Environmental Activists

July 29, 2018


my picture????????????????

Barbara Spring                           Norm Spring

Environmental Activists by Dave Dempsey

 

Barbara Spring is a living and thriving piece of Michigan’s environmental history. With her husband, Norm, she successfully worked for a state ban on the use of toxic DDT in the 1960s. In 1967, Michigan became the first state to cancel most uses of the pesticide. EPA didn’t get around to a national ban until 1972.
It could be argued that Norm, Barb and their allies did the most important work of the modern Michigan environmental movement. Other laws and reforms followed their triumph.
They weren’t the first or the last to fight DDT, but they were among the most persistent. Norm went to the Grand Haven City Council three years in a row asking the city to stop spraying the elm trees in the city park with DDT. Then along with Ann Van Lente .from Holland the Michigan Pesticides Council was formed and it met in East Lansing with Dr. George Wallace, Dr. Ted Black, both ornithologists who knew what was happening to the birds, other members were: Joan Wolfe, Dr. John Kitchel, H. Lewis Batts, Mrs. Ronald Marlatt, Charles Shick. Their success has contributed to a 90% reduction in DDT levels in Great Lakes fish, and the recovery of the bald eagle. Norm Spring was inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame in 2014.
Barb has continued her activism and authored four books, including The Dynamic Great Lakes, a non-fiction book about changes in the Great Lakes system, both natural and by the hand of man. She also maintains three Great Lakes blogs. She was 80 when I sent her my questions.
Growing up in East Lansing, Barb said she knew little about the Great Lakes since her schools did not teach about them.  That changed the moment she saw Lake Superior as a 7-year-old on a road trip with her parents.
A resident of Grand Haven, Barb said she now sees Lake Michigan “every day since we live within view of it.  I used to bring my kids to the beach all the time and now I walk the beach and sometimes swim. Along with our two daughters I have also gone fishing with my husband to fish for steelhead and salmon.”
Close to home are her favorite places, wooded dunes at nearby parks on Lake Michigan’s shoreline.  She walks the woods to enjoy the change of seasons and spring wildflowers.
The Great Lakes, she said, does not figure much in the conversations with her friends. “I do hear people exclaim, ‘Wow’ as they get their first look at Lake Michigan as they go by my house.”
Barb has spent decades in the life of a committed environmental volunteer, including service as Water Resources Chair for the Michigan chapter of the League of Women Voters. In that role she reviewed all water legislation in the state legislature and advised the League on whether to take a position.
“I also made a proposal to the Grand Haven city council that the city upgrade the municipal wastewater plant that was only primary treatment at that time,” she wrote.  “I also proposed that the tannery send their wastes through it.  I informed the Council that they could get state, local and federal funds to make this happen.  It happened.”
The tannery’s interest in participating was promoted by a little production arranged by Barb and friends. “With friends we put on some theater presentations in our local League of Women Voters,” she said. “One friend came out dressed in a cow hide and spoke about the tannery wastes. Fishermen talked about the colors and stink of the Grand River due to dyes and toxic wastes.” The tannery subsequently paid to treat its discharge in the new wastewater plant for a few years before going out of business.
Barb was one of the few I interviewed who responded affirmatively to my question about arts and the Great Lakes. “I’ve read many books about the Great Lakes.  I have friends that are wonderful photographers and painters.  I’m a member of Lakeland Artists and I like to paint and photograph also.”
She said it was difficult to say whether the lakes are getting better or worse. But there was one certainty: plenty of threats. “The Lakes still get the fallout from many places through airstreams.  There are manufacturing chemicals that may have unknown effects on their ecology.  Tiny bits of plastic get into food chains.  Oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac threaten the lakes. Many aging nuclear power plants pose a very dangerous threat.”
What could concerned citizens do about all of this? Successful in her local government efforts, Barb recommended that would-be advocates go to their municipal government bodies when they see something that could be fixed.  “They can call and write to their state and federal government officials.” But, she added, “I don’t believe people think they can fight the political forces that are funded by big business.”
She said was surprised by a reader’s reaction to her book The Dynamic Great Lakes: “I have lived in Grand Haven all my life and I did not know these things.”
“I try to be hopeful and still try to do the right things even at my advanced age.  After all, I have children and future generations to consider.”
Not surprisingly, Barb retained her sense of wonder.  She shared it with Rachel Carson, author of A Sense of Wonder as well as Silent Spring, the book that launched the fight against DDT and other bioaccumulating pesticides.
“The Great Lakes are magnificent. Awesome.”

