Conserve and Preserve blog - archive 3

June 25, 2019

A citizen science success story: Saving the bluebird

Photo of Eastern Bluebird

Beloved by birders and citizens across North America, this beautiful bird was almost wiped from the skies. Let’s go back almost 200 years to tell the story... 

Introduced competition: European Starlings and House Sparrows
In the late 1800’s, Shakespearean enthusiasts introduced European Starlings to New York’s Central Park. What started as sixty birds released into the city skies, spread to an estimated 200 million across the US. 

Photo of Shakespeare Starling

The introduction of the house sparrow was not as well documented. Some pairs were said to be introduced into New York City in the mid 1800’s but didn’t fair very well. This failure didn’t stop others from trying throughout the US and before another century unfolded in the US, the house sparrow was everywhere. 

Photo of sparrow

Both of these introduced birds brought intense competition for the native bluebird. All three birds nest in cavities that they do not create. This is referred to as "secondary cavity nesting." David Schmidt, a local bluebird conservationist and member of the Bluebird Recovery Program of MN, describes secondary nesting as “us[ing] the nest cavities of other birds who created the original cavity, like woodpeckers.” Secondary nesters also use naturally occurring cavities to build nests in.  

Those types of nesting sites were disappearing. “People no longer leave 'snags,' standing dead or dying trees, where the primary nesters would excavate new nests,” says Schmidt. “Home and business owners now have them removed for safety reasons thus eliminating the possibility of them becoming a nesting site.” Another source of nest cavities was also vanishing across the landscape: “They would nest in old wooden fence posts which sometimes have knots that fall out leaving a nice hole for nesting.” says Schmidt. “These are no longer used. Where fencing is still installed and maintained, steel posts are now used.”

This introduced competition for nesting sites and a large decrease in forest habitat due to both expanding communities and agricultural purposes marked a sharp decline in bluebirds. By the 1970s, seventy percent of the population of bluebirds had vanished. Some studies also linked the widespread use of DDT, an insecticide banned in the US in 1972, to the sharp decline in bluebirds.

A new kind of scientist: the citizen

Naturalists and birders across the US saw this rapid decline in their beloved bird, and did something about it. Groups such as the Audubon society, the North American Bluebird Society, and various state ornithology societies took action by creating nesting boxes for the bluebird.

Bluebird box makers and their creations popped up all over the nation. By installing these structures, and monitoring which species nest in them, they could help reverse the damage done and recover some of the population of bluebirds. And they did. The bluebird’s conservation status is now marked at "Least Concern." Citizen scientists and their conservation efforts are directly credited with saving the bluebird populations.

Photo of bluebird box

Meet the three: Eastern, Western, and MountainPhoto showing three bluebird types
Henry David Thoreau said the bluebird carried the sky on its back. 

All three bluebird species have brilliant cobalt blue backs. The eastern bluebird has rust on the front of its body that comes right up to underneath the chin. The western bluebird has rust on the front but a full blue collar around its head. The mountain bluebird does not have the rust belly, it has a soft baby blue color instead. The eastern bluebird has the largest range in the US, covering most of the east coast and central North America. This is the species that you will see in Rosemount and the surrounding metro.

Bluebird courtship behavior and nesting: what to look for

Females build the nest with only grass, forming a cup shape. The males will try to attract the females by carrying around pieces of grass in their beaks to display that they are a good provider but this is all for show. 

Bluebird eggs range in colors from bright blue to white. They usually lay around 4 to 5 eggs. The female does not lay all the eggs at once. She lays one egg each day until she has a full clutch. She starts incubating them all at the same time so they all hatch within a few hours of each other. 

Both the male and female bluebirds feed the young over the next 15 to 20 days until the fledglings can leave the nest. During this feeding time, the young are fed almost entirely insects.

When the birds are large enough to fly on their own, the parents will start the process all over again, building a new nest on top of the old one. 

What else can you do?

