The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth
Teaching people to care for the earth
UMD and MINNESOTA’S ENVIRONMENT
Above: Curt Anderson, John Pastor, Nick Axtell, Ken Gilbertson, JoAnn Hanowski, Scott Freundschuh, Lynelle Hanson, Zandy Zwiebel, Brett Ballavance
Four UMD colleges, the Labovitz School of Business and Economics, the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Education and Human Service Professions and the College of Science and Engineering turn out graduates who work in environmental fields: from environmental economics, chemical engineering, environmental education to environmental policy. Dozens of faculty, hundreds of students and thousands of UMD’s alumni study and work in these areas. In this issue of the BRIDGE, we’ve assembled a group of people who can give us insight on many of the issues.
John Pastor, UMD professor and senior research associate
Pastor’s vita is 20 pages long and includes service with the
National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and The
White House. He has testified in the U.S. Congress to both the House
of Representatives and the Senate. His title is long: UMD professor
and senior research associate, Department of Biology and the Center
for Water and the Environment, Natural Resources Research Institute
Earlier this year, Pastor gave a presentation to an environmental education class. One might have expected the lecture to cover intricate research but instead Pastor talked about what it means to be a scientist. “Because we spend so much time inside, we don’t get to see patterns the way our ancestors did. We don’t notice the gradual changes as the sun rises in a slightly different spot every morning, or watch the planets move across the night sky,” he said.
“Scientists wear white coats and they use mysterious scientific instruments,” Pastor said, explaining the disconnect between scientists and everyday people. “On the one hand, science is part of our most important decisions. Two of the biggest issues in the upcoming presidential election are scientific issues: health care and the environment. On the other hand, science can be confusing.”
People do confuse science with technology. “If you can’t invent things, find causes for diseases, or use a Hubble space telescope, you may think you can’t do science. But you can. Most technological advances are just better and fancier measuring sticks.”
Pastor encourages students to use common sense. “You can make
powerful scientific calculations on the back of an envelope,”
he said. Sophisticated equipment and extensive research aren’t
needed to determine, for instance, how much carbon dioxide enters
the atmosphere from the emissions of one automobile. “When I
testified about Global Climate Change on Minnesota’s Ecosystems
to the House Environmental Policy Committee, I wanted them to understand
the science. I showed them how to do the calculations themselves.”
“Using science to make decisions can be as simple as using
a basic calculation.” Pastor said. Pastor pointed out that people
feel isolated from nature in ways we never have been before. Setting
aside special areas of nature like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park has actually heightened the
feeling of separation. “Do we notice the plants along the roadside,
growing next to the trash?” Pastor asked. “We should.
A national park and the roadside are both part of the natural world.”
Nick Axtell, Fond du Lac Reservation Air Quality Program, UMD alumnus, B.S. 2001
Nick Axtell monitors six air quality pollutants on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation: acid deposition, mercury, dioxins, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ozone. Because Fond du Lac is located far from metropolitan areas, in the relatively clean northern Minnesota forest, those air samples represent some of the nation’s cleanest air. Axtell, program coordinator, and his Fond du Lac Air Quality Program team, work hand in hand with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other organizations to share the information they gather. Scientists across the country use Fond du Lac’s data along with data gathered from other sites to compare historical data, weather information and pollution amounts.
During the next few months, Axtell will have the opportunity to do some comparative monitoring of his own. “We take air quality seriously, so when we notice something that looks a little off, we investigate.” Axtell said. “Part of the Air Quality Program’s mission is to make sure that we’re exercising Fond du Lac’s duties as a Sovereign Nation and protecting the environment.”
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has been granted authority to administer the parts of the Clean Air Act they feel will benefit the air quality on the reservation. The Fond du Lac Air Quality program, one of 11 Tribes to receive EPA funding in Region 5, has noticed something unusual.
Information indicating large amplitude fluctuations of ozone during 24-hour periods has been collected at Fond du Lac. This is atypical data for the remote location of the monitors and shows behavior corresponding to a more metropolitan area but with lower overall pollution levels. “In large cities the ozone level goes up as people drive to work,” said Axtell. “It falls down slightly at mid-day, then peaks again in the afternoon as people drive home. But we were seeing daytime spikes in ozone too, and we don’t think the cause is traffic. We don’t have enough traffic to emit this level of ozone precursors.”
