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Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Walking around Chaffin Pond today in North Windham with my dog, Sophie-Bea, we kept our ears pricked for peepers, or wood frogs, but didn’t hear them. I anticipate that after today’s afternoon showers, together with this eerily warm spell, the wood frogs and salamanders will make their annual journey back to vernal pools to spawn. I have a vernal pool in my woods at Nixie’s Vale and like to listen to the wood frogs in April. By May, they hop through my woods and over my yard, heading for uplands. At Chaffin Pond, a 13-acre freshwater pond that’s part of the 123-acre Windham Parks and Recreation Donnabeth Lippman Park, there are two identified vernal pools and an educational sign for visitors, explaining the significance of vernal pools. See a map of the pond and park here.  Right now, it’s clear that the local Conservation Corps volunteers are implementing some erosion control measures. Wetlands act as natural “controls” for protecting roads and dry land from run-off and for controlling erosion, however, during heavy rains, the pond’s water can get quite high and overflow onto the trails very easily. Thus it seems prudent for the use of man-made erosion control barriers to protect fish habitat from sediment intrusion, especially during such projects as replanting grass in the park recreation areas.

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Today’s walk was a little muddy in places, so I recommend wearing the right boots, and staying on the trails, rather than trying to go around certain muddy spots. The 20160401_123203Conservation Corps volunteers built and installed beautiful bridges that cross some of the wetter areas, brooks, including Hyde and Outlet Brook, and crossing through some of the areas that include vernal pools. These pools look shallow but would be deep enough for someone wearing hip-waders to feel that cool water creep into their pant legs. I know the feeling all-too well: several years ago, in 2010, I waded into vernal pools throughout parts of Windham, Maine, as part of a vernal pool mapping and monitoring project with University of Maine, Orono. Along with my monitoring partner, a land conservation colleague, I waded into vernal pools, counted wood frogs and salamander eggs, and took photographs for the projects data collection. (I previously blogged about that experience on Strange Wetlands.)

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Maine’s Beginning with Habitat program has mapped the wetlands of Windham, including those adjacent to Chaffin Pond, including Boody Meadow. I don’t know about you, but I feel like there’s something mysterious and irresistible about wetlands. These maps, while informative, don’t take any of that mystery or lush

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

meaning away from these special places, at least for me. Instead, maps serve to identify, aid in the planning, sometimes for conservation purposes, or to show connectivity between waters. While walking around in the woods, it’s sometimes hard to imagine from a bird’s eye view how all of these much smaller waters connect and eventually feed Sebago Lake, an incredibly important drinking water source for most of southern Maine!

Map legends, below, show the various types and functions of the wetlands shown in the map of the Chaffin Pond preserve (at right).

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

 

Light green highlighted areas indicate an aquatic bed with submerged aquatic vegetation. Red highlighted areas indicate emergent wetlands, classified as having erect, rooted hydrophytes and usually dominated by perennials. You won’t typically see mosses and lichens in those areas. The dark green highlighted areas are forested or shrub-scrub wetlands. Orange highlighted areas indicate shrub-scrub wetlands, or woody vegetation less than 20 feet tall. These include smaller, young or stunted trees and shrubs. Grey highlighted areas identify rocky shorelines or bottom.

Sophie-Bea noticed some movement in the woods in the preserve by the pond, pointing as she does, when the 50% of her that’s pointer is active. (She’s half dachshund.) We passed a young man fishing for trout and largemouth bass. The

Sophie-Bea points

Sophie-Bea points

pond’s submerged vegetation and shallows along the shoreline make ideal habitat for largemouth bass. There’s no boat launch, however, it’s an ideal spot to put in a kayak or a canoe. (I found the story of a father and son’s fishing experience on Chaffin Pond out of their canoe on the Amazing Fish-a-Metric blog.) What’s interesting to me is how this pond changes from one season to the next. Later in spring, a large area of the preserve will come alive with beautiful green ferns and I like to follow a trail that goes past Boody Meadow, a wetland that filters water that drains into Sebago Lake via Outlet Brook and other unnamed tributaries. Today the brook was running fast and I imagine after this afternoon’s rainstorm, it’s rushing like river rapids on a much smaller scale.

