Monday, April 30, 2018

Let's eliminate plastic straws

One of the final and most far reaching projects done by the students of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment is this one by Anna Laprise and Avatar Simpson.
They have not only done a great deal of research, they have also taken their message to the public. They are working on the Connecticut College campus, and hope to bring their message to the greater New London community. They also had an interview on the campus radio station. This was followed by an interview with The New London Day; the article ran Saturday, and can be found here
Belowis their project summary and I'm including some of the links and resources they used. Many thanks to MaryEllen Mateleska Director of Education and Conservation at the Mystic Aquarium, for getting this movement started locally, keeping it going, and mentoring these two students.
Avalonia Land Conservancy supports these efforts. We don’t just preserve the land, but aim to protect the waterways and oceans that surround us all.
Beth Sullivan

Anna Laprise and Avatar Simpson have tackled a global issue and have gotten a good start on their home campus.

Stop Sucking is a project aimed at promoting the reduction or elimination plastic straw use. This is an extremely important cause due to the negative effects straws have on the environment. To give a sense of the magnitude of the issue, everyday in the United States alone 500 million plastic straws are used. This is enough straws to circle the earth 2.5 times in just one day. Furthermore, due to the type of plastic used in the production of straws, they are unable to be recycled. Thus, every plastic straw that has ever been used is still on the planet, either in the ocean or in a landfill. With these things in mind, it is unsurprising that straws are one of the most littered products in the world.

After hearing these staggering figures, it is important to look at what we, as consumers, can do to help positively impact our environment. One alternative to plastic straws is to simply go without. On average an American uses two straws daily, so one individual skipping straws for one year would save approximately 730 straws. If skipping a straw isn’t an option, a second alternative would be to use paper straws that are either biodegradable or compostable, or switch to reusable straws. Both options would significantly reduce waste, and have a less negative effect on the environment.

Finally, a great way to combat the use of straws can be done by local coffee shops, and restaurants. A simple step that can be taken to limit straw use is to not automatically provide straws. The common saying “out of sight, out of mind,” is an extremely effective method for limiting straw use. Furthermore, a second step that local businesses can take to limit straw use is to advertise the benefits of skipping on a straw. When using positive reinforcement, people feel more motivated to limit their straw use, and leaves an everyone wins sentiment among all parties. As such, these two simple steps can vastly decrease straw use.
Typical Straw Waste on Beaches around the World
Let's work to eliminate straws on the beach.
Photo from

In summary, due to the negative environmental effects that straws have on our planet, it is extremely important that everyone does what they can to limit their straw use. There are easy fixes to this large problem that can be done at a personal level or on a business level. As we continue to promote the Stop Sucking initiative at Connecticut College, and in local communities, we want to thank Avalonia Land Conservancy and the Mystic Aquarium for inspiring this project, and for being stewards of this initiative. Specifically, Beth Sullivan, an Avalonia Land Conservancy volunteer, has been an integral component of this project, without her help, this movement wouldn't be where it is now.

Monday, April 23, 2018

GNCE tackles the wild asparagus of Dodge Paddock

By Alan Lau
This week on our Avalonia Adventures, the GNCE sophomores had a workday at Dodge Paddock (2.6 acres) and Beal Preserve (1.08 acres) in Stonington, Connecticut. The beautiful property is right on the coast, filled with a variety of plants and animals. The Beal family donated the portion of land we were working on and had the rights to continue gardening there until Mrs Beal died almost two years ago. Our challenge that day was to dig up Asparagus plants. The roots were well established in the fertile soil, so it was quite a challenge for me to get them out at first. Asparagus are in the Lily family along with the onion, garlic, and tulip. The vegetable goes back to the early 3000 BC when Romans first cultivated it. The crop is grown all around the world and has a variety of species.
As we dug up the roots, the strong winds cooled us down. It was a nice 60 degrees F, and everyone was in high spirits and excited to get the job done. Shovels, gloves, and rakes were passed out. I grabbed a shovel, began to play some Bob Marley, and dug away. At first it was confusing trying to get the roots out. Trying to pull them out by force clearly wasn't the optimal strategy, as the roots were really deep and interconnected throughout the healthy soil. Luckily, my amazing peer Jonathan showed me his awesome shoveling technique. He carefully placed the shovel on the side of the roots and began to kick the shovel into the dirt with both his legs. One could hear the sweet crackle of the roots breaking as the shovel penetrated the soil. Once the roots broke free , they were ready to be pulled out. It was quite surprising how easy it was to get them out of the soil. It was also really nice to find enormous earthworms. They were so large due to the great amount of organic material that was in the soil after all the years of amazing gardening techniques. It was kept up with tender love and care and provided lots of vegetables and flowers.
In past years, Mrs Beal's garden was filled with beautiful flowers and great vegetables.

