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By Paul A. DiSegna | Real Estate Pro in Rhode Island
  • Bees and Butterflies among Pollinators in Decline

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Rhode Island, Parks & Recreation in Rhode Island, Going Green in Rhode Island  |  June 13, 2011 2:12 PM  |  735 views  |  No comments


    By Kathy Van MullekomPrint Article Print Article

    RISMedia, June 13, 2011—(MCT)—The troubled lives of honeybees get a lot of media attention. Yet, many other pollinators are in serious trouble, according to Eric Mader, assistant pollinator program director with The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

    “In some cases, their fates are potentially worse,” he says.

    “For example, a number of our roughly 50 native bumblebee species are in precipitous decline, with a couple of species likely having gone extinct in recent years, and a few other possibly teetering on the brink of extinction.

    “Similarly, the once ubiquitous monarch butterfly has declined to some of the lowest population levels ever documented since scientists first began tracking their numbers in the 1970s.

    “While the monarch butterfly is not going to become extinct anytime soon, the mass annual migration of monarchs across North America is dwindling, and leaving our experience of the natural world poorer as a consequence.”

    These alarming declines in pollinators motivated the society, founded in 1971 and named after the extinct Xerces blue butterfly, to author the just-released book, Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies. The 384-page, softback book features chapters that cover why you should care about pollinators, biology of pollination, threats to pollinators and how you can help pollinators.

    “The book, while ostensibly ‘about native pollinators’ is really a vehicle intended to reconnect people to the greater ecology of the world around them,” says Mader.

    Which is why it’s written in an easy-to-read manner for everyday people. Simple garden designs are outlined for residential gardens, school and office sites, roadside plantings, riparian buffers and field-like habitats. Its many full-color photographs and illustrations offer appeal to school age children.

    Chapters in the back of the book profile native pollen and nectar plants for all planting regions and suggest host plants for the caterpillars that morph into butterflies.

    Why care about pollinators?

    Even if you have no green thumb, these tiny creatures have a profound impact on your daily life because more than a third of our food supply relies on the plants they pollinate.

    “We all eat food produced by pollinators, whether it is insect-pollinated fruits or vegetables, or even meat or dairy products produced by animals that are fed insect-pollinated forage crops like alfalfa or clover,” says Mader.

    “Pollinators contribute to higher cotton yields, which impact the prices of our clothing, and pollinators produce a number of oilseed crops like canola, which are increasingly being used for energy.”

    Importantly, pollinators are also central to biodiversity of the natural world by helping native plants reproduce, producing fruits and seeds that feed other wildlife such as songbirds and grizzly bears.

    Our roughly 4,000 species of native bees, as a group, are overlooked, according to Mader. Many people assume the honeybee is native to North America, but, in fact, it was first imported by Europeans in the 1600s.

    “Our native bees represent an amazing diversity of species,” he says.

    “They range from large bumblebees that form social colonies of a single queen and her daughter-workers, to tiny metallic blue or green sweat bees that excavate nests in the ground and live solitary lives, laying few eggs on a pollen provision and not living long enough to see their offspring hatch.”

    These native bees have complex life cycles. Some nest inside snail shells, some construct elaborate origami-like nests out of carefully folded leaf pieces. And, they have cozy relationships with specific native plants, emerging for only a few weeks each year when their preferred wildlife blooms.

    And, contrary to popular belief, most of our native bees are gentle creatures that do not sting.

    “If fact, a number of our native bees have stingers too weak to even penetrate human skin,” he says.

    How you can help pollinators?

    Pollinators thrive in landscapes with weedy, slightly overgrown gardens and big spreading patches of wildflowers.

    No yard or farm? You help pollinators when you plant wildflowers in containers on a small balcony.

    “Pollinator conservation in some settings can be as simple as putting away the mower and planting wildflowers in your lawn,” says Mader.

    “Especially if you include a diversity of native flowering plants in your landscape so there is a succession of different species blooming throughout the year. By including a diversity of native flowering plants, you also support a diversity of different types of pollinators.

    Aside from flowers, pollinators need refuge from pesticides, and messy areas of twigs, brush piles, stones and other natural shelter to lay their eggs and to spend the winter.”

    Pollinator Pointers
    • No matter where you live, the common denominators to pollinator conservation are simple, according to The Xerces Society:
    • Plant flowers, lots of them.
    • Use as many native plant species as possible.
    • Don’t use pesticides.

    RISMedia welcomes your questions and comments. Send your e-mail to:realestatemagazinefeedback@rismedia.com.

    Have you heard about RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN)? RREIN is an elite network of leading real estate companies dedicated to providing consumers and their agents with leading real estate information, and committed to the belief that Information Share Equals Market Share. Having only launched this past June 2010, the RREIN network is already comprised of 40 leading brokerages, which make up 575 offices, 30,000 agents, 167,000 closings and represents over $41 billion in transactions. How can RREIN help your recruiting efforts and differentiate your company today? For more information, email rrein@rismedia.com.

