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North Shore Morning

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:
Snow fleas

West End News: February 25

I was very excited to see a healthy looking cow moose on the road the other day. It seemed to have a thick winter coat and was not wearing a collar.  Why was I excited? Because I drive the back roads of the West End as much as anybody and I almost never see a moose anymore.
 
When our kids were in school, which was less than 10 years ago, we saw many moose – so many that the kids became blasé – barely willing to be roused from their reverie to take a look at even the most magnificent moose. It was so routine as to be bordering on boring.
 
Everyone knows that the moose are disappearing from Minnesota, but no one really seems to know why. In the last year, I’ve read conflicting expert opinions, including too many wolves, too many ticks, too much hot weather in the summer, not enough cold weather in the winter, climate change in general, over-hunting, habitat loss, viruses, not enough logging, too much logging and most recently, too many deer.
 
With all due respect to wildlife biologists, it really seems that nobody knows. And, none of the expert opinions strike me as being completely objective and non-political, no matter how well intentioned.
 
I certainly don’t claim to know what the problem is, but I’m beginning to suspect that it may be unknowable. It may be the case that the sheer complexity of a functioning ecosystem is beyond the ablility of the human brain to fully understand. In other words, life in the forests of northeastern Minnesota may be connected in so many subtle and intricate ways that it may not be possible to tease out the one, six or a dozen causes for moose population decline. It is at least possible that the there are hundreds, if not thousands of ecological relationships that can alter forest dynamics resulting in the simple fact that the moose can no longer survive here.
 
The moose are not the only species that is in flux during the last decade. All over the world, animal populations are declining or growing in unexpected ways. Even a casual observer here in the West End can tell you that there have been many changes over the last half century – literally dozens of species that used to be common and are now rare, and dozens more that were never seen here and are now common. It could be reasonable to conclude that whatever is causing this general trend may be causing the moose decline.
 
Switching from large wildlife to tiny wildlife, I was delighted to see a large outbreak of snow fleas this week. Snow fleas are tiny black insects that mysteriously appear on snowbanks in the middle of the winter.  They are called snow fleas because, although they are no larger than a speck of dust, they are prodigious jumpers. They appear in flocks, or perhaps swarms might be more accurate, and as you draw near to inspect them they jump so fast and far that they give the illusion of just abruptly disappearing.
 
I should point out that they are not actually fleas and do not bite. Their taxonomic name is Collembola, and while they are in the group that includes insects, they technically are not classified as insects. Their eyes are not proper compound eyes, their abdomen has fewer segments and some special extra appendages that insects don’t have. They are commonly known as springtails, due to a couple of appendages that look like tails that play a large role in their incredible jumping ability.
 
The sources I read are a little vague about why the snow fleas emerge on the surface of deep snow during warm late winter days. I feel like they are more common when the snowpack is deeper. It is a fact that they are cute and interesting, occupying one of the more unique ecological niches in the woods.
 
There is plenty of snow over the hill this year for the snowfleas and everyone else who enjoys snow. I measured 32” on the deck this morning. That is down a little since the rain we had last week.

Slush remains a serious impediment to travel on the lakes, at least in the Sawbill area. The slush has been bad all winter, but finally started to freeze up during the last cold snap. Sadly, just a day or two later the rain brought it back with a vengeance. It has been common this year to see camping parties head out on Sawbill Lake with full camping gear only to see them return a few hours later, get in their cars and leave.
 
Hopefully, the late winter cycle of freeze and thaw will soon create a crust on the lakes and rivers that will make travel a joy and the epic slush of 2016 an unpleasant memory.
 
 

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Northern Sky: February 20

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and contributes to WTIP bi-weekly on the Monday North Shore Morning program through "Northern Sky," where she shares what's happening with stars, planets and more.

A full Snow Moon or Hunger Moon on February 22; Earth prepares to lap Jupiter on March 8; Scorpius, Saturn and Mars in the morning sky; and in news - cataclysmic events producing gravitational waves that we can now detect.

(constellation map by Torsten Bronger via Wikimedia Commons)


 

School News from Oshki Ogimaag: February 19

Hunter reports the latest news from Oshki Ogimaag Community School in Grand Portage.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 19

              
Following some “true north” cold, Gunflint conditions have turned somewhat southward once again. Before the turn-around, this neighborhood had a spell of January frigidity as Wildersmith experienced several days of bitter readings prior to emerging above zero last Sunday. 

On the precipitation side of the weather ledger, things were also on the minus side with the only snow happening of the horizontal variety. As strong winds ushered in the cold, loose snow was whisked off flat lake surfaces. Subsequently, the forest landscape was plastered with a hard coating of icy crystals. Hence, critters' trails around the yard were smoothed over as if a fresh snowfall had taken place. 

