Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Personal narrative on a journey to find the confluence of the Chicago River and the North Shore Channel

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving I walked, without having given it very much forethought, nor having fortified myself with breakfast, nor even with sufficient tea, a distance of about 7 miles from my home to discover the confluence of the North Shore Channel and the Chicago River. The digging of the former waterway was completed in 1909 in order to bear the sewage from Chicago’s prosperous North Shore communities away from Lake Michigan and into the Chicago River. By that time the Chicago River was itself a marvel of engineering, its flow having been reversed so that all soluble, floatable and mobile waste ran west into the Mississippi watershed rather than into the lake.

Breakfastlessly I walked alongside this water, keeping the channel to my left for the first few miles then crossing over into the parks to the east of the channel.  In many places buckthorn, a dominant invasive species in the Midwest, and by some accounts the most common woody plant in Chicago, is so dense that I only rarely saw water. At its densest the soil under these plants is litter-less and rivulets have rent passageways through the channel bank.

Although it was past 10 AM when I walked under the bridge on Lincoln avenue, a homeless man swiveled in his sleeping bag, his head almost fully submerged, trying, on that cold morning, to stay aslumber.  His radio played a Christmas carol on low; a paperback best seller peeped out from one of his bags.  A little further along a woman behind me asked if I had enough food to keep me going.  I turned but she was talking to another homeless fellow so on I walked.

I had not checked on a map where the confluence occurred, nor did I have a phone that I could consult. I knew that it could not be too far since I had kayaked the Chicago River north of Addison, though that spot was still a few miles to my south. As I walked through a park near Foster Avenue, the Canada geese glanced up from their listless grazing, and I finally spotted the fork where the two waters co-mingle. I could not, however, get close as I was separated from the water by a chain link fence and by phalanxes of those invasive shrubs. I leaned there for a moment against a spindly hackberry.  A Great Blue Heron flapped down to the water’s edge. A little further along I crossed the bridge on Argyle and walked down to the water.  I stood there for a while, and listened to some raucous mallards and looked across what I have been told is the only waterfall within Chicago city limits. The waterfall is concreted heavily and thus the Chicago River, which played no small part in making Chicago the city it is today, spills noiselessly and not especially beautifully into a combined channel with the discharge from the former open sewer.  A family sets up deck chairs on the pavement on the opposite bank.  Supposedly the fishing here is good. Other Chicagoans meandered by as if nothing was happening at all.

Though my achievements were perhaps of a more modest sort, the great German explorer Alexander Von Humboldt could not have been happier as he mapped the Orinoco basin, than I was at my seeing those waters run together.  Mine was not a vast expedition, and my sacrifices were few. But whether I had been the first, or the millionth to see that sight, I had, nonetheless, discovered the meeting of the waters by dint of my own physical effort, and in the process had learned some small things about the workings of the world: spatial relationships between my home and those parks I know less well, their bridges and the streets that surround them. I learned of the tough wintering habits of some homeless people and those who will give them the time of day. I observed the ubiquity of riparian plants and what they can do to soil. I noticed the ways of ice on water, and the twinning of water and birds. And on the walk that returned me to my hearth, I learned about the limits of my own body, as I walked cold, cold streets for mile after urban mile. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Leaf Poems

With my brush the leaves and I conversed
But what we agreed the wind reversed.

I have learned more about leaves
By sweeping them than I ever learned
By leaving them alone.

Today aspen falls
They tremble when they live
But on earth they lie perfectly still

Japanese Maple
Holds tight to its crimson leaves.
Blood must be played last.

Nov 9th 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

One Thousand Urban Miles - Take The Praeger Walking Challenge

In 1902 Robert Lloyd Praeger, the prolific Irish naturalist, recorded a new occurrence of the rare grass Milium effusum (wood millet) in Dublin. He discovered it in Bushy Park, which was adjacent to his home on Zion Road in Rathgar, a few miles south of the city center. This was the park where more than seventy years later I played as a child, being a five-minute walk from my childhood home. It is the park that I visit every time I return to Dublin.

In Ireland, Praeger is associated with the botanical investigation of that country’s wildest places. Less attention has been paid to Praeger as a proto-urban ecologist: a naturalist who spent most of his life in the city, who wrote extensively about his garden, and who devoted a chapter of his most renowned book, The Way That I Went, An Irishman in Ireland (1937), to Dublin and its environs. He wrote there on the famous wagtail roosts in O’Connell Street, the ferns on Dublin walls, and the plants on North Bull Island, a coastal conservation area in Dublin bay. He and a small team also surveyed and wrote extensively on Lambay Island a couple of miles off the coast, north of the city.

In addition to his urban interests, what appeals to me about Praeger is that though in many ways he was a fairly traditional natural historian whose extensive writings—in all there were 800 papers and twenty-four books—detail the distribution of plants in Ireland, he nonetheless wrote reflectively and lyrically about botanical field work as a pleasure for its own sake. Praeger raised walking to the level of exultation and methodology, and not conveyance merely. After all, his most famous book is The Way That I Went—not Where I Went and What I Found There.

I have been working on a lengthy essay on Praeger in recent months, having spent a week last February rummaging through his archives in the Royal Irish Academy, in Dublin. During this time, the idea occurred to me that not only is there a Praegerian product (all those papers and books) but there is also a Praegerian spirit: a spirit of openness to the world, a type of attentiveness that Praeger insists one can cultivate only on foot. Working on this material, I decided that I would, as a type of sympathetic exercise, embrace Praeger’s peripatetic inclination, but employ it in a strictly urban direction, bringing together two parts of Praeger’s work and interests. I am proposing therefore, over each of the next five years, to walk 1000 miles in the city. I invite you to join me by planning a thousand-mile walk of your own in the city or town in which you live. Before you commit, let me give you a little more information on the great man himself and the significance of the 1000-mile annual walk.

Read on at City Creatures here

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chicago Wilderness: Work of the Science Team

These were my introductory remarks at a recent session at the Society For Ecological Restoration meeting in Madison, WI, on recent scientific research in the CW region.

Let me start this session with a vignette of Chicago from a couple of centuries ago – mainly to remind us how recent are the losses of the wild Midwest landscapes.

On August 19th 1833, that is 180 years ago, Colonel Colbee Chamberlain Benton (1805-1880) left Chicago with Louis Ouilmette, a young man of French and Potawatomi heritage, to inform local Indian tribes that their delayed federal annuities would be paid in September of that year.  At that time the white settler population was little more than 150 people.  A few years later in 1837 Chicago was chartered as a city after which growth was explosive.

On the night of August 24th the pair of travelers passed through some oak groves and arrived at a small stream in a little prairie in Southeast Wisconsin and they camped there for the night.  As night fell they heard Indians around their camp.

