Quote 5. William H. Whyte & Kalamazoo’s Own Walden Woods

Title page of Walden by H. D. Thoreau, Heritage Press edition. Photo by Richard Brewer November 2012

The woods and meadows that so attracted [new residents] disappeared as soon as developers got around to building on them, and if the residents wanted to find what other nature features would be next to go, they had only to check the names of the subdivisions being planned. When a developer puts a woods into the name, or a vale, heights, forest, creek, or stream, he is not conserving; he is memorializing.  Subdivisions are named for that which they are about to destroy.

–William H. Whyte

 William Hollingsworth Whyte, called “Holly,” wrote those words in his 1968 book, The Last Landscape (Doubleday & Company).  Whyte was many things–a keen and scientific student of human behavior, a planner and land conservationist, and an excellent writer.  He was the primary architect of the conservation easement, currently the most widely used method of private land conservation.

Whyte may not have been the first person to notice that developments tend to be named after the natural features they damage or obliterate, but I’m pretty sure he was the first prominent conservationist to state it as a rule. Most of us can come up with local examples. If we saw an ad for lots in a new development called the Preserve at Eagle Knoll, we would win more often than we lost if we bet that the knoll had been flattened, the eagles were gone, and nothing was preserved.

Recently, I came across a related but slightly different approach to naming developments right here in Kalamazoo.

A good many years ago, Western Michigan University bought some property a little beyond the west edge of the campus.  The property, sometimes held in the name of the WMU Foundation, adjoined a city well-field and the Arcadia plat and lay between Solon Street on the east and Drake Road on the west.  WMU had bought the land thinking they were going to need a bigger, grander football stadium, but the need didn’t materialize, and it turned out that the cost of such a project, especially the required utilities, was prohibitive.

The land, which for convenience can be referred to as the Arboretum, was mostly recovering agricultural fields but with a few relict patches of native vegetation.  On the northwest side of the property grew a few bur oaks of various sizes.  This was near the south edge of one of the eight tall-grass, black soil prairies of the county–Grand Prairie–and these trees were a heritage of the fringing bur oak plain.

Also on the north boundary but farther east was a small pocket, a little valley, of mesic forest, but an unusual type of mesic forest with few or no beeches or sugar maples, dominated instead by basswood trees.  Part of this little valley was on the WMU property, the rest on the parcel adjacent to the north.

For a good many years the land abided, the plants and animals cycling through the seasons, visited by no one except walkers and joggers, bird-watchers and berry-pickers, and an occasional ecology class.

Several years ago, things began to change.  Someone interested in the sequence and timing could probably work out the details from the Kalamazoo Gazette mlive archives if they wanted to spend the time.  Here’s a place to start.  A quick synopsis is that WMU wanted to monetize their land holdings, and the city of Kalamazoo desperately wanted an east-west street in the region.  Other business and governmental entities were or became involved. The Kalamazoo School system built a new middle school.  The city built a road, which they called a parkway, crossing the property from Drake Road to Solon Street.  I’ve never known just what a parkway is, but a prominent feature of this one is that there is no place to park along it. One result is that access to the arboretum for walkers is pretty much limited to some of the immediate neighbors.

And the land  began to be developed. A couple of months ago, I saw signs for a new condominium development. The literature on it mentions that it will be “set amidst 80 acres of woodlands and rolling  meadows–of which 40 acres will be preserved.” Just how preserved it will be is unclear; so also are who and what it’s preserved for.  The literature goes on with a set of bullet points one of which is “40 acres of private green space.”

The name of the new development:  Walden Woods.

Entrance to Walden Woods condo, Kalamazoo. Photo by Richard Brewer

Perhaps I’m jumping to a conclusion, but the name suggests a connection to Henry David  Thoreau, the famous  naturalist, conservationist, and environmentalist. In an earlier post, I quoted a characteristic passage from Thoreau’s journal that also pertains here:

Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation…. All Walden Wood might have been preserved for our park forever, with Walden [pond] in its midst….

 

In Kalamazoo’s case, the 180+ acres of the Arboretum could have been turned into a city park–badly needed in this area of the city–along with an adjoining nature preserve. Something of this sort is what most of the neighbors and many other Kalamazoo residents wanted.  But, that, of course, is exactly what did not happen.  Instead, we have what we have, which includes Walden Wood in the form of a condo development.

It’s hard not to see this as another sad example of Whyte’s rule.  But perhaps we should try to take a little cheer from the situation. For example, if other developments follow in the arboretum, the names of dozens of other conservationists and conserved natural areas are waiting to serve. With Walden Woods honoring Thoreau, it would be only fair to have a Muir Woods for John Muir.  One of these already exists, but California is a long way from here so probably there would  be no confusion.

