Archive for August, 2008

Farewell to the ’08 State Fair

August 17, 2008

Sunday, August 17 2008

            It was sort of sad going to the fair for one last session as the nosy intern. Luckily there was plenty going on at the Natural Resources Building to distract me from my grief.

Bob Wilkinson of the DNR’s Division of Water took over the Front Porch today to talk about GPS, or Global Positioning System. He was admittedly at a disadvantage, as Worship Fest 2008 was literally 200 feet away and the enthusiastic worshippers were living it up.

Despite the distraction, I learned a lot about GPS. It doesn’t seem to be much of stretch to call GPS one of the most practical and important technological advances of our time (granted, there are a ton of things which rank pretty high on that list) both for the military and for us civilians.

GPS consists of three segments: the Space Segment, which is composed of the 24-plus satellites in orbit; the Ground Segment, which is the tracking and control done by the military; and the User Segment, which is the military and civilian users of the system on land, sea, and air.

Wilkinson explained how important GPS was to Indiana following the flooding earlier this summer – the state was able to use GPS for surveying the flooding by tying in high watermarks to figure out how extensive the damage was.

Obviously, GPS is not just for government and military use these days.

            Wilkinson showed off a variety of smaller devices, which run $100 to $300 depending on whether the display is black & white or color, and whether there is a detailed map in the background or just the numbers.

GPS needs to be in full view of the sky to really get an accurate reading, but we made do even with the roof of the Front Porch (For future reference, should you ever become hopelessly lost in the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Front Porch’s coordinates are 39°49’53.8” latitude and 86°08’13.3” longitude.

            Well, that does it for the DNR at the 2008 Indiana State Fair. I hope you all got a chance to come in to the NRB and see what was going on – we’ve been having a blast!

– Katy

Call this entry a dog blog

August 16, 2008

Saturday, August 16 2008

            Jarrett Manek of the DNR’s Division of State Parks and Reservoirs switched things up today at the Fishin’ Pond with a Dog Retrieval Demonstration. A pretty impressive crowd of people surrounded the pond to watch Jarrett toss out dummies for one of the three dogs he brought with him to retrieve.

Before seeing the program, I assumed these dogs would be German Shepherds or some other kind of authoritative dog. But the first dog Jarrett showed off was a basic Labrador retriever named Sage. Jarrett began by making sure Sage could focus on the object at hand, which started out as a tennis ball and then moved up to some duck dummies.

As Sage enthusiastically chased and brought back the target, Jarrett explained some key points of retrieval training. First, always praise the dog when it vaguely does what it’s supposed to do – this makes the dog feel like it’s doing something super special and pretty much guarantees the dog will figure the trick out after just a few goes. Next, get the dog excited about what it’s about to do, and get it focused on the target. Also, if your dog sort of likes water, but isn’t necessarily bred for retrieval, take baby steps to get it there. Finally, Jarrett recommends using voice commands and treats but also sharp whistles because the dog may or may not be able to hear you when it’s splashing around in the water.

            Jarrett then brought out Blue River Chelsea, an American Water Spaniel, which is an ideal breed for retrieval because of its size – it’s not likely that a 35- to 45-pound dog will tip your boat in the process.

Finally, Jarrett introduced the family dog, Boo, an Australian shepherd. That’s not a retriever breed, but because of great training Boo still got the job done.

            If you’d like to try your hand at duck hunting and dog retrieval, I would first recommend getting your hunting license, which you can purchase at Mother Nature’s Mercantile in the NRB when you stop by Sunday for the last day of the fair!

— Katy

All about birds

August 16, 2008

Friday, August 15 2008

            Today I learned what it is to feel inadequate at the hand of avid bird watchers. A swarm of them stood by to ask questions of John Schaust, the chief naturalist of Wild Birds Unlimited, who was on the Front Porch of the Natural Resources Building to talk to fairgoers about the joys of bird-feeders.

While this pastime may seem like just that, an inconsequential hobby, Schaust explained that putting out bird feeders in your backyard can actually save birds’ lives. He said in 10-degree weather, birds that have no access to bird feeders have a 50 percent higher mortality rate than those that did.

