Sunday, April 27, 2014

The 1927 Flood: River Power Writ Large

By Kate Havelin, Community Outreach

Historic flood marker at Fort Snelling State Park
It’s just a simple white pole, planted just off the trail at Fort Snelling State Park’s Pike Island. I stand by it, looking up at the dates painted on the flood marker. The 1952 flood level is taller than I am. Even with my arm stretched overhead, I can’t reach the 1965.
The skinny pole hints at the river’s staggering power. Spring is flood season, and so far, we’re lucky the river is mostly staying in its place. This month’s River Readers Book Club is about The Tilted World, a novel set amid a Mississippi River flood that might have been the country’s worst natural disaster.
It was Good Friday, 1927, when the levee by Greenville, Mississippi failed, and the river washed out a swath of the south. Nearly a million homes were destroyed; some 27,000-square miles of land flooded, and more than 300,000 people had to be rescued from roofs, attics, and high ground. It’s hard to imagine the scope of that long ago devastation, but authors Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly make the epic history personal.
Set in a fictional town of Hobnob Landing, Mississippi, this fast-flowing novel spins the story of a young woman named Dixie Clay Holliver, who, with her philanderer husband, runs a bootleg still making Black Lightning moonshine, with fancy labels designed by Dixie.  Two revenue agents, nicknamed Ham and Dead-Eye Orphan, enter the story, along with an orphaned baby, shell-shocked doughboy named Mookey and sundry other colorful townspeople. But the surging river owns this story. No fictional character can match muscles with the wicked Goliath of water.
People in Hobnob are divided about whether they should have accepted a $50,000 offer from New Orleans to dynamite their levee to save downriver communities like New Orleans.
Blowing up a town sounds like fiction, but dynamiting levees and destroying some towns to save others actually happened. Reading The Tilted World helped me imagine what it must have been like to face the wrath of a river that knew no bounds. Even if you don’t have time to read the book, come to our River Readers Book Club meeting, this Tuesday, April 29th, 7 PM at the Roseville Library, 2180 North Hamline Ave., Roseville.





Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Coldwater Crew Wins Hartzog Award!

By Anna Waugh and Kathy Swenson

Congratulations to the Coldwater Crew, winners of the 2013 Midwest region Hartzog Award! In 1970, the Volunteers-In-Parks program started with a few hundred volunteers. Today, more than 220,000 VIPs donate their time, skills, and talents to the National Park Service every year. The George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service recognize the exemplary contributions of these very important people. This year, the Midwest regional award goes to our very own Coldwater Crew.
Crew Leader Jim hauls buckthorn brush

On a cool day in June 2012, volunteer Crew Leader Jim Stensvold met with us to propose the idea of trained volunteers leading other volunteers in habitat restoration.  Kinnell Tackett, another volunteer Crew Leader jumped on board and the Coldwater Crew was born! As a partnership park, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has owned little land, primarily inaccessible islands, until recently when they acquired 29 acres of land at Coldwater Spring. This site, occupied by abandoned derelict buildings, was to be restored as an oak savannah and prairie. As the buildings were coming down, the Coldwater Crew moved into action beginning with buckthorn removal around a 3.5 acre grove of oak trees. One group met every Thursday morning while another met one night a week. By the time the site opened to the public in fall 2012, the oak grove was buckthorn free. As trees were planted on the site, watering the trees became a high priority. The only source of water is the spring the site is named after. Today, just one year after opening to the public, Coldwater Spring is a beautiful developing oak savannah and prairie – and it couldn’t have happened without the crew.

Between June 2012 and September 2013, Jim and Kinnell led 63 Coldwater Crew restoration events attended by 95 individuals, many attending multiple times. For most attendees this was their first exposure to park. It speaks to the Coldwater Crew’s dedication that many who were new not only attended multiple times the first year, but came back again the next year. Using the cash value of volunteer time, the Coldwater Crew provided 924 hours of service worth $20,457 or the equivalent of a seasonal employee.
Coldwater Crew members at National Public Lands Day

In the Coldwater Crew's first year, so much buckthorn was removed that the chipped buckthorn filled 13 semi-trucks! The following year, the group prepared the site for future tree and shrub plantings, removed additional buckthorn, and watered, watered, watered keeping alive nearly 500 newly planted trees and over 1,200 plants and shrubs during drought conditions. The regular participants have also become very knowledgeable about the park and Coldwater Spring’s history. Coldwater Crew often shares their knowledge with park visitors.

