Monday, August 31, 2015

Think Outside the Tent: Different Ways to Camp

Whichever way you enjoy to camp, the important part is getting out and enjoying the outdoors!  --Gene
Bull Elk
A bull elk is one of the many wildlife species you could see while camping! Photo by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
 7/30/2015 // By Abby Barber
Spending the night in a tent is a traditional part of many camping experiences, but it’s not the only way to enjoy the great outdoors and spot native wildlife. Whether you’re camping beneath the southern pines to catch a glimpse of a Florida panther or a gopher tortoise, or camping in a National Park like the Grand Canyon to see a condor or elk, camping is a surefire way to find wildlife no matter how you do it.
As more and more campers across the country pledge to join us in the Great American Campout, we want to share some alternative methods of camping that offer a new experience for new and experienced campers alike.
Camping in an RV looks like fun. Photo by David Clow via Flickr Creative Commons
RVs (short for recreational vehicles) are allowed in many campgrounds.
Pros: Save time on packing – just bring your whole home camping. RVs are spacious and equipped with places to cook, sleep, and relax. They are convenient for extended travel; some people even live full-time in RVs and travel regularly.
Cons: Not all campsites allow RV camping due to their size. The cost to own an RV may be high due to low fuel mileage and maintenance costs.
Travel Trailer or Truck Camper
Travel trailers are great for camping. Photo by Bill & Vicki T. via Flickr Creative Commons
Travel trailers are similar to RVs, except they require a separate vehicle like a pickup truck to pull them. Truck campers fit inside the flatbed of a pickup truck.
Pros: Travel trailers have plenty of room for activities. They can be equipped with amenities similar to RVs: running water, electricity, beds, etc. Also, since they require a separate vehicle to move them, you will be able to easily leave to and from the campsite in your pickup truck.
Cons: Driving with a trailer attached to your vehicle can be cumbersome and requires extra care. Some larger travel trailers require heavy-duty trucks to tow properly. Truck campers are also typically small, so only 1-2 campers will fit comfortably.
This glamping tent sure looks glamorous. Photo by Alice Crain via Flickr Creative Commons
People can go glamping in a variety of ways: from staying in a treehouse to sleeping in a fancy tent to spending the night in a nice cabin. One thing all glamping types have in common is luxury.
Pros: Camp in style! Glamping gives you the best of both worlds: outdoor adventures with indoor sleeping conditions. For people with allergies or fears, this introduces the great outdoors more gently and provides some peace of mind.
Cons: Because of the luxurious nature of glamping, it is often more expensive than other forms of camping.
Yurts can also be equipped with solar panels. Photo by Sarah Joy via Flickr Creative Commons
Yurts are large, round tents that use a specific framework based on tension and compression to hold their form. They range in size from an office to a small family home. Originally used by nomads in central Asia, yurts are becoming a popular way to camp.
Pros: Yurts are portable and can be spacious enough for fireplaces, electricity, plumbing, even doors. They have low ecological footprints, and can provide a stable shelter for long periods of time.
Cons: Yurts can take a day or two to set up properly, especially if you want to include amenities like heating and plumbing, so they should be used for longer trips (unless you’re renting.) Because they are essentially cloth homes, they can be rather expensive.
Cabin or Lodges
Grand Canyon Lodge Cabin on the North Rim. Photo by Al HikesAZ via Flickr Creative Commons
Many campgrounds offer cabins or lodges on site for people to rent.
Pros: You can save time and energy because your main living space is already set up for you. They provide greater shelter from the elements, but can still be set up sparsely to give you the full outdoor experience.
Cons: Cabin and lodging in certain campsites can book up fairly quickly, especially in the summer and fall. Make reservations sooner rather than later.
It doesn’t matter how you camp, so long as you do. Remember to follow Leave No Trace rules wherever you go.
Pledge to camp this summer! For each camper, $1 will be donated to protect the great outdoors for all Americans, up to $100,000. You will also be entered to win the Ultimate Campout Prize Pack.
Share with us your favorite way to camp!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gardening for Wildlife: Corralling the Rain

