Archive | Living Up North

A blog category containing posts on the subject of real life experiences, past and present, while living in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

Who Is Living in YOUR House?

You don’t want anyone or anything living in your home except for family, right? But you may have uninvited guests living in your house, and you don’t even know it. That’s exactly what happened at MY house when the local bat population decided to move in make themselves comfortable for an extended stay. This post is a short story about our experience with bats in the house, what steps you must take to get rid of these pesky litter critters, and why you must understand how bats think in order to get rid of them. You can use their habits against them. If you do not know how a bat thinks, you will lose your “war on bats”, and over time, they will make your home uninhabitable.

Is Your Home in Danger of Bat Infestation? 

We had zero experience with bats. If you live in a large metropolitan area or in the “burbs”, you probably have no experience with bats either. Where do you find these pests literally “hanging out” (pun intended)? In rural areas that surround metropolitan areas and cities as well as areas like mine – a sparsely populated area in the far Northwoods of Wisconsin consisting primarily of lakes and woods.

Bats live primarily in the woods. But if they can find a building to live in, they much prefer that over living in trees and caves. If you live in the suburbs and have woods nearby, these uninvited guests may choose to visit your home and move into its comfortable accommodations.

Bats follow the hordes of mosquitoes that result from consistent heavy rain that creates the perfect breeding ground for them – puddles of stagnant water and water standing in wet fields. If you are in a rural area and the mosquitoes are particularly bad during any given summer, the bats won’t be far behind.

The summer of 2013 has been a particularly wet season all across the USA, causing the mosquito population to explode. With a particularly endless supply of mosquitoes, the bat population also explodes as they move in for the banquet.

Houses that Bats Love 

If you live in a new, tightly built house, you are still not safe from bats. Our house was newly built in 1999. It’s built of half-log, which means  ½ log on the outside, a 2″ by 6″ insulated wall in the middle, and ½ log on the inside. This is how log homes are built in cold climates. The walls are 13” thick with the 3 1/2″ thick logs comprising most of that thickness and the 2″ by 6″ insulated wall making up the rest.  The overall effect is to give the appearance of a full-log home but with tremendously more insulation and cold protection than you would find in a full-log home.

Log homes are tight, very tight. That is primarily due to the fact that water is a logs worst enemy. So every crack or gap between the logs are either caulked or chinked to keep water out. One would think that this extensive sealing would also keep pests out.

Older lap-sided homes are more prone to bat infestation. These older homes were not built as tightly as new homes are built. We thought that our home was impervious to bats. Not so.

What does this mean for you? If you live in an older home (pre 1970) AND live in the suburbs or a rural area, your home could be a target for the local bat population.  They are probably eyeing-up your house at this very moment.

Bat Exterminators are a Humorous Bunch of Folks

I’m getting a little ahead of my story, but I asked a bat exterminator where my bats would go once they were out of my house. He took a look at my neighbors houses. One neighbor’s house had a roof with a steep pitch. He said that pitch is preferred by bats. But he wasn’t quite satisfied. Then he looked at the neighbors house on the other side of our house. He got really excited. That neighbor had a metal roof on his house. He pointed to my neighbor’s house and with a devilish grin on his face, he said, “That is where they will go next. Bats can’t resist a steel roof”. I asked him, “what do you do, follow the bats from house to house in order to expand your business?” He said, “That’s exactly what we do. You might want to give that neighbor my phone number. Because that is where your bats are going next”.

Why Should You And I Worry About Bats? 

We asked ourselves that same question. Last summer, we thought it was pretty neat having bats around. They don’t bother people. And it was kind of fun sitting on the front porch at dusk watching them swoop back and forth as they consumed all the pesky mosquitoes around our house. Mosquitoes are a bats preferred diet. Bats can consume their weight in mosquitoes in one evening. Now multiply that by a dozen or so bats and your mosquito problem is pretty much handled. They are efficient mosquito killing machines.

But bats are not just occasional visitors to your home. We didn’t know that. We assumed that they lived in the woods. The fact of the matter is that they are not visitors at all. They lived in our house!

If bats are regular visitors to your house, it is likely that they are living IN your house. That’s where the problem comes in. If they are in your attic, they are hanging from your rafters upside down and building huge piles of guano (bat feces) under them.  They are a “fertilizer machine”. When they are not eating or sleeping, they are pooping. In fact, they poop WHILE they sleep. Several animals are particularly adept at making fertilizer. Guinea pigs and rabbits are two animals that come to mind that are particularly efficient at pooping incessantly. Bats also reside in that same category.

You don’t want piles of guano in your attic, in your walls, or in the soffits that form the overhang of your roof. Guano doesn’t have an odor unless it’s wet. And it’s unlikely that anything in your attic gets wet. But when bat guano gets damp, it grows a bacteria that is harmful to humans. If that bacteria is inadvertently inhaled, it can be fatal to humans and pets.

Bats also urinate in your attic insulation. They use the inside of your attic as their personal toilet. If you permit that to happen for a couple of summers, it will smell and the insulation will have to be removed and replaced by a professional at considerable cost.

Just like rabbits, bats produce litter after litter of little bats. So if your bat problem started with just a couple of nuisance bats, there will be more nuisance bats sooner than you expected. The bat population will increase rapidly because bats have large and  frequent litters.

Bats are destructive. Although they do not claw their way into areas of your house, and they do not destroy building materials by burrowing or gnawing their way through wood or sheet rock, attic insulation sticks to them. In their constant travels in and out of your attic, insulation is constantly being deposited on the outside of your home where it is useless.

Lastly, mosquitoes are well know disease carriers. Malaria and West Nile Disease are two of the most common diseases that they carry. Bats eat mosquitoes so bats are also efficient disease carriers. Unlike mosquitoes, bats don’t bite. In fact even though they are, how should I say this, “blind as a bat”, their efficient radar system allows them to avoid coming into contact with humans and other mammals. Nevertheless, do not touch bats and do not get near where they live unless you are protected from head to foot with gloves, cover-alls, respirator, hat and goggles.

Our Unwanted Guests Decide to Move In Permanently 

Photo of a typical shed roof porch

Photo #1 Shed Roof Front Porch

Getting back to that first summer when we thought that our mosquito-eating little friends were cute, winter came and they disappeared. That was good because we noticed that they were increasing in number and the bat droppings on our covered front porch (photo #1, click to enlarge) were getting to be a nuisance. The droppings started coming into the house on the bottoms of everyone’s shoes. Guano was on the front porch windows. It stuck to the outside log walls. Worse yet, it was all over my favorite porch swing. The situation was getting way out of hand.

So that winter, we decided it was time to do a little research and find out if we had a serious problem. Our favorite research tool – the Internet.

Bat Research 101, Study

There are 1,240 species of bats. That news was not encouraging. We needed to identify the habits of the species of bats that had their eyes on our house as a potential “bat hotel”. Bats are mammals. In fact they are the only mammal capable of sustained flight. There are only two broad categories of bats: micro-bats and mega-bats. Ours must be micro-bats since they eat insects while mega-bats are fruit eaters with a couple of species of mega-bats who eat blood from other mammals (vampire bats) or eat the meat of dead mammals. We narrowed down the field of bat species to a big brown bat or little brown brown bat since both bat species are common in North America.

What we really wanted to know is if they went away for the winter. Do they migrate or hibernate? We got the answer that we didn’t want. They hibernate. That’s just great. That means that the little buggers are likely in our attic space, hanging from the rafters and pooping and peeing up a storm.

The article that I had located on the Internet confirmed my suspicion when I read that bats are capable of getting into any crack or opening as small as ¼ to 3/8th’s of an inch. That was not encouraging news. Even though our house was new and tightly constructed, ¼” crack could exist practically anywhere.

So they don’t migrate, they seek out somewhere warm to sleep through the winter, and they can get into ¼’ crack. That’s just great. The more that I learned about bats, the more I sensed a battle commencing in the coming summer; us against them.

Chimney pipe and sonic bat device

Photo #5 Chimney pipe and sonic bat device

While doing the research, my mind started to drift back to the years when I helped the contractors build our house in 1999-2000. I recalled a chimney flashing that didn’t quite fit the chimney pipe that exited our roof (photo #5). As a matter of fact, I recalled that pipe passing through our shed roof over the front porch where the flawed flashing left a gap of about a half inch between the flashing edge and the plywood roof. Dam! That must be where they are getting into my attic!

Bat Research 102, Take Action

I thought I should confirm if we had unwanted guests living in our attic. After all, it was winter. If bats were in the attic, they would be sleeping while hanging from the rafters. My wife wanted to put it off. She didn’t want to know since, in winter, there was nothing that we could do about the situation anyway.