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We love walking there year-round, regardless of mud on the trails. In January, we tromped through slush and last summer, we sauntered through the ferns alongside Boody Meadow, imagining moose and muskrat moving through the wet meadow, unseen, undiscovered, perhaps watching us.

Pretty soon, we’ll return and hear the peepers, after their “Big Night,” a series of rainy nights in early April, when the wood frogs return to the vernal pools by Chaffin Pond, and spawn. These small endangered creatures are vital to Maine’s fish and wildlife ecosystems. Keep that in mind when you’re driving home late at night and see dozens of frogs leaping across the road–something so bizarre it seems straight out of an “X-Files” episode–but as fantastic as it seems, it’s part of real spring in Maine.

Update: Tonight on my way home from the grocery store, a dozen or so frogs leapt across the road –their familiar silhouettes illuminated in the beam of the headlights. I slowed down and smiled.

 

12088189_10207329637140552_1098530624650961937_nUnder the influence of heady salt flats, I languished in the discovery of untrammeled beach, where I spread out my blue sarapi on the sand, an old copy of Peter Benchley’s novelette, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (1982) with its turquoise paper book jacket as faded as my cut-offs. I’m re-reading the coming-of-age story, remembering when I first read it in the 6th grade while I was living in Wiscasset. Back then, I swam off of my family’s little White’s Island in Sheepscot Harbor, and pictured the “manta diablo” appearing out of the murky green darkness of the Sheepscot River. It never happened, of course, but my sense of wonder never retreated with the tides.

This summer, I’m in southern Maine. Wearing my cowboy hat, my hips level, I shimmied down to the shore–quite a ways out, since it was low tide, in my nefarious string bikini, a pastel cloud-print one from Victoria’s Secret. It was hardly appropriate for wearing in public–but then, I’m a mer~sexual. I’m drawn to all-things from the sea. I’m 38 years old and this summer is my return to Kettle Cove, a state park overlooking Casco Bay in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. But I came here every summer in my toddler years, from the time I was a baby to the summer I was five. I can’t remember those summers–but I feel as though I must remember, somewhere, deeply embedded in my nervous system. I feel the memories, like muscle memory, that connect me to a life source, an energy here in this cove. When other people have an identity crisis, they’ve forgotten who they are; I feel as though I’ve just remembered! I am the Girl of Kettle Cove. I am the Girl by the Sheepscot River. I am not just just “the one who swims in the lakes,” but an open-water swimmer. I am the Girl of the Gulf of Maine. It felt like an epiphany.

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Swimming at Kettle Cove

Swimming through the eel grass in Kettle Cove, a nursery for sea life, and the “paddling pool” of my infancy, where my mother brought me as a baby, I must remember this cove, I think to myself the labyrinth of rocks and tide pools, paths through the meadow of floating milkweed, and wet mounds of silky strands of rockweed. Crawling through the thick eel grass bed, something in my body remembered toddling along the shore in the late ’70s, chasing sandpipers, free of the fears that would later inhibit me.

Long fronds of eel grass coiled around my wrists and forearms with every heart-shaped stroke, like a bellydancer’s bracelets that display her self-worth, her going rate–as I swim, I am richly adorned, self-satisfied and yet…grateful. I ask for nothing more than this water, this wave, this tidal current. I push out from my heart chakra, flex and relax my abdominals, imagining a balloon slowly inflate, filling my lungs with sea air, my belly with self-love and, elated, I channel that Neptune energy. Terns swoop and dive all around me; I float on my back and watch the cotillion as they turn and perform their acrobatics, fishing in pairs. Every wave that submerges my ears, momentarily stops all other noise and lets me exhale, just a breath, not a word, but a mantra nonetheless. I tip my head back and dip my hair, then put my hat back on over my wet Medusa-like head of curls, as oversized drops of saltwater drip from the straw brim. I love it here. So I will swim again tomorrow.

Late May at Nixie’s Vale is lovely. I lucked out in the fly-catcher department: phoebes swoop, dragonflies buzz around (by June) and nocturnal toads set up camp beneath my deck. It has been a few summers since I’ve spotted a bat, sadly, but my woods are a sanctuary for birds. It was sunny today, and I went to the seamstress to pick up a few items that she transformed for me: It’s like getting a whole new wardrobe of clothes that I already love. I’ve gone from a size 16 to an 8-10, down to 162lbs., with a 29 and a half inch waist, having lost forty pounds over the past year. I’m just getting back to my natural shape and feel like myself again. Hurrah! My best friend from high school said I look “high school skinny.” Well, I’m wearing the old blue jeans I got in Wyoming with my cousin, Tara, in summer 2002 when I was 26! (I’m now 38, so this feels like a magic trick.) Besides feeling fit again, I feel inspired.

