Blog Action Day: Following the Water

As part of Blog Action Day, bloggers from across this Pale Blue Dot will be posting about some aspect of water, a timely topic indeed.

Recent reports highlight aquifers running dry, glaciers melting, sea level rise, floods, pollutants in our rivers and streams, upcoming “water wars” for agriculture or energy or between nations, failing infrastructure, and even “Peak Water” in the United States.

Lots of alarming news.

In any case, let’s take a step back.

Start from wherever you are right now

Wherever you are reading this — especially if it’s on a computer plugged into an outlet — you are probably not more than 25 yards (or meters) from a faucet or tap, perhaps in a kitchen or restroom, water fountain or even garden.

From the tap to the pipe — If you follow the connections, that pipe will lead you down through the circulatory system present in almost any building in more developed nations. The fixtures, the valves, and the joints reveal the standardization that guides (and sometimes hamstrings) an industry and facilitates wholesale construction.

From the pipe to the main — Moving into the ground, the pipe leads into a network of conduits that course for miles under roads, houses, and fields. Water seeps from cracks along the way. Water mains run alongside sewage mains and gas and electrical conduits, all part of the invisible infrastructure that serves the population–invisible, that is, except when something breaks down or have to deal with unexpectedly extreme conditions. Likewise, waste treatment plants usually protect waterways from sewage, except when they don’t.

Pipes tell a tale of your town or city’s history and development, even if the pipes just lead to a well in your backyard. The pipes or mains might be decades old, perhaps more than a century old. On the rare occasion, something like a greywater system or bioswales might suggest promising changes in how settlements could be developed. Pipes embody decisions about how we live, now and into the future, and how we plan in relation to nature.

From source to system — The pipes eventually lead to a water source – a river, lake, well, etc. Human communities share water for the whole range of needs: agriculture, energy, industry, drinking water, tourism, comfort. In order to guarantee water quality, treatment plants remove bacteria, sediment, even chemicals that originated in fields and feedlots, storm drains, and bathroom sinks.

We all live both downstream and upstream.

Of course, this source is not the end of the line — just where the hydrological cycle is turned into a “utility.” Physical infrastructure gives way to green infrastructure, upon which we all rely for natural services for our well-being. Land and water interact in the watershed. Here, too, water and wildlife have coexisted for millennia. Water is habitat, water is life. Humanity’s increasing water withdrawals change the balance of life, especially in local ecosystems.

So what?

This may not be news to you. But easy access and the convenience of infrastructure systems can leave us taking local resources (utilities) for granted.

And the great water crises around the globe can be unfathomable, such that we fail to take away any lessons for our own lives, communities, and watersheds.

As the saying goes, think globally, act locally (or bioregionally). There are many things you can do to reduce water use, from improving efficiency in the home to being more thoughtful about purchases of food and goods — which affect water use wherever the food was grown or goods produced. Calculate your water footprint. Take the bioregional quiz. Understand and appreciate water’s role in everyday life.

Things fall apart

Following the industrial revolution, the practices of urban planning and public health grew out of responses to poor sanitary conditions that made burgeoning urban settlements difficult places to live. These efforts to promote the well-being of communities are now faced with even broader problems. Our great successes now push us towards greater challenges, and humanity is straining at planetary limits.

The US is slowly realizing that physical infrastructure is not a “if they build it” proposition. Constant maintenance of bridges, tunnels, and water mains comes with the territory.

Likewise, the human footprint has expanded such that a corollary for natural infrastructure is greater human responsibility for management and stewardship. And that starts with recognizing the “wisdom” embodied in natural systems and then acting accordingly. We can even choose to remove roads to better preserve natural systems, such as protecting wildlife corridors.

I recently watched a web presentation by the Washington Department of Ecology about the future of the Puget Sound. One of the key lessons was that land use planning needs an ecosystem or watershed perspective. There is great utility in rethinking how human communities coexist (perhaps even culturally co-evolve) with natural systems.

Practices change, and our expanding awareness of the need to maintain and foster resilient ecosystems entail different ways of planning – and living with water.

Check out what other blogs are writing about water at Blog Action Day.

Image credit: Xymox (Flickr/CC)

Biodiversity and the City 4: What Edward Norton Should Know for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit

Diplomats from around the world are gathering this week in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week. While much discussion focuses on climate change, there is additional pressure during this International Year of Biodiversity to build consensus for the upcoming Biodiversity Summit (COP 10) in Nagoya, Japan. A “High level meeting on Biodiversity” takes place at the UN this Wednesday, September 22.

