Help Virginia Working Landscapes help grassland birds

Photo by Ana Ka’ahanui

Virginia Working Landscapes is aware of the concern surrounding recent research highlighting the troubling decline of North America’s birds. Among those, grassland birds have been hit hardest.  

Working alongside a dedicated network of landowners, citizen scientists and partners, VWL has been at the forefront of identifying ways that private lands can help support this region’s grassland birds.  

For example, recent research provides insights into altering grassland management practices to promote habitat for overwintering birds. With these studies, VWL can create recommendations to help landowners make decisions about how they manage their properties, like these guidelines released in Spring 2019. And just this year, they’ve embarked on a groundbreaking project to track the local movements of eastern meadowlarks, one of our most iconic grassland species.   

They receive no federal support for their programs, and all activities are funded by donors.
This year, VWL will continue unraveling mysteries of eastern meadowlark movements; identifying best practices for establishing and managing resilient grasslands; developing science-based action items for protecting grassland birds and other wildlife; and training the next generation of conservationists.

Consider volunteering. VWL partners with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and FMN volunteers receive service projects credit under S182. Look for more stories on how to volunteer in December.

Want people to adopt climate-friendly behaviors? Understand what motivates them.

Reposted from the Rare blog

Brett Jenks

In her column this week, Axios’ Amy Harder offers “confessions of an energy reporter,” and admits that even she — someone fluent in facts about climate change — isn’t likely to adopt climate-friendly behaviors unless she is incentivized economically to do so.

Harder cited research Rare conducted that identified seven behaviors which, if adopted by 10 percent of Americans, could help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement. These behaviors, drawn from the great work done by Project Drawdown, are things individual people and households can do — things like adopting a plant-rich diet, purchasing an electric vehicle, installing rooftop solar, and purchasing carbon offsets.

But Harder is skeptical:

Voluntary action can be helpful and inspiring. But ultimately most experts agree systemic change on a global scale — led by governments implementing economic policies — is necessary to adequately address climate change. So, I’m not losing sleep over my flying and eating habits — and I’ll only make big changes if the price tags get a lot bigger.

I loved Harder’s column for a couple of reasons. And not just because she referenced Rare, the conservation nonprofit I run.

First, she crystallizes what has been missing from efforts to drive individuals to adopt more sustainable behaviors — our understanding of human behavior and motivation.

Take the example Harder’s cites — a study that says economic incentives are more effective than moral persuasion at getting people to reduce their energy consumption. If you dig into that study, you’ll see it violates the cardinal rule of behavior change: failing to understand what motivates the target actor. The economists drafting this study attempting to “morally persuade” people with the following text message:

“Substantial energy conservation will be required for the society in ‘critical peak-demand hours’ on summer and winter peak-demand days, in which electricity supply will be very limited relative to demand.”

This might convince a robot, but it is far from compelling for the rest of us.

I would instead look at energy consumption studies that test messages that are morally compelling for the target actors.

Take, for example, this study which compares how much energy people conserve when they are told about the money they could save versus their impact on childhood asthma and cancer. Now, if people only respond to financial incentives, then we would expect to see energy reduction in the first case and no effect in the second. But what the study found is that people consume far less when they consider the health impact of their behavior on themselves and others. By focusing on, and taking seriously people’s motivations, we can achieve greater changes in behavior than simply focusing on economic consequences.

Second, her reflections include motivations outside of the moral versus economic dichotomy. As Harder points out, her own health, and her family traditions — not just economics — influence her decisions.

When I’m home on my family’s cattle ranch in Washington state, I eat beef almost daily. Burgers. Steak. Prime rib. Pot roast. Hot dogs. Meatloaf. Cube steak. You get the point.

So, what if those around Harder changed their behavior? Would she still wait for an economic incentive? Social science suggests not. After all, we are social animals who move with the herd. We all know what happens to the wildebeest who is left behind.

All this goes to show how our understanding of people’s motivations and human decision-making is the game-changer for driving personal action on climate change.

