Monarch Migration Tagging

Over the past several weeks, Laudato Si’ Project has led numerous outings in order to tag monarch butterflies on their way to their Mexican wintering grounds nearly 2000 miles away. The small stickers, with a unique serial number, are affixed to their wings and when these butterflies are caught again in Mexico, knowledge of migratory pathways are better understood. You can take part in this citizen science research by visiting monarch watch.org

Holding monarchs appropriately ensures that you are not damaging their wings. Unlike other butterflies that do not migrate, monarch wings are sturdier. Monarch populations have declined by 80-90% over recent years and ensuring your yard has wild space for both milkweed and flowers will keep their populations strong in WI.

Monarch’s begin their migration around mid August in Southern WI and catching them

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can be an unpredictable affair. Finding their favorite prairie plants helps increase the odds you will see them feeding. Monarch caterpillars are milkweed specialists but they are not alone. Milkweed tussock moth caterpillars also feed on milkweed and like monarch caterpillars, become distasteful to predators as a result. Whenever we take a group out looking for monarch’s, you always find other amazing species that call the prairie their home.

View our video below highlighting a prairie in late summer. It shows the diversity of plants and pollinators that a prairie holds. Contact Us if you would like a prairie planting, big or small, at your home, school, parish, or business.

“Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Stars of heaven, bless the Lord; Every shower and dew, bless the Lord; Cold and chill, bless the Lord; Light and darkness, bless the Lord; Lightning and clouds, bless the Lord; Let the earth bless the Lord, Mountains and hills, bless the Lord; Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord; All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.”   – Daniel 3 (adapted)

 

World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

 

September 1st marks the annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. On this day last year, Pope Francis announced that Care for Our Common Home will be added as a Work of Mercy in the Catholic Church. In his address last year, Pope Francis wrote:

As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si’, 214) which “allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us” (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (ibid., 230-31).

This day also begins the ecumenical  “Season of Creation”  which runs until October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

 

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Chesterton Academy students on retreat and ready to take a faith and ecology hike with Laudato Si’ Project

Laudato Si’ Project also recently began its partnership with Chesterton Academy of 1Milwaukee. Students were on retreat at the Holy Hill Basilica for the morning and in the afternoon were led by Laudato Si’ Project’s director, Joe Meyer, on a hike through the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Faith, ecology and stewardship were integrated into the beautiful natural scenery as students and faculty hiked several miles of the Mid Kettle Moraine.

 

Prayer from Pope Francis on 2016 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation :

“O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
who are so precious in your eyes…

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
God of mercy, may we receive your forgiveness
and convey your mercy throughout our common home.”

Praise be to you! (Laudato Si’)

Amen.

The full message released about Care for our Common Home as a work of mercy can be found Here and a also Video of press conference about the World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation

Sustainability Fair at Lapham Peak

What an amazing day! As part of the Green Alliance, Laudato Si’ Project helped plan Saturday’s Sustainability Fair at Lapham Peak. We were blessed with great weather and 500+ people were able to discover, connect, and engage with how to live more sustainably.

Laudato Si’ Project created a Nature Discovery Zone to engage visitors with the natural world, impart a sense of wonder, and encourage them to live lighter on the Earth. So many great conversations took place about connecting faith with Care for Creation. Laudato Si’ Project also gave a presentation on “Planting Native Prairie” and our volunteers led 2 guided activities: “Beginning Birding” and “Prairie Bugs Kids Hike.” Thanks to all our amazing volunteers for helping make this event such a success!

With over 40 vendors and exhibitors at the fair, people of all ages could explore sustainability topics ranging from recycling to land conservation. 30 presentations happened throughout the day and over 10 guided activities.

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder… our attitude will be that of masters, consumers and ruthless exploiters.              -Pope Francis, Laudato Si

 

 

Sunny Saturday Hike on the Prairie

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Pollinator Prairie Planting at Heiliger Huegel Ski Club Near Holy Hill.

Saturday was our prairie ecology hike at the Heiliger Huegel Ski Club near Holy Hill. Laudato Si’ Project has partnered with the ski club for multiple projects and events including this 8 acre prairie planting in 2016. The ski club maintains beautiful hiking trails around the property for member use in the off season and nordic ski trails in the winter.

HH_teachingWe had a wonderful group of people join us for the prairie hike including members of the Wild Ones-Menominee Chapter. The tour of the prairie planting was led by the executive director of Laudato Si’ Project, Joe Meyer. Joe did the technical planning of the prairie project and assisted with its planting in 2016. This prairie is only in its second growing season and is doing very well. Not only does the planting help reduce soil erosion and fertilizer runoff into the Oconomowoc River watershed, but it is a haven for many types butterflies and pollinators. Our hike today was full of butterfly species including Monarch, Viceroy, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and Giant Swallowtail.

The site of this pollinator prairie was corn field prior to its planting. The pictures above show the contrast between the agricultural site before and after planting. See our past blog postings to learn more about this prairie project: HH Prairie Planting and Fall Projects and Fun. Our hike took us through the prairie, learning about different plant species and their ecological role in a prairie. If you are interested in doing a native planting in your yard or at your school/parish, Contact Us. 

 

Connecting with God through Nature on Retreat

The New Schoenstatt Retreat Center Trail Map 

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We have just completed our latest partner project with the Schoenstatt Sisters and their retreat center in Waukesha, WI. The natural beauty of the retreat center property is truly amazing and Laudato Si’ Project saw a need to better assist those on retreat to experience God’s glory through His creation. The end result, a trifold brochure that will be placed in all retreat center rooms and available to all that visit the site.

Over the past 2 years, Laudato Si’ Project has partnered with the Schoenstatt Sister’s to better care for the ecological aspects of the property and to increase access to its natural beauty to those on retreat through nature trails and informational signage. To see these Schoenstatt Retreat Center projects visit our past blog posts: Bluebird Nest BoxesWoodland Restoration at Schoenstatt Retreat CenterWoodland Trail and RestorationFall Woodland RestorationMUHS Faculty Respond to Work of Mercy: Care for Our Common HomeStewardship with Cristo Rey High School.

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3 Besides a property map showing the retreat center campus and the nearly 2 miles of nature trails around the property, we also included information about Laudato Si’ Project’s stewardship work, the habitats found on the property, and its natural history. A special thanks to LSP graphic designer, Andrea Meyer, for all her amazing work.

Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; he calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing. – Isaiah 40:26

Nature Highlight: Spruce Lake Bog

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Written by Joe Meyer: Executive Director of LSP

Meat eating plants, really?!?! That’s exactly what we found on our recent family trip to mapSpruce Lake Bog State Natural Area in WI. The bog sits around a 35 acre lake in the heart of the
Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest and contains numerous plant species that are bog specialists. There is a short 1/4 mile board walk that leads you through what would normally be an impassable ecosystem. The WI DNR classifies bogs as acidic, low nutrient “wetlands” dominated by Sphagnum mosses that accumulate over time as peat. These conditions are what drive the specialization of some bog species that I will highlight below.

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Pitcher Plants have adapted to low nutrient bog life by capturing flies, ants and other prey through a water filled “pitcher”. Insects are attracted to the color and smell released by the pitcher’s hood but the slippery top causes them to fall into the pitcher. Downward pointing hairs prevent escape while enzymes in the water digest their meal. Several hundred species of pitcher plants make their home all over the world in low nutrient environments. Watch this You Tube video of a pitcher plant catching its prey https://youtu.be/z2C3ChaRyVQ

Bug Eating Sundew Plants: 

The less familiar sundew is another carnivorous bog specialist that uses a different 041ae9ef387d1b318aafbb445bd0482cstrategy to capture its prey. It has dozens of sugary drops of “sundew” on its head, attracting insects that get stuck on the sticky excretion. Unlike the trigger mechanism of the venus fly traps, the sundew then folds up onto its prey. It is much smaller than pitcher plants and easily overlooked, so you need to keep your eyes peeled for this amazing plant. Watch this time lapse video of a sundew catching its prey https://youtu.be/h9NnctZVrvk

Beauty in a Bog- Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid:File_005(5)

This beautiful flower makes its home in many bogs. The “slipper” shaped flower takes several years to develop from seed and is pollinated by bees. There is also a white flowered variety, equally beautiful, and it is no wonder why Minnesota chose it for their state flower. Orchids are always under threat by people who wish to bring their beauty home by digging out wild plants. Unfortunately, because of the specific conditions needed by these plants, most don’t survive.

Other species you can expect to see in a bog are pictured below. They include sphagnum mosses, tamarack trees (our only conifer to lose its needles in winter), Skunk Cabbage, and Royal Ferns.

Besides Spruce Lake Bog, you may also wish to visit Cedarburg State Natural Area. It is Wisconsin’s first State Natural Area and can be explored in both summer or winter. See our past post from a winter visit with MUHS students to Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area HERE

A Laudato Si’ Weekend

This weekend was packed with educational fun. Two Parishes and 3 days of Laudato Si’.

St. Leonard’s Parish

On Friday, Laudato Si’ Project taught a Care for Creation program at St. Leonard’s Parish in Muskego, WI. It was the last day of their Vacation Bible School and the gym was packed with the energy of k-4 through 5th grade students. Thanks to their student and adult volunteers for helping make the morning such a wonderful experience. It is great to see young people so eager to learn how to Care for Our Common Home.

St. Gabriel’s Parish 

It was Sustainability Weekend at St. Gabriel’s Parish in Hubertus, WI. The parish Laudato Si’ Project team had spent months planning this wonderful event. The goal was to engage the parishioners with tools to live more sustainability and learn more about our Catholic call to be stewards of this planet. Partnerships with the adult formation program, St. Gabriel School and the human concerns committee helped make this event possible.

The parish hall was arranged with stations addressing a wide variety of topics.

