Going Green on Whidbey Island
Goodness! Gracious! Great balls of fire! The Persied Meteor Shower last week inspired me, and a lot of other people, to step outside in the middle of the night and look up. One friend reported going outside at 4 am, laying down in the driveway and watching the fireworks. Another said she counted 52 shooting stars in an hour!
I saw a few myself, though my yard isn’t a great one for stargazing. I have tall trees on one side of my house and a neighbor with 15 outdoor lights on the other.
Light pollution is a fairly recent phenomenon. A hundred years ago you could see the Milky Way on a clear night even if you lived in town. Birds, fish, other wildlife and even people have oriented and navigated by the stars for millennia. Too much outdoor light is depriving us of an opportunity to connect with the nocturnal world. Owls make the most amazing sounds. Coyotes sing and howl. Deer settle into the tall grass at the edge of the field. They all need darkness just as we do.
Our bodies need a balance of light and dark to maintain good health. Our natural circadian rhythm determines the production of melatonin. Too much light at night can suppress the production of melatonin and disturb our sleep, cause stress and headaches. Some studies indicate excessive outdoor lighting is linked to certain types of cancer. Glare from outdoor lighting results in a lack of contrast and can cause temporary blindness especially in older people. For wildlife it disrupts migration patterns, predator and prey behavior and causes physiological harm.
In this age of Climate Change too many outdoor lights use unnecessary energy and add to our carbon footprint. Wasted energy is wasted money, too. But it’s easy to meet your need to find your way in the dark, and at the same time, cause minimal disturbance to your neighbors or the wildlife around us.
Perhaps leaving a light on inside a window or door will shine out onto your porch so you don’t need outdoor lighting. If people turn off the lights inside and have a porch light on outside, it’s a signal that no one is home and may be an invitation to burglars.
If you need a porch light to find your way to the door after dark, use an energy efficient CFL or LED bulb. In colder climates they’re not recommended for outdoor use, but in our temperate climate they’ll be just fine. Use an outdoor lamp that shines down, not out. Why light up the yard (and your neighbor’s) when all you need to see are the stairs and the door? Take a look around outside tonight and see where your lights shine. If your lights are trespassing over your property line, you may be disturbing your neighbors and you’re most certainly impacting wildlife. A simple shield will direct the light directly where it’s needed and keep it from going where it’s not wanted. Turn off outdoor lights once your household is in for the night. Now and then, on a clear night, try turning them all off and looking up at the stars.
Last week I got off the bus and started walking home. As I walked I noticed someone had pulled up some tall yellow flowering plants and left them on the shoulder of the road. The plant was Tansy Ragwort and it reminded me to do the same except that when it’s in flower, it needs to be bagged up because it can still go to seed and spread. The Coupeville Solid Waste Complex will accept it for free.
Tansy is toxic to cattle and horses causing irreparable damage to their livers. With all the horse farms in my neighborhood, it would be good if all the neighbors worked together to manage this noxious weed.
Washington State has required landowners to control noxious weeds on their property since 1881, but it wasn’t until the creation of a Noxious Weed Control Board in 1969, that these laws, RCW 17.10 or WAC 16-750, were enforced. Island County and WSU Extension provide educational opportunities, support to property owners in identifying the troublesome weeds, giving advice on removal techniques, loaning tools, and sometimes steering volunteer crews to especially overrun areas.
What are Noxious Weeds? You have probably seen them along the roadways and in the fields. The Top Ten include Tansy Ragwort, Poison Hemlock, Spurge Laurel, Spartina, Knotweed, Hairy Willowherb, Garlic Mustard, Scotch Broom, Canada and Bull Thistle and Yellow Archangel. To find pictures of them and read their RAP sheets visit this website: http://extension.wsu.edu/island/terrible-10-noxious-weeds
Noxious weeds are non-native, invasive plants that can crowd out native plants, be very destructive and are very difficult to control. They may overrun farm land, poison pets or livestock, plug waterways, destroy native habitat and reduce land value.
The Noxious Weed Control Board has classified these undesirables into groups.