For decades, the environmentalist’s toolkit for promoting pro-environment behaviors has generally depended on passing laws and regulations, running awareness campaigns, or offering economic incentives or disincentives

But what if we could design interventions that are more closely aligned with how people actually make decisions and understand what truly motivates them? At Rare, we’re working to weave three strategies that take into account human behavior and motivation into the climate playbook:

  • Appeal to people’s emotions. People are predictably irrational. Using emotions, especially positive ones like pride can effectively drive people to adopt sustainable behaviors. We see that on display in spades in the study I referred to earlier. By understanding that people find health, particularly the health of children, to be emotionally compelling meant that appealing to those concerns was far more effective at reducing energy consumption than appealing to financial benefits.
  • Shift social norms. People are social animals. We move with the herd. Recent research into “dynamic norms” suggests that people are more likely to adopt climate-friendly behaviors if they sense that others are starting to adopt them — that norms are shifting. Take reducing water or energy consumption as an example. Numerousstudieshave found that when people are shown that they are consuming more than their neighbors, they reduce their own consumption.
  • Redesign the context around choices. Changing the context and timing around a decision can influence the choice a consumer makes. This is called “choice architecture.” Take switching to a green energy provider. A study in Germany found that setting the green energy option, which was notably more costly, as the default option increased adoption by almost tenfold. This default didn’t change anything financially but took into account that people’s choice is influenced by how that choice is presented.

We are in a golden age of understanding human behavior and decision-making. And the application of behavioral economics, psychology, and other social sciences is gaining steam. Just look at Richard Thaler recently winning the Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics. Or the proliferation of government offices designing interventions based on behavioral science, or “nudge” units, in governments around the world.

Don’t get me wrong. We do need systemic change at the international and national level. But let’s face it, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. And in the meantime, we’re not powerless. We’re not limited to voting every couple of years. We know individual behavior can have an impact. And we know that understanding human behavior and motivations, and designing behavior-centered solutions, is a way to get climate-friendly behaviors adopted.

Human behavior helped get us into this climate mess. Hopefully, our understanding of it will help get us out of it.

Recent FMN graduate receives Outstanding Volunteer Award

Hank Dahlstrom, a member of the Fall 2019 Fairfax Master Naturalist basic training class, received the 2019 Hidden Oaks Outstanding Volunteer award on November 22, 2019 for her outstanding naturalist contributions.

Hank provides a welcoming face to visitors and a helping hand to anyone who needs it. Having been with Hidden Oaks for three years, she is able to answer visitors’ questions about programs and natural resources.  She has a wealth of knowledge about native species. Hank contributes many hours to behind-the-scenes preparation of crafts for the nature programs. She is very creative and offers her sewing and quilting skills to create numerous things that brighten up the exhibit space. Hank also has a calm demeanor and is able to help when children are rambunctious.   Hidden Oaks would not be as well prepared for our programs without the help of willing volunteers like Hank.award

Some natural observations and a shout-out to the work of master naturalists

Article by Lisa Bright, Co-founder and Executive Director of Earth Sangha

In my line of work, I engage in extensive, if casual, surveying of native flora in the wild areas of Northern Virginia. For nearly twenty years, I’ve made it my job checking on the general conditions of our region’s wild areas, or rather the remnants of once wild areas, in every season. Mind you, my kind of survey is a non-scientific activity. Just a visual survey with the understanding of a hobby-naturalist.

Yet, you get to learn a lot from this repeated observations over the same areas. I take the trouble visiting all the nooks and crannies of our public and non-public lands where native plants are growing. And repeatedly over the years. I’ve noticed how the topography change over time and how plants interact with both natural and artificial physical changes. The overall picture I’ve gotten from my observations is not that pretty. Here is one fact that I cannot ignore: In our increasingly urbanized and suburbanized region, driven largely by human convenience and immediate economic returns, the native plants are the ones who are losing ground. Literally, that is.

