Endorsing An Ecological Restoration Mission to Restore Social, Racial, and Environmental Justice.

Basic Assumptions That Underlie Ecological Restoration

Like all undertakings in life, ecological restoration is based upon a number of  explicit and implicit assumptions.  This is not a complete list.  Not all restoration ecologists subscribe to all of these assumptions, nor, surprisingly, not everyone shares in this world view.

1.  One assumption that drives restoration is that many parts of Earth are damaged, destroyed, or missing.  As a result, the Earth’s natural capital (the total accumulation of the goods and services provided by global ecosystems) is diminished, to the detriment of the well-being of the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants.

2.  Further, restorationists assume that solutions exist to repair the damage to ecosystems and their value to the world.  

3.  Thirdly, we also assume that some people  have some capacity to care for the planet and to repair the damaged parts of the Earth’s systems.

4.  People—except for neighborhood volunteers and local neighborhoods themselves—are not part of the restoration problem definition/solution.  Until recently ecological restoration confined itself to the repair of damaged plant an animal communities, with the occasional concession to local neighbors—frequently well-to-do white suburban neighborhoods.

5.  Restoration ecologists assume that our repair work can keep pace with environmental destruction all around us.  

6.  And, perhaps, the rest of the world will follow our example and quit messing up the environment, and pitch in to help out.

This is the basis upon which the global ecological restoration enterprise was founded and upon which it has thrives.

Restoration Contributions

Many desired restoration outcomes have been achieved across the globe in the past 85 years since the UW-Madison Arboretum and the restoration work in Australia began.   Restoration is a global efforts and the cumulative scale of the projects is impressive, but still tiny compared to the need; the achievement of restoration outcomes feels like swimming upstream to those doing the restoration.  It is exhilarating work but sometimes discouraging and it also creates a dilemma for restorationists—we work at the indulgence of those who cause the destruction; our work depends upon their continued wrecking of the earth.

Despite ecological restoration work around the globe, we are falling behind.  Our creative ecological work can’t keep up with the rate of destruction.  Why?

What’s Missing?

For one thing, restorationists, have sometimes been treating symptoms (drained wetlands, degraded prairies,) instead of the root causes of ecological damage which is human activities (mining, logging, commercial building, etc.)

Also missing is an explicit assumption that ecological restoration should benefit people—especially people of color, and civic communities—directly.

Ecological restoration should adopt a mission to repair our disintegrating cities;  to help our urban poor, assist the homeless, and the disenfranchised; ecological restoration should block the actions of predatory capitalist systems that pave over our farmland and natural areas before we an even think about restoring them.

As long as our fellow citizens and our communities suffer, are not free, and are not safe, then none of us will be healthy and none of us will be free and none of us safe, and the ecological damage will continue.

Things must change and restoration ecology is uniquely qualified to jump into the fray and help those already engaged in social and human services efforts.

We Need Some New, Additional Assumptions on Which Ecological Restoration Can Be Based.

Look around at the mess this country has  created and and you can see that ecological restoration’s  basic operating assumptions—while perhaps necessary at one time—are no longer sufficient in today’s world.  Before we can repair our nation’s damaged ecosystems, we must repair of our country’s social, racial,  cultural.  If you have any doubt about the need, look at the mass demonstrations across the country the past two weeks.  People in the streets are calling for social, racial, and environmental justice.

The SER Mission, Vision, and Guiding Principles

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) has a mission, vision, and guiding principles that address this issue head-on:  guidance.

“Across the globe, centuries of unsustainable activities have damaged the aquatic, marine, and terrestrial environments that underpin our economies and societies and give rise to a diversity of wildlife and plants. SER is dedicated to reversing this degradation and restoring the earth for the benefit of humans and nature.

Our Mission

SER advances the science, practice and policy of ecological restoration to sustain biodiversity, improve resilience in a changing climate, and re-establish an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture.

Our Vision

Ecological restoration becomes a fundamental component of conservation and sustainable development programs throughout the world by virtue of its inherent capacity to provide people with the opportunity to not only repair ecological damage, but also improve the human condition.