Among Teddy Roosevelt’s many conservation achievements, he set aside the first-ever bird sanctuary, Pelican Island.  How about Pelican Arboretum as a general name for the whole site?

 

Posted in Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities, Quotations | Comments closed

A Little More About Beech-Maple Forest in Late Summer

Fallen beechnuts. Photographed 20 August 2012 in Pavilion Township by Richard Brewer

In my last post I talked about how bland and uneventful the mesic forest is in late summer and early fall.  I was giving my impression from a good many years of experience with such forests.  But I spent a few hours on three days recently, actually looking at what was happening.  Partly I was hoping to see Triphora trianthophora and partly I wanted to check my memory.

I didn’t find three birds orchid, and not a lot was happening.  Not a lot, but still more than I had remembered.

For one thing, I had forgotten how important the shedding of fruit is at this time of year.  On 13 August, wild black cherry fruits were numerous on the ground, and there were more of them on visits in early and mid September. I have a feeling that birds that want black cherries eat the ripe–or green–fruit on the tree, but perhaps some mammals wanting the dried flesh or the stone wait for the cherries to drop.  That 60-year-old (but still unsurpassed) manual, American Wildlife and Plants, by Alexander C. Martin and two co-authors, suggests that cherries are eaten by red foxes and gray squirrels, but doesn’t comment on when they gather them.

By 20 September, there were lots of  samaras, the small key-like fruits of sugar maple on the ground.  Sugar maples are always the most common saplings in the mesic woods in Michigan.  There may be a rare year when the seed crop is low, but I think seed supply is rarely a limiting stage in the maple’s life cycle.

It’s not noticeable when you’re walking on the soft earth of the forest, but where the maple fruits have fallen on a hard surface, like a concrete walk, they snap when you step on them, like popping bubble-wrap.  Great fun, almost like popping ripe touch-me-nots.

On the 20th of September also, there were many light tan, prickly beechnuts on the ground, and more were coming down.  Some had one or two fruits inside and some were empty, but I had no way of knowing whether the two, sometimes three, fruits had been plucked out on the ground or in the tree or whether all had aborted.

There’s no question about what animals eat beech fruits.  The answer is everything.  Well, not warblers, but wood ducks, grouse, grackles, jays, woodpeckers, bear, squirrels, fox, chipmunk, deer.

I thought there were especially large crops this year from all these trees–cherry, maple, beech.  Whether some of this could be related to the unusual warmth of the summer is impossible to say.  Tree crops do fluctuate, with one very good year rarely being followed by another.

There were other good things to be seen on my visits to the woods. Lots of herbaceous plants and shrubs were bearing ripe fruit–American poke, or pokeweed, had ripe fleshy fruits.  Such things as Polygonum virginianum and Geum canadense had smallish, dry fruit.  The fruits of red-berried elder were long gone, eaten by birds, but there on the stems, two at a node, were large flower buds ready for next spring.

As I’ve claimed before, not much was in bloom, although Geum canadense had a few flowers with two or three white rounded petals still clinging.

Aster lateriflorus. Photographed 20 September 2012 in Pavilion Township MI by Richard Brewer.

But one species was definitely blooming and near its peak.  It wasn’t  three birds, which I didn’t find.  It was a little white aster, sometimes called calico aster.  The scientific name situation in not very satisfactory, but for our purposes we can refer to it as Aster lateriflorus.

It’s not showy, but it was blooming on August 13 and sill blooming on September 20, with no end to its season in sight.

Posted in Birds, Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities | Comments closed

Bird Lives! Three Birds Orchid Still in Michigan

Last August (2011), I wrote a post mentioning that late summer is the flowering time of a rare plant of beech-maple forest, the three birds orchid, Triphora trianthophora. It’s rare nearly everywhere and seemingly was gone from most or all of the few known Michigan stations. I invited Michigan field naturalists to go out and find a place where the plant still lived.

Later that fall (2011), I received an email from Michigan botanist Charles Peirce with the following information:

1. There’s a photographer, Aaron Strouse, in Clare, Michigan who has superior photographs taken this summer. He has displayed them on flickr.

2. There is supposed to be a colony of Three Birds Orchid in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore [Leelanau County]. However, [the] location information covers a large amount of habitat and turns out to be of little use.

And now (2012), Indiana botanist Scott Namestnik has posted a comment to my 2011 essay:

I am happy to report that as of yesterday [3 September], Triphora trianthophora is alive and well in Michigan! (At least at one location). I was at a site in Berrien County yesterday botanizing with a friend when by complete luck I caught a quick glimpse of a tiny white flower on the mesic forest floor. After a double take, I realized that I was looking at Triphora trianthophora! We first saw a couple of plants, then a couple more, and then I realized that the popuation was much more extensive than we orignally suspected. In all, it covered an area ~30′ x 40′, and we estimated 100 plants, though there are probably more. From what I can tell, this is a different site from where it was previously known in Berrien County. I’ve notified a friend at MNFI [Michigan Natural Features Inventory], and we collected notes on the population that I’ve passed to my friend at MNFI.