  • 5 Family-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Dallas, Parks & Recreation in Dallas, In My Neighborhood in Dallas  |  April 21, 2011 11:04 AM  |  1,065 views  |  No comments


    By Lynn O'Rourke HayesPrint Article Print Article

    RISMEDIA, April 21, 2011—(MCT)—With the 40th annual Earth Day celebration taking place on Friday, April 22, Americans across the country will be taking part in activities to honor our planet. Here are five family-oriented ways to celebrate Earth Day.

    1. Earth Day festivals. Find an Earth Day celebration in a community near you or in a place you’ve always wanted to visit. For example, in British Columbia’s Comox Valley, the interactive Family Festival will feature live music and dance performances with the theme “Forests, Faeries and Fun.” At the Food Pod, participants will learn about the food system through exhibits on aspects such as growers, preservers and recyclers. The Laundry Project will offer information about energy conservation and the use of biodegradable soap.

    2. Enjoy a farm stay. Get close to the land; plan a farm stay. You’ll wake to a rooster’s call or the sounds of other barnyard animals welcoming the day. Share in the chores or simply observe a lifestyle that’s likely to be quite different from yours. Enjoy fresh eggs for breakfast. Depending on the farm you choose, you can relax in a hammock, ride a horse, pick berries, fish a local stream or read under a shade tree. Animals and activities vary by farm.

    3. National Kids to Parks Day. Join your children in a movement to celebrate our country’s local, state and national parks. Attend the kickoff on May 20th at the National Mall in Washington. Grown-ups are encouraged to take their children and grandchildren to one of nation’s thousands of parks on May 21. Kids can tweet about their participation or send photos that will be posted on a national map. Check the site for park activities and other family-friendly suggestions.

    4. Be an eco-traveler. Costa Rica was an early leader in the ecotourism movement. Visit Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the country’s Osa Peninsula for an intense experience of wildlife and biological diversity. Book your family to be part of the “Twigs, Pigs and Garbage Sustainability Tour,” joining wildcat researchers in their efforts to conserve jaguars and pumas, and exploring nearby tide pools.

    5. Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Monona, Wis. Visit the nature center inspired by Wisconsin naturalist and author Aldo Leopold for outdoor activities designed for busy families. Explore walking trails supported by season-specific backpacks containing exploration guides and an activity kit. Visit the Leopold Interpretive Trail and the touch-table that enables young children to feel natural items such as feathers, bones, fur and rocks. Ask about summer-camp programs just for kids.

    (c) 2011, The Dallas Morning News.

    Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

    RISMedia welcomes your questions and comments. Send your e-mail to:realestatemagazinefeedback@rismedia.com.

    Have you heard about RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN)? RREIN is an elite network of leading real estate companies dedicated to providing consumers and their agents with leading real estate information, and committed to the belief that Information Share Equals Market Share. Having only launched this past June 2010, the RREIN network is already comprised of 40 leading brokerages, which make up 575 offices, 30,000 agents, 167,000 closings and represents over $41 billion in transactions. How can RREIN help your recruiting efforts and differentiate your company today? For more information, email rrein@rismedia.com.

  • Should Your Garden Be a No-Till Zone?

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Kansas City, Parks & Recreation in Kansas City, How To... in Kansas City  |  April 13, 2011 11:53 AM  |  765 views  |  No comments


    By Edward M. EveldPrint Article Print Article

    RISMEDIA, April 13, 2011—(MCT)—”All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first warm day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.” —Helen Hayes

    So go ahead and dig your fingers into the soil. But put down the shovel and park the tiller. Here’s a different plan that will seem almost sacrilegious to backyard gardeners: Don’t till.

    Marty Kraft, a Kansas City, Mo., environmentalist, says it’s better all around — for the soil, your plants, the planet — if you completely refrain from that satisfying habit of turning over the soil in the spring.

    Make holes in your garden bed only for planting, he says.

    “When you till, when you turn the soil over, you expose the organic material, which becomes more vulnerable to bacterial attack,” Kraft says. “You’re breaking down your organic material and sending it up into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.”

    Kraft is on a mission to spread the word about no-till gardening and has launched a website at www.organotill.org.

    It’s going to take some persuasion.

    Ben Sharda, executive director of Kansas City Community Gardens, said the organization doesn’t teach no-till gardening. He’s not opposed to the practice but sees some drawbacks.

    “You can have a great garden both ways,” Sharda says. “People have been tilling for thousands of years, and it works.”

    Kraft knows that the prospect of not tilling, although less work, could also be seen as disappointing: “Just looking at that dark earth feels good, it smells good.”

    But, he says, “You deplete your soil in the process. Some people say tilling makes as much sense as if we threw our cities in a blender every year and rebuilt them.”

