Sunday, November 30, 2008

"You only get one fall each year" - Mary Burks

Kathy Rose- Byington & Pat Byington

This commentary appeared in the Birmingham News today.

By: Pat Byington of the Wilderness Society

In the fall of 1990, my wife and I were newlyweds when Alabama Conservancy founders Bob and Mary Burks took us on a slow, meandering afternoon ride through the neighborhoods of Birmingham.  We spent the entire afternoon looking at the colorful fall leaves.

 My wife Kathy, a lifelong resident of the evergreen Pacific Northwest, had just arrived in Alabama that summer.  It was her first experience seeing leaves change colors in the South.

 After driving for awhile and taking in a display of bursting colors and falling leaves greater than any fireworks show, Mary Burks turned around and with a welcoming smile, said:  “You only get one fall each year.”

 Mary taught us something that day through her enthusiasm and passion.  She was thankful for the season and for the natural beauty of Alabama.

 Our state faces many environmental challenges. The long list includes garbage dumps that litter our landscapes, air and water pollution problems, and loss of the special places that we cherish. It is easy to be overwhelmed. 

 But for those who care about the environment, we have much to be grateful in this state.

·      Alabama’s diverse environment.  Alabama has been blessed with more different  kinds of fish, turtle, mussel and snail than any other state in the nation.

·      Our state’s Forever Wild Land Acquisition Program that has protected and preserved nearly 140,000 acres of land for hunting, hiking and conservation. 

·      The Alabama Environmental Management Commission that passed a regulation this year that reduces substantially the amount of cancer-causing toxics that are discharged into our waters.

·      New innovative nature centers and gardens that have been built this year or are in the midst of construction, including Ruffner Mountain, the 4-H Center, the Jacksonville State University’s Canyon Center at Little River, the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Lanark Nature Center and numerous community gardens and “ecoscapes” around Birmingham.  Each nature center and garden will educate thousands of children a year about nature and the world around us.

·      Governor Bob Riley and the Alabama legislature, for passing last Spring the state’s first comprehensive solid waste recycling/waste reduction law in 20 years.

·      Faith Apostolic Church in west Birmingham, which has set aside church property to protect the endangered Watercress Darter -- turning its land into an Ark for one of God’s most beautiful creations.

·      Anne Miller, the founder and recently retired director of the Alabama Wildlife Center.  A modern day St. Francis, she has spent 30 years saving, rehabilitating and releasing thousands of animals back into the wild.

·      Doug Phillips,  creator, producer and host of the Emmy nominated Alabama Public Television program Discovering Alabama.  Folksy “Dr. Doug’s” Discovering Alabama television program has brought the state’s natural wonders into a generation of Alabamians homes for 20 years. 

·      NASCAR stars Ryan Newman and Bobby Allison, who supported private and congressional efforts to buy land adjacent to the Talladega National Forest that will help link up the Pinhoti Trail to the world famous Appalachian Trail. 

·      Alabama Power’s Renew Our Rivers Program that has enlisted over 10,000 volunteers to remove more than 9 million pounds of trash along our state’s lake shorelines and the banks of our streams and rivers.

·      Local watershed and land trusts groups. Not many regions have fully staffed and dedicated river/water protection groups such as the Cahaba River Society, Black Warrior Riverkeepers, Alabama Rivers Alliance, and the Freshwater Land Trust.

·      The emerging green business and building movement in Alabama.  The greening of Alabama’s businesses and industries are becoming so prominent both the Birmingham Business Journal and the chamber’s Birmingham Magazine ran special “Green” editions this fall.

Despite all our environmental problems and challenges, we are fortunate to live in this special place.  Like the colorful autumn leaves on a tree, we are blessed with the bright mosaic of people who care for this place everyday … people who understand you only get one Alabama, one earth, one day at a time to love it all.   

