3 ways you can save the Earth in Alabama this Fall 2021—Part 1

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AWW
Alabama Water Watch volunteers paddle to water testing destinations in June 2019. Photo via Alabama Water Watch

Do you love nature, the outdoors, forests, wildlife, rivers, clean air and clean water?  Want to make a difference?  

We do.

Just in time for Fall 2021, we have compiled a list of ways you can personally help protect our little bit of planet Earth right here in Alabama. Join us. It’s actually quite easy. 

The Series 

TNC Tree planting
Tree planting at East Lake Park on November 16, 2019. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Back in 1990, there was a bestselling 90+ page book published right before the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day titled 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth.

It was a “handbook” for budding nature-lovers and conservationists. 

In lieu of a book, we talked to local educators, arborists, birders, scientists, waterkeepers and people from all walks of life, about ways Alabamians can make a difference—“save the planet”—especially in the Fall.

Instead of 50 items, we chose nine in total, three for each installment in the series.

For this edition, we will examine:

  • How to organize and join a litter cleanup in your community
  • How to become an Alabama Water Watcher
  • How to plant a tree

Let’s begin.

Clean Up Your Community

Cleanup
Volunteers picking up litter in downtown Birmingham. Photo via Black Warrior Riverkeeper

Katie Fagan with Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a rock star. 

Over the past 11 months, Katie has helped organize 50 litter cleanups in the Black Warrior watershed, collected 18,000 pounds of garbage and enlisted 400-500 volunteers.

“Litter cleanups are important because they’re a way for us to take care of our community for both the people and the environment within it,” she told us.

How to Organize a Litter Cleanup

Cleanup
Black Warrior Riverkeeper organized cleanup. Photo via Black Warrior Riverkeeper

According to Katie, anyone can organize a cleanup in their neighborhood, local park or streambank. Here are her tips:

1. Pick a Spot

Find a place that could use a cleanup and is easy for you to access. You may need to get permission for the cleanup, especially if it is on private land. This can also be a good way to get additional support for your cleanup. 

2. Pick a Time 

 Pick a time that works well for your group and the weather (be especially mindful of the heat).

3. Gather Supplies

Thankfully you don’t need many supplies beyond trash bags and gloves                       (gardening gloves work great). You may also want litter grabbers and safety vests. In the City of Birmingham and the metro area, Keep Birmingham Beautiful and AL PALS both provide supplies and support to groups that want to do a cleanup.

4. Dispose of Trash

Citizens of Birmingham can dispose of waste at any of the four city landfills free of charge or contact public works about having them pick up the trash you collect. Any recyclables that you collect can be dropped off at  Birmingham Recycling & Recovery or UAB’s Recycling Center

5. Volunteer

Of course if you don’t want to organize a cleanup—join one. September-December is litter cleanup season in Alabama. Statewide, we highly recommend joining the Alabama Coastal Cleanup which is scheduled for September 18th.

Birmingham Cleanup
Birmingham Cleanup in Druid Hills, July 2021. Photo via Birmingham City Council Facebook page

Other groups that you can assist:

Watching Our Rivers, Lakes and Streams

How important are Alabama’s rivers, lakes and streams? Just look at the state seal.

Great Seal Alabama
Alabama’s Great Seal at the front entrance of the National Cathedral – photo via Pat Byington

Another fun fact about our state’s waters—10% of all freshwater that flows through the continental U.S. goes through the Yellowhammer State. 

For nearly 30 years, a network of volunteers has monitored the health of our precious resource—water. The organization?  Alabama Water Watch (AWW).

AWW
Alabama Water Watch training at the Tuskegee National Forest in 2020. Photo via Alabama Water Watch

Recently, I caught up with Mona Dominguez, the group’s Director. 

As you can imagine, monitoring Alabama waters is a massive undertaking. According to Mona, AWW has gathered 101,000 data records in nearly three decades. Other numbers:

  • Annually, AWW monitors 186 water bodies at 350 sites statewide
  • Between 250-300 trained monitors turned in water quality data over the past year
  • Since 1992, AWW has trained 8600 Alabamians on how to monitor our lakes, rivers and streams

Why do citizens join AWW?

“One of the biggest reasons people become a water watcher is because it’s a great way to know where we have problems in our local watershed,” added Dominguez . “ Our state agencies, or municipalities, can only monitor so much. Thankfully, if volunteer monitors go through a program like Alabama Waterwatch, they can collect really good data. That way, they know first-hand what’s going on with their watershed. They can know if the place their grandkids swim is not in great shape or maybe even a threat to their health.”

