A New Lens on Nature: Community photos in “Citizen’s Eye”

It almost could be another tree, except for the ears. Look a little closer and you realize it’s a deer, stock-still and staring at you through the morning mist. As autumn leaves rustle, its silent appraisal reminds you: you are not alone. These woods are a shared space.

This encounter is captured in a photo by Peter DeStefano, one he submitted to the upcoming community show, “Citizen’s Eye — A Kaleidoscope of Nature.” More than 400 photos taken by over 200 people—Schuylkill Center staff, members, volunteers, neighbors, friends—document surprising encounters with nature from the past 10 months. Every photo is included in the exhibition, making for a truly kaleidoscopic display.

Photo by Peter DeStefano, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

Director of Environmental Art Tina Plokarz and her team have been sorting through these images, arranging them in our gallery, while looking for patterns. Some photos show structures of bridges and buildings; many are close-ups of animals or plants. They all come from a heightened sense of awareness to our natural surroundings and a willingness to stop and focus on smaller things. Taking such a photograph of nature requires that you not just move through the world but slow down enough to notice it. That you become a reciprocal part of it and live in it.

While each image reflects its photographer’s interest, collectively they begin to tell a story, one that begins with people going out to find nature—whether for peace, solitude, or recreation—and discovering that it’s always right beside them. Nature with a capital ‘N’ may conjure up romantic notions of sublime landscapes in National Parks, grand mountains, and expansive deserts. But nature with a lowercase ‘n’ encompasses everything around us. It’s “the small things we’re experiencing every day,” Tina says. “It’s not only about blooming flowers, it is also about the little weed on the sidewalk.” 

A number of photos feature kids and adults outside—playing, building, exploring, living. Some are posed; some are candid; one is a silhouette. “When we really think about ‘nature’ and where this term comes from,” Tina says, “we quickly see that it’s not only the ‘natural world’—it’s also our world context, it’s also our body, it’s our human interaction with the environment. And I think that’s what I was really interested in seeing through other people’s eyes.”

Photo by Walther Vera, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

Nature is also around us, inevitably, in death. One particularly striking photo is of a funeral with masked mourners holding big red umbrellas and carrying a casket down the street. At first, it may seem like it doesn’t belong in a show of nature photography. But it made Tina consider how other nature photos capture death and decay. Several images, for instance, show mushrooms sprouting from dying trees. The rotting wood provides the nutrients necessary to grow a network of fungi that spreads throughout the forest—itself an offering to trees and a vital connection between them. “It’s this circle of life,” she says, “and death is part of our lives.” 

Photo by Peter Handler, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

That topic of death is “hard to grapple with as it relates to the pandemic,” Tina says. But that’s why offering a place for people to share their experiences with nature is so powerful. “I think it allows us a space for grief, and for thinking how, when a tree is dying, it is not dying, it is just transforming into something else.”

Ultimately everything in nature is interconnected, everything shared. “Citizen’s Eye” reflects this in its community display, ready to welcome you in and transform your own encounters with nature.

 

“Citizen’s Eye —A Kaleidoscope of Nature” will be available to view in person in our gallery and online from January 21– March 21, 2021. Join us for a virtual opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 pm for a conversation with mythologist and social practice artist Li Sumpter Ph.D., John Heinz National Wildlife refuge manager Lamar Gore, and designer CJ Walsh, moderated by Tina Plokarz. For more information and to register, visit: https://www.schuylkillcenter.org/blog/event/citizens-eye-a-kaleidoscope-of-nature/

 

—By Emily Sorensen

 

MLK Day of Service — Projects from Home

Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality. In his honor, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is observed on the third Monday in January. On what is termed “a day on, not off,” we are encouraged to engage in volunteer service to our community. While we can’t meet in person this year, we know that you don’t have to go far to make a difference. You’re invited to join us at 10 am on Monday, January 18 over Zoom to connect with community and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. before setting off on your own. More info and register here

At that meeting, we’ll answer any questions you might have and  encourage you to complete one of the following service projects to help your neighbors, your community, wildlife, and the environment.

Suggested Projects include:

Help the environment

  • Pick Up Litter: Grab a bag and a pair of gloves and set out to beautify your neighborhood or a nearby park, one piece of litter at a time. Try to fill at least one bag of trash.
    • While you’re doing this, reflect on the trash you create and how you might be able to minimize it. Find some suggestions here and here.
  • Write to a Representative: Let your representatives in the House and Senate know how important the health of the environment is to you by writing them a letter urging them to support climate change legislation, or—for younger children—drawing a picture of your favorite nature spot.