Greening From Inside Out This Holiday Season

Below is a wonderful Holiday Green "listing" produced by Brantley Fry ( ) and Joyce Lanning  ( )

Greening from the Inside Out 

Gift to Self – Be truly present during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Take care of you so you can share more with others and stay mindful of what this season is all about.

·   Give yourself time to breathe with the “Breath Prayer” (or see here). To create your breath prayer: Sit quietly in a comfortable position and recall a situation that brings you comfort, peace, joy; Imagine a kind and loving voice calling you by name and asking you what you want; Answer with what you wish to experience to increase that sense of peace and joy, or to give you strength, or health or anything you need in order to experience ease of well-being (You may choose a focus for your wish – Creator, Teacher, Light, Spirit, God – or a quality – Loving-kindness, Deep compassion …) Your wish and your focus for that wish gives you your mantra or prayer of 6 to 8 syllables – Examples: Loving-kindness, fill my heart; Master Teacher, show me the way; Let me know deep peace, O God; Jesus let me rest in Thee.  Then use your prayer often during the day.

·   Give yourself the gift of relaxation and stress-relief with cardiologist Herbert Benson’s The Relaxation Response, To quiet the fight or flight response, you need: 1) A quiet environment; 2) An object to dwell upon – word, sound, visual symbol, or breath (Dr. Benson suggests ‘one’); 3) A passive attitude – allow thoughts, imagery, feelings which arise to pass on without clinging; and 4) A comfortable position.

·   Give yourself the gift of Gratitude (for the gifts you already have received) - Write down 5 each evening, and you’ll tend to spend the day looking for them … instead of concentrating on the day’s difficulties. (From Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sara Ban Breathnach) 

·   Receive piece of mind by setting a realistic budget of time, energy, and money that is clear and stick to what you can and can not do. See Simplify the Holidays at Center for a New American Dream.

·   Check out Jane Treschel’s book, A Morning Cup of Yoga and CD, Just Relax.


Greening Our Giving and Receiving – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Greeting Cards – According to Go Green, Live Rich, by David Bach, almost 300,000 trees are harvested annually to produce holiday cards sold in the U.S. Americans purchase and send enough holiday cards to fill a 10-story football field. There are a couple of options to help reduce the environmental impact of holiday cards:

·   Send e-cards – HallmarkAmerican Greetings, and Blue Mountain have websites where you can send free e-cards.

·   Order cards from Cards for Causes or Good Cause Greetings for recycled paper cards with a portion of proceeds going to the charity of your choice.

·   Reuse your cards – especially for family events like birthdays and anniversaries – by writing the date and re-giving it each year.  It becomes a family heirloom and a memory-keeper.


Gift Ideas – According to, if 10,000 people have to return one less gift to a nearby store, we'll avert the CO2 caused by driving from NYC to North Pole, AK, and back again six times.

·   Instead of buying one gift per person, each person within a family or group of friends can draw one name and concentrate on giving a thoughtful gift – quality rather than quantity.

·   To prevent gift returns, exchange Christmas wish lists. Doing so will prevent us from buying and receiving more stuff we will never use. Besides, spending time with family and friends is much more fun than standing in line to return gifts after Christmas. There are free gift registry services such as and’s wish list. 

·   Check out New American Dream’s Alternative Gift Registry, which emphasizes eco-friendly gift-giving.


Gift of Giving:

·       Reduce consumption, eliminate gift wrap, and support work to better Alabama’s environment by giving gifts in honor of friends and family to local non-profits:

· Alabama Environmental Council

· Alabama Rivers Alliance

· Alabama Wildlife Federation (National Wildlife Federation)

· The Birmingham Audubon Society

· Black Warrior Riverkeeper

· Cahaba River Society

· Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham – Parknership: Red MountainRailroad Reservation, and Ruffner Mountain Nature Center

· Discovering Alabama (and DVDs as gifts)

· Fresh Air Family

· Freshwater Land Trust

· Green Resource Center for Alabama

· Heifer International

· The Nature Conservancy

· Southern Environmental Center

· Sierra Club

· World Wildlife Fund - Adopt an animal

These are just a few of the many non-profits, and the same idea can be applied to any philanthropic organization, including your church, not just environmental groups. To find out more information about local non-profits, contact the Non-Profit Resource Center of Alabama. By giving honoraria, your gift is multiplied beyond the individual(s) to whom you give.


