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Monday, September 25, 2017

TED part 4: Green Community

Part 4 includes added details on the final 24 slides (including 2 videos)
of the TED talk that can be found at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RICTPEFbRh8


Our weekend exploits as hunter-gatherers and citizen scientists 
are low-key and recreational for most …    
     At the "work party" or "workday" shown above, people are cutting brush and building a brush pile. The white bags are filled with various seed mixes (probably Mesic Prairie, Mesic Savanna, and Wet-Mesic Savanna here). After break (see table with treats), these folks will broadcast those seeds where the brush was cut and use the rakes to rough up the soil so the seeds can settle in.
     This photo seems to show "community" well, but it's from decades ago. Today we work differently. We nearly always omit the brush pile stage and throw the brush directly into a burning bonfire. We don't "rake in" most seeds any more. Instead, we broadcast almost all of our seed in the fall and let the seeds work themselves into the ground over the winter.
     Restoration is changing and improving.

… but the quality of our work depends on 
dedicated, expert leaders. 
For some examples …    
As the Somme restoration expands, it's crucial that more and more people are able to lead. We study together and then divide up the work. Currently within the 220 acres of Somme Woods there are 15 "zones" each of which needs a steward or steward in training. Currently there are 9 such "zone stewards" who plan and lead the brush-cutting, seeding, and other stewardship. The TED talk focused on four of them:

Chemist Sai Ramakrishna in his free time plans work sessions and kindles bonfires.    
Sai in his professional life is actually a "chemical physicist" who works on processes and particles that are too small for the rest of us to comprehend. At Somme he leads the restoration of the Central Middlefork zone and helps other stewards inventory and monitor plants.

O’Hare airplane mechanic Paul Swanson improves our invasive weed control 
and writes newsletter articles.    
Since Paul has to keep the airplanes flying on the weekends, he often has to skip weekend workdays, but then he takes on special projects with people who have some weekdays off. For examples, he has led the assault on a number of evil invasives, and he's been studying the hydrology of our ephemeral ponds. He is zone steward for both the North Brook and Fourth Pond zones.

Medical doctor, Stephanie Place, believes in healing the ecosystem, 
as well as the body. She manages the restoration for the watershed of Fifth Pond.    
As steward of the Fifth Pond zone, Steph had the "good fortune" and extra pressure of having the site of last year's annual Solstice Bonfire in her zone. Hugely more brush was cut in that zone, as our friends in the Notre Dame College Prep "Lumberjack Club" strove to make the bonfire pile higher and higher. Steph did a lot of extra seed collecting to take advantage of all that newly exposed bare ground.

Steph also provided great feedback to this post. She wrote: 
"You could add one line about how those stewards in training that you mentioned, for the most part, became involved as stewards first by simply showing up and learning by doing, and later by accepting increasing ownership.  The "hey, we need help with the seed harvest" and thus Eriko was launched.  "Hey, what if you rake around this pond" and the rest is my history.   This could emphasize the accessibility of involvement." 

This seems like an important point. Steph refers to one of her early volunteer experiences when she was invited to rake in seeds around the edge of Fifth Pond - where the leaf litter was too dense for seeds to make it without some help. It took her about a half hour to do the careful job that this beautiful pond-edge deserved. Doing it helped her realize that even caring beginners could make important contributions that otherwise wouldn't get done. As she writes, the rest is her history.


Translator Eriko Kojima recruits for and manages many projects…
Professionally, a Japanese/English interpreter for conferences and business meetings, Eriko is steward of the Shooting Star zone but spends most of her Somme time leading a variety of workdays, coordinating our internal education program, and managing our web pages. But perhaps her biggest contribution is leading the seed harvest.  Those bags of seeds (see below) represent ...

…  including our annual seed harvest.

... thousands of hours of hand-picking by the more-than-one-hundred people who help out every summer and fall. In partnership with other North Branch Restoration Project sites, we gather more than 250 species of rare, local seed every year.

Teacher and artist John Patterson added pageantry to our annual Solstice Bonfire. 
   
John's initiative gave new spark and meaning to our annual procession through the woods to the Solstice Bonfire. See first video:


Neighbors celebrate the holiday seasonbrush disposaland the ecosystem. 
Our annual Solstice (or New Year's) Bonfire draws neighbors who might otherwise not pay much attention to Somme Woods. This year 400 friends of Somme from near and far shared the fellowship, witnessed the ancient power of the bonfire, and learned a bit about the ecosystem. 

