Environment

November 19, 2014

Years ago a French botanist brought gypsy moths to his entomology lab in Boston thinking they could produce silk which later caused a huge epidemic that destroyed thousands of hardwood trees.  Another German botanist brought a specimen from Asia to England called Fallopia Japonica or Japanese Knotweed to the Kew Gardens in England which opened up a Pandora’s Box of invasive destruction that has now spread to thirty six states here, with swathes of rhizome-based plants that spread up to 65 feet wide and 30 feet high, choking up waterways and even destroying concrete foundations.  

Driving through Dutchess County one may notice the purple kite-like contraptions up in the ash trees designed to capture the beetle that is decimating these trees, the Emerald Ash Borer.  This is only one of the many invasive species in New York which are causing the decimation of native species and eco-systems.

November 19, 2014 

“When nature is no longer part of our spirit, we become something aberrant and maybe even dangerous,” said Stephen Kellert at a talk at the Cary Institute on November 14. “Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World” is a new book by Kellert, a social ecologist and a professor emeritus at the Yale School of Forestry. 

People in this country spend 90 percent of their time indoors, according to Kellert, and educators act as if learning must be a formal, indoor, abstract process, alienating children from nature. Children might spend as little as 40 minutes a day outside. It used to be four hours a day. The average child is involved in electronic media 52 hours a week.

“Biophilia” is a word to describe the human need for nature. Nature is intrinsic to our biology; we are embedded in nature and nature is embedded in us, yet if social and cultural influences do not support that connection, it affects human development.

November 7, 2014

More and more often, we hear about the arrival of a foreign plant or insect that is wreaking havoc on our native ecosystems. Take, for example, the Emerald Ash Borer, which will likely decimate all the ash trees in our forests. 

According to Dr. Gary Lovett, forest ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies,  this small Asian insect was first imported into Michigan in the early nineteen-nineties, hidden in wood packing material such as pallets and crates. No one took much notice until 1998, by which time the creature had already started to spread. It is now spreading rapidly through the central and northeastern states, and it arrived in our area about a year ago.  

As its name suggests, the creature bores under the bark of ash trees, where it lays its eggs.  When the larvae emerge, they feast on the living tissue of the tree. As adult insects they exit through a D-shaped hole and live long enough to breed, and the cycle begins again.

November 6, 2014

Erik Kiviat—founder of Hudsonia, scientist, writer, teacher and a life-time explorer of the flora and fauna of the Hudson Valley—will receive the Great Work Award in honor of Thomas Berry at the annual conference of  the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities at Russell Sage College on November 8.

The award is called higher education’s top environmental award. The consortium is made of 60 colleges and universities that co-operate on research and conduct joint efforts on environmental issues. Its members include Bard College, where Kiviat was an associate professor; New York University; Pace University; Vassar College and most of the SUNY colleges.   

The Great Work Award recognizes individuals in higher education whose work exemplifies Berry’s admonition that colleges and universities should "reorient the human community toward a greater awareness that the human exists, survives, and becomes whole only within the single great community of the planet Earth."

November 6, 2014

Those autumn leaves we so admired a few weeks ago are now but a carpet under the trees. Wondering why they turned such glorious colors in the first place—albeit briefly—we sought the answer from Victoria Kelly, the Cary Institute’s Environmental Monitoring Program manager. 

Over thousands of years, trees have adapted to our climate by going dormant during our cold winters. Although the leaves contain orange, red and yellow pigments throughout the year, in the summer chlorophyll obscures those colors so that the leaves appear to be only green. In the autumn the chlorophyll begins to break down to reveal the brighter pigments. 

The length of daylight hours is the cue for trees to start going dormant and shedding their leaves. Temperature is second in importance. An early onset of cold weather can trigger the process. Drought can also have an effect, but only if it is very severe—something we have not had for years. 

Sugar maples and red maples are among the most colorful of autumn trees. The sugar maple, typically orange in the fall, is one of the first trees to change color. 

