With the Spring Equinox just a few days away, black bears and their cubs are emerging from hibernation.  They are hungry and starting to forage for food, not only in their natural habitat but in our own back yards especially around our bird feeders, trash cans and outdoor barbeque areas.

Because sightings of Black bears have increased in recent years in our area, it is helpful to learn how to live with these animals. Understanding bear behavior was the topic of a talk by Felicia Ortner, Connecticut Master Wildlife Conservationist (MWC) hosted by Friend of the Great Swamp (FRoGs), at Trinity Pawling School on March 15.  

“If we understand how and why bears behave they way they do, we can learn to respect these animals instead of fearing them,” said Ms. Ortner. “It is critical for people not to knowingly feed bears and not to leave food outside that can attract them, even such as fruit in compost heaps.

They sing for their supper

Winter is hard on our avian friends. Their food sources may be under a blanket of snow. Cold temperatures, snow and ice challenge their reserves.  According to Sean Grace, director of the Sharon Audubon Center, chickadees, for example, have a 24- to 36-hour fat reserve, which, if not replenished, can cause them to starve to death.  

     “Supplemental feeding definitely helps the birds in winter,” he explained.  “They can find wild grape, fox grape, bittersweet and other berries, but the availability of these is often diminished.”

     We spoke to Mr. Grace, who has been the new director at the Audubon Center for the last nine months, about what kinds of bird feeders and seed mixes are best for what kinds of birds.

Towns are being urged to jump on the green funding bandwagon by addressing cimate change and including resilient infrastructure projects in a new series of grant applications.  

“What we are seeing is a growing trend for funding applications that score more points by including sustainability, resiliency and green infrastructure components,” according to an article in Talk of the Towns (a publication of the Association of Towns) by Donald Fletcher and Chris Lawton, engineers with Barton and Loguidice.  The Association of Towns has its annual training conference on Feb. 16-17 in NYC and includes training on green opportunities in its syllabus.

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.