Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pollinator Workshop

Penny speaking at the Pollinator Workshop at
River Bend Nature Center
We had a pretty good group for the Pollinator Workshop at River Bend Nature Center tonight.

We even had a couple of young people. One was working on an entomology project for Camp Fire. His proud mom told me he had won a prize in River Bend's photography competition for his photo of a parasitid wasp larvae in a caterpillar.  How cool is that?

Just a summary of a few of the main points of what we can do to help the pollinators.  I realize some of the points may not be clear without the background information in the presentation. All I can say it, "You should have been there!" Seriously...if you have questions, feel free to contact me off line at green.wichitafalls@gmail.com.

As individuals, we can:

  • Plant a pollinator friendly yard
    • Plant natives
    • Put in plants pollinators like
    • Plant varied types of flowers with varying flowering periods
    • Accept some losses
  • Provide nesting areas
  • Don't use (or use sparingly) poisons in your yard
  • Buy organic when possible
  • Use Save the Night practices
  • Advocate
As a citizen, we can help our community be more pollinator friendly by:
  • Being a smart consumer (money talks)
  • Encourage native plants at our workplaces and community areas (medians, for example)
  • Educate
  • Advocate

Good questions and discussion following.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Jeff Corwin to be at MSU

Some may be interested in attending the MSU Artist-Lecture Series program on Thursday, October 2. Jeff Corwin will be the speaker. Tickets are free for students and faculty. $20 for the public. Tickets will be available 2 weeks before the program.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Reviews: Bees, Bees, Bees!

As I noted in my last post, I will be doing a pollinators workshop at River Bend on September 23. I've been doing research to ensure I have the most current and accurate information possible, and I happened to receive two books about bees to review for Princeton University Press. I must be living right.

The first book, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide, is a review of all of the species of bumble bees in North America north of Mexico. We don't have a lot of bumble bees here (as I discovered in the book, bumbles bees like cooler temperatures--like me), so I was surprised at the numbers of bumble bee species in North America. We supposedly could expect to find three species of the possible 46 in our area (although that is not confirmed.)

The species accounts are interesting. As you would expect in an identification guide, there are pictures of the bees, range maps, and a discussion of their habitat, favorite plants and identifying characteristics. I was surprised at the variation in coloration of the same species of bumble bees, making identification more of a challenge than one might think. However, this little book was more than an identification guide, including their life cycle, how to attract bumble bees to your yard, specific plants to include in your landscape and conservation status and threats. Overall, a fascinating look at these important insects. If you are a "bug person" this would be an excellent addition to your library.

The second book I received from Princeton University Press was The Bee: A Natural History. As much as I enjoyed the bumble bee book, I have to say my geeky self liked this one even more. Although focused more on the honey bee, the book does include the solitary bees and bumble bees. The reason I like this book so well was that it is more than just an identification guide, but includes a lot of interesting information about bee biology and also more tangential topics such as bees in religion. Little snippets like this always draw my attention. Overall, a fascinating look at bees in all their diversity without being overly technical.

The book looks at bees worldwide. Consequently, it is not an in-depth review of bees in our area. If I could have done one thing to make the book more appealing to me personally, it would have been to have more US bees included in the directory portion of the book. But then, that isn't the focus of the book, so it is not a significant detractor and would have made the book too darn big--after all, there are 20,000 species of bees in the world and 4,000 native bee species in North America. This is another outstanding addition to the library of those interested in pollinators, especially the bees.

Christmas is coming up--either of these could be a wonderful gift for you naturalist friend/family member. And the prices won't break the bank either.

Pollinators Workshop Coming Up

Yours truly will be presenting a pollinators workshop at River Bend Nature Center on September 23, from 6:00 - 8:30 PM.

I'd love to meet all of you, so come on out. My goal is for you to be able to leave the workshop with ideas for your yard that will help these vital and under-appreciated animals. Although most people think of bees when they think of pollinators, we'll be covering more than just bees.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Some Upcoming Events of Interest

I am consolidating several things into one post, just to be sure I get them all.