Benton didn’t sleep.  However, even if they had been “in danger of suffering from the power of… the tomahawk and scalping knives” it was not fear that kept him awake.  He remarked, in fact, there was something about his circumstances “so novel and romantic….that it dispelled every fear…”
So what kept Benton from his sleep?  It was the noise!  Some of the noise certainly may have emanated from the Indians who “mocked almost every wild animal.”  But also there were a loud wild chorus: unfamiliar birds called, as well as foxes and raccoons.  In the distance, wolves howled and the owls hooted in concert with the wolves.  The mosquitoes added their part to “the music”.  A sleepless, noisy, vaguely threatening night, and yet Benton declared that never before had he “passed a night so interestingly and so pleasantly…”
I tell this story, not to depress us, though it may indeed make us melancholy to contemplate the loss, but rather to allow us celebrate the work of a many many people in the Chicago region in recent decades who worked then, and work now, to arrest the degradation of our remaining wildlands, and to restore those systems where and when we can.

Many of these people and the organizations they represent have coalesced over the past decade and a half in the Chicago Wilderness coalition.  The term CW refers both 360,000 acres of protected natural lands in the tristate region surrounding Chicago……but the term also refers to the partners in the coalition – starting with 40 institutional members or so in 1996… but growing to 240 + institutional members in 2012.  I believe we just stopped counting!

The biodiversity goals of the coalition were stated in the Biodiversity Recovery Plan, a foundational document for the coalition, as follows: “To protect the natural communities of the Chicago region and to restore them to long-term viability, in order to enrich the quality of life of its citizens and to contribute to the preservation of global biodiversity.” Note that the goals are both ecological and social and the aspirations are global.

A major metropolitan environment might seem on first inspection an unlikely place to support a conservation project with global aspirations.  Yet in the early development of the Chicago sufficient land of a sort that Colonel Benton and Ouilmette witnessed, was set aside adjacent to and sometimes within the city so that, oddly perhaps, some of the areas of greatest favorability to T+E species are found close to downtown, more so that in the rest of the state.

Although considerable land is set aside nonetheless the health of this land is considerably challenged.  A few years ago expert panels in CW documented the status and changes in CW ecosystems which was then published as a report card.

The results are troubling.  My kids would have had to come up with some impressive excuses to explain these ones away. Our streams make an encouraging C- though!

We now have considerable insight into environmental factors driving the erosion of ecological quality: many of these being the usual suspects: hydrological changes, fragmentation, altered fire regimes, invasive species and so forth.

Chicago Wilderness works to achieve regional impact through four initiatives: Climate Change, Leave No Child inside, Greening Infrastructure and Restoring Nature.

All speakers today contribute to the work of the Chicago Wilderness science team. We are tasked with providing scientifically sound input to assist decision-makers in devising policy and action concerning the protection, acquisition, restoration, and management of natural areas.

We have also been developing research agendas identified those empirical unknowns that needed to be understood on the short to medium time scale in order to remove impediments to CW achieving its long term goals.

Over the past 5 years we have developed a network of sites for long-term observation on biodiversity outcome – we call this “100 sites for 100 years” (recognizing that this terrifies our funders!).  Secondly we have been investigating the institutional context for decision making processes in the CW region, attempting to find ways of linking our social and ecological research so that we can envision the region as a coupled natural ecological system.  We have also been investigating patterns of stewardship in the region.
Today we present summaries on many of our research initiatives.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Our Once and Future Planet: my remarks as host of the launch, Oct 14 2013

My name if Liam Heneghan and I am a professor here in the Department of Environmental Science and Studies and co-director of the DePaul University Institute for Nature and Culture. It is my great pleasure this evening to host the launch for Paddy Woodworth’s new book Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Century. The event is co-sponsored by University of Chicago Press. Many thanks to Christie Henry and to all who worked on this book at the Press.
Paddy Woodworth is well known Irish journalist. The Ireland of my younger days was a place where many bought two newspapers, one of which was always the Irish Times. Paddy was a staff journalist at the Irish Times from 1988 to 2002, as arts editor and as an editor and contributor on the foreign desk. He has, over the years, written extensively on Spain. His first book, Dirty War, Clean Hands, published in 2001, was published to much acclaim. More recently Paddy published The Basque Country (2007) which is a collection of essays on that region. As some of you know I am interested in a style of work called “Deep Mapping” where an author or artist deeply inhabits a place, dwelling in and on the details of a region. Paddy’s attentiveness to people, to place, to tradition, to politics and to the poetry of place marks him as a deep mapper of some significance.
In recent years Paddy has turned his attention to environmental issues. This is not as surprising as it might at first seem. Even in his political writing he has been drawn to the wilder tones of the landscapes where political events occurred. Listen to this from the Basque Country: “Forty minutes of comfortable ascent through cool beech and larch woods lead the walker out into alpine meadows for which the word sublime might have been coined….And from these sublime fields you can go further, much further. Limestone peaks poke through the meadows at intervals around the perimeter and the most seductive ones form the crest of the Aizkoori range, a few mile away to the north-east.” This sanctuary, as he described it, is nonetheless where “religion and nationality, sacrifice and violence” intersect. This sanctuary is where in the 1960s ETA used to recruit from among young men on their nocturnal pilgrimage in the Basque mountains. In addition to his attentiveness to nature in his writing, Paddy is an avid birder and is very involved in the Irish birding world. Recently, Paddy lead a group of my students on a tour of the National Park in Wicklow, Ireland. I can assure you that after our 10 mile tramp Paddy was by far the sprightliest of us all - here is an Irishman built for both stern mountainside and the snug of a hostelry at journey’s end.
It is probably the case that his work as political writer, as a writer on terrorism, prepared him only some of the way for entering into the fractious world of environmental thought and action. Restoration, the attempt to reverse the baleful influence of human damage on lands set aside for conservation purposes, is not like forms of environmental action that urges us to step away and leave things alone. If ever that option was available to us it is no longer so. In engaging with the land and restoring it for useful purpose, or in honoring our commitment to the conservation of rarer species — some of which species are woefully under-charismatic — there are tough choices to be made: the science is new, the action is at times trial and error, the stakes are high. In fact, as we face a future that by consequence of climate change, may look little like the past, the choices that face us are more and more consequential. It is into this interesting, important, and fraught world - the world of restoration — that Paddy has entered in recent years. 
The result of his work which has taken him around the world over the past 7 or 8 years are very compelling. We have never seen a book on restoration practice this wide in geographical scope, nor as comprehensive in detailing the actual work undertaken in the field, nor, indeed, one so engaged with the theoretical frameworks that inform the science of restoration ecology. Paddy traveled to South Africa, to Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ireland, and of course, to the Midwest and elsewhere in the US. Paddy talked to everyone: the practitioners, the policy advocates, the scientists and the narrative is compelling because it is their voices we hear.