The long-term commitment of the Coldwater Crew to their work is inspiring. Week after week, month after month, the Coldwater Crew comes ready to work. Whether the group is 2 people or 15, the productivity and attention to safety and detail is remarkable. Projects that park staff thought might last a couple weeks were finished in half that time with all work performed top-notch. Members of the Crew had a strong desire to introduce others to this volunteer opportunity, encouraging co-workers, neighbors and family to join. This group is also exceptional in that they come from such a variety of backgrounds, from college students to retirees, and from those with full-time jobs to those looking for work. When new people show up for their first day, the rest of the crew welcomes them and often they end up returning. This is why the group keeps growing!

If you’d like to join the Coldwater Crew, please contact Anna Waugh at awaugh@missriverfund.org. The crew will start its 2014 season in the second week of May.

Thank you to REI for their support of the Coldwater Crew. Congratulations to everyone who participated in the Coldwater Crew in 2013!

Coldwater Spring house

Monday, April 14, 2014

Resinous trees help honey bees fight disease

By Mike Wilson, PhD Student at the University of Minnesota

Honey bees are the most important pollinators of agricultural crops world-wide, and we count on honey bees to help us produce nutritious food in the U.S. You may know that honey bees are required to produce fruits and nuts like apples, peaches, almonds, and blueberries, but they are also required to produce vegetable seed (so we can eat things like onions and broccoli), to produce oil seeds (so we can use canola or sunflower oil), and to produce alfalfa (so we can feed it to cows and produce milk). Many plants that we use for food, fuel, or fiber require, or are enhanced by, bee pollination. Unfortunately honey bees, as well as wild bees, are facing serious decline in the U.S. due to complex interactions between poor habitat, pesticide exposure, pests, and diseases. 
The grocery store is a boring place without honey bees! Photo by Whole Foods.
Most people know that bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers near their hives, but honey bees also need to collect sticky resins from plants. If you've ever parked your car under a pine tree, then you’re probably familiar with resins from having to clean them off! Many plants, including pine, spruce, birch, and poplar, secrete antimicrobial resins from wounds, stems, and leaf buds. Resins prevent insects and mammals from eating plants, but also prevent infection from bacteria and fungi. Honey bees are known to collect both the deep red resins of balsam poplars and the bright yellow resins of eastern cottonwoods in Minnesota.
Resin droplets on a cottonwood bud. Bees seed out resinous plants, collect their resins, and take them back to their nests. Photo by Radical Botany.
Bees do not eat resin, but mix it with wax and use it as a building material. When honey bees nest in tree cavities, they coat the entire inside of their cavity with lots of resin and even use it to build part of their comb. We think that rough surfaces, like those found on the inside of natural tree cavities, stimulate bees to collect resins. In man-made hives built with smooth lumber, honey bees do not use resin like they do in natural cavities, but mostly to glue down movable frames and covers. You will hear beekeepers call these deposited resins “propolis”.  
Cross Section of a natural tree nest. You can see the layer of resin used to coat the entire cavity, and also resin used in comb building. Photo by Gary Reuter.
Research at the University of Minnesota bee lab and elsewhere has shown that the presence of resins in the nest is very important to honey bee health. Having resins in the nest decreases the mortality of bee eggs and larvae and prevents bacteria from colonizing adult bees. Resins in the nest also greatly reduce infections caused by chalkbrood fungus, a pathogen that kills bee larvae. Bees will actually self-medicate themselves by collecting more resin than usually if you experimentally treat colonies with this fungus! It is critical to have enough resinous plants, like cottonwoods, around to make sure that honey bees can take advantage of all these health benefits. 
Top-down view of a man-made hive. Resin is deposited on the tops of the movable frames. Notice the resin forager with red resin on her hind legs! Photo by Mike Simone-Finstrom.
Remember that we are not doomed to eating only gummy bears and saltine crackers! Improving and creating good bee habitat in both large and small spaces will greatly help all beneficial insects, thereby also helping us to produce food. If you want to read more about bees and what you can to help them out, please check out our website or connect with us on Facebook. Good luck out there!