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Dune Ecology

June 23, 2018


 

Kitchel Lindquist Hartger Dunes near Grand Haven Michigan and in Ferrysburg, Michigan

The high wooded dunes rise above the Grand River, as they have for several thousand years, a part of the landscape both residents and tourists in the Tri-Cities area enjoy.    For a closer look, people can follow a self-guided nature trail through the dunes.  On Earth Day, the community pitches in and picks up debris blown into the dunes by the winter winds.  It’s a favorite place for people whether they simply look at it as a familiar part of the landscape, or use it for walking or cross country skiing in the winter for it abounds in wildlife, grasses, flowers, and trees. It’s a good place to study the lessons of ecology.

These Dunes, near the shore of Lake Michigan and on the north bank of the Grand River are a gift from the river and the west wind; water and wind currents carried sand deposited by Ice Age Glaciers 4,000 years ago.  It is a perfect place to study how a dune land changes over decades, centuries, millennia.  It is a good place to observe dynamic changes from  season to season, and even from hour to hour.     Ecologists say dunes are dynamic because they change rapidly.

First to develop the discipline of ecology, Henry Chandler Cowles published his work in l899. His scientific studies of the sand dunes along Lake Michigan in Indiana and Michigan pointed out the relationships between the shifting sands of the dunes and the changing plant communities that survive under harsh conditions.  The scientific observations Cowles made in the Indiana and Michigan sand dunes made him the father of ecology.  He saw that plants and animals change more rapidly in the dunes than in other places, therefore the dunes  made a perfect outdoor laboratory. Cowles’ observations on one group of plants replacing another is called succession.  Each stage in dune succession depends upon an earlier stage.  The first plants to grow were perhaps nourished by a dead fish that washed ashore. Insects such as the springtail and bacteria and molds broke the fish down into nutrients the plants could use. After their root systems stabilized the sand, and helped build the dune, other plants were able to establish themselves nourished by nutrients in a layer of topsoil formed by decaying matter.

Here is how the dune ecosystem changes with time:

0-20 years Beach grasses

20-50 years Cottonwood, beach grasses, cherry, willow, herbs

50-l00 years Increasing variety of shrubs, trees, and herbs, Jack pine may dominate

l00-years Black oak may be among the first forest dominants

Oak and hickory_l00-l,000 years  Beech and maple climax forest (extension_bulletin E-l529 Sea Grant)

Marram grass and sand reed grass are not discouraged by the harsh environment of a sand dune: hot, desert like conditions in the summer, strong winds, and cold arctic conditions in the winter.  Dune plants are adapted to extreme heat, cold, and a lack of moisture. The marram grass and the sand reed grass hold the fort on the fore dune by binding the sand with their huge, hair like root systems that may extend down to the water table for a hundred feet. Their stems grow upward even when covered by sand repeatedly.    On these dunes, 52 acres, there is a surprising diversity of life which makes its dune scape an ever changing panorama: plants especially adapted to the dune bloom, each in their season: A self-guided nature trail with  numbered stations shows the succession of plants in the dunes along the footpath are: horsetails, interdunal ponds or pannes with rushes, sedges and various insects and amphibians. A delicate looking yet hardy plant bearberry or kinnikinick was used by the Native Americans as tobacco, and there are junipers of two types, an endangered species: Pitcher’s thistle, pines, dune grasses, poison ivy, sand cherry, and various types of hardwoods such as red oak.  On top of the highest dune are beech and maple. There are also witchhazel trees that bloom in October and sassafras that turn brilliant colors of red and orange in autumn. Some trees are entwined with bittersweet with orange fruit birds feed upon.    Dune forests can grow up on dunes that have been pioneered by grasses and shrubs which stabilize the sand and over the years  help to build a layer of topsoil that can support tall trees.  In the spring, wildflowers such as trillium grow in profusion on south slopes of forested dunes where they can absorb more sunlight. In the open sunny areas of the dune, the yellow hairy puccoon flourishes: its gray green color and fuzzy leaves help it to reflect light and retain water.

