Henrys Lake is currently suffering under a bloom (outbreak) of cyanobacteria, a.k.a., blue-green algae.
The signs at Henrys Lake were ominous. Don’t drink, swim or even wash in the lake water. Don’t use it for cooking and definitely keep pets away—all because of large quantities of several different species of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, present in the water.
Once again, we are being humbled by a microscopic organism, one that can cause severe illness, even death, and that, according to the Centers For Disease Control, is untreatable. “Medical care is supportive. There are no known antidotes to cyanotoxins or specific treatments for illnesses caused by cyanobacteria and their toxins.”
Toxic cyanobacterial blooms are a common natural problem in many parts of the world, especially late in summer. Many states and countries believe that the incidence of toxic blooms is increasing as well. This is because in order for cyanobacteria to thrive to bloom stage, a source of nutrients is needed. As we continue to add more and more nitrogen and phosphorus-based contaminants to our waters, the likelihood of a toxic bloom increases.
Cyanobacteria are prokaryotes, lacking a definite cell nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. They typically reproduce by transverse binary fission, an asexual reproduction where the body duplicates its DNA and then divides in half, each new organism getting half, or one copy of, the DNA. They are among the simplest living things on the planet. The reason they were classified for many years as algae is the fact that they contain chlorophyll (a) and produce their own food.
Lest we jump to the conclusion that we should search for ways to rid the world of this natural hazard; it might be useful to review some of the other aspects of cyanobacteria and its place of honor on this planet.
Back when the planet was young, very young, cyanobacteria were some of the first organisms. Ancient cyanobacteria developed about three billion years ago as the first microorganisms capable of using solar energy to turn carbon dioxide into sustenance and oxygen via photosynthesis. They covered much of the Earth and were likely responsible for producing most of the oxygen that the rest of us find so necessary now. Plants may keep that cycle going, but cyanobacteria likely started it.
Cyanobacteria are often still the first organisms to colonize newly formed rock. It is certain species of cyanobacteria that form a mutualistic relationship with fungi to form composite organisms that we call lichens.
Cyanobacteria are also tough. Those colorful rings that we see in the bottoms of thermal pools at Yellowstone National Park? They are cyanobacteria, living in water as hot as 175 degrees Fahrenheit. At the other end of the extreme, they can live at the bottom of lakes covered in almost 20 feet of ice. The only places that cyanobacteria don’t thrive are dark—most need sunlight for photosynthesis.
The health warnings posted at Henrys Lake should be taken very seriously though. The list of harmful substances produced by a bloom of cyanobacteria reads like an inventory from a biological warfare center. It should be noted that these toxins cannot be filtered out, nor can they be destroyed by boiling. In fact, boiling causes the cells of the microscopic cyanobacteria to burst, releasing more toxins.
A cyanobacterial bloom may impact our recreation, but it can be far worse for wildlife. Fish, fowl, reptiles, amphibians and mammals are all susceptible to the same toxins we are, yet they can’t read the signs and a bloom causes many deaths.
Toxic cyanobacterial blooms are a sign that we have upset the balance in the body of water. The real solution is to find the sources of nitrogen and phosphorus and eliminate them. Let’s not blame a tiny little organism for taking advantage of our excess.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho