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AM Community Calendar/photo by masochismtango on Flickr

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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


What's On:
Snowshoe hares are making the transition to spring along the Gunflint

Wildersmith April 6

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This first weekend in April finds the north woods celebrating the full pink maple sugar moon. During the fourth mature lunar experience of 2012, spring is full speed ahead throughout the upper Trail region.

A minor set back to the vernal movement occurred as March bade farewell. The territory had an unexpected return visit from the “old man of the north” as he dropped by with what will probably be his last calling card for the next several months.

At Wildersmith the frosty old devil deposited just shy of three inches while areas in the mid-trail snow zone looked to get considerably more. The drab gray/brown earth was white for about three days, and now we are back to getting on with our green-up of the Gunflint.

Speaking of green-up, the fifth annual Gunflint Green-up is taking on new character for this year. Leadership and organization for the event is coming from the folks at Gunflint Lodge.

If you are interested in the continued recovery from the Ham lake wildfire, find details on the Gunflint Lodge website home page. I’m told that the focus for green-up activities this year will be around the Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center site and the revitalization of the old Gneiss Lake Trail as far as Blueberry Hill.

It’s appropriate that with Easter Sunday at hand, the north woods bunnies are beginning to get in tune with the traditional fashion parade. With the surprise disappearance of winter, most were caught in their lush white coats and nothing to hide behind.

Our trip to Grand Marais last weekend for Palm Sunday services found the Smith’s encountering any number of the hares along the roadways. With multiplication in their DNA, the “wabbit” population is going to have the local lynx and fox seeing more than double in months to come.

They were observed parading about in turned coats of anywhere from dirty white to almost warm weather brown. As fast as they are transitioning, next week should find them well into summer garb.

That Palm Sunday trip to town turned out to be quite reflective. For once, the air currents were still, and trail side open waters were mirror smooth. It was a great occasion to see the lake side forests upside down in a double exposure mode.

Although the total green-up of the forest is still a ways off, the coniferous reflections on the polished liquid surfaces were a sparkling renewed green, indicating that warm time juices are flowing early.

Our spring migration has found several species here and gone from border country. This weeks’ feature has involved hoards of juncos. The lively slate colored critters have been busy sorting through the leftovers from the nearly three hundred pounds of sunflower seeds that winter birds and squirrels have scattered beneath the feeders.

Another avian gang has also been busy sorting through winter remains. For the past two or three weeks, it has not been uncommon to have a dozen or more crows yacking around the yard each morning. Their conversation is often quite annoying, but their ability to clean up and loosen the forest duff for potential new plant re-birth makes them at least half way tolerable.

One more natural treat happened my way after the surprising snow. Regardless of the winter season, early or late, fresh snow always makes for great animal tracking. During the most recent such event, I came upon some not often seen imprints of paws, and what looked like a single sled runner.

At first, I was not tracking, no pun intended, when suddenly, I realized what I was following was that of an otter. Prancing foot prints and a dragging tail, how neat, made me wonder what it was up to, probably some adventuresome prank. I never did get a glimpse of the jovial one, but ahh, the mystique of winter, captured one more time!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor springing ahead!


 
The Great Warm Wake from the NASA Earth Observatory

West End News April 5

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Now that March is in the record books, it's not surprising that this March was officially the warmest since records have been kept. Setting aside all the economic and political ramifications, this is the kind of phenomenon that meteorologists live for. Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner is a frequent visitor to Tofte and the BWCA Wilderness and author of the popular Updraft Blog. Recently, he wrote about all the weather records that were smashed last month. At the end of the posting, he quotes Tofte resident Jessa Frost, who said "This winter is like a bad boyfriend. They never come around when you want them, and just when you're done with them they show up unexpectedly."

Along with the rest of the nation, I followed the Supreme Court case on the Affordable Health Care Act with great interest. I am frustrated by the conservative opposition to the law's requirement that everyone carry health insurance. This was originally a conservative idea and accepting it was a significant concession from the many people who think that health care should be a single-payer system operated by the government. If the so-called mandate is struck down by the court, the whole concept health care provided by private industry is in doubt. A private insurance system can only work if the mandate is in place to spread the risk over the entire population.

Keeping the current system will not work either. Costs are rising so quickly that it will bankrupt our economy if nothing is done. The economy is also stifled by the millions of people who are stuck in their current jobs because they don't dare to risk losing their health insurance. This unintended side effect has severely depressed the entrepreneurial spirit that we used to be famous for. The old system also allowed insurance companies to drop you if you became seriously ill, which defeats the whole purpose of insurance. It has also led to health issues being the number one reason for bankruptcy.

I often hear the argument that if prices for health care were publicly posted, people would seek out the cheapest care and costs would be contained. This really makes no sense to me. Health care is not a normal product. Think of it this way: If your child were diagnosed with cancer, would you shop for a bargain basement treatment, or would you seek out the very best and probably most expensive care you could get your hands on?