The MNFI account for three birds orchid available on the web lists 12 stations in 10 counties. They run from Berrien and Cass in the southwest corner of Michigan to Leelanau County  three-quarters of the way up the Lake Michigan coast. However, the MNFI  web account includes only historic records, between 1880 amd 1981. None of the records is farther east than Ionia County; most are in counties directly adjacent to Lake Michigan.

From the information provided by  Charles Peirce and Scott Namestnik, we know that three birds still exists in Michigan, but it remains a rare plant.  It also is an inconspicuous plant–inconspicuous in ways that most plants never thought of.  It blooms at a time–late July to September–when few biologists, or anybody else, has much reason to be in its habitat. Under the dense canopy, the beech-maple forest is dark and buggy, with mosquitos and deer flies.  Mesic forest is outstandingly a site for spring ephemerals, though some other plants bloom through late spring and early summer. But by August almost no other plant species is in flower, except for a few late blossoms on thigh-high plants of horse nettle, Laportea canadensis.

Not much else is happening in these woods either. A few plants  have fruits ripening–bottle-brush grass and dolls eyes, for example. and there are a few fresh fungi such as large white puff balls and coral fungi; however, most of the prime mushrooms appear in spring, early summer, or a bit later in the fall.

So rare though it may be, three birds is also easily missed.

Here’s a little more information about the species reprinted from my earlier post:

Three birds is a short plant, 6 inches or thereabouts. There is much yet to learn about its habitat and life history.  Within its mesophytic forest home, it’s said to favor sites where there’s a build-up of leaf litter and humus.  Probably this means small depressions.  Leaves accumulate other places, such as between two large fallen trunks, but I’m not sure if that microhabitat would be long-lived enough to allow time for the orchid to invade.  But maybe it would. From observations of the Michigan botanist Fred Case in his Orchids of the Western Great Lakes Region (Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1987), I suspect that most dispersal is through underground tuberoids that are dug up, carried off, and stored in the duff and litter by red squirrels, or perhaps chipmunks.

Late in the summer, fleshy stems sprout rapidly from the underground tuberoids.  Each plant bears only a few leaves which are oval, alternate, and clasp the stem.  Usually there will be a few stems in a clump. Not long after the plants appear, one or occasionally more of the buds open.  Flowering is possibly triggered by a couple of chilly nights in a row.  It is reported that most of the plants in a given area produce their first blooms at the same time.  After a day or so, the first set of blossoms shrivel, and in a few days, a second round of flowering may occur, and perhaps a third.

The flowers (often three per plant) are recognizably orchids but small, perhaps about an inch wide and an inch tall and are mostly whitish or pinkish with a greenish bearded stripe on the lip.  The fruits last for a couple of weeks before slits develop that allow the release of the spore-like seeds in the following days.  Although the plants are not at their showiest when they’re in fruit, this is probably the longest period of their above-ground life.

If three birds is still in Berrien County and Leelanau , why shouldn’t it be in suitable habitat in the dozen or so counties in between?  Now may be the prime time to look.

Good hunting!

 

Acknowledgments:  My thanks to Charles Peirce and Scott Namestnik.  Both have interesting blogs. Peirce’s Michigan Wildflowers, has photos of many of the vascular plants of Michigan, arranged alphabetically (separate indexes for common and scientific names),  The website  makes an excellent aid for identifying or verifying Michigan plants.  His photos of Triphora trianthophora are dated 2012, indicating that he has been fortunate enough to visit a Michigan site for the species recently.

One of Namestnik’s blogs, Through Handlens and Binoculars, is devoted to natural history observations by him and his wife, particularly in the highly ecotonal region where they live in the northwest corner of Indiana (lapping over into far southwest  Michigan.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Conservation, Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities | Comments closed

Trail Threat to Calhoun County’s Harvey Ott Preserve is Back

It appears that the more-or-less satisfactory resolution (as of about this time last year) to the proposed wide trail through the Ott Preserve has fallen through.  The issue is again before the Calhoun County Board of  Commissioners.
Last year, the Board listened carefully to all sides and rejected the poorly conceived plan brought to it by the Calhoun County Trailways Alliance. In effect, the Board affirmed a compromise in which a route minimizing mileage and potential damage was to be sought.
 
I would have wished as part of the action at that time that a definite route had been chosen and agreed on or, if not, that the principles to be used in selecting a route be settled–no penetration near biologically sensitive areas, minimal alteration of ground contours, etc. None of this was done, but I–and I think most people–were left believing that the route would pretty much follow the Consumers Energy right-of way, an already disturbed section along the west side of the Preserve.
 
