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Below The Surface

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hitting the Road with Amphibians

Spring can't be too far off. Open fields and woodlands, once covered with snow, now reveal rock, soil and dormant vegetation. Some of these lands, though seemingly devoid of life, harbor hibernating amphibians and are perhaps pathways to adjacent bodies of water, some permanent, some ephemeral. Soon these bodies of water will be exploding with the sound of frogs. Upon the arrival of the first rainy night of spring, Spring peepers and Wood frogs will awaken from their once frosty hibernation sites in upland areas, and make their way to water to stake a claim and call throughout the night to fulfill the instinctual urge to go forth and multiply. Salamander species, including the somewhat common Spotted salamander, as well as the less often seen Jefferson’s and Blue-spotted salamanders, will also emerge from winter’s waning icy grip and hit the road in pursuit of courtship and copulation.












Spring Peeper and typical egg mass



However, when an amphibian hits the road, sometimes the road hits back. When roads lie between upland areas and bodies of water, amphibians, driven by instinct, will cross even the most perilous ones often with tragic consequences. Route 17 just north of Jerusalem is often thick with frogs and salamanders heading east to the ponds below. The amphibian crossing on Shelburne Pond Road would make even Vincent Price cringe (for the younger crowd; Freddie Krueger? Hannibal Lecter?). At some crossings, up to 90% of amphibian populations are eliminated.

Does it matter if amphibian populations disappear? Amphibians consume insects. What might happen to our insect populations if we lost our amphibians? What might happen to the dispersal rates of diseases carried by insects, diseases such as equine encephalitis or west Nile virus if we didn’t have amphibians? Looking at it from a slightly different point of view, amphibians are not only consumers; they are consumed! If 90% of our amphibians disappeared, how might that impact the food chain: how might consumer populations like bears, fox, raccoons, otters, muskie, or various bird species change? If you eliminate one color in a Rembrandt, you no longer have a Rembrandt. If you let one element of an ecosystem disappear, your ecosystem changes; you no longer have a Rembrandt.



Spotted Salamander and typical egg mass

You can help Vermont’s amphibians by monitoring road crossings and reporting amphibian sightings. There are various amphibian monitor training programs throughout Vermont.

See:
Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center, Brattleboro
North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier & Central Vermont

For more information about monitoring road crossings read:
Crossing Guard Handbook

You can also report amphibian (and reptile) sightings to Vermont-based biologists who maintain a state “Herp Atlas” by visiting their website here.

If you’re not into monitoring or reporting, but you are interested in witnessing amphibian migrations, go to echovermont.org, under the Quick Links, click on Contact Us and email us to let us know. I’ll let you know when and where I’m going out to check out this incredible activity; bring a good flashlight, warm clothes, rain gear and get ready to have a nocturnal, amphibious, good time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dialogues and Solutions a Big Hit!

Many thanks to all the folks who drove great distances to join us Monday night, March 21st, for a solutions-based conversation following the showing of the movie BLOOM: The Plight of Lake Champlain. We had about 100 people who enjoyed local beers, hors d’oeuvres from Sugar Snap and, most importantly, fabulous dialogue! Our BLOOM, Dialogue and Solutions evening achieved everything we hoped it would which was to bring together citizens, watershed experts and organizations so that folks would leave at the end with a laundry list of immediate and very doable actions. After our facilitated groups came back together, they shared their top two picks which I’ll share with you now.

Agriculture: Farmers have made incredible strides in water quality improvements with their farming techniques in recent years.

1. The farming group felt there was a need for better communication between stake-holders. We’re all in this together. There needs to better communication between farmers and neighbors, between farmers and farmers, farmers and the community resulting in better understanding of what’s happening on the fields and what’s needed by the community.

2. The farmers would like data to show that their practices are making a difference. They would love it if someone wanted to do a study to approach them and inform them of how they could help this way.

Urban: Storm water carries many unwanted pollutants from our rooftops, paved driveways, parking lots, and roads. These pollutants eventually make it to our rivers, streams and finally to our Lake. Here we will share some solutions that reduce these types of pollutants from the materials we use to the habits we have.

1. Replace asphalt with porous driveway materials. There is citizen power within our own spaces for improvement.

2. What about the Lake? Watch the rain in rainstorms and see where the water is going. Perhaps make a water map around your community that can lead to specific neighborhood actions.

