The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Friday, May 29, 2015

Voices of the Future (12) - Wetland Draining: A Concern For the Future

by Shawn M. Seely
Wildlife and Fisheries Major, graduating May 2016

As I drive to and from school every day on Pennsylvania Interstate 99 my curiosity has always been sparked by the little wetland areas along the highways that sometimes have water in them but for the most part are dry. I know from traveling that they are not just on interstate 99 but they are along many highways as well as housing complexes and business corporations.

I have always wondered what exactly they were doing in this more populated area which, at one point, was under heavy construction. As I have taken classes, here at The Pennsylvania State University on wildlife and ecology I have learned that these little wetlands were put in in place of ones that were once destroyed by the construction of these highways and buildings. These are known as mitigated wetlands. To better understand this it is best to know that in order for land to be considered a wetland it is required to have hydrophilic soils, plants, and contain water above or just below the surface for most of the year.

I often wonder which of these three requirements must be in place for the state to require mitigation permits to be in place as the highways and buildings are constructed. As I really look into these wetlands along interstate 99 I have noticed most of them look like at first they were great attempts with nest boxes put up around them and if there was water or even wetland plants at least in some of them. As a need for wetlands and biodiversity increase and many wetland species are very sensitive to change, the mitigation of destroyed wetlands is not taking the place of the once strong supporting wetlands. As regulated by DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) these new wetlands are supposed to be a 1:1 size ratio with the original and in forested wetlands there is even 2:1 ratio. Also, they are required to meet the same functions and values as the original wetland as well as planting of locally-native hydrophilic plants.

One of the biggest renewable resources that are being depleted is fresh water. Wetlands are one of the largest filters for rainwater and run-off that we have on earth. Here is video of a well-known scientist giving us the meaning of a wet land.

Many people have little to no knowledge of the need for these small, but largely diverse, ecosystems. As the world’s population is increasing we are in need of more farm land. As a result we are draining wetlands in the midwest (prairie pothole region), which is the number one breeding ground for 80% of the nation’s waterfowl population. Overall, there needs to be more strict regulations on the mitigation end if we are going to allow the delineation of the original ones. DEP states that there is a minimum of 5-year monitoring on the wetland to be sure that it is fully functioning. As I see in many areas, these wetlands along highways are very dry and need longer monitoring periods to ensure they are functioning properly. Here is another video put together by Ducks Unlimited of Canada that really drives home the importance of wetlands and the constant struggle to keep them from being destroyed.

Personally, I think that there need to be more heavily-enforced rules on the mitigation of these wetlands as well as raised awareness of their importance to our environment and to the people who use them. More people use wetlands indirectly than they even realize. If you haven’t noticed all of these wetlands along our major highways please take the time to notice them as some of you drive by them every day commuting to work. Take the second to notice the dried up land and lack of biodiversity as well as the dilapidated nesting structures placed nearby that have not been maintained. If you are interested in ways you can do more to protect your wetlands as well as improve them you can contact and join organizations like Clearwater Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Society For Wetland Scientists, and your local government officials about the maintenance of the already existing wetlands.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Voices of the Future (11) - On Reintroduction of Species

by Shelby Harkless
Wildlife and Fisheries Science major, graduating Spring 2016

In terms of policy, there are very few set guidelines when it comes to the reintroduction of a species. There are a few guidelines from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), but these only account for animals born or held in captivity, and they are not widely enforced. The IUCN does have guidelines on the reintroduction and translocation of species, but does not touch on specifically monitoring the stress of the individuals. Since the AZA and IUCN do not hold any legal power, it is essential to form laws ensuring reintroductions are performed as appropriately as possible, with minimal stress. This is a critical topic since it is believed we are entering the next great extinction. To slow, or counteract this process, we are able to take measures to reintroduce extinct or extirpated (absent from a specific area) species back into their native environments. Every species found on Earth has a specific niche within its ecosystem. Even the smallest organism can impact all other species found around it, from bacteria to wolves, with its absence.