Help your community

  • Donate food to a community fridge: Community fridges have popped up across the city since the start of the pandemic. They provide fresh food for those in need.
    • Find a fridge in your area to donate food or donate money. Consider swinging by first to see what’s needed, and then come back with what you can supply.
    • Read more about community fridges here and find Philadelphia locations here.  

Help wildlife

  • Make Window Decals to Prevent Bird Strikes: Window collisions are a leading cause of death in bird populations. Birds fly into windows because the glass reflects the environment around it and therefore, birds do not see it as a barrier. Window decals can help to prevent this. Create some of your own window decals using the recipe below. Make sure to cover the entire window (no openings more than 4” vertically and 2” horizontally) when putting them up.
    • Ingredients: 2 tablespoons white glue, 2 drops of dish soap, paintbrush, plastic page protectors or wax paper, food coloring (optional), cookie cutters (optional)
    • Directions:
      • Mix glue, dish soap, and food coloring together in a bowl.
      • Use a paintbrush to paint designs on a plastic page protector or wax paper. If you have one, you can also lay down a cookie cutter and paint inside of that. The number of designs needed will depend on how many windows you have and the size of them.
      • The painted layer should be thick enough that there are no gaps or holes but not too thick or else it won’t dry.
      • Let sit overnight.
      • Peel the decals off and stick to windows in your house, making sure to cover the entire window so that there are no openings more than 4” vertically and 2” horizontally.
    • For more details and pictures, visit: https://teachingmama.org/diy-window-clings/
  • For more ideas, check out our article 20 Wonderful Ways to Help Nature.

 

Whatever you do, don’t forget to tag us @schuylkillcenter in a picture of the MLK project you completed using the #MLKDay!

News Flash: Beavers in Roxborough!

One of the feel-good stories on the environmental scene is the rewilding of large cities like Philadelphia, where suddenly peregrine falcons nest in church steeples and on Delaware River bridges, bald eagles pull large fish out of the Schuylkill River, and coyotes amble down Domino Lane.

In that vein, members of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy were somewhat startled to discover that the restoration plantings they’ve doggedly placed along the Schuylkill River have been devoured by…beavers! Wait, beavers in Roxborough?

Once extirpated—a fancy word meaning locally extinct—across Pennsylvania, hunted because their fur was remarkably valuable and because we did not appreciate their ability to rearrange landscapes to their own ends. But beavers have been returning to our state over the last century, and have been seen along Tacony and Pennypack Creeks since about 2008. And now they have taken up residence in the Schuylkill River and Manayunk Canal around Flat Rock Dam.

“I first noticed beavers and their lodge in the winter of 2018,” observed Suzanne Hagner, Roxborough resident and member of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy, “as I rode out the Schuylkill River Trail towards Shawmont. I could see where they had worn down a path into the woods on the far side of the trail and I guessed that was where they were going for food.” The lodge was near Flat Rock Dam, and they have been spotted—and photographed—as far down as Lock Street and as far up as past Shawmont Avenue, both in the canal and along the river.

“You can see their work from Lock to Cotton streets,” added Kay Sykora, another key Conservancy member, “particularly in the Cotton Street area; look for the damage on the banks and trees.” She offered that there was a “small dam in the wetlands near the upper locks” but that may have been damaged by heavy storms. Tom Landsmann, president of the Conservancy, offers that “the very best place to see the beaver or signs of the beaver’s visits is from the river. Take a kayak or paddle board and look for the damaged bark or the lodges. Look just above the flat rock dam on the Philly side, but on the Lower Merion side and up river as well. Can’t miss it.”

They famously cut down saplings and trees with their chisel-like teeth, building dams and lodges with the branches, chewing the inner bark of trees as their favored food source. That tree-cutting, of course, can sometimes interfere with our own good work.

“Beavers have good taste in trees,” Tom added, tongue in cheek. “They ate over 60 trees we planted along the canal last year. But we adjusted. Last spring, we painted the uneaten trees with latex paint mixed with a lot of sand,” the grit distasteful to the large rodents. “Many of the damaged trees grew out again this summer,” he continued. “We wrapped those trees in cages this fall. We installed 130 cages along the canal near both sides of Fountain Street.”

Bernard “Billy” Brown, author of Grid magazine’s Urban Naturalist column, told me that, in addition to the cages, Riverfront North, a group doing restoration work along Pennypack Creek, “has planted species that can rebound well after being cut down by beavers, like willow species in particular.”

