Friday, July 25, 2014

Trees, Water and Sustainability

Loch Katrine— nestled on The Trossachs National Park in Scotland— depends on surrounding trees for Glasgow’s clean water supply.
When we think of forests, we think of trees, the wonders of nature, of sheer beauty, and clean, fresh air. We often don’t think about the water we drink.
We should.
More than 180 million Americans, 56 percent of the U.S. population, have abundant, healthy drinking water thanks to forests.
Forests help snow melt and rain water soak into the soil to replenish rivers and streams during dry times. Trees stop silt from eroding into our waterways. They serve as natural filters to clean sparkling mountain streams, healthy lakes and reservoirs, and our nation’s vast web of rivers.
Why is that important to us? As U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “While most Americans live in urban areas, most of us depend on rural lands, particularly forest lands, for clean water and a healthy climate.”
One example is New York City. In the late 1990s, city leaders balked at a $6 billion water treatment system and instead opted for natural forest management to clean the water it receives from the Catskill/Delaware watershed in upstate New York. The focus is on creating conservation easements along streams and reservoirs, and protecting forest lands to keep sediment and runoff from entering the water supply. The watershed provides New Yorkers with more than 1 billion gallons each day of some of the cleanest, healthiest drinking water in the world.
Millions of Californians rely on crystal-clear water flowing from the San Bernardino National Forest and other California forests to quench their thirst.
In Colorado, the South Platte watershed, which rises high in the Pike National Forest, supplies Denver with drinking water.
In Scotland, trees in The Trossachs National Park protect nearby Loch Katrine, which provides Glasgow its water supply. These are just a few examples of how our dependence on clean water also depends on healthy forests.
One way of keeping our forests healthy is to plant trees.
Klamath National Forest-California – After a fire, tree-planting crews are often in a race against time to plant new native trees.
The need to replant our forests is vitally important because of damage from insects, disease and unprecedented wildfires. Every year, new areas in critical need of replanting are identified – places where fires burn so hot that the seeds of future forests are destroyed.While we don’t know where the critical needs will be 10 years from now, or 40 years from now, we do know that our forests will continue to need our help, and that trees will be planted wherever they will best serve people, our environment, and water resources for generations to come.
There is no substitute for clean water. Water is a vital resource that we rely on every day. We can’t create something else to take its place.
But we can plant trees.
The next time you turn on the tap, remember the role trees play in keeping our drinking water clean and safe. And when we next think of forests, we’ll think of majestic beauty, clean air, habitat for wildlife…and healthy, abundant water for this and future generations.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Replanting for Madagascar’s Future