Regulating reintroductions is near to my heart because it is the topic of my honors thesis. Sources to reference for your own personal gain will be cited numerically in parentheses, with their accompanying information listed at the end of this post. I am researching how the stress of an individual arctic ground squirrel affects their dispersal and survival rates after being introduced into an area in Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, Canada where the species was previously extirpated (1). The squirrels were tracked using radio telemetry to determine survival and dispersal using GPS. The new environment was also altered in one of four different ways (tall grass no artificial burrows, tall grass with artificial burrows, short grass no artificial burrows, and short grass with artificial burrows) to determine if habitat type may determine the habitat use by the animals. In previous studies, it has been shown that increased stress, determined by measuring fecal glucocorticoids, will cause higher mortality and higher dispersion (2).

If studies such as mine can show that lower stress does in fact improve survival and lower dispersion, then it would be critical to ensure lower stress in future attempts. This can be accomplished by performing several different methods of reintroduction. For example, my experiment used soft release and hard release methods to compare how they affected the stress level of the individual. In the soft release, the squirrels were placed into holding cages for approximately two weeks to acclimate to the area. Inside the cages, the squirrels were protected from all predators, provided with fresh water and food, and also provided with shelter from the elements before being released into the new area. Once released, the animals were still able to enter the cages which were now open, and were also still protected by an electric fence for an additional two weeks. On other hand, the hard release squirrels were immediately released into the new area without any acclimation period or assistance.

This comparison will be beneficial to determine if acclimation to the area can affect the outcome of the reintroduction as a whole. If an elevated stress level does hinder the success of the reintroduction, then every measure which could possibly lower the level should be taken. Future studies should take this into account. Similar to my study, others should use a variety of methods to determine which will result with the least amount of stress on the animal. At first, this should be practiced with smaller, less endangered animals at first to improve the quality of the attempts. Once this has been perfected, it can be used with more vulnerable animals which cannot afford to be lost to poor practices.

Since reintroductions are performed at the collegiate, state, and even national level, a national policy mandating stress evaluation be conducted during a reintroduction should be established. This way, all parties involved would fall under the same guidelines. There are some rather simple ways to make this happen. You can simply talk to your state legislature to educate them about the issue and solution, or bring it up to the ecology/wildlife and fisheries departments of colleges and universities. I believe educating the source of the reintroduction itself is key to ensure people are willing to abide by the new practices. Laboratories which are able to perform the stress analysis need to cooperate with this new procedure in order to ensure its success. With your help, we can help improve the success of future reintroductions of our precious species.

1. Wheeler, Helen C., and David S. Hik. "Arctic Ground Squirrels Urocitellus Parryii as Drivers and Indicators of Change in Northern Ecosystems." Mammal Review 43.3 (2013): 238-55.
2. Sheriff, M. J., et al. "Mountain‐top and valley‐bottom Experiences: The Stress Axis as an Integrator of Environmental Variability in Arctic Ground Squirrel Populations." Journal of zoology 287.1 (2012): 65-75.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Voices of the Future (10) - There’s No Crying in Water Issues!

“Seriously, we can’t afford the tears.”

By Sarah Xenophon
Environmental Resource Management Major, graduating Spring 2017


Water issues and water use policies have been a bit of a busy topic since, well the beginning of human collection of climate data. (A quick disclaimer: This is not a post about climate change gloom and doom. However, whether you believe that humans are the cause or not, there are many scientific studies that point to drastically changing global weather patterns and ultimately, climate change.) Recently, with California Governor Jerry Brown mandating a 25% reduction in water use across California, things are getting a little heated…literally. Now into its fourth year of record-breaking drought conditions, California is feeling extreme pressure to reduce its water consumption and save itself from desertification. Shown in the figure below, precipitation has dropped to dangerous levels and the temperature has been on the relative rise since the start of the 20th century.

It’s no surprise that California has implemented such a drastic policy to combat the declining conditions in the state, but with the long-standing water allocation policies in the west, the reduction has a variety of effects on different individuals and rights owners. This will be explained further in the next section of the blog, but for now, all you need to know is how water allocations work and what might be causing the shortage issues at their roots.