The bitter cold may have firmed up some of the slushy places on lakes away from shore lines, but plenty of the icy goop remains near shore on a number of lakes. Longtime residents living along Gunflint Lake indicate this is the worst slush they’ve ever seen. That in mind, this semi-winter has broken two records what with the latest “ice on” ever of January 4 and now this continuing slurry mire.  

Another consequence of this “El Nino” disaster is the lack of ice depth on big area lakes. A friend in my neighborhood was here angling over the Presidents' Day weekend, and reports Gunflint Lake ice measured at 17 inches. Normally right now, as winter begins its descent toward spring, we would be looking at two and a half to three feet of hard water. This oddity causes yet another instance of cold season weather lore trivium. 

Speaking of snow, in spite of what appears to be mediocre accumulations around here thus far, a healthy couple feet of the stuff had built up on the Wildersmith roof. Coupled with some early season freezing rain and sleet, ice damming character is becoming a problem along the eaves of our abode. Consequently, yours truly has been into housetop snow removal over the last few days. What a job!  Notwithstanding my passion for the white, I hope for a little reprieve from a new build up until sore muscles recuperate. 

Our “green thumb” neighbor from over on Loon Lake relayed spring tidings last week. She announced her first indoor plantings (bok choy) had sprouted. This may be more indicative of an early spring than “Punxsutawney Phil” or any other of his groundhog kin. Of course, it’s still a long ways until sprouts can be set out in the garden, but the happening alone makes people smile. 

During a quiet moment of outdoor observation last week, I was amused at the sight of a neighborhood squirrel munching sunflower seeds with posthaste. The red rodent was eating like there was no tomorrow, seed after seed, as fast as one could be picked up while casting away shells like they were coming from an automatic weapon.  

After watching this dining exercise for several moments, I decided to time the tiny fellow/gal to see how many kernels it might consume in a 60-second segment. There is probably not a category for this in Ripley’s “Believe it or not,” but for the record, 25 morsels were picked up, shelled, and devoured in a single minute.  I’d bet the “boys of summer” couldn’t come close to matching this. 

Perhaps readers and listeners think I have too much time on my hands, and maybe so, but I’m chalking it up as one more up north educational highlight. You know one has to keep their ear to the ground and eyes to the sky for any and all Gunflint Trail enlightenments. 

Lastly, but certainly not in the least of news for this week, listeners and website readers are reminded of this station''s first fund raising mission of this new year. The session for sustaining this North Country broadcast phenomena kicked off Thursday and runs through noontime this coming Monday.     

The theme of this membership drive is “Cabin Fever.” Regardless of where listeners reside, there is no need to feel the “fever” when you have WTIP at your beckon. The wonderful spirit of North Shore, and wilderness living, is brought to life every day through a dedicated staff and countless volunteers. 

However, costs of bringing this airwave effervescence to you does not come cheap, quality programming costs money. This is where supporting membership is so important! WTIP cannot continue to grow without the gracious support of its membership. Members, both renewing and first timers, have been great to step up in the past with their financial resources, and I hope all will do so again during the next few days.  

Don’t delay, give us a call at 387-1070 or 1-800-473-9847, or click and join at WTIP.org, or stop by the studios at 1712 West Highway 61. The folks at WTIP need you! 

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, keep the radio on and JOIN in the “Cabin Fever” fun!
 
 
{photo by Jon Large via Flickr}

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A Year in the Wilderness: February 18 - Cold weather guests

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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FAFSA

West End News: February 18

The news that a Dollar General Store is being planned for Cook County has certainly caused a flurry of discussion recently.  As with any public policy issue, there are many interests at play and almost as many opinions as there are people, including good reasons for and against building a Dollar General store in our fair city of Grand Marais.  And, the same arguments would apply to just about any part of Cook County, including the West End.
 
In my opinion, it boils down to how we want to organize our society.  Dollar General is part of a giant corporation that exists for one reason and one reason only – to return profit to their stockholders.  In fact, they are required by law to make every reasonable effort to maximize shareholder profit.  Beyond their legal responsibility, ruthless competition forces outfits like Dollar General to cut their costs to the bone – and sometimes beyond the bone – in order to generate those profits. 
 
It’s easy to imagine mustachioed Dollar General executives in stovepipe hats scuttling around their dank offices plotting the destruction of small town America.  My hunch is that the reality is much more banal, and in some ways even more frightening. 
 
