Saturday, June 17, 2017

At Home on the Range...

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day.

For the past 2 years, Eric and I have been wanting to camp at Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne MN, but for one reason or another, it just didn't happen... until this past weekend. We made a reservation a few months early, and were set to go. And then when we were doing our last minute prep, I checked the DNR park website and read that the water was no good. It's positive for E. coli, and we can't drink or use it for brushing teeth or cooking. Oh no! Do we cancel, or do we go anyway? We decided to load as much water in as many Nalgene bottles we owned, and off we went!

What's the draw?

For me, it's the idea of hiking along side the buffalos that drew me in. After our great trip in Utah's antelope islands and seeing this majestic beasts wandering freely, lazily lying in the hundreds, I had to experience that again.  The more I read about Blue Mounds State Park, the more excited I got. The park is working with the Minnesota Zoo to breed genetically pure bison herd. As many of us know, this animal was already on the verge of extinction from hunting, and to save them, they were cross-bred with cows. Only by accident was it that the Blue Mounds herd remain free of cattle genetics. Conservationists found that 1% of the bison population was still pure. Now, as part of conservation efforts, at the annual roundup, the herd is thinned of those with less-than-pure bison genes. So, why were they trying to save bisons from extinction aside from the obvious reason of saving these beasts? It's said that farmers were hoping to produce "superior" beef animal that could withstand the harsh winters in the Great Plains....but it didn't quite work out as the crossbreeds were still smaller and not as adaptable as they had hoped. So, it wasn't really for pure altruistic reasons. With the conservation efforts in Blue Mounds, which has been expanded to Minneopa State Park, there's a few hundreds of bisons now in MN. Eventually, I hope these bisons will wander freely in Blue Mounds' prairie just as in Utah's antelope islands. 

What else did we see?

On the way to Blue Mounds, you'll see hundreds, or seemingly thousands, of windmills dotting the plains. At the site, we were surprised by the circularly cleared area on our camp ground. Apparently, teepees used to be on there. Heard, but not seen, were coyotes howling in the middle of the night.

"Giant pinwheels!"

Tamar spotted prickly pear cactus, which was such a great surprise for her! Maya loved seeing the "big red rocks "along the hiking paths. The flora is definitely different from what we normally hike - a sea of prairie grasses and flowers dotting the trails. It was hot, in the upper 90s, but was breezy.  First, we hiked on top of the quartzite cliff, and made our way down on a gradual descending trail to view the cliff from below on our way back.

The state park is named after the roughly 1 mile long Sioux Quartzite bedrock, and has been referred to as the Stonehenge in America. It's actually pink, not blue, but supposedly appeared blue to early settlers, hence the name. It is said that the sunrise and sunset on the spring and fall equinox closely align with the wall’s east-west orientation. There's an Eagle Rock point along the trail where you can see miles in every direction
 - in one corner, Iowa, and South Dakota in another.

Natural rock amphitheater made of quartzite

Bison jump?

Native Americans are said to herd bison and drive them over the cliff when hunting. So, was this true at Blue Mounds? No one knows. What I've read is that there has been claims of piles of bones at the base of the cliff, but no evidence to date to corroborate it.

Sioux Quartzite

Did we see Bison?

You see, there's never a guarantee that you'll see them in the park. The park range is expansive; There is a viewing deck, where you may be able to spot these animals from afar, and I would have gone there if we didn't chance upon them. By pure coincidence, we got on a trail we didn't intend to hike, and in spite of the hundreds of acres of roaming land, the herd was lounging next to the flimsy fence close to the path. SO close... I could almost touch them. But that would be reckless... and so not smart.

Why the fascination with bison in the wild? I don't know. I guess it reminds me of the story of the Last Unicorn, but it's real life, and the experience leaves me very hopeful for humankind.

B. bison, found only in North America, has rebounded from extinction. Whew!

After 6 miles of hiking, and short on water, we went back to camp for well-earned dinner, smores and origami!

Second day

Since the first day was already adventure-filled, and the tiny legs were tired, we decided to take it easy on the 2nd day. We took a short hike at Touch the Sky prairie, where all you see throughout are tall  grasses. We did see one bouncing, long-tailed deer! And the trail led to a delightfully hidden small waterfalls.

Hidden falls after a short 1.3 mi hike

3rd day, Fun day!

