An Illinois River Almanac Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 The Alternative Energy Run Down Mon, 19 Jun 2017 13:21:00 +0000 Alternative energy gets a lot of time in many of the discussions I have had recently. Many of them are extensions of other topics, but somehow the conversation is moved to some form of alternative energy. Several of them start out with "But how does this type of energy affect (fill in the blank)?" With this in mind, here are the most popular forms of alternative energy production with some pros and cons. The important thing to consider is "There is NO FREE Lunch."

Wind Power:

Pros: Clean; Abundant; Cost Efficient; One of the easiest forms of energy to maintain; Lots of Research is being done in this area, which makes it less expensive each year; Green House Gas (GHG) neutral energy.

Cons: Not everyone likes the way the equipment look/they destroy beautiful views; There is compelling research that shows them as one of many dangers to migrating birds; Wind is not constant; Not all areas are ideal for wind production and "transportation" of energy reduces the energy delivered; Very expensive to build.

Solar Power:

Pros: Clean; Abundant; Cost efficient; One of the oldest and most understood of the clean energy choices; There are lots of options for residential use, including leasing or purchasing equipment; Easy to add to existing buildings; Is viable in all areas of the country; GHG neutral energy.

Cons: On historic buildings, solar panels can destroy the historic charm or are not allowed on historic buildings due to local historic preservation codes; The sun is not out all the time; There are durability issues associated with commercial solar energy production; There is some research showing that large solar farms could affect migrating birds.


Pros: Relatively inexpensive to install in new construction (for heating/cooling); Can produce heating/cooling and electricity; GHG neutral; extremely efficient; No fuel costs, so price is very stable once installed.

Cons: Not viable in all areas, particularly for energy production; High maintenance costs of equipment, as some geothermal sources can be highly corrosive to equipment; High up-front costs to build (electrical production); Some concerns with the liquids used in closed-loop systems if there is a leak.

Alternative Fuels (Biomass, Biofuels, and others):

Pros: Renewable; readily available; Supports National Economy; Reduces dependence on fossil fuels; Possibility of multiple uses for field crops; requires less infrastructure alterations; Inexpensive.

Cons: Still releases GHGs; Some Biofuels are not viable in all climates; The current production capabilities would not provide for the entire country; Some loss of efficiency; Transition to exclusive use would be long and expensive; Some fear of "new" crops having the potential to become invasive; Possibility of destruction of "natural areas" for energy production.

I have not touched on all of the pros and cons of each of these alternative energy types, but these are the most prevalent. Although there are many options from which to choose, no one option will be the answer for future energy production. Just remember, There is NO FREE Lunch.]]>
Feeding Wildlife Fri, 02 Jun 2017 09:30:00 +0000 How many of us have gone to feed the ducks at a local park or pond near our homes? I would guess that most if not all people have done this at some point in our lives. Whoever it was that took you to the pond to feed the ducks more than likely it was done with a bag of white bread or bread heels, and those ducks went nuts for that bread. However, have you stopped to think about what feeding wildlife does to wildlife? I am not talking about putting a bird feeder out in the winter to help support birds that live here year-round; this has some very positive effects on these birds. There are many disadvantages to feeding wildlife.

