Saturday, September 24, 2011


Jimsonweed, Datura stamonium (also known as locoweed and pricklyburr) flowers from May through September.  This species is in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family and is found in abandoned fields and "waste areas" across North America.  Despite being potentially deadly, jimsonweed has been used for centuries as a hallocinogen.  The plant's active ingredients are the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine that are classified as deliriants. These compounds typically produce a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy; bizarre, and possibly violent behavior. All parts of Datura plants are posionous and may be fatal if ingested by humans or other animals.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sediment Management on Unpaved Roads

Unpaved roads have the potential to be a significant source of suspended sediment in rural watersheds. The timing and frequency of the sediment loads from unpaved roads is significant in that seemingly small rainfall events can contribute suspended sediment to streams and creeks resulting in elevated turbidity and total suspended solids concentrations. The sediment from unpaved roads has the potential to adversely affect water quality of streams by reducing water clarity and decreasing aesthetics. Also, suspended sediment loads impact benthic habitats through clogging and burying of interstitial spaces of gravel bed stream networks and aquatic biology by clogging fish gills, suffocating eggs and benthic insect larvae.

Proper road construction and maintenance protects water quality during and after agricultural, forestry, and road maintenence activities.

Road Location/Planning

1) Use soil surveys, topographic maps, aerial photographs or site visits to plan road locations to protect water quality.
2) Design roads to avoid or minimize stream crossings.
3) Cross streams at right angles.
4) Where topography permits, locate roads along the contour and along the crest of long ridges.
5) There should be sufficient distance between the Streamside Management Zones (SMZ) boundary and roadway to allow right-of-way maintenance.

Road Construction

1) Use at least the minimum design standard that produces a road sufficient to carry the anticipated traffic load with minimum environmental impact.
2) Remove timber from rights-of-way and deck it outside SMZs.
3) Design roads no wider than necessary to accommodate the anticipated use.
4) Balance cuts and fills to minimize excess excavated material.
5) Place sidecast or fill material above the ordinary high water mark of any stream except where necessary to stabilize stream crossings.
6) Plan and conduct work so that water quality is protected during heavy rain.
7) When needed, use seeding and mulching in a timely manner to reduce erosion.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Interesting Facts in the History of Communication

• 50% of the world population will never make a phone call.
• Novelest William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer
• Early computers took up 1,000 square ft. of floor space.
• The 1st commercially successful minicomputer sold for $18,000 1965.
• 1450 Johann Gutenburg invents a printing press with movable type
• 1839 invention of photography allows images to be recorded and printed
• 1877 Development of the phonograph allows sound to be recorded and preserved.
• 1889 Moving picture technology is invented.
• 1896 Guglielmo Marconi develops the wireless radio.
• 1928 Motion pictures with sound are introduced.
• 1965 The first international telecommunications satillite is launched (Intelsat)
• 1969 ARPANET computer network lays the foundation for the internet
• 1971 E-mail is invented and used on ARPANET
• 1973 1st international connection to ARPANET
• 1976 Apple introduces the 1st personal computer
• 1981 1st modem developed to transfer data (300 bps)
• 1990 WWW prototype created
• 1994 Yahoo Internet Index Created
• 1995 Dial-up Internet access is available in American households
• 1995 1st television program delivered over the Internet
• 2005 Blogs (Web Logs) gain prominence and influence in news coverage
• 2006 Podcasting emerges as a news source

Data from United States Department of State, Department of Public Affairs. November 2006.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Update on Musk Thistle

Above- "a thistle free no-till wheat field" in Major County, Oklahoma.
A recent article in a local newspaper explained that it is illegal for landowners to permit Musk Thistle, Carduus nutans from growing on their properties. According to the article, fines can be up to $1,000 day. The article also claims that the various forms of control generally produce the same effects of eradication.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Musk Thistle: Natural History and Management

Musk Thistle or Nodding Thistle (Carduus nutans) belongs to the sunflower family (Asteraceae). This species is a biennial generally requiring two years to complete its life cycle. These flowers are native to Europe and Asia, but are now a common agricultural pest throughout the United States and much of southern Canada. Musk Thistle was introduced to North America in 1853. Throughout most of its range C. nutans is considered a noxious weed, but is sometimes cultivated in gardens for its showy flowers.

