Check Out Two Air Quality and Energy Choice Activities for Educators from the Environmental Protection Agency and MIT

Environmental Protection Agency researchers participate in educational outreach to schools, museums, and other locations to teach students about air quality and climate change research that EPA and partners conduct to protect the air we breathe and provide the knowledge and scientific tools to respond to a changing climate. As part of the outreach, researchers have developed several hands-on activities for teachers and others to use in the classroom and other educational settings.

Particulate Matter (PM) Air Sensor Kits

Particle pollution, known as particulate matter (PM), is one of the major air pollutants regulated by EPA to protect public health and the environment. EPA researchers developed a PM air sensor kit as an educational tool to teach children about air quality and air science. MIT extended the work and developed a kit that you and your students can build together. Learn more and order the kit.

Generate: The Game of Energy Choices

EPA scientists developed an interactive board game called Generate: The Game of Energy Choices, which enables players to explore energy choices and the environment and gets students “energized” in some friendly competition. The game is a teaching tool that can be used to understand the costs and benefits of the energy choices we make; find out what happens if the mix of energy sources changes in the future and learn what energy choices mean for our climate, air, water, and overall environmental quality.

Review of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why they Matter, by Ben Goldfarb

Reviewed by FMN Susan Martel

Ever since my close encounter with beavers while canoeing the Bow River in Banff, Canada, I have had a soft spot for the furry critters. So, when I came across Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, I thought I would learn a bit more about Castor canadensis. The read turned out to be a revelation!

Described as having impacts on a continental scale and history-changing in scope, beavers are championed by passionate “Beaver Believers” as the salvation to many environmental ills. Author Ben Goldfarb has written a compelling account of the beaver as one of the ultimate keystone species. He describes how the landscapes of western states, such as Oregon, California, and Nevada, once boasted a complex network of streams, ponds, and wet meadows. Formed by beaver colonies, these wetlands supported a diverse array of plants, insects, fish, amphibians, and mammals. Goldfarb chronicles how trapping beavers to near extinction both in the United States and abroad devastated the natural landscapes and had far reaching effects across trophic levels.

Helping beavers recolonize their former habitats just might hold the key to revitalizing devastated areas and benefit us as well. For example, the book lays out how the restored habitats could be a solution to water shortages and pollution, if we let the beavers do the work for us. Goldfarb’s description of successes stories, cautionary tales, and conflicts associated with beaver reintroduction are populated by an array of interesting characters, both human and castorid.

Even if this account doesn’t convert you into a Beaver Believer, the story will appeal to the naturalist in you. It reinforces the importance of understanding the interconnections of nature, of making thoughtful and science-based environmental management decisions, and of learning “to coexist and thrive alongside our fellow travelers on this planet.” (p. 25)

(2018, Chelsea Green Publishing, 304 pages)

Review of Gathering Moss, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Reviewed by FMN Kristina Watts

If you ask my family, they’ll tell you that I’m now obsessed with moss. “Tell us just ONE fact about moss at dinner today.” My husband challenged the other day. Last week, I took a walk with my son out in the woods where he spends his spare time, and he offered to show me all the mossy spots he was aware of. (We were able to observe at least three different species on one tree root, to our untrained eyes.)

It started with Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses). Though I consider myself a pretty avid naturalist, I’d never really paid attention to moss before. But Kimmerer opened up my eyes to a whole new world in the miniature.

Kimmerer isn’t just a PhD bryologist and university professor, she is a gifted writer and storyteller. She brought these plants alive in my imagination through her vivid descriptions of mosses’ fascinating reproductive cycle, their importance in creating and maintaining whole habitats (who knew their ability to contain moisture was so critical?) and the lessons they teach ecologists about concepts from succession to the very meaning of what “life” is. And all this was woven together with tales of mosses’ use to humankind throughout history, as well as Kimmerer’s own personal adventures in studying these surprisingly diverse organisms.

In each chapter, Kimmerer illustrates her chosen theme by treating an individual moss species like an old friend, with a distinct personality to portray it. In this way, she has made me very curious about the moss species that inhabit my backyard and the surrounding woods. I can’t wait to find a patch to examine under a magnifying glass and crack open my new moss identification guide. Given her comparison of the living moss turf’s structure, function, and composition of inhabitants to that of a lush rainforest, it’s exciting to think about how much there is to explore in a small area. While the book is very much grounded in science, the almost-spiritual appreciation that Kimmerer demonstrates for the interconnectedness between mosses and insects, trees, and all layers of the forest has inspired me to never take mosses for granted again. Maybe soon there will be a dedicated moss garden in my yard!

