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Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Missouri Water Conservationist of the Year

In Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring on March 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I must admit that I’m VERY proud of this honor.  Special thanks to my old friend, Marq Mitcham, reporter for the Bastrop (Louisiana) Daily Enterprise for taking the time to call me and interview me for this article:

By Marq Mitcham

March 25. 2013 8:18PM

Former Morehouse Parish resident George Sims was recently named Water Conservationist of the Year for the State of Missouri.

George Sims
PHOTO/ Courtesy photo
George Sims

George Sims was named Missouri’s Water Conservationist of the Year at the Conservation Federation of Missouri’s annual convention in Jefferson City recently.

Sims, who is retired from the City of Bastrop, got involved in the water conversation program shortly after moving from Bastrop to Mansfield, Missouri, with wife Amanda and daughter Susan in 2007.

“We have a stream that runs through our property,” said Sims, who received the Missouri Stream Team Water Quality Monitoring Ambassador Award in 2009. “The water was flowing when we moved here. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is a seasonal stream— most of the time there is no water.”

He soon found out about the Missouri Stream Team program and became participating in cleanups. Strictly a volunteer organization, the Stream Team program has over 4,000 teams and 80,000 individual volunteers statewide.

“When I first moved up here, I heard about the Stream Team program through the Missouri Department of Conservation’s magazine” Sims said. “I started going to Stream Team cleanups. I would drive 50-100 miles and basically canoe downstream with a lot of like-minded people and we would have a barbecue and beer afterwards. It was a lot of fun for me from the start.”

From there, Sims signed up for one of the organization’s eight-hour workshops in the volunteer water quality monitoring program. Upon completion of the course, the state provides members with the necessary equipment for monitoring the physical, biological, and chemical parameters of Missouri’s rivers and streams.

The program has four levels. In the introductory course, students are taught how to identify aquatic macroinvertebrates (spineless creatures that are large enough to be seen without magnification), which are mostly larval insects, and which can serve as indicators of water quality. Levels 1-3 reinforce the introductory training and introduce chemical testing methods. Sims has advanced to Level 3, which includes less than 100 members.

“We learned how to catch bug larva to help measure water quality. Some bugs thrive in pristine waters, just like others thrive in sewage,” Sims said. “We collect bugs, ID them and send the data to the state. The volunteer water quality monitoring program gives you about $500 worth of equipment, and test you periodically to make sure you know what you are doing.”

Funding for the equipment is provided by the state.  “Some years ago, the citizens of Missouri passed a 1/8-cent sales tax for conservation, so they have money to spend,” Sims said. “That’s why Missouri probably has the best statewide conservation program in the country.”

In less than five years, Sims advanced to Level 3.  “Level 3 is pretty tough,” Sims said. “They sent an examiner down from Jefferson City and we spent about four hours together at one of my monitoring sites. I had to catch and ID every bug in front of him, as well as conduct a half-dozen chemical tests, measure the flow of a river and assess streambank conditions.

“Once you get past that, they figure your data is probably about as good as that provided by the professionals from the department,” Sims said.

Sims has “adopted” four sites the area, including three on Bryant Creek which runs through Douglas County where he resides in the Ozark Mountains. In 2010, Sims organized the Bryant Creek Assessment Project, whereby he and his team took on the task of monitoring forty-nine sites, one mile apart, and covering all 42 “floatable miles” of Bryant Creek, down to its confluence with Norfolk Lake in Ozark County.

Last year, Sims also was part of the group completing the Upper White River Monitoring Project.

In addition to his activities with the Steam Team, Sims also participates in the Master Naturalist program. The workshop training lasted for three months, one night a week. “They teach you about everything from streams and plants to mountain lions,” Sims said. “It’s like a nature club.”

In the mid-1990s, Sims was among the founders of a loosely-organized outdoors group in Morehouse Parish. Some longtime Enterprise subscribers may recall reading about the (exaggerated?) adventures of the Bartholomew Society.

“We sort of talked a good game,” Sims laughed. “It was pretty much an old fellas club. We’d get together and go canoeing and have a fish fry afterwards.”