Migrating birds rest in the high tree branches while permanent residents such as the pileated woodpecker and the horned owl go about earning their livings in their particular niches.  Whitetail deer browse on vegetation and red fox feeds upon everything from berries and insects to frogs and small mammals such as the white-footed mouse.  With the climax forest, the dunes have produced a diverse community of plants and animals that are an important part of the Great Lakes’ ecosystem. It may have taken a_thousand years between the time the first grasses colonized the sand and the tall trees found enough nutrients for theirseeds to grow.  These dunes are not replaceable. They are of more value to the whole ecosystem as dunes rather than as industrial sand or real estate. They protect inland areas from wind damage since wind blowing off the lake will glance off of a tall dune and rise up into the air.  They also protect inland areas from flooding, but perhaps their most appreciated value is their beauty.  Dune plants may be able to live through harsh summer and winter weather but, they cannot stand up to off the road vehicles or heavy foot traffic.  Building houses on dunes may also cause wind erosion when the plants stabilizing the dunes are removed. This is called a blowout and it forms a saddle shaped or U shaped depression in a stable sand dune.  In the past, many Lake Michigan dunes were trucked away load by load since their fine sand has industrial uses.

In order to protect Michigan’s coastal sand dunes, the state government passed a law in l989 that will prevent harmful development and protect the dunes we still have left. Governor Blanchard signed the bill into law at Kitchel Lindquist Hartger Dunes. Henry Chandler Cowles would have been proud.

In the deep valleys between sand dunes, wetlands with the same sort of living things found in ponds, may appear and then disappear when the weather becomes dry. Before the water disappears, tadpoles may change into frogs and toads. Salamanders may make their transformation from a water to a land animal.    With the climax forest, the dunes have produced a diverse community of plants and animals that are an important part of the Great Lakes’ ecosystem. It may have taken a thousand years between the time the first grasses colonized the sand and the tall trees found enough nutrients for their seeds to grow.  These dunes are not replaceable. They are of more value to the whole ecosystem as dunes rather than as industrial sand or real estate. They protect inland areas from wind damage since wind blowing off the lake will glance off of a tall dune and rise up into the air.  They also protect inland areas from flooding.  In the winter, people_cross country ski through scenic dune trails; in springtime, people come to admire the wildflowers and listen to the music of migrating birds; in the summer, people enjoy strolling through the cool forests and playing on the beaches. In autumn, the foliage changes to brilliant colors and dry leaves rustle underfoot.  Chipmunks scamper over fallen logs, their cheeks stuffed with beechnuts.     Hikers may be alarmed by a snake that rises in a pretty good imitation of a cobra, puffing out its hood to make itself seem fearsome although it is a perfectly harmless snake, and part of the dune ecosystem.  It is the eastern hognose snake (sometimes called the puff adder) with its shovel like nose the snake uses to burrow into the sand in search of it favorite food: toads. In fact, toads are the only food the puff adder will eat. There are also a few Mississauga rattlesnakes in the dunes , so if you take a hike, it’s a good idea to stay on the marked trails and keep your eyes open. There is a lot to see and enjoy.

Great Horned Owl

horned owl

wild flowers

wild flowers

Marram grass


My book, The Dynamic Great Lakes on Kindle   A critically acclaimed non-fiction book

click the link above

 

?????????watercolor painting by Barbara Spring


si-isleroyale
Only two wolves are left on Isle Royale. moose population has grown too large for the space on Isle Royale. Wolves will be imported soon since the two left are related and will not breed.

