Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Rationale for Wind Power Won’t Fly

Physical limitations will keep this energy source a niche provider of U.S. electricity needs.

By Jay Lehr

The Wall Street Journal

To understand the folly that drives too much of the nation’s energy policies, consider these basic facts about wind energy.

After decades of federal subsidies—almost $24 billion according to a recent estimate by former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm—nowhere in the United States, or anywhere else, has an array of wind turbines replaced a single conventional power plant. Nowhere.

But wind farms do take up space. The available data from wind-power companies, with which the Environmental Protection Agency agrees, show that the most effective of them can generate about five kilowatts per acre. This means 300 square miles of land—192,000 acres—are necessary to generate the 1,000 megawatts (a billion watts) of electricity that a conventional power plant using coal, nuclear energy or natural gas can generate on a few hundred acres. A billion watts fulfills the average annual power demand of a city of 700,000.

Taxpayer support for wind energy will eventually come to an end, I optimistically predict. The only question is how soon. My pessimistic guess is it will take another decade—by which time the number of wind turbines, currently about 45,000 according to the American Wind Energy Association, could more than double.

It is unclear whether very many wind-energy firms have sufficient monetary reserves to cover dismantling these behemoth lawn sculptures once the tax credits wind down or disappear. If not, the result will be a scene from a science fiction movie—as though giant aliens descended onto our planet only to freeze in place.

The promise that wind and solar power could replace conventional electricity production never really made sense. It’s known to everybody in the industry that a wind turbine will generate electricity 30% of the time—but it’s impossible to predict when that time will be. A true believer might be willing to do without electricity when the wind is not blowing, but most people will not. And so, during the 30% of the time the blades are spinning, conventional power plants are also spinning on low, waiting to operate during the other 70% of the time.

Importantly, the amount of electricity the wind can generate per acre of land is unrelated to the size of the turbines. Yes, by doubling the turbine’s blade length you double the turbine’s power output. The problem? If the turbines are big and tall you need fewer of them, but they must be more widely separated. If they’re smaller you need more of them, closer together.

            Another inescapable problem for electricity grids: The power generated by a wind turbine varies with the cube of the wind speed. When the wind speed doubles—say from 10 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour—the energy output increases eightfold (2 x 2 x 2). Someone, or some computer, has to balance these huge variations on the grid by calling on standby generators to produce more or less power to maintain the stability essential to the grid.

So, you might wonder, do high winds make turbines really hum? No. Turbines must be shut down in high winds because centrifugal force would begin to tear the blades apart. Also, the world has learned from experience in Europe—whose wind sculpture gardens may one day dwarf ours—that a one-millimeter buildup of bugs on the blades reduces their power output by as much as 25%.

There are other problems. Thousands of turbine breakdowns and accidents have been reported in recent years. The basic concrete foundations are suffering from strains, as reported by industry sources and on the wind-farm construction website windfarmbop.com.

And there are environmental factors. Annoying, low-frequency noise produced by wind turbines, particularly large turbines, is driving some people away from their homes, according to numerous press reports. (Low-frequency noise regulations are already in place in Denmark while the phenomenon is the subject of continuing research.) The Audubon Society now estimates bird deaths from turbines exceed a million per year.

Wind is at best a niche player in energy. Grandiose claims made on behalf of wind-generated electricity are rubbish, whether or not renewable-energy advocates admit it. Wind-power developers will milk taxpayers across the world out of a few billion more dollars, euros or pounds in subsidies, tax credits and the like, but sooner or later the public will wise up.

Dr. Lehr, a geological engineer and hydrologist, is science director of the Heartland Institute.

The biggest environmental decision facing Obama you’ve never heard of

The biggest environmental decision facing Obama you’ve never heard of

By Juliet Eilperin

If you want to get a sense of how contentious the decision is over whether the  Obama administration is going to block a planned copper and gold mine near Bristol Bay, consider this: the Environmental Protection Agency has just decided to allow the public another month to weigh in on a scientific review of the project they released a year ago.

Most people aren’t aware of the fight over Bristol Bay, home to nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon. But it may be one of the most important environmental decisions the president faces in his second term.

