Nature and Environment

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"The tree tells us that home is not a 'here' nor 'there'. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all." — Herman Hesse

Journalist and filmmaker Nick Werber, whose previous film Reynaldo — Rainforest Hero earned three international awards, including a United Nations film award, has released his newest film, Trees.

As beautiful as it is heartbreaking, this elegiac film glides through majestic stands of trees to the superb words of poet, painter and author Herman Hesse and the accompaniment of music by Keaton Henson.

"A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother. ... Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

Werber's home base is the Peruvian Amazon region and his filmmaking is devoted to raising awareness about rainforest conservation issues. He has set up a YouTube channel where you can view his HD films. Trees is the first film posted to the channel. We look forward to seeing more -- and are grateful for the reminder of how much is at stake in the commitment to save the rainforest from deforestation and utter ruin.

K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden. Find her on .


Sheep Fence
Photo by Flickr/James Figielski

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers all over the country frequently send us photos of livestock, their DIY chicken coop setups, nature — you name it. We love looking at the images we receive, but that’s typically where the exchange ends. Not anymore!

We’ve created a Flickr photo group that will function as a place where photographers of all skill levels can upload images to share photography with each other and with us.

Present your unique perspective to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS community by uploading photos of gardens, homesteads, livestock, green homes, real food, renewable energy and nature. We’ll occasionally feature our favorites in blog posts and on our social media channels — and perhaps even in print!

We will always credit the images and link back to the source, of course. And if we’re interested in publishing one of your images in our magazine, we’ll contact you via Flickr mail to discuss payment before proceeding.

Ready to get started? Hop on over to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Photo Group Pool to see the existing selection of photographs, and to add your own.

You’ll need to have a Flickr account to post photos. Befuddled by Flickr? Just email us and we’ll help you get started.

Below are some of our favorites photos uploaded to the group so far. Enjoy!

Two Birds
Photo by Flickr/Dawn Larson

Photo by Flickr/Paul Cools

Monticello Garden
Photo by Flickr/John

Frog in Pond
Photo by Flickr/Rebecca Joyner

Fig Jam
Photo by Flickr/Heather Cancello

Cow in Pasture
Photo by

Cabin and Mountain
Photo by Flickr/Rob Graham


Winter’s over or at least it seems that way. The grass is beginning to green-up in places, spring peepers are singing, and the daffodils are growing well too. If you’ve been burning firewood to stay warm through the cold winter, perhaps the last thing you want to handle is more wood. However, now is the best time to procure and secure firewood. Firewood, unlike other heating sources is not a friend of procrastination. When the two hang out, they often lead to more work or higher prices, smokier chimneys, and colder houses.

Home heating is a significant cost for those living in the Catskills, Hudson Valley and New York State. Residents that are able to save on this cost will have more money to allocate towards other things: home improvement projects, planting fruit trees inside a deer exclosure, building a greenhouse, or even buying healthier food. Currently, the predominant choices for home heating are electric, fuel oil, kerosene, natural gas, or wood.

Farm Abandonment and Forest Regrowth

Trees are by far the most renewable energy resource for home-heating in our region. As a Forester and Arborist, there are plenty of trees; they may not be where we want them or as healthy as we’d like, but they are there nonetheless. Contrary to what some may perceive, forests in New York State are growing two to three times faster than they are being harvested. The misperception probably is derived from the fact that most of the state’s residents originate from more populated regions where development is all too familiar. In upstate New York, farm abandonment occurred throughout the 20th century. Although sunlight is no longer used to fatten cows upon lush pastures for butter and milk, its energy is being stored in other ways; wood.

The wood I burn today is mostly a product of farm abandonment from the late 1960s and early 1970s. In general, many of these trees are those that cannot tolerate shade or competition with other trees for sunlight very well. Black cherry, black birch, white birch, and poplar (aspen) are good examples. Farms that were abandoned longer ago may have more shade-intermediate tree species growing: red oak, white oak, white ash, yellow birch, and white pine. Farms that were abandoned even longer ago – perhaps on rocky soils in more mountainous terrain – may have more shade-tolerant species: sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, and eastern hemlock. One should remember that shade tolerances are not necessarily preferences. Almost all trees prefer well-drained soils that receive plenty of sunlight. However, it’s a tree’s tolerance to adverse conditions that give them a competitive advantage over another that lead to their success and abundance in a particular area. So, what does this have to do with firewood?

Burning Wood for Healthier Forests

As previously mentioned, New York State has lots of trees, but quantity should not be confused with quality. Yes, poor quality trees can still give you lots of firewood, but cutting the right trees in the right place can lead to healthier trees and forests. How is that?

