplies Plus you can buy cat litter in BYOC quantities, paying by the pound, and often you can purchase items you use frequently in refill packs which keeps you from continuously buying the same plastic container over and over again. The best thing to do is to take an inventory of your shopping list and see where you can make changes. Most people don’t realize how easy it is until they actually look because we are creatures of habit. Chances are there will be plenty of opportunities once you take a closer look. Let me know what you find!

No Mail List

Most of the people I know have given up their home phone line, making the “No Call List” that we all wanted to be on 5-10 years ago pretty obsolete. Maybe you remember it, maybe you don’t, but essentially it was a list you had to jump through a couple of hoops in order to get registered for, and it was supposed to ensure that telemarketers couldn’t call and interrupt your dinner, Sunday football game, or any other time. It worked well most of the time. Now that everyone has cell phones this isn’t really an issue and the thing you want to be on now is the “No Mail” list which essentially is a way to opt-out of junk mail. Think it can’t be done? Think again! There was a great article written about it on MSNBC.com that tells you exactly how to reduce the amount of Val-pak coupons, catalogs and pre-approved credit card offers currently filling up your mailbox and by proxy our landfills. I am now in the process of getting my family members on this list and so far it seems simple enough. If you have experiences with this I’d love to hear about them!

The Freecycle Network

If you are like most of the rest of the world then you have probably accumulated a fairfreecycle_logo amount of stuff that you really don’t have any idea what to do with. You don’t really want to throw it out, but you don’t feel like going to the trouble of organizing a yard sale. I hear you…and many times most of this “stuff” ends up in boxes in our attics, garages and closets or storage sheds for years. Well there is an answer, and it doesn’t require that much work. The Freecycle Network  is made up of 5,082 groups with 9,267,398 members around the world. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Sounds pretty awesome to me, and I am now in the process of getting rid of a roomful of good stuff that my family no longer needs but that will certainly be of use to somebody else!

Did You Know You Could Recycle That?

So now we are down to recycling, which I’m sure most of you do anyway but just in case you need a little refresher, here are some tips listed by type of material.

Cardboard

cardboard boxesWe don’t get much large cardboard at our house but when we do I try to think first of ways I can reuse it before I try to recycle it. It seems there is always a need for shoe boxes in my house (kid’s school projects), not to mention with three kids we go through clothes and toys, so it seems I am always boxing things up for either GoodWill, a yard-sale or relatives with kids. We also use cardboard in the winter as fire fodder along with twigs from the yard. As long as there is no heavy ink or plastic tape on the box it will burn good and not put out stinky fumes. Now when it comes to smaller cardboard (think packaging like cereal boxes), we end up with a good bit seeing as there are three children in my house, two of them growing boys. So if I do need to recycle the item I have to be resourceful since my trash service doesn’t recycle cardboard at all (Booo Robertson Sanitation!!!) If you want to recycle your cardboard you can call your local department of sanitation and they can generally tell you where you can take it. You can also take it to Trader Joes (see Ways to Reduce Your Footprint section above)  or simply go looking for those red and green dumpsters that are specifically for cardboard.

Plastic

It seems nowadays that everything is either made out of plastic, or comes wrapped in plastic. In fact if you were to take stock of just how many household items you use every day that are made of plastic, you would be shocked to learn that we, as a speciesrecycle 2 simply can’t get by in this modern world without those 75-90% of things made of plastic; Or at least we would find it rather difficult. Think I’m kidding…consider a typical day where you wake up, brush your teeth (plastic toothbrush and the toothpaste is also in a plastic container), wash your face (the exfoliating wash is also in a plastic tube), and brush your hair (again plastic comb or brush unless you have a wooden one). You head downstairs for your morning coffee which is brewing in your plastic coffeemaker, all the while contemplating which outfit you should wear to the office. You mentally peruse the contents of your closet, where your clothes are arranged by color on plastic hangers. While sipping your coffee from a plastic Go-mug you prepare your lunch to take with you since you are all about saving money, wrapping your sandwich (the bread was in a plastic bag and so was the salami) in plastic wrap before putting it into a plastic cooler-pak lunchbox. You get dressed and refill your coffee and head off to work flipping off the plastic light switches as you leave your home  unaware of just how  much plastic you actually use every single day.

Sound familiar?  Well the good thing is, is that most plastics can be recycled and turned into new plastics. So while I try not to purchase a ton of new ones, at least I know that the ones I do purchase, will be recycled. When I do have to buy plastic, I also look for items that are already made of post-consumer materials, meaning it has already been recycled once.  You can reduce your use of plastics too by cutting back on packaging (mentioned previously). Plastics are also classified by a number system that is stamped on the bottom of whatever container you are purchasing. Your trash service may only take certain numbers, the kind usually found on plastic bottles. But if hpLOGOyou call your local department of sanitation or visit the Keep America Beautiful website you can probably find out if there are local chapters near you that take other kinds of plastics. We have a local chapter that goes by the name of Keep Athens Clarke County Beautiful that will pretty much take anything. One tip – prescription bottles – Since I have a large family we have a few of these and since they are plastic I want to recycle them but I recommend removing the labels  first to protect your family’s privacy.

