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

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

Winter Bird Life of the Lake Wingra Springs

Early on New Year’s Day, I was out and about and heard the song of the male Northern Cardinal for the first time this year–this vocalization is a territorial declaration and usually happens in January–and is an important sign of lengthening days and a notable phenological event.

A female cardinal the the Arboretum’s Spring Trail Pond (also known as the Duck Pond).

Others in this area may have heard the cardinal sing before this date, but January 1 is the date that goes into my phenological record book for 2021. According to the Wisconsin Phenology Calendar produced by the Aldo Leopold Foundation (ALF), the cardinal does not normally begin its spring songs until January 3rd.

Phenology is the study of the timing and sequence of natural events: emergence from hibernation, the migration of birds, the leaf out and blooming of trees and shrubs. Aldo Leopold famously kept long running and detailed record of phenological events around his “Shack” near Baraboo, Wisconsin and scientists at ALF have mined this data–combined with modern-day records–to help us to know when to expect natural events and to understand how organisms are adapting to climate change effects. Phenological record-keeping is something anyone can do in their own yard or neighborhood patch and is a great citizen science project. To learn more about Leopold’s phenological study and the Leopold Foundation’s Wisconsin Phenological Calendar click here.

On January 8th ( Jan 7 Wisconsin Phenology Calendar) I heard the Black-capped chickadee begin its mating call and heard the Tufted titmouse–for a single day– make its spring territorial call on Jan. 10. Since I have not heard the titmouse sing since that day, this may have been an irregular event from a bird eager to jump the gun. But nonetheless, bird activity is picking up and spring is on the way.

The springs around Lake Wingra are a well-known haven for birds in the spring and summer–especially as a hot spot for migrating warblers, sandhill cranes, and the four species of woodpeckers we see in this area. Less well appreciated, perhaps, is the even more crucial role the springs play in providing winter habitat. The springs are where shelter, warm, freshwater, and abundant food from berry-producing plants and from neighborhood bird feeders.

In fact the entire Lake Wingra Watershed provides habitat for a large number of species. At the recent Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the Audubon Society, and conducted on December 19th thirty-five species were counted in the Arboretum portion of the Madison Circle.

One of the most obvious and common bird species in the watershed is the Mallard which is found everywhere in North America, and which has become a year-round resident at the Arboretum’s Duck Pond. This year there are in the neighborhood of 100 or more, attracted by the open water and habit of neighbors to provide bird seed to the ducks.

This well-intentioned gesture has its downsides by helping to spread diseases among the congregating ducks and by exposing the birds to death by automobile as they attempt to waddle across Nakoma Road lured by the corn and bird food at the top of Spring Trail drive. Every year at least a few adult mallards and/or young ducklings are flattened in the middle of Nakoma Road as they come and go from the Duck Pond and the residential feeding station.

Also at the Spring Trail Pond this winter already I have seen other usual winter residents such as Northern Cardinal, American Robins, Kingfisher, and White-throated sparrows. Also seen at the Duck Pond Springs have been Fox sparrows, and American Tree sparrow. Black-capped chickadees, downy and hairy woodpeckers are common in an around the springs, as are wild turkeys.

A Spotted towhee is spending some time this winter at the Duck Pond (aka Gorham Springs , Spring Trail Pond) Springs this winter.

An unusual sighting this winter is a spotted towhee–a rare visitor from the Great Plains and Western United States–that has been hanging out at the Duck Pond Springs and attracting large numbers of birders and photographers trying to catch a glimpse and maybe a photo of the beautiful bird.

Wild Turkeys, at the Duck Pond. This native bird–once extirpated but since reintroduced and recovered–is widespread in Wisconsin and is a year-round resident in most of the United States.

At the Arboretum Big Spring there has been a resident Great Blue Heron for the past few winters. Wood Ducks and a Pileated woodpeckers are often seen near the Big Spring. Other birds that at least visit the springs are barred and great horned owls, and red-tailed, Coopers and sharp-shinned hawks.

