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Archive for 2019

13
Sep
Dave and Anne Jane during a recent flow monitoring trip.

Dave Carr and Anne Jane Grey have been EcoStewards with NMRWA since 2007.  You will often find Dave pulling invasives along trails in Frick Park, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot them both while they are in the stream doing their monthly flow monitoring.

1. Tell me how you first got involved with flow monitoring and Urban EcoStewards?

Dave: I became an Urban EcoSteward in the fall of 2007.   I was looking to volunteer and what better than an activity that would get me out in one of our great regional parks?  In 2014, I teamed up with Steve Bucklin and we started streamflow monitoring once a month.  In 2017, Anne Jane took Steve’s place and we have been doing it ever since.

2. What’s your first memory of the Nine Mile Run Stream?

Dave: Hmm, I have a pre-restoration memory of a marshy baseball field but that probably isn’t what you had in mind.  I don’t have a clear first memory of the restored stream.

Anne Jane: Like Dave I can’t remember when I first really noticed Nine Mile Run but I am guessing it was after we became EcoStewards. At that point I began to feel ownership of the stream.

3. What do you wish other people knew about restoration or monitoring?

Anne Jane: Even though monitoring is a small job, I like that we are regularly adding data about Nine Mile Run. Plus, it forces me to get near the water at least once a month. Dave and I also take a walk near the stream when we are done. Because of this, we were some of the first people to see the damage from the big storms last month and relayed that information to Brenda. So not only are we monitoring stream flow, but we also note monthly changes.

4. What’s it like to be an Urban EcoSteward?

Dave: Being an Urban EcoSteward gives me a chance to get out into Frick.  Also, I really enjoy being an ambassador for the park and helping to raise awareness concerning the restoration and how special it is.  If I am working near a trail people will sometimes stop to ask what I am doing, or to thank me for my efforts, or just to chat.  For an introvert like me, this easy socializing is a nice thing.

5. When was the last time that you volunteered? How did it make you feel?

Dave: I worked in Frick today, (8/20/19), removing invasive mugwort.  It made me feel…hot…and dirty…and relaxed.

Anne Jane: We did our August stream monitoring today (8/21/19). As always, no matter how tired or reluctant I feel, I am always happy when we start walking down the trail to the monitoring site – I notice the flowers, the trees, the birds – just being in the park helps my mood.

6. What keeps you engaged?

Dave: For most of us altruism can only sustain our efforts for so long.  If you don’t truly enjoy what you are doing, you will soon move to some other activity.  Since I have been at this for almost 12 years you can assume that I enjoy it.  How could I not?   I get to appreciate the wildlife in a different way than when walking or running through it and I often text Anne Jane a photo of my latest sighting of a snake, caterpillar, beaver signs, animal scat, etc.

Anne Jane:  Again, feeling like I make a small contribution to the knowledge about Nine Mile Run and my hope that it will prove useful is my main motivation to keep monitoring the stream. I also like helping a small nonprofit like Nine Mile Run – for its size I think it makes a big impact. It is easy to get to know the staff and everyone is so appreciative.

03
Sep

You may have heard by now that the Amazon rain forest has been burning this summer. The internet quickly filled with quotes about the Amazon being the lungs of the earth, providing the earth with 20% of its oxygen. This article by PBS Newshour does a good job of explaining why oxygen production and loss is not a primary concern when addressing the Amazon fires. In short, we have a huge reserve of breathable oxygen which is being replenished by marine vegetation. The most significant threats posed by Amazon fires are much more significant and dire: regionally the loss of biodiversity, and globally the destruction of massive carbon sinks.

Trees, and more broadly forest ecosystems provide countless ecosystem services, but the most notable are carbon sequestration, natural habitat, oxygen production, and water management. In healthy forest ecosystems trees ‘sink’ carbon, meaning they absorb more than they produce. The total of carbon processed during photosynthesis is more than the amount released through fires and decomposition. Carbon can be stored more permanently in wood products (think wooden houses, furniture, and more), but also in the soil, and the biomass of the forest itself (plants and animals).Healthy forests can have forest fires, even significant ones, and still sequester or sink more carbon than they release. The problem in the Amazon, and other forests, however, is that fires reduce the capacity for carbon storage. When a large tree burns, a certain amount of carbon is released, but the tree also becomes incapable of photosynthesis and stops sequestering carbon. In our National and State forests, trees reemerge naturally or are replanted, giving the land a chance to store carbon again. In the Amazon, these burned areas are likely to be replaced with pasture or crop land, significantly reducing their capacity to sequester carbon. Even in areas where trees are replanted, young, immature trees sequester much less carbon than large trees. Using the PA tree map we can see that a 20-inch London planetree (Platanus acerifolia) sequesters 630 pounds of carbon per year and has sequestered 1900 pounds over its lifespan. A 40-inch London planetree, however, sequesters 1400 pounds per year, and has sequestered 11,350 pounds in its lifespan. In short, the 40-inch tree sequesters almost as much in one year, as the 20-inch tree sequestered in its life to that point. For greater perspective, the trees we typically plant are 2 inches in diameter and sequester less than 20 pounds of carbon in their first few years.

