Burning the Prairie at Spring Valley in Schaumburg: Melanie Blume Reports on Her SUST Internship Experience this Semester

Blume, MelanieThis is the 4th guest post by RU senior Melanie Blume, a SUST major who is interning with conservation and education staff at the Spring Valley Nature Center and the Volkening Heritage Farm near Roosevelt’s campus in Schaumburg IL. These excellent facilities are part of the 135-acre Spring Valley Conservation Area, the largest and most ecologically significant green space with the Village of Schaumburg limits, and are managed by the Schaumburg Park District. 

During the Spring 2015 semester, Melanie reflects on her work at Spring Valley on prairie conservation, seed propagation, invasive species identification and removal at the Nature Center; as well as on garden preparation, planting of their extensive vegetable garden, and contributing to Farm to Table programs with a focus on local food production at the Volkening Farm.

Fire is always fascinating. Most of the time its destructive power is heartbreaking, but in this prairie setting at Spring Valley, fire is life-renewing.

Fire allows the native grasses to flourish as the other nonnative plants, with their shallow roots, burn to ashes and become fertilizer for the native plants. Native prairie grasses have roots that go down 5-6 feet or more, so the burn really just clears out the dead to make room for new growth.

Burn crew 1On a recent day that we planned a prescribed burn, our first step was to gear up. We all put on these yellow suits that were fire retardant with matching yellow gloves. Also needed was a cotton face covering to reduce smoke inhalation and, to top it off, a helmet with a clear face shield. This resulted in feeling very hot, so its important not to wear thick clothing underneath the suit.

Then we prepared our equipment, which was a huge water tank that needed to be put on top of one of the gators (ATV) as well as fire racks (to spread the fire) and smotherers, which are poles with flat flaps at the end used to put out small fires by smothering them. About half of the crew wore water backpacks used to maintain the fire line. The experienced members of the burn team handled the two drip torches that were used to start and spread the fire in controlled lines.

The burn team was made up of a handful of conservation employees and the rest were volunteers. Almost anyone is welcome to join and they offer Saturday classes to become certified in prescribed burns. It’s that easy to be a part of something that cool! Visit the Spring Valley volunteer website to find out about this training and other volunteer opportunities. Since this was my first burn, I was assigned to smothering while monitoring my perimeter of the burn area.

Prescribed burn at SVNC, Schaumburg IL, Apr 2015 (photo: M. Blume)

Prescribed burn at SVNC, Schaumburg IL, Apr 2015 (photo: M. Blume)

The designated leader is referred to as the Burn Boss. Following his lead we walked the perimeter of the burn area before we began and saw at least two garter snakes that we relocated across the burn break. A burn break is a thick strip that’s been mowed so the fire won’t spread beyond the prescribed area. Fire by its nature needs three things: oxygen, fuel, and a spark. By clearing the grasses in that strip, we were removing the fuel part of the equation and thus keeping it contained.

Then we used the water tank on the gator to make a damp boundary to separate the fire from going toward the buildings that were a few football fields away. I was amazed at how many precautions we took — it truly is a controlled fire in every aspect.

On the advance planning side of things, a series of permits and “day of” notifications are required by the local township. This prevents the fire department and police departments from being overwhelmed by concerned calls about the huge smoke cloud billowing from Spring Valley. We also put signs up asking the public to stay out of the area and checked to make sure no-one was walking on the paths before we started. The conditions have to be just right for a prescribed burn, from the wind speed and direction to the wetness of the ground.

Prescribed burn at SVNC, Schaumburg IL, Apr 2015 (photo: M. Blume)

Prescribed burn at SVNC, Schaumburg IL, Apr 2015 (photo: M. Blume)

We picked a great day. It was a sunny day with a high of 62 and medium wind speeds (~8mph); and because we knew the wind direction we could compensate by making larger burn breaks in areas that could allow the fire spread farther from the wind. The ground was a bit damp but the vegetation atop was nice and dry from the morning sun.

To begin, the burn boss and another experienced crewmember started two lines of flank fires. Once they grasses caught fire they burned very quickly; it was obvious that without any more fuel to burn most of the fires go out by themselves. Because the grasses were already at my eye level, the fires towered about 12 feet in the air. Unfortunately I could only take pictures when I wasn’t actively guarding my fire line so the fire pictures are from quite a distance. The more moisture in the ground the more smoke is produced. There were certainly areas that produced much more smoke than others. While the mask helped, the smoke was still getting to me. I was grateful these fires burn quickly with how much smoke they produced.

