Bucking the conventional feeling this winter, I have been loving all of this snow — this is how every winter should be! Avid cross country skiers everywhere agree.
Lest the record snow and polar vortexes (vortices?) distract us, or worse, make us wonder how we could be in the grip of global warming, take a look at the latest
New York Times article on the topic.
The article describes the alarming long term trends in snowfall and snowpack worldwide, and it reminds us all that, taken alone, local weather events on any given day or month cannot support or refute global climate change.
Among many alarming trends the article points out is that Europe has lost half its glacial ice since 1850; 2/3′s of Europe’s ski resorts could be closed by 2100; and the American West may lose 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack by then.
In the Great Lakes region, the number of days with snow cover has decreased by 5 days per decade, since 1975. The average snow depth has also decreased. Future projections predict later arrival of winter and earlier arrival of spring resulting in more precipitation falling as rain than snow (GLISA, Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region).
Of course, global warming is not just about inconveniencing a bunch of skiers. Those winter snows provide drinking water for us all and drought protection for farmers and forests.
So, next time you curse the snow delaying your morning commute, think about the likely future if current trends continue, and when you eventually get to the office or other workplace, give your Senator or Representative a call.
Joining Dexter and Lyndon townships in Washtenaw County and all communities in Oakland County, Unadilla Township has created a Green Infrastructure Plan that provides a map of its natural areas — woodlands, wetlands, grasslands, and waterways — and connections and pathways connecting them. At a workshop facilitated by the Huron River Watershed Council as part of our Portage Creek Project, residents and officials from Unadilla Township studied maps of the township’s natural areas, topography, master plan designations, land use, and other natural assets, and drew over them onto transparent mylar natural area hubs, links connecting them, and special natural features such has Heron rookeries or rare plant communities. HRWC used the sketching to create the map and plan.
The township will use the plan to inform their land use planning and policy development, directing future development in a way that is in concert with their natural infrastructure.
HRWC will will hold a similar workshop for Stockbridge in January. The Dexter and Lyndon township green infrastructure planning processes were also part of our Portage Creek Project. Oakland County Planning and Development completed its Green Infrastructure planning program in 2009 — all of their communities now have plans and maps that inform their planning and policies.
What does this mean for our watershed? Should we “rouse the troops” and rejoin the fight against the development that raged throughout the 90′s and 00′s?
Here at HRWC, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to address the issue of development as it returns. The greatest threat to our watershed is the altering of the watershed’s ecology and hydrology due to runoff pollution caused not by any particular sources, but by buildings, pavement, lawns, and farm fields. And so, this is a very important issue for the watershed.
The typical development patterns of the recent past consumed large areas of farmland and natural areas and created large amounts of impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots and rooftops.
To maintain the Huron Watershed’s health into the future, we need to encourage a different land development pattern; one that consumes less land per person and creates as little impervious surface as possible. This means higher density where built infrastructure already exists, and the preservation of natural areas where “Green Infrastructure” (i.e. wetlands, forests, creeks, lakes, etc.) exists so those lands can continue to provide ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life.
Here are some resources to check out to learn more about how Smart Growth can help preserve water quality:
Nearly absent from much of Michigan due to the effects of DDT and other pesticide use, Michigan’s Osprey population continues to recover year by year. In Southern Michigan, monitoring efforts are in place to track the revitalization of this species. (See the Fall 2012 issue of The Huron River Report to hear about HRWC’s staff outing to visit ospreys nesting at Kensington Metropark). Historically, Osprey chicks have simply been banded each year as part of a National effort to monitor the species.
This year, in addition to banding, three osprey chicks from area nests will be outfitted with “Backpack” satellite telemetry units. These units were funded by grants from DTE Energy and American Tower Corporation and will help scientists track the young birds’ daily movement and seasonal migration patterns.
The exciting part is that anyone can follow along and find out where the birds are at any time on the DNR’s website. The DNR plans to use this website for educating youth and bringing wildlife into the classroom.
Please contact Holly Vaughn to schedule an osprey education program in your classroom: (248) 359-9062.
SEMCOG is partnering with HRWC and other members to develop a regional green infrastructure vision for Southeast Michigan. Green Infrastructure is both a network of green space and natural areas in our communities, along with built techniques such as rain gardens and bioswales that preserve the function of the natural ecosystem to benefit residents of the region.
