Good Oak News

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Global Warming, Apple Computers and Saving the World, One Piece at a Time

Its our busy early-summer season. I hardly have time to eat some days, let alone blog. But a few things have been swirling around the environmental world lately that I feel the need to address in a quick post.


When I was in college at the University of Illinois, I was involved in several environmental clubs. I had some friends who gravitated towards political action. There were big issues on campus and in the state that needed addressing. But for me, I always found political action frustrating. You could work extremely hard on a project, pour your heart into it, and in the end, if a vote doesn't go your way, all that was for nothing.

I gravitated towards hands-on projects. We did clean-ups of some local streams. We did a bicycle repair fundraiser. I got most heavily involved in Red Bison, the student prairie restoration club, which gave me the foundation for the career I follow today. Interacting with the plants, animals and other organisms of our little prairie plot was, of course, rewarding, and part of the appeal (and today its a big part of the appeal of having these organisms in my own back yard). But most of all, I felt a great senses of satisfaction at the end of the day looking at the work we had gotten done, pulling weeds or planting prairie seedlings, and knowing I had made a difference that day.

Disheartening Current Events:

The United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement is an example of exactly what I find frustrating about politics. I have strong feelings about the issue, as do many millions of Americans, but I feel powerless to do anything about it. But its important we don't give up hope in improving our environment. Sure, its a year and a half until congressional elections and 3.5 years until the next presidential election. When that time comes, get out and vote!  

For the mean time, forget about politics. There is a lot that homeowners, rural landowners, and businesses (that you!) can do right now, to protected clean water, clean air and counteract human-induced climate change. 

Back Yard Action:

Lori Otto, Found of Wild Ones said: 

"You can do wonderful things on your own property to protect the environment. Each little island, each corridor will help bring back the butterflies and birds."

Lawn doesn't sequester much carbon. A rich assemblage of native plants do. Oh, and they also provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife, help keep our surface and ground water clean, reduce air pollution and urban heat island effect. Learn more here.

Join our local Wild Ones chapter to get involved in the native landscaping movement and learn more about what you can do in your yard.

"If suburbia were landscaped with meadows, prairies, thickets, or forests, or combinations of these, then the water would sparkle, fish would be good to eat again, birds would sing, and human spirits would soar."
- Lorrie Otto

Back Forty Action:

On larager properties, any wild plant cover, even weeds and invasive plants, do a better job keeping our air and water clean than farm fields and lawns (or parking lots and subdivisions for that matter). But healthy natural habitats, prairies, woodlands, wetlands, etc., with a diversity of native plants do a notably better job in providing all of the ecosystem services that keep our environment healthy. Prairie are particularly good at sequestering carbon with their deep roots, and old-growth oaks of our woodlands and savannas can lock-up carbon for decades. These can be big, long-term projects, but start small and expand as you can.

Here is an incredible story from the Des Moines Register of an Iowa landowner who restored a stream, which had been degraded and repressed to the point it was little more than a wet spot in a stream, back into a high quality trout-stream, the trickling of the stream in this video is particularly pleasant knowing the story behind it: 

Learn more about Ecological Restoration here:

Become A Volunteer or Donate to a Local Cause:

If you don't have your own space where you can 'heal the Earth', The Prairie Enthusiasts are always looking for volunteers. Same story at the UW Arboretum, the Lakeshore Preserve, and Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I myself am leading a modest effort at Blue Mound State Park. Come help us pull garlic mustard this Saturday morning!

Considering donating to local conservation organizations need your help to do great environmental work in our local communities:

Business Taking Action:

Honestly, one of the biggest inspirations for this post is a couple things Apple Computers has been working on lately. They are building an impressive new campus, with 80% of the land being dedicated to natural areas with fruit trees, native oaks and a variety of native and drought tolerant, low maintenance plants. Read this interesting article from Backchannel on the project.

Then there's Apple's latest ad, seemingly a direct response to recent political events, which is simply beautiful nature scenes with the voice-over from Carl Sagan reading his book The Pale Blue Dot

I'm not saying Apple is the only business taking positive action. Subaru for example has developed zero-waste factories here in the US, and is supporting the National Parks Foundation. The point is, work to the organization you work for more environmentally responsible, and you can leverage a much greater positive impact.

All Politics are Local

Of course we need to engage in our state, national and international communities and the environmental issues in those areas if humanity is going to have a bright, green future. There are plenty of resources online to help you contact your political representatives and get involved in campaigns to put pressure on our politicians. I encourage you to take a few minutes to do just that.