The Conservancy recently hosted a walk-through of the area with a self-described “beaver believer” they brought in from central PA, and their takeaway was similar. “The other approach which I believe we will have to do,” continued Kay, “is to rethink our plantings. We need to put in more herbaceous plants on the impacted banks and see if we can add things like willows to the upper wetland areas to keep them in that area, which is better suited for them and for us.”

Suzanne Hagner agrees. “There are plants, several species of low growing willow that beavers eat that we can plant and hopefully, if we get them planted soon, we can entice the beavers to move further out the trail” and away from their restoration plantings.

Billy Brown has been writing about the beaver’s return to Philadelphia for a while now. “As a reaction, I’ll say that beavers and their return to Philadelphia show the importance of waterways in connecting urban habitat with the surrounding landscape. I think most people under-appreciate how severely our system of roads isolates habitat, an issue the Schuylkill Center contends with the Toad Detour project, for example. Waterways and the green corridors around them are exceptions to the fragmentation of habitat in urban landscapes. The ability of beavers to quickly disperse through the city shows that. It’s both tantalizing and frustrating to imagine how different our urban ecosystems would be if we could more broady connect to the surrounding landscape.”

Suzanne Hagner has been reading up on beaver, passing books along to Conservancy members. “They are amazingly skilled at creating waterways and irrigation systems that lead to ecological health,” she said. “Our consultant offered that the return of the beavers was a very good sign in our area, as the beaver is an ecological system in itself. I had lived in Washington state, and had heard that beavers were being reintroduced in eastern Washington to help curb the arid areas that are prone to wildfires.”

“The return of the beaver,” notes Kay Sykora, “along with a wide range of wildlife like herons and turtles underscores the health of our river area, once one of the most damaged and polluted rivers in the country. Beaver were virtually trapped out of existence for their fur, and there was no understanding of the role they played in the environmental balance of nature. They are key to the health of our wetland areas and the range of wildlife that needs those areas to survive.”

Go for a walk along the Schuylkill River Trail, and find for yourself the pointed chiseled ends of tree trunks along the canal and river. It’s evidence of Roxborough’s newest neighbor, the beaver.

 

—By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Photo/Video by Linda Lee McGinnis

White Christmas: Another Endangered Species

Last week’s snow was thankfully kind to us. Though 6.3 official inches fell at the airport, it was not the foot that might have been and was long predicted, nor the ice storm that was also possible, nor the gale force winds that were expected. My staff at the Schuylkill Center breathed easier on Thursday morning when they arrived to shovel us out, as snow, ice, and wind can conspire to cripple our work, toppling trees and branches while causing power outages. So frankly, we’ll take an easier storm.

But temperatures returned to New Abnormal levels this week, as predictions call for a balmy 61 degrees on Christmas Eve. No White Christmas this year. In fact, the last recorded white Christmas occurred in 2009, and even then it didn’t actually snow on the day, but earlier in the week. The last time we recorded an inch or more of snowfall on the holiday was 2002, with only an inch and a half. The record for snowfall on Christmas is a foot, which fell way back in 1966, more than 50 years ago.

And I’m sure you remember that famed Christmas Eve only five years ago when the mercury topped out in the mid-70s, breaking December records as carolers sang in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts.
So last week’s snowfall may be an odd time to revisit climate change. But it is timely: remember, last week’s snowfall was the first major winter storm in almost 1,000 days, and is 21 times the total amount that fell all last winter. The Schuylkill Center’s facilities team did not have to plow our driveway once last year.

Remember, one weather event is neither proof nor disproof of climate change, so a snowfall in December does not mean all is fine and the climate isn’t broken. What one has to do is look at long-term trends. As the accompanying graph, created by temperature measurements collected by Climate Central in Princeton, shows, Philadelphia’s winter temperatures have warmed by almost five degrees since 1970. Five degrees may not seem like much at first glance, but the planet’s finely tuned climate instrument reacts strongly to even tenths of a degree changes in weather averages. In fact, winter has changed more markedly in Pennsylvania than the other three seasons.

Globally, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculates that 2020 has a more than 90 percent chance of becoming the hottest year on record, while NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gives the year a 54 percent chance, possibly losing out by only a nose to 2016, as NOAA says the first 11 months of 2020 were a mere .02 degrees cooler than record-hot 2016.