Musk thistle management consists of mechanical, chemical, and biological control methods. Mowing and hoeing tend to be expensive. Herbicide control has been effective and is probably the most common. Several biological control methods have been successfully implemented using insects including: the Thistle Head Weevil (Rhinocyllus conicus), Musk Thistle Rosette Weevil (Trichosirocalus horridus), Musk Thistle Flower Fly (Cheilosia corydon), and the Musk Thistle Leaf Beetle (Phylliodes chalcomera).


Boldt, P. E., and J. A. Jackman. 1993. Establishment of Rhinocyllus conicus Froelich on Carduus macrocephalus in Texas. Southwestern Entomologist 18(3): 173-181.

Cory, V. L. 1940. Six thistles recently introduced into Texas. Madrono 5: 200-201.

Department of Entomology. 2003. Biological control of weeds in Texas.

Jackman, J. A., P. Boldt, J. W. Stewart and T. W. Fuchs. 1992. Biological Control of Musk Thistle in Texas. L-5067. Biological Pest Control. Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Texas A&M University System, College Station, TX.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Yellow Goat's Beard

Yellow Goat's Beard (Tragopogon pratensis) in the family Asteraceae. The species is common along roadsides, "weedy patches" along fence lines, railroad and utility easements in Oklahoma.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and Agent Orange

2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) is a broad leaf plant defoliant developed in the 1940s and widely used in agriculture through the early 1980s when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ended its use on food crops in the United States. Agent Orange is a defoliant that is a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D that was used during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange has subsequently been suspected of causing serious illness including cancer in Vietnam veterans that were exposed to the herbicide during the war.
Both 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-T are synthetic auxins. Auxins occur naturally as plant growth substances (growth hormones) that regulate plant growth behavior. Both of these chemicals are members of the phenoxy family of herbicides. The half-life of 2,4-D is estimated to be 7-10 days and soil microbes are primarily responsible for its degradation. Although microbes also break down these chemicals in aquatic systems tests have shown trace amounts in surface and groundwater across the United States and Canada.

For more details about the manufacture, chemistry, and toxicity of the phenoxy family of herbicides, see,4-D

Herbicide Uses in Agriculture: 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D)

Herbicides like 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) are designed to kill target species while leaving desirable species such as certain crops unharmed. 2,4-D is used to control broad-leaf weeds. It is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and the 3rd most common in North America. More than 1,500 herbicide products contain 2,4-D as an active ingredient sold under a wide variety of brand names. 2,4-D is generally applied as a salt solution or a more potent ester formulation. These chemicals interfere with the growth hormones of target species or so called “weeds” and are classified as plant growth regulators. The chemical is absorbed through a plant’s leaves and effects growth at the apical meristems. The effected plant literally grows itself to death. In a short time plants show leaf curl and withering. Herbicides like 2,4-D are commonly used on industrial sites, railways, and roadsides. Lesser quantities are applied to forest stands, pastures and wildlife management areas. 2,4-D was a component in "Agent Orange" widely used as a defoliant in Vietnam that has now been linked with cancer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Indiscriminate Herbicide Application in Rural Northwestern Oklahoma

Agriculture in northwest Oklahoma mostly consists of winter wheat and cattle. Many farmers and ranchers have moved off their land and now live in cities and towns; sometimes several miles from their operations. Often farmland is leased and many times individuals manage several large parcels.

Lately, the practice of herbicide application to trees along watercourses and small unnamed creeks and streams has become widespread. As a trained Conservation Biologist and land manager myself, I need someone to explain the purpose of this practice! After all, it seems to me that not only is this a waste of money, but counterproductive for cattle ranchers and wheat farmers. Don't trees provide shade for livestock during the hot summer months and protection from wind, rain, and snow in winter? My college training in forestry, agriculture, and hydrology and my personal field observations leave no doubt in my mind that trees, shrubs, and various ground cover reduce erosion along waterways and in flood prone areas.

I have frequently witnessed both ground and aerial spraying being conducted on days when the wind is blowing steadily in excess of 20 mph. Under these conditions, vegetation far from the target area is harmed or killed. Often, residents nearby these inconsiderate spraying operations loose ornamental plantings, orchard trees, and garden crops.

Another common practice is the indiscriminate spraying of roadside ditches along county roads. Target species include Johnson Grass, (Sorghum halepense), Japanese Brome or Cheat Grass (Bromus japonicus), Giant Ragweed, (Ambrosia trifida), and several other less noxious species. These species do cause problems and are invasive, however there are other methods of controlling them such as mowing, prescribed burning, and more careful application of herbicide. The main ingredients required for a land stewardship are some common sense, a land ethic, and above all farm managers can't be lazy! One prerequisite is that managers/farmers must take the time to learn how to identify noxious/invasive species. Not every non-crop species is bad. The "kill em all" mentality is ignorant if not stupid. Ignorance is just not knowing better; stupidity is knowing better, but not caring enough to act responsibly.