But I think, taking action locally, whether its getting your own hands dirty or funding projects that you can see the results of in your own community, is extremely satisfying, and a very productive way to make a difference. Or as Mahatma Gandhi said:

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Eleven Tips for Getting a Job in Natural Resources, from the Perspective of an Employer

      With graduation coming up soon, and the summer work season looming, I thought I'd share some advice for finding jobs and making a career in conservation. The advice ranges from the basic mechanics of applying for a job (which most people are not very good at) to to general self-improvement. I hope I'm not too blunt!

      Getting a job in the natural resources field isn’t easy. There really aren’t many jobs, and there are a lot of us that are drawn to this kind of work. On the other side of the coin, employers like myself actually have a hard time finding well-qualified candidates to fill our position. A lot of people want to work in this field, but few have the necessary skills and experience, and most aren’t very good at presenting themselves for these position. And so, for your benefit, mine, and the benefit of the future of the planet as a whole, here are my tips for applying for a job, and developing yourself as a professional.

1) Don’t apply for jobs you’re not qualified for. 

I get a lot of people who just graduated for college applying for manager positions, even though it says on the application that we require a minimum of 3 years of experience. Or people with forestry backgrounds applying for a landscaper position. This is a waste of my time, and yours, and it does not reflect well on you. If you want to get on our radar, but don’t see a position that fits you, then just send a general job inquiry with your resume. If we like what we see, we’ll be in touch.

2) Follow the instructions on the job announcement. 

We have simple instructions for job applicants: submit your resume and cover letter in PDF format. We end up getting every file type from .doc, to .rtf, I’d say less than 1 in 4 are .pdf files as we request. The fact that you send me the wrong file type says one of two things about you: A) you don’t have basic competency with a computer and can’t create a PDF file or B) You didn’t read the job announcement carefully and follow instructions. Neither looks good.

3) Put your resume and cover letter in PDF format. 

The reason we have the above mentioned instruction is two-fold: First, it’s much easier to just deal with one file format that can be opened and view on any device. Second, it’s really easy for someone to alter a text file. Do you really think it’s a good idea to be sending your resume out into the world in an easily manipulated file type?

4) The filename for your resume and cover letter should include your name. 

I get a lot of cover letters with the document named something like “good_oak_cover_letter.doc”. Seeing as I work at Good Oak, I already know that you’re submitting your cover letter to Good Oak. What I don’t know, without opening the file anyway, is who you are or what position you are applying for. Think about the perspective of the person receiving your information. What do they need to know about you? What will make it easiest for them to view and organize your information? Using your name in the file name for your resume and cover letter make it easier for me to hire you.

5) Make yourself stand out. 

Thinking about the perspective of the person reading your application is a good rule for the content of your resume and cover letter too. It needs to be easy for me to glean relevant information from your documents. Since I may be reading dozens of similar applications, they all may end up blurring together after a while. So make yourself stand out. I still remember when Tim included in his resume that he was on his college football team. As we were going through the application process, we thought of him as “the football player”. We remembered who he was and were able to identify him as an individual whereas other applicants were perhaps not as clear in our minds. What is special about you that you want us to remember you for? It could be anything, the woman who worked at The Nature Conservancy, or the guy who plays ultimate frisbee. Give us something to hang onto, preferably something that is relevant to the job you’re applying for, but barring that, anything interesting about you will do.

6) Your college degree doesn’t really do anything for you. 

This is a tip for recent college graduates. You’re schooling, while a good foundation for the knowledge and skills you will need for a successful career in natural resources, does not, in itself, mean you’re a qualified candidate. In Wisconsin, thousands of people graduate with degrees in ecology, forestry, natural resources, wildlife biology, etc. every year, and apply for the few hundreds of jobs available. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are knowledgeable in this really broad, really complicated field. Don’t wait until after you graduate to develop actual experience in the field.
    What about graduate school? An M.S. on your resume certainly opens doors, and in my experience seems to impress upon the average person that I must know what I’m talking about. It does show you're a intelligent, hard-working, capable person able to take on a challenging project and stay committed to see it thorough. But if its just more schooling for the sake of schooling, it may not make you qualified for any jobs, aside from research, of course. Is your research relevant to the job you are applying for? Experience trumps education.

7) Get experience in the field, an internship, or anything

Getting a good, permanent job in this field is hard. But getting an internship or basic entry-level job is not. If you can’t get the coveted Audubon Society summer internship, a job mowing lawns and planting trees for your local parks department at least gives you experience operating small equipment, working outside. Go from seasonal job to seasonal job for a while if you have to, eventually you’ll build the experience, and connections, to land a full-time position.

8) Volunteer. 

I view someone with volunteer experience as much more valuable than someone with an equivalent amount of job experience. First, this shows you are passionate enough about this work that you’re willing to do it in your free time, because its what you want to do. Second, most of the volunteer groups around here are run by our regions leading experts in ecology, prairies, botany, weed management, etc. So by volunteering, you get to work with these experts and learn from them. You’ll make great career connections, and it doesn’t hurt to have some of the region's leading experts on your list of references.