It now appears that choosing the route was left to the Trailways Alliance Board.  Furthermore, negotiations seem to have been left to the Alliance, so that when the Alliance decided that the trail ought to cut across some private property, it was the Alliance negotiating easements with the owners.
  
It does not seem surprising that the negotiations failed.
  
Neither is it surprising that the Trailways Alliance is now back, wanting a long route through relatively undisturbed areas of Ott.
Evidently some new alternative has been suggested. Possibly it has merits.  But I doubt that it should be accepted in the next week or month.  The Board’s stewardship of the Ott Preserve should include a real effort to let the public know exactly what is planned as to route, methods (construction, stewardship}, effects on vegetation and animals, hydrology, topography, and funding for all likely costs including ongoing remediation of damage produced by the trail traffic.
  
Essential to a final decision is a thorough ecological survey of the Preserve.  That such a survey should be done has been clear since such a trail project was proposed. Up-to-date information is needed on what features most need protection and where they are.  Baseline data is needed, so that the damage such a trail will do can be unambiguously detected.
Who would suppose that a large-scale project such as this could be started without such a survey?  The survey should have been done a few years ago.  It could have been done during the past year. Perhaps the Trail Alliance would prefer that no such survey ever be done.
This renewed attempt to run a trail through Ott has come up quickly.  It should not be acted on quickly.  People need well-advertised opportunities to question proponents–and opponents.  People need to be able to walk any proposed route and judge for themselves.  They need to be able to answer for themselves–Is this the route we want?  Do we want a 14-foot-wide swath cut through the Ott Preserve at all?
The foregoing is a slightly modified version of a letter I emailed to all of the Calhoun County Commissioners having email addresses this morning.  The Commission is scheduled to take up and perhaps vote on the new proposed route tomorrow night ( 3 May 2012) at their regular meeting. Information about the Preserve features, history including the 2011 attack and another still earlier incident are given here and in several other posts on my website around the same time.
Following is a list of the current county commissioners, most of whom were also on the board  in 2011:

Kathy Sue Dunn (Board appointed replacement for former Commissioner Behnke)

458 Country Club Drive Battle Creek, MI 49015 (269) 968-9758

Email form: http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/directory/contact/?StaffId=1778

 

Terris Todd

135 Irving Park Drive Battle Creek, MI 49017 (269) 660-8717

Email form: http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/directory/contact/?StaffId=1662

todd4calhoun@yahoo.com

 

Jim Haadsma

146 South Lincoln Blvd.

Battle Creek, MI 49015

(269) 964-3472

Email form: http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/directory/contact/?StaffId=1359

jhaadsma@mccroskeylaw.com

 

Steve Frisbie

148 Pheasantwood Trail Battle Creek, MI 49017 (269) 964-1693

Email form: http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/directory/contact/?StaffId=1322

sjfriz@gmail.com

 

Julie Camp Seifke

8934 5 Mile Road East Leroy, MI 49051 (269) 967-0759

Email form: http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/directory/contact/?StaffId=1221

juliecamp5@gmail.com

 

Art Kale

PO Box 672 Albion, MI 49224 (517) 629-4774

Email form: http://www.calhouncountymi.gov/directory/contact/?StaffId=1431

arthurkale@gmail.com

 

Blaine VanSickle

16828 21 Mile Road Marshall, MI 49068 (269) 781-4400

No email

 


Posted in Conservation, Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities | Comments closed

Field Trip To Beech-Sugar Maple Forest 7 April 2012, In A High CO2 World

Big trees in Mildred Harris Sanctuary. Photo 6 March 2011 by Richard Brewer

I’m leading a field trip to a beech-sugar maple forest this spring.  We’ll look at the spring flowers and as we stroll around also talk about what mesophytic forests are like, why they are where they are, what the interactions among the organisms are, and other such natural history and ecology topics.

The specific site where we’ll gather is the Mildred Harris Sanctuary north of Kalamazoo.  It’s owned by the Michigan Audubon Society and has been stewarded for many years by the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo.

The trip is sponsored by the Southwest Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club as part of its 2012 project concentrating on natural features and conservation in Oshstemo Township (known to some as the Occupy Oshtemo movement.

I’ve led a trip along these lines several springs in past years, to one or another of the remaining examples of mesophytic forest in southwest Michigan.  But there’s a difference this year.

Most such trips for spring ephemerals led by me or others have been held in mid or late April or even early May.  This year the president, Tyler Bassett, of the Southwest Chapter of the  Botanical Club and I had agreed on Saturday April 21 as the date. Then the second week of March arrived.  The beginning of March had temperatures fairly close to the historical averages–30s as highs and 20s as lows.  March 6 started a run in which day after day had highs at least in the 60s and often the 70s.  March 19 to 22, had a run of highs in the 80s. The last freezing temperatures came far back in February.

