animals

A Celebration Ten Years in the Making

By Alysa Suero

A large gazebo on the grounds of the Audubon Center in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, was buzzing last week, and not just from the sound of bees pollinating the flora.  It was also the site of the Schuylkill Action Network’s 10th anniversary celebration.

The SAN is a partnership between EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, conservation districts, local officials, watershed and non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders who share a common goal for the watershed.  Since its inception in March 2003, this group has successfully worked together to improve and maintain Schuylkill River water quality.  Its 10th anniversary ceremony was an opportunity to reflect upon the history of the organization and congratulate its on-the-ground partners who are actively working to keep the water clean.

An unexpected highlight of the ceremony was the appearance of a rescued owl, coolly perched on the arm of an Audubon Society volunteer.  With a spin of his head and a hoot of thanks, even the owl seemed to recognize the hard work of all who strive to keep his watershed clean.

SAN owl

Photo Courtesy of the Schuylkill Action Network

The SAN’s “vision for collaboration” emerged as the prominent theme during the ceremony, where awards were presented to individuals and local watershed groups who implemented outstanding projects to meet this goal.  Tackling varied and difficult issues from acid mine drainage to storm sewer overflows to excess nutrients, the award recipients were met with thunderous applause and even a standing ovation.  Presenters and winners alike, including a middle school, an ecologist, and a water supplier, all highlighted the uniqueness of the SAN and its approach.  Credited for uniting a “crosscut of society and the environment,” SAN itself was cheered for bringing together a diverse population who found common ground in their appreciation for the watershed and their shared desire to see it thrive for generations to come.

With a successful ten years already in the history books, several of the day’s speakers posited the future of the organization.  We learned that our nation’s population growth is expected to increase by 50 percent by the year 2050, and most of the growth will be seen within 100 miles of the coasts.  The Schuylkill watershed is firmly within that boundary. Undaunted, the SAN partners pledged to build upon their successful joint ventures and continue to work together to ensure that the Schuylkill watershed is a high quality water resource in the year 2050 and beyond, for humans, owls, and all who call this watershed home.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Endangered Species Coloring Book

Do you like learning about animals?  Do you like to color?  If you answered yes, you are in luck!  The Fish and Wildlife Service just came out with a new Endangered Species Coloring Book.  Check out the link here: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/ESA40/PDF/ESAColoringbook.pdf

I have already learned so much about species I didn’t even know were endangered.  Did you know the Lakeside Daisy is a threatened rare plant found in dry, rocky prairie grassland areas in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan?  Or, did you know bog turtles are threatened animals and are the smallest species of turtles in North America?  Check out the link to learn more and for a fun art project!

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Up Close and Personal with Where Breakfast Comes From

By Kelly Shenk and Matt Johnston

Kelly:

PennAg Industries Association contacted me as soon as I became EPA Region 3’s Agricultural Advisor and offered me the chance to get out in the field to visit three farms.  I assembled a team predominantly comprised of Chesapeake Bay Watershed Modelers to learn first-hand from farmers about their success and challenges of growing food in a safe, humane, and environmentally sound manner.  PennAg provided an experience that I know we’ll all take with us in our careers and personal lives, as demonstrated by Matt Johnston in this blog.

Learning from farmers on the PennAg farm tour

Matt:
It is all too easy to forget where our food comes from.  Every Saturday as a young boy I awoke to the smells of bacon and eggs coming from the kitchen.  By the time I got to the table, my mother had already set my place with two eggs sunny side up, two pieces of extra crispy bacon, a piece of toast and a glass of milk.  It’s a menu familiar to many of us and served weekend after weekend in homes across America.

Never once did I stop to think about how my breakfast got there.  Never once did I consider the animal production side of the equation – the side that includes thousands of workers, millions of animals, and tons of feed and manure.  Last week while on a tour of farms with colleagues, I was reminded of the other side of that equation in very personal ways.

The first stop on our tour was an egg layer facility. Conveyer belts criss-crossed a three-story tall warehouse seamlessly transporting eggs to an adjacent packing facility from the millions of hens that were stacked in cages and spread out over an area larger than a football field.  All the while, another set of belts sent the byproduct of our food production in the opposite direction, depositing the poultry litter in two-to-three story high piles.  When confronted with mounds of litter taller than your house, you begin to realize the inevitable byproducts of our Saturday morning meals.

