Tag Archives: man and nature

The Natural Gait: Northeast Iowa’s Rustic Retreat

The Natural Gait is our sister site check it out here

Taken from Radish Magazine
by Rich Patterson

The view from Grandview Cabin is startling at The Natural Gait in Allamakee County, Iowa.

The notebook in a rustic cabin overlooking Northeast Iowa’s Yellow River captured the essence of The Natural Gait.

“We enjoyed being away from television and telephones for a few days to just let the natural beauty of the area sink in,” reads one longhand entry. Others mention the cozy joy of curling up with a book by the wood stove as snow enveloped the cabin. Another entry relates a long day riding horses through the woods and prairies of this unusual Iowa location.

The Natural Gait and its sister, Ion Exchange, aren’t just businesses. They are places to connect with natural Iowa. In a way, they are a state of mind as well as a beautiful and interesting place.

“These are creations from the heart and passion of two people in love with each other and the land and a desire for everyone to get connected to the natural world,” says Howard Bright, who with his wife, Donna, started The Natural Gait.

Back in 1980, the Brights were working in Burlington, Iowa. Howard was a district conservationist for the Soil Conservation Service and Donna served as an agent for the Extension Service.

“Our jobs were good, but we started to question spending 10 hours a day apart doing separate things. We wanted to live in the country and own a piece of land that had trees, water, hills and valleys that faced in all directions. So we started to actively look.” It took a while. Four years later, they found 160 acres of rugged hills, forests and river bottom in Allamakee County.

In what they describe as a magical moment along the Yellow River, they decided to buy the place. Their Realtor/banker tried to dissuade them by pointing out that the property had few visible financial assets. There was only about 35 acres of cropland and the forest had been logged.

“We had an idea to collect native plant seeds from remnant prairies and wetlands and sell them to people wishing to restore native ecosystems. Back then this was a novel concept, especially to rural bankers who wondered why anyone would want to grow what most folks considered weeds. But we bought the place and started collecting,” Bright says.

Their native plant business was named Ion Exchange in honor of a chemical exchange that takes place in the soil and for a nearby ghost town named Ion that had flooded and washed away in 1916.

In the early 1980s, anyone wishing to reestablish a prairie faced an immediate problem: finding a seed source. There simply weren’t many nurseries that sold native plant materials. The Brights’ timing was good. Interest in prairies was blossoming, and they soon found a ready market in the growing number of people interested in restoration. Ion Exchange gradually has grown and today offers dozens of different species of seeds and plugs. They’ve expanded beyond prairies and also sell wetland and woodland seeds and plants. The business includes fields where seed plants thrive and a cluster of buildings where plants are allowed to dry, seeds are cleaned, and plugs are produced.

In 1999 the Brights created another business associated with the land. “We called it the Natural Gait because it was our intention of helping others find their own ‘gait,’ or direction in life,” says Bright.

The Gait is a place where people wanting to enjoy natural Iowa can stay. Its bunk houses, cabins and apartments attract people wishing to spiritually connect with nature, hold family reunions and business retreats, and hike or horseback ride. Some of the buildings are near Ion Exchange’s seed business. Other cabins and a campground are on the steep river bluff. They’re within sight of Ion Exchange, but it’s a six mile drive to reach them.

Our weekend at the Natural Gait started on a cold, windy October night. We found Grandview Cabin and soon had a fire crackling in the woodstove. Most of Iowa is so settled that it’s hard to get away from lights and towns and we were pleased to see a mostly dark sky and horizon.

Just four of us stayed in the cabin, although it easily could hold ten. Phones and televisions were blissfully absent, but the cabin is set up for wireless Internet, an interesting combination of rustic and modern.

Shortly after dawn Saturday, we were amazed to look out the front porch and see the land drop to the river. No slope in Wyoming could match the dizzying steepness of the Yellow River bluff. In the distance below us, we could see the fuzzy growth of Ion Exchange’s recently harvested prairie plants. The field’s texture was surprisingly different from that of Iowa’s common corn and bean fields.