  •  St. Gabriel School display highlighting efforts at the school to live more sustainably and connect the students to their faith and the natural world.
  • Prayers and resources for parishioners interested in learning more about our Catholic call of stewardship.
  • Waste and Recycling display with information on where and how to dispose of e-waste and recycle materials of all kinds.
  • Green Cleaning Products were available for parishioners to look at thanks to a representative from Shaklee
  • Sustainable Foods display highlighting CSA’s in the area where you can buy farm fresh, local food. There was also an activity on the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen and handouts on being a more conscious consumer.
  • Water Issues display focusing on southeast WI with ways to save water and reduce fertilizer runoff.
  • Backyard Chickens display on how/why to raise your own chickens.
  • Native Prairie Plants display explaining the benefits of pollinators and the ecology of native prairie plants. Free honey sticks were available to sweeten the visit.
  • Recreation display with maps and events to encourage parishioners to explore our beautiful area. A kayak was brought in to allow kids to sit in it along with rental information from KT kayak rentals. 
  • Composting display with loads of “how to” information for the home composter. Various methods of composting were on display.
  • Nature Discovery Zone with many hands on animal specimens and plants from around the world.
  • Scavenger Hunt for kids to visit the various displays and earn a Care for Our Common Home Patch.
  • Food, of course. All items with a local, organic, fair trade focus. Actual dish-ware was used to avoid the one-time use waste of styrofoam and plastic.

Thanks to the many hands who made this event a success.

If your parish is interested in hosting a Sustainability Weekend, Contact Us.

A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.  -Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ 202

Laudato Si’ Turns 2!

do908 laudato si'Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, is 2 years old this weekend. With Father’s Day being celebrated in the United States, it is a great time to remember in prayer our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He has done a wonderful job showing us in word and deed how to live simply in a way that promotes love for God, neighbor, and Our Common Home.

As Laudato Si’ Project continues its work in parishes and schools, we realize that this message is just beginning to take root in the lives of many Catholics. Feel free to use our Resources Page as you learn more about this part of a life of virtue and share it with others. View our list of 5 things you can do each day to Live Laudato Si’—> LiveLS

You may also wish to sign the GCCM’s  worldwide petition to Live Laudato Si.

Below are two projects that LSP has been involved in recently and expresses our love for Our Common Home. 

File_001 copyEagle Scout Project: Woodland Restoration- Sam Reinbold St. Dominics Troop 119

A large crew from Boy Scout Troop 119, friends, and family were busy helping Sam Reinbold with his Eagle Scout Project at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha, WI. Laudato Si Project was excited to have Sam use the woodland restoration for his Eagle Project which included: removing buckthorn, woodchipping a nature path, installing a bench, and hanging trail/tree ID signs. Way to go Sam!!!

 

File_001Adopt a Highway Spring Cleanup

Laudato Si’ Project is proud to sponsor a 2 mile stretch of highway 67 near Dousman, WI. Adopting a highway requires that twice a year, a group of volunteers from your organization removes trash from both sides of the adopted stretch. With our great volunteers, we were able to remove over 4 full garbage bags of trash and 1 bag of recyclables.

 

 

Who is making your home their home?

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A newly fledged bluebird chick

Written by Joe Meyer: Executive Director of LSP

Birds are a type of wildlife that brightens our day around our homes and on our properties. Over 3 million households in the US have bird feeders and 6.2 billion dollars is spent on seed and feeders annually! In fact, bird watching is second only to gardening as the most popular outdoor activity in the US.

Because birds are so common around the house, let me show you a few species that may be calling your home, theirs. Below are 6 species that are currently making nests and raising young either on my house of within 30 feet of it.

1. Eastern Phoebe  

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Eastern Phoebe

This species of flycatcher gets its name from its call which sounds like “Phoebe.” They like to perch on branches and swoop through the air catching insects, thus “flycatchers.” You can identify them by their distinctive tail bobbing when perched on a branch.

An eastern Phoebe found the top of our flood light just too good of a nesting spot to pass up. She is now raising 4 young.

2. Eastern Bluebird

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Eastern Bluebird

The beauty of an Eastern Bluebird in the yard is hard to beat. These inhabitants of the prairie and oak savannah (which much of southern WI used to be) can be coaxed to nest near you by the placement of a bluebird nest box.

Our resident bluebirds have already fledged their first chicks (top picture) and may do so another 2 times in a good year. See our past post on increasing bluebird populations HERE

3. Tree Swallow 

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Tree Swallow

If you want a great aerial insect eater, try to attract tree swallows. Despite their name, they are typically found in open fields and prairies. They are one of seven species found in WI; see barn swallow further below. Like bluebirds, placing a nest box will attract tree swallows like a magnet. Decreasing the amount of mowed lawn you have will help with this. Unlike bluebirds that prefer an acre or more between nesting pairs, tree swallows don’t mind other nesting birds near by.

You can distinguish between a bluebird and tree swallow nest by the presence of feathers. Tree swallows love to line their nests with white feathers. They can get these from a number of different bird species but they love taking white feathers from our chickens.

4. Red-winged Blackbird 

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Red-winged Blackbird Female vs Male

By sheer number, red-winged blackbirds are the most common bird in the United States. Despite being common, it is a great joy to hear their “conk-conk-lereeee” call come early spring. The beautiful males arrive before the females to stake out a territory. They flaunt their wing patches to impress the cryptic colored females, which may number over a dozen in his harem.

If you have an open, wet, weedy patch or wild area near your house, it is likely you have these nesting near you. You will know you are near a nest because the irritated male will be calling as he swoops down near your head. Stiff-stemmed prairie plants make a great nesting site for our resident red-winged blackbirds.

5. Barn Swallow

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Barn Swallow

These are another magnificent swallow species named for their affinity for making nests on old barns. We have had these fork-tailed beauties make nests atop our flood lights, but in recent years, they have taken a liking to a few nest platforms I placed under our deck. These nest platforms, which I make out of old plywood, can attract several different species of bird to nest there.

6. American Robin

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American Robin

Who can forget Wisconsin’s state bird, the American Robin. We all look for them as signs of spring although many stay here through the winter in flooded woodlands feasting on berries. They are notorious for making nests in precarious places and this year I have two by my house. The first pair is already on their second brood of the year, nesting on top of a pillar under my deck. The second pair preferred the secluded site amongst my wood pile.

The birds of the sky nest by the waters, they sing among the branches. The trees of the Lord are well watered…There the birds make their nests. How many are your works, LordIn wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. –Psalm 104

Nature Program for Disciples of Christ Homeschool

Students on a hike through the Schoofs Preserve

Laudato Si’ Project held a nature program for the Disciples of Christ Homeschool students and some LSP member families. The nature program’s focus was “Creatures of the Night.” They learned about adaptations of flying squirrels, owls, bats, raccoons and more.

They were several activities and games simulating these adaptations including a bats sense of smell and the tactile ability of raccoons.

They also were able to touch furs and skulls of animals that often call the night their home.

They then visited the resident chickens and even go to catch and hold them. Here is a short video of their experience https://youtu.be/w8m5RZvCquE

Lastly, we took a hike on the neighboring 51 acre Schoofs Preserve, owned by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.  See a short video here:  https://youtu.be/nEzlYh0KQHE

If you are interested in having Laudato Si’ Project teach a nature program or lead an educational hike for your group- Contact Us

Laudato Si: A Connection with the Land, A Connection with Parenting

Reflection by Patti Scanlon: Parishioner of St. John Vianney, WI 

“It is the beauty that thrills me with wonder, it is the stillness that fills me with peace.” – Robert Service, poet

They’d complain about chores in the garden, like kids are inclined to do; pulling weeds, picking up sticks, cutting the grass. But when they got caught up in the feel of the dirt and smell of the day, it was hours before they returned indoors.

This is one of the many passages that caught my attention in Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si.

 “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soul, water, mountains:  everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places, which take on intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who grew up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighborhood square; going back to these places ins a chance to recover something of their true selves.”     –Pope Francis.  Laudato Si’ paragraph 84

On a February day, we build snowmen and play for hours until only a snug blanket could warm us. On a March day, we tap a maple tree, observe sap boiling, and enjoy the syrup with pancakes and sausage. In June, we plant wildflower seeds in our yard, eagerly awaiting their growth and late summer bloom. In July, we pick fresh strawberries and eat them in the middle of the field. In August, we run through the sand, watch the fish in the lake, listen for the bullfrogs, just soaking in the day and embracing how the land loves us back. In November, the geese – our winter friends – return to the lake under the setting sky, aflame with hues of pink, purple, and grey.

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The gifts, the lessons, the wonder and the awe our mother Earth provides for us. A commitment to the land, and a commitment to parenting. What it means to care, to love, and be stewards of God’s creation.

I showed them that I loved them by helping to foster their own sense of wonder and awe; an adventurous spirit, a desire to explore nature and new frontiers, to thank God for the gift of Creation and to care for nature and all of God’s creatures and children.

I saw this over and over in the very way they mindfully cared for woolly caterpillars crossing the sidewalk, the manner in which they lifted and cared for small turtles, frogs, and toads, carrying them to safety with the gentleness and tenderness of a parent.  Nurturing God’s creation teaches children the value and dignity of the smallest bug, a precursor to caring for themselves, for the dignity of all humans, and coming to know a real sense of social justice, the humble beginnings of service.

For it is when they are small children that these values are best taught, and it begins by learning and growing as responsible stewards of God’s creation.

“For how many years did I wander slowly through the forest.  What wonder and glory I would have missed had I been in a hurry!” – Mary Oliver

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

Laudato Si’ Project spent Saturday’s International Migratory Bird Day doing land stewardship at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Bayside, WI. This 180 acre property was once the pasturing grounds for the Schlitz Brewery draft horses. Much restoration work has been done on the land since then and our volunteers were happy to help.

Students from MUHS and Nicolet High School were given beautiful weather to complete our task of removing invasive garlic mustard and dames rocket from various woodland sections. Both these plant species were used in home landscaping and escaped cultivation. They compete very heavily with our native plants and do not provide a good food source for our herbivores. When removing these species, it is important to remove the whole root system to prevent them from growing back. We also hung them in trees to avoid re-sprouting.