It is much more likely that there is a bland office full of highly educated financial experts who spend their days poring over spreadsheets in order to save a dime here, a nickel there and a penny over yonder.  In the corporate cubicle, the systems they devise for cost cutting and efficiency make perfect sense, especially to the bottom line. 
 
However, in the real world of rural America, their decisions have real impact on real people that cause real damage with distressing predictability.  Wages, work schedules, work rules and benefits are lowered to the point where employees can’t make a living, or worse, are actually hurt by their employment.  Control of the supply chain provides leverage to easily drive independent, locally owned stores out of business, which in turn creates more leverage, which allows the profits to flow more freely out of the community.
 
In my opinion, business has three responsibilities: first to their shareholders, second to their employees and other stakeholders and, last but not least, to the communities where they operate.  The latter two are lost if we organize our society completely on a corporate profit model.
 
Most of the existing businesses in Cook County – even the biggest – are owned by people who live in the community and understand the triple bottom line.  I think that situation is valuable and it’s in our own self-interest to protect it.
 
One last reminder that the precinct caucuses for the Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor Parties are being held on Tuesday, March 1st, with sign-in starting at 6:30 pm and the caucus process starting at 7 pm.  The Republican caucuses for Cook County are all being held at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais.  The DFL caucuses for all the West End precincts will be held at Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.
 
The caucuses can be kind of sleepy affairs sometimes, but this year there will be a lot of interest because you can cast a preferential ballot to nominate a presidential candidate to represent your party in the general election this November.
 
There are two things that are important to know about the party caucuses.  The first is that you don’t have be a “registered” member of the party to participate.  You can just show up at the caucus of the party that you think most closely represents your political inclination. The second thing to know is that you don’t have to stay for the evening to indicate your presidential choice.  In fact, you can show up, sign in, fill out your presidential candidate ballot and leave, if you want to.
 
If you, or a loved one, are planning or wishing to attend college anytime soon, Cook County Higher Education has an event coming up that you should not miss.  It is a brown bag lunch that will address financial aid and how you can pay for your college education.  It will focus on how to complete the dreaded FAFSA form. FAFSA is an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
 
Financial Aid Director LaNita Robinson will walk you through the FAFSA form, including the changes that are new for 2016 and 17.  You can bring a laptop and work on your form with coaching right after the lunch. Or, you can schedule an appointment for some private help later.
 
This is all happening from 11:30 until 1 pm on Friday, March 11th at the North Shore Campus in Grand Marais.  It is a free event and everyone is welcome.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.
 
 
 

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North Woods Naturalist: Snow drifting

There’s more to snow drifts than beautiful shapes.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about the process of drifting snow.

(Photo by James Jordan on Flickr)
 

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Birch Grove Community School

School News from Birch Grove: February 17

Deja, Kalina and Arlo report the latest School News.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 12

It seems almost inconceivable we are nearing the halfway point of month two. As January fades in the rear view mirror, seed and plant catalogs are filling our mail boxes, rousing spirits of those among us with green thumbs.  I’ve received a couple of those colorful growing prospectus and had to laugh when my frozen breathe obscured my reach to get the first one out of the snow covered letter box. 

Our hit and miss cold season is back this week after the brief spring prelude around first of the month. How long this snow and cold spell will hang in there is anyone’s guess.

A rather surprising snow happening blanketed the territory last weekend. Four to six inches redressed the forest from mid-Trail on out. Since then, we’ve had a few other lesser droppings, causing not too much strain, but still a pain. If I’m going to have to move the fluff, my time seems worthy of a substantial dose.

It’s notable that man-made piles of plowed white stuff are growing to cause visibility problems at road intersections, and mail boxes are getting hard to find. Furthermore, while stepping off the beaten path, I’ve found it knee high to nearly waist deep in places along the Mile O Pine.   

Most people acquainted with me know of my passion for the winter season. So they’ll understand my fascination with being out in the snow, whether it’s removing the bleached essence or just meandering through it. There’s almost nothing I can think of to match the solitude of frozen crystals descending from the heavens. 

In spite of the worry about what an approaching vehicle might do during winter driving conditions, a truly enjoyable experience for yours truly is a drive through Gunflint country as flakes are coming down. Such was the case during our run to the village and back for church last Sunday.

Intensities of the snowy excursion varied from near white-outs at times to meandering flurries at others along the frosted continuum. The splendor of a “Hallmark Card” scene in the making, was something to behold with each passing Gunflint mile. My enchantment probably sounds a little hokey, but such wilderness treks have unbelievable charm. If one enjoys the beauty of nature in winter, you just have to be here to fully appreciate.