The actor Edward Norton, who was named Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, recently penned an op-ed calling for greater action on biodiversity by world governments, especially the Obama administration in the United States.

In anticipation of the Biodiversity Summit, Marielle Anzelone wrote the excellent piece below for the Huffington Post over the summer. The global loss of biodiversity, which has been compared to rivets popping out of an airplane wing, needs greater public attention.

Anzelone, formerly the plant ecologist for NYC Parks’ Natural Resources Group, is leading tours of New York City’s tremendous biodiversity this week for the visiting diplomats.

I think this is a vital aspect of deliberations. Though undoubtedly informed by solid scientific input, the Biodiversity Summit will ultimately aim for high-level agreements and commitments about valuing and protecting habitat. I expect that virtually all of the diplomats from around the world live in cities and are more accustomed to engaging politicians than to understanding nature where they live.

Biodiversity, like climate change, is a broad concept that invokes somewhat amorphous global systems. But biodiversity is also about plants and animals that live in, or inhabit, places. This wildlife thrives or declines alongside — to varying degrees — human communities. Conservation, therefore, cannot succeed without buy-in and regular participation from local residents. Local biodiversity conservation also supports climate change mitigation and adaptation and human security.

Conservation efforts will have to expand in and around urbanizing areas (a challenging negotiation). There will be a concurrent session in Nagoya called the City Biodiversity Summit. Nonetheless, helping diplomats to recognize the ongoing interplay of wildlife amidst large human populations, like in New York City, is vitally important.

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere….

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Actor Edward Norton is unhappy. He is miffed because although he had starred as The Hulk in an earlier movie, he was not cast as the great green hero in a follow-up film. Cheer up, Ed! You’ve landed an even greener role: United Nations’ Biodiversity Ambassador. As the former botanist for New York City, I know first-hand the importance of biodiversity. In fact, I’ll be hosting international diplomats on a tour of New York’s nature this fall for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit. Since we’re going to be colleagues, I’d like to help you prepare for your new role. Here are some things you should know.

Urban nature exists. Most people embrace Kurt Vonnegut’s description of the Big Apple as a “Skyscraper National Park”. While accurate at 51st Street and 7th Avenue, it obscures the fact that there is bona fide nature in the five boroughs, even in Manhattan. New York City has more open space than Los Angeles and Chicago combined. These 53,000 acres include towering forests, vibrant marshes and grassland meadows. The world looks increasingly like New York, with more people now living in urban settings than rural areas. The city’s 8 million residents are drafting a blueprint for biodiversity from which global lessons can be learned.

Clean air isn’t free. Local biodiversity provides us with fresh air to breathe and pure water to drink. Humans benefit from abated floodwaters and the pollination of food crops. Nature provides these ecosystem services for free, but there is clearly a price to be paid for their loss. Purifying contaminated water costs money. Recently a study commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection determined that natural ecosystems provided benefits worth $18 billion per year, equal to the state’s construction industry. Continue reading

Biodiversity and the City 2: In an urban world, where are the ecologists?

What happens to biodiversity in areas that become more urban? The short answer, not surprisingly, is that urbanization decreases biodiversity.

In a review article published in Science a couple years ago, Nancy Grimm and colleagues wrote that urban land use tends to

reduce both species richness and evenness for most biotic communities, despite increases in abundance and biomass of birds and arthropods. Because the urban footprint extends far beyond municipal boundaries, urbanization may also reduce native species diversity at regional and global scales.

Cities have a huge impact through local habitat loss and fragmentation. More broadly, urban consumption helps to drive global environmental change.

The longer answer, however, is that we don’t know enough about urban biodiversity and how to protect ecological systems amidst urban growth.

This is significant, because the Earth is more and more an urban planet. The Population Institute recently forecast that the human population will grow to nearly 9.5 billion by 2050. Between natural increase and migration, most of the population growth will occur in cities in developing nations. By 2030, two thirds of humans will live in urban areas.

Climate change/destabilization, biodiversity loss, and agricultural land grabs (stemming in part from food demand from urban areas) may drive much of the urban migration in the developing world.