Of course, anytime you are out in the woods you are blessed with finding unanticipated treasures. For us, we were able to stumble upon a Blanding’s Turtle which is “of Special Concern” in WI. We also saw numerous spring ephemeral wild flowers and a wild turkey hen sitting on her nest. This area of Lake Michigan coast line is characterized by beautiful woodland with deep gorges. We toured the property to learn a little more about its ecology and finished by skipping rocks on Lake Michigan.

International Migratory Bird Day

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This Saturday (and much of the month of May) celebrates our migratory birds. International Migratory Bird Day, IMBD, is an effort to bring awareness to our birds and help keep our common birds common. Mother’s Day weekend in the midwest is the peak of spring migration and gives us our first glimpses of birds that have spent the last 8 months in the neo-tropics. Many birders enjoy this time because they see their first of the year baltimore oriole on their jelly feeder, rose breasted grosbeak at their seed feeder, and bluebirds building their nest in the nest box. In fact, Laudato Si’ Project has been checking the nest boxes we have installed at various sites and we already have hatched bluebird and tree swallow eggs!

These bird migrants make incredible journeys up and down the continents every year and face tremendous challenges. Take our ruby-throated hummingbird for example. On its southbound journey in the fall it makes a straight, non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico- 500 miles!! Our birds migrate using major “flyways” which include following coasts, mountain ranges, and rivers. In WI, we are blest with the Mississippi Flyway and in southeast WI, birds love to follow Lake Michigan North.

The focus of this years IMBD is “Helping Birds Along the Way.” All of us can do this on our properties to help. Of course, many of us feed birds which is a great way to supplement their diet in this energy demanding time. A more longterm approach would be ensuring you keep some area of your property natural for the birds. This might include prairie or woodland. These sites, no matter how small, create critical food and nesting sites for birds.

Another way to help birds is through your purchase choices. Let’s focus on a tropically grown commodity-Coffee. Coffee is our largest food import and second only to oil for any import. This means, what is happening down in Costa Rica, Belize, Columbia, or Brazil is really important to our nesting birds that spend 3/4 of the year there.  One way to ensure that your coffee consumption isn’t stripping our birds of wintering grounds (pun intended) is to purchase “shade-grown” coffee. Shade grown coffee utilizes a canopy of trees within the coffee plantation allowing birds and other wildlife to be supported. See photos below depicting a shade-grown plantation vs a traditional mono-culture plantation. You can also look for Organic and Rainforest Alliance Certifications to support sustainable agriculture.

 

You can shop for sustainable coffee online but almost all grocery stores carry some sort of sustainable option. Pick n’ Save carries Cafe’ Fair brand which is shade-grown,  organic, and fair trade. I call it the tri-fector of sustainability, taking into account the health of both the environment and humanity.

There is no better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with a little birding. Lots of events are taking place all over the state and you can see some on our Events Page. So this month, look up into the trees. Enjoy these winged treasures. There is a lot of beauty to be found in our natural world but we need to stop, listen, and look.

All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Daniel 3:80

Laudato Si’ Project in the National Catholic Reporter

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Check out this issue of the National Catholic Reporter. It highlights our stewardship work with Cristo Rey High School as part of the worldwide Mercy2Earth activities that took place around Earth Day. The article speaks of events ranging from stewardship work days like ours to prayer services or nature walks. Over 800 actions took place in 31 countries around the world and were registered on the Global Catholic Climate Movement website. The article also speaks of the 2016 creation of Care for Our Common Home as the 8th spiritual and corporal work of mercy.

Work-Day Fundraiser

Saturday was our work-day fundraiser at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha, WI. Student’s from MUHS helped clear and mulch branches from a massive pruning project on the grounds. Schoofs Greenworks donated funds from the job to Laudato Si’ Project to help pay for our 2 acre prairie planting on the Schoenstatt Property this Fall. Schoofs Greenworks has also been a Laudato Si’ Project business member for 2 years. We were able to use the mulch generated Saturday to create a mulched border around our native butterfly garden that we seeded last year (see that blog post HERE). They will also be donating two truck loads of mulch to be used on our newly created woodland nature trail as part of an Eagle Scout Project this summer.

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Student’s planting the 4000 square foot Butterfly Garden last fall

With the end of April near, we decided to put up our final wood duck house in the Schoenstatt wetland. Water temperatures in the high 40’s was no obstacle for these brave volunteers. Special thanks to Leroy Meyer for donated these hand made wood duck boxes that we have used at several project sites. Wood ducks are one of Wisconsin’s most gorgeous birds and one of only two ducks in WI that nest in tree cavities (thus the nest box simulating that cavity). The other type is the hooded merganser which was present in the wetland during our time there.

Raising Backyard Chickens

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My Daughter Enjoying Our Backyard Chickens

Written by Executive Director of Laudato Si Project Joe Meyer

The industrial food movement has allowed Americans to have more food available than ever before. No longer did we need to worry about the season or the distance, we could have what we wanted when we wanted it. Of course, there are some real social and environmental consequences to this. Namely, the creation of energy intensive, low nutrition foods at the expense of water and air quality, biodiversity, and the small family farm.

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A industrial chicken operation or CAFO-Confined Animal Feeding Operation

Many people are expressing their dismay with the industrial agricultural system by trying to buy local, organic foods at farmer’s markets, participating in CSA’s, or growing the food themselves. The goal of these individual efforts is to reduce our agricultural footprint on the land and eat healthier in the process.

As WI conservationist Aldo Leopold said best There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” 

Many Americans want to know where their food is coming from and how it is grown. This has resulted in the increase of “Backyard Chickens.” Raising chickens yourself allows you to have fresh eggs, organic if you choose, whenever you want. It will cost you much less than the $5+/dozen you would pay in the store for organic free-range eggs, although there may be a small investment to get started: building a coop, any fencing, etc.

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I began raising chickens 4 years ago with the goal of being able to have fresh eggs daily and allow my children to experience where their food comes from (and have fun with the chickens in the meantime). There are a lot of questions when it comes to raising your own chickens so having a great “go-to” source is key. An online forum called Backyard Chickens: http://www.backyardchickens.com is the best on the web and any question at all can be answered by browsing their categories. Before raising chickens you might wonder “Do I need a rooster so that my chickens lay eggs?” (the answer is no). “What causes an egg to be brown vs white?” (the answer is it depends on the breed and you can tell by ear feather color: white ear feathers-white eggs, brown or dark feathers-brownish eggs).

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“Girdie” Our 3 year old Barred Rock laying hen who has begun to function more as a pet

Many people also decide to raise meat birds or broiler birds as they are often called. Usually these are specific breeds that produce more meat (like the very common cornish cross, also called Frankenbirds, which matures in a crazy fast 8 weeks and produces all that leg and breast meat we have come to expect). I prefer to choose more standard breeds that take around 18 weeks and tend to have more flavor and are not such freaks of selective breeding. Many of the birds I choose are hearty for our Wisconsin winters and can either be meat birds or laying hens. Typically, I will have the hens lay for 2 years and when their egg production declines, use them as a meat bird.

This spring, we ordered 36 new chicks. These day-old chicks came from a hatchery called Murray McMurray. I have had great success with their birds and you can choose from a huge selection of bird breeds. I chose 6 different breeds consisting of Red Star, Black Star, Buff Rock, White Rock, Partridge Rock, and Barred Rock. They are really fun to watch and, of course, to hold as well. In about 2 months time they will be big enough to mix them into my existing flock of birds.

So, you don’t need to be an expert to raise chickens. You can start small, just a few birds, and let the fun drive the process. Most townships now allow chickens to be raised but may have restrictions on “hen-only” or what type of enclosures. Even of you can’t raise them yourselves try to find a local small-scale farm to get your eggs or chicken meat (CSA’s or farmer’s markets work great for this). There will be a dramatic taste and nutritional difference and as Leopold quoted above, we will know where our breakfast comes from.

Happy Earth Day

In case you missed our Friday interview on Relevant Radio, you can listen to it HERE

On this day that we celebrate this amazing gift of Planet Earth we have been given, take a moment to pray through the following ecological examen.

Ecological Examen by: Joseph Carver, SJ

  • All creation reflects the beauty and blessing of God’s image. Where

was I most aware of this today?

  • Can I identify and pin-point how I made a conscious effort to care

for God’s creation during this day?

  • What challenges or joys do I experience as I recall my care for

creation?

  • How can I repair breaks in my relationship with creation, in my

unspoken sense of superiority?

  • As I imagine tomorrow, I ask for the grace to see the Incarnate

Christ in the dynamic interconnections of all Creation.

Let’s finish by praying a portion of a prayer that Pope Francis included in Laudato Si’ 

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!

You can find more prayers, videos, and resources HERE

“The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”  -Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

New: Care for Our Common Home Patch

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We are excited to announce the creation of a Care for Our Common Home patch. With the generous support of the Shambarger Family, we were able to create a patch that can be used to educate and encourage stewardship in a wide variety of settings. The patch itself is 2.5 x 2.5 inches with a plastic backing and it even has an optional button hook if you don’t want to stitch it on.

Laudato Si’ Project created recommended guidelines for the earning of the patch that are age specific. You can access these on our website. The guidelines are broken up into 2 age groups; ages 5-10 and ages 10+. Of course, teachers or leaders have the flexibility to design their own guidelines as well.

The intention is that families, scouts, parishes and schools can utilize these guidelines in assisting young people in earning the Care for Our Common Home patch. The guidelines consist of an educational component; to learn about Care for Our Common Home and a stewardship project; to put into practice our call to care for this planet.

Order Yours Today

Experiencing the Real: Student Reflection

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Reflection by Wyoming Catholic College Senior Thomas Raab

Remember the Real and Be a Saint

The world has forgotten something of vital importance. It has forgotten reality. Man was made to be fully alive and to really live in a real world that really is real. The endless distraction of the totally artificial and the virtual, with their flashing lights and promises of pleasure, have made man forget. There was once a world in which our not too distant grandfather’s lived: a world altogether ancient, mysterious, wonderful, and above all, unapologetically real. That world still exists, but it exists outside the narrow frame of our technology. It is a world neither screen-deep nor mundane, but enchanting. Our fathers lived better than we do because they were closer to the soil. This enchanted world still exists, but we have forgotten how to touch it because we have stopped trying. In order to save the remnant of this secular age, we must remember the real and be saints.

