Be The Difference

Show Notes

This week on The Average Conservationist Podcast, Marcus revisits a recent episode with Walter Piper. The work that Walter and his team are doing to study the decline of Loons in the upper midwest is paramount for the long term success of the species. During this conversation, Walter talks about the work he has been doing for the past 20 years and how you can help him and his team continue their research and help come up with viable solutions to make sure the decline can be mitigated as much as possible. Find out all about the work that is being done and how you can help out at

Show Transcript

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Walter Piper: All

Marcus Ewing: right, happy Wednesday everyone. Welcome back to the Average Conservationist Podcast, and I'm your host, Marcus Shing. Okay, so today I'm gonna do something, uh, a little bit different, I suppose. Um, and not something that, uh, I think that I've done, uh, in the almost three years, uh, that, that I've had the opportunity, uh, to do this podcast.

But there was an episode not too long ago, uh, maybe four or five weeks ago, uh, with Walter Piper, [00:02:00] uh, and we discussed, uh, the loons, um, specifically in kind of the upper Midwest. And the, the goal of that podcast really was to have Walter, uh, be able to. Talk about the work that he and his team are doing, uh, in terms of research, uh, and studies, uh, of the, of the loon.

And also, uh, because of, um, some loss funding. Uh, try to, um, you know, through, uh, the Loon project, um, website tried to help raise some money so that going forward into the future, that Walter, uh, the project that Walter is, is currently working on, um, was fully funded, uh, as best as possible since, uh, as I mentioned, losing that funding.

And I don't know that we really did, um, well, no, let me, let me back up there. [00:03:00] I wanna make sure that we're doing everything that we can for a species as great as the loon and something that is, uh, you know, so iconic, uh, to so many, especially, um, in the Midwest and the upper Midwest. And, and really all over.

Uh, I've had a few guests, um, in the past, uh, drew Young Dyke for example, who we, we had a very long discussion, uh, about loons, and it's, it's one of those things that, you know, I got to thinking about it and I didn't have a guest scheduled for this week. And I thought, yeah, I can do one or two things. I can sit here, uh, and talk at you guys for, you know, half hour, 40 minutes, whatever, and possibly talk about some stuff that I've talked about in the past or, you know, hot button or, or you know, Conservation issues or topics that are, you know, are, are fairly relevant right now, or I can try to do some good by re-releasing, uh, the [00:04:00] episode that, uh, I had a chance to do with Walter.

And maybe you heard it the first time around and if you did, uh, I'm gonna apologize right off the bat, uh, cuz maybe you were expecting something new this week. Um, but if you didn't get a chance to listen to it the first time around, uh, now is a great opportunity to go back or to, for the first time, I guess, listen to the episode and get a better understanding of what Walter and his team are doing, um, the results that they are seeing.

Uh, and then also ways that you guys can donate and make sure that the, the funding is there, uh, it's necessary. Um, you know, Walter talks about in the episode how he runs a, uh, a very, you know, tight. Budget, tight ship. Um, when it comes to, to dollars and cents that are being put into it, um, he has a lot of volunteer, uh, researchers that are on there in order to, you know, pay for some of their meals or to pay for, uh, the necessary equipment, [00:05:00] um, so that they can check these boxes and things like nesting boxes, uh, and things like that.

Um, you know, this is where a lot of that funding is going to. Um, so I, I highly encourage you guys, if you didn't get a chance to check it out the first time, listen to it this time, um, and all the details, uh, about where you can donate, where you can give back, how you can help be part of the solution going forward.

All of that. Uh, Walter touches on, um, I think towards the end of the episode, so, I hope you guys really enjoyed this one. Uh, it was a conversation that I really enjoyed with Walter, uh, when we did have a chance to, to speak and, and hopefully we can kind of help push him over the edge here. Um, after all of you, great supporters and listeners get a chance to listen to it.

So episode 1 48, uh, with Walter Piper. Enjoy everyone. All right, Walter Piper, welcome to the podcast, sir, how are

Walter Piper: you today? I'm good. I'm good. How are you?

Marcus Ewing: I'm doing well, thanks. I'm glad that, uh, we got to chat for a few minutes [00:06:00] and, and talk baseball and, and things like that and some, uh, some mutual, uh, some players that we find a mutual interest in and admiration for.

So it's always nice to, to have kind of that precursor conversation and, and find a little common ground before actually starting to record here. Yeah, absolutely. So, Walter, we, um, our friends over at 2% for conservation kind of put us in touch with one another, um, about a project that you've, you're currently working on, you've been working on, um, and one that's kind of in a critical state.

And we thought it would be a great idea to, to get you on here, uh, to share the work that you're doing and hopefully try to help push this, this project that you've been working on, um, across the finish line. So, to kind of kick things off here, Walter, tell us, uh, a little bit about yourself and then we'll kind of, we will get into the, the project that you're working on as well.

Okay, great.

Walter Piper: Um, well, I'm a professor of biology at, uh, Chapman University in Orange, California, and I've been here since, uh, 1999. I always [00:07:00] say I've been here since the last millennium, just to make it sound like it sound really impressive. But, uh, since 99 and actually even before that, I was studying loons in Wisconsin and, uh, started in 1993 in, in our study area in Wisconsin, in the Rhinelander Minocqua area.

Um, and, uh, I'm a, I'm trained as a behavioral ecologist and, and that is to say I study territorial behavior, aggressive behavior and, and mostly of birds. And so I was going along merrily along and studying loons and, and you know, they're wonderful birds and much loved birds, um, in the north country. And, um, noticed.

Uh, sorry, I'm, I'm, I'm getting off track here, I guess. No, you're good already. You're good. But, uh, but I noticed in, in about, um, you know, I guess four or five years ago, it occurred to me when we captured them to mark them each year that, uh, the chicks were not as heavy. They were not attaining lar as large mass as they had in [00:08:00] previous years.

And so I got to be worried about that. And also it seemed like there were fewer two chick broods. They either have one or two chicks. And, uh, so I, um, I thought to myself, well, I better analyze this. Statistically, it's, I, I'm not a conservationist by training, but everyone's a conservationist if they have to be.

Right? Absolutely. So, uh, and loons, uh, you know, when you love loons, uh, and study them the way I do, you feel like you, you, you want to give something back and, um, you don't want lo you don't want your study animal to, to, to disappear. So I did an analysis, uh, several analyses, uh, three or four years ago and published a paper showing that, uh, the loons really are declining.

They're fewer two chicks broods, that they're not, that the chicks really truly don't weigh as much. They're about, they're down by more than 10% if you adjust for age, uh, in terms of their mass. Uh, their reproductive success, by any measure is way down. And their whole up population size has declined by 22% in [00:09:00] our study area, which is an alarming number.

I mean, that's a, that's a big number. It means almost a quarter of all the birds have, have disappeared and, um, especially the birds in. The, the floaters, the young adults, before they've ever reached, uh, they've, they've settled on territories. Those birds are disappearing. So, so I just, uh, got very worried about them and, um, started to turn my attention to, okay, what, what, what's going on?

What's the problem? How can we potentially find out why the decline is occurring and how we can fix it? So now there's a very much of a con conservation focus to my work.

Marcus Ewing: So what was it that even made you kind of look at the wound in the first place? I mean, uh, you know, obviously being, you know, a professor of biology, I mean, it's.

Without making a a, a terrible joke here. I mean, it, it kind of is in your DNA to Yeah. You know, uh, you know, see problems or, or assess situations, um, you know, from a biological standpoint. But, [00:10:00] you know, you're, you're at Chapman University, you're, you know, in Southern California. Yeah. In the loo, you know, predominantly is, and I don't wanna misspeak to, to say, oh, there's loons everywhere.