   
We Illinois neighbors conserve globally rare nature – in a few hundred acres, 
surrounded by people’s lives. And through this mission 
we work in solidarity with like-minded people on five continents.    
The above aerial photo shows Somme Prairie(left), Somme Prairie Grove (middle) and Somme Woods (large area to the right).

Coverage of our work in books, TV and elsewhere reinforces its significance. 
  
A great many books, chapters, and articles focus on the work at Somme and sibling sites. "Miracle Under the Oaks" by New York Times science writer William K. Stevens explores Somme Prairie Grove history in considerable detail.

Volunteer stewards make special contributions in part  because our time 
is our own … unencumbered by grant deadlines … 
and relatively free from bureaucratic hierarchies. 
Our experiments may take five years, or ten, or twenty-five. 
The inspiring results are our reward.    
     The graph above shows how the quality of Vestal Grove varied (green line) from 1986 to 2011. Especially since 2003, the quality has dramatically increased.
     The green line represents the quality of sampled plots as indicated by how much surface area was covered by "quality species" (conservation coefficients of 4 to 10). The red line indicates how much of the vegetation was "weedy" (total cover of species with coefficients of 0 to 3). The 0 to 3 "weedy" or "disturbance indicator" species are the kinds of species you'd see along a roadside on in an abandoned farm field - rather than in a diverse natural area. For more detail on measuring quality, google "Floristic Quality Assessment."
     Vestal Grove is the bur oak woods at Somme where we first tackled the challenge of woodland restoration. The two shaded portions of the graph indicate periods when quality decreased for a while. In the early 90's, there was an explosion of white-tailed deer, which was very hard on many quality species, until the Village of Northbrook and the Forest Preserve District both began deer culling programs to protect the preserve (and to lessen the number of deer/automobile collisions on adjacent roads).
     The second dip in quality, starting in 1996, reflects a "moratorium" on restoration work that resulted from a political conflict. See http://woodsandprairie.blogspot.com/2016/05/after-miracle.html

We the people must take some responsibility ... 
At Somme workdays, we try to organize planning sessions and idea exchanges whenever we get a chance.  

… because the future of our planetary ecosystem is in our hands. 
These seeds shown here include great Solomon's seal (blue), doll's-eyes (white), bottlebrush grass (tan with long "tails"), and many more, including some as small as specks. Somehow they'll all work together to restore an ecosystem.

Along with seeds, we spread ideas and spirit. 
Here, we're helping our friends and neighbors, the Spring Creek stewards - who have started work on 4,000 acres of woodland, savanna, prairie, wetland, and ponds.  

The earth can be conserved only by communities that cherish it ...   
Here we're helping the Orland Grassland Stewards, who are working on a thousand-acre former (and future) prairie.

…  generation after generation

We benefit from the exercise.    
Winter brush cutting attracts help from many high schools, as with these students from Evanston Township High School.

We socialize while we work, and compare ideas.    

We the caring people are happy to help our elected officials 
to better understand controlled burns  
and environmental needs generally.    
When agencies empower stewards to "take on some level of ownership" of their sites, the stewards can become advocates and community spokespeople. When "the public" and neighbors are calling for controlled burns, there's different feel than when the recommendation is coming only from officials.

If the earth is to avoid a future of ecosystem collapse, 
it will be because of us – all of us.    
Similarly, in the case of global climate change and loss of biodiversity, a crucial need is for education that most people find accessible and compelling. Neighbors can be influential in special ways.

At Somme – everyday people have good times, week by week, 
working hard, contributing our bit.    
We volunteer stewards are unusual in the environmental world. We have fun doing the work. Our approaches are "can do" and result in easily appreciated and frequent successes. Many of us are dedicated to the work decade after decade. Working cooperatively with the staffs of public agencies and not-for-profits, we hope to be increasingly a part of the world-wide community of friends of nature who help to spread a spirit of appreciation and generosity to world cultures far and wide.


And one last thing: We personally invite you to join us, 
by spreading the word …  
or whatever might be your favorite ways to pitch in. 
Thank you.


If you don't already, you may enjoy visiting a restoration site near you from time to time. Walk around and witness the changes taking place. At some local prairies, woods and wetlands - history is being made, and biodiversity recovery is happening. It's fun and inspiring, against the backdrop of great challenges. 

Please leave a comment or question below, if you have one.

To recommend the TED talk to a friend, send this link: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RICTPEFbRh8

Photo credits: Lisa Musgrave, Eriko Kojima, Jim Root, Jeanne Muellner, and Stephen Packard

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