The whole world exists as reality and as sign simultaneously. God gave it a depth and richness that can enrich man if only he touch it. The artificial, however, can give nothing back to man that can enrich him, because all it has is what man has already given it. Reality, however, has been given to man as a gift that fills him while at the same time convicting him that it is not the end but points to a more perfect state. Nature, with its mountains, trees and stars, raises man’s eyes and mind upwards to that eternal place. I would remind the reader that sin entered the world when man decided he could be God. Reality, the objective world, whispers to man that he is not. Hence I readily make the striking claim that if every man sat outside more, alone, in silence, under a vast starry night, perhaps while smoking a pipe, there would be less vice in the world.

 

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The wilderness is a shockingly real place that can fill man with something other than himself. The reality of death, suffering and powers beyond our control may just be shocking enough to beat the sentimental relativistic atheism out of man. A man cannot give what he does not have. As long as man remains trapped in his artificial surroundings, he will be stuck in a perpetual cycle of trying to fill himself with himself and only being left empty. It is an endless hell of trying to lift himself by his bootstraps and only getting angry because he hasn’t succeeded at all and now his back is sore.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that all knowledge begins in the senses and that this beginning of knowledge, which he calls the poetic mode, is the most certain.The poetic mode occurs in two ways: the gymnastic (raw sensible contact with nature) and music (song, poetry, story, etc). If all we bring in through our senses (internal and external) is the artificial, then we are formed without an inherent conviction of natural law, a sense of right and wrong, or a sense of God. In more modern times we have tricked ourselves into believing that the mind is the only part of man that is really educated. We have forgotten what our forefathers held as true, that the whole person must be educated, starting with the senses. The way to educate the senses is to habitually put them in contact with the real. Then hearts will be filled with that which points to God and heaven. God is a poet because gave man the gymnastic and musical modes through which to touch His enchanted cosmos: creation and Scripture. He designed man in such a way that he must touch the real in order to touch sanctity.

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In order to love God, we must first love the things He has made. Live a more real life; a more rustic life. Sing more of the good old songs that are grounded in the real and in virtue and the truths of human nature and the divine. The restoration of humanity and of culture will only occur if man remembers that he is a real being like the rocks and the trees, not an artificial and arbitrary one like the computer you’re probably reading this on. Go out and gaze at the stars. Go sing an Irish folk song or find someone to teach you. Cut out as much screen time and artificiality as your state in life allows you to. In the evening, don’t watch the latest Netflix show. Go on a long walk by the river in silence amidst the cool night air. Turn off the radio and learn to play an instrument. Stop wasting your time on facebook and read Plato. These will do more for your wisdom and sensibility than any amount of modern technology will.

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We become like that which we sense. Like produces like. Fill your life with the real, with the beautiful, the good and the true. If we make it a habit of living in and sensing the real, which points to God, divinity and eternity will be more apparent to us who have been made blind. The chapel will no longer be empty, as T.S. Eliot writes, but we will sense God there again, not because He was gone, but because we were.

 

2016-2017 Student Stewardship Award

2016-2017 Student Stewardship Award: Jacob Baisden

Jacob Baisden is a Marquette University High School student with a passion for the environment. He has been very active with Laudato Si’ Project since its beginning in 2016. He is hoping to pursue a career in conservation or environmental science. Jacob has logged over 20 hours of stewardship work for Laudato Si’ Project. Below are some pictures from various work outings he has helped with. You can also read a blog reflection he wrote in the fall of 2016- Click Here

Laudato Si’ Project has really allowed me to be a good steward to the land. It has given me knowledge and ideas for what I want to do for a career and how to inspire others. It has shown me that being a good steward should not be done alone but in a group where we are stronger.     -Jacob Baisden

Stewardship with Cristo Rey High School

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Our Hard Working Cristo Rey High School Group

Written by Joe Meyer; Executive Director of Laudato Si’ Project 

Well, its Spring time and our stewardship work days are in full swing. Cristo Rey High School joined us and we spent Saturday at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center continuing our woodland restoration. Christo Rey High School brought out Freshman and Sophomore students, faculty, staff,  administration, and family members, all excited to take part in this project. The main objective was to remove the buckthorn, an invasive tree species, to allow regeneration of the oak and hickory trees in the woodland. This also allows more sunlight to hit the open woodland ground, benefiting native wildflower and grass species.

During our morning work time, a vast amount of the buckthorn had been removed and stacked from the woodland. These giant brush piles are havens for wildlife ranging from rodents to birds. A 1/3 mile nature trail is also being created through this beautiful 13 acre woodland as part of an Eagle Scout Project. This will give an opportunity to those on retreat to walk, reflect, and pray while in a beautiful woodland.

Much of southern WI was historically oak savannah and prairie. These specific ecosystem types benefit certain kinds of plants and animals that are dependent on it. This is what our efforts are aiming for-trying to recreate a habitat type that will benefit those species which have seen great decline in recent decades.

Students from Cristo Rey also learned about geology and ecology of southeast WI and connecting it to our call as stewards of Our Common Home. This is the second visit from Cristo Rey High School. They came out in Fall to work on the same woodland. See our October post Here. We look forward to their continued partnership with us.

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With buckthorn removed this oak woodland will function better ecologically

Prairie Burning

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Conducting a controlled prairie burn starts with “back-burning”

Prairies are ecosystem types dependent on burning to renew the nutrients and stop primary succession. Another added benefit to burning at this time of year is that it knocks back the cool season, non-native grasses that often compete in prairies. This year we burned a little over 3 acres so far. The now black earth will warm quickly and cause our native grasses and wildflowers to wake up. It is also important to rotate burning to ensure that some areas are left undisturbed for insect larvae and to increase plant diversity.

Prairie fires were common in southern WI because of Native Americans starting the prairies and oak savannah’s on fire to attract wild game to the fresh grass shoots. Lighting fires were more common in northern WI. Prairie plants have extraordinary root systems and are unharmed by fire. On average, there are 20,000 pounds of roots  in 1 acre of prairie!!

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For conducting a controlled burn, preparation is key. Ensuring you have fire breaks (mowed paths, driveways) is a key component. Burning when the relative humidity is 50-70% and the wind is less than 10 mph is also helpful. A “back burn” into the wind will allow you to create a fire break by having all the fuel burned in the area the fire will eventually head towards. After the “back burning” is done, you can set “flanking” and “head” fires to complete the burn. The 3-acre section shown in the video below took roughly 40 minutes to complete. You will also see the use of a “drip torch”, which utilizes a diesel-gasoline mixture and allows you set set line fires quickly. Other safety equipment used are water hoses, water spray trailers, backpack water sprayers, and flat shovels.

You can see a video of this burn HERE

 

 

Nature Club for “Nocturnal Kids”

 

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2017 Nature Club at St. Gabriel Parish School

Written by Executive Director of LSP Joe Meyer:

At St. Gabriel Parish School in Hubertus, WI, students gathered for a Nature Club educational program called “Creatures of the Night.” Laudato Si’ Project led the program for 24 students from K4 to 4th grade. The focus of the program was on the cool adaptations these nocturnal creature have. To start, we dressed up our brave volunteer in all the adaptations you see in nocturnal creatures: big eyes (sunglasses), good hearing (antlers representing ears), good sense of smell (nose and whiskers), echolocation (headlamp), silent wings (wings), and great sense of touch (mittens).

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Dressed up with all the adaptions

We began to discuss one of the best examples of nocturnal adaptations, Owls. (see our Post about searching for Owls during an Owl Prowl.) We talked about eyesight, hearing, and silent flight. Students got to see the feather structures on owl wings that make them silent and compare the feathered feet of owls to that of other raptors like hawks.

Students then learned about bats and the different types of adaptions they posses for hunting at night. To demonstrate how parent bats are able to find their own young amidst colonies numbering in the thousands to millions, we played a scent game. Each “baby bat” had a unique scent that matched a “parent bat.” They were then scent off, pun intended, to find their young.

Raccoons were the next topic because of their amazing tactile sense in their paws allowing them to find prey in the muddy waters they hunt. To simulate their abilities, we blindfolded groups of students and had them search for specific “prey” by feel alone. Not as easy as it sounds.

We ended the program with students being able to identify adaptations of a nocturnal creature they chose to represent. They then tried their best to look like their animal by striking a pose.

A special thanks to volunteer parent, Ann Schellinger, for all her help and support of Nature Club! 

 

Spring Phenology: Rhythms of Nature

Written by Executive Director Joe Meyer

What is Phenology? It is nature’s calendar; when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall. In Fact, Phenology is a key component of life on earth.  Many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed nestlings.  In turn, insect emergence is often synchronized with leafing out in their host plants. For many people, allergy season starts when particular flowers bloom—earlier flowering means earlier allergies.  Farmers and gardeners need to know when to plant to avoid frosts, and they need to know the schedule of plant and insect development to decide when to apply fertilizers and pesticides. Many interactions in nature depend on timing.  In fact, phenology affects nearly all aspects of the environment, including the abundance, distribution, and diversity of organisms, ecosystem services, food webs, and the global cycles of water and carbon. (National Phenology Network).

February and March

Maple Syrup: February means one thing, maple syrup time. My son Nathaniel and I tapped around a dozen sugar maple trees and immediately upon drilling the hole for the spile, sap was flowing. In my experience, having days around forty and sunny with nights below freezing produces the best flow. When temperatures reach high forties and fifty the flow actually stops. Every year we tap the trees around this time but usually we are ahead of any flowing. This year, the warm weather week of Valentines Day even produced sap. Maple syrup sap is being sent up to the tree twigs to help produce leaves in the coming weeks. The sap is about 2-4% sugar and will be boiled down to about 66% sugar which we then call syrup. This boiling can be slow going as you may have to evaporate off 50 gallons of water to get 1 gallon of syrup! Sugar Maples are the most common tree used for syruping but other maple family trees can be used; silver, red, boxelder. In Alaska, without maple trees, they utilize the sap of birch trees to make syrup!