Glass

In my community glass seems to be experiencing a comeback and what I mean by that  is that rather than use plastic many people have made the switch back to glass recognizing the ecological benefits of using something that will last longer and that bottlegroupdoesn’t harm the environment in its creation. And many companies are catching on, putting their products in glass rather than plastic containers. In my house we stopped using plastic cups. Not that we got rid of the ones we had, we just made a decision not to purchase any new ones. We also made the decision however not to purchase any more glasses either. This is because we reuse glassware from products such as salad dressing and syrup -which are the perfect size for drinking glasses or vases for flowers. So maybe we don’t have fancy dinnerware but we are reducing our footprint by reusing glassware and recycling other glass rather than creating demand for new glass or plastic.

Food Waste

To me this seems like a no-brainer, or it did until I started doing the research. Then I was shocked at what I found. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Loss Project, we throw away more than 25 percent—some 25.9 million tons of food EACH YEAR. And to think there are people, children even who go hungry every day.  So what to do with the food we don’t eat? Well for starters I would say to anybody that has large amounts of left overs that they don’t eat, cook less…or take meals to a compostshelter. However if you only have a little left here and there like we do, or if you are wondering what to do with the organic waste like orange peels, egg shells, etc, then keep reading. Composting is the easiest thing in the world to do and yet people don’t do it because they assume it is messy, stinky or that it will attract bugs and vermin to their home. Wrong. All you need are the proper tools. There are several sites you can visit to get information including the Environmental Protection Agency or the  Keep America Beautiful website  or even the Sierra Club which has a video you can watch to find out how to get started. You essentially need a container preferably with an airtight lid where you can keep the waste temporarily (we compost most food waste except for meat) and when the container is full we empty it out in a designated area in the back of the yard where we also put our leaves and grass trimmings. This pile needs to get sunlight and moisture in order to break down or decompose properly. We “turn” this pile over a few times a year using rakes and pitchforks and as it degrades it becomes the richest mulch which we then use on our garden.

Paper

You would think that of all the things we could recycle and cut back on our use of, this would be the easiest but as my family has been attempting to make changes this has been a toughie for us. Paper is everywhere! It comes in the mailbox, in the kids folders, as flyers stuck on my car, in memos at the office, etc. I stopped printing things a long time ago and pretty much never use our printer or any other for that matter unless absolutely necessary. I try to do as much as I can electronically in order to papersave paper. I have even made an impact on my kids apparently as they even use much less toilet paper these days, my five-year-old telling me that to use more would be killing trees…(she’s a cute little tree-hugger). Thankfully most offices and schools will recycle paper, just make sure that they take more than just white copy paper. In order to make the most out the paper that comes home with your kids – you can first write a note to your children’s teacher requesting that they only send home what is absolutely necessary, and this works some of the time. What still comes home you can either let them use as drawing paper or cut it into squares and use it as notepad/scratch paper. We don’t use paper napkins or paper towels anymore, favoring cloth napkins and dish towels instead. And if we do have to buy paper products we buy those that have already been recycled.

Magazines/Mailers

I mentioned before about how to get on the No Mail list which will help to eliminate unwanted mailers and junk mail from your mailbox. But what about magazines that you subscribe too? I often donate mine to schools for art projects, and when even they won’t take them, there is a magazine recycling dumpster here in town where I can drop mine off. If you are not sure about where to take yours visit the Keep America Beautiful website to find a location near you. Other things you can do with magazines – art projects with kids – mine use them for collages, and to decorate boxes for presents. We also use them to work on reading and vocabulary skills by playing word find games, where each player is given a category and has to find words (that get progressively harder) in that category and cut them out. Then at the end they use the words they cut out to tell a story to the rest of the group. It’s usually a lot of fun but works best if you have multiple skill levels.

Cans (Aluminum)

Most recycling plans that are offered through trash services will collect these so these really aren’t a problem for most people. In my house we have just tried to reduce the amount, hopefully eventually to zero. Especially since there is no real need to drink anything in a can these days.

Cans (Tin)

These are the hard ones to recycle and are not included in most trash service plans. You can reduce the amount you use by switching to fresh veggies over canned, andimages making soups from scratch. But if you do end up with these cans your best bet is to either contact your local department of sanitation or visit the Keep America Beautiful Website. 

Okay – so that’s all I have and I know it’s a lot. I hope it was useful and that you will contribute your own ideas so that the entire community can benefit. Thanks as always for reading and happy new year!

