The Dreaded Stinging Nettle

stinging nettle

‘Tis the season for the dreaded stinging nettle. My azaleas occasion a riot of color under clouds of dogwood. Pink phlox carpet roadsides, meshing blooming seasons as never before in my memory. Nettles, too, have reared their sweet heads.

“Sweet?” you ask. Back in my novice camping days, I thought so, until I naively tried to pick some for the picnic table. Ouch! Walking through the yard this morning, dodging the prickly pest, I decided to find out what purpose, other than beauty, these 500 some species serve. I theorized: a food source for some butterfly or moth (correct), or maybe a tortoise or small mammal (wrong).

How about large mammals, say, humans? I was stunned to learn that teas, soups and juices made from the fuzzy single-stemmed perennial are not only consumed by humans, but are used in healing! Apparently, the leaves contain antihistamines or hydrocortisone. Healers as far back as 2,000 years used the plant to stop internal and external bleeding.

Nettle teas cure mucus congestion, water retention and diarrhea. Gargling the tea helps mouth and throat infections and application to skin clears up acne and eczema. External application also promotes healing of burns. Teas help stimulate digestive glands and help new moms produce more milk. No surprise there, as it is used as fodder for cows, to stimulate milk production.

Juices made from the stinging nettle purportedly ease the rash caused from its own leaves! Really? Of course, some preparation is required. Soaking in hot water removes stinging chemicals, allowing the leaves to be handled and eaten without harm.

I’ll take the word of the experts. But if you’d like to know how to serve this ubiquitous little pest as a veggie, get the recipe or directions for soups, teas, and juices, check out Mother Earth News. For me, a close encounter with the little terror is best remedied with an immediate scrubbing of Lava Soap from the workshop.

Such encounters, too, remind me of the scriptural admonition that even the least of these creations have value. Please let me know if you do try any of these folk remedies so I can reevaluate my opinion of you. Of course, I’ll be upgrading you to brave.

 

Devil’s Corkscrews

Daemonelix_burrows,_Agate_Fossil_Beds

I stumbled onto devil’s corkscrews on my way to something else. I thought you might enjoy my  further exploration of the strange formations. In the mid-1800s early ranchers in Sioux County, Nebraska were discovering spiraled tubes, up to nine feet long, which they nicknamed “devil’s corkscrews,” more formally, Daemonelix.

What were they? Only when teaching children at the Florida Museum of Natural History did I learn about trace fossils, evidence that something had been in a place: a footprint or leaf print, a burrow, coprolite (fossilized poop). The ranchers’ fossils were remnants of spiral burrows dug by rodents found at the spiral base. They had super long front teeth like modern beavers, with stubby tails instead of paddles like the modern beaver. These clever little rodents burrowed near water, but instead of digging straight down, they dug spirals, making it harder for predators to reach them, and perhaps, slowing water.

Paleocastor, which means “ancient beaver,” died out during the Oligocene when the planet cooled down and dried out. Could he not adapt from the wet world he knew to the grasses and prairies? Then why did some aquatic beavers survive to become great dam builders? What do you think?

You can visit Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska or check out nps.gov/agfo/learn/nature/mammalfossils.htm to see more interesting (extinct) critters.

Floating Plastic Garbage

Manila Harbour

There are no floating garbage patches in the Pacific, not as we think of them, i.e., floating landfills. There are small aggregates of trash, but the gigantic gyres we’ve been told variously are the size of Texas, or twice the size of Texas, or sometimes even the size of the continent, are not composed of large objects like refrigerators, toys and wreckage from storm-battered buildings. They are, basically, microbits of plastic, the size of salt and pepper. Plastic, which breaks down, but never goes away.

The smaller rafts of plastic debris, more recent intentional or unintentional human castoffs, which haven’t had time to break down, have revealed a surprise to researchers from the University of Florida, traveling with Sea Eduation Foundation. Debris which hasn’t had time to break down, is serving as a micro habitat to several species of Asian crabs, mussels and other small sea creatures. They cannot attach to the plastic, but they can use goose-neck barnacles which are able to attach themselves to the smooth surface of plastic.

