The weather could not have been better for National Night Out 2023 which, since 1984, has designated the first Tuesday in August as a day for communities to come together in fellowship, to get acquainted with their police and fire departments, with the local business community, and with their neighbors. Hundreds of residents emerged from their homes to enjoy the camaraderie of simply "being together" with one another in the "Central Park" area of the New Town community in Owings Mills, Maryland, parts of which back up to the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area.
SDCI Board President Laura Van Scoyoc, Vice President Lynell Tobler, board member Josh Day, along with Josh's son, Jason, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service outreach specialist Edwin Guevara, arrived early to set up our booth for the event.
We offered lots of fun at our booth this year. There were samples of chromite ore, calsite, soapstone, magnesite, serpentine rock and other mineral samples to pick up and examine, all examples of the prehistoric geological makeup of the serpentine barrens, a winding stretch of fascinating strata that stretches from Nova Scotia to Alabama. And there were games to play! The SDCI booth offered candy to anyone who could tell us why certain plants in our display were "bad". Children could engage with our "cootie catchers", a form of origami in which folded paper is labeled with images or messages from which a player chooses, and on the inside are eight flaps, each concealing another hidden picture or secret message. It's no surprise that our images depict the wide variety of rare and endangered butterflies and plants that inhabit Soldiers Delight.
One of the most enjoyable activities we offer at our outreach events is an opportunity for children to dress up in genuine Nomex firefighting clothes, don a heavy water-filled bladder-pack and take turns shooting spray at red "Solo" cups, simulating the actions our burn teams employ when conducting a prescribed burn at Soldiers Delight.
|Harjot Maan, 9, of Owings Mills, tries his hand at "controlling" the flames in our prescribed burn activity for children
|Arianna Crowell, 7, of Owings Mills, takes aim at the faux flames with the same water-bladder that our real fire fighters use when conducting a prescribed burn at Soldiers Delight
|SDCI board member Josh Day talks to Owings Mills New Town residents Robert and Arlene Nusbaum about the importance of using only native plants in landscaping
The Owings Mills New Town neighborhood common area, a vast expanse of green space with a community garden and a dog park, was filled with happy residents enjoying National Night Out's various booths offering free food from area restaurants, including Mission BBQ, Lido's Pizza and Rita's Ice. There were demonstrations by local businesses and fire and police departments, and fun displays of all kinds, including a large bounce-house. Our SDCI display saw a steady stream of neighborhood families for the full two hours of the event; it was estimated that more then 1500 people turned out this year! As dance music wafted from a nearby stage and families munched happily on local restaurant fare, it was clear that the Owings Mills New Town Community Association’s National Night Out event was a success. SDCI was certainly happy to be invited back this year.
Curious 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.
|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)
|Native grass seedlings sprout from the scorched ground at SDNEA just a week after the fire
The 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.
Baltimore 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.
|From left, Laura Van Scoyoc, Donna Shoemaker, Lynell Tobler and Paula Becker
Laura 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.
|Brian Rollfinke, Director of Education at Irvine Nature Center
|Paula Becker, Outreach Ecologist and Volunteer Coordinator for the Wildlife and Heritage Service at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources
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.
This 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.
In 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.
Laura 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.