Monday, April 29, 2013

Wolves in the News

It seems there is once again movement afoot to delist the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in most of the lower 48 states, except for portions of Arizona and New Mexico where a population of approximately 75 Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi), the smallest subspecies of gray wolf, is found (photo credit of gray wolf:  Joel Sartore for National Geographic).   Photo: A gray wolf in the snowThe gray wolf is a fascinating creature, given status as both a villain or ecological hero, depending on the person with whom you’re talking.  The gray wolf is listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN.  The re-introduction of the gray wolf to Yellowstone Park was a long and controversial conservation project that has resulted in several healthy packs of wolves in that ecosystem.  To learn about that entire project, you should definitely read The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone by Thomas McNamee, an account of the entire project that’s non-fiction but reads like an entertaining novel. 

What’s so interesting about wolves?  Here are a few fun facts about a few wolf species:

  • Gray wolves are found throughout the northern hemisphere, including spots like Italy, Bhutan, Norway, and Oman (IUCN 2013)
  • Maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus) are found in South America and look more like foxes on stilts than like their distant cousin the gray wolf. 
  • Gray wolves are related to your family dog, but they’re the largest member of the canid family.  Like the family dog, gray wolves come in a variety of different fur colors, not just gray.
  • Red wolves (Canis rufus) are another species that lives in North Carolina – this species is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.  
  • Gray wolves live and hunt in packs, and the pack enforces a strict hierarchy with only the alpha male and female breeding.
  • Gray wolves hunt primarily ungulates, but will also feed on smaller mammals or even scavenge already dead animals.
  • The presence of gray wolves has effects throughout the entire ecosystem, changing the population sizes of prey species, as well as the plants on which the prey species graze.

If you’re interested in gray wolves and issues involved in their management under the Endangered Species Act, be sure to visit the Defenders of Wildlife website or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Profile. (red wolf photo below:  John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS on Defenders of Wildlife website)

Photo: John & Karen Hollingsworth / USFWS

maned wolf (photo of maned wolf:


IUCN.  2012.  “Canis lupus”  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Accessed online 4/29/2013:

Mitra, M.N. “Feds Plan to End Endangered Species Protection for Grey Wolves Across the US”   Earth Island Institute.  April 29, 2013.  Accessed online 4/29/2013:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Yukon Gold Potato Soup

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Here’s a recipe I’ve adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, A Beautiful Bowl of Soup, by Paulette Mitchell.  This soup is really tasty, particularly when you add the black olive caviar and garnishes!

A Beautiful Bowl of Soup: The Best Vegetarian Recipes

For the soup:
3 tblsp butter
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
5 cups veggie stock
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks (about 3 cups)
1 tsp chopped garlic

For the caviar:
1 cup chopped pitted black olives
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tsp chopped garlic
salt, pepper, and red pepper to taste

For the garnish:
2 hard boiled eggs, crumbled
sour cream

1)  To make the soup, melt the butter in a large pot.  Add the onion and saute until tender.  Stir in the veggie stock, potatoes, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.  Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until potatoes are very tender.  With a potato masher, mash the potatoes until half are mashed and half are still in chunks.
2)  To make the caviar, mix all ingredients in a small bowl.
3)  Serve the soup topped with caviar, hard boiled eggs, and sour cream.  Yum!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stream monitoring–I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

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Last weekend was absolutely beautiful weather in nothern VA, so our family slipped on our boots and headed to our stream, Difficult Run, to conduct our spring invertebrate monitoring!  As you know from previous posts, our stream hasn’t been looking too healthy.   But hope springs eternal, so off we went, hoping to find at least 200 invertebrates during 4, 1-minute sessions of twisting and turning to stir up the stream sediment.  We set up our net and twisted for all we were worth!IMG_0241

After 4 minutes of twisting, we caught (drumroll please)……….9 invertebrates (wah, wah, waaah).  Since this is our fourth attempt at stream monitoring, and our fourth finding of a very impaired stream, we were thoroughly depressed.  We needed to cheer ourselves up.  They say you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream which is pretty much the same thing.  So we dried ourselves off, washed our hands, and headed off for some healing ice cream!

These results should be enough to make suburban greenmomsters really take a good hard look at our local environment.  Thanks to erosion, pollution, and sedimentation, our streams are far from healthy.  How can we make a difference?  Here are a few tips:

  • Find out about your local watershed – what’s the name of your local stream?  where does the water from your yard go?
  • Don’t overuse or misuse lawn fertilizers and herbicides.  Did you know that, acre for acre, the average suburban homeowner uses more fertilizer than a farmer in a similar area?
  • Never dump oil or other pollutants down storm drains – dispose of these wastes as directed by your local government
  • Use biodegradable car wash soap, or better yet, go to a local carwash where they’ll be sending the waste to the local wastewater treatment plant
  • Install rain gardens and rain barrels in your yard to allow rain to filter naturally through the ground
  • Encourage local governments and developers to develop plans to decrease water velocity to streams – shunting all of our rainwater quickly to streams (rather than letting it filter naturally though the soil) causes erosion and sedimentation that kills streams
  • Adopt your own stream and become a clean water advocate!

If you’d like to learn more about adopting your own local stream, ask your local Soil and Water Conservation District representative or the Izaak Walton League website.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spring Buzz

Last fall (due to a little allergic reaction), we had to give away our hive of bees that we’d kept in our yard for the past four years.  It was sad to see the girls go, but beekeeping was a great experience – we learned many interesting facts about these fascinating creatures and got a lot of honey too!  Since we can’t give you a hive update this spring, I figured I’d pass alongDSC_0014 an interesting interview I heard on Science Friday about the  winter bee survey and how bees are doing nationwide.  Each year, extension agents conduct a survey of beehives across the nation to see how they survived the winter.  It turns out, the winter of 2012/2013 was a tough one for honeybees – take a listen to the show

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wild Mushroom Risotto

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It's been raining a lot in my neck of the woods, which makes me think of mold, and then my mind wanders to mushrooms.  This week’s recipe is adapted from a recipe I found in the October 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine (picture from   I made it a tasty vegetarian dish by taking the sausage out and adding veg sausage – a filling and tasty Friday night meal!

4 cups (32 oz container) vegetable broth
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp truffel oil (optional)
1 onion, chopped
1 package veggie Italian soysage, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb mixed mushrooms, sliced (I like to mix shitake, oyster, and cremini)
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup red wine
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 bag (5 oz) baby spinach, washed
1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend

1)  In a large measuring cup, combine broth with 2 cups of water and set aside.
2)  Heat oils in a large pot and add onion, cooking for 3 minutes.  Add soysage and mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.  Stir in the rice and cook for about a minute.  Add wine and cook until the liquid is almost gone (about another minute)
3)  Add 1/2 cup of the broth-water mixture.  Stir frequently and when the liquid is gone, add another 1/2 cup.  Keep adding liquid until the rice is tender.
4)  Stir in crushed tomatoes and pepper.
5)  Add in spinach and allow it to wilt.
6)  Remove the risotto and stir in the cheese, and serve immediately.  If you have kids who don’t like cheese, just use it as a garnish at the table, instead of stirring in.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Monarchs making news!

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No, I’m not talking about Will, Kate, and the baby.  I’m talking about our beautiful monarch butterflies!  In the past, I’ve posted about the fascinating life cycle of the monarch butterfly, as well as fun facts about monarchs.  Now the monarchs are in the news again.  sammybutterflyNPR’s great science show – Science Friday – recently had a show on the monarch butterflies that’s definitely worth a listen.  Monarch butterfly expert Lincoln Brower talks about habitat loss in the butterflies’ Mexican wintering grounds, as well as a decline in the availability of milkweed here in the north.  And that’s where the greenmomsters come in!  Spring is the perfect time to set up a monarch waystation.  Plant milkweed in your yard – LOTS of it!  You’ll be providing much needed monarch habitat as these beautiful butterflies complete there North American tour and migrate south for the winter.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gimme Three Steps–Greenin’ the ol’ exercise routine!

Spring had finally sprung this weekend, so it was time for me to leave behind the gym’s stationary bike, walk outside of the exercise classroom, and stop dressing for my jog like I was leaving Everest base camp.  It was time to head to my favorite state park, Sky Meadows, turn on the Spotify (playing the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic), and remember why I love jogging on trails.  I started my run by heading up the North trail to the summit of many of the park trails.  It wasn’t easy, and I definitely was not looking speedy and pretty.  The steep trail made my jog look more like a walk while lifting my knees really high, but here’s the view I enjoyed when I got to the top:  IMG_5229

After huffing and puffing my way to the summit, I enjoyed a run back DOWN the hill – heavenly!  Then it was a nice relaxing run along the Gap trail, listening to the gurgling stream (and a little Carlos Vives) sherman trailand avoiding the newly emerged spring azures, clouded sulphurs, and cabbage whites.  Yes!  I had to watch out for fluttering butterflies!  DSC_0099As I returned to Mt. Bleak House at the center of the park, I felt tired, but refreshed and renewed.  Nothing like greening that exercise routine!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kale Pad Thai–a re-post for Kathey M.!