WoodCock Sky Dance: Other signs of spring  include chickadees doing their “cheeseburger” mating song, Canada geese heading north, and even a sandhill cranes displaying. Red-winged blackbirds  and grackles gather in the hundreds and create a cacophony of noise when resting in a tree. On these spring evenings, just before dark you will begin to hear the “peenting” call of the male Amercian Woodcock. Without knowing this, you might write it off as a silly insect buzz but what follows is truly a spectacle of nature. The male continues his “peenting” call for several minutes before taking flight. Then begins a circular flight into the sky, during which you will hear a high pitch noise as they fly made by the sound of their wings. They continue these concentric circles until they are several hundred feet in the air and then continue with their “falling leaf” display. This consists of erratically falling through the air while making high pitch vocal tweets. Their sky dance ends with them swooping silently to the ground where they originally took off and continue their “peenting.” This mating display continues well into the night and sometimes in the morning as well.

I remember first learning of this natural feat after reading Aldo Leopold’s account of it in a chapter of The Sand County Almanac. Sure enough, a buddy showed me a local park where this was taking place near my house where I grew up. My whole family would venture to experience this little known ritual happening nightly. Fast forward several decades, and I am blessed to be able to hear and see nearly a dozen of these birds displaying on my property with my wife, son, and daughter with me to experience it. When you are plugged into phenology, you will begin to appreciate these small but amazing gifts of nature- as a result, your view and attitude towards it changes.

To see a video, audio, or more information click here 

April and May

Flowers: We can’t forget our spring ephemeral flowers. These beauties carpet our forests and do most of their life cycle before the tree leaves come out on the trees and shade them out. These flowers are a crucial nectar and pollen source for our early awaking insects.

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Edible Morel Mushrooms

Morels: Early May brings new life to our region. Even with some nights dipping low into the 30’s, life is springing up everywhere- you just need to what to look for and where to look. Pictured above are some Morel mushrooms. If you are unfamiliar, Morel mushrooms drive thousands of people into the woods in search of these delicacies, which can fetch a hefty price if you want to sell them. These small mushrooms range in size from 1 to 8 inches and continue to evade our ability to cultivate them. Thus you need to search for them in the wild. Your best bet is to look near dead elm trees but of course, it is not only correct identification of trees that you need to be concerned with. Mushroom ID always requires caution.  You can read more about finding, identification, and cooking of morels Here.

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Wild Turkey Nest

The great thing is all the other unexpected things you see and find while out in the woods looking for Morels. Possibly a deer shed antler from February, warblers migrating through, or even a turkey nest like this one.

“God has written a precious book, whose letters are the multitudes of created things in the universe” Pope Francis

 

 

2nd Annual Horicon Marsh Savanna Restoration

 

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Savannah Restoration Team

Written by MUHS Teacher John Azpell

It was a cold and windy day near Horicon Marsh, but a burning desire to help restore parts of nature to its former beauty and diversity  was in the hearts of the MUHS boys that day.  At the beginning of the day, Ronny, a member of the Apache tribe, lit a braided piece of sweet grass, said a blessing for safety and for Mother Earth. With our arms out and hands facing the heavens he wafted the smoke between our arms with an Eagle’s feather and sent our prayers toward the heavens.  Jim Uhrinak, the secretary of the Milwaukee Audubon Society, was the leader and had organized 5 volunteers from various places as well as 8 Marquette High School boys and myself.

Our task was to help cut and burn trees in a thick forest with rich soil so that only the oak trees remain, recreating an oak savanna.  Oak savannas are the least preserved ecosystem today but were once very prevalant in the time of the Native Americans.  Most Oak Savannas in the last 200 years have been converted to agriculture fields due to their rich soil or have been over grown with other trees and plant species since the repetitious burning of the prairies and the savannas has been stopped.  Overall there were three groups in different areas of the Audubon land near Horicon Marsh where we cut down trees and burned them in fires.  The Marquette group stayed with Ronny and helped him clear a little less than an acre of land from 10AM – 2:30PM.  The boys worked hard and enjoyed the huge fire that we created.  It was a great feeling at the end of the day to see a couple of 7 or 8-year old bur oaks be free without constraints to go forward into the future to spread their branches and acorns on the land.  We helped revive part of the Savanna ecosystem from the past.

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That was not the only reward.  At the end of the day, the boys and I hiked to the Niagara Escarpment which was a half of a mile away from our work site.  The Niagara Escarpment is a nearly 1,000 mile long cliff that begins in east-central Wisconsin, running northeast along side Lake Winnebago, forming almost all of the Door Peninsula and continuing north east through Canada and into upstate New York. There is a hand full of places where the rock that makes up the escarpment is visible above ground- near Horicon Marsh, WI and Niagara Falls. We climbed and traversed through crevasses and enjoyed the natural beauty around us.

Owl Prowl

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The brave group of students ready to go on the Owl Prowl

With an ice storm the night before and daytime highs in the low 20’s, few people are thinking about hiking through the forest in search of owls. Ornithologist John O’Donnell, from the Friends of Cedarburg Bog, led our group of 18 MUHS students and adults through the UWM Field Station land at Cedarburg Bog in search of some of the most interesting birds in WI, owls.

The night before our walk, several inches of snow and ice covered much of WI. These sorts of storms can really disrupt feeding habits of owls causing them to increase their hunting efforts in future days to prevent starvation.

We began our night at the UWM Field Station learning about the Cedarburg Bog and the ecology of Owls. The Cedarburg Bog was Wisconsin’s first State Natural Area, which is a special protection designation for ecosystems exemplifying pre-settlement features. The bog covers 2000 acres and is home to many unique plants and animals including carnivorous pitcher plants. See last year’s blog post from our hike through the bog: Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area

Let me first describe some of the amazing adaptations these nocturnal specialists have. Of our 10 species of owls that call WI home, only 6 are residents year round. Of those 6 species, really only 3 species are regularly seen or heard by outdoor enthusiasts or even birders: Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, and Eastern Screech Owl. These were the 3 focus species of our Owl Prowl.

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Adaptations- Hearing: Owls have an amazing sense of hearing. This is no accident. Many owl species that spend the winter here depend more on hearing than sight to find their prey scurrying under the snow. Owls have a facial disk that acts like a satellite dish funneling sound to their ears. The ear tufts on a Great Horned Owl are not its ears but merely feathers. The sound funneled from the facial disk ends up in the ear openings of the owl which are assymetrical on each side of the skull. This sound hitting the ear openings at slightly different times is enough to help the owl pinpoint their prey with extreme accuracy. For example, Great Grey Owls (our largest owl) can hear its prey under 3 feet of snow! Even at 30 yards away, an owl is able to pinpoint its prey within 2 centimeters by hearing alone.

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Facial disks of owls acting like a funnel for sound

Adaptations-Eyesight: Hunting at night presents some big challenges because of the low light conditions. Owls have tackled this problem through some amazing eye adaptations. To start, owl eyes are huge in proportion to their skull size (like humans having grapefruits for eyes). This large size is what can allow a tremendous amount of light into the eye and to the retina. Owl eyes actually weigh more than their brain and take up the entire eye socket, not leaving room for muscles. This means the owl cannot move its eyes side to side but must be able to turn its neck back and forth to see other directions. Inside the retina are millions of times the number of “rods” that human eyes contain. These rods are what allow us to see in low light and only register in black and white. Owls also have a highly reflective layer in the back of their eyes (tapetum lucidum) which bounces the light around to make efficient use of it. This is the same structure that makes dog and deer eyes glow at night when shined with a flashlight. Lastly, some owls are thought to see in infrared wavelengths and thus be able to perceive heat emitted from their prey.

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Adaptations-Silent Flight: It is astounding when owls can fly up into a tree right next to you without you hearing them. This is exactly what happened to us on the Owl Prowl when a Barred Owl landed 15 yards away in a tree. Lucky for us, the tree was covered in ice and when the owl landed, some ice was knocked off the tree, notifying us of the owl’s presence. Owl wings are specially adapted to be silent. This is necessary because the ambient noise at night is very low and any noise an owl would make descending on its prey would be enough to make the hunt unsuccessful. Their feathers have hooked barbs to stitch the feathers together eliminating sound passing through. They also have a serrated leading primary feather to disrupt sound passing by. Lastly, even their feet are covered by feathers. Unlike hawks, this allows owls to glide throughout the forest without detection. Feathers on the feet are also important insulation for birds like Snowy owls that inhabit extremely cold areas.

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Hawk Talons (left) are not covered with feathers like owls (middle). Snowy owls have full feathered feet (right) to insulate from the cold.

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The 3 target species of our Owl Prowl were Great Horned, Barred, and Eastern Screech Owls. Great Horned Owls are actually sitting on their eggs right now (the earliest nesting bird in North America). This early nesting is timed so that when the fledglings are at their most demanding for calories, the rodent populations will be booming i.e. rabbits and voles. The method we attracted owls to us was through the use of audio recordings broadcasted on a speaker. These acted as territorial challenges bringing the owls in. We were able to hear a Great Horned Owl calling (likely from its nest) and were entertained by a male and female Barred Owl curious about these foreigners in the forest. We later tried for Screech Owls at Riveredge Nature Center to no avail, reminding us that these are elusive and secretive creatures.

The Great Backyard Bird Count

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The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. In return for your service to the bird monitoring community, you receive the prestigious GBBC certificate.

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The GBBC has been a great way to track bird movements and populations over several decades. For example, in WI we have seen a movement of Northern Cardinals northward presumably because of availability of sunflower feeders north of their usually range. The GBBC also allows scientists to track effects of diseases like West Nile Virus and impacts  of changes to our climate. Need help identifying a bird, my go to is always the easy to use website Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds. They show pictures, related species, and even have audio of the calls and songs.