Friday was supposed to be the last day the EPA would take comment on its draft final assessment of how a major mine in the area would affect the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, which are home to several Alaskan native tribes as well as a valuable commercial and recreational fishery. In 2010 six tribes petitioned the EPA to invoke its rarely-used authority under the Clean Water Act, known as Section 404(c), to block any mining in the area on the grounds it would have an “unacceptable adverse impact” on the region’s waterways, fish or wildlife.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, a joint venture of two mining firms, Northern Dynasty and Anglo American, has launched a major lobbying and public relations campaign aimed at deflecting any possible EPA intervention. On Thursday the group — which had been pushing for an extension of the public comment period — released an economic analysis they commissioned from the consulting firm IHS Global Insight estimating the project would generate 2,500 construction jobs during the five-year construction period. The report predicted the companies would spend approximately $1.2 billion per year on direct capital investment and wages during the construction phase, and the mine would ultimately generate between $136 million and $180 million in annual taxes and royalties.

“For perspective, the report indicates Pebble development alone would pay more in annual taxes to the state than the entire fishing industry combined,” said Pebble CEO John Shivley in a statement. “This clearly shows Pebble development could be an important economic driver for Alaska’s future.”

But a coalition of tribal, environmental and fishing groups question that analysis. “Pebble has a well-established track record of understating the costs and risks associated with a giant open-pit mine at Bristol Bay’s headwaters and exaggerating the benefits,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’sAlaska program, adding that 14,000 jobs depend on a healthy salmon fishery in the region.

Opponents argue that a potential spill from the massive mine, which would rank as North America’s largest if constructed, would jeopardize a pristine ecosystem. In an earlier environmental assessment of the project, the EPA estimated a project on the scale of the Pebble Mine — which could ultimately produce 80 billion pounds of copper, 107 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum — would likely cause the loss of between 54 and 89 miles of streams and between 4 and nearly 7 square miles of wetlands.

Over the course of the mine’s operation, the draft assessment said, one or more accidents or failures could occur, “potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat.”

The lobbying on this issue is already intense. The Pebble Limited Partnership spent more than $500,000 on lobbying last year, according to federal election records, and has already spent at least $110,000 in 2013. Environmental and tribal groups also have put significant resources into the flight: the Bristol Bay Native Corporation spent $110,000 in 2012 and $20,000 in 2013, according to public records. Last year three environmental groups – The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters – spent $270,000, $82,000 and $20,000, respectively.

In an e-mail Thursday night, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said the agency would extend the comment period to June 30. The agency is also getting feedback from 12 peer reviewers.

“An additional 30 days allows the public an opportunity to provide feedback on changes made to the assessment as a result of extensive input received in 2012,” she wrote. “This extension is reasonable given the complexity and length of the revised draft assessment.”

In the past, tribal groups in the region have sometime quarreled with commercial interests over salmon fishing. But now, according to Peter Andrew Jr., a board member of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, they’ve formed an alliance.

“If we don’t protect this, we’ll have nothing to fight over in the future,” Andrew said in an interview during a lobbying visit to Washington this spring. “This is the last place on earth like this.”

The EPA is still a long way from making a final decision on whether to block the Pebble Mine: it aims to finalize its watershed assessment by the end of the year, and EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran, who is overseeing the review, told reporters in late April the agency “has made no decision about if or how it might use our authorities under the Clean Water Act, or other laws, to protect Bristol Bay.”

Shivley has challenged several aspects of the EPA’s draft scientific assessment, arguing that key pieces of it are based on studies written by mining opponents such as the American advocacy group Earthworks.

One of the pivotal figures in the debate is likely to be Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who is up for re-election next year and has questioned whether the EPA should step in and issue what he calls “a pre-emptive veto.”

“While I remain opposed to a pre-emptive veto of this or any other project, an open, public process that answers Alaskans’ questions and puts better science on the table is a good thing,” Begich said when the EPA opened the comment period on the assessment in late April. “I hope the completed assessment will answer questions about whether this project can meet the high hurdle of developing a large-scale mine while protecting our renewable resources.”

In other words, stay tuned.

New Surgeon General Warning:

Social media is awash with videos of incidents that replace stories once told ’round the water-cooler”. Here’s a list of the hot virals that have been making their way throughout the online hunting community.