*Many fruits are sprayed with a lemon juice & chemical cocktail to keep them looking fresh unless they are certified organic. These chemicals have been linked to indigestion, diarrhea and stomach ulcers.

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The Conservation Conversation

Not long ago I was contacted by a representative of the U.S. Forest Service. She was looking for someone who would agree to come out to a conference for communications professionals within their agency that was to be held in Atlanta. Specifically she wanted someone to give a talk on the topic of social media.

That alone was flattering but even more so was that she had gotten my name from my longtime friend and mentor, Dr.Karen Russell, a public relations professor at the University of Georgia. It was while in Karen’s class that I started my first blog as a class assignment. She is also the teacher that honored me by telling her students years later that she considered me to be her first social media success story. I would return the compliment by saying I wouldn’t be where I am today without her guidance and I genuinely enjoy getting the opportunity to pay it forward, whether it is returning and speaking to her  current students, or speaking at conferences like the one today.

For the talk I gave today I had the “sleepy slot,” you know the one I mean if you have ever been to a conference or seminar…it’s the one right after lunch. Everybody has a great morning session, then they peel out for lunch and fill up on food and good company, maybe still talking about what they learned during the morning (which in this case was another great social media presentation by Jennifer Strickland from USFWS). By the time they reassemble for the afternoon speaker, eyelids are beginning to droop and once the lights are dimmed it seems so easy to allow yourself to “rest your eyes” just for a moment…and before you know it half the room is snoozing.

Therefore, if you are ever scheduled to be the afternoon speaker you know how important it is that you jump right in and get people interested right from the get go. Today I jumped right in with some fun facts and then showed the most recent version of Eric Qualman’s Socialnomics video which was released not long ago. Even if you have read his book or seen the video before, there is always something I realize I missed. I love showing that video and watching people’s faces as they react to some of the cool social media infographs that go zooming by. Inevitably there are gasps of surprise when they see that Facebook has now surpassed one billion members or that nearly half a billion tweets are processed each day on Twitter which has become such a popular tool particularly overseas, that people in Egypt and elsewhere in that region are naming their children after Facebook and Twitter.

However even more than than these, my favorite part of the video has to be the part about Wikipedia. Basically what the video says is that if Wikipedia were a book it would be 25 million pages long. To me that really sums up a lot about what social media and what the video refers to as the social revolution is all about…which is sharing.

A large part of the talk I gave today had to do with sharing; Why we feel compelled to share, the ways we share, and how sharing, if done strategically, can be a very effective communications tool. I explain that sharing is basically the same as storytelling, which is essentially human nature. Mankind has been telling stories since time began for all kinds of reasons. Maybe we aren’t telling stories to our kids about how to find food and shelter, or the best ways to outsmart a neighboring tribe as we don’t have to rely on stories for survival so much anymore. But isn’t recounting the mistakes you made when you got your first job, or what you said on your first date a lot like modern survival lessons? The group today really seemed to get where I was going with the storytelling analogy which I kind of expected seeing how they were all communications professionals of one kind or another that when it comes right down to it, get paid to relate stories to the public. Once they realized that a huge component of social media is simply sharing your story with others albeit in 140 characters or less in some cases, I saw people having light-bulb moments all over the room.

Michael Margolis

Having said this though I’ll admit that this isn’t the first time I have talked about sharing and then compared it to storytelling. A few years back when I first started doing work as a social media consultant, I was looking for some creative ways to teach content origination and I came across a talk that was being podcasted from the South by Southwest Conference. After I heard the podcast I immediately looked up the speaker’s blog and had my own light-bulb moment when I realized I had found what I was looking for. That great speaker, blogger and author was named Michael Margolis, and he does an amazing job of teaching people about telling stories and why they are such a critical component of effective communications. I would encourage anybody who works in communications, education or outreach to visit his website and check out his blog. 

After talking to the group about storytelling it was the perfect time to take a break and during that time I gave them a creative writing exercise to work on. When I was asked to give the talk I was told that most of the participants were slow in coming to social media tools like Twitter, YouTube or blogging platforms. So I tweaked my free association exercise, going outside the lines that I had created for the class I taught last semester. Rather than having to come up with an emergency management plan as my students did, the exercise was now about responding to various scenarios by creating campaigns using either Twitter, YouTube or a blog.

When we reconvened I had them discuss what they had come up with and I admit I was really impressed! There was a lot of creativity in that room and I think they liked being able to share with each other, the ideas they had come up with in only 20-30 minutes of brainstorming. Despite being new to social media they came up with incredibly innovative ideas for how they would solicit original content from the public, keep the public coming back to websites by adding count-down clocks, rotating user-submitted photos, as well as great #hashtags to make all of their ideas searchable. I think they liked the exercise for what they were able to learn from each other as much as they liked what I could tell them about doing the exercise. I love interactive activities and getting audience participation mainly because I am first and foremost a teacher and that is how I teach my students. But it is also just such a fun way to learn and considering that research shows that we retain more information when we don’t know we are being taught, it just makes sense to incorporate games and activities into my presentations.