Give memories: – In his book, Make Today Count: The Secret of Your Success Is Determined by Your Daily Agenda, John C. Maxwell recounts the exercise of asking people to write down all of the holiday gifts they received each year growing up. As you might guess, not many are able to do so. Then he asks people to write down all of the family vacations or getaways they experienced. This list is much easier for people to generate, because shared memories last a lifetime. Therefore, give the gift of spending time with loved ones and nature.

·   State and National Park Passes - One of the best and easiest ways to remind your loved ones to get outdoors and enjoy nature is to buy them a park pass for state and national parks. The $626 million birding industry in Alabama is a good example of ecotourism, and there are numerous birding trails throughout the state. Exceptional water, land and wildlife riches are found in every region of the state.  Alabama has 22 state parks. You can purchase a state park gift card at Also, Fresh Air Family offers outdoor adventures for families; however a gift donation honoring your friends or family is always welcome. Alabama also has incredible canoe trails throughout the state, including the Bartram Canoe Trail on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and the Cahaba Canoe Trail in the Blackbelt. You can make a contribution to the Cahaba River Society to reserve a spot on a guided canoe trip on the Cahaba River.

·   Buy a membership to one of Birmingham’s many attractions such as the Birmingham ZooBirmingham Botanical GardensBirmingham Museum of Art, the McWane Science CenterVulcan Park, and Ruffner Mountain Nature Center.

·   International Expeditions – The World Leader in Nature Travel is based in Helena, and offers a wide-array of nature travel opportunities.

·   Pitch in for summer camp tuition so children can gain an appreciation for Mother Nature first hand.


Wrapping Paper - According to Go Green, Live Rich, by David Bach, Americans spend $2.7 billion dollars annually on gift wrap – more than the GDP of some countries in Africa and Asia – on GIFT WRAP!

·   Use gift wrap made from recycled paper or better yet use items from around your home such as the funny pages, pages from old magazines, old maps, excess fabric (for those who sew or from old cloths that are un-wearable – Wearable clothing can be donated to The Foundry, My Sister’s ClosetGoodwillKing’s Ranch/Hannah Home, or Salvation Army.)

·   Cut the pictures from your holiday cards and re-use them as gift tags.

·   Re-purpose orphaned earrings or a broken necklace by tying them on to a gift you've wrapped in an inside-out grocery bag.


Consumable Gifts:

·   Baked goods – For those who like to cook, homemade baked goods are always an eco-friendly option. Remember, try to purchase from local farmers’ markets and wrap the goods in recyclable aluminum foil rather than petroleum-based plastic wrap. Better yet, give baked goods in re-usable containers.

·   Homemade Bath Salts – Re-use large beverage bottles (think blue Arizona Iced tea or Tazo bottles) to package bath salts. A simple recipe from calls for: 1 part Epsom salt, two parts sea/rock salt (Morton Kosher is the easiest to find), a few drops essential/fragrance oil, and if you choose, a few drops of food coloring. Stir it all up in a glass bowl (fragrance can stick to some plastics), pop it into your recycled bottle, add a ribbon and a tag suggesting using 2 tbsp. to 1/2 cup in bath water for a muscle-soothing soak. This is a thoughtful, yet easy and inexpensive way to gift co-workers and family friends.

·   Shop at local stores that feature green gifts – such as Red Rain in Homewood, Sojourns downtown, Whole Foods or Tria Market.

·   For children, check out Sprig Toys for battery-free, eco-friendly, paint-free, kid-powered toys. These toys are available at Learning Express in Cahaba Heights, Snoozy’s Kids in Crestline, and Homewood Toy and Hobby.