That Saturday we toured the seed processing buildings and hiked above them to a large cave in a limestone outcropping where Native Americans once lived. Today the Brights sponsor concerts in this massive rock cavity high above the river. That afternoon we headed for nearby Marquette and Prairie du Chien for shopping and a coffee-shop lunch. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we grilled steaks behind the cabin and enjoyed total silence, broken only by the haunting call of a barred owl.

Following a brisk walk Sunday morning we packed and headed back to the busy world, but the quiet weekend at the Natural Gait remains a pleasant memory.

For more information, visit thenaturalgait.com or call (877) 776-2208.

Rich and Marion Patterson of Cedar Rapids are freelance writers.

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Scientists Are Relocating Plants That May Be Affected by Climate Change

From Mother Nature News
As warmer temperatures threaten to devastate plant species across the globe, scientists are taking the lead by relocating plants to safer grounds, according to a recent New York Times article.

Known as “assisted migration,” the practice of transplanting plants to more agreeable climates is taking hold among scientists who fear that global warming will wipe out many existing plant species.

“In 50 to 100 years, because habitats or climates are so altered, we might end up trying to move species in a restoration context, in assemblages of species,” said Pati Vitt, a conservation scientist and curator of the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

In the 1990s, the botanic garden began collecting and growing pitcher’s thistle – a plant whose fuzzy leaves once grew along the Great Lakes – at the garden after development, drought and weevils decimated the plant in regions where it once thrived.

Though the results of plant relocations are mixed, many more of them have been occurring since the creation of the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of Success project, which was started in 2001 in response to a Congressional mandate to plant native seeds to restore public lands devastated by wildfire.

According to the Times, the project intends to collect seeds of the entire flora of the United States, which totals about 14,000 native plant species, excluding those species already under protection and recalcitrant species, or those that cannot survive long-term storage.

“We hope to collect 20 populations across the species’ range so we can get 95 percent of the genetic diversity of the species,” said Peggy Olwell, the plant conservation program manager at the bureau. “Because frankly, we don’t know what it is we’re going to need when we’re talking restoration in light of climate change. It’s going to be one big experiment.”

So far, a consortium of botanic gardens and other institutions have collected groupings of 3,200 species.

But not everybody is excited about taking plants out of their native habitats and experimenting with them elsewhere.

“Even given our best science, we’re not good at predicting which species will be invasive,” said Jason S. McLachlan, a biologist at the University of Notre Dame who has studied postglacial population spread. “And it’s going to be especially complex as climates change.”

Take the American beech, for example. Though it was rarely found during the ice age, it’s now so abundant in Eastern forests that it’s threatening almost all the other species, said McLachlan.

As the debate continues, Seeds of Success is currently sending one collection of every species to the Millennium Seed Bank Project, at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Britain, the National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation in Fort Collins, Colo., and the Western Regional Plant Introduction Station in Pullman, Wash.

Collecting and growing huge amounts of native seeds in the U.S. is expected to take 10 years and at least $500 million, but with the uncertainty of climate change looming ahead, many agree that it just may be a risk worth taking.

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In Search of Wildlife-friendly Biofuels: Are Native Prairie Plants the Answer?

October 1, 2009—

When society jumps on a bandwagon, even for a good cause, there may be unintended consequences.  The unintended consequence of crop-based biofuels may be the loss of wildlife habitat, particularly that of the birds who call this country’s grasslands home, say researchers from Michigan Technological University, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Minnesota and elsewhere.

In a paper published in the October 2009 issue of the journal BioScience, David Flaspohler, Joseph Fargione and colleagues analyze the impacts on wildlife of the burgeoning conversion of grasslands to corn. They conclude that the ongoing conversion of grasslands to corn for ethanol production is posing a very real threat to the wildlife whose habitat is being transformed. One potential solution: Use diverse native prairie plants to produce bioenergy instead of a single agricultural crop like corn.

“There are ways to grow biofuel that are more benign,” said Flaspohler, an associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech. “Our advice would be to think broadly and holistically about the approach you use to solve a problem and to carefully consider its potential long-term impacts.”