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Almost every day, I walk my dog through a wetland or along the road by the pond and back, swim in the lake (it’s warming up!) and do a little housework. Today I cleaned the kitchen, made a delicious lunch, which I ate while sitting on a bed of moss in my yard, overlooking the grove in my woods. I love the woods. But my new indulgence, thanks due in part to Matt’s handy work, is my hammock. It hangs between two trees at the base of a mossy slope at the far end of the yard. It’s the quilted kind of hammock designed for two people but I fit perfectly along with a notebook, water bottle–and sometimes the dog will join me and sprawl across my legs. A lush breeze sneaks through the trees from Raymond Pond and I look up at the silhouettes of tree branches, patches of blue sky beyond. Rays of sunlight pour through and fill me with optimism, hope and appreciation. 20150802_152908I feel so blessed to live here, to call this little piece of land my home. I call it “Nixie’s Vale,” but in truth, I’m just a temporary steward of the land. This spring I planted a garden with my father and I will tend it this summer, hopefully producing some vegetables. In between swims, gardening and hammock naps, I barely have time to write. Admittedly, I keep thinking of lines of poetry; I might sketch them in my notebook, but then feel more motivated to swim-walk-hike-weed-swim-cook-walk and make iced tea.

The trees at Nixie's Vale

The trees at Nixie’s Vale

I’m experimenting with a poem that I didn’t like and sitting with it for a bit.

Kelp Nets

Sea otters dream in the dark tide,
Curl up in kelp streamers to hide,
Disguise their pups when tired
In between swimming lessons.

My mate studies the path of water,
It carves canyons and shapes streambeds.
I am resilient and cope with pressure
But susceptible—too easily contaminated.
He seeks to define the limits of my aquifer,
A leaky bucket of beach sand & sea glass,
Tumultuously tipped by man’s hand.

I am ninety percent like the otter
Made of fur and snout and salt water,
Swimming five months in the rivers;
Beneath my coat, I am a nymph
Mending the kelp nets torn from tillers.
Fins side out, I am a fish instead
Darting hyper-vigilant,
Then drifting half-dead
In the churn of sediments
the mouth delivers.

Granite bones
Inside this squishy island figure,
Curved by glaciers and hormones,
The Gulf Stream—tempt his geological
Urge to measure the reversible current
Push-pulling me along a coast
Without houses I dream.

LCS

I arrived at the Department of Mysteries’ Center for Occupational Prophecies, where I attended a required workshop–after one hour of sleep last night. Because I’m not used to city parking situations, I got a little lost between the garage and Department of Mysteries building (but my wand, er, smartphone, led me in the right direction.) I’m not too proud to say that I also got lost on my way back to the garage but by then, I was under the influence.

The man leading the workshop smiled like he was full of smelly cheese a la Professor Slughorn as he loaded his PowerPoint. Posters with backward lettering, apparently motivational spells, clung to the wall with Scotch tape. A smoky haze of cigarettes, marijuana and fire-breathing dragon breath immediately enveloped me in Conference Room B. (The Death Eaters were in Conference Room A, thank goodness.) Most of the attendees gruffed and puffed over the necessary paperwork. Most of us had filled out our Star Trek logs prior to the workshop. I held my breath in between moments when I could not contain myself and blurted out: “Is this the workshop where we learn how to write an ‘effective resume’ or is that next week?” and “Wait, is that an example of ‘what to do,’ or ‘what not to do?’ Both are grammatically incorrect.” *Shudder* Apparently grammar is a matter of opinion. Not surprisingly, it was followed by a bulleted list of tips: 1) Use correct grammar, 2) Maximum 1 page (etc. It really only got worse from there.) Here’s an example of a resume that the Workshop Wizard liked:

John Smith
15 Plain Road
Anyplace, ME 04099

Tools I Know:

Drive tractor. And 4-Wheelers.                                         Compressers
Cutting tools                                                                    Electric discharge machine
(Etc.)                                                                                 Misc. tools

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At the 10:30am break

Clearly, the Workshop Wizard prefers the functional format, which hiring managers have practically outlawed. When I overheard some guys in the back row grumble, “Here she goes again,” and moan any time I asked a question or made a comment, trying to help the innocent, I clammed up. I wished I’d brought my invisibility cloak. Or, at least magic ink so that my SS# and contact information wouldn’t be visible on the sign-in sheet as it was passed from person to person at an alarmingly sluggish rate, especially in the back row.

