News Watch: Aug. 4

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Government Relations & Agency News; Health; Invasive Species; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Water; Wildlife; Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
Duluth News Tribune: Farmers market starts in West Duluth 
Economist: Whole Foods – a victim of success? (In Star Tribune
Minnesota Farm Guide: Dayton declares August 3-9 Farmers Market Week 
MPR: Researchers to conduct first survey of Minnesota’s native bees 
Star Tribune: Shorewood passes state’s first “bee-safe” policy 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Richfield embraces the “co-op lifestyle” 

Climate Change
Albert Lea Tribune: Letter: EPA carbon rules are a good step 
Duluth News Tribune: UMD professor, others search for ancient ice in Antarctica 
Guardian: World’s top PR companies rule out working with climate deniers 
Mother Jones: This Huge Corporation Is Tackling Climate Change – Because It’s a Threat to their Bottom Line 

Energy
Associated Press: Coal delivery issues cause shortage at Xcel (In Pioneer Press
Reuters: Forecasts for higher oil prices midjudge the shale boom (In Brainerd Dispatch

Government Relations & Agency News
MPR: MPCA says permit process meets state guidelines for quick processing 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Community Voices: It’s public comment time on MN air monitoring plan 

Health
Associated Press: Leading US health official says vaccine to prevent infection by Ebola likely by summer of 2015 (In Star Tribune
MPR: Mosquito numbers down, West Nile virus still a threat 
Star Tribune: Watching Ebola outbreak, Minnesotans scramble their travel plans 

Invasive Species
Duluth News Tribune: Local View: DNR is worst offender of invasive species rules 

Mining
Mesabi Daily News: Opinion: Natural-resources based industries under fire 

Oil & Pipelines
KFAI Radio: Oil trains passing through Minnesota cause safety concerns for residents, activists (In Twin Cities Daily Planet

Parks & Trails
Bemidji Pioneer: Laporte looks for its own trailhead on Paul Bunyan State Trail 

Water
Climate Progress: Why EPA Suddenly Doesn’t Have Anyone Running the Office That Protects Waterways 
NPR: Iraq’s fight against militants shifts to control of water (In MPR
NPR: Toledo bans tap water after algae toxins found (In MPR
Reuters: Toledo, Ohio, lifts ban on drinking tap water (In Duluth News Tribune

Wildlife
Duluth News Tribune: Retiring DNR manager leaves most robust Lake Superior fishery in his wake 
MinnPost: Minneapolis City Council calls for bird-safe Vikings Stadium 
NPR: Wild pangolin: We’re eating the rare mammal into extinction (In MPR

Loon Commons blog: 

Restoring Lake Superior, one Cook County stream at a time
2014 Legislative Session Outcomes 

Forever Green Receives $1 Million
What is a watershed, anyway?
A Graphic View of Diversity’s Power

 

Connect with MEP on Facebook and Twitter

Ensure you continue to receive News Watch: Add lindsey@mepartnership.org to your safe-senders list. 

©2012 Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 546 Rice St. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55103

Did you receive News Watch from a friend? Subscribe here.

 

First Test of 2013 MN Frac Sand Law is Successful

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By Johanna Rupprecht, Land Stewardship Project

The owner of a controversial Houston County silica sand mine was notified Monday by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that he must stop mining and apply for a DNR Silica Sand Mining Trout Stream Setback Permit. The Erickson silica sand mine in Houston County’s Yucatan Township is within a mile of Ferndale Brook, a designated trout stream. This is the first silica mine to test a 2013 state law which established a rigorous permitting process for silica sand mines proposed within one mile of a trout stream.

Despite being informed by the DNR in an April letter that the DNR Setback Permit is required, the mine owner began mining activity on July 24. The DNR, once informed by neighbors of mining activity, took quick action and on July 28 delivered a letter, via a conservation officer, to mine owner Tracie Erickson ordering mining to stop. Since the letter delivery, neighbors have noted no mining activity at the site.