Photos: Top- Overspray kills a variety of trees and shrubs around a stock pond in eastern Major County, Oklahoma; Bottom- Trees effected by aerial herbicide along a natural watershed.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

This little owl is so wet that I am having a bit of trouble identifying it.  At first I thought it was a Great Horned Owl, but I am having second thoughts.  The wing feather color is right on for a great horned, but the pattern on the one wing feather is more like a Barred Owl.  Help me out somebody...

Either way, a really cool experience.  We released this little guy at the site of capture.  Chances are, the parents are near by and will take it from here.

We also caught a few snakes including: Black Rat Snake, Speckled King Snake, and Water Snake.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I once had the privilege of spending days in the field several extraordinary biologists

I met Henry Fitch (photo to the right) at a Kansas Herpetological Society meeting in the early 1990s. Biography at Wikipedia He must have been in his late seventies at I took this picture, yet I remember him having more energy than many of us youngsters.  We spent all day in the field catching snakes, lizards, frogs, and turtles.  I was so impressed how how young at heart the man was.  Dr. Fitch is not the only role model I have had the privilege of spending time with.  I was also a student at Northwestern Oklahoma State University with Professor Nighswonger; one of George M. Sutton's original students.

Dr. Nighswonger and I went birding at Great Salt Plains National Refuge every Sunday afternoon.  Dr. Nighswonger still lives with family in Woods County, although I have not seen him in a while.  Nighswonger is an excellent botanist and taught me most of what I know about ducks.  What a pleasure to soak up the knowledge these men had stored away for decades.  I could go on...Jimmy Pigg spent enormous amounts of energy teaching young people and conducting valuable research on fish in Oklahoma.  He contributed a number of specimens and library materials to St. Gregory's University just before I left there.

Dr. Paul Nighswonger in the field, 1991

(right photo- Dr. Vernon Powders, left and Jimmy Pigg, right)

I can't forget to mention Richard Lardie (herpetologist) and scoutmaster from my hometown of Enid.  We drove many a back road together catching frogs on rainy nights.
Richard Lardie (2002)

Oh, we can't forget Dr. Vernon Powders of NWOSU (Pictured below aboard the FSU Seminole) who turned us on to Gulf Coastal Ecology on the wilderness coast of Florida.  He will kill me if he sees this photo, but I have some even better ones.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Environmental Sustainability or Natural Resource Preservation

The concept of environmental sustainability or wise stewardship of natural resources is not a new idea.  Aldo Leopold (1949) proposed the institution of what he called the "land ethic".  By land, Leopold was really considering limited resources such as soil, water, and biota.  Even in the middle 20th century, scientists, educators, and government leaders were thinking about future environmental preservation.  Other authors and leaders like John Muir Theodore Roosevelt before Leopold and Rachel Carson in the 1960s were beginning to persuade us to adopt a more scientific, objective approach to environmental stewardship.  Conceptions of environmental sustainability have evolved considerably and now we have the tools and technologies to greatly improve to management of our natural resources; we only have to have the desire to do so.

