Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shingebiss, A Story from Chemaywe’ya, the Way-back Time

By Sage Passi

"During the Moon of the Freezing-Over-of-the-Earth when Winter Maker blows his icy breath across the land, all but the bravest birds fly south.”
-Shingebiss, An Ojibwe Legend retold by
Nancy Van Laan with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen.

Shingebiss, the merganser duck and WinterMaker, two puppets created by Urban Roots youth, spar at the Phalen Freeze Fest on February 7.  Colin Wesaw (left) narrates the story.

Under the spell of Spirit Moon (December), a group of us gathered around the amphitheater at Lake Phalen to envision a celebration to “take back” winter. We wanted to create an experience that would challenge the blustery cold elements we would likely encounter during Stingy Moon (February) when this community event would take place.

Phalen Creek - before the restoration.
The destination for this event is one of my favorite places. Phalen Creek, with its picturesque shoreline restored last year, runs through a beautiful lagoon that connects it to Lake Phalen. This creek is part of a channel system upstream that the Watershed is starting a four -year “journey” to restore this spring. The beautiful “island” and stream that meanders under its bridges and through the adjoining land are charged with the good energy and happy memories of WaterFest held there for the past 14 springs.

A team gathers by the Lake Phalen amphitheater to plan the
winter celebration, Phalen Feeze Fest.
At the backbone of this winter wonderland outdoor event, Phalen Freeze Fest is a Legacy funded education program run by St. Paul Parks and Recreation. Faith Krogstad, the program’s coordinator was responsible for the original vision for the event and much of its direction. The dedication and creativity of Faith and her teammates, Debbie Koenigs and Mary Henke-Haney who led puppet workshops, wrote the script and directed the puppeteers were the core ingredients that made it a true success.

Faith had previously been involved in an annual winter celebration that North House Folk School in Grand Marais puts on with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. She wanted to create a similar gathering that would draw families to a location where they could transform their own perceptions and fears about winter. In essence, participant would be invited to “reimagine” winter, experience its beauty and in shorthand, have fun with it!

That December afternoon when we met at Lake Phalen there was no snow on the ground. There was only a slight chill in the air and a light drizzle. I looked around at the setting. I could already see infinite possibilities.

What was the inspiration for this rebel attitude toward winter?

A duck.

The celebration would be based on the Ojibwe legend of Shingebiss, the defiant merganser who stood up to winter. After our meeting I immediately called up Steve Johnson, the Audubon volunteer who, for many years has taught kids how to identify birds during our shoreline restoration projects.

“What do you know about mergansers?” I asked him. “Do you see them on Lake Phalen?”

I knew Steve would have a lot to say about this plucky bird. I plied him for information and learned that three species of mergansers –the common, the hooded merganser and the red-breasted mergansers spend time in various seasons around Lake Phalen, stopping by during migration in the fall/spring or nesting in the back waters. I recalled my college years of peering through binoculars at mergansers.

Two of Minnesota's most common mergansers - Common Merganser (left) and Hooded Merganser (right).

After that first rendezvous, I wasted no time and immediately dove in. I went to the library and checked out the book, Shingebiss retold by Nancy Van Laan with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen. 
Pages from the storybook Shingebiss  with woodcuts
by Betsy Bowen marked the path for the StoryWalk. 
They were lit by ice candles made by Great River
Montessori students.

I sent an e-mail to Kate Swensen, a teacher I work with at American Indian Magnet School. She called me on Christmas Eve while I was driving to my son-in-law’s parents’ house for dinner. You have to admit that’s dedication. Over the years she and I have developed a connection that always seems to draw out the element of synergy.

“That’s our book of the month for fourth graders in February,” she announced.

I could feel her diving in like the Shingebiss, the merganser bravely does into the icy unknown. Little did I know then, that before long we would be helping three science classrooms make 67 Shingebiss merganser sock puppets for our Phalen Freeze Fest storytelling. I also was not aware that the AIM fourth grade teachers would use them again to film their students telling the Shingebiss legend from the book for their Friday cultural gatherings in February. But I did know if those teachers got involved with this event there would be a good chance that they would be back for WaterFest.