I forgot to mention one very important factor in this whole matter. YOU CANNOT KILL BATS IN WISCONSIN and many other states. They are protected by law. I couldn’t believe it. They are not protected because they are endangered. They are protected because of the vital function which they perform – killing unwanted insects. I guess that makes sense. If the bats didn’t kill mosquitoes, we would be back to using the carcinogen, DDT to kill them just like in the 1950’s when, as a kid, I would watch at night as the fogging tractor went down the street every week in order to keep the mosquitoes in check.

I wanted to find out if bats were living in my attic, regardless of how my wife felt. That way, If I had a problem, I could find a solution and be ready for action in the spring. If I didn’t have a problem, then we could go back to our “bat watching” in the spring and not worry about it. I lifted the attic shuttle slightly and shined a strong flashlight inside the attic. I quickly slammed the shuttle door closed. We have a problem. Dozens of little bats hanging upside down from our rafters with little cone-shaped poop piles under them. The war on bats would begin in the spring.

If Bats Live in Your House, How Do You Get Them Out? 

The rest of my research over the winter consisted of finding out how to get rid of them. I learned that getting bats out of your house is no easy job. The article that I was reading on the Internet said that the cost to have a professional get bats out of your house could easily run from $3,000-$10,000 and up, depending on whether you have a few bats or an entire colony of bats. Bat exterminators have to dress in sealed survival suits , rubber gloves, respirators, goggles, and helmets in order to protect themselves from coming into contact with potentially hazardous bat guano. I watched a bat exterminator in action on YouTube and realized that this was not going to be a simple, inexpensive job.

In addition to finding out how the bats are getting into your home and attic, bat exterminators  must use  canister vacuums in your attic in order to clean up the mounds of guano. The canister vacs also protect them from angry flying bats. They simply suck the bats up into the vacuum. But because they are not allowed to kill them, they drive to a remote area and release them. And, of course, they note where they release them because homeowners in the area will likely call them the following summer with a bat problem. This is a common tactic for bat exterminators. This is how they expand their business. No need for Facebook advertising in this instance.

Realizing that the cost of getting rid of our bats could be considerable, I called my home insurance agent to find out if this type of service is covered under my homeowner’s insurance policy. It was. But only the clean-up. Coverage did not include any building modifications to thwart bats in the future. The bat exterminator handled minor sealing of entry points. But our shed roof front porch would always attract bats unless it were redesigned.

The Clean-up 

Spring arrived and the first thing that we did in April was to find a bat exterminator. All the national services like Orkin or Terminix did not service our area. We finally found a local service called Diamondback Pest Control.

Diamondback’s  bat exterminator came out in April and inspected the outside of our house. I told them about the suspect chimney flashing gap and they agreed that was likely where the bats were getting into the attic. But we needed to find other potential entry areas, so that once the chimney gap was sealed, the bats would not be able to simply move their “front door entry” to some other location.

Photo of Typical Roof Ridge Vent

Photo #2 Typical Roof Ridge Vent

Continuous ridge vent on a home’s roof (photo #2) is a favorite entry point for bats. All houses have ridge vents for attic ventilation. However, if the ridge vent incorporates a two inch thick inner lining that looks like a giant Brillo pad, that is sufficient to keep bats from using the ridge vent for entry. My ridge vent DOES incorporate one of these Brillo-pad linings. I could see the disappointment on the bat experts face. He informed me that he employs five crews of men who do nothing but replace ridge venting on homes. That’s an expensive job. I could tell that replacing ridge vent was Diamondback’s bread and butter, as my bat man became quite animated and excited when talking about it. He wanted to replace my ridge vent regardless of its ability to thwart bats.

He found no other entry points for bats on the outside of my home. But, at this writing, it is late July and we are still waging war to keep bats out of our house. More on that later.

Before you can seal up any bat entry point into your home, you must first get them OUT. Use of the canister vacuum cleaner in the attic doesn’t ever get them all. What makes getting them out easier is the fact that they must come out every evening in order to eat bugs. The whole idea of getting them out of your house permanently is finding a way to keep them from getting back in once they are out for their dinner.

This is where you must know something about bat habits and how they think. The Diamondback bat exterminator draped and stapled a net from the chimney opening of our shed roof over our porch all the way down to the overhang of the roof. At the overhang, he left an area of the net loose. Then he explained to me that the bats would come out the chimney opening as they always have. They would encounter the net and seek a way out, which they would find at the bottom of the roof where they would simply drop out. However, on return to my attic, bats expect to fly in level to the area where they enter a house. Bats are blind and use radar to find their way around. Their radar in conjunction with their habits does work well on the concept of going DOWN in order to go UP.  So when they encounter the net, they will not think of looking further DOWN the roof for the hole in the net that they originally came out of, which leads UP to their house entry point. They’ll give up and begin their search for another entry point. Since the house was already inspected for additional entry points, they won’t find one. End of problem. Or at least, that’s what we thought.

Before I forget, here’s an interesting antidote. I know a lady in another area who used the screen theory above, at her house.  However, she was not impressed with the law that says that you cannot kill bats. She placed a five gallon bucket of water below the loose area of the screen at the bottom of the roof where the bats would drop out. The bats fell into her bucket of water and drowned. She didn’t have to worry about her bats finding another way into her house, for obvious reasons.

Two weeks passed and the bat exterminator came back to remove the net and seal the crack where the chimney enters the house. He also installed a sonic device on top of the shed roof porch that emits a sound that bats hate. This would keep bats from perching in the tiny dark crevice where the shed roof over the porch meets the houses’ primary roof. Or so we thought.

The sonic device (photo #5, the black box) emitted a sound that was audible to humans. It sounded like crickets on steroids. Very annoying. I saw warm summer nights of enjoying our cozy front porch and swing disappearing quickly. Fortunately, we were not able to hear the sonic device inside the house.

The sonic device worked for about a month. After that, we spotted two bats sitting right next to it, asleep, while the device made it’s annoying chirping sound. A month after that, the sonic device bit the dust and stopped working altogether. We took it down and deposited it in the garbage.

In June, the Diamondback Pest Control service figured that their job was done. So they sent me a bill for $765; no where near the $3,000 minimum that we expected. We were delighted with the low cost of getting the bats out of our attic. But we still had bats in the house. This time they were in the soffit or overhang of the primary roof, yet still in the area of our (and their) favorite front porch.

When Your Bat Exterminator Gives Up, Be Prepared to Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

I need to interject at this point that bats are next to impossible to get rid of. The are persistent. When you think they are gone, they find another way in. Once you address that new entry point, they find yet another way in. If you have a bat problem that has not yet turned into full scale war, it will.

Photo of boarded wall to prevent bat entry

Photo #4 Board at Top of Wall

The pesky little critters found a tiny crack at the very top of our ½ log siding where the logs meet the overhang, and they wiggled in there. We knew what they were up to, because we found little balls of yellow fiberglass insulation on our porch below their new “front door”.

We were frantic at this point and using poor judgment. We envisioned pulling an army tank up to the front of the house and blowing the front porch clean off the house just to get rid of the bats. We bought an over sized mosquito fogger thinking that if we could put a dent in their food supply (the mosquitoes), they would be forced to go someplace else in search of food.  That didn’t work. But it sure gave us some relief from the mosquitoes.

We boarded up the crack (photo #4), where they were getting in, temporarily, until we could make decorative moldings out of log material for permanent sealing. They responded by moving their “front door” to a ¼” crack that we didn’t even know about. The small opening was located where the beam, which supports the shed roof porch,  meets and passes through the primary roof.

We knew there were bats still hanging around. We could hear them chirping back and forth to one another as we sat on our front porch. But we couldn’t figure out how they were getting in. My daughter took the initiative one night and sat on the front porch with a strong flashlight to see what the bats were up to after dark. She saw them disappear into the roof behind the porch beam. Otherwise, no one would have figured this out; not even Diamondback, the bat exterminators.

Diamondback considered their job to be done. They weren’t coming back. Since I wouldn’t let them replace all the ridge vent on my house, they were off in search of more lucrative work. We had to tackle the remainder of the bat removal job ourselves. Since I had learned some important bat removal secrets from my Diamondback bat exterminator, I was prepared to do this. After all, we have been engaged in this bat war since April and it is now late July – 4+ months to get rid of our bats, essentially the entire summer!