Defining and Measuring Environmental Sustainability

            The Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) by Esty et al. (2005) defines sustainability as “systems that maintain themselves over time”.  The concept is abstract, multifaceted, and includes a wide range of issues including: natural resource consumption, economic progress, politics and governance, poverty, human health, water quality, pollution, biodiversity and more.  The ESI as outlined by Esty et al. (2005) establishes benchmarks using a quantitative, systematic approach and serves to identify issues in policy making.  The goal is to set objective measures of efficacy of governance that policy makers can use to improve environmental stewardship at local, national, and international levels over the time scale of several decades.  This index also strives to set goals for improved data collection and standardization.  The index has undergone considerable review and modification to improve its utility, robustness, and sensitivity to variation of indicators.
            The ESI is a collaborative effort focusing on evaluating important environmental decision making outcomes using by using multivariate statistical techniques (Esty et al., 2005).
            The ESI gathered a wide array of data from 146 countries using 76 data sets.  Ultimately establishes 21 indicators that fall into five broad categories or components. Environmental Systems Reducing Environmental Stress Reducing Human Vulnerability Social and Institutional Capacity Global Stewardship.  In order for counties to be included in the ESI they must have data coverage of at least 60% of the variables.  Nations were asked to fill any data “gaps”, update, and verify there statistics.  Small countries with populations <100,000 and land areas <5,000 km2 were also excluded from the ESI (Esty et al., 2005).
            To standardize variables for comparison among countries the ESI uses a series of common "denominators" such as socio-economic indices, demographic information, and species richness data (Esty et al., 2005).
            The indicators are equally weighted and averaged for purposes of statistical analysis.  Data were then transformed and extreme data points were removed to eliminate "skewedness" and/or kurtosis.  Major deficiencies of the ESI are a paucity of certain data and standardization in measurement among countries.  Where these data are lacking or metrics are unavailable, proxies become an important tool.  The 21 indicators of the ESI are at the heart of its continued development and refinement.  Because of lack of data, several important indicators have been omitted; e.g. wetlands protection, waste management, and ecosystem function (Esty et al., 2005).  Other data concerning biodiversity, forest and agricultural management, and sustainable fisheries are seriously limiting.  Hopefully, in future iterations of the model these and other variables will be included with the development of better data collection standards and new metrics.

Statistical Methods and Sensitivity Analyses

            The ESI uses Principle Components Analysis (PCA), stepwise regression, and cluster plots to compare countries and their environmental indicators.  PCA is used to identify a number dimensions in the index and to show the influence of indicators.  This allows investigators to determine whether or not to weight each variable or allow them to all be equal in the model.  Further details of the PCA procedure can be found in Appendix A- Methodologies (Esty et al., 2005).
            Indicators can be manipulated or removed to detect the ESI sensitivity.  By doing this we can see the magnitude of an individual variable's effect on a given county's rank teasing out which factors have the greatest impact.  For example, by using regression analysis to plot ESI verses Per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) we can see that this factor explains about 23% of ESI variability and that the Growth Competitiveness Index (GCI) accounts another 19% (Esty et al., 2005).  Researchers manipulating the model are using the model to test the index's robustness and sensitivity to uncertainties including: 1) imputed data, 2) weighting of variables, 3) level of aggregation- indicator vs. components, and linear vs. non-linear aggregation schemes (i.e. those countries with some extreme values may dramatically shift in rank if a certain indicator were added or subtracted.  It appears that the index is fairly robust and imputing data to fill gaps creates uncertainties in rank of an average magnitude of 10 (Esty et al., 2005).

Cluster Analysis: An Example using Economic Growth and the ESI

            Cluster analysis reveals some interesting and potentially significant relationships and trends.  The example above; the relationship of environmental sustainability and economic performance is one of the most interesting.  Some traditional economic theory has held that commitment to environmental preservation and economic growth may be at odds.  Porter and van der Linde (1995) suggest this may not be the case.  Porter and van der Linde argue that there has been a paradigm shift away from the old idea that there is an environmental tradeoff for economic progress and that now environmental sustainability and innovation are improving competitiveness of industries.  The ESI model has the ability to test these hypotheses.  The model allows one to compare peer counties with similar indicators and see where departure of rank occurs and look for contributing factors.
            Countries tend to fall out in seven distinct clusters with certain shared characteristics; see Table 14, p.30 in (Esty et al., 2005).  Clusters can generally be characterized as follows: 1) high population density, industrialized nations with social and institutional capacity, 2) undeveloped countries, 3) large countries with low population densities, 4) 'eastern block countries', 5) central and south American countries with relatively intact ecosystems, 6) Russia and former Soviet states, and 7) high population density countries with stressed ecosystems like Bangladesh, India, and Mexico.  Cluster six contains Australia, Canada, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United States while the United Kingdom, France, and Germany reside in cluster one.

Correlation Analysis

            A comparison among statistically significant environmental indicators and the GCI and GDP/cap reveals some interesting trends that can play an important role in governance and policy making.  Of the 21 ESI indicators, most were highly significant (> 0.01 level).  Four of the 21 had little or no significance; biodiversity, water quantity, reduced ecosystem stress, and eco-efficiency (Esty et al., 2005).  The highest indicators with respect to governance were: civil and political liberties, environmental governance, governmental effectiveness, democratic institutions, rule of law, and participation in international environmental agreements.  All of these six variables had R2 values between 0.50-0.60 suggesting that strong, effective governance are more likely to achieve environmental stewardship goals (Esty et al., 2005).
            The ESI does seem to have been a catalyst by influencing some countries to begin to seek environmental solutions and more proactive policy decisions.  The 2005 ESI reports about 100,000 downloads of 2002 report on Columbia University alone.  The ESI rankings have sparked review and assessment of Best Management Practices (BMPs) among leaders.  Mexico, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Belgium.  Esty et al. (2005) goes on to point out that the ESI has been instigative in improved water monitoring programs and scholarly research and in education.