Photo showing ecology for songbirds

Because the young feed almost entirely on insects, and by the time they become fledglings, they usually weigh more than their parents. You can help foster a healthy habitat for local birds by making sure a variety of insects are available in your garden. The recipe is fairly simple: native plants in a diverse yard bring diverse natural insects and pollinators.  Diverse bugs bring diverse local birds. A bluebird in your garden is the mark of a wonderful and healthy native garden! Put up a box or two and wait for your beautiful new bird friend to come, carrying the sky on their back.

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

June 18, 2019

Graphic showing June 30 deadline for stormwater mural contest

June 11, 2019

Graphic that says goats are here and visit Erickson Park June 13, 1 to 3 p.m.

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

June 4, 2019

The Goats are coming! The Goats are coming! Just call me the Paul Revere of goats.

Drawing of Paul Revere shouting "The goats are coming"

One of the first things that people said to me when I started my service year here in Rosemount and we chatted about invasive plant problems was "Have you heard of using goats?"

Goats are quickly becoming the cute and quirky mascot for buckthorn removal.  As one of the more fun tools in the tool box to combat invasive species, it’s easy to see why.

A day in the life of a goat:
The modern day domestic goat’s ancestry can be traced back to the wild goat of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. It has been domesticated by humans for over 10,000 years and now there are over 300 distinct breeds of goat!

They have been used for everything from their milk, meat, fur, skins, and now for their great eating skills! Goats are curious eaters. Despite the common misconception, goats do not eat everything (like tin cans and clothing). Goats are browsing animals (versus grazing animals). Which means they will chew and taste just about anything that looks even remotely close to a plant to test whether it is delicious or not.  

Capitalizing on goats affinity for woody shrubs and trees, and their ability to digest plants that would otherwise be toxic to humans and other animals, goat herders have been using them to control invasive plants.

With buckthorn, they are highly efficient at controlling its spread by a few different factors:

  • Goats will eat the entire young buckthorn plant down to its roots.
  • If the buckthorn is highly established and older growth, meaning a denser/thicker trunk, the goats can strip all the limbs and branches off the trunk up to 5 or 6 feet by standing on their hindlegs or each other.
  • If the buckthorn plant is berrying, goats will consume the fruit. Unlike birds, where whole berries can pass through a bird’s digestion and still be a viable seed and able to sprout new buckthorn plants once deposited, the goats teeth and their unique grinding and ability to digest the berries make them unviable once they pass through the goats system.
  • Goats are gentler on the ecosystem. Despite what you might see after a herd of goats roam through an area, the goats live in harmony with nature. Native plantings can resprout due to their healthy and deep root systems, the goat droppings help fertilize the soil and introduce healthy microbes, and do not disturb the soil. Pulling buckthorn, and other nonnatives, up by the roots can actually cause more harm than help. It disturbs the soil’s ecosystem, can lead to erosion and nutrient loss, and can even encourage unsprouted buckthorn berries in the soil to sprout, perpetuating the problem.  
  • Goat manure does not burn plants or attract insects like cow and horse manure does so can be left on site to naturally work into the soil, which it does quickly.

The goats are coming:
The rumor is true! The goats are coming to Rosemount. This June 8, a local goat herder will be bringing two dozen goats to Erickson Park. The goats are a mix of breeds, but primarily Kiko and Kiko crossbred goats. This breed is from New Zealand and is known for its hardiness and foraging capabilities.

The goats will be a mixture of adults and their young. Did you know that a nursing doe can consume almost one and a half times more than an adult male? She also teaches the next generation of goats what to eat, and what to avoid.

Come on down and say hi to the goats! (Unfortunately, the goats will have to be working and kept behind the fence the whole time, so no chances to pet or interact with them). I will be on site Thursday, June 13, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. You can see the goats, ask questions, and get a glimpse of what the restored park will look like. Happy goat week to you!

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

May 28, 2019

Graphic soliciting entries in storm drain mural contest

May 21, 2019

Chart showing proper recycling steps

May 14, 2019

Graphic of food labeled "Eat Your Veggies"

I know just by mentioning the word ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’, I have already lost a large chunk of the audience.  BUT DON’T GO!! 