  1. It creates a dependence on humans. Feeding wildlife creates a dependence on humans for food. We have all been in a state or national park and seen the signs that say "Please Do Not Feed the Wildlife" there is a reason for this. When we feed wildlife, particularly when there are young individuals involved the animals can lose their ability to forage effectively, or they do not learn to forage.
  2. It can create health problems in wildlife. The foods that we commonly feed wildlife are things that lack the necessary nutrients for wildlife. In the case of ducks, geese and, other waterfowl the lack of sufficient nutrients can cause joint issues in the wings either severely restricting flight or can stop them from flying at all. This makes them easy prey for predators and keeps them from being able to migrate.
  3. Can keep wildlife from migrating. Having a stable ready food supply that is available throughout the year can indicate to some species that would usually migrate that they do not need to migrate. It takes a lot of energy to migrate, and if they do not have to, they might stay put. This puts additional, unnecessary stress on the species that would ordinarily stay. It also might delay migration in some animals, which puts extra stress on the individuals that are moving through an area on their normal migration. This makes the migration process much more difficult.
  4. Can cause a loss of fear of humans. It is important that animals keep a natural fear of humans. If a fear of humans is lost, animals will approach humans and can become aggressive when food is not available. This can increase animal attacks and the spread of disease.
  5. Can destroy habitats and cause a loss of biodiversity. When we feed animals, they tend to congregate in the "feeding" areas. This creates a population that cannot be supported in an area. This causes the over browsing of plants in an area and can restrict the spread of seeds, or if a plant is under too much stress, they may not set seeds at all. This affects not only the plants but also the insects that need the flowers or leaves. The higher populations of animals can also lead to aggressive behavior in animals as they compete for resources and can lead to starvation and very poor health in animals in the area.

Feeding wildlife is a fun activity on the surface but when you feed animals think about what the consequences for your fun are? Think before you go out and feed the ducks. Take young children out to admire the wildlife and teach them that they are enjoyed from a distance.

The Need for Hunting Mon, 22 May 2017 11:39:00 +0000 All creatures modify their habitats to better meet their needs. Some make major modifications, like beavers, and some make minor changes like moles. Humans are no exception to this they fall under the type of creature that makes major changes to their habitats. Humans replace forests and prairies with cities and agriculture fields; displacing different animal species because they pose a threat to our crops, livestock or are simply a perceived threat to our health. The displacement of predators that are perceived as a threat is one of the reasons that hunting is an important part conserving natural habitats.

Predator and prey species have a relationship that is very dependent on each other. When one is removed from an ecosystem the other struggles and can have dire consequences on the habitat in general. The removal of predators has a very significant effect on the habitat. When a major predator (wolfs or mountain lions) is removed from a habitat it allows the prey species (deer) population to expand rapidly. This then has a negative effect on the entire habitat. As the deer numbers increase more of the vegetation is consumed until all of the vegetation that is within reach of the deer is gone. This in turn reduces the number of other species that you might find in the habitat. The significant reduction in plants increases erosion in the habitat creating water quality issues affecting the fish and amphibians. Without an understory there are no hiding spots for birds and small mammals and as deer populations increase the likeliness of automobile accidents involving deer. Hunting provides an important control of population numbers of deer in habitats where the natural predators have been removed. In addition to helping to reduce automobile accidents hunters help to increase biodiversity in the areas around their chosen hunting ground. Predators would have also helped to keep the genetic diversity within a deer population at a healthy level allowing for new genetic material to move into an area by removing an older dominant buck, and allowing new males from outside to move into the area. Hunters do the same thing when they remove that "Trophy Buck" from an area.

Predators have a huge impact on their habitats and they are an important part of the ecosystems in which they function. The biggest evidence of this comes from Yellowstone National Park. Before wolves were reintroduced to the park elk herds were large and biodiversity within the park was lower than it should have been. After the wolves were reintroduces some major changes began to take place. The presence of the wolves helped to reduce the number of elk, this in turn increased biodiversity in the park. The wolves had an unexpected effect on the environment in the park as well. The increase in biodiversity and increased soil stability actually changed the course of the Yellowstone River. The natural control of the elk herds in the park allowed the river to return to its normal movement rather than the "natural channelization" that had occurred over the previous nearly 100 years.

Hunters have an important role to play in the environment when predators have been removed. They are needed to take the place of the creatures that have been removed.

The Mind Mending Power of Nature Fri, 14 Apr 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I am sure that no one will deny that nature is exceptionally beneficial. Trees and other plants provide oxygen; nature provides recreational opportunities and food for some. Access to water without rivers, streams, and lakes would be much more difficult. However, there are some much less tangible benefits to nature as well. Nature provides mental renewal, reduces healing time for patients in hospitals, and can help to reduce stress and behavioral issues in children.