If you are anything like me, then you are wondering what are the top birds spotted in Wisconsin. Well first of all, let’s talk rarities. With the warmer temperatures, we are seeing early movement north for many different species including Golden Eagles. There have also been reports of Snowy and Great Grey Owls in the state and some rare Gull species on Lake Michigan. Now, on to the most seen birds. Check out the photos below to see if these birds also frequent your feeders?

 

 

Becoming a Steward of Creation

Reflection by High School Student Niklas Martensson

I have lived in the city my whole life. The suburban realm is not the most environmentally diverse or sustainable. There are a lot of parks within my neighborhood, though. Furthermore, my parents would always take my siblings and I up to Door County to see the State Parks up there and a few beaches north of Milwaukee.

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Peninsula State Park

I was introduced to the outdoors, as much as any suburban kid can, through the efforts of my parents, but it really struck me when I joined the Marquette High School’s environmental science and outdoors homeroom and also enrolled in the environmental science class. Ever since then, I have seen the world differently, appreciating the environment we have been given by God, from the smallest insect or blade of grass to the deadliest predator or largest forests.

Laudato Si’ has shown the Catholic Church that care for the environment is part of a belief in God. We have been created and entrusted with caring for our home that God gave us and unfortunately we have destroyed a good portion of it. Humans need to care about how their actions impact the world around them and what they can do the preserve nature for generations to come. Laudato Si’ has inspired me to seriously think about how I am impacting the environment and ecosystems around me in my daily actions. From convincing my lunch table to recycle properly, to biking as much as possible. This shows that little actions in our lives can create small changes. If these small things, inspired by the “Care for Our Common Home”, could be instituted on a much larger scale, who knows how much we would be able to accomplish.

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Religion classes have often neglected the topic of care for nature, but the focus is starting to return to its importance as part of our faith. Being involved in the Laudato Si Project has meant a lot to me because previously, I had thought that tiny little me in a world of polluters could do nothing, but since my involvement in many projects, I have seen ecosystems and small communities improve with every eradicated invasive species, savanna reconstructed, and river cleaned. All of these projects build men who can see their environmental impact, reduce their waste, and improve the ecosystem around them by small steps one at a time.

Last winter I was involved in a group that went out to restore a woodland back to savannah and prairie lands. Arriving on the chilly morning and meeting with a few professionals including Mr. Jim Uhrinak of the Milwaukee Audubon Society. Zipping up coats and putting on work gloves meant that we were about to start. Chainsaws rumbled and sliced through the woods. We dragged the large trees to a huge fire, where we burned the lumber in order to create a prairie landscape like the way it was when only Native Americans were here.

After several exhausting hours of dragging tree after tree through the muddy snow, we were allotted time for a break. Stepping back and admiring our work, we realized that we just restored a vast area of prairie land back to what it looked like prior to European Settlement. How could a small group like that work so efficiently? This was my favorite project because we endured the cold, worked hard, and enjoyed the blessings of our labor with sub sandwiches and our friends.

 

Winter Carnival Outdoor Fun

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Candlelight hike

This weekend was the Winter Carnival at the Heiliger Huegel Ski Club near Holy Hill, WI. Hundreds of people came out throughout the weekend to enjoy Wisconsin’s winter beauty and have some fun in the process. Festivities kicked off on Saturday evening with a .75 mile candlelight hike through the HH ski club property and the adjacent Schoofs Preserve. Our volunteers set up the hike by placing over 100 luminary bags and candles throughout the route.

Over 75 winter enthusiasts, including many families, came out for the hike. The hike ended at the ski club chalet for chili, fireworks, s’mores, and polka music; all thanks to Tall Pines Conservancy and the HH Ski Club.

Sunday’s events started with the Langlauf XC ski race at 10am (Langlauf is German for cross country skiing). 30 racers participated in the 5k and 10k race that winds through beautiful fields, woods, and prairies. Afterword, wheel and sprocket bike store had “fat-tire” bikes out for people to try on the winter trails. Overall, great February weather for a great winter experience.

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MUHS Faculty Respond to Work of Mercy: Care for Our Common Home

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MUHS faculty brave the cold to “care for our common home”

With morning temperatures in the single digits, doing woodland restoration is usually the last thing on people’s mind. Well, that wasn’t the case for these brave Marquette University High School faculty. As part of their 2017 faculty retreat, Laudato Si’ Project offered a stewardship option to reflect what Pope Francis established in 2016:”care for our common home” as both a spiritual and corporal work of mercy.

 

This same 12 acre woodland has been a continual work site for Laudato Si’ Project since last Fall. See our blog post “Fall Woodland Restoration”  The main focus of Thursday’s work was to remove invasive European Buckthorn from what will be a .3 mile nature trail through the woodland. The buckthorn is an aggressive tree species that steals nutrients, water, and sunlight from our native trees and woodland wildflowers. MUHS uses the Schoenstatt Retreat Center for its sophomore retreats and faculty were happy to give back to the Sister’s by helping care for the ecological health of this beautiful property. This woodland project will also host groups in the coming year from other schools, boy scouts, and confirmation programs.

 

 

A Year in Review: 2016 Highlights

 

Reflection by Executive Director Joe Meyer

Well, it’s hard to believe that were are wrapping up 2016 already. It has been a big year for Laudato Si’ Project, in fact it has been our first year! There have been so many highlights and adventures in the last 12 months and it is all because of our generous members, donors, and volunteers. Thank You.

The summer of 2016 was the 1 year anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Pope Francis also made “care for our common home” a work of mercy this year! (see New Work of Mercy). This solidified Laudato Si’ Project’s mission and gave us even more momentum moving forward. As our mission states, we are dedicated to restoring humanity’s connection to the natural world through education, stewardship, and recreation.

Education: 

In 2016, Laudato Si’ Project was able to connect with several hundred school students ranging from kindergarten up through college. Whether it is speaking at a school, conference, or out in the woods- education is at the core of what we do. Our School Partnerships have really expanded Laudato Si’ Project’s reach. With over a dozen partnerships and growing, we are able to work with teachers to help them connect students to the teaching of the Church and Laudato Si’ while ensuring they find ways to get students into nature, sparking curiosity and developing a love for this amazing natural gift. Be sure to read our new “partner pages” that detail how each school is Living Laudato Si’.

“The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”  -Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

Stewardship:

Stewardship is all about getting our hands dirty. It is our philosophy that is it not enough to just learn about nature, you have to work to help restore it. By allowing students opportunity’s to give the Earth a helping hand- we are instilling a sense of mercy for our common home that Pope Francis has called us to. In the last 12 months, Laudato Si’ Project has helped volunteers log over 330 stewardship hours!!

“We must hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

Recreation:

We live in a busy and demanding world and one of the unfortunate consequences of this is our Vitamin “N” deficiency. Wondering what the N stands for? It’s Nature. It is easy for us to go days, weeks, or months without being outside- and I don’t mean from the car to the building. Laudato Si’ Project seeks to create intentional recreational opportunities so that students, adults, and families can spend time enjoying our beautiful natural environment. “Less screen time-More green time”, that’s our modo.

Laudato Si’ Project has had the wonderful blessing of being interviewed on Relevant Radio twice in the last year (if you missed them we have them linked on our website). We are also very proud of the great partnerships we have struck with multiple organizations including  Tall Pines Conservancy, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Heiliger Huegel Ski Club and the Schoenstatt Retreat Center. These organizations own large amounts of land and gives us the ability to connect people with meaningful educational events, stewardship projects, and recreational outings.

Suffice it to say, it has been a great year! God has richly blessed our organization and has given us countless ways to spread our vital mission. We look forward to busy and fruitful 2017.

“LIVING OUR VOCATION TO BE PROTECTORS OF GOD’S HANDIWORK IS ESSENTIAL TO A LIFE OF VIRTUE; IT IS NOT AN OPTIONAL OR A SECONDARY ASPECT OF OUR CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE.”  -POPE FRANCIS, LAUDATO SI’

 

American Prairie Reserve: A School Call To Action

 

Written by Joe Meyer; Executive Director of Laudato Si’ Project

In addition to teaching environmental science at Marquette High School in Milwaukee, WI, I also co-moderate a homeroom there called Environmental Science/Outdoors (ESO). This homeroom was initiated by student interest and currently has around 50 students involved. ESO students work to initiate environmental projects at the school, stewardship projects at local natural areas, and recreational outings.

Last year, I saw a movie on Netflix titled American SerengetiThis video speaks of the vast amount of wildlife that Lewis and Clark saw on their journey westward, especially on the Missouri River in Montana. The video went on to speak about the most ambitious conservation project in US history currently happening in Montana- The American Prairie Reserve.

The American Prairie Reserve is a project by a private non-profit organization that hopes to create the largest contiguous natural area in the continental United States totally 3.5 million acres and encompassing 5000 square miles. What makes this project feasible is that over 2 million of those acres are already open to the public and management by the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. The American Prairie Reserve hopes to acquire the private lands in between so as to stitch together the whole system. The reserve size would be larger than any National Park in the lower 48 but would be maintained as a public/private partnership not a National Park, while remaining entirely open to the public.

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Our ESO Homeroom student leaders decided that doing a fundraising campaign would be a great way for students to participate in this epic project. The goal was to purchase at least 1 acre of land through their “Adopt-an-Acre” program. This would mean that at $1000 would need to be raised in less than 2 weeks.

We began the campaign by showing the National Geographic Trailer video Imagine American Prairie Reserve 

We then discussed the project goals in terms of wildlife populations. A reserve of this size will be able to contain animal populations not seen since Lewis and Clark first explored the area. The American Prairie Reserve has begun its bison reintroduction at is currently at 700-800 head. Its ambitious goal of 10,000 bison will likely be reached in the next decade or so. Elk are another large mammal that calls the reserve home. They hope to have 40,000 elk in the coming years. many of these species: bison, grizzly Bear, wolf…had been extirpated from the area by hunting and ranching for nearly 100 years. But it is not just bison, elk, mule deer, or antelope that live in the prairie; it is a biodiverse system containing hundreds of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

ESO homeroom students were challenged with the “Adopt and Acre” program and an incentive donation by faculty to double anything students raised up to $1000. After the nearly  2 week period, student totals were almost $500 which meant a total donation of $1500- purchasing 1.5 acres of land on the American Prairie Reserve. many of the students hope to visit the American Prairie Reserve in their lifetime and see this amazing project of American conservation.