“Ecologists shun the urban jungle”

While tools like wildlife corridors and habitat conservation plans can help to preserve ecosystems facing rapid urban growth, several recent items highlight the vast challenge of supporting biodiversity in an urbanizing world.

First, conservation research is simply not looking at urban areas.

An item in Nature News suggests that only one in six papers on conservation addressed regions used by humans and only 4% studied urban or suburban areas.

The world’s top ecologists are failing to study the landscapes that most need work, and they risk delaying conservation efforts and making their subject irrelevant.

That is the stark message from US researchers who have quantified the extent to which ecologists devote themselves to pristine wilderness at the expense of inhabited regions. The bias is a major problem for both the field and the environment, they say, because it is areas used by humans — which take up most of the Earth’s land-mass — that are in most need of conservation.

The piece discusses work presented this past week at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). According to Terry Chapin, the new president of the ESA:

It is really important that ecologists do research on areas populated by people. I would hate to go so far as to say studies of pristine areas are not important, but we clearly need to know much more about the direct ways in which we are affecting the biosphere.

There are undoubtedly ecologists whose research focuses on the urban landscape, but this still appears to be an emerging field of study. This article mentions five research “nodes” addressing urban environments as social-ecological systems (including the previously quoted Nancy Grimm):

Marina Alberti’s at the University of Washington, Nancy Grimm at Arizona State University, Stewart Pickett and colleagues at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, Mark McDonnell at the Australian Research Center for Urban Ecology, and Herbert Sukopp in Germany.

Second, as a post on Conservation Bytes suggests, conservation studies rarely lead to actual conservation, in part because of the siloed approach of researchers whose communication primarily echoes within the academic arena. The presentation cited was specific to tropical forest research, but the post also discussed considerations for all researchers.

These tidbits reflect the recent state of biodiversity research, which may in turn highlight the traditional bent of academia and its funding sources, as well as the difficulties of studying complex urban-ecosystem interactions. They also say little about the efforts of ecologists working for nonprofit organizations, such as Conservation International or the Nature Conservancy or especially local conservation groups, or for local or state departments of natural resources/environment/parks.

But the two realizations above may contribute to a significant third item: While there has been an increase in the number of protected areas around the globe, little progress has been made towards the goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (2002).

On a positive note, 2010 and the International Year of Biodiversity have brought relative successes on the biodiversity front, even as climate change’s roller coaster year continues (Copenhagen, Climategate, climate bill in the US Congress, etc.). The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study brought attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services. A June conference in Busan, Korea, has led to the creation of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) — basically an IPCC for biodiversity. IPBES promises to bring greater coherence to fragmented conservation efforts.

Given the growing human impact on living systems across the globe, more foresight, research, and action is needed to ensure that governments (and individuals) protect urbanizing landscapes for biodiversity as well as climate change resilience.

Part I focused on a wonderful video promoting the Biodiversity Campaign from the European Commission on the Environment.

Spring Brings Citizen Scientists Together

Spring buds, Flickr CC-2.0 image by Eugenijus Radlinskas

Last week, my almost-three-year-old daughter glanced out the window and cheerfully shouted, “Look, the tree is making leaves!

The first buds on the branch or leaves in the garden, the first purple martin or monarch butterfly or hummingbird…these little changes in our natural surroundings grab our attention and herald the arrival of spring.

Each first sighting triggers a kind of awakening. “Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment,” wrote Ellis Peters.

In order to take in spring’s sweep across the land (and seas), however, you often need a higher vantage point — perhaps a hilltop or an aerial photo.

Or sometimes, with just a few shared observations by Citizen Scientists, a map, and a little imagination, you can begin to appreciate spring’s steady march.

Here are a couple of sites reporting the first sighting of birds migrating northwards:

Purple martin sightings (as of 4/1/2010)

Purple Martin scout map

Hummingbirds (as of 4/1/2010)

Hummingbird first sightings as of April 1, 2010

Several migration sites, including one for hummingbirds, can be found at Journey North, a wonderful educational resource.

For the flora-minded, Project Budburst collects observations of “phenophases” of trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses.

Some Citizen Science projects I find intriguing are the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Celebrate Urban Birds and a study of American eels in the Hudson River.

Also, check out the the USA National Phenology Network for more about phenology (“nature’s calendar”) and climate change.

