Almanack Contributor Richard Gast

Richard Gast

Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.


Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Bald Eagle – A National and a New York State Conservation Success Story

adult bald eagle

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states has grown, since 2009, from just over 72,000, including roughly 30,000 breeding pairs, to an estimated 316,700 birds, something Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, recently called, “truly a historic conservation success story.” 

At the start of the 20th century, New York was home to more than 70 nesting pairs of bald eagles and was the wintering ground for several hundred. But by 1960, only one nesting pair remained and a scant few dozen overwintered here. Today however, as a result of protection and active management, New York State is home to more than 426 occupied bald eagle nest sites. (Source: New York Natural Heritage Program; a partnership between the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

4-H Camp Overlook – A Memorable Outdoor Experience

 girl on a zip line  
Would you like to give your child a truly remarkable gift this summer? How about a memorable outdoor experience in an informal and truly unique educational setting; an experience that enhances life-skills, stimulates interest, and challenges his or her abilities through training, education, and play?  

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Smell of Rain 

fog and humidity in the forest
It’s going to rain. Can you smell it?  

Being able to smell rain as it approaches isn’t something imagined. There really can be a distinctly heady aroma in the air before it rains. And it’s a smell that I’ve always found calming. In fact, there are several clean, earthy, strikingly pleasing, yet distinctly different smells that many of us associate with rainfall. They occur before, during, and after showers and storms. And all of them are scientifically identifiable.  

Ozone 

Before it rains; as the wind begins to pick up and the clouds thicken or roll in, you may become aware of a noticeably fresh scent in the air. That sharp, clear aroma is ozone; a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms bonded together (O3) whose name comes from the Greek verb for smell; ozein. It’s the same gas we associate with the layer of our atmosphere that protects us from too much sunlight.

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Saturday, May 1, 2021

Northern New York: Don’t Trash It 

picking up litterNorthern New York is often recognized as a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We’re fortunate enough to call the Adirondack Park, Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the farms and forests of the northern tier home. World-class downhill and cross-country skiing, golf courses, camping, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and rock climbing; trails for hiking, jogging, bicycling, and horseback riding; tennis courts, and opportunities for outdoor and wildlife photography all contribute to the extremely appealing quality of life that many of us have come to take for granted.

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Brood X – The Emergence Has Begun 

molting cicadaBrood X is coming. In fact, by many accounts the invasion has already begun. The emergence of Magicicada septendecim; a species of 17-year periodical cicadas; the largest periodical emergence of insects on Earth.

    Periodical cicadas are large, fat, dark brown, flying insects averaging about 1 1/2 inches in length, with a 3 inch wingspan. Pigmented veins form a noticeable ‘W’ on the outer end of their front wings. Their eyes are bright red.

    Different broods of periodical cicadas emerge at different intervals. Some appear annually, some at 2 and 4 year cycles, others every 13 or every 17 years. According to Jody L. Gangloff-Kaufmann, a Cornell Entomologist working in community (non-agricultural) integrated pest management (IPM), Brood X (broods are labeled with Roman numerals), sometimes referred to as the Great Eastern Brood, “is one of 15 broods of periodical cicadas that appear regularly throughout the eastern United States.” Each one is distinctly different.

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Saturday, April 3, 2021

Ticks: They’re baaaaaaack

attached tick
It’s spring. And, after months of being locked down, people are getting outside again. Just a reminder, though. The longer, warmer days of April are also the start of tick season; the peak of which lasts through August.

    Ticks commonly overwinter by ‘nesting’ in groups; taking refuge under the soil, ground litter, and snow cover which acts as an insulating blanket, sheltering them from the frigid winter temperatures. When warmer weather arrives, they position themselves on vegetation and wait patiently, front legs outstretched, for any warm-blooded ‘host’ to pass by; a behavior known as ‘questing’. When one does, the tick latches on and soon begins taking its next blood meal.

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

It’s Just Coffee. Right?

It’s Just Coffee. Right? 

Coffee may very well be the world’s most widely traded tropical agricultural commodity. It’s certainly one of them. Twenty to twenty-five million families around the world make their living growing coffee. And, by most estimates, more than 2.25-billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day.

If you’re like me, you start your day; every day; with a couple of cups of coffee. (I’m addicted.) I often enjoy my early morning joe seated at the table reading emails and online news, while observing the birds at my feeder station as they come and go. When the weather permits, I like to enjoy my coffee sitting outside, where I often just close my eyes and listen.

