Volume 6, Issue 1 (October 2012)
In This Issue...
Whenever the pressure of our complex city life thins my blood and numbs my brain, I seek relief in the trail; and when I hear the coyote wailing to the yellow dawn, my cares fall from me--I am happy."--Hamlin Garland
Just a few weekends ago as I sat on my deck sipping an early morning coffee, and taking a mental inventory of the day, the slow burn off of the valley fog below my home reminded me of a beautiful photograph I had taken recently taken of the West Branch Susquehanna River. The image of the fog rising from the warm water into the cooler mountain air was enticing and it reminded me that despite the chilly temperature and the early hour, it would be a perfect morning for my family to spend on the river. As is common with all great, spur-of-the-moment ideas, it didn’t take much time before my husband and I were off, with our children, ages 4 and 6, on our first-ever family canoeing adventure.
Despite the hassles leading up to our actual launch (requiring my six-year-old to wear a life jacket that wasn’t pink and assuring my four-year-old that we wouldn’t sink even though his sister told him our canoe probably had a hole in it), the significance of our little family enjoying a few beautiful hours floating along a healthy river was not lost on me as we dipped our paddles into the West Branch of the Susquehanna below Farrandsville. Just more than a decade earlier, fish of any kind were scarce in this section of the river. Just a decade before that, the water quality of the river was so toxic that next to nothing could even inhabit the very same waters I was now peering into. In fact, the West Branch of the Susquehanna from its headwaters in Cambria County to below Lock Haven was considered a biological desert for much of this past century. Even in the early 1970s, officials insisted that sections of the river were, in essence, a lost cause. In the 1972 Scarlift report, it was said that the “ overall acid loading conditions to the West Branch are such that no significant length of stream above Bower Station can be permanently recovered for recreational use even with abatement expenditures of the order of $20 to $30 million.”
The degradation of this area’s water quality came from unregulated coal production. After extensive logging in the 1800s caused reduced timber availability throughout Appalachia, the mere presence of coal sparked a fury of crude coal extraction operations in coal towns such as Bitumen in Clinton County. As local coal was extracted, other naturally-occurring elements such as pyrite normally found below the earth’s surface were exposed to air and water. Ultimately, the weathering of these elements created highly acidic water that leached toxic metals out of the surrounding landscape and killed the West Branch of the Susquehanna and many of its tributaries. Today the local bustling coal towns that used to dot the mountain and riversides are now completely gone or are replaced by idyllic small residential communities.
Part way through our journey down-river I heard the unique call of a kingfisher and was able to catch a glance of the bird as it flitted into a nearby tree while at the same time listening to my very own “king-fisher” husband tell our children about a fishing adventure from the day before. It occurred to me just how incredibly lucky my family is have such experiences.
After decades of inhospitable water quality conditions, local residents once again see fish swimming in the river. Just last year, I stood atop Hyner Mountain overlooking the West Branch Susquehanna with the director or Trout Unlimited’s Eastern Abandoned Mine Program, the executive director of the state’s Fish and Boat Commission, and the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and smiled as the river was declared fishable again. In only a decade the amount of fish found in the river at Hyner had increased three-fold.
The river’s recovery from pollution from historical coal mining is owed to many people and organizations. The commonwealth and its partnering agencies have spent millions of dollars reclaiming old abandoned mines and treating acid mine water. Local organizations such as Trout Unlimited, the Clinton County Conservation District, and the Beech Creek Watershed Association have matched those commonwealth dollars with local funds and devoted countless hours overseeing reclamation projects, securing volunteers, and serving as the integral “boots on the ground” moving local mine drainage pollution projects forward. The determination of these organizations to restore the local area from historical environmental trespasses embodies Margaret Mead’s inspirational thought that you should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.” These organizations have changed the world--or at least the world of the West Branch of the Susquehanna.