May 12, 6:00 - 8:30 PM, Well Water Owner Network, Red River Authority, 3000 Hammon Rd. If you have a water well or are thinking about drilling a well, you should attend this meeting. People have the impression that all water is good water, and that isn't 100% true in our area. Subjects to be covered include:

  • Seymour Aquifer
  • Well construction and protection
  • Limitations of using poor quality well water
  • Defining parameters for well water use for plants/livestock
  • Evaluating well water quality
  • Determining steps to take to achieve acceptable water quality
  • Alternative water sources
Someone take good notes for me--I am going to be in Florida when this program is presented.

May 17, Heritage Days at Lake Arrowhead State Park. Although many children will be attending this even on the Friday with their schools, the Park is out of space, so many will not be able to go. However, the event will be repeated on Saturday, May 17 for the public. A $3 per person admission to the park (free if you have a Texas Parks Pass) will give you 12 stations about a number of topics relating to Texas history. I find the station on old time medical treatment fascinating (and I am sooooo glad to have other options). The event opens at 9:00 AM and will only stay open as long as there is a good crowd.

May 25, 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. Lake Arrowhead State Park. Drought Days program. Free admission to the park for this educational opportunity. A program on the impact of the drought on the park and on local flora and fauna.

June 7, National Trail Day. 8:00 AM - Noon. Hike the trails at Lake Arrowhead State Park. The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter will have stations set up along the 0.5 mile nature trail to talk about the various items of interest. For those more hardy, the park interpreter will be leading a hike along the 5.5 mile Onion Creek Trail, beginning at 8.

June 28, Great American Backyard Campout. A great opportunity to camp out with the family in your backyard or perhaps Lake Arrowhead State Park.  The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter will host a special event that evening at the park beginning at 7:00 PM.  Meet at the Group Pavilion for nature activities, s'mores, and owl calling. Wild Bird Rescue will be on hand with a live owl program. You don't have to camp to attend this event, but why not make your reservation to spend the night? $3 per person entry fee to the park (camping fees apply if you camp.)

There's a lot going on, so there is no excuse not to get outside! (Other than the heat, of course. I really don't care for summer in this area.....)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Circle Trail Tour May 3

We are so fortunate to have hiking/biking trails in Wichita Falls. Although not yet complete, the trail will eventually form a circle around the city and be about 23 miles long. 

A special event coming up will highlight a 14-mile section of the trail between Lake Wichita Park and Lucy Park. The City of Wichita Falls is holding a Circle Trail Tour on Saturday, May 3, 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM. This is a free event. Although  this event is being held to celebrate national Bike Month, you can walk, run, skateboard or rollerblade the trail.

There will be 10 sponsored “cheer stops” hosted by local organizations including: Bike Safe Wichita Falls, Texas Parks and Wildlife, German-American Club, Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred, The Bike Stop, YMCA, Texas Medical Association, Riverside Cycling Center, Wichita County Medical Alliance, Wee-Chi-Tah Trail Race, East of the Falls CDC and Wichita County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Academy.

Each stop will provide drinks and snacks. Some stops are planning entertainment, games and demonstrations. Participants can also pick up a passport from any sponsor, which can then be stamped at each stop and turned in for a chance to win prizes. The event will be officially start at 10:am at Lucy Park but participants can begin at any point along the route. 

For more information please contact the Public Information Office at 761-7401.

I am wondering if I can manage to walk the 14 mile trail in 5 hours. Hmmmm. Well. at least part of it. Hope to see some of you out there.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Drought Programs and a Proposal

Lake Wichita, 3/16/14, after rain yesterday
There is no doubt water is at the top of everyone's mind here in Wichita Falls. Although we did have a nice rain on March 15, it is way too early to declare victory. Even with the soaking we got yesterday, we are still nearly 2 inches below normal this year and still 30 inches behind over the last three years. So our water woes will continue. You can see by looking at the picture of Lake Wichita at the left, things are still looking pretty grim, although there is more water in the lake than there has been lately.

I am glad to see people finally taking water seriously. In spite of the fact we live in a relatively hot and dry part of the country, people have generally taken a ready source of water for granted. We don't have unlimited water resources and what we have isn't of the best quality. The city of Wichita Falls is the water provider for not only the city, but several other municipalities in the area. 

