Sand Mine Company Restoring Dunes

Anyone who drives a car in North America likely has
an engine block molded from sand. Fairmount Minerals supplies 400-thousand tons a year of industrial sand to manufacturers like Ford Motor. Fairmount prides itself as an environmentally responsible company. Now they’re going beyond what’s required to restore land for wildlife. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bob Allen reports:

Transcript

Anyone who drives a car in North America likely has an engine block molded from sand. Fairmount Minerals supplies 400,000 tons a year of industrial sand to manufacturers like Ford Motor. Fairmount prides itself as an environmentally responsible company. Now they’re going beyond what’s required to restore land for wildlife. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bob Allen reports:


“Okay, we’ll go all the way to the east side of the property…”


Craig Rautiola comes from a family of Finnish rock miners in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He looks like he could have played linebacker on his high school football team. Now he manages four sand mines for Fairmount Minerals near the Lake Michigan shore.


“You can see a front-end loader on your right, it’s just doing a little cleanup work right now…”


Rautiola’s red Ford pick-up bounces over a rough track past a network of conveyor belts, pipelines, and silos, and 100-foot-high pile of sand. The 350-acre site is called Wexford Sand.


(Sound of heavy machinery)


Previous owners dug into the gently rolling hills to remove the sand, then left the land exposed, but Rautiola says his company has a different approach.


“We have a vision of the future that we can run a responsible operation and make a reasonable profit and provide a good product to society, but we can do so in a way that we can restore land to better than original. And we really believe that. I know that sounds like some marketing statement but we really believe that we can do a better job with this piece of land than versus the way we accepted it in the beginning.”


But to get at the sand operators still have to clear about five acres of woods a year. They used to put back the topsoil, grade the land, plant some grass and call it good. Now Rautiola says they’re getting more creative.


“We’re getting a lot more sophisticated in how we define restoration. Restoration today means getting creative with our topography trying to create water features, trying to get diverse with plant species, diverse with insect life.”


The restoration includes a series of ponds kept aerated to support fish and amphibians year around.
There’s an irrigated nursery where three thousand seedlings are under cultivation to see which ones will thrive.


Rautiola used to count success by watching deer and wild turkey return, but now he sees songbirds and shorebirds as indicators of restoration that’s working. That’s because birds require diverse habitat.


“This mature forest might be great for a scarlet tanager, but an indigo bunting would rather be over in the blackberry bushes. Over to the north we had over a hundred bank swallows just a month ago. We’re trying to attract other threatened species like osprey.”


Rautiola brought in experts to show him how to get more diversity on the site. One of them is Kay Charter. She started Saving Birds Through Habitat. The group runs a small wildlife education center in northern Michigan.


Charter says native species of grasses, plants, and trees produce the most diversity. They attract a variety of insects preferred by birds and other small critters.


“You’re going to have Yellow Warblers in here, you’ll have Common Yellowthroats in here, you’ll have Willow Flycatchers in here, you’ll have all kinds of things in there… Catbirds.”


Charter has documented forty species of songbirds and shorebirds nesting at Wexford Sand. She says that’s pretty amazing for an industrial site, but she insists the effort is necessary to lessen the impact on wildlife. She notes some worldwide populations of songbirds have declined fifty percent in the last forty years.


“I think it’s important for the future of our planet. We all have to be involved in conservation or we’re in greater trouble than we’re in today because mining does take something out of the land. But if you can put it back in a way that is used by many species then you don’t leave the footprint that you might otherwise have left.”


Fairmount Minerals has given Craig Rautiola free reign to restore the site at Wexford Sand, and he’s going all out with the effort because he believes it’s the right thing to do.
Kay Charter of Saving Birds Through Habitat hopes the company’s commitment catches on with the whole industry.


“I think it can give all of us hope that business and corporations and companies in this country aren’t all filled with greedy people at the top.”


On a ridge perched eighty feet above the floor of the sand mine is a stand of one-hundred-year-old sugar maples. Underneath the trees is a million dollars worth of sand in today’s market. And they say it’ll stay there. What they call “Maple Island” will be the centerpiece of their restoration.