Our brief Sunday morning canoe trip culminated in Lock Haven--a town that personifies the return of the river. As we drifted past the amphitheater and watched as preparations begin for the Sunday concert series performance on the famous floating stage, I was reminded that the river is alive with more than fish. It is alive with scuba divers, boat racers, and with other families like mine. It is alive with a community reaping the benefits of healthy water.
I’ve always wanted my children to grow up with a special sense of place. Despite life jackets that are not the right color and the fear of sinking canoes, I am hopeful that with a few more canoe trips they’ll find that place. Just like I did.
Beech Creek Watershed Association (BCWA) members have participated in several annual watershed projects over the years—and 2012 was no exception! BCWA once again took part in a watershed clean-up day, a tree planting and several youth education events this year.
BCWA, primarily through the efforts of its Secretary /Treasurer Sarah Edge and President Jamie Walker, worked with Clearwater Conservancy, the Wayne Township Landfill, and others to remove trash and debris from the watershed. As a part of Earth Day, groups throughout the region joined forces to clean up illegal dumpsites, roadside trash, and provide trash disposal for communities that lack regular trash services.
Beech Creek member Butch Davey has assisted with the planning and implementation of a tree planting in the Sproul State Forest since 1991. The area planted this spring was located in the Panther Run watershed, a tributary of Beech Creek. Lock Haven University Students along with Penn ReLeaf volunteers assisted with the planting of a variety of trees, including red and white pines.
BCWA has also partnered with Trout Unlimited, Mount Nittany Middle School, and the Three Points Sportsmans Club for several youth education events this year --ultimately reaching out to over 100 students. 7th grade students from Mount Nittany Middle School were given the opportunity to learn about abandoned mine drainage and its impacts to the watershed by touring the Jonathan Run treatment facility, as well as Little Sandy Run and the North Fork of Beech Creek. As part of the Trout In the Classroom program, students in Joseph Walker’s science class raised brook trout in their classroom from eggs to releasable fry. The students released over 200 fish into the South fork of Beech Creek where they will hopefully thrive.
LHU Environmental Club
If you were to leave from Sullivan Hall in your car and drive for seven hours (425 miles), you would land in the densely-populated city of Lynn, Massachusetts. Lynn hugs the Atlantic Ocean, much in the way Lock Haven snuggles up against the Susquehanna River, and, like Lock Haven, a dyke not only protects the city from floods but also provides people from surrounding communities a space for leisurely walks.
Built on the shoe industry in the 1600s, Lynn would become the shoe capital of the world. As a tribute to its shoe history, the city’s common is shaped like a shoe. Lynn’s history is more than about shoes, though. Home to one of General Electric’s first factories, in 1942 the Lynn factory developed and produced the first jet engine to be placed in World War II airplanes. And for you peanut butter and fluff lovers, Lynn is the manufacturing home of Marshmallow Fluff. Lynn also maintains the largest municipally-run park, second only to Central Park in New York City. While there is a lot to celebrate about Lynn, it does remain a city whose population is deeply impoverished--more than 80 percent of youth who attend Lynn Public Schools are on free or reduced lunch. There is a serious crime problem, and in the 1980s a blazing fire swept through the city, destroying factories that provided employment.
I ended up in Lynn because of the four years I spent as an undergraduate at Lock Haven. In my freshman year, a seed for doing full-time national service was planted by LHU’s AmeriCorps program. The program created a great, nurturing environment that taught us about community organizing, leadership, civic education, event planning, and service-learning. Most importantly, we were encouraged to feel a sense of ownership over our projects.
In 2009, shortly after graduating from Lock Haven University, I packed my bags and moved to Lynn, where I served as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America with the nonprofit Massachusetts Campus Compact for two years. My assignment was at North Shore Community College in their Student Life Department and Public Policy Institute. During my second year in the Public Policy Institute, I met Dr. Claire Crane, who is the principal of Lynn’s Robert L. Ford Elementary School.
