Blue Heron Ministries

An opportunity to be stewards of our Lord's creation within the context of community


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Won’t You Gather With Us? by Beth Williams

Every year, BHM spends a significant amount of time collecting seeds from native prairie plants in our area (LaGrange and Steuben Counties). The collection locations are typically places on which we work (or have worked). Other times, we are granted permission to collect on non-BHM affiliated sites. You may have heard us talk about collections and ask for help, but wondered what it’s all about.

 

Why do we collect instead of just buying the seed?

There are many reasons, but some of the easy answers are:

  1. It’s far less expensive to collect local seed than to purchase it- allowing us to seed more acreage.
  2. We know the quality of the seed and what we’re planting.
  3. Seeds collected from local plants contain a local genotype, which means that the plant will be better adapted genetically to the conditions of the area, and more likely to survive. This helps maintain the unique characteristics of the lakes country ecoregion and begin to recover the native landscapes we are starting to lose.
  4. We enjoy collecting it!

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What do we do with the seed?

The seeds that are collected throughout the year are cleaned and stored in Nate’s barn and then used to BHM projects to restore native prairies.

 

How much seed do we need?

As much as we can get! About 15 pounds of mixed native grass and wildflower is needed to sow one acre of prairie. We are specifically in need of seed for a 108 acres restoration project at Duff Lake Fen in LaGrange County. You can read more about this project in the article Wait For It, in the October 2016 Rustling Grass.

 

How can you help?

Join us! It’s that simple. Watch for updates via email, Rustling Grass, and our Facebook page for information on where and when we’ll be meeting.

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What type of experience is needed?

None! Seed collection isn’t difficult, in fact, young children are frequently part of our team of volunteers. Many seeds are collected by simply popping the seed head off or stripping them off the stem with your hands. Some require a little more persuasion, and for those, we remove the heads with knives. We provide all of the necessary tools.

Many of our volunteers look forward to collection time each year. Our seed collection blitz is usually on Saturdays in October, but we collect throughout the year, whenever the seeds are ready. Depending on the plant, this can range from gathering Lupine seeds in June, to New England Aster in Early November.

Collection time is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the specific plants and their habitats. It’s also a refreshing time to slow down and soak in goodness of Creation.

Please consider joining us as we gather together this year.


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BHM Endowments Through SCCF by Beth Williams

Wanting to support the missions of Blue Heron Ministries, but not sure if collecting seeds or hacking away at Autumn Olive is for you? You may be interested in the endowments that we have through the Steuben County Community Foundation. These endowments assure that donations to a specific project or property are available well into the future.

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There are three endowments set-up to benefit Blue Heron Ministries. They are the Badger Barrens Endowment Fund, the Feick Family Conservation Fund, and the Tamarack Lake Endowment Fund. Badger Barrens is a 13 acre property, located near Mirror Lake in Fremont, IN; the Feick Family Nature Preserve is a 4.5 acre wetland located just off the shore of Lake James on Bay View Road, in Angola; and Tamarack Lake Nature Preserve is an 80 acre property on the southwest shore of Tamarack Lake, one of the few remaining undeveloped lakes in Steuben County. You can read more about each of our properties on the Land Trust page of this website.

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Donating to these funds is easy. You can use the secure link through the Community Foundation’s website (there is a 3% service charge), or you can send cash/check to the Steuben County Community Foundation at 1701 North Wayne St. Angola, IN 46703. Please specify either: Badger Barrens Endowment Fund, Feick Family Conservation Fund, or Tamarack Lake Endowment Fund when making your donation. All donations made through the Steuben County Community Foundation are tax deductible.

 

Thank you for your continued support and allowing us to be faithful stewards!


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“Tis the Season to Treat Invasives…” by Fred Wooley

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No, I won’t fa-la-la-la-la you into a bad, natural management version of a Christmas season classic, but this is truly the season, now post holidays, to be treating a few of the most noxious of invasive trees and shrubs in our special natural areas.

 

Winter might not provide the best working conditions, as we found out two weeks ago, in finger, toe, and nose numbing sub-zero temperatures, but they are good conditions to get a jump on getting rid of unwanted plants before the next growing season. While trees and shrubs are dormant, with vital juices waiting down deep for a spring resurgence, we are able to cut the stems and trunks as close to the earth as possible, and dob on a coat of herbicide to stop the juices in their tracks and bring demise to the dastardly invaders. Sounds simple, and the technique really is, but the work is somewhat labor intensive. We cut the stems with a hand-held brush cutter featuring a whirling saw-like blade. It is suspended from our body by a hook on a special harness worn like a backpack. It is guided by two handles, one hand operating the throttle and the other somehow guiding the handle while also holding a wand-like herbicide applicator.