This lesson was repeated at a nursery pig raising facility, where I jumped at the opportunity to hold an adorable young pig when the tour leader offered.  Unfortunately, the pig did not share my excitement and promptly announced its disgust by soiling my clothing with manure.  All the while, under my feet was a concrete holding tank full of the same viscous substance ready to be pumped out and transported to a nearby field.

Visiting the pigs on the PennAg farm tour

Our last stop was a small dairy.  There were no large holding tanks or conveyor belts constructing piles.  Instead, there was a single farmer with a few small pieces of equipment, a small barnyard, and a few adjacent fields.  Without the resources to stack or store manure, the farmer can only do one thing with it – spread it.  This is the way farmers have farmed for hundreds of years.

Whether the manure is stacked, buried, or spread, it is real.  What is now clear to me is that it is not the devil.  It’s a necessary byproduct of our society’s growing consumption of animal products.  However, like all byproducts of production, it can be harmful in high doses.

Yet we have the tools to lessen its impact.  We can spread manure according to nutrient management plan recommendations.  We can plant grasses and trees along waterways to intercept nutrients.  And we can work with farmers to make proper storage and handling equipment available.

After all, the manure is not going away, and I’m not going to stop eating eggs and bacon with my glass of milk on Saturday morning.

Learning from Farmers on the PennAg farm tour

About the Authors: Kelly Shenk is EPA Region 3’s Agricultural Advisor.  Matt Johnston is a Nonpoint Source Data Analyst with the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hey, Kids! This is Earth Calling. Are you Listening?

student

Reprinted with permission from Bay Soundings.

Habitat loss, pollution, homeless animals…and kids can’t do anything to make a difference. Right? Wrong! Kids can definitely improve our world, even our very own Tampa Bay. Let me share some of what I do. Using the website www.ConserveItForward.com, I support three non-profit groups that 1) help people get safe drinking water around the world using biosand water filters, 2) promote the conservation of amphibians and their importance to our environment, and 3) run my favorite local nature preserve.

I raise awareness through my website, live presentations and running my booth at places like schools, zoos and festivals. I also sometimes raise money through my business where 100% of the profit benefits my three groups.

Now I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite topics: frogs. Frogs are an indicator species. Does that mean they are fortune tellers? Well, they won’t read your palm, but they do read the environment. Frogs have permeable skin, which means chemicals pass through it easily, so they are one of the first species to be harmed in their habitat. If there is a healthy population of native frogs in Tampa, then we know we are doing something right. If there is not a healthy native population, then something is wrong and we must act quickly. Many people do not know that 1/3 of the world’s amphibian species face extinction. According to www.SavetheFrogs.com, approximately 200 amphibian species have disappeared since 1980 and that is not normal.

So how do we know if frogs are healthy in Tampa? Well, first we have to know which ones are here. One way we can do that is by listening to them. You do not need a college degree to be a frog listener, but you do need to know what frogs you are hearing. That leads me to my favorite citizen science project, where you attend workshops to learn about frogs and their calls. Next, you collect data about the frogs you hear and send it to scientists. They need lots of data. If you want to be a local frog listener, Lowry Park Zoo hosts a FrogWatch USA chapter. Go to www.aza.org/frogwatch to learn more.

I love sharing with other kids how easy it is to help frogs and our environment. You can build frog habitats with things you have around your house like old Tupperware and PVC pipes. Ask your parents to not use so many chemicals in the yard. If you get a pet amphibian, make sure it was captive bred and not taken from the wild. Also, if you have a pet cat, don’t let it go outdoors unleashed because they enjoy pouncing, and that is not good for frogs and other small critters.

No matter what the topic is, I challenge you to find a project you love that will help our world. Create your own project or for ideas, visit www.SciStarter.com or www.CampBayou.org. Once you choose your project, act on it, encourage others to do the same — and we can all conserve it forward!

Avalon Theisen of ConserveItForward.com has been recognized internationally for her conservation efforts. With a goal of working for National Geographic when she grows up, her hobbies include traveling abroad and animal handling.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.