How people and wildlife will benefit, and some of the world's great forests maintained for future generations.
Lemurs are little mammals found only in the forests of the island nation of Madagascar – and they are incredibly easy to love! What is less obvious is their close relationship with the future of trees in a land where, sadly, forests have often been leveled for short-term, gains. The lemurs are the victims. So are Madagascars impoverished citizens.
Black and White Ruffed lemurs provide an ecological service by aiding fruit seed germination through digestion of seed coatings. Photo by Dr. Edward Louis
Dr. Edward E. Louis Jr. of the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium explains that 90 percent of a lemur's diet is fruit. Because of their enormous appetites, lemurs eat frequently and process their meals rapidly. Amazingly, this leaves behind seeds that have had their coatings removed through partial digestion but are otherwise intact. Dr. Louis has found that this produces seeds with a germination rate of nearly 100 percent, compared to only 5 percent of unprocessed seeds.
Thanks to the generosity of Arbor Day Foundation members, Rain Forest Rescue donations are being used to help residents and students collect these seeds for planting in nurseries that are being built in critical locations. It is all part of a plan devised by Dr. Louis and his colleagues to help restore the forests of Madagascar, provide habitat to save the endangered lemurs, and improve the economy and living conditions of local people.
We are creating a program that is sustainable, says Dr. Louis, head of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP). It is providing jobs today and for the childrens' future. It will also help Madagascar be less dependent on other countries, he says.
Area schools work with the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership to teach children about conservation.
The low-cost, high-germination seeds are keys to the plan. So is what Dr. Louis calls the country's greenhouse-like climate. By building nurseries, people are employed and seedlings can be ready for planting quickly and economically. Through reforestation, erodible, denuded soil can be stabilized thanks to the growth rates of planted trees that sometimes measure ten linear feet a year or more. To encourage residents to engage in this better approach to their natural resources, incentives in the form of conservation credits are offered. These can then be exchanged for life-changing items such as fuel- saving Rocket Stoves and Tough Stuff Solar Kits.
Areas to be planted are prioritized to provide corridors between existing blocks of remaining forests. This is to allow movement of animals and assure genetic interchange that is essential to providing healthy populations and ending the sad history of extinctions that has plagued the country. Another strategy is to stratify the planting areas. Dr. Louis explains that typically the top 50 percent of a mountain will be zoned for permanent trees. These help serve as a water reservoir to feed the streams that are vital to the nation's rice fields. The next lower 35 percent of the mountain is planted with desirable timber species and managed for sustainable forestry. Rosewood, ebony and other valuable hardwoods are planted here for later selective harvest. Prompt replanting is part of the system to assure the continuous availability of forest crops without destroying wildlife habitat. The lower 15 percent is then devoted to fruit trees. Mangos, bananas, the popular litchi and others are planted for consumption or sale, as well as for sharing with lemurs.
Fuel-saving Rocket Stoves are one of the items provided to residents through the exchange of conservation credits.
While there is no simple solution to poverty and habitat destruction in Madagascar, the Biodiversity Partnership's innovative plan offers a practical way to encourage communities to sustain themselves through the conservation of resources rather than resorting to short-term exploitation. Rain Forest Rescue is a supporting partner in this promising endeavor. Through member donations, Madagascar's people and wildlife will benefit, ecotourism can be attracted, and some of the world's great forests will be maintained for future generations.
One way you can help save Rain Forests is through the National Arbor Day Foundation's Rain Forest Rescue Program.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday -- Threatened Gopher Tortoises Benefit from Florida Community Wildlife Habitat

I know this is a City of Fort Lauderdale site but I would like to give a shout-out to our neighbors in Oakland Park and my friend, Charlie Livio.  Way to go!  Fort Lauderdale is also in the process of becoming a   Community Wildlife Habitat™.   – Gene
0 7/22/2014 // By Patrick Fitzgerald
Our amazing Garden for Wildlife volunteers in Oakland Park, FL are making a difference for the threatened gopher tortoise. The city, which is located in Broward County and is smack dab in the middle of the Miami metropolitan area, is working to become certified by National Wildlife Federation as a Community Wildlife Habitat™. So far, the core team of volunteer leaders has activated the citizens of Oakland Park to:
  • Create and certify more than 150 wildlife habitats and gardens at schools, homes and businesses;
  • Educate community members, especially children and youth, through National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Habitats program; and
  • Engage in volunteer restoration projects to better understand why wildlife, nature and the environment are important for our health and well-being.
As part of this effort, something special is also happening for tortoises.
Oakland Park Making Room for Gopher Tortoises
Charlie Livio, the NWF Community Wildlife Habitat Team Leader for the city, pitched an idea to the City Council that Oakland Park should become the first site to participate in Florida’s Waif Tortoise Adoption Program. (A “waif” gopher tortoise is one that has been removed from the wild.)
The City Council approved of the idea, and in 2011, they adopted four gopher tortoises located at the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve (including this one, pictured here snacking on fruits and veggies):
Gopher tortoises are a keystone species that have roamed planet Earth for somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million years. However, due to habitat loss and other threats, they are listed as a federally threatened species in Louisiana, Mississippi and part of Alabama. The State of Florida considers them threatened as well.
Creating Habitat at Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve
Charlie (who also happens to be the city horticulturist and vice president of the city’s Garden Club) knew the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve was great potential habitat for gopher tortoises. The 5.6-acre remnant sand pine scrub has high, rapidly draining and acidic sands, and is home to more than 75 plant species, including the American Beautyberry, pictured here:
However, due to a lack of natural wildfires and other processes, the preserve is at risk of going through “succession” and becoming a scrub oak hammock. To keep the sand pine scrub in a healthy state for its unique flora and fauna, staff at the preserve organize an annual volunteer habitat restoration and cleanup.
Adding to the Family
After their work improving the habitat in the preserve, the city was approved to adopt two male gopher tortoises in September of 2013. Just a few months later in December, a hatching was reported and seen at the preserve.
Last week, Charlie let us know that he saw a potential new juvenile gopher tortoise burrow (pictured below) on the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve property—evidence that the tortoises are successfully breeding at the site!
We’re very excited to hear further updates from Charlie and the City of Oakland Park’s Community Wildlife Habitat team. Their work in the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve and throughout the city has them well on their way to achieving certified Community Wildlife Habitat status.
Is Your Community Certified?
National Wildlife Federation has certified 75 Community Wildlife Habitat sites, and is helping more than 100 other registered sites achieve their certification. What communities are certified in your state?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Buzzwords Decoded: 5 Green Claims That May Be Misleading