Water allocation, in its simplest form, is a long line for a limited resource. There are many straws in every natural waterway running through the west and as populations rise, more new straws are added. Allocations are basically claims on the water that strengthen with age. The older your claim, the higher on the list you fall for rights to the water and the more likely it is for you to receive all of the water you need. However, in recent years, it has been increasingly difficult to keep track of who is using what water and allocations have been found to be consistently higher than the actual amount of water available. In other words, more than 100% of water that is meant to be allocated is being allocated. This leaves a recurring deficit in waters that are required for other prescribed uses.

How could this be in the age of science you ask? The answer is poor quantification of actual water supply and tracking of uses. Policy makers are relying on often-incorrect and out-of-date information to make decisions on whose use should be restricted and where it is most necessary to show concern. It makes it more of an accounting issue rather than a rain dance type of situation to rectify the over-allocation issue. To learn more about over-allocation in California and what needs to be changed in order to make the policies already in place more effective, Waterblog has some excellent explanations and data sets to clarify the situation.

New Policy Outlook:

Let me just start by stating the obvious. A 25% water reduction in modern California is a lot of water. In fact, it’s a reduction of around 9.5 billion gallons per day, which is almost 3.5 trillion gallons per year according to the USGS. To achieve such a drastic cutback, the Governor has declared several water saving directives. Such directives include lawn replacements, consumer goods replacements, reduced irrigation on certain properties, and irrigation bans on other certain public lands.  Fifty million square feet of grass lawns are on the chopping block under this new policy. Grass is to be replaced by native, drought resistant plants that require far less irrigation and homes are prohibited from irrigating unless they use water efficient drip systems. Golf courses and other highly irrigated properties, like campuses and cemeteries, are to reduce their water consumption. There is also a state rebate program in place working to have consumers replace household appliances with more water and energy efficient models.

If you’ve come to the conclusion that most of these reductions are focused on the activities of home and private landowners, you’ll be glad to know that the locals did too. Many Californians who are most affected by these cutbacks are angry with Governor Brown for the restrictions, pointing fingers and blowing whistles at big agriculture. After all, around 80% of California’s water is used for irrigation in agriculture. What many people might not know is that they are already on it! Plus, having borne the harshest economic hit caused by this drought, farmers are more than eager to find ways to reduce their water use and thus their resource cost. Allocations have been reduced, water management plans must be submitted, water usage reports shall be collected for better understanding of where water goes, and local water suppliers working with the California government will enforce these directives. 

Why do I care? (And so should you!):

Well to start, I can’t get enough of water-related education in my life.  Water issues are to me as perms were to rock stars in the eighties. But in all seriousness, global water stewardship and ensuring clean water for future generations is the epitome of my college career. Aside from my personal mission to save the waters of the earth, you can see from the earlier video and make educated inferences that water issues in California, or anywhere on this planet for that matter, are really bio-indicators for potential water issues elsewhere. With an exponentially growing human population, there is a high demand for increased agriculture. Where there is a need for more agriculture, there is an intrinsic need for more clean water.

If California loses the capacity to supply roughly $37.5 billion in produce annually, more than any other state currently does, this agricultural production falls on the shoulders of other states, or is removed from the net US food production. The obvious direct impacts would include rising prices in products ranging from veggies to nuts to oils to everyday staples. It would also cause an increase in water use in other states trying to fill the hole California has left. This might not seem like a bad idea until you find out that the water tables in many other states have also dropped and added agriculture would cause more stressors on local watersheds.  Some of the most prominent water issues in my home state, Pennsylvania, include nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff from you guessed it, agriculture. Seeing as it’s already a tough situation to control, a high demand on farming would only intensify the problems. To avoid such increased stressors on our local environments and on your local watersheds, the best course of action would be to contact your local and national governments and voice your concerns about the growing water issues. Along with that, in the modern era of NGO lobbyists, joining agencies like the Nature Conservancy, Water for People, or any number of other non-profits that are concerned with water conservation would be a great way to become more active.