A little music from Marcus made everyone happy.

Everyone dug in to dig out those Asparagus roots.

Nothing wasted

After a couple of hours working on the roots, we gathered them up where they would be claimed by the North Stonington Garden Club members who would sell them at their annual plant sale. We transported a lot of other organic debris over to an area that was undermined along the old seawall. We filled a lot of holes. We also took some time to explore the preserve and enjoy the new benches that were installed that day by other Avalonia volunteers.
Our GNCE professor Jen went out to get everyone lunch. While waiting for Jen to get back, I began to look at some gulls stationed on a rock about 10 feet away from me. They had yellow beaks that were pointed at me after I began whistling to attract their attention; it worked for a second until the birds went their way. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Finally, Jen had come back with lunch. The ravenous students quickly formed a line behind one another to acquire their meal. However, some were distracted by Anne’s dog Riley who made another guest appearance. Our meal was enhanced by Anne’s cookies and juice! In all, it was a good day at Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve.
The GNCE clean up team.

Lifting the full tarp was a bit of a challenge.

Two special volunteers installed a couple of new benches on the Paddock.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and GNCE students.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Ultimate Frisbee Club tackles Japanese Barberry

By Alan Lau
GNCE at Connecticut College

Saturday, April 7, was an exciting day for Johnathan Monderer as he got twenty other volunteers, mostly from the Conn College Ultimate Frisbee Club, to join him in Paffard Woods, Stonington, CT to help pull Barberry plants which had invaded the stream line woodlands. The Japanese Barberry, or Berberis thunbergii, was brought to the United States in 1875 as an ornamental plant and promoted as a replacement for common Barberry. The plant was not considered a problem until the 1980’s when it began to spread. These weeds form dense stands that compete with native trees and herbaceous plants. The weed has naturalized as far north as Nova Scotia, south to North Carolina, and west to Montana. It has invaded a total of 31 states, with 17 states designating it as invasive. (Learn more at the National Invasive SpeciesInformation Center and here.) Japanese Barberry is a dense woody shrub with lots of spines connected to the branches. Its usual growth is about three feet high, but it occasionally reaches up to six feet. Flowers appear in May, and the fruits - red oblong berries - persist on the plant into the following winter.
The Connecticut College Barberry pulling Ultimate Frisbee team.

When cut, Barberry stems show a bright yellow sap.

The invasive plants leaf out earlier than native plants and  create a green mist in the wetlands.

The plants come out easily with roots intact.