Class A Weeds are still limited in Washington State. They emphasize preventing new infestations by making eradication a high priority which is required by law.
Class B Weeds are limited to portions of the State. The primary goal is containment, preventing them from spreading. In areas where they are already abundant, control is decided at a local level.
Class C Weeds are already widespread and are of special concern to agriculture. Control and enforcement is decided by the county.
Integrated methods of control may include mechanical, biological, cultural or chemical approaches. Janet Stein, the Island County Noxious Weed Coordinator can help land owners decide on the most appropriate method of removal for a particular site. Contact her at 360-678-7992 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been trying to eradicate noxious weeds on my property since I bought it three years ago. It was overrun with Canada Thistle which spreads when the seeds fly in the wind so I pull it out before it goes to seed. There is less of it each year but it will probably always need some attention.
Last Saturday I got up early and drug a tarp down our long driveway. Along the way I pulled Canada Thistle and Tansy Ragwort and piled them up on my tarp. I even found some Spurge Laurel. This is the kind of thing you don’t want in your compost pile. But if you keep them separate from other garbage or yard waste, you can take them to the Coupeville Solid Waste Complex and dump it for free. If you only have a bag or two, you can also take it to the Recycle Centers at Bayview or on North Oak Harbor Road. And thanks for taking the time and effort to control Noxious Weeds. It makes Whidbey Island a healthier place to live.
Oh, how I love summer. I like to spend all day outside working in the yard, reading in a hammock, visiting with the neighbors. We offer them extra garden produce but they have the same thing next door! Sometimes there’s just too much at once!
Here’s a thought! Take it to the nearest food bank. The Good Cheer Food Bank in Bayview shared these tips for harvesting and sharing produce with them.
1 – Before harvesting, wash your hands and clean your tools.
2 – Pick produce early in the morning while it’s still cool.
3 – Inspect produce for ripeness, decay, insect damage or bruising. Ask yourself, “Would I eat this?” If not, don’t take it to the Food Bank.
4 – Please pick your zucchini at a reasonable size and harvest greens before they bolt.
5 – Transport most produce dry and clean but unwashed in clean, plastic bags or boxes.
6 – Root vegetables may need to be sprayed off and air-dried.
7- Eggs are greatly appreciated. Please clean them and deliver them in standard egg cartons with the collection date printed legibly on the carton.
Please deliver your produce on the same day it was harvested which helps retain the nutritional value. Deliver to:
Good Cheer Food Bank between 9:30am and 4:00pm on M, W, Th & F to 2812 Grimm Road, Bayview. Call 360-221-4868.
North Whidbey Help House from 7:30am-4:00pm weekdays to 1091 SE Hathaway Street, Oak Harbor. (The Help House is closed noon-1pm but knock and you may get assistance.) Please call ahead – 360-675-0681.
They prefer organic produce, but if you use herbicides or pesticides, please read and follow the recommendations on the label. If you’d like to go organic visit this website for resources: http://gardening.wsu.edu/organic-gardening.
The Good Cheer Food Bank will also accept extra plant starts. Email the garden manager, Camille Green, to tell her what you plan to donate. email@example.com
Because of food safety regulations Food Banks cannot accept homemade jams or salsas but if you’d like to share recipes please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can donate your homegrown produce or you can donate your time working in the Good Cheer Food Bank Garden. For more information visit: http://goodcheer.org/.
There’s also a new community garden, the Permaculture Food Forest, on SE Bayshore Drive in Oak Harbor. They welcome volunteers each 2nd Tuesday from 8:30am-12:30pm. They offer food to those in need. To learn more visit: http://www.oakharborgardenclub.org/permaculture-food-forest.html
Someone asked me recently about the old adage that oysters (and other shellfish) should be eaten only in months with an R. That would rule out the spring and summer months when most recreational harvesting occurs. But no, you don’t have to wait for September to harvest oysters. You just need to take precautions on hot days.