But, you know, predominantly, you know, in the, in the northern Midwest, uh, I mean, I'm, you know, here in Michigan, I mean, loons are one of those things that I, I grew up, you know, the very distinct calling sound of a loon, you know, seeing them dive and then, you know, 30 seconds later they pop back up, you know?

Yeah. 30, 40, 50 yards, you know, down the lake or something like that. It's just, it's a very iconic sound, uh, and bird for, for a lot of us here. So what, what drew your attention to that in the first place?

Walter Piper: Well, Um, I really, it was similar to your experience, Marcus, in that when I was a child, I, we had a, um, still have a, a, a, a string of rustic cabins way up in, in Ontario, Canada.

And, uh, you know, as, as long as I can remember, um, we heard loons cries echo across the water Yeah. On Lake Toma [00:11:00] and we way up there north of North Bay, Ontario, and, uh, and, and like you say, dive at, and then they, you know, they disa vanish under the water. Like where did they come up? Of course, when you're a kid, you know, like, whoa, let's try to find it.

And, uh, you know, it'd come, come up 200 yards away and like, it's just a magical creature. And of course, when you got lucky enough to get close to them, they're, they're this just strikingly gorgeous animal as well, and really interesting quirky behaviors that they have. So, so I got fascinated with 'em at an early age, but, but really if you could pick a bird.

That's, or an animal, I guess that's hard to study that you might not even want to study. It would be a, an aquatic diving bird that's hard to approach closely. And so really they're the worst study animal in some ways to, to study. Um, except that, um, you know, about 30 years ago, some folks developed a technique for capturing them with efficiently going out in motorboats when they have chicks.

And you can, you can sometimes [00:12:00] capture the adults and the chicks. And so, um, I got into them actually, I was a postdoc at IU in Indiana University in Bloomington. And, uh, when somebody learned, I, I was up in, in, uh, in the upper peninsula actually at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. Okay. Uh, in the up, um, studying white throated sparrows.

When Dave Evers, this fellow who continues to study loons, uh, figured out how to. How to catch. He's the one really who kind of improved the technique for catching loons and, uh, at night by just you, you're really just spotlighting them at night. But, uh, it's a, it's an effective and safe, uh, technique. And it's a technique that allows you to catch and mark, um, a lot of birds fairly efficiently.

And I mean, it's, marking an animal is, is a profound thing. Being able to catch and mark an individual cuz then suddenly these, these animals that were otherwise impossible to tell apart, you can't tell one from the other. Right? Even though they're strikingly plumage, they, you can't tell 'em [00:13:00] apart in any way.

So once you get bans, these harmless. Colored plastic leg, leg bands on their legs. You can tell, oh my gosh, that's red over silver, green over yellow. That's the same male that was there last year. He's back, you know, this year. And then you can start to measure things like survival rate and you can, not to mention behaviors, um, territorial behavior to see if they're battling for their territory and, and all that.

So, so anyway, to summarize, I got started, you know, I was enchanted by loons. Um, and I kind of got interested in 'em when, when I learned about this new technique, uh, that came about for catching 'em efficiently. And I thought, well, if we can catch enough of them and, uh, start to study their territorial behavior.

Cuz he also noticed Dave Evers also noticed that, that occasionally they, they evict each other, they kick each other off territories. And that was really interesting to me as someone who studied territorial behavior. So I kind of, kind of got hooked back in 1992 and I told him, I, I, I, I made that the kind of phrase.

Like I said, the kind of thing you never should say to someone, which is someone should [00:14:00] study this, you know, kiss of death, kind of Yeah. Kind of jinxing myself to Stu cuz and no one immediately was, had the training and interest to study the behavior even though it looked like there were some interesting things going on.

And so I started and, and re he kind of, he and, uh, Mike Meyer with the Wisconsin dnr, um, he, he was also studying loons in and marking them in Wisconsin. So I settled in Wisconsin where there was a cluster of studied of, of loons already marked and, and began to add to that effort. And that was, you know, 31 years ago.

So. Um, so what are some

Marcus Ewing: of the things that you've learned over the years about the loon that, you know, prior to you just had, you know, I, I know you just mentioned the, the, the territorial aspect of, of loons, but what, what are some things that you learned along the line that just kind of make you really scratch your head or you're just kind of in awe of, of what you've come across?

Walter Piper: Yeah, I mean, there are lots of things that, that have surprised us. But, um, one of the, maybe the single most [00:15:00] surprising thing, and I still can't figure out why it happens, is that we know that that loons, um, pair stay close together and work very close together through all aspects of the reproductive effort.

And so, you know, they pair together, they go out and build their nest together. But what we didn't know, uh, we also know, sorry. We also know that they use this rule called the win stay lose switch rule, which means simply, uh, if you nest, you put a nest in one part of the lake and, and that you hatch chicks from that nest, then you reuse that, that's winning.

And then you stay, you come back the next year and you use that nest again. Okay? And if you lose, that is if, if a raccoon gets your eggs, the raccoons are the worst predators. Uh, if raccoon gets the eggs, then you move to a new location. Okay, so that's losing and switching wins. Win, stay, win and reuse.

Anite lose and, uh, lose your eggs and move to a new location. So loons like many other speed, it's a very intuitive rule, right? They're very like common sense. [00:16:00] Yeah. You and I would do the same thing. Yeah. Evolution, right? Um, right. And uh, and loons do it. And, but we didn't know, since the pair worked so closely together, we didn't know which of the two pair members was using that rule or if somehow it was a communication between them.

Cuz if the birds are coming back each year, they're very long live then if, if they're coming back to the same territory each year. You know, is it the, is it the female that's, she's the one laying the eggs? Is she the one that's choosing the nest location that kind of made sense to us? Um, or is it the male or do they, is there some discussion and they somehow are able to figure out who's, who's been here longer, who knows better?

And we're gonna, I'm gonna defer to you and you've gonna choose the Nest location. Well, to make a long story short, the males for, for reasons we don't understand, we, uh, we learned about 15 years ago that males choose the Nest location. Uh, we know that because when a male vanishes from a, from a territory that was successful the previous year, uh, the new male never [00:17:00] nests in the same nest location that the male Okay.

You so, so it's like the new male respect comes in? Yeah. The male, new male comes, he's clueless. He doesn't know what he's doing. And even the, if the female's been there for 20 years, she has to put up with the. You know, the ignorance, if that sounds mean, but the ignorance of the new male cuz and he blunders around and tries to figure out where to nest.

And that's the way. So isn't that a, I mean, it's such a puzzling thing

Marcus Ewing: behaviorally you, but it's, to me it's a very classic male thing. Stumbling around.

Walter Piper: Yeah. Trying to find out way. Yeah. Now that you put that spin on it. Yeah, yeah, that's right, that's right. The things that, that, that, that, you know, females have to put up with.

But, but anyway, that's what, and that, you know, you might think, okay, maybe that's just an interesting oddity, but that turns out to be really pivotal in Lou's territorial behavior. Cuz it means, if you think about it, It means that, oh males, that territory becomes worth, uh, worth a ton to that male. A male particularly has a great value cuz he [00:18:00] learns about that territory and he's the only one who knows and can use that information.

And so if as he remains on that territory, that territory gets more and more valuable. Tim, him over time. Cuz he starts to know, I can nest here and, oh, sometimes I failed there, but I can move it over here. And so he, he acu accumulates this information about where to nest, um, and. And that's interesting because males are the ones that, that fight really hard for their territories and often die in the process.