I get it, I do.  Meat is soooo tasty! But just like any modern day shopper, we should be aware of the impact, and sustainability, of our choices.

In full disclosure, I have been a vegetarian for eighteen years.  Sometimes I am shocked by how much time has gone by.  

According to the USDA, this year Americans are set to consume over two hundred and twenty pounds of red meat and poultry, per person. Nutritionists recommend a serving size of meat per day at 5 to 6.5 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards.  We are consuming almost double that per day.

All that meat consumption is having an impact on the planet's health. According to the Environmental Working Group, growing the feed for livestock in the U.S. alone requires 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer each year.  This process creates nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide.  Another greenhouse gas, methane, is produced by cattle and is estimated to be roughly one fifth of the overall US methane emissions.

The solution can be simple: Americans should try to eat less meat.  Small changes in your diet can add up to very large, positive changes in our environment. I don’t recommend going cold turkey, pun intended, on your meat consumption.  Unless you are in the mood for a radical change in your lifestyle. Changing habits is hard.  Life’s too short, in my opinion, for strict diets. Or for measuring or weighing every portion of food. 

Try cutting meat out of one day a week, like meatless Monday (or Wednesday, we all know Mondays are hard enough).  By doing this you could reduce your meat consumption by 31.3 pounds per year. If every American reduced their consumption by 1/7th, that would remove the need for 10 billion pounds of meat each year.  By doing small changes, gradually, the changes tend to stick around longer, and become easier. 

I am a big snacker, and eater.  And despite my vegetarianism, or perhaps because of it, I eat a variety of foods. I use a quick trick when eating to stay happy and healthy:  I try to incorporate as many different natural colors into my food as possible.  Toss some fresh blueberries in your yogurt or cereal.  Chop up red bell peppers in your stir fry.  Peel and eat an orange for a day time snack. Or the millennial favorite: put avocado on your toast!  By just trying to make my plate as colorful as possible, I get a diversity of vitamins and nutrients without too much thought, or meat. 

Graphic showing 1940s recommended foods

I love this food circle from the 1940’s USDA. I don’t think these nutrition standards are quite the same as today, but they had the color trick down!

If you have made it this far reading about this topic, thanks for staying with me! Any sort of topic like this (or politics or taxes), tends to get people riled up.  I’ll try to hit it home for the few of you that are still reading this by providing you some other great facts and benefits to reducing your meat consumption:

  • You will save money! For the cost of a steak or package of hamburger, you can get a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts in the bulk sections of the market.
  • You will reduce the strain on the water supply!  Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all water used in the U.S.  It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat.
  • A typical pig factory generates the same amount of raw waste as a city of 12,000 people. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, raising animals for food is the number-one source of water pollution.
  • On a world-wide level, the world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “Roughly 2 of every 5 tons of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish; decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land.”
  • Your heart will thank you.  Meat, especially red meat consumption, is consistently linked with an increase in heart disease and the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • By replacing meat with colorful vegetables, you can be getting vital nutrients, called phytochemicals, that just aren’t available in meat. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and it’s a powerful antioxidant and cancer risk reducer.  Anthocyanin is found in purple and blue fruits and vegetables and helps protect cells from damage.  Carotenoids found in orange and yellow vegetables are great for your eyes and can help prevent cataracts and other age-related macular degenerations! The beneficial list just goes on and on.

Try to cut back the meat consumption one day a week, and see what other ways it benefits the environment, and you!

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

May 7, 2019

Photo showing goat with title, "The goats are coming to Rosemount"

April 30, 2019

Graphic for high school garden

Guess which rad high school is getting a rain garden at the end of May? Yeah, you guessed it: Rosemount High School!

This spring, RHS is breaking ground on an outdoor classroom on the northwest side of the high school. The rain garden will be located next to the outdoor classroom. Functioning not only as a rainwater filtration system, but also as a learning tool for the students!  

