Environment

January 22, 2015

The Environment

Jerry Jenkins, a polymath scientist who spoke at the Cary Institute Friday, January 9, has  produced three definitive environmental books.  They are dense with his own careful words, packed with detailed research and calculations and his own first-rate charts and illustrations.

Officially, he’s an ecologist and program coordinator with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Notably, Jenkins is the world’s foremost expert on Adirondacks Park. Formally, he’s a mathematician, degreed philosopher, botanist, and geographer. The latter term comes closest to encompassing what he truly offers, but it’s so encumbered by our memories of having to commit to mind grain yields in Idaho compared to the Ukraine that it does little justice to his accomplishments. 

Jenkins deserves the Nobel Prize for Environmental Studies, had the Nobel committee been wise enough to establish one.

Cary Institute’s new leader; building on solid foundations 

January 22, 2015

 

The Cary Institute’s new president of four months, Joshua Ginsberg, 55 (“I’m Josh”), has plans for this world-renowned fountain of pioneering ecological research, but not—sigh of relief—a new direction. 

His strategy at this point might be described as gradual expansion along similar lines. In ten years, he thinks, Cary’s annual $10 million budget, unchanged this past decade, “will increase 30 to 50 percent.” Any additional building? “No plans yet, but it would not surprise me.”

“I’m not interested in growth for growth’s sake,” Ginsberg said, but Cary could be “a more vibrant and interesting place . . . a place scientists want to come to, so we can recruit the best people.” Here is a man thinking about the next generation. 

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.

by Carola Lott

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."

by Carola Lott

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.