Santa, gearing up for this week’s worldwide flight, is in trouble, as his North Pole is warming faster than the rest of the world. “One of 2020’s notable hotspots,” reported Scientific American last week, “has been Siberia… At one point the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk reported 100.4 degrees F. If this figure is verified by the World Meteorological Organization, it would be the first time recorded temperatures above the Arctic Circle have surpassed 100 degrees F.”

Imagine that: a measurement of 100 degrees in the Arctic Circle. Santa is quaking in his boots as the ice caps melt below his feet.

According to NASA, the Earth’s average temperature in November was 56.95 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.75 degrees above the 20th-century norm. Again, these small changes matter.

No matter where 2020 ends up in the standings, it will be warm enough to knock 1998 out of NOAA’s top 10. When that happens, all of the 10 warmest years in their records will have occurred in only the 15 years since 2005 — and the top seven will have occurred since 2014. The statistical odds that this is a random occurrence are slim to none, and each year is now as hot or hotter than the year before.

A 2017 analysis in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society offered that between the late 19th century and 1980, new records for the hottest year would happen about every eight to 11 years, a reasonable rate that makes sense. Since 1981, however, they have been occurring about every three to four years. New records are now the norm.

“So if 2020 takes the top slot,” concluded the normally staid Scientific American, “it will not be entirely unexpected — and will be yet another stark example of how far the Earth’s climate has deviated from its natural course.” As a Goddard scientist told the magazine, “I work for NASA, but it’s not rocket science.”

May all your days be merry and bright nonetheless, though no, all your Christmases will not be white. Yet another casualty of climate change.

—By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Something Special in our Nature Gift Shop

There’s a special joy in giving someone just the right gift, one that makes their eyes light up with excitement. But finding that something can be tricky—so we’re here to make it easy for you. Nestled in a corner of our Visitor Center, our Nature Gift Shop is replete with eco-friendly, locally-made, and nature-themed items, from books to bird houses, earrings to mugs, puzzles to (recycled!) plushies.

FOR THE EXPLORER: The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook

This family-friendly book offers numerous delightful outdoor activities, explorations, and crafts. It’s great for injecting new life into tired pandemic routines (has anyone else done the same walk hundreds of times by now?) and for when you need that extra push outside in the cold weather.

FOR THE WRITER: Decomposition Notebooks

The perfect eco-friendly replacements for your classic composition books, these are made with 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper and printed with soy ink. Plus they feature gorgeous nature-inspired designs and spiral binding. Win-win-win-win-win.

FOR THE FOODIE: World O’ Honey’s Raw Local Chunk Honey

Honey doesn’t get better than the raw, local (Silverdale, PA in this case) variety, and the honeycomb adds a delicious crunch. If smooth is more your thing, never fear—we stock a number of other varieties such as creamed, blueberry, orange blossom…yum.

 

FOR THE CHEF: Bee’s Wrap Food Wraps

Bid farewell to plastic wrap forever and invest in a few Bee’s Wraps reusable food wraps. They come in a variety of sizes and patterns and are made with four simple ingredients: organic cotton, Beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. A beautiful eco-friendly kitchen swap.

FOR THE NEWBIE-NATURALIST: Tree Finder

This pocket-sized guide is convenient for walks in the woods, and its clear illustrations of leaves provide just enough detail to identify a whole host of trees. There’s also a Winter Tree edition, great for when leaves are, well, a little harder to find.

FOR THE BIRDER: Birdseed

Our Nature Gift Shop is a birder’s paradise, bursting with houses, feeders and guides. But it’s our birdseed that gets folks coming back over and over, so a nice big bag would be perfect for any birder in your life.

FOR THE WELLNESS GEEK: The Nature Principle

In his second book, Richard Louv shifts his focus from kids to adults and furthers his passionate argument for nature as the key to wellness, productivity, creativity, and community. It’s sure to convince even the most dedicated indoors person to venture outside, and to reinspire outdoors enthusiasts.

FOR THE PERSON WHO JUST DOESN’T WANT ANY MORE STUFF: A Schuylkill Center Membership

Not only do memberships help sustain the Schuylkill Center’s programming, they also create and connect an enthusiastic community. There are some great perks, too: discounted tickets to our public events, a subscription to our quarterly newsletter, and 20% off Gift Shop purchases among them.

 

For more gift ideas, follow us on Instagram, or stop by the shop yourself (just wear a mask!), open Monday–Saturday, 9 am. – 4:30 pm. Our Gift Shop manager, Michelle, is also assiduously working to get all of our stock listed online; keep checking back for more. Call 215-482-7300 with any questions, and order online and conveniently arrange for curbside pickup. Happy holidays!