Monarchs resting on rocks, Flickr CC image by Pendens Proditor

Monarch butterflies

Of special note this spring is the monarch butterfly. The monarchs have begun their journeys along several migration corridors and can travel thousands of miles. But according to several news articles (here, here, and here), the monarch population faces a dire situation.

This year may be one of the worst for the monarch butterfly, experts are reporting. Severe hailstorms in Mexico (one of the monarch’s winter home) followed by fifteen inches of rain has left the population decimated by up to 50 percent this year. Add to that the ongoing issue of habitat destruction, and the future of the monarch begins to look a little shaky.

If you’re interested, check out Monarch Watch and participate in the Monarch Waystation Program (also here) to create, conserve and protect monarch habitats.

Citizen Science works

The convergence of backyard naturalists, academics, and the internet is fueling the growth of Citizen Science, which involves the participation of nonscientists in research, including the crowdsourcing of observations of nature.

From the News and Observer:

Nonscientists like Bragg [Benton Bragg, who is helping out with a barred owl study] throughout North Carolina and the nation are participating in a smorgasbord of projects, studying birds, amphibians, plants, mammals, chemistry, dinosaurs, climate change, light pollution, the galaxy – the list goes on.

Citizen science involves nonscientist volunteers gathering and reporting data for scientific studies. Less often, they help analyze it. Participating is a two-way street. It not only funnels data to scientists faster than they could accumulate it using only trained researchers, it also gives citizens a window to science.

An article in BioScience magazine (March 2008) asks “Citizen Scientists, Can Volunteers Do Real Research?

In the end, what have citizen scientists achieved? Has their labor actually helped advance scientific knowledge? Yes, says Bonney [Rick Bonney of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology], pointing, for example, to complete and accurate maps of the breeding ranges of every North American bird. And with the help of volunteers in gathering data, researchers have been able to track the progress of conjunctivitis in house finches, the first time scientists have ever followed a disease in a wild animal. Citizen scientists have also collected data that helped scientists develop guidelines for land managers to preserve habitat.

Treehugger also published a nice piece on Citizen Science last year:

Where Big Science works by putting a few very highly trained people with a lot of money at their disposal in charge of rare and expensive machines, Citizen Science works by sending nearly anyone you can grab into the field with a simple task, simple equipment to do it, and a willingness on the scientists’ part to sort through the results. It’s messy, at times, but it works.

Beyond supporting research, Citizen Science projects promote scientific literacy and conservation efforts. Citizen Science encourages individuals, families, and schools to engage with local nature; it can reveal the ways in which nature’s networks connect communities across the continent. In this era of both global environmental change and “nature deficit disorder,” Citizen Science offers a way for folks to take steps forward together.

Happy spring!


Other projects

Birders World lists over 100 projects for birders interested in participating in citizen science.

National Projects (a sidebar to the News & Observer article):

Firefly Watch: Project based at Boston Museum of Science. www.mos.org/fireflywatch
Frog Watch USA:
Learn about wetlands and help conserve amphibians by reporting the calls of local frogs and toads. www.aza.org/frogwatch
Project BudBurst:
Track the first leafing, first flower and first fruit ripening of a diversity of trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses in your area. www.windows.ucar.edu/citizen_science/budburst/index.php
Open Dinosaur Project:
Help create an online database of dinosaur limb bone measurements used to investigate questions of dinosaur evolution. opendino.wordpress.com
Great Backyard Birdcount:
Annual program to identify and count birds where they live over four days in mid-February. www.birdsource.org/gbbc
Project FeederWatch:
Put up a bird feeder, watch the birds that use it and report your sightings online. www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw
eBird:
Report bird sightings to help create an online globally accessible database showing bird distribution and abundance. ebird.org
Galaxy Zoo:
Global program for armchair astronomers to sort and classify a million different images of galaxies according to shape. www.galaxyzoo.org

More projects: ScienceForCitizens.net or www.eenorthcarolina.org/presentations/citizenscience.pdf

[Note: The examples listed leaned heavily to the Eastern United States. Any suggestions for projects or migration maps from other parts of the Americas (or the Earth) are welcomed!]

Five ways of looking at the U.S.

Here are five maps I came across during the last few weeks.

They involve high-speed passenger rail; a re-imagined map for the U.S. electoral college; landscape conservation; North American migration flyways; and wildlife “megalinkages.” The images are accompanied by minimal commentary, mainly their source info.

