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Back to Basics: Solutions to invasives, climate change offered

Rebecca Bronder distributes rock wool sprouted plants to her hydroponics class at Back to Basics, Jan. 27.1 / 5
In the Back to Basics vendor fair Erik Bresnahan and Seren Bresnahan watch as Jackie Horan of For the love of Goats spins yarn.2 / 5
During the Back to Basics keynote presentation, Ann Hutchings of Jenkins looks at a preserved sample of an invasive species.3 / 5
Erik Heimark of Maple Ridge Produce demonstrates the process of bread making at Back to Basics Jan. 27.4 / 5
Mark Schultz of Backwoods Basics described a process for creating a self watering container garden using a float valve in a box.5 / 5

Keynote speakers at Happy Dancing Turtle's Back to Basics event turned invasive species and climate change into interesting topics by employing musical interludes to break up their PowerPoint slides.

Philip Hunsicker and Mike Duval, members of Hans Blix and the Weapons Inspectors musical band and professionals with the Department of Natural Resources, gave a presentation Saturday, Jan. 27, at Pine River-Backus School in which they spoke on two growing problems affecting Minnesotans, specifically climate change and invasive species.

The pair borrowed from Bob Dylan by adapting song lyrics to the discussion, performing "The Climate Sure is A-Changing," "It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall" (with modified lyrics) and an original blues inspired number called the "Invasive Species Blues."

Climate change

Duval focused on climate discussion while asking attendees questions regarding climate change. By a show of hands, attendees indicated that most believed in climate change but there were mixed opinions on the cause of it, which resembled results of research by Yale across the country.

Duval presented on the science of climate change, as well as evidence from global, national and local resources, including Mark Seeley's "Minnesota Weather Almanac."

Seeley reported a trend in his 2006 book of warmer winter nighttime temperatures with more snow in recent years.

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Duval explained that while the current cold weather and snow may cause people to doubt climate change, those are examples of short-term extreme weather events that do not show the whole picture.

"It's important to think about our place and make the distinction between extreme weather and climate," Duval said. "By looking out our window we cannot really make a judgment about climate change."

Duval gave examples of changes in long-term weather and temperature patterns that in recent years have resulted in later and later ice-in events, earlier ice-out events, changes in local planting zones, an increase in extreme storms, and recurring abnormal winter temperatures. Duval said that five of the warmest winters on record have occurred since 1987, while only one record cold event has happened since then.

Duval also showed a graph indicating that the frequency of severe storms in the Midwest is increasing exponentially.

He said these changes could result in changes for wildlife like moose, weather patterns, fire seasons, rain levels and even changes to aquatic systems that could include increases in algae and weed growth.

Invasive species

Hunsicker followed Duval's presentation with conversation on invasive species, naturally speaking about such locally relevant species as zebra mussels and Eurasian water milfoil.

Hunsicker defined invasive species as things that are non-native and cause harm. Hunsicker said invasives:

  • Are generalists that are adaptable to many conditions.
  • Are aggressive and outcompete natives for food and space.
  • Reproduce rapidly.
  • Have no local natural predators, diseases or parasites to keep them in check.

This list of criteria meant that certain non-native species are not considered invasive, such as pheasants, which come from China but don't have the aggression needed for them to outcompete native species.

Invasives are so resilient, adaptable and aggressive that Hunsicker said there has been a case of zebra mussels thriving in and damaging the plumbing of a toilet when homeowners on an infested lake used lake water to flush their toilets during a power outage. Later the mussels were found to have created a blockage and destroyed the seals in the home's plumbing.

Hunsicker also debunked several common beliefs, including the belief that migrating birds are responsible for many infestations. Hunsicker said it's uncommon to find an invasive species in a body of water that has no human access, even those near already infested waters, which suggests that invasive species travel by "highways not flyways," which is why Minnesota implemented a law requiring boats and equipment to be cleaned and drained before transportation, with all foliage and unwanted water being disposed of.

This law applies in ways that some people might not realize. For example, bait cannot be transported from one lake to another in lake water. If bait is to be transported between bodies of water, it must be transported using water from a tap to prevent invasive species transportation.

Furthermore, people might not be aware that docks, boat lifts and swim rafts must be out of the water for 21 days before being transported between bodies of water. Hunsicker said online sales of lake shore equipment are suspected sources of invasive species. For that reason the DNR recommends all docks, lifts and rafts be sold in the early spring after sitting out of the water all winter.

Hunsicker wrapped up by warning of possibly less-known contamination sources such as canoes and kayaks being portaged between bodies of water, anchor lines that are often tangled in weeds, scuba gear that has many nooks and crannies, duck decoys, waders and even fishing line that can sometimes become coated in a slime belonging to spiny water fleas.

Furthermore, he warned of four invasives that have not been found in Minnesota yet, specifically quagga mussels (which can outcompete even zebra mussels), Hydrilla, a fish disease called VHS and the snakehead fish, which can live out of water for days and wriggle to travel across land.

Conclusion

Hunsicker and Duval finished on an optimistic note, stating that individual citizens have more power to affect climate change and invasive species than they likely realize.

They used the ozone layer as an example. In 1958, researchers found a hole in the ozone layer, and world governments took action to ban refrigerants that were believed to be responsible. Today the ozone layer is recovering, with a prediction that the damage will be repaired by 2025.

"We need to adapt to a changing future but that doesn't mean we should be complacent," Hunsicker said.

Duval said that buildings, including residential homes, contribute significantly to energy use and carbon footprints. Between energy saving practices at home and simply upgrading to vehicles with improved efficiency, the average American can realistically contribute to improving the global climate. Individuals can even go so far as to make themselves heard by their politicians. They admonished the crowd to not wait for public policy.

"You can do this. We can do this. This is a solvable problem and we need to do this," Duval said.

In the invasive species world, Hunsicker said the average Minnesotan is already doing his or her part to prevent spread. According to enforcement and watercraft inspection results, only 3 percent of anglers and watercraft owners are ignoring Minnesota's rules for preventing spread of invasive species.

The state itself has become a beacon for other states by establishing a $1 million fund that is distributed for the prevention of invasive species by the state Legislature.

"These are actually problems we know how to solve," Hunsicker said. "We know what it takes to keep invasive species from moving around. We know what it takes to lower our carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. We just need to do it. There aren't many problems out there where we know what the solutions are."

Following the keynote speakers, attendees were treated to workshops and lessons on such subjects as yoga, hydroponic gardening, industrial hemp growth, bread making, beekeeping and solar. There was an extensive vendor fair in the gym that was open to attendees and the general public.

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