Vibrio bacteria naturally live in salt water and grow quickly in temperatures over 65 degrees Fahrenheit. There are about a dozen types of Vibrio bacteria that can cause human illness. The most common is Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, abdominal pain, fever and chills that can last a few days. Most people become infected by eating raw or undercooked oysters or other shellfish between the months of May and October. The Center for Disease Control estimates that each year in the United States about 45,000 people get sick by eating shellfish contaminated by Vibrio parahaemolyticus.
The good news is that vibriosis is easily preventable. Here are a few pearls of wisdom to reduce your risk.
- Harvest your shellfish in the cool morning hours.
- Immediately pack them in ice.
- Wash your hands with soap and clean water before and after handling raw shellfish.
- Cook them well before eating.
Discard any shellfish with open shells. Boil those with closed shells until the shells open and then continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Or steam shellfish until shells open and continue for 9 more minutes. Discard any shellfish that didn’t open during cooking.
For shucked oysters either:
- Boil for at least 3 minutes,
- Fry in oil for at least 3 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit or
- Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.
You may be more likely to get sick if you have a compromised immune system, liver disease, HIV, thalassemia, take medicine to increase stomach acid levels or have had recent stomach surgery. To find out more about Vibrio, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/faq.html
In addition to Vibrio, there are natural biotoxins, including paralytic shellfish poisoning, that can also contaminate shellfish. If eaten, these biotoxins can cause people to get sick or even die. Unlike vibrio, biotoxins cannot be cooked or frozen out of the shellfish. The Washington State Department of Health has a website with a clickable map that’s updated daily showing where biotoxins are occurring and which beaches are closed due to pollution. Be sure you know before you go. https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/eh/maps/biotoxin/biotoxin.html
May is a great month to start biking. I pulled my two wheeler out of the garage last weekend and hit the road. It had been months since I took it out for a spin. I had seen a lot of colorful characters passing my house like tropical birds all in a line, flying down the street. It looks like so much fun!
Determined to get started, I rode my bike early Saturday morning hoping to beat the traffic and the rain that was in the forecast. I managed to do both. The road by my house has a wide paved shoulder and I wear bright yellow and eye-sore green when I ride so even on a cloudy day, I show up at a considerable distance. It was a quiet ride. My leg muscles got used to the motion and my seat got used to the seat. After the first few minutes I relaxed into a gentle rhythm. There are a few hills between my house and my destination, the Greenbank Farm, but shifting down I took them in stride.
It started to drizzle as I rode but it didn’t bother me at all. When I arrived at the Farm I found a bench under cover and took a break with my water bottle and a snack bar. (Biking to loose weight works better if you don’t arrive at the pie shop during open hours.) Riding home there were a few more cars on the road but they were all courteous and gave me a wide berth. I was a little stiff when I dismounted at home, but felt good about my bicycle venture. I was so happy about my accomplishment I set out by bike again the next day and visited a friend. She’s a real cyclist and always encourages me to bike more. She made sure my wheels were in alignment and brakes were good. She pumped my tires up a bit before I set off for home again.
There is a new Transportation Planner at Island County. Brian Wood is obsessed with biking so he’s an excellent choice for the job. He co-founded the Whidbey Island Bike Club and won the Most Miles in May Award a few years ago when he commuted from Oak Harbor to Coupeville by bike every day in May. If you have questions about biking on Whidbey, for fun or as a commute, talk to Brian. If you want to bike with a group visit the bike club website to find out when and where to meet. https://whidbeybicycleclub.org/
Last weekend thousands of people across the country and on 6 continents around the globe joined in a campaign to break free from fossil fuels. Locally, protesters populated the train tracks connected to oil refineries near Anacortes. Roughly 1,000 people walked the six miles of road alongside the refineries carrying signs and singing songs. Some kayaked and some biked the distance. Some pitched tents and slept in sleeping bags on the tracks until they were awakened at 5am and asked to leave. The protests were peaceful and they accomplished their goal. They got media attention. They made their point. It is time to move away from fossil fuels.