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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Support Your Local Maple Syrup Producer as Sugaring Season Begins 

Maple Weekend Canceled Again This Year

Across the North Country, the traditional sugar-making season is underway. Most northern New York maple syrup producers get busy tapping their trees in late February or early March, in preparation for the greatly-anticipated four to six weeks of sap flow generally expected to begin in mid- to late March and continue on into April.

The sugar-making season and the weeks that follow are an extremely important selling period for maple syrup-producing farm-families. Many of them participate in Maple Weekend, an annual event championed by the New York State Maple Producers Association (NYSMPA) and supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Maple Program, as an opportunity for individuals and families to visit one or more of our family-run maple sugaring operations and see, first-hand, how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

For many producers, Maple Weekend marks the start of their annual retail sales. Unfortunately, it appears that, once again, the COVID-19 pandemic will be seriously impacting those sales. Maple Weekend has been canceled again this year.

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Helping deer get the food they need

Including Deer Habitat Management as Part of a Forest Management Plan 

In early fall, deer’s bodies begin converting large amounts of the food that they consume into stored fat and the deer start to put on weight. This occurs regardless of the quality of the nutrition that’s available, but in years when mast trees, such as oaks or beech, have produced an abundance of acorns or nuts, deer will seek out those high-energy foods, often remaining in areas where they can be found and pawing through the snow to get to them.

As the extreme cold sets in and snow accumulates, they’re forced to seek cover, and they become reliant upon that limited supply of stored fat to help carry them through the winter. If the season isn’t too brutally cold and the snow isn’t too deep, and if March brings welcome warmth and milder conditions overall, even deer that have been struggling will, most likely, survive. But, should winter refuse to let up, deer that have already burned through much of their winter fat reserves and can’t find enough food to sustain their weight will probably die.

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Saturday, February 6, 2021

Flag Up! Ice Fishing: Have Fun, Stay Safe 

Very few northern New Yorkers believe that cold weather is a reason to stay indoors. In fact, for most North Country families, winter is fun! For kids, it’s the season of snowballs, snow forts, snowmen, snow sculptures, snow angels, sledding, tobogganing, tubing, and ice skating. And for family activities, there’s snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snowboarding, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, winter hiking, winter camping, winter carnivals, dog sledding, and ice fishing.

 Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. You can even bring the dogs. Think of it as a day at (or should I say on) the lake, a picnic, or a tailgate party. Just bring a grill or a camp stove, some food and your favorite beverages (hot and/or cold), lawn chairs, and a heater or portable fire pit. A tent is optional.

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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Hunger: A Growing Problem During the Pandemic 

food bankFood Security. It’s a term we hear a lot these days. But defining food security can be difficult. There are literally hundreds of definitions and an even greater number of food security indicators. As defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), food security is “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” More precise definitions include references to food preferences, dietary needs, safety, etc.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Bobcats: Shy, nocturnal and successful 

In the weeks before Christmas, friends of a friend told me about a bobcat sighting they had, while hiking on a trail in southern Essex County. And, not long after that, a very dear friend of mine who lives in the same area sent me a couple of photographs she’d taken of a mound and scratch marks she’d discovered in her yard. She told me that she’d also found what appeared to be claw marks on a nearby tree trunk. A bit of research confirmed that both were signs of a bobcat.

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Using Energy Conservation and Efficiency Saves Money, Resources 

When I ask people what they think are the two cheapest, cleanest, safest, most environmentally friendly, and most reliable energy technologies available today, the answer I receive is almost always wind and solar. But the correct answers; conservation and efficiency; have nothing to do with generating electricity. And the first step to utilizing these technologies is to commit, individually and collectively, to making a coherent and lasting reduction in our consumption of energy.

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Under the mistletoe

What is Mistletoe? 

A mistletoe is a flowering plant (angiosperm) which, although capable of growing independently, is almost always parasitic or, more specifically, partially or hemi-parasitic. Mistletoes grow on the branches of host trees and shrubs, sending out roots that tap into their hosts’ vascular systems, which they then rely on for uptake of water, mineral nutrients and, to some extent, carbohydrates. It’s interesting to note that the word mistletoe translates from its Anglo-Saxon origin as dung on a twig; derived from the ancient belief that the plants grew from bird droppings. Actually, they grow from seeds found in the bird droppings.

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Monday, November 30, 2020

Shop Local and Support Small Business During the Holiday Season and Throughout the Year 

Why Shop Local? 

   For generations, small businesses were the principal employers in every North Country community. They were an economic engine; bringing in money from local, out-of-area, and international consumers. They employed local workers, who in turn spent money in the local region. And they supplied local communities with tax funds that were used to grow even more economic opportunity.

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