Environmental Conservation of Our Waterways is Key to Sustainability

Environmental Conservation of Our Waterways is Key to Sustainability

Environmental conservation of our waterways and land in the United States is key to sustainability. Conservation organizations, landowners, and volunteers spend hours working together to preserve and maintain our waterways’ natural beauty and health. These organizations and their volunteers work to remove a wide variety of inorganic items from waterways, including tires, household appliances, plastics, clothing, glass, and cement blocks. In addition, they work to restore and maintain riparian buffer zones, strips of grasslands, forested areas, wetlands, and farmlands that provide shade and protection along the waterways tract to help enhance water quality. Their actions restore many of our creeks and rivers to their natural beauty and bring them back to life.

One of these organizations is the French Creek Valley Conservancy.

Established in 1982 is the Conneaut Lake-French Creek Conservancy and now named the French Creek Valley Conservancy, concerned citizens formed it to address serious issues facing these important Pennsylvania waterways. French Creek feeds into Conneaut Lake, which is Pennsylvania’s largest lake. Conneaut Lake is an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and about the same distance when traveling east from Cleveland, Ohio.

Our waterways offer abundant outdoor recreation activities, including fishing, boating, swimming, and watching birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and invertebrates in their natural habitats.

Unfortunately, some of these waters are becoming unsuitable for recreation or wildlife habitat. Pollution from raw sewage, stormwater runoff, trash, mine drainage, and industrial chemicals such as herbicides for weed control make these bodies of water unfit for recreation and supporting wildlife species.

On a recent canoe paddling day trip along French Creek, we learned that this waterway is nationally recognized as one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the United States.

We were thrilled to see a bald eagle soaring above us when we slid our canoe into the water. We knew immediately that this nine-mile adventure would be unique and special. We didn’t think we would see more of these majestic eagles as we floated along the creek.

French Creek is alive with bird songs from migrating birds.

With the help of the Merlin Bird App, we identified over 40 birds. If you are a birder, you would be in awe of the 379 species of birds that make this great creek their home. For many birds, it is year-round.

The banks of the streams and rivers flourish with several hues of greenery from various ferns, maple, oak, walnut, spruce, wild flowering apple trees in full bloom, and several types of shrubs. Some of the trees appear to be hundreds of years old. With bank erosion from heavy rains and flooding, you can see how high the water once was. As we continued our paddle, we took note of the massive roots on many of the trees exposed on the eroded creek banks. We were amazed that the trees didn’t topple over from the excessive weight above the ground. Native and non-native spring ephemerals such as Dame’s Rocket, Philadelphia Fleabane, Wild Geraniums, Golden Alexander, Common Milkweed, Yellow Buttercups, Violets in purple, white, and yellow colors, Columbine, Sweet Cicely, Purple Crown Vetch, and invasive Japanese Knotweed are just some of the plants we identified along the way.

French Creek has abundant wildlife, as we witnessed firsthand.  We spotted freshwater mussels, amphibians, reptiles, fish, Tiger Swallow Butterflies, and Red-spotted Butterflies, among other species.

According to the French Creek Valley Conservancy, “the French Creek watershed contains over 80 species of fish and 27 of Pennsylvania’s approximately 65 species of native freshwater mussels, including threatened and endangered, the most diverse population of any stream in the state and any stream further north and east in the nation. Mussels require clean, oxygen-rich water to filter food and absorb dissolved oxygen. In the microscopic larval stage, they often attach to fish gills such as darters and are transported to different sites on the stream. As a result, their distribution and number are directly linked to the host fish’s survival.”

To learn more about waterways near you, visit your local water conservation organization and federal, state, and local parks.

These organizations support aquatic science, riparian plantings, aquatic connectivity and species passage, safety on the waterways, canoe/kayak access development, watershed grant programs, and additional resources to inspire you to get involved.

Let us take action to joyfully preserve and sustain our natural world and its inhabitants for future generations. Download our One Planet Life app to access other insightful posts, resources, and organizations that you can participate in and track your actions.

It is time to Love, Care for, and Share Our Water

It is time to Love, Care for, and Share Our Water

We are utterly dependent on water. There wouldn’t be any life on earth without water.

We experience water in many different ways, both positive and negative. It seems so plentiful and readily available to most of us (except for nearly 2 billion people without access to safely managed water) that we can neglect to treat water as a precious life-sustaining resource. To better understand our water’s risks, Read our blog, We Should Never Take Water for Granted. Especially Now.

As each of us takes action to live more sustainably and in harmony with nature, how can we change our relationship with water? If each of us makes small changes to reduce, recycle, and reuse water together, they will add up in a big way!

