Watersheds, Stewardship, and You

Michigan is home to 11,000 inland lakes, tens of thousands of miles of rivers, streams, and creeks, 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, and (most impressively) 63 major watersheds.

mi watershed

What is a watershed? Picture a topographic view of Michigan…you’ve got hills and valleys, ridges and low spots. Now if you were to trace the highest elevation (ridges) throughout the entire state, you would eventually get some strangely shaped ‘bowls’ – the high ridges on the edge, and the low spots in the middle. These 63 bowls are each a watershed, and whenever it rains, the water in it flows over and under land from high elevation to low elevation.

What’s important to remember about a watershed, is that within it, every backyard, every parking lot, every city park, every agricultural field or pasture, every roadway, and every storm water drain are all IMMEDIATELY connected! If there is an major oil spill in an abandoned parking lot, the entire watershed is now at risk of being polluted.

Now, I’m hoping you’re thinking to yourself “Wow! That’s crazy. I wonder how I can help do my part to protect my watershed?” GREAT QUESTION! Besides your basic elementary answer of don’t pollute, pick up litter, etc., you can try to build a rain garden, or a rain barrel system to keep runoff from your house on your property. By slowing down the water before it reaches the storm water drain, you’ll slow down the discharge of the river and hopefully prevent some catastrophic flooding.

Looking for more ways to be a water steward and keep the watersheds clean? Luckily, there are tons of organizations that are willing to help protect our waterways!!!
-An excellent source to find resources and to learn about water is at MI Water Stewardship. They have programs specifically for kids, educators, and homeowners, and they even have a Pinterest page too!
-The Michigan Lake Stewardship Association is a great resource to learn about your local watershed supporters.
-At the Michigan DEQ, they have an entire hydrologic data collection section where you can learn about point and non-point source pollutions.

Want some hands on stewardship? Check with your local Conservation District to see if they are hosting a watershed or river clean up day. See if any of the rivers in your area have an organization dedicated to keeping it clean, and offer to join it. Don’t have one? Gather a group of like-minded friends and start your own. Encourage scout groups and school groups to assist you! You’re never to young or old to protect your watersheds, so start today!

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Celebrating World Oceans Day…in Michigan?

June 8, 2018 is national World Oceans Day! It also falls during the Michigan Great Lakes Week, and is only a few days past national Wetland Month! So if today is all about the oceans, and Michigan’s claim to fame is ‘unsalted and shark free’, you may be wondering why we should care?

Well, for starters, we should care a lot! Michigan is home to 11,000 inland lakes, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, 6.5 million acres of wetlands, 3,200 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 74,000 acres of coastal dunes, a vast ground water system, 4 of the 5 great lakes that hold 20% of the worlds available fresh water, and all this Great Lakes industry supports over 660,000 jobs. The amazing thing about the Great Lakes is that they are all interconnected, and they lead to the ocean. Therefore, if I pollute the ground here in Charlotte MI, and a rainstorm comes and washes the pollutants into the Thornapple River, and the current carries it to the Grand River, which drains out into Lake Michigan, which flows through all the Great Lakes, and the rivers, and gulfs until eventually it ends up in the Atlantic ocean….you still think we shouldn’t care? Now, in hindsight, this may take a while. After all, it takes a freight about 8 days to travel from Duluth to the ocean, so for my litter from Charlotte to reach the ocean, it will probably take a LONG time. But that shouldn’t matter!

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Covering more than 70 percent of our planet, oceans are among the earth’s most valuable natural resources. They govern the weather, clean the air, help feed the world, and provide a living for millions. They also are home to most of the life on earth, from microscopic algae to the blue whale, the largest animal on the planet. Yet we’re bombarding them with pollution at an alarming rate! In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that ocean-based sources, such as cargo ships and cruise liners had dumped 14 billion pounds of garbage into the ocean. Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year. And leading back to the idea of runoff pushing my mid-Michigan pollution into the rivers and oceans, studies suggest nearly 80% of the marine pollution comes from land.

The world’s largest collection of ocean garbage is growing. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic, floating trash halfway between Hawaii and California, has grown to more than 600,000 square miles. That’s twice the size of Texas! The patch is not a solid mass of plastic. It includes about 1.8 trillion pieces and weighs 88,000 tons — the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets. The new figures are as much as 16 times higher than previous estimates.