Think you’ve got better ideas? Lay down the law and contact your legislator!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Voices of the Future (9) - Erosion & Sedimentation Plans are Necessary but can be Too Strict

by Zach Gentilesco
Forest Science Major, graduating May 2016

Over the breaks and a few weekends, I like to go back home from school to work in the woods for either of my uncles who are loggers. I first learned how to safely use a saw at 12 and learned how to operate a skidder before I learned how to drive a car. Working in the woods is something most of the males in my family are accustomed to.

This past winter break my uncle had a several-acre clearcut planned for us to do. Due to the strict environmental and sediment plan that was required we have yet to fell a single tree. This ordeal lasted several months and resulted in my uncle losing interest in the job. I guess I should mention now that the area that we were going to cut was not to be managed, but intended to be developed and have condominiums constructed.

The real work of logging is not felling and skidding. It is getting past all the red tape of erosion & sediment plans and getting bonds to use county roads for the single log truck my uncle owns. Life is already tough enough for the small time logger that is trying to put food on the table along with paying taxes and the never-ending battle with fixing equipment. In my opinion, I think that the tedious and strict e&s plans required to log should be loosened depending on the intentions of the landowner and the size of the operation. For instance, if a logger is only cutting down snags and hazard trees, he should not need to have an e&s plan. This idea is in practice in some areas, but is not practiced in my home county.

A logger should only have to focus on removing trees to the best of his or her abilities. They should not be put on hold due to a strict e&s plan that sometimes will make no difference due to the decision of the landowner. Should e&s plans be loosened all together? No, they shouldn’t for massive logging operations that cover an entire landscape, or for the companies that are doing the construction; but for small operations that will not do any harm to riparian zones or any open water, they are over the top.

People lose their minds if a little dirt falls in a stream, but no one seems to complain about all the salt that the state spreads on the roads during the winter. In the spring all the salt has to go somewhere and it is not into some containment area that safely stores the vehicle eating salt until next year. It goes into the streams that are near roads. I am not a wildlife and fisheries person, but I don’t think all that salt is good for the wildlife that live in or use those open water sources.

Below is a video that goes into great detail about the planning and precautions that go into an erosion and sediment control plan. All the work that goes into an e&s plan is a little over the top for a small time logger to complete.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Voices of the Future (8) - Wind Turbine Setback Regulation

by Ryan Conner
Majoring in Wildlife and Fisheries Science, graduating May 2016

After our guest lecturer, Mr. Barton, gave his amazing speech, I decided I was going to look into the regulation for setbacks of wind turbines. Mr. Barton went through PA’s model for setbacks, things like the nearest building or public road should be at least 1.1 times the total height of the turbine, and that the nearest occupied building should not be within 5 times the hub height of the turbine. These all seemed like reasonable restrictions, but then Mr. Barton mentioned that these were just guidelines and they were not actually mandatory. This instantly struck me as being strange. I could not believe that there were not actual regulations that needed to be followed, especially because I felt like it would be really unsafe to have a turbine right next to a house. That is what spurred my interest in looking into turbine setbacks, and the first thing I stumbled upon was this video.

The video really surprised me. I never really thought about the wind turbines causing problems to people’s health because of the load constant noise. Although I could not find the report that was mentioned to come out sometime this year, it seems like there is information defending both sides of the argument. On the one side, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) mentions that “these allegations of health-related impacts are not supported by science.” On the other side, in a review done by the Minnesota Department of Commerce on the international policies of wind turbine setbacks, they mention that noise limits are one of the most used means for determining the placement of the wind turbines. So in other words, many countries would have to believe that the noise from wind turbines can cause problems for humans.

After seeing all the regulation for other countries I had to see what type of regulation the United States had for the placement of wind turbines. In The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) report I found that only a very small portion of states actual have regulations that need to be followed and then a few like Pennsylvania have models that can be followed. A lot of them had no regulations at all. I just don’t understand why some states can basically ignore the risks of wind turbines (noise, shadow flicker, ice-throw, and blade and tower failure) while others have policies they have to follow. All states should have to follow some kind of setback regulations. It might vary for different areas because certain areas may need more or less distance for it to be safe, but there will still be regulation they need to follow. At the very least I feel that no buildings or roads should be within 1.1 times the total height of turbine. That way people should be safe from most of the harm except for the sound which is still not seen as a threat to human health.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Voices of the Future (7) - Hours of Operation of Turbines to Minimize Wildlife Kill

by Ryan Klinedinst
Wildlife and Fisheries Science Major, graduating May 2016

Wind energy - it is renewable, environmentally friendly, and somewhat efficient...but with all good things there comes a cost. A hidden cost of wind energy and turbines is that it has an effect on song birds, birds of prey, and bats. Yeah, there will be some wildlife death when you change an environment and add something unnatural, but we can limit its effects on the wildlife.