Paddy has become part of the restoration community and has played a useful role in recent debates within the Society for Ecological Restoration. For instance, he has been influential in shaping ideas about the “novel ecosystem concept” (ask me later!). But Paddy’s job is ultimately that of journalist — he visits, he gets acquainted with the situation, and he tells a story. And after he tells that story, what happens is up to us, his readers. I have recently been rereading a lot of Darwin for a class I am teaching. Once again I stumbled over Mr Darwin’s conclusion to his Voyage of the Beagle. There he wrote: “In conclusion, — it appears to me that nothing can be more improving to a young naturalist, than a journey in distant countries…. On the other hand, as the traveller stays but a short space of time in each place, his description must generally consist of mere sketches instead of detailed observation. Hence arises, as I have found to my cost, a constant tendency to fill up the wide gaps of knowledge by inaccurate & superficial hypotheses.” Written in 1839 Darwin appeared to be uncertain of the permanent value of flitting around, staying brief periods in each place. However, it is pretty clear that by 1859, those same travels had furnished the raw material for a revolutionary new view of nature. Now, I am not aware that Paddy wants to foment revolution, certainly not in our arena, but at the same time this seems like a very good moment for us to take stock and see what view of nature emerges in the coming decades. This book, I think, will be a useful tool in conversations about the future of restoration on a global scale. 
Paddy will be no stranger to us and will return in Spring to the Midwest at which time we can wrestle with the details on his reflections on restoration in our region — some will have very different views from his about our work here — and I suspect that our critical engagement with Paddy’s work will leave us all the better off. 
This is a night of great celebration — let us launch this book and fete the author. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Ecological Restoration

On first glance the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), the German philosopher, might not seem especially helpful for restoration ecologists or indeed for anyone contemplating our relationship with the natural world. After all, his work supposedly challenges the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. Nietzsche’s famous locutions concerning the “death of God” and his extensive discussions of nihilism should, however, be seen as his diagnosis rather than his cure. For Nietzsche our real cultural task is to overcome the annihilation of traditional morality, replacing it with something more life-affirming. The failure of our traditional precepts of value stem from the fact these express what Nietzsche calls the ascetic ideal. This ideal measures the appropriateness of human actions against edicts coming from beyond our natural and earth-bound life. The highest human values, as we traditionally assess them, came from a denial of our natural selves. Nature, in turn, is regarded as having no intrinsic value.

Thus Nietzsche even when he wrote in areas seemingly distant from traditional environmental concerns has useful things to say to us environmentalists. At times, in fact, his aphorisms are those of a poetic naturalist. In The Wanderer and His Shadow (1880, collected in Human, All too Human) he wrote “One has still to be as close to flowers, the grass and the butterflies as is a child, who is not so very much bigger that they are. We adults, on the other hand, have grown up high above them and have to condescend to them; I believe the grass hates us when we confess our love for it.” This is not, of course, to claim that Nietzsche is a traditional naturalist. His concerns are primarily about the thriving of human life, though in this he seems less like a traditional wilderness defender and closer to a contemporary sustainability advocate who seeks to locate a promising future for humans while simultaneously solving environmental problems.

See the full essay here

Mind-map of my notes for discussion on Wild Nature

The students have been reading Wilderness and the American Mind (R Nash).  The mind map allows us to hike through big terrain. (Click on map for larger view)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Time-Traveler’s Guide to Future Vegetation: being a comment on debates over restoration and novel ecosystems

By Liam Heneghan

If an ecological manager from today was transported to the future and shown three sites: one minimally influenced by human activity (assuming that such a thing exists even now), one classically restored, and one that had been classified at the time of the manager’s departure as a novel ecosystem, the manager would not be able to distinguish based solely upon an inspection of their respective ecological properties one category of site from the other with certainty.
I will say a little more about the classification of each of these categories below, but for now all that you need to know is that a restored system, as I use the term here, has properties reflecting an attempt to apply a historical reference to rehabilitating a degraded habitat. A novel ecosystem, in contrast has a composition of species and properties reflecting marked anthropogenic influence for which there is no historical analogue.
Contemporary ecologists have for generations abandoned any expectations that natural systems, even those uninfluenced by human activity, are static. In the absence of human intervention ecosystems will change, according to some accounts at least in episodic ways, as one ephemerally stable condition gives way to the next. Each stage will be characterized by species combinations that are largely historically unprecedented, as paleoecologists have documented for systems since the Quaternary and even before. Attempts, therefore, to predict the future of “natural” communities are prone to error. The future is indeterminate. In this ecologists agree with an emerging philosophical consensus that the past is realer than the future, and that the present moment is realist of all.
Similarly, the future condition of a restored system will not be readily identifiable to today’s manager. If our time-traveler has with her the SER Primer on Restoration Ecology, an inspection of the expected properties listed there for an adequately restored system would confirm that this difficulty must be the case. Identifying which species of a future assemblage are indigenous — in restored systems the majority of species should be natives according to our contemporary standards — becomes more difficult the further into the future we project. Over sufficiently long time scales, evolutionary forces come into more pronounced play. Additionally, it is conceivable that species not at present within a biogeographic range of a system may become so in due course without human intervention. Thus naturally altered vegetation patterns may not easily distinguished from those caused by deliberate or inadvertent human introductions. Nor will it be especially helpful for the manager to confirm that all necessary functional groups are present in the future system, nor indeed that the system is appropriately integrated into a physical environment in a manner that helps sustain the sites’ populations, as these properties may be expected of all three site categories. Ultimately, the difficulty that our time-traveler will have in identifying today’s restoration efforts projected into the future arises because current restoration thinking acknowledges, as it should, that communities are dynamic, and sound contemporary management practice should not seek to curtail this dynamism.
The success of a restoration project being currently conducted could be evaluated in the future by measuring, as prescribed by the Primer, the system’s capacity to self-sustain to the same degree as some now long-forgotten reference ecosystem. Assuming that a system passes this particular test, the results will not discriminately useful, for a successfully functioning novel system, or a never-degraded system, should also be self-sustaining.
Novel systems, currently under management no matter how minimal (this absence of intensive management being a defining aspect of novel systems), would likewise be difficult to distinguish from sites under restoration management or merely undergoing long-term successional change. All are subject to the vagaries of dynamic but unpredictable change. One manager’s failed restoration project, or natural successional system, is another’s future novel system. Though we can, perhaps, assert some probabilistic differences between these categories, theoretically they can be indistinguishable. Of course, it may well be the case that any outcome in the future will be regarded by our time traveler as a “degraded system”, desperately in need of management. Though it is tempting to assume that all systems in the future will be novel one, however, those investigating the novel ecosystem paradigm resist, for the time being, that urge. Something that is everything is close to be nothing at all.
That our time traveling manager cannot distinguish these categories of sites based purely upon an inspection of the properties of each of them is true, I would say, even if this future is merely in one week’s time. It is true, perhaps, even for that future we are all strangely transported to each and every moment of our lives, as our successive nows are converted one by one into that series of thens that we can the past.

