Saturday, June 23, 2018

Here's to Our Pollinators!

I know, I should have written this post at the beginning of the week, instead of the end, but....I am doing it now. Pollinators are just too important not to make a big deal about them.

On the hunt for pollinators

Beetles are great pollinators!
I celebrated Pollinator Week today by going out to Lake Arrowhead State Park and looking for pollinators with a few of the Texas Master Naturalists. We had some kids along as well, so we had a really good time.

Most people think bees are the only pollinators and they are important, but other bugs like flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, and beetles are also important pollinators. So are hummingbirds and bats. In specific instances, birds and even lemurs pollinate certain species.

I garden, as do many of you. Have you noticed fewer bugs in your garden? I certainly have. I also haven't seen many in my flower beds and I plant to attracts wildlife. I don't use pesticides or chemical fertilizers, although I think I am the only person in our neighborhood who doesn't. But back to the lack of bugs (well, except mosquitoes, which seems to be the only bug in the yard). This is not a good thing. If we like to eat, we need pollinators. More than 1/3 of all of our food has to be pollinated by some living thing.

So what is happening with pollinators and what can we do?

I have yet to figure out why people feel like they have to kill every living thing that they see as "icky." Bugs, spiders, and snakes, for example. Every year here in the Falls people go crazy because of rattlesnakes and kill every snake they see. But many of the pictures of dead snakes posted proudly in Facebook are not rattlesnakes at all--they are rat snakes or some other harmless snake. But at least for snakes, they are using blunt force trauma for the most part--not good for the snake, but the damage is reasonably contained to the snake.

However, then we have a rodent problem, so then we drag out the rodent poison. Not only is poison a horrible way to die, but these poisoned rats and mice are now eaten by other animals who were not the intended target, but who are now also poisoned. That might be your pet cat or it could be a hawk or an owl. Poisoned rodents are often taken by birds of prey, which also then die. So, first, let's not spray our yards with insecticides. If you have a significant problem and cannot find a nontoxic solution (and there are many out there) then use the least amount of poison possible. Home application of insecticides is much higher than agricultural applications. Many homeowners are like Tim the Toolman--if a little is good, then a lot must be a lot better. But that is not the case. The rest runs off into our water supply or blows into your neighbor's yard.

Next, lawns are a waste. There is nothing little for pollinators to use as food. Plant some native plants that appeal to pollinators. Not a single plant, but groups of them. Plant different kinds of plants to attract different types of pollinators and which will bloom at different times of the year, to provide food all year long. Besides, once these plants get started, you'll have less work mowing and putting down fertilizer and more poisons--costing you money and harming your environment.

Messy yards are not a crisis. If you want, make the front yard pristine (although I don't advocate that), but have some messy places, with leaves and brush, where pollinators and other small wildlife can live and be safe.)

I know here in north Texas it is almost a religion that climate change is a hoax. No, the hoax is that a small group of nutcases have managed to convince large numbers of people that science is wrong. There are only a couple of fringe scientists who are not certain that climate change is real and that people are the primary cause. Climate change is causing or contributing to a host of environmental issues--one of which is pollinator collapse. Make purchasing decisions based upon the product's impact on the environment. You may rightfully say that your single purchase makes no difference, but all of our purchases can make a huge impact. So stop using that as an excuse. Elect people who respect and understand science and who do not pander to a very loud minority. If you cannot understand the science and the long-term effects of government policies on the future my grandchildren will be living in, I don't want you in a position to make those decisions.

So, to summarize:

  • Stop poisoning your home and yard
  • Plant lots of native plants
  • Let there be some messy spots
  • Advocate for the environment
  • Elect people who understand the policy implications of science and act accordingly
Let's support our pollinators in Wichita Falls.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

An Earth Day Challenge

By NikoLang - Own work (Screenshot), CC BY-SA 3.0,
Here we are, another Earth Day anniversary tomorrow (April 22.) I am among those old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970. The amount of energy and enthusiasm to be better stewards of the Earth was amazing. Now, there is barely a whimper, especially here in Wichita Falls.

So what happened?

Part of it is probably that it seems we have made little progress in the 47 years since. However, that is not true. In spite of recent reversals in many areas, in the United States is far ahead of where we were then. Many pieces of landmark legislation have been made since. The Clean Air Act (1970); The Clean Water Act (1977); and The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Recovery Act (Superfund) (1980), among others, were a result.

