Green Talk: Keeping Our Lakes & Rivers Great

April 2016

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Agricultural runoff in Ozaukee County, WI

Agricultural runoff in Ozaukee County, WI

“It was a gamble, but it worked,” recalled Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. The late Wisconsin governor and United States senator (D) successfully infused the activism of the late 1960s with such environmental issues as unchecked air and water pollution. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, the single voice of 20 million Americans called for increased awareness and policy change. Today Earth Day is observed by over a billion people around the world as a day for environmental advocacy and action.

Agricultural runoff in Ozaukee County, WI, USA

Agricultural runoff in Ozaukee County, WI, USA

Water pollution remains a concern in Ozaukee County. Roughly half the county’s acreage is agricultural; crops are regularly treated with fertilizer containing phosphates. With precipitation, resulting agricultural runoff contains large amounts of eroded soil saturated with phosphates. While phosphorus is necessary to plant life, too much flowing into streams, rivers, and lakes creates a highly enriched soup overabundant with algae and other plant life. To address the issue (and others), the USDA created nutrient-management guidelines that prescribe the amount, source, placement, and timing of commercial fertilizers and other soil amendments.

Residential runoff into Lake Michigan, Ozaukee County, WI, USA (© 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Residential runoff into Lake Michigan, Ozaukee County, WI (© 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Urban or residential runoff carries fertilizer phosphates, pet waste, oil and gas residues, and other pollutants. To minimize personal polluting, property owners can devise methods of keeping precipitation in place with ponds, rain barrels, and thirsty plant life. They can also tweak landscaping routines to fertilize minimally before light rains and to refrain from fertilizing before summer downpours.

Green Talk April 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk April 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

On April 22—Earth Day 2016—from 5:30 to 7:00 pm, Mequon Nature Preserve is happy to host an exhibit focusing on Milwaukee’s aquatic heritage. Collaborators are The Wisconsin Historical Society, Riveredge Nature Center, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Urban Ecology Center, and Mequon Nature Preserve. John Gurda, the author of The Making of Milwaukee, provides an Earth Day keynote address. Held at MNP’s PieperPower Education Center, 8200 West County Line Rd., Mequon, the evening is free and open to the public. To register, contact Kay Amland at 262-242-8055 or center@mequonnaturepreserve.org. Be sure to keep up with MNP’s activities on Facebook.

Green Talk: Invaders from Other Ecosystems

March 2016

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Watch out for two pain-inducing invasives! Wild parsnips contain chemicals that, when combined with sunlight, cause intense burns on human skin. Infestations of aggressively pinching rusty crayfish can make lake swimming a distressing endeavor.

Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus)
Two centuries ago, cargo ships released freshwater ballast from the Ural region of Russia into the rivers and lakes of western Europe. That ballast contained tiny striped hitchhikers. In the 1820s, Londoners spotted the invaders in the Thames River. Over the next 150 years, zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) invaded Europe’s rivers and lakes, reaching Italy’s Lake Garda in the 1970s. Ten years later, zebra mussels hitchhiked across the Atlantic, entered the St. Lawrence Seaway, and began devastating the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world: our Great Lakes.

Invasive species can arrive unintentionally, like the zebra mussel, or intentionally. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), for example, were transplanted in the 19th century for culinary purposes. Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) arrived in the same century as an ornamental shrub. But what really matters when it comes to invasives is what happens once they take hold in a new ecosystem.

Green Talk March 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk March 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) arrived in Wisconsin with anglers who used them as bait. Native to the Ohio River basin, rusty crayfish are more aggressive than our native species. They displace native crayfish, eat twice as much (including fish eggs), and fight back when native fish try to eat them. Rusties pull out vegetation, damaging underwater habitat, so that other freshwater creatures are affected. All along the food chain, even small changes have terrible consequences. That is the biggest reason we all need to fight invasive species.

Visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097. Walking trails are open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. Leashed dogs are welcome. Call us at 262-242-8055, look for us online at mequonnaturepreserve.org, and like us on Facebook for the latest news.

Green Talk: Maple Taps & Sugar Shacks

February 2016

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Green Talk February 2016

The leaves of sugar maples turn from green, to yellow and orange, and then to red in the fall. Trees are tapped when they are 30 or 40 years old.

By the time Europeans arrived in what is now New England, indigenous Americans had already discovered the lovely nectar with which we drown our breakfast pancakes. When carefully boiled, they found, maple sap turns into maple syrup. Today, artificial syrups dominate the grocery shelf, but pure maple syrup is usually there, too. And it is still made the way Native Americans made it―with 21st-century tweaks, of course.

In spring, sap rises through the trunks of deciduous trees to promote growth and nourish branches and leaves. The sap of maple trees (species Acer) is relatively sweet—especially that of the tree now called the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). By drilling holes into a maple’s trunk, one can release the sap and let it drip into a bucket. Done right, the process does not kill the trees; healthy maples can be tapped spring after spring. The ideal time to gather sap is late winter/early spring, when day temperatures are warmer than 32 degrees and night temperatures still dip below freezing.