 

The applicator is a homemade, three-foot, PVC pipe embellished with a couple of caps, an elbow and shut off valve. The pipe is filled with herbicide and when the valve is open, soaks a chunk of sponge at the bottom. This is then dabbed on the cut stem to distribute the herbicide. Some of us are old enough to remember those shoe polish applicators that operated in a similar fashion. The plastic bottle got tipped and you’d sponge the polish onto your shoe (they don’t still make those, do they?…)

 

The application is as environmentally friendly as any application can be. The herbicide is applied right to the target only with no chance for spilling or non-target touching. Actually on the bigger stumps only the outer edge needs a dabbing, as that;s where the veins are that send the juices up and down between branches and roots.

 

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Our region has five main invasive, non-native shrubs: autumn olive, bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose, privet, and Japanese barberry. We’ve been hitting them all in several of our project areas these first few weeks of the new year.

 

Two of our projects are part of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant program. NAWCA is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. It provides matching one-to-one grants with partnering agencies on projects to improve wetland habitats. Blue Heron Ministries has partnered with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Nature Preserves, to conduct work through NAWCA on two state properties.

 

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At Pokagon State Park, north of Angola, the Indiana DNP has identified a very high quality wetland fen on the northern edge of the park and Potawatomi Nature Preserve. The Snow Lake Fen is surrounded by upland, some of which is choking with all five of the invasive shrubs listed above. Several days were spent following up on previous year’s work, this year cutting and treating invasives in the immediate uplands bordering the fen. Hikers on Trail Seven this growing season will now enjoy the view out over the fen, which was once a wall of invasive shrubs. Gone will be the seed bank of these nasties, and hopefully a drastic stall in their march and invasion of the fen.

 

A second NAWCA site is in the Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area near Mongo, Indiana. The Spike Rush through which the Pigeon lazily flows, fed by active Flowing fingers of fen rivulets is a natural gem. Sadly it;s also home for the non-native, highly invasive, European Alder. BHM spent several days there cutting the Alder and a few representatives of the other nasty five.

 

A third area was a quick one day job of removing autumn olive from a natural area north of downtown Mongo. The Notestine Prairie is a 10-acre open area of mostly little blue stem grass brought to our attention by former Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area manager, Mike Holcomb. So pure and of high quality, this prairie provides a perfect seed-collecting site for BHM, as we look to restore other natural areas with locally-harvested seed.

 

We’ve worked in cold clear days, cold snowy days, and this past week dodging a misty rain. All conditions aside, it is rewarding to look back over the worksites and see openness and leaving behind just branches that deteriorate, or will be consumed by a future prescribed fire. Someday even the blue-green dye used to indicate a stump has been treated will fade, the stump will decay, and sun-loving native plants will remain.


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Glory on the Edge of a Gravel Pit by Rita Smith

One morning at work I was told about a spot in rural Steuben County where there was a patch of common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). The seed heads from this wetland plant were needed for a project and we needed) as much as we possibly could find.” With directions from Phillip about the location of this plant, I began my solo adventure.

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Driving west on County Road 100 North, I arrived at Angola Sand and Gravel. I needed to obtain permission to collect the seed at the property so I stopped at the office and asked. I told them that Blue Heron Ministries was my employer and that there was a property in LaGrange County that was being restored which is why I was directed to collect this seed. Morgan called Stuart who was back at the pint in a, might I say, VERY LARGE VEHICLE! He drove up to the office and talked to me and agreed it would be fine for me to collect the seed. He escorted me back to the lake which is where the plant was growing. I followed him in my vehicle, and once I parked, I let him know if I found the plant that I would probably be collecting into the afternoon hours. He was fine with that and let me know that it would be good if I stopped at the office to let Morgan know that I had exited the area. He also asked for a sample of the plant so he could see what it looked like.

 

This is what I shared with them about the plant: Boneset is a plant of wetland areas and grows anywhere from two to five feet. The flowers grow in small heads forming flat clusters and are white in color. Its stem and leaves are hairy and its leaves are opposite on the stem. Early pioneers took this as a sign and used a poultice from the plants leaves for people who had broken bones thinking it would help their bones ‘grow back together.’ Hence the name, “boneset.”

 

As I looked off in the distance, the first thing I saw and heard were four wood ducks flying from Grass Lake at the edge of the gravel pit. I also saw two kingfishers flying low over the water in search of food. Off to the south were sand hill cranes calling, not to mention geese resting on the water. What a great start to my day!

 

I walked slowly down a slight hill and picked my way over grapefruit sized stone. Shielding my eyes from the sun and searching, I finally noticed the boneset. I set down my bucket and began to pick. I looked around and knew I would be here for awhile and I didn’t care because all around me was nature; a lake, trees, plants, birds, sunny skies, and warm temperatures. This is my job for the day? I’ll take it- no problem.