Also, birds that have access to feeders tend to nest earlier and are generally healthier. Furthermore, birds near bird feeders average one extra bird born per season. So really by putting a bird feeder in your back yard, you’re saving bird lives and making it possible for more to be created.

            A big part of Schaust’s presentation was showing off different bird seeds that are available and which ones will bring in which birds. Sparrows, for example, are partial to white ground seed and millet seed. Woodpeckers, on the other hand, love peanuts and suet, which will attract insects and therefore insect-eating birds. Schaust also had some meal worms, which he recommends you put in a glass bowl and set on a post to attract bluebirds.

One fun part about bird feeding is birds can follow a schedule just like you – say you refill the bird feeder right before you sit down to breakfast. Birds will begin to anticipate this timing and learn to sit nearby waiting for you to come out.

            Schaust also introduced a new product called Bark Butter, which is a mixture of cornmeal, suet and peanut butter. To attract woodpeckers, drill a few holes in your backyard trees and fill them with this goop – they go crazy for it.

            If bird baths are more up your alley, Schaust recommends very shallow pools – birds prefer to splash around when they bathe, not absolutely submerge themselves.

            For more information, stop by Wild Birds Unlimited.

If you’re an extreme carnivorous bird fanatic, come to the NRB at 4:30 p.m. Saturday for Live Birds of Prey in the Amphitheater.

— Katy

Learning to minimize impact on nature

August 14, 2008

Thursday, August 14 2008

            Bill Houk stood outside the Natural Resources Building today, committed to spreading the values of Leave No Trace.

A master educator with LNT, Houk firmly believes in promoting the seven principles of the camping program – plan ahead and prepare, camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impact, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. The danger of not following these principles is that wasteful and inconsiderate behavior can cause permanent and devastating damage to properties and trails, ruining them for future generations.

            Houk showed off some of his handy devices that can aid any camper or hiker in minimizing their natural impact. First, the eloquently named Poop Tube, a white plastic air-tight cylinder, the purpose of which is “hauling human waste out of the back country.” The Poop Tube can accommodate a person for 2 to 5 days, “depending on how much you eat, of course.”

            Next is the Bear Cache. Although we don’t have bears in Indiana, this device is a handy development in bear country since bears in their infinite wisdom have figured out the hang-a-bag-from-a-tree system by slicing the rope and snagging the bag of food when it falls. The Bear Cache is a dark, air-tight canister that can hold anything with an odor that might attract bears to your campsite. The canister is big enough that a bear can’t fit its mouth around it, and, Houk said, “Unless he’s carrying a screwdriver, he can’t get in.”

            Finally, Houk recommends a water filter and bucket combo to ensure clean water for the entire span of your trip. The bucket may sound unnecessary but is actually very considerate of surrounding wildlife who need water access. Also, making a quick exit from the water source stops you from inadvertently causing erosion to the riverbank.

            While some of these suggestions may seem a little excessive and maybe even sort of gross, leaving no trace is an important part of symbiotically living with wildlife, and is truly necessary for the avid hikers and campers of Indiana.

– Katy

Experiencing a flood, without the water

August 13, 2008

Wednesday, August 13 2008

            Perusing the inside of the Natural Resources Building at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, you’re sure to notice the huge model of a small town, filled with fake creeks with names like Pebble Creek, Branch Creek and Cascade Creek.

The display is featured at the DNR Division of Water booth and demonstrates how flooding after a huge storm would look from a bird’s eye view, a phenomenon Indiana is all too familiar with after this summer’s insane flooding in June.

A pre-recorded video narrates step-by-step as the water seeps through the mini-town. In between demonstrations, news clips from earlier this summer show real-life damage of floods. A tri-fold board warns passersby that “everyone lives in a flood zone.”

Beneath that attention-grabber are a few facts related to flooding, such as “every home is at risk of some form of flooding, which can result from anything from heavy rain to melting snow” and “the average flood insurance policy costs $500 every year.” That may sound like a lot of dough to dish out all at once, but if the alternative is paying for flood damage on your own after the fact I’d go with the policy in a heartbeat.

