wildlife

Farmers Using Special Crops in Holtwood, PA to Protect Soil & Help Their Farms Thrive

By Kate Pinkerton and Erika Larsen

It is hard to imagine anything growing in fields during winter, but last fall, we visited a farm in Pennsylvania that was covered in thriving, green crops. This farm showcases crop research and water quality conservation practices on agricultural lands. One of its practices is planting “cover crops” – or crops planted specifically to help replenish the soil and protect our waters outside of the typical farming season.

We are two coworkers in the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) program in the EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. We come from two different backgrounds – agriculture and water quality – to help farmers ensure that nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen stay on the farm where they help crops grow, rather than getting washed into our rivers and streams where they can build up and become nutrient pollution, or the excess of the vital nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen.

Farmers plant cover crops to improve and protect their soil and keep these nutrients from washing away in runoff, especially when they’re not growing crops they can sell. A variety of plants can be used as cover crops, including grasses, grains, legumes or broadleaf plants. By planting cover crops, farmers help the environment and themselves by increasing their soil’s health and water retention, potentially increasing crop yields and creating more habitat for wildlife.

The 200-acre farm we visited in Holtwood, PA – owned by Steve and Cheri Groff – produces corn, alfalfa, soybeans, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins. Annual cover crops help the farm be productive by maintaining a permanent cover on the soil surface at all times. During the tour, we talked with the Groffs about how cover crops store nutrients for the next crop and impact yields, what cover crop mixtures to use and the benefits of having multiple species. We also watched demonstrations on cover crop rooting depths, and how cover crops help soil health and water/nutrient cycling.

We were joined by other local farmers, agricultural conservation NGO staff, and representatives from other government agencies, including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency. Rob Myers, Regional Director of the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, said, “When you compare fields that are normally bare in the fall with a cover crop field capturing sunlight and protecting soil and water, it’s a pretty striking comparison.”

We enjoyed checking out the Groffs’ farm and seeing the wonderful progress that has been made on cover crop use and research, and we’re excited by the opportunities to collaborate to improve soil health and water quality. We hope to see this field continue to grow!
To learn more about cover crops please visit our website: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/agriculture/covercrops.cfm.

 

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

 

About the authors:

Erika Larsen is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the Nonpoint Source Control Branch in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Erika is a soil scientist from Florida and currently works on agriculture and water quality issues.

Kate Pinkerton is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) program participant on the Hypoxia Team in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Kate is originally from Kentucky and studied environmental science at American University. She currently works on nutrient pollution and hypoxia issues in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

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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Duck, Duck, huh?

By Linda Mauel

The Mallard

The Mallard

The weather finally caught up with the calendar, resulting in a beautiful day last week. So I threw my back door open, breathed in the fresh air and looked across my back yard. I glanced at the neighbor’s pool, wondering when they were going to open it, then did a double take. Relaxing in the water filled pool cover were a pair of Mallards. The drake (male) and hen (female) were also basking in the sun – but in a pool?

Per Wikipedia, the Mallard inhabits a wide range of habitat and climates, from Arctic Tundra to subtropical regions. It is found in both fresh- and salt-water wetlands, including parks, small ponds, rivers, lakes and estuaries, as well as shallow inlets and open sea within sight of the coastline. I live near the Jersey shore and it’s not like New York and New Jersey don’t have plenty of natural water options.

This got me thinking about how adaptable nature is. Trees and plants bud when the weather is right – regardless of whether this occurs in early March or late February. Wildlife traverses land and sea for food, to breed and to adjust to changes in weather. We humans could learn a lot from our wildlife counterparts. Among the lessons that come to mind are: to try to be more malleable (pun intended) and roll with the punches; don’t sweat the small stuff; and look for the good that life has to offer – there is a lot out there.

About the Author: Linda Mauel serves as the region’s Quality Assurance Manager.  She works in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. Linda holds a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Chemistry from Rutgers University. She worked in the private sector for 11 years then began her 22+ year career with EPA in the quality assurance 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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Even Better Living Through Green Chemistry

green chemistry

An exciting area of innovation within the field of chemistry is developing safer chemicals and processes that improve our lives and protect the environment. Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate hazardous substances that could otherwise find their way into the air, water, land, wildlife, and our bodies.

In my efforts to learn more about developments in green chemistry, I have visited several Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge winners over the past year, and I can report that innovation around green chemistry is alive and well. From coast to coast, American businesses are designing green solutions to some of our most challenging environmental issues – and making a profit along the way. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Harbinger of Spring

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

Spring is the season associated with the awakening of nature and rebirth.  You see it in the trees and bushes that begin to sprout new shoots and buds. You see it in the leaves of the bulbs that are starting to push up through the ground. You see it the increasing activity of wildlife. And you hear it in the sounds of nature that rise from their wintry slumber.

The other day as I returned home from work, I noticed a loud chirping.  I looked around and found one robin redbreast perched at the very top of a tree. There were no other birds in sight.  In my mind, it seemed like he was calling “look at me” and proclaiming “spring is right around the corner.”

This time I was equipped with my camera in my handbag and was able to capture the scene.  Since that evening, I’ve seen plenty of robins actively hoping around my back yard. Now I’m looking forward to seeing other colorful birds visiting the area.

During springtime, it’s a great time to consider greenscaping techniques to have a greener and healthier yard to protect the environment and save money. By creating a healthier garden, you’ll be able to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of nature while creating a happier setting for your family, pets, wildlife and the environment as a whole.

Have you seen any early signs of spring in your neighborhood? As always, we love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Have you ever wanted to learn outside?

By Wendy Dew

The National Wildlife Federation assists schools in developing outdoor classrooms called Schoolyard Habitats®, where educators and students learn how to attract and support local wildlife. These wildlife habitats become places where students not only learn about wildlife species and ecosystems, but also outdoor classrooms where they can enjoy nature.

Learn how to get started with a Schoolyard Habitat.  Fish and Wildlife Service has additional schoolyard habitat resources

Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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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Benjamin and the Animals

By Amy Miller

I was busy packing for a road trip and frankly didn’t hear the squawking. Not until Benjamin appeared did I notice the commotion in the trees: “Mommy, there’s two crows attacking a hawk,” said my 10-year-old son.

“Really?” I answered and kept packing.

“You know, I just love to wake up and be in wildlife,” he answered.

My village in southern Maine isn’t exactly Baxter State Park, but where there is wildlife,  Benjamin will find it. Since he was old enough to communicate – in other words always – he has shown a kinship for animals. And like children do, he has helped me see what I would have missed.

“I loved animals when I first saw them,” Benjamin said when invited to write this blog with me. “I wanted to know more about them, about the ways that they do stuff, like hunting and playing.”

Benjamin’s interest goes beyond learning the facts.

“I like to see animals from their point of view instead of from people’s point of view. I like to see an animal’s view of a mouse, or an animal’s view of a giraffe,” he said. “Like a giraffe, for us it’s like, ‘oh it’s a big animal’ but for a tiger or lion it’s like ‘oh, it’s food, we got to go eat it.’”

Even as an adult, I’m too restless to cast a fishing rod more than four or five times without a bite. At 2, Benjamin waited for hours on the end of a dock among the reeds at our favorite lake in Bridgton. He never gets bored on that dock.

“I just like to have patience. I like to test my patience, to see how long I can go,” he said. Plus,“I like to give myself a challenge and try to find the best or the biggest fish. I like to see what fish are in the pond. No matter how long I wait I know that they’re in there.”

I used to think an animal dying would be hard for Benjamin. Not so. “It’s the way of life, if they die they die,” he said.

This week Benjamin went to a neighbor’s to return something. When he came back, he reported on his latest wildlife experience.

“There was a chickadee that I came millimeters from,” he said. “It flew onto a hedge, but I didn’t move one muscle because I knew if I moved it would go away. And I wanted to see it more.”

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Connecting at the Water’s Edge

By Maryann Helferty

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Young Red Belly Turtle seen at Lardner's Point

Late on a warm spring afternoon a few weeks ago, I walked along a newly restored tidal wetland and gazed at the young sedge grasses and arrowhead plants.  The line, “If you build it they will come” from the movie Field of Dreams passed through my mind.  Here at Lardner’s Point Park in Philadelphia, PA, both wildlife and people were reclaiming their spot at the water’s edge.