Given the choices before us, it seems that if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Health Care Act, we will have little choice but to move to single payer system, like most of the rest of the world’s developed countries. Even now, between Medicaid, Medicare, the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service, well more than half of Americans are covered by government funded health care. Our wonderful local clinic is partially funded by the federal government, which allows either directly or indirectly, the fantastic care that we get here in Cook County.

If the conservative justices on the Supreme Court strike down the Affordable Health Care Act, perhaps it will galvanize the country to support a truly universal, fair, sustainable and affordable health care system for America.

We had our first canoe rental at Sawbill this week, setting another early season record. This is normally a very quiet time of year back in the woods. The road bans are in place, fishing season is closed and the muddy ground usually makes camping unappealing. This year might be an exception, at least for a few people who want to experience real solitude and a chance to how nature is adapting to the wild weather.


 
"Sol...exploded over the panorama with an eye-catching bronzy autumn-like sunset"

Wildersmith March 30

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As the northland wraps up an unusual March, there has been a lot of speculation and excitement about ice-out on upper trail lakes. Needless to say, as the last of the hard water sinks into oblivion, folks are reflecting on when was the earliest they have ever seen this happen.

This broadcast/column comes together with barely a chunk of ice left anywhere in the territory. The Gunflint saw her winter coat become official history during the nighttime hours of March 24-25. This date is the earliest by 16 days over the past 30 years. It also beats the old gal’s average by some five to six weeks.

The only report of remaining ice came from Poplar Lake and one patch on Seagull that I observed last Sunday morning. I can’t help but think that these last vestiges will not be around by the time this Gunflint news reaches your eyes or ears.

Reflecting on the winter that wasn’t, it got started about a month late and ended about a month and a half early. We were definitely gypped out of our usual six to seven month bragging rights. There are many that scoff at the global warming phenomenon; scoffers should wake up and take a good look at what’s been going on!

The territory finally got some much-needed moisture since our last visit on the radio. Although the rains did little to ease the dry conditions for the long term or add to shrunken lake levels, the inch or more that fell into my rain gauge over the past seven days did dampen the tinder forest at least momentarily.

It seems prudent, now that lake ice is gone, that there be no procrastination about getting wildfire sprinkler lines out into the water and pump engines ready to be fired up! Our current damp conditions will surely not last long with the powerful spring sun and those perpetual southerly winds that ended winter so abruptly.

So the wilderness is all about bunnies, buds and bears now that April’s on the horizon. With very few manmade piles of snow remaining, the only real element of white on the landscape is snowshoe hares, and they are probably a bit confused with this premature seasonal behavior.

A few days ago, I counted just shy of a dozen of the white fur balls along the South Gunflint lake Road. They were a stark white with barely a bit of color, indicating that they were not prepared for the exit of their winter camouflage. Standing out like a proverbial sore thumb against the drab gray/brown background, they were out en masse nibbling on the first green tidbits peeking out of the soil.

As to the buds and bears, both are making appearances sooner than expected. Green tips are on the lilacs, high bush cranberries and even a few young birch trees. I even got a peek at some minute open leaves on pin cherry trees, while pussy willow buds are so advanced they have popped their protective husks.

I’m told that some have observed the emergence of our black brunos, although none have shown around Wildersmith to date. With that in mind, I have taken in some of the avian feeding structures so as to avoid temptations. I make the same recommendation to others around the area. No need for us to create a nuisance bear! Skunks have also awakened from winter slumber and the first chipmunk is skittering about our yard.

Disappointed as many of us north woods folks are regarding the winter flop, I must say that border country is still offering up splendid natural wonders. Such was the case last Saturday evening.

A short walk down to the Gunflint shore to confirm the ice-out status found me intrigued with what was going on up and down the waters. Characters from every season were beckoning my attention.

To begin with, most of the lake ice was gone, and brisk northwest winds were rolling the lake into a summer day’s frenzy.

At the same moment, a mass of crystal shards were pressed against the granite shoreline tinkling in melodic harmony as the wind wept currents played the icy leftovers like a huge xylophone.

Glancing down the lake, old Sol was dropping out of a dark cloud bank. In moments it exploded over the panorama with an eye-catching bronzy autumn-like sunset.

As my focus scanned lower, surveying the lake surface, a thin layer of ghost-like vapors hung over the cold liquid, and the sun lit up the gauzy fog in 24-carat splendor of the new season.

During those brief moments, shivers overcame my being. I don’t know if they were caused by falling late day temps, or by the exuberance of beauty before me. With all the magnificence going on at that moment, guess I can’t be holding a grudge against Mother Nature for short-changing us on winter! We’ll just give her another chance in several months.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some wilderness time!