The Bartholomew Society was born when its founding members, former Bastrop High teacher and Enterprise columnist Mickey McLean, the late Frank Tugwell, former Enterprise editor Tim Franklin and Sims paddled down Bayou Bartholomew from Point Pleasant to Ouachita City on a Sunday in August 1995.  They later climbed Driskill Mountain in Bienville Parish. Although it’s summit reaches a modest 535 feet, Mount Driskill is Louisiana’s highest point.

“We climbed Driskill Mountain, 535 feet above sea level, and Mickey made it sound like a real adventure in his column,” Sims said. “The next thing you know, Mickey and Frank started giving out certificates to people — mostly women — making them charter members. Pretty soon, they had given away about 100 certificates.”

Despite rising to his current status as an award-winning conservationist, Sims hasn’t forgotten his humble roots.

“I have my Bartholomew Society flag hanging behind me in my man cave as we speak,” Sims said during a telephone interview for this article.

Mansfield’s most prominent resident of all-time would be proud of the impact that Sims made during his brief time in the town of approximately 1,300.  Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her series of  “Little House” books in Mansfield, which inspired the “Little House on the Prairie,” television series. “Larua Ingalls Wilder and her husband lived almost their entire adult lives in Mansfield and are buried here,” Sims said.

Sims and his family plan to relocate at the end of the school year as Amanda has accepted a teaching position at Lander Valley High School in Landers, Wyoming at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see which projects Sims attacks next.


Welcome to the Popo Agie!!

In Expeditions on March 20, 2013 at 7:54 pm

The Popo Agie Wilderness
Stolen from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pingora Peak rises above Lonesome Lake in the Cirque of the Towers in the Popo Agie Wilderness
Pingora Peak rises above Lonesome Lake in the Cirque of the Towers in the Popo Agie Wilderness
Location Fremont / Sublette counties, Wyoming, USA
Nearest city Lander, WY
Area 101,870 acres
(412 km2)
Established 1984
Governing body U.S. Forest Service

Popo Agie Wilderness (pron.: /pˈpʒə/)[ is located within Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming, United States. The wilderness consists of 101,870 acres (412 km2) on the east side of the continental divide in the Wind River Range. Originally set aside as a primitive area in 1932, in 1984 the Wyoming Wilderness Act was passed securing a more permanent protection status for the wilderness. The wilderness is a part of the 20 million acre (81,000 km2) Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

U.S. Wilderness Areas do not allow motorized or mechanized vehicles, including bicycles. Although camping and fishing are allowed with proper permit, no roads or buildings are constructed and there is also no logging or mining, in compliance with the 1964 Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas within National Forests and Bureau of Land Management areas also allow hunting in season.

The Popo Agie Wilderness is a primarily sub-alpine and alpine region with the minimum elevation being 8,400 feet (2,600 m). Twenty mountains exceed 12,000 feet (3,660 m) with the highest being Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet (4,021 m). Perhaps the most visited area within the wilderness and the entire Wind River Range is the Cirque of the Towers due to the impressive granitic mountains and sheer cliffs which attract climbers from all over the world. Overuse has led to camping restrictions within the wilderness, especially in the proximity of Lonesone Lake which is located in the Cirque of the Towers. The wilderness spans a 25 mile (40 km) section of the southern Wind River Range.

Over 300 lakes and several tributaries of the Wind River are located in the wilderness. Rare reports of wolves have been documented and are considered to be from the Wolf Recovery efforts commenced in the late 20th century in Yellowstone National Park to the north. Additionally, reports of grizzly bears have been documented but they too are rare. Black bears, moose, elk, and pronghorn are the more commonly sighted megafauna. Trumpeter swans, bald eagles, hawks, and falcons inhabit the wilderness, especially near lakes and streams. Eight species and subspecies of trout, including a few found only in the Yellowstone region exist as well. The forest is dominated by lodgepole pine and Douglas fir, Engelmann Spruce, and subalpine fir at higher elevations up to the timberline.

The closest town is Lander, Wyoming. Access into the wilderness from the north via the Wind River Indian Reservation requires obtaining a permit before entering.