After the workshop, I fled on my broomstick into a nor’easter. It’s the kind of snow that splinters your eye balls with miniature ice picks. Wind blew long curls into my mouth and I walked awkwardly along the slushy side-walk, swearing and muttering. People avoided me. I probably looked like one of those “Lost Souls” from the Lakes Region. (We don’t get off the Mountain of Doom very often.) By the time I had circumvented the block twice and changed direction (my eye glasses fogged into a cataract-glaze), I was dazed and confused like Liv Tyler. I felt hot under the collar. My pretty blue wool coat smelled like college days and frat parties. Finally, I found the parking garage and climbed the stairs to the 4th floor–but my sea green Subaru was not there! Did I get towed? Oh, no! I scrambled up the stairs to the 5th, then the 6th floors, horrified to see giant mounds of snow I hadn’t seen before. Merlin’s beard! I’ve been towed! I knew this public parking garage–albeit inconveniently located but only at a $2/hr rate was too-good-to-be-true! Argh! In slight panic mode, or more realistically, an allergic reaction to Conference Room B in the Department of Mysteries (Miseries?) I took the elevator down to the ground level and found a nice parking attendant who was willing to look for my car (on the 6th, 5th, 4th and finally, 3rd floor), while I had an neurotic breakdown, probably breaking out into hives by this point. (I tipped the helpful fellow and thanked him profusely.)

Then, as I warmed up the car, relieved it had not been towed, I listened to a new voicemail: “Leah, you have been selected to attend a required workshop next Thursday….” (in addition to the one I’ve been selected to attend on Tuesday.) When am I supposed to practice casting the Patronus charm? When I am supposed to study for the OWLs? When am I supposed to fight evil and save the world?

Tomorrow night’s the full moon in dramatic Royal-Leader-of-Meltdowns-and-Billowing-Manes-Leo. This blast of energy lasts 10 days.

Recently, I received a letter. When I called the State Department of Mysteries in response to the letter, the state employee asked me, “What color is the letter?” This is like dinner at Applebees. Every time I ordered a salad there, I ended up with a hair in my salad and a waitress who’s been trained to ask, “What color is it?” (I stopped that nonsense years ago.) So when the DOM employee learned my letter was white, she said, “Good thing it wasn’t yellow,” followed by similar responses to my specific questions. And the magic continues…

I have been “selected to participate in a required program.” Just call me Harry Potter for I am the chosen ONE.  (Side note: To me, this sounds on par with a forced lottery win, or, decapitation role play.) Benefits of said required program include “unlimited access to computers, office equipment (!), Internet access and the expertise” (of career center employees). Wow. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. And I must gather a few things to take on this adventure, which starts this week and continues through next week (my birthday week). They didn’t list “unlimited access to a toilet” so I hope they have one, since these are day-long workshops.

The “white letter” (and sundry follow-up notices and voicemails) tell me I need to bring the following required items with me: 1) Star Trek Log, 2) Elder Wand, 3) straight face when I am serenaded by Roy Orbison-superfan (again), 4) a jar of paste to eat while I learn how to write an “effective resume,” 5) my Girls Scouts cantene–empty, since they might not have a bathrooom with unlimited access. I should also probably bring a Sit-Upon while I’m at it. Gramma taught me to be prepared at long town meetings and how to stuff newspaper into a trash bag so I don’t get my butt wet sitting on moss, or questionable office chairs with unlimited access. I have a sneaky feeling I wasn’t the only chosen one.

The Last Summer

Bent-kneed on a borrowed board, I paddled to and from Fish Rock,
Where “Leah’s ladder” still rests beside the great-hearted granite
My wanton eye on the Sand Bar, I lusted after its sinuous profile—
A throw-back to adolescence, when Grampa ferried me from the dock
To the bar; I’d be left (my wish) to prance and play Sports Illustrated
Swimsuit photo shoot in my bikini and long salt-blonde locks.