Airdate: March 30, 2012

Photo courtesy of Ryan Harvey on Flickr.


 
Image Carah Thomas / Graphic Lauryl Loberg

LSProject: A Dangerous, Dangerous Business

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Joe Duffy has spent the better part of his 70 some years fishing on the Big Lake. He’s from Red Cliff, a reservation on Lake Superior’s South Shore—in the heart of the Apostle Islands. A lot of things have changed in Joe’s lifetime…so much so, he wonders if commercial fishing on Superior will survive.

Program: 

 
Global land-ocean temperature index

West End News March 29

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The ice left Sawbill Lake on Tuesday, March 27. This is the earliest ice-out date since records started being kept back in the 1930s. It beats the previous record, set just two years ago, by an incredible 8 days. It is also the first time in history that the ice has gone out in March. Historically, over the last 60 years, the average ice-out date for Sawbill has been May 1.

This mild winter and incredibly early ice-out date are just two more indicators of global warming. The other local signs of global warming are shorter ski seasons, hotter summers, larger and more frequent forest fires, and the disappearance of several species of wildlife, including the moose, just to name a few.

Science has known for at least thirty years that global warming is happening and is caused by human industrial activity. Unfortunately, some of those industries have staged a remarkably effective misinformation campaign over the last twenty years, denying the existence of global warming. They’ve managed to thwart any significant effort to address this important issue and now it is too late to avoid some very bad consequences.

On a global basis, the Pentagon is projecting more armed conflicts and terrorism as a side effect of climate change around the world. The insurance industry is taking steps to limit the huge liabilities that they are facing from increasingly violent natural disasters. Glaciers and the polar ice caps are receding at alarming rates. Rising sea levels are already displacing millions of coastal residents and will displace many more millions in the near future.

Nobody likes to hear bad news, but the time is long past for the world to come together to solve this critical issue. It is also long past time to call out the global warming deniers for what they are: at best misinformed and at worst deliberate liars. In particular, the politicians who are on the wrong side of this issue should be sent packing. They know what they are doing is wrong and are placing the short term interests of their special interest donors ahead of the well being of the human race - shame on them.

On to some good news: The Cook County Lodging Tax receipts through the end of February show steady improvement in our tourism economy. In an apples-to-apples comparison, lodging sales are up about 4 percent over last year and above where they were before the recession. Of course, the figures aren’t adjusted for inflation, which makes them a little less rosy, but at least things are headed in the right direction. March and April may not be great months this year, but we’ll find out about that in the next report.

Tofte Township also received some good news this week in the form of a 29 thousand dollar grant from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation to start working on the 30 acres of land that they own around the Birch Grove Center. The property is being studied for possible construction of senior and/or affordable housing. The grant will pay for an engineering survey to figure out which parts of the property are suitable for buildings, sewer systems, wetlands, etc. Birch Grove Foundation director Patty Nordahl, who will help administer the grant, says that there is much work to be done before the project becomes reality, but she is pleased to be taking this important step. Senior and affordable housing has been a Tofte Township priority for many years.

The Birch Grove Foundation also received a generous North Shore Health Care Foundation grant for their Busy Bodies project. This is a coordinated effort with local childcare provider Anna Lisa Peck, Saplings preschool, Open Gym and the North Shore Visitation Center. They have purchased large motor equipment for pre-school age children. Studies have shown that one hour a day of vigorous play improves the health of children and lowers the risk of childhood obesity. Open Gym for pre-schoolers and their families is every Friday at 9 am, and the play is reportedly very vigorous!

Finally from Birch Grove, the regularly scheduled community lunch will be a week later than usual in April. It will be at noon on April 17 rather than April 10.

I had the privilege of seeing two lynx this week during my normal travels around the area. In both cases, I was able to get a good, long look at the beautiful cat and it was quite obvious that they were lynx and not bobcats. The only thing I can’t be sure of is whether I saw two lynx – or the same lynx twice.


 
Isle Royale wolf pack - photo by John Vucetich, Michigan Technological University.

Dr. Rolf Peterson on Isle Royale's wolves

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The National Park Service has begun an internal review of the wolf population and wildlife dynamics on Isle Royale. The NPS has developed a plan to move forward with identifying options and evaluating the implications of intervention.

The actions follow in response to Michigan Technological University studies, headed by wolf specialist Dr. Rolf Peterson.  

According to Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green, the results of the 54th annual winter study at Isle Royale National Park show that the wolf population is at the lowest level since the study began.  

Green said, “We are very concerned about current wolf population demographics and trends, and intend to discuss and analyze these dynamics as part of the broader ecosystem and context of change on the island”. She added, “ We look forward to updated information from the MTU researchers, and as we move forward in resolving this issue, the long term science will be invaluable.”

The MTU study shows nine wolves remaining on Isle Royale, down from 16 animals a year ago, including only one known female. 