Chilly day

The first hour was a bit chilly, about forty degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, after the first hour of work, the sun came out to give us a nice wave of warmth and comfort. Some of us might have gotten a bit too comfortable as I and two other students ended up falling knee deep into the stream and getting all our clothes wet. The other difficult part of pulling these invasives were the spines that would pick you almost every time you tried pulling one out. You could hear the volunteers yelping from the distance each time they pulled out a plant. The last thing all volunteers had to worry about were the ticks. The Barberry creates a perfect living environment for ticks which can carry diseases like Lyme disease, granulocytic anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. (Click here to learn more.)
The longer I worked the more I began to get into a meditative state in which my senses felt enhanced. I started to hear the birds whistle, the laughter from my peers, and the sound of water gently flowing down the stream. It is quite fascinating how one can forget about all the clutter in their lives as they focus on the objective of pulling invasive Barberry plants.
Each volunteer is an essential cog in the machine that is Avalonia. Both young and old volunteers played a role in forming efficient lines to make the labor go by faster and easier. By the third hour things were ready to wrap up. All the remaining invasives we had pulled were dragged up the hill to parking area where Anne. N provided her famous Cookies and Juice for the volunteers. However, once we got to the top, the volunteers ignored the snacks at first and went straight for her dog Riley. Yup, there is nothing that a college club frisbee player loves more than a good dog. After a few minutes of mingling and photos, everyone departed on their way home.

Project leader Jonathan with all the pulled barberry, some in bags, but most in piles by the trail that will be chopped up and removed.

It wasn't all hard work.

Blogger Alan Lau recording the event on his phone.

Photographs by the students of Connecticut College.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Introduction to some of the Students at Connecticut College

 As promised, here we meet one of the Connecticut College GNCE students who, for his project, will be writing the blog for a while.   Part of Avalonia's mission is to communicate the value of our irreplaceable resources and what better way to do that than to have a student learn the value and then communicate it them self.   We will enjoy a youthful view on things for a while. Hopefully when it is my time to start writing again, I can report that spring has indeed arrived and there will be no more grousing about bad weather, cold, and storms. We all look forward to our spring stewardship efforts getting us back to the nature we love.   Beth

By Alan Lau

For the last six years Avalonia has been collaborating with Connecticut College students in the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment (GNCE). Approximately two dozen students learn about Avalonia, its achievements, and just how hard it is to keep a non-profit, non-political, tax-exempt organization running.

My name is Alan Lau, one of the sophomores in GNCE, and I will be taking over the Blog for a few weeks in order to update you all on the projects my peers are tackling. This collaboration between GNCE and Avalonia has truly been a great privilege for students that come from inner cities like myself. Before joining GNCE and learning about Avalonia, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much work it took to manage a land trust. Then our good friend Beth came along and briefed us on just how complex the organization is. Officials must deal with governance, membership, fund raising, and a multitude of other aspects which all have a profound effect on the organization as a whole.

The first project is called the “Stop Sucking” campaign in which my fellow peers Anna Laprise and Avatar Simpson are pushing for the removal of plastic straws, by educating the public on the dangerous effects that plastic straws have on our planet and promoting alternatives that reduce plastic straw consumption. There are simple solutions to this problem, one of which is simply having reusable stainless steel straws, which can be cleaned and reused multiple times. Other solutions involve bamboo or paper straws which are much more biodegradable and recyclable than plastic. The problem with plastic straws lies in the plastic material which does not biodegrade but breaks down into small pieces of plastic that get consumed by animals and stay in the earth for hundreds of years. In addition to this, even if the plastic is recycled, only a very small amount of the plastic will actually be reusable until it goes back to a landfill. This problem is globally significant . The EU is pushing for a multitude of single-use plastic products like straws to be removed from 27 member states by the year 2030.
Here we have Avatar Simpson ‘20 and Anna Laprise ‘20. Their “Stop Sucking” campaign has already begun with local coffee shops on campus. One shop is beginning to tally how many plastic straws are being used per day and even adding stainless steel straws.

The next project is conducted by Jonathan Monderer. On April 7th, from 12-3pm, I and 30 other volunteers from Connecticut College went to Paffard Woods in Stonington, CT to help pull Japanese barberry plants that have invaded the stream line in the woodlands. At this time of year, the pulling is easier than other times due to wet soil. Some clipping was done but pulling was the best way to get rid of the roots. Once the plants were pulled, we used garden carts to bring the plants up to the parking lot to make piles for later removal. Getting rid of invasive plants is crucial to the survival of native plants around the area because they disrupt the food chain since the invasive plants do not have the natural predators they would have in their native lands.
Here we have Jonathan Monderer ‘20. He led the Work day at Avalonia’s site in Paffard Woods in Stonington, CT. Jonathan is on the Connecticut College’s Ultimate Frisbee Club where he recruited more than a dozen students to help with the work day on April 7. 