My first reaction to this news was, great! At least our garbage in the sea is serving some useful purpose. Silly me. Turns out non-native species are hitching rides on castoffs from both sides of the ocean, traveling to new destinations, becoming invasive. This unexpected consequence of allowing our garbage to reach the sea, has the potential to destroy native species’ habitat.

A recent study estimated that around eight million metric tons of our plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year. How far-reaching are the consequences of our failure to properly dispose of the plastic items we use! If you don’t have recycle bins at your house, apartment complex or business, contact your solid waste department and ask how you can best recycle. If you do recycle, good for you! Be sure to rinse the items, as failure to do so contaminates other items and lowers the value of the recyclable. The plastics that cannot go into the recycle bins should be placed in cans with secure lids, not loosly tossed, but ideally, bagged.

Picture: Manila Harbour

Tired of Tire Reefs

Tires-in-Bundles

Recently the Florida House proposed $1.8 million, the Senate, $900,000 for new technologies to complement the hand removal of tires from a tire reef off Ft. Lauderdale. Removal? The announcement piqued my curiosity. I remember back in the seventies, creating artificial reefs from tires was a new, promising idea, endorsed by the Army Corp of Engineers.

It seemed like a win/win.  On land, tires were ubiquitous pollutants. Creation of artificial reefs would attract game fish and be a boon to tourist-minded South Florida. It was such an easy, promising project, tire reefs were created off the northeastern United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, and along Asian and African coastlines.

Forward thirty years. Little marine life attached to the tires. When dropped, the two million tires off the Florida coast had been latched together with corrosive nylon restraints which ultimately failed. Storms tossed single tires on a collision course with natural reefs, doing great harm. Hurricanes Opal and Bonnie (1995 and 1998) strew tires across Florida’s beautiful panhandle beaches and popular North Carolina beaches.

Thus began efforts to rid the sea of tires. An experiment by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection would have allowed companies who had damaged sea beds and reefs to mitigate reef destruction by removing tires from Osborne Reef. The state did not follow through on the plan. In 2001 Nova Southeastern University received a grant from NOAA to manually extract tires. 1600 were removed at a cost of $17 per tire.

As part of a training program, DiveExEast07, U S Navy, Army and Coast Guard divers recovered 43,900 at a cost to the state of $140,000. This cost included transportation to a shredding facility in Georgia where the tires were burned as fuel. 2009 saw Army and Navy divers again working to relocate tires caught against a natural reef.

Does burning tires for fuel strike anyone else as foolhardy? The majority of tires placed in our oceans are still there, albeit not in their original locations. The recent pledge by the Florida House and Senate will also fund a study on the environmental benefits of the tire removal program. Really? Don’t we already know what the benefits are? In my mind, the money would be better spent studying ways to remove the tires and do so without creating another environmental disaster, this one in the air we breathe.

 

Protecting our Water —Ostensibly

Juniper Springs, Ocala Nat'l Forest

Don’t you love it when the legislators you elected to represent your best interests pass a law that ostensibly protects, but actually undermines your public resource? Water, everybody’s most basic need. Just ask the people of Flint, Michigan.

Here in Florida, The Water Resources Protection Act passed in 1973, purportedly to protect surface and groundwater. It has, unfortunately, been inconsistently enforced. It is, after all, purposely vague and full of loopholes. No problem. This week, the Florida legislature passed the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. Or is it a problem?
The law was written by lobbyists working for Associated Industries of Florida. Who are these industries? You can bet they are the dairy and poultry farmers, as well as urban developers, the biggest users, abusers, and contributors to deteriorating water quality. Are they really interested in protecting water quality? Would they have supported or written a law that cost them in user fees, taxes on fertilizer use, or better management of both human and animal wastewater?

Of course not. Instead they wrote and lobbied for a law with no teeth for enforcement, a law that ostensibly protects. I looked up synonyms for ostensibly: alleged, supposedly, apparently, pretended, purported, seemingly, outwardly appearing, superficial.