Whether you’re looking for a new hobby in bryology or just a well written book that reflects on what we can learn from one tiny yet practically ubiquitous part of nature, I highly recommend Gathering Moss.

(2003, Oregon State University Press, 168 pages)

Encourage the Teens in Your Life to Work With Fairfax County to Protect the Environment

The Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC) is pleased to announce the opening of the application period for its student member term running from July 2021 through June 2022. EQAC comprises of one citizen representative from each of nine magisterial districts, four at‑large members, and one student representative. Each member is appointed by the Board of Supervisors to serve a three-year term, except the student member, who serves during her or his junior or senior year of high school.

EQAC’s primary function is to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for improving environmental protection and enhancement. During monthly meetings, issues such as water quality, air quality, land use, transportation, solid waste, noise, ecological resources, climate change, energy, hazardous materials, visual and light pollution, and environmental stewardship are investigated. In addition, EQAC holds a public comment meeting each year, typically in January, to obtain input from the community on issues of environmental concern.

The Annual Report on the Environment, which is prepared by EQAC, provides information on the status of various environmental resources and issues and is designed to aid the Board of Supervisors in setting its environmental agenda and priorities. EQAC prepares the Annual Report on the Environment with contributions from different agencies.

The council generally meets on the second Wednesday of each month, starting at 7:15 p.m. The student member application is open to all interested high school sophomores and juniors who are in good standing. Eligible public school, private school, parochial, and homeschooled students are encouraged to apply.

If you are currently a sophomore or junior in good standing and would be interested in serving in this capacity during your junior or senior year, please download and complete the application linked below. All applications must be received via email to by 11:59 PM on Friday, May 14, 2021.

Download application

In the Time of the Wood Thrush

Article and feature photo by Stacey Remick-Simkins

In 2017, I was heartbroken.

There are such delights found in birdsong that often people listen for a particular song at particular times to mark new beginnings, new lives and new seasons. Such is the song of the Wood Thrush for me. I had come to anticipate their fluty and enchanting melody as a way to usher in the joy and beginnings of life that comes with a verdant Virginia summer.

This summer, though, I would be heartbroken by the absence of their song. I had failed to hear them at all that spring anywhere that I hiked. So, one June morning, I ventured out to Manassas National Battlefield Park to conduct a summer bird survey with a long- time birding partner. We covered a standard range of forests and open grasslands as we had done in previous years only to discover that there were no Wood Thrush songs to hear. They were heart-rendingly absent.

I would soon learn that their habitats were being destroyed systematically around the world leaving them bereft and endangered. I feared that I would have to learn to accept that I may never hear them again.

Hope arrives in 2020.

During the summer of 2020 the Wood Thrush has appeared everywhere, including St. Peter’s in the Woods forest. When I conducted a survey in June 2020, I was overwhelmed to hear a Wood Thrush singing within feet of me. It was hidden well, foraging and likely gathering food for a nest and/or young. This thrush had found the SPW forest to be a safe and good place to set down roots. The 7-acres was deemed by at least one to provide the sustenance and safety that can be counted on.

Keeping this forest a place of sanctuary for those such as the Wood Thrush is practicing a stewardship that is critical. That one Wood Thrush in our forest could tip the balance in saving the lives of those that migrate here. Next year, we may have another couple of them settling in for the summer to create new life that once again may be able to survive because there was that small safe place in our forest for them to shelter in.

Preserving and stewarding this sanctuary is a primary project for St. Peter’s and I am proud to be one helping to monitor and build a database so that we may see how effective our practices of sustaining long-term conservation are. Several of us who attend St. Peter’s are Fairfax Chapter Master Naturalists. We work towards maintaining the native plant balance with the birds and continue our own data collection. Knowing that a Wood Thrush found our small haven a place to safely breed and forage was a great moment of excitement and hope.

They remain endangered and threatened by continued assaults on the forests all around them. Their migrations are threatened as are the forests that they return to in South America. St. Peter’s Sanctuary forest will remain a place for hope where we can be thankful for the chance to steward the gifts of our small sanctuary of wilderness.

For more on the Wood Thrush

FMNs: Service hours under St. Peter’s In the Woods Wildlife Sanctuary & Programs (Wildlife Surveys, Activity S266)

Native Plant Sales, Spring 2021

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Native plants help baby songbirds, butterflies, our ecosystem and support clean water. They need no fertilizer, no extra watering once they are established, no pesticides and no lawn mowing.

Virginia Native Plant Society maintains a list here.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is having theirs April 10th.

RESTORE THE EARTH: A Discussion of the Interconnections and Relationships Between Humans and Natural Processes, NVCC Green Festival, March 24th

Wednesday, March 24, 2021
10 am – 3 pm
Zoom; free and open to the public
More information and registration here.