I am sad to note that once common native plant species such as White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata) and Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and Cornel-leaf Whitetop Aster (Doellingeria infirma), to just name a few, have become harder and harder to find in our woodlands. They are still there but not in any sizable quantities. They barely hang on. I name these species because of the simple fact that they are the foundation species in healthy woodlands and that they were once widely represented. Even ten short years ago, they were commonly found in any woodlands nearby. They are now in serious decline. Their habitats are degraded, and in many instances they lost outright the entire habitats by development. I’m not going to name other native plants who were once abundant but are now in decline.

This comes at a time when our wild areas and native flora are finally getting the recognition they deserve from the general public. There are growing number of people and organizations who band together to protect the wild habitats for native flora and fauna. I believe that if we work together, harder and smarter, we can reverse the trend. It’s not too late.

The habitats once lost are gone forever. You can’t recreate natural areas. If anyone claims that it can be done is either ignorant or plain kidding himself. Our hope then lies in rehabilitating the habitats in decline.

Then it is all the more useful to see how the natural habitats are being destroyed and what we could do about it. I’m no expert on this, but I think there are several immediate and specific issues that can be addressed:


1. An issue of poor management. The land owners, public or private, rely too much on the judgment or discretion of hired contractors who understand next to nothing about wild habitats or plants in general. They were told to go kill trees that might interfere with the power lines, and they damn kill everything in sight. Who could blame their diligence? I’ve witnessed countless times how these contractors steadily shrink the forest edges by chopping off indiscriminately any living woody plants. In their wake, a long line of dead Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) along the forest edges. These contractors desperately need the qualified and quantified instructions and tighter supervision by the land owners.

Take look at the two photos above. The plot is about 4 acres of narrow but long neighborhood woodlands (presumably belonged to a nearby HOA community) in Centerville. A contractor hired by either the VDOT or a power company chopped off trees on the edges of Rt. 29, and just dumped all the tree trunks and branches unceremoniously into the woodlands just across the trail and left. The contractors did this every time, and nobody raised an issue. It’s a forgotten place. The forest floor once featured one of the better habitats for White Wood Aster and Blue-stemmed Goldenrod in this acidic Oak-Hickory forest remnant. Now I cannot find a single Aster or Goldenrod. Those numerous Pinxter Bloom Azaleas along the edge were also long gone. In their place invasive Alianthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) and Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) have appeared. This is just one example which repeats itself everywhere. The feature photo heading this article shows what our woodland floor would look like when left alone. It’s taken from a nearby park.

2. An issue of excessive mowing and untimely mowing. When it comes to open meadow areas, mowing is a necessary tool for managing the habitat. The problem is that the heavy tractor mowers with low deck not just cut the plants but they cut into the ground, thereby making it easy for weedy invasive plants entering. I’ve noticed that the Manassas Battlefield National Park contractors do a far better job at just cutting the plants without necessarily disturbing the ground, compared to power line easement meadows. One reason is that at Manassas Battlefield the contractors are harvesting hays, and the best way to continue harvesting good-quality hays is not to disturb the ground. On the other hand, the main reason for mowing in the power line meadow is to destroy plants. That is one reason why the quality of flora is widely different from one power line easement to the next. And from one year to the next.
Still, the best native herbaceous vegetation in our region can be found under these power lines because we’ve essentially lost our edge-of-wood meadows to various human activities and development.

One of my pet peeves is mowing unnecessarily and at wrong time. It would be better if we let the plants complete its life cycle. If seeds are allowed to form and be dropped and eaten by animals, mowing can be a useful management tool.

3. Let’s limit the recreational use of wild habitats.It is hard to believe that at this critical juncture where the environmental degradation threatens the very systems on which our life is dependent, we regard public parks only as recreational resources. There are some parks that I no longer visit because there is nothing left to discover. These parks are known for deluxe parking lots and luxurious trails, after killing off a group of healthy and mature canopy trees. These parks have become a sad place botanically. Some smaller neighborly parks often suffer from excessive accommodation of exercise equipments. At one of our neighborly parks, a series of them are installed at every 50-feet intervals by well-intentioned but ill-informed Scouts or other volunteer groups. A whole lot of native shrubs and herbaceous plants had to be killed to give the rooms for these exercise equipments. Many Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum) and Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum) were sacrificed for these installations. They are left unused anyway. If the mountain biker groups ask for building bike trails, we don’t have to give away the pristine section of forests where the Blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum) and Black Huckleberry (Gaylucassia bachata) have formed colonies over several centuries. I don’t think the bikers were asking for a pristine site!