After the activity I could tell that the creative juices were really flowing and the rest of the afternoon seemed to go by pretty quickly. I talked about Twitter, some basic terms and etiquette and then scratched the surface of blogging. I felt like I could have gone on but three hours of me was more than enough so I left them my card and a copy of the presentation and thanked them for having me.

I really enjoy getting to do these things because as anyone who has known me for even a while knows is that I don’t do consulting to make money, or make a name for myself. I do this because I want to leave the world a little better than I found it, and if I can do that by furthering the conservation of rare species and natural resources by teaching people how to share their stories via social media…then I have accomplished my goal.

They were a great group today, full of enthusiasm, questions and creativity. And to top it off as I was leaving they presented me with a certificate of appreciation! It is groups like these that remind me why I continue to blog, consult, and remain an active participant with the social media world.

Thanks to the entire group and in particular, Denise, Stephanie and Wendy who made sure I knew where I was supposed to go, what I needed to address and which topics to focus on!

And for those of you who might be looking for those Twitter Tips I went over? Click here Twitter Tips for a PDF version you can download.

 

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The Teacher Becomes the Student

This post was originally written in the spring of 2011 and for some reason never published. I am now sharing it with you.

For the last two semesters I have served however humbly as a lowly graduate assistant at the University of Georgia for the Biology Department. In this role I took on the responsibilities of being the sole lab teacher for six separate Intro to Biology Concepts classes; approximately 120 students, mostly freshmen and almost all non-science majors over the course of nine months.

While I take great pride in knowing that I had the opportunity teach each and every one of the students that came through my door, I am feeling even more blessed to know that for as much as I may have taught them, there are so many things that my students taught me as well.

The things you learn about yourself when faced with the daunting prospect of being solely responsible for whether or not a student learns, are both insightful and a little akin to being hit in the face with a snowball. It’s sudden, unexpected, leaves you cold and wet and takes you completely by surprise…but you kind of like it.

Coming from a background where I did outreach regularly, I was taken by complete surprise when I realized how nervous I was about actual teaching. Somehow or another I got through the first few awkward weeks and soon I developed a routine.

For a while I got to be…relevant, important, a source of information…

It can be such an odd sensation having a bunch of college age kids treat you with respect, as if you were a real “expert” when the truth is, I only graduated myself four years ago (despite the ten plus years I have on most of my students) and oftentimes I still feel like I’m only pretending to be a grown-up.

For a few hours three times a week however I was in charge, the teacher and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I taught my last class today. I don’t know if I will be needed in the fall or if I will ever teach again…but I am so glad I had the time that I did. I admit I was a little sad as the last of my students walked out of the lab. One or two lingered, asking a few last questions, and then they were gone. 

I didn’t have a single bad kid, despite a few bumps along the way, they were all good kids with bright futures. Biology 1103 is just a simple science requirement for them, a part of their past…but it’s a past that I had a hand in shaping, which makes me feel pretty good.

I think now I know why people choose to be teachers despite low pay and lackluster benefit packages.  Real change is not made in politics, courtrooms or Fortune 500 companies. Want to make the world a better place? You have to start with the next generation. Want to make a difference…be a teacher.

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The Scifund Challenge

Recently I took part in a unique opportunity that really changed how I will approach science from now on; or at least how I approach the funding of it. As a graduate student I am perpetually poor. I am either scraping by looking for funding, asking someone for money, explaining to someone why I deserve money, why my project shouldn’t be cut from funding…you get the picture. So when I heard about this opportunity called The Scifund Challenge where scientists from all over the country were going to be selected to learn how to do what is known as crowdfunding (more on this in a moment) and then advertise their projects on the web for all the world to see…well I got excited. I put all my heart into that application. I really wanted to be able to be a part of something that was going to use outreach and social media (two things I am very familiar with) at its very core to raise money. You see crowdfunding has become a buzzword these days, a new trend but what it refers to is when you advertise a project on a site like Kickstarter or in this case Rockethub, set a goal, and then promote the heck out of using every social and traditional media channel you can think of. The idea is to get a lot of people to give a little and then a few people to give a lot. You end up getting your project funded and they get to feel like they have contributed to a worthy cause that they might have known nothing about otherwise. (They also generally get a small token of thanks depending on their donation level.) It gets science out of the journals and universities and into dining room and water cooler conversations across America.  It makes what I and every other researcher do cool and fun again, not just for us but for everyone else. It takes the snobbery out of it hopefully. And as I want to teach and/or do outreach when I graduate this was a great experience for me.