Axtell speculates on the possible causes for the fluxuations. One hypothesis is that they come from biogenic sources. It could be the “hydrocarbon chains, called terpenes, that are released from pine trees.” Fog from nearby lakes and streams could also cause the ozone levels to drop during the morning and evening and thereby cause daytime ozone levels to show more of a “spike”. “Something is causing these high ozone readings, I want to know what it is,” said Axtell.
Axtell has secured the use of a portable ozone monitor to take air
samples from different locations around the reservation. “We
need to separate the variables and ensure the most accurate data.
The readings from the portable monitor will also show us how indicative
the main monitor is of the various sites,” stated Axtell. The
findings from this study will be a valuable tool for Fond du Lac as
well as other monitoring stations.
Looking back at his UMD student days, Axtell can see experiences that sparked his interest in the natural environment. “Professor Steve Sternberg placed an emphasis on the environment in his Air Pollution Control studies class.” Later, Axtell assisted Sternberg in his research of the aquatic plants, Lemna minor (duckweed) and Microspora Algae, and their ability for biosorption of pollutant metals.
“Our monitoring effort is just a small piece of a large network observing weather and air quality,” Axtell said. “We don’t have all the answers but we are doing our part to provide the data used for public awareness of air pollution. Hopefully, this summer with our ozone study, we might add a piece of new information to the big puzzle.”
Curt Anderson, professor, Department of Economics
“Everybody wants a cleaner environment, but paying for it is
the hard part,” said Curt Anderson, professor in the Labovitz
School of Business and Economics. Anderson points out that all environmental
issues come down to one basic economic problem — scarcity. There
are a limited number of resources to allocate to either economic development
or environmental protection. The public needs to decide what they
When Anderson first moved to Duluth, he could put any type of garbage on the curb and for $10 a month it would be taken away: appliances, hazardous waste, aluminum cans, anything. “What incentive did I have to recycle?” he asked. That system helped to create a “throw away society.” But now, in Duluth, the price of garbage service is based on volume of garbage, and is further limited by the type of products that can be disposed of, creating an incentive for consumers to recycle and to generate less waste.
People are especially motivated by incentives that have personal benefit. Anderson illustrates this with automobile emissions. When Anderson’s ERG light came on in his van, the dealership told him he needed a $400 pollution control equipment check. Anderson would only receive a penny’s worth of benefit from the cleaner air produced by this check-up, far less than the $400 it would cost. “What most people don’t think about is that every person in Duluth would also receive that penny’s worth of benefit,” Anderson said. “Multiplied by 80,000 people living in Duluth, that check up is really worth $800.
If Anderson lived in a city with air quality problems and smog alerts, his van would be subject to emission testing. If the van didn’t pass, he would receive a fine, and the threat of a fine would be another incentive to pollute less. “The truth is, drivers in the U.S. don’t pay the full cost for the use of their automobiles,” Anderson said. “They don’t pay for the damage caused to the environment.”
Of course, not all incentives are good. Regulations, permits, licenses, and taxes need to be used carefully. Government mandates only motivate people to meet minimum requirements. When resources such as gas and energy are priced to reflect the real cost of using them, the market system will drive people to continuously seek new technology to use the resources more efficiently.
Increased awareness of environmental pollution is changing the way people think about the world. Everybody still wants a cleaner environment and when they see the true costs and have all the options, they are often willing to pay. These are some of the lessons Anderson teaches in his Environmental Economics classes. Anderson said, “It’s like our garbage service. It’s not unfair to pay more if there’s more garbage to haul away.”
FROM CONSULTING TO THE CLASSROOM
Zandy Zwiebel, UMD alumna, B.A. 1987, B.S. 1992; current student, Master of Education program
As an undegraduate student doing research at the Thompson Dam, Zandy Zwiebel saw a man in a business suit drive up to the St. Louis River bridge and look at the rushing water before getting back in his car and driving off. Zwiebel said it was at that minute that she saw her career appear in front of her. “I loved the science, but I wanted to make it mean something. That guy seemed to be detached from nature. I decided, right there, that I was going to have a job where I would stay close to the natural environment that I loved. I wanted to be the person that sees the situation first hand, understands the science behind the decisions, and is able to share that knowledge with others.”
Zwiebel knew it didn’t always work that way. At UMD, she had taken an internship with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), lobbying for the passage of legislation that would control soil erosion and reduce sediment in Minnesota waterways. “It was discouraging because many of the legislators didn’t understand the science behind the issues at hand.”
After graduation and travels that took her to Guatemala, Belize, and Costa Rica, Zwiebel spent 15 years doing environmental consulting. It was important for her to keep her goals in mind: to serve clients and at the same time to protect the environment.