Parks can add recreational opportunities.
Rain gardens along roads can clean the rain water before it enters our rivers and lakes.
Community gardens in urban areas provide a positive use for vacant land and a local food source.
Boat access sites can meet tourism and local needs to better use our nationally recognized lakes.
Results from this short survey will help support the Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan and provide a basis for future natural resource planning. “Communities in Southeast Michigan are realizing the value of a strong natural resource base as a mechanism to provide recreational opportunities for citizens, increase tourism, and protect water quality,” said Amy Mangus, SEMCOG Plan Implementation. “The Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan helps create a roadmap for getting there.”
The brief survey asks questions pertaining to:
- The most important outcomes of green infrastructure
- What kinds of green infrastructure citizens would like to see (e.g., parks, rain gardens, trails)
- Where these natural areas should be located
HRWC’s own Green Infrastructure projects (focusing on both natural areas and built GI) will benefit from SEMCOG’s work on this regional vision. HRWC’s work will inform SEMCOG’s regional vision, which will aid in planning and securing funding for natural areas protection, greenway and trail development, and construction of green infrastructure for control of stormwater runoff.
You can give your input on green infrastructure planning to SEMCOG at http://bit.ly/15LhVQa
What a day on the river and around the watershed!
After a week of stupendous, gushing thunderstorms, Sunday, July 7 brought a beautiful Michigan summer day not to be spent inside. My first treat was a 31-mile bike ride through 5 of the watershed’s some 26 creeksheds (5 of our 63 communities) in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, along rolling country roads winding by green farms, shady woodlands, and beautiful wetlands and lakes.
Next, a paddle down the river itself, from Delhi Metropark to Barton Dam. The muddy, fast flowing river was practically spilling from its banks from the week’s storms, but the river carried our kayaks safely through rapids, runs, and stillwater, and it provided a zoo-ful of faunal sightings, including an osprey, a red-tailed hawk, which lazily circled back and forth over our kayaks, dozens of turtles (including little babies hiding in the reeds), a black-crowned night heron, a muskrat, kingbirds pirouetting over us catching flying insects, damsel and dragonflies frantically hooking up, and, yes, a river otter!
But wait, there was more! A raccoon skittered across the Delhi Metropark entry drive; to cap off the trip, a red fox sauntered along Huron River Drive as we were on our way home!
These sites reminded me how fortunate we are to have the Huron River watershed, and why it is the prime recreational gem that it is:
- The large areas of farmland, open space and natural areas that still remain in our watershed provide cool, clear, constant water to the river by absorbing rainwater and polluted runoff and slowly releasing it after cooling it down and filtering out dirt, excess nutrients, and other pollution.
- Most of the river’s adjacent lands are part of the Huron Clinton Metroparks system, keeping it and its riparian area natural.
- For much of its length, the Huron is a Natural River Zone, meaning any building along its banks must be set back 125 feet from the river, including a 50-foot buffer of natural vegetation. The value of this regulation was clear to us as we paddled through the Natural River Zone. Though we were surrounded by private lots on either side of the river, from our kayaks it lookedlike we were up north in a wilderness area. The minute we left the zone, the scene changed. Large homes loomed over the river, their treeless, manicured lawns (mowed right down to the riverbank) leaving no doubt that we were in a City.
The Huron River is the cleanest river in Southeast Michigan thanks to those who work to protect it by preserving open spaces and natural areas throughout its watershed and by enacting policies and regulations to preserve its quality.
On Tuesday, President Obama unveiled a three-pronged strategy to address climate change. The plan would cut emissions from power plants, fund alternative energy, and help communities enact measures to adapt to rising temperatures that are already occurring as a result of excess greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere by human activities in the last century.
The plan would enact a set of rules that would result in reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.
HRWC welcomes this development. As described in HRWC’s special climate change edition of the Huron River Report, global warming is predicted to have many impacts in our watershed, including stronger storms (resulting in increased polluted runoff), extinctions of native fish species, and hotter drought periods.
Through the Climate-Resilient Communities project, HRWC has been working with communities and local water managers to adapt and become more resilient to predicted changes in climate in our own watershed, so President Obama’s announcement is welcome.