Photo of location proposed for garden

Before: a large, slightly sloped turf grass area is the future location for the rain garden

The garden is a partnership with MN GreenCorps, Rosemount Ecology Club, RHS Foundation, Friends of the Mississippi River, the City of Rosemount, and Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The 390-square-foot garden will feature all native plants like Marsh Milkweed, Prairie Clover, and Showy Goldenrod. It will filter roughly an acre of water runoff that flows to a pipe directly draining to nearby Schwarz Pond. This will help keep the pond clean for all migratory birds and local plants. The water that doesn’t flow to the pipe, will be captured by the plants and allowed to infiltrate into the roots and down to the Prairie-du-Chien aquifer below. This aquifer has been the target of increased pumping lately and is in dire need of replenishment.

Interested in putting a rain garden or native plants on your property to help capture and clean water? Reach out to me for resources! Interested to hear more about this awesome rain garden project? Reach out to me, too! I am happy to chat.

Happy Spring!

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

April 22, 2019

Hi Rosemount! This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. 

Graphic for Earth Week

Earth Week! And Rosemount is busy celebrating! Check out this list of eco-celebrations and events below. Join in, or be inspired and start your own!

On Monday, April 22, come hear Stacy Boots Camp from the Center of Energy and Environment speak at the Steeple Center at 6 pm. She will be providing energy saving tips to cut your bills and address problems like ice dams and wet basements. There will be free snacks and a chance to win a $600 Home Energy Squad visit.

Rosemount City staff is cleaning up the streets and parks around city hall on Thursday, April 25, at 10:30 a.m. Go staff!

On Friday, April 26, 260 students, led by two awesome RHS science teachers and Great River Greening will be working on removing buckthorn from Carroll’s Woods.

And on Saturday, April 27, there is a large Great River Greening forest restoration event, also at Carroll’s Woods! Rosemount really showed up for this event, and it is at capacity for volunteers, but feel free to come by with a wave and show of support for all the awesome volunteers that day. Event starts at 8:30 a.m. and runs to 12:30 p.m.

On a county level, Dakota County is happy to announce a new organics collection site that is FREE for Rosemount residents and close by! Check out this link for more information.

Regionally, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority is hosting a commuter challenge! They are challenging you to ditch your car and take advantage of all the money-saving and health-benefiting options the whole week. You can win a VIP package for 4 to Canterbury Park, among other prizes. Get on Board at https://www.mvta.com/commuterchallenge.

Really proud of Rosemount this week! What else can we get up to?

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

April 17, 2019

Hi Rosemount, let’s talk about BUGS!

Recognize these little guys?

Photos of emerald ash borer and Japanese beetle


They are so handsome, right? Why is it that the cutest things can be THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE.

And some are not so handsome.

Graphic of a worm saying

These critters are Emerald Ash Borer, Japanese Beetle, and Earthworms

Did you know that Earthworms are NOT native to Minnesota?  Like most invasive species, they were brought over from other continents, specifically Europe in this case. Their harm comes from destroying forest floor plants by eating decaying leaves. These leaves previously helped create a nutrient rich and spongy layer of material that gave away to lush ferns and wildflowers. Without this layer, these plants can’t grow, leaving almost bare grounds. In areas that are heavily infested, the lack of understory plants increases soil erosion and leaching of nutrients into waterways which can degrade fish habitat.

What can you do to help? 
If you are using worms to fish, don’t dump your unused worms on the ground!  If you use them in your compost, that’s great! But keep them contained or dispose of them in a waste receptacle. And tell all your friends, helping to spread the word on this wiggly problem.

Now let’s talk about the two beauty beetles above. The Emerald Ash Borer, as you can probably tell by its name, loves to attack just one plant: the Ash tree. This shiny green beetle hails from North East Asia.  Now, out of its native range, it is responsible for killing, at a minimum, tens of millions of trees and threatens to kill most of the 8.7 billion Ash trees throughout North America. Guess which state has the highest volume of Ash trees? Yup, Minnesota. We have almost a billion forestland and urban Ash trees in our home state.

