A Northwoods Almanac for July 1 – 14, 2011
A correction from my last column: I incorrectly captioned photos of foxes taken by Bill and Margo Perkins as silver fox. The photos are of gray foxes.
Lupines in Flower, but Wild or Garden Escapees?
The spread of lupines throughout the Northwoods over the last decade has been spectacular and has been welcomed by nearly everyone. In his journal on June 5, 1852, Thoreau wrote of wild lupines, “The lupine is now in its glory . . . It paints a whole hillside with its blue . . . Its leaf was made to be covered with dew-drops . . . such a profusion of the heavenly, the Elysian color, as if these were the Elysian fields . . . That is the value of lupine. The earth is blued with it.”
Indeed, lupines can paint entire hillsides and roadsides, but are the lupines we are seeing here the same as those described by Thoreau? The answer is nearly always no, and here are the differences between them. Wild lupines (Lupinus perennis) are 8 to 24 inches tall – about shin-high. Their cluster of stalked flowers is 4 to 8 inches tall, while the leaf is palmately-divided into 7 to 11 leaflets, each of which is from 1 to 2 inches long.
Conversely, the most common non-native lupine is bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus). These lupines are significantly larger and showier than the wild ones, often growing over three feet tall. While their leaves are also palmately-divided, they have more leaflets – 11 to 17 – and the leaflets are much longer, ranging from 2.4 to 4.3 inches.
Bigleaf lupine’s native range extends from northern California to British Columbia. Grown in gardens for its showiness, it has escaped from cultivation in the Lake Superior region of the upper Great Lakes states and also in the northeastern US and adjacent Canada. Of three recognized subspecies of bigleaf lupine, only polyphyllus has become established in the eastern US so far.
The only lupine native to eastern North America, and thus Wisconsin, is the wild lupine, Lupinus perennis. And, as you might expect, there are issues of concern with the non-native lupines:
1- Wild lupine leaves are the only larval food source of the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly, and only the wild variety appears to support the Karner blue butterfly in Wisconsin.
2- Bigleaf lupine often forms dense colonies that exclude other vegetation. While its potential for invading natural areas is not well documented, its dense colonial growth, combined with its rapid spread, suggest that it could become a significant, albeit beautiful, weed in the upper Great Lakes region.
3- As a legume, bigleaf lupine forms a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that convert nitrogen in the air into forms the plant can use, some of which ends up in the soil. But while increased soil nitrogen is beneficial in agricultural settings and in some native plant communities, it can be detrimental in communities adapted to low nitrogen levels, which is most of the sandy soils in our region.
So, given the potential undesired consequences of the non-native lupines, I recommend folks be sure to plant the wild lupine. Check local nurseries for the plants and seeds, or purchase them from prairie nursery (www.prairienursery.com) in Westfield.
I was sitting in our yard on the morning of June 24 when a gust of wind went through the white pines and a sheet of yellow pollen drifted out. With each successive gust, more and more pollen streamed out, until everything in the yard was coated with pollen, as hopefully were the female cones on the pine trees!
The spent clusters of the tiny male pollen cones, having done their work for the year, will soon be falling to the ground, and the female cones will now rapidly grow, maturing by late August next year with seed dispersal a month or so later.
Last Sunday, I woke up at 3:20 a.m., and was so wide awake I thought of one of Aldo Leopold’s essays on walking before sunrise (“Great Possessions”): “It is a fact patent both to my dog and me that at daybreak I am the sole owner of all the acres I can walk over. It is not only boundaries that disappear, but also the thought of being bounded.”
So, I grabbed my binoculars, mosquito dope, and Zoe, our Australian shepherd who thought this was a grand idea, and headed for Powell Marsh. There I was greeted by many things, but perhaps most impressively by the best chorus of mink frogs I’ve ever heard. How many were singing I can’t say. Hundreds. Maybe thousands – it’s a big marsh! But it was a wave of noise, biologically defined as song but aesthetically without melody and more like horses running on cobblestones, or a rapid “cut, cut, cut” resembling a hammer striking wood, or like a thousand very little people knocking at your door, or like popcorn popping. However it might be described, it was ubiquitous.
All this sound was coming from "the frog of the north," so described because it’s only found above 44 degrees, 30 minutes North latitude. No other frog on the continent has a southerly limit that is that far north, and thus it’s a true “Northwoods” frog.
Zoe and I began our walk at Powell when the quarter moon was high and bright. Eventually we watched the sun rise, and only headed home after the sun was well up. The interplay of fog, moonlight, dawn light, and the open marshscape made for an ever-changing visual world that was enthralling, I think even to Zoe.