Some of it may be that we seem to have a "day" for just about everything, most of which seem to be driven by the retail industry (like Valentine's Day). There are plenty of days that seem to be just for fun, like Grouches Day on October 15. But it seems the more designated days there are, the less significance they have.

There are a few things happening in Wichita Falls and the surrounding area that relate to Earth Day over the next couple of weeks. Those I have come across are posted on the Living Green In Wichita Falls Facebook page, but there is certainly no special community events centered around this day. We will have to celebrate individually to have some collective impact.

Here's my Earth Day challenge to people living in Wichita Falls and the surrounding area. Pick something that you can do to be good stewards of the earth going forward. It can be something you already do (just do it again or more of it), a special event, or something you have been meaning to. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start a compost pile (or vermicomposting bucket for those of you in an apartment)
  • Order an organics bin from the city and let's agitate to have the organics picked up every week (see Recycling Options in Wichita Falls)
  • Plant a pollinator-friendly or bird-friendly native plant in your yard
  • Ditch the one-use plastic shopping bags and plastic produce bags (Did you know you can buy reusable produce bags? I have no trouble using mine at Market Street)
  • Make more food from scratch--it tastes better and is less expensive
  • Make an insect hotel--most can be very simple
  • Stop spraying poisons in your yard
  • Plant your own vegetables--even if it is one plant in a pot
  • Use compost and other natural fertilizers
  • Mulch like crazy--the summer is coming
  • Buy local when possible
  • Let's get rid of styrofoam--purchase a To-Go Ware or similar and let restaurants know there are more environmentally friendly ways to package food
  • Eat more vegetables (especially local) and a little less meat
  • Get outside--walk, bike and take the kids. We have a wonderful trail system. Use it.
  • Join an organization that is related to environmental issues, especially those that are local 
  • Buy a Texas Parks Pass and visit our state parks--you can get in free to any of them for a year with a pass and you get reductions on camping fees. You also send a much-needed message to the state legislature that the parks are important.
  • Hold a neighborhood cleanup. Did you know the city sanitation department will deliver one of those big dumpsters to your neighborhood and pick it up again for a very small fee (I think it is $25)? That will save having to haul things to the transfer station and everyone can benefit. Many people do not have a way to transport. Do you have an elderly or disabled neighbor who needs help cleaning up their yard? This would be a good time/place to do it.
  • Pick up trash wherever you walk. This town is awash in little. 
  • Vote "yes" on May 5 to finish our Circle Trail and improve Lake Wichita.
There's a short list. Feel free to add your own. Post a comment about what you've done or more ideas about steps individuals can take. Feel free to post some pictures on the Living Green Facebook page too.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Recycling Options in Wichita Falls

One of the most wanted city services by people who read this blog is curbside recycling. It is a frequent lament that "We can't recycle."

Progressive Waste provided single-stream recycling at central locations for several months but withdrew the service. Since that time, the city has been answering the question of why they don't offer curbside single stream recycling. It would be the most convenient option for citizens and other cities do offer it. The fact that Progressive Waste withdrew because they weren't making money at it explains a lot about why the city doesn't offer the service, especially as our citizens resist ANY increase in fees.

Progressive Waste trucked the recycling to the Metroplex and then anything that wasn't recyclable (or couldn't be sold for an economical price) was taken to a landfill--so less was recycled than the public thought.

In fact, we can recycle a very large percentage of the waste we produce here in Wichita Falls--I'm going to show you how.

Let's start before recycling. There would be less need to recycle if we generated less waste. We've all heard the slogan "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle."

We can cut down significantly on waste by using care in what we buy. Purposely choosing items with less packaging, or if that isn't possible, recyclable packaging. At the grocery store, this can also be a more healthy option, as you will purchase much less processed food. Most of us have much more "stuff" than we need.

Reuse is easy--can we use the items we buy as long as possible, use them again, or change them into something else. My husband saves a lot of "trash." He says you never know when something will come in handy. He was saving those little plastic pipe things in spray bottles when the lever wore out. I couldn't figure out why. But then something chewed through the little rubber piece that carries windshield washer between the reservoir and the windshield on my truck and, "Voila!" That little piece fit in the rubber tube just right, and more cheaply than trying to buy one. I have found some useful things at the thrift stores in town. Right now I am looking for a few cast iron pieces and some of those large glass condiment jars--if you come across any, let me know. Some people "upcycle"--changing trash into artwork and other useful items.