American Indian Magnet fourth graders making Shingebiss (merganser) puppets.

So where did the story come from anyway?

"Once during the Spirit Moon, the first moon of winter and of deep snow, the chilling breath of Kabibona’kan froze the waters of Great Lake Superior. Even a moose could now cross the vast lake without breaking the ice. It was as solid as stone.

In his lodge, Shingebiss had but four logs to keep him warm. Four logs, one for each cold winter month. He did not want to starve during this harsh season as so many others might. What he needed was a way to fish through the thick ice. So, fearlessly, Shingebiss ventured outdoors to face the great wind of Winter Maker."
-Shingebiss, An Ojibwe Legend retold by
Nancy Van Laan with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen. 


Stephanie Schroder, Harding High Ojibwe teacher assists a
student in puppet-making.
Long ago the Ojibwe had to learn how to adapt to the harsh climate of the north. They stayed alive by closely watching birds and animals to see how they survived. Their legend of Shingebiss carries the lessons they learned about conservation, perseverance and resourcefulness, lessons that are equally useful today.

It didn’t take long for those merganser puppets to become our teachers. Aeysha, a young actress and artist was recruited to come up with a vision for the puppets and a method for teaching kids how to make them. It turned into a rather complicated art project, to be truthful, that was a bit arduous for fourth graders. But, I now have gratitude for the lessons we learned in the process and for the friends we made along the way. When we came back up for air, we really had something to be thankful for!

Three Harding High Ojibwe classes took a day to assist us by taking over the step of hot gluing the merganser duck bills to the socks for the fourth graders and making some marvelous animal masks. This turned into a delightful opportunity to get acquainted with their Ojibwe teacher, Stephanie Schroeder who brought the story to life for her students with her personal knowledge of the culture and the genuine flavor she added to the storytelling.

Natalie Campbell, a Watershed District intern decoupages 67
Shingebiss puppets before the day of the performance at
Phalen Freeze Fest.

At the eleventh hour, on the day before the event, it was a Watershed District intern’s dedication and perseverance (thanks Natalie Campbell!) that helped get the job done of modge-podging those 67 puppets so that we could deliver three tubs of magical merganser Shingebiss puppets to the stage on February 7!

That duck has a way of drawing people in.

So Who Jumped In?

Harding Earth Club gets into the spirit of making star hats to help the audience dramatize the character of WinterMaker.

It’s only been a few days since that enchanted evening. Now Stingy Moon (February) with its icy winds has put us under her spell, so I’ve been reflecting on the magic that happened along the way. When groups with overlapping missions come together to put on an event like Phalen Freeze Fest, the outcomes grow in magnitude.

David Rittenhouse, Urban Roots Conservation Manager, helps youth interns
prepare puppets for Phalen Freeze Fest.
Teens from Urban Roots, a St. Paul-based organization that focuses on food, conservation and youth development, built larger than life Shingebiss and WinterMaker puppets and used them to act out the story. They also helped with much of the set-up for the event. 

Families and youth came to Duluth-Case and Hancock Recreation Centers in multiple sessions to add a cadre of paper mache props and puppets to the storytelling.

Teachers, Shannen Lachemaya, Andy Jones and Has Sinthaug and Master Naturalist Bev Blomgren engaged the Harding Earth Club on three Friday afternoons to prepare for Phalen Freeze Fest.

Earth Club volunteers crafted an illuminated fish puppet and a giant LED-lit moon, created fanciful Winter Maker puppets and shaped life-like imaginative animal masks.

Harding Earth Club created animal masks to be worn
by the audience.
Sherry Brooks involved Farnsworth’s extended day program third graders who contributed star and moon hats and animal masks. Great River School created a large collection of paper mache animal hats for the audience that represented animals that hibernate in winter. They also made the beautiful ice luminaries that lighted the StoryWalk and lanterns that hung at the top of the amphitheater.
Great River Montessori School created
lanterns and animal hats for the event.

East Side elder storyteller, Colin Wesaw, narrated the legend of Shingebiss with drama and enthusiasm.

Jim Levitt, DNR Fisheries Specialist, brought FiN (Fishing in the Neighborhood) to the event and set up an ice fishing tent on Lake Phalen in the dark where many families had the opportunity to get out on the ice and learn how to fish in winter.