First, never cut dead and downed trees for firewood. Let them lay there on the forest floor. They serve as good fodder for mushrooms and help build soil and mychorrizae; essential for tree-root health. Leaving a mess may impact your eyes, but to wildlife and forest regeneration, it’s quite a benefit. Coarse woody debris provides structure for songbirds, rabbits, and grouse to hide from predators. In addition, tree seedlings are more likely to survive amongst this mess from lazy deer that find walking over limbs and tree tops too costly.

Second, find a healthy tree, or a tree you like. It could be for aesthetics, its foliage, acorns for wildlife; maybe it’s your only black walnut or mulberry tree. Whatever it is, make sure it has a full, healthy crown of branches and foliage. If it looks like a “q-tip” then it’s not worth leaving. Now, that you’ve selected your “crop tree” release it from competition; glorified gardening on the ultra-perennial scale. The trees competing with your crop tree are next year’s firewood. These are trees whose branches or foliage touch your crop tree’s foliage. They are too close and are competing for sunlight. Once one crop tree is released, go to another and start the process over until your firewood needs have been met.

There, now we’ve had our cake and eaten it too. We have firewood and a healthier forest. Sure, we now have fewer trees, but healthier ones. Think of it like pruning an apple tree. You may have fewer branches, but those that remain, receive more sunlight and produce better quality fruit and a more fruitful tree. The same is true – in general – in a forest or your garden. Simply leaving either alone can have unintended consequences, especially for edibility. Most fruit and nut trees need more sunlight; probably since growing fruit and nuts takes more energy. Cutting trees for firewood provides a valuable role humans provide in the forest.

Remember, always leave tree tops; they make a mess, but improve wildlife habitat, add structure, and help improve forest regeneration. Also, start cutting now. Burning firewood efficiently requires ample time for drying or seasoning. If you burn unseasoned wood, you’ll have to burn twice as much for the same heat value, since water must first be evaporated away. Also, more smoke is emitted from wet wood, leading to chimney fires and neighbor disputes. If you’re buying your firewood, buy it early to season. Firewood processors cut the wood; the seasoning is your responsibility. If you have questions about choosing which tree to cut, and which to save, contact Catskill Forest Association.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


EML Nesting 

One of the best parts of providing habitat for birds in your yard is the possibility of being chosen as a nesting site. The initial excitement of discovering a new nest tucked away in a native shrub or perched up on a ledge is followed by the joy of finding that precious collection of eggs gently nestled within. The fledging success of this clutch will depend on several environmental factors including the location of the nest and the quality of material used to make it.

Nest building and rearing young require intense energy consumption, creating trade-offs among energy spent during building, incubating, and collecting food. Time is energy. Too much time spent looking for nest materials can limit reproductive success. The less time a bird spends looking for materials and building a nest, the more energy is available for other stages of reproduction. By providing a safe location and an abundance of high quality building materials you may be able to facilitate more successful nesting attempts.

Birds use a variety of materials to build a strong nest and hold it in place. You can help by putting out supportive materials such as:

• Piles of both rigid and flexible sticks of different sizes
• Pieces of native grapevine or Virginia Creeper
• A collection of coconut fibers or horse hair
• Mud in a bowl or small puddle nearby.

Hummingbird Nesting 

Insulation is another very important feature in a well built nest. Heat loss due to wind and wet conditions will cool eggs in a nest during incubation recesses and the parent has to regenerate that heat upon return. You can put out a wide range of materials that birds like to use.

• Wool from sheep, goat, or alpaca; cotton batting and
• Grass, hay or straw, and leaf mulch can also be easily offered
• Undyed crafting feathers are excellent and can be a favorite among Tree Swallows.

For hiding the nest, deterring predators, and for decoration to help attract a mate, offer:

• Pieces of lichen and moss
• Snakeskins and spiderwebs
Green material such as pine needles or sprigs of herbs or shrubs.

Collecting Wool 

There are numerous ways to offer building materials. We do, however, encourage the use of natural materials to lessen the risk of entanglement in synthetic fibers such as netting, twine, or fishing line. Avoid using animal fur that has been exposed to flea or tick treatments, or dryer lint because it may contain harmful residues. Keeping all of this in mind when offering building materials will help the birds in your yard produce high quality, safe, and secure nests.

To learn more about creating habitat for birds and wildlife.  Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology YardMap Project or follow us on Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



The best thing about Earth Day is it's a natural time of year to reset your goodwill clock. Lakes and ponds are often the focal point of community parks. They're natural — well, normally natural — bodies of water that many seem to think care for themselves.