To help you get started, we share water-saving tips for four high water usage areas: Kitchen, Bathroom, Laundry, and Outdoors.

Reduce water and chemicals while cleaning clothes

  • Wash only full loads of laundry or use the appropriate water level or load size selection on the washing machine
  • To save money on your energy bills, set your washing machine to use cold water rather than hot or warm water
  • Use eco-friendly laundry products
  • Reduce polyester and other synthetic clothing that release micro-plastics into the water system

Reduce water usage where over 50% of in-home use happens

  • Turn off the tap while shaving or brushing teeth
  • Fix any leaking pipes or faucets
  • Take short showers which use less water than a bath
  • Use eco-friendly personal products (fewer chemicals in the water and on you)
  • Install a dual flush or low flow toilet or put a conversion kit on your existing toilet
  • If updating the bathroom, look for WaterSense products and save with every use

Use less water while enjoying great meals

  • Eat vegetarian meals several times a week (less water is used growing veggies than meat)
  • Scrape your plate instead of rinsing it before loading it into the dishwasher
  • Use a dishwasher — and when you do, make sure it’s fully loaded!
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products
  • Compost instead of using a garbage disposal. The less we put into our water system, the less we have to clean up
  • Add food waste to your compost pile instead of using the garbage disposal
  • Don’t use plastic water bottles and keep a bottle of drinking water in the fridge — no need to run the water until it is cold!

Improve efficiency, reuse, and store water

  • Plant native plants and food gardens that are beautiful and efficient to bring nature closer
  • Don’t overwater your lawn or water during peak periods, and install rain sensors on irrigation systems
  • Capture rainwater and stormwater runoff from your roof, driveway, and other areas to use in watering your garden
  • Plant trees — as many as you can
  • Clean up and help restore areas around rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans
Book Blue Mind

We love water, but do you wonder why? We flock to the ocean and lakes to sit quietly, taking it all in. We need water daily to survive. We love to splash and float in water. “The Blue Mind story seeks to reconnect people to nature in ways that make them feel good and shows them how water can help them become better versions of themselves.” Read more.

The Secret Network of Nature

Nature is a connected network of life that we rarely notice. Peter Wohlleben shares many examples of this interconnectedness so we can begin to see nature in all its beautiful complexity.  Based on science, he leads us through life cycles where salmon, rivers, and trees support each other.  We learn how wolves, bears, and fish need each other in Yellowstone National Park.  To our surprise, trees take loving care of their young. In one chapter, he explores our role in nature.  Read more.

The Water Protectors Book Cover

This children’s book, We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom and beautifully illustrated by Michaela Goade, serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting our water. It is inspired by Indigenous-led movements to protect our natural resources. Soak up this story as it is read by Joanna Henry. Read more.

A Bioblitz is a Great Way to Learn What is Living Near You

A Bioblitz is a Great Way to Learn What is Living Near You

When you are outside, have you ever noticed anything interesting or peculiar regarding plants, insects, animals, birds, fungi, or trees, that you wished you could identify? A Bioblitz is a great way to learn what is living in your regional environment.

Join a bioblitz as a volunteer citizen scientist and help identify species near you.

“Bioblitzing” is a fun way to turn ecology into a captivating story. Getting involved is easy. You help scientists collect an inventory of increasing/decreasing species and document how well or poor native/non-native species are doing in their natural/unnatural habitats in our ever-changing climate, locally and globally.

What is a Bioblitz?

A bioblitz is a collaborative intensive quick field study that provides data to scientists over a specific time in a designated region of living things such as plants, animals, insects, fungi, and microorganisms.  This study helps identify uncommon or unique habitats for protection and management and identify rare species. 

All you need is a camera or a smartphone and an app such as iNaturalist (respected as one of the world’s most popular citizen science data portals.) Follow the app’s setup instructions, record your observations on your preferred device, upload photos with a comment and add them to a chosen organization’s project.  Currently on iNaturalist there are 85,406,596 observations. Research-graded data (the highest quality data) includes a photo or sound recording, what was seen or heard, correct identification, GPS recorded location, time and date of encounter, and posting to your account so that you as a citizen scientist get credit for the observation.  

Organizations where you may participate

A bioblitz is local, so there is no need to travel far in your scientific journey.  If you travel outside of your region, there are many projects you can participate in worldwide. These organizations typically launch bioblitz programs.