The Erickson silica sand mine has been strongly opposed by residents in Houston County, who have been fighting this proposal for over two years. At one time, the mine was part of the Minnesota Sands, LLC multi-site frac sand proposal, which is subject to a pending Environmental Impact Statement. Claiming to have severed ties with the Minnesota Sands, LLC proposal, the Erickson mine was released from environmental review by state officials.

The DNR Trout Stream Setback Permit requirement was made part of a legislative package passed in 2013 that is designed to limit the harm of frac sand mining. The Trout Stream Setback Permit application process includes an extensive year-long hydrological study and a financial assurance bond.

Johanna Rupprecht is a Land Stewardship Project organizer based in southeastern Minnesota. She can be reached via e-mail or at 507-523-3366.

News Watch: Jul. 31

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Carbon Rule; Climate Change; Efficiency; Environmental Writing; Fish & Wildlife; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Minnesota Legacy; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Water; Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
Mankato Free Press: Your View: No research has proved GMOs to be harmless 
MinnPost: Earth Journal: Lettuce From Skunk Hollow: Savoring CSA and homegrown bounty (who knew iceberg could be so delicious?) 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Grazing as a public good in Western Minnesota 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: University of Minnesota combats food supply issues with MnDRIVE 

Carbon Rule
Climate Progress: At EPA Hearing, Religious Leaders Call Carbon Pollution ‘An Affront to God’
Climate Progress: Retired Coal Miner to EPA: ‘We’re Dying, Literally Dying For You To Help Us’
MinnPost: Letter: Doing carbon-cutting right will be triple win for Minnesota 
New York Times: Religious Conservatives Embrace Pollution Fight 
New York Times: White House Pushes Financial Case for Carbon Rule 

Climate Change
Climate Progress: Delaying Climate Policies Could Cost U.S. Economy $150 Billion Each Year, Report Shows 

Efficiency
Star Tribune: Building efficiency: the invisible clean energy strategy 

Environmental Writing
MinnPost: Earth Journal: From Fukushima fallout to retreating ice: 10 great New Yorker pieces now outside paywall 

Fish & Wildlife
Duluth News Tribune: Spooner fish hatchery to celebrate 100th anniversary 
Mesabi Daily News: Editorial: Wolf hunting season done right 
MPR: How to make the Vikings stadium more bird-friendly 
Pioneer Press: Scandia woman on mission to save the monarch butterfly 

Frac Sand Mining
Associated Press: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources orders Houston County mine to stop operating (In Star Tribune) 
MPR: DNR shuts down SE Minn. sand mine, requires new permit 

Mining
Duluth News Tribune: Candidates view: No to copper mining, fluoride; yes to cannabis 
MPR: Highway 53: Expanding mine returns Minnesota to its road-moving ways 

Minnesota Legacy
MPR: How Lake of the Woods is adapting to environmental, economic changes 

Oil & Pipelines
LA Times: Proposed oil train safety rules include lower speeds, improved braking 
MPR: Erosion exposes Enbridge oil pipelines near river in NW Minn. 
Star Tribune: Minnesota crossed by 50 oil trains a week 

Transportation
MPR: Today’s Question: Should there be high-speed rail between the Twin Cities and Rochester?
Star Tribune: Video: U finishes second in solar car race 

Water
MinnPost: My Minnesota Blog: Does Minnesota need a water czar? 
MPR: Charting Minnesota’s future water supply 
MPR: State: EPA wrong to reverse Mesabi Nugget ruling 
Pioneer Press: Woodbury’s Carver Lake has harmful algae 
Star Tribune: E. coli levels close Lake Independence beaches 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Questions about the Northeast Metro water supply plan 

 

Loon Commons blog: 

Restoring Lake Superior, one Cook County stream at a time
2014 Legislative Session Outcomes 

Forever Green Receives $1 Million
What is a watershed, anyway?
A Graphic View of Diversity’s Power

 

Connect with MEP on Facebook and Twitter

Ensure you continue to receive News Watch: Add lindsey@mepartnership.org to your safe-senders list. 