With lake levels standing at around 26%, the situation is dire and people have finally awakened to our reality--and one that is likely to become more common as our climate continues to change (whether you agree that humankind has a hand to play or the change is just part of a natural ebb and flow, the results are the same.) We cannot continue to treat water as an inexhaustible resource. The bottom line is, if it doesn't rain, we're in deep doo-doo.

On Saturday, March 1, River Bend Nature Center hosted a Save Our Trees workshop, sponsored by the county AgriLife Extension office and the local Texas Master Gardeners. The venue was packed. There was a lot of good information shared which essentially focused on proper pruning and mulching. 

On the following Thursday, there were two water-related programs. State Representative James Frank hosted a well-attended water town hall at Midwestern State University. I was pleased that he was very factual and gave the city appropriate credit for the steps they have taken over the past several years so that we were better prepared for this drought than we could have been. He also went over some of the difficulties in managing our water supply--evaporation being the main one. Initially the questions were reasonably on point, but fortunately I had to leave for the next program about the time the more partisan rants started.

Following the water town hall, River Bend was once again the venue for a workshop on greywater harvesting, attended primarily by members of the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter, but along with some other hardy citizens. Attending both the water town hall and the greywater program the same night was tiring. Chris Cornman of Best Exteriors of North Texas and Greywater Authority provided a lot of details for those interested in installing their own greywater systems.

Chris will be doing a portion of his presentation again on Thursday, April 17 at 7 AM at a business group. However, guests are welcome, so if you would like to attend, email me at green.wichitafalls@gmail.com, and I will add you to the list for that day.

These are all good things, but what are some of the things we should be doing going forward? Here's Penny's take:
  - We should never come out of Drought Stage 1 restrictions--we don't have the resources to allow people to use all of the water they want to whenever they want to.
  - We need to continue to promote water conservation, all the time.
  - Put limits on groundwater use. Texas has different rules for surface versus groundwater use. Basically if you can pump it, you can use it. It is ridiculous to curtail outside watering through the municipal water system but those who can find water can pump all they want--your little pocket of groundwater may be attached to my little pocket and you could suck it all out for non-essential use.
  - We should actively encourage replacing landscape with native plantings and drought resistant plants. We are going to lose a lot of trees, even if we have a fairly normal year, with the stress they have been under. We do not need to replace Bradford pear trees with more of the same, even though they are pretty in bloom. Whoever landscaped the house we bought a couple of years ago planted nonfruiting mulberry trees. They have nice shade, but are water hogs and destroy water distribution pipes. I am not going to take them out because of their shade, but when they bite the dust, something more drought tolerant is going in their place.
  - The city should use native, drought resistant plantings on the medians and in the parks. I personally think the planted medians are worth the time, effort and money, but is the way to go.
  - Give incentives for installing water conserving fixtures and appliances.
  - Continue to provide information on rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse and ensure they remain permitted within the city limits.
  - As the city and Chamber actively recruit new businesses, their water use ought to be a prime consideration.
  - No, the city population doesn't need to grow fast or a lot. This is going to be a big problem with Texas' stated philosophy of pulling in all comers. The state only needs to read its own water plan to figure that out--basic math works, unless you are talking about supporting a burgeoning population on water resources that can't keep up with the population we have. I recently read an Edward Abbey quote: "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
  - Encourage permaculture and encourage people to convert water-sucking lawns to native plantings and gardens (we might as well tackle food security while we're at it.)
  - Continue the water reuse project. Many people are crying about drinking "potty water," but the bottom line is we all drink potty water. The water we pull from the lakes for our water came from someone else's effluent. Our effluent has been going downstream and other people have been drinking it for years.
  - Encourage composting and mulching. If people would add just a little bit of compost to their plantings every year, the need for water would decrease significantly (I had a number for this, but of course I can't find it now.) Remember, if you have a compost cart pickup, you can get two loads of compost free each year.

We don't live on Dune (if you never read the book, it's one everyone should read), but we can conserve now or pay later.