In the next few weeks I will be on the lookout for winter specialities such as pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, purple finches, redpolls, and crossbills which may make it down to this part of the state.

Posted in Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, Springs | 1 Comment

Wisconsin Road Salt Awareness Week, Jan. 11-15, 2021

The Wisconsin Salt Wise Partnership is sponsoring next week a series of live-streamed presentations on the wise and safe use of road salt. The Wisconsin Salt Wise partnership is a coalition of organizations working to reduce salt pollution of Wisconsin’s lakes, streams and drinking water.

The Winter Road Salt Problem

We refer to any common chloride compound used to melt ice and snow as “road salt” or ice melters, but these compounds, in addition to being applied to roads and highways, are also used widely on sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots to make paved surfaces safe for walking and driving.

This image illustrates the over-application of road salt to a city street. This is actually enough road salt to adequately treat a city sidewalk for an entire block.

In Wisconsin and other states in the Upper Midwest, where winters are long and snowy, road salt has been used for years to keep winter roads in good summer time driving condition. This is an unrealistic expectation and has resulted in high chloride levels in our freshwater resources and in the soil. According to the partnership: “once salt is in the environment, it does not go away but only accumulates harming lakes, waterways, groundwater, and drinking water.”   

Why This Is Important

The road salt problem has now become a year round problem. There is so much salt in the ground water and in our soils that if all salt applications were to stop today, salt would continue to leach into our waterways for many years to come.

Salt is toxic to aquatic life and degrades the natural ecosystems of our lakes. Virtually all of the road salt applied in the last 60 years has been absorbed by our lakes, streams, and wetlands, according to Wisconsin Salt Wise. Our own Lake Wingra has the highest salt concentration of any of Madison’s lakes at 115 mg per liter. See this article: The Hidden Costs of Oversalting for more information.

Over the last few years the application of ice melters by city residents to their sidewalks and driveways appears to have been reduced by those aware of the problem and concerned about the environment. In addition, the City of Madison this winter of 2020-21 has reduced the use of road salt. Because of the closures of some bus routes and schools due to COVID-19 the City has not applied road salt to these areas that would have been treated in previous years. But, there is still room for improvement.

Road Salt Awareness Week Workshop Topics

The Salt Wise Partnership seeks to slow down the use of ice melters by providing educational information about how we can continue to have save walking and driving surfaces while at the same time reducing the amount of road salt that is applied by municipalities, businesses, and citizens.

Salt Wise Partnership members include the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department, Public Health Madison and Dane County, City of Madison, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Madison Water Utility, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, and others.

The topics of their week-long educational program include:

Monday January 11: Salty Streams and Formerly Freshwater Lakes: an ecosystem perspective.

Tuesday January 12: Be Salt Wise and Pet Smart

Wednesday January 13: Salt Your Dinner, Not Our Drinking Water.

Thursday January 14: Put Your House/Business on a Low Salt Diet

and Smart Salting for Property Managers.

Friday January 15: Salt Reduction Champions, a video montage of success stories from across the state.

The presentations will be live streamed on You Tube and you can register and get a full schedule of events here.

Other helpful information available includes:

A Salt wise certified applicators map so that you can select a certified salt wise applicator.

An article on how to stop over salting.

And a water softener self-diagnostic.

What You Can Do

Even if you can’t attend the virtual workshops, there are still things you can do to take action to reduce road salt usage. Click here for a list of five steps you can take to promote safety and protect our waters.

Posted in Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, Road salt, Road salt use | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Water Quality in the News

Whew! 2020!

Let’s not do this again, OK?

But, for all the ups and downs—mostly downs—in 2020, here in Wisconsin the year ends with notable progress toward addressing the State’s water quality issues. Along with this progress comes a deeper recognition of the extent of the pollution of our freshwater resources, and the consequences of this pollution.

Background and Why This Matters

Wisconsin’s freshwater resources–its surface waters, groundwater, and drinking water– are contaminated with agricultural runoff including nitrates from manure and fertilizers, and from pesticides. In many parts of the state the drinking water is no longer safe to consume because of these and other pollutants.