·   Pre-Order Beth Maynor Young’s book, Headwaters: A Journey on Alabama Rivers and receive now, In the Presence of Light: A Portfolio of Southern Rivers.

·   Subscription to National Geographic’s Green Guide MagazinePlenty MagazineNRDC’s Good MagazineNRDC’s On Earth Magazine, or Martha Stewart Living’s Body and Soul Magazine. Each of which has an online subscription option.

·   Give the gift of plants – Local nurseries and flower shops can help you choose native plants that can be given and planted for a long-lasting gift. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gasses such as benzene and formaldehyde which are released by some fabrics, building materials, fuels and chemicals. A mixture of plant species — including the Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), Howea forsteriana (Kentia Palm), Dracaena marginata (Marginata) and Dracaena deremensis (Janet Craig), and Epipremnum aureum (Devil’s Ivy) have been shown to remove VOCs and cut down on illness and absenteeism in office workers.

·   For coffee lovers, buy locally roasted and organic and fair trade certified, Higher Ground Coffee. Higher Ground comes in flavors that support Alabama non-profit organizations such as The Literacy CouncilCahaba River SocietyAlabama Rivers AllianceBlack Warrior Riverkeeper, and Freshwater Land Trust.  

·   Support a local independent book store and purchase a book about sustainability (Don’t’ forget to skip the gift wrap and simply add a ribbon and personal inscription instead.):

  • Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World by Richard J. Foster
  • Go Green, Live Rich by David Bach
  • Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home, by Christopher Gavigan
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss and The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry
  • The Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds by David Gershon
  • Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier and Give a Goat by Jan West Schrock
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
  • Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective by Michael Schut
  • World Changing: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century by Alex Stephen (Also check out WorldChanging)
  • You Can Prevent Global Warming (and Save Money!): 51 Easy Ways by Jeffrey Langholz and Kelly Turner

·   According to, Americans throw away 165,000 tons of non-rechargeable batteries annually.  Despite best efforts to avoid battery operated gifts, holidays usually demand batteries for one thing or another. Instead of the single-use variety, opt for re-chargeable batteries to save money and improve health and the environment.

·   Check out the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Great Green Gift Giving web site.


Greening Our Celebrations


Christmas Decorations:

·   Opt for LED Lights - LED is short for Light-Emitting Diode and these lights produce more light with less energy (and pose less of a fire risk than incandescent bulbs which put off as much as 90% of their energy as heat.  According to, LED bulbs use 90% less electricity than traditional Christmas bulbs, and with their 20-year lifetimes, you don't have to replace LED light-strings as often as conventional ones. Did you know that burning 10 strands of lights with 100 lights per strand, eight hours per day for a month costs up to $175 for incandescent bulbs vs. about $1 for LED mini-bulbs.

·   Buy a live tree – some local nurseries carry live Christmas trees that can be replanted after Christmas.

·   Recycle your Christmas tree – Ask your public works department about recycling and look for announcements regarding local partnerships for tree recycling.


Holiday Meals – According to, if 10,000 households spend their Thanksgiving meal dollars on local food, we'll invest about $381,000 into our own communities. Most conventional foods travel an average of 1,500 mi before ending up on your plate. Buying in your own backyard saves a lot of energy.  An Iowa State University study found that people who switched to buying 10% of their produce from local sources produced 5-17 times less CO2 overall than if they'd bought nonlocal. Sociologists estimate that people who skip the supermarket in favor of farmers markets have about 10 times the number of conversations while shopping...that's 10 more chances to spread holiday cheer and connect with your community.

·   Try serving food (condiments and spices excluded) produced within a 100-mi radius of your house – This will foster your creative spirit, and help save the planet while you prepare your meal. Plus, fresh food tastes much better than food that has travelled long distances.

·   Finding locally grown food is becoming easier as the slow food and eating local movements become more prevalent.  One great source for locally grown foods is the Finley Avenue Farmers’ Market, which is located at 344 Finley Avenue.  Also, go to for a complete listing of local food sources such as farmers’ markets, co-ops, community supported agriculture (CSAs).