So males, females also fight for their territories and very, very occasionally a female will die. But male territory battles that lethal territory battles among males are really common. And we think that's largely because males would suffer tremendously by losing this super valuable territory that they've been learning about year after year and having to go to a new, a new site.

Whereas a female, if you think about it, okay, a female doesn't choose the nest location as long as she's on a territory with a male who knows where he's going, knows where he's nesting, [00:19:00] she's just as good off as well. Off as on one territory as another. Okay? So it's a different problem that, that, you know, that females and males face, and it turns out to be really, really central to understanding why they behave the way they do in these battles, that the stakes are just so much higher for males.

You, you

Marcus Ewing: mentioned something, um, A few minutes ago about, um, the, the kind of the age, uh, the age class, uh, of loons. What is like the, the, I guess if there is an average, but kind of the average life expectancy of a male or a female

Walter Piper: loon? Um, the average for a male, I mean, you have to realize a lot of birds die in their first few years.

Mm-hmm. But, um, if, if a male makes it back to the, um, breeding ground, uh, the average life expectancy is probably somewhere in the late teens. Oh, wow. For males, we have these data. Uh, and so, you know, 16, 17, 18 years old is probably gonna be about the mean. Uh, you never know when, when you'll. Some accident will strike.

I mean, if you're a migratory, um, you know, [00:20:00] there's some dangers in migration. There are always tiger sharks out there. And when you're down in Florida, wintering that can, that can grab you. Uh, so you never know when that'll, uh, the tiger shark will come with your name on it. Um, but, uh, females on the other hand live into their twenties and, um, or, or more often live into their twenties.

We have, we have both males and females who've lived into their thirties. Um, but, um, females live longer. Males, many males kind of hit the wall at about age 15 and their, their survival rate declines, uh, at, at age 15. Some males keep going and going, but, but a lot of males kind of hit the wall there, whereas females have a gradual decline.

But, but, um, they. They, they are stairs and survivors. And I guess again, another parallel to humans, I suppose you could say, um, in that, uh, females really hang in there well, whereas males tend to hit the wall

Marcus Ewing: sooner. Yeah. And, and I'm just making a complete assumption here, but it kind of goes back to what you were [00:21:00] talking about with female or with the males picking the site location for nests and the females.

Kind of in inherently, um, feeling comfortable in there because they know that the male has likely kind of, you know, done his due diligence, let's say, right over the course of time. And, and using those, those breeding grounds in those nesting areas. Um, so there's, you know, less stress or less potential harm on the female.

And if there is, you know, inherent danger in the area or something moves in, some type of, um, you know, predator or anything like that, that the male is the one likely, like you mentioned, that's, you know, trying to defend that ground and, and that's when you know they could potentially lose their life as well.

Walter Piper: Yeah, I mean, although I, I, I gotta say, uh, Marcus that it, these are like, these are male, male battles and female female battles. Oh, okay. Okay. So these are, um, so, um, the only case when you have a male attack a female or maybe a, a female attack a male, which would be very rare, is [00:22:00] if, if a female is with her chicks and a, and a male intruder came in, she might try to attack the male.

But, um, but yeah, uh, males are larger. They're about 20 to 25% larger, so they do more territory defense. They're also only the ones, they're only ones who can give the territorial call, which is called the yodel. And so males are kind of better equipped to, to defend the territory, and they spend a lot of time defending the chicks.

Uh, they give you this yodel a lot to try to drive in, keep intruders from even landing when the chicks are small because intruders do kill loon chicks sometimes. Um, okay. So, so yeah, males do have a, a, a higher, um, responsibility in t in terms of, um, uh, defending the territory. But females, when a, when another female comes in to try to take a female's territory, it's like the male kind of stands back and says, okay, this is you.

Uh, and uh, and uh, this is your responsibility. And, and vice versa. I mean, females don't help their, you, you might think, well, why don't [00:23:00] pairs get together and defend, drive anybody off who, um, come tries to come in? No, the female sits back and lets the males battle and, and vice versa. So, um, yeah, it's, uh, it's very much a female on female or male on male battle.

Okay. Uh, when that happens, unless there are chicks and then, and, and that in that case then you get both pair members working together cuz the chicks are so valuable to them.

Marcus Ewing: Yeah. And that was a, that was an interesting, um, fact that you said that. Usually there's only one, maybe two chicks, um, in a cycle, which, you know, and maybe it's just, you know, my own ignorance on the topic, but I would, I would've assumed, you know, that you were looking at, you know, four to five,

Walter Piper: um, you know, per Yeah.

People, yeah, people think of 'em as, you know, of course they, they're look for similar to ducks, right? But, uh, so people think of them as ducks and, you know, think of the ducks, you know, mallard ducks with, you know, 13, uh, ducklings behind and gans that they see up, uh, with, with equal numbers and, you know, huge [00:24:00] families.

And, um, that's not the case for loons. We're loons. Um, again, I guess you could say like humans, I mean, we, not many young that we have, and there's a ton of investment in the young that we do have. I mean, I mean, chicks, uh, or alums, uh, stay, um, stay with their young and feed their young for like 11 weeks before for, you know, two and a half months until the young get.

Old enough to be able to feed themselves and able to fly and, and and whatnot. So there's a huge investment in either the one or the two chicks that, that loons produce very different model from what ducklings are doing. Where like, you know, they're 13 ducklings today and they're 11 tomorrow, and you hope at least a few of them survive.

Right? And loons is like a big deal. You have one or two, uh, lo chicks and you defend them to the hilt. Yeah.

Marcus Ewing: So Walter, in your, I guess your, your most recent project and, and you know, the, the reason that we're able to, to speak here today, you're studying the decline, um, [00:25:00] in like the North Midwest, and you said you've been working on this study for four or five years, is that correct?

Walter Piper: Well, so in Minnesota, I, I, um, I started in, this will be my third year coming up. Okay. We started in 2021 in Minnesota, uh, in, in Wisconsin we began in 93, so we're coming up to year 31. Uh, but in Minnesota, um, we are, we're just getting into year three. And in some ways though, even though it is a different state, of course loons don't know, don't know and respect state boundaries, I'm afraid.

Uh, so, and the loons in Minnesota, they are. Somewhat different from the ones in Wisconsin. There are some average differences in the lakes and, and, and all that. But, but, uh, really we feel like the pressures that the loons are facing in Wisconsin and Minnesota are very similar. You know, there's a lot of recreational, uh, activity up there.

A lot of loons getting caught on fishing lines. There's lead, [00:26:00] uh, that lead can be a problem, lead poisoning. Um, and a variety of other things. I mean, we've more, most recently we've just, uh, we just got a paper that we're, that's just been submitted for publication on water clarity. There's been a decline in water clarity in Wisconsin.

And, and I haven't looked closely at Minnesota yet cuz we're just getting ramped up there. But I suspect there's been also been a decline in water clarity in, in Minnesota in our, in the study lakes that we're now working there. And, and water clarity is critical to balloons of course, cuz their visual predators are looking for the fish underwater.

Right? So if the water gets less clear, It means they can't find as many fish for their young and the chicks lose mass. And this paper that we just wrote up, uh, shows pretty clearly statistically that there's a strong association between water cla, short term water clarity, essentially water clarity in July and the, the mass of the chicks.

And in fact, even adult mass is tied somewhat to water clarity less strongly than chicks. But the chicks [00:27:00] are like, you know, in some cases the chicks are living or dying over water clarity. And there's been an overall decline in water clarity in, in Wisconsin and Minnesota in a way that, sorry, in Wisconsin we presume it's also true in Minnesota.