The Watershed District’s CAC members, Hallie Finucane, Jill Danner, Karen Wold and her daughter Anika along with other watershed supporters, Sherry Brooks, Peter Zeftel and Angie Hong helped pass out masks, hats and puppets to audience participants.

The DNR's Fishing in the Neighborhood (FiN) program led by
Jim Levitt helped teach about ice fishing on Lake Phalen.

Winter was being pretty gentle with us that night and blessed us with warm temperatures. I have a feeling “Winter Maker” was going easy on us during our first round of test-driving this outdoor celebration so that we would be tempted to come back and try it again next year. 

Hopefully in years to come Phalen Freeze Fest will become an annual event that can grow and become even more magical! In the meantime, stay tuned and join us in Budding Moon (May) at this captivating location for WaterFest 2015 on Saturday May 30. The theme is Water Wonderland, a fitting title for an event at such a special place.

Those 67 mergansers, led by Shingebiss the Great will be back to lead the parade!

Phalen Fest participants take on WinterMaker with their Shingebiss puppets that
will be used again at WaterFest (May 30th, 2015)

Reflections from Retirement…Chapter 2

By Cliff Aichinger, Former RWMWD Administrator

Cliff and his wife, Anne, on vacation in Colorado.

As promised, I am writing again about my retirement experiences and my reflections on my career and my experience at the RWMWD. This month I am reflecting on things that I’ve learned over my years in government and at the District.
In the process of this reflection, I was forced to think about past successes and failures and the reasons for what happened. The reasons are not always clear, but some factors seemed to have repeated themselves over the years. This was an interesting exercise and one that I have not had time for in the past. Some of my conclusions may not be comfortable for some to acknowledge and some of you may totally disagree. 

Again these are my opinions only and are not necessarily those of the District staff or the Board of Managers.

Lessons Learned

Nothing stays the same. Change is inevitable… Change is hard…even though it is inevitable there is a faction of every community that will resist it to the end no matter what information is presented to document the merits of the change. To move forward we need effective “change agents” (people who are willing to promote progressive approaches). 
The Enhanced Sand Filter in Maplewood is a prime example
of how taking risks on new technology can pay off
tremendously. For this project, the payoff came in terms
of removing dissolved phosphorus from runoff.

The resistance to change is pervasive in our society. It is felt in all facets of our life…our education system, health care, public infrastructure, lawn care practices, recycling, and water management. To make needed changes we are often proposing innovative solutions and new funding approaches. These are unfamiliar and can be scary to many. We need to be willing to fully explain why we are proposing this new approach, strategy or funding method.

The critical importance of local government…Even though I believe strongly that some programs and laws need to apply equally across our great country, I have also found that the implementation of new ideas and significant change happens primarily at the local level of government. 

Federal and State government has made
many great strides, but they fall short in
finding ways to accomplish the goal.
I also believe that the Federal and State government should be playing a stronger role in supporting local governments and less of a role in dictating how local governments should do their jobs. In reality the Federal and State government are good at creating rules and regulations, but not very good at figuring out how to accomplish the goal. The innovation often happens at the local level out of necessity. What is frustrating to many at the local level, including Watershed Districts, is that many in Federal and State government do not recognize the achievements of local government and often mistrust local government staff and officials. This attitude is changing, but slowly.

Governance is critical to success…I was privileged early in my career to be exposed to environmental and land use law and learn the roles of various levels of government. I worked for or with every level of government in some capacity. We can’t assume something will happen just because it’s the right thing to do. There has to be a process and support system for the implementation of a program or project to solve a problem.

This was recognized in the early 1970s when environmental problems were well
Silent Spring by Rachel
Carson was a
monumental book in
exposing environmental
issues to the public.

documented by courageous writers of that time (Rachel Carlson and others). They alerted the general public to the issues of DDT, extinction of wildlife species, the pollution of major water resources, and more. The Federal and State governments responded with the passage of major environmental legislation that changed how we produced power, treated our waste, and produced our food products. Federal legislation (Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and the Environmental Rights Act, Environmental Policy Act) and Minnesota legislation (Environmental Rights Act, Shoreland Management Act, Floodplain Management Act, Critical Areas, and others) provided a structure for responding to these issues.