Another thing we did to prep the area was weed-whacking around the trees in the prescribed area. This keeps the fire from burning so close to them, despite most of the oaks there having thick bark that’s evolved around these types of periodic burns. But it was cool to watch how the fire didn’t actually reach the trees because of this prep work. This is where the birds found shelter after circling around anxiously as the fire was roaring. Most of the prairie wildlife escapes the prescribed area once the burning starts.

RU's Melanie Blume with her protective gear on at Spring Valley Nature Center, Apr 2015

RU’s Melanie Blume with her protective gear on at Spring Valley Nature Center, Apr 2015

The whole fire ordeal lasted about 45 minutes. Afterwards we checked the area thoroughly for any fires still smoldering, specifically large pieces of wood from fallen dead branches that could burn for hours if left alone. For these we used the water backpacks and heard the sssttss of the fire being extinguished. Walking on a field of ashes produces little ash clouds with each footstep, and I saw later how that ash reached beyond my many clothing layers to leave my feet and legs covered with a layer of dirt and ash.

I’ve always wanted to see a prescribed burn in action, and now I can say I’ve been a part of a burn crew. Hopefully they’ll call me back when the conditions are right again!

Melanie Blume, submitted 14 April 2015

Posted in biodiversity, conservation, ecology, education, food, history, Illinois, internships, parks and public land, restoration, Roosevelt, science, service, students, suburbs | Leave a comment

Join us Earth Day 4/22 at the 2015 SUST Student Symposium at RU’s Chicago Campus

In celebration of Earth Week, please join the Sustainability Studies Program at Roosevelt University for a special afternoon symposium of student research on Wednesday, April 22nd, from 3-5:30pm in RU’s LEED Gold-certified Wabash Building at 425 S. Wabash Ave. in downtown Chicago (room 616). Students in Roosevelt’s SUST program will share their recent internship and research experiences in a forum that is open to all RU students, faculty, and staff as well as the general public.

Featured Student Speakers

Blume, MelanieMelanie Blume is a senior SUST major at Roosevelt University, where she has taken most of her classes online. For her SUST 395 Internship this spring 2015 semester, she is working with conservation and education staff at the Spring Valley Nature Center and the Volkening Heritage Farm near Roosevelt’s campus in Schaumburg IL. These excellent facilities are part of the 135-acre Spring Valley Conservation Area, the largest and most ecologically significant green space with the Village of Schaumburg limits, and are managed by the Schaumburg Park District. During the Spring 2015 semester, Melanie has reflected on her experiences as a guest blogger. She’s done everything from seeding native plants to making wine (1880s-style) to helping with a prescribed burn of the SV prairie.

Rebecca Quesnell working for environmental justice in Appalachia during her internship with SAMS in southwest Virginia (July 2014)

Rebecca Quesnell is a senior SUST major at Roosevelt University with a double-minor in Environmental Science and Pyschology. She has worked as an environmental sustainability associate in RU’s Physical Resources Department since last spring, but also found time to pursue an environmental justice internship in Appalachia, VA, with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in the summer of 2014, which she reported on for the SUST blog. We don’t know if she’ll have that sandwich board as part of her presentation, but you never know!

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski work in the RU community garden, summer 2014

SUST senior Mary Rasic also has worked as an environmental sustainability associate in the RU Physical Resources Department since the summer of 2014, where she is based at the Schaumburg Campus and has, among her many projects and duties, managed the RU Community Garden during its 3rd growing season last year and has been deeply involved in the landscape redevelopment and restoration projects at the SCH Campus. That’s Mary on the left, working in the garden last summer with her fellow intern, Kevin Markowski. Nice shades!

RU student and SUST major Emily Rhea works in the chemistry lab at Columbia College on a Microcosm ocean acidification experiment, Nov. 2014 (photo: M. Hoffman)

Emily Rhea, a junior SUST major, has been working as a science research intern on Prof. Michele Hoffman’s Microcosm film project this year. During the Spring 2015 semester, Emily reported to the SUST blog on her experiences conducting experiments designed to simulate the acidification of the ocean, one of the profoundly worrisome impacts of global climate change on sea chemistry and, therefore, marine biodiversity. Her work is part of that done by several SUST majors the last couple of years on Prof. Hoffman’s exciting interdisciplinary film project. Emily not only has good titration technique (see photo at left), but is an engaging and enthusiastic presenter, as well!

Come join us to learn about and celebrate these students’ work! This event is free — but kindly RSVP to SUST Program Director Mike Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu) your plans to attend. Hope to see you there!