·   Cook only what you need – give leftovers to shelters (which may also have other ways you can help), or Magic City Harvest, which rescues food, will pick up food oversupplied by caterers for special events, especially if you let them know ahead that you may have leftovers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Alabama #1 in Mercury Pollution

Check out the new report released last week by the Environmental Integrity Project concerning Mercury pollution.  The report identified Alabama Power's Miller Steam Plant as the largest Mercury emitter in the nation.     

You can also visit Glynn Wilson's Locust Fork Journal who has a hard hitting analysis and  commentary about the report and Alabama's political landscape concerning mercury pollution.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Burn to be "Wild"

Winter burn to restore the mountain longleaf pine ecosystem at the Nature Conservancy's Kathy Stiles Freeland Bibb County Glades Preserve

Visit the website link below which describes in great detail the importance of prescribed burning in California.

As you can see, control/prescribed burning is recognized nationally as an important tool in habitat restoration. Check out Alabama's own fire advocacy group - the Alabama Prescribed Fire Council at

Friday, November 21, 2008

BEN - November 21, 2008 #311

The Ecoscape at Birmingham Southern College

1) Alabama Home to Six (6) of Southeast's Most Endangered Fish

2) Auburn University Study: Shade Trees Reduce Power Bills By 11.4%

3) Group to Oppose TVA Weed/Lake Decision in North Alabama

4) NWF New Global Warming Water Resource Report in the Southeast

5) BEN Notes:  Camp McDowell Seeking Program Coordinator, Alabama Scenic River Trail Association Seeking Executive Director, NWF Seeking Regional Director, Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Contest, Birmingham Audubon's 62nd Christmas Banquet A Gala Evening in Honor of Jack Edwards, The Wyland Mobile Learning Center "A Glimpse at the Sea", Raindrop Art Sale


Thicket Magazine and Breast Cancer Awareness

Subscribe to Thicket during the months of October and November and 50% of the proceeds will go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, North Central Alabama Affiliate. Look for the pink subscription cards inside the magazine (found in local Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million bookstores around the state), or subscribe online. The deadline for this offer is November 30th.


Religion and the Environment

The Pew Forum - U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

Sierra Club's Faith in Action Report


Alabama Chanin

Sustainable Life-Sustainable Style - check out this wonderful company out of Florence, Alabama.  A truly special business that cares about the environment and people.


1. Alabama Home to Six (6) of Southeast's Most Endangered Fish - According to the Birmingham News, earlier this month, in a report presented to the Southeastern Fishes Council, half of the Southeast's 12 most critically endangered fish reside in Alabama.  Named the "Southeast's Desperate Dozen," the list  of endangered fish was created based on the severity of threats to them, their abundance and the size of their range remaining.

The Alabama fish that made the list are: the Alabama cavefish, the Alabama sturgeon, the pygmy sculpin, the spring pygmy sunfish and the vermilion darter.  A sixth fish, a tiny catfish called the chucky madtom, now survives only in Tennessee, after it was extinguished from Alabama decades ago. 

The scientists who released the Desperate Dozen list, hope to publicize the plight of Souteast's fish populations. For years the region which has been recognized for possessing the nation's greatest freshwater biodiversity in the United States.  Alabama leads the region with the largest number of fish species.

For more information about the Southeastern Fishes Council  & a copy of the report, visit -

2.  Auburn University Study: Shade Trees Reduce Power Bills By 11.4% - According to a new Auburn University study, trees that provide just 17.5% of heavy shade coverage for houses can save up to 11.4% on electricity usage and costs.

The yearlong study, which was conducted by economist Dr. David LaBand from Auburn University's School of Forestry, studied 160 houses in the Auburn area to determine the annual energy savings provided by shade trees, primarily looking at the months of May to September.  He analyzed power bills, calculated shade coverage and surveyed the homeowners about household makeup, electricity usage habits, square footage, type of air conditioning, appliances, roofing, exterior material and other factors. Using local power company rates for kilowatt hours per day, Laband said the 11.4% savings would equal $31 to $33 per month.