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During the course of my day, I noticed many things that made me smile as I collected the seed of boneset. I continued to see a pair of kingfishers scouring Grass Lake in search of food. As they flew from their perch they made a rattling sound, which is typical, and then hovered over the water investigating any movement below the water. If they saw fish swimming, they dove to snatch the fish and flew back to their perch to consume it. What a show I was seeing!

 

The longer I stood in this area gathering seed, the more I enjoyed the experience. I looked out at the lake and it almost seemed like a beach because the mud flats made my mind’s eye picture a sandy beach. Therefore, my lunch became a picnic lunch at the beach as I sat on the ground enjoying the sun, breeze, and birds singing sweetly. The other sweet sound I heard were frogs. I had sat for about thirty quiet minutes eating my lunch and upon standing, the frogs who had been lounging right at the edge of the water of the mud flats, chirped and jumped… back into the water! It wasn’t just one or two frogs jumping back in, but at least half a dozen. And as I bent down to pick my bucket back up for my work, more sounded off and splashed back in. Such fun!

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Of course, moving around looking for seed isn’t the only time surprises are found. Standing still and just looking while moving one’s eyes is also rewarding. In fact, one time I spotted a common buckeye butterfly, so subtle the main color of the inner portion of wing and body but so startling the spots on the outer wing edges. These eye spots are a clue for its predators! The wonders of nature if only quiet and attentive for its observance.

 

This day of wonders had not been anticipated at 8:30 am when I began my journey to this gravel pit. I had only been thinking of strapping a bucket to my waist to collect many dried flower heads for later use. The natural glory I was greeted with and enjoyed for several hours will always be in my memory and I will always think back to my picnic at the beach.


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Wait for It! by Nate Simons

We knew the day would come. But it came slowly. We anticipated it.

 

When director of LaGrange County Parks, Mike Metz and I stood on the plateau in late 2012 overlooking the then derelict fen, we didn’t know the details, but we thought we could restore the grossly-ditched landscape. So we wrote a grant and included a very conceptual plan of what we thought we should do to restore the hydrology and the native fen, prairie, and oak savanna plant communities that was, at that time, a cattle pasture.

 

The restoration concept seemed simple enough. Eradicate the invasive plant species. Fill the ditches with the very soil that came out of them. Sow seeds of native plant species. But truth be told, we had never done this before on such a grand scale. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation believed we could do it. And the restoration of received from NFWF is half way through its tree-year duration.

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With much professional consultation leading to a series of complicated events, the hydrology at Duff Lake Fen is headed in a new trajectory. The US Department of Agriculture developed a one-foot contour interval topographic map of the 108-acre property. Gensic Associates shot elevations on adjacent properties, in the main ditch, and developed a plan to restore sinuosity to that ditch. Orbis Environmental Consulting wrote the Nationwide 27 permit that would allow placing fill material in a wetland to actually restore the wetland. Usually and reluctantly giving permits to landowners to place fill in wetlands to convert wetlands to uplands for future development, the Army Corps of Engineers and Indiana Department of Environmental Management gave their blessings as they granted this seldom-used permit to put the soil back in the ditches. The Environmental Resources Center of Indiana Purdue at Fort Wayne developed a plan to reduce impacts on reptiles and amphibians. And Northup Excavating spent the better part of seven weeks moving tons of moist, rich, organic, black muck.

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No, the restoration is not complete… and it will never be “finished,” because it will always need care. But the day arrived this week when the water took a more natural turn. The ditches are filled with the very soil that was removed to form them decades ago. And what once was a straight deep ditch is now a shallow, meandering stream. Springs have emerged all over the site and shallow pools are forming in low lying places. Water, once relatively-quickly swept away to Cedar Lake, now slowly makes its way there in a more circuitous and subterranean fashion. And the landscape awaits new and verdant life!

 

So, with a smile and a nod toward the long-anticipated work at Duff Lake Fen, I see the process of restoration as a looking back to what once was, acknowledging what it has become, bringing about change in a direction that mirrors (but a poor, imperfect reflection) what once was and will be again, and looking forward to the good, right, and perfectly beautiful way it will be.