Photo of screen to prevent entry of bats

Photo #3 Screen to Prevent Bat Entry

I draped some polyester screen (photo #3) over the entry point adjacent to the front porch beam, stapled it down securely and left it loose at the bottom for bats to drop out. They would not fly in to reenter since they could no longer enter their “front door” while in level flight. The screen would force them to go DOWN to the roof line and then UP to the crevice where they enter. They won’t do that since that is not their habit.

For some reason, that approach didn’t work. We adjusted the screen in several different configurations. But our determined bats seem to always find a way to get into that crevice. We lost our patience with them, after a couple of weeks, and then the crevice was sealed permanently.

The risk of sealing an entry point before all bats are out of your house is that they will die in your house if they are sealed in. If they die in your wall or your attic, they will eventually stink and attract other bugs like ants and flies. This war has been going on so long that I was willing to take that risk. As hot as it’s been this summer, I figure it shouldn’t take long for their little bodies to shrivel into a dried out potato chip size. And I can handle that versus spending another summer trying to get them out of my house.

While I was performing this one last act to bring the “bat” war to a close, I noticed that dozens of them had moved back into the crevice at the back of the shed roof where it meets the primary roof. The sonic device had forced these bats out of that area. But since the sonic device broke, the bats moved back in.

They chirped at me insultingly as I performed my work of sealing the crack adjacent to the beam. I looked at them in disgust and they did the same as if to say, “This is OUR home, not yours”. And then I lost it. I was tired of fighting bats all summer and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I was mad. I grabbed the garden hose and a ladder, and turned the water on full blast. I blasted them out of that roof crevice and they went flying in every direction. The mounds of guano that they had deposited on my shed roof began to flow down the roof like a mud slide. It took me most of the afternoon to clean up the mess. The bats haven’t been back since. I don’t think that they care much for water and I soaked them pretty good.

But they’ll be back. So I ordered a better sonic device in preparation for their return. Were there bats in the crevice that I sealed next to the beam. I don’t know. I guess that we will find out one way or the other by fall. For now, the “bat war” is over.

So What Have You and I Learned from this Experience?

 

  • If you live in an urban or rural area and see bats near your house, there’s a good chance they are inside your house.
  • Bats are destructive. Bat feces is hazardous. Bats can make your home’s insulation useless.
  • Bats can enter a hole or crevice ¼ to 3/8” in size.
  • Inspect the outside of your house thoroughly if you suspect a bat issue. Better yet, get a bat exterminator to inspect your house for a nominal fee.
  • Do not allow a bat exterminator to replace your roof ridge vent unless they can show you where bats have been entering your attic. Bat droppings are the best proof of entry.
  • If you have bats in your attic, get an estimate from more than one bat exterminator. I’ve never met a bat exterminator that can be trusted.
  • Bat entry points should be sealed once the bats are outside; never while they are inside.
  • Allow bats at least a week to get out before sealing a point of entry.
  • Note how your local bat exterminator rigs a system for allowing the bats to get out, but not back in. There’s a good chance that you will need to do this yourself in the future. Bats don’t give up easily.
35

Big Business Wipes Out 30% of Local Loon Population

This Fall I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the phenomena associated with living on a flowage with a dam. Conversations with neighbors were often supplanted by “when is the water level going to come up?” I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about living on a flowage.

The wilderness-loving part of me wishes that our flowage was totally natural, a pristine artifact of the last glacial retreat. When visitors praise the flowage as being “as close to Canada as you can get in Wisconsin”, I find myself explaining that our flowage is amazing, but it was created by the scions of industry for economic purposes and it is in a sense – artificial.

What made my ponderings this Fall so different? After all, our own former State governor, Tommy Thompson, labeled the Turtle Flambeau Flowage (TFF) “the crown jewel of Wisconsin” in 1992 when the State purchased 95% of the land surrounding the flowage in order to preserve it in its natural, untouched, state for eons to come.

What changed my thinking was the crime that big business, a gas and electric conglomerate (Big Energy for short. The company wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.) based in Minneapolis, had committed a crime against recreationalists in the Upper Mid-West, property owners who live on the banks of the TFF, and Northwoods wildlife. Yet Big Energy was apathetic about their actions, and pretended as if nothing ever happened.

The crime was committed in the summer of 2012. The evidence presented in this post proves that Big Energy was the perpetrator of the crime, and the victims are many.

The Crime Scene

Take a look at the photo gallery and maps that accompany this post in order to learn, exactly, where this event took place.

The huge TFF, the second largest body of fresh water in Wisconsin, was created for flood control in 1926. A dam was constructed on the Flambeau River and the waters of the flowage backed up behind it creating an impoundment that encompasses over 14,000+ acres of water and 1,000’s of forested or rock islands.

The TFF is a recreational paradise. Over the summer, thousands from the Mid-west states vacation here, fill the resorts,  boat, ski, swim, fish, canoe, and camp on the of islands which dot the flowage, or take excursions with guides in order to observe wildlife in their native habitat.

Five percent of the land surrounding the TFF is occupied by waterfront homeowners. On the TFF map in the photo gallery, the land surrounding the flowage in green is state-owned. Land that is colored white is private land. All navigable lakes and streams in Wisconsin are owned by the WDNR. These are marked in blue.

It’s Big Energy’s responsibility to manage the dam and the water level of the flowage.

That’s the problem. Big Energy’s priority in managing the dam is for profit generation through the creation and sale of electricity. Their priority conflicts with the priority of all other stakeholders who want the dam managed for acceptable water levels for recreational activities and the protection of the wildlife that consider the TFF to be their home.

Why aren’t dams in Wisconsin managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) whose priorities are people and wildlife? That’s a good question for which you will never get the same answer. My personal opinion is that, like most states, Wisconsin is broke. And managing all the dams in the state can be a very expensive undertaking. The WDNR already owns and manages all navigable water including lakes, streams, and flowages in the State. They just don’t own and manage dams.

The Crime 

So what was the crime that made those who use and live on the TFF victims during the summer of 2012?

It was Big Energy’s management of the water level, or better stated, lack of management of the water level, or even better stated Big Energy’s apathy towards people and wildlife that live on and use the TFF. The evidence will show that Big Energy’s actions during that summer were the exact opposite of what was needed in order to protect and sustain wildlife and people using the flowage.

People who intended to use the flowage for recreation often found that thought to be wishful thinking last summer.  Water levels were low for much of the summer. The wildlife and game fish experienced a worse situation.  Spring water levels were so low that game fish could not reach their spawning beds and were forced to re-absorb their eggs. Mid-summer water levels were so high that 30% of the nesting loons on the flowage lost their nests and eggs to flooding. The full impact of Big Energy’s actions will not be known until next spring when the year class of game fish can be measured. Whether the 26 pairs of nesting loons on the TFF will return from their wintering grounds in Florida is questionable due to the loss of their nests, which they use year after year.

In summary, the victims of Big Energy’s failure to manage water level highs and lows by either opening the dam further when it’s high and shutting it when it’s low, are vacationers, and property owners who use the flowage, as well as wildlife and game fish who live on or in the flowage.

The Evidence

Open the historical water level charts ——>here.<——– The charts will open in a new window (tab) so you can flip back-and-forth as you read.

On the chart labeled “TFF Spring Refill Elevations, 2011, 2012”, note the vertical line that indicates when loon incubation begins. In 2012, what was the water level trend? It was rising, rather sharply.

Loons know nothing of water level management. Their nests are always within 3″-6” of the shore. That is their habit. By the second week of May, they would be occupying their nest and preparing to lay their eggs.

By the end of incubation in the first week of July, what happened to the water level? It rose eight inches since incubation began, thereby flooding the loon’s nests and causing the newly laid eggs to float away. The water level reached it highest point for that summer, and they began to drop off sharply.

Could something have been done to prevent the flooding of loon nests? Yes.  On the chart labeled “Trend of Flowage Discharge Rate”, how much water was Big Energy letting through the dam in May? Three hundred cubic feet per second (cps) was passing through the dam for the entire month even though the water level was rising rapidly beginning on May 1. Loon incubation began in the second week of May.

How much water was being let through the dam in June? A little over three hundred cubic feet per second for most of the month, even though the water level had reached its highest point of the summer. Bit Energy did not open the dam further to increase the outflow of water until mid-June. But by then it was too late. Loon incubation was done. Nests and eggs had already washed away.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the “TFF Spring Refill Elevations, 2011, 2012” chart again. But this time, let’s look at the graph line for 2011. The water level started out higher in early May. It was at the same level when loon incubation began the second week of May. And then it declined for the remainder of the summer. Loon nesting and incubation was accomplished successfully.

