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The Ozone Layer is Recovering!

Posted on January 20, 2023

Raise your hand if you're up for some good climate-related news! We know we are. So we were excited to learn that a panel of experts backed by the United Nations has found that the Earth's ozone layer has begun to recover thanks to decades of efforts to eliminate damaging chemicals in our atmosphere.

Looking back now, it seems preposterous that at one time we were blithely spraying gallons of aerosol hairspray onto our heads (and into the atmosphere). That is, until 1985, when scientists discovered to their horror that a hole had developed in the ozone layer over the Antarctic. Why was this so alarming? Because the ozone serves an important purpose in sustaining life here on earth, acting as a stratospheric shield of sorts that protects all of us living things and the environment from harmful levels of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. 

At that point, scientists already knew that chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons, which is used in manufacturing aerosol sprays (like our trusty can of Aqua-Net), and used as solvents and refrigerants, could destroy ozone. So when the hole was discovered, countries across the globe came together and created a landmark multilateral environmental treaty called the Montreal Protocol, which aimed to phase out nearly 100 synthetic chemicals thought to be damaging to the ozone. The Montreal Protocol was adopted two years later in 1987, and is one of the rare treaties to achieve universal ratification.

The Montreal Protocol is still in place today, and the latest progress report confirms that 99% of those ozone-depleting chemicals have in fact been successfully phased out. But the news gets even better! The U.N. also announced that the Antarctic breach in the ozone layer has been slowly but noticeably improving in terms of both area and depth since 2000.  And, if current policies remain in place, the panel says that the ozone layer is on track to recover to where it was in 1980 by 2040. Over the Antarctic, this recovery should be achieved by 2066.

While ozone depletion is not considered a major contributor to climate change, the efforts to save the ozone layer have proven beneficial to combat that too. A 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol required phasing out the production and consumption of some hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration and air conditioning among other things. While these don’t directly harm the ozone layer, they are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to accelerated climate change and global warming.

And, it’s a nice reminder of what can be accomplished when we come together to achieve a common good!

Help Save our Hemlocks!

Posted on January 13, 2023

Hemlocks are large, Christmas tree-like evergreens with gently drooping branches and lots of delicate leaves that provide dense shade. They are native trees that can be found throughout this part of Michigan, and they provide beneficial shade that keeps rivers and streams cool for cold-water fish like salmon and trout, and winter shelter from the elements for deer and other animals. Some people think their leaves when crushed smell similar to the unrelated plant poison hemlock, hence their name (rest assured, the trees are not poisonous).

Unfortunately, our hemlocks are currently under threat from a nasty invasive insect, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. Like most invasive species, these tiny but destructive bugs were introduced to Michigan accidentally, in this case on infested nursery stock. They latch onto the base of the hemlock’s needles and feed on the sugars the tree stores there, killing it within the space of a few years.

You can help us stop the woolly adelgid from spreading! If you have hemlocks on your property, winter (AKA right now!) is a great time to examine your trees for infestation. When the insects attach to the needles, they develop a thick, woolly white coat, about the size of a grain of rice—small, but visible. Look for them on the underside of the needles. You can see what to look for in the photo below.

Other things you can do: don’t plant hemlocks in your yard. Woolly adelgids are often transported on nursey stock. Don’t move firewood from one area to another—you may be moving the insects to a new place as well! Don’t walk near hemlock trees. The wooly adelgid might decide to take a ride with you on your clothing (and in their non-woolly form, they are so small you probably won’t see them there). Finally, use the boot brushes installed at the trailhead of all our nature preserves, and many other natural areas, to ensure there are no little hitchhikers on your shoes.

These gnarly bugs have wreaked havoc on the hemlock population in the Appalacian Mountains. Please help us keep them from doing the same here! If you think you have woolly adelgids on your hemlock trees, report it on MISIN.msu.edu by clicking REPORT at the top of the page. Or, if you’d like an expert to come out and check your hemlocks, reach out to SWxSW Corner Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Coordinator Alex Florian at invasivesed@vanburencd.org or 269-633-9044.

The Ups and Downs of Lake Michigan

Posted on December 9, 2022

After achieving near-record high water levels in 2020, Lakes Michigan and Huron lost more than 3 trillion gallons of water this November.

 That's an eye-popping headline, isn't it? But despite that insane -sounding number (trillion with a "T?!!?"), this is not something to be anxious about. In fact, it's more of a return to the norm. It’s normal for the lakes to lose more water in November, as the rate of evaporation is typically higher than the amount of precipitation as the weather gets colder. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this past November water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron (which hydrologically are measured as one lake, since they are connected by free-flowing water at the Straits of Mackinac) declined by 4 inches, which amounts to 3.2 trillion gallons of water.