Uh, and so we're very concerned. Cause of course water clarity is a big measure of water quality that everybody cares about. Even if you're not a loo asphyxia auto like I am.

Marcus Ewing: So is it, how do I want to ask this? Um, You've been, you know, studying the loons in Wisconsin for, like you said, coming up on 30 years and you're in, you know, or, or you're in year three or coming up on year three, um, in Minnesota.

What, what differences are, uh, you know, habitat and, and things like that. I mean, those are, they're all very similar, right? Kind of like you pointed out. Um, what are you seeing in Minnesota that that kind of [00:28:00] really has you going. You know, for Oh, shit. Right? Like what? Well,

Walter Piper: we, we gotta make something happen here.

I I, yeah. I, I mean, I'm, I'm a kind of a worry ward anyway, and I don't know, and, and since I've seen things decline in Wisconsin, I'm already kind of on edge and, and worried about, um, Minnesota, but I. I I will say that, uh, just in the two years that we have worked, the last two years have been poor reproductive years for, for the part in Minnesota that we are at now, we're in, uh, crowing County in north central Minnesota, a little bit north of our min uh, Wisconsin study area.

If you're looking, you know, latitudinally and, uh, but right. Pretty much in the heart of the state and it's the, the black flies, which are a big problem cuz they're, you know, they're a paths for humans of course, but this is a different species of blackly that only only bothers loons. Um, and they, they really can bother loons severely and cause almost a hundred percent abandonment of may nests in some Wow.

In really severe years, which happened three years ago [00:29:00] in Wisconsin. And we got just about the same thing in Minnesota, uh, just, uh, just this past year and the year before were both really bad black fly years. Um, and so, That, that already makes me think, hmm, you know, we knew there were black flies in Minnesota, but now we know wow, they are a major cause of nest failure.

And you know, if you're, if, if you're looking at things from a population level, the loo population level, if black flies are severe, it's like, it's like being hit in the mouth early in the year because they cause you, they cause huge rates of abandonment of the first nest. And those first nests are the most important nests.

Those are the most likely to be successful. And therefore, if you have massive abandonment of those first nests, you know, it's never, it's not gonna be a good year. It can't ever bounce back to where even though they try to reest, most pairs will try to reest, but, but many will fail. And so it's just like, You know, they just [00:30:00] lost that great opportunity.

So the fact that black flies are really bad. And we've also noticed that this last year chick mortality in, in Minnesota was higher, higher in Minnesota than, uh, in, in 2022 than we've ever seen in Wisconsin, uh, in any year. So, I mean, I don't know. It's, again, it's too early to be an absolute to in panic mode, but I'm very concerned cuz this suggests that, uh, that, that reproductive Minnesota loons aren't producing as many young as, as they should be.

Um, uh, they're a couple of possible reasons for that. It, it, it's, there are, there's a higher rate of artificial nesting platforms. You know, people put out these one meter by one meter. Squared, uh, pvc usually, uh, nesting platforms for loons. And those are great cuz they, you know, they allow loons often to hatch eggs and the raccoons can't get to 'em cuz they, they anchor them offshore.

So those are [00:31:00] great. But now people have put so many of those up in Minnesota that we worry that they are causing loons to nest cuz they're so attractive to loons. They're causing loons to nest in areas where they wouldn't even think of nesting before because there's no nesting habitat. And that could draw adults into places where there's good nesting habitat on that platform, but where maybe there's too much boat traffic or maybe, uh, fish populations aren't high enough to sustain the chick.

So it's possible that that's causing, and, and this is speculative, but it, it's possible that's causing a disconnect between where the nesting habitat is and where the habitat, good habitat for raising chicks is the safe habitat where there's enough food. So that's, those are a couple of. Couple of concerns that I have in Minnesota that have already got me tossing and turning a little more than, than I do ordinarily.

Marcus Ewing: So it's almost like you're, they're that, you know, people are creating these, you know, safe havens [00:32:00] for, for nesting, but due to that, it's almost, it almost has the wounds going, um, against their instincts or, or their better judgment in terms of like finding an area that is, you know, a safe nesting ground, but also has the right, um, you know, habitat around it.

Yeah. To allow, um, you know, the birds to develop when they're young and everything like that with, you know, a healthy fish population and everything like that, because Right. That probably goes back into, you know, what we, what you talked about is, you know, learning, you know, as these males nest in the same area over and over again, they're learning, okay.

Like, you know, we, we know that there's good fish here, right. Um, you know, we, we know that it's safe, so it's, you're doing something good, but almost having a reverse

Walter Piper: effect in the long run. It's now. Now it's early days, Marcus. So it's too, that's my, again, that's my worrywart sign side. That's, that's, you know, that's coming up with that explanation.

But it's possible that, that uh, that we're putting in, uh, in some cases there, we're putting in platforms where, um, [00:33:00] where that hatches the chicks and we feel good, you know, good about the chicks that are hatched, but we haven't taken like yeah, like you say, a sort of a holistic view to make sure that the ha habitat otherwise is gonna support those chicks and the parents are gonna be able to raise those chicks in a safe place.

Cuz just having a platform out somewhere doesn't mean you got a good place. You know, it doesn't Right. A good, safe place for the chicks to hang out. And, uh, yeah, I mean, people put out flat forms sometimes in very busy areas where they're. Huge boats coming through all the time at speed, and you think, wow, those chicks are gonna be in trouble if the parents, you know, get caught out with their chicks in the wrong location at the wrong time.

So yeah.

Marcus Ewing: Now these nesting platforms are the, you know, when these are, are being put into place and things like that, the, the, whether it's conservation organizations, whether it's just, you know, regular people who, you know, are trying to, you know, do their part so to speak, are they, you know, consulting with, you know, biologists like yourself in order to kind of determine these optimal places for [00:34:00] these, um, nesting platforms to go.

Walter Piper: I think that usually happens. I know I, I know Wisconsin better than, uh, Minnesota, so we're just learning about Minnesota. Uh, but, but I know that in Wisconsin there are guidelines, uh, and, uh, you know, uh, you have to get permission to put, uh, to put the platform out. So you have to check with the dnr. And, and I often, uh, get asked as, as a resident loon expert, is this a good, is this a good promising place to put a nesting platform?

Is this a good lake to put a pla, you know, does, does the information that you have on the breeding success of the loons, uh, make it look like they will benefit from the, so, so there's a pretty careful study in Wisconsin. I, I think in Minnesota, a a similar thing happens, um, in most cases, at least. And I certainly also want to say if, you know, people hear these.

You know, people who put out platform. There are people who year after year put out platforms, um, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, [00:35:00] both. And they, they put it out, the loons use it. They have chicks, they fledge the chicks, and we know that that's a positive for the population. So I do not want to run into this situation of just, you know, casting aspersions on folks who put out platforms, because many, in many times, we know that it boosts the, the population's success.

But there are some cases where pe uh, people seem to put out platforms that, that maybe are not in a great location, maybe should have checked, or they put too penny too many platforms and put them too close together. Okay. Um, so, um, and also, you know, when you put out a platform that's a big deal when there's, when there's, um, 28 inches of ice.

You know, on a lake, uh, in the winter, you know, you're gonna have to put that platform out. You're gonna have to take it in, in the fall after the loons have used it. Probably do some, uh, maintenance on the platform, take it out in April to make sure it's there when the loons arrive the next spring. So there's a lot of maintenance and, and, and, uh, and those things are heavy, big, [00:36:00] clunky platforms that they have to take out.