Make sure you read the labels if you want to purchase truly environmentally responsible products.
By Lexie Sachs
As smart shoppers, we’re all aware that the consumer goods industry is full of misleading marketing claims, and the eco-friendly product space is one place to be especially wary. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates these statements (as laid out in its Green Guide), it can be tricky to decipher which labels are true and which don’t mean anything at all.
Here are five common buzzwords you’ll recognize — and tips for when you should be skeptical:
1. Eco-Friendly
When a product is labeled “eco-friendly,” “environmentally friendly,” or “green” without providing an explanation, chances are it’s just a marketing gimmick. These terms can be misleading because they let you assume that the product is good for the environment. Essentially every product will have some type of unwanted effect, but slapping on “eco-friendly” implies that the product has no negative environmental impacts.
Look for super-specific details instead of broad phrases, such as “eco-friendly: product is made from 60% recycled fiber.” The more details given, the better you can understand what the environmental benefits might be.
2. Natural
There is no legal definition for the word “natural” when used on consumer goods. “Natural” suggests the product comes from plants, minerals, and other things found in nature. But by the time most products reach you, the raw materials and ingredients have gone through a series of manufacturing processes and therefore have been synthetically altered.
If you’re curious about natural food products, Whole Foods has a comprehensive list of ingredients that are not accepted at their stores. If you’re looking for natural beauty and cleaning products, they should only contain plant- and mineral-based ingredients that are minimally processed.
3. Recycled
A manufacturer can claim that a product contains recycled content only if the materials would have otherwise ended up as trash (either from a manufacturing process or consumer waste). Unless the entire product and its packaging are both made from 100% recycled content, the FTC requires specification. Look out for details on labels. Is the product or the packaging (or both) made from recycled content? How much of it is recycled?
4. Organic
From organic food to organic cotton and more, chances are you’re seeing this word thrown around a lot. Organic means that crops are grown without genetic modification and without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics. Look out for products with legitimate certifications, such as ones that are USDA or GOTS certified.
Keep in mind — just because a product is grown organically, it does not mean it won’t have harmful environmental impacts at some point in its life.
5. Biodegradable
Most consumers assume that biodegradable means, when the product is discarded, it will decompose into the earth in a reasonable amount of time. However, this is not usually true. Many products with this claim won’t actually degrade in a landfill, and it could actually take hundreds or thousands of years for the product to fully deteriorate. So what should you look for? Products that that give you a specific time frame and degrading condition, such as “biodegradable within two years in compost facility.”
Lexie Sachs is a product analyst in the Good Housekeeping Research Institute.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Indoor Plants and Indoor Air Quality

Do indoor plants really fight indoor air pollution?