Some of the most significant limitations are:
  • Data gaps and inconsistency in collecting and reporting information are two of the greatest problems with the ESI.
  • The index does not seem to consider some "common" areas like oceans, seas, rivers or polar regions.
  • The index provides a "snapshot view" as acknowledged by the authors.
  • Comparison of countries with large differences in: land area, population densities, and wealth are difficult to compare.
Other Sustainability Indices

            Appendix F of the ESI by Esty et al. (2005) compares other sustainability indices using correlation analysis; results are: Ecological Footprint Index R2= 0.15, Environmental Vulnerability Index R2=0.03 and Millennium Development Goal 7 Index with R2=0.29.  The Ecological Footprint Index is negatively correlated with the ESI; rich countries with a larger footprint tend to more capable of investing in environmental preservation.  The Environmental Vulnerability considers resource depletion and natural disasters shows a week relationship to the ESI.  Finally, the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 Index is concerned with forest preservation, greenhouse emissions, water quality, and sanitation.  Although the MDG has a good correlation with the ESI, only 56 countries could be included in the comparison because of incomplete data sets.
            The Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is under continuing development by collaboration among: the Yale Center of Environmental Law and Policy, Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University, the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Ispra, Italy.  The EPI has two objectives: 1) reduce environmental stresses on human health and 2) protect ecosystem function. These objectives are gauged using 16  indicators within six policy categories: Environmental Health, Air Quality, Water Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat, Productive (Esty et al., 2006).  Analytical techniques are similar to the ESI.

Conclusions and Future Directions for ESI

            The ESI has improved significantly since its inception and seems to be providing benchmarks for performance.  Developers and policy makers are moving in the right direction by making the whole decision making process more analytically based (Esty et al., 2005).  Future directions will include more rigorous data collection and validation, more widespread use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing methods for collection data, and continued feedback from scientists and policy makers.

The Demotechnic Index Relating Human Population and Resource Consumption

            The Demotechnic Index (DI), sometimes also referred to as the "D-index), is summarized by Mata et al., (2006).  The DI, as described by Mata et al., relates human population and rates of natural resource consumption in such a way as to compare developed vs. developing countries using a common measure.  This is another way of understanding and predicting trends in environmental sustainability that focuses on the relationship between demographics and consumption.  Like the ESI discussed above, this index can be used by policy makers to guide their decision making process; especially on a global scale.
            Since the Earth has finite non-renewable resources that determine human population carrying capacity, the DI considers demographic data as a valid indicator of sustainability (Mata et al., 2006).  Based on work by Vallentyne (1982), the DI strives to allow for the direct comparison of per capita resource consumption among countries with very different socio-economic patterns.  Other studies have called for an energy consumption "multiplier" to account for differences in consumption among countries at different stages of development (Goodland et al., 1994; ICPD, 1994).

How the DI Works

            Since population density is not a good indicator of sustainability by itself the DI adjusts population by consumption to produce an index of energy consumption rates that accounts for technology, thus allowing a common unit for comparison among countries (Mata et al., 2006).  The exact calculation of the index is outlined in Appendix-1 in (Mata et al, 2006).  Essentially the DI units are calculated as a ratio of technological energy consumption to physiological consumption expressed in kilocalories.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the D-index

            The DI takes into consideration differences in consumption rates of countries across a range of developmental stages.  This allows us to relate natural resource consumption rates directly.  Problems include: 1) evaluating types of energy consumed since various energy sources have different environmental impacts (Mata et al., 2006).  For example, fossil fuel, hydroelectric power, wind and solar generated energy all have different consequences in both temporal and spatial scales (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions, thermal pollution, etc.).  Another problem is that the index does not account for variation in waste production among various consumptive activities, e.g. solid waste, nuclear contaminants, nutrification, etc.

