Sphagnum Moss and Cypress Knees

sphagSphagnum Moss and Cypress Knees…two types of wetlands plants that help identify the soil and water regimes of a site and aid in helping to characterize the type of wetland being assessed.

It has been my experience that sphagnum moss indicates very wet conditions that give you the felling of a “squishy bog”. The cypress trees … as evidenced by the cypress knees in this photo also confirm very wet conditions that lead to the formation of this type of wetland.

This wet bog like “depression wetland” is one of my favorite to observe…must be the primordial/serene feeling that I get when I pass through the bog. Knowing how this type of wetland formed (flatwood depression on mineral soils coupled with high groundwater table and average annual rainfall in excess of 60″ per year) adds value to the ecosystem assessment work which is part of what I do…knowing a little bit about how the wetland developed and why the plants you see came to be there is part the “natural experience” and “natural feeling” you get when you visit.

Yard Art/Street Art/Street Landscaping

yard art I have never been much on “Yard Art” like pink flamingos, gigantic plastic sunflowers, or cement reindeers. I pretty much feel the same way about Street Art like tacky murals or funky statues done in poor taste.

Having said that, I must confess that there are times and places where it (yard art, street art) works just fine. One such place is the landscaping around a large live oak in downtown Ocean Springs. Here, the shop owner and the City have worked together to place an old “claw foot” bathtub in a bed of English ivy, fill it with some colorful annuals, and add an old shower head to create a beautiful and unique street landscaping feature that fits so nicely with downtown Ocean Springs’ personality.  Cool, eclectic, tastefully placed yard art/street landscaping along quaint streets in quaint towns like Ocean Springs add value to the visitor’s visit, shopper’s shopping, and the locals local pride.  The next time you are walking around in downtown Ocean Springs, and cast your eyes on  this kind of “art”, tell the “artist” thanks for thinking about making things prettier.

Sunsets on Mobile Bay

orange street pier 2Sunsets on Mobile Bay are some of the most dramatic I’ve ever seem. Of course, I am not a world traveler so I don’t have the best point of reference; but I can’t imagine that it gets much better than this. I am also somewhat biased too, because I grew up a few blocks from where this sunset photo was taken (Orange Street Pier, Fairhope, Alabama) and I am partial to these parts. Driving along scenic Highway 98 between Fairhope Avenue and Fig Street (where my house was) from about 4:00 pm till sunset is something to put on your “bucket list”…add it now.

Farmers and Planters

soy bean cropI was telling a client from the “Delta” about some friends of my son (Chris) who lived in Rolling Fork, Mississippi that were “farmers”. He laughed and said the folks around Rolling Fork are “Planters” not “Farmers”…and he went on to explain.  He advised that “Planters” work on “thousands” of acres and “Farmers” work on “hundreds” of acres. Using that metric I would agree with my client because Chris’ friends are “Planters” who mange thousands of acres of family land and they do it well. Regardless of the amount of land they manage, there is value to having “Planters and Farmers” who carry on family traditions that are connected to growing things and managing land so that it can be passed on to future generations. I like the thought of accumulating family land and making decisions about what to grow and how to grow it. I appreciate what those folks do; I admire their connection to the land; and I respect their love of the land. Knowing some of these kind of folks adds value to my life and I am thankful for “Planters” and “Farmers”.

Soils and Men

IMG_6387From time to time I find myself in an antique shop and one of my favorite things to do while in there is to hunt for old books that are written about and describe the way things used to be.  Not to long ago, I came across one of those treasures in an antique shop in Madison, Mississippi.  The book was titled “Soils & Men-Yearbook of Agriculture” published in 1938 by the US Department of Agriculture.  The title alone intrigued me because I have come to  admire soil scientists and appreciate the way they dedicate themselves to working with farmers and others to share knowledge and provide support to those who work hard to put food on our tables.