Yes, they increased some costs of doing business and they definitely increased the size and cost of government, but without the laws and the agency programs, federal funding, and new technology, there would not have been the ability to make the significant environmental improvements we have seen.

This applies to Watershed Management as well. I have conducted research on watershed governance in the US and found that Minnesota is one of only a handful of states that have a local governance structure to address watershed management. We have a law that allows for the establishment of a local agency that can develop programs and projects to improve its water resources.

Money is critical to success…I’ve had national level researchers, government staff, and academics tell me that sustainable funding isn’t important to the implementation of effective water management. I disagree. The reason Minnesota has had more success in water management than almost any other state, is the fact that we have a system of special purpose units of local government that are dedicated to water management and have taxing authority. Non-profit organizations are essential to our community and greatly assist in implementation of volunteer activities, improving public awareness of issues and lobbying local, state and federal government for change, but they can’t implement regulatory programs and structural projects that provide measurable improvement in our resources.

I’ve contributed to two books on water management and was the chief author of the chapters addressing water management governance and funding. In both cases the conclusion was that a sustainable funding source was one of the major contributors to success. Watershed Districts in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area are privileged to have the ability to levy property taxes sufficient to fund the programs and projects in an approved Watershed Management Plan.

The 2008 Clean Water Fund three-eighths of one-cent sales tax approved by Minnesota residents was a landmark event for Minnesota’s water resources. However, it is not a total solution to funding water management issues. A recent Board of Water and Soil Resources survey of water management agencies shows that there are approved plans and identified capital improvement projects that exceed available grant funds by over ten fold. This disparity will only increase as more Impaired Waters Plans are completed and more watershed planning is completed in greater Minnesota.

Elected officials need to be leaders…Elected and appointed officials have a responsibility to look to the future for their constituents. Most are committed to this principle. However, many can’t recognize or effectively respond to the vocal minority that oppose change and stifle progress. Even though a few people can overwhelm meetings and dominate the phone lines, an effort needs to be made to find out what other residents want and believe. Elected officials need to determine the best course of action based on as much information and input as possible, but it should not be based solely on emotion and resistance to change.

Planners and scientists need to be given more credence…In my 43 years of professional life as a planner and manager, I have seen numerous examples where the “planners” prepared plans and anticipated needs a decade or two before action was taken. Planners and scientists are trained to be forward looking – analyzing the past to anticipate future needs and avoid problems. Their advice should not be passed off as dreaming or over reacting, but should be given the significant consideration it deserves.

"The land use development practices of the 50s, 60s, and 70s
have led to sprawl, water management issues, and expensive
infrastructure maintenance and replacement issues."
Planners have recognized for years that the land use development practices of the 50s, 60s, and 70s have led to sprawl, water management issues, and expensive infrastructure
maintenance and replacement issues. We need to look for redevelopment approaches that address these issues collectively and efficiently. This new approach may be dramatically different than what we currently see in our neighborhoods, but we need to recognize that infrastructure replacement (streets, sewers, sidewalks) happens only once every 40-50 years. If we continue to replace them with what we currently have, there will be no improvement in vehicle and pedestrian safety, water management or neighborhood aesthetics.

"Infrastructure replacement happens only once every 40-50 years.  If we continue to replace them with what we currently have, there will be no improvement..."  Left: Residential road and infrastructure construction in White Bear Lake.  Right: Construction in a residential area of St. Paul.

Taxes are not all bad…This belief is why I couldn’t succeed in politics. Taxes are levied by all units of government to provide the services requested by our residents or required by the State or Federal government. The problem is that many residents don’t recognize the services they are being given and don’t understand the role of government. The other side of this coin is that elected officials need to require residents to be specific about their concerns. What services are a priority? If costs need to be reduced, what are they willing to give up? Are they willing to give up clean drinking water, safe beaches, good fishing, safe streets, good education, police and fire protection? These decisions should not be made randomly and without reasonable debate and discussion. Developing the right forum for this discussion and getting adequate public participation is the hard part of this process.