More recently the hazardous chemicals, PFAS or “forever chemicals” because they do not break down, have been discovered in groundwater near the Dane County Airport and Truax Field, a Wisconsin National Guard air base where firefighting foam–a common source of PFAS–has long been used.

In addition to Madison’s airport, PFAS compounds have been found in Starkweather Creek on the east side and are in every city well. One of the wells had levels so high that it was shut down.

PFAS and PFOS have been linked to cancer, liver disease, and reproductive health problems.  They are a “group of mostly unregulated synthetic compounds found in firefighting foam, as well as food packaging, non-stick cookware and water resistant clothing”, according to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal (12.17.20

Here is What We Learned This Week

What we learned this week is that city, and state officials and lobbying groups are finally coming around to the notion that something has to be done. Below are three developments worth noting.

Groundwater ContaminationIt’s Worse Than We Thought

This week 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.

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.

For more info click here

Groups Agree to Work Together to Promote Clean Water and Farmers

This week in Wisconsin the dairy industry and environmental groups have come together to find common ground and reached agreement to work together to protect drinking water and support farmers. 

The Dairy Business Association, The Nature Conservancy, and the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association announced the resolution which puts aside their disagreements that have traditionally been typified by clashes over farm policy and environmental policy in the state legislature. To learn more about this promising working agreement, click here.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Announces PFAS Action Plan

Also this week the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WIDNR) released its PFAS Action Plan. 

The PFAS Action Plan was developed by the Wisconsin PFAS Action Council (WisPAC), a group of nearly 20 state agencies and the University of Wisconsin System. As part of the statewide initiative to ensure Wisconsinites have access to clean, safe drinking water,

As part of the statewide initiative to ensure Wisconsinites have access to clean, safe drinking water, Gov. Tony Evers signed Executive Order #40 in August 2019 to address the issue of PFAS across the state.

In total, there are 25 action items laid out in the plan. Some highlights include recommendations to:

  1. Establish science-based PFAS standards for environmental media such as soil and groundwater.
  2. Develop PFAS risk communication infrastructure including the construction of a website, improved public engagement, partnerships within the community and inter-agency collaboration.
  3. Streamline processes associated with the delivery of safe drinking water supplies to communities impacted by PFAS contamination.
  4. Support veterans, their families and those who live near military sites who may have a higher risk of exposure to PFAS.

The full Action Plan can be found here.

Not Everyone Is On Board

The fly in the ointment is that the Republican-led state legislature and commercial interests represented by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce are generally not supportive of these new initiatives and may try to throw up roadblocks to any efforts to protect and improve Wisconsin’s freshwater resources. More about this in future posts.

Posted in Fire fighting foam, fluorinated foam, Freshwater resources, Groundwater, PFAS, PFAS compounds, Springs, Starkweather Creek, Water quality in Madison | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Road Salt Use

Why we should keep the snow shovel handy and use less road salt and ice melter.

Winter in Wisconsin means lots of outdoor recreation—skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.  It also ushers in treacherous walking, hiking, and driving because of slippery sidewalks, and snowy and ice-covered roads.  And, along with the snow comes the application or road salt and other sodium-based ice melters to make the pavement safe for us to pursue our winter interests.

But our desires for safe walking and driving comes at great expense and hidden costs that have impacts on the environment, our economy, infrastructure, and our beloved pets.

Because the Madison and south-central Wisconsin area is expected to receive the first plowable snowfall of the season this weekend—and thus likely resulting in its first road salt application—I thought this would be a good time to review Madison’s current winter road salt application policies and practices, and the information City of Madison Streets Division provides the public to help us get through the Winter.  

In future blog posts we will dive deeper into the hidden costs of road salt use, but for now just a brief outline of what’s at stake, with information from Wisconsin Salt Wise.https://www.wisaltwise.com

Environmental Costs

First, according to Wisconsin Salt Wise Partnership , a coalition of organizations working together to reduce salt pollution in our lakes, streams, and drinking water, once salt is in the environment, it does not go away but only accumulates harming lakes, waterways, groundwater, and drinking water.   