For the GLRC, I’m Bob Allen.

Related Links

Gardeners Have Hand in Invasive Species Control

  • Centaurea diffusa a.k.a. Spotted knapweed. Introduced in the late 1800's, knapweed can reduce diversity in the region's prairies. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but if they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests, lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Gardeners have been ordering new plants and digging in the dirt this spring, but, if
they’re not careful, they could be introducing plants that can cause havoc with forests,
lakes, and other natural areas. Gardeners can’t count on their suppliers to warn them
about plants that can damage the local ecosystems. In another report in the series “Your
Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Gardening, especially flower gardening, seems to get more popular all the time. Maybe
it’s because the baby-boomers have all reached that age where they’re beginning to
appreciate stopping for a moment to smell the roses.


That’s fine. In fact if gardeners plant the right kinds of plants… it can be great for
wildlife. There are all kinds of guides for backyard natural areas.


But… in some cases… gardeners can unleash plant pests on the environment.


Katherine Kennedy is with the Center for Plant Conservation. She says almost all of the
problem plants that damage the native ecosystems were planted with good intentions…


“I don’t believe that any invasive species has ever been introduced into the United States
on purpose by someone who willingly said, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be a problem, but I
don’t care.’ They’ve almost all been inadvertent problems that were introduced by
someone who thought they were doing something good or who thought they were
bringing in something beautiful.”


English ivy, a decorative ground cover, is now killing forests in the Pacific Northwest…
kudzu is doing the same in the southeast… and in the Great Lakes region and the
Midwest… pretty flowering plants such as purple loosestrife and water plants such as
Eurasian watermilfoil are causing damage to wetlands, crowding out native plants and
disturbing the habitat that many wildlife species need to survive.


Bob Wilson works in the Michigan Senate Majority policy office. Like many other
states, Michigan is looking at legislation to ban certain problem plants. Wilson agrees
that these plant pests are generally not intentional… but they do show that people seem to
unaware of the problems that they’re causing…


“The two most common vectors for bringing in these kinds of plants are typically
landscapers, who bring it in as a way of decorating yards and lawns, and then aquarium
dumpers, people who inadvertently dump their aquarium, thinking that there’s no
consequence to that. Before you know it, something that was contained is now spread.”


But stopping the import of pest plants is a lot harder than just passing laws that ban them.
With mail order and Internet orders from large nurseries so common, the plants can get
shipped to a local nursery, landscaper or local gardener without the government ever
knowing about it.


Recently, botanists, garden clubs, and plant nursery industry groups put together some
codes of conducts. Called the St. Louis Protocol or the St. Louis Declaration… the
document set out voluntary guidelines for the industry and gardeners to follow to avoid
sending plants to areas where they can cause damage.


Sarah Reichard is a botanist with the University of Washington. She helped put the St.
Louis Protocol together. She says if a nursery signs on to the protocol, it will help stop
invasive plant species from being shipped to the wrong places….


“And it’s up to each of the nursery owners, particularly those who sell mail order or
Internet, to go and find out which species are banned in each state.” LG: And is that
happening?
“Uh, I think most nursery people are pretty responsible and are trying to
do the best that they can. I’m sure that they’re very frustrated and understandably so
because the tools aren’t really out there for them and it is very difficult to find the
information. So, it’s a frustrating situation for them.”


But in preparing this report, we found that some of the biggest mail-order nurseries had
never heard of the St. Louis protocol. And many of the smaller nurseries don’t have the
staff or resources to check out the potential damage of newly imported plants… or even
to check out each state to make sure that banned plants aren’t being sent inadvertently.