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“I asscended to the top of the cutt bluff this morning, from whence I had a most delightfull view of the country, the whole of which except the vally formed by the Missouri is void of timber or underbrush, exposing to the first glance of the spectator immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer, Antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture.”       – Meriwether Lewis (1805)

Learn more at https://www.americanprairie.org

The Catholic Consumer

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Reflection by High School Theology Teacher Erik Anderson

As Black Friday deals loom on the horizon, these are days in which I find myself wondering about how I want to frame the upcoming holiday season—what are my expectations, my hopes, and my values?  How can I develop as an individual, maintain some semblance of psychological health, and be a generous family member over Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas?

In a senior level course I teach in Theology, I encourage my students to read a pair of articles with widely disparate viewpoints: one is entitled “Why Buying Things Makes You Happy” (from PBS) and another entitled “Consumerism and its Discontents” (from the APA).

These articles draw attention to an interest of mine—the wide spectrum of ideas and ideologies that exist regarding our emotive relationship with consuming and purchasing.

The first article points to ways in which our purchasing certain brands, labels or types of products does in fact elevate our social esteem (or at least our perceived sense of it), while the latter points out—very reasonably—that materialistic values can lead some to unhealthy patterns and/or goals setting (for example, using wealth or salary as a benchmark by which to measure one’s self worth).

In Wordsworth’s classic romantic poem, he begins by lamenting:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours

A reading of these lines that makes sense to me is as follows: there we are, at the mall on a Saturday or Sunday, and therefore we’re inherently not out in the fields, enjoying a stroll at the Audubon Society, not collecting falling leaves or pinecones—and thus, not drawing more closely to the Revelation that is inherent in nature.   I think it would be fair to extend his critique even to the work-day.  Though he lived more than 200 years ago, he was perceptive enough to wonder if our life-cycle is organized as it should be: in getting (working hard all week in order to make money) and spending (so that we can buy, buy, buy all weekend).

According to Wordsworth, in so doing, we “lay waste our powers” and grow ever-more-distant from nature.  And we needn’t be a romantic poet to see that the inverse of his argument is also true—that is, immersing ourselves in the beauty and inspiration of nature can help us and enrich us in a variety of ways.  For example, time outdoors in the changing seasons can increases our awareness of the seasons of our own lives, increase our awareness of our own mortality, or provide us with much-needed hope and newness after a long Midwestern winter.

All that is to say that, at least for me, there’s no magic solution to this issue.  In the past, I’ve certainly woken up early to get that special deal on Black Friday…but maybe this has more to do with drinking a coffee in a quiet house, well before sunrise with my dad than it does to do with the 99 cent poinsettias he is excited to buy when the store opens!  In experiences like these, commercialism (and even shopping malls) can offer much that may enrich rather than deteriorate our family life.  But if our sole focus, week after week, month after month, becomes “getting and spending,” perhaps it’s best to re-evaluate before we “lay waste our powers.”

Interestingly, this is a theme to which Pope Francis frequently comments devotes attention.  I particularly like his quote that says:

“it is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward having rather than being.”

This is a great reminder, proclaimed by both Wordsworth and Pope Francis, that is worth reflecting on as the holidays draw near this year.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Connecting with God through the Outdoors

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Patrick with his brother and a nice smallmouth bass
Reflection by High School Student Patrick Donohue

My love for the outdoors has existed from before I can remember. As a kid, I never liked tv or video games. I would always go outside no matter what time of year and work in the yard, shovel snow, or just enjoy the fresh air. My dad’s side of the family has a family cabin in Hiles, WI in Forest County. I was going up north in my mother womb. As I have become older I have realized how much the outdoors has to offer. All my favorite activities take place in the outdoors: hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and canoeing. My brothers and dad influenced me to love the outdoors  by doing all the activities with me.

One of my most memorable outdoor trips I have been on was a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in MN. This trip tested my physical and mental strength. I loved every portage I trekked and every mile we paddled. I went with 5 other kids and 2 adults. After the trip we saw how God truly blessed us with a beautiful Creation. The wildlife we saw was priceless: eagles, fish, loons, moose, and deer. Overall we canoed 68 miles and 32 portages in 4.5 days.

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The Laudato Si’ Project has opened my eyes to care for the environment because of the many stewardship projects I have been able to work on including buckthorn removals, making blue bird houses, and restoring a oak savannah. At the end of the school year I was able to look back and see how many outings we were able to take part in that were exactly what we learned in the environmental science class.

I was able to live out what I learned in the classroom, by picking a Eagle Scout Project having to do with the environment. My project was a revitalization of the City of Brookfield’s Lamplighter Park pond. We removed all the small willow trees starting to grow around the pond to plant native plants as a buffer strip. The natural buffer strip prevents fertilizers from getting into the pond and causing Eutrophication (excessive algae growth leading to low dissolved oxygen levels in the water. This project was a great opportunity to expose all the volunteers to an environmental problem we can easily prevent.

 

 

Fall Woodland Restoration

Written by Joe Meyer; Executive Director of Laudato Si’ Project 

Saturday was woodland restoration day at Laudato Si’ Project’s work area at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha, WI. The morning had a group of 15 volunteers from Marquette High School and the afternoon had 20 volunteers from both Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Marquette High School. The main objective was to remove the buckthorn, the invasive tree species, to allow regeneration of the oak and hickory trees in the woodland. This also allows more sunlight to hit the open woodland ground, benefiting native wildflower and grass species.

After 6 hours of work in the beautiful fall weather, a vast amount of the buckthorn had been removed and stacked from the woodland. This giant brush piles are havens for wildlife ranging from rodents to birds. The beginnings of a nature trail is being created through this beautiful 13 acre woodland as well. Buckthorn removal wasn’t the only project undertaken Saturday. Bluebird nest boxes were installed nearby and a 4000 square foot butterfly garden was seeded with an array of stunning native wildflowers and grasses.

In the afternoon, an ambitious group of volunteer freshman students and faculty of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School hiked to the site to learn more about invasive species and to help with the restoration. Joined by a few Marquette High School students, the remainder of a nearly 1/2 acre section of the woodland had been cleared of buckthorn.

Many hands truly made light work. All volunteers were treated to, not only the satisfaction that comes from stewardship, but also dozens of chocolate chip cookies baked by Schoenstatt Sister Monica. The before and after pictures seen below show the amount of work put into this project by our dedicated volunteers.

Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. -Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

Connecting with Nature

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Reflection by High School Student Alex Teske

Since I was young, I have been going to my grandparent’s house in Northern Wisconsin. My grandpa owns a cranberry marsh and have two lakes behind their house that are great for fishing. Being in this atmosphere surrounded by nature has led to my love for the outdoors. I would go out at night looking for deer with my grandpa or I would help him irrigate the cranberry beds. Nature is my favorite place to be because it is so beautiful. Waking up early in the morning to go fishing and seeing the sun rise over the trees is where I feel at home.

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Young Alex with a Musky

To me, Laudato Si’ is a “wake up call” that was much needed considering the current state of our environment. Laudato Si’ is a call for stewardship which is the “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.” Laudato Si’ calls us to protect and be responsible for our environment, our common home. The Pope’s encyclical has pushed me to do many things around my house to better care for our environment. Whether it be encouraging my dad to recycle papers in his office or trying to save water whenever I can.

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Freshman year of high school was where my environmental awareness really started. As a junior in high school I took environmental science class which really taught me a lot and ultimately is the reason I want to go to college in that field. In environmental science class we learned about Pope Francis’ encyclical and what it is meant to convey to the world. This message has led me to be a better steward.

Laudato Si’ Project has been an amazing opportunity for me to be a part of. It has given me experience for the career that I want to pursue. Seeing the impact that a group of students can have on a piece of land just goes to show that anyone can make our world a better place and all that we need to do is let others know about that. This led me to be a better steward because that is what stewardship is all about.

Laudato Si’ Project gave me experience in the career I want to pursue and has had an immense impact on me. It is a means for me to do what I love and also prepare for education in environmental science in college. The one project that sticks out to me was the buckthorn removal project at Tall Pines Conservancy. There we cut down buckthorn and burned it in a huge bonfire. At the preserve, we also learned about land trusts and how they benefit the environment. Going forward, I will continue to participate in these projects both in high school and during college.

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Invasive species removal at a preserve on North Lake, WI

Finding God On A Rock Wall

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Written by Eve Hamilton, Wyoming Catholic College Student

I starred at the ground below me, immediately sending my brain into panic. I was 40 feet off the ground, suspended in the air by a rope and some scraps of fabric they called a harness. The climbing shoes crushed my toes as I strived to cling to the rock, my fingers sweating through the chalk that was supposed to dry them out. Rock climbing was a terrible idea, and I had five more days of it ahead.

I had signed up for a weeklong trip of climbing in the glorious state of Utah for fall break. A group of fellow students and I were excited to take a break from school and have an adventure. However, this was not why I went. It was a challenge given to me by a friend. I wanted to show that I had improved, both physically and mentally, from the semester before. Yet as I looked up at the route and realized that I could not make it to the top, the familiar feeling of failure came over me. Five more days of this seemed to be my fate.

That night, the group gathered around the fire for prayer and discussion on the wonder of God’s creation. I had offered to read an essay, written by the same friend who had challenged me to go on the trip. It was an essay about making God the end of our journey, even if the path is difficult. We might want to go another way, that of the world, but it is not one that leads to happiness. However, there is still a chance to turn back, even if we think it is impossible to do so. God made Moses a political leader, a peasant girl from France a general of a great army, and a fourteen-year-old girl from Nazareth the Queen of Heaven and Earth. He can most certainly help us attain greatness. All he asks is that we be soft clay in his hands so that He may make us a masterpiece.

