Saturday, January 28, 2012


There will be no posts in the immediate future, due to a family emergency. Heidi and I appreciate your prayers for the Geske and Genter families in the meantime. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gro-ing debate about National Wildlife Federation's new partnership

Full disclosure: I have written articles for Ranger Rick nature magazine for children, a product of the National Wildlife Federation. I have been lucky to work with editors there who are nothing short of saints. I am not anxious to sever that partnership without good cause. Neither am I going to defend a client if I feel their practices do not reflect my own philosophy.

Upon hearing the news that the NWF announced a new partnership with Scotts Miracle Gro, I decided to go straight to the source. I had not communicated with my editor there in some time, so this news gave me a great excuse to do so. Not surprisingly, she was almost as in the dark as those of us outside the organization, but she did track down the following in response to the overwhelming criticism (from NWF CEO Larry Schweiger):

”I appreciate the concern you and others have expressed about NWF’s partnership with Scotts. I’d like to share my perspective with you on how we came to this decision.

National Wildlife Federation has long believed that America works best when we work together. We fail when we divide. We have a 75-year history of collaborating with people and organizations from across the spectrum on the most important issues facing wildlife.

Much of our conservation work focuses on making changes on Capitol Hill, but more and more I believe we must all do what we can to change corporate and individual behavior when it’s incongruent with a healthy, sustainable world. We have carefully considered the pluses and minuses of working with ScottsMiracle Gro in an objective way, knowing that our friends in the organic gardening world have legitimate concerns about the company. I am sure the staff at Scotts had their own set of concerns about National Wildlife Federation.

I looked very carefully at not just where Scotts is at the moment, but more importantly where the company is going. While National Wildlife Federation is not endorsing any of the products that organic gardeners and others find objectionable, we will be encouraging Scotts to develop products that will lead to a more sustainable world.

I believe we can do more for wildlife by working to move corporations with a large environmental footprint in the right direction. Here are three important indicators of where Scotts is taking a new approach to lawn and garden products.


Lawns are a significant feature in the American landscape and what happens in our lawns doesn’t stay in our lawns. NASA has a great website that depicts the significance of lawns in and around aquatic ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay.

Chemical runoff from lawns, particularly phosphorus which is a limiting nutrient, has a major impact on a number of lakes and fresh water portions of estuaries. Excess phosphorus stimulates "dead zones” by stimulating algae blooms that cause oxygen depletion in lakes, reservoirs and tidal fresh estuaries.

National Wildlife Federation has been promoting efforts to regulate non-point pollution under the Clean Water Act for decades with little real progress. It is clear that to make progress in this cause we need to work with companies that can make better product formulation decisions that will have a positive impact on millions of lawns and gardens across America. By working with Scotts, we can give voice to the need to curtail the use of phosphorus in lawn and garden fertilizer. As a result of a recent court decision, Scotts will phase out phosphorus in all of its fertilizers at the end of 2012 (with the exception of its plant starter products). This will create a market shift, as Scotts is a dominate player in the residential lawn care world. National Wildlife Federation supported this decision and we will work with Scotts to continue to encourage further improvements in the company’s fertilizers to protect fish, wildlife and their habitats.


Millions of American gardeners buy Peat Moss to add organic matter to their gardens, not knowing that it has an enormous ecological consequence to sphagnum wetland ecosystems all across the boreal region of Canada where peat is mined. Peat mining also disrupts critically important carbon storage systems and destroys the biological and archeological records which are preserved in acidic bogs and other sphagnum wetlands.

With NWF’s full support, Scotts has undertaken a comprehensive effort to move away from the use of peat in its products and is replacing peat with recycled organic matter from much better sources. We will continue to encourage Scotts’ efforts in this important transition to save fragile ecosystems and to protect the earth’s best carbon sinks.


Scotts’ scientists recognize that carbon storage in our lawns can be an important component for recapturing carbon pollution. They are studying various lawn management strategies and seed mixes to optimize carbon storage in our lawns. As we know and understand more about how to optimize carbon storage and how to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from our lawns, NWF will attempt to communicate meaningful solutions that gardeners and other homeowners can adopt. More information on this work can be found here.”

I do not expect that you all have read every word above, let alone read anything here without a high degree of skepticism. I would not expect less from my blog readers. So, you ask, what is my impression?

Let me say that I think this partnership is at best premature. First, it is abundantly clear that NWF did not solicit any input from their membership before reaching their decision, and that is truly insulting to the supporters it had before now. Second, why not let Scotts actively demonstrate their professed commitment to a changing “philosophy” before entering into any monetary agreement with them?

Nevertheless, I am hard-pressed to simply dismiss the National Wildlife Federation as having “sold out” to corporate interests. One cannot overlook all the good this non-profit has done throughout its history. How many of you grew up on Ranger Rick or Your Big Backyard? Do we not look to NWF for unbiased news on environmental issues? Do we really think that is going to change with this partnership?

I am cautiously optimistic about this, and would not recommend that any of my readers hastily yank their membership in, and support of, the National Wildlife Federation. I will, however, be keeping an eye on the organization’s response to its critics, both internal and external. What happens in the next few weeks will go a long way to determining NWF’s continued leadership and legitimacy in environmental stewardship.

More on this issue: ”National Wildlife Federation & Scotts Miracle-Gro: WWRRD?”
”David Mijewski Defends National Wildlife Federation Partnership with Scotts Miracle Gro”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tropica Botanica

Houseplants grow here
We feel a bit deflated,
Having thought our apartment
Was their natural habitat.
Not watering cans,
And squalls,
Not spritzers,
Are what the foliage needs.
We are in their element,
Their apartment,
And imagine them whispering:
Is this their natural habitat?

