Archive | nature

Get Outside!

 

In 2005, Richard Louv coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book, Last Child in the Woods, to describe the host of behavioral problems he attributes to humans, especially children, spending less time in the outdoors.

Highlighting this trend away from connecting with the natural world, a recent National Aquarium commercial shows a child watching sea life in an underwater tank and remarking how “life-like” it is. The dad tries to help the son recognize that it IS real-life, not virtual reality.

The solution: GET OUTSIDE! We are lucky here in Fairfax County to have 427 parks on approximately 23,359 acres of land. There is truly something for everyone: from outdoor waterparks to the new Treetop Adventure Course at South Run. The parks also include many miles of hiking trails. For  more information about Fairfax County parks and programming, go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/

For those who want to gain in-depth understanding of the natural environment or want to work on an environmental project in their community, the Master Naturalist program may be an option. The Master Naturalist program describes itself on its Virginia website as “volunteer educators, citizen scientists, and stewards helping Virginia conserve and manage natural resources and public lands.” This organization has trained experts to help reconnect people to their natural surroundings. Check out the Fairfax Chapter http://www.vmnfairfax.org/SitePages/Home.aspx

For individuals who want to go even further, registration to start the training towards becoming a Master Naturalist is happening right now for the fall training session. http://www.vmnfairfax.org/Shared%20Documents/2017%20UPDATED%20FMN%20Application_Fillable.pdf

 

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Parties in the Woods: Litter and Fires

Fires set by groups of young people “hanging out” in the woods in Fairfax County are posing a real threat to the environment. Typically, small groups of students, usually high school age, will find wooded areas to congregate, often during the school day. Many times they have brought snacks and beverages, sometimes alcoholic beverages. Not wanting to show they have been cutting class—and, in some cases, illegally drinking— they will usually leave the packaging in the woods. Piles of cans, bottles, wrappers, etc. dot the wooded areas surrounding some of our high schools. More conscientious students even put everything in a bag and tie it up, though they still leave the bagged litter rather than try to dispose of it properly.

While this litter is a nuisance and does have an environmental impact on area wildlife that gets entrapped or ingests the litter, when groups decide to add a bonfire to their party in the woods, they are inviting possible environmental devastation, particularly as we get into the dryer months and students are out of school with more time on their hands.

Please immediately report to the police department any evidence of fire activity or ongoing problems with litter piles left over from “parties” in the woods.

June 8: World Oceans Day

In 2008 the United Nations proclaimed June 8 World Oceans Day. This year the theme is Our Oceans, Our Future. The conservation action focus isencouraging solutions to plastic pollution and preventing marine litter for a healthier ocean and a better future.”

According to the Oceanic Institute, oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water. With such great volume of water, how can litter be a problem?

We’ve all seen litter debris wash up on the beaches ruining the beach aesthetic and posing a potential health problem as beachcombers walk barefoot along the shore and toxins leach out of the litter. Some who have gone snorkeling or diving may have also encountered plastic bags, parts of fishing gear, plastic bottles, etc. below the surface of the ocean. And, of course, there are the entanglement problems: animals with plastic bags or plastic six pack holders wrapped around them. And ingestion situations: sea creatures with assorted garbage in their stomachs.

Particularly unbelievable is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, described as a soupy collection of marine debris—mostly plastics – with estimates measuring it at anywhere from 270,000 square miles (about the size of Texas) to 5,800,000 square miles (more than one and a half times the size of the United States). Similar, though somewhat smaller, swatches of floating litter, primarily large plastic pieces and the small micro-plastics these break down into, exist in the other oceans as well.

And marine litter has permeated even to the deepest parts of the ocean. Dr. Lucy Woodall, a scientist at the University of Oxford, conducted two large-scale surveys of deep sea areas in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and found litter at all locations, despite the depth of the samples and the remoteness of the locations.

And this is just the visible litter. Dr. Woodall’s sampling of deep sea organisms found evidence of ingested fibers in every creature.