So, um, so yeah, I mean, when in, in the best case scenario platforms are, are really a positive, uh, for loons and for the overall population. But in some ca and, and, and in many cases they are regulated in some cases it doesn't seem as closely regulated as it, it should be, I think.

Marcus Ewing: Okay. No, that's, that's fair.

And you know, it's like you said, you didn't want to cast dispersions and, and I don't think anyone's, you know, volunteering their time to be malicious with where they're No, they're putting, you know, nesting platform,

Walter Piper: but I was no it, from a good place, it always comes from a good place. Yeah.

Marcus Ewing: So, you know, you've been.

Studying loons in Wisconsin for, again, close to 30 years. Do you feel like, is that a study that is, you know, just gonna continue for the foreseeable future? Um, is it gonna, are you gonna get to a point with that where, you know, you have, you know, enough data points where you can then sit down and, and, you know, [00:37:00] spend, you know, however long it takes to, to do a, a thorough, you know, analysis of, of all the information and then make recommendations to, you know, the dnr, the fish and wildlife, you know, whichever department, uh, is involved.

And I guess that's question one. And question two would be kind of the same thing as it pertains to Minnesota. How long does that study need to be before you feel like you can, you know, make some, some very educated, you know, uh, recommendations for, you know, how to, how to rectify, you know, the situation that we're in?

Walter Piper: Um, those are good questions and important questions. Uh, and my wife asks me those questions sometimes too. Uh, cuz you know, when I, when I leave California in the summertime, she, she stays here. So, um, so it's, it's, it's, uh, you know, it's a challenge. I've been do doing it for so long, it's like, become the norm.

But, but no, they're good questions in Wisconsin. You know, my view in Wisconsin is, you know, this has been, uh, uh, [00:38:00] a project that's given me so much and I just, I, I do feel like I owe the folks there. I've made so many friends and so many folks have supported me and allowed me to do this research that I need to, now that we've found that something's going wrong, we need to figure out what exactly it is and I need to.

To get to the stage where I can make recommendations as, as you alluded to, and I don't know what time the time course will be for that. I, um, now we, it looks like water clarity is an issue. It looks like, uh, black fly populations are higher now it appears than they've been in, in years past, uh, which both seem to be related to rainfall, increased rainfall, and maybe increased temperature as well.

Um, so, so these, and, and, and, um, uh, so I think we're at least, I don't know. I mean, I, I, I need to get to the point where, Uh, I've linked if, if it's water [00:39:00] clarity and blackly populations, I've linked those to the decline in the population and, and, uh, conveyed that information to, uh, to the DNR and, and, and made it known to the public and so that folks in Wisconsin know this is what we have to do if we wanna save loons here.

And, uh, cuz I do think we're gonna be facing that at some point. I think down the road, maybe not too far from, from now. Uh, we have to make, but, but that's at least several more years away before you can nail things down. We, we have some glimmers of what's going on in terms of water clarity in black flies.

Um, so that's Wisconsin, um, Minnesota, Minnesota's sort of the other end of the, um, of the spectrum in terms of we're just getting started. But I've, I've said, um, and I, and I strongly believe this is true, and within a couple of years, maybe by 20 24, 20 25, after the 2024 or 2025 field season, we'll be able to put a preliminary population [00:40:00] model together that will give us a, uh, a, a number, a lambda.

This is this number that population, uh, biologists used. And if lamb does one, it means the population's stable. If lamb does one, 1.01, it means the population's going up by 1% each year and so forth. So it can be 0.9 nines going down by 1%. Um, and so you, you, you come up and generate an estimate of, of this scientific estimate of, of, of lambda what the population's doing.

And I think in a couple years in Minnesota, we'll know, okay, is the population stable there? Despite these early concerns that I have, maybe I'm wrong, right? I've been wrong a lot and maybe I'm wrong there. And maybe the population's stable and if so few, you know what a relief, maybe even population's increasing.

It doesn't seem to be, I, that would be hard to believe, but maybe it's going up, in which case few again. But if the population's declining, Anything like what the population seems to be declining in North central Wisconsin, then it, you get to, uh, [00:41:00] uh, then you get to the point where you're thinking, okay, what do we do?

Uh, then, then you have to do the same sort of analysis that, that I've begun to do in Wisconsin where you say, okay, is it water clarity? Is it black flies? Is it something else? Is it human recreation in some way? Cuz human recreation is a, is sometimes an issue. We lose some loons to, to human recreation. Um, uh, you know, which is fine.

I don't, I I don't think it's, I don't think that's likely to be. Making a, uh, you know, I don't think that's likely to be causing the decline. I, I don't know. But, um, but you have to have everything on the table. You know, you need to take an honest look at it and see what's going on. But that's, so that's a couple years away before the time in Minnesota when we say, okay, here's what seems to be the problem.

And now if there, or you know, if there is a problem actually, that, that's the first step is, is there a problem? And if there's a problem, then then, uh, then we go into phase two. Okay, what, what can we do about it? And of course, the fact that we will have been already, were a little bit ahead in knowing about Wisconsin should be able to be [00:42:00] transferable to Minnesota.

A lot of the lessons that we learned in Wisconsin can be transferrable to, to Minnesota so that we can get a good sense, uh, from that, um, uh, um, to make recommendations to, to the DNR and, and, and, and local agent conservation agencies, uh, and the state and legislators. What do we need to do to protect loons?

I mean, in Minnesota? You know, they love loons both places in min, Minnesota. It's the state bird, right? Uh, so, you know, people don't wanna mess around with, uh, with losing, uh, loons from Minnesota. And, and the stakes seem even higher there, although people in Wisconsin also love loons. So, um, uh, so, but you know, so we're several years away from, from, um, being able to, to know what.

What we can, what we need to do in each place. But, um, yeah, but, but having one will help us learn about the other, I think, and that's gonna be a real benefit of, of having, you know, spent all that time in Wisconsin. Yeah.

Marcus Ewing: And that was, [00:43:00] excuse me, that was one of my questions was gonna be, is, you know, what can you apply from Wisconsin, two Minnesota?

Does that, you know, once you kind of have your, your lambda your baseline, right? Are a lot of those things going to be transferrable? Can you, you know, I guess shorten, uh, you know, the quote unquote learning curve. Yeah. Uh, in terms of, you know, you've spent 30 years in, in Wisconsin. Yeah. You know, studying all these activities.

You know, maybe you can come to the same conclusions in, in Minnesota, but maybe it takes you 12

Walter Piper: years, right? Absolutely. Just based, based on lessons learned or even faster. Yeah, I mean, it, it depends how similar they are, uh, Marcus, uh, if, if they're very similar, it could be that, that really it's the same two things or the same three things or whatever.

Cuz they are very similar to look at 'em, the, the, you know, they're both lots of human recreational activity. Um, some boating problems that loons have getting killed by boats sometimes. And um, and, uh, led, led problems in both states. Um, and then, like I said, the [00:44:00] black flies and the water clarity is probably similar.

So it may be that exactly the same thing needs to be done in Minnesota as Wisconsin, in which case instead of 12 years, it'll be, you know, maybe five years. We do have to get, we do have to get enough population data in Minnesota to, to know what's going on and be able to say confidently, because, you know, you, we, we want to do.

Rigorous science. And for that you need a large sample. You need to follow enough lakes to be able to not say something, you know, off the cuff. Uh, you need to say something st with, with statistical significance. And, and you need to make sure that you've sent it to peers, uh, you know, collab other scientists who agree this is what's going on.