Thursdays find me blazing the Trail into Grand Marais to file my weekly scoop in the WTIP studios. Nearly every week someone in town will ask, did you see any critters on the way in. While many trips are uneventful in terms of animal sightings, this past week a fine looking moose cow briefly interrupted the run. It’s always exciting when one encounters one of these north woods icons, especially, when it's not a close call with the vehicle. 

With the deer population nearly depleted in the upper Trail, it’s almost as unusual to see a white tail as to see a member of the declining moose heard. Friends came upon a singleton deer on south Gunflint Lake Road recently. It seemed to be in an exhausted state walking right down the middle of the road. 

The antlerless critter refused to move out of the way, apparently finding the plowed road easier wayfaring than the deep snow-filled ditches. After about a half mile of taking its share of the right-away out of the middle, it finally moved over so the vehicle could pass. Even then, the usually flighty animal did not bound away from danger. The situation would make one wonder if the deer had been in a run for its life and was just too drained to do be bothered by anything other than survival struggles.

On another note, deer predators remain on the hunt. With almost nightly regularity, one makes a trip down the Mile O Pine. Minor snows of late have left fresh tracking paths from Wildersmith to our mail box location about two miles away.  

I find “Brother Wolf” to be steadfastly focused on its mission down the road. An occasional stop to mark territorial boundaries is all that breaks the relentless straight line pattern of paw prints between the snow banks. In contrast, fox and coyotes, those distant cousins, wander in all directions sniffing every potential link to a meal source buried in white.

In a follow-up to last week's commentary on north-country water quality issues, I received copy of a new publication specific to Cook County. The document is the first in a series of reports on the status of water conditions in county lakes.  

Entitled “Water Watch”, it’s a collaborative newsletter produced by “Lake Superior North Watershed Project” (funded by the MPCA); Cook County Coalition of Lake Associations (CCCola); with contributions from County AIS Coordinator and Karen Evens (MPCA). At first reading, I find this issue to be well done and highly informative! Initial deliveries are going out to area lake association presidents for distribution to their members.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Have a great Valentine’s Day!
 
 (photo by Gordon Haber via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Superior National Forest Update: February 12

Hi.  I’m Joe Mundell, timber sale administrator, with the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For mid-February, here’s what’s happening on the Forest.
Since December, we’ve been talking about clearing trails of fallen trees from that month’s heavy snow event.  While a majority of designated ski and snowmobile trails have been cleared with a huge amount of help from supporting trail organizations and clubs, there are many miles of unplowed back roads used by snowmobiles which remain blocked.  We continue to work on tree removal, but for now, it is still a good idea to check with District offices before you head out to see if your choice of route has been cleared. 
Our winter wilderness rangers report that conditions on lakes are pretty bad.   There’s a deep layer of slush under the snow which makes snowshoeing or skiing difficult.  Our current cold snap should freeze that slush, but if it is well insulated by snow cover, it could take a while to freeze.  Until it does, people venturing out onto the ice should pack extra socks and be prepared in case you get your feet wet.  Wet socks at ten below go beyond uncomfortable and into the danger zone, so throw some extra socks and even a towel into your backpack.
Off the lakes though, this should be an excellent week for skiing.  The snow is nice and firm and fairly new, and the temperature is perfect if you are dressed for it.  If you’re out skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling, you might run into a Forest Service employee asking you to take a visitor use survey.  This is a national survey, and your input is an important part in the creation of an accurate picture of how the Superior is used for recreation.  We’d really appreciate it if you can take the time to take the survey.  It will help us better manage the Forest, and in the long run that will help you as well.
Our days are noticeably longer now, and the sun is much warmer than it was in December, but for deer and moose, this is a hard time of year as the food supplies continue to dwindle.  Whether it is because of salt on the roads, plants along the roadside, or just that sunrise and sunset are aligning with commute times, there are plenty of deer near or on roads right now, so keep a sharp eye out.  There are plenty of deer that have been hit on the sides of the roads as well, which means you also have to watch out for the low flying crows, ravens, and eagles doing the clean-up.  If you’re lucky, you may even see a wolf or two getting in on the free meal.
As you drive in the Forest, you may have to deal with deer and eagles and other animals in the road, but this week you won’t have to deal with many log trucks.  There are only a few timber sales going on with truck traffic.  On the Gunflint District, log hauling is taking place on FR144 (Old Greenwood), Shoe Lake Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Bally Creek Road, Caribou Trail, Ball Club Road, and the Grade.  There’s no hauling taking place on the Tofte District right now.
So, between the light truck traffic, the longer days, and the good weather, this will be an excellent couple of weeks to get outside and play in the Forest.  Enjoy it, and until next time, this has been Joe Mundell with the National Forest Update.
 

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