Rain gardens offer a natural solution to runoff pollution
07-27-2015 // Mark Wexler
FOR DECADES, PEOPLE LIVING ALONG 8TH AVE NW in Puyallup, Washington, watched helplessly as their yards and street flooded during heavy rainstorms. With each flood, rivers of runoff tainted with lawn chemicals, car oil, animal waste and other pollutants poured into sewers and area waterways. But a few years ago, residents found a cost-effective solution to their problem: gardens designed to manage the rain.
Working with local authorities and landscape designers, residents installed bioretention cells, or rain gardens, in their yards and along the two-block-long avenue. “We haven’t had flooding problems since,” says homeowner Steve Hollis, “and the rain garden in our front yard has improved both the appearance and value of our property.”
Using Nature as a Sponge
The 8th Avenue project is part of a campaign—initiated by Washington State University Extension and the nonprofit Stewardship Partners in Seattle—to build 12,000 rain gardens on private property in the Puget Sound area by the end of 2016. Washington State scientists say at least 14 million pounds of toxic contaminants flow annually into the sound, much of it coming from urban communities. “The majority of our area’s water pollution is caused by rainwater runoff from our streets, driveways, lawns and rooftops,” says Stewardship Partners Program Manager Aaron Clark.
Across the country, hundreds of other municipalities are also supporting “green infrastructure” projects that utilize rain gardens and other natural processes. “Traditionally, cities have built huge, expensive concrete structures to control runoff,” says U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Roger Bannerman, an expert on bioretention systems. “But the paradigm slowly is changing, and more and more communities are turning to natural solutions.”
Designed to capture and absorb rainfall where it lands, rain gardens are cultivated, bowl-shaped depressions, about 3 to 7 inches deep, strategically located near patios, roofs, lawns and other runoff sources. Their soils—sometimes augmented with compost or sand to improve permeability—work like sponges to absorb and filter the water, allowing it to percolate slowly into the ground. Researchers have found that such gardens collect about 30 percent more water than conventional lawns. When filled with native plants, they can also act as magnets for birds, butterflies and bees.
Ideal Form and Function
Most rain gardens will help reduce flooding, but ideally they should be big enough to hold all runoff from sources such as downspouts. Bannerman says a downspout rain garden should be 15 to 20 percent of the size of the roof area for homeowners who have sandy soil, 25 to 35 percent for those with soil containing some clay and 30 to 40 percent for homes with less-porous, all-clay soil. Such gardens should be about twice as long (perpendicular to the runoff source) as they are wide.
“Plant selection is very important,” says Jan Satterthwaite, a Seattle landscape architect and team leader of a local NWF Community Wildlife Habitat® project. She primarily uses plants native to the region that will thrive in wet and dry conditions and attract wildlife. Plants with deep fibrous roots provide the most cleaning and filtration benefits. Satterthwaite uses a mix of grasses and sedges, herbaceous flowering plants and native shrubs.
She has been designing projects for RainWise, a Seattle public utilities program that offers rebates averaging $4,000 to homeowners who install rain gardens and cisterns in areas where sewers overflow. Client Christina Burtner had sewer backups and flooding in her basement during storms. Satterthwaite put a 26-square-foot rain garden in Burtner’s yard using low-maintenance plants. “Not only has it solved our basement dampness and side-sewer woes,” says Burtner, “it also has added beauty to our property.”
Rain-Garden Tips
The following pointers can help you choose the best location and plants for your rain garden:
• For easier installation, look for flat areas and avoid steep slopes.
• Extend your downspouts or add rock-filled channels to direct roof runoff toward your garden.
• Construct the garden at least 10 feet away from your foundation to keep water from seeping into your basement.
• Don’t build directly over a septic system or utility lines.
• Avoid using an existing depression in your yard that constantly is damp or where water regularly pools, two indications that soil drainage at that spot is poor.
• Select a site that receives full or partial sun.
• For effective results, landscaping professionals suggest incorporating a mixture of deep-rooted native sedges, rushes and grasses with your flowering species (forbs).
• Select plants that bloom or produce berries at different times to provide continual habitat for wildlife. For names of appropriate native species, check with your local agricultural extension service or local native plant society.
For more natural gardening tips, visit

Mark Wexler is editor-at-large of National Wildlife magazine.

Become an NWF Wildlife Gardener and sign up for our Garden for Wildlife™ newsletter. It's free and you will receive great gardening tips and learn how to certify your yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat® site or your community as part of NWF's Community Wildlife Habitat® program.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