You have the evidence, here's what we need to do, and then let's get it done. Yeah,

Marcus Ewing: and you, you've, you've mentioned it a few times, but the, the lead poisoning, um, I had a gentleman on the podcast, uh, who works for the Michigan Wildlife Federation here, and he is a, uh, a big advocate and a big proponent for, uh, non-lead, uh, [00:45:00] fishing tackle and non-lead, um, ammunition in your firearms as well, because, and, and maybe I'm late to the game, uh, in terms of, uh, you know, really having a, a full understanding of, of, um, that issue.

But that's one that it's almost like a silent killer, um, because yeah, it's, it's hard to, or it may be hard for individuals to, you know, go out and, you know, they're using, you know, lead ammunition or lead, um, you know, tackle when they're fishing and. They can't see the results. Right? Right. They can't see the, the result a year down the road or two years down the road.

Um, especially, you know, like in birds that catch, you know, predatory birds that are catching fish that have lead poisoning and then it's killing the birds. Like, it's just, yeah, it's kind of this, this slow trickle effect, but it's certainly one that I have seen, um, a lot bigger, uh, of an emphasis put on, um, in recent years.

How are you guys able [00:46:00] in your studies to, you know, determine these types of things, like how lead poisoning, um, is affecting and, you know, what I guess the, the totality of that effect?

Walter Piper: Well, um, of course we study, um, you know, we study these marked birds that are living on their territories and look at their behavior, but we do lose them to, to lead poisoning.

We have, um, um, usually it's, it's angling, you know, it's fishing incidents where they, they, they swallow a jig or they swallow a sinker and, uh, they take it from a fishing line. Um, and so, but we don't see as much of it as, uh, as the rehabbers do. The folks who okay are called and, uh, and when, when there's a loon that's in trouble, this is, there's a loon that's acting strangely or there's a loon on shore, or maybe there's just, there's a dead loon.

Um, you know, um, and, uh, but the, um, and so, so we are beginning to collect. [00:47:00] Data, uh, more systematically. And we're beginning to look for lead more, you know, do x-rays and look for lead more than, uh, than we used to both in. And that's happening both in Wisconsin and in Minnesota. They different agencies in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and I, in many cases, it's rehabbers who are really doing fantastic work, spending a lot of resources to try to save birds, um, that, that have lead poisoning and hoping they can bring 'em back.

And occasionally that can happen. Or at least documenting this bird died from lead poisoning. You know, this bird died from lead poisoning this. So, um, so really, um, I don't collect as much information about that, although anytime there's a loon in trouble, uh, in real trouble, we'll catch it and quickly take it to, to a rehabber, uh, and, uh, and try to get some help.

And we have a number of rehabbers who've stepped up in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, who, who will do that. But, but it is a big problem. I mean, I mean, um, If you think about it, I said, you know, earlier on I talked about how a male loon [00:48:00] can be on a territory for 20 years and we've just docked Another paper that I've just, uh, writing up and I'm about to send off for publication is, is a paper that that shows that males continue to increase and increase steadily in their ability to hatch eggs even after 15 years on a territory.

They're still getting a little bit better each year. Cuz that's, and that's the. The value of that familiarity they have with a territory. And so think about it, if a male on a territory that's been there for 20 years gets lead poisoning, that all of that knowledge and you know, information that that male had about is, is, is lost.

And that territory, the new male that comes in is back to square one. He doesn't know any where to know where to nest. And so, as from a population standpoint, you know, those males become these super valuable knowledgeable animals that, um, that produce that c crank out the chicks once they get the, the get the experience.

So that's a case where lead poisoning really, really can hit 'em hard. And I mean, lead poisoning of [00:49:00] females is terrible too. It happens that females, there are more females, there's a female biased. Sex ratio. So there are more females in the population than males, um, in, in, in, in, in our population, in, uh, in Wisconsin.

So a female, uh, death of a female loon isn't as devastating as, as a death of a male territory holder. But either way it's bad. It's, it's, it's, uh, something and it's something that we really need to fix because there are substitutes. I mean, if they were, if we were putting people out of the fishing business, uh, or putting people out of the hunting business with, with, uh, getting rid of lead.

Then that would be a tough call. But really this should be, I know it's a little more expensive, but honestly, aren't the loons worth it? Uh, and and as you say, it's a, it's a tragic situation cuz people don't see the immediate effect it takes, right. It takes a, a couple of days for a loon to ingest a, a lead sinker and then become unable to move and then ultimately die.

And it's a must be a pretty bad way to go too. And uh, yeah, cuz it's [00:50:00] not quick. And, um, yeah, that's, that's something that we really, we really, we need to think harder about fixing because, uh, in addition, we don't know whether lead poisoning itself is a serious enough problem to hit the population to cause to be contributing to the population decline.

But it's one of those, it's sort of low hanging fruit. I mean, let's, let's fix this. This is, this is easy to fix. We know how to fix it. There are substitutes we, it's not gonna change our lives. Let's do

Marcus Ewing: it. Yes. It's a very tangible, um, change that can be made and you can see an immediate impact. So, um, kind of going back to, trying to bring it full circle a little bit here.

We talked about, you know, uh, the, the crisis, uh, if you wanna call it that, the, that that you're experiencing, that you're, you're studying, uh, in both Wisconsin and Minnesota and in Minnesota. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong there, Walter, but the, the funding mechanism, um, that you guys have [00:51:00] for the work that you've been doing, um, has taken a bit of a hit Yeah.

Correct. In Minnesota. Yeah. Now are, I guess for, for quick clarification, um, Funding for, you know, these different research projects and stuff comes in kind of in all different avenues. Is it different funding mechanisms, um, for Wisconsin and for Minnesota, or is it all kind of pooled together I guess?

Walter Piper: Well, it, it could be either one.

Thanks for asking about funding, but it, it, it could be either one. In, in years past, we've gotten funding from the National Science Foundation from nsf. So, um, and for 14 years out of the 31 that I've studied loons, we've had National Science Foundation funding, but, um, NSF funding is now much more competitive than it used to be.

And it used to be that, uh, you know, about 25 to 30% of all the grants that were. That were submitted, uh, were were funded, and now it's in the, at least in the programs to which I apply, it's in the single [00:52:00] digits. Wow. And so it's just really, really hard to get the money. Uh, so that's pinched us. And we have applied for, for funding from National Science Foundation.

There's also been a little bit of a juggling of the programs in a way that made it harder to get funding for long-term funding for, for animal behavior related programs, like the work that I'm doing. So that, that made it harder for us because the program kind of closed down in a way that that impacted us, um, negatively.

Um, but so, so I've gotten a lot of funding from National Science Foundation in the past and I'm, and continuing to try to do that. But the reality is with funding rates as low as they are, uh, you, you look for new, uh, new sources of funding and, um, fortunately, Um, by a variety of means, despite the loss of NSF funding and, and some, some other funding that we had in, in Minnesota, uh, from another funding source.

We've been able, uh, you know, I have a blog that, [00:53:00] uh, that has a bunch of followers and people love loons, and I talk about loons and talk about the research that, that I do and, and, um, The, by the way, the blog is, I it's okay to plug. Yeah, no, I was blog I was gonna ask you when you were done, so go ahead.

Okay. It's it lo loon Um, just loon project do org and, um, and it, it'll show, show you about the blog and give you an opportunity to, to sign up if you're interested. And you just get a, you get a emailed the blog post each time I post a blog. And, and so that is, uh, something that, that, uh, I did because I enjoyed it and I thought I wanted to share what I was finding.