Our Guiding Principles

These underlying principles guide and inform our work:

  • Ecological restoration is an engaging and inclusive process. Restoration embraces the interrelationships between nature and culture, engages all sectors of society, and enables full and effective participation of indigenous, local and disenfranchised communities
  • Ecological restoration requires the integration of knowledge and practice. Science and other forms of knowledge are essential for designing, implementing and monitoring restoration projects and programs. At the same time, lessons learned from practical experiences are essential for determining and prioritizing the scientific needs of the field.
  • Ecological restoration is policy-relevant and essential. Restoration is a critical tool for achieving biodiversity conservation, mitigating and adapting to climate change, enhancing ecosystem services, fostering sustainable socioeconomic development, and improving human health and well-being.
  • Ecological restoration is practiced locally with global implications. Restoration takes place in all regions of the world, with local actions having regional and global benefits for nature and people.

“A Restoration Ethic”

Hull and Robertson (2000, “Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities.”)  suggest that by restoring damage to the Earth’s systems, we also enter into a relationship with the planet that helps repairs our connection to nature and our own communities, thereby increasing our own social  and personal capital.

This set of assumptions constitute what Hull and Robertson might call “ a restoration ethic”.   In their view, restoration blurs the distinction between culture and nature and opens up a broad  middle ground where it is acceptable for humans and nature to interact.

I would suggest we broaden the restoration ethic to include repairing our relationships with our fellow humans.

Examples of Direct Action

The SER guiding principles are excellent.  But I am suggesting that those in the discipline–both paid professionals and community volunteers–build upon them by taking direct action, on our own, in addition to our traditional ecological restoration work, to aid our communities, by, for example picking one of these suggestions for individual and community civic action.  Many of you, I know, are already doing one, or more, of these civic engagement strategies to great effect

Lend your expertise to start or working with a community garden in your area.

Teach people how to grow their own food.

Organize and lead efforts to restore and improve habitat in your neighborhood.

Work with a food bank or other community action non-profit.

Help with literacy programs in your area.

Find ways to fight poverty.

Help register people to vote in November 2020.

Join the governing board of a local non-profit.

Run for local political office.

Organize neighborhood clean-up efforts.

Join a local science-advisory board.

Offer your scientific or practical plant expertise to a local neighborhood-based restoration project.

Publish a news blog covering local news and events that are not covered by the local paper.  If there is no local paper, such an effort is even more important.

Help clean up a vacant lot and grow native plants in it.

Teach kids and neighbors how to identify plants and birds.

Help design and install residential rain gardens and/or pollinator gardens.

Human activities are the cause of environmental destruction.  Human activities are also the cause of the destruction of our cities, and their citizens. Only human activities c Gan reverse the damage we have done.

 We are where we are today as the direct result of the sum total of human activities throughout our existence and thus we are all complicit and we are all responsible for repairing the damage (Ghosh, 2016).   The vast disruption to, and outright destruction of, ecosystems, and the poisoning of the air, land, and water have presented restoration ecologists with vast challenges and opportunities and responsibilities.  Opportunities exist to attempt to reverse some of this damage; to save some small portion of the at-risk plants and animals, and to restore or recreate other small patches of prairie, savanna, coral reefs, and tropical forests.  But restoration of ecosystems is only half of the job; we have a responsibility to help repair our society..  Repair of our social and cultural systems is mandatory.   Without this effort, attempts at ecological restoration are irrelevant, meaningless, and futile.


Ghosh, Amitav. 2016.  The Great Derangement, climate change and the unthinkable.  Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Hull and Robertson (2000, “Conclusion: Which Nature” IN Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities, edited by P.H.Gobster and R.B. Hull, 299-307, Washington. DC Island Press

Posted in Basic assumptions of restoration ecology, Community-based restoration, Ecological restoration, Neighborhood restoration projects, Restoration ecology, Social Justice, Society for Ecological Restoration | 5 Comments

Blue-Green Algae in Lake Wingra and other Madison Lakes

Water quality at Madison’s popular beaches (21 of them) is monitored regularly for E. coli bacteria and blue-green algae contamination from Memorial Day through Labor Day, by Public Health Madison and Dane County. If a water test shows concerning results, the beach will close for swimming until levels of E. coli bacteria or blue-green algae decline. Today, 07.22.21 beaches at Olin, Spring Harbor, and Vilas Park are closed for swimming.