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The fate of our seas is not only up to the government or industry. Our individual, daily actions matter, too. You can start by reducing water pollution and runoff at home, being more mindful of your plastic consumption, or organizing a cleanup of your local waterway. You can also support the work of your local Conservation District and other environmental advocacy groups as well as other businesses and organizations that work to preserve our coasts and waters.


Rain Gardens

I’m in love with the fact that the new gardening trend is for native plants and pollinator friendly plants! We have also seen some people (*where municipal ordinances allow) have let their lawns grow ‘wild’ and homeowners are not mowing on a regular basis to let there be more habitat for insects, thus attracting birds to their yard. If you’re looking for a way to add beauty to your property, and help insects and birds, AND help the environment, then you should plant a rain garden!

At a school event earlier this week, a child suggested a rain garden is a ‘special garden where it rains constantly and the rain is only allowed to fall there, and no where else’…. I like the thought process, but it’s not quite right. A rain garden is indeed a special garden that is typically located in a low area where water naturally drains to. A rain garden is an area created to collect run-off water with a coarse or porous soil mixture of sand or gravel beneath a bed of native plants. Run-off water collects in the rain garden, soaks quickly into the soils or is absorbed by the plants in the garden. As run-off water soaks into the ground, pollutants like sediment fertilizers and oil/grease are filtered out, and litter is all collected in one central area. This means that when groundwater reaches a lake or stream, it is cleaner!

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The idea behind rain gardens is to hold and collect the water so it can be slowly released at a later time – whether that is through soaking into the ground, evaporation, transpiration from the leaves, or released through the roots. Rain gardens also help hold the soil in place, and the native plants use their long roots to burrow into the soil, allowing the run-off water to soak further into the ground. As seen in the diagram below, most native plants have a much larger and more intensive root system. The first plant shown to the far left is your common Kentucky Blue Grass which is a popular lawn grass. The root system of this grass is less than an inch, whereas other plants have roots over a foot deep. Plant a young water loving tree in the rain garden, like a Cottonwood or a Willow, to extend those roots even further! You can find many species of water-loving plants will offer plenty of colors, aromas, and are helpful for our pollinator friends.

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So if you’re looking to find a new garden for your yard, or if you have a low spot where you couldn’t previously plant a garden, try planting a rain garden! Contact your local municipality to see if they can install one in a parking lot, or at the bottom of a road that is near a body of water. See if your neighborhood association or a local school would be willing to build one to service as a learning tool! A few days of hard work can turn into a permanent natural structure to help the environment!

If you live on the coast, and wish to restore your shoreline, you can find useful information here.
For more information about backyard rain gardens, click here or here.
To view the MSU Extension information about rain gardens, click here.
Or you can look at the MDOT suggestions for rain gardens here and DEQ’s nonpoint source program here!


Trees at Arlington

Memorial Day is filled with a day off of work spent with loved ones. Perhaps you’re attending a barbecue, doing some spring cleanup and yard work, or maybe you made plans to head camping or to the lake. For many people, Memorial Day revolves around the recognition of loved ones who have risked their lives, and maybe even gave their lives, for our freedom. For those interested in trees, history, and the ultimate sacrifice, attending the local Memorial Parade isn’t enough.

Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s most hallowed ground, is the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families. This historic cemetery bears witness to our American heritage and the military service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform throughout our nation’s history. Families come from all over the country to bury their loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery. They come to Arlington because of the rich history of military honors that makes the service so special.

Rolling green hills, majestic trees and a diverse collection of ornamental plants serve as the backdrop to this national shrine. The cemetery’s 624 acres are a unique blend of formal and informal landscapes, and is home to an extremely diverse and significant collection of trees and landscapes. There are more than 8,600 trees comprised of 300 varieties and species. Intimate gardens enhance the beauty and sense of peace. Some of the cemetery’s oldest trees pre-date the first burials and are nearly 250 years old.
In addition to three Virginia State Champion and two Virginia State Co-Champion trees, trees of particular interest include the 142 Memorial Trees, the 36 Medal of Honor Historic Trees, as well as many magnificent specimen trees. Over the history of the cemetery, many trees have been planted and dedicated by visiting dignitaries, family members, organizations and presidents.

More than three million people visit the cemetery annually. Will you be one of them?

To all active and former servicemen and women, everyone here at Michigan Arbor Day Alliance would like to thank you for your service!

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More Trees, Please!