 

— By Emily Sorensen, Communications Intern 

 

Biden: Changing the Climate on Climate Change

When President-elect Joe Biden assumes the presidency in two months, he takes the helm with as many front-burner issues as any president ever, even FDR and Lincoln. He’s got to handle a raging pandemic with its horrific economic fallout, a long overdue reckoning on race, and a collapsing climate. All at once.

Consider climate. As Election Day dawned, a typhoon with gusts of 235 mph plowed into the Philippines to become the strongest storm to make landfall in world history. Here in the Atlantic this year, we set a record with 29 big storms, exhausting the English alphabet and moving into Greek. As David Leonhardt reported in the New York Times, “Nine of those storms became much more intense in the span of a single day, an event that was rare before the planet was as warm as it now is.”

This summer, more than five million acres of the American West burned, and West Coast sooty air was more harmful to breathe than that of smog-choked Indian cities. Worldwide, September was the hottest month ever measured, and 2020 is tracking to be the hottest year ever (of course). The Arctic is melting faster than expected, and sea levels are rising too quickly too. Leonhardt again: “Glaciers are losing more ice each year than can be found in all of the European Alps.”

Climate-denying President Trump had famously withdrawn America from the Paris Agreement on climate, and ironically, the treaty’s timing was such that our participation ended the day after Election Day. No matter how you feel about the treaty, there are at least two relevant facts you should know. For one, 179 countries have formally adopted the plan—that’s out of 195 countries total—and among the few holdouts are Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iran… and us. Great company, right?

And two, the agreement is a loose framework designed to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius—a number scientists agree would be catastrophic. And two, the agreement is a loose framework designed to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius—a number scientists agree would be catastrophic. (We’ve already climbed 1.2 degrees.) Most close watchers of the accord have long agreed it was not enough, so even though the Paris plan was contentious, it would never get us to where we need to be. But at least it got the world around one table talking.                   

Biden has said all along that he will return to the Paris accord, which he reiterated when he was named the winner. In fact, he added Paris to his long list of Day One activities, and he ran on a $2 trillion climate plan, which, while ambitious in scope, was easily more centrist than those promulgated by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But still, it is a solid plan because it has been vetted by a long list of policy experts and scientists. (Radical idea: smart science leads to informed policy choices.)

He began to make good on this promise last week by naming former Secretary of State John Kerry to a new post, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, giving Kerry—who played a key role in brokering the Paris accord—a cabinet-level position and a seat on the National Security Council. Said the formal press release announcing the appointment, “This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue.” 

The heart of the Biden plan is reducing greenhouse gas emissions through both subsidizing clean energy and setting tougher standards for polluting industries. If subsiding green power is problematic for you, remember we have been subsidizing coal and oil for decades. 

His plan is no Green New Deal, the progressive set of ideals that sets conservative hair on fire. For Republicans who fear a Green New Deal, the challenge is for them to place on the table an acceptable, different, science-based plan that still gets us to lower emissions. Lacking an alternative, the Biden plan is all we have at the moment.

But the Green New Deal is also meant to confront two front-burner issues, climate plus our intransigent racial disparities. The New Deal piece of it demands racial justice and economic equality, and wonderfully, clean energy can help immensely here, both by mitigating the impact of a hotter climate on especially poor and minority residents of large cities, but also by offering high-wage skilled-labor jobs. Win-win.

The bad news for Pennsylvania is that the age of fossil fuels is over, and needs to be over. Pennsylvania, of course, is where America’s oil was first discovered in 1859, where huge coal fields have been mined for generations, where coal powered the rise of Bethlehem Steel and the Pennsylvania Railroad, where fracking has been hailed as the future of fuel. But that storm slamming into the Philippines on Election Day reminds us of another reality. Carbon emissions are too high, and need to be drastically reduced. Now.

Sadly, the message that is continually lost in all the noise is that a greener energy future means MORE jobs for Pennsylvanians, not less, as wind and solar ramp up. Too many studies show that clean energy offers far more jobs than coal, which has been dying anyway.

For most of the world, climate change long ago crossed the threshold from heresy to conventional wisdom, and we have a quickly diminishing window of opportunity to address climate. In a Biden presidency, we thankfully finally have a shot, and for that alone I am grateful.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Wild Turkeys: The Truth Behind the Bird

Even in this crazy, complicated COVID year, Americans of all shapes, sizes and colors– maybe just fewer in number– will gather around tables overflowing with colorful cornucopias of food. And whether that table includes cranberry sauce or couscous, tortellini or tortillas, the centerpiece of the meal is likely that quintessential American bird, the turkey.