A Distribution of Idaho Odonates

In Odonata on March 19, 2013 at 11:40 pm

My friend, Kent Fothergill, moved from Missouri back to Idaho last year. As Kent is probably the most enthusiastic Bug Nerd I know, I decided to try to bring together as much information as I could locate on the odonate (dragonfly and damselfly) fauna of that state. This one’s for you, Kent!

Feel free to use this information in any non-commercial manner that you find helpful. The data is current through April 14, 2013.

Idaho Odonate Distribution

Make Your Own FS1 “Pseudocorpse” Carrion Beetle Trap

In Coleoptera on March 19, 2013 at 11:36 pm

My wife thinks I’m weird. My wife also thinks I have too much time on my hands.

Today, I was e-mailing my friend and Insect Mentor, Kent Fothergill, who’s now living in Idaho. Kent got me interested in beetles a couple of years ago, and I really enjoy studying carrion and dung beetles. I was telling him how I’d taken advantage of the unseasonably warm “tornado weather” here in the Ozarks today by stopping at a rotten deer carcass alongside the road. I picked around through the bones and found quite a few really neat bugs.

Ever since I first saw Gil Grissom in “CSI” a few years ago, I’ve been intrigued by his use of insects to determine how long a human corpse has been, well, a corpse. Thanks to the Miracle of, I’ve even bought several books on the subject, and find them fascinating.

Soooo….I was wondering what sort of beetles I might find on dead bodies during these cold January Ozark days. My deer carcass has just about “returned to dust”, and I’ve been totally unlucky in finding any new roadkill to bring home. I don’t know the guy at the local funeral home well enough to see if he could supply me with any paupers. The books claim that deceased pigs are often used as “stand-ins” for experiments of this nature, but I don’t know any pig farmers, either.

I asked Kent if I could use some “bad” grocery store meat to lure carrion beetles. We both agreed that neither of us was wealthy enough to let ANY meat “go bad” once we’d brought it home. “So,” I say, “could I use the remains of a leftover steak or porkchop, cooked of course, with a bit of meat left on the bone? Would beetles come to cooked meat?”

Kent, modest as always (be SURE to check out his great blog, at, said he had absolutely NO idea. Kent was the guy who sent me instructions on how to make dung beetle traps out of large soda bottles, which I promptly dubbed the “Fothergill Model B Dung Beetle Trap”. Within ten minutes, he’d e-mailed me a modification, which we are proud to call the “Fothergill-Sims Model 1 Pseudocorpse Carrion Beetle Trap (FS1 Pseudocorpse)”.

Here, Gentle Reader, are the complete instructions on building your OWN FS1, complete with illustrations. Enjoy.

1. First I assembled all the materials. It just so happened that I had a cold leftover pork steak in the fridge.

You need a large soda bottle, a piece of wire (I used the wire from a surveyor’s flag), some duct tape, and a little antifreeze. Two cinderblocks, too.

Then I pulled out the pork steak.

Okay, we’re rolling now.

2. Remove excess meat from bait. Under normal circumstances, I rarely leave ANYTHING on the bone; however, this is SCIENCE!

3. Go out to your woodshed. It doesn’t have any wood in it, ’cause you were too shiftless to cut any last summer, but at least it’ll keep the trap out of the weather.

4. Cut off the top of the soda bottle, invert it into the bottom, and tape the edges with duct tape. Pour a bit of the antifreeze into the bottom (this will kill the captured specimens), dig a hole in the dirt floor of the woodshed, and bury the whole affair in the ground, with the rim at groundlevel.

5. Get a wire vegetable rack out of an old refrigerator. If you don’t have an old refrigerator, get the wire rack out of your WIFE’S refrigerator. Tell her somebody stole it.

Wire the porkchop bone to the bottom of the rack, using the wire from the surveyor’s flag.

6. “Okay,” you say, “WHY do we need the wire basket?” Because, Grasshopper, in a few days this bone will be a stinking mess, and will attract all SORTS of animals–coyotes, skunks, weasels, and such.