Floods don’t affect just high-risk areas. According to the Division of Water, 25 percent of flood insurance claims come from low- to moderate-risk areas. The model and information will be up until the State Fair closes Sunday night.

            Outside the NRB doors, I came across Christa Thacker and Carrie Miller from the Indiana State Museum. They are part of the Roving Naturalist series and were showing off some very cool stuff related to Ice Age animals of Indiana. On their cart were casts of mammoth and mastodon teeth (which were, and I believe this is the technical term, freaking huge). They also had a claw from a giant sloth and a giant beaver skull, which were actually casts made of resin or plastic.

One artifact that was the real deal was the rib bone of a mastodon, estimated to be at least 10,000 years old!

Just another day in the NRB at the Indiana State Fair.

– Katy

Taking aim – safely

August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12 2008

           Inside the Natural Resources Building, it’s not uncommon to hear sharp pops coming from the Hunter Education Booth, where DNR conservation officers stand by as kids of most ages sit down to fire off a maximum of 12 shots from pellet rifles.

Other safety measures are taken at the range to keep everyone in line – hunter orange vests and protective glasses are required.

Chris Clark, a volunteer hunter education instructor, stood in charge, showing off furs of native Indiana animals as kids walked by to pet them.

Another important part of the booth was the emphasis on the Karl E. Kelley Memorial Conservation Officer Youth Camp. Kelley was a conservation officer who died in the line of duty. The camp provides kids with full hunting and boating educations in a fun hands-on way.

Be sure to stop by the booth some time before this Sunday – raffle tickets are being sold for a muzzle loader give-a-way on Aug. 17.

It didn’t take long for kids to spot and gather around the live, caged goose sitting on the Front Porch at the “Got Geese?” exhibit at the Natural Resources Building.

Shannon Winks of the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife division was on hand to help State Fair visitors understand Canada geese as they become an increasingly irritating problem in Indiana. She highlighted the biology and management of Canada geese and explained to me one potentially controversial method of dealing with the goose population: egg addling, in which you shake, puncture or dip goose eggs in corn oil so that they never hatch, calling it a sort of birth control for geese.

Geese have been known to destroy yards and golf courses, so Winks recommends altering the spaces of grass by putting in shrubs and trees, which deter geese because they can’t see potential predators. Brochures and pamphlets were on hand, and were quickly picked up by interested fairgoers.

– Katy

Raptors give glimpse of nature

August 12, 2008

Monday, August 11 2008

            The DNR Amphitheater was packed today for “The Art of Falconry,” where I learned two things – first, State Fair audiences appear to appreciate the macabre (there was serious applause when a red-tailed hawk named Jack dismembered a dead mouse) and second, predatory birds are awesome.

            Mark Booth of Take Flight! Wildlife Education has clearly been doing this program for quite some time. He had the ability to make mundane facts fascinating. As a result, even the antsiest of children (and DNR interns) stayed interested throughout the show.

The first special guest was Jack, a special case who is blind in one eye. Booth explained this screwed up Jack’s depth perception and that he would never be able to hunt in the wild on his own. In some way, though, this makes Jack sort of an ambassador and gives human species an advantage in learning about raptors (not of the Jurassic Park variety).

Slipping into Psychology 101 lingo, Booth noted that to train falcons and hawks, one needs to use sort of operant conditioning and positive reinforcement; unlike a dog, you can’t punish these birds into learning. You have to ask them to do what you want.

            There was a tense moment when two DNR conservation officers strolled by with a Labrador, but other than that, Jack’s visit was a successful one, as were those of an American kestrel named Fluffy, a great horned owl, a peregrine falcon and a Harris hawk from the Southwest.

            Booth’s overriding message seemed to be that it was important to learn about these species and nature because, after all, human beings are a part of nature. He discussed biodiversity and the dangers of extinction – the fewer species there are in an ecosystem the less healthy that ecosystem is. Important messages like these are the backbone of DNR teachings and mission statements.