A great deal of research is available on the benefits that nature has on reducing mental fatigue in adults. The definition of nature in these studies is not out in the "backwoods," but rather exposure to green space.

  • In some studies, simply the view of nature was enough to reduce the effects of mental stress in both adults and children.
  • In addition to reducing the effects of mental stress, children with Attention Deficit Disorder Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) showed improvement in symptoms while both medicated and unmedicated. Children that participated in a guided hike through green spaces showed notable improvements. More information can be found in "A Potential Natural Treatment for Attentions-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study" By F.E. Kuo and A.F. Taylor
  • Nature has even been shown to reduce aggression and violence in highly urbanized areas. More information can be found in "Aggression and Violence in the Inner City Effects of Environment via Mental Fatigue" By F.E. Kuo and W.C. Sullivan
  • Views of nature can speed recovery time for patients in hospitals and reduce the stress of being in a hospital for both patients and family.
  • When nature is at the very least visible:
  • Creativity, attention span, and comprehension increase in the school environment
  • Stress is reduced in all environments

Nature has many benefits to mental health in both adults and children. Getting out in nature, taking a hike, sitting quietly on a bench under a tree, or just taking a walk in the park will benefit you greatly.

If you have questions about the benefits of nature or would like some ideas of where to get out in nature contact Jason Haupt (

Birds Bees and Wild Things: Sting Like a Bee Fri, 07 Apr 2017 09:30:00 +0000 Pollinators play a significant role in keeping habitats healthy and diverse. They are important to agriculture pollinating crops and help in ensuring a good healthy yield. When most people think of pollinators, their first thought is honeybees. However, there are so many more bees than just honey- bees (which are non-native) and more than 3,500 species of native bees in the United States with 228 of them found in Illinois. Without bees, much of the produce that you love to have in the summer would not be available in the quantities or the quality that you love. Peppers, tomatoes, many root vegetables, and many fruits need bees to pollinate and produce healthy produce. Bees ensure that the flowers properly pollinate and produce healthy and abundant fruits, seeds, and vegetables. Research has also shown that an increased native bee population also makes honeybees produce more honey increasing the yield of local honey.

The problem is that bees of all sorts are starting to become uncommon. In Illinois one native bumblebee, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis), is listed as federally endangered. There is a lot of speculation as to why bee populations are on the decline, but research has shown that one of the greatest threats to bees is habitat loss. This means that there is an easy way for you to help. As you are creating habitat for other types of wildlife, it is easy to incorporate habitat for bees as well.

One of the challenges that scientists in Illinois face is understanding the distribution of bees in the state. The University of Illinois has a citizen scientist project called Bee Spotter. It is very simple to be a part of this project. To be involved you need a smartphone and an account with bee spotter. Simply take a picture of the bee from above and the side and send it into Bee Spotter. This allows the scientists to identify the bee and its location to increase their knowledge of the distribution of native bumblebees around the state. To participate or find more information go to


  • Bees fall into several categories of nesters: ground nesters, tunnel nesters, wood nesters and cavity nesters.
  • Building a "bee house" can be as simple as taking a log and drilling holes in it to create a place for wood-nesting bees to make a home quickly. Plans for more complicated nest blocks for multiple nesting bee types, on the Xerces Society website ( are easy to follow. For ground-nesting bees, having bare soil or mounded soil provide excellent places for nest building


  • Brightly colored flowers will attract bees to your yard.
  • Make sure that flowers are blooming throughout the growing season to keep the bees coming back.
  • Native plants require less maintenance than other plants and are an excellent food source for bees.

For more information on creating bee habitat or other natural resource questions, please contact Jason Haupt (


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Bird Bees and Wild Things: Float Like a Butterfly Fri, 31 Mar 2017 09:30:00 +0000 If you read the first part of Birds Bees and Wild Things, you will remember that to attract birds to your yard; insects are an essential element of a bird's diet for part of the year. Attracting wildlife to your yard is an interconnected effort, and to attract all types of wildlife, you need to look at your yard as a habitat you have food, water, shelter, and space.