Indoor plants brighten our lives by bringing a little touch of nature into our homes and offices.
But beyond their aesthetic and emotional benefits, many people swear that indoor plants also improve our physical health by cleaning the air of toxins.
Is this story about "cleaning out the toxins" just a bunch of hippie hokum, or can houseplants really purify the air?
The Science Behind Indoor Air Quality
In order for a plant to thrive indoors, it has to be tolerant of low-light conditions, stale indoor air, an irregular or indifferent watering regimen, and all the other slings and arrows we humans throw at our plants.
Not all plants, of course, are going to make it indoors, as many a brown-thumb gardener can attest. Even the most cautious of caretakers has thrown out a plant that just seemed determined to die.
And indoor plants certainly have their work cut out for them: The EPA has determined that indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air.
What pollutants are found in indoor air? You may be sorry you asked. A frightening list of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs -- including benzene, xylene, hexane, heptane, octane, decane, trichloroethylene or TCE, methylene chloride and formaldehyde -- have been found in indoor air.
Additionally, ozone -- the highly reactive, colorless gas that's the main component of smog -- isn't just an outdoor pollutant. Ozone also infiltrates indoor environments since it can be released by ordinary copy machines, laser printers, ultraviolet lights and certain indoor air purifiers.
These pollutants can have serious health impacts. Benzene, for example, is internationally recognized as a cancer-causing agent. Other illnesses, such as asthma and other neurologic, reproductive, developmental, and respiratory disorders are all linked to exposure to VOCs.
And the toxic effects of ozone on humans include pulmonary edema, hemorrhage, inflammation, and a significant reduction in lung functioning. In other words, poor indoor air quality can sicken and kill you.
Phytoremediation to the Rescue
Has anyone ever proven that indoor plants can clean the air of these and other pollutants? After all, a scrawny little spider plant, drooping in a forgotten corner of someone’s office, doesn’t look all that potent of an air purifier.
But indoor plants really don’t have anything to do all day except take in carbon dioxide and other gases from the air, and convert these (plus a little light and water) into the sugar compounds that keep the plant alive.
In 2009, to test the effects of phytoremediation (the ability of plants to clean indoor air), researchers from Pennsylvania State University studied the effects of three common houseplants on indoor ozone levels. The scientists chose snake plant, spider plant and golden pothos to study because of the plants' popularity (primarily due to their low cost, low maintenance and rich foliage) and their reported ability to reduce indoor air pollutants.
To recreate a typical indoor environment, the researchers set up phytoremediation chambers in a greenhouse equipped with a charcoal filtration air supply system in which ozone concentrations could be measured and regulated. Ozone was then pumped into the chambers, and the chambers were checked every 5 to 6 minutes. The study revealed that ozone depletion rates were significantly higher in the chambers that contained plants than in the control chambers without plants.
Indoor Plants and VOCs
Researchers from the University of Georgia in 2009 tested the phytoremediation ability of indoor plants to remove VOCs from the air. A range of popular plants were placed in gas-tight glass jars and were then exposed to benzene, TCE, toluene, octane, and alpha-pinene. The plants were then classified as superior, intermediate, and poor, according to their ability to remove VOCs.
The study concluded that bringing common plants into indoor spaces has the potential to significantly improve the quality of indoor air. Of the 28 indoor plant species tested, Hemigraphis alternata (purple waffle plant), Hedera helix (English ivy), Hoya carnosa (variegated wax plant), and Asparagus densiflorus (asparagus fern) had the highest removal rates for all of the VOCs introduced. Tradescantia pallida (purple heart plant) was rated superior for its ability to remove four of the VOCs.
And in 2011, a team of researchers tested the efficiency of formaldehyde removal in 86 species of plants representing five general classes (ferns, woody foliage plants, herbaceous foliage plants, Korean native plants, and herbs).
The scientists found that Osmunda japonica (Japanese royal fern), Selaginella tamariscina (Spikemoss), Davallia mariesii (Hare's-foot fern), Polypodium formosanum, Psidium guajava (Guava), Lavandula (Sweet Lavender), Pteris dispar, Pteris multifida (Spider fern), and Pelargonium (Geranium) were the most effective species tested. Ferns had the highest formaldehyde removal efficiency of the five classes of plants tested, with Osmunda japonica determined to be most effective of all 86 species, coming in at 50 times more effective than the least efficient species.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Keurig Coffee Pods Conundrum: What to Do With All That K-Cup Waste?

