Sunday, April 9, 2017

From buckthorn jungle to oak savannah

Another day cutting buckthorn, this time at Forest Glen, a site new to me, and new to restoration. The buckthorn are so big here they are trees, big, thick trees. The goal is to turn the place back into prairie, rolling into oak savannah. I'm so excited! As you might recall , prairies are my jam.

I also enjoyed looking for tiny little sproutlings.

I was very proud of myself for recognizing these as trout lilies.

There were also spring avens, which are common but native, and loads of these low-to-the-ground spring plants with yellow flowers and which name I can't remember, dangit, but which are invasive and everywhere (anyone?). There were also the soft, fuzzy-leafed beginnings of what looked like mullein, which was brought over by Europeans for medicinal purposes. I wish I'd taken pictures of these things.

Chief Forest Preserve Friend, Josh Coles, showed me some other things growing there: cow parsnip, golden alexander. He said they'd put a seed mix a few weeks ago and some of the other tiny bladelike sprouts we were seeing were likely from that.

Little baby cow parsnip
Little baby golden alexander
We couldn't figure out what this is. Does anyone know?

The anticipation of spring is so fun, plant-wise. I'm looking forward to visiting and working at this site again, watching the plants we identified grow and change, and seeing what else comes up from the ground.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Stewardship day at Labagh

Saturday was another stewardship day Saturday cutting buckthorn, this time at LaBagh Woods. The group was large and included a crew of diligent kids from Curie High. 

Most of the buckthorn was fairly small—we used loppers and hacksaws. No chainsaw crew on this site. More time consuming than the actual cutting is disentangling the brushy, thorny, spreading branches from other trees. The stuff is like velcro, catching on anything when it falls.

Maybe one day I'll actually be able to recognize buckthorn with a degree of certitude, but for now I followed the steward's spray-painted orange marks to know which tree to cut and which to leave. There are hawthorns and oaks in these woods, native flora that belongs in this ecosystem.

There is also invasive honeysuckle, which was let stand, with some reluctance, to appease the birding groups, who just want cover for their birds and so operate under different priorities from the restoration folks.

It has rained throughout January and February, but snow has barely fallen, and what has fallen hasn't stuck. On this day it was appropriately seasonally cold and the brushfire provided welcome warmth, but the  dusting of snow that came midway through the morning still disappeared almost immediately. I'm glad I snapped the picture when I did. I miss snow.

For break, the stewards grilled hotdogs on the buckthorn brushfire, and a couple called the Martons brought out delicious home-made beans and cole slaw, apparently a regular perk of volunteering at LaBagh. The students also brought marshmallows for roasting, after the work was done. 

Note: I made a correction to the name of the food-making couple. Previously I had written "Hortons." Sorry about that, Martons!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A letter to Starbucks

I read this concise and useful post by Sarah Wilson about ways to reduce plastic, and it led me back to a refrain that repeats often in my head:

Why does Starbucks continue to produce so much garbage?

Starbucks is an excellent corporate citizen, treating its staff and suppliers as humans who have aspirations and needs and are deserving of respect. They are big-picture and root-cause-based about it. Why don't they apply this thinking to their use of packaging?

They do have an environmental and climate-change policy, including a page addressing container waste, but it doesn't seem to add up to enough.

So I wrote them a letter. Here it is:


I really appreciate that you are an excellent corporate citizen when it comes to your staff and suppliers. It makes a difference and provides a model for other companies. I also read on your website about your environment-related efforts, and appreciate those...but I still hate that when I walk in to a Starbucks all I see are throwaway items. *Sometimes* the Starbucks has a recycling area for *some* of the elements, but it is absolutely not enough. Recycling shouldn't be our go-to, anyway: reduce, reuse, THEN recycle. I feel that there are so many ways you can do better, especially given the innovative and thoughtful ways you address other social issues.

--Can you have washable plates, cutlery, and mugs for people who stay? I understand this will up your energy because of washing needs. So, if not...

--There are SO many compostable options now. There are compostable-plastic cups, food containers, cutlery, and more. Certainly for customers that are staying with you, you could give them their stuff using compostable packaging and add a composting service to your garbage pick-up. People could throw out almost all of their packaging and their food leftovers into the compost; it would reduce your garbage immensely.

--Unless you live in a city that has composting, the compostable stuff won't help to-go customers as much. But there have GOT to be better recycling options for your lids, cups, food packages, cutlery, napkins...Your efforts in this area just do not appear to be very sincere. This effort could be combined with a lot of very clear reminders to customers about recycling, and maybe even marketing-type accountability incentives such as pledges to sign or photo contests or something, since most of your customers are to-go and won't be tossing their empty containers on site.

--You could offer a pretty steep incentive for people to bring their own (Starbucks-branded if you like) reusable packaging. You website says you encourage this but I definitely have not seen that. Some serious public education needs to happen with your customers.

--I'm going to suggest, too, given your influence as a popular and ubiquitous business in most places, you might be able to leverage your opinion and suggest to many of the cities and towns where you are located that they start regular composting. It is part of the cycle of life -- this notion that we use a thing once and its waste is garbage is insane -- and we must must MUST get ourselves out from under the mountain of garbage we are burying ourselves in along with the rest of the world.

Those are all the ideas I've got at the moment, but I'm sure you and your team could generate a ton more, and from those develop an innovative and smart suite of changes that not only reduces the garbage Starbucks produces but actually helps launch the groundwork for a healthier environment for all.

Thank you.

I'll report back if they respond. Meanwhile, I'm going to finish my cup of coffee.

Er, home brewed. I don't really like Starbucks coffee. But I do appreciate their business practices!