Two friends of mine live on the flowage and studied the aftermath (the physical evidence) of the mis-manged water level’s adverse impact on loon nesting. They are both WDNR research biologist. Since Big Energy’s management of the dam did not accomplish fool pool by April 20th, these two biologist saw the loon nesting devastation coming long before anyone else. So they set up twenty trail cameras at selected nests to observe how serious the problem would be.

They commented, “when you spend eight hours a day studying loons, you gain a strong appreciation for the effort these birds put into each nest attempt.” A loon will attempt to nest three times per season before they discard their eggs. The more these two researchers saw, the more they cursed the dam and Big Energy’s reckless management of the water level. The devastation was photographed. Thirty percent of nests on mainland or island shores were flooded, with eggs floating. Nests located on floating bogs fared better since floating bogs rise with rising water levels.

What should Big Energy have done to prevent the events of 2012? Increased outflow at the dam in the beginning of May when the water level began to rise sharply. The sharp rise in water level was caused entirely by rain. So what was taking place was pretty obvious to everyone, except Big Energy, who either didn’t care or didn’t believe there was cause for alarm.

The Plaintiff’s Position

The Turtle Flambeau Flowage and Trude Lake Property Owners Association (TFFTL) was established in 1990 for the purpose of representing property owners on conservation issues affecting the TFF. They are a local association comprised of those who own homes and private property adjacent to the flowage and Trude Lake, which connects to the TFF via a boat channel. The TFFTL is not a legal body. Their interest is in seeing that the flowage is managed properly for all stakeholders. Stakeholders are tourists, property owners, the State of Wisconsin, fish and wildlife. Their goals promote smart/good conservation practices that protect both people, resources, and wildlife.

The WDNR, TFFTL, and Big Energy have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place that specifies how water levels will be managed at the dam by Big Energy. It’s a conservative approach that seeks to strike a balance between Big Energy’s business needs, the property owner’s recreational needs, and the needs of the fish and wildlife that live in and around the flowage.

The WDNR serves in an advisory role but generally sides with the views and recommendations of the TFFTL. However, even though they are a State department, they have no administrative power over Big Energy.

All parties agreed to the MOU. The MOU is not a legal document and it does not include punishment for parties who violate the agreement. The full text of the MOU is available —>HERE<—.

Since the agreement’s inception, Big Energy has violated the terms of the agreement many times. When this happens, the WDNR and the TFFTL meet with Big Energy and try and resolve the issue for the present and future concerns of all parties to the agreement.  Neither the WDNR nor the TFFTL can force Big Energy into strict observation of the MOU.

According to the MOU, the flowage water level on April 20th must be at “full pool”. Full pool is 1,572 feet above sea level, as measured at the dam. This didn’t happen in April 2012. The TFFTL argued that the reason that full pool was not attained was because Big Power let too much water out of the TFF during their winter draw-down the previous season. Furthermore, they were lax in their assessment of spring rainfall, and did nothing, such as decreasing the outflow of water at the dam, in order to attain full pool by April 20th. In short, Big Energy’s management practices failed to reach set goals as stated in the MOU.

By not attaining full pool on April 20th, there was insufficient water in the flowage to support game fish spawning activities. The fish could not get to their shallow spawning sites. When this happens, game fish absorb their eggs and do not spawn at all. That adversely affects the total fish population beginning with the next year’s fingerlings.

The Defendant’s Position 

Big Energy sells electrical power to Wisconsin and portions of seven other states; 5.3 million customers in all. They applied for and received a FERC license that entitled them to manage the TFF water level at the dam, which outlets water into the Flambeau River. Although the Flambeau dam does not generate power for Big Energy, Big Energy also owns several power generating dams downstream from the Flambeau dam. 

However, Big Energy’s ability to manage the dam and the TFF water level have been in question since the day that they took over. Big Energy’s own logo claims a “responsibility for nature” but their management style has demonstrated that nature is a low priority with power generation, their balance sheet, and private businesses on the Flambeau River having a much higher priority.

As a final note to the defendant’s position, I want to explain how Minneapolis-based Big Energy controls the dam and water level. They have a man on-site who lives here year round. He communicates  back-and-forth with the department in Minneapolis that is responsible for doing the “number crunching” in order to determine how much water should be going through the dam.

Once that number is known, the man on-site at the dam manually turns iron wheels which open and shut the three gates at the dam. Big Energy already knows what volume of water passes through the dam for each additional centimeter that the gates are opened. Those numbers are constants.

At the Minneapolis-based headquarters, there are many factors which enter into the formula for determining water level trends. Of major importance are the inflows from the rivers and streams which feed into the TFF. Look at the map of the TFF. On the north are the Turtle and Little Turtle Rivers as well as Four Mile Creek to the west. To the east is the upper portion of the Flambeau River which is fed by the Manitowish River and the Bear River. To the south is Otter Creek. These inflows are calculated based on current rains and the levels of the rivers and creeks.

Evaporation and rainfall are tracked and calculated. No water is removed from the TFF by irrigation or human use. As a matter of fact, it’s against the law to remove water from the TFF. As I stated earlier, the outflow from the TFF is known. The only outflow is at the dam.

Managing all these factors for a 14,000+ acre impoundment is a tough job. But a successful result is achievable. Global Warming has made these calculations more unpredictable as storms become more severe and less frequent.

Jury Deliberations 

The jury deliberated the following issues.

In a perfect world, the water level of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage should remain at full pool (1572’) from April 20th until October 31. Those dates encompass the prime recreational season when the TFF is used by tourist and property owners. Consistent water levels during this period also provide for ideal habitat for fish and wildlife.

Big Energy draws down the water level of the Flowage beginning in mid-July and ending by late October.  The purpose of the draw-down is to make room in the flowage for spring runoff due to melting snow and ice. This specific draw-down schedule removes water from the flowage when it is needed most by nesting birds, vacationers, and landowners. August is the most popular vacation month of the year per the AAA. The heaviest use of the TFF by vacationers occurs in August. Therefore, it makes no sense to implement a draw-down when water in the flowage is needed most.  A draw-down can be accomplished at any time, even when there is ice on the flowage. None of the TFF stakeholders understand Big Energy’s current draw-down schedule.

To see what a draw-down on the TFF really looks like, check out this —>VIDEO CLIP<—.

The minimum volume of water that is allowed to pass through the dam is 300 cps (cubic feet per second). Big Energy has determined that this is how much water is needed in order to sufficiently “feed” the Flambeau River below the dam. Big Energy has demonstrated a habit of opening the dam further in early to mid summer and raising the outflow to as much as 700 cps when the flowage is not at full pool. This act adversely affects vacationers, wildlife, and homeowners. Big Energy claims that more water is needed downstream by businesses adjacent to the Flambeau River. However, other stakeholders feel that these unnecessary procedures are responsible for wildly fluctuating water levels in the TFF which adversely affects spawning fish, nesting birds, homeowners attempts to use their waterfront docks and boats, and the activities of tourists and locals who wish to use the flowage for recreation.

Concerning the 2012 violation of the MOU, Big Energy should have anticipated light early season rains and temporarily lowered the outflow at the dam in order to account for that. It was no secret that the rest of the country was in severe drought.  Lowering the outflow would have increased the water level in the TFF in order to support game fish spawning in shallow spawning areas thus preventing the habitat failure that took place.

When normal rainfall finally arrived in mid-May, the water level of the TFF rose too quickly. Big Energy did nothing about this. Eventually, 30% of the nesting loons on the TFF failed at nesting and in most cases, nests were flooded and destroyed along with the eggs in the nest.  This situation might not have occurred if the water level at the time of loon incubation was higher. Since loons build their nests  within 3″-6” of the shoreline, their nests would have been built further inland thus protecting the nest when the water line rose higher. This situation could have been avoided had Big Energy “held on to” more water early in the season instead of letting it pass through the dam.

The impact of this calamity will not be known until next spring when “our” loons return from their winter grounds off the coast of Florida. Loons return to the same next year after year. Since 30% of those nests have been destroyed, it is not known how the TFF loon population will react in the spring. Since loons will attempt to nest three times before they give up, some loons may have moved to higher ground to re-nest as the water level of the TFF rose.