  • Local, Regional, County, State, and National Parks
  • Heritage, Nature, and Watershed Conservancies, Botanical and Aquatic Gardens, Arboretums, Science Centers, Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, and Universities
  • Government agencies such as the Department of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Urban Connections Programs, and Bureau of Land Management
The time frame for a bioblitz varies.

You can bioblitz for 5-10 minutes in your backyard, viewing the natural world while participating in a community bioblitz project. You can also join in an intense study held for a designated location over a season. The data you collect may include findings of spring ephemerals, macroinvertebrates in streams, and migrating birds. A word of warning; You may find yourself immersed with fresh air, exercise, and a sense of purpose as you look a little closer into the natural world, thereby spending more time as your curiosity peeks into the world of biodiversity.

Have fun out there!

Read our blog on the importance of biodiversity, Biodiversity is Life and Extinction is Accelerating to learn more.

Biodiversity is Life and Extinction is Accelerating

Biodiversity is Life and Extinction is Accelerating

Biodiversity is life. Extinction is accelerating. We need to save as many life forms as possible.

Biodiversity is the amazing living web of all organisms on the planet. It includes plants, mammals, fish, invertebrates, reptiles, and fungi microbes as they interact with each other, air, water, and the land.

Healthy ecosystems require a vast assortment of life with multiple interdependencies. If one or more species is removed from this environment, no longer serving its niche, it can cause cascading harm to the ecosystem. Even the littlest life forms are essential. Food, shelter, and raising young are the major connections that tie species together. Insects prey on plants, birds prey on insects, and birds eat fruit and spread seeds that promote the growth of plants. Fungi, invertebrates, and microorganisms break down organic matter, converting it into the simplest forms of micro/macronutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants feed on this decomposed organic matter. Animals and insects feed and shelter in plants. Plants shelter in CO2 and emit oxygen. This is a simple description of the web of life. In reality, it is complex and not well understood.  

At least 60% of species remain unknown or unnamed, and even less have been deeply studied. So it should come as no surprise that we don’t understand all the intricate connections of the ecosystems. We don’t even notice that we drive one species to extinction, and we have erased the relationships with other species. We rarely understand the consequences.

The cycle of life is regenerating if we give it the care and space it needs. We are also creatures of nature. Biodiversity affects our food supply, our medicine, and our well-being. The living world took 3.8 billion years of evolution. When we harm the cycle of life, we lose much that cannot be replaced. Biodiversity is the lifeblood of our planet.  

Today we are facing accelerated species extinction around the world.

We are seeing extinctions of plants, birds, fish, mammals, invertebrates, and reptiles at higher rates. In 2021 the ivory-billed woodpecker was one of 22 species of birds, fish, mussels, bats, and one species of plant that were declared extinct during 2021 in the US. 

Of the species being evaluated (only a part of the total population), the table shows extinction percentages from 12% to over 50%. Extinction is on the rise and when each species dies it erases its web of connections weakening the ecosystem with a cascading effect. Coral reefs are the life centers of the ocean. Already, 19% of the world’s coral reefs are dead, 75% of the coral reef is threatened, 25% of all marine life depends on coral reefs, and 500M people depend on coral reefs for food, income, and coastal protection.

The type of ecosystem zone has a major impact on biodiversity.

There is a big difference between the biological richness and geographical range of a species. In tropical environments, the biodiversity is much richer in the number of species. At the same time, they are more vulnerable. “ For example, you can expect to find about fifty species of ants in a square kilometer in New England temperate forest… but up to ten times that number in a comparable area of the rain forest in Ecuador or Borneo.” A large number of species in North America are living across the continent. In South America species occupy smaller ranges, sustain smaller populations, and due to competition are more special in where they live and eat. Hence, the damage of clear-cutting a tropical forest will create a larger impact on biodiversity.  

Biodiversity loss happens fastest in tropical forests, coral reefs, and rivers and streams in both tropical and temperate regions. The primary reasons for vanishing biodiversity are habitat destruction, invasive species, use of pesticides, over-harvesting/hunting, and climate change. Let’s explore them a bit more. 

Habitat Destruction

The relationship between the size of the habitat area and the number of species is known and has been for years. If 90% of a habitat area is removed, the number of species that can persist sustainably will be about half. Of the remaining habitat if another 1% is removed the species collapses and disappears. Unfortunately, this is the state of many habitats around the world. As people have settled around the world, we have damaged habitats in our wake. We have used and fragmented habitats to the extent that many species are not surviving.  