    While fans of garden tilling say that turning over the soil loosens it, which is better for new plants, and breaks the weed and insect cycles, no-tillers say those reasons are overblown.

    Tilling can bring buried weed seeds to the surface, making it easier for them to sprout. And mechanically loosening the soil is only temporary, they say. Bad soil will re-harden quickly.

    Gardeners can make real improvements to their soil by not disturbing it and by layering it with mulch and other organic material, such as compost and manure, Kraft says. Water and microorganisms pull the good stuff down into the soil. It’s the natural way soil is improved.

    In organic, no-till gardening, Kraft says, weeds are controlled by covering the garden bed with layers of newspaper and maintaining a thick layer of mulch, such as leaves and straw. Don’t use landscaping bark, he says.

    Sharda worries that no-till can require a lot of attention, more than beginning or even average gardeners may want to devote to their garden bed.

    No-tillers particularly like the nexus of creating locally better soil while sequestering carbon, however small the individual impact.

    “This is an opportunity for us to have an effect on global warming,” Kraft says, “and in the process to learn something about soil biology. You can’t help but become a better gardener.”

    (c) 2011, The Kansas City Star.

    Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

    RISMedia welcomes your questions and comments. Send your e-mail to:realestatemagazinefeedback@rismedia.com.

    Have you heard about RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN)? RREIN is an elite network of leading real estate companies dedicated to providing consumers and their agents with leading real estate information, and committed to the belief that Information Share Equals Market Share. Having only launched this past June 2010, the RREIN network is already comprised of 40 leading brokerages, which make up 575 offices, 30,000 agents, 167,000 closings and represents over $41 billion in transactions. How can RREIN help your recruiting efforts and differentiate your company today? For more information, email rrein@rismedia.com.

  • Opposition mounts to Governor Chafee’s tax proposal

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Rhode Island, Parks & Recreation in Rhode Island, Market Conditions in Rhode Island  |  April 10, 2011 7:32 AM  |  409 views  |  No comments


    01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, April 10, 2011

    By Philip Marcelo

    Journal State House Bureau

    The Rhode Island Association of Realtors used its annual legislative open house at the State House to lobby against Governor Chafee’s sales-tax proposal. Sen. David Bates, R-Barrington, is at left and Rep. Brian Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, is at right.


    The Providence Journal / Connie Grosch

    PROVIDENCE –– One night last week, Susan Arnold stood outside Governor Chafee’s State House office next to a large white cardboard house, sitting atop a table.

    Stickers and Post-Its noted the sorts of services that a homeowner would pay a sales tax on, if a plan proposed by Chafee is approved by the General Assembly: Cleaning the chimney. Hiring a moving service. Hiring a locksmith.

    The governor’s proposal would affect home ownership “in a big way,” said Arnold, CEO of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors. “Homeowners don’t even know what is going to happen once this bill passes,” she says. “It means taxes on their home heating oil. Their water. If a tree falls through their window and they need that window replaced? It’s a six-percent tax. You want your tree pruned? There’s a six percent tax. Your lawn mowed? And on and on and on. You just can’t make it up. It’s unbelievable.”

    The Realtors are not alone in publicly opposing the plan.

    Since Chafee unveiled his proposed $7.6-billion budget for the next fiscal year last month, a wide range of business owners, industry associations and taxpayer groups have come out against his sales-tax proposal, perhaps the most controversial part of the plan.

    Manufacturers, security firms, movie theater operators, the arts community, newspapers, hotel and tourism businesses, private universities and hospitals have been circulating petitions and encouraging their members to contact their legislators.

    House and Senate leaders say they’ve been inundated with e-mails and correspondence, many against Chafee’s proposal.

    The opposition has begun coordinating efforts in advance of two public hearings on the sales-tax plan: a Wednesday House Finance Committee hearing and a Thursday Senate Finance Committee hearing.

    The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and others plan to gather at the State House on the Tuesday before the hearings, and the Rhode Island Trucking Association and other industry groups are offering a free shuttle service to and from Warwick for those who want to testify on Wednesday.

    “It’s going to be one of the largest gatherings of business and nonprofit leaders that we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” said Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. “People are beginning to understand what this will mean to their particular industry and they don’t like it.”

    Chafee proposes a two-tiered sales tax to raise about $165 million in new revenue, helping close a $295-million to $331-million budget gap in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

    He wants to lower the current rate from 7 percent to 6 percent and broaden the tax to include a long list of currently exempt items and services, such as eyeglasses, nonprescription drugs, movie tickets and car repairs. He also proposes a new 1-percent sales tax on a smaller list of currently exempt goods, such as coffins, water for residential use and manufacturing equipment.

    The plan immediately galvanized some of the state’s business and community leaders.