Eric R. Eaton, circa 1989

Image of Monstera Plants at Rainbow Falls, Wailuku River State Park, Island of Hawaii, by Jeff Gnass and featured in the Wilderness 1989 Sierra Club Engagement Calendar. It inspired the poem.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bear Creek Park

The El Paso County Parks in Colorado are a real treasure. Among the most used is Bear Creek Park on the western edge of Colorado Springs, abutting the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The park is laced with trails, which actually makes it somewhat difficult to navigate, but the views alone are worth the trouble.

Signs with maps are present at each major intersection of trails, but it took me a minute to decide that the bright yellow circular highlight stood for “you are here.” A large parcel of private land also divides the park, forcing hikers into a frustratingly long detour to get from one side to the other. The landowner needs to at least grant an easement to permit a more direct trail to the nature center located in the northwest corner of the park.

The nature center is spacious, and besides the permanent displays there is a room that can host traveling exhibits. When I visited on January 5, a traveling exhibit entitled “The Hidden World of Bears” was in its final days there. Oh, and they don’t call the place Bear Creek for nothing. There really are Black Bears living in the area.

Many of the exhibits in the nature center are interactive rather than static, but there are the obligatory taxidermy mounts. The original building was destroyed in a suspected arson fire in the year 2000. That it was rebuilt quckly is a testament to the commitment of the Colorado Springs community to continue the park’s commitment to excellence in environmental education and natural history interpretation.

While the front desk is usually manned by a volunteer, I was lucky enough to meet Ken Pals, a semi-retired naturalist with El Paso County Parks. He shared his ideas on how I might be able to help the park by presenting programs there. Indeed, they have a wide variety of activities going on all the time, aimed at children, families, and adults.

There is a paved nature trail in the immediate vicinity of the nature center, with one loop designated as the “Songbird Trail.” It includes several illustrated interpretive signs and a boardwalk close to Bear Creek. There are also feeders that attract a wide variety of birds at any time of the year. I got good views of Dark-eyed Junco, Blue Jay, Western Scrub Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch, American Goldfinch, and even a Downy Woodpecker in under an hour of watching on the afternoon of January 5. I can only imagine what an early morning visit would be like for bird diversity.

I’m already looking forward to spending some spring days at Bear Creek Park. I hope you will put it on your own list of places to go when you visit Colorado Springs.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Hemlock tops
Boughed in prayer
To the Sun God,
To the Snow God.
Winter Water weight gain
Shed with the thaw,
Hemlock heads
Bending like Narcissus
To admire their own beauty.

Eric R. Eaton, circa 1989

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Over the Christmas holiday I had the privilege of visiting the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge on the afternoon of December 27, 2011. Not only did I get to go with my fiancĂ©e, Heidi Genter, but also Heidi’s mom, sister, and her sister’s five-year old daughter. At the refuge we met a mutual friend from Facebook, Shelly Cox, and her husband Joey.

No sooner did we arrive at refuge headquarters than we spotted several Bald Eagles, both adults an immature, gliding overhead. It was a good omen. Shelly, who works for the Missouri Department of Conservation, makes regular trips to the refuge; and Heidi’s mother often brought her students their on field trips when she was a teacher at a Lutheran elementary school in nearby Leavenworth, Kansas. So, we were blessed to have people along who knew where to go to see wildlife.

The interior of the headquarters building is full of great information, most of it free for the taking. Brochures, maps, coloring books for children, and even a frame-worthy print of an image of a Bald Eagle by photographer Jim Rathert, are among the items we took home with us. There are also gifts one can purchase.

Beyond the front desk are interpretive exhibits that offer an introduction to the fauna of the refuge. Most specimens are taxidermy mounts, but some are alive. The day we visited there was a very healthy specimen of an Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, Sistrurus catenatus, on display. This is an endangered reptile in the state of Missouri, and a candidate for federal listing as “threatened.”

Leaving the headquarters, we proceeded to drive around the large bodies of water that make the refuge so inviting to migrating waterfowl, raptors, and other birds. You can hear the vast flocks of Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens, long before you see them, but the sight is truly spectacular. An eagle passing overhead sends them into a tizzy, flying up in great clouds of wings, and amping up their already loud honking.

Recent counts put the Snow Goose tally at over 82,000 birds. A month before it was nearly 228,000.

Besides geese (including Canada Goose, of course), Trumpeter Swans are another abundant species. Over 200 had been seen the week before our visit. We also saw several Red-tailed Hawks, and one solitary Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus (below). The refuge is also a paradise for Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus. We saw several, but were told they were vastly more common prior to last year’s great flood of the Missouri River that pushed them up to the foot of the bluffs surrounding the floodplain. We also saw one Whitetail Deer, Odocoileus virginianus.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Squaw Creek NWR in 1935, and the Civilian Conservation Corps built most of the dikes, roads, trails, and buildings while camping in nearby Mound City. The refuge is more than just wetlands (3,400 acres). There are also 2,100 acres of grassland, 1,560 acres of forests and woodlands, and 400 acres of crops.

Driving along the berms there are places to pull off the road and look for birds. You can even build your own eagle eyrie at one stop.

Such imaginative interpretive features help make this refuge a popular resource for nature educators.

Late afternoon in late December may not be the best time to visit, but our trip did provide a spectacular sunset view over the open waters, and even a “Sun Dog” weather phenomenon. Fine ice crystals in cirrus clouds can create a short rainbow on either side of the sun (below).

Special thanks again to Shelly Cox for being our tour guide. For more and better images of the birds and wildlife of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, please browse this group. You will get hooked for sure, and want to add this gem to your list of places to travel to.