How can we stop this? 
Don’t move your firewood! If you are camping or cabining, purchase locally sourced wood to prevent the spread of the bug. Know your tree is infested? Depending on if it’s caught early or late, you can either inject the tree with insecticide (if the tree is still healthy), or remove the tree before the bug causes the tree to die out, dry out, and become hazardous to property and people when they fall. A lot of cities have taken a proactive approach and are removing ash trees to systematically stop the spread of the pest. More information on EAB can be found on this great website from the MN Department of Agriculture. The City has more information on how they are treating EAB on their website here. Reach out to a tree care professional for guidance regarding your specific situation. This beetle is vastly more complicated than I am giving it credit for! But we can slow its destructive path.

The Japanese Beetle is not as picky of an eater as the Emerald Ash Borer. The adults of this species feed on the foliage and fruits of over 300 types of trees, shrubs, vines, and field and vegetable crops. The adults eat the leaves of the plants, leaving large holes that make the leaves look skeletal. The grubs develop in the soil and feed on the roots of the plants. 

How can we stop them? 
Keep a lookout for these beetles. Take care not to move the adults or larvae from site to site in soil or on vegetation. Most grubs are transported through nursery stock and grass sod. Adults can fly considerable distances which makes controlling them difficult. Check out this UMN Extension website for more help identifying, and controlling, Japanese Beetles. 

These are not the only invasive bugs threatening our state. The gypsy moth is another bad culprit. Asian Long-Horned Beetles are headed this way from the east coast. And outside of bugs we have invasive aquatic species like zebra mussels, sea lampreys, and common carp that are already harming MN. All invasive species were brought in by humans moving goods around. Don’t move firewood far from where you cut it, check your boat for aquatic hitchhikers, and don’t import plants or wood from other states and countries without checking to see how they handle invasives! Education, communication, and action are the only way we are going to stop these, and other pests, from changing MN for good. Let’s squash these bugs, Rosemount.

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

April 9, 2019

Calling all Rosemount artists!

Did you know that Rosemount sits on an underground water highway? When rain falls on roadways, sidewalks, and parking lots, it runs off into the nearest storm drain. It’s a common misconception that stormwater from these drains are piped to a treatment plant. This is NOT the case! These storm sewer highways travel to our local ponds, lakes, and rivers. 

Cities are designed this way to prevent flooding. But one of the problems with this system is it’s not just rain that flows into these drains. Trash, soil, road salt, fertilizer, and other pollutants are picked up by this stormwater and carried through our storm drain highway and into our waterbodies. Rosemount is part of the Vermillion River Watershed. The Vermillion River is one of the smaller tributaries that flow into the Mississippi River. It is home to the last remaining world-class trophy trout fishery in a metropolitan area in the United States. However, the Vermillion River is part of the State of Minnesota’s impaired waters list. This means that it has failed to meet one or more water quality standards.  Pollution from failing septic systems, stormwater runoff, and agricultural pesticides and fertilizer are threatening the health of this river.

Most people walk right past a storm drain and don’t connect our drains with our waterways. 

But what if that drain was painted with a beautiful mural that could help make that connection? What if we could use art to get residents thinking about what they can do to keep our water clean? Because Minnesota’s Clean Water Starts Here!

The City of Rosemount would like to do just that! We are accepting submissions of original art (painting or drawing) to be turned into a stormwater mural! This contest is open to all Rosemount residents, in all age ranges! Deadline for art is June 15th. Have a question about what kind of art qualifies or need additional guidelines? Shoot me an email!

Poster for call for art

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount

April 2, 2019

Does your home garbage can spill over with food scraps?

Do you find yourself wanting to do a bit more to reduce your ‘footprint’?

Graphic of overflowing trashcan

If you answered yes to either of these questions than there might be a simple solution for you: Composting!