So that brings us back to recycling. The single greatest tool we have is the organics bin. Unfortunately, there is an extra $3 a month cost for the organics bin. This is offset by being able to pick up free compost twice a year on the first Saturdays in April and October (for reference, a pickup load of compost usually runs $30+ dollars). These used to be called "yard waste" bins, but the name was changed to reflect the broader range of items that can be put into them. Yes, yard waste is fine, but I put most of my yard waste, other than twigs and branches, into my home composting bins. But yes, if you don't have your own compost pile, then your organics bin can be used for grass clippings and leaves, as well as these tougher materials. But you can also place any organic item into the bin--paper, cardboard, garbage, wood pieces and shavings, magazines and books. If everyone did this, we could compost almost 70% of our city's waste.

What about the other 30%? Most people are aware that you can recycle glass and newspaper. Dumpsters are at various locations around town. I usually place mine at Market Street. Aluminum can be recyled at the city Sanitation Department on Sunset Dr. My husband crushes his and saves them in the garage until he has enough to take them to Bell Processing for a little extra money.

What about plastics? Not all plastics can be recycled in Wichita Falls, but the majority--#1 and #2--can. Remove the lids--they are a different composition of plastic and can't be recycled. You may place them in the bins at the Sanitation Department on Sunset Drive. The bins are behind the fence, so are only accessible during the Sanitation Department's business hours. This is because having "clean" loads is vital to being able to sell the plastic.

You can find dumpsters for plastic, aluminum, glass and newspaper at the Sanitation Department.

The biggest problem with recycling is contamination. If you look in the dumpsters behind Market Street, for example, you'll find plastic bags mixed in with the glass or newspapers. This can cause the entire container to have to be taken to the landfill.  It isn't that difficult--some people are just ignorant of the consequences; others are just plain lazy. We don't have a way to sort our recycling, which means we have to be conscientious about keeping recyclable items separated.

We have many options to be able to recycle the majority of the waste we generate, with a little effort. I am not ready to abandon the curbside recycling effort, but let's use what we have to show it is important to us and then work on the rest.

I do have one suggestion to encourage the use of the organics bins in Wichita Falls. Currently, during weeks with a holiday, there is no pickup of the organics bin. I fill my organics bin nearly every week, so this is a problem. I only put out the regular trash every two or three weeks. I pay more for the privilege of recycling, so I don't like losing that service. It would help encourage people to use the organics bins. I would like to see everyone with each bin with one pickup of each every week. The only bad thing there is that I can see people using the organics bins as regular trash bins and fouling the contents so they would still have to be hauled to the landfill instead of composted.

We have a lot to do to improve recycling. For now, I suggest we work hard getting people to divert as much of their waste as possible into the organics bins and making sure people are aware of the recycling options available and how to sort their waste for maximum effectiveness.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Hot Button: Litter

Trail in Maine--do you see any trash?
I know I haven't been posting much--most of my posts have been to the Facebook page because it is faster/easier when there is only something short. But I am on my soapbox today.

I just came back from a wonderful trip to Maine and Canada with my son and daughter-in-law. Other than the beautiful scenery and new birds, do you know what I noticed most? The lack of litter. The most litter was on the beaches where it washed up out of the ocean, but even there it looked like people either picked it up and took it home or piled the big stuff in one area for easy hauling.

One morning I was out walking with our hosts. We passed a beer can, and one of them picked it up. That was the only piece of trash I saw on that 4-mile walk. One of the other people walking is apparently part of a citizen's volunteer group that monitors the trails around the town and one of the things they do is pick up litter when they find it. Since there are a lot of tourists around, I am sure they have some. But people have pride in their community and pick up.

I am not saying there was no trash. I did see a little bit, but not near what I see in Wichita Falls daily. On the Rants and Raves Wichita Falls page on Facebook this morning a woman actually bragged about throwing trash on one of our streets because she was angry a restaurant got her order wrong. I went back to take a screenshot to make the woman famous on this blog, but she apparently pulled the post--someone did point out she broke the law, so I suppose she didn't want the bald admission there for the police to use as evidence.

I am not overly concerned with littering being against the law. It is disrepectful of our neighbors and makes our community look horrible. I have to do a litter pickup around my house at least once or twice a week--more often during high school football season. I am not picking up my trash--I am picking up after people with no consideration for others.