Early in her consulting career, Zwiebel was assigned to do an underground tank investigation of a 35-acre property in a large metropolitan city. It began as the delineation of a petroleum product, and it evolved into an intense, seven-year investigation and clean up. The site turned out to be one of the largest chlorinated solvent plumes in the United States.
Zwiebel and her team discovered that, along with several petroleum releases, chlorinated solvents had also penetrated into the soil. Vinyl chloride, a bi-product of both tetra- and tri-chloroethylene was migrating off the site at a level 100 times greater than the state-recommended, allowable limits. Vinyl chloride is a well known carcinogen and the proximity of the leak, at the center of a metropolitan city, created enormous urgency. “One of the most environmentally sinister materials humans have created are these chlorinated compounds,” said Zwiebel. “Considered virtually insoluble and denser than water, they sink to the bottom of aquifers and slowly leach into the water supply.”
A lucky twist of fate occurred. As Zwiebel and her team were containing
the leak and beginning the clean up, new research showed that microbes
which were known to consume petroleum products would let off an electron
in the process. This electron would in turn dehalogenate the chlorinated
solvents eventually turning them into basic water and hydrogen. Zwiebel
said, “That’s why I love this field. Everything is always
changing.” These new advances in science turned a potential
disaster into a situation with a positive outcome.
The WOW program consists of 27 computer-based teaching modules that incorporate PowerPoint presentations and real time data collected from streams and lakes nationwide. Classrooms a thousand miles away will use the real time water quality and watershed data to conduct experiments. WOW conducts training workshops for community college and university faculty across the country so they can use the modules in their classrooms. The sessions are offered in Wisconsin, North Carolina, New York, Washington and Texas.
Working on consistency between each teaching module, Zwiebel’s objective is to create a teaching tool that will show the effect humans have on the environment. In the past, much of her consulting work was centered around cleaning up problems. As an environmental educator, she will be able to head off problems before they happen. “As I see it, the way to go is pollution prevention by educating the public, producers and suppliers. I want to give people an understanding of the impact they have on the environment and help them take it upon themselves to make a difference."
The St. Louis River is the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior, flowing 180 miles from glacial till, through a deep gorge at Jay Cooke State Park, and into red clay deposits as it approaches Duluth and Superior. The last 39 miles, below Cloquet, bring the river to its problem area: urban development, a port, and an industrial harbor.
“Decades ago, industries used the river as their personal dump.” Lynelle Hanson said. Hanson, one of the first students to do an Environmental Education internship through UMD is now the Executive Director for the St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee, one of the principal partners in a Remedial Action Plan with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“We’re still dealing with 1.2 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments in the river,” Hanson said. “Only 6,000 cubic yards have been remediated and that has taken 15 years. It’s moving along, but I wish it was moving faster.” Some of the pollutants have been dredged, but other areas are being examined for a new treatment plan that Hanson prefers. “There is great promise to a system that involves protecting, restoring, and creating valuable habitat in concert with contaminated sediment clean up.”
The Citizens Action Committee’s goals are formidable: to protect
fish and wildlife habitats, achieve water quality, remediate existing
polluted sites, and reduce pollutant loads to the river.
Hanson, who has a B. S. in Science Secondary Education from UMD (1985) and a M.S. in Biology from Central Michigan University, is especially proud of a project she orchestrated to attract the piping plover to Superior’s Wisconsin Point.
The piping plover used to nest on the beaches of the Great Lakes in open sand and gravel. As commercial, residential, and recreational development increased, the piping plover’s numbers declined. It’s now endangered. Only about 50 adult pairs remain in the Great Lakes region.
Hanson dreamed that a habitat attractive to the piping plover could be created in the St. Louis River Bay. “It took us two years but we got it done. The cooperation was unprecedented. State, city, federal, county and citizen groups all worked together.” The cities of Superior and Duluth participated. The Wisconsin DNR donated the land, Minnesota’s DNR donated the heavy machinery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife program provided funding, teenagers from Woodland Hills Rehabilitation Program assisted with hand labor. Hanson and the St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee coordinated the effort. “It’s ready for the birds now,” Hanson said. “ We are just waiting and hoping for a pair to find it and build a nest. When we see those fledglings, that will be true success.”
A thousand times a year, Hanson sees community members learn about the environment and make changes in their lives. Some of those small moments are her most prominent memories.