Earlier that week, the opening ceremony for the park celebrated the creation of 300 feet of shoreline access and four acres of open space.  After the ribbon-cutting, a visitor spotted a small baby turtle climbing up the fresh soil bank.  It was a red-belly turtle, a threatened species in Pennsylvania.  It had emerged from the river to welcome the park supporters, just as the early players from baseball’s past entered the cornfield ballpark of Kevin Costner’s dreams. A local water scientist reported that in ten years of boat surveys, he had not seen a young turtle of this species in this area.

Creation of the park was truly a Cinderella story, as the shoreline had been wrapped in a concrete bulkhead from its days as a ferry terminal, and was later fouled by an oil spill.  Over $500,000 in federal funding was dedicated to the restoration and mitigation project.

The ecological restoration of Lardner’s Point is about more than the re-emergence of a living marine ecosystem for plants and animals.  Along the industrial riverfront, open space is as rare as the threatened turtle. The design of this site features a fishing pier, connection to a bike trail and picnic tables.  Check out our podcast on the Lardner’s Point restoration to learn more.

These amenities bring a breeze of recreation to the dense, row-home neighborhood of Tacony nearby.  That’s why as part of the Urban Waters Movement, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities — as they work to access, improve and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land.

As I left the pier, I said hello to a 10-year old boy carrying a fishing rod.  He happily reported that this was the first time he could walk with his grandfather and fish on the Delaware.  By reconnecting the river to wetlands and greenspace, the park was also connecting friends and family with great memories along the river.

With summer coming, how are you going to connect at the water’s edge?  May is American Wetlands Month, so take some time to learn how you can protect and restore wetlands near you.

About the Author: Maryann Helferty is a water quality scientist with the Mid-Atlantic Regional office of the EPA.  She has worked on groundwater and watershed protection in both the rural Pacific Northwest and the urban corridors of the Atlantic.  One of her passions is teaching urban youth about water through the poetry curriculum: River of Words.  You will find her this summer walking the water’s edge in the Wissahickon Watershed.

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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Getting Rid of the Barberry

When gazing out across an emerald forest, most people only view the big picture. They are captivated by the lush vegetation that provides a home for a vast array of incredible wildlife. To the untrained eye, this serene tableau may seem immaculate. However, there is an insidious predator which has gradually manifested itself in the picture. These sneaky intruders are becoming more prevalent. Invasive species, plants which are able to vigorously thrive in foreign environments, are unwelcomed pests which need to be stopped.

As many of you environmentalists probably know, ecosystems are exceptionally intricate. At the same time, they also tend to be incredibly fragile. The sustainability of the ecosystem depends on its inhabitants. For example, if a specific species of plant or animal were to suddenly disappear, the rest of the food chain would not function correctly. Consequently, the entire balance of the local environment is thrown into disarray. After learning about the magnitude of this issue, we were inspired to observe one of our local ecosystems and make a difference.

When I say “we”, I mean the students who are currently conducting environmental research in Connecticut. Because we live in such a woodsy area of the country, we decided that the forest would be the best place to start our efforts. We mainly focused on a plant called the Japanese Barberry. The Japanese Barberry is harmful to indigenous plants because it stunts the growth of local trees by raising the pH of the soil around the plant. Not only is this prickly pest riddled with thorns, it also houses Deer ticks. These little black bugs are especially troublesome due to the fact that they can carry Lyme disease.

Armed with herbicide, protective gloves, and hedge trimmers, we set out to eradicate the Japanese Barberry. Our removal method required barberry chute to be trimmed until only one leaf remained and was then sprayed with high strength roundup. We were able to clear all the barberry from a particular stream area near the school and decided to follow this up by slowly removing or significantly reducing invasive plants in the area while managing the flow of the stream along with the introduction of native plants to the region. The Deer Tick population declined in the area by 75 % as a result of our efforts. It felt great to help reduce the impact Lyme disease. Furthermore, it made us so happy to help restore harmony to one of our local ecosystems.

Sam is a high school student in New England. She enjoys reading, foreign languages, and being astounded by nature.

Before and After:

before

after

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Searching for Seals | New York Harbor

By Alyssa Arcaya

Sometimes it can feel like the only wildlife that thrives in New York City are roaches, rats and pigeons.  While we have plenty of these critters, New Yorkers who visit the city’s amazing parks and recreation areas know that city is home to other animals as well.  I’ve seen wild turkeys in Battery Park, bats flying through Prospect Park at dusk and, earlier this month, harbor seals swimming in the waters near the Verrazano Bridge.