9) Invest in your own training. 

People with wildland fire S130/190 training, a pesticide applicators license, chainsaw training, etc, go right to the top of my list of applicants for any job. I don’t need to spend time and money training you, and I know you can get to work right away. This shows you have either experience, forethought or both. People who know how to operate skid loaders, tractors, ATV’s, GIS applications, or know how to repair small engines, or have advanced botanical training, etc. are especially valuable at any level of an organization.

10) Be passionate. 

Spend time outside in natural areas. Learn plants, learn birds, learn soils, learn whatever sparks your interest. Go to conferences. Read books, read articles, read classic environmental literature (Pro Tip: if you don’t know where the name of my company came from, you probably shouldn't be applying here.) Study off the internet. Get involved in environmental groups. Your time is limited, use it wisely. Through all this you will learn more, become more confident in the importance of your work, and I hope, share your passion with others. When meeting job applicants, its pretty obvious who is passionate and who isn’t.

11) Don’t give up. 

Looking for fulfilling work is hard. It can be demoralizing. If you're really passionate about this work, if you really think this is the best way you can make a positive contribution to this world, don’t give up. You may need to apply for dozens of jobs and/or move from one low-paying, limited term job to another for a couple years. Keep pushing forward. Incorporate hard work, study and networking with the tips above and you’ll get the job you want eventually. Its worth it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spring 2017 Pre-Order Plant Sale

This Spring save on select garden kits at Good Oak!

Retail price $128    -  Sale Price $99

Garden kits come as a flat of 32 -  2.5” plugs.

Substitutions may apply due to nursery stock availability. We will call you in spring when the plants are ready!

To order contact Natalie by email ( or phone (608-209-0607). Plants can be picked up at the Good Oak Land Stewardship Center, 4606 Pflaum Rd., by appointment. 

  Garden Kits


Friday, February 10, 2017

See us at Garden Expo 2017!

The Booth:

Good Oak will again be attending the Wisconsin Garden Expo, this weekend, February 10th - 12th.  See us at booth 324! We'd love to talk to folks about ecological restoration and sustainable. landscaping practices.

We will also be selling items from our Sustainable Garden Center, including quality tools and books on a variety of topics including natural landscaping, edible wild plants, pollinators, and restoration practices.


 This year we will be giving three presentations in the Mendota 3 Room:
  • Join Frank again on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. when he will share strategies for managing
    "Weeds and Invasive Plants"
    . Click here for the handout for this talk.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Vegetation Management Along Starkweather Creek

Background on the Stream Corridor Restoration

Starting in the spring of 2016, Good Oak has been working with the City of Madison Engineering division on a “vegetation management” project. What this really entails is rescuing a stretch of stream shoreline that has become overcome with invasive plants just a few years after a major shoreline reconstruction project.
The section of Starkweather Creek in question runs from Commercial Avenue on the north end down to Milwaukee Avenue on the south. In the middle is the busy East Washington Avenue corridor. In 2008 the City initiated work along shoreline of the creek here to stabilize the shoreline and provide an aesthetic improvement to a scruffy-looking part of the creek.
Prairie is the ideal plant community to establish along these stream corridors. The deep, diverse roots of prairie plants do an excellent job holding the soil, preventing erosion and stabilizing the entire shoreline soil mass. The roots, stems and leaves of the prairie plants capture inflowing water, slowing it down and helping to filter out silt, nutrients and other pollutants that might otherwise flow into the creek. The prairie wildflowers provide nectar and pollen for pollinators, and other parts of these plants are the natural food for many beneficial insects, birds and other creatures. Finally, a well-managed prairie is a beautiful sight, with tall native grasses and a variety of wildflowers blooming throughout the growing season, and who’s structure provides winter interest as well.
Establishing a healthy natural community, in a previously weedy area that has recently had heavy equipment operating in it, is no easy task. Prairie seed was spread in the vegetative corridor on either side of the creek in 2008, but the innumerable invasive plants and seeds that were already established on the site quickly overwhelmed the prairie seedlings. Despite efforts in the years following to suppress weeds in this area, by the spring of 2016 invasive plants dominated this entire stream corridor.

Ecological Dead End

When evaluating the site in the early spring of 2016, I estimated that exotic invasive plants cover roughly 90% of the vegetative buffer area.
Reed canary grass along the Starkweather Creek north of the project area.