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Monday, August 24, 2015

Celebrating the Return of the Wolf to California

8/21/2015 // By Beth Pratt-Bergstrom
Meet the Shasta Pack–California’s first wolf pack in almost a century. (Photo California Fish & Wildlife)
When the wolf OR-7 crossed the state line in 2011, he became the first wolf to visit California in over 90 years. He represented hope for a future of California being able to welcome back a native species; this was truly something to celebrate. He eventually returned to Oregon to raise his family, leaving most to think that wolves taking up residence full-time in California was still years away.
Yet the photos released yesterday by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife of five wolf pups and their parents frolicking in California’s Siskiyou County, not far from Mount Shasta, showed that the wolves had a quicker time frame in mind.
“This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton H. Bonham, CDFW Director. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time.”
My upcoming book, When Mountain Lions are Neighbors: Wildlife in Today’s California, features a chapter on the return of the wolf to California and recounts OR-7’s remarkable journey. Here’s a special excerpt preview to celebrate California’s first wolf pack in almost a century. Welcome home, Shasta Pack!
What does California remember of wolves?
Do the tule elk, scattered remnants of the wild herds once roaming California in the hundreds of thousands, recall the wolf packs that gave chase across the wide grasslands of the Central Valley? When the elk trot stiffly, arching their necks and holding their heads high, are they putting on a confident display for a predator long vanished? Do they still have a warning call reserved for wolves, unused for generations? Would they shiver if they heard a howl carried over the hills by the wind? Or have elk forgotten that haunting song?
Does the condor, itself nearly vanished into legend, imagine wolves loping on the hillsides as it soars overhead, its magnificent wings casting moving shadows on the land like clouds do? As it glides on the rising thermals of air scouting for carrion, does it remember the bounty wolves brought to its kind, when it could follow the hunt from above, watching the wolves conquer an elk or deer and be assured of the leftovers? Does each generation of condor pass along renewed hope of finding a wolf in their travels?
Do the coyotes, now the dominant canine in all corners of California, celebrate the banishment of its one-time nemesis—the wolf no longer being around to keep it in check has assured its recent reign. Does the coyote remember a time when it had to abandon a carcass when wolves appeared, dashing away at full speed, when the price of a meal in wolf territory could mean death?
Do the timid kit foxes, suffering from the unrestricted harassment of the coyote, long for a time when the wolves return to end the unbalanced regime? Do the wise and long-lived ravens, as they feast on a road kill brush rabbit or the half eaten remains of a hamburger bun, remember a time of plenty when they led wolves to the elk herds and were rewarded with rich scraps from their kills?
And do the willows and cottonwoods and oaks snuggled by the riverbeds or the grasses and wildflowers coloring the meadows in spring or the blackbird feasting at the elderberry tree or the red-legged frog resting in a vernal pool retain a collective memory of an almost forgotten world shaped by wolves?
Do wolves remember California?
Do they remember the bellowing of the tule elk resonating across an almost limitless playground of the San Joaquin Valley, where they could lope for miles over the rippled hills and rest in the shade of the riparian oak woodlands? Do they remember hunting under the watch of the tall redwood forests, or splashing about in the marshes near the shores of the San Francisco Bay, relishing the abundance of prey in this bountiful land, thick with herds of pronghorn, elk, and deer? Do they remember the moonlight glinting on the polished granite of Sierra Nevada peaks or having to relinquish the hard earned kill of a mule deer to a grizzly in a mountain forest? Do they remember the dense, salty smell of the ocean or the sharp, arid air of the desert?
Whether the wolves have forgotten the scent of the Golden State or the condors and coyotes and elk of California have forgotten the music of the wolf, it doesn’t matter. A landscape is regaining its memory.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Two Years of Living Plastic Free: How I Did it and What I’ve Learned