Ask any child what a tree provides for us, and you’ll probably hear shade, homes for animals, and fruit. Ask an adult, and they’ll probably answer lumber, oxygen,  and a fuel source.  However, if you ask an urban forester, you’ll get a much more diverse answer!

Related imageYes, trees provide shade. Anyone on a hot July afternoon can tell you that. But do you know how much shade? Trees provide enough shade to not only cool you, but your home and your car sitting in the driveway too! Trees have been proven to cool your home by up to 30% when planted in the right places. How would you like a 30% reduction of your AC bill every summer? Or how about saving up to 50% of your heating bill by preventing wind and snow from blowing up against your house, stealing your precious warmth in the winter?!

Additionally, if you are a home owner, studies have found that street trees increase the “curb appeal” of properties.  A study of the sale of houses in Portland, Oregon found that on average, street trees add 3% to the median sale price of a house and reduce its time-on-market by 1.7 days. And if you enjoy hosting garage sales or live in an area near fleet markets, consumers have a 12% higher willingness to pay for goods and services in retail areas that have streetscape greening such as street trees and sidewalk gardens.

Apartment buildings with high levels of greenery had 52% fewer crimes than those without any trees.  “Green” spaces are used more frequently (by pedestrians and for recreation), which increases “eyes on the street” and deters would-be criminals. Residents living in “greener” surroundings report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less violent behavior, because greenery promotes a greater sense of community and alleviates mental fatigue, a precursor to violent behavior.

Trees planted in an urban setting are excellent at providing food, clean air and water, climate and flood control, pollination, recreation and noise damping. Spending time near trees improves physical and mental health by increasing energy level and speed of recovery, while decreasing blood pressure and stress. In fact, nature has such a calming effect, that some doctors are prescribing exercise and time spent in nature to help relieve things like high blood pressure and diabetes.

During rainstorms, water can overload our combined storm-sewer system, resulting in polluted runoff into local drains and rivers.  This runoff contains chemicals washed from our streets by the rain.  Trees reduce this problem by capturing rain; a mature tree can store 50 to 100 gallons of water during large storms, and the concrete removed from our sidewalks for street trees and sidewalk gardens allows rain to soak into the soil. In addition, trees planted along riverbanks can help keep the soil in place during flooding events, preventing sediment removal and deposition down stream.

In case you need more reasons to plant trees in an urban area, two medium-sized, healthy trees can supply the oxygen required for a single person for a year. Trees clean the air by absorbing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; they store carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, in their stems and leaves. Trees capture airborne particles such as dirt, dust and soot; a mature tree can absorb 120-240 lbs of particulate pollution each year. Less pollution and particles can lead to less cases of asthma. The presence of trees reduces the speed of drivers, and reduces the frequency and severity of crashes. The greener a building’s surroundings, the fewer reported crimes. In addition, trees can save the city itself tons of energy and money. For every dollar invested in planting, cities see an average $2.25 return on their investment each year.

So to wrap things up, if given the opportunity to plant trees in an urban area, always say yes!

old town nowadays with trees

Old Growth Forests

Do you live in a house built in the first half of the 1900’s? Do you still have the original floors or window sashes? If so, these wooden features may be furbished from old growth forests? But what exactly does that mean?

A typical DNR definition, is that old-growth forests are natural forests that have developed over a long period of time without experiencing severe disturbance—a fire, windstorm, or logging. A great example is Hartwick Pines , here in Michigan, or the Redwoods in California; in fact, there are several old-growth forests throughout the US. Old-growth forests may be dominated by species such as sugar maple, white spruce, or white cedar that are capable of reproducing under a shaded canopy. These old-growth forests can persist indefinitely. Old-growth forest may also be dominated by species such as red pine, white pine, or red oak that do not reproduce as well under shade and that require disturbance to open the canopy. These old-growth forests will eventually be replaced by the more shade-tolerant tree species in the absence of disturbance.