©2012 Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 546 Rice St. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55103

Did you receive News Watch from a friend? Subscribe here.

 

Grazing as a Public Good in Western Minnesota

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As a Nature Conservancy scientist based in a Midwestern state, Steve Chaplin thinks a lot about the impact agriculture has on ecological treasures such as native tallgrass prairie.

“Other than plowing, grazing has probably been responsible for the degradation of more prairie than any other source,” says Chaplin, who is in the Conservancy’s Minnesota field office. No surprises there. But less expected is Chaplin’s next words: “We would like to see grazing on a large scale, which would mean grazing across public-private property lines. To a lot of conservationists it is probably surprising that we need more people, rather than fewer people, to improve the landscape.”

More farmers, and by extension, the cattle they manage, means more disturbance, and that’s a good thing. It turns out native prairies, other grass-based habitats and even wetlands need a little disruption of growth patterns if they are to remain healthy ecosystems, rather than scrubby patches of land covered by red cedar and other invasives. That’s why Chaplin and other natural resource experts are welcoming cattle onto lands that were once verboten to livestock: preserves, wildlife refuges and other natural tracts of real estate. One place where this trend is gaining momentum is western Minnesota, where an agriculture-dominated landscape is dotted with remnant prairies and some of the most valuable waterfowl habitat in the region.

Public agencies and private conservation groups are fast realizing that buying up land and putting up “Nature Preserve” signs won’t secure the long-term sustainability of that habitat—it needs active management, the kind that toes the line between stressing the environment and allowing it to recover.

It turns out when cattle are used to provide that well-balanced mix, the result can be a healthier, more diverse habitat, as well as an extra incentive for farmers to keep livestock as a key part of their enterprises.

“We need to keep cowmen on the ground,” says J. B. Bright, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge specialist who works with graziers in western Minnesota. “The local economies are stronger and the perennial plant systems are stronger.”

A Disturbing Development

In the Midwest, cattle’s return to prairies and other natural areas is a relatively recent phenomenon. Grazing of public lands has a long history out West, where large herds of cattle have been allowed to roam at will on natural areas during the entire growing season, often with little or no controls. In some cases, the result has been decimated grasslands and destruction of riparian areas, resulting in destroyed wildlife habitat, erosion and polluted water.

“When you talk about the West, grazing on public lands has a black eye or two,” says Minnesota Department of Natural Resources prairie habitat ecologist Greg Hoch. In these circumstances, banning livestock from natural areas and refuges would appear to be a no-brainer. But such a rigid line in the grass can result in lands that suffer from severe benign neglect.

“This is Minnesota—if you don’t graze or burn it, it will become forest,” says Bruce Freske, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Morris Wetland District.

Depending on the situation, grasslands require a major disturbance at least every five to 10 years, something bison and wildfires provided in days gone by. More recently natural resource experts have purposely burned off grasslands to keep woody invasives at bay and recharge green growth. But managing a burn can be expensive and it requires optimal weather conditions.

As a result, refuge managers concede they are woefully behind on burning, and they are watching with alarm as pastures purchased from farmers become inundated with cedar, Siberian elm, Russian olive and red-osier dogwood within four or five years.

Fortunately, innovations in grass-based livestock production offer a prime opportunity to bring back the kind of flash disturbances that haven’t been around since the time of the bison. Livestock producers utilizing managed rotational grazing are seeing the benefits of moving cattle frequently through numerous paddocks, rather than keeping them on the same pasture all season long, where it becomes overgrazed. This system can extend the grass season, cut costs and in general produce more profits. Advances in watering systems, lightweight moveable electric fencing and automatic gate openers have made rotational grazing even more viable.

This type of grazing system fits well with what refuge managers are looking for: short-term impact (a few weeks) and long-term rest (a year or more), something people like Hoch call “conservation grazing.”

“The key is to hit it and rest it,” he says. “That’s how these prairies evolved with the bison. Keeping livestock on pasture year-after-year will just clobber it, but I’m 100 percent convinced that if we do grazing right, grassland diversity will increase.”