It is a useful thing, I think, for practical people to imagine a future, as we have just done, that bears the traces of their past actions. Whatever our inclination towards historical references may be, all ecological practitioners are, of course, essentially oriented towards the future and not the past only. But as we have seen there is a reasonable chance that one would not be able to distinguish the outcomes of three alternative histories from one another without being explicitly informed of those histories. This conclusion should not be interpreted nihilistically, nor should it demotivate us as a consequence. After adjusting herself to the unusual circumstances in which she finds herself the manager would inquire about those site histories, and based upon these histories she would have, no doubt, an assessment of the success of these projects. The point I am making here is that history matters. To make an slightly extravagant parallel: we shall all end up as corpses one day, and though it may matter little to us personally how we ended up that way, nevertheless it will be consoling if it matters to someone what the historical circumstances were, be they natural or suspicious, that led up to the ghastly moment of our demise.
Nature does not know its own history except, perhaps, through us. But both classical restoration and the novel ecosystem paradigm are both predicated upon a certain interpretation and implementation of history. This is obviously true for classical restoration defined by the SER primer as “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.” All those “re” and “de” words etymologically reveal their indebtedness to the past. The origins of the prefix “re”, for instance, refers to the original Latin, meaning ‘back’ or ‘backwards’.
The novel ecosystem concept’s indebtedness to history is less conspicuous. Hobbs, Higgs and Hall (the three H’s for the remainder of this paper) have defined novel ecosystem (their consensus definition) as “a system of abiotic, biotic and social components that by virtue of their human influence, differ from those that prevailed historically, having a tendency to to self organize and manifest novel qualities without intensive human management.” Note that this defines the novel system as a thing, not by a set of actions by which one might manage them (as was the case in defining restoration ecology).
At first glance one might be inclined to say that the novel ecosystem is an ahistorical concept. To put it another way this is history in a deficient-mode: history being conspicuous by its conscious absence. But there is more history involved in the identification of a novel system than might at first be obvious. Firstly, novel ecosystems depend upon historical analysis for their identification: they emerge from a contemplation of the analysis of the history of a site. A decision is made that these systems, with their novel components and properties, have certain emergent properties that have value and are therefore worth studying, conserving, and managing, albeit non-intensively.
There is no particular reason why management efforts connected with novel ecosystems and traditional restoration strategies cannot co-exist side by side, since managing a site according to the dictates of either paradigm may in fact produce theoretically indistinguishable long-term outcomes. In fact the advocates for the novel ecosystems concept are at pains to insist that the relevance of traditional restoration is not being called into question. However, another element of the historical analysis involved in the identification of novel ecosystems concerns the temporal characterization of supposed thresholds beyond which the attainment of traditional restoration goals becomes increasingly unrealistic. For instance, if the soil has be modified by anthropogenic nitrogen inputs beyond the point where the historical vegetation is likely to grow. Thus a site being treated as restorable might in fact be irredeemably a novel ecosystem. One man’s 300 years restoration project becomes another’s symptom of a breached threshold.
Finally, although novel ecosystems are defined by their lack of need for intensive management, nonetheless when a novel systems is providing conservation services and generally functions in a manner that is pleasing then a management regime may be instituted. As soon as this management is enacted the novel ecosystem is thereby governed by a historical reference system even if the historical moment being referred to is but a few moments in the past.

That the novel ecosystem remains enmeshed in history is conceded by its proponents. The “three Hs” acknowledge as much stating that “there is a gravitational pull in our discussions towards historical conditions. In acknowledging novel ecosystems, it is plain that this gravitational pull is sometimes very weak; it remains however, if only as a reminder that the past matters and has matters.” It’s turtles all the way down, where those turtles are history!
The challenge for us as restorationists therefore concern not simply the question of whether to use a historical reference system or not — we must — but rather it is to determine how much history do we need to, or even care to, consider. How should we use the the historical record? Or to put it another way, how much of history must we forget when we think about the future? This is something I will turn to in the next post.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

BOOK LAUNCH:Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Century by Paddy Woodworth

In conjunction with University of Chicago Press we are delighted to host the Chicago launch of Paddy Woodworth’s new book Our Once and Future Planet.

The book contains an impressive synthesis of restoration projects from around the world and puts the work in Chicago alongside work on other continents.  This should give us an important moment for reflection on the past and future of regional restoration.

"The environmental movement is plagued by pessimism. And that’s not unreasonable: with so many complicated, seemingly intractable problems facing the planet, coupled with a need to convince people of the dangers we face, it’s hard not to focus on the negative

But that paints an unbalanced—and overly disheartening—picture of what’s going on with environmental stewardship today. There are success stories, and Our Once and Future Planet delivers a fascinating account of one of the most impressive areas of current environmental experimentation and innovation: ecological restoration. Veteran investigative reporter Paddy Woodworth has spent years traveling the globe and talking with people—scientists, politicians, and ordinary citizens—who are working on the front lines of the battle against environmental degradation. At sites ranging from Mexico to New Zealand and Chicago to Cape Town, Woodworth shows us the striking successes (and a few humbling failures) of groups that are attempting to use cutting-edge science to restore blighted, polluted, and otherwise troubled landscapes to states of ecological health—and, in some of the most controversial cases, to particular moments in historical time, before widespread human intervention. His firsthand field reports and interviews with participants reveal the promise, power, and limitations of restoration.

Ecological restoration alone won’t solve the myriad problems facing our environment. But Our Once and Future Planet demonstrates the role it can play, and the hope, inspiration, and new knowledge that can come from saving even one small patch of earth." FROM UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

When: Oct 14th 2013 6:30 – 8:00

Where: McGowan South 107, 1110 W Belden Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

A panel discussion and a short talk by Paddy will be followed by a reception. Contact:

Monday, September 9, 2013

How important is the "re" in restoration ecology?

By Liam Heneghan

This is the first in a series of short posts on the value of history for restoration.  They are written preparatory to a session at the World Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration in Madison, 6 -10 Oct at which I will present a condensed version.  (Wed Oct 9th: 8am - 10am: Session 1.06 Discussion - The historically-based reference system, chaired by Paddy Woodworth.)

