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Almanac Archive for October 6, 2014

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Quote of the Week
"It’s so focused on our community. It’s helping children learn more about their community so that they can become more active in it.”
--Wren Robertson, while helping her daughter paint their favorite Island places
(quote from the Vineyard Gazette story on Living Local)
What Do You Want to Protect?

Scenes from Living Local
(see story at right)

Conservation Calendar

Final Outdoor Farmers' Market

Saturday, October 11, 9:00 to noon, West Tisbury.
Fresh picked produce from local farms, flowers, delicious baked goods and prepared foods from Island kitchens and more. This Saturday the 11th is the last outdoor market at the Grange Hall. Starting on the 18th the market will be held inside the Ag Hall one hour later, from 10 to 1. For more info, see website.

Dinosaur Footprints
Wednesday, Oct. 15, 3:30 to 4:30 pm, Oak Bluffs.
Kids (age 2+, with parent) can make their own dinosaur footprints at this craft workshop hosted by the Oak Bluffs Library as a prelude to National Fossil Day (see below). Call (508) 693-9433 for more info.

National Fossil day

Thursday, Oct. 16, 4:00 to 7:45 pm, Oak Bluffs.

Come celebrate National Fossil Day with this program exploring the world of marine and paleobiological research. Many presenters will be displaying their fossil finds and be available for discussion. Bring your own fossils to show or just come and see what others bring. All ages welcome, a great free event for all. At the Oak Bluffs Library, call (508) 693-9433 for more info.

Guided Birding Tours

Saturdays, 9:00 to 11:30 am, starting at MV Reg. High School.
Visit birding hot spots with your guide Robert Culbert. Carpool will depart from the high school faculty parking lot at 9:00. Cost is $30 per adult, $15 for under 18. For more details, call (508) 693-4908.

FARM Institute Fall Programs

Saturdays at Katama Farm in Edgartown.
Kids programs at the FARM Institute are every Saturday in October. Wee Farmers (age 2-5) from 9:30 to 11:00, $15 per session, must be accompanied by adult. For older kids, it's "Farmer for a Day" from 1:00 to 3:00, $35, may be accompanied or not. For more info, call (508) 627-7007.

Monday, October 6, 2014
Living Local 2014!

Confused? Read on!

A child climbing a tree with orange ear-muffs . . . three stick figures arm-in-arm at the top of a blue hill . . . a tiny brown boat on the water: these are just a few of the images that folks came up with when VCS asked “What is your favorite thing to do outside on the Vineyard? What would you most want to protect?”

VCS set up at this year’s Living Local Harvest Festival with a large map of the Island -– initially blank, except for outlines of the major ponds. We were curious to see how the map would evolve, hopefully into a patchwork of individual scenes creating a colorful whole. We posed the questions and supplied the tools –- crayons, watercolors, sharpie markers, etc. -- and kids of all ages (and even a number of adults) created and shared the images of what they held close to their hearts.

Entering our 50th year, VCS has been reflecting on what we have accomplished as an organization and, more important, what we would like to accomplish in the years to come. But the internal discussions -– where things stand now, where things are headed, and what VCS should do about it –- raised another type of question: What does the broader community think about the natural environment of Martha’s Vineyard? What do they hold dear about this island? What are their wishes for the future?

The exercise at Living Local was one simple way of engaging the community to begin to think and reflect in this way. Watching people’s enthusiasm to sit and spend a moment creating an image for our map made clear how strongly people feel about their connection to this place and their favorite spots. Like many things that come out of a community effort, it was the finished map with so many colors and shapes -– beaches and flying horses and worms coming out of apples –- that was the most stunning image of all. (See also this image from earlier in the day)

One of the individual drawings, though confusing at first, is noteworthy. Last week, before the first person sat at our table of art supplies and blank cards, the map was partially filled with drawings made by West Tisbury’s first graders (thanks to Katy Kurth and Tessa Wall!). If it was a popularity contest for the first graders, then Menemsha, South Beach, and the State Beach bridges easily won the day. But one of the student’s cards was a seemingly abstract shape made of a simple green line. At first it was a mystery, but upon closer look it was clearly the familiar cowboy hat-like outline that we all know so well, with the mirror image curls of Chappaquiddick and Aquinnah and the jutting pair of Chops at the top. On the back, in phonetic spelling dancing around the card was written “I love all of Martha’s Vineyard.”

Most of us have our favorite places, but when it comes right down to it this is probably a sentiment felt by us all.

Special thanks to Samantha Look and Signe Benjamin for contributing to this piece, and for doing the lion's share of the legwork for the festival.
Other News

Ambitious Lawsuit Seeks to Monetize Environmental Cost of Wetland Loss

Projected land loss by 2050, referenced to a map from 1932. (Graphic from Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act Program.)

In the last edition of the Almanac, we looked at a new addition to our scientific understanding of how eutrophication leads to wetland loss. In short, apart from the well-known impacts of excessive nitrogen and phosphorus on water quality, over-fertilization of coastal waters can actually cause the physical destruction –- a collapse, really –- of salt marshes, at least in Massachusetts where the study was conducted. Fortunately, the solution to this problem is clear, and (at least conceptually) simple: reduce nutrient inputs to natural levels and the disappearance of salt marsh will slow, stop, and eventually reverse. If only environmental science could always produce results with such clear prescriptions for public policy and human behavior!
On the coast of Louisiana, though, wetland loss is a much more intractable problem. The situation is extreme: the state has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land (about 19 Martha’s Vineyards!) to the ocean in the past 80 years. There are multiple causes and none of them have easy solutions. The river sediment that builds up the delta has been greatly reduced by dams, some as far upstream as Montana. At the other end, what sediment remains in the Mississippi is no longer free to spread across the land during regular floods because of the many levees. Worse, the oil and gas industry has cut countless canals through the marsh, promoting saltwater intrusion that kills wetland vegetation. Author John Barry describes the first two of these situations as taking a block of ice out of the freezer to melt; the third issue he likens to “stabbing that block of ice with an ice pick.” Finally, all of this is happening against a backdrop of climate change and sea level rise (making the ice block analogy even more accurate), so when coastal marsh is lost to open ocean it is exceedingly unlikely to be restored.
By comparison, the cure for what ails the Vineyard’s coastal waters seems relatively simple: some combination of increasing aquaculture, controlling the spread of more and ever-larger septic systems due to development, and resisting the culture of huge, bright green lawns can accomplish a lot on our small, self-contained island. But fixing the Mississippi River Delta? Removing levees to allow routine flooding of land inhabited by millions of people (un-develop New Orleans?) and tearing down hydroelectric dams across half the country are tall orders, to say the least.
Faced with those sorts of challenges, author, historian, and activist John Barry is pursuing a different approach, what New York Times Magazine has called “The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever.” It is extremely ambitious in scale – Barry is seeking enormous monetary damages from the oil and gas companies for their role in the destruction of Louisiana’s coast – but it’s not actually unrealistic. There are formidable political headwinds (the state government is overwhelmingly beholden to the oil industry), but the facts of the case, even by the industry’s own admission, don’t look good for them. At present, the industry seems most interested in circumventing the legal system by lobbying the legislature instead – a pretty strong indictment of how they view their chances in court. For the whole story, see the Times article, which is a truly excellent read.
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Original content by Jeremy Houser unless otherwise noted.