7. You then turn the basket over, and place it over the trap, with the bone dangling over the opening:

8. NOW, place two cinderblocks on top of the basket, to weight it down. If an animal comes along who’s strong enough to move them, you don’t wanna fool with him, anyway.

Ta-daaaaaaah! Installation is complete. Now, all you’ve got to do is sit back, and let the Bugs Come Rolling In. Ain’t science grand? Patent pending.

Whipping the Beetles Into Line

In Coleoptera on March 19, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Well, since I’m not fabulously wealthy, like Kent Fothergill, who can afford those nifty museum drawers, nor fantastically handy, like Mickey or Skyler McLean, who can BUILD the things, I’ve had my fledgling beetle collection housed in free USPS mailing boxes. (See “Forty-five Cent Insect Collection Boxes” post on this blog). It’s worked out fairly well, but I wanted to add a certain…er…spiffiosity to the collection, without spending a full bag o’ bucks.

While down at my local building supply store, I noticed those short (12″h x 10″w x 10″d) plastic cabinets, each with five drawers, in which nuts and bolts are distributed for sale. Cardboard inserts are normally placed in each drawer to hold each individual nut and/or bolt size, and they seemed like just the thing.

The owner didn’t have any lying around, although he checked thoroughly, and said he’d GIVE me any surplus ones he found (Be sure to buy ALL your building supplies from Mike Roberts, at Mansfield Building Supply!). He did, however, contact his Official Nuts And Bolts Supply Guy, who promised to deliver as many as I wanted, for twenty-five bucks a pop. I wanted THREE.

The plastic cabinet.

The plastic cabinet.

Cost thus far: $75

I then went down to my neighborhood dollar store (I just LOVE Dollar General. You should shop there regularly.) and bought SEVEN sheets of 20″x30″ foam posterboard, at a dollar each. I really only needed five, but figured I’d surely screw something up during the process. $7.45

Cost thus far: $82.45

The cabinets were not EXACTLY as I’d have liked. Each drawer was divided into two sections, front and back, by a short un-removable plastic divider. The front section was 10-3/4″ x 5″, and the back was 10-3/4″ x 5-1/4″. I cut up the posterboard to make fifteen of each size.

I checked out Arnett’s two-volume American Beetles and saw that he had listed 131 families of American beetles. In his American Insects, he claims that twelve of the families “account for approximately 70% of all beetle species. Thus educated, I decided to give each of those twelve species its own half-drawer, since I figured I’d probably catch more of them than the others. I then divided (using a Sharpie pen) the remaining 18 posterboard cutouts into 119 sections, six to some boards and seven to others. I wish I’d noticed that he didn’t consider Cincindelidae to be a separate family, so I could have added another section.

Posterboard cut to size, with family labels attached.

Posterboard cut to size, with family labels attached.

On my computer, I printed out two lists of the species, alphabetized them, and cut out each individual one, as a label for each section drawn on the posterboard. I cut out the second section of labels in blocks of 13 or 14 species, to serve as labels for the drawers.

Cabinet labels, for each drawer.

Cabinet labels, for each drawer.

Glued all the labels here and there. Didn’t count the cost of the Sharpie, nor the glue, nor the scissors, which were just lying around anyway. Total cost: $82.45, including tax.

Moved all the beetles into the drawers, which look substantially better than the cardboard boxes, albeit with a few drawbacks.

Beetles pinned and labeled.

Beetles pinned and labeled.

The fronts of the drawers are open, which might allow insect/environmental damage to the specimens over time. I’d used mothballs in the previous boxes, but don’t know how effective they’d be in the open air.

The drawers do not pull completely out, which means I must actually remove the posterboard bases from the rear half of the drawer if I want to get at the bugs back there.

Before and after.  USPS boxes (top) and plastic cabinetry (below)

Before and after. USPS boxes (top) and plastic cabinetry (below)

In the meantime, I’m being real nice to Kent, so that he’ll leave me his museum drawers, should he (perish the thought!) be run over by a beer truck.


Arnett, Ross H., Jr., American Insects, Second Edition, CRC Press, 2000.

