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Irvine Nature Center to Feature Soldiers Delight Experts!

irvineeatdrinklearnsdcipresentation05-18-23.jpgCurious about how the recent wildfire at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area impacted the habitat? Hear (and see photos of) how this globally unique ecosystem weathers natural and manmade threats and why its preservation is so important.

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Soldiers Delight fire less damaging than thought; regrowth already visible

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Holding a piece of Indiangrass, Wayne Tyndall, retired DNR state restoration ecologist and current board member of SDCI, stands in the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
On Friday, April 14, 2023, Christine Condon of the Baltimore Sun, along with Sun photographer Kim Hairston, met SDCI board member Wayne Tyndall at the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area in Owings Mills for a walking tour of the area burned in a 321-acre wildfire on April 4. Please read the excellent article Christine wrote about the fire and the "reason for joy" at Soldiers Delight as fresh, native grasses and blankets of wildflowers are expected to "spring from the scorched dirt in a beautiful display of resilience."

Soldiers Delight Trails Have Reopened!

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Native grass seedlings sprout from the scorched ground at SDNEA just a week after the fire
SDCI is excited to announce that Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area has reopened to the public. As always, our trails are open to foot traffic only.

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State Fire Marshal Seeks Your Help!

wildfire2504-05-23.jpgThe Office of the State Fire Marshal and several other agencies are asking for the public's assistance with an investigation into a sprawling wildfire that chewed through 321.4 acres in Baltimore County, almost all of which were in the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area. 

Investigators would like to speak to anyone who was in the area of the serpentine trail of Soldiers Delight Overlook between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Additionally, investigators would like to speak with anyone who may have been on the serpentine trail behind the visitor center on Sunday afternoon.

Anyone with information about the fire should contact the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 410-386-3050.

Wildfire at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area April 4, 2023

wildfire1804-05-23.jpgBaltimore County fire officials held a press conference providing a detailed description of a wildfire that struck the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area in Owings Mills on Tuesday, April 4, at 3:08 p.m. This report is from the following day, April 5. To view the 15-minute press conference, in which Forestry Service veteran Gilbert Wagner (wearing yellow Nomex), who has overseen prescribed burns at SDNEA for years and is extremely knowledgeable about the habitat, provides insight about how the fire was fought, please click here.

The View From Here

An Evening With Maryland State Ecologist Paula Becker

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From left, Laura Van Scoyoc, Donna Shoemaker, Lynell Tobler and Paula Becker
Two officers of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc. (SDCI), the Friends Group for Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area (SDNEA) in Owings Mills, Maryland, had the good fortune on February 23, 2023 to attend a wonderful dinner at Irvine Nature Center, also in Owings Mills, followed by an excellent lecture on climate change, habitat loss and other threats facing Maryland's state butterfly and other pollinators. Here's a run-down of the evening and what was learned:

irvinebutterflylecture0302-23-23.jpgLaura Van Scoyoc, president of SDCI, and Lynell Tobler, Vice President, together with ardent Soldiers Delight supporter, Donna Shoemaker, attended the presentation in Irvine's Eat, Drink and Learn lecture series, which this year features all things having to do with endangered species. Not only was the subject close to their hearts, since preventing loss of natural habitat and slowing the extirpation of locally endangered species is what the conservation of SDNEA is all about, but the presenter for the evening was none other than Paula Becker, Outreach Ecologist and Volunteer Coordinator with Maryland's Wildlife and Heritage Service at the Department of Natural Resources. She is the biologist in charge of serpentine restoration at SDNEA. In addition to enjoying a good meal and a fascinating lecture, Laura, Lynell and Donna were eager to support Paula and show her how much her ongoing efforts at SDNEA mean to SDCI. 

The evening began with a custom-blended cocktail of butterfly pea blossom gin, orange juice and other botanicals, followed by scrumptious fajitas, salad, lemon bars and oatmeal cookies. Once everyone had eaten their fill, the 50+ attendees made their way into one of Irvine's conference rooms for the evening's presentation.

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Brian Rollfinke, Director of Education at Irvine Nature Center
Brian Rollfinke, Director of Education at Irvine Nature Center, introduced Paula to an enthusiastic audience. Paula's presentation included a frightening, yet enthralling explanation of how pollinators (and all insects) across the planet are threatened by the fragmentation and loss of native habitat caused by excessive mowing of host and nectar plants, pollution of air and water and the use of pesticides, the incursion of invasive species which propagate without natural deterrents to their expansion, light pollution and, perhaps most importantly, climate change.

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Paula Becker, Outreach Ecologist and Volunteer Coordinator for the Wildlife and Heritage Service at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources
These threats create such serious imbalance that pollinators simply cannot flourish, and their numbers are drastically diminishing. Do you see as many fireflies in summer or moths flickering around the porch light as you did as a child?

Paula asked her audience to consider, just as one example, that when winter ends earlier and days warm prematurely, flowers and trees begin blooming sooner. But the butterflies and insects that pollinate those flowers have not yet emerged from their overwintering slumber. By the time they do, blossoms and the pollen and nectar they provide, both as nourishment for insects and as a means to propagate the plants themselves, have already faded. This is called a phenological mismatch, and it is becoming more and more common as extreme weather patterns wreak havoc on the natural lifecycle of plants.

irvinebutterflylecture0802-23-23.jpgThis tragic trophic asynchrony of the timing of regularly repeated phases in the life- cycles of interacting species is not the only effect of climate change. As stated by Brooke Jarvis in a 2018 New York Times Magazine article The Insect Apocalypse is Here, "trillions of bugs flitting from flower to flower pollinate some three-quarters of our food crops, a service worth as much as $500 billion every year, and it doesn’t count the 80 percent of wild flowering plants, the foundation blocks of life everywhere, that rely on insects for pollination." Prolonged rainy, cloudy and cool conditions reduce insect egg-laying. Prolonged hot, dry spells reduce insect lifespans and their ability to reproduce robustly.