This summer, when you head to the beach, be sure to pack out what you bring in. Consider going the extra step and picking up any litter you see.

And remember that the litter problem actually begins miles away from the ocean: our waterways here in Fairfax County go into the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.

Start with an effort to keep our waterways in Fairfax County free from litter. Contact Clean Fairfax if you have seen a trashy area you would like to clean up and need gloves and bags.

For more information about World Oceans Day go to http://www.worldoceansday.org/

Weed-free—Naturally!

Keeping our yards weed-free: It’s more than just a desire to “keep up with the Joneses” and not have the ugliest yard in the neighborhood. I would argue that most suburban homeowners in our area strive to maintain a beautiful yard because it is a pleasure to come home to a blooming weed-free paradise after a day of inside work. In our moderate climate zone, we are blessed with a fairly long growing season and an ability to cultivate a large variety of plants. With this opportunity, however, comes responsibility.

I noted in a previous blog (Invasives=Plant Litter March 20, 2017) the importance of planting non-invasives, and, whenever possible, removing invasives. However, what to do about weeds is another aspect of suburban gardening that requires careful decision-making to reduce negative environmental impact.

According to the Plant Natural Research Center, “While most modern herbicides are designed to kill only plants and have little or no toxicity to humans, many still have extreme consequences in the environment, changing habitats in ways that affect insects and wildlife. These consequences extend to water courses where they may kill beneficial aquatic plants and fish.”

In addition, a Purdue University study of dogs from treated and untreated yards found that untreated grass contained chemicals from drift from other yards, and half of the dogs studied who lived in untreated yards still had chemicals in their urine. The Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue found that certain garden and lawn chemicals are linked to canine bladder cancer.

And there is some evidence that toxins in herbicides CAN affect humans. A case-controlled study published in March 1999 by Swedish scientists Lennart Hardell and Mikael Eriksson showed that non-hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is linked to exposure to a range of pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup often used to control poison ivy in this area. Relatively unknown prior to the 1940’s—about the time pesticides and herbicides came into more widespread use— NHL is now one of the most common types of cancer.

Fortunately, Earth 911 offers some excellent all-natural ideas on how to take care of weeds: http://earth911.com/home-garden/all-natural-weed-killer/?utm_source=New+Earth911+List+-+2015&utm_campaign=50dab42296-Tuesday+Emails+5.9.17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5e8b4dc609-50dab42296-167852373

You may also decide that that “weed” in your garden is really quite beautiful and worth leaving alone. Make environmentally sustainable choices in your garden this year!

(Native Joe Pye Weed is popular with both bees and butterflies—and is technically not a weed : -)

Don’t be a Fawn Kidnapper! 

Fairfax County is fortunate to have expanses of forest that are the habitat for many woodland creatures. During the spring, deer fawns are often temporarily left alone while the does forage. Many people mistakenly assume these baby deer have been abandoned. Unless the fawn is obviously hurt or sick, the Fairfax Police Department urges people to leave the fawns alone. For more information, go to https://fcpdnews.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/orphaned-or-abandoned-deer-fawns-dont-be-a-fawn-kidnapper/

 

Bye-Bye Protected Bay

I noted in my 1/11/17 blog (We are Closer to the Ocean Than You Think— http://wp.me/pBXWQ-WC ) that while we are a few hours away from the nearest beach in Northern Virginia, our streams and rivers here in the Potomac Watershed all go to the Chesapeake Bay. Now our Bay is in jeopardy!

President Trump plans to completely eliminate funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and the District of Columbia) that has improved water quality in the Bay over the years.  In 2014, the partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which established specific goals, outcomes, management strategies, and work plans to guide the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands around them. The EPA has used the $73 million a year program—of which Virginia got $9.3 million last year—for such projects as the upgrading of deteriorating sewer facilities and the building of fences and dams to capture sedimentation and farm runoff.