Consider that turkey, one of our biggest natural neighbors. Likely one of your holiday plates includes an image of the tom turkey, chest all puffed out, strutting its stuff. That’s not how turkeys appear in November. Sleeker, thinner, turkeys are now forming winter single-sex flocks, a tom and its brothers joining a fraternal order of other males. During this first winter, the toms spar viciously and violently to establish, yes, the pecking order, and a rigorous, fiercely contested one at that. They peck, wrestle, and strike with wings, feet and head until exhausted, and he who fights longest and hardest is the winner. To him go the spoils of war: the right to mate in spring.

For when the winter flocks break up, the brothers stay together. They pick clearings in the forest to strut their stuff, gobbling and fluffing like hyperactive mummers, calling attention to themselves while attracting harems of females. The bumps atop their heads turn various shades of reds, whites and blues—they are, after all, patriotic—and their wattles flap while their snoods bounce around: they have a face only a mother—and hens—can love. And when the hens arrive, only the big brother—top of the heap—mates, top gun mating with multiple females to spread his strong genes throughout the pool.

It’s not known whether or not Pilgrims and Native Americans dined on turkey that first Thanksgiving; one Pilgrim diarist mentions a whole litany of foods (venison, geese, shellfish, and more, but no turkey). But the Pilgrims knew about turkeys, encountering them in England, of all places. You see, the Aztecs domesticated the Mexican subspecies around 800 B.C., and Spaniards introduced the bird to Europe, where it came to England in 1550, and by the Pilgrim’s era was the centerpiece of large feasts held by the wealthy. The turkey we eat today is still a descendant of the Mexican subspecies—not the native North American bird we see at places like here at the Schuylkill Center, where turkeys are sporadically spotted.

Oh, one more turkey story. While wild turkeys are surprisingly common across Pennsylvania these days, the sight of these massive birds was unlikely even recently. Though turkeys had roamed a huge swath of America, because of the one-two punch of overhunting and deforestation, only 30,000 turkeys gobbled across 18 states by 1900; the animal had disappeared completely from Canada, New England, New York, and agricultural states like Indiana. While Pennsylvania was the northernmost state on the East Coast to retain a wild turkey population, there were none in Philadelphia or its suburbs.

So the wild turkey almost met the same fate as the dodo and the passenger pigeon.  Happily, three things altered its future. Too many hunters in too many parts of the country let wildlife agencies know they valued wild turkeys. Turkey hunters are a passionate lot, and whether or not you hunt or believe in animal rights, turkeys are here, in part, because of pressure from hunters. Second, wildlife managers learned how to use relic populations of wild turkeys in captive breeding programs—and re-introduced newly hatched turkeys to their former haunts.  

And finally, over the last decades, our forests have been slowly regenerating over the years, turkeys rediscovering new, viable habitat. Creatures of the edge, they crave forests for cover and nesting spots, then fields and meadows for seeds and insects to eat. As their habitat returned, so did they. Today, state websites indicate that turkeys nest in all but two Pennsylvania counties, Delaware and Philadelphia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if nesting turkeys return to my Schuylkill Center in Roxborough sometime soon.

The National Wild Turkey Federation now estimates some seven million turkeys range across the U.S., and National Audubon christened it one of the “10 Creatures We Saved” in its centennial celebrations a few years back. This is happily also true of the bald eagle, a creature we featured here only two weeks ago.

On Thursday, as turkeys decorate our possibly smaller tables, be thankful for one of the too-few conservation success stories we share, the return of the wild turkey.  

Happy Thanksgiving.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Pam DeLissio: ‘Voters Want to be Heard’

While razor-thin voting margins characterized so much of the electoral landscape this month, state Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-194, cruised to an easy reelection victory for her sixth term in Harrisburg, racking up more than 74% of her district’s almost 37,000 votes.

I talked to her last week over the phone, and she laughed when she told me that “a voter I met asked me if I had to work hard for this win. I told her I work hard every day.” And she does.

A self-described “moderate, centrist, middle-of-the-road” politician, she bristles when anyone suggests these traits show a lack of strength, or lack of an opinion. Clearly she has opinions. But she listens very hard to her constituents, and works to represent those interests in the capitol. “I take the input of constituents very seriously,” she offered, “because when citizens are informed about the process, they make better decisions.”