One day Dr. Crane and I drove into Boston together to hear Vikki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, speak at a function at the Ford School. At the school, Dr. Crane gave me a tour, pointed out things her kids had accomplished. I was especially intrigued by the garden that was tended by the students. Dr. Crane told me her students had won prizes at Massachusetts’ Topsfield Fair, an annual event that claims to be “America’s oldest agricultural fair.”
A year and a half later, when I was working as a journalist, I got a tip from a friend about a dedication ceremony for a deceased teacher that Ford School was having in their “International Peace Garden.” When I got there, I was overwhelmed at how much the garden had evolved since the time I had last seen it. The garden, where 25 different fruits and vegetables are grown throughout the year, beamed with organic life. Cute, gravel walkways extended through raised garden beds. Cards were placed in the ground next to plants to tell you what species they are. Two huge tables placed underneath arbors, covered in grapevines, created alcoves that offered shade for people to gather and talk.
Four years in the making, the garden an expression of how Dr. Crane runs her school. Her model, which is called a “Neighborhood Village School,” sees the school as an institution for educating young minds as well as an agent of social change, with the school at the neighborhood’s center. The school is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; it builds partnerships with local organizations based on reciprocity; and it offers classes to parents and people in the neighborhood. Inviting people into the school has had many impactful, positive implications.
The “International Peace Garden” is a community garden growing in the middle of a densely populated city, but it is also classroom. As a classroom, it gives teachers opportunities to supplement traditional pedagogy methods with the needs of tactile, aesthetic, audio, and kinesthetic learners. David Gass, whose idea it was to grow the garden explained to me how the garden enhances learning: “Scientific thinking starts with your senses – so we go to the smell test – smell this mint, well, how did it get smell? Where did the smell come from? If there’s gravity, how does water get to the tops of trees? What does the plants’ color mean?” Gass said, giving examples of the type of questions posed to students once in the garden. “Those are things you got to start looking at, and science starts with facts, and then you get into theories.”
I’ll conclude with Lynn science teacher Harrison Harley’s explanation of why he thought gardens were a perfect place to shape young minds: “It’s everything kids need in life in a caring, community-school setting. This is what school should be about, hands-on learning, science, math geography, character building combined in a creative way. It’s all about keeping curiosity going, not stifling it.”
Most people have heard of the drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, which is located in north-central and western Pennsylvania. What the many people haven’t heard is how the gas companies are leaving behind harmful chemicals that are polluting our drinking water and waterways, and thus harming the habitat of Pennsylvania’s top game fish, the trout.
There are many different types of pollution that occur from Marcellus-Shale drilling. Dr. Robert Myers of Lock Haven University has been studying the gas companies, and on his web page “The Environmental Dangers of Hydro-Fracturing” he cites twenty-nine different instances in which the gas companies have had accidents and have polluted the environment. The environmental degradation has included waste water spilling into Cross Creek in Washington County and a production unit exploding in Lycoming County. The pollution ranges anywhere from gas leaks to waste water draining into local streams and waterways. It also includes “minor” acts of pollution, such as residents complaining about the noise that the heavy machinery makes. These “minor” acts of pollution also include stealing water from creeks and streams, though the companies don’t have the rights. The gas companies have also been caught in major transgressions, such as oil spills, that have washed into local waterways and killed aquatic life.
Trout are much different from other types of aquatic species that live in the creeks and streams of Pennsylvania. Trout are very picky about the type of water they live in. The water must be highly oxygenated, which means its temperature must range from 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. The water should have plenty of riffles or rapids, which also add oxygen. When drilling companies spill fracking fluid into our streams and creeks, not only is it washing harmful chemicals down our waterways, which in itself can kill or harm the fish: it’s also adding thousands of gallons of warm water to the cold, spring-fed creeks. If the water in these creeks gets too warm, it could cause trout to stop reproducing, or worse, it could kill the native and wild trout that inhabit these areas.