The Verdict

Big Energy took no action to raise the water level of the TFF in order to meet the full pool requirements by April 20th. On the contrary, the data shows that they increased the outflow at the dam in April thereby lowering the level of the flowage. (Guilty)

Big Energy took no action to halt the rapidly rising water level in early May in order to protect loon incubation and nesting. This could have been accomplished by opening the dam further to increase the outflow. Big Energy did not increase the outflow at the dam until late June, which was too late to protect nesting loons. (Guilty)

Big Energy never did bring the TFF water level to full pool in 2012. Instead, they opened the dam further in early July to increase the outflow to over 700 cps. (Guilty)

Since Big Energy is accountable to no one (even though all those affected by their mindless actions purchase over-priced electricity from them), the WDNR and TFFTL should continue to work together to pressure Big Energy into adopting a conservation mindset if they wish to continue managing a public natural resource as if it were their own private pond.

Sentencing

This article recounts a true story. The events, discussions, and debates actually did take place, and continue to take place. However, no trial before a jury ever took place. The trial setting for this article was used to illustrate what should have taken place, given the crime. And it was used in an attempt to simplify, for the reader, what is a very complex story with a wide range of characters.

FAQ

Let’s pester this issue a bit before we leave the subject.

Aren’t there two desires for the water level on the TFF that are in conflict with each other? The property owners and recreationalists want the water level high to support their activities. And the conservationist want to keep the water level low so as to not interrupt loon nesting.

Not Really. When full pool is attained by April 20th, as required by the MOU, the loon incubation period has not started. The loons will nest within 3”-6” of the shoreline with the water level being at 1572’ (fool pool). If there is one thing that Big Energy will do correctly without failure, they will never let the water level exceed 1572’. They feel that water levels that exceed full pool put the integrity of the dam in jeopardy. So the water level at the end of loon incubation will be the same as at the beginning of incubation.

If the water level has not reached full pool and Big Energy lets more water pass through the dam in mid-June in order to protect loon nesting, which makes it even less likely that full pool will be attained, wouldn’t the stakeholders complain that they want more water for recreational activities?

The stakeholders are not ignorant and selfish. Conservation first, fun comes second. Much communication takes place between Big Energy and the stakeholders who live and play on the TFF. I have called Big Energy myself about specific issues. Big Energy meets with the WDNR and the TFFTL frequently. If they recognized a need to protect loon incubation by increasing the outflow at the dam, they would receive no argument from the other stakeholders. The loon population is highly regarded and a source of enjoyment and pride. No one wants to harm or kill common loons.

A Love of Loons

The haunting, melancholy call of the common loon has long enchanted those who love to be near the water. Their call can be a wobbly, liquid chortle, or an eerie yodel, sounding almost unearthly especially when it ripples through the quiet wilderness or echoes across a tranquil lake. The loon is known as “the spirit of the wilderness”.

Loons are listed first in the North American bird field guides because they are the most primitive bird, having existed long before humans.

Loons are not only a beautiful bird to watch on the water, they are swimming and fishing machines. They swim with their black bill  always parallel to the water. They swim low in the water because their bones are heavy for diving. They can vanish underwater to find fish without leaving a ripple on the surface. They can remain underwater for up to three minutes and can dive as deep as 200 feet.  Their large webbed feet and legs are set back of their body making them poor walkers. But their feet serve as propellers underwater allowing them to reach speeds close to 75 mph. When they take to flight from the water, they run across the surface of the water for up to a quarter of a mile before becoming airborne.

Loons are sexually mature by age three and obtain their own breeding territory by age five. The female usually lays two eggs, which the parents-to-be taking turns incubating the eggs for 30-32 days. Loons are considered to be very territorial; they aggressively defend their nests and young. They live to be approximately 25 years of age in the wild.

Loon chicks are precocial, they leave the nest within two days of hatch, swim behind the adults or ride on their backs. The parents feed them nearly exclusively for the first eight weeks.

They migrate to the Gulf of Mexico in October or November and return to their birth territory in April and early May. They are known to nest within 30 miles of where they were born, if not in the same exact nest of their birth. They are the only bird known to do this.

They are a remarkable wilderness bird. The good news is that their populations are on the rise according to LoonWatch, a program of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute who protects loons through education and monitoring.

 

 

References

Article Posted 2/21/2011 “What Is a Flowage?

Article Posted 1/17/2011 “The Dynamics of Wisconsin’s Turtle Flambeau Flowage

Photo Gallery Posted 2/7/2013 “Loon vs. Big Business Gallery

Video Clip Posted 2/7/2013 “Turtle Flambeau Flowage Water Level Fluctuations”

TFF Water Level Charts Posted 2/7/2013 “Turtle Flambeau Flowage Water Level Fluctuations”

MOU Posted 2/7/2013 “Memorandum of Understanding

97

Autumn in the Northwoods

Bassett acreage overlooking the Gile Flowage, near Hurley

Click to enlarge

This featured media is an aerial photo of the Bessett acreage and log home overlooking the Gile Flowage in Iron County, Wisconsin. The log home, though large in size, can barely be seen in the middle surrounded by maple trees in autumn full color.

Rolley and Helen Bessett own the famous Rolley and Helen’s Musky Shop in Minocqua, Wisconsin. The musky shop has been a landmark on Highway 51 (Interstate 39) in Minocqua for decades. When the shop first first started equipping musky fisherman in the 1940’s, only the hearty would travel the dirt roads to reach lakes teeming with the famous muskellunge.

The Gile Flowage resides in the center of Iron County and is formed by damming the Montreal River. The portion of the river north of the Gile forms the border between Iron County, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Log homes, maples, and water are the typical scenery in the Northwoods and this photo says it all best in stunning fall color.

0

Ospreys and Winter

I’ve had several folks ask me why I retired to the Northwods of Wisconsin. They would prefer a warmer place to live like the Florida Keys, Arizona, or Southern California.

But I prefer a wilderness setting overlooking water. And we live on the banks of the Huge Pond, Golden Pond, the Flowage, or the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, which is this body of water’s real name; a gigantic wilderness lake approaching 19,000 acres in size dotted by thousands of islands.

We like living with the wildlife. Eagles, bear, wolves, giant osprey, otter, fox, and coyotes are our neighbors.

Where else can you find this much solitude? No traffic, no people, no noise, no stress. Just water and dense forests in every direction. Arizona doesn’t even have any water. The Florida Keys are beautiful. But you won’t find much wildlife or forests there. Southern California is, well, just like the rest of California. Traffic, noise, a dense population, hardly a place for solitude and getting away from the stress of life.

We’re getting ready to sink into a deep cold winter. The Big Pond began buildings its initial ice seal yesterday. It snowed last night putting a white coating on the portions of the Pond that have ice. The water is still open about ¼ mile from shore.

I was eating breakfast. Our dining room overlooks the Flowage from atop the small hill that we live on near the shore. Out of my peripheral vision I saw what appeared to be a small airplane gliding along the shoreline and then it came to rest atop a tree in the woods between the house and the lakeshore. The airplane was a giant osprey; two of them. Eagles hover over the house during the summer but we had never been visited by giant osprey.

They were hunting for fish. The newly formed ice on the lake had formed a shelf half way across the lake and they were using it as a platform to hunt for fish in deeper waters. We watched them for about an hour as they spread those huge wings, swooped along the ice shelf, secured their prey and used our backyard trees as a landing zone on which to eat their meal. We marveled at how agile they were. Their huge bodies with a wing span of over six feet glided in and through the trees as if they were not even there.

Moments like these are why we live where we do. The huge glass windows on the lakeside of our house serves as our theater screen. As the ice solidifies, soon the featured episode will be wolves traveling across the ice in search of deer, or bears looking for a place to sleep for the winter, or ice fisherman setting up a shanty town where they will fish through the ice for walleye, crappie, and an occasional musky. The crude little huts, each with a tail of smoke emitting from the hut’s tiny little chimneys, reminds me of a Norman Rockwell scene painted on canvas from life in the Northeast during the late 1800’s.

Yes, the winters are long and cold here. But I’ve come to enjoy, even look forward to the cold winter days while warming myself by the fireplace with a hot cup of coffee and a good book. When a break from the quiet and solitude becomes necessary, the computer in the study connects us to reality over DSL. The computer and the telephone are the only lifelines that we need to connect us to any corner of the plant.

Why the Northwoods? Hopefully, this little post allowed your thoughts to drift away to places and times less complicated and demanding. Yet you can interrupt your isolation whenever you choose and within seconds you are connected to the six-lane highway we call the Internet.

Would you prefer to live within a couple of blocks of the mall and vacation to a place with less concrete, stoplights, and noise? Or would you like to live where there is solitude and dirt roads and visit the mall a few times a year? Again, the purpose of this impromptu post is to stimulate your thinking regarding such matters.  There’s plenty of room on the lake for your little cabin get-away. And good neighbors are always welcome.