An interdisciplinary group of park service wildlife biologists, wilderness specialists, and natural resources experts met last month to discuss the declining wolf population issue and reached an agreement on how to move forward. Planning will take into account a variety of factors, including climate change, species interactions, and ecosystem dynamics.

Click on Audio mp3 above to hear a March 22 interview with Dr. Rolf Peterson of Michigan Technological University.  Peterson has been researching wolves and moose on Isle Royale for more than four decades and he spoke recently with WTIP volunteer Veronica Weadock.

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Rick DeFoe and family

Anishinaabe Way: Fond du Lac Elder Rick DeFoe

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Fond du Lac elder Rick DeFoe gave a brief interview while attending an anti-sulfide mining rally in Duluth, Minneosta in March of 2012, for this edition of Anishinaabe Way. 

He discusses the role of tribes in protecting clean water, including children in such activities, and talks about the importance of eagles to Anishinaabe people. 
 


 
Francie Beaster

Local Music Project with Francie Beaster

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In this installment of the Local Music Project, Francie Beaster shares how there has always been time for music in her busy life as wife, mother, piano instructor and church musician.


 
Bill notes sudden spring thaws have flooded bears out of their dens in the past. Be on the look out!

West End News March 16

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Thank you to all the candidates who ran for office in the recent township elections in Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen. I know from experience that running for public office can be a little uncomfortable for Minnesotans. After all, the definition of an extrovert in Cook County is someone who looks at your shoes while they’re talking to you. In the township elections, it doesn’t really matter what party you identify with, but it’s more about being willing to put in the time and energy. So, I offer my congratulations to the winners of the township supervisor and clerk positions, even though it’s much like congratulating them for getting a brand new pick and shovel.

It’s stylish these days to be contemptuous of people who seek and hold public office. However, like many things in life, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Office holders not only commit a huge amount of time and energy, but they make important decisions that affect our lives on a daily basis. I think it’s important that we honor those who serve, even if we don’t agree with them on the issues.

While I’m on the subject, Tofte Township has scheduled its truth in taxation hearing for Thursday, April 26 starting at 7 pm. This is where you can question the value that the tax assessor has assigned to your property. The Town Board has the authority to reduce total valuation by 1%. Cook County Tax Assessor, Mary Black, and an assistant will be at the meeting to provide advice. If you have questions about your valuation, it’s best to call Mary ahead of time so she can get background information together for you. Her phone number at the courthouse is 387-3000.

I recently heard from Rick Jannett, whom I have known since the early ‘80s. Rick has been researching small mammals, including mice, voles, and shrews, in Cook County since 1983. He has discovered that our most common small mammal, the red backed vole, goes through population cycles every three to six years. Another species, the rock vole, had a very stable population for many years, but recently has almost disappeared in some years.

The smoky shrew first appeared in Cook County in the mid ‘90s, apparently expanding its range from Canada, and now seems to be widespread in the county. Several other shrew species appear to be less common as time goes by.

Rick has found that small mammal populations in the forest have declined since 2004, but the cause is not clear. He suspects that it could be related to severe weather events or a thinner snow pack which leaves the little guys susceptible to weather and predators.

Rick has not found the white-footed mouse in the forest, which is good news because they carry deer ticks that can transfer Lyme disease and other illnesses to humans.

Rick reminds me of our own West End biologist, Bill Lane, who has been studying owls in Cook County for a similar period of time. They should probably get together to compare data, as small mammals and owls are surely inextricably linked in the ecosystem. I’ve seen Bill’s snowshoe tracks heading into the woods off the Sawbill Trail this week, so I know he is out in the dark counting owls as the rest of us slumber blissfully in our beds.

Speaking of critters, it would not be surprising to see some bears wandering around in the next couple of weeks. In the past, when we’ve had these sudden thaws at this time of year, the bears get flooded out of their dens. People see them, but they appear to still be kind of sleepy and out of it. Other than casually destroying the odd bird feeder, they don’t cause any problems.

As always, it’s great to be able to live side-by-side with so many wild animals here in the West End.


 
Anishinaabe couple harvesting wild rice on the Bad River / photo Marquette University Archives, graphic Lauryl Loberg

LSProject: Water, Language and Culture Intertwined

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The history of the Anishinaabeg and Lake Superior is very long. Early French and English documents named the native people Ojibwe or Chippewa. But they call themselves Anishinaabe. They call Lake Superior, Gichigami. Wild Rice is manoomin, and waawaashkeshi is the deer. Names such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Manitou, Chequamegon, Keewenaw are from the Anishinaabe.

The Anishinaabe still speak their language. Wes Ballinger is one of several people making sure it will be heard for hundreds of years to come. Ballinger is working in the language, using it, teaching it, learning it, and preserving it. It’s his job, as head of the language department for the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission, at Bad River, WI.