Category Archives: Uncategorized

Environmental Volunteers Build Bridges

IMG_0865Photo by Robert Barossi

by Robert Barossi

That headline certainly has a literal and figurative meaning. On one hand, volunteers build bridges between environmental organizations and the surrounding communities. People often, if not always, get to know organizations through meeting and speaking with volunteers. One the other hand, volunteers are sometimes tasked with building literal bridges, like the one volunteers are considering along the Illinois River Trail in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area in Oregon. There are actually around one hundred bridges in need of repair in the area and the Siskiyou Mountain Club is leading the effort to give some attention and care to the worst of them. Check out the full article for more information on just how the group plans to achieve this impressive and important goal.

Check out many more environmental volunteer stories in my eBook, Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day

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Environmental Volunteers Enforcing Laws?

Underwater LeavesPhoto by Robert Barossi

by Robert Barossi

The new month starts with a fascinating story out of Singapore. Back when I was talking to volunteers for my book, many of them talked about how they were often asked to be authority figures, of a sort. For example, trail stewards were given the authority to tell other trail users to stop littering or pick up their trash. While they weren’t any type of official law enforcement representative, they were given the ability to act in an enforcement role.

A new law in Singapore takes this a step further, and a number of people are concerned. Volunteers are being given the right and ability to enforce environmental laws, such as the ability to hand out citations to other citizens who are caught littering. These volunteers will work for the National Environment Agency, which has offered some assurances, such as background checks for the volunteers and a training period during which they’ll work with NEA officers. Still, opposition voices have raised questions regarding the appropriateness and necessity of giving these kinds of powers to volunteers. Another article on the new law offers a few different perspectives on these issues.

If you enjoyed any of the stories on this blog, check out my eBook for many more environmental volunteer stories – Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers  Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day

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Environmental Volunteers Coast to Coast

Foliage Reflected

by Robert Barossi

This morning, I noticed three environmental stories that just happened to perfectly span the United States, proving once again that volunteers are working on important environmental projects from sea to shining sea.

On the east coast, in Hackensack, New Jersey, over one hundred volunteers took part in an annual event to clean up litter in open spaces around the city.

Right in the middle, in Champaign, Illinois, volunteers are working to make the city greener with a focus on recycling and litter reduction.

And on the west coast, in Sacramento, California, almost 200 volunteers picked up over 20,000 pounds of trash.

These are the kinds of inspiring environmental volunteer stories you’ll find on this blog and in my eBook, Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day. Available at the following links.

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Volunteers and Birds of Prey

P1000369(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Two fantastic volunteers stories this morning, both detailing how volunteers are playing an essential role in monitoring and protecting birds of prey.

The first story comes from the east coast, where volunteers in Delaware are counting hawks. Over the fall months, volunteers will take place in a “Hawk Watch,” where they will spend time at monitoring stations, watching and recording the many hawks who fly by as they migrate south. The volunteers have, over the years, observed 18 different hawk species and have collected data which helps local experts “better understand the timing, movement and behavior of these birds as they pass over Delaware,” according to the article.

Three thousand miles away, on the west coast, volunteers in this second story are doing a similar kind of work for another important bird species. As this story from the San Fransisco area details, volunteers are an integral part in the ongoing recovery of the California condor. The volunteers take part in many tracking and monitoring activities related to these birds who have made a comeback but still need more of our help to continue thriving. That help will come largely from environmental volunteers and their efforts.

If you have enjoyed the stories on this site, download my eBook – Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day. Available at the following links:

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Volunteers in the Wilderness

IMG_0847_1(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Environmental volunteers do their work in every kind of natural setting. Some are on boats out on the open seas. Others are in canoes on tiny lakes and ponds. Some are in wide open fields and meadows. While still others are deep in the heart of dense wilderness, like the volunteers who participated in this effort to clear trails in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. This enormous area of wilderness, 1.3 million acres of land, spans parts of Idaho and Montana, with roughly 1,800 miles of trails winding through it. Two different groups of volunteers were brought in for the trail work, one led by the American Hiking Society and the other by the Sierra Club, both hosted by the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation. The article quotes the Foundation’s program director, Coby Gierke, who says, in part, “The issues that we face here are not that much different from other wilderness areas. After experiencing it for themselves, they [the volunteers] become great stewards and help tell this story nationally.” Hopefully, they will do just that and continue to do this kind of work in whatever wilderness surrounds them, no matter where they live.