The rapidly growing demand for corn ethanol, fueled by a government mandate to produce 136 billion liters of biofuel by 2022—more than 740 percent more than was produced in 2006—and federal subsidies to farmers to grow corn, is causing a land-use change on a scale not seen since virgin prairies were plowed and enormous swaths of the country’s forests were first cut down to grow food crops, the researchers say.

“Bioenergy is the most land-intensive way to produce energy, so we need to consider the land use implications of our energy policies,” said Fargione, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s North America Region.

Whether land used to grow corn for ethanol causes a loss of wildlife habitat depends on the type of land use it replaces. Most of the recent expansion in land planted to corn involves land previously used to grow other crops. But there is evidence that more and more land that had been enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is also being converted to crop production.

CRP is a voluntary program that pays rent to landowners to convert their agricultural land to natural grasslands or tree cover, reducing soil erosion, improving water quality and benefiting wildlife. In September 2007, the amount of land enrolled in the CRP peaked at 36.8 million acres.. Just one month later, in October 2007, CRP lands had declined by 2.3 million acres. And the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 capped CRP land at 32 million acres by 2010.

CRP land has been shown to help native birds survive and thrive. CRP lands have added an estimated 2.1 million ducks annually to the fall flight over North America’s prairies. On the other hand, converting CRP land to cropland threatens the grassland birds and mammals there, Flaspohler and Fargione’s paper says. A study of the value of CRP land to grassland birds in North and South Dakota indicated that nearly two million birds of five species would be lost without the CRP in those two states.

Conversion of grassland to corn also has a potentially significant negative impact on freshwater ecosystems. Intact grasslands retain soil and nitrogen. Land planted continuously to corn releases significant amounts of nitrates to freshwater systems. When these nitrogen-laden waters real the Gulf of Mexico, they contribute to algal blooms, creating “dead zones” where low oxygen levels make it difficult for fish and other aquatic wildlife to survive. Soil draining off cropland increases sediment in fresh water, raising temperatures and degrading the habitat of fish such as trout.

What’s the solution?  There are at least two ways to produce bioenergy without destroying wildlife, habitat,  the researchers say. One is to use biomass sources that don’t require additional land, such as agricultural residues and other wastes from municipal, animal, food and forestry industries.

Another is to grow native perennials such as switchgrass and big bluestem. The natural diversity of prairie plants offers many benefits, including increased carbon storage in the soil, erosion control and the maintenance of insect diversity, which does double duty by providing food for birds and helping to pollinate nearby crops.

“Bioenergy can be produced in ways that provide multiple benefits to society, including energy production, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat,” Fargione said. “The Conservancy is working to implement on-the-ground demonstrations of grass-based energy systems that would increase the economic value of grasslands and provide an incentive for maintaining and extending grassland habitat.”

One concern about using native prairie plants as bioenergy crops is a lower yield per acre planted. However, said Flaspohler, he and fellow Michigan Tech associate professor Chris Webster have collected plant productivity data from12 test fields in southern Wisconsin that should shed light on how field level plant species diversity affects the amount of biomass produced per year. Flaspohler and Webster’s work is partially supported by National Science Foundation funding.

“We are looking at trade-offs between producing a commodity for use as bioenergy and maintaining important ecosystem services such as soil fertility, water quality, and wildlife habitat,” Flaspohler noted. “It was by ignoring unintended consequences that we’ve now found ourselves highly dependent on a non-renewable fuel source (fossil fuels) that is contributing to climate change.  With some foresight and with information on key trade-offs, I think we can make wiser decisions in the future. “

Michigan Technological University (mtu.edu) is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.


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Alien Intruders Threaten Smokies’ Native Species

Published: August 8, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Like an island, the leafy wilds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park lie anchored in a sea of tourist kitsch, power-plant pollution and vacation homes. And, oh, what the waves wash ashore.

From wild hogs to hemlock-killing insects to city lights polluting the night sky, the park’s worst environmental problems invade from outside its borders.