Arnett, Ross H., Jr. & Michael C. Thomas, American Beetles, Volume 1, CRC Press, 2001.

Arnett, Ross H., Jr., Michael C. Thomas, Paul E. Skelley & J. Howard Frank, American Beetles, Volume 2, CRC Press, 2002.

I Carry On With Carrion

In Coleoptera on March 19, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Okay, so I spent some time earlier this month constructing a half-dozen carrion beetle traps, based on an article in a 2004 issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin (Bedick, Ratcliffe, & Higley, 2004). They weren’t too hard to build, even for a hapless sort, although the edges WERE a little raggedy.Between our trip to Montana and Wyoming last week, and the threat of some more coldish weather later this week, I’d figured I’d wait a while before actually baiting them and setting them out.

However…while driving back from town this morning, I noticed a seemingly-fresh-killed squirrel lying in the middle of a county road. Since the recipe for the traps called for “carrion”, I quickly stopped, backed up to the corpse, and poked it a couple of times. A few years ago, for some reason or another, I’d picked up a dead squirrel from the road, only to have it come frantically alive within the confines of my compact truck, much to my dismay.

After checking this one carefully for signs of life, I picked it out of the road, still warm, just as a car topped the hill and came roaring past. This is a small county, and I have the ONLY bright yellow Jeep Wrangler in the area. I’m pretty sure the guy figured I was picking up something to EAT. This is the Ozarks, after all, and I’m sure I’ll see something in the church bulletin about “bringing some canned goods to help out the Sims family, who are obviously starving”.

The instructions in the above-mentioned article mentioned “aging” the carrion for three or more days. I, however, had already obtained a good handful of meat scraps from the local supermarket, which had been hanging outside, FAR from the house, in a plastic bag for a month. Decided I’d use that to bait one trap, and calculated that one squirrel should provide enough bait for three more. Although I normally use deadfall traps with antifreeze in the bottom, to kill any bugs dumb enough to walk in, this particular article was dealing with a rare and endangered beetle, and the traps were designed to catch them alive. Although I usually have no compunctions about sacrificing a few bugs, and I wasn’t REALLY figuring on catching anything endangered, I decided to use this new design, just in case I DID catch one of the rare ones. Then, I could sell them to Brett Ratcliffe for a hundred bucks each I could make a true and lasting Contribution to Science and not violate any federal laws.


Went out to the woodshed, which is the only sheltered area on the place with a dirt floor and dug two postholes about 15″ deep, one at either end of the shed, which is completely devoid of firewood anyway. This left about 3″ of 4″ PVC pipe extending out of the ground. I used the leftover soil to build a little ramp all the way around, up to the lip of the pipe. This is supposed to keep water out.

Then, I baited the first trap with the “carrion meat”, which was REALLY pungent. You cram the bait down into the 3″ pipe, then drop it into the larger pipe, where the smaller “bait pipe” falls to the bottom of the tube. For the second, third, and fourth traps, I “divided” the roadkill squirrel into thirds and used one-third for each trap. Here’s a “before” picture of the squirrel. Fortunately, the “after” picture didn’t come out.

Next time, I’ll use only HALF a squirrel for each trap, since 1/3 seems to slide around in the bait tube quite a bit.

Once the bait tube hits the bottom, I press a circle of hardware cloth, cut to the inner diameter of the large pipe, into place over the short pipe down in the hole. On top of that, I place a similar circle cut from window screening. The idea is to keep the beetles from actually REACHING the bait, becoming stranded on top of the screening. The hardware cloth gives strength, but the holes are too large to effectively exclude bugs.

Since I’m old, and have killed off a LARGE number of braincells from neglect and Riotous Living, I figured I’d forget where the traps were placed, so I put a brilliant-orange surveyor’s flag next to each one, numbered (as you might guess) from “1” to “4”. Now, I just need to check ’em every morning.


Bedick, J. C., Ratcliffe, B. C., & Higley, L. G. (2004). A New Sampling Protocol for the Endangered American Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (Coleoptera: Silphidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin , 58 (1), 57-70.