If you enjoyed any of the stories on this blog, download my eBook – Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day. Available at the following links:

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Volunteers and Snapping Turtles

1024px-Common_Snapping_Turtle_Close_Up(Photo by Dakota L., Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

by Robert Barossi

As many stories on this blog have demonstrated, environmental volunteers are often citizen scientists. They collect the data that professional scientists will use for a variety of experiments, tests and research. In Connecticut, volunteers are collecting samples from snapping turtles, samples which are part of a number of research projects. The information obtained from this research will do more than reveal the health of the turtles. It will also reveal the health of the ecosystem as a whole and the health of the humans who sometimes eat the turtles. Volunteers will be an important part of collecting the samples  that researchers at Mystic Aquarium will turn into invaluable data.

If you’ve enjoyed any of the stories on this blog, download my eBook – Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day. Available at the following links:

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Volunteer Master Naturalists

065_8A(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Many organizations offer training programs for their volunteers. Often in conjunction with colleges, universities and/or state agencies, volunteers receive training and education in a number of relevant areas. I recall one volunteer I interviewed for my book talking about a chainsaw class, which would become useful for clearing downed trees from trails in the woods. This great story out of Minnesota describes one of the more extensive training programs that I’ve come across, the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program. Offered jointly by University of Minnesota and the Department of Natural Resources, the program has been active since 2005. Enrolled students get forty hours of classroom training as well as books and field trips, with classes offered throughout the state and focusing on the three major ecological regions of Minnesota. After taking the program, which does cost a fee but financial assistance is available, new Master Naturalists take their knowledge and talents to a wide variety of places, performing many different kinds of volunteer tasks. More information about the program can be found at the official website, minnesotamasternaturalist.org.

If you’ve enjoyed any of the stories on this blog, please consider downloading my eBook, Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day.

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Places and People Change but the Story is the Same

Creek(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

In many places, environmental volunteers are performing unusual and unique tasks. There are without question many different roles they can play and a wide range of things for them to do. On the other hand, many volunteers are doing the same kinds of things over and over again, in many different locations. While it would be nice to have problems end so that their work isn’t needed anymore, that just doesn’t happen. And when I’m looking for environmental stories, it’s typically the same kinds of stories I see over and over again. For example, this wildlife rehabilitation story out of Texas, so similar to the work being done by rehab volunteers around he world. Or it might be another great story of volunteers doing anything they can to clean up a local river or waterway, this one in Maryland. While it’s inspiring and exciting to see some of the more unusual and fascinating things environmental volunteers do, it’s important to remember the equally inspiring dedication and passion they bring to the same kinds of jobs, repeated over and over, wherever the work is necessary.

A Family of Beetle Ranchers

IMG_1609(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Today, I’m posting another chapter from my upcoming eBook. Now that I’m putting the finishing touches on it, I hope to have it published and widely available soon. Until then, here’s another chapter, about a mother-daughter team of volunteers who raised beetles as part of a local effort to eliminate the invasive purple loosestrife.

The Family Way: Elizabeth and Samantha Emhardt

Amber waves of grain. Kentucky blue grass. California Redwoods. Unique and iconic plants can identify us, define us and inspire us. They can also deceive us. Driving through many parts of the country, a brightly colored plant can often be seen dominating the landscape, filling the open space with an unmistakably bright purple. Though it may be a beautiful shade of that color, the plant is unfriendly and unwanted. Purple loosestrife is an invasive species that has spread to most of the country and is frequently listed as an invasive or nuisance species. Exploring my home state of Massachusetts, I have encountered it numerous times, causing meadows, fields and wetlands to flame with purple light.

In the small town of Canton, a group of volunteers have joined the struggle to keep that flame from spreading even farther. Elizabeth Emhardt and her daughter Samantha are just two of those volunteers, introduced to the invasive plant by the Neponset River Watershed Association (NepRWA). The watershed association has teamed with a number of other organizations to wage war with the invasive plant, a war that employs a fascinating weapon: a beetle. To this end, volunteers like Elizabeth and Samantha perform an important role by becoming ranchers…beetle ranchers. For Elizabeth, a teacher and mother of two, this was an opportunity to volunteer and get involved, something she says she does as often as possible. For her daughter Samantha, a member of her high school science club and former member of Women in Natural Sciences, it was an exciting chance to engage her lifelong love of science.