Looking at what was happening to the flora, Tyler and I decided to move the date of spring wild flower trip up by two weeks, to Saturday March 7.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but seventeen days with temperatures between 60 and 85 in the middle of March may make it necessary for Michigan nature organizations to revise their field trip calendars.

Here’s an idea, a sampling, of what’s been happening this spring:  As mentioned in my last post, I heard wood frogs in Oshtemo Township 12 March and by the next night, they were joined by a few spring peepers.

By the night of 15 March, both these species as well as chorus frogs were in full voice. On the 15th, the high temperature was 79 and the low 55, compared with historical averages of 45 and 27 degrees.

As to the plants, on a visit 14 March to Newton Woods at Russ Forest, two friends and I found spring beauty up, a broad-leaved sedge with flowering stalks, and harbinger of spring close to full bloom.

Spice bush in flower. Photograph 18 March 2012 Oshtemo Township by Richard Brewer

In Oshtemo Township, spice bush was in full bloom by 18 March, a golden haze over the edges of the kettles where the frogs had gathered.  Bloodroot was in bloom 19 March.

On 22 March, I visited a rich beech-maple forest in Pavilion Township.  All of the following (in the order I came across them) were in bloom:

Spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, Yellow violet, harbinger of spring (nearly done), blue violet, Carex plantaginifolia (nearly done), toothwort, purple spring cress, wood anemone, and skunk cabbage.

Several other species were up and some had obvious flower buds.

So we’ll gather this year April 7 at the Harris Sanctuary which is in the southwest corner of F Avenue and 8th Street.  It’s about 3 miles north of the trail-head of the Kal-Haven Trail (which is on 9th Street).  F Avenue is a gravel road–a Natural Beauty road, in fact.  Attendees should park on the north side of the road.  Be there by 10 AM.

Harris is on the Kalamazoo moraine, so there will some mild hill climbing. We’ll finish about noon.  Bring a sandwich and have lunch sitting on a log if you wish.

The technically minded may notice that the Harris Sanctuary is not in Oshtemo Township.  But it’s pretty close.

Three-quarters of a mile north.

 

Posted in Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities | Comments closed

Notes On A High CO2 Spring, March 2012

North Pond. Photo 12 March 2012 Oshtemo Township by Richard Brewer

With temperatures in the 50s and 60s the last few days–and predicted as mid-70s today–spring is advancing fast.  Wood frogs were calling in the larger pond Monday, March 12.  By yesterday, they were in full chorus in both ponds and by last night, a few spring peepers had joined in.

Among the bird arrivals I’ve noticed (since we’ve been back), Red-winged Blackbirds were numerous Monday morning, and I saw two American Robins along our road, where none had been all winter.

Black-capped Chickadees were giving their spring, “fee-bee” song Tuesday morning.

But there has been little in the way of wild flower action, at least in the oak woods.  Honey bees were visiting the non-native winter aconite, which is in full bloom.

Posted in Birds, Conservation, Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities | Comments closed

Turkey Vultures: A Panama Addendum

Katy and I just returned from Panama.  I’ll write more about the trip later.  This note is a short Panama addendum to the Turkey Vulture post of a few weeks ago.

In reading about Panama before we went down, I came across some of Frank M. Chapman’s observations on Turkey Vultures in his 1938 book Life in an Air Castle.  The observations were made at Barro Colorado Island in the Canal Zone where Chapman, Curator of Birds at the American Museum, spent a good many dry seasons beginning in 1925. He was one of the ornithologists who performed some field experiments that established that Turkey Vultures could readily find carrion without reliance on vision.  One of his trials was “The Empty-House Test.” In it, he and E. Thomas Gilliard placed the body of a coati on a shelf hidden from the outside in a vacant house. This was done the afternoon of 24 December 1935.  No Turkey Vultures had been seen in the vicinity for at least a month.

Chapman wrote that he did not expect the presence of the dead coati would be detected by the vultures within a day, “while my associate in this experiment freely expressed his belief that they would never discover it. With unconcealed surprise, therefore, he announced at 9:45 on Christmas morning that a buzzard had just flown from a tree growing next to the house containing the coati.”

Within the next three hours, five more Turkey Vultures and one Black Vulture (presumably attracted by the sight of the Turkey Vultures descending) made appearances.

A similar “Box on the Hill Test” plus many trials where carcasses securely wrapped in three layers of gunny sacking–burlap–were laid on the ground under forest cover gave similar results.  The wrapped carcasses were monitored with flash cameras triggered by a wire attached to the bait.  The resulting photos showed that the hidden carrion was quickly found, and always by Turkey Vultures.