I’ll leave it to you to make any connections. Your thoughts and comments are much appreciated.

U.S. federal investments in high-speed passenger rail were announced last week. Another map of high-speed rail corridors is available here. (Map: US Department of Transportation)

What if the U.S. were divided into 50 states with equal populations (based on 2000 Census)? Neil Freeman produced this thought experiment about electoral college reform. Covered by GOOD; Matt Yglesias; and James Fallows in the Atlantic (here, here, and here). (Map: Neil Freeman)

Landscape conservation cooperatives proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I previously posted about this new framework for addressing conservation at the landscape scale. (Map: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Migratory flyways (Map: Montana Raptor Institute for Research and Education)

The Wildlands Network and The Rewilding Institute stress conserving four “MegaLinkages” to preserve habitat for larger predatory species integral to the fitness of the continental ecosystem. (Map: The Rewilding Institute)

Any thoughts?

On the wing with whooping cranes and Operation Migration

http://www.flickr.com/photos/operationmigration/4271928743/

Last week, 20 young whooping cranes completed their first migration led by their mentors in flight, ultralight aircraft flown by pilots from Operation Migration. The 89-day, 1285-mile (km) journey started at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and traversed seven states, until the cranes reached their destinations at the St. Marks and Chassahowitzka NWRs in Florida. Over nine years, Operation Migration has helped to rebuild a decimated whooping crane population, teaching cranes to fly and migrate; from there, the cranes’ instincts will take over. What a wonderful, even poetic, story…but it’s much more than that.

For someone watching a 30-second news segment on TV or reading the quick general interest article in the local paper (some coverage can be found here, here, and here), it’s easy to marvel at the dramatic images of an ultralight leading whooping cranes across the sky.

Now that the migration season is over, I read through the Field Journal on Operation Migration’s website. I highly recommend it. Three months of daily entries by Liz Condie and the OM pilots, staff and volunteers reveal a grander, more epic journey and a deeper, more complex relationship between the humans, the cranes, the wind, and the land.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/operationmigration/4141458209/

The birdmen/birdwomen of Operation Migration

Adult cranes have 7-foot wingspans, which means they are built to ride thermals. But the pilots seem to have as much flight in their DNA as do the cranes. Tucked into their “trikes” (as the ultralights are called), they read, test, and prod the air, negotiating cold and cross-winds. Pilot and crane alike share an aversion to turbulence, also known as rough or “dirty” air.

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What are Landscape Conservation Cooperatives?

“…climate change does not respect juridictional boundaries.”
– Hector Galbraith, Director – Climate Change Initiative, Manomet Center for Conservation Studies

Of course, no sooner do I post about colleges and universities collaborating at the bioregional level than I come across this exciting initiative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: landscape conservation cooperatives.

From the Service’s FAQ sheet:

What are landscape conservation cooperatives?
Landscape conservation cooperatives, or LCCs, are self-directed, applied conservation science partnerships that will drive success at landscape scales. Collectively they create a seamless, national network of interdependent partnerships between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, other federal agencies, states, tribes, NGOs, universities and other entities which will inform resource management decisions to address national-scale stressors, including climate change.

Seeking to “address the impacts of accelerating climate change on wildlife and the habitats upon which they depend,” the Service has pulled together a national collaborative strategy for strategic habitat conservation on the landscape level, seeking to “put the right science in the right places.”

Check out this video (4:08) from the Service’s Northeast Region:

Source: USFWS Northeast Region (If you have trouble viewing the video, you can also visit this page.)

As pointed out in the video, LCCs provide a new institutional framework for addressing ecological issues beyond the state level. The FWS proposed an interim national geographic framework of 21 conservation areas.

Just as flyways have provided an effective spatial frame of reference to build capacity and partnerships for international, national, state and local waterfowl conservation, the national geographic framework will provide a continental platform upon which the Service can work with state and other partners to connect project- and site-specific efforts to larger biological goals and outcomes. By providing visual context for conservation at “landscape” scales — the entire range of a priority species or suite of species — the framework helps ensure that resource managers have the information and decision-making tools they need to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service

From these 21 areas, the Service is forming eight initial LCCs in the following geographic areas: Pacific Islands, Great Plains, Plains and Prairie Potholes, South Atlantic, North Atlantic, Great Northern, California and Arctic.