So back to my project; my goal was to raise $1500 which I raised pretty easily thanks to a group of extremely generous donors, several of which I have never met which completely blows my mind but at the same time…fills me with hope for the future of ecology, crowdfunded projects and of course pitcherplants and bogs in general. One donor in particular “fueled” my project on a couple different occasions which at one point is what put me over the top and helped me meet my goal and for that I am eternally grateful. He will be receiving his set of 8×10 bog prints this week and I hope he enjoys them, and that when he looks at them he will remember that he helped further conservation of upland bog habitats in North Georgia and all the rare and even endangered species that live there.

As for my other supporters they will also be receiving their rewards this week, whether it is a set of Bog Species Cards, a Bogger certificate, or a set of Bog postcards, all have been created especially for my wonderful supporters without whom I would not be able to finish my project. So from me to you I say again.

THANK YOU!

Please continue to follow my progress as I work through my field season. I will be setting up my plants very soon and will be keeping an online journal of what I am doing and how things are going complete with photos. I welcome questions and feedback. Part of my project involves creating an addendum to the Project Wild curriculum (K-12) – basically it will be “Bog in a Box” and the teacher will be able to choose from a variety of activities designed to show the importance of the bog ecosystem in nature. These activities will run the gamut from learning the key species and natural history to actually being able to walk the students through creating their own bog habitat if they have an outdoor classroom area. This part of my project is still only loosely outlined so please feel free to send suggestions if you have them

Okay off to the bog!

The Bog Lady.

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Defending What You Are Passionate About

I have been involved in conservation work in one form or another for the past ten years. I have to say that more than anything else the part that I dislike the most has always been having to raise money.

Conservation requires resources, primarily money which a lot of organizations simply do not have. I came across this paragraph today about fundraising and just had to share it. It expresses so succinctly what I wish I could say when I am working to acquire funding.

“You are incredibly good at making money. I’m incredibly good at making change. The change I want to make in the world, unfortunately, does not itself generate much money. But man oh man does it make change. It’s a hugely important change. And what I know about making this change is as good and as important as what you know about making money. So let’s divide and conquer – you keep on making money, I’ll keep on making change. And if you can lend some of your smarts to the change I’m trying to make, well that’s even better. But most of the time, we both keep on doing what we’re best at, and if we keep on working together the world will be a better place.”

From now on every time I start to feel a  little dejected about getting another “no” I am going to think about this statement and remember that I am good at making change. Really good at it and that all I need to do is to make sure that those with the resources also know it.

Tomorrow is another day.

(Quote: Sasha Dichter)

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The Colors of Fall

Fall has taken a firm foothold in the south and the evidence is beautiful. Rusty reds, vibrant oranges and sunny yellows paint every hillside with the bright canvas of autumn. Now is the time for lazy walks in the woods, picnic weekends and those last few camping trips before the cold really sets in. Here is a fun thing to do this fall that the whole family can enjoy. Best of all, it is either free or extremely inexpensive.

Leaf Walks

Grab a couple of cloth shopping bags and head out into the woods. Whether in your own backyard or the local park, it doesn’t matter. What you are looking for is variety. Different colors, shapes, textures; make a game of it to see who can find the most that are different. Safety note: Be careful when you dig your hands around in leaves on the ground. Leaf litter provides warmth and shelter to many insects and other critters (including snakes) in the cooler months. You may want to wear a pair of garden gloves or only take leaves from the top most layers. These tend to be the driest and prettiest anyway.

Stained-glass-leaf-pictures

Once home turn your leaves into art with only some crayons and wax paper. Ask an adult for help with an iron. Use a pencil sharpener to create shavings from your crayons. The more colors you use the more varied your stain glass will be. Lay out a square of wax paper and place a few of your prettiest leaves on it. Sprinkle your crayon shavings on the paper and lay a second square of wax paper on top. Using an iron on medium heat, (no steam) press the sheets together. The shavings will melt into brilliant colors around the leaves and the wax will stick. After the paper cools you can hang up your art in the windows. You now have stained-glass-leaf-art!

Do you have ideas for fall crafts? Send me pictures and I will post them on my blog!  

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Sharks, Snakes, Spiders….OH MY!

There are many creatures that over time have received a bad rap. They are feared, avoided and disposed of (often with extreme prejudice) when encountered. But where does the fear come from? I believe it is primarily from the lack of information. If only people knew the truth about many of these so-called monsters and pests, they may see things in a different light.

Sharks

Let’s take sharks for instance. There are more than 360 recognized species of sharks swimming around in the world’s oceans and they have been for hundreds of millions of years. That’s right; sharks are one of the most prehistoric creatures we still have on Earth today, right up there with crocodiles and sea turtles. And yet they are also one of the most feared, most misunderstood fish in the sea.