The unanimity of these trials pretty much eliminates the idea that the Turkey Vultures must see the dead animal to find their food. The trials do not by themselves show that the sense of smell is involved, and in fact, two naturalists within a couple of years of one another suggested that vultures might be finding dead animals by noticing carrion-feeding insects (or even small mammals) attracted to corpses.

William B. Taber, Jr. was the first, writing in the Wilson Bulletin for 1928.  He pointed out that Turkey Vultures can be attracted to carrion by seeing a cluster of crows on the ground (around a dead animal) and suggested that they might very well be similarly attracted to a bunch of brightly colored carrion beetles.

While collecting insects in tropical America, P. J. Darlington, Jr., twice had bait put out to attract carrion-feeding beetles stolen by Turkey Vultures.  The first case was dead fish hidden under fairly large stones, the second dead iguanas put out in scrubby woods.  In an article in The Auk for 1930 Darlington (later on a well-known biogeographer at Harvard) admitted that the birds could have smelled the dead animals, but thought that the possibility that the birds had been attracted by seeing a congregation of insects or hearing their buzzing ought to be considered.  He concluded that Turkey and Black Vultures “are highly organized animals which presumably react to a complex environment in a very complex manner, and which must be experimented with accordingly.”

Chapman saw nothing in his trials to make him think that the sight or sound of insects was attracting the vultures but made a similar point, one that he had made in connection with his earlier studies: The Turkey Vulture “is not a mere stupid gorger of carrion but a bird dependent for its existence on its power of flight and discriminating use of its senses of sight and smell.”

Maybe even hearing. Perhaps it’s time for someone to do a well-designed test of whether the buzzing of blowflies or the clicking or squeaking sounds made by a gathering of carrion-eating beetles would pull vultures down from the sky.

Posted in Birds | Comments closed

Founders Rule

Late first snow, Oshtemo Township. Photo 2 January 2012 by Richard Brewer

A thread that began on the LANDTRUST-L listserv early in December 2011 had an outlier, a late post, a couple of days ago.  I read it over this afternoon as the first good-sized snow of the winter was falling–9 inches but slowing down.

The thread had to do with term limits for land trust board members and the familiar points were covered–well covered as is generally the case for nuts-and-bolts land trust issues on this listserv.  The virtues of bringing in new blood as against losing capable veterans were compared. The difficuly of finding good new contributing members was mentioned as well as the need for a committee to profile desirable skills and locate candidates. Ways of retaining involvement of former board members that had been term-limited off were suggested.

Different land trusts handled things differently, but if there was a consensus, it was that term limits, despite bringing some problems that had to be dealt with, were a good thing.

It would be hard to disagree with such a moderate position. Term limits can have several good effects and only a few bad ones. And  a land trust that is a going concern in a market of reasonable size can almost always recruit competent new board members if the nominating committee is doing its job.

Something that has occurred to me after watching a lot of boards from chamber music to bird clubs is that only one class of board member is irreplaceable.  The irreplaceable class is the founders. I make this suggestion not in a spirit of contention but as a serious observation.

There are founders and founders.  Some people are founders because they’re a friend of one of the real founders or they’re an accountant or have a good permanent mailing address or have a friend at the local foundation.  All of these are good traits for board members. But the founders to me are the ones with the zeal.  They’re the ones with the vision of the organization’s role, the knowledge of the enterprise, the sense of rightness of the task, and the persistence to fill out the forms, rent the hall, and actually produce a new organization.

Some new board members develop some of these attributes. Some don’t, though they may do a lot of governance or a lot of cheer leading.

I would make an exception to a term limits rule to make it possible for any founder to serve on the board as long as and whenever he or she chose to. The point is to keep the founder traits and also to keep the the institutional history readily accessible.

Not everybody will agree.  In fact, one of the main motivations for term limits–soft-pedaled in the moderate discussions of the listserv–is to get rid of the old-timers with their baggage of stoutly held outmoded ideas of how things ought to be done.

Non-profit-board experts have identified two evolutionary trends.  Boards start out as a bunch of activists who know the subject. In the course of time they are replaced by policy-setter types with influence in the community.  And pari passu the work of the organization shifts from volunteers to paid staff.

These two trends are definite and immutable, as certain as the development of a sunburn from too much time at the beach.  In one article on non-profit board development I saw, the condition of having founders remaining past their pull-by date was referred to as Founders’ Syndrome, indicating the seriousness of the affliction.

My view is that, despite occasional bull-headness, cantankerousness, and failure to go with the flow, founders may bring features hard to find elsewhere.

Not an invitation for argument, just a rumination from a snowy afternoon.

Happy New Year to founders and non-founders alike.