Population and Consumption Trends

            D-index numbers for 1990 rank countries from 1-144 (see Table 1., Mata et al., 2006).  The top 10 countries from highest to lowest consumption rates include: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Canada, Norway, the United States, Iceland, Sweden, Kuwait, and Finland.  Note that had relatively high ESI values are considered less sustainable under the DI.  Some countries that ranked relatively low with the ESI appear to have greater sustainability under the DI.  For instance, India is ranked 104 under the DI and Bangladesh is near the bottom of the list at 142.
            In 1990, the DI listed the following countries in order of population density from higher to lower and their corresponding adjusted consumption rates:

Population (millions)
Consumption Adjusted Population (millions)

Mata et al., 2006

            The top 29 countries listed in Table 3, Mata et al., (2006) shows that these 29 countries accounted for more than 85% relative contribution to global consumption among the 144 countries rated.  Several of these nations ranked high and mid-range with the ESI.  This seems problematic since the two indices do not correspond well.


            In general sustainability indices all have limitations and weaknesses owing to gaps in data, standardization of methods, model complexity, statistical rigor, etc., but they are still useful tools in gaining new perspectives and setting benchmarks for natural resource management and policy making at all scales.  As models become more robust this utility will only improve.  I believe the biggest hurdle for governments now is to initiate policies and strategies that will achieve sustainability in the face of rapid human population growth.  The challenges are great and the outlook often bleak, but individuals, governments, and international organizations must not continue to ignore the problems of natural resource depletion and environmental destruction or deny that they exist.

Literature Cited

Esty, Daniel C., Mare Levy, Tanja Srebotnjak, and Alexander de Sherbinin. 2005. Environmental sustainability Index: Benchmarking national environmental stewardship. New Haven: Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

Esty, Daniel C., Marc A. Levy, Tanja Srebotnjak, Alexander de Sherbinin, Christine H. Kim, and Bridget Anderson. 2006. Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index. New Haven: Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy.

International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). 1994. Draft program of action, International Conference on Population and Development.

Goodland, R., H. Daly, and J. Kellenburg. 1994. Burden sharing in the transition to environmental sustainability. Futures 26(2):146-155.

Leopold, Aldo. 1949. A sand county almanac. Oxford University Press. 226p.
Mata, Francisco J., Larry J. Onisto, and J.R. Vallentyne. 2006. International Conference on Population and Development.

Porter, Michael E. and Class van der Linde. 1995. Toward a new conception of environment-competitiveness relationship. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 9(4):97-118.

Vallentyne, J.R. 1982. A new approach to membership dues schedules for use by international organizations, Biology International, 5:10-12.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Field Notes- Examples

Sixth-twelfth grade science students are required to take detailed notes during our outing to the Tall Grass Prairie next Friday.  These notes and sketches will be necessary in order to prepare your research papers in the near future.  Also refer to handouts titled "Instructions for Taking Field Notes".  Here are a couple of examples of how you should prepare your notes.  You may have to open the images by clicking on them in order to read my handwriting.

Poison Ivy vs. Virginia Creeper

It is important to recognize Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) in the field. Poison Ivy flowers from May to July and occurs on a variety of sites and soil types; in both open and wooded areas. Contact with plant parts can cause severe skin irritation caused by an allergic reaction to urushiol. Virginia Creeper or Five Leaf Ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) looks similar, but is not toxic. Both species occur in Oklahoma and are often found together at the same site. Poison Ivy has several growth forms and can occur as a vine or shrub. The leaves may be dark green to almost yellow. Leaves can turn red in the fall.

Skin irritation can occur by direct contact with the plant itself or by handling clothing, shoes, etc. that have touched the plant. There are several over the counter remedies for exposure to Poison Ivy, but more severe cases may require medical attention. Scratching affected areas cannot spread the rash, but may lead to infections. The best strategy is to learn to recognize this species and to simply avoid contact.

top photo shows Virginia Creeper; bottom illustrates one growth form of Poison Ivy. For more information and pictures of Poison Ivy visit the Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center


Identifying Frog and Toad Vocalizations

One of best ways to identify anurans (frogs and toads) in the field is by their vocalizations.  Like birds, each anuran species has a unique mating call that can be accurately identified with some practice.  Here is an excellent website where you can listen to the calls of various north American species.

This photograph shows the Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), a common species in Oklahoma that is small and well camouflaged, but can be easily identified by it's distinctive vocalization.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History- Index of Frog Calls

Field Trip Week has Finally Arrived- Friday, April 30th

The day is almost here and recent spring rains have coaxed out all manner of life; animals, plants, and fungi to boot.  There are a few items that we still need for our trip: pillow cases without holes for snakes and lizards, small tupperware containers for insects and spiders, and some old aquaria to contain specimens in the lab for observation.