Spring Cleaning: It Doesn't Look Like It Will Happen in Wichita Falls

Trash along a trail near Lake Wichita
I don't know if you have been out and about the city very much, but if you have, you can't help but notice the large amount of trash in all parts of town. I took the photo to the left with my cell phone just walking down a trail near Lake Wichita while I was walking. Although it isn't the best photo, as it was taken with my cell phone, it is easy to see there are several pieces of trash in a small area. This is hardly the worst of the trash around town.

I have people tell me all of the time that the litter situation can't be helped because of the wind. I agree the wind exacerbates the situation as any unsecured trash is going to blow around. However, if people took more care to create less trash and to better dispose of that trash they do create, our community would look much better.

Some years ago the Clean City Commission used to oversee a community-wide cleanup in early April. It was a pretty big deal. In a purge of commissions, the Clean City Commission got the ax. Justifiably so, as the cleanup was about the only worthwhile thing the commission did (obviously, this is my own somewhat jaded opinion.) The citywide cleanup was turned over to a small non-profit, Keep Wichita Falls Beautiful. This non-profit was held together by a very small group of volunteers. They did continue to sponsor the cleanup for a few years, but with dwindling volunteer resources, the amount of time and effort put into the cleanup declined. Keep Wichita Falls Beautiful has since gone belly up. I checked with the city and there is no plan to conduct a citywide cleanup this year.

The city did add some money to the budget this year for additional litter pickup along Kell Blvd, which seems to be the main thoroughfare where Wichitans unload their trash. However, Southwest Parkway is a dump and the access road along Kell also looks trashy. The open field at the intersection of Hwy 287 and Kell is an eyesore. And there are other areas just as bad--these are just ones I happen to pass often, so are especially irritating to me.

I know there are volunteer groups who periodically clean up some areas. I am involved with some of them. The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter cleans up Plum Lake quarterly and Sikes Lake and the feeder drainage ditch annually. The Red River Sierra Club group does a regular pick up of a 2-mile stretch of Sisk Road as part of the Adopt-a-Highway program--there are many other organizations that are involved in this program as well.

It is obvious this is not enough. There is no way the city is going to pay for more litter pickup--they hue and cry from the addition of the monies for Kell Blvd makes it pretty clear that our citizenry is not interested in paying for this service. By the same token, I don't think any of us like to see our community looking unkempt, and it's an embarrassment when "company" comes. Our city has been doing a good job of selling Wichita Falls for conferences and events and we need to make a good impression.

So where am I going with this? We need some mechanism to create enthusiasm for a general cleanup. It would be nice if it was informal--in other words, people would just take personal responsibility to cleanup around their homes, businesses would clean up their areas and groups would each take an area and clean it up. But I know that's unlikely to work without a group of people organizing it.

What do you think? Is there a group of citizens who would roll up their sleeves in the next few weeks to get the ball rolling??? I'll bet the amount of work would be minimal if there was a dozen people to take it on. Mostly publicity and some coordination.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Deadline Approaching for Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist Spring Training Class

Yes, I'm late! But there is still time to enroll in the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist spring training program. Lots of interesting instructors (to include me) talking about the natural world in our area. Field trips are included. In addition to all you'll learn, you'll meet some of the nicest people you could ever want to know. Whether you want to take the class for the information or you're interested in becoming a certified Texas Master Naturalist, this is the place to start.

Water Concerns

Anyone who lives in Wichita Falls and surrounding area who isn't concerned about water is just not paying attention. No surprise that there is a lot going on relating to that topic. As our lakes continue to drop, everyone needs to conserve.

Here are some programs those of you who read this blog (and keep up with our more active Facebook page) will be interested in.

Thursday, March 6, 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM. State Rep James Frank will hold a Water Town Hall in Rm 101, Dillard College, Midwestern State University.

Thursday March 6, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM, Chris Cornman of Best Exteriors of North Texas, will be presenting a program on using greywater at River Bend Nature Center.

Tuesday, March 25, 9:30 AM - 1:00 PM, the Clean Rivers Advisory Committee will meet at the Red River Authority offices. This is a more technical meeting, but is open to the public. You do need to RSVP as they provide lunch. RSVP to Stacey Green at 940-723-2236 or stacey.green@rra.texas.gov by March 18.