(Quite the commitment!  A little long but some good information.  –Gene)
I have done it. Two years of plastic free living … or to be more accurate, trying actively to NOT buy new plastic for two years.
A bit of a mouthful and maybe why the term "plastic free living" is a more memorable phrase.
I decided to reread the blog post about my first year to compare/contrast what had changed. In the post about my first year, I listed what I was doing to reduce my plastic footprint by item. Some things have changed and some have not.
Personal Care
We buy blocks of soap from The Australian Natural Soap Company. Unpackaged, simple and all natural.
I was using shampoo bars from the place we buy our soap but found that it built up in my hair over a couple of months no matter how hard I scrubbed it under the water.
I then tried bicarb/vinegar for six months which made my hair horrible and gave me a sore scalp. Then I gave rye flour a go and found out it's not great for people with long hair. Castile soap also did not wash out properly leaving an oily film on my hair.
Now I use bulk bought shampoo by Back to Basics in an up cycled glass bottle. I don't use conditioner. If I have some oil on my hands from my body oil I will run them through my hair but generally don't add anything other than shampoo. I will continue to use a shampoo bar for travelling to save on space and weight.
I make a toothpowder. I have not been to the dentist to check if everything is ok but the Builder has. He was happy to report that his teeth/gums are very healthy and the dentist & hygienist were all for using bicarb. The dentist said that bicarb is great for keeping gums healthy.
Face moisturiser
Last year I started using almond oil … well not anymore. It did not suit the skin on my face so I ended up using it just on my body which was fine. It soaks in faster than coconut oil and is more affordable. I have very oily skin so maybe the almond oil was too heavy for my face. And even Jojoba leaves my skin feeling and looking dull/congested.
As much as I lamented over this I went back to rosehip oil. It is my favorite face oil and I used it for years before going plastic free. It keeps my skin clear and bright. The bottle is glass but it has a plastic lid and plastic orifice dropper (gasp!) that I keep for reuse. One bottle of rosehip lasts the whole year as I don't use it everyday. If anyone has any suggestions on how to get this item plastic free please leave a comment. I am on the lookout for shea butter unpackaged as this would work well as it is light like rosehip oil or so I have read.
Body moisturiser
Coconut oil was too expensive! I switched to almond oil and love it. I don't use it all the time only when I feel like my body needs it which is about once a week.
Still using the homemade spray option but am finding I need it less and less as the months go by. I just want to mention that the Builder does not need deodorant. How unfair is that?! The man never seems to smell sweaty.
I make my own by blending an essential oil with almond oil. I love it when the stuff I buy has a dual use.
Sanitary items
Still going strong with my moon cup and reusable cloth pads. Money saved over two years is… $290. Cha-ching.
I make my own mascaralip balmcheek tint, eyebrow powder and I use plain tapioca flour as a face powder to get rid of any shine.
I do miss my old makeup sometimes. I loved the routine. I also miss dyeing my eyebrows and eyelashes. I am contemplating trying henna as I can buy that package free. But then again … I don't miss the upkeep!
Bamboo toothbrush. Always and forever. Though I accidentally bought a child's one the other day…
Nail file
Still using the same one and have gained two more that friends did not want. I'd say I'm set for life.
Hair ties
Continuing to collect ones I find on the street.
I don't use a body scrub often as I have a good exfoliating cloth made of cactus. When I feel like giving my face a bit of indulgence I wipe lemon juice on my skin. It keeps any blackheads at bay and my skins looks brighter. Well, I think it does – and I'm the only person who matters when it comes to pleasing how I look.
I feel like everything in my personal care section is sorted. I am in a happy groove with each choice. When I first went plastic free two years ago making my own makeup was something that never crossed my mind. Now I have my makeup DIY down pat and am so happy with it. If I run out of my mascara or toothpowder all I need to do is mix up a new batch and I rarely need to top up the ingredients because only a small amount is needed.
Everything but four items (rosehip oil, essential oil, clove oil, orange oil) is bought without plastic. The clove oil and orange oil are used in my house cleaning products. All are recyclable but I would prefer to have refill options. If anyone knows anyone in Melbourne, Victoria or Australia that sells essentials oils as refills you would make my day. Or if anyone knows a fun way to upcycle essential oil bottles I'd love to know.
I wish I had calculated what I have saved in this area of my life as it is one of the more popular questions I am asked. I can only imagine I have saved money because I am not wandering into stores that house hundreds of cosmetic choices or dragging my mouse across online beauty bargain spaces. Going plastic free means I am limited severely. It's easier to make my own rather than trawl search engines looking for plastic free alternatives to buy. Most of the items take 15-30 minutes to make and the biggest bonus is that I know what is in them.
Grocery Shopping/Kitchen
We have become pros at this. Practice and routine has enabled our grocery shopping to be seamless. We visit the farmers market each Sunday and if on the rare occasion we can't make the market then we will go to a fruit and veggie store near our home.
We take cloth bags to the market and baskets to carry it all out in. I write a list before we go referencing what is in season. I don't like food going to waste so we stick pretty closely to the list.
We have stainless steel containers that we use to collect our meat and fish. We have reduced our meat and fish consumption at home. As I type this I cannot remember the last time we bought meat for cooking. I wonder if we will end up removing animal meat out of our diet? Time will tell…