Burning fossil fuels changes our climate. Here in the Northwest we’ve had the wettest winter on record and an unseasonably warm spring. Now deadly wildfires are raging across Western Canada. Whole towns are being evacuated. And it’s only mid-May. There have been summits and proclamations by world leaders. Inventors are making electric cars. Builders are building super-efficient homes. We have the technology to make a change, but do we have the individual will?
Some people are willing to walk for miles holding a sign or sleep on a train track to make a statement. What am I willing to do? Use a clothes line instead of the dryer? Ride a bike instead of drive? Grow some food in my yard? Small simple steps make a difference.
Puget Sound Energy offers free energy advisors at 1-800-562-1482. They offer rebates and discounts on all sorts of energy saving devises for your home or business that will save you money as well as cut your carbon footprint. From light bulbs and showerheads to appliances and insulation, they can make your life more comfortable and more affordable. Check them out at: https://pse.com/savingsandenergycenter/Rebates/Documents/3905_PSE_RebatesFlyer.pdf
If you haven’t ever tried an Island Transit bus you’re in for a treat. I’ve commuted by bus for years and enjoy the camaraderie of the regular riders. The drivers are friendly and helpful. And if you live too far from the bus stop, you can ride a bike to the bus and load it on the bike rack up front. There’s no fare for Island Transit buses (except the 411 Route that crosses Skagit Valley between Whidbey and Camano). I save hundreds of dollars each year commuting by bus. And statistics show that bus commuters burn more calories than those driving a car, because you usually have to walk a little ways to get to a bus stop. Get the schedule or try the online trip planner at: http://www.islandtransit.org/
Fortunately, we have a lot of local organic farmers who bring us fresh produce and high quality meat and dairy to the many farmers markets on Whidbey. We have the Thursday markets in Oak Harbor and Clinton, the Friday afternoon market in Langley, the Saturday markets in Coupeville and Bayview, the Sunday markets at the Greenbank Farm and the Tilth market on Thompson Road. We also have farm stands and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) where you buy all your produce at the start of the year and then just enjoy the harvest as it comes in throughout the season. For a complete list visit: http://www.slowfoodwhidbeyisland.org/csa/ Buying local food saves tons of carbon from transportation, provides local jobs and we get fresh food for our tables.
With attention to these 3 areas of our lives, energy, transportation and food, we can make huge changes in the years to come. Why wait? We can make the changes now.
May is Bike Month. I like walking and riding the bus on my commute to work. However, I’m not so sure I want to share the road with motor vehicles, or more accurately, if they want to share the road with me. Just the thought of donning spandex terrifies me. I prefer a designated bike path with a smooth, level surface, traveling at a relaxing pace, getting some exercise and communing with nature.
I wouldn’t call myself a cyclist but a couple of years ago I took a week-long biking vacation. I made a trip to visit family and to ride the Great Allegheny Passage (150 miles) which connects to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, (184 miles) of designated bike trail between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. I picked up my bike at a rental company that caters to cyclists coming for a multi-day tour. They supplied the bike, helmet, panniers, repair kit, extra tube, and lights.
It was gorgeous, meandering through parks, alongside rivers, over trestles, through tunnels, by historic sites, into small towns where I stopped for food and lodging. There are campsites along the way, too. I went in autumn when the leaves were turning and saw flocks of wild turkeys, deer, even a groundhog! I loved it!
The following February, I took advantage of some nice weather on a long weekend to ride the Lochside Trail and the Galloping Goose on Vancouver Island. My friend and I put our bikes on the ferry at Tsawwassen and sailed to Swartz Bay early in the morning. We rode the Lochside Trail for 20 miles from the ferry terminal, by a marina, between pastures, alongside a soccer match until we arrived on the outskirts of Victoria and connected with the Galloping Goose Trail. We steered west and headed for Sooke, about 30 miles away. We had a picnic lunch by a lake and continued to Sooke through parks and around the bay in time to check into a nice hotel on the water and soak in the hot tub before dinner.
The next day we rode the rest of the Galloping Goose up into the woods alongside the Sooke River. What a great way to see the countryside.
We got an early start for our return trip back to Swartz Bay and had a picnic in Sidney’s waterfront park. As we boarded the ferry we saw Orca whales crossing the bay! Perfecto!
