December 29, 2017
Log Cabin Fen showing a spring fed "seep"
Restoration Projects Are Fen-omenal Success
Story and Photo 
by Clark Ganshirt/McGraw
The two McGraw fens that are currently undergoing restoration are absolutely flourishing. Both are growing in size and the number of native plant species.

A fen is a rare ecosystem made up of peat and driven by the presence of mineral-rich alkaline ground water.  In Illinois, most are found on hillsides or slopes and are capable of supporting a great deal of biodiversity.

McGraw's fens are located on the hillside at the north end of West Lake and on the new property south of the Log Cabin, hidden near a grove of walnuts.
McGraw Vice President Clark Ganshirt launched our fen restoration in 2011.  At that time, we did not own the Log Cabin fen and the West Lake fen has been overrun by invasive species such as buckthorn, shrinking its size to just a third of an acre.

The results of the restoration have been gratifying.

It is truly amazing how every year when invasive plant removal takes place, the seeds that have laid dormant in the ground for decades waste no time coming to life. In 2012 -- the first year of the West Lake fen restoration -- there were 27 native plant species. At the end of this year, the count was up to 144 and the fen is now approximately 4.5 acres - nearly 15 times larger than when restoration began, and double the size it was in 2015.

Our newer fen near the Log Cabin now boasts 65 native plant species on about an acre.

The management company hired to assist in the restoration calls the West Lake fen "of immense quality. There continues to be great potential to increase species diversity by removing non-native species and expanding this project in to other areas of the property."

The quality of a fen is measured by conducting a Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA) as defined by Swink and Wilhelm and published in Plants of Chicago Region, 1994.  This method assigns a plant species a rating that reflects the fundamental conservatism that the species exhibits for natural habitats.
A native species that exhibits adaptations to a narrow spectrum of the environment is given a high rating. Conversely, an introduced species that exhibits adaptation to a broad spectrum of environmental variables is given a low rating. Utilizing this method, a Floristic Quality (FQI) and Native Mean C is derived for a given area.

Wetlands with a FQI of 20-35 are considered high quality aquatic resources and above 35 indicate "Natural Area" quality. Wetlands with Mean C values exceeding 3.5 are considered high quality aquatic resources.  Both of our fens easily meet these standards - you might even say they're fen-tastic!

How Monument Reductions May Affect You
By Hal Herring/Field & Stream
Photo by Bureau of Land Management/flickr
On Dec. 4, President Trump journeyed to Salt Lake City, Utah, to announce that he was using his executive powers to drastically  scale-back two National Monuments , Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both of which had been declared into existence by former Presidents Obama and Clinton. Bears Ears National Monument was reduced in size by 85 percent, to a total of about 200,000 acres, from the original 1.15 million acres. The 1,880,461-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has been in existence since Clinton created it in 1996, was cut in half.

As the brouhaha over these cuts reached deafening levels, Secretary Zinke also announced planned cuts to Nevada's Gold Butt and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monuments. Other changes-to New Mexico's Organ Mountains, Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters, and Colorado's Rio Grande Del Norte-are in the works.

The news has been greeted with fury by many conservationists, by the recreation industry, and by many others in Utah and across the nation who simply cannot understand the need for this action. During the public-comment period on the proposal to reduce the monuments, 2 million Americans submitted their comments to the Department of Interior with 99.2 percent of the  comments urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to leave the monuments intact .
As Temperatures Warm, Beavers are Heading North
By Kendra Pierre-Louis/The New York Times
Photo by Bryn Davies/flickr
Beavers may be taking advantage of warming temperatures to expand their range. But as the beavers head north, their very presence may worsen the effects of climate change.

The issue isn't just that the beavers are moving into a new environment - it's that they're gentrifying it.

Take the dams they build on rivers and streams to slow the flow of water and create the pools in which they construct their dens. In other habitats, where the dams help filter pollutants from water and mitigate the effects of droughts and floods, they are  generally seen as a net benefit . But in the tundra, the vast treeless region in the Far North, beaver behavior creates new water channels that can thaw the permanently frozen ground, or permafrost.
Is this the Loudest Fish in All of the Seas?
By Ben Guarino/The Washington Post
Photo by Kirt Edblom/flickr
Each year between February and June, the fish gather to spawn in Mexico's Colorado River Delta. The fish, a type of croaker called the  Gulf corvina , meet in water as cloudy as chocolate milk. It's a reunion for the entire species, all members of which reproduce within a dozen-mile stretch of the delta.

When the time is right, a few days before the new or full moons, the male fish begin to sing.

To humans, the sound is machine guns going off just below the waterline. To female fish, the rapid burr-burr-burr is a Bing Crosby croon. Make that Bing cranked up to 11.

Marine biologists who recorded the sound describe the animals as the "loudest fish ever documented," said  Timothy J. Rowell , at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.

"When you arrive at the channels of the delta, you can hear it in the air even while the engine is running on the boat," Rowell said.
Automated Vehicles Could Save Animals 
By Brandon Keim/Anthropocene
Photo by fussball_89/flickr
Automated vehicles are expected to be widely available within the next decade. By 2040, most cars on the road will likely be controlled by software - a development that's expected to save a great many human lives by replacing blind-spotted, easily-distracted drivers with high-tech competence. There's a potential to save animal lives, too.

"Every year, hundreds of millions of animals die in collisions with cars," write biologists Amanda Niehaus and Robbie Wilson of the University of Queensland  in the journal Conservation Letters . "The emergence of automated vehicles will provide new opportunities for the use of computerized animal warning systems."

Various measures are already used to make streets safer for wildlife, including roadside fences and specialized crossings. Yet these are frequently expensive and only somewhat effective. "We believe that the best potential for reducing animal-vehicle collisions is yet to come," write Niehaus and Wilson.

"A duck call in the hands of the unskilled is one of conservation's greatest assets."