Brant geese fly near Governor’s Island

In partnership with New York Water Taxi, the New York City chapter of the Audubon Society organizes winter trips in New York Harbor to visit harbor seals, which can be seen in this area from November to March, as well as migratory birds that make New York City their winter home.  Serious birders know that the New York City is a great place to see birds- over 400 species have been spotted in the five boroughs!  Some of these birds spend their summers above the Arctic Circle, where the Arctic tundra provides ideal nesting ground and abundant mosquitoes provide plenty of food.

During one of the last days of this not-so-chilly winter, the Audubon group was able to spot at least 18 species of birds, including double-crested cormorants and peregrine falcons.   Still, birdwatching off a boat in a highly urbanized harbor ecosystem had its challenges.  At one point, our knowledgeable Audubon guide spotted Purple Sandpipers feeding on some rocks off Erie Basin, near the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook.

The shores of Swinburne Island are a favorite spot for birds and harbor seals

The tiny birds, which have a slightly purplish hue, are rare in this area and quite small.  Even with binoculars, some people on the boat had trouble spotting them.  Our guide provided some helpful direction.  “Directly below the juice bottle, near the orange plastic bag,” he called out.  “Ok, now they’ve moved three rocks over from that large piece of Styrofoam.  If you think you saw a rat, it was probably a sandpiper!”

We left the waters off Brooklyn and headed along the coast of Staten Island to check out Swinburne and Hoffman Islands.  These manmade islands were constructed in the late 1800’s as quarantine stations for immigrants from Ellis Island.  The remains of hospital buildings and a crematorium are still visible on decidedly spooky Swinburne.  Part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, these islands are now off limits to people and serve as bird sanctuaries.   While we weren’t lucky enough to see the seals sunning themselves on the islands, we did spot their shiny heads bobbing in the water as they came up for air between dives.   Although my hands and feet were freezing by the end of the trip, seeing seals swimming against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline made it worth braving the cold.

About the Author: Alyssa Arcaya serves as EPA Region 2’s water coordinator.  She came to EPA through the Presidential Management Fellows program, through which she also worked for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs and the Water Team at the U.S. Department of State.  She graduated from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies with a Masters in Environmental Management.

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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Boast Your Coast!

Displays and Booths at Walnut PlazaJust because you don’t live anywhere close to beachfront property doesn’t mean you’re not a coastal resident! In fact, if you live near and/or between Philadelphia and the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, then most likely your everyday actions have a huge impact on the closest coastal region. Why? Because you are directly connected to the Delaware Estuary, which stretches from Trenton, New Jersey, south to Cape May, New Jersey and Cape Henlopen, Delaware.  Estuaries are areas partially surrounded by land where rivers meet the sea. The Delaware Estuary ecosystem is fed by the Delaware River and its tributaries which includes all of the Delaware Bay. Inhabitants of the area rely on the estuary for drinking water, industry and recreational activities. As do all estuaries, it posseses many habitats suitable for vast amounts of plants and animals and is the birthplace of many different kinds of wildlife.

There are millions of people who live in the Delaware River Basin which includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The activities of those millions have an effect on the quality of water in the estuary. For this reason, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Inc. held the 2010 Pennsylvania Coast Day on September 13th. This day of family fun boasted ferries, schooners, and other kinds of sea transportation. For those who were prone to sea-sickness, there were over 20 booths and displays at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, educating child and adult alike.

You can bet that representatives from EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division were there to do just that. With many fun-filled activities, including a Water Wheel of Questions, Region 3 employees shared the importance of water conservation and keeping our streams clean. Responses from one question on the water wheel really surprised us. “How long is your normal shower?” While it is recommended that you try to keep it to 10 minutes or less, many participants said they take 15 to 30 minute showers! That got us to wonder how many other people take an extended time in the shower. How long do you take? Let us know or tell us how you make an effort to conserve water around your home. And if you were at the event and visited our display, do you have any suggestions for activities or issues we could incorporate at EPA’s booth for Coast Day 2011?

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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