We decided to take a ride to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to check out Falls park and treat the kids to the Butterfly House and Aquarium. The drive was short, and the waterfall was impressive.  In contrast, the butterfly house and aquarium was smaller than I expected. Nevertheless, the kids had a great time touching the sharks, rays, and starfishes. It was definitely a highlight for them, and I'm glad we went.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Swimming with the fishes!
On the way back, we passed by Minnesota's Largest Candy Store, and boy, we were all like kids in a candy store! Definitely a sweet treat to end a sweet camping trip.
Biggest candy store in MN

And because it's Father's Day tomorrow, I want to give a shout out to the guy who introduced me to the FUN that is camping. It's been a real adventure, my dear!

This earthly life is a battle,' said Ma. 'If it isn't one thing to contend with, it's another. It always has been so, and it always will be. The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you are, and more thankful for your pleasures.  
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why should I care about the EPA?

Remember CFCs? Perhaps not.  I remember the big hullabaloo when I was little on how hairspray was supposed to be bad for the environment. Perhaps it was before my time, but the rumor was these hairspray contained Chloroflourocarbons (CFCs), which rise into the stratosphere, and break down by ultraviolet rays releasing free chlorine, which reacts with oxygen to destroy the ozone layer. Whew.  In spite of the “in” thing to do which was to spike hair, and act like mini-Debbie Gibson, I skipped the hairspray trend for the most part of high school.  Even then, I understood how one spritz a day was likely to affect future outcomes. Later on, I found out that the EPA had actually banned CFCs, though the news traveled to my country late and not mandated immediately.

The role of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes beyond ensuring a ‘clean’ and sustainable environment; as importantly, it works to ensure a ‘healthy’ and ‘safe’ environment. Some chemicals pose risks to both humans and the environment. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Pollution Prevention Act, EPA evaluates potential risks from new and existing chemicals and finds ways to prevent or reduce pollution before it gets into the environment.  

Toxicology as a science has grown exponentially since the 1960s, predicated by: 1) the discovery of teratogenic responses of Thalidomide 2) effects of chemicals in the environment and exposure of employees resulting in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1977 and Occupational Safety Health Act of 1970, and 3) improprieties of pharmaceutical industries in assessing toxicity studies, which resulted in the Good Laboratory Practice Regulations of 1978.  The impact of #1 and #3 were pharmaceutical-focused, whereas #2 impacted the chemical, oil, and manufacturing industries.  TSCA (#2) was first passed in 1977 to help keep dangerous chemicals off the market and avoid making people sick. In 2016, Point #2 (TSCA) was reformed, the first major update to an environmental statute in 20 years. However, it fell short of giving EPA the authority to take the actions necessary to protect people from toxic chemicals. Diverse stakeholders from industry, retailers, public health and environmental experts recognized these deficiencies and began to demand major reforms to the law. Forty years after TSCA was enacted, there are still tens of thousands of chemicals on the market that have never been evaluated for safety, because TSCA did not require it. Why not? Because the onus lies on the EPA to show that a certain substance is a risk. The law only lets the EPA t
est whether a chemical is toxic if companies have already shown the agency that the substance causes harm.  During the first Bush Administration, EPA tried to ban asbestos under TSCA, but the rule was overturned in court.  In TSCA’s 40-year history, only a few out of tens of thousands of chemicals on the market have ever been reviewed for health impacts, and less than 10 have ever been banned. With last year’s reform in place, prior to the election, robust data on chemical uses and exposures were being required; a registry of health- and safety-related studies along with details of the methods used is established to ensure public trust was recommended.   However, the current Executive Order further undermines the role of the EPA, putting us back to the time of pre-ban of Dioxin, Asbestos, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). 

The current Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” established a federal policy “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the American people. Ahem, #2? Further, it asks that the Task Force “attempt to identify regulations that:

  • (i) Eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation;
  • (ii) are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective;
  • (iii) impose costs that exceed benefits;
  • (iv) create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies;
  • (v) are inconsistent with the requirements of section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriates Act, 2001 (44 U.S.C. 3516 note), or the guidance issued pursuant to that provision in particular those regulations that rely in whole or in part on data, information, or methods that are not publicly available or that are insufficiently transparent to meet the standard of reproducibility; or
  • (vi) derive from or implement Executive Orders or other Presidential directives that have been subsequently rescinded or substantially modified
I say, EPA must be empowered instead.  Per this article, "Federal policy reform should establish floors, not ceilings, for state government action and should only preclude state actions that are less protective of health or the environment. “ EPA’s purview goes beyond climate change, it covers human and environmental health. Speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongue. Speak for the future generation, for they have no tongue yet either. Save the EPA, and you save yourself.

All you need
Please take a moment to make a statement about why EPA regulations matter to you. Here's an opportunity for your voice to be heard.