That locks park managers in a never-ending fight to protect and restore native species while fending off intruders. Now celebrating its 75th year, the park covers a half-million acres in North Carolina and Tennessee and is worldrenowned for its diversity of plants and animals.

“My primary challenge is to preserve the park ‘unimpaired’ for future generations, and that’s a pretty big word,” says Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.

When air pollution from far-flung smokestacks smothers mountain views, he adds, “I can’t send a ranger out to fix that.”

Nor can supervisory forester Kristine Johnson stop the devastation of Eastern hemlocks, the Smokies’ towering sentinel trees. The hemlock woolly adelgid, an Asian bug the size of one letter in this sentence, is killing trees 500 years old.

Johnson’s crews save some infested trees with insecticides and release beetles that prey on the adelgid, but the park holds far too many hemlocks to treat. While trees at higher altitudes are showing surprising resilience, the stands on mid-mountain slopes turn steadily grayer.

If most die, as appears likely, it will become the Smokies’ second epic disaster from an exotic source in recent decades. Until the 1940s, the white flowers of American chestnut trees covered the park’s slopes like snow. An imported fungus killed them all. Hemlocks are now only the highest-profile casualties. Of the 1,663 flowering plant species in the park, 380 don’t belong there. Fifty — multiflora rose, privet, Japanese honeysuckle, Oriental bittersweet — are aggressive enough to choke out native plants.

Park staffers inspect sources of gravel and topsoil, in which exotic plants might hitch rides into the park. They urge campers not to bring firewood into the park from 12 states where tree-killing insects are at work.

They can’t, however, make each hiker wipe his feet before entering. Muddy boots carry the seeds of invasive garlic mustard and coltsfoot up the Smokies’ slopes.

But every war has its victories. A little jewel of a fish, the brook trout, gave the Smokies a triumph of the natives.

Brookies’ story, like that of many species in the park, goes back 10,000 years to the last ice age. Trout were among the plants and animals that moved south as glaciers advanced, then were left stranded in the highlands when the ice receded.

Heavy logging early in the last century ruined many trout streams. By the 1970s, park biologists realized that air pollution was turning high-altitude water acidic. Non-native rainbow trout — the park had stocked 1.8 million over the years — were moving up streams.

Squeezed from above and below, brook trout had lost 70 percent of their range.

Now years of hard, expensive restoration work are paying off.

Park crews use chemicals to kill rainbows in streams. Then they capture brook trout, sometimes hiking miles across steep slopes with the fish in water-filled backpacks, and release them in the newly cleared streams.

The park now has 120 miles of brook trout water and plans to restore an additional 20 to 25 miles. In 2007, for the first time in three decades, the park allowed anglers to once again fish for brook trout.

There’s a reason so many non-native plants thrive in the Smokies: It feels like home.

The park’s diverse terrain, from river bottoms to some of the highest peaks in the East, mirrors the native habitats of many of the invaders. Most of them were brought to the United States as ornamental plants.

“We have places that are like South Africa, like Canada, like Europe, and many places that are like China,” Johnson says.

The Southern Appalachians’ frequent rains and many streams provide niches where non-natives can survive, adds Gary Kauffman, a U.S. Forest Service botanist in Asheville, N.C.

The moist conditions make it more likely seeds will germinate when soil is disturbed by logging, road construction or falling trees, he said. Non-native plants spread especially quickly along streams, which can carry seeds, stems and roots long distances.

Once established, exotic plants often don’t face the diseases, parasites or harsh climates that keep them in check at home, and they can choke out natives.

Their nationwide impact, in reduced crop yields, lost livestock range and extra lawn and garden maintenance, is an estimated $50 billion a year. When the invaders weigh as much as a grown man and wear long, curved tusks, the park turns to more assertive control techniques.

European wild hogs, covered in coarse hair, escaped from a North Carolina hunting preserve in the 1920s and spread into the Smokies. Consummate survivors, the hogs rototill the ground with their tusks as they grub for food, trampling rare plants, gobbling salamanders and fouling streams.