Rangeland science backs up Hoch’s contention. Studies in numerous states show that conservation grazing can as much as double plant diversity in an area—it not only prevents overgrazing but the cattle’s manure and urine helps recharge the soil’s biology. Hoch and other habitat experts working in western Minnesota have observed how grazing has increased native plant communities by knocking back invasive cool season plants like Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome. Such invasives can blanket the land with a homogeneous cover, which limits the diversity wildlife such as deer, waterfowl, shorebirds and grassland songbirds require. Such grasses also tend to go dormant in hot weather and provide limited habitat and foraging areas for pollinators.

Cattle are also being used to thin out cattails and reed-canary grass around wetlands, providing the open areas many waterfowl prefer when keeping a lookout for predators. And controlled grazing of riparian areas is proving to be an effective way to stabilize areas along waterways and lakes.

The science has become so convincing that conservation groups such as the Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society have changed their once decidedly negative view of cattle and now see them as an effective habitat management tool.

Right now a small percentage of Minnesota preserves are being managed via grazing, and conservationists say even if the practice is expanded significantly, it’s doubtful it will be present on the majority of acres. For example, of the 50,000 acres the Fish and Wildlife Service manages in the Morris District, around 5,000 acres are grazed by 35 different producers. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources uses grazing on about 10,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas statewide and has a goal of pushing that to 50,000 acres by 2015, which would still be only 4 percent of all state refuge acreage. The Nature Conservancy grazes less than 15 percent of the 63,500 acres it owns in Minnesota.

Nevertheless, conservation grazing is seen as a potentially key tool in targeted areas. The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan, which was published in June 2011 by 10 conservation agencies and organizations, provides a blueprint on how to save and manage a resource that once covered 18 million acres of the state but is now down to 235,000 acres and shrinking fast. The authors of the report identified conservation grazing as a major method for preserving and managing grasslands.

The Prairie Conservation Plan highlights a shared threat livestock farmers and conservationists face: the plowing up of grass to make way for more corn and soybeans. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported in 2013 that between 2006 and 2011, 1.3 million acres of grassland were converted to crops in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Such conversion rates haven’t been seen since the 1920s and 1930s.

Bright, who works with a couple dozen cattle producers who graze refuge land, says livestock producers are increasingly getting “desperate” for pasture as acres they rent are switched to row crops. “I had one guy say, ‘I lost 240 acres to the plow.’ ”

It should be kept in mind that although wildlife managers and farmers share a common desire to save grass, they can still differ widely on what that resource should ultimately produce. Livestock producers usually pay a fee to graze refuges and other natural areas, but that doesn’t give them carte blanche—the refuge manager’s goal of protecting the resource takes precedence over profits.

“The farmer wants the feed and the natural resource manager wants the diversity of plants,” says Howard Moechnig, who operates a grazing consulting firm called Midwest Grasslands. “Sometimes the two don’t match.”

But when they do, it can be a good way to manage an important resource on multiple levels, says Dan Jenniges, who has a cow-calf operation near Glenwood in west-central Minnesota. Jenniges, who has been grazing Fish and Wildlife Service land for eight years and Department of Natural Resources land for two, says the grazing schedule and intensity can vary from year-to-year.

“It depends on what their objectives are for their particular piece of land,” he says of the refuge staffers he works with. Sometimes his cattle are brought in during the spring to knock back cool season grasses like brome and bluegrass just as they’re starting growth; other times a fall grazing is called for to stymie the same grasses as they are coming out of summer dormancy.

Some of Jenniges’ land is adjacent to refuge land, making grazing the public areas convenient; in other cases he has to transport the cattle several miles for a grazing season that may only last around a month. That can be a hassle, but it allows him to give his own pastures a rest and break up pest cycles while contributing to the health of the overall landscape.

“We aren’t renting the grassland—we’re managing it,” says Jenniges. “When you’re grazing that public land, you’re able to take pressure off your own lands, so in general all the grasslands become better, whether it’s for the grass or the wildlife.”