I enjoy a good steak or chicken dinner and I live in a housing development. I don’t enact laws. But I vote. Do you? There are numerous online sites to help you find your representatives who voted for the law. You can’t eliminate the lobbyists, but you can do something about the legislators who voted the bill into law. Tell them you care about water. Tell them by voting them out of office.

Silenced Springs by Robert L. Knight is available at Florida Springs Institute.org or Amazon.com. The book addresses degradation of Florida waters and its causes.

New Species of Elephant?

indian-elephant-clip-art-elephant-clipart2

Two species of elephant, right? Asian and African. Wrong! This is what I love about science. There’s always room for improvement. Theories, new discoveries, new theories. Until recently, biologists believed there were just two elephants. A recent study by Fauna and Flora International and the South Sudan Wildlife Service included DNA tests and led to the classification of a distinct species, smaller, with straighter tusks and rounder head and ears.

The new species was initially thought to be a subspecies of the savannah elephant but DNA eventually showed that approximately 2.5 million years ago, two genetically different strains of elephants evolved in Africa. The forest elephant lives in the forests of central and western Africa. Genetically and smaller in size than the savanna elephant, it has lived hidden and virtually forgotten. But even in remote central African forests, it faces the same threats as it’s bigger cousins: poaching, illegal logging and war. In fact, between 2002 and 2013 populations declined 62%. New species or not, conservationists believe it may be only five years before elephants are completely extinct. Better take the kids to the zoo!

Eleaid.com
New York Post Nypost.com/2015/12/11/the-greta-garbo-of-elephant-species-photographed-for-the-first-time
Qz.com/570581/scientists-have-found-an-endangered-species-of-elephant-in-South-Sudan
JournalPlosOne

Good News for Manatees?

manatee-header

After years on the endangered species list, there is good news for manatees.  The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the sea mammal’s population has recovered enough to be reclassified as a “threatened” species. But is this really “good news?” The Pacific Legal Foundation, representing a group of recreational boaters, tour operators, dive shops and hotels in Crystal River on the Florida Gulf Coast, began petitions for the reclassification eight years ago. Two lawsuits and much lobbying later, they have  achieved their goal.

Just what is the difference between “endangered” and “threatened?” The former means the species is in imminent risk of extinction; the latter means they could become endangered in the foreseeable future. Boating, waterfront development, and red tides are still a threat. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, recorded 830 manatee deaths in 2013. Deaths declined in 2014 to 371 and 405 between Jan 1 and Dec. 31, 2015.

According to the Save the Manatee Club’s most recent aerial survey in February, 2015, at least 6,063 mammals live in Florida. Considering that number and the number of deaths yearly, it strikes me they are still in imminent risk of extinction. Do you agree?

You can order a manatee specialty plate at myfloridaspecialtyplate.com/order-now.html for $25. Revenue is deposited in the Save the Manatee Trust Fund created within the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Savethemnatee.org/population.htm

fish and wildlife commission myfwc.com/manatee

Can Landfill Gas Power Cars?

Greenzerowasteamerica.org

While I’m on the subject, kudos to the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky. While waiting for my Toyota to be serviced, I picked up Toyota Today, a magazine distributed solely in Toyota dealerships. The article I read was surely biased, but deserves praise nonetheless.

Have you ever driven past a mountainous landfill peppered with myriad pipes and thought, “What a waste!” (no pun intended) Toyota reports their partnership with Waste Services of the Bluegrass, generating power from landfill gas. The processed methane will provide enough annual power to produce 10,000 vehicles. Wells collect the gas, which is used to fuel generators and carry the electricity to Toyota’s manufacturing plant, a few miles from the landfill. The Toyota plant, which produces Camry Hybrid and Avalon Hybrid, has upped the ante for other green manufacturers.

Upon further research, I learned that virtually all landfill owners contract out gas extraction. This was encouraging, since venting and burning were the only methods of dealing with landfill methane this novice was aware of. Of the three typical ways of removing methane from landfills—venting, burning, and extraction—only later properly disposes of the potentially hazardous gas and offers the option of selling it as fuel. According to Jerry Soto, project manager for Houston-based Griffin Dewatering Corporation, over the last two decades, 594 U. S gas-to-energy sites have taken advantage of this benefit, generating 1,813 megawatts of electricity and lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.