Composting is a very easy, adaptable, and effective way to create less garbage. There are a litany of benefits to composting! Here are a few:

  1. When food scraps decompose in a typical landfill, they create methane, which is a greenhouse gas 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
  2. Less trash in your waste bin can reduce the amount your trash hauler takes away from your house. Less trash means smaller bins and less in fees (more money for you!).
  3. Composting at home helps you create nutrient rich soil for your garden and lawn, for free!
  4. Composting through a facility means you can compost more than your backyard system can handle! Like meat, bones, paper plates, and dairy products (aka the waste left over after a great bbq).

Composting can be anywhere on the scale from tabletop compost collection bins, to under the sink vermiculture (worm) containers, to backyard 3 bin compost systems, to industrial size operations.  More variety means you can find what fits you and your families need.  

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips that might work for you! 

Backyard Composting:

A lot of people worry that composting in their backyard will be a messy, unattractive, and critter attracting event.  You might get the occasional visit from a field mouse, but backyard composting can be really sharp looking and smell free, and a great topic of conversation at your next lawn party!  

There are a few keys to making backyard composting smooth sailing:

You want a 2 to 1 ratio of ‘brown’ to ‘green’. Brown is from your yard waste: leaves, small twigs, etc.  Green is from your kitchen: fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds (and if your lawn mower collects its grass clippings, you can include those in green as well!). The brown materials contribute carbon to the compost and the green materials contribute nitrogen.  Two handfuls of brown, or carbon, added to the pile should be balanced with 1 handful of green, or nitrogen. That’s it! Easy right?

Now that you have the right ingredients, this is how you ‘cook’ the compost: Just add air and water! 

Air: Encouraging air flow helps the microbes break down the compost. (turn the compost pile from time to time).

Water: You should periodically wet down the compost to encourage decomposition.

Graphic showing steps to compost

You can buy a round tumbler to churn the soil, like this one here: 

Photo of woman moving compost container

or you can buy a three-bin system to transfer the soil as it settles in different stages. 

This can be visualized more as a conveyor belt system. You get three identical bins and set them side by side. You want them to be able to let air in, so chicken wire or closely set boards work well. There are lots of different options out there for the construction. You start with bin one and put all your greens and browns in the bin (remember that 2 to 1 ratio as you toss things in! A friend of mine keeps a pile of leaves and hay next to their bins to add in when they dump out their kitchen scraps.). All the new material gets added to bin one only.  When that bin fills to the top, move it to the next one, or bin number two. This will help add in more air and turn the compost as you transfer it.  Keep adding new material to bin number one and when it is full again, move everything from bin two, to bin three. The full bin one gets dumped in the now empty bin two, and bin one is open for new business, I mean material, again. Bin number three’s compost should be fully broken down and ready to use!

Graphic showing bins for composting process

This process is speedier than you might think. Some composting systems can have fresh, nutrient rich compost for you to use in as little as 3 weeks. You can use it in your house plants, veggie garden, flower patches, or even give bags of it to friends and family. You made that! Good job!

Commercial Composting:

Commercial composting is handy for those on the go, or for families who want to compost more of their kitchen scraps, as the commercial composting systems can handle meat and dairy products. Plus you don’t have to worry about that carbon to nitrogen ratio!  Rosemount is super lucky to have a large compost facility nearby. I live in Minneapolis and we have a residential curbside compost program (right now about 37% of the city participates in the program, the largest in the nation). But guess where all that compost ends up? Near Rosemount! It’s processed at the Mulch Store. They accept residential drop-offs for a very small fee (contact the Mulch Store for more info). So you can bag up all your food scraps in a compostable bag, tie it up, and drop it off! Easy as pie.  

Want to have your compost picked up curbside? At this time, the waste haulers that service Rosemount don’t offer residential curb-side compost pickup. A few do offer it for business or schools! Call your friendly local waste hauler for more information.

Want to compost but still don’t know where to start? Shoot me an email, I’d love to help you find the best solution for your needs!

-Jes Braun, MN GreenCorps member serving in Rosemount [email]

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