And it's, it, um, it's, it provides lots of educational information and it kind of, kind of quick look at the early scientific findings before they're actually published so that I can share that with folks as well as sometimes just my thoughts about loons and, and, uh, sometimes there's a personal aspect to being a scientist and struggling to, to study, uh, study animals in, in nature.

And so there's all sorts of [00:54:00] things in there, but there's a lot about loons and um, and people have, uh, gravitated towards that blog and when. People heard that there were funding problems. I've gotten a lot of folks to step up and, uh, at least they've gotten me to the stage now where in Minnesota, um, there's enough funding for me to put a sort of a skeleton team together to kind of keep kind of tread water, I guess you could say, in, in Minnesota.

So I could keep fu uh, I can, I can head back there and collect data early in the year and, um, to, on, to, to see which marked birds are, have come back to try to look at, to see if we can say something about nesting in the middle of the year. And then to go late in the year to, to see where, which tear, uh, which para, uh, Territorial pairs have chicks so that we can, we can capture some of those birds and mark them and continue to expand our population.

So we've got funding to just, you know, just barely enough to get that, to kind of [00:55:00] keep the project going. But we really want to get to the next level where we're able to do careful analyses, make frequent observational visits to these territories, about 105 territories in Minnesota, just as we do in Wisconsin.

So that, so that we can get really accurate information about nesting behavior, about the ages of chicks, because that turns out to be critical to our ability to, to, to measure the mass of the chicks. Uh, we have to adjust for age in order to see whether the mass is declined in Minnesota as it has in Wisconsin.

So without a full flung effort, the full funding. Um, it's, uh, it's hard for us to get as high quality data as, as we like in order to ask the questions about water clarity and, and black fly impacts, uh, that we would like to. So, so we're kind of, we're stuck, uh, at a stage where, uh, and, and we're happy to be at the stage where we are, where this replacement, this funding that we lost a couple of months ago, we've, we've [00:56:00] gotten, uh, a lot of that back and, uh, but we're, we're not able to put together a full, a full field team, uh, regular field team in Minnesota.

And that, and I, you know, I'm a little, I. I'm pretty anxious about that. That's why, that's why we're, we're asking for whatever help people, people feel they can give us. Cuz we'd like to be able to get to the point where we can say, here's how min loons are doing in Minnesota. And then if they're struggling, let's go the next step and see what recommendations we can make for turning things around.

Marcus Ewing: Yeah. And we, we kind of glitched there for a second. I don't know if you noticed that or not. Oh yeah. But, um, where, you know, for, and I think the, the loon you talked about it, it's, it's just such this iconic bird, especially in the Midwest and for so many of us, I mean, you and I both shared our stories for people who, you know, want to get involved.

Right. For, you know, we have a, you know, I I would say a healthy listenership, um, on the podcast. And I think, um, a lot of 'em are very like-minded when it comes to [00:57:00] conservation and to, um, you know, kind of a, a call to arms, if you will. When, when we see an issue and we know that we can help contribute, um, To that in some way, shape or form.

So where can people, you know, if they, you know, if they have, you know, $25, if they have $50, whatever the case is, right, whatever they can contribute, where can people, um, go and, you know, learn more about the, uh, is it just at the Loon project where they can just learn more about the work that you're doing, where they can possibly donate or send donations to?

Walter Piper: Yes. Um, again, it's, it's loon project. Just Loon project all run together. One, one word, loon g. And we have a lot of information there about, um, what the goals are, what our recent findings have been, uh, the about why we study birds. Why do, why we study loons, why do we mark loons? What, what, um, what have we found out over the years?

Uh, who's involved? Who are the pe? Who am I, who are the people involved in the project? Uh, there's also a publications [00:58:00] link. So you can see the publications, uh, that we've made over the years. Um, some of them on behavior that, that I described some of them on conservation. More recently, they're more focused on conservation and there's a donate page as well.

Okay, so there's a, there's a sub, uh, sub-menu on. On loo that, uh, that allows folks to, to donate. And we would, we would love it if, if people, um, would, would, uh, donate in anything they can. And, um, you know, a lot of the donations. So we, we've got, uh, also some of the most valuable ones, or if people happen to no, no others or, or, or live or have, uh, houses up in, um, in the cross Lake Minnesota area or in the, uh, Rhinelander Wisconsin area.

Folks following the blog have allowed us to, sometimes allowed us to stay there even for a short period of time, uh, during the summertime. Uh, maybe, you know, before they come up in July, we, if we, if we could stay, stay, uh, you know, they, sometimes people provide us [00:59:00] lodging. Um, And so any kind of donation, whether it's whether it's a financial or, or, or some sort of lodging that folks can provide, could be enormously valuable and could, could allow us to keep the Minnesota project going, which is, uh, again, we're hanging in there with a Minnesota project, but, um, but we could use anything that people could provide.

So I hope that's the information you needed.

Marcus Ewing: Yeah, absolutely. And, and I'll be sure, um, you know, once we, we get the episode all put together to, to highlight, uh, loom, um, in the show notes, um, you know, and, and anywhere where people can access the, the episode that they'll be able to access, um, the website as well.

Do you have, um, like a dollar amount that you guys are trying or is at this point, is it, Hey, any, any contributions are, are welcome and they will be put to good use.

Walter Piper: Well, a any, certainly any contributions are, are really appreciated and, and, and welcomed. Um, I mean, I run a pretty, uh, lean operation, uh, in, in both places in Win.

You [01:00:00] know, that's one of the things I'm proud of is that we, we go out and we get young students who are interested in wildlife, um, biology, and, uh, we see whether, you know, and, and I've just spoke to one this morning, and, um, uh, to see, you know, she was, she's interested in wild lot biology, getting more field ex exposure and mm-hmm.

And this is an intense field project. We cover a lot of ground and we, um, we fan out. We work in solo canoes on our own in order to maximize the amount of coverage we can make. So we, so we really do run a leann operation. Um, I mean, realistically in order to, to, uh, to cover Minnesota in, in great detail, Um, you, we probably need another 2020 K, uh, to, to, to, to do that and, and, and, and, and, and, you know, that's a huge number.

And, and, uh, so, but, um, that's what we've, you know, that's our experience has shown us that we need about, [01:01:00] about, uh, 35 or or 40 K in each state to keep the project going. And, and, uh, and that's just, That's no salary for me. Uh, you know, I get paid by Chapman. That's just, uh, funding that we gi give to, to give a little stipend to the students.

Sure. Um, support, travel, support for the students, travel support for me to be able to just go out to the study area, replace broken canoes and paddles and, uh, and there's overhead, there's yeah. Just sort of overhead stuff. A little bit of storage cost and it just adds up and that's what it comes to. So, so we would love if we could get to, to, to 20 k, uh, that would allow us to go from the skeleton.

Crew that we will have in Minnesota to, to a full-blown, um, field effort in Minnesota so that we're, we're really, uh, moving quickly towards knowing what might be, what might be causing problems in Minnesota or, or really assessing the population so that we, you know, so we can tell whether there could be problems or not.

But, um, so yeah, that's kind of our target, uh, at the moment. But, [01:02:00] but any, anything people can, can afford to send would be so, uh, so, uh, welcomed And, uh, any thoughts or advice or, or, or, or recollections? I love to get emails from people who, who tell me what, you know, what they've learned about loons or how they've known them and what, how loons have influenced their lives.