The internet quickly filled with quotes about the Amazon being the lungs of the earth, providing the earth with 20% of its oxygen. This article by PBS Newshour does a good job of explaining why oxygen production and loss is not a primary concern when addressing the Amazon fires. In short, we have a huge reserve of breathable oxygen which is being replenished by marine vegetation. The most significant threats posed by Amazon fires are much more significant and dire: regionally the loss of biodiversity, and globally the destruction of massive carbon sinks.

Trees, and more broadly forest ecosystems provide countless ecosystem services, but the most notable are carbon sequestration, natural habitat, oxygen production, and water management. In healthy forest ecosystems trees ‘sink’ carbon, meaning they absorb more than they produce. The total of carbon processed during photosynthesis is more than the amount released through fires and decomposition. Carbon can be stored more permanently in wood products (think wooden houses, furniture, and more), but also in the soil, and the biomass of the forest itself (plants and animals).

Healthy forests can have forest fires, even significant ones, and still sequester or sink more carbon than they release. The problem in the Amazon, and other forests, however, is that fires reduce the capacity for carbon storage. When a large tree burns, a certain amount of carbon is released, but the tree also becomes incapable of photosynthesis and stops sequestering carbon. In our National and State forests, trees reemerge naturally or are replanted, giving the land a chance to store carbon again. In the Amazon, these burned areas are likely to be replaced with pasture or crop land, significantly reducing their capacity to sequester carbon. Even in areas where trees are replanted, young, immature trees sequester much less carbon than large trees. Using the PA tree map we can see that a 20-inch London planetree (Platanus acerifolia) sequesters 630 pounds of carbon per year and has sequestered 1900 pounds over its lifespan. A 40-inch London planetree, however, sequesters 1400 pounds per year, and has sequestered 11,350 pounds in its lifespan. In short, the 40-inch tree sequesters almost as much in one year, as the 20-inch tree sequestered in its life to that point.

If you repeat that millions of times over, replacing large trees with seedlings, or in the case of the amazon with no trees at all, huge amounts of carbon go un-stored. This is the opposite of the math in a recent study which showed that planting millions of trees could be a long-term solution to climate change. By replacing unplanted and unused areas with trees we can create long-term carbon sinks in more areas. Of course, the study didn’t account for the loss of the Amazon rain forest, and like all tree planting efforts it will take years, and millions of dollars in maintenance to bring enough trees to maturity to begin to see impacts. It is still most beneficial to preserve the remaining large trees we have, but we can always increase planting efforts.

02
Aug

If you’ve taken a walk in lower Frick Park recently, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the unusual amount of trash and debris scattered around the flood plain and dangling from trees and shrubs, as well as some significant erosion of the walking trails.  I’ve been working with the Watershed Association for more than 11 years, and I can honestly say conditions are the worst I’ve ever seen in and around the restored stream, with the possible exception of June 18, 2009, the day after a particularly intense storm system rolled through. This time there is not just a single storm system to blame.  Instead, what you are seeing is a graphic manifestation of how climate change is impacting our region.

For years the accepted average amount of annual rainfall in Pittsburgh was 37.7 inches – and if you ask Google, that is still what you will find. But in 2017 we had 40.6 inches, and last year the total was an extraordinary 57.8 inches. This year, the rain gauge at the bottom of Nine Mile Run had already recorded 37.1 inches by July 31st. So we will almost certainly exceed 2017’s total this year, and may come close to another record year.   Not only are the totals higher, but the way the rain arrives has changed as well. Only a few years ago, a summer thunderstorm “tropical downpour’ would last for just a few minutes, and then it would gradually taper off to a more moderate rate, or even stop altogether. Now we frequently experience intense downpours that last for 30 or 40 minutes, or more. 