5

Firing Up the Fireplace

As I took up my favorite position on the front porch swing this morning, I watched the smoke swirling down from our chimney creating a fog in the trees in front of our house. It had been a long time since I smelled the sweat aroma of maple and birch burning in the fireplace. Today, September 24, 2011 is our first fire of the season in our fireplace. It’s a damp and cold 52 degees outside; a perfect time warming chilled bodies in front of the fireplace.

Fortunately, I had just cleaned the chimney yesterday. Now is a good time to pass along some information on using the fireplace in your home.

Keep Your Fireplace Chimney Clean

Most chimneys have a spark arrestor on top of them, which protects your roof from stray sparks and the chimney opening from rain or snow. Keeping the chimney free-flowing for a good draft, and to avoid problems with chimney fires, is something that needs to be done every couple of months throughout the heating season. It’s not that hard to do.  The amount of soot and creosote that collects within the cap is dependant on how dry your wood is. If you are burning “wet” wood, you will have far more creosote to clean out. But if you burn wood that has been split and stacked to dry for a summer, it will be dry and will produce much less soot build-up

Put on a pair of old gloves and remove the spark arrestor by twisting it while lifting up. Wiggle it back and forth to loosen it up if it appears to be stuck. Then take the cap to your garage for cleaning.

Spark arresters are made of thin stainless steel mesh. Keep your gloves on to protect your hands from getting cut while working with the cap/arrestor. Use a long-handled wire brush to gently clean the soot from the outside of the mesh on the cap. Too much pressure from the steel brush will bend the thin stainless steel mesh. The majority of the soot build-up will fall off and drop inside the cap. When finished with the steel brush, go around the outside of the cap one more time with a screwdriver to remove any soot that didn’t break loose.

Spark arrester caps are not built so as to allow the soot and creosote to drop out of the cap when you turn it right-side up. There are two methods that I use to get the soot out of the cap. Reach inside with a gloved hand and remove handfuls of the creosote particles. Additionally, you can use a fist to smash the piles of creosote chips inside to smaller pieces that will drop through the wire mesh.

Once all the soot snd creosote are out of the cap, it’s clean and ready to install back on the top of the chimney. Force it back onto the top of the chimney and twist it a few times to achieve a tight fit. Then go back to the garage and sweep the soot into a dust pan. Dump the soot into your garbage can. I throw it into the woods. It’s charcoal and feeds the things that grow in the woods.

Where to Put Your Fireplace. Today, You Can Put Them Anywhere.

Now what about the fireplace itself? Ours is a zero-clearance unit with blower and glass doors. A nice feature of zero-clearance fireplaces is that they can be put anywhere in your house. They come in wall units or corner units. They can be placed snug against any wall or into any corner. The firebox is encased in an air chamber so the outside of the fireplace never gets hot. No heat shields are needed for either floor or walls.

What IS important when placing a zero-clearance fireplace in your home is to choose a location such that the flue, which runs through your ceiling and rafters, will bypass the rafters and ceiling joists.

If you have a great room in your home with high beamed ceilings, it is virtually impossible to heat a great room with a whole-house furnace alone. The room is just too big. Use a zero-clearance fireplace equipped with a blower to heat the greatroom and let the furnace handle the rest of the house. Our greatroom is 24×40 with 16-foot ceilings. We have had the room temperature up to 82 degrees using just the fireplace to heat the great room. We keep the furnace floor registers in the great room closed since we don’t need more heat in the great room and that’s more heat that can be channeled to the rest of the house.

Once your fireplace is installed in your great room (I recommend professional installation unless you are an aggressive DIY person), you will probably want to frame it out with walls and cover the walls with cultured stone. This is not as hard as it sounds. But it is a complex procedure, which I’ll cover in another post.

When installing a zero-clearance fireplace it’s important to go downstairs and examine the floor under the fireplace. The floor under the fireplace will have to be capable of supporting a lot more weight once the fireplace is framed and finished with stone or brick veneer. Get a licensed carpenter to advise you on whether the floor joists should be reinforced to support the added weight. We built a closet in the basement under our fireplace and added some hefty wall headers to the closet in order to brace the existing floor joists to handle the added weight of the fireplace above.

Firebox Etiquette

Back to the fireplace. Here are some tips to help you get the most heat and efficiency from your fireplace.

Zero-clearance fireplaces do not have grates in the firebox for holding logs. Fires are built right on the firebrick floor lining. So before you make a fire, be sure that the firebox is clean of old ash. Ash is an insulator. And if left to pile up in the firebox, it will prevent your fireplace from warming and burning correctly.

We vacuum our firebox each morning with a special ash vacuum that we bought from Plow and Hearth for $300. It’s a much cleaner and more efficient way to get rid of the ash. The alternative is to shovel the ash from the firebox into a bucket. This is a pain and it puts a lot of dust into your house. The fire vaccumm pays for itself many times over by helping to avoid the ash mess and dust. And it only has to be emptied into a plastic garbage bag for disposal, about once a month.

One other tip to remember – the blower compartment air input grill is normally located below the fireplace doors on the front of the fireplace. When you remove ash from the fireplace box, ash has a bad habit of getting into the blower chamber. This happens whether the blower is running or not. The ash that gets into the blower chamber  gets blown back into your house and causes all your furniture to have a constant layer of ash on it.

We found a DIY way to prevent this. We use a piece of vinyl cut from an old vinyl tablecloth and sized to cover the length and width of the air input grill. My wife, who is a quilter, sewed a couple of pockets at the top and bottom of the cover. In the pockets we placed small flat magnets, like the ones you often see used to hold things to your refrigerator door. When cleaning ash out of the firebox, the cover is placed over the air input grill and is sealed to the front of the fireplace by the magnets. This prevents ash from getting into the blower compartment. The vinyl is easy to clean. It’s inexpensive to make. And we just throw it in the closet when we don’t need it.

Let’s Build a Fire in the Fireplace

Start your fire in the morning with kindling, newspaper, and small pieces of dry firewood. We use scrap lumber for kindling. If you have birch trees in your area, birch bark is a superior kindling versus wood scraps or twigs.

Birch is a “weed tree” that has a short life span and eventually falls over. After they have been on the ground for a year, you can easily peel off large sheets of bark. We stuff a half dozen platic contractor bags full of birch bark and store them under the outside stair for starting fires in the fireplace. Walking through the woods in the fall collecting birch bark is one of our favorite pastimes. It gets us out of the house, it’s good exercise, and a walk in the woods is always enjoyable.

Let’s get your fire started. Once your newspaper, kindling, and wood are lit, close the glass doors and open both the draft and the flue wide open. If your fire bundle has been built well, you will get a blaze in short order. Let the flames go up the chimney for fifteen minutes. This burns the creosote out of the lower portion of your chimney and keeps it clean. If the blaze looks promising, shut the flue about half way in order to begin the process of holding the heat in your firebox versus letting all the heat go up the chimney. You will begin to feel (and smell) the fireplace warming up as the paint on the fireplace heats up.

Turn the draft down as far as possible without snuffing out your fire. The firebox on a zero-clearance fireplace is air-tight. So adjusting it’s only air source, the draft, frequently is important. Once your fire is going, you’ll find the right amount of draft after which you’ll be able to leave the draft adjustment alone. Think of your fireplace draft adjustment as if it were a furnace thermostat. The more heat that you want, the more draft will be required. It’s just like turning up your furnace thermostat. If it gets too hot in the room, close the draft a little more.

What about the flue damper? It should be wide open when you start the fire. But remember that the flue controls how much heat escapes up the chimney and how much heat is held in the firebox for dispersion into the room. Heat that escapes up the chimney is wasted heat.

Once you have a good fire, shut the flue damper completely. You can’t do this if you leave the glass doors open because it will force smoke into the room. You will get your best heating with the glass doors closed. So shut the flue damper to hold heat in your firebox. The damper has a hole in the middle and some clearance around the outside of it so threre is still enough ventilation room for smoke to exit up the chimney.

Maintenance

When the glass doors become sooty, clean the soot off with a spray oven cleaner and paper towels. The doors are easier to clean when they are warm. Don’t let the oven cleaner spray fall on brass or perwter areas of your fireplace. If this happens, wipe the over cleaner off quickly with a damp cloth. After you are finished with the oven cleaner, wipe all the surfaces of the door with a damp cloth while using a small bucket of water. Finally, use the same paste cleaner on the glass that you use to clean a ceramic kitchen cook/stove top. This puts a silicone coat on the glass that inhibits soot adhering to the glass when fires are burning.