  • Date/Time:  Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 / 3-5:30pm
  • Agenda:  Refreshments served and pleasant hobnobbing begins at 3pm; presentations start promptly at 3:30pm; event concludes at 5:30pm (with more chit-chat and eating)
  • Place:  RU’s Wabash Building, 425 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago IL, room 616
  • RSVP:  SUST Director Mike Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu)
Posted in activities, education, events, internships, presentations, research, Roosevelt, science, students | Leave a comment

Prescribed Burn at RU’s Schaumburg Campus Scheduled for this Week

As part of Roosevelt University’s commitment to restoring a healthy prairie ecosystem at our Schaumburg Campus, we will be conducting a prescribed burn of the Campus native prairie this week. The date will be determined by the weather.

The first prescribed burn of the Schaumburg Campus detention pond, 13 April 2011 (photo: K. Franklin)

The first prescribed burn of the Schaumburg Campus detention pond, 13 April 2011 (photo: K. Franklin)

Fire has been used throughout history as a way to regulate our ecosystem by removing non-native species, improving habitats for native plants and animals and returning nutrients to the soil.

For more information, contact Thomas Shelton, Environmental Sustainability and Transportation Coordinator (tshelton@roosevelt.edu). See the RU Green Campus website for more information on our sustainability practices and activities.

Posted in activities, biodiversity, conservation, ecology, education, green design, restoration, Roosevelt, suburbs, wildlife | 1 Comment

EPA-Funded Fellowship Program for Undergraduates Offers Tuition Support & Research Internship

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowships program, is offering undergraduate fellowships for bachelor level students in environmental fields of study. The deadline for receipt of applications is May 19, 2015, at 11:59:59pm EST.  Subject to availability of funding and other applicable considerations, the Agency plans to award approximately 34 new fellowships.  Eligible students will receive support for their junior and senior years of undergraduate study and for an internship at an EPA facility during the summer of their junior year. The fellowship provides up to $20,700 per academic year of support and $8,600 of support for a three-month summer internship. The earliest anticipated start date for these awards is September 1, 2015.

Eligibility Information:

  1. Students must attend a fully accredited four-year U.S. college or university (located in the U.S. or its territories) for their last two years of undergraduate studies during the fellowship period.
  2. Students must also be citizens of the U.S. or its territories or possessions, or be lawfully admitted to the U.S. for permanent residence. Resident aliens must have their green card at the time of application.  Do not provide the green card number with your application; however, you may be asked to provide it at a later time to verify eligibility with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service of the Department of Homeland Security.
  3. The GRO Undergraduate Fellowship is intended for students entering their last two years of full-time study before obtaining their first bachelor’s degree.  Students who have already earned one bachelor’s degree and are pursuing additional degrees are not eligible.  The fellowship tenure is for two full academic years (9 months each) with a required paid internship during the summer after the first year. Thus, only students who will be entering their last two years of college will be considered eligible.
  4. Students must have at least a “B” average overall at the time of application submittal and during the tenure of the fellowship.
  5. In order to receive the fellowship, students must attend a fully accredited four-year U.S. institution of higher education. These schools must be listed as not highly funded for research and development capacity.  For the purposes of this solicitation, students attending those institutions receiving more than $35 million in annual federal research and development funding are ineligible to apply under this solicitation. Institutions who exceed this threshold can be identified in the National Science Foundation’s publication “Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions: FY 2012,” Page 37, Table 12, column 2. These data can be found at  Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions: FY 2012 (PDF) (260 pp, 4.78 MB, about PDF)
  6. At the time of application submittal, students attending two-year institutions or community colleges, as well as students not in attendance at an institution of higher education, may be eligible to apply. However, in order to receive the fellowship, students attending two-year institutions or community colleges or students not in attendance at the time of application will need to show evidence of having received their Associate’s degree, as well as demonstrating that they only have two years left of undergraduate studies for completion of the Bachelor’s degree, and that they have been accepted to attend an accredited eligible four-year institution. This requirement is considered satisfied if the student is transferring to an accredited eligible four-year institution which has an Articulation Agreement with the two-year institution, thus meaning that all credits will transfer towards requirements for the Bachelor’s degree.  See Section III.A. Eligible Applicants for further information.

The following application materials must be submitted:

Item 1. Application for Federal Assistance, Standard Form (SF) 424
Item 2. EPA Key Contacts Form (5700-54)
Item 3. Front Page
Item 4. Personal Statement
Item 5. Background Information:
Education & Relevant Experiences
Presentations
Course Work
Item 6. EPA Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS)
Item 7. Letters of Recommendation (submitted by reference letter writers)

 

For more detailed information and links to the application, please review this page on the EPA website.