Test results change frequently due to weather conditions, wind patterns, heat, etc. so before you go to a beach or enter the water check the conditions at this Beach Water Quality web site. Public Health Madison and Dane County has an informative behind-the-scenes look at A Day In the Life: Beach Testing that explains the hows, whys, and wherefores of water quality testing.

Toxicity and Harmful Affects of Blue-green algae

There are many species of blue-green algae in Wisconsin waters, and not all are toxic. Therefore it is difficult to determine just by looking at the lake’s surface if the algae you see is harmful or not. This is why Public Health Madison and Dane County conducts regular testing to make an official determination. Even after water quality sampling, it takes several days for the lab to analyze the samples and determine if toxins are present.

Toxic forms of blue-green algae are neurotoxic and cause harm to the central nervous system. For a rundown of the various symptoms of exposure to toxic blue-green algae, see this page.

Safety Precautions for Dealing With Blue-green Algae

Public Health Madison and Dane County offers this advice:

Despite its name, blue-green algae may not always be blue-green. It may also be reddish-purple or brown. Blue-green algae causes the water to be murky.

“When environmental conditions are just right, blue-green algae can grow very quickly. Most species are buoyant and will float to the surface, where they form scum layers or floating mats.”

“Do not swim in water that looks like “pea soup”, green or blue paint, or that has a scum layer or puffy blobs floating on the surface.
Do not boat, kayak, or water ski in water with blue-green algae (you can be exposed to the toxins through breathing).
Do not let children play with scum layers, even from shore.
Do not let pets or livestock swim in or drink water with blue-green algae blooms.
Do not treat water that has blue-green algae blooms with any herbicide or algaecide – toxins are released into the water when blue-green algae cells die.”

I was surprised to see the vast extent and distribution of blue-green algae in Lake Wingra when I took a little tour of the lake shore the other day–the stuff is everywhere. But, is it all toxic? We don’t know. Water quality is tested only at Madison’s beaches and the former beach at Hudson Park on Madison’s East side. Other public access points such as the the boat launch and other spots in Wingra Park are not tested, as far as is known. Or, if they are, the results are not made public.

Our only clue to beach water quality in Lake Wingra comes from the posted test results for Vilas Beach, on the eastern end of the lake, which is closed today, July 22 and will remain closed until conditions improve. Water quality of Madison’s beaches is posted daily at the Public Health Madison and Dane County web site. Click here to get a status report on water quality at Madison’s official beaches.

Some Lake Wingra Springs Also Have Blue-green algae

I was surprised to find the Spring Trail Pond about 75% covered in a blue-green algae mat the other day. Surprised because Spring Trail Pond is spring fed and receives little storm water runoff and urban contamination. It does have a year-round mallard flock. See image below:

Blue-green algae covering Spring Trail Pond. Even the mallards are reluctant to enter the water.

Is this algae toxic? No way to tell except through a lab analysis. Is E. coli bacteria present in harmful concentrations? Again, only a test can determine its presence. But, given the year-round abundance of mallards and other ducks at the pond, it is a good bet that the waters are unhealthy. The only safe approach is to avoid entering the water when you see a water body that looks like this.

Wisconsin DNR

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers much information about where to report an algae bloom, general symptoms from contact with blue-green algae, and general questions about blue-green algae. Click here for the DNR blue-green algae website.

Posted in Duck Pond Springs, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, Madison lakes and beaches, Water quality in Madison | Leave a comment

Lake Wingra Recreational Bike Loop Update

One of the most popular running, biking, and walking routes in Madison is the 10K (6.2 miles) recreational loop around Lake Wingra and through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.