News Watch: Jul. 28

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Conservation; Energy; Fish & Wildlife; Invasive Species; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Transportation; Water; Latest from Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Conservation
 
Energy
 
Fish & Wildlife
 
Invasive Species
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Parks & Trails
 
Transportation
 
Water

Loon Commons blog: 

Restoring Lake Superior, one Cook County stream at a time
2014 Legislative Session Outcomes 

Forever Green Receives $1 Million
What is a watershed, anyway?
A Graphic View of Diversity’s Power

 

Connect with MEP on Facebook and Twitter

Ensure you continue to receive News Watch: Add lindsey@mepartnership.org to your safe-senders list. 

©2012 Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 546 Rice St. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55103

Did you receive News Watch from a friend? Subscribe here.

 

News Watch: Jul. 24

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Carbon Rule; Climate Change; Energy & Energy Efficiency; Fish & Wildlife; Mining; Transportation; Water; Latest from Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
MPR: Chef Dan Barber on what’s missing in the farm-to-table equation 

Carbon Rule
MinnPost: Community Voices: Minnesota’s carbon-cutting plan should maximize efficiency and renewable-energy development (Written by MEP member group Fresh Energy’s policy associate, Alexis Williams)  
MPR: Minnesota backers praise EPA carbon rules (MEP member group Fresh Energy’s Science Policy Director, J. Drake Hamilton quoted)

Climate Change
Brainerd Dispatch: Opinion: Climate warnings mount
MinnPost: Rapid pace of changing climate gets special emphasis in new status report 

Energy & Energy Efficiency
Duluth News Tribune: New Great Lakes ship touted as more energy-efficient 
Midwest Energy News: In Minnesota, ‘behavior’ programs show energy-saving results 
Star Tribune: Klobuchar, Grassley want probe of ethanol sales restrictions 

Fish & Wildlife
Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s View: Letter on bear research neglected important facts 
MPR: Audubon: New Vikings stadium a bird ‘death trap‘ 
MPR: DNR plans ‘conservative’ 2014 deer hunt to rebuild populations 
Star Tribune: Commentary: Elephants: For our respect, not our amusement 
Timberjay: Vermillion loon count shows chick numbers down slightly 

Mining
Brainerd Dispatch: Letter: Keep mining out 
Duluth News Tribune: Mesabi Nugget parent urges patience, sees improvement at Hoyt Lakes iron plant 
Duluth News Tribune: Other view: PolyMet ‘just popped out’ for DFL release? 
Duluth Reader: Iron is not a panacea for wild rice or for our children 
Mesabi Daily News: PolyMet ‘just popped out’ for DFL release 

Parks & Trails
Pioneer Press: Car2go goes metrowide with St. Paul startup 
Pioneer Press: Hidden gem: Dakota County’s Whitetail Woods Park Opens in fall 

Transportation
Duluth News Tribune: Reader’s view: Road salt takes heavy toll on environment 
Star Tribune: Commentary: In LRT planning, remember north Minneapolis 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: New Lexington Parkway 83 bus route now operating, connects to the Green Line 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: VIDEO: Dinkytown Greenway expands, grand opening 

Water
Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota’s legacy funds alone don’t pay for projects 
MPR: Blog: $50M pipe might not restore White Bear Lake levels 
Star Tribune: Survey says: Minnesota wants clean water for fish (quotes from MEP’s Steve Morse & Friends of the Mississippi River’s Trevor Russell)

Loon Commons blog: 

Restoring Lake Superior, one Cook County stream at a time
2014 Legislative Session Outcomes 

Forever Green Receives $1 Million
What is a watershed, anyway?
A Graphic View of Diversity’s Power

 

Connect with MEP on Facebook and Twitter

Ensure you continue to receive News Watch: Add lindsey@mepartnership.org to your safe-senders list. 

©2012 Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 546 Rice St. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55103

Did you receive News Watch from a friend? Subscribe here.