This week student participants will study field collection techniques, safety, field etiquette map reading, and grassland ecology.  Wednesday science students will learn how to collect, identify, and pin insects.

Following our field day Wynona science students will begin their independent research.  Students will write up the results of their studies in a final report due at the end of the 4th quarter.  More instructions to follow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tall Grass Prairie Field Day Itinerary


8:15 am Load Busses in the Wynona High School parking lot.
8:30- Depart Wynona on route to the preserve approximately (18 miles)
9:15- Arrive at the grassland preserve and unload; restroom break.
10:00-10:20- On-site Orientation at the preserve headquarters building. Presented by the Nature Conservancy staff.
10:30-11:15- 1st Group Session.
11:25-11:50- Lunch at the picnic area southwest of the headquarters.
12:00-12:45- 2nd Group Session.
12:55-1:40- 3rd Group Session.
1:50-2:35- 4th Group Session.
2:45- 3:00 pm- Restroom break and load up for departure.
3:35 pm- Arrive back at Wynona High School.

Participants and guests must be ready to load busses at 8:15 am. We will leave Wynona promptly at 8:30. This will be a very tight schedule and student groups must move quickly from one station to the next. There will be five total stations and student groups/grades will be assigned to four of the five by a lottery system. Study sites will be in the vicinity of the picnic area on Sand Creek and will be close enough together so that participants can move from one to the next in 10 minutes or less. Group leaders will coordinate rotations using 2-way radios and sponsors and teachers will accompany their assigned group/grade from one study site to the next. Restrooms and a water station will be available within about 100 yards of the picnic area.

Dragon Fly Nymphs

One of the aquatic macroinvertebrate groups we will be looking for at the tall grass prairie are dragon flies.  The Nymphs are aquatic predators commonly found in Oklahoma streams.  These arthropods are important members of the aquatic community preying on other invertebrates and even small fish.  Dragon flies and damsel flies both belong to the taxonomic order Odonata.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Teaching Philosophy

My primary objectives as a science teacher are to assist in intellectual growth and to increase knowledge and understanding of the natural sciences.  To this end, I try to communicate science in a straitforward, fun, and meaningful way.  I want to act as a guide by pointing students in the right direction to find answers and solve problems.  I want to facilitate in students a lifelong love of science learning and to encourage a broad appreciation for the unity and diversity of life.

I want to motivate students to be active thinkers.  I challenge, yet support students in class in order to improve their self-confidence.  I try to conduct class in a manner that captures students’ interest and encourages them to think and ask questions.  I often pause to give insight into why we have made certain steps and what we hope to achieve in steps to come.  I want students to anticipate what is coming next.  This, I believe helps develop their problem solving skills and fosters critical thinking.

In order to help students reach their learning goals, I always try to have a clear set of objectives guiding us through various experiential learning exercises, both in the laboratory and in the field.  I use a variety of hands on exercises, models, and computer simulations to encourage students to formulate independent ideas and apply that knowledge to new situations.  Ultimately, I want to enable students to make judgments based on observations and quantitative data.

I believe that students need to feel comfortable approaching their instructor with questions.  I try to organize complex thoughts and concepts for students, but sometimes when students do not get it, I may employ a variety of learning styles and reflective practice.  I also encourage the students to get individual help from me outside class.

Photograph above shows college science education students teaching Tulsa area high school students during the Dwight D. Eisenhower Workshop 1999. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Advise to Students from Bill Gates

Love him or hate him, he sure hits the nail on the head with this! To anyone with kids of any age, here's some advice.

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1 : Life is not fair - get used to it!
Rule 2 : The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your
Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
Rule 7 : Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10 : Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually
have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tallgrass Prairie Field Day Fast Approaching

Our tallgrass prairie field day Friday, April 30th will be here before we know it. I will publish an agenda on ZooBlog soon. We will host five visiting scientists from several colleges and universities from around the state.

