The Rt. 539 Painted Rock

Rt. 539 in Ocean County, New Jersey
Rt. 539 in Lacey Township, New Jersey

There’s a very large and somewhat famous rock sitting in the Pine Barrens, next to County Route 539 in Lacey Township, New Jersey.  According to local lore, the rock was left behind by a truck driver who had it off-loaded to fix a flat tire.  Over the years, the rock was painted with a number of designs and became known as (sorry about this) the “Painted Rock”.  Ba-dump-bump.

aaimg_0682

Shortly after the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, a local artist began painting the rock with a stars and stripes pattern.  Since then, it has become something of a shrine and attempts to paint it with other designs have always resulting in re-painting with the stars and stripes seen in my photo.

While I appreciate the patriotic zeal that has kept the rock painted with the stars and stripes, I do miss the more whimsical designs from the past.  You can read more about the history of the Painted Rock and see some of the early designs here .

Katydid

20160823_072144I love listening to katydids during warm summer evenings.  In my suburban neighborhood, they are one of the few night-singing insects that seems to thrive.  I took this phone-camera photo one morning as I was headed out to work.  This is the first year I had tried to raise roses, so I paused for a moment to admire my handwork and noticed this fellow hanging out on a flower.

Birding Again

img_0687a
American Bittern

I really enjoy birding (or bird watching, if you like that term better).  However, I had very little spare time to get outdoors and bird while I was completing my master’s degree.  That changed a couple weeks ago and I took my first opportunity to visit a favorite spot – Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge includes an eight mile wildlife drive that, sadly, was mostly closed for repairs.  However, there were still some really good birds along the parts that were open, including this very cooperative American Bittern.

 

 

 

 

Death of Pedals the Bear

bearIn January I wrote about the controversy surrounding Pedals the Bear, an American Black Bear that walked upright because of it had severely damaged front paws.  A Facebook group was raising funds and pressuring the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for permission to have the bear captured and relocated to a bear sanctuary in New York.  For its part, NJDEP resisted the plan by pointing out that the bear was thriving, growing larger with each passing year.

And so Pedals remained in the wild, until (apparently) the first phase of bear hunting season in October.  NJDEP announced that a number of bear with damaged or injured front paws were harvested during the first round of hunting season and, though unconfirmed, it appears likely that Pedals was among that group.

The media fallout was swift.  A Google search for Pedals the Bear yields over 9,200,000 results.  Yes – over “9 million” results from the apparent harvest of a single bear.  The handful of articles I’ve read focus on the anger and loss of people who had transformed this upright walking bear from a wild animal into a symbol of man’s callous treatment of nature.

This week, I stumbled upon an article in The Christian Science Monitor that discussed the ongoing debate around Pedals, specifically, and New Jersey’s bear hunt, in general.  Now, New Jersey has the most dense bear population in the continental United States, with about 3500 bear concentrated mostly in the northern and north-western parts of the state.  So, after a nearly 30-year ban, hunting was re-instituted in 2003.  The harvest target for 2016 is about 600 animals.  As the second phase of bear season opened on Monday, some of these so-called “animal rights” activist were planning protests and looking for ways to disrupt the hunt.

For people who live in many rural areas, it may seem odd that opening day of hunting season could result in protests, people running through wooded areas banging on pots and pans or, in one extreme case, trying to shield a bear by running between the animal and a hunter.  Can you imagine this type of protest in Texas or Montana or Alaska?  But it happens here in New Jersey, pretty much every year.

Why do I care if these people protest against a bear hunt? I am deeply concerned about the natural world.  Shouldn’t I be supporting and encouraging these types of protests?

The short answer is “No”.

I think that these types of protests provide cover for people who want to discredit the larger environmental movement.  If environmentalist can be marginalized by corporate media as simply a bunch of people angry over legal activities like hunting, it takes away from legitimate and important debates about the loss or degradation of natural habitats through the encroachment of human communities, replacing forests and river floodplains with golf courses and shopping centers, and the impact of polluting streams with lawn fertilizers and pesticides.

I think it also adds to the feeling of disconnect between people in urban and rural areas.  With every challenge we’re facing as a nation – jobs, healthcare, education, hunger, external wars and internal strife, the list goes on and on – a bunch of “environmental” people in New Jersey have lost their minds over a bear.  At least that’s what corporate media would have you believe.  Remember – 9 million hits on Google.

So what does this post have to do with my blog?  I think it fits neatly into trying to understand how half the country views the other half.  I think these smaller stories feed into a larger theme of the differences – the disconnect, if you will – between the coasts and the heartland.

Or maybe I’m just killing a bunch of electrons.  Time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Long Time Ago

rockhouse-lake

It was about three years ago when I was walking along this small lake in West Virginia, really no more than a pond fed from an old surface coal mine, that I decided to further my education and pursue a Master’s degree.  Shear folly, of course, since I was well past the age that anyone should be entering graduate school, but still…..

After several weeks of web browsing and soul searching, I found a program in Environmental Policy and Management at American Public University and enrolled the same day.  My first class started in June 2014 and, since then, I have read thousands of pages and written hundreds more on topics ranging from environmental law and ethics to restoration ecology and landscape planning.  Nearly every weekend for the past 2 1/2 years has been consumed with reading government reports, scientific studies, and course textbooks while writing an 8 to 10 page paper on any number of topics.