As we sat there reflecting on the essay, I realized how much it related to my trip. With climbing, you have one goal: the top of the route. It is literally an uphill battle, with each move tearing at your fingers. There are many different routes around you, but it is foolish to venture from the one you’re on and attempt another’s. When this path fails, you will swing and scrape against the wall, bringing more harm to yourself then if you had only fallen down a foot or two on your own path.  Yet you do not plummet to the ground, but you will be caught on the rope. There is belayer below you, ready to catch you if you fall. You can call for them to give you slack or tension to the rope, depending on the difficulty of the climb. This activity, with all its trials, reminded me of the life of a Christian. There is the goal of God, and he will help us if we ask. He only requests our trust.

Upon this realization, I was determined to complete the rest of the week with this in mind. Each climb brought its own particular struggles, but they also helped me to trust my belayer, as well as my own ability to complete the goal with their help and guidance. However, there was one question that still troubled me until the final day. What was the point of the climb? There is the goal of the top, but what is the reward of this? At the end of the route, you have the opportunity to turn from the rock you have been so focused on and look at the breathtaking view that was behind you. The valleys and mountains, speckled with trees, are just a glimpse at the glory of God. How much better are the rewards of our earthly life? We will not only get a small reflection of God’s glory, but will see him face to face in his eternal might and goodness. This thought finally convinced me that every fall that I have had and every trial I will face is not some horrible joke for God to laugh at. It is instead a test, to show me the one thing required—to place my trust in Him so that I may also experience the bliss of the Heavenly Cosmos.

Moral Beacons in Green Space-News Article

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Written by  Jacob Scobey-Poolachek, Published in the Catholic Herald Newspaper

WAUKESHA — The Schoenstatt Retreat Center could easily be mistaken for a state park. Apart from a couple buildings and a chapel, the center’s campus is entirely green.
Hundreds of acres of farmland, woodland and prairie surround the buildings. Gently sloping hills mark the movements of glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. Schoenstatt, German for “beautiful place,” lives up to its name. The land has a simple, profound elegance.

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A science teacher at Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, Joe Meyer founded the Laudato Si’ Project to combine two of his passions: nature and faith. (Catholic Herald photo by Jacob Scobey-Polacheck)

Though the center is owned and staffed by the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, they are not alone in their stewardship of the land. Marquette University High School teacher Joe Meyer founded the Laudato Si’ Project this past February. He and the project’s board of directors have joined the sisters in calling the retreat center their inspiration and workspace.

The project, inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’,” promotes the growth of environmental appreciation and caretaking within the Catholic community. It aims to bring the pope’s ideas to fruition — for individuals and for organizations. The venture is new, but Meyer said it only came to be because of two passions he has had for a long time: nature and faith. For years, he struggled to find a way for his love of science and God to intersect.

“In the secular world, they’re telling you to separate the two,” he said. “I prayed a lot about finding that integration.”

In addition to prayer, Meyer studied the work of church leaders, reading texts from St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and others. But it was Pope Francis’ encyclical that finally gave him the clarity and inspiration he needed. “When I really dove into the teaching, I realized the church feels the same way I do, in its authentic, true self,” he said. “The way I was feeling about my passion for the natural world doesn’t at all compete with this love for God. In fact, it complements it perfectly.”

“Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”    — Pope Francis, Laudato Si’



Pope Francis published the nearly 200-page “Laudato Si’” in June 2015. It is an appeal from the Holy Father for an inclusive dialogue about environmental challenges the planet is facing and how those issues can be overcome. He argues that every person is morally obligated to act. Meyer took this call to action to heart, gathering a diverse, passionate staff of volunteers to help him bring the mission of care for God’s creation to anyone willing to partake. These volunteers do service work at the retreat center, as well as elsewhere.

The group also helps create and strengthen environmental groups in schools and parishes. Its work is only limited by the inspiration of the encyclical and three pillars: education, stewardship and recreation. Education, especially, is at the core of their work, through sharing the contents of the encyclical as well the practical teaching of how to be a steward of the Earth. The board often works with Meyer’s environmental science course and a student-founded outdoors homeroom at Marquette, and it is also a partner with St. Thomas More High School and various parishes.

Education of these students is a key aspect of their mission. The project’s website explains with a quote from Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”

Volunteer groups have finished several stewardship projects through Meyer’s program during the past few months. They have installed wooden nest boxes for bluebirds and cleared trails for retreatants at the ecology center, worked on beach restoration, removed invasive species, and volunteered at the Urban Ecology Center and land trusts and preserves. Meyer said finding willing volunteers is never a large issue.“Generally, there’s a desire in people to do these sorts of things. Sometimes they don’t understand how to do it, and that’s where we come in,” he said.

Often, the team does not need to create an activity for a parish or group, but rather it can support and strengthen an existing initiative. Or, as the group’s influence grows, Meyer and the board can direct people to other environmental groups and events in the Milwaukee area.

The recreation aspect of the project’s mission is a reminder that appreciating nature does not have to be a chore. Meyer said that just taking a few minutes every day to appreciate some green space can help create higher environmental consciousness. The group has led hikes and snowshoeing events and keeps members updated on other outdoor events.

The reception from volunteers has been positive. Some high schoolers have told Meyer that the project opened their eyes to a new direction for their lives that they had never considered.

As exceptional as it is to change a life, Meyer finds the smaller changes to be equally rewarding. Every slight lifestyle change and new parish membership is a sign the Laudato Si’ Project is having success on a macro level. He sees his role as basic, but potentially instrumental in someone’s life.

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Patrick Donohue, left, and Jonathon Wallace, students at Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, install a wooden nest box for bluebirds on the grounds of the Schoenstatt Retreat Center, Waukesha, in late spring.

“It’s giving people that have that spark – that interest – this whole new world that they didn’t even know existed,” he said. “Where we’re starting is trying to mobilize people within the church to see us as stewards of the environment.”

The Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary are proud to host the undertaking. “Pope Francis has given our church and the whole world a valuable impulse through ‘Laudato Si’, and it’s wonderful to have something like the Laudato Si’ Project to help us implement those impulses in a practical and effective way,” Sr. M. Joanna Buckley said.

Meyer hopes to see even more growth. The board has an interest in creating permanent positions and in eventually being able to have a high school or college student intern. There are plenty of project ideas, but they need more members, volunteers and sponsors to be able to execute them.Meyer is careful to keep his priorities in check. In the end, his goal is to help Catholics be the moral beacon that Pope Francis exemplifies.

He and his team also seek to pull people to Christ.“Ultimately, that’s the goal. Not just to have people cut down buckthorn on the weekend – it’s to draw them to God,” he said. Nonetheless, Meyer continues to cut down the invasive trees. His second passion is always at play to complement his faith. With dozens of volunteers at his side, he tirelessly works to remove the obstacles, lay down wood chips and create a path to a more sustainable world.

Fall Projects and Fun

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Boy Scouts Helping Collect Prairie Seed 

Written by Joe Meyer, Executive Director of Laudato Si’ Project

This weekend was packed with fun, getting the most out of the beautiful Fall season in WI. On Saturday, students were led on a hike through a beautiful section of the Holy Hill Ice Age Trail. This several mile stretch winds through glacial kettles, kames, and eskers while sugar maples tower overhead. This is one of the most scenic stretches of the WI Ice Age Trail.

On Sunday, Boy Scouts and members of the Heiliger Huegel Ski Club came to learn about prairie ecology and help with an 8 acre prairie planting that is on the ski club grounds.

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Some of our Volunteers Helping Collect Prairie Seed 

After learning about prairie ecology and the 5 month old prairie planting at the ski club, these fearless volunteers hiked over to the neighboring Meyer prairie to collect native seed to be scattered at the HH ski club site. Armed with buckets, volunteers young and old gathered ripe seed heads across a 6 acre site planted with over 50 different species of prairie grasses, wildflowers, and sedges.

After all the prairie seed was collected, it was put into a large collective tub where it was mixed with vermiculite. Vermiculite is a filler used for prairie seeding to prevent too much seed getting scattered in one spot and also helps carry some of the finer seed, sawdust can also be used. Prairie seeds differ dramatically in size ranging from 750 seeds per ounce in some species to 2,500,000 seeds per ounce in others. All the mixed seed was divided up into buckets and volunteers brought them back to the HH ski club prairie to over-seed areas with less germination and to increase overall diversity of the planting.

“As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family. When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling.” —Pope Francis,  Manila Philippines, January 18, 2015

Learn more about this prairie project from our June Post “Prairie Planting”

Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge

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Written By WCC Professor Dr. Kent Lasnoski

Wyoming Catholic College is currently participating in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge, a competition between various colleges to see who can get the most people active in the great outdoors. About 90 schools from across the country participate in this challenge over a six-week period. The winner will be named the National Outdoor Champion, receiving the prize of national recognition and outdoor gear.

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Example Score Sheet for Outdoor Activities

Out of the colleges competing, Wyoming Catholic is among the few Catholic schools. With its focus forming the mind, body and spirit, and its emphasis on the poetic mode of learning—learning from a direct encounter with the true, good, and beautiful, WCC couldn’t help but sign up! From climbing and biking, to rafting and backpacking, these activities help the students learn the skills necessary in order to lead others and themselves toward an encounter with the glory of God most high not only visible and tangible in the sun breaking over the mountain, awakening and warming the senses, the imagination, the memory of God’s goodness.

images2            Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge offers Catholic schools an opportunity to witness to the deeper reasons we surround ourselves with the natural world: not out of a naïve enthusiasm for “nature” that amounts to a quasi-worship of the cosmos itself, but a reminder that man, as summit of God’s creation, as priest, prophet and king of this wondrous world, is called to draw up all of that creation with himself into an act of divine Sabbath worship, an act of rest in the God who created a world very good.

Find out more about the challenge:  http://www.oncampuschallenge.org/

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