If a firebrick breaks, you can find new bricks at any fireplace shop. Replace the broken ones. The purpose of firebrick is to protect the firebox from burning out. Without firebrick, the metal inside of your firebox would eventually burn/wear away.

The blower unit is in a cavity below the firebox. Remove it once a year and blow the ash off of it with a compressor. Oil it lightly and put it back in the blower compartment. Blowers are replaceable, should one fail to operate.

The temperature sensor, which also sits in the air compartment, has a magnet on it which allows the sensor to adhere to the underside of the firebox and sense the temperature inside the firebox. If your blower unit fails to start, this sensor should be replaced. Any fireplace shop will have what you need and they are not expensive.

The wall or stove-mounted rheostat, which controls the speed of your blower, will likely be the first component to fail. If the speed of your blower is constant regardless of how you adjust the rheostat, it needs to be replaced. They are also relatively inexpensive.

With a little cleaning, good fire-making skills, and some dry firewood, the amount of heat that you can produce with a zero-clearance fireplace is incredible and it’s cheap. Enjoy your fireplace and the beauty of burning logs whenever you can. When theres noting else to do on a cold winter’s day or night, just watching lthe logs burn in your fireplace and basking in its heat may be all the entertainment that you need.

94

Red Squirrels, Maples, and the End of Summer

Per my usual habit after dinner, I went out to sit in the swing on the shed-roof front porch so I could try some new Toasted Cavendish tobacco in one of my favorite briarwood pipes. We forbid such activities indoors. No mind. I can always find entertainment from my reserved seat on the front porch – the porch swing.

When we built our log home on the banks of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage in Northern Wisconsin, we marked all the trees on our 1.5 acre lake lot so that the heavy machine operators, necessary to build a new home, would know not to remove or damage the trees. We’re tree-lovers.  This part of the State is covered with 98% hard and soft maple, 1% basswood, and 1% white birch trees. We allow a ring of trees of grow within 20 feet of the house on all sides. The rest of the lot is forested all the way to the lake’s edge. And I mean forested! You can count the maples of all sizes in the millions. They grow like weeds here. We have a tiny area of grass-covered yard. We always wanted to live in the woods and that is what we have accomplished. I’m sure our neighbors think that we are a bit eccentric. The neighbor on the south is from Chicago and the one on the north is from Alaska. Go figure.

The summer’s entertainment had consisted of watching the bats that hang out under our porch shed-roof and the huge, colorful  gypsy moths that are attracted to our porch lights. The bats put on quite a show as they swooped to and fro to consume as many mosquitoes as possible. The bats left suddenly for some reason. And after their departure, we also noticed that the pesky mosquitoes also disappeared. What bothered me about this was that the weather did not change. Rains remained consistent, thus providing breeding places for mosquitoes. The mosquito population did not change. Nothing changed. Both just left suddenly. Now I feel the need to find out why. I’m a sucker for research.

Back to the evening’s entertainment. As I sat on the porch swing enjoying the silent end to an August day and my pipe, I was distracted by the sound of debris, falling occasionally through the leaves of the trees directly in front of the porch. There was no wind or rain, although the sky was overcast and it had rained that day. I got out of the swing to get a look at the top of the trees beyond the shed-roof of the porch.

And there he was. A tiny red squirrel navigating from branch to branch and harvesting the seed pods of the maple trees. The seed pods of maple are often referred to as “helicopters” due to the whirling motion they make as they fall from the tree; a tiny seed with an over-sized, single helicopter blade attached. Two trees over, another red squirrel was also at work on those seed pods.

Now you might think that this is no big deal and that I should find more useful and interesting content for my posts. You would be correct. BUT, remember the adage, “Take time to stop and smell the roses along the path of life”?  I often remind myself to do just that, as should you.  So if you derive nothing else of value from this post, consider it a reminder to take a break from your chaotic life, find a comfortable chair, place it on your porch, and spend some time examining the content and substance of your environment that you pass by every day, but never notice.

You can learn a lot from the wildlife that share your living space. It is late August; the conclusion of the hottest Midwest summer on record.  The time and method at which the red squirrels harvest the maple seeds can have a lot to say about what we can expect for winter in the upper Midwest. I’ve heard from hunters that the whitetail deer coats are especially heavy this year. My oldest son, who lives 200 miles south of here, saw a flock of geese flying south two weeks ago. That’s much too early. Signs of an early or severe winter? The wildlife are always aware of impending weather changes long before the long-range weather forecasters can give us their best guess.

As I puffed on my pipe and watched the two red squirrels drop what they didn’t want from the tops of the maple trees, I wondered why the empty seed pods were not whirling down to the ground as they always do. Instead they fell quickly and landed with a thud. So I got out of my porch swing again and took up a position below one of the squirrels so that I could see what it was discarding. They ignored me, which is the response that I expected.

It wasn’t long before seed debris began landing all around me. I picked up several items that the squirrels had discarded. They were seed pods alright, but they were empty. Two pods joined together at the seed tip, each with one helicopter wing per pod projecting out the backside of the pod. Besides being empty, the pods were green. The type that we see helicoptering or spinning slowly to the ground in fall are larger, single pods and dryed out to a tan color. That explained why these pods did not whirl slowly to the ground. A glance up into the tree at the squirrels convinced me that they were holding the seeds from the pods in their cheeks and discarding the chaff. But some of the double-pods still held a seed which told me that either they planned to retrieve these from the ground later or they were in a hurry to gather their food stores and didn’t have time to perfect the process.

They were assembling a cache of food that they would later hide for use over the long winter. How they remember where they put all this stuff has always been a mystery to me.  But the fact that they were doing it in late August told me that the summer is truly over and it’s time for all mammals, including me, to make preparation for six months of Northern Wisconsin winter.

That thought was a rude awakening. Upon moving here I learned of two popular local axiom’s used to describe Northern Wisconsin weather. If you don’t like the weather here, just wait ten minutes. And the second axiom, Northern Wisconsin has two seasons – winter and July. So the end of summer is a big deal here. And that evening, those red squirrels were an early, painful, reminder that the “big deal” was about to happen.

28

Summers End in the Northwoods

I haven’t lived in Wisconsin’s Northwoods all my life. I actually grew up in Central Illinois, attended college at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh, raised a family and pursued a career in Central Wisconsin near Stevens Point, and then retired to the Northwoods.

The point is that the Northwoods environment and climate are still new to me. And hardly a day goes by when I don’t learn something about that environment and climate that truly amazes me.

For example, we have four seasons here. Instead of gradual change from one season to the other, it will go from summer to fall like someone threw a switch. Bam! It’s Fall. Happened overnight. Or Bam! It’s blazing hot and summer. Just like that.

The unprecedented heat wave that gripped the Central USA for so long this summer broke only two weeks ago. In our area, hot humid air was rapidly replaced by cool, dry Canadian air which reaches us once it crosses south across “always frigid” Lake Superior. I heard the weatherman on TV say, “Don’t worry folks. Summer is not over yet. This is just a brief breath of fresh air and then summer temperatures will likely return”. They didn’t. But who’s complaining?

I recall saying to my wife last week that the maple leaves have not started to change color yet. Therefore, that must mean a late or mild winter. That’s good. But then she picked out one tree about six miles south of here on State Highway 182 and said, “Larum’s maple in front of their house has had red leaves for about a week. It’s always the first to change color”. That killed my argument.

Today, I woke up to a thick fog over the lake, 60’s and 98% humidity. I track these things with a La Crosse weather station and all kinds of sensors on the roof of my house. Meteorology is a sideline hobby of mine. My wife, who watches the news (I don’t. Too depressing. Too much bad news), said it was supposed to be hot and humid today. I’ll believe that when I see it. At best, our weather for the last week has been mild and sunny during the day and downright chilly in the evening. Just yesterday, I donned a leather coat and turned the heat on in the car for the 45 minute drive to Minocqua.

So yes, someone flipped a switch in the Northwoods again and now it is fall. I confirmed that this morning while sitting in the front porch swing waiting for the fog to lift. A gentle breeze from the southeast blew the fog away. But it also caused brightly yellow-colored basswood leaves to fall from high in the canopy, of the otherwise green forest, which surrounds my log cabin on the banks of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage.

I must admit that I find the end of another summer to be a bit sad. Summer in the Northwoods is such a pleasant time with long days of delightful weather, endless outdoor recreation, and cool nights filled with the sounds of crickets and the scent of campfires as island campers on the Flowage make dinner.