This routes passes through several Madison neighborhoods: Nakoma, Dudgeon-Monroe, and Vilas, through the University Arboretum and the City and Towns of Madison, two city parks, and some of the most beautiful scenery in town.

Some of the route is free of car/truck traffic. But bikers, runners, and walkers contend with traffic along the 3 mile stretch through the Arb, a small section through Vilas Park and close by the Dane County Zoo, for two blocks between Arbor Drive and Wingra Park and another troublesome section of several blocks between the North end of Wingra Park and Woodrow Street.

Tolerating low-volume car traffic is a small price to pay for the luxury and privilege of living in a relatively crime-free and up-scale residential section of town. And, a small irritant in an otherwise peaceful and bucolic landscape. The advocates for a car-free route come mostly from the Edgewood College community and the Vilas Neighborhood.

Soon, parts of the Lake Wingra recreational loop will that currently allow cars will become car-free through the City’s “Shared Streets Plan” and the “Vilas Park Car-Free Interim Plan”

The Board of Park Commissioners passed the Vilas Park Drive car-free interim plan on May 12. An implementation timeline does not exist yet. If you want to dive into more details about the interim plan, you can view it here.  According to District 13 Alder Evers’ blog post,

Shared Streets

From the May, 2021 Friends of Lake Wingra Newsletter: “On May 12 the Transportation Commission met. One agenda item reviewed the Shared Streets program and included an open discussion for recommendations. During 2020’s Shared Streets program, the City focused on providing additional space for people to safely social distance when walking or biking while getting outside. Now, in 2021 the City will shift the program’s focus. It proposes to trial shared street options that can lead to permanent solutions prioritizing bicycle and pedestrian safety.”

“Friends of Lake Wingra urged the Transportation Commission to consider adding a repurposed bike lane along Monroe Street, between Woodrow and Wingra Park, onto the 2021 Shared Streets program through written comments.  A repurposed bike lane along this section of Monroe Street appeared on the proposed 2021’s Shared Streets list in the Department of Transportation’s annual report. However, it was not included in the final proposal presented to the Transportation Commission. At the beginning of the meeting, Alder Evers of District 13 acknowledged that this area acts as a weak link in the Lake Wingra pedestrian and bicycle recreational loop. He also stated it would need attention in the future.  Additionally, a few transportation members asked about this during the discussion. Yang Tao, head of City of Madison’s Traffic and Engineering, said City Traffic is looking to make this portion of the Lake Wingra bicycle and pedestrian route closer to Lake Wingra.  This envisioned bicycle and pedestrian path would connect Vilas Park Drive and Pleasure Drive directly to the Wingra Park. Tao did not provide a timeline for this potential alternative. “

Posted in City of Madison Parks, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed | Leave a comment

Some Spring Events Around the Lake Wingra Watershed

Ice Be Gone

After a long, cold winter the Madison area lakes are now ice-free. Lake Wingra was declared ice-free on March 20 by assistant state climatologist Ed Hopkins. Also declared open on Saturday March 20th was Lake Mendota and on Monday the 22nd Lake Monona was found to be open. Both were open a couple of days earlier than last year and more than a week ahead of average, according to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday March 24th.

Image of year-round resident Mallard female captured earlier this at the Spring Trail Pond along Nakoma Road. The migrating mallards have joined the fray.

Migrating waterfowl, including Canada geese, mallards, and Blue-winged teal, among others are now arriving to take advantage of the open water. Sandhill cranes have been in town since early March and are heard calling nearly every morning from Lake Wingra’s West Marsh, Curtis Prairie, and other spots around the watershed. Male Red-winged blackbirds are staking out territories and calling from nearly every elevated perch in the Lake Wingra wetlands.

Spring Prescribed Burns in the Lake Wingra Watershed

Now that the snow cover is gone, restoration ecologists and land managers from the Arboretum, and city agencies such as City of Madison Parks, the Engineering Division and neighborhood volunteer groups are eagerly awaiting the day when they can light the match and conduct their first prescribed management burns of the season.