Here I was all grown, my stomach clenched, leaning like a surfer
Pushing into waves, boat wake and natural, a real temper thrust
Upon me, testing gravity, lest I get pulled as though by a killer
Whale, or tiller, but I continued to glide and guinea-pig because
I poured-over like water-in-air, downwind, a curvy figure eight.

Centered myself, a hip movement long been studied, oozed
In the language of bellydance: notably, an invisible weight
Like a pendulum, drawing a pattern from within my roots,
Chakras, the divine usage and nuance of hydromancy, a fate
Not lost on me—I loved the lake, the vibrant angle of hawks.

Heat rose off my gypsy arms, hot-blooded calves as I merged
Game-faced to mask my zeal; I assembled each funky stroke,
Hefted and carved house-sized whirlpools, tributaries surged
And stream-lined behind in a make-shifting current, a joke
In nature’s back-story, reminiscent of a bustling youth

How I came of age, skimming sandy and mudflat bottoms
Disguising an uncommon turquoise aura in a grey-green haze
In Sheepscot Bay, Little Sebago, the ocean at Pemaquid and Popham,
Body-surfing at Scarborough (or wherever we went), to taste
The lingering tidal scent of the saltmarsh on our tongues.

~Leah C. Stetson TP Subscribe

SaintStatueLately it seems that I’ve been doing far more editing and texting than I have been writing. Not good. I’ve taken photos, collected snippets and story ideas over the past several months. In between blog posts, I usually write in my journal and let ideas percolate.  This has been a big trend in September (letting things percolate). Since the air has turned unseasonably cool prematurely, I haven’t been swimming either, not since early in September. Instead, I’ve hiked a mountain a few times, explored a sunken garden and prayed at the feet of a pregnant statue of Saint Guadalupe. More on this subject later (there’s a story behind this.)

I’m on deadline with the National Wetlands Newsletter but wanted to post something here to mark this period of …”busy work” – and the need to make up for it later. If you’re a writer and reading this, how do you make time to write? What have you found that really works?  In the meantime, I’m pretty happy. Work is keeping me on my toes, I’ve had new French doors installed for the patio entrance and I’ve gotten to spend time with close friends, including a trip to Simsbury, CT for my best friend’s baby shower. (Perhaps there was something in that wish and prayer I made on the statue of the pregnant saint! My friend certainly made out like a bandit at the shower.)

A new dress that my birthday twin gave me.

A new dress that my birthday twin gave me.

Raymond PondIs it a lake or a pond or a wetland?

My mother recently asked me about the difference between a lake and pond. She had just watched a neat presentation on Maine PBS about the Belgrade Lakes (See “Saving Our Lakes” on MPBN) – a program about the Belgrade Lakes Watershed Sustainability Project. Prior to that conversation, friends have asked me about the body of water beyond my backyard—if it was a lake or a pond and what’s the difference? My first answer was that it is a pond by name. A pond or lake may be named as such the way “street,” “lane,” or “road” are often interchangeable. Secondly, a lake and a pond have differences at the ecological level—in terms of aquatic life, and in terms of limnology.  I also explained that the differences had to do with acreage and depth of the water body. Sometimes a “pond” can be bigger and deeper by comparison to a nearby lake, as in the case of Long Pond (113’ deep) and Echo Lake (66’ deep) in Acadia National Park. In that case, Echo Lake is technically considered a “great pond” under Maine state law because it’s a natural pond greater than 10 acres.  But usually lakes are bigger and deeper than ponds. By state definitions, both lakes and ponds fall under similar regulations for “waters of the state” and related water quality and other environmental protection laws in Maine, and in many other states. Under the Cowardin classification system, ponds are wetlands.

What I did not explain very well was the natural grade of lakes into ponds into wetlands, and their evolution as waters.  What made sense to me as an ecologist, that one type would naturally grade into another water type, was harder to explain to my friend. What’s even harder to illustrate is the concept of an ecotone—the transition area between two ecological communities adjacent to one another. As usual, I thought of movies.