The environmental impacts of salt use on our water resources—lakes, streams, springs, and groundwater—is of particular interest to the blog.

Economic Costs

During the winter of 2018-2019, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) spent over $40 million on salt for highways.  This amount does not include what local municipalities, business, and homeowners spent.

Degradation of Infrastructure

Salt corrodes concrete, brick, and stone, the main components of much of our highways, bridges, and buildings.  The repair and replacement costs are enormous.

Harm to Pets

Salt irritates feet, paws, and skin of pets.  Toxicity can result if they lick it off leading to a whole host of health problems.

City of Madison Snow Removal

In the City, the Streets Division is responsible for clearing about 1,800 miles of roadways, plus City maintained sidewalks, bus stops and crosswalks.  Winter maintenance of commercial residential sidewalks and parking lots are the responsibility of the property owner.

The best place to go to learn about the details of declared snow emergencies, and the policies and practices of snow removal in Madison is to go to the City’s “Winter” page. https://www.cityofmadison.com/residents/winter/parking/declaredSnowEmergency.cfm

From there you are linked to separate pages that deal with:

Street Snow Removal and Transportation

Sidewalk Snow Removal


Salt and Sustainability

Winter Parking

Best Practices for Winter Road Salt Use

Best practices to reduce the use of salt include a few commonsense steps.

1. Shovel (or sweep) the snow off at the earliest opportunity before it has a chance get trampled and turn to ice.

2. Scatter the salt widely with spaces between the grains; not in a solid carpet of salt granules. Use less, not more.

3. When the temperature drops below 15 F, salt won’t work; if you must use sand instead.’

4. Lower expectations for pristine, summer-like driving conditions in the winter, thus putting less pressure on city officials to spread more and more road salt.

For more information go here. Wisconsin Salt Wise provides a series of outreach and trainings for homeowners, and professional applicators as well.  https://www.wisaltwise.com

Posted in Chloride concentrations, Groundwater, Lake Wingra, Road salt, Road salt use | 3 Comments

Audio Field Trip to Lake Wingra Big Spring and White Clay Springs

Big Spring viewed from lower path in Wingra Woods, UW-Madison Arboretum. Photo Copyrighted by Stephen B. Glass.

Listen along as Arboretum Naturalist Kathy Miner takes the The Unseen Madison podcast team on a field trip to two of the Arboretum’s better known springs in lower Wingra Woods: Big Spring and its neighbor to the east White Clay Spring. This seven minute podcast was recorded a few years ago and is perhaps more relevant than ever.

Kathy talks about the subtle natural beauty and easy-to-miss features of the springs not far from the modern-day Lake Wingra shoreline. (Perhaps little known fact: the current day boulder-strewn pathway to the springs follows the former shoreline when the lake level was much higher.

White Clay Spring as it appeared in the summer of 2020.

On the podcast, Kathy’s modern-day natural history narrative is supplemented with readings from “The Springs of Lake Wingra” by Charles E. Brown. Charles E. Brown (1872-1946) was museum director at the State Historical Society and wrote extensively a out Wisconsin natural history and antiquities, including the Native American mounds in the Four Lakes region.

In his 1927 classic description of Lake Wingra, “The Springs of Lake Wingra” Brown writes about the physical condition of the woods, springs, and Lake Wingra in the early 1920’s and recounts how the Native Americans and local settlers used the natural resources of the springs. In the podcast a modern-day narrator recreates some of Brown’s observations.

White Clay Spring as it appeared a few winters ago. The person standing in the stream is using a small underwater meter, called a pygmy meter to measure the flow rate of the spring in cubic feet per second.
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Edgewood Big Spring

Edgewood Big Spring aka Cadwallader Washburn Spring is located on the campus of Edgewood College just off the north shore of Lake Wingra, between Edgewood Drive and Lake Wingra.