Green Talk February 2016

Tapping maples at Mequon Nature Preserve

Like any other raw food, maple sap may contain harmful bacteria. If you want to taste maple sap, boil it for a couple minutes to kill possible germs. To make maple syrup, try to get yourself into a sugar shack—an out-building with a safe place for boiling and a well-ventilated roof. When heated, maple sap loses water and creates a great deal of steam as it thickens. Cooked correctly, the result is pure maple syrup, the preferred substance of most waffles.

Green Talk February 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk February 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Mequon Nature Preserve hosts a free maple syrup demonstration on Saturday, February 27 beginning at 3 PM. Check out maples already tapped, help tap new ones, and visit a sugar shack. To register or for more information, contact Emily Biagi at 262-242-8055 or at emilyb@mequonnaturepreserve.org. The Preserve accepts donations to help build is its own sugar shack.

Visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097. Walking trails are open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. Leashed dogs are welcome. Call us at 262-242-8055, look for us online at mequonnaturepreserve.org, and like us on Facebook for the latest news!

Green Talk: Lake Michigan’s Rise & Fall

January 2016

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Lake Michigan's rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Lake Michigan’s rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

In 2014, Lake Michigan began to rise. By early September of that year, the water level surpassed its historical average for the month. Ozaukee County residents began to see the Lake swallow beaches from Mequon to Belgium. By July 2015, the Lake was up three feet from its all-time low only a year and a half before. The Lake retreated intermittently to reveal sandy beach and fresh deposits of lake stones. But high waves continued to take down stands of grasses, shrubs, and residents’ barriers between backyard and beach.

Each of the Great Lakes has an annual rise and fall cycle driven by precipitation, snow melt, and evaporation. Evaporation rates vary with air and water temperatures. Beginning in the late 1990s, a period of low precipitation and warmer temperatures causing greater evaporation created record-low water levels in January 2013.

Lake Michigan's rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Lake Michigan’s rise in northern Ozaukee County, WI ( © 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

Then came the polar vortex of January 2014 and continued low temperatures. Between January 5 and 7, record-shattering cold spread across the United States. By early March, more than 90 percent of the Great Lakes had frozen over. Lake Michigan set a new record for ice cover on March 8, when it hit 94 percent. The cold caused an enormous drop in the evaporation rate, and another cold winter in 2014–15 perpetuated the trend. With lower evaporation, our Great Lake became our even-closer neighbor in 2015.

Green Talk January 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk January 2016 by Elizabeth Fagan

Mequon Nature Preserve hosts its free Winter Frolic on Saturday, February 6, 10 AM to 4 PM. Celebrate winter with us! Visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097, 262-242-8055. Look for us online at mequonnaturepreserve.org and like us on Facebook for the latest news!

Green Talk: The White Stuff

December 2015

By Elizabeth G. Fagan for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve, mequonnaturepreserve.org


Green Talk December 2015

Green Talk December 2015

Basking in the near-warmth of early December, Ozaukeeans might wonder, “Where’s the white stuff?” Forecasters say the El Niño winter of 2015–16 will bring warmer-than-average temperatures, but precipitation will probably remain close to normal.

Whether it lightly powders our evergreens for Christmas or dumps heavily on our sidewalks in March, snow always starts the same way: as water vapor, ice crystals, and dust that collide in very cold clouds. Depending on air temperature, snowflakes take various shapes. The folk wisdom that no two snowflakes can be alike is almost true. It could happen, but the likelihood of two identical snowflakes forming within the lifetime of the universe is indistinguishable from zero.

Green Talk December 2015 by Elizabeth Fagan

Green Talk December 2015 by Elizabeth Fagan

Any heavy snowfall can be called a snowstorm. In a true blizzard, snow and wind combine to obscure visibility for several hours. Snow shower is a term for an intermittent snowfall, while flurry is used for very light, brief snowfalls. Thundersnow is a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain. While rare anywhere in the world, thundersnow is more common in our Great Lakes region, usually with lake-effect snow.

On the ground, snow texture ranges from the dry, light powder that skiers prefer to the heavy, wet slush that seems to fall on our driveways. Highly branched (dendritic) snow crystals create lower-density, “dry” snow. Columnar or plate-like crystals form dense, “wet” snow. With melting and refreezing cycles, even the most picturesque Christmas snowfall can turn front steps into icy hazard zones by New Year’s Eve.

Join Mequon Nature Preserve for winter camping with REI on Thursday, January 28th, 2016, beginning at 5:30pm. This season’s Winter Frolic is on Saturday, February 6th, 2016, from 10am to 4pm. Sleigh rides on the restored prairie were part of the fun at our last Winter Frolic. Like us on Facebook for more news and updates!

Open year-round, Mequon Nature Preserve is at 8200 W. County Line Road, Mequon. Visit us at mequonnaturepreserve.org or call (262) 242-8055 for more information. Like us on Facebook for news and events.