 

Posted in education, fellowships, research, science, students | Leave a comment

Big Plans to Go Green for Earth Week 2015 at Roosevelt University, April 20-24

Earth Week / Bike2Campus Week is coming up at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg! All week from April 20 through 24, students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to get involved in many sustainability-related events.

Get On Your Bikes!

Bike and ManStudents, faculty, and staff are also encouraged to Bike2Campus all week! In order to prove that you are doing so, get onto www.bike2campus.com and fill out a sheet to show you have biked, and then, by proving it, you can earn some cool prizes. Let’s make a great showing for RU among all the colleges and universities participating in Chicago!

Track Your Sustainability!

All week long RU is sponsoring a Sustainable Action Competition (hashtag #RUEARTHWEEK2015) in which students, faculty, and staff and keep track of their sustainability efforts (i.e. recycling, reusing, reducing, service work, etc) by taking pictures and posting to the RU Green Campus Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram pages. Top winners will receive give-a-ways (those included for the Bike2Campus prizes, free large organic pizza from WB dining services, a DIVVY membership, or Kramer’s Gift Card, as well as some small give-a-ways (if there are any left at the end of the week).

electronics-recycling2Recycle Your E-Waste!

On the 14th floor of Wabash, all week long, there will be a box for EWaste (for any electronics, batteries, etc. that you would like to get rid of).

By putting any EWaste in here, versus throwing it out as trash, students help to bring down pollution and divert that waste from landfills.

Earth Week Event Schedule at Roosevelt

Monday, April 20: Screening and faculty-led discussion of the environmental documentary Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Join RU students, staff, and faculty members Bethany Barratt (Political Science), Kim Ruffin (English / Grad Studies), and Mike Bryson (Sustainability Studies) for conversation about this independent film (5pm in WB 1017, refreshments courtesy of the student organization RU Reforesting).

Tuesday, April 21: Food/juice tasting at Kramer’s Health Food Store and Café, 230 S. Wabash. Learn about the benefits of juicing as well as cutting (at least some) meat out of one’s diet, and stay for a demo on bike safety and basic maintenance. 3pm; meet in WB Lobby at 2:45pm, or just come over). Also, the School of the Art Institute will host a bike repair and safety workshop from 4-6pm on their campus (location TBA).

MaryBeth, Jordan, and Colleen at the Spring 2014 SUST Student Symposium (photo: M. Bryson)

MaryBeth, Jordan, and Colleen at the Spring 2014 SUST Student Symposium (M. Bryson)

Wednesday, April 22: Learn about the research and internships experiences of students in RU’s Sustainability Studies Program at the 3rd SUST Student Symposium at the Chicago Campus, 3-5:30pm. Enjoy stimulating conversation, pleasant hobnobbing, and free refreshments courtesy of RU’s Physical Resources department. Enjoy lively presentations by SUST majors Melanie Blume, Rebecca Quesnell, Mary Rasic, and Emily Rhea, and check our our past symposia here. RSVP to Prof. Mike Bryson at mbryson@roosevelt.edu (WB 616).

Thursday, April 23: WB Rooftop Garden workday at the Chicago Campus, 10am-5pm. Contribute a little time this day to prepping the growing plots for our rooftop garden! Volunteers can get their hands dirty for 1/2-hour time slots throughout the day by contacting Rebecca Quesnell (rquesnell@roosevelt.edu). Everyone at RU is invited to a reception from 5-7pm (room TBA), with RU Reforesting providing food, games, and give-a-ways.

Friday, April 24: In the works for Arbor Day — RUrbanPioneers Community Garden workday (contact Mary Rasic at mrasic@roosevelt.edu for more info) at the Schaumburg Campus; student sustainable living (friendly) competition, both campuses. More info on this coming soon!

Posted in activities, biking, community, education, events, recycling, Roosevelt, students | Leave a comment

Celebrate Earth Week 2015 at Roosevelt University, April 20-24

Earth Week / Bike2Campus Week is coming up at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg! All week from April 20 through 24, students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to get involved in many sustainability-related events.

Get On Your Bikes!

Bike and ManStudents, faculty, and staff are also encouraged to Bike2Campus all week! In order to prove that you are doing so, get onto www.bike2campus.com and fill out a sheet to show you have biked, and then, by proving it, you can earn some cool prizes. Let’s make a great showing for RU among all the colleges and universities participating in Chicago!

Recycle Your E-Waste!

On the 14th floor of Wabash, all week long, there will be a box for EWaste (for any electronics, batteries, etc. that you would like to get rid of). By putting any EWaste in here, versus throwing it out as trash, students help to bring down pollution and divert that waste from landfills.