According to the State of the Bay 2016 report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to “saving the Bay through education, advocacy, litigation, and restoration,” there has been a modest reduction in water pollution and increased abundance of blue crabs, oysters and other fisheries in the last few years. The Foundation attributes the improvement in part to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) plan, the largest cleanup plan ever developed by the EPA. This plan sets limits on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution to meet water quality standards in the Bay and its tidal rivers.

However the Chesapeake Bay Foundation still gives the Bay a rating of only C- as there continue to be problems with overall health of the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program website agrees: “The Bay’s health has slowly improved in some areas. However, the ecosystem remains in poor condition. The Bay continues to have polluted water, degraded habitats, and low populations of many fish and shellfish species.”
This is no time to be backing off protection for the Chesapeake Bay!  

 

 

Invasives = Plant “Litter”

Happy Spring! Start planning your non-invasive plantings now….

Like litter, invasive plants negatively impact the environment. Invasive plants, particularly ground cover like ivy and clematis, often have very little root structure and therefore when they cover large areas, fail to prevent erosion. Sediment then gets into our streams and creates poor water quality which impacts wildlife

Also, as their name suggests, invasive plants tend to “take over” areas. Invasive plants cause declines in native plants, including trees. They also can reduce both food and shelter for native animals, contributing to a decline in biodiversity. In fact, invasive plants are cited as a factor in Endangered Species Act listings!

 

Consider joining a local effort to remove invasive plants through Fairfax County’s Invasive Management Area (IMA) Volunteer Program:  http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/resource-management/ima/
Convinced that natives are the way to go? Here are some upcoming native plant sales in the Northern Virginia area:  http://vnps.org/spring-2017-plant-sales/

WORLD WETLANDS DAY: FEBRUARY 2, 2017

Marshes. Swamps. Bogs. Outdoor areas that conjure up images of mud, smells of decaying plants, and pools of seemingly stagnant water. Not the type of outdoor area most people usually seek when going for a hike. But wetlands have been unfairly characterized.

February 2, 2017 is World Wetlands Day, and here in Fairfax County we actually have two public wetland areas, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Huntley Meadows Park. Exploration of these two areas will quickly reveal that wetlands, the broad term used to describe land consisting of marshes or swamps also known as “saturated land,” have been given a bad rap.

The theme for this year’s World Wetlands Day is “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction.” The Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for worldwide cooperation on wetlands protection, calls wetlands “nature’s shock absorbers” for their ability to control flooding, buffer storms, filter pollutants and provide habitat. They are clearly a vital part of our ecosystem.

And precisely because of their wet nature (pardon the pun) they have an unusual diversity of life forms which makes exploring these areas especially rewarding.  According to the Defenders of Wildlife, more than one-third of the federally listed species on the Endangered Species Act rely directly, or indirectly, on wetlands for their survival.


Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve
is one of the largest remaining freshwater tidal wetlands in the Washington metropolitan area. Its 485 acres of tidal marsh, floodplain, and swamp forest can be explored by boat or on foot. Dyke Marsh is home to many species that can only survive in wetlands.  For more information, go to https:// www.nps.gov/gwmp/planyourvisit/dykemarsh.htm.

Huntley Meadows Park is 1,500 acres and claims to have some of the best wildlife watching in the Washington metropolitan area with a half-mile wetland boardwalk trail and an observation tower. For more information go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/huntley-meadows-park/.

Like many of the natural areas in densely populated Fairfax County, litter is a persistent problem in both these wetlands. The Friends of Dyke Marsh works to protect its natural beauty in cooperation with the National Park Service. The Friends of Huntley Meadows works with the Fairfax County Park Authority to sustain this important wildlife area.  Find out how you can support the Friends
of Dyke Marsh at https://www.fodm.org/ or Huntley Meadows at http://www.friendsofhuntleymeadows.org/index.html#.

 

Celebrate World Wetlands Day and take the time to explore these vital wetland treasures here in Fairfax County!