"A strict 'anti-tax' or 'anti-new-tax'
approach is not helpful."
These are difficult decisions, but a strict “anti-tax” or “anti-new tax” approach is not helpful. Ultimately, voters are electing individuals to represent them and make these tough decisions. Again, a vocal minority should not be making public policy. It should be based on sound science, research and economics. This takes qualified staff, consultants and study.

This issue is closely tied to the resistance to change. Everything changes and government programs should be changing to reflect new needs. The problem with most government institutions is  their typical inability to eliminate old programs that no longer serve their intended purpose and the inability to prioritize activities and focus on critical needs. However, no matter how much either of these approaches is practiced, government programs and spending will generally increase with the increased population that it serves.

The customer is not always right…If I were to continue in public service or as an elected official, this may get me in trouble. We need public input and we have to listen, but we have to try to understand what their core message is and engage in difficult conversations to pull out the kernel of wisdom that we need to use. I have always had trouble in public meetings where I hear comments that are clearly untrue and where some individuals are allowed to dominate discussion and antagonize or intimidate others. I believe that staff should provide evidence and science to clarify misunderstandings. These meetings are often great teachable moments where we can collect comments, but also clarify misconceptions about a subject matter that is not well understood by the public. However, we need to be respectful of every person’s right to their own opinion and their right to express it.

Staff need time to effectively do their jobs, be creative and improve their skills…In this time of tight budgets and staff resources, it is hard to expect government personnel to be on the cutting edge of science or research if they don’t have time to be involved in their professional community and reflect on how to apply new technology and practices in their own jobs.
A creative group of people on the cutting edge of science
makes for a happy staff.
In the past 10-15 years I have seen significant pressure by the public and the state legislature to reduce costs and spending. This has led to staff layoffs, reduced annual pay adjustments, less staff to do the work required, longer hours and increased job stress. This can all lead to reduced productivity, delays in processing paperwork, and reduced employee morale.

Most people don’t know this, but many of our state agencies have fewer staff resources and greater work loads now than they did in the mid-90s.

Adaptive management is an important practice and needs to be applied rigorously…we can’t always be 100% confident of success when we implement programs or projects. We often have to move forward with our best professional judgment to identify methods to protect our resources. However, sometimes (not often) we don’t get it right the first time or we learn that it wasn’t as effective as we had hoped. We have to be willing to assess, adjust and correct it if we can.

We can’t always be cost-effective if we are going to be creative and innovative…Cost-effectiveness should be a goal, but much of the District’s past progress and successes would have gone undone if we waited or implemented only those activities that met some arbitrary cost-effectiveness criteria.

Looking Forward

I plan to write two additional articles in the coming months. Preliminary ideas include:
  • My greatest accomplishments.
  • Future challenges for the District.


I may also contribute a random article or two about my travels or other retirement highlights or challenges. We’ll see what strikes me and is still of interest to the District staff.

On a personal note, I have had an eventful past month. My son David (Maplewood Mall and office mural artist) was part of the carving team that won the St. Paul Winter Carnival Snow Sculpture contest (see photo). 

I was also privileged to spend a long weekend watching my two grand daughters in New York City while my daughter and son-in-law went on a business trip. It was nice to have close one-on-one time with them and do fun things. Too bad it was cold and snowy. While there we visited the 911 memorial and museum. It was very moving, extremely well done, and very respectful to those involved in the terrible event, those that lost their lives and the families of the victims.

Adventures in Retirement. Left: Cliff's son's ice carving team won accolades at the St. Paul Winter Carnival.  Middle: Cliff and Anne recently spent time with family in New York.  Right: While in New York, Cliff and Anne had the opportunity to visit the 911 Memorial and Museum. 

Connecting the Spots: Keller Creek Knits it Together

Steep banks and buckthorn on Gervais Creek in the fall of 2014.  Most of the invasive buckthorn has been cleared from this slope over the winter.  Native shrubs and flowers will be planted here in the spring.