A prescribed management burn of a prairie planting along the SW Commuter bike path conducted a few years ago. Burns such as this one are planned, ignited, and managed by trained neighborhood volunteers under the auspices of the City of Madison Engineering Division.

Already, in rural parts of Dane and Iowa Counties, groups like The Prairie Enthusiasts have several prescribed prairie fires under their belts.

Prescribed Burns on Southwest Path

The Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association (DMNA) has put out this advance notice of their spring burn plans:

“This year, the City of Madison Parks Division and Engineering Division and volunteer groups will be conducting prescribed burns on areas of existing native vegetation. Prescribed burns are an important management tool for Wisconsin’s native plant communities. Prescribed burns are the intentional use of fire, under specific environmental conditions, to manage and suppress invasive vegetation, and promote native vegetation.

“Volunteers have been burning these same prairie parcels along the Southwest Commuter Trail for over a decade. The burns will only take place under specific weather conditions in order to manage smoke and minimize impacts to neighbors. In addition, burn professionals and volunteers will install appropriate road signage on the day of the burn.”

Earth Day Challenge: Clean Up of City of Madison Parks

A not-quite full moon setting as the sun rises over Wingra Boats at Wingra Park.

For more than twenty years the City of Madison Parks has observed Earth Day by organizing a volunteer clean up (Earth Day Challenge) of select parks. This year, Saturday April 24 is the scheduled clean up day with 45 city parks designated as part of the volunteer efforts.

To register click here at the Earth Day Challenge web page. Individuals and small groups are welcome to register. All volunteers must wear a mask and practice social distancing with anyone outside of your household.

The Lake Wingra Watershed is blessed with nine City Parks:

Aldo Leopold Park, Glenwood Childrens Park, Nakoma Park, Odana Hills Park, Odana School Park, Orchard Ridge Park, Westmorland Park, and Vilas Park. Three of these, Nakoma Park, Westmoreland Park, and Wingra Park are on the Earth Day Challenge list, but you don’t need to wait for the Earth Day Challenge to help pick up litter in one of our watershed’s parks, just go do it on your own.

Glenway Golf Course Project Envisions an Ecological Design Approach

With a new master plan approved by the Board of Parks Commissioners and with new funding from a generous donor, the City of Madison Parks Department has undertaken a project to re-envision the future design of Glenway Golf Course that calls for a lighter human touch on the land. The re-designed Glenway Golf Course would include the use of native plants, a 20% decrease manicured open space, and improved infiltration of stormwater. (Full disclosure, this blogger is part of the Ecological Team consulting on the new design).

The new concept design has been reviewed by the Friends of Lake Wingra (FoLW) and written about in a recent post on the organization’s blog. Click here to read FoLW’s blog post on the Glenway Golf Course project.

Friends of Lake Wingra says that it is enthusiastic about the the potential of the project to support goals and objectives outlined in the Lake Wingra Watershed Management Plan developed with City of Madison Engineering and other watershed partners. FoLW has issued public comments that go into detail about the way the Glenway eco-design could support increased infiltration of precipitation and thus recharge of groundwater. Read FoLW’s comments here.

Posted in City of Madison Engineering Division, City of Madison Parks, Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association, Friends of Lake Wingra, Glenwood Childrne's Park, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, Lake Wingra Watershed management planning, Nakoma Park, Prescribed fire, Wingra Park | 2 Comments

Challenges for Ecological Restoration–Updated

Restoration, like all other human endeavors faces a number of challenges inherent in its basic design and fabric.  Because ecological restoration deals with complex problems it is not surprising that uncertainties are nearly everywhere:  weather, sociopolitical conditions, global climate change, and the very historical uniqueness of the communities and ecosystems being restored.