 

“We always did fun thing in science, like experiments, and it was always really cool to find out how things worked,” Samantha says.

“Science rocks,” her mother agrees, with a smile. While she didn’t know the dangers of the plant prior to this project, Elizabeth says she did have some experience with purple loosestrife. “I remember driving by wetlands and seeing them solid purple.”

“It’s like an alien plant,” Samantha explains. “It’s not native, it has no natural predators here, so it will choke out all the native plants and wildlife and that’s bad.”

When they began the beetle ranching process, one of Elizabeth’s first questions was about the beetle and its natural predator. “If we are introducing all these beetles into the environment,” she had asked, “What happens with them, do we have to release something else to get these beetles?” The answer had been no, the beetles follow the plant and when the food source dies down, they die down with the food source.

“They only eat that one plant, that’s the only plant they eat,” Samantha adds, before going into an explanation of the beetle ranching process. “So, the first thing we do is we go out into the wetlands and actually dig up root balls of the purple loosestrife and we pot them and we put dirt and fertilizer in and we take eight. You can take eight or sixteen, so we take eight and then when you get home, you put them in a little kiddie swimming pool and fill it with water. You actually grow the purple loosestrife in a little homemade swamp. Then later they get beetles imported from Germany and they have beetle sorting day, which I haven’t been to. You’ll go and pick up ten beetles and they’ll be refrigerated so they are asleep and you put nets over the purple loosestrife so the beetles don’t escape, and you put two beetles, or a couple of beetles, with each plant, and then they have lots of babies, so you end up with way more beetles.”

“When did we release them?” Samantha asks.

“I thought it was kind of early that we released them this year,” her mother answers. “It was late July. You take the whole pot, plant, and there are stakes to help hold the nets up, and the nets also keep the predators out, from eating the beetles. So you take the whole mess, pot, net, stakes, back into the wetlands, take the nets off, pick off any larvae or little beetles and you put the plants back in the wetlands and the beetles just have at it.”

When the three of us spoke, Elizabeth and Samantha had completed the second and final time that they would participate in the beetle ranching program, which had been funded for five years. But both say they would gladly do it again, with Elizabeth commenting that during their most recent experience, the rest of the family got in on the fun.

“This past year, my husband and our thirteen year old son, I asked them if they would come with us and harvest the root balls. It’s really messy, you’re in those swampy wetlands, you’re digging these root balls and they are heavy, dirty clumps and you have to carry them out of the swamp and into a place where you can process them. So I asked my husband and my son to come and help us this year and they said yes, and it’s funny cause now my husband is like, ‘I see that purple loosestrife everywhere.’ So, he’s on board too.”

Samantha agrees that it was fun to share the experience as a family. “I think it’s really cool that we all go out there and harvest the root balls and everyone is doing it and then when we have the nets and the beetle set-up you can just go out and check on them, see how they are doing.”

Having a small swamp in their backyard, Elizabeth says, provided lots of opportunity for conversation and sharing the experience with family and friends. “We have a swimming pool in our backyard; we like to entertain a lot. We had this thing in our backyard, it’s a big kiddie pool with eight five gallon pots in it in your backyard with stakes and nets and sometimes it gets a little smelly cause in a sense you’re making a swamp in your backyard. It’s gotta be in a real sunny spot cause the purple loosestrife grows in the wetlands where there’s no trees or shade or anything. I mean, you can’t miss this thing in your backyard, so it gave us a lot of opportunities to talk about what we were doing, what this plant is and what the goal was, how we were ranching beetles.”

Since the project ended, Elizabeth says she has seen tangible evidence of success. “I have gone back and seen less purpose loosestrife. I noticed a spot in Canton that a couple of years ago I drove by and it was all purple and I thought it was beautiful and now I drive by and it’s not solid purple anymore. The beetles migrate where the food is and I’ve seen that because the purple loosestrife is not where it was five years ago and to my knowledge no beetles were released there.”

While beetle ranching may be over, there are other projects with the Neponset River Watershed Association and other opportunities to volunteer. Elizabeth mentions an upcoming river cleanup, “pulling tires and shopping carts and things like that out of the actual river.” She adds that she’d like her husband to go with her but she doesn’t sound sure that he will. “Well, you’re working full time, you have two kids, and the house always needs work done. You know, the lawn, he’s involved in boy scouts, he just moved from the finance committee to school committee. So, we do a lot of things besides work.”