Over the last 15 years, the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul have worked to restore over 2.5 miles of public lakeshore and 32 acres of upland natural area in the Phalen Chain of Lakes Corridor. You may have walked along the blooming shoreline of Lake Phalen, picnicked near the flowers lining Keller Island or followed the progress of native restoration that is part of Ramsey County’s Keller Golf Course renovation. This year, RWMWD and Ramsey County, with assistance from the Minnesota DNR will begin a multi-year project to restore the corridor that connects these areas: Keller Creek.

This remnant stand of native prairie cord
grass and aster will have an opportunity to
expand once invasive reed canary grass
is removed.
Keller Creek is an integral part of the Phalen Chain of Lakes, controlling the water flowing from Keller Lake into Round and Lake Phalen. It is also a regionally vital fish and wildlife corridor. And of course, with the addition of the new Ramsey County trail & boardwalk, the creek is part of a large connected recreation area of lakes, parks, and trails.

In 2015-16, we plan to work on the east bank of the creek, between Frost Avenue and Highway 61 (see the map below). A majority of the creek shore is owned by the DNR, but is actively managed by Ramsey County. In addition to the Watershed District and Ramsey County, a DNR Aquatic Habitat Grant will help support this ecological restoration effort. The project will be managed by Watershed staff in collaboration with staff from Ramsey County Parks. Local students, Ramsey County Master Gardeners and other volunteers will assist with planting.

In the coming year, our work will include removing non-native, invasive plants and enhancing the patches of native plants remaining along this stretch of the creek. We will be planting native shrubs and trees, along with woodland wildflowers in shady spots, prairie grasses and flowers in open areas, and wet meadow species along the creek bank. We will be reshaping the creek bank in a few spots, and using other methods such as brush bundles and coconut fiber logs to reduce erosion near the water’s edge.

Buckthorn trees with berries will be hauled offsite for disposal.
In addition to plant restoration work, we are looking to improve the portage around the weir structure in the channel. We’d like to make it easier for more canoeists, kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders to take advantage of the water trail through the chain and enjoy the restored shores from an aquatic perspective.
This cut brush will be used to protect the creek bank.

We have already started our restoration work; beginning in late January we started cutting and hauling out the invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle trees & shrubs. Some of these cut shrubs will be used to create brush bundles to protect the creek bank as plants become established. Earth moving, erosion control and planting projects will begin in April or May, depending upon the weather, and continue through the growing season.

A map showing proposed restoration areas along Keller Creek between Frost Avenue and Highway 61.  Click to enlarge.

Please stay tuned – we will report on our progress in future editions of The Ripple Effect!

Power tools in the winter.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mystery of the Month - February 2015

Winter: Humans Survive & Bugs Do Too

"Monarch-butterflies-pacific-grove" by Agunther - Own work. Licensed
under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
Link to image HERE.

By Zola Pineles

Winter is coming. Winter is…here! For humans, heat and comfort in the cold months can be relatively easy to procure thanks to amenities such as shelter, warm layers, our wits, and central heating. For insects, the winter means employing a number of different strategies to ensure survival.

Depending on the insect, diapause, freeze tolerance/avoidance, migration, and life cycle variations are methods that keep bugs crucial to Minnesota’s ecosystem alive for another season.


Diapause is a state of suspended metabolic activity brought upon by external stimuli. In other words, when the days begin to shorten, and before the temperatures drop severely, insects increase their resistance to environmental extremes by storing additional energy reserves for the long winter. Similar to higher animals that undergo hibernation, insects will find space underground, beneath debris, in galls (bulbous outgrowth on some plant tissue), or in cocoons.

While in their respective shelters, insects dramatically reduce their activity to prolong their stored energy. For some insects, diapause occurs only if certain environmental factors cause a hormone in the brain to halt production and temporarily pause at the embryonic, larval, pupal, or adult stages of life.

When environmental conditions once again become favorable, the same hormone production picks up and the insect goes on its merry way to the next life stage.


Here are examples of some insects that undergo diapause: 
  • Southwestern Corn Borer (late larval diapause)
  • Silkworm (embryonic diapause)
  • Gypsy month (late embryonic diapause)

Freeze Tolerance

Have you ever seen a science fiction movie where a character will cryogenically freeze or preserve themselves in low temperatures to be defrosted in exactly the same state years into the future? That’s kind of what some insects do to survive the winter temperatures.
Many species of insects have developed a tolerance to ice crystallization within the cells of the body to allow preservation through the cold winter months. Cryoprotectants, primarily glycerol, are small molecules within the fluids of the insects’ body that bind together and drop the internal freezing point of the insect. Freeze tolerance varies widely and can allow species such as the Alaskan beetle to survive at temperatures as low as -124°F.