IMG_6388As I scanned through the table of contents, a chapter in Part I.  The Nation and Soil, titled “The Problem: Drained Areas and Wildlife Habitats” caught my eye and caused me to thumb directly to the page for a look-see.  And there it was, written by the authors, F.R. Kennedy and W.L. McAtee was a lament about “draining for draining sake”  and the unintended impact it has on landowners (both drainers and drainees) and wildlife. The following are excerpts from that chapter that speak about the value of natural areas, the “heedless destruction”, and unintended losses…

  1. Among the assets of mankind, wildlife receives it true appraisal only in advanced state of civilizations, when owing to the heedless destruction of earlier times, it has been seriously if not irreparably reduced…
  2. There is no vision to see, there is no time to learn, that land units with their natural occupants as exemplified by a beaver Meadow, a muskrat marsh, a duck lake, a deer forest, or an antelope mesa, are productive entities that under certain circumstances may be worth far more than anything man can put in their place, and that once destroyed, may never be re-established…
  3. If we had sufficient foresight we would preserve in due proportion natures wealth creating centers of every kind, but lacking it, we are wasters…
  4. Experience at last brings regret, and we would re-create what we have destroyed. We see that it has values that we can ill afford to lose not only in a material sense, for a beauty as well. We see that it has values that we can ill afford to lose, not only in a material sense, but for beauty as well.

Some “old timers” I know, who might have even read this particular chapter with these powerful words which described the value of wildlife and wildlife habitat would simply say “nuff said”.  Although the text from the book “Soils & Men is almost 80 years old, the words still ring true and provide valuable insights into the way they thought and the way we should think about our wildlife resources…”nuff said”.

Meeting at the Mill

The Mill at Mississippi State University (MSU) is a re-purposed cotton mill building that was built in 1902 and served as a major economic driver in the growing town of Starkville, Mississippi. This historic mill once produced some of the finest cotton fibers including their signature “Starkville Chambray”the-mill thread… producing over 1.5 million yards of thread annually. The mill was closed in the early 1960’s and MSU bought and re-named the Mill the Cooley Building, which became home to the school’s physical plant.

Fast forward to today…MSU has renovated the building, keeping its traditional character, adding modern, energy efficient, and sustainable features, highlighting its architectural beauty, and re-purposing the building to a beautiful office/conference center that we (MSU, Starkville, and Mississippians) all should be proud of.

Recently, I was at the Mill to attend an urban forestry workshop and although I am not a forester, I have a deep appreciation for the value trees add to our homes, our communities, and our lives. Discussing this topic in a place like the Mill also adds value. It adds value to the experience of knowing that this building…even though it is over 100 years old, and even though it’s uses have evolved over time… is still as vital and important as it was the first day the doors were opened.

Coastal Impact Assistance Program

DSC09299The Coastal Impact Assistance Program or CIAP as we along the Mississippi Gulf Coast have come to know it, has run its course and it unofficially came to an end on December 31, 2016.  CIAP was authorized by Congress and provides federal grant funds derived from federal offshore lease revenues to oil producing coastal states (Alabama, Alaska, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas)  in offsetting environmental impacts related directly or indirectly to oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The authorized uses of  funds included activities and projects for the conservation, protection, or restoration of coastal areas including wetlands; mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife, or natural resources; planning assistance and the administrative costs of complying with these objectives; implementation of a federally-approved marine, coastal, or comprehensive conservation management plan; and mitigation of the impacts of Outer Continental Shelf activities through funding of onshore infrastructure projects and public service needs.

Historically, the CIAP program began in 2001 when Congress authorized the Commerce, State, Justice Appropriations Act and awarded somewhere around $150,000,000 to the coastal states and their respective “coastal political subdivisions” (CPS) using a very complex but fair distribution formula that took into consideration things like: 1) OCS production; 2) the state’s distance from the OCS; 3) the state’s length of shoreline; and 4) the state’s population.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-58), Section 384, provided the legislative mechanism for continuing the CIAP program and provided $725,000,000 for the program.

From the very beginning of the  CIAP program, I can truly say that Mississippi in general, and Harrison County (one of the CPSs) in particular, were wise stewards of the CIAP funds and implemented a number of important projects that “moved the needle” with respect to conservation, restoration, and water quality enhancement projects. I know, because I had the pleasure working with my colleague Kristyn Gunter, and managing the CIAP program for Harrison County.  Notable projects for Harrison County included a modern wastewater treatment plant and an expanded sewer collection system that will allow over 1,000 homesites, businesses and churches to connect to a sewer collection system, rather than utilize on-site treatment systems to treat domestic sewerage; acquisition of about 500 acres of sensitive coastal habitat in Harrison County (including Cedar Lake Island) that will be managed and protected in perpetuity; and projects that enhance and restore impacted coastal habitats which contribute to ecological function our coastal ecosystem.