Unfortunately, with runoff and soil erosion so prevalent, these bodies of water need our help to stay healthy and enjoyable for us and to support wildlife.

Why Lakes and Ponds Matter

Even though you'll never let pond water past your lips, what about your pets? What about summer vacations full of swimming, fishing and boating? These bodies of water are a part of your community, and their health affects yours.

Did you know lake and pond problems can build into physical health problems for you? Blue green algae isn't just unsightly, it can carry cyanobacteria, which can lead to anything from dermatitis to liver damage or worse.

Even if you chose to ignore the risk of sickness, the smell of a dying pond or lake is disgusting. Do you really want that wafting through your community?

Ready to take your local lake cleanup into your own hands? Try these 10 tips!

Fish Responsibly

There's nothing wrong with fishing and, in fact, many lakes and ponds are stocked specifically for public fishing. However, switch to using non-toxic tackle. When you're buying new fishing products, take into consideration what will happen to any bird or animal that happens across your line if you lose it.

Organize Community Cleanup Days

Never feel like you're the only one that cares. Organize a community cleanup day, get the whole family involved, and remove all trash from the shore in one swoop. This is a good time to make connections with peers. You might even be able to start a community cleanup club!

Establish a Community Club

Speaking of a cleanup club, why not start one? The "work" around these groups is what brings the community together. Get together once a month to give your pond or lake a good deep clean. Take advantage of holidays like Earth Day to spread awareness throughout your own community.

Fundraise for Large Projects

Cleaning up a huge local lake? Lean on your community for financial help. If your local lake is in trouble, start by speaking with the chamber of commerce. A huge community focal point in need is often something they'll want to be involved with.

If you've already formed a club, that's a good way to start networking with other volunteer organizations for further help.

Build an Island

Speaking of large projects, a lake with high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen is a body of water in trouble. They encourage algae growth, which stop light from reaching aquatic life, limits oxygen and, eventually, can be fatal to the ecosystem. Building a drifting island might be just the thing to remove harmful levels of nutrients from the water.

These floating islands vary in size depending on the need. Basically, these rafts act as wetlands that remove dirty water through a filtration process. Learn how to build your own, or pool together some of that fundraising money to call in a team of experts.

Restore Wetlands

Wetlands are a vital part of a lake. They serve as a natural filter, help control flooding and erosion, and house fish and wildlife. If you notice your local pond’s wetlands are dwindling or nonexistent, act fast!


That phrase only sounds like it doesn't involve a pond or lake. Guess where all that water flows from and to? Adopting a creek can be a fantastic family and friends activity. Adopt a portion of a creek and mark storm drains, pick up trash and even test the water for potential problems.

Family Trash Nabbing Contest

Don't wait for the community to band together if you have a family ready to go clean up now. Have a trash collecting contest. Just because the day is starting a little stinky doesn't mean you can't have a good time. Everyone just needs to choose their favorite trash nabbing tool.

Don't Bathe!

Camping is fun, but there are rules. You already know you aren't supposed to leave anything behind, but that goes for soap, too. Keep your soap out of lakes and ponds. Honest — the soap only works for people; it actually harms the lake.

Finish Line Party

Finish your day of cleaning with a cookout. Take pride in the work you've done to support your park and community.

Earth Day is nearly upon us but, even without this annual reminder to clean house, we should try to keep our world clean. Try a few of the tips above to become more involve with your community.

Photo by BucketListly

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Fire pits are a fantastic addition to any homestead or rural backyard. They are attractive, inexpensive to use and help to extend the use of your yard through the fall and winter. But when you use a fire pit you are literally playing with fire! Careless misuse could not only set your own house ablaze, but also could spark a grass fire and endanger others nearby.

For nearly a decade I lived in southern Idaho, an area of the state prone to large wildfires. During my time there I trained and worked as a volunteer firefighter and helped battle numerous wildfires. I have seen firsthand the destruction an errant spark from a fire pit can cause, and so I want to share these important fire pit safety precautions:

Positioning Your Fire Pit

Whether you are using a portable fire pit or planning to install a permanent one, positioning is key to safety:

• Make sure the fire pit is, at minimum, 10 feet away from any structure or neighboring yard—25 feet is preferable.
• Do not position a fire pit under a covered porch or low hanging tree branches.
• Always place a fire pit on a non-flammable surface, such as patio blocks or concrete.
• Do not put a fire pit on a wooden deck or directly on grass.