Some of the more important and real challenges that interfere with accomplishing the desired outcomes of restorations are these: 1) that natural systems are constantly changing; 2) that humans have an imperfect understanding of natural systems; 3) the lack of available information about earlier successes and failures; 4) the fear that natural remnants will be destroyed, because people assume restoration projects can replace them; 5) that restoration is situational–there is no single restoration formula, and each project is very time-consuming; 6) that the project stakeholders often have conflicting desires; and 7) the lack of sufficient resources to support long-term projects.

Encounters With Ecological Time and Our History

But, there is another group of overriding restoration challenges, or encounters with trying to reconcile the irreconcilable that we will take up here. These are challenges not only for ecological restoration but also for society as a whole. We might refer to these challenges as “encounters”. The first is the irreversible nature of ecological time and the other three have to do with America’s three original sins.

Ecological Time

“Ecological restoration is an encounter with the irreversibility of ecological time.” (Bill Jordan, III personal communication, 09.18).  Jordan is stating the obvious, that the effort to restore ecosystems is essentially impossible because time and its effects can’t be reversed.  More importantly, Jordan is  suggesting that the impossibility of pure ecological restoration derives its very meaning and value from that impossibility.

Jordan is talking about the biological, ecological and scientific challenge to ecological restoration posed by America’s history.  But if there is remedial value in merely recognizing past sins and in trying to correct past ecological damage then there should be the same remedial and restorative value in ecological restoration trying to reckon with other aspects of America’s history.

Encounters With America’s Three Original Sins

America’s original sins, or birth defects, make the job of ecological restoration even more difficult than trying to reverse ecological time.

  1. The enslavement of African-Americans (which continues to this day in one form or another as in suppression of voting rights, a forced life of poverty, and systematic murder by police and vigilanties). 
  2. The forced dispossession (Saunt, 2020) of Native Americans from their ancestral lands through deportation, expulsion, and extermination.  This  unequal treatment continues to this day.
  3. The destruction of the environment and natural resources in the name of America’s Manifest Destiny. and the material riches that flowed from the subjection of land and native peoples. 

For example, William Carlos Williams, the poet and physician, has said of America and its conquest of lands and peoples: “History begins for us with murder and enslavement, not with discovery.” (William Carlos Williams,  “In The American Grain”,  New Directions, 1925 page 44).  

Likewise, Robert Kaplan in his 2017 book, “Earning the Rockies”, describes as “irreconcilable” the American dichotomy between its “manifest destiny” to conquer the landscape, and the material riches that flowed from the subjection of land and native peoples.  These two strands of American history cannot be reconciled.    This un-reconcilable “chicken” has come home to roost, in the words of Charles M. Blow in the New York Times on June 1, 2020.

We cannot escape the fact that this malignant legacy has shaped our thoughts about the landscape and ecology and thus presents an enormous challenge to protecting the environment and restoring damaged ecosystems.  If society and culture is damaged then what hope is there for the natural environment?  

Ecological restoration is an encounter with not only the damage to ecological systems of but also to the the disintegration of  social and cultural systems (of Native Americans, African-Americans, and US society in general.)  Thus the work of ecological restoration must include programs to stabilize and then repair social and cultural systems at the same time that it is tackling environmental damage.  In this sense, the ecological restoration team must include not only scientists and land managers, but also community organizers, civil rights activists, and cultural benefactors. 

These thoughts are not original with me but are shaped by a sort of emerging group consciousness. A leading proponent of the broadening of the definition of ecological restoration is the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER)

“Not Only Repairing Ecological Damage but Improving the Human Condition”–SER

For example, the SER Mission is: “SER advances the science, practice and policy of ecological restoration to sustain biodiversity, improve resilience in a changing climate, and re-establish an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture.”

And, SER’s Vision states: “Ecological restoration becomes a fundamental component of conservation and sustainable development programs throughout the world by virtue of its inherent capacity to provide people with the opportunity to not only repair ecological damage, but also improve the human condition.”

So, it seems lots of people are coming to this view but is it really possible to work productively within such a deeply flawed system; one burdened with three original sins and birth defects?  What can reasonably be expected of ecological restoration to accomplish in this compromised system?   At the least, ecological restoration must broaden its scope to attempt to heal the social and cultural ills of this country before it can expect that there will be progress on the ecological front.