I myself cannot claim to be entirely immune to this. As a child I was mildly bumped by a shark off of Nags Head, NC and promptly decided that I would not be returning to the ocean (at least not over my knees) from then on out. As an adult, conservationist and ecologist I can see now my fear was directly related to what I knew, or rather what I thought I knew about sharks.  I mean really, even I had seen JAWS.

Returning to the water years later I again saw a shark but this time, rather than fear it, I simply regarded it with wonder. Sharks are incredible predators. They are absolutely perfect in their design as the top dog in the food chain. They are not man-eaters, or monsters. They are fish, big fish…with teeth (with a few exceptions.)  In much of the world you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than getting attacked by a shark. And the few that do…it generally turns out to be a case of mistaken identity rather than the rogue Great White of myth. Think of yourself as a child in a pool or a lake, swimming to the bottom and then looking up towards the sun. My daughter’s chubby baby legs hanging off the inflatable inner-tube could easily be a tasty sea turtle to a hungry, if misguided shark.

If you saw any of the specials on sharks being run over the last few weeks then you know that as dangerous as people perceive sharks to be, the real danger is us, and what we are doing to the environment. Nearly all sharks are protected by law and some, such as the Hammerhead are experiencing record declines due to the inhumane practice of finning, which involves removing the dorsal fin and then throwing the shark back into the ocean to suffocate. Thankfully there have been crackdowns on this practice recently so maybe these awesome creatures will continue to thrive.

“Twenty species of sharks are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). In a few years many species of shark could become extinct if action is not taken immediately. Populations of many shark species have fallen by over 90%. Since 1972 the number of blacktip sharks has fallen by 93%, tiger sharks by 97% and bull sharks, dusky sharks and smooth hammerheads by 99%.” – Stopsharkfinning.com

bonnetheaded shark

So if planning on a vacation where sharks may be present, take some precautions yes, but also do a little homework. You may find that sharks are some of the most fascinating creatures on Earth. Sharks have a lightweight cartilage skeleton, rather than bone which allows them to glide through the water and they come in all shapes and sizes. Little bonnet-head sharks (they look sort of like tiny hammerheads) are often found in shallow water swimming along in the surf looking for small fish and crabs. They are only a few feet long and absolutely harmless. The largest fish in the world is the whale shark. Stretching up to 40 feet in length (its mouth can be four feet across!) this gentle giant doesn’t even use it’s many rows of tiny teeth for feeding but rather filters plankton, small fish and squid through its gills.

Snakes

Snakes are another species that so many declare war on each year. And for what? Would you rather be overrun with vermin, perhaps the idea of another plague sounds exciting to you. Did you know that in Georgia it is actually illegal to harm or kill a non-venomous snake? You could actually go to jail or pay a $1000 fine. According to wildlife biologist, Thomas Floyd, there are 41 different species in Georgia and only six are venomous. Many snakes, such as the Indigo snake and the Northern Pine Snake (see picture) are also protected by state and federal laws as rare and endangered species so you may want to think twice before putting a shovel to the slithering visitor in your yard.

Fear of snakes is such an old story; it could and probably is by many to be considered biblical. After all, wasn’t it the serpent that tempted Eve? You’d think however that we’d made some progress over the last several thousand years or so (or more depending on where you stand religiously.) Snakes are cold-blooded and will often bask in the sun on warm afternoons. They will not chase you down if you see one on the side of the road or sidewalk. It is actually in their best interest to leave you alone, as you are not prey and would waste their precious energy that they need for actually pursuing food (as in the mice and insects that keep eating your vegetables.) Basically if you can tell the difference between a rattle and a regular tail, you will probably be alright.

Simply give snakes a wide berth and observe from a distance. They can be quite beautiful. The largest non-venomous snake in North America, the Indigo Snake (5-8ft) is actually dark purple and very non-aggressive while the simple green garter snake can be a brilliant shade of green. Colors are important as the venomous Coral snake is brightly colored (red, black and yellow) so always pay attention.

Non-venomous species have rounded eyes and a more rounded head although they may flatten it out when threatened (causing some confusion in identity as venomous snakes have triangular shaped heads and eyes like that of a cat.) They move in a really cool way (considering they have no appendages) by flexing and relaxing the muscles along the undersides of their body. Most can also unhinge their jaws in order to eat prey larger than themselves. Once fed, a snake can then go weeks or longer without eating again. Another perfect evolutionary design; don’t you wish humans could do that sometimes? I’d win on Survivor for sure! Anyhow, if you live in the southeast you don’t have to worry too much about getting bitten by a venomous snake, or any snake for that matter. Most will avoid you and if you do come across one, simply go around. If you plan to be in an area that is known for snakes check out this handy guide created by the University of Georgia, Savannah River Ecology Lab and the Nongame Conservation Section (GADNR) so you know what to look for. And next time you see one in your backyard, just stop and smile, and maybe give a little nod of appreciation for all it is doing to keep your backyard eco-system in check.