When you are looking to attract butterflies and other pollinators to your yard, you need to think about providing for all stages in the life of the insects that you want to attract. Insects have multiple life stages, and each stage has a different food requirement. Milkweed is one of the most common plants chosen to attract butterflies, Monarchs specifically, but Milkweed only provides for one of the life stages of the Monarch's life cycle. To attract and keep the butterflies coming to your yard, you need to provide food for the larval stage (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult (butterfly) stages. Each stage has specific requirements.

  • Many larvae are very particular to the type of food they will eat, often sticking to a very narrow range of plants or staying within a family of plants. The Monarch is an excellent example of this with the larva only feeding on plants in the Milkweed family.
  • Some butterflies are specific to the plants they will build their chrysalis on, so knowing the type of butterflies you want to see will help you choose plants.
  • Adult butterflies, though not highly specific to the exact plant types, have some requirements.
  • Stick to flowers that are bright and colorful like reds, yellows, oranges and purples.
  • Flowers with flat tops or have short flower tubes are necessary. The nectar must be accessible to the butterflies.

Keep in mind that you need to provide water for butterflies as well. Standing water is not the best for butterflies, but wet areas or a sponge in a birdbath provide the needed moisture. Sun is also important when wanting to attract butterflies to your yard. Open sunny areas where the butterflies can sun themselves are important. Having a flat rock or another area brightly lit by the sun is an important feature to have when attracting butterflies.

Native plants are better for attracting a wider variety of butterflies than cultivars or non-native horticultural industry designed plants. Native plants serve as a host for a much larger variety of species, and they are much more resistant to drought, and native pests. They tend to be much lower maintenance than other plants. Birds Bees and Wild Things: Part 2 Float Like a Butterfly…

If you have any questions about attracting butterflies to your yard or any other natural resource questions, please contact Jason Haupt (

Birds Bees and Wild Things: Feathered Friends Fri, 24 Mar 2017 09:30:00 +0000 Attracting wildlife to your yard is something in which everyone seems to be interested. But knowing how to do this is what many people lack.  As you think about attracting wildlife to your yard, the first step is to start looking at your yard as a habitat. All habitats have four elements: water, shelter, food, and space. To attract and keep wildlife coming back all four elements must be readily available throughout the year.

Birds can be the easiest type of wildlife to attract to your backyard habitat. Providing food for birds is as simple as adding bird feeders to your yard, but there is much more that you can do to provide food than just bird feeders. Different types of birds require different foods at different times of the year. All birds are carnivores for part of the year. Birds need extra protein when birds are rearing young and one way to get that needed protein is by eating insects. Having a habitat that attracts insects like pollinators provides the easy access to the protein source that is needed. Planting a variety of plants that provide seeds at different times throughout the growing season is a much better way to provide food throughout the year than simply having a bird feeder in your yard. Plants that provide berries late in the season are also a very good source of food throughout the fall and winter months.

Providing spaces for birds might seem like something that you do not need to be concerned about, however, habitat fragmentation in urban and suburban areas is a big problem. Privacy fences chop the habitat up into small segments that are difficult for birds to navigate. Smaller fences tend to have less of an effect on fragmenting the habitat, chain link fences are a good option as they provide a way for birds to fly through, and natural fences are the best option as they provide both food and shelter for birds that you might be attracting to your yard.

Shelter is important to provide and does not have to come in the form of a bird house. Bushes and trees provide shelter and evergreen bushes provide shelter throughout the year. Shelter is important to birds and birdhouses and nesting boxes provide places for cavity nesting birds to rear young.

Water is the easiest element to provide in your yard. Providing water can be extensive if adding a pond or water feature, very simple such as a birdbath. Birdbaths provide a water source and are easy to add to any yard and require little attention. Ensuring that the birdbath has clean water is all the maintenance that is required with a birdbath.

If you have questions about attracting birds to your yard or have questions about other natural resource questions contact Jason Haupt, University of Illinois Extension Energy and Environmental Stewardship Educator (