The COVID pandemic colors everything these days, including politics. “Here we are sitting and talking with 4,700 new cases only yesterday,” she said, pausing to confirm the number. “Yes, 4,711, higher than the highest high in the spring, and the legislature has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to correct the governor’s supposedly erroneous behavior. In an emergency like this, you need to be nimble, and putting the pandemic in the hands of the legislature is just not effective. As long as you have gerrymandering in place, you’ll have a skewed perspective on COVID.”

As an example, the state is currently sitting on a pot of $1 billion given to Harrisburg by Congress from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act with overwhelming bipartisan support back in March. “Our CARES money could have been 100% appropriated by the governor,” she told me, “but as an olive branch he gave authority to the legislature to spend it. So there’s still about a billion dollars to be spent that the legislature has not been inclined to deal with.” (They were waiting to possibly use it for deficit relief.) “And many sectors of the community – child care comes to mind – are acutely aware that this money has not been spent.”

Given that she is now a veteran of a full decade of service, she is in line for serving as a minority chair on one of the committees she belongs to. “I’m looking forward to that,” she said. Even though she will be minority chair, “if you do it well, do it right, and do it strategically, you could have some influence.”

When asked about her legislative priorities, she did not hesitate: “redistricting reform, because 2021 is a redistricting year. There is a transparency piece I am interested in, to direct the reapportionment commission to be more accountable by requiring public hearings and allowing public comments. I actually pushed for redistricting reform at one of my first town halls back when I was first elected, and people said, ‘Pam, that’s 10 years away!’ And here we are suddenly at the other end of that decade. But neither party seems very interested in this,” she added wistfully.

“I also see and hear a lot about equity and poverty. Our city’s poverty rate is 26%,” her voice rising. Philadelphia is often described as the poorest large city, not a badge of honor by any stretch. “Poverty stands in the way of our citizens breaking into the middle class.” For her, poverty becomes a lens through which she can examine other bills before her: “is this bill going to help or exacerbate the situation?” She noted that, “ I’ve spent some time understanding the social determinants of health, like the impact of housing, transportation, and food insecurity on health.” These play into poverty as well.

Pam easily connects education to the issue, and reminded me that an education commission made recommendations in 2015 to change the formula the state uses to distribute money for school districts. Of the 500 school districts in the state, almost 200 are underfunded, according to the state’s own math. The new allocation formula, she said, “takes into consideration things that have never been considered before, like poverty level, and there’s even a factor in the equation for deep poverty.” But Harrisburg got stuck on whether the new formula goes into effect automatically or steps down over time, and she signaled she would like to champion stepping down, a gradual drop over time to more equitable levels.

When asked about Pennsylvania being in the national crosshairs over our election’s integrity, she said, “Out of the blue this fall, there came an effort (in the legislature) to create a select committee on election integrity. The way the language was written – it was so poorly drafted – it would have given subpoena power to the majority Speaker. The pushback, no, the blowback,” she said, her voice rising on blowback, “was tremendous, and that was shelved.”

About the fraud allegations, she says “nobody has shared one scintilla of evidence. Oh,” she remembered, “one person from one polling place called me with a complaint, and I need to track that down. But that’s it.”

She would like to see election reform. “I’d like to memorialize the drop boxes– there was unbelievable voter engagement this year because of mail-in votes. Many many states have mail-in voting, so it’s not new, it’s just new in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, it eliminates straight-ticket voting, which is no problem for me. But this engagement may just be what many legislators want to avoid – they actually don’t want engaged voters.” She also supports mail-in votes that can be opened and prepped early, so they can be counted on Election Day, avoiding this year’s multi-day wait.

She’s not a big fan of legislation crafted “for the sake of the base. I’ve never played to a base; I haven’t done that and will not do that, and that’s how I ended up with a robust percentage of the vote in a divisive election. Voters tell me, ‘I know she listens to me.’ That’s what most voters want, to be heard.”

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Visiting the Center

Our Visitor Center is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm weekdays and Saturday; our Sunday visitors may park at the Hagy’s Mill lot and walk on our trails, as always, but the Visitor Center remains closed on Sundays.

We welcome you to visit our exhibits, art gallery, and gift shop. And you can even purchase our world-class birdseed again! 

Visitors are required to wear masks.  There are posted limits on the number of people in each room, and our reception staff is behind a Plexiglas barrier, all for the protection of both you and our staff.