Maybe it will be impossible but as Jordan says, there is value and meaning in trying.”


Charles M. Blow in the New York Times on June 1, 2020.

Robert Kaplan. “Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World”. 2017. Random House.

Claudio Saunt, 2020 “America an “Unworthy Republic” The Dispossession of Native Americans and Thea Road to Indian Territory”  W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY.

William Carlos Williams,  “In The American Grain”,  New Directions, 1925 page 44.  

Posted in Ecological restoration, Ecological restoration as a values and social-political project, Environmental justice, Human impacts on restorations, Racial justice and ecological restoration, Restoration ecology, Social Justice, The future of restoration ecology | Leave a comment

Signs of Spring

It’s been a quiet week in the Lake Wingra Watershed. Quiet and promising. For the time being the frigid, snowy days appear to be past us. In the last few days warming temperatures have broken the hold of the Polar Vortex and signs of spring and the change of seasons are everywhere.

If you have been out and about early in the morning this week you have seen some brilliant orange-red sunrises. The Thursday morning sunrise was especially colorful and was greeted by the matting calls of our resident songbirds. By shortly after six am Northern cardinals, black-capped chicadees, the tufted titmouse, and even the wild turkey joined in.

This week the weather was suitable enough to take to the wooded trails around the Lake to check for signs of spring. Although the snowpack is steadily melting–just this week the snow cover has receded from a depth of 14″ down to 8″ this morning–the trails are still snow-covered and icy and cleats are advised.

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) a plant of low wet ground, swamps, and springs. It is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring; often emerging in February while snow is still on the ground.

Unexpected Early Arrival

I did not have to leave home to note a true spring phenological event. This came unexpectedly last Saturday morning when a migratory male red-winged blackbird showed up at the backyard bird feeders. A February 20th sighting (at least for my location) is one to two weeks earlier than usual. The hungry male came around on Sunday also and then moved on to parts unknown–perhaps into Curtis Prairie or the aptly named Red Wing Marsh on the southern shore of Lake Wingra. The Aldo Leopold Foundation (ALF) Phenology Calendar says that red-winged blackbirds begin to arrive on February 25th, along with wood ducks.

First stop was the Arboretum Big Spring. Still there, as he has been all winter, was the winter-resident Great Blue Heron, tucked in amongst the low branches of the shrub thicket over the spring channel. He sometimes shares this fishing ground with a belted kingfisher.

Skunk Cabbage

On to Skunk Cabbage Bridge where it crosses Marshland Creek to check on the progress of the early spring bloomer, skunk cabbage. There they were, a few sprouts just sticking up a few inches above the flowing water. Not quite in bloom yet but very close

As a member of the Arum family– its relatives include Jack-in-the Pulpit, and Green dragon–the skunk cabbage has a modified leaf called a spath that surrounds a spadix which is a thick, spike-like flower head containing many small florets (Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region, Black and Judziewicz). The skunk cabbage is a true spring ephemeral, meaning that its elephant ear-sized leaves die and the plant goes dormant by mid-summer.

Randy Hoffman in his new book, “When Things Happen” in Wisconsin tells us skunk cabbage is:

“Always the first flower of spring, skunk cabbages can be seen poking through snow or even ice. These flowers are able to accomplish this feat by generating their own heat. The chemical process that converts the stored starches in the roots into the rapidly growing flower can bring its temperature up nearly 30 degrees warmer than the outside temperature.”

The skunk cabbage’s bad-smelling flowers attract early spring pollinators such as “Gnats, carrion flies (Calliphoridae), and flesh flies (Sarcophagidae) pollinate the flowers which they are attracted to due to their flesh-like smell and appearance as well as the warm temperatures generated by and sustained within the spathe. Not surprisingly, spiders like to live in skunk cabbage flowers where they await unsuspecting pollinators.” according to a natural history story news item from the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, WI     

Full Snow Moon

Tonight enjoy the full Snow moon, rising just after 5pm. Tomorrow (Saturday Feb. 27) the Snow moon, will rise at 6:18 pm. And, in the next few days and weeks be on the lookout for the arrival of sandhill cranes, killdeer, eastern meadowlarks, and song sparrows.