I often tell the story of when my son and I first arrived in Wichita Falls 20 years ago. We came in on Hwy 287. We no sooner got into the city limits when he said, "I don't think I'm going to like it here." That comment was based upon the trash all along the highway. It was a poor first impression.

We could do with a little respect and community pride. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Circle Trail Tour on Saturday

The Circle Trail tour is this Saturday, April 29 from 10 AM - 2 PM. I think it was the first weekend in May previously. I have manned the Lake Wichita stop the last two years, but will be teaching Saturday, so I cannot this year. I am giving the final exam, so if I am lucky, the class will zip through it, and I may have a chance to walk a part of the trail. But we'll see.

This is a great opportunity to get out at enjoy the 14 miles of continuous trail that is completed. You can start anywhere. Pick up a passport at any of the cheer stops and get it stamped at each of the stops for a chance at prizes. For more information check out the Circle Tour Facebook page. There is no charge for this event. Why not bring out the family and walk or bike the trail?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Earth Day 2017

The Earth from space. NASA photo.
I have been very lazy about writing in this blog, as you can tell by the date of the last post. I have been trying to keep up with the Facebook page--as a consequence, this blog as fallen to the wayside. Earth Day is a good time to get back in the saddle. There are plenty of things that need more room than a Facebook post, and there are plenty of people who are not on Facebook. So I am going to make an effort to be a little more regular about updating this. I will then post a link to the FB page for those who are members of that page.

I am old enough I can remember the first Earth Day in 1970. Since then, we have gradually lost interest and allowed Earth Day to pass by largely without notice. This year looks like it may resurge a little bit, at least in part because of the March for Science takes place the same day. That is no coincidence, as the issue that started the entire march is Climate Change. I haven't heard of a march in the Falls, but if I do, I will pass on the details.

There aren't a lot of activities surrounding Earth Day here in the Falls, which is unfortunate. As always, the city has more activities happening than any person could take advantage of, it's just most are not related to nature or the environment. With a little effort, we could have a great themed series of activities around Earth Day (in Penny's head--just say, "No!")

River Bend has some of their usual Saturday activities going on: Science Saturday and Nature Tots Story Time. The Wichita Falls Public Library has a plastic bottle crafts and upcycling programs happening. That appears to be pretty much it, unless there are things I haven't heard about. If you know of an event, email me at and I will try to get it here and on the FB page.

So, what to do? I am planning to have my own little Earth Day celebration. Birding in the morning. Gardening in the afternoon. The Audubon Society is asking people to plant a native plant to support the birds. I have quite a few in my yard now, but I will be stopping by Wichita Valley Nursery for another to add. I just have to decide what I want to plant. I also have the makings for an insect hotel standing by--if I don't get it done before, Earth Day would be a good time. It won't be as pretty as the ones you can find on Pinterest, but it will still be home for the bugs. If you want to see some of the photos I've collected on Pinterest, here's a link to by board. Feel free to browse.

How do you plan to celebrate Earth Day?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Texas Master Naturalist Spring Training

Me and Laura doing a Mussel Watch for
the Rolling Plains Texas Master
I have been a certified Texas Master Naturalist for several years, and love every minute. It is great to spend time with a group of people just as geeky as I am.

The next Texas Master Naturalist spring training for our Rolling Plains chapter is coming up beginning March 8. The training takes place every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 7 - 9 PM and some Saturday field trips. I will be teaching the class on birds (March 17) and taking part in the March 19 field trip.

The basic course covers the gamut from fossils, to plants, all kinds of animals, and weather. There is something of interest for anyone fascinated with nature. The mission of Texas Master Naturalist is to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers who provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas.

The cost of the course is $100. It isn't necessary to get certified as a Master Naturalist in order to take the class, although we'd love to have you. Frequently, teachers take the class to broaden their own knowledge.

Want to know more? Robert Mauk at Inland Fisheries is one of the chapter advisors. Or feel free to talk to any of the Texas Master Naturalist members who will be manning the booth at the Home and Garden Show on February 27 and 28. You can also post to the open group Rolling Plains Chapter TMN Program on Facebook. You can also go their website for pictures from projects and newsletters.

Not in our area? There are several Texas Master Naturalist chapters throughout Texas. Look for one near you. Most of them have a spring training--some have a fall training as well.

Sign up soon. A minimum of 10 people are needed to offer the course. The course is limited to 20.