The following statistics in bold are taken from a presentation Mr. Mike Barton gave us in class.

  • “The PA Game Commission did a study and found that one turbine kills about four song birds a year.” Now to some people four doesn’t seem like a big number, but think about how much turbines you see on one mountain and each one of them kill’s four birds a year! “Most of these deaths occur in the fall and spring time, when birds are migrating.” 

  • The birds of prey such as red-tailed hawks, coopers hawks, and turkey vultures are also affected by the turbines, which makes sense since they use high wind currents to glide and look for food. “According to the PGC about 86 birds of prey are killed a year.” Check out this video. Warning: this may be too violent for some viewers.

  • The most interesting part to me is the death toll that wind turbines have on the bats! Now bats are out mostly in the night time, but the turbines are running at night too. Since these turbines have lights on them, those lights attract bugs. Due to the turbine lights attracting bugs, bats fly around trying to get a meal, an effort that sometimes results in death or injury. The PGC states that “twenty five bats are killed by one turbine in a year.”

Now there are policies and laws in place that regulate the amount of time a turbine can be running. The turbines also get turned off at certain times of the day to try to prevent wildlife death from occurring, but it isn’t a perfect solution. I honestly don’t know if there is a perfect solution to prevent wildlife death by turbines, but I believe it is possible to improve the chances for the wildlife. I believe that we can make policies that can add more regulations to the activity period of the turbines. We already have laws in place that during migration times that the turbines are shut down.

I believe that we could have more regulations in place, such as:

  1. Let the turbines run in the middle of the day, compared to morning and evenings when birds are more active.
  2. Another thing we can do to help prevent death in bats specifically is not have lights on the turbines, like I said before the lights are attracting bugs and the bats eat bugs. So wouldn’t it make sense to not have lights on the turbines, or if they need lights use a light color that doesn’t attract bugs?
  3. Also why not turn off the turbines after a certain time of the night like around midnight and then start them back up around eight or nine o’clock in the morning to help reduce the bat mortality. This is how I believe that we can help out the wildlife and hopefully prevent less death from turbines.

Check out this video on wind turbines and birds:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Voices of the Future (6) - Wind Turbines are Worth Your Investment

By Todd Techentine 
Forest Science Major, Graduating May, 2016

Over the past couple years the amount of wind farms has increased significantly. In Pennsylvania alone there are 24 operating wind farms with a total of 717 wind turbines. With this increase of wind farms comes a lot of questions. Such questions as “Are they worth building, how long until they pay for themselves, what are the benefits of having then, and etc.” Most of these questions come from taxpayers and people who think they are worthless investments.

The total cost for everything when building a commercial wind turbine comes out to be around four million dollars for a two megawatt (MW) capacity turbine. The 2MW capacity turbine is the one you see mostly for commercial use. Now yes, this is a very high number to install these wind turbines, but compared to commercial solar energy per MW it is pretty cheap. There is no denying that. This money does come from grants from the government and yes also out of taxpayers’ pockets. With this number being so high, it makes people think that there is no way it can pay for itself. But in fact a wind turbine can pay for itself in just one year. This is, however, if it is placed in an efficient place. By that, it has to be able to get wind with no interference. This way it can get the maximum amount of wind hitting the blades allowing it to turn more, thus producing more electricity. With the more electricity produced, the faster it will pay itself back.