Preparing Your Fire Pit

• Clear all flammable materials away from your fire pit before using it. Five feet is a good distance. This “break” in vegetation will help prevent an escaped fire from spreading.
• Piling dirt or rocks around the pit will also help prevent any fire on the ground from escaping.
• The fire pit should be at least 6 inches deep at the center and 2 feet across, to help keep the embers and flames contained.

Lighting Your Fire Pit

• Always check wind direction before you light a fire and remove anything flammable downwind of the pit.
• If it is too windy, do not light your fire pit.
• Do not use lighter fluid to light a fire pit; instead, a commercial fire starter stick with kindling on top is ideal.
• Do not use any flammable fluids (gasoline, lighter fluid, etc.) to light or relight fires.

Using Your Fire Pit

• Never leave a fire pit unattended.
• Never leave children or pets unattended near a fire pit.
• Consider investing in a wire mesh cover to keep embers inside and help prevent children or pets from falling in.
• Limit the amount of fuel you put in the fire—just put what's necessary to keep it burning gently.
• Don’t put garbage or paper products into the fire. They can easily spark and throw off embers or burning remnants.
• Don’t wear flammable or loose-fit clothing while near the pit.
• Don’t burn soft woods like pine or cedar. These can “pop” and throw sparks.
• Even if you follow all of these guidelines, accidents still happen. Keep a container of water and a hose nearby in case of an emergency.

Extinguishing Your Fire Pit

• Always have a shovel nearby to extinguish any escaped flames and to put out the fire itself.
• Extinguish with water: drown it and stir it with the shovel to make sure it’s fully extinguished.
• Dispose of the ashes in a safe manner; keep a metal can that is used solely for ash storage. Even after 2 or 3 days, ashes can still be hot enough to cause a fire.
• Do not discard hot ashes in a compost pile, paper bag, cardboard box or anything that is combustible.

If you follow these guidelines and safely utilize your fire pit, it can be a wonderful addition to your yard. And don’t just limit your cooking to roasting marshmallows over the fire pit; a simple fire pit grill laid over the top can transform it into an excellent outdoor stove!

Jennifer Tuohy often writes on safety tips for inside and outside the home for The Home Depot. A former volunteer firefighter in Idaho, Jennifer now calls Charleston, South Carolina, home. Her advice on firepit safety is based upon a dozen years as a volunteer firefighter. To view a selection of firepits that may fit into your yard's plans, you can visit Home Depot's website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


This article was reprinted with permission from MOSES.

With increased interest in providing habitat for pollinators and a concern over the loss of native plants in our landscape, many landowners want to transform fallow or savannah land from non-native or single species grasslands to diverse native grasses and flowering plants—restoring native prairies. Because native prairie grasses and flowering forb plants have very small seeds, the planting area needs to be bare to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

The preparation of this seed bed is where most prairie planting recommendations encourage the use of herbicide. As organic farmers, my husband and I did not want to either handle or hire someone to apply these prohibited substances, so we tried a different way. Four years after we planted our one-acre prairie, we can say that we created a successful prairie planting without any herbicide use. A year and a half ago, we planted 22 acres of CRP land with a grass/flowering plant prairie mix, without broad herbicide use, and things are going well there, too.

Prairie Aster

Prairies can be established in a variety of areas that receive full sunlight, on flat or sloping land, and on any types of soil. Farmers may want to plant a flowering field border to provide habitat for beneficial insects in the buffer zone between their organic fields and their conventional neighbors, gaining benefit from land where they cannot grow organic commercial crops. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has a variety of cost share opportunities (EQIP and CSP) to aid farmers with these plantings.

The first step is to assess the area where you plan to plant your prairie and your capabilities to prepare and plant it. Is the plant community present acceptable, but you wish to improve the diversity of plants and add specific flowering plants such as milkweed for monarch butterflies or fall asters to provide late-season forage for honeybees? Then “frost interseeding” can work. Broadcast seed in very late fall before snow, during the winter if the ground is not snow covered, or in the very early spring when just a small amount of snow is on the ground and melting quickly. This should be done on ground that was burned or mowed short in the fall, or raked in areas to expose soil so those seeds can touch moist soil.

Consider this inter-seeding technique especially in areas where tractors cannot be used and on small patches of ground. This frost seeding will allow much of the current vegetative cover to remain, but some mowing in the early years in mid-summer and controlled burning every five to seven years will eventually favor your native plantings.