Invasive Species

Invasive species come from another part of the world where they are adapted to their native niche. In their native ecosystem, they interact within the web of life as predators, prey, and competitors keep their populations in balance. Once an invasive species is unleashed in a new habitat it can destroy the existing ecosystem. In early 1900 the eastern part of North America was home to over 3 -4 million American Chestnut trees. These beautiful and bountiful trees grew to 100 feet tall and 9 feet around. In 1904 they were devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease that came from Chinese chestnut trees that were introduced. The American Chestnut tree was virtually extinct in 50 years. Seven moth species whose caterpillars depended on it vanished and the last of the carrier pigeons plummeted to extinction. What other species were impacted by this event? We will never know. 

Use of Pesticides

Pesticides are used in agriculture to improve crop yield. This tide of chemicals has produced bigger crops to feed many. At the same time, it has had unintended consequences for nature and humans. For example, Edward O. Wilson shared that “ By 2014, there was an 81% decline in Monaco butterflies in the United States midwest population, attributed to a 58% decline in milkweeds, the exclusive food plant of the monarch caterpillars. Milkweed was reduced because of increased weed killer in corn and soybean fields. The crops were genetically modified to resist the weed-killer, while the milkweed was not protected. Migrating monarch butterflies in the US and Mexico declined steeply.” *1. We are seeing a movement to better forms of agriculture moving away from mono-crops and heavy pesticides.  

Over Harvesting/Hunting

Marine waters have suffered from over-harvesting resulting in a reduced number of members of a species to the extent that they can no longer reproduce and survive. The number of larger food and sports species – tuna, swordfish, sharks, and larger round fish (cod, halibut, flounder, red snapper) has fallen by 90% since 1950. Cod was so abundant at the time of the pilgrims; now 99% is essentially gone.

Climate Change

Climate changes are already affecting biodiversity from changing growing systems, fires, flooding, and more. The warming of the Arctic has dramatically reduced the snow and ice covers that provide denying and foraging habitats for polar bears. As the entire ecosystem cannot pick up and move, we need to reduce our footprints and our impact on the climate to protect biodiversity. 

All of these factors interact to create the rapid extinction that species are experiencing. We are at a tipping point, where without corrective action we will see collapses and disappearances of species. These losses will not be recoverable. 

We need to save as many life forms as possible

The pathway forward to becoming the guardians to care for and restore nature is to support biodiversity. Let’s navigate this moment in time to save as many species as possible. 

Edward O. Wilson suggested the Half-Earth solution. Increase the wild area (untouched by humans) to 50% of the planet. While we figure out lots of other ways to reduce our footprint and care for nature, we can give it space to thrive. “If biodiversity is given space & security, most of the large fraction of species now endangered will regain suitability on their own.” #1  

Habitats protected by governments and agencies already account for 15% of Earth’s land area and it increases a little each year. Let’s accelerate the increase of protected habitats.

Actions That Make a Difference
  • Go Native In Your Backyard – Transform your backyard or patio to green your town or city with native plants to help restore habitat for local wildlife and the ecological balance. The book by the National Wildlife Federation (an OPL Recommended Read) Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife by David Mizejewsk is a great guide to help you get started. (Link to our book blog)
  • Support Organizations Protecting Biodiversity – Support organizations working to increase protected and restored wild habitats. There are concerned people around the world working too hard to save as much as we can. See our list of organizations focused on protecting and restoring biodiversity. See our OPL Insight, “Protected Land by State.”
  • Increase WildLife Crossings – Support creating more special-purpose natural wildlife Bridgets to reconnect natural habitats. See our blog “You’ll Be Amazed By These Wildlife Bridges” and our insight “Wildlife Crossings Around the World”
  • Protect and Restore Waterways – Join a beach, stream, or wetland clean-up day. When visiting nature, leave no trace. 
  • Avoid Pesticides – Buy/eat food from organic and local farmers. Don’t use pesticides in your yard, transform it into a native backyard. 
  • Sustainable Fish – buy and eat sustainable fish to avoid over-harvested seafood. 
  • Reduce your Footprint – Leverage our app to make and track joyful changes that reduce your impact on the planet. 

You can be a caretaker of this wonderful planet. Find ways to care for and expand wild places, restore nature even in your own yard or patio, and reduce your footprint. When opening the door to living green with love and respect for all the planet, we can’t help but take action to save as much as possible of this living planet. 

#1 Half-Earth, Our planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Willson 

#2 Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife by David Mezejewski

Organizations Focused on Biodiversity

An Insider’s Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

An Insider’s Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is one of the most powerful and inspiring landscapes in the United States. It truly overwhelms our senses the first time that we lay eyes on its geologic beauty. 