So people wanna email W that's just my name, W P I P E R at Chapman, c h a p m a And just tell me, This is what loons mean to me. And, and maybe if you can afford a donation to help us out, that would be tremendous cuz we want to keep loons around, uh, as long as we can. And the idea, honestly, the idea that that'd ever be lost from Wisconsin or Minnesota is just, I just can't even fathom that, that that's just a horrifying prospect and I want do what I can, uh, during my, uh, you know, remaining years out, out in the field to, uh, to make sure that never happens.


Marcus Ewing: Well, I mean that, that's, [01:03:00] I mean, commendable's not even the right word. Um, the fact that, you know, you're kind of making this, your, your life's work or the, you know, the, for the better part of your professional career. Um, yeah. You know, your, your goal to try to better understand and, uh, mitigate a problem that we see out there and.

What you mentioned, you know, kind of your, your target goal of, of 20,000. Um, you know, I think that y you're right that that is certainly a lot of money, but I think it's also one that's very attainable. Um, you know, if we can, uh, get this message, uh, in front of the right people, um, and in front of the right organizations, I think that, you know, thousand dollars here th you know, $500 Absolutely.

You know, things like that, that, that can add up very quickly. And I think that, um, you know, the loo especially probably holds a place in, in people's hearts. Um, you know, and it's much further than just the Midwest here. Right. You know, everyone's got stories, you know, kinda like you talked about. Um, and I think that, you know, stories like this, projects like this, they, they resonate with people and the.

Just the [01:04:00] thought, like you said, of, you know, this, the decline of, you know, such a, an iconic animal, um, is scary. Yeah. Especially for, you know, you don't have to be in hunter, a hunter or an angler. Um, you just have to be, you know, someone who spent any amount of time in the outdoors and to, to gain an appreciation, you know, and not even for loons, you know, maybe it's for, for other, you know, wildlife, um, that, you know, people have an affinity for that they don't wanna see things go away.

Right. And I think that, You know, with, with 2% and, you know, the relationship, um, there that I, you know, I, I feel very confident that we can, you know, really try to help, you know, put this project in the best possible shape to, to succeed and to, to give you guys the, the tools, you and your team, the tools that you need in order to help, you know, push this thing across the finish line, like I said earlier, and, you know, Make educated and scientific decisions about, um, you know, what's possibly causing this decline in population [01:05:00] and hopefully, you know, help rectify that.


Walter Piper: I, I thank you so much for saying that. I, I, I strongly agree. I mean, I, I think there are people, I mean, I used to be one of these people that, that before I started studying loons, that something about going up to the north woods and, and, and being. You know, inside your cabin at night and hearing loos at night, it's just magical.

And I felt like, you know, my, my stress and my, uh, you know, my pulse, pulse rate came down, the stress melted away, gone. And somehow, yeah, it was, it's just so, uh, such a special experience and to, to lose that, the threat of losing that is just, is just obscene to me. And, uh, I, I do feel like, you know, we're the ones on the ground really collecting the data and learning the information that we will pass on to, to, uh, agencies, to local agencies and state agencies and, and federal agencies if, if need be, to try to turn things around to try to [01:06:00] change policies.

Once we have the science, once we have the knowledge, we can go in smart and know where the pressure points are. And, and try to reverse, uh, the, the trend, the negative trend that we see in Wisconsin and that the negative trend that's likely to be there, uh, in Minnesota if we find one. So, but without that knowledge, we're going in blind.

We're flying blind. Right. And, um, so, uh, so I think the money that, uh, the, the people are able to, to, to give us is money that, that goes to knowledge and goes more directly to, to conservation than, um, you know, than maybe a donation you'd make to some organization that's interested in loons and other animals.

But, but, um, you know, we're, we're, we're buying a canoe paddle. Uh, yeah. You know, with that money you're buying transportation. Yeah. We're, we're, we're able to go to the study area, we're able to hire another person to cover some more lakes in order to increase our sample size, to get better statistical results so that we really know what's going on.

So we feel it strongly, um, when people give, uh, [01:07:00] to our, our project. And, uh, we think we use that money very, very efficiently. Yeah. A lot of bang for the buck, I guess is what I'm saying. Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus Ewing: And yeah, I mean, I, I, I hate to discourage people from, um, you know, where, or encourage or discourage people on, on where they spend their money, but, you know, instead of, you know, maybe buying a membership to certain, you know, whatever, right?

I mean, that's not even, I shouldn't have said that, but, you know, instead of, you know, buying this, you know, maybe, you know, you spend that 35 bucks or that 50 bucks and you, and you donate it to a good cause, that's, that's gonna potentially help, um, you know, slow down or stop the, uh, the decline of, uh, of a certain animal and.

You know, I, I, I like the fact that while this is, I guess you could call it reactive in some sense, I think we're being, you and your team are being proactive in, in the approach to try to not let it get to a point where it's like, you know, these are gonna, you know, land on, you [01:08:00] know, a list that we don't want it on here before too long if something isn't done.

So if we can get out ahead of that as best as possible, I think that the, the work that you and your team are doing are is, is incredible. And, um, you know, hopefully with this podcast and, and hopefully with, you know, the, the, the work that 2% is doing to try to raise awareness for this as well. That, that we can, you know, Right.

The ship, so to speak, and, and get you back to full strength with your team there. And we can really, um, you know, make, you guys can really make, I say we yeah. That you guys can really make a change for this

Walter Piper: because, um, I think it's, we, I think we're all, we're all, you know, interested in this. And, uh, and yeah, I, I do think, um, there's enough, there's still, most of the loons are still there in Wisconsin.

This is the time that we need to know and we need to learn when the population is still strong enough so that we can turn things around, like you say, we can right the ship. And, uh, so if we, if we, uh, wise up now and, and see where the pressure points are, then we can, um, we can anticipate problems down the [01:09:00] road and, and, and take steps to.

To, uh, to stop those, those pressure points from, from causing problems for the loon populations.

Marcus Ewing: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, for those listening again, uh, loon, you can go over there and, and see all the work that, um, Walter and his team are doing, how you can donate and help give back.

Walter Piper, thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate it. Um, it's been very eye-opening. Uh, it's been great to, to hear about the work that you're doing and, uh, hopefully we can do this again soon when, you know, hopefully we've hit this goal and then we can talk about, you know, what, what's to come over the, you know, the coming years and, and the research that you and your team plan to do.

Walter Piper: Great, Marcus. Well, I, I, I, I can't thank you enough for, for giving us this exposure and an opportunity to, to, uh, see if people will, will help out, and, um, it's been, it's been great to talk to

Marcus Ewing: you. Yeah, thank you, Walter. Take care, and we'll talk soon. Okay. Bye-bye. All right guys. Well, thank you again for sticking around and, uh, listening to this episode that I had with Walter.[01:10:00]

Um, and if you had a chance to listen to it a second time around, uh, thank you, uh, two times, I suppose. Um, but no, um, do, uh, as Walter alluded to towards the end of the episode there, be sure to check out the Loom Project, uh, in ways that you can help donate and keep this project going, uh, and hopefully, uh, be part of the solution going forward, uh, as it pertains to the loons.

Um, Yeah, I would also like to thank 2% for conservation, and if you're interested in learning more about 2% for conservation, you can visit their website, fish and And over there you can see all those certified brands that have committed to conservation that you should support when you shop.

I also encourage you guys to give 2% a follow on social media where it's gonna be only, uh, positive conservation driven content landing in your feeds. So again, if you'd like to learn more about 2% for conservation, you can look for them online, on social media Thanks for joining me this week everyone.

Thank you for tuning [01:11:00] in. Until next week, stay safe out there. And remember that conservation starts with you.