Richard Butler, BS, Herpetology, McLoud High School Science Teacher, St. Gregory's University alumnus
Kyle Winters, BS, Terrestrial Entomology, Norman, Oklahoma, St Gregory's University alumnus.
Dr. John McWilliams, Ph.D., Aquatic Invertebrates, Professor, Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, OK
Mrs. Adrienne Dastgir, BS, MS, Botany, St. Gregory's alumnus.
Mrs. Angela Reeder, BS, Ichthyology, Shawnee, OK, St. Gregory's University alumnus.
Mr. Doyle Crosswhite, BS, MS, Field Director/Ecologist, Wynona High School Science Teacher

Our main rendezvous point on the preserve will be the picnic area/nature trail area on Sand Creek. The arial photo above shows the wooded area adjacent to Sand Creek where most of our activities will take place. Students will be divided up into five or six groups of 12-18 students per group.  Students will spend about 45 minutes in each group.  Among other activities participants will collect and identify fish, terrestrial arthropods, aquatic macroinvertebrates, land plants, reptiles and amphibians.  Specimens will be taken back to the Wynona Science lab for further study and preservation.  Aquatic macroinvertebrates  species diversity data will be collected and analyzed to determine the water quality at the Sand Creek site.  These data will be compared to last year's collections.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Originally spanning portions of 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have left less than 10% of this magnificent American landscape. Since 1989, the Conservancy has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of about 2500 free-roaming bison and a "patch-burn" model approach to prescribed burning.
Biodiversity Threats in the area include habitat fragmentation and loss, current grazing and fire practices, invasive plant species such as sericea lespedeza and eastern red cedar, and stream degradation due to land management practices and soil erosion.
What the Conservancy is doing now will offer conservation-minded ranchers an alternative to traditional grazing practices. Conservancy staff have already conducted several "patch-burn" workshops with area cattle ranchers to illustrate the potential rewards of embracing this wildlife-friendly method of land management, while continuing to meet the bottom line for their cattle production operations. In addition to alternative grazing practices, The Nature Conservancy is offering to hold conservation easements for land owners who would like to ensure the preservation of their property.
Our "Patch Burn" approach utilizes prescribed burning on roughly 1/3rd of productive rangeland each year, leaving the remaining portions undisturbed by fire. Early research by Oklahoma State University indicates that the complex and mosaic plant communities produced by this "patchy" approach offers huge rewards for biodiversity. Approximately three dozen prescribed burns are conducted each year totaling 15,000 - 20,000 acres. Since 1991, over 350 prescribed burns have been conducted totaling 210,000 acres. In addition we have assisted neighboring ranches burn 170,000 acres and helped them suppress 50 wildfires.

Tallgrass Prairie Ecological Research Station was completed in 2004. This state-of-the-art facility will offer field researchers the opportunity to conduct extended studies and initiate laboratory analysis for rangeland research. The research station will also be utilized as a workshop destination for university students, researchers and conservation professionals from across the United States.
More than three dozen research projects are active on the preserve, and 78 publications in scientific journals have been produced. An exciting "patch-burn" was initiated with Oklahoma State University in 2001 on 7,300 acres. This study is testing the wildlife, plant community and cattle gains in patch-burn versus completely burned cattle pastures. The objective is to achieve similar conservation benefits as those documented in the fire-bison unit while retaining profit margin for cattle ranchers.  Learn more about The Nature Conservancy at:

Contact Doyle Crosswhite, Field Day Director at with questions and/or suggestions. Parents are encouraged to attend this event.  Please RSVP with Crosswhite by Monday, April 26th.

Sack lunches and drinks will be provided for students and staff.  Transportation will be by bus/van caravan.  Among other things, participants should bring the following items:

sturdy walking shoes (no open toed shoes)
insect spray
field notebooks and pencil
small pack or book bag
change of clothes and dry towel (students will get wet and muddy)

More information to follow soon.
Richard Butler shows off a Timber Rattlesnake to Wynona students at the 2009 Tallgrass Field Day.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Caught this Shark in Savanna, Georgia 2008

This is an Atlantic Sharpnose Shark that we caught in Savanna, Georgia in 2008.  The guide baited our hooks with fresh squid and took the kids out a couple of miles off the coast.  We caught two sharks and they were delicious.

Sharks Bite Their Mates During Copulation

Few people have actually witnessed sharks mating in the wild.  We know that in smaller, more flexible species like the Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthius), the male coils around the female.  In larger species, the male orients himself parallel and head-to-head to the female.  During mating, males of some species will bite the female on the pectoral fins or in the middle back to hold on.  The females often have thicker skin than the males, but they still bear the scars of these mating encounters.  Male sharks have claspers that convey sperm into the cloacal opening  of the female.  Our shark is a male; the claspers are clearly visible in this photo.