Keynote and Q&A

10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
Keynote Speaker – Dr. Wallace Nichols
How Being Near, In, On, or Underwater Can Make you Happier,
Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do

11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Q&A Group Session with Attendees and Students

Afternoon Sessions

12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Beekeeping In Virginia – Martha Kiene
EAS Master Beekeeper, President – Virginia State Beekeeping

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Sustainable Food, Farming & Forests – Hala Elbarmil
Greenhouse and Gardens Coordinator, GMU
Examples of Restoration and Natural Connection in an Urban Setting

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Leave No Trace – Nancy Chamberlain
Former NOVA Professor, Current GMU Professor
Leave No Trace Principles and How Individuals Interact with Nature
and the Environment

Planting in Pots for Easy Butterfly Viewing

Photo and article by Plant NOVA Natives

Some of us are deeply into gardening, but the rest of us are content with plopping a few flowers into a pot and calling it a day. This explains a lot of the popularity of annuals, most of which end up in containers and are switched out when they fade. Their colors brighten up our decks and balconies all summer, but their value in most cases is only visual. Native perennial flowers, by contrast, not only look beautiful but actually support butterflies and other life.

Most plants that are native to our area will overwinter in a pot, thus saving us the trouble of replanting year after year. Although none of them will bloom for the entire growing season, they provide interest as they develop. It is easy to get continuous color by planting several species that bloom at different times.

Once blooming begins, the parade of associated pollinators is fascinating. Being able to view the flowers up close on a deck or balcony reveals the variety of critters that you might not notice from afar, from tiny metallic-blue bees to the whole range of butterflies. There are four hundred species of native bees in Virginia, none of which will sting you as they forage for food. Butterflies range in size from the tiny Least Skipper to the classic Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. With luck, you may even see a Monarch Butterfly, especially if you plant any of a number of the several local milkweed species. The milkweed Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is particularly ornamental and just the right size for container gardening. Just as Monarch caterpillars require milkweed to survive, every other butterfly has its preferred host plant with which it evolved. This is why adopting locally native plants is so important. The annuals sold in garden centers are not native and thus do not help butterflies complete their life cycles.

Birds also enjoy native plants in containers, as much as they would if planted in a garden. The seeds of Black-eyed Susan and other Rudbeckias are particularly popular with goldfinches. Of course, you will only see them if you allow the seed heads to remain. The shapes and colors of the dead stalks of native plants add a lot of interest to an otherwise barren deck in winter. You can also draw in hummingbirds when you use the red-flowered plants such as Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) that they prefer.

Shade is no obstacle to container gardening with native plants. Particularly pleasing is the native Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia). The lacy, slightly bluish foliage is beautiful by itself, and blooms keep coming from April to the first frost.

You can learn all about container gardening with native plants on the Plant NOVA Natives website. The soil used in containers is designed to have good drainage, which means you can start planting earlier in the spring than in the rest of the garden, where working the wet soil would lead to harmful compaction.

33rd Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, April 10th

The Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup has become a decisive catalyst for progress that ignites people’s interest and passion for the environment and community action. The largest regional event of its kind, the Cleanup provides a transforming experience that engages residents and community leaders and generates momentum for change. The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup has grown from a small shoreline cleanup at Piscataway National Park to a watershed wide network. What started as a few cleanup events along the Potomac River is now a regional event spanning Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Learn more here.

NVSWCD Green Breakfast: Fairfax County’s Watershed Monitoring Programs, March 13th

Saturday, March 13, 2021
9 am
Speaker: Shannon Curtis, Watershed Assessment Branch Chief, Fairfax County DPWES-Stormwater Planning Division
Registration required. (Registration password is green, if needed.)

Fairfax County has some of the most robust watershed monitoring and watershed management programs in the nation. These are a culmination of a long history in Fairfax of investing in environmental protections through progressive policies and programs.

The county’s long-term stream monitoring programs meet state and federal regulations and support the Board of Supervisors’ Environmental Vision by providing an ongoing evaluation of the streams, which over time can be used to determine changes or trends in the conditions of the waterways, provide insight into why these trends are occurring, and ultimately be used to make sound management decisions such as targeted restoration approaches and land use decisions. 

Spend Saturday morning, from the comforts and safety of home, while hearing from Mr. Shannon Curtis, Chief of Fairfax County’s Watershed Assessment Branch, and learning more about the watersheds in Fairfax County, the legacy of progressive efforts to protect water quality, and about several of the ongoing water quality monitoring programs – including what the data is telling us, and some of the ways it is being used to protect and improve our environment.