 

News Watch: Jul. 21

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Coal; Fish & Wildlife; Frac Sand Mining; Invasive Species; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails;  Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Invasive Species; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Politics & Administration; Restoration & Development; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Latest from Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
Coal
 
Fish & Wildlife
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Invasive Species
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Parks & Trails
 
Politics & Administration
 
Restoration & Sustainable Development
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water

Loon Commons blog: 

Restoring Lake Superior, one Cook County stream at a time
2014 Legislative Session Outcomes 

Forever Green Receives $1 Million
What is a watershed, anyway?
A Graphic View of Diversity’s Power

 

Connect with MEP on Facebook and Twitter

Ensure you continue to receive News Watch: Add lindsey@mepartnership.org to your safe-senders list. 

©2012 Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 546 Rice St. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55103

Did you receive News Watch from a friend? Subscribe here.

 

Soil Health: Numbers vs. Knowing

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Sometimes it takes a bit of an evangelist to remind us that praying at the altar of facts and figures can blind one to how they all connect in the bigger picture. In the case of production systems that build soil health, that preacher is Ray Archuleta.

“The soil is naked, hungry, thirsty and running a fever,” said Archuleta during a presentation at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in February. Archuleta’s talk, which is featured on a recent LSP Ear to the Ground podcast, is peppered with this kind of blunt, colorful language. And the Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation agronomist doesn’t mince words when he says sick soil is something we all need to take personally. It’s the difference between “informational knowing” and “personal knowing.”

Informational knowing is acknowledging the latest data showing how cover crops, for example, can increase organic matter by a certain percentage and that in turn can result in more consistent corn yields down the line. Personal knowing is seeing the connections between having more living plant systems on the ground year-round and increased soil biota and how that healthier soil food web can have a domino effect on everything from how resilient a farm field is under adverse weather conditions to how clean the water is in the local watershed to how, ultimately, profitable that agricultural enterprise is.

“Informational knowing is where you go, ‘I see.’ But personal knowing goes into your soul, your inner being, and you understand. You go, ‘I see.’ ” Archuleta told a group of scientists, conservation agency personnel and farmers. “Unless our producers and our society goes at this on a personal level, personal knowing, we will not heal our land. It will be all academic and talking points.”

Archuleta is the kind of soil conservationist who is not afraid to use terms like “soul” and “inner being” when speaking to just about any group. Check out videos of his presentations and it becomes clear he’s comfortable preaching the soil health gospel to farmers large and small, conventional and not-so-conventional. It helps that his passion for the resource is accentuated with a gift for communication and a bit of entertaining theatrics. Archuleta’s soil slaking presentation, for example, has a succinct way of making, in just a few moments, even the most uninitiated audience member immediately see the difference between building our soil and mining it.

Tools vs. Systems

Society at large has a major stake in seeing a practice like cover cropping adopted, given its environmental benefits. The current issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation reports that utilizing extensive cover cropping in just five states, including Minnesota, could cut overall nitrate loadings in the Mississippi River by 20 percent, which could play a significant role in reducing the size of the hypoxic Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico downstream. This is especially good news in Minnesota, where Pollution Control Agency research shows 73 percent of the nitrogen escaping into the state’s rivers is coming from cropland.

The Journal of Soil and Water Conservation results, which are just the latest in a long line of cover cropping benefits being documented by scientists, help bolster the argument for planting something like winter rye after corn harvest in the fall. But they don’t necessarily provide farmers the incentive to make cover cropping part of an integrated, holistic system for building long-term soil health. In fact, even studies showing that cover cropping can help maintain yields of cash crops like corn and soybeans won’t necessarily close the deal for farmers concerned about the hassle factor of adding yet one more tool to their production system.

Reading the numbers reported by such a studies allows one to see, but hearing Archuleta put it all together and talk about “farming in nature’s image” makes one actually see. There’s no better example of that than North Dakota’s Burleigh County, where farmers, scientists and soil conservationists are opening up a lot of people’s eyes to the opportunities available when soil is treated as a living system, and not just a plant stand.