By Sara Novak on April 21, 2014
The single brewing coffee maker has changed the face of an at home cup o’ Joe. I’ll be the first to admit, a cup of Keurig coffee seems somehow more sophisticated. I’m not sure why and I’m not even sure it tastes any different, but for some reason knowing that my cup of coffee was made only for me makes me feel special. And I’m not the only one.
Keurig coffee was introduced in 1998 and today it’s the leading single cup brewing system in North America. The company, which is owned by Green Mountain Coffee, produced 8.3 billion Keurig cups (known as k-cups) in 2013. Today, nearly 1 in 5 coffee drinkers use some sort of single cup brewing system.
Green Mountain Coffee seems, well, green. I know that sounds superficial, but the name makes me picture a lush green mountain growing all sorts of organic caffeinated goodness. But no matter what kind of coffee may be in those little cups, the plastic pods produce a massive amount of waste.
Journalist Murray Carpenter wrote in her book "Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us" that a row of the k-cup waste produced in 2013 would circle the planet 11 times. And as green as you might wish Green Mountain is, only 5 percent of those little pods were made out of recycled plastic.
Mother Jones reports:
Some competitors already have recyclable or biodegradable versions of this single-serve pod; Nespresso's lid and pod is made entirely from aluminum. A Canadian brand, Canterbury Coffee, makes a version that it says is 92 percent biodegradable (everything save for the nylon filter can break down). Finding a substitute is an interesting challenge, says Keurig spokeswoman Sandy Yusen, because coffee is perishable, and so the material used must prevent light, oxygen, and moisture from degrading the coffee.
“The whole concept of the product is a little bit counter to environmental progress,” said Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If you are trying to create something that is single use, disposable, and relies on a one-way packaging that can’t be recycled, there are inherent problems with that.”
Not to mention that it’s #7 plastic. While #7 plastic is free of the endocrine disruptor BPA, it does contain polystyrene, which could damage the nervous systems of the workers that come into constant contact with it.
It’s all the more reason to think twice before using a single brewing coffee system. Opt for the high quality, yet reusable bliss of a french press.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Celebrate the History of Our Nation's Trees

This historic pigeon-plum has survived countless hurricanes and the initial construction of the Vizcaya, the former villa of businessman James Deering. It is estimated to be 350 years old.
By Julie Bawden-Davis   Parade                 @jbawdendavis
July 3, 2014
If trees could talk, they’d have a lot to tell us about the history of our nation. Among the longest lived plants on the planet, trees represent our past, present and even our future.
“Many trees have witnessed history and have the potential to see the achievements of future generations,” says R.J. Laverne, a board-certified master arborist at The Davey Tree Expert Company. “Trees chronicle the events of a region year after year. Their rings tell stories of droughts, floods and diseases,” he says. “They record evidence of lightning storms, heat waves, mild summers and bitter winters. With each layer of growth, they mark the passage of time and hold countless secrets within their trunks.”
Davey sponsors American Forests’ National Big Tree Program, founded in 1940 to feature big and often historic trees. The oldest national non-profit conservation organization in the country, American Forests protects and restores urban and rural forests.
“Some of the trees in the National Big Tree program are discovered by ambitious Big Tree Hunters who scour wilderness areas to find and measure them,” says Lea Sloan, vice president of communications for American Forests. “But many of these trees are in people’s backyards, farmyards, town commons or on street corners and have borne witness to the history of those places and generations of people for hundreds of years.”
Long-lived trees have experienced many historical events, says Laverne. “Trees are silent observers to world history,” he says. “For instance, the Battle Creek Oak in Michigan started growing around 1547, at the same time that King Edward VI of England neared the end of his reign, and it watched as European settlers crossed the Atlantic.”
Countless trees provide a connection for current generations to historical events.
“When trees associated with past events die, that can alter how we feel about that history,” says Laverne. “For instance, in 2011, Hurricane Irene unfortunately brought down the famous Arlington Oak that had stood there for 220 years. It oversaw John F. Kennedy’s gravesite and was part of the reason his family chose that area of Arlington for his final resting place. That tree provided shade to millions of mourners who traveled to grieve the loss of a president.”
The Arlington Oak tree fortunately lives on through three sapling descendants that were grown by Davey from acorns and cuttings of the historic oak. The trees will have their own history to share with future generations.
See the slideshow for photos and stories of some of our nation’s historic trees.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of seven books, including Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening,  Fairy GardeningThe Strawberry Story Series, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way, and is the founder of

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday - Not a Bird! Unexpected Bird Bath Visitors

6/10/2014 // By Danielle Brigida
Providing water for wildlife on your property is one of the required steps to having a Certified Wildlife Habitat and many fulfill the requirement by having a bird bath. While providing water this way can help wildlife, it is important to remember that it can also be highly amusing! Here are some amazing donated photos through our National Wildlife Photo Contest that show a breadth of visitors to an otherwise common bird bath!
Opportunistic Raccoons