 

 

 

We Are Closer to the Ocean Than You Think

In Fairfax County, VA, the nearest ocean beach is several hours away by car.  Why should we concern ourselves with marine litter problems?

Fairfax County is part of the Potomac Watershed, and therefore all streams lead to the Potomac River which goes to the Chesapeake Bay and then out to the Atlantic Ocean. Streams and rivers, by definition, flow. The litter that blows or is washed off driveways, parking lots, roads, yards, rooftops, and other hard surfaces often ends up in the myriad of streams that crisscross our county, and therefore potentially can drift to the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, according to the most recent EPA white paper on pollution from plastics, while ocean dumping remains a problem, plastic debris originates primarily from land-based activities including landfills and littering.

Other interesting findings from the December 2016 EPA publication entitled “State of the Science White Paper: A Summary of Literature on the Chemical Toxicity of Plastic Pollutants to Aquatic Life and Aquatic-Dependent Wildlife” indicate that the amount of plastic debris, which includes plastic bags and microbeads, has risen greatly in marine environments over the last number of years and now accounts for 60%-80% of marine litter. Microbeads are tiny particles of plastic, barely visible to the naked eye, that have been added to many personal care cosmetic products. These flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system and cannot be filtered out effectively by wastewater treatment plants, thus ending up in our streams, and eventually,  the ocean.

The effect of ocean litter goes beyond the negative aesthetics of having a trashy ocean. Aquatic animals can become entangled in plastic debris, or fatally ill from the chemicals when plastic is ingested.  The whole ocean ecosystem is put at risk.

Yes, our actions here in Fairfax County DO affect the ocean. Reducing the use of plastics, particularly plastic bags, and buying personal care products that do not contain microbeads are some first steps. Ensuring that we dispose of trash appropriately and do not allow litter to end up in our streams is another important step. Finally, cleaning existing litter out of streams also prevents greater environmental impact. Consider planning a cleanup of a “trashy” stream near you for this coming spring.

One more way to help: Adidas is making sneakers made from 3-D printed recycled ocean waste, and though they are rather expensive, this is definitely a cool “reclaim” idea. Check it out at http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/4/13518784/this-adidas-sneaker-made-from-recycled-ocean-waste-is-going-on-sale-this-month

For more information about the problem of plastics in our marine environments go to https://www.epa.gov/wqc/aquatic-life-ambient-water-quality-criteria#plastics

Greening Your Thanksgiving

What would make your Thanksgiving more green?    green-turkey No, it’s not about a green turkey or even just going for the vegetarian option.

fall-pixFirst of all, how about getting outside in nature? Fortunately, Thanksgiving marks that time of year where, here in northern Virginia, we can usually still enjoy some outside time without having to drag out the down jacket. And, believe it or not, you can still spot wild turkeys in Fairfax County In fact, Fairfax County Parks and Rec has the perfect opportunity for getting outside this Thanksgiving:  On Saturday, November 26, 2016, the whole family can enjoy exploring wild turkey habitat on a Turkey Walk at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. To register, go to http://parktakes.fairfaxcounty.gov/rev1_coursedetail.asp?direct=YES&CDE=2744872001&view_records=Go

But what about the traditional Thanksgiving meal itself? What are some “green” Thanksgiving practices we might want to consider?

It’s amazing how many different organizations have suggestions when you google “green thanksgiving tips.”  The Nature Conservancy, Big Green Purse, and EcoWatch were obvious sites. And, of course, about.com has suggestions on everything. But then there was advice from Harvard University, the Huffington Post, 7d8853d7ef0c96f4d14075e4933bc04fand even the Personal Finance section of the online U.S. News and World Report!

My own favorite was a 2009 posting on Earth 911 which has some excellent suggestions on shopping for food (think organic and local), avoiding food waste when preparing food and disposing of leftovers, participating in healthy recreation, minimizing carbon footprint for travel, recycling, and using reusable table settings and natural decorations. http://earth911.com/home-garden/8-easy-green-thanksgiving-tips/

Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving 2016 to all!