An Illinois River Almanac Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 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 (


Useful Links:

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 (

Radon Testing Thu, 26 Jan 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It is that time of the year again - time to think about radon in your home. January is Radon Action Month, and is one of the best times to test your home for radon. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both classify radon as a "Known Human Carcinogen." The U.S. EPA estimates that 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to radon. In Illinois, an estimated 1,160 people develop lung cancer that is attributed to radon. More lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon than second-hand smoke, and yet I still find that there is still a significant lack of knowledge about radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas. As a result, the only way to know if you have elevated levels of radon in your home is to test. Radon can get into any home and can be elevated in homes regardless of foundation type, age, or style. It only needs the smallest gap or crack to enter your home. Any cracks in the foundation, plumbing penetrations, sump pits, and drains are all ways that radon can enter the home. In Illinois 36% of homes tested have levels that are above the U.S. EPA action level (4.0 picocuries per liter of air).

Testing your home for radon is easy and can be done by the homeowner or resident, or you can hire a professional to come in and test your home. If you are going to hire someone to test your home, a list of licensed professionals can be found on the Illinois Emergency Management Agency's (IEMA) website ( If you wish to test your home yourself, a list of sellers of low cost test kits can also be found on the IEMA website. Test kits can be purchased at big box stores; they may also be available from your county health department. Check with your health department to see if they are available. Even if you have tested your home in the past, U.S. EPA recommends that you test your home every two years.

If you are testing your own home, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There are many types of tests available. When purchasing a test read the label. Some tests have an analysis fee in addition to the purchase price.
  • In the case of activated charcoal tests, keep them away from moisture.
  • Test on the lowest livable level of the home. Place in an area that is away from outside doors and windows and between three and six feet off the ground.
  • Test above all foundation types in the home. If you have a basement and a crawl space, you will need two tests.
Trench, Keyhole and Mound Gardening reuses plant materials. By Kelly Allsup Fri, 16 Dec 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Guest author Kelly Allsup


Start your gardening endeavors this fall by using plant materials (organic matter) that you would normally put on the curb for pick-up. Whether you use the trench, keyhole, mound (also known as Hugelkultur) gardening methods, you will be creating a growing environment that requires no fertilizer, little irrigation and ideal for root growth.

From a fertility standpoint, 10 percent organic matter is preferred for vegetables and flowers. Typically, in Illinois the percentage of organic matter is less than 2 percent, therefore requiring additions of fertilizers to keep plants green and blooming. However, fertility also can be achieved from the breakdown of organic matter.

Trench gardening is the simple way of composting organic matter without the pile. In your garden, dig a one-foot-deep hole, chop and mix kitchen scraps, straw, leaves, etc. then cover with 8 inches of soil. Depending on soil temperature, the supply of microorganisms (decomposers) and the content of the materials, decomposition will occur in one month to one year. Grow your plants in-between rows of these actively composting trenches. Rotate trenches every two to three years.

Keyhole gardening is a raised-bed system that uses a compost basket to add nutrients. Build a raised bed in a 6-foot-diameter circle at waist height with a wedge cut out for easy access out of found materials like cinder blocks. Layer the bottom with cardboard, branches, stems, newspapers then fill in spaces with kitchen and garden scraps, leaves and straw, top off with soil and mulch. Add a cylinder basket a foot wide made out of chicken wire to protrude out of the center. Add composting materials to the basket and periodically water. The soil should lead away from the basket causing the water to run off onto the existing plants, therefore providing nutrients.

Mound gardening resembles the decomposition found on the forest floor. Layer logs, branches, newspaper, kitchen scraps, leaves, egg shells, coffee grounds and top off with soil and start growing immediately. As the materials start to break down, they will create a soil filled with rich organic matter and air spaces. The heat given off in the decomposition process will create a longer growing season in the first few years but a bed mounded up high can give 20 years of nutrients.

Rules to follow when choosing materials:

  • Do not use cedar or locust; they take too long to rot. Do not use black walnut, which is toxic to plants, or black cherry, which is toxic to animals. Ideal logs are from alders, cottonwoods, poplar and birch.
  • Earthworms are more likely to be attracted to rich organic environments, giving added benefit with their castings.

If you like this article check out Kelly's blog at