Earth Week Events at Roosevelt

Monday, April 20: Screening and faculty-led discussion of the environmental documentary Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Join RU students, staff, and faculty members Bethany Barratt (Political Science), Kim Ruffin (English / Grad Studies), and Mike Bryson (Sustainability Studies) for conversation about this independent film (5pm in WB 1017, refreshments served),

Tuesday, April 21: Food/juice tasting at Kramer’s Health Food Store and Café, 230 S. Wabash. Learn about the benefits of juicing as well as cutting (at least some) meat out of one’s diet, and stay for a demo on bike safety and basic maintenance. 3pm; meet in WB Lobby at 2:45pm, or just come over). Also, the School of the Art Institute will host a bike repair and safety workshop, time/place TBA.

MaryBeth, Jordan, and Colleen at the Spring 2014 SUST Student Symposium (photo: M. Bryson)

MaryBeth, Jordan, and Colleen at the Spring 2014 SUST Student Symposium (M. Bryson)

Wednesday, April 22: Learn about the research and internships experiences of students in RU’s Sustainability Studies Program at the 3rd SUST Student Symposium at the Chicago Campus, 3-5:30pm. Enjoy stimulating conversation, pleasant hobnobbing, and free refreshments courtesy of RU’s Physical Resources department. Enjoy lively presentations by SUST majors Melanie Blume, Rebecca Quesnell, Mary Rasic, and Emily Rhea, and check our our past symposia here. RSVP to Prof. Mike Bryson at mbryson@roosevelt.edu. (WB 6th floor, room TBA soon)

Thursday, April 23: WB Rooftop Garden workday at the Chicago Campus, 10am-5pm. Contribute a little time this day to prepping the growing plots for our rooftop garden! Volunteers can get their hands dirty for 1/2-hour time slots throughout the day by contacting Rebecca Quesnell (rquesnell@roosevelt.edu). More details coming soon!

Friday, April 24: In the works for Arbor Day — RUrbanPioneers Community Garden workday (contact Mary Rasic at mrasic@roosevelt.edu for more info) at the Schaumburg Campus; student sustainable living (friendly) competition, both campuses. More info on this coming soon!

Posted in activities, biking, community, education, events, recycling, Roosevelt, students

Bison to Return to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

From the Associated Press via the NY Times:

Midewin signCHICAGO — A small herd of around two dozen bison could be grazing on restored grassland south of Chicago as soon as this fall now that the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie has final approval for an experimental project that’s been years in the making.

Officials announced Friday they plan to introduce a mix of young and mature animals at the prairie 45 miles southwest of Chicago, where the U.S. Forest Service and other groups have been trying to restore grassland at a site that was for decades a U.S. Army ammunition plant. The 1,200-acre project area could eventually support a little over 100 bison.

The animals are a keystone of prairie ecosystems and their introduction will help with restoration of the site’s native grass species, the Forest Service says. That, in turn, will improve habitat for native grassland birds.

The first animals should arrive in the fall, said Greg Peters, a spokesman for the National Forest Foundation, which has helped lead the project.

“We saw an opportunity to return an iconic species back to the native tallgrass prairie where they had existed before,” Peters said.

Over the summer, workers will construct pasture fencing, corrals, hiking trails, overlooks and other facilities for an expected increased number of visitors.

Midewin is the first national tallgrass prairie in the U.S and one of the largest prairie restoration efforts east of the Mississippi River. It was established in 1996 on the site of what was once a sprawling military ammunition and explosives plant dating back to World War II. To restore the complex of wetlands that makes up the prairie, workers are dismantling hundreds of old grass-covered military bunkers, ripping up roadways and railroad lines and trying to strip out invasive weeds.

The bison are crucial to the restoration. Bison graze differently than cattle and are better suited for maintaining native plant species on restored prairie.

Organizers want to be sure they get genetically pure animals, rather than bison that have been crossbred with cattle. The largest natural, free-ranging herd is in Yellowstone, but some private ranchers also have genetically pure bison that could be sourced for the project, Peters said.

“We want to make sure that their behaviors and habits are as pure and historical as we can make them,” he said.

A small number of bison were also recently introduced to the smaller Nachusa Grasslands, near Dixon in northern Illinois.

Midewin hopes the animals will attract more visitors and volunteers.

“We thought that bringing bison in would really provide a hook for the community to come out and get to know Midewin a little bit,” Peters said.

Posted in biodiversity, conservation, ecology, Illinois, news, parks and public land, wildlife