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This week’s meat-free Friday gives us a taste of Thailand!  I adapted this recipe for a family of 5 from one I found in a Whole Foods brochure (credit was given to Chrissy Bender, Healthy Eating Specialist in the Mason OH Whole Foods Store).  Photo from

2 cups roasted, salted or unsalted peanuts
2 cups Nutritional Yeast (check the bulk foods area of your grocery store)
2 garlic cloves
2 tbls lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tbsp tamari
1 1/2 cup water
pepper to taste
4 eggs, scrambled and cut into small pieces
2 packages Buckwheat Soba Noodles, cooked
Handful of kale, chopped and stems removed
3 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1) Combine peanuts, yeast, garlic, lemon juice, salt, veggie broth, tamari, water and pepper in a blender.
2)  Toss noodles with the kale, eggs, and tomatoes.  Toss with the sauce.

Monday, April 8, 2013

ESA in the DMZ

White-naped crane adult standing in water © Dave Watts / naturepl.comNorth and South Korea have been in the news quite a bit lately, but did you know that the border between these two countries is also a hot-bed of endangered species conservation?  It turns out that the demilitarized zone, a strip of land 4 km wide and 248 km long which was established as a sort of “no man’s land” after the 1953 ending of the Korean war, is home to 2716 species including at least 67 of the world’s most endangered species (Harvey 2012; Platt 2011).  Species include:

  • the small mountain goat, the Amur goral (Naemorhedus caudatus), listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (IUCN 2012)
  • the Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica)Siberian weasel © John Holmes / – see photo from ARKive
  • the White Naped Crane (Grus vipio) – see top photo from ARKive
  • the Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) – one of the most endangered birds in the world with only 3,000 individuals surviving in the wild (Wagner 2011)

Many of these species in this area are currently under threat, due to possible hostilities as well as new pressures to develop the land and its buffer zones for agricultural purposes. 



Harvey, F.  6 September 2012.  “Wildlife Haven in the Korean DMZ Under Threat” in the The Guardian.  Accessed online 4/8/13

IUCN.  2012.  “Red List of Endangered Species – Naemorhedus caudatus”  Accessed online 4/8/2013.

Platt, J.  27 September 2011.  “South Korea Seeks to Protect Species in Demilitarized Zone” in Scientific American blogs.  Accessed online 4/8/2013.

Wagner, E. 2011.  “The DMZ’s Thriving Resident: the Crane” in  Accessed 4/8/2013.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Greening your dry cleaning

Yesterday, I was “flipping” my closet – in a hopeful nod to spring, I was taking out my warm weather clothes and getting ready to store the sweaters.  But before the sweaters are put away, I always like to get them cleaned.  As a college professor and greenmomster, I’m not exactly Beau Brummel.  IMG_20130406_203613_320Most of my clothes are relatively casual and machine- or hand-washable.   But those sweaters and some of my fancier clothes get sent to the dry cleaners for a good scrub.  So that got me thinking, what are the environmental effects of dry cleaning and how can I “green” my dry cleaning?

Dry cleaning is not actually dry, and the traditional method is far from green.  The clothes are often cleaned in a solvent called perchloroethylene (or “perc” for short).  Perc is some pretty nasty stuff – EPA lists possible effects of short-term exposure to be “irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, kidney dysfunction, and neurological effects such as reversible mood and behavioral changes, impairment of coordination, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, and unconsciousness.” (U.S. EPA 2013) Long-term breathing of the chemical can lead to “ neurological, including impaired cognitive and motor neurobehavioral performance.  Tetrachloroethylene exposure may also cause adverse effects in the kidney, liver, immune system and hematologic system, and on development and reproduction.” (U.S. EPA 2013).  Perc is also listed as likely to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans. (U.S. EPA 2013)

So when I do want to dry clean my clothes, how can I limit my environmental footprint?  Here are a couple of tips:

  • Choose a local dry cleaner that uses one of the two EPA-recommended methods:  wet-cleaning or CO2 cleaning.  Your dry cleaner should tell you whether they use perc, or one of the more eco-friendly methods.  My dry cleaner was very proud to tell me she doesn’t use perc!