“Ecological restoration,” William Jordan III wrote, “is the attempt, sometimes breathtakingly successful, sometimes less so, to make nature whole.”  It is a game self-consciously played with time. This is not to say, as amateur dabblers in environmental philosophy are inclined to, that restoration is doomed to failure because it attempts, impossibly, to reverse the flow of time.  Nor it it fair to claim, despite the rhetorical tendency of some early practitioners to describe it so, that restorationists privilege one historical moment in time — pre-white-settlement in the Midwest, for example —  and attempt to return a dynamic system to this one state and thereafter freeze it in time.  Rather, a majority of practitioners view restoration as a set of actions performed to compensate for unwonted recent human impacts, thereby reestablishing the historic range of variation of a system. Depending on the specific history of a region this ecological trajectory may reflect the influence of indigenous human populations.

The connection between restoration ecology and history is manifested in the etymology of the word restoration. The origins of the prefix “re” refers to the original Latin, meaning ‘back’ or ‘backwards’, though in connection with a large variety of words the use of this prefix can be quite complex.  For instance, in words like recede and reduce it means to go ‘back to or towards the starting point’, or more evocatively, for our purposes, in a word like restitution the prefix implies going ‘back to the original place or position’.  It is clear from the lengthy etymological essay on this prefix in the Oxford English Dictionary, that both in Latin and subsequently in the English, the “precise sense of re- is not always clear”.  That being said, the authors remark that in English formations “re- is almost exclusively employed in the sense of ‘again’”.

Although the suite of activities that collectively constitute what we call restoration might have been named something else — Bill Jordan told me once that “synthetic ecology” had been floated as one possibility — contemporary definitions of this management indicate that “restoration”, with all the temporal connotations this term carries, is indeed appropriate.  For instance, in the Society for Ecological Restoration Primer, restoration is defined thus: “Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.”  Note that the word “restoration” is conflated in this definition with “recovery”, another word  with a prefixial use of “re”, and is followed, by several ones where “de” is the prefix.  The history of the prefix “de” appears to me, at least, to be less complex than that of “re” but generally it has the function of undoing or reversing the action of a verb.  It can also mean to take something down (replacing to an original condition).  Thus to destroy is to undo the action of “struńēre”, a piling up, a construction.  Note that had “synthetic ecology” been the term we inherited this would have not direct linguistic connection with the temporality.

Recognizing therefore a temporal signature in the term restoration we might ask: in what practical sense should history (that “whole series of past events connected with a particular person, country, institution, or thing.” OED) serve as our guide when we plan the future trajectory of managed ecosystem?  Or putting this question on its head, to what degree should we merely synthesize an ecological future using elements that are currently available to us in novel combinations for which there is no historical analogue?  Recognizing that these approaches represent, to some degree at least, stylized positions, let us, for the purposes of the reflection, call the former practitioners “historians”, and the later the “synthesists”.  From the perspective of these two groups there can be disagreement on degree to which the past provides a legitimate model for directing the future course of ecosystems. It is fair to say, however, that historians and synthesists share a model of how ecological change occurs in time: that model being some version of contemporary successional development theory.  Both groups believe, I think it fair to say, in the reality of time.

Restorationists must, of course, assert the reality of time since restoration is ultimately an activity where humans intrude into the temporality of ecological systems.  This is true even if the restorationist alters a system with a view to a longer-term disengagement from a direct human involvement — erasing the impact and tip-toeing away from the land.  A subjective assessment of temporality is therefore both implicit and consequential for restoration.

Restorationists are not the first, of course, to grapple with the question of what time is, and how we should incorporate (or not) history into our plans for the future.  There is, however, no clear agreement among philosophers, or indeed physicists, about time, or even whether it should be regarded as “real.”  In the post that will follow this one I'll provide a road-map to philosophical accounts of the nature of time.

Additionally, assuming that we sort out the issue of time to our satisfaction, I would like to outline an argument that suggests that the development of a historical sensibility can be in certain circumstances disabling.  This is the perspective of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) who in an essay entitled The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life (1884) argues that an overly punctilious regard for history can be less than useful for life.  This essay does not offer proofs for the utility or dis-utility of history in general circumstances, but, as I think I can show, it alerts us to the possibility that in some circumstances the employment of a historical sensibility may either assist or hinder our conservation efforts.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Destroy this prairie!

WHEN I FIRST BROUGHT a group of my undergraduate students to meet William Jordan III at Cafe Mozart in Evanston, Illinois, he told them that each year we should ritualistically destroy a small plot of virgin prairie, of which there is virtually none left in this state, in order to dramatize its importance to us. I assured them that he did not mean this sacrifice literally; he assured them that he did.

[This is my favorite paragraph that I wrote in the past year... from a long and almost completely unread essay at LARB]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The One Thousand Urban Miles Challenge

Between 1896 and 1900 the Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865 – 1953) walked a total of 5000 miles (approximately 20 miles a day for 50 days of field work each year) in the production of his monograph Irish Topographical Botany (1901).  In the coming year I am proposing to walk a thousand mile in the same meditative, attuned, way that Praeger did, but instead of tramping around the spongy ground of Irish bogs and mountainsides, I am proposing to do so in Chicago.  Certainly some of this walking will be in "natural" areas around Chicago (including several of our 100 sites areas) but for the most part these excursions will be to several Chicago neighborhoods that interest me.

A number of colleagues at DePaul and friends have expressed an interest in doing the same. Some will do so in Chicago, some in other cities. If this intrigues you enough to give it a go, let me know. It might be an interesting collective project.  I'm starting a blog to keep track of our progress.  You are free to share progress reports on this site.  More on this soon.

A cost of ecology becoming more experimental?

Ecology as a scientific discipline has become more experimental, more quantitative, and more concerned with investigating phenomena in the highly controlled environments of laboratory microcosms, the greenhouses, and under closely regulated field conditions. There are excellent reasons for this: having accumulated a tremendous amount of information about the distribution and abundance of organisms on Earth, it is useful to evaluate hypotheses about the processes regulating populations and ecological communities, and the ecosystems processes that connect them.  But what are the costs associated with this approach, especially since it superseded the more traditional approaches of natural history? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A hero in the matter of walking