Learn your soil type, as certain grasses and flowering plants will do better in dry, wet, clay, sand or silt soils. It is more ecologically beneficial and helps you achieve more success with your planting when you use a great diversity of seed. Depending on the seasons, each year you may see different flowering plants and the diversity will give you a better chance of having a strong stand of preferred plant communities. Native seed is expensive, so planning for success is important.

For larger tracts of land where you can use a tractor and undesirable plant communities are present, use cover crops, tillage and mowing—that’s what we used on our land. You will need to either broadcast the seeds and pack them down or use a drop seeder drill, such as a Brillion with a roller, to get good seed-to-soil contact.

If you have persistent perennial weeds such as perennial (Canadian) thistle, you may need a few years to deal with them before you can plant your native plants. One method for controlling thistle that I have found effective in fields (not untilled pastures), is to plant sorghum sudan grass in the spring into tilled soil and continually mow it, up to three or four times in the season when it gets to about two feet tall. You don’t want the sudan to get too tall, or else it will smother itself when you mow it. You can harvest it for forage, or just leave it in the field, depending on how much thistle there is. Using this method, the thistle grows with the sudan, and fights for light in the thick and fast-growing stand. Each time you mow, the thistle has to start all over again, and since it is somewhat smothered by the sudan, it is using up and weakening its roots rather than gaining nutrients from the soil or sun. By cutting it numerous times, you continually weaken the root. After one season, I have seen a 75 percent drop in the thistle present; after two years of doing this, we were able to get rid of just about all of the thistle. You could also just mow each time the thistle starts to flower the first year and do the sudan grass treatment the second year, to save you two years of tillage. If you only have a few thistles, you can dig up the roots—continual tillage only cuts up the roots and makes more plants, not less.

Using Tillage

In a situation where most of the vegetation can be set back with tillage, unlike thistle, you can get your field ready for planting using the following method: mow in midsummer, which prevents the current crop of plants from dropping seed and knocks back any small shrubs. Then field cultivate, disc or use whatever tillage you want to prepare a seed bed and plant winter rye between mid-August and mid-September for southern Wisconsin. Adjust this timing for your region. Field cultivating works especially well for controlling quack grass, if you remember to let those quack roots dry out in the sun. The following spring, till in the rye when it is less than a foot tall. This will be sometime in May—earlier if an early spring, later if a late spring. Then plant a thick stand of oats. Let this grow until late June and then till it in. Drill soybeans in early to mid-July—yes, I said soybeans. Drill them thick and they will come up very quickly in the warm soil (hopefully, you will have enough moisture), and will canopy over the tight rows. We had very little growth of grasses or broadleaves under our soybeans. We have done this numerous times for fall vegetable production and have had success in controlling weeds with the use of July-planted soybeans. If we are following with vegetables, we would mow off the beans and till in August. For the native prairie, we let the soybeans go until end of September and mowed them then. The thick canopy provided excellent weed control for us and left us with a firm seed bed, mostly free of weeds. We did not do any further tillage after the soybeans before we planted the prairie. We then planted our prairie seed using a broadcast seeder and went over the field with a cultipacker in late October. It snowed the following week—perfect timing.

Prairie Echinacea

The first year, we mowed twice, when the plants were about 14-18 inches tall. The second year, we hand-pulled some problem weeds in our one acre. We have not had to do any other management to date, but we are planning to burn this area in the fifth year in the late fall. A rule of thumb is that spring burns favor native grasses and fall burns favor native flowering plants or forbs. Since we are managing our prairie for our own honeybees, native pollinators and butterflies, we favor the flowering forbs. Our prairie has a diverse stand of native grasses, too, which hold soil and are very beautiful as well.

The use of herbicides typically recommended by many professionals is due to the requirement to have a weed-free, firm seedbed to plant your native seeds. Any method that lessens the weed seed bank, lessens the amount of weeds growing in the top inch or two of soil, and does not disturb the soil to bring up new weed seeds, could be used to successfully plant native grassland species. Experiment with various techniques on small areas to familiarize yourself with the timing of seeding and mowing for your soil type and climate, and then move to larger acreages. You will be rewarded for your work and stewardship with the environmental stability a permanent sod cover provides: diverse wildlife habitat and the blissful beauty of a prairie with different blooming plants throughout the growing season.

(Top) Photo by Harriet Behar: New England aster planted in buffer zones provides late-season forage for honeybees.

(Bottom) Photo by Harriet Behar: Establishing a native prairie provides habitat for beneficial insect such as this endangered monarch butterfly.

Harriet Behar and her husband, Aaron Brin, have an organic farm near Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

From the March | April 2015 Issue of Organic Broadcaster

This article was reprinted with permission from MOSES.

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