Here’s the latest and greatest:

♦ Rule #1. If you’re going to do something stupid and illegal, don’t record it and put it online. This guy may face jail time for harassing and endangered species. WATCH NOW

            ♦ Ever wondered what it might be like to be eaten by a grizzly? This is a pretty good simulation. WATCH NOW

♦ Amazing footage of a deer going through the windshield of a bus and apparently surviving. WATCH NOW

♦ Excuse the off-color title that appears on this one, but the video itself is worth a chuckle as you watch a deer run over an unsuspecting dog at full-speed. WATCH NOW

♦ A mature buck shows his high-jumping abilities in this one. Imagine if he learned the Fosbury Flop! WATCH NOW

♦ For whatever reason, a bison and a bull elk get into an all-out battle. Watch to see who wins. WATCH NOW

♦ Spring is a special time for elk, it makes them very happy… either that or they’ve wandered into a patch of prickly pear cactus. WATCH NOW

♦ A cow is no match for a hungry grizzly, cattle however are a different story! WATCH NOW

♦ Take a ride with a fighter pilot as he plucks a duck out of the air mid-flight. WATCH NOW

♦ Mother nature is harsh and wolves are ruthless. WATCH NOW

            These videos were compiled by the Boone and Crocket Club and presented in their recent newsletter.

USDA Secretary Vilsack Highlights Cover Crop and Climate Change Solutions

by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Yesterday, June 5 speaking at the National Press Club, USDA Secretary Vilsack addressed thepresent and future challenges in agriculture brought on by our changing climate – challenges “new and different than anything we’ve ever tackled.” The Secretary recognized the unique regional challenges that farmers and ranchers are experiencing around the country – extreme precipitation in the Northeast, drought in the West and Southwest, and increasing temperatures across the board – and emphasized the need to adapt to these, and other, climate change effects. The Secretary additionally recognized agriculture’s potential to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, in particular by storing (or sequestering) carbon in soils.

In his speech, the Secretary announced three new measures that USDA will take to help farmers toward these goals: (1) Regional Climate Hubs, (2) NRCS Soil Carbon Management and Evaluation Tools, and (3) Cover Crop Guidelines.

Regional Climate Hubs

Through Regional Climate Hubs, USDA aims to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners develop adaptation strategies by providing regionally-specific risk and vulnerability assessments. These Hubs will likely be located in existing USDA service centers, but may also operate in collaboration with Land Grand and Public Universities, Extension offices, and Agricultural Experiment Stations to improve forecasting and develop and provide science-based risk management tools.

NRCS Soil Carbon Tools

This measure focuses on two new online tools relating to agriculture’s ability to sequester carbon in the soil. The first tool is an online database that provides access to the results of NRCS’ Rapid Carbon Assessment – a soil survey containing over 144,000 samples at 6,000 locations across the country.  This tool is geared toward scientists and researchers looking to investigate regional variations in soil carbon, land use, and management and conservation practices.

The second tool – the Carbon Management and Evaluation Tool (or “COMET-Farm”) – provides an online platform for farmers to analyze the GHG footprint of their operations.  Using COMET-Farm, farmers can input information on their specific operation and management practices and then generate an analysis of the GHG emissions and carbon sequestration that could result by implementing various conservation practices.

Cover Crops

The third measure is the result of an inter-agency project among USDA’s NRCS, Risk Management Agency (RMA), and Farm Service Agency (FSA) to establish guidelines for terminating cover crops while retaining eligibility for RMA and FSA programs.  In addition to carbon sequestration, cover crops provide other benefits, such as preventing erosion and improving soil health, yet crop insurance and commodity payment programs have been structured in a way that discourage farmers from planting cover crops.  NRCS, RMA, and FSA – together with stakeholders, universities, and industry groups – developed a science-based guidance to provide consistency across USDA programs and assurance to farmers who want to plant cover crops and remain eligible for crop insurance and commodity program payments.

Under existing RMA and FSA rules, producers risk losing access to crop insurance and some commodity support programs if they fail to terminate planted cover crops by a certain date.  However, the dates and rules relating to termination have been inconsistent both within and across regions. In the past, some FSA and RMA regional offices have periodically issued special provisions to modify termination dates. The new USDA inter-agency guidance establishes cover crop kill dates across four zones.

A More Sustainable Agriculture

As NSAC has noted in our Agriculture and Climate Change Position Paper and in letters toCongress, not only do sustainable and organic agricultural systems offer the most resilience for agricultural production in the face of increasingly uncertain regional climate effects, but these practices can also mitigate GHGs. Sustaining and expanding programs that support diversified sustainable and organic agriculture and additional conservation measures – including preventing erosion and wetland draining by re-linking conservation requirements to crop insurance subsidies – as well as investing in on-farm energy efficiency and appropriate renewable energy generation, will improve farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to focus on adaptation while providing mitigation benefits as well.