The phenomenon of distinct communities existing side by side can be observed in film.  For example, the liminal space between cultures—a cultural transition area—can be viewed as bordercrossings, illustrated effectively in films like “Night on Earth” (1991). Jim Jarmusch’s film took place entirely in taxi cabs in five different time zones throughout the world. The concept is that no matter where you go, at one point in time, there are eerily similar transactions and interactions taking place in taxi cabs—a kind of cultural habitat, if you will—for humans migrating from one place to another. Some water bodies, like taxi cabs, are mobile; some are stationary, like an ‘off-duty’ cab.  And that’s where the changes from lake to pond to wetland, or the line between adjacent ecological communities, can get a little fuzzy to someone standing on the curb, er, the edge of the water.

Over what period of time do lakes become ponds? How long does it take for ponds to become wetlands? For wetlands to become meadows? The short answer is several thousand years, if nothing has interrupted (or accelerated) the natural evolution of these waters. This is called succession. Biology students learning about wetland succession in a classroom can experiment with an aquarium—starting with a mini pond or wetland habitat. For a biology teaching guide written by BioMedia (Russell) that outlines the key ingredients to such an experiment for a year-long study, click here.  Limnologists say, “lakes are destined to die,” whereas ponds are the “death of a lake” and the “birth of a marsh.” For an explanation on pond succession, click here.

So how does a pond become a wetland? The first stage, called the ‘pioneer’ stage of wetland succession, starts with the pond without plant life at the bottom. Plankton, which inhabit the pond, and carry miniscule plant and animal life, arrive on the winds or wings of insects.  Over time, plankton die on the pond bottom and create a mucky layer, which is rich enough for water emergent plants to grow, such as water lilies, ancient wetland plants. As water lilies form a blanket over the surface of the water, they cut off the sunlight to the bottom, killing off the submergent plants. These processes can take a variety of timeframes from a matter of years to a matter of millennia. Trees, shrubs and grasses move into the space that was once the pond and a wetland takes shape. This is a dynamic process with many variables. Some wetland ecologists have argued against the idea of wetland succession because of these variables.

Succession is not a sure thing. It does not occur with all lakes in the U.S.. (For instance, there is no scientific concern that the Great Lakes will eventually turn into ponds, or meadows.) There are many factors that can interrupt a “natural” succession process such as a changing climate, soils, drainage, land development, introduction of invasive plants or other aquatic species, phosphorus run-off (causing dissolved oxygen) or other factors.

In addition to the possible succession pattern of pond to wetland, some wetlands can be turned into ponds. In the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Status & Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004-2009, ponds are recognized as a type of freshwater wetland. The report indicates a net increase of 207,200 acres of freshwater ponds between 2004-2009, an increase of 3.2% in freshwater ponds nationally (FWS). The trouble with ponds, for example, farm ponds, being created in place of another type of freshwater wetland, is that there is a difference between constructed ponds and freshwater (or natural) ponds in their ecological functions. According to the Status & Trends Report, the majority of ponds in the U.S. are constructed farm ponds with only 31% being natural ponds.

In a way, it’s an uncertain destiny for our lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and wetlands. For those working to protect wetlands, and to harness the power of wetlands to sequester carbon and provide unique and solvent ways to fight climate change’s impact on our planet, that may be part of wetlands’ destiny, too. Save wetlands? Save ourselves.  That’s next in line.

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In preparing for local conservation commission meetings over the past year, I have been learning more about tar sands, also known as heavy oil sands, the pipelines that transport oil sands, and the potential impacts they have on water resources. Previously, I had heard about the tar sands and oil spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 and the crude oil spill in Yellowstone in 2011 (MT), but I did not know much about tar sands extraction and transportation into North America. A year ago, media reported a revised or reinvented New England proposal for an Enbridge pipeline project. I’ve read a number of useful background documents on state, regional and national issues related to tar sands crude oil pipelines on the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s website, as well as annual reports from pipeline companies and studies commissioned by TransCanada, Canada’s National Energy Board and other interest groups, not all pro-environment.  In April 2012, the National Wildlife Federation published a report, “After the Marshall Spill: Oil Pipelines in the Great Lakes Region,” which assesses the regulatory issues involved in protecting wetlands and waters in the Great Lakes from similar disasters in the future. The Town of Raymond has posted a number of useful background documents, media reports, studies and assessments here.