Labor Day is a couple of days away – the official end of summer. The resorts that border State highway 51 leading south through Minocqua, Hazelhurst, and Tomahawk will host their “end of summer” parties and place signs along the highway that bid farewell to tourists and the season until next year. The hundreds of resorts and tourists shops will close for the winter and the Northwoods will return to being a ghost town during the winter season; habituated only by those of us who live here year round.

That changeover began, if only in my mind, today when I saw the basswood leaves falling to the ground. Winter will bring new inhabitants as the skiers, snowmobilers, and ice fisherman move in. And before you know it, someone will throw a switch again and just that quickly, summer is here once again.

8

Falling Basswood Leaves and Summer’s End

I haven’t lived in Wisconsin’s Northwoods all my life. I actually grew up in Central Illinois, attended college at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh, raised a family and pursued a career in Central Wisconsin near Stevens Point, and then retired to the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

The point is that the Northwoods environment and climate are still new to me. And hardly a day goes by when I don’t learn something about that environment and climate that truly amazes me.

For example, we have four seasons here. Instead of gradual change from one season to the other, it will go from summer to fall like someone threw a switch. Bam! It’s Fall. Happened overnight. Or Bam! It’s blazing hot and summer. Just like that.

The unprecedented heat wave that gripped the Central USA for so long this summer broke only two weeks ago. In our area, hot humid air was rapidly replaced by cool, dry Canadian air which reaches us once it crosses south across Lake Superior’s vast waters, which never warm. I heard the weatherman on TV say, “Don’t worry folks. Summer is not over yet. This is just a brief breath of fresh air and then summer temperatures will likely return. They didn’t. But who’s complaining?

I recall saying to my wife last week that the maple leaves have not started to change color yet. Therefore, that must mean a late or mild winter. That’s good. But then she picked out one tree about six miles south of here on State Highway 182 and said, “the maple in front of the Larum’s house has had red leaves for about a week. It’s always the first tree to change color”. That killed my argument.

Today, I woke up to a thick fog over the lake, 60 degrees and 98% humidity. I track these things with a La Crosse weather station and all kinds of sensors on the roof of the house. Meteorology is a sideline hobby of mine. My wife, who watches the news (I don’t. Too depressing. Too much bad news), said it was supposed to be hot and humid today. I’ll believe that when I see it. At best, our weather for the last week has been mild and sunny during the day and downright chilly in the evening. Just yesterday, I donned a leather coat and turned the heat on in the car for the 45 minute drive to Minocqua.

So yes, someone flipped a switch in the Northwoods again and now it is fall. I confirmed that this morning while sitting in the front porch swing waiting for the fog to lift. A gentle breeze from the southeast blew the fog away. But it also caused brightly yellow colored basswood leaves to fall from high in the canopy, of the otherwise green forest, which surrounds my log cabin on the banks of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage.

I must admit that I find the end of another summer to be a bit sad. Summer in the Northwoods is such a pleasant time with long days of delightful weather, endless outdoor recreation, and cool nights filled with the sounds of crickets, and the scent of campfires as island campers on the Flowage prepare their dinner.

Labor Day is a couple of days away – the official end of summer. The resorts that border State highway 51 leading south through Minocqua, Hazelhurst, and Tomahawk will host their “end of summer” parties and place signs along the highway that bid farewell to tourists and the season until next year. The hundreds of resorts and tourist’s shops will close for the winter and the Northwoods will return to being a ghost town during the winter season; inhabited only by those of us who live here year round.

That changeover began, if only in my mind, today when I saw the basswood leaves falling to the ground. Winter will bring new inhabitants as the skiers, snowmobilers, and ice fisherman move in, and the boaters, campers, and hikers move out. And before you know it, someone will throw a switch again and just that quickly, summer is here once again.

60

Another Day on the Flowage – a short story

Grill and Spotting Scope

Dinner time on the shores of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. Tonight it’s 32 warm degrees outside. So we decided to cook up some bratwurst on the outdoor grill on our deck.

After clearing a path to the grill through two feet of accumulated snow, the grill was lit and we decided to check out the happenings on the Flowage while the grill warmed up to cooking temperature. Our house is built into the side of a hill overlooking the Horseshoe/Townline portion of the 14,000 acre Flowage. So we have a vantage point. We have a tripod-mounted, high-power spotting scope sitting in front of the great room patio doors on the lake side at all times. We can see virtually anything on the lake within a mile of our house. The snowmobile trail from Springstead to Mercer runs right down the opposite shoreline on the ice. So we can see the steady procession of sleds quite easily.

Tonight, a lone ice fisherman was attempting to remove his ice fishing shack from the lake. He seemed to be having great difficulty no matter which direction he went. Since I knew the answer to getting off the lake, I found this to be pretty interesting. The easiest route out of Horseshoe/Townline Lakes is to drive to the nearby snowmobile trail that traverses the ice from one end of the lake to the other, and use the trail, since it leads to the Springstead boat landing, where you can drive out. The trail is packed snow. Our fisherman was attempting to drive through eighteen inches of powder. Worse yet, he was attempting to find a place to get off on the western shore, which is where you will find the deepest snow, due to winds. If he wasn’t a mile away, I would have gladly pointed this out.

My wife had little interest in this. Her focus was on the dinner that I was preparing. So we did a sanity check (which we often do). “Mary, where else can you grill brats on your deck in winter while having the advantage of watching virtually everything that moves on the lake (an expanse of about 1 mile west then four miles north to south)!? She wasn’t impressed. If I was watching a wolf pack on the ice, or even coyotes or an occasional bear, she would have taken more interest. But this was just a lone fisherman.

Now I apologize for this post because it doesn’t adhere to the first rule for blogging – provide useful information that will benefit the reader; something that they can use. And there are only a couple of things that you can use from this post. First, if you need to pull an ice shack off the lake with a 4×4 truck, don’t drive to the western shore. That’s where you’ll find the deepest snow, due to prevailing NW winds in winter. If there is a snowmobile trail nearby and on the ice, the snow will be packed and easy to drive on. Head for that; especially when it leads to a well maintained boat landing.

As for the spotting scope and a tripod, if you live on the shoreline of a lake, you should have one. The tripod cost me $29.95 at www.bhphotovideo.com. The spotting scope is a Barska and was on sale for less than $50. It’s a beauty. I found it via a Google search. As I recall, I bought it directly from Barska’s Internet site. What I really like about the tripod is that it came with an extra mounting plate so I can snap out the spotting scope and snap my digital camera into the tripod in about two seconds. The mounting plates are universal; so I leave one on the spotting scope and the other on the camera.

Back to the lone fisherman. When I took the brats off the grill, he had given up heading for the western shore of the lake and was pointed east. Darkness fell and all I could see were his headlights. His truck and the ice shack were not moving.

The truck and shack were still there in the morning. The fisherman slept in the shack and drove off in the morning, leaving the ice shack behind. I drove out there on my sled and left a note suggesting that he use the snowmobile trail and drive off the lake at the boat landing on his next attempt.

I did have the last word with my wife. She found American Idol more interesting than exploring the vast stretches of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage with a spotting scope while cooking brats on the grill. But my attentiveness to what’s going on around me afforded me the opportunity to help the lone fisherman. I find those opportunities more rewarding than watching television.

38

Retire to the Northwoods of Northern Wisconsin? Are You Kidding!?

You wouldn’t think that many folks retire to the tip of Wisconsin. Most folks who are facing retirement look for some place warmer. But I’m retired and I live at the tip of Wisconsin in Iron County. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

You can’t beat the summers in the Northwoods of Northern Wisconsin. It’s common to have less than a dozen days in the 90’s. But you can always count on cool evenings with some being a bit chilly. Who needs AC? With the windows open at night, and the cool night air and the sound of loons calling across the water, what can be better than that? Would I trade that for a hot, sticky night in one of the warmer southern states with the house closed up and AC on all night? Nope.

The winters can be long. But the winter temperatures are not much different than those in Chicago. What makes the Northwoods preferable are the opportunities to fly across the frozen lakes on a snowmobile cutting fresh powder. Or spend a calm, sunny, winter day on the ice catching walleye on a jig pole while listening to he football game on a radio. And to keep fit, the cross country ski trails and four downhill ski resorts are close at hand.

What do you suppose retired folks do in winter in the southern states? How can you do anything in winter without plenty of snow? Outdoor recreation, regardless of season (did I mention that we have all four seasons here instead of the two that they have in warmer climates?) is plentiful in the Northwoods. So if you love the outdoors, like me, you need to include the Northwoods in your retirement plan.

9