Friday, February 28, 2014


Pond scum. Most likely so thick because of fertilizer runoff.
Algae are found the world over, generally aquatic, but not always. They thrive in warm water and cold water, saltwater and freshwater. Most are photosynthetic—same as plants—using sunlight to power chemical reactions used to create carbohydrates. They range from small, single-celled organisms up to large kelps over a hundred feet in length. Green, red, and brown algae are prominent, but they are by no means the only colors. Algae exist on every continent on earth, and live in every climate.
Algae are not a single clade (a clade is a group comprised of an ancestor and all its descendants). They didn’t evolve from one common ancestor. They arrived at the present day from different evolutionary paths, but they shared enough common characteristics that they were combined into a single group, though a solid definition of an alga is hard to come by.

Since we live in a landlocked county I feel that discussing oceanic algae is not pertinent to this blog, so I’m going to focus on those found in freshwater ecosystems. (This will also help limit the length of this blog.)
Algae provide important functions in many ecosystems. They are often the primary producers in an aquatic ecosystem. Primary producers are at the bottom of the food chain. Algae are eaten by larger organisms such as zooplankton, which in turn are eaten by fish, which may be eaten by larger fish, and so on up the food chain. Algae allow fish to thrive and thus allow us to catch fish for both food and sport.
Most of the algae that people might see around the region in rivers, creeks, streams, ponds, lakes, etc. are generally green algae. (The green color gives it away.) They’re by no means the only algae present, they’re just easily noticeable. The green algae are those most closely related to plants, and are the group from which plants emerged from.
Algae can be a good indication of the overall health in an aquatic system. Algal growth is dependent on several factors: nutrient availability, light level, pH, temperature, etc. Any one of these can limit algal growth, but the most important one is nutrient availability. Increasing the nutrients available in a waterway will increase the number of algae present. This can lead to algal blooms, which can be unsightly at best and harmful at worst. Many of these blooms are the direct result of human impacts on the environment. Over applying fertilizer to fields, orchards, and lawns can be washed into nearby waterways. Livestock manure can make its way into creeks running through pastures. All of these can lead to algal blooms. Best way to control algal blooms? Control the nutrients leaching into streams, lakes, and rivers.

A look at the variety of saltwater algae.
Generally called seaweeds.
While being ecologically important algae are also useful for many other things. Many types of seaweed are used as food. Agar is derived from red algae, and is used as a thickening agent in petri dishes and many types of food.
Algae can also be used as a pollution control. They can treat sewage by removing many of the toxic and harmful components. Algae “scrubbers” can be used to clean water by pulling out the excessive nutrients present. They can also be used to capture the fertilizer runoff from farms before it enters water systems. These algae could in turn be used as fertilizer on the same fields.
Algae may provide the best option for biofuel production for a variety of reasons. Algae are fairly easy to grow and can be grown in areas unsuitable for other plants. They can be grown using wastewater and sewage. Algae have faster growth rates than land plants because their structure is so much simpler. 
I realize that this is a fairly simplistic look at algae. But the subject is far too large to adequately cover in a single blog post, so instead I aimed for a quick overlook of many things relating to algae to peak your interest. Hopefully it provides enough of an intro to make you seek out more information on algae. They are fascinating and an important part of many ecosystems. Their possible roles in helping solve some of mankind’s problems are also exciting.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Mid-February Friday

Happy Friday to everyone out there, and a Happy Valentine's Day to anyone that's into that sort of thing... This week is going to offer another short and sweet blog post as we're busy packing up our office in preparation for our move. Everyone in the office is generally excited for the move into downtown Wenatchee. It will shorten the commute for some of us and put us closer to many things in town we often make us of. I realize that on the other hand it may be viewed as a negative direction change because it moves us further from the citizens we serve along the Wenatchee River, Entiat River, and Lake Chelan. However, the added time is barely ten minutes, so it's not much of a change. And since we're moving we'll shortly need to change our phone numbers and email addresses. All our information will be updated on our website once we make the move in a few weeks.
The Native Planting 101 workshop was this last weekend, and I like to think that it went pretty well. The workshop lasted about four hours, and all four of our presenters did an excellent job with their presentations. The workshop would not have been possible without their donation of their valuable time and knowledge. We had a little over 30 people show up for the workshop, and the reviews I received afterwards were almost all positive. I'd like to thank everyone that showed up. Hopefully, they'll use the information to incorporate native plants in all their restoration and landscaping needs.
Today also marks the cutoff for our Native Plant Sale. Ponderosa pine, rocky mountain maple, and golden currant were very popular this year, and have mostly sold out. However, we still have many other options besides those three plants left if you want to try and sneak your order in before the deadline. Our pickup date for plants is set as April 5 from 10 am-1 pm. We also will be bundling the plants on March 22. Anyone that would like to volunteer on either of these days is welcome to do so.
That's all I have for today. Hopefully next week I can get back into my in-depth blogs on particular topics. Until then though this blog will have to suffice. I for one am looking forward to a long weekend, and I'm hoping many of the rest of you get to enjoy one as well.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Early February Observations

This week and, really, the whole month, bring busy times here at Cascadia. Many of us in the office are busy sorting and packing in anticipation of moving from our current location in the lower level of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Headquarters and into new office space in downtown Wenatchee. Thankfully, I don’t have much to do with that until it comes time to load up boxes and equipment and then unload it again in our new location. (Americorps members get all the good jobs.) However, the Native Planting 101 workshop is also coming up this Saturday, February 8, and I’m rushing a little to finish up all the final touches for the workshop. With limited time something has to give, and so the blog this week is going to be a little shorter and less in-depth than normal. There won’t be much of a theme. Probably just some pretty pictures and a few observations.
How about that snow? I realize it’s not a lot, but it sure helps brighten up the landscape, bathing the hills in bright white with splotches of gray, brown, and green poking through. Every little bit of moisture helps. Hopefully it keeps up and we can avoid a dry spring, summer, and fall. Besides, winter is far too dreary without snow on the ground. It keeps everything looking clean and covers up the dirt and grime that coats much of the land during the winter and early spring months.
Hopefully this cold isn’t upsetting too many people. I was little surprised when it came on. That’s my own fault though because I don’t often look at the forecast. My theory being that the weather is going to show up regardless if I know about it or not. It’s amazing how much going from a high of 35 degrees down to a high of 18 degrees changes how it feels to be outside. Anything above 30 and I can usually leave my hands out walking outside. Now it’s almost too cold for them buried deep in my pockets. Any exposed skin can quickly go numb and ache with the cold. These cold days make me happy that I decided to grow a beard for the winter, and at times I wish it went further and covered the tops of my checks and nose. For those of you without a beard, I recommend a scarf if the cold bothers you.
So that’s all I’ve got for this week, time to go back to preparations for Saturday’s workshop. Make sure to sign up for the workshop if you live in or around Wenatchee and Chelan County and have an interest in native plants. It’ll run from 12-4:30 PM at the Chelan County PUD Auditorium. Topics covered will include restoration, pollinators, yardscaping, and noxious weeds. It promises to provide lots of useful and interesting information.