Robert Lloyd Praeger, the celebrated Irish naturalist, had a hero in the matter of walking. This was the naturalist and literary scholar Henry Chichester Hart (1847–1908). From May 1875 till October 1876 Hart served as naturalist on HMS Discovery on an expedition to the North Pole, though they returned without having made it to the North Pole. At home in Ireland Hart was know for his vigorous walking.  In 1889 on a wager of £50 from Richard Manliffe Barrington (1849–1915), he walked about seventy-five miles from Dublin to the summit of Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in Co. Wicklow, and back again in a single 24 hour period. Praeger recorded another episode, one that remains celebrated in Irish naturalists’ circles. Hart met one day with Barrington, for a day’s botanizing near the Powerscourt Waterfall in Wicklow.  The day was wet, of course, and both naturalists were soon soaked to the skin, and yet both men walked in silence. Hart took to walking through the briars and long grasses to discourage Barrington.  In response Barrington walked into the river, sat down, and commenced to eat his lunch.  Wordlessly, Hart did the same and both sat until they were drenched.   Barrington is usually described as having being delicate, at least as a child.  I heard this story first from David Bellamy, the botanist, when he visited Dublin in the 1980s.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ten Meditations on sitting

1. On 16 June 1904 before leaving his home at 78 Eccles Street, Dublin, Leopold Bloom sat and took one of most momentous and leisurely shits in literature. Joyce reported: “Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper.” Bloom browsed a while, then “midway, his last resistance, yielding he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly, as he read.” A significant portion of those people from whom I recently solicited information on their favorite sitting places side with Bloom on this one. They confide this seated pleasure as if it was their secret alone. My father, in contrast, claims his favorite place to sit was beside the Minister for Education in the Irish Dail (parliament) during question time. My mother’s sitting drinking coffee in front of The Colosseum. Mine is on the Old Kenmare Road, near Killarney, my back against a rock, facing the mountains, bog cotton fidgeting,a stream murmuring in the middle distance.
8. In a 2004 study six aesthetic plastic surgeons impartially examined 1320 photographs of nude women in “different postures and actions” and examined the buttocks of 132 female patients to assess for “signs” of buttock beauty. They reported four independent characteristics in the gluteal region that indicated excellently attractive buttocks: a lateral depression, infragluteal fold, supragluteal fossettes, and a V-shaped crease. The results, reported in the journal Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (28:340-347), were published with a helpful photograph illustrating the consistent features of the perfect ass. The role of the buttocks in sitting is neglected in this otherwise comprehensive work, but helpfully surgeons are recommended to mark where the buttocks rest while sitting to avoid injury to vessels and nerves.

Read em all here

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reading List for Human Impacts Class (sophomore majors)

Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins Ian Tattersall ISBN-10: 1137278307

Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England William Cronon ISBN: 978-0809016341

The Tree Where Man Was Born Peter Matthiessen Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (August 31, 2010) ISBN-10: 0143106244

Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World By Brian Walker PhD and David Salt ISBN: 978-1597260930

Reading list for Introduction to Environmental Studies (Mars flavoured)

This is an introductory level Environmental Studies course. The idea is to use discussion of the colonization and terraforming of Mars as a lens through which to think about the environment of our solar systems and to sharpen our discussions of environmental ethics and of technological solutions to our problems on the home planet.  I am agnostic on the value of a manned mission to Mars.

Let's see how this one goes!

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) Kim Stanley Robinson

The Origin of Species: Charles Darwin

Wilderness and the American Mind Roderick Frazier Nash

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must Robert Zubrin

Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry Albert Borgmann

The Sunflower Forest: Ecological Restoration and the New Communion with Nature William R. Jordan

We Yevgeny Zamyatin

Beasts at bedtime

My latest essay in Aeon magazine:

There are times when I’m Skyping with my father that, for a moment or so, I confuse his image on the screen with mine. We are both grey-haired and bearded now, and though his facial wrinkles are more deltaic than mine, the resemblance between us is close enough to fool me briefly. After all, in my first memories of him, he was fully eight times my age. Now that gap has shrunk, and he is less than twice as old as me. But for the saving graces of some sort of Zeno’s paradox of ageing, I might catch up with him soon.

My first memories of my father are of him reading to me. Or rather, they are of him reading to all of us, his children, seven pages each, in turn. In the earliest memories, there were three of us, later six. We would be in my sisters’ room, tucked in, with me at the tail end of my sister Anne’s bed. Clare, the eldest, was first, then Anne, and then me, each of us indifferent to the stories read to the others. Clare pulled on his earlobe, sucked her thumb, and listened. By the time my turn came, he was often sleepy but, if he nodded off, we prodded him back to his duties. I can still recall some of those early reads. There was Ben Ross Berenberg’s The Churkendoose (1946), an unfortunate creature, ambiguously part chicken, turkey, duck, and goose. There was Noel Barr’s Ned the Lonely Donkey (1952), the farmyard beast that does his best to make friends. There were also rhyming stories, bird books, and evocative tales of prehistoric giants.

Some years later, my teacher, Mr O’Leary, would read J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) in school as a reward for good behaviour. I was enchanted by the story, so my father bought me a copy, and it became the first to give me that distinctive pride that comes from possessing a special book. From my reading of The Hobbit I date my love of woodlands, a love that has shaped much of my life. Two decades later, I read to my eldest child from that same special copy.

Those bedtime stories, read in the crevices of the day’s end, were meant to prepare us for a night of that twitching repose that passes for childhood sleep. But looking back on them now, the nightly stories also irrigated our imaginations, preparing us for the day that followed. They steadied us for the small tribulations of school, and primed us for expeditions to the outdoors of garden and neighbourhood and, during the weekends at least, our visits to the beaches of Dublin.

Read on at Aeon

Beyond Science Fiction: Nature in the City and Our Ethical Future

Discussions of the twenty-first century remain primarily about the future. If dystopian science fiction serves as our guide, then it is clear that the future is already here. In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s classic Russian science fiction novel We, published in 1921, the novel that inspired George Orwell’s 1984, our narrator, the engineer D-503, describes a futuristic world, One State, that hums with mathematical precision. It is one where, supposedly at least, people have nothing to conceal from one another. They live surrounded by transparent walls through which the “Guardians” can observe them. They compliantly surveil each other. This is a domain without privacy, without freedom, and also, not coincidentally, without nature.

For all of that, the earth as D-503 describes it is a beautiful shining thing. This beautiful shining earth is, however, largely confined beyond yet another translucent wall, the Great Wall, that separates One State from the world of nature beyond. Perhaps it is just as well: the atavisms of nature no longer appeal in this future. D-503 reports that he is “unable to find anything beautiful in flowers, or in anything else that belongs to the lower kingdom which now exists only beyond the Great Wall. Only rational and useful things are beautiful: machines, boots, formulae, food etc.” D-503 even regrets the hairiness of his hands! That being said, D-503, when we meet him, is troubled by unbidden thought. Irrational numbers haunt him. He is roused, though only slightly, from his conformist slumbers by the unruly behavior of the women in his life, and becomes aware of a plot to tear down the Great Wall reintegrating the life outside the wall with the moribund one within. Though ultimately, and involuntarily, he betrayed that revolution, parts of the wall come down as the story ends. Birds fly into One State.