The delicatessen we visit is always busy post 9am. It can get hectic with the staff running around dealing with so many customers. So we decided it would be easier if we just reuse the plastic containers the staff are used to. We don't go to the deli every week, more like once a month. The plastic containers work perfectly well, are looked after (we have had them for two years) and doing what they need to do which is limit new plastic in our lives.
The bulk store is last because this is the place we probably visit the least. We used to go every other week but now it is every three to four months and each time we buy less and less stuff. My food shelves are stocked with less than ever before and this might be because I am using my cookbooks and other online recipes less simply because the cookbooks and food blogs I used to trawl rarely work in favor of eating seasonally.
We take all our own jars, bottles and bags. I write a list of exactly what we need and take a container for each food item needed. In the last two years there has been an explosion of bulk food stores opening up around Melbourne.
I think one of the reasons we visit the bulk store less often is because we don't crave things like beans, legumes, rice and other grains. Maybe I never did like those foods that much and only bought them because they are in the supermarket or there was a pretty photograph on a food blog. We had a good couple of months where we had an empty pantry and were just eating vegetables. My diet has changed considerably in the last two years. Not only has all processed food vanished completely from the house (and a knock on effect outside the house) but also realizing a lot of the food choices I was making were driven by food blogs, recipes books and magazines. I have a better understanding of what foods make me feel good and those that don't, learning to lean in more into what I naturally crave rather than chasing down a superfood or the latest diet trend.
While we can buy mustard and other sauces in glass I don't buy them anymore as the lids have a plastic lining. We don't miss this type of processed food. I might try and make my own sauces like tomato or mustard over summer. I can make my own mayonnaise so that's a start. What we eat/cook is a commonly asked question and I will expand on it in the future.
We are now refilling our beer, cider and wine. I can only imagine this business model taking off. It's so much fun tasting the beverage first before buying it.
How we store everything has not changed since my first year. Glass jars, ceramic bowls and the stainless steel containers are all we use. We have not dropped down dead from germs … because we all know that cling wrap will save us from germs.
Eating Out
If we are at a food festival or somewhere we know there is the possibility of plastic cutlery like a friends or family get together we take a kit with us that includes plates, cutlery and cups. That way we are never caught out.
The cleaning products have changed dramatically and so has my attitude to cleaning. We refill our cleaning products at the bulk stores in Melbourne.
I kept old wine and juice bottles for collecting castile soap. I use the castile soap for hand soap, hand dish washing, floors, general surface cleaning.
I still have the old boxes from our clothes washing powder and dish washing powder that get reused and reused.
There is a giant container of bicarb soda that is used for cleaning the toilet and oven plus used for toothpaste. And I have vinegar which is a great multipurpose cleaning tool for the windows and a multitude of stuff.
I keep clove oil and sweet orange oil on hand.
I still have the spray bottles that I put watered down castile soap into and also the window spray. These are plastic and were bought last year.
General cleaning is done with old cotton t-shirts. We wash dishes with an second hand cotton shirt cut up and sea sponges collected from the beach. We still have our old brooms and vacuum cleaner. There is no bleach. No harsh chemicals. Attitude to cleaning = relaxed.
Continuing to buy second hand but even this has bottomed out. I bought one top over the whole of last summer and two tops this winter. We do laps of second-hand stores but always walk out empty handed.
I did end up giving away boxes of clothes and shoes (so many shoes!) not because I have planned to go all minimalist but because I was not wearing any of them. I am leaning towards more natural fibers with the last three items I have purchased made of linen. So there, I am leaning away from synthetic "plastic" fibers.
This is a popular question – what do I do if I get sick?
First things first, I am not anti plastic. I am anti the misuse of plastic. Plastic has done some great things for medicine. It has healed and prolonged life, made mobility easier, given the gift of hearing, walking – the list goes on and on.
Whenever someone asks me what to do I tell them to make a decision based on what's best for them.
How Was the Second Year? Good? Bad? Any Ugly Moments?
This year has been pretty good. All in all I feel like I am finally on top of this no plastic life. I have scaled the peaks and conquered the mountain of change. I feel content and happy, and as silly as this might sound, more in harmony.
You would have seen in the list that there are areas where plastic has popped up; my rosehip oil, essential oils and milk lids. Sometimes I get upset that I have not found the willpower to live without these items. My plastic free life is not completely plastic free but I am striving. These last two years has been hard work and I am sure that I will find alternatives to those few products eventually.
There is another mountain in the distance and the trek ahead of me is going to include moving from behind my screen to becoming more active in my community. I have changed my life now it is time to spread what I know to others to show others why we all need to make changes.
I'm thinking community events, movies (showing not making…well not yet), writing for broader publications. I want to tackle straws and plastic bags in the Moonee Valley area. (So if you are from Moonee Valley feel free to contact me and let's get a group going.)
I will continue to write and share everything here. Maybe my journey from blogger to public motivator might inspire fellow introverts to find their voice too. And a round of applause to all the people who comment, email, like, double tap when I have a question or query. I learn so much from you all. Keep sharing with me.
To another year plastic free.