Why then, I ask, did they decide to commit to the beetle ranching project? They both enthusiastically agree that it sounded very cool and interesting, with Samantha adding an excited “Beetles growing in our backyard!”

“It sounded really cool and the biggest time commitment was the day of harvesting, that’s a big commitment,” Elizabeth says. “A lot of people that do the volunteering are people with a lot of time on their hands. People who have a lot of time on their hands are retired people, they can’t physically do this stuff, they can’t go out into the swamps and dig out these root balls. You aren’t just digging out your own eight root balls; we dug out two hundred, over two hundred, root balls. It takes hours, you’re out there and it’s hot and it’s buggy but that’s the big chunk and the rest of it, it’s in your back yard, it’s a lot more manageable.”

In addition, they both felt that they were doing something good for the environment.

“It was kind of fun to help the natural wildlife come back and be restored,” Samantha says, adding, “I might do some more environmental volunteering, it was really cool.”

That environmental interest is something she clearly shares with her mother, who says, “I’m a big time gardener. I love to garden and be outside and spend time outside. I plant plants that I know will purposely draw hummingbirds to my yard. I have a bird bath. I have thistle seed for the goldfinch and house finches and feed for the nuthatch and the tufted titmice. I’ve always enjoyed nature so this whole process appealed to me because there’s a lot of things, the world just shrinks and shrinks, and there’s lot of things invading our environment that don’t belong. There’s a new thing I’m learning about, the Mile-a-Minute vine that’s taking over. The Asian longhorn beetle are destroying trees. It’s just sometimes you feel like…you know, yeah, we’ve got three kids, I’ve got a part time job and am a full time mom, still the major chauffeur in the house. Even though you’re busy with commitments like work and scouts and religious ed. and things of that nature, sometimes I just feel like you gotta help the planet a little bit.”

“Yeah,” Samantha chimes in, “just the little things you can do like recycle everything you can, try to save paper, stuff like that.”

While she does what she can, Samantha also admits that it’s difficult to find time to get outside and enjoy nature. “Sometimes we’ll go for hikes. I don’t know, it’s really busy so it’s kind of hard to get outside, with sports and clubs and homework. I don’t play any sports but a lot of my friends do. I take band so we do a lot of that before and after school. I play the alto saxophone.”

“I think if it was close and easy and convenient it would be a lot easier and more people would get involved,” Samantha says when asked about what might help get more people her age involved in environmental volunteering. Being able to see a tangible result or achievement would also help a lot, she adds, “that would be really cool, like she said, you’re seeing a lot less purple loosestrife.”

Their beetle ranching careers may have ended, but Elizabeth says she will always seek out opportunities to learn about nature and pass that on to her kids. “Not that I’m any natural expert or anything like that but when we are out, if I see something I recognize or know about I’ll always take the opportunity to tell them about it. It’s like, ‘Allright, look, here’s something that you should probably pay attention to.’” While she has learned a lot as an environmental volunteer, much of the knowledge she shares, Elizabeth says, is from when she went camping as a child.

The family continues to camp, she adds. “It’s so relaxing, we have a canoe, once in a while we drag it out, it’s a giant heavy old aluminum canoe, but it will fit all four of us and we paddle around. I get all freaked out and happy when I see a hummingbird moth in our back yard, which is a really funky looking moth-hummingbird thing. I’ll run in the house and say, ‘you guys all have to come out and see this,’ and they just shake their head at me and they’ll come out of the house and we look at this and it’s really cool. Or if it’s raining and the sun is shining and I’ll say, ‘come on we have to go see if there’s a rainbow.’”

That kind of enthusiasm for the natural world has definitely rubbed off on Samantha, who says, “It’s cool, though. I’ve seen so many rainbows.”

Volunteers Helping the Antelope

pronghorn

(Photo by Leupold James, Courtesy of public-domain-image.com)

by Robert Barossi

In so many ways, humans have altered or destroyed countless areas where animal species live or migrate. Migrations patters have been especially disrupted, as cities, towns, roads, highways and other kinds of human development have fractured migration corridors. Recently in Montana, volunteers played a big role in restoring a migration path for the antelope who roam big sky country. The volunteers have been stringing antelope-friendly fence, a project which has gone on for the past four years and included the modification of 18 miles of fence. These volunteer efforts may go a long way toward protecting the antelope and keeping the population in that area healthy and thriving.

The fence building and modification is a project of the National Parks Conservation Association.