Governor Brownback Declares June, "Flint Hills Heritage Month"

Governor Sam Brownback has signed a proclamation declaring June “Flint Hills Heritage Month.” The governor is a passionate champion of the Flint Hills, regarding its beautiful landscape as a valuable resource to draw tourists and boost the region’s economy and community life.

“The Flint Hills region is one of the state’s premier natural attractions,” said Abby Amick, Wabaunsee County Economic Development Director and chair of the Flint Hills Tourism Coalition. “There are so many things visitors can see and experience that bring the Kansas spirit to life. Flint Hills Heritage Month is a great way to focus on the history, natural beauty, and culture of the region.”

Some of the events scheduled to celebrate the region’s heritage in June include the historic Strong City Rodeo, Symphony in the Flint Hills, Fort Riley; Washunga Days, Council Grove; Kansas Cowboy Poetry Contest, Alma; Annual Bluegrass at the Lake, Marion; and the Flint Hills Folklife Festival, Cottonwood Falls. 

For a list of June events in the Flint Hills and around the state, visit www.TravelKS.com  – Calendar of Events.

Decrease in Wildlife Habitat Threatens Ducks

Paul Smith

Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Wisconsin

Water plus habitat equals ducks.

Among the vagaries of nature, it amounts to an iron-clad calculation.

After a couple of decades of sound conservation programs and a few years of very good precipitation, North America had the most ducks ever recorded in 2011 (45.6 million ducks) and 2012 (48.6 million).

The numbers, from the annual breeding ducks survey in spring, prompted some wise wildlife managers to urge hunters and wildlife viewers to savor the sight of large flocks because “these are the good old days.”

Weather may well allow record or near-record duck numbers again this year.

But the long-term trend is cause for great concern.

A dramatic change to the habitat half of the equation is setting the stage for drops in duck and other wildlife populations.

In America‘s market economy — at least the way it’s currently structured — wildlife habitat can’t compete with other land uses.

The number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program has dropped 26% — or 9.7 million acres — in the last five years.

The land, among the most productive wildlife grassland on earth, is rapidly changing from prairie to corn.

Concerned by the trend, conservation leaders held a Prairie Summit on Monday and Tuesday, June 3 and 4, in BismarckN.D.

“We’re seeing rapid, widespread changes in the prairie landscape driven by demand for commodities,” said Steve Adair, director of the Ducks Unlimited office in Bismarck.

The meeting was organized by Ducks Unlimited with assistance from other conservation organizations, including Pheasants Forever, Delta Waterfowl, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and The Nature Conservancy.

It also included representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and North and South Dakota state officials.

The meeting was timed so members of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, which had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Bismarck, could also attend.

Christine Thomas, dean of the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point, is a member of the council and attended both meetings.

“The scale of these changes is unlike anything I’ve seen,” Thomas said in a phone interview Wednesday following a tour of the area.

The Conservation Reserve Program is credited as a major force in recent record duck numbers as well as high populations of pheasants and other upland birds and non-game species in the Prairie Pothole region.

The program was established in 1985. It pays landowners a subsidy to keep land out of agricultural production. It was typically recommended on marginal farming land.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture touts the program’s benefits, including reducing soil erosion, protecting surface waters, sequestering carbon dioxide and providing wildlife habitat.

But the program is in dire straights against market forces.

Adair said a presentation at Monday’s meeting showed the average net income on North Dakotaground planted in corn is $400 an acre, while the net income to farmers on land enrolled in the reserve program was $12 per acre.

Farmers get their payments in the program but still have to pay taxes, control weeds and other costs on the land.

Recent subsidies to farmers to grow corn for ethanol, as well as international demand for corn and soybeans, triggered a significant drop in reserve program acres in the Prairie Pothole region.

National enrollment is at a 25-year low.

With corn prices spiking, most farmers can’t justify keeping acres in the program, even if it’s poor agricultural land.

Duck and pheasant hunters visiting the Dakotas last fall and winter commonly saw cattail marshes being burned to allow planting this spring.

Activity to produce two other commodities — oil and gas in the Bakken formation — is causing additional loss to wildlife habitat in the region.

“There is the actual footprint of the wells and processing sites, then there is the effect of fragmentation of habitat,” Adair said. “It all adds up to less for wildlife.”

The meeting’s agenda included discussion of possible improvements to the reserve program through the Farm Bill, as well as increased federal funding for wildlife programs in the Prairie Pothole region. The notion of an increase in the price of the federal duck stamp — which buys and leases wildlife habitat — was also discussed.