But more broadly, the water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron have been on a continuous decline for the past two years, down 2 feet from its near-record high in November 2020. That puts us only about 5 inches above the long-term average.

Water levels over the past 10 years have been kind of a roller coaster- we saw record low water levels in 2012, and then a record rise over the next several years, with Lakes Michigan and Huron rising nearly 7 (!!) feet by 2020. If 4 inches equals 3.2 trillion gallons of water, how many gallons is 7 feet? Our iPhone calculator doesn’t give us that many zeros to work with. Let’s just say, it’s a LOT. So right now, though a 2-foot decline in water levels sounds alarming, we are really just coming back down to normal. Check out the drone footage of the beach just north of Grand Haven in this MLive article to get a stunning visual of the difference since 2020. 

Keep 'em or Drop 'em?

Posted on November 18, 2022

Normally, as the days get shorter and air turns colder in the Fall, the leaves on deciduous trees stop producing food for the tree (aka photosynthesis), thus losing their green color. Eventually the tree expels its leaves using a sort of cellular “scissors,” since they aren’t really of use any longer. But a few trees like beeches and some oaks tend to hold onto their leaves. This is called marcescence.

There are good reasons why trees shed their leaves, mainly to reduce water loss and protect against frost damage during their dormant season. So what’s the advantage for some to hang onto them? Ecologists don’t really know exactly, but they have some theories, based on the fact that marcescence most often shows up in young trees, or on lower branches. Take note the next time you’re on a hike, you’ll see that it’s the little beech trees in the understory that still have their leaves, not so much the big mature ones.

So, Theory #1: When leaves drop, they decompose on the ground around the tree, providing essential nutrients to the tree later on. Beeches and oaks tend to grow in drier places, so by holding the leaves through the winter, they ensure they drop in the spring when the new buds finally push them off. This means they will decompose at the time the tree needs those nutrients the most.

Theory #2: Leaves on young, shorter trees or on low branches trap snow, providing the tree more moisture come spring.

Theory #3: Marcescent leaves provide protection for buds over the winter, both from frost, and hiding them from browsing deer.

Or, Theory #4: Trees that keep their leaves are just old-school! At one time, all trees were evergreens, in other words, not deciduous. Over time, some adapted to changing conditions as their ranges increased, and slowly evolved into deciduous trees. Maybe beeches and oaks are just a little behind other species, and are still evolving into fully deciduous trees.

We are guessing it’s a combination of all these theories that is the answer. What do you think?

Paddles Up!

Posted on October 12, 2022

THE POKAGON FUND AWARDS GRANT TO CHIKAMING OPEN LANDS FOR PURCHASE OF KAYAKS

Chikaming Open Lands (COL) was the recipient of a $14,170 grant from The Pokagon Fund in support of the purchase of 12 kayaks for COL’s education and outreach programs. The grant was awarded in May of this year, enabling COL to purchase twelve kayaks, including two “Adaptive Kayaks” which are outfitted for use by individuals with physical disabilities, along with paddles, safety equipment, and a trailer to transport the fleet to and from launch sites.

 

“Some of our most popular programs are guided paddles on the Galien River,” said COL executive director Ryan Postema. “These outings expose participants to the rich biodiversity of the Galien River Marsh, which rivals the dunes and lakeshore as one of the true natural gems in the area.” Postema pointed out that prior to receiving the grant and purchasing the kayaks, COL needed to rely on participants owning their own kayaks, or renting them, which incurred a cost to COL or the participants.


The kayaks will also be useful for conducting habitat restoration and management activities, such as invasive species control and monitoring, which COL conducts in its two preserves, Louis J. Sima Great Lakes Marsh Preserve and Merganser Point Preserve, and throughout the larger Galien River Marsh, in partnership with Berrien County Parks and private landowners. With the dedicated equipment available, COL plans to offer more frequent educational paddle excursions for the community, including those with disabilities, at no cost to the participants. “This project is really a great expansion of the educational and recreational opportunities that are available in Harbor Country,” said the Fund’s executive director, Dan Petersen. “These kayaks will open up the Galien River and the very unique Great Lakes marsh to individuals that likely would not be able to experience them in a way that is so up close and hands-on. We are grateful for Chikaming Open Lands for bringing this programming to the whole community.”


Chikaming Open Lands is the local land conservancy dedicated to preserving the open spaces and natural rural character of southern Berrien County. COL works to protect and restore native plant and animal habitat, improve water quality, and permanently preserve ecologically significant forests, prairies and wetlands, as well as prime farmland and other open spaces in this area. COL serves nine townships in southwest Berrien County, and has been instrumental in preserving nearly 2,100 acres of open space since its founding in 1999.