Home Owners: There are things we can do in our everyday lives that can make an immediate difference in our water quality. This group will focus on those actions as diverse as what we do with our kitty litter to the kinds of chemicals we put on our lawn and gardens.

1. Reach as many people as possible creatively emphasizing simple messages.

2. Make a better connection with community through neighborhood-specific educational programs, share via block parties, Front Porch Forum.

We also had fliers and other information supplied by the Lake Champlain Committee, Lake Champlain Basin Program, CSWD, and the Intervale Nursery Center. I encourage you to go to their websites to find electronic versions of materials which have pages of tips you can follow in your everyday lives, lists of stewardship organizations, planting recommendations for rain gardens and more.

We’re hoping to post many of the solutions on our blog and encourage all of you to make a contribution to our facebook page, twitter or our Voicesforthelake.org website. Plus, we’re mapping out our adult evening schedule so that we will have many more opportunities to incorporate dialogue, stewardship, and fun into evenings like this. So here is my challenge to you. Can you help us with this project? Please join me by sharing your stories of good practices in your neighborhood, farm or home!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A volunteer gets closer to the lake

ECHO launched an exciting new expansion campaign at our Raise the Roof opening on January 14, 2011. The "Get Closer to the Lake" campaign is the result of an extensive strategic planning process started in 2008 to address the needs for additional program enhancements and capital investments. If you missed the event (like me), and want to learn more, ECHO has been holding a series of information breakfasts this spring to introduce the community to our plans for expansion and improvement.

Last week I participated in an information breakfast to get closer to the lake
with Executive Director Phelan Fretz and Director of Development Kate Villa. As a newer volunteer, it was an eye-opener to important aspects of the history and vision of ECHO, as well as the plan for the future. We toured the facility, stopping at key locations in the building to understand the changes that will be made to the spaces, and how those changes will benefit ECHO visitors.

Three key areas that will be developed are:
The Lakeside Pavilion:
Extending the west side of the building and reaching towards the water, this development will utilize an additional 5,900 square feet of space, and provide a flexible venue for events and programming. Are you as excited as I am about an expanded space for Café Scientifique? For visiting exhibits, conferences, and presentations? Yes!
New Discovery Place:
The discovery place will move and double in size, incorporating the water play area and expanding the theme of Native American connections to Lake Champlain. ECHO knows that pre-school aged children
and their caregivers are some of our most important and frequent visitors, and we want to highlight our commitment to them. As an education volunteer, it will be a pleasure to bring the activities and storytime programs for our youngest learners to a wonderful new space.
The Lake Science Lab:
The Discovery Place move will open up the southwest corner of the top floor of ECHO, providing a lab and presentation space for science researchers. Who are the researchers?
The visitors! ECHO is always looking for ways to expand programming for adults and teens, and the lab will be outfitted for hands on science involving laboratory equipment to help you get even more involved in the issues affecting Lake Champlain.

Pick up a "Get Closer to the Lake packet" and learn more.
ECHO will continue to hold breakfasts in April, so look forward to the posting of those dates
!
If you would like to join in on one of these events and learn more about ECHO’s plans, please contact Kate Villa, Director of Development, at kvilla@echovermont.org.


Syverine Abrahamson
Education Volunteer


WATCH THE EXPANSION VIDEO ON YOUTUBE






Thursday, March 10, 2011

Winooski JFK Joins ECHO for Inquiry Science

Animal classification, body characteristics, vertebrates vs. invertebrates - topics not often on the tip of the tongue for an 8 year old, but at JFK elementary in Winooski today, the students were on topic! The sixty 3rd graders at JFK have just completed 6 hours of science inquiry with ECHO learning about animals with a backbone that live in the Lake Champlain Basin. Their attention to detail - such as the stages of a frog's life cycle - provided animated discussions around scientific evidence in species identification using teeth, skulls, movement, temperature regulation and body coverings. What was really engaging were the number of personal stories students told about observations of life in their own back yards. As one little girl said, "I once saw a hummingbird in my yard. It was sucking the juice from a flower thingy. It was fascinating. I think I will start my own nature photo album. This ECHO stuff is pretty neat." High praise from an 8 year old who could be a future environmental scientist tackling our local lake issues... Onward!