From local issues to national concerns:  The topic of tar sands crude oil pipeline proposals in my community of Maine is echoed throughout the New England region, and throughout the U.S. all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. In southern Maine, Sebago Lake, the source of drinking water for the city of Portland, Maine and surrounding towns, plays a prominent role in a number of environmental advocacy groups’ efforts to halt proposals for pumping tar sands through the state. The pipeline currently runs from South Portland, Maine through the Lakes Region towns, crossing Panther Run and the Crooked River, two tributaries that feed Sebago Lake. This is just one small area of the longer pipeline, which would cross through many other watersheds throughout New England.

After I presented information at my town’s conservation commission meetings, where I volunteer, I ran into a few neighbors and residents who commented on the issue of a tar sands pipeline proposal that could have an impact on Maine’s watersheds and natural resources.  One business owner said, “They’re still cleaning up the spill in Michigan! If that happened here, we’d be done.” Similar views have been expressed at town meetings, on PBS presentations (winter 2012) and at university informational sessions in southern Maine. The Natural Resources Council of Maine has an ongoing project informing citizens about the proposal and its potential impacts to Maine, as well as the Enbridge proposals for tar sands pipelines elsewhere in the country. For a fact sheet on Tar Sands, Keystone Pipeline Project in Maine (2012), click here.

What are tar sands and where do they come from? Tar sands are a mixture of clay, sand, water and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil.  The process extracts the bitumen from the other materials and requires other treatment before it can be refined.  It is so thick it requires dilution with additional hydrocarbons before it can be transported through pipelines when it can be later turned into conventional heating oil. This process of transporting it in pipelines has many potentially hazardous impacts to water and other natural resources in the event of a spill.  Once the tar sands crude oil is transported, the process of turning it into conventional oil is not cost-effective or ecologically sensible.  The process releases more than double the harmful greenhouse gasses than conventional heating oil does during production. (See Scientific American.) Currently, the bulk of the tar sands originate in Alberta, Canada—where large pools called tar pits have replaced wetlands. These tar pits are big enough to be seen from space. The most threatened habitat are Canada’s boreal forests, which is 1.3 billion acres of wetlands—among the largest in-tact wetland ecosystems on Earth. Unfortunately, most of the wastewater involved with the tar sands production ends up in streams and rivers throughout the boreal forest, contaminating the wetlands and threatening bird and wildlife habitat. For Alberta’s Government webpage on oil sands, click here.

According to mining company reports, 64% of the mining landscape is made up of peatlands. (See related study, “Oil sands mining and reclamation cause massive loss of peatland and stored carbon.”)  There’s some effort underway to restore the wetlands that have been affected by tar sands in Alberta. Oil Sands Wetlands Reclamation: Syncrude, Suncor Plan To Reconstruct Fens  It’s unconventional wetland restoration on a large scale. Essentially they’re hoping to recreate a 50-hectare watershed, not just a wetland, for one project. That’s about 125 acres of wetlands and waters. The University of Waterloo’s department of geography and environmental management is involved with the watershed restoration planning. It’s been called a Tar Sands Wetlands Reclamation.  However, some Canadian wetland scientists are doubtful that this will work to restore the wetlands.  They say, “Instead of bogs and fens, the industry will build hills topped by plantation forests and fill large man-made lakes with toxic waste bordered by shrubs and salty marshes.” (Rooney, et.al., 2011)

“It’s a completely different landscape,” says study co-author Suzanne Bayley, one of Canada’s top wetland ecologists and a University of Alberta professor. See Scientists Doubt Fix to Wetlands Damaged by Oil Sands Furthermore, fewer wetlands means drier conditions and more fire hazards. See a related presentation on The State of Oil Sands Wetlands Reclamation and Slow Down Oil Sands to Save Wetlands, Scientist Says –with details from a related study of Canadian wetlands. For an Alberta wetlands fact sheet by Water Matters, click here. Also check out some of the information from NRDC, et.al.  linked below, if you’re interested.

Tar Sands Invasion: How Dirty and Expensive Oil from Canada Threatens America’s New Energy Economy By NRDC, Earth Works, Sierra Club, et. al. – May 2010.  The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said this week that Enbridge paid a $3.7 million penalty for the 2010 incident. U.S. investigators suggested the company knew of line defects five years before the accident. EPA’s webpage on the Kalamazoo River spill can be found here. 



Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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