Spiders

Lastly we move on to spiders. I have in my life met more people that claim a fear of spiders, referred to as arachnophobia than any other fear.  As with sharks and snakes, the fear is an old one and created mainly from misinformation, as in “the only good spider is a dead spider” mentality. Spiders are an important part of any eco-system and can be found just about anywhere on Earth. Some jump, others dig little holes in the ground and use a “trap-door” to catch prey and still others create beautifully ornate web masterpieces that most of us simply brush out of the way in annoyance as we go about our busy lives.

Spiders are not insects. They are arachnids meaning they have eight legs. Most have compound eyes and many create some sort of web used in catching prey. Spiders will bite when threatened, but most bites are more of an annoyance than an emergency, much like an ant bite. The two to watch out for here in Georgia are Black Widows, identifiable by the red hourglass on their abdomen, and Brown Recluses. However, the chances of being bitten go down considerably if you simply wear gloves while gardening and or doing work around the perimeter of your home and by simply being observant.

If you ever get the chance to simply sit and observe a spider you may begin to appreciate the wonder that they represent. They are pretty incredible little dynamos of nature. Fuzzy wolf spiders look mean and tough but will likely scurry away if you approach. Beautiful banana spiders will protect your garden from pests. Their webs are easily identifiable by the zipper pattern (as if you couldn’t already ID the bright black and yellow 2-3 inch spider already.) One spider that I am particularly fond of is actually not native to the United States, but to Malaysia. The Red Crab spider lives among carnivorous pitcherplants in the rain forest, teetering along the brink of the pitcher and will actually use its web as a lifeline so to speak to dive into the plant’s digestive juices to nab a tasty bug morsel before hauling itself back to safety. How cool is that?

So hopefully we learned a little bit today about some really cool species that while seem scary at first, are actually both beneficial to the eco-system and just lots of fun to observe (from a safe distance.)

Are there other species that have a bad reputation, but which are actually really interesting? Send me your ideas; I’d love to read them.

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Ancient, Awesome Predators who’ve gotten a bad rap.

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ACI 2011 – Conservation in 3D

The 74th annual Association for Conservation Information (ACI) conference was held in Cincinnati, Ohio where guests from at least a dozen states gathered at the historic Cincinnati Netherlands’ Plaza Hilton established in 1931. One of the tallest buildings in the downtown area with 29 floors it is only overshadowed by both the Carew’s Tower and the Queen building with its tiara designed after Princess Diana.  My room was on the 27th floor which strangely enough had signs that warned people to be quiet for the guests that would be “sleeping through the day.” Strange.

We got into town on Sunday and weren’t here long before two of my old buddies from Arkansas, Jeff Williams and Randy Zellars who is also the new editor for the ACI publication, The Balance Wheel, showed up. After drinks in the hotel bar, we all got a bite to eat at O’Malley’s in the alley, a cozy hole in the wall with good punk music and yummy Panini’s.

Day 1

Monday was official day one of the conference. For those of us who had arrived early that meant a one-of-a-kind field trip on the vintage Duck boats, a great way to see the Queen city before splashing down in the amazingly shallow (only 28ft deep!) Ohio River. It is 900 miles long however! During the tour we saw awesome landmarks like the statue of Abe Lincoln, one of only a handful where he is depicted without his trademark stovepipe hat and beard, the Bengals Stadium which is actually built below the Ohio River level making it necessary for giant turbines to constantly pump out water, and of course the humming bridge which is the precursor to the Brooklyn bridge and the first of its kind. The driver, Captain Eddie was awesome, even allowing me to drive the boat although he quickly took over command again when we approached the bridge pylons….but hey those things are tough to steer!

After the tour we headed to the Ohio aquarium for a behind the scenes tour (beware the attack turtle!) followed by a front of the house tour. I pet a leopard shark!

After the day’s events we all raced back to the hotel to get cleaned up for the evening’s mixer held just across Fountain Square at a lovely little place called Via Vite where new and old friends alike caught up over yummy h’ors d’erves and cocktails sponsored by Southwick Associates. Afterwards we caught a screening of Green Fire the first full-length documentary on the life and work of Aldo Leopold before continuing on to the hospitality suite for some extended catching up with old friends from around the country.

Day 2

The first day of meetings should have begun with a lesson on how the tourism industry can teach state wildlife agencies courtesy of the Ohio State university Sea grant Extension but instead we were treated to an extra long session from the Snake Lady from Lake Erie who has dedicated her life to the conservation of the Lake Erie watersnake. Kristin Stanford works hard on building outreach programs to expose both young and old to what she calls glorifying the gross and convincing others that these slimy serpents deserve our help. She even had her 15 minutes of fame when Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame came out to film a segment on her. Cool.