We have only one environment, and if we allow the gas companies to kill it, what are we as Pennsylvanians left with? I’m not proposing that we kick the gas companies out of Pennsylvania, but I am suggesting that we protect our environment. In order to prevent pollution from occurring in Pennsylvania’s waterways, the state needs to put punishments in place that make these companies understand that pollution will not be tolerated. When you fine a company like the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company (Shell) you have to make sure the fine stings. Shell has an estimated market value of $169 billion. So if a company like that gets a fine of $140,000, that fine isn’t even going to make a difference: for Shell, that is just the price of doing business. In order to ensure that these companies understand that we mean business when protecting our environment, we need to fine them a large amount of money to let them know that pollution will not be tolerated. Also, the fines should fluctuate depending on if the company is a repeat offender. The amount of pollution that occurs and how much environmental damage is caused should also factor into determining the fines for these companies.
Pennsylvania needs to enforce regulation that stops these companies from polluting our waterways. The gas companies are not going away: they will be here until they have sucked all the gas out of the ground. Pennsylvania needs to enforce legislation to ensure that companies leave the waterways and land of the state as pristine and as beautiful as it was before the Marcellus-Shale natural-gas boom. If the companies can guarantee that our environment and eco-systems will return to the way they were before the natural-gas rush, then I have no problem with the extracting of natural gas, but if our environment is left any worse than it was before the gas companies got here, then there needs to be some sort of compensation from those companies. All in all, we have only one environment, and once that’s gone, the sportsmen and residents of Pennsylvania will have nothing. The state needs to make sure that all the damage caused by the drilling can be reversed and won’t have long-term ramifications.
We live in a world of many environmental challenges. Many of these challenges are addressed by governmental agencies, but it is not the government that is going to slow down the disease of environmental destruction--it is the citizens of the world, citizens that are environmentally literate and willing to take their awareness and put it into action against the destructive forces that threaten our environment.
Polls on environment awareness taken over the past 40 years indicate that the majority of Americans say they care about a healthy environment. However, society is also embedded with environmental myths that create misinformation about the environmental problems that exist. There needs to be a means to educate citizens. Environmental education with an emphasis on informed decision-making and responsible behavior can help achieve environmental protection, an increase in human health, and economic stability.
Effective environmental education can enhance individuals’ knowledge, skills, and tools, which in turn can be used to help build a healthier and more environmentally sustainable society. During the 1970s two United Nations conferences established the field of environmental education. According to these conferences, environmental education “increases people’s knowledge and awareness of the environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action.” Environmental literacy is a hopeful outcome for environmental education programs. Environmentally literate individuals have the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitudes to become aware of environmental issues, to problem-solve and to take action.
I believe that this process starts small and grows throughout time. A great way to spark ongoing environmental education is through environmental interpretation. I believe making the public aware is the key that unlocks the door of emotion and action.
Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture
. By A. Whitney Sanford (The University of Kentucky Press, 2012)
“This work is rooted in the present but looks toward the future” says the author. Consequently, the book is more than just an incisive critique of Euro-American industrial agriculture (hereafter IA) that has caused enormous damage to the land, water, and the ecosystem including the health of people. The author squarely exposes the false rhetoric of the agribusiness industry of “feeding the world.” On the contrary, it is argued that privatization of food production has in fact created hunger and social inequities throughout the world. Through its ruthless pursuit of productivity and profit, the U.S. and Western IA has shown an utter disregard for the health and wellbeing of the larger biotic community. The killing of river life in the American mid-west; the animal cruelty of large-scale hog, chicken, and beef cattle production; collapsing fisheries; degraded soils; ground water contamination; air-pollution; and climate change are just some examples of what the IA has done to this world. The ‘seed,’ which is the life itself, has been killed in the name of profit. Extensive use of toxic chemicals in food grain production is the main cause of the spread of cancer and other deadly diseases in the US and rest of the world.