As Naturalist John Muir wrote, “In the supreme flaming glory of sunset the whole canyon is transfigured as if the life and light of centuries of sunshine stored up in the rocks were now being poured forth as from one glorious fountain, flooding both earth and sky.”

Yvonne’s tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Getting into the Grand Canyon National Park

There are two rims in the Grand Canyon, the South Rim, and the North Rim. We will focus on the most popular, South Rim. To make getting around the South Rim easier, park your vehicle in any parking area and use the free shuttle bus system to visit the visitor center, lodges, restaurants, gift shops, overlooks, and trailheads. Buses run at frequent intervals from sunrise to sunset. Make sure that you pay attention to the scheduled shuttle times. The park newspaper, The Guide, will detail bus route maps and schedules.

Start your adventure at the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center
  • The Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center is fascinating, and you may find yourself spending a lot of time here. Be sure to pick up a Passport Book where you will be able to record your visits to our National Parks with stamps, stickers, and notes that you wish to remember about your visit.
  • The Guide will also list food and lodging. Be aware that some lodging, such as camping and Phantom Ranch (available by foot or mule on the Bright Angel Trail leading to the canyon floor), may require reservations up to 13 months in advance. We prefer to bring our food and picnic in a permitted area. Purchasing food can be expensive.
Places to do and see: 
  • Watch the sunrise/sunset at Mather’s Point.
  • Yavapai Point – Geology Museum, the geology of the canyon
  • Tusayan Museum – Highlights Native American cultures
  • Attend a park ranger program.  We attended the Starry, Starry Night program and learned how the constellation rotated around Polaris and recognized constellations in different seasons of the year.
  • Visit the Desert View Watchtower – View the pictographs and petroglyphs representing the natural world, stars, and animals created by Native Americans designed by architect Mary Coulter*.
  • Stop by the Verkamp’s Visitor Center
  • El Tovar Hotel – Considered the crown jewel of Historic National Park Lodges.  
  • Bright Angel Lodge – Re-created by Architect Mary Coulter*.
  • 1 1/2 Mile Resthouse Trail – Just over 1,100 feet (335 m) below Grand Canyon’s rim; this first rest area offers visitors a taste of the struggles and rewards of the Grand Canyon’s steep trails. For most visitors, the 3-mile (4.8 km) round-trip hike from the South Rim requires a 2-4 hour commitment depending on health, hiking ability, and rest stops.
  • Kolb Studio – The home, photography studio, tollgate, and business of two adventurous brothers, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb. Their photography is fantastic!
  • Hermits Rest – Designed by Mary Coulter, built-in 1914, located at the western end of Hermit Road at the South Rim. 
  • Lookout Studio – Ancient ruin re-created by Mary Coulter
  • Mary Coulter’s Hopi House – Mary Coulter (1905) recreated the Hopi House as a model after the 1,000-year-old pueblo dwellings of the Hopi village in Old Oraibi, paying homage to the early inhabitants.
  • Grand Canyon Train Depot
  • Mule Trips, Rafting Trips, and other tours should be reserved well before visiting the Grand Canyon.  
  • Locate a spot to sit quietly and use your senses to take in what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.  It is simply breathtaking!  Observe the canyon’s remarkable features; the forest, desert, plants, animals, and river habitats are incredible.  Plants and animals turned into rock formations show us how climate change altered ecosystems throughout time.  This time spent may inspire you to get involved in helping to conserve, preserve, and protect our parks, whether they are national, state, or local to your home.

* To learn more about architect Mary Colter, pick up the book Mary Colter, Builder Upon The Red Earth at any of the Grand Canyon’s bookstores and gift shops.  It is a fascinating story!

Safety is very important! Stay on the trails and away from cliffs.  Thunderstorms are common in the summer.  Seek shelter and stay away from the rim and exposed areas when lightning threatens.  Pets must be leashed.  Pets are permitted in developed areas about the rim but not on shuttle buses. All vehicles, including mountain bikes, are restricted to maintained roads.  When hiking, carry food and water; wear sun protection and appropriate clothes, including sunglasses and a hat; and wear footwear that has an excellent grip. Hiking to the Colorado River and back in one day is highly discouraged; instead, try one of the many hikes that are shorter in distance.  I recommend the 1 1/2 Resthouse Trail.  Feeding deer, squirrels or other animals is illegal.

Enjoy your experience and share your photos with us on Instagram @one_planet_life. Download the One Planet Life app to earn points for your nature journey.

Yvonne’s Grand Canyon National Park Photo Gallery
Check out Yvonne’s Insider Tips for exploring these National parks as well:
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