Brooks' big catch

Brooks’ big catch


Image result for aerial view of Niagara Falls

 

Niagara Falls is part of the flowing river of freshwater seas we call the Great Lakes.  Niagara Falls takes a plunge into Lake Ontario.

map of Great LakesFacts about the Great Lakes & map

 


In the wooded dunes near Lake Michigan a Great Horned Owl and two chicks are resting in their nest.horned owl

Peregrine and Eagles Today

January 15, 2018


The Dynamic Great Lakes Blog

A peregrine falcon hovers

Over rolling Lake Michigan waves

Waves that carry something

the falcon is interested in

as it hangs steady in the wind.

On the sandy shore two eagles

Pick up carrion—dead white fish with silver fins.

It’s good to see a peregrine and eagles

Along the lakeshore today.

I thank my good man

For making it that way.

–Barbara Spring

Norm Spring won the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame Award for his work in banning DDT and thereby bringing back the American Bald Eagle and the peregrine falcon to the shore of the Great Lakes.????????????????

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The Dynamic Great Lakes Blog

View from West Michigan in February The sun goes down on an icy shoreline in West Michigan.  Don’t go out too far since the wind and waves change the ice patterns constantly.

Read about the science of ice in The Dynamic Great Lakes

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Kindle  map of Great Lakesclick the link to order the Kindle edition of the book from Amazon.com

The Bookman book store in Grand Haven, MI has The Dynamic Great Lakes in paperback.

Praise for The Dynamic Great Lakes

 

In her cautionary book, environmental activist and professor Spring enthusiastically explores the Great Lakes, and clearly explains why they should be protected. —Book Sense Nov 22 2003

 

This is intriguing stuff for adults, but the straightforward presentation also lends itself to use in schools. —Peter Wild U.S. Water News

 

Every library should have this book. —Stan Lievense, retired fish biologist MDNR

 

Worth reading if for no other reason than that the writing is masterfully done…reminded me a little of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. —Jonathon David Masters,

 

This is an impressive little book. Not quite 110 pages long, it’s a read of about an hour or so. The author has, however, managed to jam it full of facts and information about the Great Lakes. The author also sprinkles a strong environmental ethic throughout the book coupled with the belief that the democratic process can make a difference. —Bob Gross, The Oakland Press

 

Spring’s handy 108-page primer about the Great Lakes provides the curious with a solid overview of the lakes including their history, physical characteristics, denizens and the threats facing them, particularly from invasive species and pollution. —Dave LeMieux, The Muskegon Chronicle

 

The view of planet Earth as seen from a satellite in outer space shows the continents, deep blue oceans and white swirling clouds of vapor. The five Great Lakes show their distinct, interconnected shapes; unique bodies of fresh water.

Of all the planets our satellite cameras and telescopes have probed, only Earth looks inviting or habitable. A famous photograph taken from the moon shows Earth rising against a barren moonscape where nothing lives. In the foreground we see jagged rock, but rising in the distance is Earth with its liquid medium: water. Water and life are inseparable. Where there is life, there is water; where there is water, there is life.

All nations as well as all living things share the water and air supply that is the planet’s life support system; therefore we all share a responsibility for the cleanliness of the air, water, land and its living webs of life. Air and water never stop to show a passport, but circulate freely around the globe. The great swirling airstreams and water systems we can see from a satellite circulate continually.

If we thought of the Earth as an apple, a layer of life- supporting air, soil and water would only be as thick as the apple’s skin. Life on Earth is only possible as long as our limited life support system works.

We are all challenged to use our knowledge, creativity and common sense to keep the Great Lakes great. Can you think of ways to think globally and act locally.  excerpt from The Dynamic Great Lakes.

ex

dynamicgreatlakes-independent_fullcover-copy