It is high time we view our natural habitats as what they are. It’s a living organism who plays a critical role in the natural ecosystems. To simply put, we are facing an ecological crisis where a lack of healthy native plant communities creates all kinds of problems. Just look at all the damages from stormwater runoff. Only healthy forests could absorb, hold, filter, and regulate the rainfall and rain flow. We’ve effectively destroyed that natural system.
There aren’t enough forests in our region to handle all the water and air pollutions. Also our forests, our parklands, are not in the best form. They need a lot of attention, but our park systems don’t receive enough funding.

4. Controlling invasive plants and early detection of such invasion. Eradicating invasive plants may be impractical given the pervasiveness of the problem. But we can manage to control them by focusing on protecting the best areas first and increase the presence of native plants in targeted spots and then to expand their holdings. I’ve seen many successfully managed habitats where conscientious park managers diligently work and where Master Naturalists adopt certain sites and have kept on working on these sites.

In large public parks, we need some sharp-eyed and knowledgeable naturalist-volunteers to detect a new appearance of invasive plants early on to immediately eradicate them. A season or two later, they take hold and become expensive to control. We need more trained Master Naturalists to help our over-strained park managers. If you are retired or retiring and looking for doing something worthwhile, please be a Master Naturalist!

5. Our parks are seriously underfunded and under-staffed. A lot of people are wondering why park systems and park managers seem to ignore the problems of invasive plants in their neighborhood parks. The park managers are not ignoring them. The Natural Resource Protection teams have been doing extensive work to develop natural resource management plans, but they don’t have the necessary funding to implement these plans. The sad truth is that they are borrowing money to do even the basic maintenance work. In the case of Fairfax County, the Park Authority is the poorest agency whose chronic under-funding is glaringly obvious. If you want the Natural Resource Protection department have more funding so that they can implement their visions, please call your District Supervisors. They are elected officials and have the power to influence the distribution of the County’s general fund.

6. Raising concerns and communicate. Let us become the voice of natural habitats and plant communities. They struggle and quietly suffer. The nature-loving people tend to be solitary types and they don’t always raise their concerns out loud. I think, however, it is changing. We witness now more concerted efforts to protect the wild habitats among different citizen groups. We see more lively debates on best methods, more activism in general. There are also more scientific datas available, and people are busy sharing the information and pressuring the elected officials. This is hugely encouraging. I’d like to think it is not too late to reverse the trend. We can save our forests and improve their qualities.

Virginia Trees for Clean Water – Grant Applications Open for 2020 Plantings, due Jan. 8th

Through funds from the USFS Chesapeake Watershed Forestry Program and Virginia Water Quality Improvement Funds, Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has developed the Virginia Trees for Clean Water program. The program is designed to improve water quality across the Commonwealth through on-the-ground efforts to plant woody trees and shrubs where they are needed most.

Grants are awarded through this program to encourage local government and citizen involvement in creating and supporting long-term and sustained canopy cover.

Proposal Category examples (not limited to):
• Riparian tree planting
• Community tree planting
• Street Tree planting
• Neighborhood or NeighborWoods Tree plantings
• Turf to Trees projects
(see proposal document for more details)

Who is Eligible?
Grants may be awarded to local units of government, approved non-profit organizations, community civic organizations, educational institutions and private citizens.

Application Package will be due on Wednesday, January 8th 2020 for applicants hoping to receive funding for spring and fall 2020 plantings. All applicants will be notified of grant status by February 1st 2020.

For more detailed information, download the here Virginia Trees for Clean Water – Request for Proposal document.