Working Together for Wildlife — and People

In June 2009, the Service convened the inaugural Conservation Leadership Forum to launch discussions toward the development of the national strategy.

Though the primary objective of the strategy is ensuring abundant, healthy, and distributed populations of fish and wildlife, leaders noted the effort would be tied to a larger goal of improving quality of life for all Americans by providing clean water, clear air and “green” infrastructure critical to sustainable and healthy human communities. While investments in the strategy would be national, the group agreed collaboration and information sharing must extend to the global community. …

Forum participants also agreed the strategy must be developed with an eye toward the future. By 2050, Selzer said, the U.S. population is projected to be mostly urban, minority, and increasingly beset by health issues such as asthma and diabetes. He urged the group to view its conservation work in the larger context of a changing society and articulate a vision that resonates with tomorrow’s audiences.

The LCC brings a valuable approach to coordinating scientific research and for promoting preservation. The Service’s information mentions a “continental” platform, so it will be interesting to see how this initiative integrates research and policy beyond the U.S. borders, as well as how it connects with the efforts of the Wildlands Network. I also wonder what other interdisciplinary collaborations might evolve from this landscape perspective.

Connecting Colleges by “Nature States”: public universities for the 21st Century (part 1)

“All education is environmental education.”
– David W. Orr

It’s time to update the mission of U.S. land-grant and state universities to align education and research with a growing understanding of ecosystems and the world’s changing environmental and social conditions. That means working together across landscapes and bioregions. We need colleges connected by nature.

In the last post, I proposed adapting the idea of NCAA athletic conferences in a way that fosters bioregional collaboration among US colleges and universities in order to understand better and promote awareness of nature and ecosystems. (I was, admittedly, in the throes of bowl season.)

Many of the major state universities — including those belonging to the six conferences in the Bowl Championship Series — share a common origin as land-grant institutions, which were created by Congress during the mid-1800s.

“A State University for the Industrial Classes”

Let’s take a quick look at the historical roots of the land-grant university.

During the middle of the 19th century, the industrial revolution began to transform life and work across a largely agrarian America. Led by the populist preachings of Jonathan Baldwin Turner and the statesmanship of Representative Justin Morrill from Vermont, a reform movement arose in the (these) still fragmented United States and territories. Congress responded to the call to open up education and opportunity to the growing “industrial classes.” Previously, higher education was accessible mainly to the elites and focused on classical studies. (If one considers that currently only half of Americans have attended any college, and approximately one quarter graduate with a Bachelors degree, significant disparities in educational attainment remain.)

The Morrill Act of 1862, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln, called for each state to establish a major public university,

without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

Turner’s words, carved onto the main quadrangle of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1867 (then the Illinois Industrial University), capture the context of a nation in transition: “Industrial Education Prepares the way for the Millenium of Labor.”

The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 (the latter to incorporate the former Confederate States) launched the expansion of education through land-grant and public universities and supported the widespread agricultural and industrial development of the United States. The precursors to Michigan State and Penn State became the first land-grant institutions.

Today, the 218 universities (including 76 land-grant institutions) included in the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities now enroll 4.7 million students annually and claim 20 million alumni. (18.2 million students were enrolled in 4800 colleges and universities in the US in 2007.)

Public and land-grant universities for the 21st century

A century and a half since the Morrill Act, our world is in transition again. Populations are much more urban, more mobile. (Students and academics are also more mobile.) Families are smaller; life expectancy is greater. Advances in medicine and sanitation have brought many diseases under control. Food is more plentiful for many. The human world is more connected in many ways. Information, news, and gossip flow at speeds previously unimaginable.

In the US, people live less connected to nature. We plug into electronic forms of entertainment. Manufacturing has given way to a service-based economy. We know little about the origin and resources embodied in goods and products. The fulfillment of needs has merged with the encouragement of wants and the tyranny of convenience.

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Do you know “America’s Best Kept Secret”?

Here is a video (11:51) introducing the National Wildlife Refuge System.

O.K., so the voiceover shouts “educational video” — although it’s not quite as cheesy as the voiceover for this video produced for the System’s Centennial. In any case, these videos do provide a glimpse of “America’s Best Kept Secret” and the national and natural wonders that they have protected since 1903.

I just checked the NWRS site and found two Refuges within 30 miles of where I live: Great Swamp NWR and Oyster Bay NWR.

Have you been to a National Wildlife Refuge near you?