Programs like CIAP provide opportunities for folks like the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to fund important projects that add value to the ecological health and well being of our important coastal resources.  Projects like the West Harrison Wastewater Treatment Plant and the sewer collection system projects that reduce the number of homes on faulty septic tanks and aid in improving the water quality along the Gulf Coast certainly add value(s) for things like improved water quality and enhanced coastal wetlands. Working with good stewards (e.g. the Harrison County Board of Supervisors) of grant funds, committed resource managers (e.g. MDEQ and MDMR), and dedicated conservation minded folks (e.g. Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, The Nature Conservancy, and Audubon) who do great things with limited funds and limited staffs are shining examples of the kind of “Coastal Teamwork” that help to make the Mississippi Gulf Coast a valuable part of our coastal heritage…and that “adds value”.

 

Coach Summit Battled to the End

sum-it-up-pat-summitt-book-jacketI just heard the news that Coach Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee Womens’ Basketball Coach past away today, five years
after she was diagnosed with Early Onset Dementia (Alzheimer’s disease). I posted a blog about Coach Summitt a few years ago (Pat Summit-XO) after watching an ESPN’s Nine for IX series featuring Coach.   For more information about this remarkable lady  and her accomplishments follow this link (http://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/college/ut/2016/06/28/pat-summitt-battled-alzheimers-disease-very-end/86472230/

Green Development and Green Infrastructure Make Sense-Economically and Ecologically

One of the fundamental conclusions in the Pew Oceans Commission America’s Living Oceans Report 2003 is that…”In the long term, economic sustainability depends on ecological sustainability.” This fact was not lost when Congress enacted the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies (RESTORE) Act which emphasized the dual interest of restoring our coastal ecology and coastal economy in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

A common thread throughout Mississippi’s GoCoast 2020 report  on recovery and restoration  prepared after the BP Oil Spill, highlighted the importance of the Mississippi Gulf Coast with its “quality of life and sense of place”.  That quality of life and sense of place is part of our DNA and it is reflected in the culture of the people that live and work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Viability, resiliency, and long-term sustainability are also common themes which must be considered when developing projects in our fragile yet dynamic coastal environment.

As we continue to make plans to implement economic develop projects in the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill, it is important to consider concepts that allow development that embraces our fragile environment, recognizes the design challenges created by coastal hazards (e.g. Hurricanes, Sea Level Rise, and Flooding), and builds on the traditional values that are part of the Gulf Coast’s heritage. The following are three development concepts to consider as we move forward in our efforts to recover from the BP Oil Spill.

hub and spokeGreen infrastructure is a design concept that uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater runoff and create healthier urban environments. Green infrastructure refers to the patchwork of natural areas that provide habitat, flood protection, and cleaner water.

bldgGreen building (also known as sustainable building) refers to a structure and process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

low impactLow Impact Development LID is an approach to land development that employs principles of preserving and recreating natural landscape features, minimizing paved areas to create functional and appealing site drainage that treat stormwater as a resource rather than a waste product.

The concepts outlined above are important principles and processes that add value to development activities and the “The Triple Bottom Line“, for projects along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  In so many ways they help to improve our quality of life (People), they reduce project impacts on the environment (Planet), and the enhance a building’s life-cycle and sustainability (Profit).

A Strong Case for Coastal Zone Management

SONY DSC

In both developed and developing countries, the coastal zone is likely to undergo the most profound change in the near future. As of 1998, over  3.2 billion people live within 120 miles of the coast and that number is growing. Consequently, unless careful management and planning are instituted, severe conflicts over coastal space and resource utilization are likely, and the degradation of natural resources will reduce development options. In addition to the population pressure, the world’s coastal areas and small islands are highly vulnerable to climate change.

The state of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources as well as the otheCat Island photo 1r 34 coastal
and Great Lakes states and territories (with the exception of Alaska) participate in the
National Coastal Zone Management Program.(CZMA) and work with NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Management (OCM) to address some of the most pressing coastal issues, including climate change, ocean planning, and planning for energy facilities and development. The key goals of the CZM program include: “protecting natural resources, managing development in high hazard areas, giving development priority to coastal-dependent uses, providing public access for recreation, and coordinating state and federal actions”.

NewSandTo meet the goals of the CZMA, the national program takes a comprehensive approach to coastal resource management—balancing the often competing and occasionally conflicting demands of coastal resource use, economic development, and conservation. Striving to manage Mississippi’s coastal zone in a positive and proactive way that adds value to the activities and actions that make coastal Mississippi a great place to live, work, and play. Effective coastal zone management programs add value to the quality of life and the quality of this beautiful coastal area that is constantly changing in response to natural and man induced challenges.