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When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, neither wild plants nor grains were growing on the earth. For the LORD God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil. Instead, springs came up from the ground and watered all the land. (Genesis 2:4-6, New Living Translation)

 

The parched ground will become a pool, and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land. Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where desert jackals once lived. (Isaiah 35:7, New Living Translation)

 

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. (Revelation 21: 5-6, New Living Translation)


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Chemotherapy by John Brittenham

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There are many days when I’m worn out and burdened by a job that requires me to spend the majority of my time killing things. I’m not the type of person that wakes up in the morning and says “Alright, I get to go annihilate a few acres of cattails today. Bring it on!” That is not me. Rather my passion and enthusiasm is more often brought out by returning life to the earth. This is such a small portion of Blue Heron Ministries calendar year that I’m always left wanting for more when it does happen. I spend most of the year dreaming of the days when my actions of taking life away from a place will give way to returning life back to the land. Why all this death and herbicide? Is it necessary? I’ve pondered this question often in my years as a restoration ecologist. The answer I’ve come to is yes, it is necessary. And though I often dislike the fact, in this broken world such aggressive actions are required to return many areas to a state of ecological health and/or integrity.

 

Ecological health/integrity, what does that even mean? When we think of human health, we are usually talking about the body and mind being free from illness or injury and possessing soundness and vigor. As my college biology teacher taught me, health can also be thought of as the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis, or a relatively steady state. This requires a healthy body to be both resistant and resilient to stress. If we get too hot, our body responds by sweating and cooling us down. If we are infected by a germ, our body produces antibodies to help destroy the infection. If we are cut, our blood begins to clot and seal the wound. All these actions keep the body functioning within the parameters needed for survival and optimum function. But sometimes the body gets stressed beyond its ability to handle the stress on its own. At these times, outside intervention is needed or the body will lose its ability to function correctly and severely diminished health or even death will ensue. Most commonly we turn to doctors to assist us in these situations.

 

Those of us who work at Blue Heron Ministries can be thought of as health care providers of natural systems. We monitor our area’s habitats and ecosystems and seek to make improvements when these systems are not functioning property. In essence, we monitor the ecological health and integrity of the land and the organisms that depend on it. What then does an ecosystem need to be considered healthy? Though there are many ways to look at this and many scientists would argue that ecological integrity is a much better way to frame this discussion, for not let;s stay with the comparison of ecological health to human health. For an ecosystem to be healthy it must be free of illness or injury or at least maintain its ability to support and maintain a biological system resilient and resistant to outside stresses. How do the natural areas in northeast Indiana measure up? As many of you know or would guess, they are almost all sick, some much more worse than others.

 

One of the largest stresses to the ecosystems around us, and around the world for that matter, is invasive species. These organisms are very similar to cancer as they infect natural areas in which they did not originate. Once introduced, invasive species will begin to reproduce and outcompete native organisms until, in many cases, the natural is almost entirely dominated by one species. Just as doctors today use chemotherapy to remove invasive cancer from the human body, we use chemotherapy to remove invasive cancer from the human body, we use chemotherapy in the form of herbicide to treat the cancer of invasive species. Just like chemotherapy is used for as short a duration as possible while still ensuring the highest likelihood of success, so are our herbicide treatments on invasive species. And just like cancer survivors must undergo regular testing to find the cancer if it does return, so the natural areas that have been healed from their invasive species infections must also routinely be checked for invasive species and dealt with as soon as possible if found.

 

To be honest, many of the once widespread habitats and ecosystems of northeast Indiana have been injured or infected so severely that they are no longer present in the areas where they once dominated. The prairies, savannas, wetlands, and old growth forests once all too common on the northeast Indiana landscape are now gone. They have experienced “death: or are severely degraded beyond the point of recognition and have been replaced with habitats that thrive on the disturbances that human habitation and have been replaced with habitats that thrive on the disturbances that human habitation brings. You’d be hard-pressed to find any habitats that have not been significantly altered over the past two centuries.

 

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But there is hope. This is the hope that Blue Heron Ministries is founded on. Death is not the end of the story. We here on earth have been invited to take part in the same great restoration that Jesus Christ inaugurated that first Easter morning. Jesus was all about bringing the kingdom of God here on earth. In that kingdom, our relationships are restored. Man to God, man to man, and man to the dead to show us that resurrection after death and the full restoration of all relationships is possible in the Kingdom of God. So, on those days when I am spraying invasive species with herbicide and causing so much death and ugliness, I remember that I am not taking life carelessly. My actions are part of a larger plan to bring healing and eventfully restoration to the landscape. For, it is only through the removal of the disease that the landscape can be reseeded, reborn, and returned back to its rightful relationship with the rest of creation. Of these actions, I am proud to do my part.

 


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Mark Your Calendars!

It is the time of year for us to gather together to give thanks for the many blessings of Blue Heron Ministries. Our annual Thanksgiving breakfast will be Saturday, November 19th at 9AM, and we will join in fellowship at the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes (2955 W. Orland Rd).
We ask that you bring a breakfast/brunch dish to share. Drinks and table service will be provided.
Please let us know if you and your family can join us.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:13