So, I advocate for everyone to take a pre-dawn hike before the summer bird song ends and the light ebbs. It can be a magical time.
False Dichotomy on Open Pit Mining in Iron County
Please pardon this breach of my unwritten law that politics will not enter into my column. This from the Milwaukee Journal, 6/21/11: “Gogebic Taconite says that it won't proceed with a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin until the Legislature rewrites laws to speed the state's review process to construct mines . . . A key measure would require the DNR to act on an iron-mining permit within 300 days. Another feature would forbid the creation of a local impact committee in a community near the mine to review, comment or negotiate with the mining company. Other language would eliminate a legal appeal process known as a contested-case hearing, in which citizens could challenge the DNR's decision, and instead send a challenge directly to the courts.”
That’s a very small part of what the first draft of this legislation was asking for. The bill also included a legislative finding that “because of the fixed location of ferrous
mineral deposits in the state, it is probable that mining those deposits will result in
adverse impacts to areas of special natural resource interest and to wetlands, including
wetlands located within areas of special natural resource interest and that, therefore, the
use of wetlands for bulk sampling and mining activities, including the disposal or storage of mining wastes or materials, or the use of other lands for mining activities that would
have a significant adverse impact on wetlands, is presumed to be necessary.” (p. 53)
Thus, the destruction of wetlands within areas of special natural resource interest would, by law, be considered “necessary” and acceptable.
Fortunately, the bill is being rewritten, but no one is privy to the rewrite. It could be better, it could be worse.
I live in Iron County, so it’s both sad and angering to see that once again an industry has trotted out the lie, the false dichotomy, that we can either have jobs or we can have a clean environment, but we can’t have both. Many others in American industry have proven that businesses can both make a profit and honor the environment.
This isn’t news. The examples are endless, but here are two quick Wisconsin stories: the Wisconsin River was cleaned up without job or profit losses. Fifteen pulp mills and more than 65 municipalities were pouring pollutants into the river, but the mills said they would move to Georgia if forced to cleanup. The legislature gave the paper mills an out, telling them that if they could prove they were adversely affected by the DNR rules for cleanup, they could file for exemption from cleanup. Not one paper mill filed, not one company moved, and the Wisconsin River flows relatively clean these days.
The second example: sulfur dioxide emissions, and thus acid rain, was dramatically reduced without the economic collapse prophesized by industry and utilities. Wisconsin's acid rain law aimed to reverse the damage resulting from acid rain by aggressively limiting emissions of nitrogen oxides beginning. The law passed in April 1986, requiring the state's five major electric utilities to reduce their sulfur dioxide emissions to 50 percent of 1980 levels by 1993. By l990, sulfur dioxide emissions from electric utilities had already fallen 46 percent. During the subsequent 20 years, these changes at electric utilities helped reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by two-thirds compared to 1980 levels and improved the pH range to 4.78 in southeastern lakes and 5.29 in northwestern lakes.
Thus, we can do business and live within acceptable environmental parameters.
Relative to the mine, it’s important to understand what’s at risk with the location of this mine. Fifty-six miles of perennial, and 15 miles of intermittent waterways flow through the mining land. The Penokee range where the mining site is located averages over 200 inches of snow a year. The quantity, temperature, and nutrients of this water have significant impacts on water resources downstream including the Bad River, the Kakagon/Bad River sloughs, and finally Lake Superior.
At the mouth of the Bad River are some of the largest and highest quality coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes. The 16,000-acre Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs, which have been called Wisconsin’s Everglades, are an ecosystem of national significance and were designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior in 1983.
Of the 23 streams that flow through the mine site, eight are designated as Exceptional (E) or Outstanding (O) Resource Waters, including Bad River (E and O), Ballou Creek (E), Potato River (O), Barr Creek (E), Devils Creek (E), Javorsky Creek (E), Tyler Forks (E and O), and Krause Creek (E).
So, there are important resources at stake. If the mine is to be built, it’s simple: it should be done right by practicing what many of Wisconsin's corporations already practice, a "triple bottom line" management strategy, with the environment, economy and social responsibility all parts of the equation.
A vibrant economy and a healthy environment have always been inextricably linked to each other. Legislation meant to sacrifice that linkage – the environment lost in the name of jobs – fails to honor this. Forty years from now we want to be proud of what we did now regarding this mine, and not be filled with regrets that we destroyed a nationally significant ecosystem for temporary jobs.