Posted in Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, Skunk Cabbage Springs, Spring ephemerals | 2 Comments

Upcoming Events, Workshops, and Informational Meetings for Lake Wingra Watershed Residents

Vilas Park Master Planning Public Information Meeting to present final draft plan, February 4, 6pm. Sponsored by City of Madison Parks this meeting tomorrow night, Thursday February 4th will the the final chance to review and learn about the draft plan for Vilas Park development.

Thursday, February 4, 2021 at 6:00pm – REGISTER AND ATTEND
Please note: this meeting will not be recorded

Virtual 3-part rain garden workshop
, Feb 16, Mar 2, Mar 16, 6-7:30pm. Learn to site, build, and design a rain garden for your yard. Sponsored by the Madison Madison Area Municipal Stormwater Partnership (MAMSWaP) / Dane County Land & Water Resources Department, this three-part course will guide people through a step-by-step process to design and install a rain garden on their property.

The Salt in My Water Softener Goes Where?, April 6, 7pm. Learn how to make your water softener operate more efficiently for our waterways. Wisconsin Salt Wise sponsors this one hour virtual course to learn how water softeners contribute to chloride issues in our surface waters.

Posted in Restoration ecology | Leave a comment

WI DNR: PFAS Found in All Madison, WI Lakes


Lake Wingra and Yahara River Chain Included in New Testing Results

Madison, WI. January 22, 2021. Yesterday the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WIDNR) announced that elevated levels of of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds are present in all of the Madison-area chain of lakes, including the Yahara River, this according to Adrian Stocks, DNR Water Quality Program Director.

The most recent test results are from samples taken in 2020.

PFOS/PFAS sampling results in the Yahara Chair of Lakes. Graphic courtesy of WIDNR.

The recent DNR findings add to the extent of the known PFAS contamination in the Madison area which now includes the presence of PFAS contamination in our surface waters, groundwater, and drinking water. For example, as this blog reported late last year:

“In December of 2020 the City of Madison released test results showing that the groundwater at the Dane County Airport contained two particular types of PFAS (PFOS and PFOA) at levels “thousands of times higher than recommended by health standards”, and much higher than previous tests had shown.”

“Also in 2020, the City of Madison Water Utility also reports that all of its wells contain some level of PFAS and that it shut down one well last year when levels of PFOS reached 12 parts per trillion (PPT). The story in the Wisconsin State Journal can be found here.

Presence of PFAS/PFOS in Fish is a Concern Also

The DNR found elevated levels of PFAS in Lake Monona and Starkweather Creek in 2019, which resulted in a new PFAS fish consumption advisory for those two water bodies. It is not known if, or to what extent, the fish stocks of the rest of the Madison chain of lakes are contaminated by PFAS/PFOS until results of tests conducted on fish samples collected late last year are released by the WIDNR late this winter or in early spring, according to Stocks.

Why This Matters

PFAS present a widespread human health hazard. They are unavoidable in the Madison area because they are found in our drinking water, our freshwater lakes, and streams, and in the groundwater.

Because PFAS are in the water this means they are part of food supply (think fish consumption by humans) and in the natural food chain (think fish-eating birds of prey like eagles and ospreys, and waterfowl that consume fish.)

Water is life. PFAS in the water supply is abuse of water and thus abuse of life and our natural systems.

For the full DNR press release, click here.

For more information: Contact Adrian Stocks, DNR Water Quality Program Director
Adrian.Stocks@wisconsin.gov or 608-609-0052
Christine Haag, DNR Remediation And Redevelopment Program Director
Christine.Haag@wisconsin.gov or 608-422-1128

Posted in Abuse of water, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, PFAS, PFAS compounds | Leave a comment