October 24, 2014

More than 80 people turned out on Saturday, October 4t, in support of Ducks Unlimited and wetlands conservation at a sporting clays competition at Beretta Shooting Grounds and a Conservation Program at Madava Farms. 

Dr. James Utter received the Dutchess County Ducks Unlimited Annual Conservation Award for his work protecting lands in and around the Great Swamp, a 6000 acre wetland in eastern Dutchess and Putnam Counties. As Chair of FrOGS, (Friends of the Great Swamp) Jim along with partners in both the public and private sectors helped conserve over 1900 acres, including Pine Island and the Slocum-Mostachetti Preserve. 

Jay Erickson, member of the DCDU Benefit committee, the Oblong Land Conservancy Board and the Planning Board of Pawling, presented the award to Dr. Utter. “Dr. Utter’s work … has been critical for the Great Swamp, which I regard as the jewel in the crown of the natural world in our area,” he said.

October 13—Watershed officials learned at the Hudson River Watershed Alliance’s annual conference on October 7 that water quality, wastewater and stormwater are intricately connected and that current wastewater practices are  ineffectual when storms dump unusual amounts of water that our systems can’t handle. “Older systems use too much water to move small amounts of waste,” said Simon Gruber, president of the Hudson River Watershed Alliance, at the conference, which was held at the F.D.R. Library Wallace Center.

Smaller, decentralized systems are better in some situations and easier to manage. Reusing water is going to become more important as sea levels rise and toxic algae blooms, said Gruber, adding, “We should be looking at nutrient recovery for agriculture.”

September 30, 2014

A few years ago the term was little more than a head-spinning neologism. Now, thanks to worries about population growth, resource depletion, and especially global warming, it’s common coin — at least among scientists. “Sustainability” today stands alongside century-old areas of inquiry such as biochemistry and physics.

What it means was a significant part of Steven Cohen’s talk at the Cary Institute September 12. A compact bundle of restrained energy, Cohen is executive director of Columbia University’s The Earth Institute (note definite article) under its head, the visionary scientist Jeffrey Sachs. He’s been mixing environmental science and policy since his first job fresh out of Harvard at Nixon’s fledging Environmental Protection Agency.

One way to define  “sustainability” is the way Çohen spends much of his time: thinking about how society can extend the benefits the developed world has identified as beneficial and rewarding to the emerging world without wrecking the planet. 

On August 15 the 12 students in this year’s Cary Institute’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program presented the results of the research they conducted during the ten weeks they spent at the Institute this summer. The program, under the guidance of Dr. Alan Berkowitz for the past 27 years, is the largest REU program in the United States, attracting college and university students from all around the country. 

Working under the guidance of a mentor, each participant crafted a project, carried out the research, and analyzed the data before presenting his or her findings in both a paper and a 15-minute talk at the symposium. In addition to their ten weeks of research, students were taught what Dr. William Schlesinger, the recently retired president of the Institute, called “translational ecology.” The goal is to describe the results of research in a way that people in the nonscientific world can understand. Done successfully, this creates a bridge from scientists to the public and decision makers. 

Larry Weaner, a landscape architect and frequent lecturer, specializes in managing native landscapes so they self-proliferate with minimal assistance from the gardener. He designs landscapes that require no maintenance and look totally natural.  His techniques involve a complex mix of plant-, earth and environmental science.  Weaner has taught classes on meadows at the Cary Institute and gave a Friday lecture there on August 8.

“If you do nothing, it will grow, so you need to ask yourself, where is it headed if I do nothing.  Then you need to ask, ‘What techniques can I perform to manage that landscape so that I enhance the desirable and eventually replace the invasives?’”

Weaner showed photographs of woodlands and meadows and areas around houses.  He tweaks both plants and landscape to get extraordinary effects, such as a lovely field of white blossoming amsonia among already-existing ferns under trees.  

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