Read on at the Center for Humans and Nature site

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The View From Above

Every year, for a number of years, I received a letter about my body from a man who was neither a family member, nor an especially intimate friend. Invariably they started: “Dear Liam, thank you for your recent visit. I am happy to confirm that you are largely in a healthy condition.” The earliest of these letters was handwritten with a fountain pen, as if to confirm that, though not physically remarkable, I was nevertheless, in his eyes, a very special fellow.

The greetings and general summary thus dispatched, he would describe my physical condition meticulously. I was taller, by an inch, back then apparently. Perhaps I am not physical shriveling and merely relaxed now and less inclined to stretch to impress. On the other hand, I was less weighty back then, and having always had an ability to convert food into more me, I have slowly, and incrementally, squeezed out more Liam, becoming a shorter, heavier version of myself.

My correspondent recorded his observations on my pulse, and noted my blood pressure which was, in the old classification at least, high normal. Today, I understand, these number would be regarded with an arched eyebrow. Consolingly he informed me that “we’ll keep an eye on it.”

There was always in these letters some ominous tones, as if to say that though everything looked normal, potential horrors lurked around the corner. The price: eternal vigilance in matters of the flesh. My liver, for instance, didn’t seem enlarged. He reiterated my self-reported alcohol consumption. “You consume, you say, no more than two drinks a day.” I detected in this a whiff of disbelief, as if his intuition over-ruled both the evidence of his palpations and his ears.

His was not an especially expansive vocabulary. Once he described as “loose” both my stools and my testicles. The former condition I may have mentioned to him; the latter condition he detected for himself after each had descended like imperfect plover’s eggs into the grabby nest of his latexed hand. I coughed. By the mysteries of internal plumping something softly leapt within. I was not herniated.

Fathers should tell their sons what is involved in prostate exams. I swear I had no idea, though the terse preparatory directions make it clear. I was living in Georgia when first this test was administer to me.“This might make you tearful..”, my doctor drawled.

Read on at

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Mundane-Ecstatic: Reconsidering J M Synge's Prose

Dedicated to the students who travel with Randall Honold and me to Wicklow, West Kerry, and Connemara, this summer, following in the footsteps of Synge.

SyngeAt that time in my life before I realized that such things are rare, I was paid, modestly it’s true, by Glenveagh National Park to travel on foot through parts of northern Donegal to collect and name insects. It is rare to have time on one’s hands, rare to love so fully what one does, and rare to have so little conception of what the future holds. I was, however, a little lonely. Each morning I walked transects across the lonely bog to net flies. In the evenings I had all to myself the park’s administration building which housed a research facility where I would gently boil the preserved flies in beakers of sodium hydroxide and mount their translucent parts in euparol, an aromatic embedding medium, on glass slides. At the other side of the building was the bunk room where I slept. I only rarely talked to another soul. 

Seeking company was, therefore, one of my reasons for taking afternoon bicycle rides through the mountainy countryside surrounding the park and when I could I’d chat greedily with farmers standing at the edges of their fields. The occasional walker would also stop and turn on hearing my bicycle approach and would say a word or two to me about the weather. It was oftentimes quite warm on those summer afternoons though, not infrequently, an immeasurable bank of gauzy cloud would roll in from the north Atlantic and obscure the sun. At that time I conjectured that the fine-grained nature of the Irish countryside, the fact that one could see every speck at a distance, every flower popping out from among grassy bog, was because of the immense amount of moisture in the air. Everything in Ireland is viewed through a million wet lenses. I talked one late afternoon in July of 1987 with a farmer who had stopped from his labor to drink cold tea from a little glass bottle. More often than not though the little back roads in Donegal were deserted.

One afternoon I rode an ambitious route which brought me closer to the sea. Many years later I drove those roads with my father, and he and an aging fisherman from Bunbeg assessed my father’s Irish, the latter by glances of incomprehension, as they both looked out on the waves. As I rode my bicycle through one of those small villages back in 1987 a dog who took especial umbrage at me on my bicycle worried me quite persistently. I sped up as best I could with him nipping viciously at my heels. The dog knew the terrain better than I, of course, and as we passed by a house close to the edge of the village he ran up on an embankment at end of the garden. Within a moment of two he was running level with my head. I assumed he was about to take a flying leap at me but he left off the chase, the knowledge of his victory being, it would seem, enough to satisfy him.

Later that afternoon I puffed my way up an especially steep boreen. The afternoon was hot and the birds were quiet in the recesses of the hedges. The road eventually defeated me and I dismounted and pushed my bike up the hill. I walked by a little house at the garden gate of which a woman stood and looking out upon the road. I hello-ed her and she mutely greeted me. I continued on my way. As I made my way to the summit of the little hill I felt a thud on my shoulder and then heard a series of sharp clacks upon the tarmac road. Someone was throwing stones at me. Looking back I saw a small besuited man who had appeared at the door of the house. He bent down to pick up another handful of pebbles and loosed them in my direction. The woman-of-the-house maintained her stance, though now looked in my direction. After my first yelp, none of us uttered a thing. I worked my way up the hill, as one does in a nightmare where one laboriously runs to slow avail. Stones, close by, rained down. On gaining the top of the hill I jumped back on the bicycle and sped off downhill and away from my assailant. Later that day I made my way back to the park by another route and was unmolested by neither man nor dog.

That’s the story! That’s the story!
Read on at 3quarksdaily

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Microcosm System for Looking at Decomposition of Horseshit

This work is being done to provide data towards the creation of the BioShaft, a project under development with designer Domenico D'Alessandro.  The BioShaft is a soils-based treatment system for the decomposition of human fecal waste.  The decomposition products will fertilize a green wall and other urban vegetated systems.  Our initial work at DePaul uses horse manure as a surrogate for human waste and is designed to examine to rate of decomposition and the efficacy of leachates as fertilizer.

For more on the BioShaft design see here

We set up the first of our experimental systems today:

Our horse manure.  Each student used approx 30 g of manure.

The manure is place into a microcosm (we are using a Nalgene filtration unit). 

A piece of manure is surrounded by one of three treatments: garden soil, mulch or perlite.  To these will be added a microbial treatment to accelerate microbial decomposition.

Each unit has approx 800 ml of substrate that surrounds the unit.

18 microcosms were prepared today!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tree Architecture in Lincoln Park

The definition of "architecture" I am using here is from Halle, Oldman, and Tomlinson's classic Tropical Trees and Forests: An architectural analysis (1978) see here.  Architecture is "the visible, morphological, expression of the genetic blueprint of organic growth and development." 

A good place to start getting you eye trained to look at the architectural patterns of trees is the Lincoln Park Conservatory!