Blue shopping bags dangle from branches along the stream

What’s going on here? Well, it’s pretty simple. Warmer air holds more water vapor, and eventually that will find its way to earth as snow, sleet, rain, or hail. And as anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave knows by now, our temperatures are getting warmer, both here in Pennsylvania and globally. Worldwide, the five warmest years on record were the past five years — and the 20 warmest occurred over the past 22. The warmest year on record for the earth’s oceans was 2018.  Every time that a weather reporter uses words like “record-breaking”, or “unprecedented” to describe a weather event or disaster, that should be followed by an explanation that these are exactly the kinds of events that climate scientists have predicted for decades and that we should expect as the earth warms.

As we explain at all of our stream sweeps, since much of the watershed has separated storm sewers, heavy rains carry any trash on the streets into the storm sewers and directly into Nine Mile Run, during major rain events, the stream spreads out across the flood plain, which is exactly what was intended in the re-design of the stream when it was restored between 2003 and 2006. But this year’s storms have carried more trash, and deposited it over a wider area, than ever before.  While it isn’t safe to be in the middle of the valley during one of these prolonged intense storms, you can find out later how high the water got by just looking at where the plastic bags and other debris are hanging from the trees. 

Toilet paper and trash bags hang from tree branches across the flood plain

One of our core missions here at the Watershed Association is to steward the NMR restoration area. In addition to our annual Spring and Fall Stream Sweeps, this year we will be scheduling some additional clean-ups to deal with the “unprecedented” amount of trash we are facing.  Follow us on social media for announcements of when these will be happening if you’d like to help out. We’ll also keep working on better stormwater management solutions in the upper watershed communities to try to reduce the overall burden of flooding that the stream now faces on a regular basis. If you already have a rain barrel or rain garden, or a street tree in front of your house, THANK YOU!! If not, and you are interested in getting involved to help solve the problem, give us a call.

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15
Jul
Josie on a monitoring visit with Girty’s Run Watershed Association and the Pitt Water Collaboratory

Hello, my name is Josie and I recently graduated from Duquesne University with a Master of Science in Environmental Science & Management with a concentration in Conservation Biology. This summer, I am working with water quality monitoring data at the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association (NMRWA). Specifically, I am developing an aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling protocol for NMRWA. I am also collecting macroinvertebrate community data at Girty’s Run and Montour Run to compare Nine Mile Run with other urban watersheds. When I am not collecting data, I am updating and analyzing water quality data from previous years to help assess the progress of restoration at Nine Mile Run.

I grew up in the Laurel Mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and started appreciating wildlife and the environment as a child. My backyard was a forested area with a small creek, and I remember playing there and collecting and identifying small organisms using encyclopedias and field guides local bookstores. At a young age, I realized that I had a passion for conservation and learning about wildlife. This opportunity at NMRWA allows me to explore my passion and apply the knowledge I have learned from my six years of education on environmental science.

In my stream field biology course, I helped collect and identify macroinvertebrates at Raccoon Creek with the Allegheny County Conservation District to see the impact of erosion on macroinvertebrate communities. Working on this project taught me how macroinvertebrate community structures can indicate the quality of a watershed, since there are specific organisms that are sensitive to pollution and environmental stress. While I was at Duquesne University, I collected water samples for 3 Rivers QUEST and I learned about water chemistry and sources of water pollution. These experiences allowed me to learn about monitoring watersheds by observing water chemistry and aquatic organisms in the field, and I am eager to learn more about watershed monitoring at NMRWA.

I thoroughly enjoy working at NMRWA because they are committed to restoring and protecting the environment and community. This organization has welcomed me onto their team and has allowed me to learn about the environmental efforts in Pittsburgh. I am learning that successful restoration requires consistent monitoring and commitment to improve water quality.

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05
Jun

I was recently shopping for plants for my shady yard, and after a quick discussion with a friendly nursery employee, I had two seemingly great options: Periwinkle and English Ivy.  They would cover the area fast and would thrive even in the low-light conditions I described. There was one problem: they are both invasive plants. 

An invasive plant is a non-native species that spreads rapidly through an ecosystem, often choking-out native vegetation.  Many invasive plants leaf-out earlier than their native counterparts, blocking much-needed sunlight, and making it more challenging for seeds to germinate.  Unfortunately, it is very easy to purchase invasive plants for your yard or garden, as many nurseries still carry them.  Here are a few you should avoid planting if at all possible: Bishop’s Weed (also called Snow on the Mountain), Periwinkle (aka vinca), English Ivy, Callery Pear, Japanese Barberry, European Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle vine, and Multiflora Rose. 

While often slower growing, there are many native plant options for your yard.  There are even nurseries here in Pittsburgh that specialize in them. So, lend nature a hand, and think native when it comes to landscaping!

Lindsey Rose Flowers

Restoration and Stewardship Coordinator

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