Now I am nearing the end of my program.  I have submitted my capstone thesis and, on Christmas day no less, I’ll receive my final grade.  It’s been an amazing and thought-provoking experience that left me very little time to do other things, like writing this blog.  Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to get back to exploring nature, bird watching, hiking and photography, and dropping by here from time to time to share my experiences.

One question I have been pondering is whether to stick with this old blog or construct a new one.  For now, I think I’ll stay here.  I have to prove to myself that I am willing to make the time to read and write.  With so many false starts over the past couple years, it seems the prudent thing to do.

Oh yeah…the pond.  It’s called Rockhouse Lake and has a Facebook page (where I found the photo).  I sometimes go for walks there when I’m visiting my family.

 

That took longer than I expected……….

Hovnanian 2014-05-18_06-17-35_523
Sunrise in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

I really could not have imagined that it would take me nearly a year and a half to get back to blogging.  When I finished the post back on the last day of 2014, I expected to take a few weeks off and sort out the result of my big year.

It was a great year and, in addition to learning more about birding in New Jersey than I ever thought possible, I also learned a bit more about myself and the direction in which I wanted to take my life.

What, you ask, did I learn?

To perhaps repeat myself a bit, I learned that (from a birding point of view) I am neither a chaser or a builder of birding lists.  Before the slings and arrows start – I am not saying there’s anything wrong with either activity.  Some folks (including my non-birding wife) enjoy the thrill of the chase and can’t really get excited about simply taking a walk in a park and looking at the “same ole birds”.  Some folks enjoy keeping long lists of the birds they’ve seen, where they saw them, the first and last dates of each year’s observations…and so on and so forth.

Not me.

But learning what I enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) about birding wasn’t the only lesson of my New Jersey Big Year (the blog is still up, by the way, if you want to give it a read).  I discovered that I am truly passionate about nature and climate, and protecting both so that my children, grandchildren, and their children will have a planet worth living in.

Energized by these new self-discoveries, I been busy since my last serious period of blog postings.  I completed training to become a Volunteer Master Naturalist through Stockton College (now Stockton University) and spent several hours last year volunteering for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at Edwin Forysthe National Wildlife Refuge.  I also continued volunteering for New Jersey Audubon’s Citizen Science program, completing breeding surveys of grassland and pinelands birds.

Perhaps the biggest step, through, has been my enrollment in American Public University’s Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy and Management.  Since June of last year, I have completed five courses toward my degree, expanding my understanding of principles such as environmental economics, adaptive management, toxicology, research techniques, and environmental law.  As you might guess, my graduate studies have taken up an enormous amount of time and left very little for other things – like blogging.

I have decided to take a few weeks off from class work to refresh and re-energize – and I am liking it.  It feels a bit odd not to have a paper due, or a quiz to take, or a forum posting to write.  But odd is good right now and the last couple of weeks have convinced me I was ready for a break.

So what am I doing in my free time?  Attending my grandkids’ sporting events.  Catching up on some reading.

Blogging!

And generally working through a few ideas for the next phase of my graduate work.  I have nearly finished all of the “required” courses and am now moving into to “concentration” portion of my program.  I have a bit more flexibility on which courses to take, which means it is truly decision time for choosing the direction of the remainder of my program.

I am also participating in a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC which is focused on the reasons some people use to justify their denial of science, especially climate science.  Whether you call it global warming or climate change, our planet is experiencing human-caused (anthropogenic) warming and serious steps are necessary to address it.  This course focuses on several areas including (taken from the web site):

  • How to recognize the social and psychological drivers of climate science denial
  • How to better understand climate change: the evidence that it is happening, that humans are causing it and the potential impacts
  • How to identify the techniques and fallacies that climate myths employ to distort climate science
  • How to effectively debunk climate misinformation

I am enjoying the class thus far and learning quite a bit, without the pressure of tests, papers, or grades.

That is what I have been up to over the past several months.  My plan is to get more involved in blogging again and time will tell if I am able to keep it going (this time).  I hope so.

I also hope that you’ll take a few minutes to drop me a note – what have you been up recently?  Any big or small changes in your life?  I’d love to hear all about it!

Until next time….

Greg

Cranberry Glades

A few weeks ago I published a rememberance of family vacations spent at Cranberry Glades.  Shortly after writing that article, my wife and I had the great fortune of visiting my childhood home.  On the way back to New Jersey, we stopped by Cranberry Glades for a quick hike.  The Glades were already boasting their fall colors under blue skies.  The temperature was perfect – what a beautiful place.

At about 750 acres, the Cranberry Glades are the largest area of bogs in West Virginia.   This unique ecosystem, which consists of 5 bogs, was preserved by the U.S. Forest Service in 1965 and protects over 60 species of plants, most of which are usually only found much farther north.  The gladed land is highly acidic and supports cranberries, skunk cabbage, sphagnum moss, and two types of carnivorous plants (purple pitcher plants and sundews).

A half-mile boardwalk traces along the edge of two bogs and through a small wooded area, giving you the opportunity to experience and enjoy this remarkable and ecologically-sensitive area.  I especially enjoy the boardwalk – slowly walking through the Glades, stopping here and there to enjoy an unusual plant or snap a photo.

Not far from the boardwalk, you can visit the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center.  Open from April through November, the Center has an exhibit hall and audio visual programs which provide interpretation of forest ecosystems and local history.  You will informational brochures and maps and, if you’re like me, a nature book or two to add to your library.

After so many years away, it was invigorating to re-visit one of my childhood stomping grounds.  I highly recommend the experience for everyone!