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Almanac Archive for October 21, 2013

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Quote of the Week
"The cost of dealing with this excess nitrogen to clean up our coastal ponds - as will likely be required to comply with the federal Clean Water Act - will be staggering, likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars."
-- The MV Commission's Island Plan
(Note this refers to nitrogen pollution resulting from not only fertilizers, but also wastewater, an even larger problem.)

Conservation Calendar

Fall Migration Bird Walk
Tuesday, Oct. 22, 10:00 to 11:00 am, Edgartown.
Come watch the migrating birds at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. $5, or free for Mass Audubon members.

Tour the October Night Sky

Thursday, Oct. 24, 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Polly Hill Arboretum.
Join Polly Hill volunteer and amateur astronomer Barbara Caseau to learn how to identify the planets and constellations visible in the fall sky. Barbara will share some celestial lore, focusing on Venus, which is quite visible this time of year. Bring your own binoculars or telescopes if you have them; a flashlight is also suggested. Free, "cloud date” is Friday, Oct. 25. For more info call (508) 693-9426.

Farm Programs for Little Ones

Learn about farm animals, food and farming at these two great educational resources.

Wednesdays, 10:00 am to noon: Farm visits at Native Earth Teaching Farm.
For toddlers with an adult, call (508) 645-3304 for more info or to arrange to come by at a different time. North Road, Chilmark.

Saturdays, 9:30 - 11:00 am: Wee Farmers at the FARM Institute.
For ages 2 - 4 with an adult, $15/session. Call (508) 627-7007 ext. 104 to register. Katama Farm, Edgartown.
In Season Recipe
Autumn Olive Jam

It's that time of year again: our most abundant local wild forage material, and also one of the most ubiquitous invasive species, Autumn Olive is yet again showcasing its colorful, tart fruit alongside trails, fence lines, roadsides, and any other marginal habitat.

If you decide to partake of this local resource of dubious origin, just take care not to spread the seeds. Pick enough for a full batch of jam and dispose of the seeds safely and you'll have contributed to the control of this invader: Good work!

  • 8 cups (a half gallon) berries
  • Approx. 4 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice


  • Remove leaves and stems from the berries and rinse.
  • Place the berries in a large pot and just cover with water. Simmer for half an hour or until they are soft and the pit can easily be removed.
  • Mash the berries through a sieve or strainer, using a wooden spoon or spatula.
  • Measure the juice and then put it, along with an equal volume of sugar (for example, 4 cups of each), into a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the lemon juice.
  • Simmer on low heat until the mixture thickens, at least an hour. Skim off any foam as it is cooking.
  • When at the desired consistency, pour into sterilized jars and let cool. Seal the jars and store in cool spot.
Monday, October 21, 2013

Local News

Statewide Fertilizer Regulations On the Way: Local Limits to Follow?

Decomposing algae following a bloom in Lagoon Pond. (Photo by Vasha Brunelle)

Through our Vineyard Lawns program and general advocacy, VCS has long been working to spread the word about nitrogen pollution in our ponds. Nitrogen is a perfectly natural, essential element of life (it is 75% of the mass of the atmosphere, after all) that can nevertheless be quite harmful in excess. It is typically the limiting nutrient for algal growth in coastal marine ecosystems, meaning that pond algae generally have more than enough of the other resources they need to thrive (sunlight and other nutrients such as phosphorus), but are held in check by a relative lack of nitrogen. But in recent years, runoff from lawn fertilizers and groundwater flows from septic systems have fixed this “problem,” allowing algal growth to explode, degrading water quality for everything else in the estuaries.
While we will continue to focus on education and advocacy regarding water quality, VCS believes the time has come to consider active regulation of fertilizer use. As described in this week’s MV Times, it appears this may finally be coming to pass. Last year, statewide fertilizer regulations were passed by the legislature, but the new law also stripped away the ability of localities to craft their own regulations. However, the Cape and Islands were exempted, presumably in recognition of the unique challenges of coastal ecosystems; for example, our primary concern is nitrogen rather than phosphorous, the more common problem in terrestrial systems.

This is an important opportunity to create strong and smart regulations that will effectively limit the nutrient inputs to our precious coastal waters, but the moment is truly fleeting: new regulations must be endorsed by the MV Commission and adopted by local boards of health by year’s end. Stay tuned!

Curb Your Cats and Help Protect Wildlife

You're not helping!

A bit of follow-up is in order regarding a feature in the last edition of the Almanac. In commenting on a story from Audubon Magazine that reported on the toxic effects of a new class of rodent poisons, it was suggested (somewhat whimsically) that alternatives to these “weapons of mass destruction” included – in addition to traps and the older, less toxic poisons – cats.
As outdoor housecats are serious threats to wildlife everywhere (and especially so here, given our populations of rare shorebirds), we want to echo and emphasize Audubon’s exhortation to keep cats inside (or in outdoor kitty condos). When confined to the home, a good mouser could help with an indoor rodent problem; outside, with all the options for food on the table, a cat is very likely to do more ecological harm than good. For those trying to control mice and rats outdoors, there really is no substitute for removing the food source that is attracting them. No amount of cats, or for that matter poisons, shotguns, or trained falcons (you get the idea) is going to control an outdoor rodent population drawn to an open compost pile or unsecured trash barrel.
 * * * * *
Finally, some thoughts and a personal note: From the perspective of a (lapsed, admittedly) community ecologist, it always seemed to me that outdoor cats occupied a sort of generalist predator/scavenger role in a complex web of competition and predation. That made perfectly good sense . . . until I thought about it. In truth, our lovable feline friends, miniaturized wild animals that they once were, are not today a welcome member of any natural ecosystem on Earth.
The trouble is that outdoor housecats are better thought of as something akin to an invasive species. That’s not quite the correct term*, but to the animals that they prey on and compete with they might as well be. That’s particularly true for many of their prey, such as birds, that have no specific adaptations to defend against an entirely new threat (as measured in evolutionary time).
* So, what then is the name for a widespread, successful species with no native range anywhere on Earth? The terms Introduced, Exotic, and Invasive, while conveying slightly different concepts, all contain a common aspect of humans moving a species across space, from its native range to a new location, far beyond its normal ability to disperse itself. On one level, Felis catus does that every time it leaves the human home and ‘introduces’ itself into the wild. But that’s not quite right, because there’s also an element of moving across time involved in the creation of an entirely new species through millennia of co-evolution with humans. (As with the domestic dog – but even more so – it appears they had a hand in their own creation.) So, I'm stumped. If you've got a suggested term for this category of animal, please send it along to the Almanac address.

Hunter Safety and Tick-Borne Disease

The MV Board of Health has created a new educational video looking at tick-borne diseases on Island. Deer hunters are the primary intended audience, but there's interesting information there for anyone who spends time outdoors. Thanks to Dan Martino from MV Productions for the video. 
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Original content by Jeremy Houser unless otherwise noted.