Through the Saving Water Saves Energy project, HRWC has been raising public awareness of the water-energy nexus and teaching homeowners how water efficiency can actually help reduce the energy that is needed to pump, heat and treat water supplies thereby reducing carbon emissions too.
To show your support for federal action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consider contacting the White House to express your views.
You can also check out the following national groups who are working for more action on climate change:
A team of volunteers and staff from HRWC and the Huron Clinton Metroparks found over 80 different species of wildflowers, trees, and grasses on just under a mile-long stretch through a 100-acre portion of Huron Meadows Metropark recently. The metropark, one of 10 that run along the Huron River for much of its length, is home to 1,000 acres of upland forest, wooded swamp, grassland, fens, and wet meadows, as well as the Huron River itself, which makes it a great destination for hikers in the summer and cross country skiers in the winter.
This summer, HRWC’s bioreserve project is leading field assessments on Metropark properties, as well as properties local land conservancies are working on protecting, in order to provide the Metroparks and conservancies with detailed ecological information to aid in their management and preservation efforts.
The field assessment for Huron Meadows will help Metroparks staff target invasive control efforts in the natural areas within the parks. For instance, the team found a large wetland complex on the west side of their survey area that flowed beyond the park to border Ore Lake. While high quality, the wetland would benefit from a glossy buckthorn control effort on its southern side, but was mostly free of invasives to the north. The team also discovered several vernal ponds pocketed in low lying areas within the oak-hickory forest hills that are most likely great habitat for frogs and salamanders.
As we continue to endure winter-like conditions through the end of March, I am remembering last year at this time – 70 and 80 degree sun, punctuated by a devastating tornado season, including one in our own backyard, in Dexter.
What’s going on?
Surprisingly, this cold spring weather, like last year’s unusually toasty and tempestuous one, can also be traced to changes to our Earth brought by the ever increasing greenhouse gases we are spewing into our atmosphere.
The Weather Underground web site, co-founded by a University of Michigan Meteorologist, publishes a number of blogs and web pages dedicated to the impacts of climate change on the weather. A couple of their recent blogs give good perspectives on how local weather is globally connected.
Surprised by the robust levels of snowfalls this year in the midwest, east, and Michigan’s north? The Weather Underground’s Dr. Ricky Rood gives a good explanation for how climate change can result in larger snowfalls in some areas of the country in his recent blog. It turns out, snow is more likely at temperatures in the low 30′s range than at colder temperatures. So, as northern areas have warmer winters on average, we can expect to see heavier snowfalls. (For all you skiers and other winter sports enthusiastic, don’t get too happy — with the heavier snow events come the higher average temperatures, so that snow is not going to stick around).
How about this meat locker we seem to be trapped in this spring? Dr. Jeff Master’s recent blog explains that, due to arctic sea ice loss, the jet stream has contorted to bring cold weather to the Eastern U.S. and Western Europe and near -record warm weather to Greenland.
Some good news came with Sunday’s New York Times article about the increase in the use of renewal energy all over the world and how it is quite feasible for the U.S. to likewise reduce our dependence of fossil fuels. For instance, countries like Portugal get 40% of their electricity from renewables. In fact, 13 countries got more than 30% of their electricity from renewable energy in 2011. The U.S. number is 12%.
The article goes on to describe a Stanford University study showing that New York State (not known for high winds or sunny days) could easily produce most of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
So, take heart and encourage your state and federal officials to support our transition to clean energy!
Thanks to funding from the Carls Foundation, HRWC has created a set of maps and GIS data the Livingston Land Conservancy (LLC) can use for their strategic conservation planning. Land conservancies throughout the State of Michigan are working on these plans in order to most efficiently use limited funding and other resources to target preservation efforts on the most important natural lands, such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, and also farmland. These plans are also required for conservancies to achieve accreditation.
HRWC began with its Bioreserve Map, which prioritizes natural areas based on 15 different ecological criteria, including size, whether a wetland or waterway is on the site, the potential for the site to be a groundwater recharge area, and connectivity with other natural areas. After discussions with LLC, HRWC added several more criteria, including whether a site was in a headwater area, whether a site harbored especially endangered ecosystems (such as conifer swamp or oak opening), and the existence of glacial features.
LLC will use the maps and GIS data in their day-to-day decision making about which lands to pursue for making land deals to permanently preserve natural lands and farmland, and also to create their strategic conservation plan to submit for accreditation.