She was working with high school students on one of the River Watch outings when two young men brought a bucket of water from the river bottom for identification. “They poured the bucket onto a tray and I noticed something unusual — fresh water mussels,” she said. They indicate clean water and are in serious decline across the nation. “These two big guys realized the importance right away. There they were, on the banks of the river — big football players wearing waders. They cupped the little molluscs in their hands and carried them against their chests back down to the water.” Hanson says those are the moments that give her the most hope. “That’s what I wake up for!”"
Brett Ballavance, engineer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says his UMD undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and his UMD Master’s degree in business administration allow him to see both sides of the coin, and sometimes that ability is invaluable.
Ballavance works with small communities in Minnesota to come up with affordable wastewater solutions that are protective of the environment. The communities he often works with are low income areas where innovation is often a main requirement. In these areas, the need for environmental protection needs to be weighed against the reality of funds available.
For example, a few years ago Ballavance worked with a couple of unsewered
small towns in Aitkin County with median household income levels well
below the state average. Nearly all of the onsite septic systems at
these homes were failing. “As I drove out to survey the situation,
I saw straight pipes exiting the homes,” Ballavance said. “In
fact, most of the homes were directly discharging untreated wastewater
to their yards.”
Ballavance travels around the state, consulting and giving presentations to other engineers and environmental professionals. This past spring he presented several talks on the advances in onsite sewage treatment technology. “What is a solution for one community, may not be right for the next,” he said. In the outer ring of the Twin Cities, housing developments are going up at a fast pace. Often the wastewater solution for the developments has been the use of clustered, onsite, advanced-treatment septic systems.
Developers are often choosing these small wastewater treatment plants over the much more costly option of sewer extensions from the nearby cities. MPCA is confident these systems are a viable means of wastewater treatment, but there is a concern about how the development density is getting tighter, and thus more of these clustered wastewater systems are being placed next to each other. “We don’t know what the cumulative effect will be on the condition of groundwater so we are proceeding cautiously,” Ballavance said.
Small towns, resort owners, and unsewered communities all use Ballavance’s
expertise. He brings years of experience to his job. After graduating
with his undergraduate degree and going to work for an
Ken Gilbertson, assistant professor,
Since Gilbertson’s visit with his mother, Shovel Point has become a popular destination for tourists, especially rock climbers. What many visitors didn’t understand, however, was that the soil was being compacted with every human step creating a “kill zone.” “The pristine environment and rare arctic plants were being destroyed. Visitors were literally ‘loving Shovel Point to death.’ ”
The Minnesota DNR’s initial response was to ban rock climbing at Shovel Point, but Gilbertson proposed another idea. He asked the DNR to let UMD students study the park and come up with an alternative. Undergraduate students in Gilbertson’s Recreation Management class, along with students from Tim Bates’ Field Interpretation class worked on the proposal.
Students presented their final plan to the DNR managers from around
Northern Minnesota who all gathered at Tettegouche State Park. The
students arrived armed with a PowerPoint presentation. These were
young people who were used to working outside in jeans and sweatshirts,
but on this day, they were wearing their best clothes. Some even borrowed
suits. Their plan called for trails and “staging areas”
to be built, which would guide tourists through the landscape while
keeping fragile areas undisturbed. The DNR bought it.
In fact, Gilbertson traveled to Finland in June 2004 to present the
project to groups in the Arctic Circle.
JoAnn Hanowski, NRRI Avian Ecologist, UMD alumna B.A.S 1979, M.S.
One of a dozen on-site management sessions began at the Cloquet Forestry Center with four instructors, a hundred loggers, coffee and donuts. The loggers were bussed to the site and rotated through stations led by the four instructors — soils, water, cultural resources, and Hanowski’s wildlife station. Finding out that Hanowski’s specialty was birds, one of the loggers joked, “What do you call a logging truck on its way to the mill? An endangered owl mobile home.”
Hanowski wasn’t discouraged by the joke, however, and soon
learned to rethink the stereotype many environmentalists have about
loggers. “They log because they love being outside. They’re
not just cutting trees when they’re out there. They’re
looking at wildlife and appreciating the forest.”
The Minnesota Logger Education Program was a change for Hanowski. When she graduated from UMD with her undergraduate degree in 1979, she began work for the Natural Resource Research Institute. She received her M.S. in biology in 1983 and focused her energy on Minnesota breeding bird populations. Her research has found its way into academic journal publication. While this is still a large part of her efforts, in the last ten years she has started sharing her knowledge in other venues as well, for instance, with UMD environmental education students and with younger kids at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. “Our messages are important for all kinds of people, not just scientists.”