Becoming a Water Watcher

AWW
Photo via Alabama Water Watch

How do you join the Water Watcher Ranks? It does take a little course work and a commitment to consistently monitor a place. 

Here are the steps:

  • Get Certified as a Volunteer Water Monitor by completing AWW Training for Water Chemistry Monitoring, Bacteriological Monitoring, or Stream Biomonitoring.
  • Acquire monitoring materials—AWW will work with you on this. 
  • Select your monitoring sites. AWW does have special projects focused on specific water quality issues. For example, currently, AWW is partnering with the Forest Service to promote volunteer water monitoring in National Forests in Alabama. There is an opportunity to get involved this Fall. Learn more HERE.
  • Educators can join our 4-H AWW Program and teach students about aquatic science and water monitoring. They will be teaching the Alabama Rivers Educator workshop at Cheaha State Park on Oct. 2. Registration is open now. 

You will find upcoming training opportunities as well as other AWW webinars and learning opportunities on the AWW Events page.

AWW
Alabama Water Watch Volunteers conducting stream biomonitoring. Photo via Alabama Watch Watch

One last bit of info. You can support the Alabama Water Watch volunteer movement by becoming a donor to the AWW Association

Got additional questions? Here is a link to the AWW main website

People are welcome to contact them at awwprog@auburn.edu or 1-888-844-4785

Create Your Own Forest

East Lake
Tree planting at East Lake Park on November 16, 2019. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Remember the Lorax’s famous declaration from Dr. Seus’ book? “I speak for the trees!”

Even though he doesn’t have the Seus-like long stringy hair and beard, in Birmingham, we have our own “Lorax” — Henry Hughes.

While working at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Hughes established the Centennial Trees Project. In a nutshell..(ha!)..Hughes collected seeds from trees that were identified as having descended from the original forests in Birmingham. Once they were discovered in places like Oak Mountain State Park, Homewood Forest Preserve, George Ward Park and Avondale Park, he propagated them, and with the help of volunteers in the community, planted them.

Avondale
Entrance to Avondale Park. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

“The Centennial trees are as iconic to the Birmingham landscape as its late 19th century and  early 20th century architecture,” said Hughes. “These trees go with those buildings, and they are basically emblematic of Birmingham.”

If you want to make a difference this Fall, plant not just one tree, plant several. Here is how.

Planting Your Trees

East Lake
neighbor and supporters of historic East Lake Park planted 75 trees on Saturday morning, November 16, as part of a urban forest restoration program

According to Hughes, mid-October to mid-November is the best time to plant trees in Alabama.

“If you plant a tree in October, usually the temperatures are cool enough that the tree will survive for a few weeks until it gets rain,” he said. “Planting in the fall is really important because you get maximum root growth during the month of November.”

It is very hard to find Centennial seedlings, so Henry recommends these five native trees to plant in Birmingham and Central Alabama.

  • White Oak: This native tops the list because it is readily available at local nurseries and it grows in both dry and moist soils. Want a different kind of oak? Try the Chestnut Oak. Unfortunately, they are harder to find at garden shops.
  • Black Gum: This particular tree does well in urban landscapes and is fairly tolerant of poor soils. The tree is gorgeous. “It is good for both the Auburn and Alabama fans.” Hughes said with a smile.”You get orange and maroon leaves, for those whose house is divided.”
  • Longleaf Pine: Once the predominant forest in Alabama, only 3% of our forests today are longleaf. There are still a few in Homewood, Mountain Brook and Oak Mountain State Park.
  • Hornbeam or Hop-Hornbeam : If you are looking for a shade tree that is something other than a dogwood, try these. They are disease resistant and are being used more often in the landscape business.

“What is needed is for people to plant trees, especially native trees, wherever there is enough soil and space for them to grow. Trees planted in groves do better than isolated trees and when they are not surrounded by turf,” Hughes advised.

Here is an example.

Grove of Centennial trees planted in Homewood – 2016.

Tree
A grove of Centennial trees planted in Homewood in 2016. Photo via Henry Hughes

Same place in 2021.

trees
Grove of Homewood Centennial trees 2021. Photo via Henry Hughes

Looking for more readily available long-lived native trees to plant:

American beech

Yellow-poplar

Sycamore

Loblolly pine

Southern catalpa

Eastern red-cedar

Tree Planting Resources

Need resources on how to properly plant trees? The library at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is one of the finest in the country. Also, contact the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the University of Alabama Arboretum..

What’s Next

Coming up? Part two in our series on saving the Earth in Alabama include ways to grow  native plants, and build trails and adopt parks.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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