Up next was a special segment all about the Ohio Young Birders Club which focused on generating interest among youth birders of color. It was a really great presentation, particularly for those of us from more urban states.

Lunch that day was again at Fountain Square where the hubby and I took in some yummy appetizers at the Rock Bottom Brewery. Then a little Cincinnati sightseeing.

That night was the rocking 1950’s auction which both the hubby and I had come well prepared for. We wore our matching black, white and red ensembles well and enjoyed a viewing of The Creature From The Black Lagoon. After a buffet dinner which included Cincinnati chili and Mets we also had our annual auction and raffle. I actually won this year!! (and talked Jeff into trading me a mushroom book to give to Race when I returned home) I do have to say were not the only ones decked out. Lindsey Deering and her team of Pink Ladies were quite a sight as well!

Everyone was pretty worn out after the auction and raffle although I heard a few partied it out through the night in the hospitality suite later that evening. I for one went to BED!

The next day was again full of great sessions on from the updates in the publishing world to the National Archery in the schools program. I particularly enjoyed PR 2.0 How Social Media Applications are Transforming Communications within Agencies, both Private and Public by Dr. Corey Cockerill from Wilmington College. It was like everything I had been preaching to my previous agency for years…but was now well it was like it seemed to be common sense. While I was thrilled that this knowledge was out there and is being used, and that even I can even use it now to help other agencies, at the same time I was a little sad that my agency walked away from it…from me.

Then when Pamela Gilchrist followed up the next day with Increasing Your Online ROI:Integrating Social networking and Add Value to your Website, I was in social media heaven. so many of the things I was already doing with my consulting but also so much more. I made sure to connect to her as people in our industry can never have enough contacts.

Moving on. The rest of the conference was awesome. The awards night was awesome. The Ohio Division of Wildlife did a phenomenal job of hosting and when they rolled out the red carpet, cheering us all as we walked in among the flashbulbs to enjoy an excellent dinner it was the perfect end to a perfect week. I really can’t wait until next year to see everyone again in West Virginia!

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A day of collecting, Pitcherplants Galore!

My grad school adventures continue as I conducted a full day of field work yesterday, my first since I was finally able to get the boot off my foot. I met up with Nongame Botanist Lisa Kruse and Suzi Mersman near Claxton, Georgia (the fruitcake capital of the world!) ready to get out to the bog and sample my plants.What’s funny was that she had said “hey why don’t we meet around 3pm or so, maybe avoid the heat of the day and nobody has to get up at the crack of dawn. (the site is almost four hours from my house.) Well as Suzi relayed to me, she happened to check the weather and it just so happened that the “heat of the day…103 degrees” would hit exactly at 3pm. Oh well. So we were hot, very very hot, but then again nobody ever said that field work was supposed to be comfortable. :)

There are several species of pitcher plants in south Georgia and the ones I happened to be looking for are some of the most beautiful. My research focuses on the obligate associates of several species of pitcher plants, which means the insects and arthropods that actually make their homes inside the plants rather than becoming dinner for their carnivorous hosts.

Not much is known about the relationships between the plants and the obligates other than the fact that the obligates are dependent on the survival of the plants, which are all protected in Georgia. It isn’t know

Sarracenia Flava

n however whether the plants need the obligates though and that is only one of the many questions I am hoping to answer during my research.

Of course in my excitement to actually get out and get some work done after being laid up for several months with a torn tendon I made the enormous mistake of wearing shorts so I ended up pretty scratched from briars but I was actually too excited about number of beautiful plants to notice.

I collected from sarracenia flava, a big beautiful yellow-green species as well as

Sarracenia Hybrid - Catesbei

the coastal plain variety of sarracenia purpurea(the mountain

Sarracenia Minor

variety is federally endangered) and a really cool hybrid consisting of a mixture of both S. flava and S. purpurea. I also took a few samples from S. minor, which looks a little different from the rest of what I am studying but interesting nonetheless.

Coastal Plain Variety Sarracenia Purpurea

 

Just in case you have no idea what a pitcher plant is here are a few basic diagrams: Almost all species are the same as far as basic function. They lure their prey with a colorful leaf covering called an operculum and when the unfortunate insects investigate they slip and fall into the tube where they are slowly digested. The inner part of the tubes have a series of hairs followed by a section of slick-as-glass leaf and then more hairs going the opposite direction of the ones at the top. So if you’re a pitcherplant’s prey and you find yourself in the tube you are pretty much dinner. There is no way out. Pretty cool huh!

Before heading home I also had a real treat, getting to see Georgia Plume for

Georgia Plume with bee

the first time in the wild. And it was beautiful. It seemed to go on forever… so thanks Lisa a for sharing that with me. If you are interested in seeing more of my photos please visit my flickr site.

Until next time!

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