A heavy crop of nuts last fall only magnified their prolific reproduction. So far this year, park crews have trapped and killed more than 500 hogs, the biggest number since 1987.

“We know that, like the hemlock woolly adelgid, we’re never going to get rid of them,” said park spokesman Nancy Gray. “But we’re trying to keep their population stable.”

Last year’s bumper crops of nuts, berries and cicadas also gave a boost to a Smokies native species: the park’s 1,500 black bears. Sows that normally give birth to two or three cubs were spotted with four to five this spring.

The park had to close five backcountry campsites where hungry bears ripped into tents. They twice closed a trail near popular Cades Cove after a bear threatened hikers. The most-visited national park even guards its dark nights and serene quiet.

Development nibbles at the park’s edges. By 2002, the little town of Gatlinburg, Tenn., housed 407 stores, hotels and motels, restaurants, real estate offices and entertainment venues, one for about every 10 residents.

Two years ago technicians installed high-resolution cameras atop the tower of 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome, the park’s highest point, and began recording background brightness levels in the night sky. Monitoring of soundscapes, separating the rush of waterfalls from the honk of car horns, also began.

The work will serve as a baseline for future comparisons.

Animals, such as night-hunting owls, need darkness and quiet as they do food, water and shelter, said Jim Renfro, a park air-quality specialist. So do people.

Look up on a clear night, he said, and it’s still possible to see the Milky Way and stars. But the horizon glows, high into the sky, with the earthly light of the Tennessee Valley, Asheville and Atlanta.

Invasion in the Badlands

On vacation in the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, I witnessed another invasion of beautiful ecosystems. Angry for several days and feeling helpless to do anything about the Yellow Sweet Clover marching over the landscape, I told my wife, Donna that I had to do something to alert people to this takeover of these beautiful landscapes. After several nights, I thought about how over the past 60 years I have been aware of invasive species and have seen the list grow and grow and grow.
What is our place on this planet? Does our labeling of plants as negative aliens and as invaders invite more negative thoughts? What good has become of our waging war on these alien species? Shouting and preaching that this just isn’t right nor nature’s way and getting all fired up and angry at one of God’s creations just didn’t seem to fit well with me anymore. I’m tired of generating negative feelings inside of me. This thought made me start to question the overall picture of man and nature and our relationship to plants, each other and our interaction with all species of our world.

Here are some of my questions that I ponder often:
· Were any species created out of negative thoughts?
· Were any plants or animals meant to remain in one area? If so, why do they do so well when introduced into different areas?
· What is the long-term succession of these so-called invasives or alien species? I mean over thousands of years?
· Can we live with these aliens and make peace or will we always wage war on them?
· Does the attack on the “invasive species” ultimately do any good?
· Are we supposed to sit back and do nothing?
· Can we make any peace with this rapidly changing world of the intermingling of species?
· Is this really a natural event and man truly is a part of nature but thinks that he isn’t because of his ability to choose and reason?
· Is it logical to think that man isn’t a part of nature or is this just another arrogant thought that puts us as the ultimate animal separated from all nature and we stand alone still fighting and compartmentalizing all species.
· Is there a kinder, more positive and cooperative way of dealing with what we perceive as invasive species?
· Does prejudice produce more prejudice?
If we are just holographic pieces of the “Great Spirit”, then we are included in this great magnificent process that created the universe and all within it. Are we not programmed to keep creating something different?
Does any one thing deserve to be eradicated or is that part of the plan?
Are the invasives just signals to us that we need to change our ways and they are just messengers sacrificing their lives for a cause yet unknown to us?
Some of the species that I have come into contact with and waged war over the years are:
· Japanese Honey Suckle
· Kudzu
· Multi-flora Rose
· Crown Vetch
· Yellow Sweet Clover
· Garlic Mustard
These are just a minute number of species that I have allowed to cause stress and negative energy in me. I think that now after decades of fighting, I am ready to accept that these aliens are just part of the cosmic progression to a different place on earth and the universe that is neither good nor bad.
What do you think?

Tired of struggling over this issue,
Howard Bright President Ion Exchange, Inc.