In all, we GNCE students are enthusiastic about our projects. We are ready to reach out to our communities to educate them on the land management, land preservation, and spreading the knowledge which corresponds to Avalonia’s mission of continuing to protect the threatened and declining habitats by conserving its natural resources. 

Paffard Woods is the location where Jonathan's work day took place on April 7.

A beautiful bridge in the Paffard Woods Nature preserve, crosses the stream where the Barberry grows.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and  Alan Lau.

Monday, April 2, 2018

New England Cottontail makes a comeback

By Beth Sullivan
Since 2013 I have been writing about our New England Cottontail project on Avalonia’s Peck and Callahan preserves in Stonington. Not accessible to the public, people have had to rely on written reports and photos to follow the progress.
We have laid out the welcome mat. Now we wait.  Photo from USFWS.

New England Cotton Tail returns

The New England Cottontail was determined to be in danger of needing Federal protection due to plummeting populations. They are out-competed by the non-native Eastern Cottontail that is highly adaptable to living near people and our homes and gardens. The New England Cottontail (NEC) needs shrubby, overgrown thickets of dense brush, of the kind found decades ago when farm fields were abandoned and were overgrown. Once the fields progressed into forests which are now abundant in our state, the NEC had less desirable places to live, they didn’t breed successfully (like rabbits are supposed to do) and thus the population dropped.
Studying the problem, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined it would be far better to try and stabilize the population, create habitat, rather than allow it to further decline and need federally mandated protection. Since 2012, we worked with USFWS, CT DEEP and the Wildlife Management Institute to help create a big block of habitat up in the woods between Pequot trail and Route 184.
Last year this area was low and sparse. Now perfect habitat. 

You can read about the progress and process herehere, and here.
Last week representatives from several federal agencies and teams from New England States met in New Hampshire to celebrate a success story. Because of all the efforts to study and restore habitat in focus areas throughout New England, it was determined that the NEC did not need to be placed on the Endangered Species List.
Plentiful berries of several species provide food.

The next question seems to be: Why is that a good thing: don’t they still need protection?
The NEC will continue to need protection and monitored to make sure all the work done to create habitat is successful in having the rabbits move in and thrive. Studies will continue over the next years as the project areas regrow into the young forest habitat they need. Teams will go out in the winter when the ground is covered to collect rabbit pellets to check for DNA confirmation of NEC presence. THAT will be success! Then plans can be made to continue to work with this habitat management system, keeping it in rotation of optimal size and level of growth, and work with other land owners to provide more of the same.
Under the powerlines, the habitat is dense and thick.

If the New England Cottontail had been placed on the Endangered Species list, there would have been a huge, bureaucratic need to install protections on large territories where the rabbits might be located and restrictions placed on areas where they are found. Private landowners could lose the choice of being able to create habitat or not, to develop their land, or not. The expense to list and then protect a species far outweighs the money spent to provide what it needs to keep it off the list.
A large Black Rat Snake probably finds many small mammals to eat.

The added benefit of the work, is that there are a number of other species, about 50 in CT alone that benefit from the newly created habitat. Some of them were heading toward that E-List themselves.
Since our project was completed in August of 2013, we have visited a number of times. The area is almost impossible to walk through: Excellent for rabbits. Berry bushes cover the ground providing fruit for all manner of animals. It is teeming with more wildlife than ever before. We have counted new birds, noted many new insects in great numbers, and reptiles and amphibians as well.
Walking through the preserve in no longer easy.

On behalf of a special bunny, we are all grateful for funding by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Long Island Sound Futures fund (LISFF), the efforts of the USFWS, CT DEEP and those supporters who had the vision to proceed with the project.
We will keep you posted.
Link to The Day article on the NEC is here.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.