There are believed to be 5.5 million insects in the planet, a whopping 80 percent of which are thought to not even have been identified yet! It is estimated that there are 300 pounds of insects for every pound of human. Yet, insect numbers are diminishing at an alarming rate. A Plos One research article showed that there has been a 75 percent decline over the past 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. Without pollinators to propagate plants which serve as food for all other animals, life as we know it cannot be sustained. Insects are a crucial element of humanity's ability to survive.

irvinebutterflylecture0902-23-23.jpgIn the United States, scientists found the population of monarch butterflies has fallen by 90 percent over the past 20 years. Half of all farmland birds in Europe have disappeared in just three decades. Researchers assumed that habitat destruction was at fault, but eventually realized that the birds might be starving for lack of insects to eat. By eating and being eaten, insects turn plants into protein that promotes the viability of innumerable species — including freshwater fish and most birds — that rely on insects for food, and that's not counting all the animals that feed on those animals. 

One would think such an ominous subject would lead to an extremely depressing presentation. But Paula's was an exuberant call to action. She outlined steps that every resident can take to promote the survival of pollinators everywhere.

"Speak up!" she said. Speak loudly. Take action. Plant only native plants in your yard. Lobby your big box store to clearly label which plants are native and which are invasive. Turn your perfectly manicured lawn into a wildflower meadow and leave it un-mowed a majority of the time. If your homeowner association objects, vote to change the rules. Don't "clean up" your garden at the end of the growing season. Leave the leaf matter for insects that use it as cover when overwintering.

irvinebutterflylecture1102-23-23.jpgLaura and Lynell were heartened to observe so many attendees taking notes. One participant remarked that pollinators absolutely flocked to her purple butterfly bush, so how could it be harmful to them? Paula's responding analogy was brilliant: Think of the butterfly bush as a Coke machine in a high school, she said. Teenagers flock to it for the sugary sweetness it delivers. But Coke is neither "natural" nor nutritious. Indeed, the nectar of the butterfly bush is sweet. But because it is not native to the U.S., butterfly bush does not provide any of the specific nutrients that our pollinators need to thrive. The gorgeous, orange-flowering plant known as Butterfly weed, on the other hand is native. It provides far greater nutrients for the health of our insect populations. Grow native plants in your yards. Our butterflies, and our futures, may depend on it.   

Pumpkin Carving for Serpentine Restoration!

sdcipumpkincarvingfundraiser2410-29-22.jpgOn Saturday night, Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc, the Friends group for Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., held its annual pumpkin-carving fundraiser for Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, an exquisite but fragile ecosystem that is constantly threatened with being overtaken by invasive vegetation. Our fundraisers seek to supplement the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Department's Serpentine Ecosystem Restoration Program with badly needed financing to help rout out invasive species-- plus this event is always loads of fun!

sdcipumpkincarvingfundraiser0110-29-22.jpgOur vice president, Lynell Tobler, and longtime Soldiers Delight volunteer, Jesse Turner, spent several hours Saturday morning transforming the auditorium at the Soldiers Delight Visitor Center into a veritable pumpkin-carving paradise, complete with stencil patterns, design ideas, carving utensils and even candles for the grand finalé. Who wouldn't want to carve a pumpkin in a place where you didn't have to worry about cleaning up the mess afterward?

sdcipumpkincarvingfundraiser0710-29-22.jpgBusy families got right to work choosing a pattern, transferring the design to their gourd and carving their jack-o-lanterns. Pictured are Patricia and Dale Houston of Pikesville with their 16-year-old son, Jeremiah. Jeremiah is donating his service-learning hours this school-year to conservation efforts at Soldiers Delight by creating tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos for and about the habitat and our conservation efforts. He took lots of photos and video-footage of our fundraiser and intends to make a short film for SDCI. He is quite a talented young man!

sdcipumpkincarvingfundraiser0910-29-22.jpgVolunteer Jesse Turner wore a pumpkin-themed hat and shirt to carve his jack-o-lantern. Jesse has been volunteering with SDCI for almost 20 years! We appreciate his efforts very much.

sdcipumpkincarvingfundraiser1210-29-22.jpgFraser and Suzie Bishop, from Finksburg, Maryland, hadn't carved pumpkins in ages, but they certainly got into the spirit of the occasion! Back in the 1980s, Fraser was the ranger in charge of Soldiers Delight. He was a loyal and fierce protector of Soldiers Delight's rare species for many years.

sdcipumpkincarvingfundraiser0810-29-22.jpgSDCI Board member Melissa Schehlein wanted her front porch greeter to encourage everyone to vote in the upcoming election. A diehard conservationist, Melissa heads SDCI's social media outreach and is a talented crochetier.

jeremiahphoto0210-29-22.jpgSDCI vice president Lynell Tobler helmed the event, carving a fierce face into her pumpkin. Lynell has served on the SDCI board of directors since 2004 and has been its vice president since 2007.

jeremiahphoto0110-29-22.jpgAfter dark, we took our jack-o-lanterns outside and photographed them in all their glowing wonder. Although not as large a turnout as we'd hoped for, our fundraising event was an absolute blast. All lovers and patrons of Soldiers Delight, the happy participants carved pumpkins, made new friends, and shared a wonderful evening together.

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