Also go to (scroll down to Request for Proposals – Trees for Clean Water)

Volunteer to be a science fair judge, Jan. 25th

Lake Braddock Secondary School
9200 Burke Lake Rd, Burke, VA 22015
Saturday, 25 January 2019
Judge orientation 8-9 am
Judging 9am – 12pm

No experience necessary! If you have never judged a science fair, don’t worry-they will train you. If you can judge this year, please fill out your contact information and science specialty area on this form. Opportunities are also available to mentor and support student entrants. Questions? Contact Maureen Goble, Lake Braddock Secondary School Science Department Chair.

Master naturalists report service hours under code E:152.

NVSWCD Hiring for Spring 2020 Environmental Outreach Internship, deadline Dec. 6th

Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is seeking applicants for its Spring 2020 Environmental Outreach Internship. Applicants can learn more here. Applications are due by Friday, December 6th, 2019.

This spring internship position will support the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District’s award-winning spring outreach programs. We reach thousands of people and have a deep impact on many youth and adults. Programs can include classroom presentations, outdoor learning experiences, outreach events and festivals, the high school Envirothon competition, rain barrel workshops, the Seedling Sale, high school science fair project judging, stream monitoring, storm drain labeling, the Sustainable Garden Tour and more!

The spring intern will support the following events and programs with office preparations and coordination in advance, staffing during the event, and follow-up afterwards:
• ~ Ten Outreach Events or Festivals (February – June, evening or weekend)
• College Scholarships
• Youth Conservation Camp
• One HS Science Fair and one Regional Science Fair
• Sustainable Garden Tour
• Envirothon
• MWEEs and Field Trips
• Potentially a Green Breakfast, Potomac Watershed Roundtable, and/or Rain Barrel Workshop

This internship is expected to begin in mid-January and end in mid-June, lasting 22 weeks at 20 hours/week. Learn more about the position and view the full position description here. To apply, send a resume accompanied by a cover letter and contact information for two references to [email protected] by Friday, December 6, 2019.

Virginia Association of Forest Health Professionals, Jan 27-28

Each year VAFHP holds a conference for professionals and others interested in learning more about forest health and ecology of the Mid-Atlantic. The 2020 Conference will be held in Glen Allen, VA, just west of Richmond, on January 27-28, 2020.

Attendees include local, state and federal officials, independent contractors, consultants, horticulture and forest industry representatives and students. We encourage anyone interested in the ecology of the Mid-Atlantic to participate. VAFHP is committed to developing and providing education and training for natural resource professionals.

The Virginia Association of Forest Health Professionals (VAFHP) invites you to apply for their 2020 Conference Scholarship.

This scholarship provides you with a front row seat to pertinent Virginia forest health topics and a chance to network with professionals in forestry related fields.  You will also learn about conference logistics and provide support to the VAFHP Steering Committee throughout the conference.

This opportunity is available for first-time conference attendees and will fully cover registration costs (hotel accommodations and travel costs must be covered by scholarship recipients). Two scholarships will be available; one for recent college graduates and one for professionals or citizen scientists without dedicated travel funds. The deadline to apply is December 6, 2019, recipients will be notified by December 16, 2019.

Please visit for conference details and registration.

Upcoming Planting/Seeding Projects at Riverbend Park

Riverbend has planting/seeding projects in the works before winter (and the holidays). These are great for master naturalists or anyone interested in restoring of our parks. Please sign up using the link below:

Sign up here:


Not available on these workdays? Schedule a volunteer workday at Riverbend Park!

Email Valeria to schedule a day/time that works for you! We are available most weekdays 10am-3pm. Weekends vary.

Christmas Bird Count Workshop

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

National Wildlife Federation, Wildlife Center Drive 11100, Reston, Virginia
November 24, 2019
1:00 pm – 03:00 pm


Join Phil Silas, the Manassas-Bull Run Christmas Bird Count compiler, at the National Wildlife Federation to learn about this long-running citizen science bird survey. Phil will cover its purpose and scope, explain how we organize our CBC, and show where the data goes and how it is used. The workshop offers tips on preparing for a winter bird count and will review how to identify many of the birds seen in our area in winter. Workshop is free, but registration is required.