On a recent morning I ventured down to the north shore of Lake Wingra, below the Edgewood College campus to revisit the Edgewood Big Spring. Also known as the Edgewood Deep Hole, I had not seen the spring in awhile and was curious to see how it was faring and this unusually warmish mid-November day was the perfect excuse to go exploring and photographing.

Also known as the Washburn Spring, the Big Spring/Deep Hole (Noland, 1951), is next to the Edgewood College boardwalk, along the Lake Wingra shoreline.  

I am fascinated by natural cold-water springs and like to spend time near them. The water I see bubbling up today may have traveled for years underground before it reaches the surface; this realization caused me to wonder about water’s underground route before it reached this point on Earth’s surface.

The cool, clear water of springs enters Lake Wingra year round and improves water quality and provides wildlife habitat. For this they are a precious natural resource, a window into the past, and a measure of how humans care for the landscape and water resources.

There used to be many more springs along the north shore of Lake Wingra before European settlement but most have been lost. The Big Spring or Deep Hole is one of the few known to remain. The spring is accessible from a narrow footpath below Edgewood Drive. The spring has a small seating area and is along a boardwalk that leads through the cattail marsh to the lake’s edge.

Noland reported in 1951 that by 1924 the spring produced “sufficient seepage” to keep the pool permanently filled with water. Today, in 2020, the spring appears to be about what Noland described in 1951–a deep pool, filled with groundwater seepage and with no apparent direct outlet to the lake. Perhaps there was, at one time, a stream channel running to Lake Wingra but today that route is not visible.

By the 1980’s and 1990’s the spring had become overgrown with brush, forgotten, and relegated to the annals of local history, until it was “re-observed” in 2000 by Edgewood College biology professor, Jim Lorman.  

A small sign commemorates the Washburn Spring. Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to the Native Americans (Ho-Chunk) who resided in the area before Washburn.

Names of Things

As I began composing images of the spring and gazing into the spring pool from the seating platform, I noticed a stream of walkers and runners go by on the pedestrian/bike only Edgewood Drive above. I wondered how many folks going by were aware of the lake and its springs?

As I stared into the spring pool trying to get just the right image, I keep thinking about how people claim–and place value on–things by naming them–plants, ideas, movements–and springs are no exception. I realized I did not know by what name(s) the Native Americans referred to the spring. I wondered if anyone knows the Native American name and questioned why–as with many aspects of our landscape and culture–the indigenous history has been erased and replaced with that of the dominant European culture.

Before me was a spring–on land stolen from Native Americans– with at least three different American names, but no known Native American names. Judging by the small (see photo above) Edgewood has settled on naming the spring after Cadwallader C. Washburn, a distinguished Wisconsin public official from the 1880’s.

Who Was Washburn?

In the early 2000’s Edgewood College built the boardwalk to the spring and through the marsh, bringing people right up to the edge of Lake Wingra. Also in the early 2000’s the Friends of Lake Wingra (FoLW) held a clean-up and restoration planting of Washburn Spring in which several species of native emergent wetland species were planted.

In the 1880’s Cadwallader C. Washburn–former Wisconsin representative and Wisconsin governor–resided in the mansion (now part of Edgewood College) perched above the lake. Washburn lined the spring with boulders and used it to raise trout.

Washburn was born in Maine, moved to Wisconsin where he set up a law practice in Mineral Point, served four terms in the US Congress and was elected governor of Wisconsin. To learn more about Washburn (1818- 1883) and his illustrious career, click here.

Washburn Spring in November, 2020.

Condition of Edgewood Big Spring/Deep Hole

Today, the spring appears to be in good condition. There is no sign of litter. Thanks to the boardwalk and viewing/seating deck there is no sign of human trails and resulting soil trampling. The spring pool surface is covered with lesser duckweed (Lemna minor), a native small floating aquatic plant which is among the world’s smallest flowering plants. At the water’s edge are various sedges and emergent flowering plants. In the summer native blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) blooms profusely. The spring appears to be free of watercress, an introduced aquatic pest plant which is common in many of the other springs around Lake Wingra.

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