Methane extraction wells require expertise, as the process is dangerous. The gas is a naturally occurring byproduct of decomposing organic waste, posing two hazards. Although it’s in the air we breathe, high concentrations displace oxygen and pose a health hazard. It is highly flammable and potentially explosive.

Read how this precarious process takes place in Soto’s article for Public Works Magazine. The article is well written in terms easily understood by the layperson. It includes an optional slide show.

 Photo credit: zero waste america.org

 

 

Clean Solar Energy Saves Bucks!

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Ever thought about installing a solar panel for the roof? Or getting a hybrid or electric car to cut down on fuel? If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to lower your electric bill, and reduce fuel expenses for your car.

Ford Motor Company™ and SunPower™  have partnered to help you do both. The new program, Drive Green for Life™ combines the two and cuts down on electric and gas consumption. There are other hybrid and electric cars on the market, but at this time, only Ford’s Plug-in Hybrid vehicles Focus, Fusion and Energi qualify for the program, which allows you to charge your battery-electric or Plug-in Hybrid vehicle at home using the your clean-energy solar panel.

As part of the program, first-time Ford electric vehicle owners receive a $750 mail-in rebate with the purchase or lease of the solar system. For each solar system installed through the Drive Green for Life™ program, SunPower donates $500 to the Sierra Club to help support programs advocating clean energy, stronger carbon standards, and increased protection of public lands. An additional incentive: For every friend or family member you refer who purchases a solar panel from SunPower, you’ll receive a $500 gift card. But that’s not all! (Why am I feeling like a late night TV commercial?) Purchase of the solar panel qualifies for a 30% federal income tax credit.

I did install a solar panel on the roof when I lived in South Florida. Time to think about putting one on the current homestead. There is a considerable initial investment, but savings would definitely recoup the investment over time. And realtors tell me it would add to the resale value of my home. It would be nice to lower electric bills, reduce fuel expenses, drive nearly carbon-free and decrease my carbon footprint. http://us.sunpower.com/partnerships/ford-focus-electric-vehicle/#sthash.VoJVqyL5.dpuf

ADOPT AN ELEPHANT World Elephant Day Aug.12

elephant-challenge

Seen any mammoths lately? Like modern elephants, they were contemporaries of Homo sapiens, and therein lies the problem. Threats to the largest land mammal on earth include the loss and degradation of habitat, and poaching for ivory. In 1989 international trade in ivory was banned, but underground markets still thrive in some countries, with a growing demand from Asians, particularly Chinese, who consider car ownership and ivory decorations the ultimate signs of affluence.

Surprisingly, the greatest threat to the beasts is conflict with human farmers. Voracious elephant appetites conflict with humans trying to feed their own families. The World Wildlife Federation is attempting to eliminate conflict between people and elephants, mobilizing and educating communities. Protecting crops requires proper land use, allowing for seasonal movement of herds. WWF is attempting to educate populations in proper land management and techniques for protecting crops. Additionally, they are instilling an appreciation for wildlife tourism as an economic resource. Efforts include training park guards, monitoring elephant movement and developing techniques to protect crops.

You and I can participate in the effort to preserve these magnificent creatures through World Wildlife Federation’s Adopt an Elephant Program. Eighty-four percent of the program’s spending goes directly to conservation efforts. Charity Navigator gives a high rating to the 501C3 charity. Gift options range from $25 to $250. An adoption certificate is included with each gift package. Next time you’re shopping for a birthday present, why not adopt an elephant?

A second, fun way to help elephants is through The Nature Conservancy’s #elegram Project. Doodle, draw, sculpt, paint, or sew an elephant and post it on social media, matching your #elegram with a donation. Learn more about the plight of elephants at The Nature Conservancy .  CLick for written elegram instructions

Now sit back and celebrate World Elephant Day, August 12, 2015, by watching a 30-minute documentary, Return to the Forest , and take pride in knowing you’ve helped conserve an amazing species.

Picture Credit: EarthKids.com/ek-elephants.aspx