“Farmers, once they have the understanding, they will find a way to make it work,” he maintains. Shovel Worms

“Understanding” is a key word here. For example, in much of agriculture these days, “soil health” and “cover cropping” are often used interchangeably. That’s not a completely bad thing, considering that cover cropping does produce numerous benefits above and below the surface of the soil. However, as Archuleta reminds us, cover cropping is a tool, a tool that can be applied without necessarily having a deep understanding of how having more plant life present in a field before and after the typical growing season sparks the kind of long-term biological activity that produces multiple benefits far down the line.

Archuleta concedes he graduated from college with a reductionist view that you could apply one practice to a field while ignoring all of the wider impacts—positive and negative—that practice was having on the rest of the ecosystem. He now understands that “it’s about relationships and understanding interconnectedness” and until the principles of ecology are applied to farming, agriculture will never be truly sustainable.

Recognizing ecological relationships is key when things don’t go as planned, which is often the case in farming. Farmers who have tried cover cropping in recent years have had mixed results, particularly during the oftentimes brutally short growing season we have in states like Minnesota. If cover cropping is just an isolated tool, it’s much easier to drop it and return to business as usual when things go awry. But when such a practice is part of an integrated system involving no-till and livestock, for example, it has value beyond just covering the land for a season. In no-till systems, cover crops can help suppress weeds and break up soil compaction. And if a farmer has cattle, cover crops can provide a cheap source of feed while closing the nutrient cycle.

Farmers who adopt cover crops and stick with them tend to use them as part of other innovative practices, says Rob Myers, who has conducted in-depth surveys on farmers’ use of cover cropping in the Upper Mississippi River watershed. Using such a comprehensive systems approach to build soil health makes it more likely a farmer will make such practices a permanent part of an operation, according to Myers, who is the regional director of Extension Programs for the north central region of the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

Making connections and understanding their context requires close observation. Archuleta is a big believer in farmers getting off the tractor, taking out a shovel and literally digging in to assess the impacts their production systems are having on the health of their soil. One can tell a lot from how dirt looks, smells and feels. When he gives presentations around the country, the agronomist is genuinely shocked at how few farmers closely monitor the well-being of their soils. That’s too bad, because nothing builds personal knowing like grubbing into a handful of prime loam. It can create the kind of awareness that allows a farmer to see connections.

A few years ago I watched Martin and Loretta Jaus lead a group of government agency wildlife experts on a tour of their Sibley County dairy farm. The experts were there to see the songbirds, raptors and other critters that call this organic operation home. The farmers talked about how they have integrated diverse, multi-year crop rotations and rotational grazing of livestock to build up a farm that’s economically and environmentally sustainable. But before the natural resource professionals left, Martin made a point of spading up a double handful of soil and allowing the professional conservationists breath in its fragrant life. His point was clear: whether it’s wildlife or milk, it all starts with this stuff.

As Loretta told Minnesota Public Radio earlier this week: “It’s a pretty sweet system when you let it work.”

News Watch: Jul. 17

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Coal; Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Invasive Species; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife & Outdoor Recreation; World News; Latest from Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
Minn Post: Project Sweetie Pie teaches north Minneapolis youth about gardening 
Pioneer Press: Minnesota grape harvest stomped out by harsh winter 
Pioneer Press: Wisconsin raw milk farmer loses appeal 

Coal
Star Tribune: Duluth-based Minnesota Power settles with EPA (Beth Goodpaster from MEP member group, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, quoted)

Energy
Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota Power cheers windmill-shipping milestone 
Mankato Free Press: Opinion: New wind plants smart for Xcel 
Minnesota 2020: Hindsight: Changing Passive Energy Policy 

Frac Sand Mining
Winona Daily News: Frac sand barge plan tabled: City board concerned about possible permitting, environmental review 

Invasive Species
Associated Press: New emerald ash borer infestation found in southeastern Minnesota (In Pioneer Press
Associated Press: Wasps let loose in Winona to fight ash borer (In MPR)