To see some biodiversity firsthand, I suggest coming to the Natural Resources Building to listen to programs like this one, or you can take a walk through the Butterfly Garden and along the outside of the building where you’ll see tons of species of fish right on State Fairgrounds.

– Katy

Happy birthday, Smokey!

August 11, 2008

Sunday, August 10 2008

            Sporting my very official Smokey Bear pin I got at “Fire!” two days before, I headed to Smokey’s Birthday Party in the DNR Amphitheater to start my day at the State Fair.

Bev Stout of Division of Forestry and Vicki Albietz from Lieber State Recreation Area put on quite a show to celebrate Smokey’s 64th birthday. Technically a day late, the celebration did not suffer, featuring some prizes for the kids and wait for it… face painting. I’ll admit I had to pass on getting a paw print on my cheek, if for nothing else than retaining some semblance of professionalism while on the job.

Vicki Albeitz explained the legend of Smokey Bear through the eyes of the veterinarian who took temporary care of the real-life incarnation of the American advertising icon. A respectable audience sat, raptly listening as Albeitz told the story of Smokey, noting his beginnings as an attempt by the Wartime Advertising Council to make people aware of wildfire dangers. The abstract Smokey was named after a famous firefighter named Smokey Joe , but it wasn’t until firefighters in New Mexico discovered a bear cub in serious danger during an actual wildfire that a tangible symbol of Smokey was created.

Albietz explained that although the original bear had since passed, Smokey’s messages live on. After the crowd engaged in a fire-related cheer, Smokey made his entrance to emphasize some of these important messages, such as “don’t play with matches” and the immortal “only you can prevent wildfires.” Much to my excitement, they even rapped some of them. Albietz also led the crowd of children in reciting the conservation pledge in which they promised to look after the land and its resources.  Smokey wrapped up the celebration with bear hugs for all, which, needless to say, was adorable.

            Next door to the birthday party was the Indy Admirals Remote Control Boats in the Fishin’ Pond. This was just a two-day deal, held on Saturday and Sunday. Speedy Kyle, who was manning the Admirals’ booth, informed me this was their second year at the fair, and there already had been a pretty good turn out. If you missed out this weekend, maybe look for them next year at the fair!

– Katy

Tagging along for Taste of the Wild

August 10, 2008

Saturday, August 9 2008

            Today my dad, Frank, tagged along on my State Fair adventures. The goal was to explore all of the options at the Taste of the Wild Cookout, sponsored by the Indiana State Parks Inns.

Without getting into too many ethical issues, I needed someone other than me to try the meat or dairy-related dishes, so Frank stepped up to bat. We began the Tour de Sustenance at the White River Bowhunters booth. They served venison summer sausage, salami, and jerky. Frank deemed the mild salami “quite good,” saying he wouldn’t guess it was venison and that it had a nice flavor all around, later granting it a “muy bien.” The Indiana Deer Hunters Association’s deep fried deer nuggets got a less enthusiastic reception, but what can you expect from a cardiologist?

            The Indiana Wildlife Federation’s venison sloppy Joes were also “quite good.” It was about this time that Frank noted he would probably need to eat only vegetables for the rest of the day. I helpfully reminded him of the fresh fried vegetables vendor not 20 feet for the Natural Resources Building’s Front Porch.

The National Wild Turkey Federation’s turkey kabobs passed the test, as well as the Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable’s creekbank potatoes. Frank thought the fried steelhead trout supplied by Indianapolis Fly Casters and the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders had a “nice flavor, very fresh, not fishy taste.”

Frank was quite impressed with the Fur Takers of America’s barbeque beaver, noting it was “like having dark poultry meat with a mild flavor.”

Overall, Frank’s taste buds had quite the day.

            After a quick jog to Pioneer Village, Frank and I returned to the NRB to see Jim Floyd’s Arachnid Adventures. This program not only focused on which species of spiders are most prominent in Indiana, but also gave visitors a chance to ask questions about personal spider experiences. Jim showed off the Fishing Spider and the Brown Recluse and gave youngsters an up close look at the spiders, though separated by glass.  