Scott Freundschuh, associate professor, director, Environmental
Studies Program, UMD alumnus B.A.S. 1985
The environmental studies program is housed in the Department of Geography at UMD. The program has an emphasis on ecology and geography making this a suitable home. Students are trained in the use of GIS (geographic information systems) and GPS (global positional systems).
On top of the students’ rigorous class schedule, they are required to complete an internship in one of the many branches of environmental studies. “Past students have held fascinating internships across the U.S. One student spent three weeks in California assisting in the construction of straw bale homes, while another worked on trail design in Colorado. Students have held internships with environmental consulting firms and policy-making organizations like the the Institute for Sustainable Futures,” said Freundschuh.
Freundschuh brings his own unique perspective to the program with his main interests being in the area of spatial cognition. He has studied individuals’ environmental perceptions, how they use and understand maps, and how the use of animated maps can help people to see and understand spatial processes that standard maps are less effective at illustrating. This diverse program has captivated the attention of students at UMD and continues to grow in popularity. Students are excited about the ability to tailor the program to their specific interests and to gain practical hands-on experience before leaving UMD.
Matt Teichert, who graduated this spring with a degree in geography, said that the Environmental Studies program influenced his senior project. Teichert looked at non-point source runoff from the Duluth mall area into the trout stream, Miller Creek. He did a survey of the problem and then recommended a Best Management Practice plan. “I’ve always been interested in the outdoors. My family had a cabin up north and it was my favorite place to go. I am also fascinated by geology and natural occurrences like volcanos. It all seemed to come together in this geography project,” Teichert said.
Because the Miller Mall area is 97 percent imperious surface, Teichert’s recommendations call for retention ponds, a rain garden and a vegetation swell that would cool down the water and clean out the sediment.
“There is a new material used for parking lots that actually allows the water to seep through the pavement,” Teichert said. “That would help decrease the temperature of the water flowing into Miller Creek. Right now the temperature is so high, it’s endangering the fish.”
“The degradation of the water quality and habitat in Miller
Creek is one of several serious environmental issues facing Duluth,”
Freundschuh said. “Matt’s examination of Miller Creek
is a great example of how geography and environmental studies come
UMD’s eye on the environment had its beginnings over 30 years ago with the outdoor trips for first year students. Starting college with a camping trip not only helped people make friends right away, it also set the tone for their studies.
Those summer expeditions grew into a full-fledged recreational sports and outdoor program that now provides 50,000 recreational experiences each year to the community and to UMD students. The excursions into the out-of-doors were also the catalyst for the academic classes, courses and degree programs centered around the environment that have since found a home at UMD.
“We have our own Bagley Nature Area, 55 acres of forest, right here on the northwest part of campus,” said Tim Bates, (B.A.S.1987, M.E. 1996; associate director of the UMD recreational sports and outdoor program). “We have the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and some of the nation’s best climbing areas a short drive away. These opportunities are a draw for students who care about the environment.”
Katie Virkus, a junior in the Teaching Life Science/Environmental Education program, said that the Outdoor Program helped her see the world from another perspective. “One way to learn is to sit in a biology lecture, but it’s an entirely different experience to stand waist deep in water looking for spring peepers,” she said.
Virkus was especially impressed with an outing to Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. “In 24 hours we observed so many details, it’s hard to even count them all: the spring bird migration, spring ephemerals, the amphibians.” Virkus talked about observing the phenology, how plants and animals respond to seasons. “I’ll never forget that trip,” she said. “It was April and chilly. The frogs come out at night so we were wading around in the dark with our red light head lamps on. I had never seen a spring peeper. It makes a huge noise: a sharp, piercing, bird-like peep. You’d expect a creature as big as your hand. It took us almost an hour to find one. We thrashed around following the sound and then it would quiet down so we’d go in another direction. When we finally caught one, I couldn’t believe it. It was the size of my fingernail. We got to experience what it means to wake up in spring when all of the marsh is coming to life. You just can’t get that if you stay in the classroom.”
Virkus is a Recreational Sports Outdoor Program leader and joins the team that offers dozens of programs from winter camping and making maple syrup to edible wild plant identification and star-gazing. Bates said that there is something for everyone. “We give students lots of opportunity to try out new experiences,” he said.
— Cheryl Reitan, Amelia Anderson, Heather Ziebell