Oil & Pipelines
Minn Post: Earth Journal: Computer modeling shows disastrous impact of a pipeline break at Mackinac  
Minn Post: Earth Journal: Map shows areas most at risk as rail shipments of oil continue to rise  
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Opinion: The Indian Wars are not over 
Zenith City Weekly: Enbridge Energy’s black gold rush (Featuring MEP’s Andrew Slade)

Parks & Trails
Pioneer Press: St. Croix River park boss taking on Mississippi river unit, temporarily 

Transportation
Minnesota 2020: Hindsight: Transportation and Health: Modes Matter 

Waste & Recycling
Star Tribune: Commentary: Don’t be complacent about waste reduction in town 

Water
MPR: California water wasters face $500 a day fines
MPR: Volunteers clear flood debris from Mississippi 
MPR: Brains On: Water, water everywhere – but how does it get there?  

Wildlife & Outdoor Recreation
Duluth News Tribune: Local View: Keep public land for recreation 
Pioneer Press: Minnesota veterans honored with new wildlife area 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Decline in hunting permits shows shifting leisure trends (In Minnesota 2020

World News
NPR: Australia Repeals An Unpopular Tax on Carbon Emissions 
NPR: Facing a Toxic Dump In South Africa, He Cleaned Up 

Loon Commons blog: 

Restoring Lake Superior, one Cook County stream at a time
2014 Legislative Session Outcomes 

Forever Green Receives $1 Million
What is a watershed, anyway?
A Graphic View of Diversity’s Power

 

Connect with MEP on Facebook and Twitter

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©2012 Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 546 Rice St. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55103

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News Watch: Jul. 14

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Environmental Education; Energy; Fish & Wildlife; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Residential Sustainability & Sustainable Development; Transportation; Water; Latest from Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
Star Tribune: National sweetener battle grows increasingly bitter 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Research funding boost to help new University Bee Lab facility in battle against waning honeybee population 

Energy
Capitol Chatter: Blog: Capitol notebook: Renewable fuel group blasts big oil (In Duluth News Tribune

Environmental Education
Minnesota 2020: Blog: Education in the Wilderness 

Fish & Wildlife
Ely Echo: High Lake and Miners benefit from new trout stocking plan 
MPR: Marshy outposts capture the sound of frogs – and change (In Rochester Post Bulletin
MPR: Palm oil productions threaten African apes 
Star Tribune: Alaskan wolf pups rescued from fire heading to Minnesota Zoo 

Mining
Mesabi Daily: PolyMet singled out in DFL release 

Oil & Pipelines
Associated Press: Oil train safety: Who’s behind the influence game in Washington (In MPR
Associated Press: Oil train safety. Comments aimed at swaying regulators (In MPR

Parks & Trails
Pioneer Press: Crosby Manitou State Park: A North Shore hidden gem 

Residential Sustainability & Sustainable Development
Duluth News Tribune: Opinion: Reader’s view: Spraying for mosquitoes is dangerous and doesn’t help 
Minnesota 2020: Blog: A Case for Urban Ecosystems: What is a Biophilic City?
MPR: Creeping Charlie: What it is, how to get rid of it 
MPR: Quest to save groundwater aims at love for lush, green lawns

Transportation 
Pioneer Press: Snelling/University ‘urban village’ plans take shape – but there’s a price 
Pioneer Press: St. Paul to Woodbury Gateway Corridor buses get nod over light rail 
Star Tribune: How Minneapolis accepted Southwest Corridor light-rail deal 
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Residents should fight Southwest Light Rail as is 

Water
MinnPost: Lake of the Woods algal blooms worsening despite phosphorus cuts 
Rochester Post Bulletin: Water festival may drive you to think 

Loon Commons blog: 

Restoring Lake Superior, one Cook County stream at a time
2014 Legislative Session Outcomes 

Forever Green Receives $1 Million
What is a watershed, anyway?
A Graphic View of Diversity’s Power

 

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©2012 Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 546 Rice St. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55103

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