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Old-growth forests tend to have large trees and standing dead trees, multilayered canopies with gaps that result from the deaths of individual trees, and coarse woody debris on the forest floor. Forest regenerated after a severe disturbance, such as wildfire, insect infestation, or harvesting, is often called second-growth or ‘regeneration’ until enough time passes for the effects of the disturbance to be no longer evident. Depending on the forest, this may take from a century to several millennia. Hardwood forests of the eastern United States can develop old-growth characteristics in one or two generations of trees, or 150–500 years. In British Columbia, Canada, old growth is defined as 120 to 140 years of age in the interior of the province where fire is a frequent and natural occurrence. In British Columbia’s coastal rain forests, old growth is defined as trees more than 250 years, with some trees reaching more than 1,000 years of age. In Australia, eucalyptus trees rarely exceed 350 years of age due to frequent fire disturbance.

old forest growthSo how what does have old-growth wooden floors in your house mean? As previously stated, old-growth wood refers to wood from trees that belonged to forests that grew up over hundreds of years. A majority of today’s lumber is harvested from trees that have been cultivated to grow rapidly, so the wood is not as dense. As a result, it is weaker and more susceptible to decay and instability. Old-growth wood has nearly ten times the number of growth rings per inch (meaning that it is much denser) and is more resistant to decay or damage. Old-growth wood has distinct advantages over today’s wood: it is resistant to rot and termites, stronger and harder, and more stable. As seen in this photo, in 1918 there are 60 rings from an old growth tree. In 2018, there are only 16 rings on the same size chuck of lumber.

At the end of the day, if you have old-growth hardwood floors in your house, you’re sitting pretty. With a little TLC you can bring your hardwoods out and have them be the focal point of your room. We need to continue to preserve these ancient forests and keep them around for generations to come. There are many ‘tree huggers’ who are willing to put up a fight to protect these giants. Will you?


Wildfire Revitalization

What do California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Michigan all have in common? They’ve all suffered through wildfires recently. Since January of 2018, more than 148,000 acres have burned across the county. All things considered, the 105 acres Michigan lost earlier this week are not too terrible, and we were lucky that no one was injured! Most Michigan residents might be surprised to learn that Michigan experiences as many as 8,000 to 10,000 wildfires each year.

Wildfire is nothing new to Michigan forests, as many of these systems evolved with fire and are dependent on disturbance for regeneration. Many plant and wildlife species have adapted to fire disturbance, and their continued survival and success is dependent on it. Fire not only prompts regeneration of many plant species, it recycles mineral elements like nitrogen and phosphorus, and removes accumulated organic matter.

While most folks (with the exception of brave fire fighters) run away from fire when they see it coming,  plants have a distinct disadvantage, compared to animals. They can’t run, fly, creep or crawl out of a fire’s path. But they have adapted to survive, and even depend on, regular fire. Several types of plants have developed unique properties that help them to survive, and even thrive after a fire.
-Thick bark – Trees in fire-prone areas develop thicker bark, in part, because thick bark does not catch fire or burn easily. It also protects the inside of the trunk, the living tissues that transport water and nutrients, from heat damage during low-intensity fires.
-Fire Induced Sprouts – Typically, species that regenerate by re-sprouting after they’ve burned have an extensive root system. Dormant buds are protected underground, and nutrients stored in the root system allow quick sprouting after the fire.
-Serotinous Cones – These serotinous cones can hang on a pine tree for years, long after the enclosed seeds mature. Only when a fire sweeps through, melting the resin, do these heat-dependent cones open up, releasing seeds that are then distributed by wind and gravity.
-Fire activated seeds – As opposed to serotinous cones, which protect enclosed seeds during a fire, the actual seeds of many plants in fire-prone environments need fire, directly or indirectly, to germinate. These plants produce seeds with a tough coating that can lay dormant, awaiting a fire, for several years. Whether it is the intense heat of the fire, exposure to chemicals from smoke, or exposure to nutrients in the ground after fire, these seeds depend on fire to break their dormancy.

Some of the plants that do quite well with fire are the famed Jack Pine, White Yarrow, Bearberry, Chokecherry, Holly, native Plum, Maples, Hackberry, Dogwood, Walnut, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Tulip tree, Black Gum, Sycamore, Aspen, Oaks, and even the delicious Morel Mushroom. To see a full chart of fire-resistant plants, see this MSU Extension listing!

In some areas of the world, where forests need a little help rejuvenating after a fire, trained dogs are being put to work to help spread seeds by running through the burned land with backpacks full of seeds that fall out as they run. For more information on these awesome seed dogs, click here!

So while the forest will eventually regenerate itself after a fire, please do not burn brush or trash, or toss lit cigarette on the ground when in a ‘red flag’ warning. And remember what my buddy Smokey says … only you can prevent forest fires!