[Persons interested in land trust topics can partake of the listserv mentioned by emailing listserv@indiana.edu with the message subscribe landtrust-L]

 

Posted in Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation) | Comments closed

L. A. Kenoyer on Saving Newton Woods

Leslie A. Kenoyer in the greenhouse at West Hall, WMU East campus. Photo courtesy Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection

The essay that follows is a radio address by Leslie Alva Kenoyer, who served from 1922 to 1953 as Professor and Chairman of the Biology Department at Western Michigan University –at that time Western State Teachers College .  The piece is dated April 16, 1935.  It was written for Western’s Radio Hour, which was evidently a continuing feature on station WKZO.

NEWTON WOODS 

Leslie Kenoyer 

“Woodman, spare that tree, Touch not a single bough.”

 The sentiment that inspired this poem has not been firmly enough established in the minds of southern Michigan people to save from destruction any more than the most scattered remnants of our once beautiful and glorious forest lands. Some fifty thousand years ago the great continental glacier receded from what is now Michigan leaving a raw and barren glacial clay, streaked here and there with sand and gravel. Such soil, in the cool climate then found here, could support only a meager arctic vegetation, consisting of such low, spreading plants as we find today in our cold bogs. The rain and sun gradually brought about favorable chemical changes in the soil and the plants gradually decayed to form humus, hence, in the course of a few centuries, the scant arctic vegetation was replaced by larger shrubs. Centuries later trees occupied the ground, starting with the poplars and developing from stage to stage to dense shady forests of beech and sugar maple. such as covered much of southern Michigan 110 years ago when the government divided our land into townships and sections.

It was inevitable that the trees should succumb to the lumberman’s axe, when the land was cleared for farm homesteads, but it is particularly unfortunate that their removal should have been so complete. Indeed we have here and there a small woodlot to serve as a rather meager sample of the forests that were. but larger tracts are now exceedingly scarce. One of the finest and most extensive remaining areas is Newton Woods in Cass County, adjoining the road from Decatur to Cassopolis, and not far from the village of Volinia. Here are several hundred acres of practically virgin timber, including large blocks of both the beech-maple and oak-hickory types of timber. The trees of this forest were large long before southern Michigan was surveyed and opened to the settler. Among them is an elm which now lifts its head to the majestic height of 150 feet and has a circumference. three feet above ground of 24 feet [91-92 inches in diameter]. Some believe it to be the largest tree now standing in Michigan. There is also a magnificent group of giant tulip or whitewood, the largest of which is 145 feet high, 90 feet to the first branch and 30 feet in circumference [114-115 inches in diameter]. It takes three to five centuries to grow such trees as these.

Ten years ago we could see from our college campus, at a distance of eight or nine miles, a stately elm, towering far above the other trees. Suddenly this tree ceased to be seen, and we learned that it had been sold for $100 for the manufacture of barrel staves. On visiting the stump and counting the rings of growth, I found that the tree was considerably over 400 years old. It was a sapling when Columbus crossed the Atlantic in his puny sailing vessels. Probably the barrels have worn out and the $100 has been long since spent and forgotten, but it will take 400 years to grow another such tree.

When a forest is cut, it is not only the trees that go. The shrubs and the herbs, the orchids and other rare plants, the mosses and lichens that form the turf, will not live when deprived of the shade of the trees. The disappearance of this ground cover permits the erosion of the soil, which represents the accumulation of many thousands of years. The insects, the birds, and the beasts are dislodged from their accustomed haunts, many of them to perish. Hence the restoration of a denuded area cannot be accomplished by the mere planting of trees, nor does a planted forest ever prove a satisfactory substitute for a destroyed native forest.  The old conditions will not and cannot be restored, once the forest is gone.  How, then, will the next generation know anything of the beauties and glories of the forest with its wonderful variety of plant and animal forms  This is a question which our generation must answer.

A part of the Newton Woods is now in the hands of a lumber company and some cutting has already been done, but there is a chance that it may yet be rescued if the public will take sufficient interest in its preservation. The lumber firm is kindly witholding operations in view of an aggressive campaign that is now being sponsored by the Michigan Academy [of Science, Arts, and Letters], the Michigan Forestry Association, and other organizations and individuals who feel that the value to the people of such reserves for the continuation of our wild life is one that cannot be measured in mere dollars. The present leader of this movement is Shirley W. Allen, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Professor Allen would like to hear from all who are interested in finding some means to save the tract.  It is well to bear in mind that our present state parks are mostly in northern Michigan remote from centers of population. Here is a real wilderness with immense trees, a small stream, a profusion of wild flowers, birds, and other natural beauties easy of access to a million people.  We cannot blame property owners for wishing to realize from their investments, but we deplore the fact that the people are not awake to the desirability of keeping the few remaining bits of out landscape as nature gave them to us, free from the artificial modifications imposed  by farm and city development.  With an awakened public, our officials and our public-spirited citizens of means would put forth the necessary efforts to save from the general destruction these remnants of wild nature for the instruction and enjoyment of generations yet to come.