Other ways to green your dry cleaning:

  • Hand wash your items when you can.  Here are some tips for cleaning wool, silk, and rayon.
  • Ask the dry cleaner to put your clothes in your garment bag, rather than wrapping in plastic
  • Always recycle hangers by returning them to the dry cleaner
  • Reuse tissue paper inserts in gift bags or other wrapping.

Here’s to being green AND clean!


Green America.  2012.  “Green ‘Dry’ Cleaning”  in Green American, Real Green Living.  Accessed 3/24/2013.

U.S. EPA.  2013.  “Tetrachloroethylene (Perchloroethylene)” in the U.S. EPA Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Website.  Accessed 3/24/2013.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chickpea Salad–a Friday treat!

This week’s meat-free Friday recipe is a side-dish, rather than a main dish, that I adapted from a Cooking LIght recipe (photo credit:  Cooking Light).  This one is always a hit when I serve it!

Chickpea Salad with Provençal Herbs and Olives Recipe
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
about 2 tsp chopped garlic
2 15 oz. cans of chickpeas, drained
1 red onion, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup pitted nicoise olives
1 tblsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped oregano (more, if you like oregano)
1 tsp chopped rosemary (don’t overdo it with this one)
1 tsp chopped thyme

1)  Combine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and garlic in a small bowl.
2) Combine chickpeas and remaining ingredients in a large bowl.
3)  Pour vinegar mixture over chickpea mixture and toss.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Endangered Species Act– the “Readers Digest” version

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Every week, greenmomster includes an “endangered species of the week.”  But what exactly do we mean by “endangered species”?  Usually when we refer to an “endangered species,” we’re referring to a species that has been listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a law passed in 1973 when Richard Nixon was president.   The goal of the ESA is to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” (USFWS 2013).  The law has been very successful over the past 40 years, with under 1% of the 2054 internationally listed species (1,436 are found in the U.S.) going extinct during that time (Defenders of Wildlife n.d., USFWS 1/2013).   The law is administered by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (they usually handle terrestrial and freshwater organisms) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (they usually handle the marine species).  Here are a few facts about how the law works:

  1. If a species is listed as “endangered,” it’s in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.  If a species is listed as “threatened,” it’s likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
  2. Species are listed only based on biological status and threats to their existence.  USFWS and NMFS consider 5 factors when deciding whether to list a species:
    • is the species’ habitat threatened with damage or destruction?
    • is the species being overused for educational, recreational, commercial, or scientific purposes?
    • is the species threatened by disease or predation?
    • is the existing protection inadequate?
    • are there other natural or man-made factors that threaten the existence of the species? (USFWS, 1/2013)
  3. If the agencies determine that, based on the above questions, the species should be listed as threatened or endangered, the species is then protected from any kind of “taking.”  A “taking,” according to the ESA is harassing, harming (including killing or injuring), pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting a listed species or attempting to engage in any such conduct (USFWS 1/2013) .
  4. The ESA includes special requirements such as writing a recovery plan, specific requirements for Federal agencies, as well as programs that encourage private landowners to protect endangered species.

But here’s the most important fact about the Endangered Species Act – IT’S A SUCCESS!  Not only have only 1% of listed species gone extinct, but according to the Center for Biological Diversity (in their report, “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife”), 90% of species are recovering at the rate set out in their Federal recovery plan.  Not too shabby!  But there’s more work to be done – many species still need Federal protection.  In previous posts, we discussed misconceptions about endangered species, the 100 most endangered species in the world, and a few endangered species success stories, such as the bald eagle and the piping plover.   If you’d like to learn more about how the Endangered Species Act is administered, be sure to check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fact Sheet.


Center for Biological Diversity.  n.d.  “110 Success Stories for Endangered Species Day 2012”  Accessed 3/21/2013.

Defenders of Wildlife. n.d.  “Endangered Species Act”  Accessed 3/21/2013.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2013.  “ESA Basics.  40 Years of Conserving Endangered Species.”  January 2013.  Accessed online 2/21/2013.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2013.  “Endangered Species Program.”  Last updated 2/11/2013.  Accessed 3/21/2013.