Now knowing that they can pay themselves off, let’s look at the many benefits that come with investing in windmills. Some of the advantages include economic, social, and also environmental. One major economic advantage is that the increasing number of windmills also increases the demand for workers. People are needed to build these wind turbines as well as perform maintenance on them when they are built. The biggest advantage, however, is with the environment. As you know coal has been a major supplier of electricity for many years. This is done by burning the fossil fuel in plants called co-generation plants. They burn the fuel which causes a large amount of emissions. These plants also take a longer time to pay for themselves compared to wind turbines.


At first glance it is easy to see why people think wind turbines are a bad investment. It’s not hard to tell that two million dollars per MW is a lot of money. But when you look into the benefits that wind turbines produce, and the payback rate it makes, it is a no-brainer to invest in wind turbines. In time, you may not even have any other choice but to have to invest in them, so why not start now? In a couple years, the major producer is going to either be solar power or wind power. So getting used to investing in wind turbines now will just get you ready for the future., because wind power is the next big thing.

Also, wind turbines are not as bad as people make them out to be. People say they produce a lot of noise, look bad, and hunters say they scare deer out of the area. I disagree with every one of these statements. I live in a little town that recently just put up wind turbines. Now yes, there were some minor problems at first. That’s everyone’s first reaction to something new and different.  Now, after having them up for a couple months they are actually an attraction. As for me personally, I think they are pretty incredible. I know for a fact that they also do not scare the animals around them. I hunt relatively close to these wind turbines and every year I manage to shoot a deer. As for the noise, yes they produce a noise. This noise however can only really be heard when you’re really close to them or just about under them. And the last thing, they do not look bad or cause a lot of damage to build them. I actually think they are pretty to neat to watch them blowing. You can actually see the whole blade spin to catch the wind. So based on what everyone says, it is not necessarily true. If you ever get a chance to see these wind turbines, stop and take a few seconds to admire them instead of just listening to what everyone says about them.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Voices of the Future (5) - Fuel From Poo? I think YES!

By David Snook
Forest Science Major, Graduating August, 2015

According to the U.S EPA there are over 2.2 million farms in the United States. Face it; the majority of farmers out there aren’t doing if for fun. Most of these farmers either raise beef, dairy, swine or and/or poultry to create either all or some of their income.

Either way… that is a lot of poop! What do these farmers do with all this manure? You may be familiar with driving through the obvious aromas of manure while farmers are spreading it on their fields.

There are many regulations to how farmers use their manure. I know from my own experience living on our family farm, that my father has to document the amount of manure every time we clean out our barns and when we spread it. For chicken and turkey farmers, they must store the manure in a building that is built simply for that purpose.

Ask yourself this. Is there anything else that farmers can do other than spread it on their fields? The answer is yes! Use it for energy! There are two ways that farmers can utilize manure for energy. They can either dry it to below 20% moisture content to burn for cooking or heating, or they can make a nice sloppy mixture of manure and water, and let it ferment in an air tight tank to create methane gas and carbon dioxide, which is then used as fuel for electricity and heating. What is even more amazing is that if the farmers don’t just burn it, they can use the byproducts of manure from the fermenter to spread on their fields with the same nutrients as before they fermented it. IT’S THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!

Even though this seems like an amazing combination of poo and energy, there are only about 150 farms reported to have digesters capable of converting manure to energy. WHY?? Because this is an expensive operation! On average it costs $18,000 – $30,000 to get one of these up and running. Now that’s some expensive gas! There aren’t too many farmers that I know of that would spend that kind of money on one of these systems. The government needs to assist farmers in building these digester/fermenters to convert manure to energy. You may be wondering why the government should fork out money to help pay for these? The more people who use these fermenters, the better off the environment is. Besides, the government spends a ton of money on a ton of other less important things right? How can this be?

There are many benefits of having a fermenter!

-Decrease methane gas to the atmosphere
-Decreased smell of manure
- It is a renewable resource (cows are always pooping!!)
- Farmers can still use manure as fertilizer
- It will help farmers greatly decrease or completely get rid of their heating & electricity bills
- Can also provide energy for others

As you can see, there are many benefits of converting manure to energy. The government should be encouraging farmers to build digesters (they should help with the bill!) to better the environment and help with the fight against global warming with harmful methane gas. With more fermenters across the country and around the world it will make a big difference!

Videos for your viewing pleasure!