Kenoyer’s comments on post-glacial vegetation change hold up well enough as a broad pattern.  However, the quoted estimate of 50,000 years ago since the last ice sheet melted from southern Michigan is too high. Something on the order of 15,000 years would be closer to the interval based on current evidence.

I like Kenoyer’s plea for protecting natural areas “for the enjoyment and instruction” of later generations.  If I were to revise it I might write “enjoyment, instruction, and health of our own and later generations.” But Kenoyer’s plea for land conservation was accurate and eloquent exactly as he wrote it and, in 1935 on a radio broadcast, far ahead of its time.

The script of this and a few other of Kenoyer’s radio addresses, preserved by Biology Prof. Frank Hindshave been deposited in the WMU Archives and Regional History Collection

Kenoyer received his Ph.D. in 1916, evidently done in some sort of joint arrangement between the University of Chicago and Iowa State University.  He is credited with receiving the first Ph.D. granted by  what was then The Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.  Kenoyer’s thesis research dealt with environmental influences on nectar secretion.  This and his research interests as shown in later life seem clearly in line with the work being done at Chicago by Henry Chandler Cowles and the other faculty and graduate students.

Kenoyer was born in 1883 in Dover, a small community in north-central Illinois. After completing his Ph.D., he taught botany in India for six years, then spent a year at Michigan State before coming to Kalamazoo.  He became head of the Biology Department soon after arriving, when LeRoy H. Harvey died.

Newton Woods was saved by a donation of  land (580 acres) and an endowment by Fred Russ in 1939 .  The story is complicated (and deserves a thorough treatment by someone), but there is a rough correspondence between the “Newton Woods” of the 1930s and Fred Russ Forest managed by Michigan State University.  MSU applies the name “Newton Woods” to 40 acres of old-growth hardwood, the only part of the forest that is protected from timber cutting.  E. Lucy Braun in her monumental study Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America (1950. Blakiston, Philadelphia) sampled two distinct areas at Russ Forest, probably in the early 1940s (pp 318-320).  One was beech-sugar maple with American elm, black walnut, tulip tree, and several other species well represented. The other was dominated by white oak with sugar maple second and red oak and black walnut tied for third.  Evidently, the oak-maple stand is what MSU terms “Newton Woods.”  

Whether Kenoyer and some of the other individuals and groups who worked to preserve Newton Woods 75 years ago would  be wholly be satisfied with the outcome is not certain.

 

Posted in Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities, Quotations | Comments closed

More about Ozone: Lisa was smiling till she saw Fred

Photo by Richard Brewer

In the preceding post, the question of why President Obama rebuffed the stronger ozone standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency was left unresolved.  Now we have the answer.

The Kalamazoo Gazette for 2 November 2011 reprinted an article from the Washington Post by Ned Martel. The Gazette reprint was titled Upton Changing for good of GOP? Longtime moderate shedding conciliatory ways at key time for his party.

The topic was the supposed slide to the right by Fred Upton.  Upton, an heir to the Whirlpool fortune, has served as the U. S. Representative from southwestern Michigan since 1987.  He’s had something of a reputation as a moderate since his first campaign in 1986.  In fact, Howard Wolpe, a Democratic icon from Kalamazoo, recounts how he advised Upton in that campaign, the 1986 Republican primary in which Upton beat the conservative incumbent, Mark Siljander.

Maybe Fred has changed his stripes, as Wolpe and others have suggested.  But I’m doubtful; the bulk of Upton’s voting record has always been that of a conservative Republican. Occasional deviations from the Republican party line may well have been sanctioned by the Republican leadership on a few bills where it was clear his vote would make no difference–that is, on issues where the Republicans were already certain to win by a large margin or lose by a large margin.

An alternative interpretation of Fred’s move is that in recent years, with the various changes in Congressional districts and boundaries, Michigan’s 6th Congressional district has so many Republicans he no longer needs votes from the blue sections and can stop pretending.

Whether it’s a real change or just the end of dissimulation means little–except possibly to some of the moderates or liberals who voted for Fred in earlier elections.

This is a long preamble to the crux–the answer to our question.  According to the Martel article, Upton “pushed the president to jettison some tough ozone-reduction plans.”  We learn further that “at a September joint session of Congress, EPA Adminstrator Lisa Jackson caught sight of Upton. ‘She was smiling till she saw me,’ Upton recalled with relish.”

And there we have it.  Fred pushed, Obama jettisoned, and Lisa smiled no more.

Posted in Conservation, Michigan (including Kalamazoo) | Comments closed