The most abundant invasive plant in the project area, by far, is reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). It probably accounted for 80-85% of the plant cover when we started work this spring. Reed canary grass is the most destructive invasive plant in the midwest. According to the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay Herbarium, reed canary grass is “the worst invasive species in Wisconsin, to date” having destroyed more native plant cover than any other invasive species in the state, and throughout the Midwest.
It can spread rapidly by both rhizomes and seed and aggressively displace native plants in wet and moist sites and along shorelines. Its s particularly aggressive in disturbed sites, sites with high water/soil nutrient and silt loads, all of which are the case with Starkweather Creek. It is poor at erosion control because its shallow and coarse root system are easily undercut, not a desirable trait for a shoreline stabilization project.

Canada thistle is a difficult weed to control.

There are many other invasive plants in this area including: Kentucky bluegrass, quack grass, brome grass, orchard grass, fescue, garlic mustard, great burdock, Canada thistle, plumeless thistle, sweet clover, and wild carrot. In addition to these exotic weeds, Canada goldenrod also has a significant cover. Though this species is native, and its yellow early-fall flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, it is a very aggressive species that can form monocultures that exclude other plants.

Though native to Wisconsin, Canada goldenrod can spread aggressively and exclude other plants.

A Plan for Restoration

    Control of reed canary grass is extremely difficult. Mowing and burning can weaken the plants, but a herbicide application is necessary to kill the roots. Even when herbicide is applied, reed canary grass readily resprouts from dormant buds. If live plants are killed off after multiple herbicide applications, new seedlings will emerge from the seedbank. Therefore, multiple years of treatment are needed to eradicate reed canary grass from any site.
In early summer 2016, we began managing reed canary grass by mowing during their blooming period to weaken the plants and to prevent them to from developing seeds. We also spot-herbicided broadleaf weeds and removed invasive brush during several trips in late-spring and summer. Due to the wet and warm growing season we had, we needed to mow the reed canary grass again in August to set it back further. We also mowed the Canada goldenrod at this time.
Thought there is still a long road ahead, we’re beginning to see positive results from our weed management work: Patches of prairie grasses such as big bluestem and indian grass are waving their seed-heads high this fall. Several prairie flowers managed to bloom this summer including the yellow, black-eyed Susans and false sunflowers, as did some hoary vervain, purple coneflower, marsh milkweeds and New England asters.

marsh milkweed

hoary vervain

false sunflower

black-eyed Susan

New England aster

We’re now gearing of for what will be a substantial herbicide application to this reed canary grass. By waiting until late-fall, we can avoid accidentally harming native plants in the area which have largely gone dormant for the season, but effectively treat the reed canary grass which is still green and growing in mid-November… especially during this unusually warm fall. So, in the near future now you will see a whole lot of blue dye in the Starkweather Creek corridor, a marker we add to our herbicide so we can see where it has been sprayed.

A Few Words about Pesticide Application

The herbicide we are using to control reed canary grass is called AquaNeat. AquaNeat is a special, “aquatic-approved” formulation with the active ingredient is glyphosate. Glyphosate has been tested to be “low to very low toxicity” to animals, it has been described as being roughly as toxic as table salt. In warm conditions, it can break down completely within two weeks (it will no doubt take longer to break down in November and into winter). It binds well to clay particles in the soil so it has a low likelihood of being washed into the stream or into our lakes.
We only use as much herbicide as is necessary to kill the invasive plants that we are targeting, being careful to avoid overspray onto other plants and elsewhere in the surroundings. Everyone on our Good Oak field crew is license to apply herbicide in Wisconsin, and we all practice a variety of safety techniques to limit exposure to ourselves and the environment.
Due the abundance of caution we practice with any pesticide, we’d recommend staying out of the area until the blue dye is no longer visible. The dye is more persistent than the herbicide itself, so the lack of visible dye should indicate there is no longer any herbicide present. If you do find blue dye on yourself, your clothes, or your pet, simply wash with soap and water to remove.

2017, and Beyond

While 2016 has focused on weed control, 2017 should see the site less dominated by the worst invasive plants… but then what? Early in 2017 we’re again planning an herbicide application to reed canary grass and broadleaf weeds. Then we need to observe the site and see how the vegetation is reacting. Will other invasive plants sprout to take the place of the weeds we are controlling? Will native plants that have been suppressed by the weeds grow with more vigor? Will new prairie seedlings sprout from dormant seeds?
Mostly likely, all of these things will occur, and more. While the majority of the herbicide application will be behind us, in 2017 and 2018 we’ll be spot herbiciding, mowing, pulling and doing other work to control the well established weed populations, and prevent new ones from sprouting. We’ll be spreading additional prairie seed in either the spring or fall of 2017, once we feel enough of the invasive plants have been suppressed that new prairie seedlings will have a good chance of getting established. We’d love to get help from volunteers as the project moves forward, doing more planting of prairie wildflowers and maybe even weed pulling.