The Wildlife Clinic is currently accepting patients for rehabilitation, but is unable to accept walk-in patient admissions. For non-urgent wildlife questions or concerns, please email us.

If you have found an injured or orphaned animal in need of assistance, please call our 24-hour wildlife hotline at 215-482-7300 x option 2. We are functioning with limited staff at this time; if we are unable to answer the phone immediately, please leave us a detailed voicemail and we will return your call as soon as possible.  Please do not bring a wild animal to the clinic without first speaking with us by phone. 

Clinic Hours of Operation
10am-4pm, 7 days a week

We are offering limited in-person programming. Check out our robust schedule of virtual programs. 

Stay safe and enjoy all nature has to offer.

Bea Kelly Marks 20 Years at the Schuylkill Center

If you’ve visited the Schuylkill Center anytime in the last 20 years, there’s a great chance you’ve met Roxborough’s Bea Kelly, who this week celebrates her 20th anniversary as a member of the center’s staff. Our program registrar, Bea served as our receptionist for 15 of those 20 years,so if you’ve walked in the front door to come to an event, see our art gallery, drop off a preschooler, or buy our special bird seed, you’ve likely said hello to Bea.

To mark the occasion, the staff created a bee-friendly garden (pun intended, get it?) at the front door near our new seating area, which overflows with plants that birds and pollinators like native bees find attractive, like viburnums, small flowering shrubs with fruits craved by birds, and fall-blooming asters that nourish migrating monarchs on their way south. She also was given a gift certificate to White Yak, the delicious Tibetan restaurant that’s scoring a lot of attention on the Ridge. 

A native Philadelphian who grew up in Northwest Philly, Bea has called Roxborough her home for the last five years. Asked why she chose Roxborough, she responded, “well it’s obvious that being in close proximity to work is a bonus. The neighborhood is beautiful, vibrant, verdant, and conducive to sustainable living and healthy community. And it’s fun.

“My neighborhood,” she continued, “ is one of the most priceless areas of the region. I can walk just about anywhere from my house and find interesting nooks and crannies along the way. I love the views and the architecture and the history around every corner, and also the gardens. I enjoy the ease and comfort in exploring the area and I meet so many friendly neighbors everywhere I go.”  

Bea came to the Center in 2000 as a part-time educator but quickly transitioned to become the “face” of the organization when she took on the job of front-desk receptionist.  Bea recalls, “it was always satisfying to help anyone who came through our front door because everyone is usually surprised and delighted at what they find when they explore our trails.”

She’s also seen a lot of nature in her time with us, as the front desk is surrounded by glass windows. She’s the first to see new birds at our feeding station, often writing their names of an old-school chalkboard in the lobby, or deer coming too close to the front door, or Canada geese returning to nest on Fire Pond outside the front door, or blue jays stealing name tags from the native plants we sell at the front door (they love doing this, oddly), or fox droppings deposited on the front walkway by a fox likely snubbing his nose at us, and more.

She’s even our rainfall monitor, measuring how much rainfall comes each day in the rain gauge out by the solar collectors. And she’s been one of the go-to photographers I’ve leaned on for submitting alongside this column– you’ve seen her work on several occasions.

When asked about colleagues or mentors that influenced her, Bea gave a shout out to our diverse army of volunteers.  “I think there’s something miraculous when people give freely of their time.”  While the individual tasks may not seem significant, Bea notes, “their collective benefits are immeasurable. Their work over the years has made the Center run much more smoothly.”  When asked about working with Bea, Director of Education Aaliyah Green Ross comments, “I’ve relied on Bea in my time here. She is always a great resource when it comes to what works when we’re planning education and public programs.”

When Bea isn’t at her desk, you might find her walking along one of her favorite places at the Center, our driveway. “There’s a place at the bend in our driveway that’s really quiet and there are trees on either side,” she muses. “When I walk along the driveway, it feels like I’m on an old country road. The bend is a spot that has a nice mix of ‘wildness’ with a dab of civilization.”

 During her time, Bea has worked for three of our four executive directors, and just missed meeting our founder, Dick James, who retired in 1996. As the fourth in that chain, I think that it’s incredibly rare that people stay at one workplace for 20 years anymore, so the center is very lucky that Bea has been that warm, welcoming presence at our front door for all this time. In fact, Dick James, here for 31 years, may be the only other person in our organization’s history to hit this mark. 

I’m hoping she stays on another 20 more! We’ll write about her in this corner of the newspaper again when she does. 

Congratulations, Bea, and thank you.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director