Last fall while visiting family, I borrowed a bike and rode the 34 mile Virginia Creeper Trail out of Damascus, Virginia. We started in the middle and rode each direction both ways for a 2 day, 68 mile trip. It’s a steady climb eastward to Whitetop Mountain by the Laurel River. We had lunch on a big rock by the water and stopped at the old Railroad Station, now a gift shop, at the end. We visited with the store keeper-historian before turning around and heading all downhill, lickity split back to Damascus. That night while having dinner at a Mexican Restaurant we had a nice visit with thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail which goes right through town. The next day we rode west through the woods and by rolling hills and pastures to historic Abingdon. We got ice cream and walked by the Martha Washington hotel and the Barter Theatre where, during the depression, you could pay your admission fee with produce.
Traveling by bike is just my speed. I cover 30-50 miles a day on an almost flat grade. This summer I’m planning to bike across Idaho on Rails to Trails bike paths alongside lakes, through tunnels and over trestles. I’ll be looking for moose!
This time of year I’m compiling lots of financial information in order to file my taxes. As I go through my files, accounts, receipts and statements, I wonder how long I have to hold on to this stuff?
The IRS recommends keeping your tax returns and supporting documents for at least 3 years. (I read that if you filed a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction you should keep your records for 7 years.) I found my file drawer had records from about 10 years ago to the present. I feel the need to do some spring cleaning.
So what’s the best way to get rid of this sensitive financial information? I’m not comfortable boxing up documents with account numbers, social security numbers, and all my personal information and dumping it into the paper bin at the recycle center. And it’s illegal to burn your garbage in Island County. So I visited Gene Clark the Island County Recycling and Hazardous Waste Coordinator.
He took me on a short walk from his office at the Coupeville Solid Waste Complex to a small building that houses a massive shredder that’s available for public use. He showed me how it works, how to set up the bag at the end, told me what I shouldn’t put in the shredder and what to do when I’m finished. It’s simple and you can shred a good sized bag of paper (20 to 30 pounds) for $1.50. They’re open daily between 9:30-5:00 just 2 miles south of Coupeville on Highway 20.
Now I’m making a list of all kinds of papers I don’t want anyone else to see. I could shred those old journals from when I was a teenager, or that terrible novel I wrote in college, or all those files I’ve converted from paper files to digital. If you need to use a shredder call 360-679‐ 7386 or 360-240‐5592 to schedule an orientation appointment. Tell Gene I sent you.
If you like clamming on Whidbey, you’ll be happy to know that the Freeland County Park is open to shellfish harvesting from March 1 to May 15, 2016! After being closed to shellfish harvest due to poor water quality for nine years, it opened last spring for a six week season. Last fall the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife took an inventory and found there are ample shellfish left. So they decided to extend the season from six weeks to ten weeks this year.
Freeland will close for the summer because the wind changes direction blowing from the north and pushes sea grasses up on the beach. This thick carpet of seaweed, or “wrack”, collects pollutants that wash off the shore. Things like pet waste, car oil, and leaking septic systems all contribute. Because the harbor is narrow and six miles long the water doesn’t flush very well, so water quality declines in summer. In winter the wind comes from the south and blows the wrack off the beach so shellfish harvest is good in the spring.
Get your bucket and shovel ready but before you go, make sure those shellfish will be safe to eat.
Call Before You Dig!
You can call the Safe Shellfish Hotline number 1-800-562-5632, or you can visit their website. Just type Washington Shellfish Safety into your search engine to find a clickable map on the State Department of Health website. Zoom in on Whidbey and you’ll see your favorite beaches. Colors indicate whether they are open or closed to harvesting. Most of Whidbey has Green shorelines. Green is for go!
If the shoreline is red, it’s a no go. Those beaches are closed and you can find out why by clicking on the beach. Many are too close to waste water treatment plants, storm water outfall pipes or marinas where water quality can be poor.