Here are examples of some insects that are freeze tolerant.
  • Wooly bear
  • Flightless midge
  • Alpine cockroach
  • queen bumblebees

 Freeze Avoidance

"GoldenrodGallFlyLarva" by SriMesh - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GoldenrodGallFlyLarva.jpg#mediaviewer/File:GoldenrodGallFlyLarva.jpg

While some insects embrace the cold and turn their bodies to ice, others avoid freezing at all costs. Supercooling is one method that some insect species use to prevent from freezing internally. Supercooling can only occur when the fluids within the insect are so pure that ice crystallization cannot occur – ice formation is dependent on the presence of a particle on which to attach – therefore the fluids do not turn to ice and injury is prevented during the cold winter months. This allows the bodies of some insects to remain unfrozen in temperatures as low as -76°F.

Here are examples of some insects that are freeze avoidant:
  • Gall Moth
  • Pine beetle
  • Emerald Ash Borer
  • Aphids
  • Ticks


Monarch butterflies, like these flocking
to a blazing star bloom at our office in August,
migrate to warmer weather in the winter.
While some insects choose the hardy route and stick out the winter in subzero conditions, others choose to go someplace warmer. Migration is a technique that is used by a number of species, most notably monarch butterflies. During the summer months, adult monarchs mate and lay eggs which become the next generation. The last generation halts reproductive capabilities in order to make the southward journey. When October arrives, Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains fly south to mountain highlands near Mexico City. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains fly south to Santa Barbara, California. When the cold winter months are over, the last generation of monarchs that flew down south makes the return journey north.

Here are examples of insects that migrate in the winter:
  • Darner dragonfly
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Desert locust

In the End....

Though just a few overwintering techniques were listed, it is clear that insects have become highly evolved to withstand the same, if not worse conditions than we do. So next time you are feeling cold and you go to turn up the thermostat, think about the little things outside and be thankful.

Partnering with Faith Organizations for Clean Water, Phase 2

One of three rain gardens at Lakeview Lutheran Church, Maplewood.

The Board of Water Soil Resources (BWSR) is charged with allocating clean water project funds appropriated by the Legislature that are a result of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment. The end of January, the BWSR Board approved the allocation of more than $14 million in FY2015 Clean Water Fund Competitive Grants. Demand for
available funds was great as BWSR received 197 applications requesting $37 million. 

We are thrilled to announce that we received one Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment grant. 

We received $150,000 for Phase 2 of Partnering with Faith Organizations for Clean Water. We partnered with six churches in phase 1 and installed a total of 17 rain gardens and 5 native planting areas in Roseville and Maplewood. The grant for Phase 1 was awarded in 2013 and will be complete this spring. The purpose of Phase 2 is to identify additional churches in our watershed district for potential to install retrofit Best Management Practices (BMPs) that will assist the District in meeting stormwater volume and nutrient reduction goals. A good project site must meet physical requirements as well as be willing to partner with us on a project.

One of two rain gardens installed at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Roseville.

These projects will do wonders for helping us reach our goals of improving water quality in the District. We are excited to be given the chance to move forward with these projects. Without the Clean Water Fund none of these projects could happen!

For information on other awarded projects, please visit the BWSR website: http://bwsr.state.mn.us/cleanwaterfund/

Please visit
our website (scroll down on the front page until you see a logo like the one above) for information on current grant projects and make sure to check back to see the progress we’re making with this new grant.
Students from Farnsworth Elementary planting the rain gardens at Redeeming Love Church, Maplewood.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Blue Thumb and Metro Blooms Merge into One Non-Profit

Metro Blooms and Blue Thumb - Planting For Clean Water ® are merging into one non-profit. 

After months of careful deliberation, Metro Blooms and Blue Thumb are becoming one nonprofit organization operating under the name of Blue Thumb—Planting for Clean Water®. 