    Veteran State House lobbyist Terrance S. Martiesian, who represents a number of industries affected by the proposal, sees the opposition as a grass-roots movement. “I don’t think people are necessarily running around hiring lobbyists. It’s taking a course of its own. It’s coming from the Rhode Island citizens,” said Martiesian, who represents movie theater operators, the hospitality industry and others.

    Among the first to organize were hair salon owners, beauticians and hairstylists, who formed an opposition group on Facebook and held a forum attended by hundreds.

    Newspapers, including The Journal, have written scathing editorials and run a series of op-ed columns in opposition. In recent weeks, many have also published full-page advertisements denouncing the plan.

    “I see our role as being advocates for these smaller, local businesses that do not have a lobbyist to represent them at the State House and do not have a way to get heard,” says John I. Howell Jr., publisher of the twice-weekly Warwick Beacon and the weekly Cranston Herald.

    Meanwhile, movie theaters have posted petitions in their lobbies, and local chambers of commerce have posted online ones.

    “We just try and inform the customers about the tax increase and let them know that if it goes through, ticket prices will go up,” says Jim Halloran, a manager at Cinemaworld in Lincoln, where an employee has been posted at a table during the busy evening hours giving out information about the tax plan. “I’ve been in theaters about 16 years, and this is the first time I have seen anything like this.”

    And organizers for the Rhode Island Tea Party say the group’s third annual “Tax Day” rally Friday at the State House will target Chafee’s sales-tax plan specifically.

    “You’ve got everything from salon owners to the security industry,” said Colleen Conley, the local Tea Partyfounder. “You’ve got people who are probably very different politically and they are all standing together saying, ‘Wait a second, this is untenable.’ ”

    Richard Licht, director of the state Department of Administration and Chafee’s de-facto spokesman on all things sales tax, is not surprised by the backlash.

    “Yes, I understand the opposition. That you’re a hairdresser and your service was never taxed before and now it will be taxed,” he says. “But that still doesn’t mean it’s not fairer and a better system.”

    Licht remains optimistic taxpayers will ultimately embrace the governor’s budget plan because it balances revenue-raising proposals with budget cuts. He and others point out that the idea of broadening the sales tax has a long history.

    Indeed, talk of lowering and broadening the sales tax has been a sort of annual rite at the State House. But every year, business owners have come out in force and state lawmakers have backed down.

    Labor unions and advocates for low-income people — among the few constituencies likely to stand in support of Chafee’s tax plan — hope this time will be different.

    Kate Brewster, executive director of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College, says her organization favors revenue-generating proposals that help low-income families rather than budget cuts that trim the services they rely on. “If another $165 million is proposed to be cut from this state budget, some of that will come from human services, and if you take away a family’s access to subsidized child-care or health care, their bottom line is going to be much worse than paying more sales tax,” she said.

    Nationally, only one other governor –– Connecticut’s Dan Malloy –– has proposed sales-tax changes that approach Chafee’s wide-ranging plan, according to Michael Mazerov, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit think tank studying policies that affect low- and moderate-income families.

    (Malloy proposes raising Connecticut’s sales tax from 6 to 6.25 percent, and broadening it to include currently exempt items such as car washes, haircuts and non-prescription drugs.)

    Mazerov believes changes in the Ocean State are long overdue. “Rhode Island, in particular, has a very, very narrow sales-tax base relative to other states,” he said.

    Like the Chafee administration, supporters challenge detractors to propose a better solution.

    “The question is: who has a better alternative? If you are against it, what is your alternative and please be specific,” says Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, one of the state’s two largest teachers unions. “We’re well beyond the point where we can both have services and not have a way to pay for them.”

    Kate Brock, of Ocean State Action, says the pro-union advocacy group generally supports the plan, even if it has concerns about some of the items, such as the 1-percent tax on home heating oil. “Would I have liked to have seen more closing of corporate tax loopholes? Of course,” she said. “But this is the option that we have to work with, and we should work to make it better.”

    KEY POINTSWhat new taxes would raise

    The Chafee administration has calculated how much the state would raise from applying a sales tax to goods and services that are currently exempt. Here are the top generators.

    6-percent tax

    $23.3 million: Services to buildings and dwellings (extermination, landscaping, etc.)

    $19 million: Employment agency services

    $18.6 million: Personal-care services (haircuts, weight-loss programs, etc.)

    $18.2 million: Motor vehicle repair, including car washes

    $10 million: Amusement parks, campgrounds and recreational sport centers

    1-percent tax

    $42.2 million: Purchases used for manufacturing, including precious metal bullion

    $10.6 million: Sales to charitable, religious or educational organizations

    $6.6 million: Clothing and footwear

    $2.8 million: Manufacturer’s machinery and equipment

    $2.6 million: Agricultural products for human consumption

    SOURCE: State Department

    of Revenue

    pmarcelo@projo.com

 
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