Yellow beaches are “Conditionally Approved” which means they’re open unless something happens nearby like a spill at the waste water treatment plant. Then the yellow will turn red. Sometimes the yellow means the beach is open for a harvest season but will close the rest of the year.
Brown beaches, as you may have guessed, are closed due to pollution. And grey are areas that are not being monitored.
There are also lines and cross hatching on the map that indicates Biotoxins like Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. PSP occurs naturally, but it can be fatal. Other biotoxins can cause serious ailments.
On hot summer days, Vibrio, sometimes found in oysters, can make you sick. Digging during the cool morning hours and keeping the oysters on ice can help avoid illness. Also, cook oysters well before you eat them to make sure.
The map is updated daily so you’ll get the latest information before you go dig for your dinner. And the Department of Health webpage is linked to the Department of Fish and Wildlife web page so you can visit both to make sure you’re planning to harvest shellfish during the harvest season. You can also find them on Facebook at WAshellfishsafety. And when you get to the beach, please heed any signs that might be posted there. The hotline number, clickable map, webpages and signs are all there for your benefit.
Years ago I was hired by Island County Solid Waste to deliver waste reduction programs for K-12 classrooms. I loved my work and enthusiastically set out to educate the masses. I taught about worm bins and composting, recycling and hazardous waste. Though many of the lessons on why and how we should reduce waste were the same, I had to consider my location before answering questions on what and where.
Residents of South Whidbey have access to the Island County Recycle Park at Bayview and Island Recycling in Freeland which is a privately owned operation. Those near Coupeville have easy access to the recycling mecca at the Island County Solid Waste Complex which provides recycling, hazardous waste and yard waste options. Oak Harbor city residents have curbside recycling in the blue bins, or they can take it to the Island County Recycle Park on Oak Harbor Road. And those with access to the Navy Base have even more options. There are glass receptacles at Office Max, Safeway, the Oak Harbor Marina and the Boys and Girls Club in Coupeville, as well as the County and Freeland Recycle Parks. In short, your recycling options depend on where you live.
We live on an island. Most of us get our drinking water from underground. To protect our drinking water we truck all our trash off the island. Most of it goes to the Roosevelt Landfill over 300 miles away. So we try to minimize those loads of garbage by encouraging recycling, composting and sorting out hazardous waste. However, recycling here has been complicated by the different jurisdictions and what each one will take.
Recently, all of Whidbey Island’s solid waste managers got together and standardized recycling collection in order to make it less confusing for Island residents.
A lot of Whidbey’s residents came from somewhere else where they had a different sort of recycling system. We often hear people complain, “Why don’t you take glass in my curbside container?” or “Why don’t you take clamshells?” or “Why don’t you recycle plastic bags?” or “Why do I have to take the lids off?” Partly it’s because we live in a rural community. We don’t have the density here that they have in, say, Seattle, so we can’t offer as many options. Recycling is a business and that business needs to make economic sense. So without the quantity they have in cities, we have to focus on the quality of what we recycle.
We take only stuff that we know will get recycled, stuff the recycling industry wants. We try to avoid questionable stuff that may get tossed in the garbage or get shipped to China where it might be processed in a way that could harm the environment or human health. Our solid waste managers maintain a certain level of integrity, which is a good thing. But it means we need to do our part, too. We need to take a little time to clean and sort our trash properly before recycling it. We need to make sure our recyclables aren’t contaminated.
We can reduce waste even more by being smart shoppers. If we don’t bring our own shopping bags and choose to buy products in containers that aren’t recyclable, we can’t blame the added waste on the recycling businesses. If we’re aware of what is recyclable on Whidbey, we can chose to buy products in paper, cardboard, metal or glass containers or plastic jugs, tubs and bottles. It’s not hard. In addition, if we tell the store manager that we won’t buy things in unrecyclable packaging, they may think twice about carrying spinach in clam shells, or soup in tetra pack cartons. Consumers have a lot of pull.
To find out what’s recyclable on Whidbey, and find answers to all your solid waste questions, call 360-679-7386 or visit: http://www.islandcounty.net/PublicWorks/Solidwaste/