Notice below the way in which space is densely filled in the conservatory. This emerges for a variety of reasons, one of which is that there is a greater number of architectural models expressed in tropical vegetation.  This allows for a greater occupation of space for tropical vegetation.

Tropical forest hosts many palms which are characterized by their single trunk often with a single apical meristem.  Rare to find these in the temperate zone.

Contrast these conservatory pictures with tree vegetation in the park outside.  Architecturally there are fewer models represented.  As far as I can tell there has not been much done work done to assess the diversity of these forms in the urban environment.

Oz Park, where there is an attempt made to add a nice understory to the urban forest.

The model analysis can be applied to vegetation other than trees.  Here is a liverwort with some nice branching patterns.

Jack Kerouac's Pile of Shit, or St Jack in the Wilderness

Sixty-three days after his solitary stay on Desolation Peak, Jack Kerouac came down the mountain leaving behind him a “column of feces about the height and size of a baby.”  Though Kerouac may not be everyman – at times he’s jubilant, at times morose, verbose, braggardly, brilliant, invariably drunk, incessantly dissecting, sullen, always writing, experimenting, vagabonding, observing minutely, oedipally strange, holy, obnoxious, and not infrequently full of shit – nonetheless, Jack’s ordinary failure in the wilderness is perhaps a more honest reckoning on the meaning of wilderness for us everyfolk than all the successful accounts written by the hard men of the great American Wilderness tradition.

In the summer of 1956, at the suggestion of beat-poet and Zen Buddhist Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac worked as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington State’s North Cascades.  It’s a story he tells inDesolation Angels, a “chapter” of The Duluoz Legend, his sequence of thinly veiled autobiographical novels.  Jack went to the mountain with big ambitions.  Coming out of the wilderness a couple of months later he left behind that great mound of shit, and the carcass of a murdered mouse, Kerouac’s first kill (“it looked at me with ‘human’ fearful eyes”[1]).  But what had Kerouac taken away with him; taken down from the solitude to the cites and to his now famously garrulous writer friends?  That is, what was the value of Jack’s time in the wilderness, to him or to us? 

Read on at 3quarksdaily

The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Restoration

Thoughts comments before I submit this abstract...

A central tenet of ecology is that each species has a unique niche.  Although we do not, of course, know precisely the number of species on earth – perhaps not even to the nearest order of magnitude – nevertheless, niche theory suggests that we have millions of species plying their independent ecological trades in local environments.  From the perspective of the “equilibrium paradigm” in ecology local assemblages are assumed to be regulated primarily by competition among organisms, and therefore a tight relationship between species composition and ecosystems processes might be expected to exist.  Under these assumptions restoration strategies that protect ecosystems processes and services will map quite nicely onto a more traditional focus of protecting species.  However, over the last generation of ecological thought the role of non-equilibrium forces, disturbance and so forth, are now appreciated as contributing to the structure of local assemblages. Species may be redundant with respect to their contributions to important ecosystems processes; therefore one might predict the recovery of these processes in degraded systems without a concomitant recovery in species.   Thus, although the structure and function of ecosystems are inextricably linked they are not necessarily tightly linked and consequently we can define two target poles for restoration.  Prioritize the saving all the pieces, oftentimes using the historical systems as a guide, or saving the function of systems, which may result in novel ecosystem.  I will discuss these tradeoffs from a variety of perspectives.  In my remarks I will draw upon the work of German philologist Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche whose metric for evaluating the utility for history was the degree to which our historical sensibilities served the needs of “a mighty new current of life.” 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Springwatch Chicago, 2013...continues

Honey Locust getting ready... not quite there yet.

Linden delicately unfurls.... however....

Some Linden leaves have thrown caution to the wind and are out!

Magnolia pinkly heralds forth

Bradford pear blooming in strenght

Redbud clustering about the twig like pink soldier ready to deploy.

Redbud... flowers, as always, getting the jump on the leaves.

Remember your silver maple (shaggy barked)...

...slightly exhausted from the effort

Sliver maple flowering

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) and the smell of semen

Bradford pears are about to bloom.  Tends to be a showy affair especially when they are in clusters (in Custer Av near Main St in Evanston, IL, for instance).  I can't say that I have noticed it, but to discerning nostrils apparently the early bloom smells like semen, which in turn some folks suggest smell like fish (see here).

Here's what to look for:

The bark is fairly distinctive so take a close look

Decomposing with Cotton Strips...the beginner's guide!

Simple cotton strips can be used as a surrogate for other organic matter (leaves etc.) in the study of decomposition.  Decomposition is measured by the loss of tensile strength in the buried strip!

Positioning Your Strips
             It is important that the strips are randomly placed in your garden. To ensure this take a small object (stick etc.) and toss it "blind" over your shoulder into your plot!  This will be your "central point. (see diagram)
           The strips will be positioned around this central point.  They should be arranged as a triangle with each point about the distance of your foot (assuming it is an average foot!) with the central point occupying the center of the triangle. (see diagram)

Inserting the strips into the soil.  NB For this you will need a garden spade
       The strips are placed into the soil vertically.  When they are properly placed the top (marked with a label) will be uppermost and will stick out of the surface. (See photos).  BEFORE placing them in the soil a slot for each strip should be opened up with the spade.  Push spade into the soil to the approximately 9 inches.  Move the spade back and forward a little to ensure that the strip will go in effortlessly.

      Remove the space and lay the strip along the length of the space.  The label (plastic tape) will be towards the top of the spade (closest to the handle).  Wrap the very end of the strip (where it is marked with a blue line) around the tip of the spade.

      Reinsert the spade with the strip into the soil.

   Carefully withdraw the spade leaving the strip into the ground.

     Tamp around the edges of the ground close to the strip to ensure there is good contact between the soil and the strip.

     You are done with this strip!  Repeat steps 3-7 for the remains strips (completing the triangle).

Last Step: The Control Strips
        This is a vital last step.  Pick a point close by to the other strip and repeat steps 3-7 with each of the 2 control strips but this time as soon as you are done remove the control strips.
          When removing the strip ensure that they come out with minimal effort.  If necessary loosen the soil with a trowel, taking care not to damage the strips.

     Store the controls in a place where they remain dry until returning all strips at the end of the experiment.  

Removing the Strips
       The strips should remain in place for 28 days (4 weeks).
      To remove the strips loosen the soil around each strip with a trowel (or comparable garden tool) making sure that you do not damage the strip. 
      When the soil is loose gently ease the strip out of the ground.
       Place all strips into the self-addressed envelope that we have provided (along with the control strips) and returned them immediately.

DePaul Environmental Science Student, Alexandra Patrickus, proudly holding a Cotton Strip.