3. Group to Oppose TVA Weed/Lake Decision in North Alabama - Last month, the TVA board of directors decided to discontinue a significant portion of the management of aquatic plants on Guntersville Lake.

In response to that action, an impressive number of the region's officeholders, business owners and community leaders have formed a committee, opposing TVA's actions while also calling on the agency to take a pragmatic approach to resolve the weed problem in lake.

The group's primary environmental concern is the fear that without TVA's  management of the lake's weed problems, thousands of residents will be start individually and haphazardly spraying the lake to address weed problems, endangering people and natural resources.

Here is a blog entry by  Huntsville Times outdoor writer Alan Clemons explaining the issue.

4. NWF New Global Warming Water Resource Report in the Southeast - In a new report released by the National Wildlife Federation, titled - "More Variable and Uncertain Water Supply: Global Warming's Wake -Up Call for the Southeastern U.S.," the group offers the latest scientific research on global warming and water supplies, competition for resources, demographic factors and how to better prepare for managing the region's water availability.

The report focuses on the South's most recent droughts, population and water usage trends and potential climate change related impacts on the South's water supplies and biodiversity. According to NWF's Climate scientist Amanda Staudt, "Global warming presents new challenges for managing America's water resources, especially in our southeastern states."

Check out the NWF report at

5. BEN Notes:  Camp McDowell Seeking Program Coordinator, Alabama Scenic River Trail Association Seeking Executive Director, NWF Seeking Regional Director, Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Contest, Birmingham Audubon's 62nd Christmas Banquet, A Gala Evening in Honor of Jack Edwards, The Wyland Mobile Learning Center "A Glimpse at the Sea", Raindrop Art Sale

Camp McDowell Seeking Program Coordinator -  Camp McDowell is seeking a program coordinator for its environmental center.  For details visit

Alabama Scenic River Trail Association Seeking Executive Director - The Alabama Scenic River Trail Association is seeking  an Executive Director. The Deadline to apply is December 1st.  For details, visit -

NWF Seeking Regional Director -  NWF is seeking  a Southeast Regional Executive Director.  The position is located in Atlanta.  For complete details visit:

Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Contest - The Southern Environmental Law Center is now accepting applications for the 14th Annual Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment.  To learn about this prestigious award visit:

Birmingham Audubon's 62nd Christmas Banquet - Birmingham Audubon Society will be holding their 62nd Annual Christmas Banquet on December 2nd at the Vestavia Hills Country Club.  This year's featured speaker is noted commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered" and author Julie Zickefoose.  Please make your reservation by November 25 at 205-823-3695 to this special event.  For additional info, visit  or

A Gala Evening in Honor of Jack Edwards - The Weeks Bay Foundation is hosting "A Gala Evening in Honor of Jack Edwards," December 4th, 6:00 PM at the Fairhope Yacht Club.  Jack Edwards is a former Republican Congressman and the outgoing board chairman of the Foundation.  Tickets are $50.  For more information, go to  or call 251-990-5004.

The Wyland Mobile Learning Center "A Glimpse at the Sea" - Mobile Baykeeper, 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center and the Mobile Area Water & Sewer System will be bringing the Wyland Mobile Learning Center to the Five Rivers Resource Center.  The marine artist, Wyland and the non-profit Wyland Foundation have created a traveling "hands on" exhibit targeted to children to learn about the importance of water.  The program will be at the Resource Center from December 4-10 with Mobile Baykeeper Family Fun Day on Sunday, December 7th.  For more info and scheduling details contact Five Rivers at 251-625-0814 or Mobile Baykeeper at 251-433-4229.

Raindrop Art Sale - The Hulsey Little River Land Trust will be holding their annual Raindrop Art Sale at ROJO in Birmingham, Alabama on December 13th.  For details, visit