Sarah Reichard says that means gardeners… you… need to do some homework before
ordering that pretty flowering vine. Is it banned in your state? Is it a nuisance that could
cause damage? Reichard says if enough gardeners care, they can make a difference…


“You know, gardeners have tremendous power. We, you know, the people that are
buying the plants at the nurseries – that’s what it’s all about. I mean, the nurseries are
there to provide a service to provide plants to those people and if those people have
certain tastes and demands such as not wanting to buy and plant invasive species, the
nurseries are going to respond to it. So, we’re all part of one team.”


Reichard and others concerned about the problem say although agencies are working on
it… the federal government has not yet done enough to effectively stop invasives from
being imported and shipped to the wrong areas. They say it’s up to the nurseries, the
botanists, and the gardeners to stop them. If not, we’ll all pay in tax money as
government agencies react to invasives with expensive eradication programs to try to get
rid of the plants invading parks, preserves, and other natural areas.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

GARDENERS HAVE HAND IN INVASIVE SPECIES CONTROL (Short Version)

  • Centaurea diffusa a.k.a. Spotted knapweed. Introduced in the late 1800's, knapweed can reduce diversity in the region's prairies. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

Gardeners are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

http://environmentreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2004/05/graham2_053104.mp3

Transcript

Gardeners are being asked to be careful about what they plant. Invasive species that
cause damage to natural areas often start as a pretty plant in someone’s yard. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Botanists, plant nurseries and gardeners are all being asked to do a little more homework
before importing, selling, or planting new kinds of plants. Katherine Kennedy is with the
Center for Plant Conservation. She says some of the plants you mail order from the
nursery can end up being invasive kinds of plants that damage the local ecosystem…


“We are actually at a point where these invasions crowd out the native community, not
just a species or two, but the entire community. And the wildlife value falls and the
native plants are displaced. And, so, the destructive potential for a species that becomes
truly invasive is more immense than I think many people realize.”


Kennedy says you can’t count on the nursery to warn you when you order plants. She
says gardeners have to make sure the plants they’re ordering won’t hurt the surrounding
landscape.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Cloning Trees to Preserve History

People who do historic restoration have been taking advantage of cloning technology. Historic trees are being cloned to help preserve and restore historic landscapes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:

Transcript

People who do historic restoration have been taking advantage of
cloning technology. Historic trees are being cloned to help preserve and
restore historic landscapes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar
Charney reports:


Michigan’s Fort Mackinac is a military fortress from the American
Revolution. In the mid 1800’s, soldiers stationed there planted a row of eight
sugar maples lining the fort’s parade ground. But these trees are now old
and dying.


Phil Porter is a curator who’s worked at Fort Mackinac for over
30 years. He says he was sad and concerned that they would soon lose this
living link to the fort’s past. So he decided to have the trees cloned.


“We think that by cloning them, by going to that very high level of
reproducing what is there now we can do the most accurate job of
reproducing the environment, the right looking trees, and putting them
back in the same place.”


While the clones won’t look any different from a sugar maple seedling
bought at a nursery, keeping the genes of a historic tree alive through
cloning seems to appeal to people. There are tree cloning projects
underway in Massachusetts, Maryland, and even Australia to help replicate
historic trees people have a connection to.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.

Invasive Insect Laying Waste to Area Trees

Scientists are working to control a new non-native beetle that’s destroying hundreds of thousands of ash trees in the Midwest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

Transcript

Scientists are working to control a new non-native beetle that’s destroying hundreds of
thousands of ash trees in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Erin Toner reports:


The Emerald Ash Borer is native to Asia, and probably made its way to the United States
through wood packing materials. Therese Poland is an entomologist with the
USDA. She says so far, the beetles have destroyed 100 thousand ash trees in southeastern
Michigan and southern Ontario.


“We think it’s been here for at least five years and even with some of the other exotic
beetles that have been discovered in recent years, when they were first discovered they
weren’t as widespread as this.”


Poland says there’s a quarantine over the infested areas to keep the beetles from moving
to new areas. Officials are inspecting nurseries to make sure they’re not selling infested
trees. They’re also checking whether tree care companies are disposing of trees properly.
But officials admit they probably won’t be able to stop people who unknowingly transport
infested firewood or yard waste.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.