Sanford point out that the ideology of western imperialism, colonialism and racism propagated thru a scientific paradigm by thinkers like Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon have presented a mechanical view of the universe whose fundamental premise is to conquer, control and exploit. For them, the world was like a machine, which needed to be controlled thru technologies. This mechanized and mechanistic worldview is the genesis of IA, which also promotes conspicuous consumption as seen in the American unsustainable lifestyle. The hypocrisy of American society is revealed whereby people protest drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but do not want to change their own practices of irresponsible consumption that supports oil and gas industry. Romanticized views of the natural world and wilderness have also structured the discourse in U.S. environmental thought. The underlying ideology behind IA is driven by a desire to reinvent the lost paradise, to redesign the natural world as a garden, to control and subjugate it for human needs.
According to Sanford, most indigenous cultures in India and the Americas do not recognize the concept of wilderness. For example the ancient Adivasi (“first resident”) of eastern India have a worldview “based upon a deep knowledge of the forest’s ecology….their agricultural practice demonstrates a nurturing and productive, but not dominating, use of nature.” Their model of agriculture that has sustained over centuries encourages biodiversity and long-term health of the soil, flora, and fauna. In the U.S. small-scale farmers, gardeners, and organic growers follow similar practices that benefit humans and local flora and fauna. This is in fact contrary to the centralized approach of large-scale IA that has done much harm to the soil and environment.
Sanford argues that we need to rethink our approach to food production. There is a need to achieve a more sustainable relationship with the earth and the biotic community, which the IA has miserably failed to do. Humans must recognize themselves to be plain and simple members of the biotic community and radically depart from the Christian cultural and theological view that designates human beings as having a special status in the natural world.
When I was backpacking on the Chuck Keiper Trail five years ago I noticed the Little Beaver Trail Loop that encircles the East Branch Swamp Natural Area. I've always wanted to go back and explore this hike, but until this month, I haven't had the opportunity. It's a relatively short loop trail (just over 2 miles), and is especially beautiful in the fall. But, I suspect it will be just as pretty in the winter, and the flatness of the trail coupled with its relative accessibility from maintained roads would make for an excellent snowshoe hike. The best map for the hike is the Chuck Keiper Trail map #1, but you could also use the Sproul State Forest map. Since it is a bog, some areas will be wet, so boots are recommended.
Getting to the trailhead involves a drive through spectacular fall foliage. From LHU, go west on Route 120 (North Fairview Street) for 26.4 miles to the town of Renovo. The drive follows the Bucktail State Park Natural Area. At the first light, turn left onto Route 144 South and go 9.4 miles. On your right, you'll see a sign for the Beech Creek Watershed. Park in the lot to the left. To the right of the parking lot you can see the orange-blazed trail that you'll return upon. Instead, follow the grassy road with orange blazes to the left (east) of the parking lot.
As you're leaving the parking area, note the graceful tamarack trees (one of the few conifers that lose their needles). Keep following the orange blazes as you skirt the edge of the East Branch Swamp. Hemlocks overhang the narrow trail, and occasionally it opens up to give you glimpses of the swamp. After about a mile, you'll reach Coon Run Road. Turn right, and go about 100 yards until you see a gated road to the right with a sign saying "Little Beaver Camp." Go around the gate and walk up the drive; at the camp, bear to the left, following the yellow blazes. This part of the trail isn't as clearly marked, but if you keep your eye on the yellow blazes (the trail goes slightly northwest), you'll be fine.
After about 3/4 of a mile, you'll reach a grassy pipeline and the last of the yellow blazes. Go straight across the pipeline. If you look slightly to the right (due north), there is more or less an open area between the trees. Walk in that direction about 75 steps and you will see a bright orange double blaze on a tree (you'll have to bushwhack the last five yards). This is the trail back to the parking area. The double-blazed trail briefly continues north (the direction you've been heading) before bending to the east.
Thanks to John Reid and Elizabeth Gruber for helping me scout this hike.
Environmental Focus Group