            If you’d like to learn more about Indiana animal and insect species, stop by the Natural Resources Building any day during the State Fair for more fascinating programs.

Fire! It’s not always a bad thing

August 9, 2008

Friday, August 8 2008

            Though I’m still reeling with joy from Goat Mountain, today’s State Fair visit was strictly educational.

My first stop for the day was “Fire! How the DNR Uses Fire as a Tool.”

In searching for the program, I stumbled upon Rule No. 1 of State Fair-going: Be flexible, because things may change on a whim. The schedule originally listed the program on the Front Porch, but the “Mystery of Coal” had staked out a spot and “Fire!” was nowhere to be found.

Eventually I found “Fire!” at the DNR Amphitheater and still got to learn about fire as a management tool. Bev Stout and Donna Rogler of the DNR Division of Forestry Division showed off a number of tools needed in using fire to get rid of some serious arboreal eyesores in Indiana. This may sound like a dangerous solution, but Bev and Donna assured the crowd that a number of qualifications must be met before anything is burned, and that plenty of warning is given to surrounding areas far in advance.

To learn more about the Division of Forestry, you can stop by its booth in the Natural Resources Building. And if fire safety is your thing, make it your business not to miss Smokey Bear’s Birthday Party at 1 p.m. Sunday on the Front Porch.

            The Indiana Land Protection Alliance set up camp on the Front Porch on Friday afternoon to talk about land trusts in Indiana. I spoke with Maria Steiner of Central Indiana Land Trust, who explained that the goal is to preserve our Hoosier heritage by acting as a nonprofit conservation organization concerned with protecting natural areas from being bought by developers. To demonstrate how important these natural areas are, the ILPA brought out a number of amphibians, including snakes, turtles, frogs and salamanders.

This is just another example of the things the DNR is looking to inform people about our beautiful state. If you’d like to learn more about topics affecting Indiana, stop by the NRB today or any day during the State Fair!

— Katy

 

Kids’ Day — Humans fishing, goats eating

August 8, 2008

Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008

I got a chance to check out the Kids Fishin’ Pond this morning and witness first hand just how excited kids get when they actually catch a fish on their own.

The Fishin’ Pond has been running for three years, with more than 6,000 kids showing up to learn the catch-and-release method. After pre-registration in the morning, orange-shirted volunteers, who today came from the Sport Fishing Club in Johnson County, help out young anglers until they catch at least three fish, or until the 15-minute shift is up.

This gives everyone an equal shot at catching their own fish, for the sake of fairness if nothing else. Kacie Ehrenberger, Go FishIN coordinator, and Pat Cooper of the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division’s Natural Resources Education Center, kept things running smoothly, while Communications Extraordinaire Marty Benson kept the kids entertained while they waited in line.

Even if you don’t have kids between the ages of 5 and 16, I recommend stopping by just to hear the pond-wide cheers when somebody catches one of the 1,200 bluegill and catfish for the very first time.

I also made a point of stopping by the Roving Naturalist to hear DNR Lake and River Enhancement staffers Angela Sturdevant and Greg Bieberdorf talk about invasive species. Highlighted were hydrilla, aka “An Invisible Menace” and Eurasion Watermilfoil, code name “Boater’s Nightmare.”

Outside of educating the public, LARE also gives grants to lake groups who work to prevent these invasions. To be honest, this is an issue I never really thought about before, though it is valid and significant nonetheless. In fact a lot of the stuff going on in and around the Natural Resources Building aims to inform people about things that are incredibly important to Indiana and the community. To say the least, it’s neat.

Finally, we come to Goat Mountain. Words can’t express the joy I get out of being around this “mountain” – a hill of grass with several huts and a line of open pens in front. Several goats occupy the pens, including the Pigmy Goat, the massive Aoudad, the absolutely gorgeous Nilgai (No one can really call a goat gorgeous, can they?), and the Alpine Goat.

For a mere quarter you can feed these animals grain and oats, which they delicately but enthusiastically lick off of your hand. For a dollar, you can snag a bag of carrots – goats need veggies, too!

– Katy