“Together, our organizations are uniquely positioned to realize our shared vision for clean water supported by beautiful and ecologically functional landscapes,” says Jessica Bromelkamp, Education, Outreach, and Communication Coordinator of the Rice Creek Watershed District.

A Metro Blooms/Blue Thumb tour of a raingarden that captures runoff from an alley in Minneapolis.

As a unified non-profit, this merger is intended to expand resources and increase growth potential because it will no longer confine the organization to a specific geographic area serving its taxpayers. Blue Thumb —Planting for Clean Water® will continue to seek and facilitate opportunities for collaboration among partners with a focus on beautiful, ecologically functional landscapes.

Here’s a summary of the shared vision, the challenges to be faced and impacts that Blue Thumb hopes to make:

A Shared Vision: Clean water resources supported by beautiful and ecologically functional landscapes that minimize runoff in cities, towns and suburbs.

The Challenge: The EPA defines runoff as the number one threat to water quality in our lakes and streams; however the general public is not aware of how runoff from their property impacts our clean water and ways they can make a difference.

Intended Impacts:
  • Measurable reductions in runoff and improved ecological benefits with properties that are transformed.
  • Community engagement and behavior change to bridge information and action.
  • Changes in the landscaping norms among professionals and property owners.

After supporting many raingarden projects with Blue Thumb Partner,
Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, School Program
Consultant, Tracy Leavenworth installs one in her own yard!

Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water was founded in 2006 as a program of the Rice Creek Watershed District. Blue Thumb includes more than 70 partners - watershed districts, cities, landscape design and build contractors, native plant nurseries, and environmental nonprofits – working together to promote native plantings, raingardens and shoreline plantings. The partnership’s impact has been recognized by the Star Tribune, the National Geographic-sponsored “Blue Legacy Tour, and clean water advocates across the country. 

Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District has been involved with Blue Thumb since its inception. Watershed staff have served on its steering committee since 2006.

Metro Blooms was originally a program of the City of Minneapolis and in 1983 became an independent nonprofit organization. In the years that followed, it launched programs including garden evaluation and recognition, raingarden workshops, and neighborhood-wide installation programs. In 2008, it adopted the name “Metro Blooms” to reflect its focus on restoring the ecological function of the urban landscape and its expanding geographical reach.

The Joint Visioning Committee established a set of criteria outlined below to address partner feedback, meet the goals of the shared vision to strengthen the partnership, and expand its impact. A number of organizational alternatives were analyzed before coming to an agreement that a fully merged, unified nonprofit organization would be the best structure to address the following criteria:

Organizational Criteria:  
  • Supports our shared vision to provide a one-stop assistance center for property owners in cities, towns and suburbs seeking information and assistance.
  • Supports the public-education aspect of our shared mission: workshops for the public and for professionals, online resources, events, programs, etc.
  • Supports a robust partnership network, with promotional opportunities for private-sector partners, public-sector agencies and nonprofit partners.
  • Clarifies and increases the value proposition and benefits for partners.
  • Supports opportunities for partners to collaborate and influence program content and design.
  • Expands our capacity to support communities, partners and individuals.
  • Provides financial transparency and accountability for all dollars raised and spent, and creates a sustainable financial/business model.
  • Maximizes effective and efficient use of our resources (financial and staff).
  • Maximizes our organizations’ (collective) positive reputations with clarity and timeliness.
  • Supports the success of all organizations (including partners’); is a “win-win” solution.

One of Metro Blooms many Neighborhood of Raingarden projects.
Achieving the shared vision for a unified nonprofit that will strengthen the collaboration and expand the Blue Thumb partnership will take the involvement of the many organizations that make up the Blue Thumb partnership. The next step is to define a governance structure that will help to meet the Organizational Criteria outlined above. Over the next year there will be many opportunities for partners to become involved in helping to shape a new Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water.
Here’s a link to partner benefits: http://bluethumb.org/files/2015_PartnerAgreement.pdf

To learn more about Blue Thumb go to
www.bluethumb.org. Contact: Becky Rice
(651) 865-0248,

Jessica Bromelkamp
(763) 398-3073,