The state agencies, too, offered ideas to help reduce losses.

But the odds of reversing the tide of habitat loss are very long. The economic benefits from increased corn production are too great.

“Everyone knows that this development is going to happen,” Thomas said. “The job of the conservation community, agencies and hopefully the oil industry is to make the impact on the environment as small as possible and retain as much habitat for wildlife as possible.”

A new, landmark conservation solution, such as the Pittman-Robertson excise tax or the duck stamp, both dating to the 1930s, is nowhere in sight.

“There’s no silver bullet,” Adair said.

Tuesday’s schedule included site visits to farms, ranches and fossil fuel production facilities.

It rained most of the day, limiting travel to paved roads, Adair said. North Dakota has had nearly twice its normal precipitation this year.

Perhaps 40% of the acreage in the area has yet to be planted because of the wet conditions.

At least as long as the rains fall, ducks will have essential water. The other necessary ingredient for wildlife production, though, isn’t controlled by Mother Nature.

And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

House passes bill to make e-duck stamp permanent

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act in early June. Co-sponsored by Reps. Rob Wittman (VA) and Ron Kind (WI), the bipartisan bill will make duck stamps permanently available for purchase online. Physical stamps will still be mailed to buyers, but the online proof of purchase provides new convenience to sportsmen and women by immediately fulfilling the requirement of possessing a stamp to hunt waterfowl. After 45 days, the proof of purchase will expire and purchasers must have the traditional paper stamp to receive its full benefits. 

“There is no cost to the taxpayers, there is broad bipartisan support for this innovative idea and this convenient twenty-first century delivery system will be utilized by thousands of American sportsmen in the future. Allowing the purchase of duck stamps online is an important technological advancement and it is time to make this a permanent feature of federal law,” Wittman said. “This is a small but common-sense step to making government work more efficiently for citizens.” 

Federal duck stamp purchases are the primary funding source for the acquisition of lands fully dedicated to providing habitat for waterfowl. Lands acquired under the federal duck stamp program become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. These habitats are important to fulfilling North American Waterfowl Management Plan goals, particularly wetlands and grasslands conserved via easements and fee-title acquisitions purchased in the Prairie Pothole Region.

“For decades, the sale of duck stamps has generated critical funding for habitat protection and wildlife conservation,” Kind said. “Making duck stamps available for purchase online means greater convenience and accessibility for hunters, collectors and outdoor enthusiasts and more revenue for the important conservation efforts that duck stamps support.”

In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee is considering its e-duck stamp bill, S. 738, introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (MS). Other co-sponsors include Sens. Max Baucus (MT), Thad Cochran (MS) and Mark Pryor (AR). 

Kansas Wildlife Federation’s Day Camp a Success

                   Canoeing on Catfish Lake during Kansas Wildlife Federation’s Day Camp
                                                     Photo Credit: Ted Beringer


The Kansas Wildlife Federation’s Day Camp on June 12th at TimberRidge Adventure Center in Olathe, Kansas, was great fun for the 10-12 year old kids who attended. The kids enjoyed boating and fishing in the morning before it became hot. Everyone caught at least one sunfish, bass or catfish in the catch & release program on Catfish Lake. They also enjoyed the canoes & paddle boats. After lunch in the Welcome Center, there was target shooting on the archery range followed by the BB gun range where water filled balloons were targets. Each of the kids received a one third gallon water jug donated by the Coleman Company and a canteen with carabiner clip donated by Bass Pro Shop. Bass Pro also donated two fishing poles that were given away in a drawing. Quail & Upland Wildlife Federation also helped sponsor the Day Camp by providing liability insurance. Ted Beringer and Cynthia Rhodes were the two Kansas Wildlife Federation board members that helped run the camp but the staff at TimberRidge deserve special thanks, especially Starla & Lysa for running each of the Day Camp events with the kids’ safety in mind. If you wish to be notified about next year’s Day Camp, check the Kansas Wildlife Federation’s website <http://www.kswildlife.org> in April (2014) for the announcement.

Green Highways: New Strategies to Manage Roadsides as Habitat

by Richard Conniff

Environment 360

From northern Europe to Florida, highway planners are rethinking roadsides as potential habitat for native plants and wildlife. Scientists say this new approach could provide a useful tool in fostering biodiversity.

Not long ago, a biologist took Florida landscape architect Jeff Caster aside and suggested that he ought to be designing highway margins not just for safety or scenic value, but as habitat, to help address the nation’s drastic decline in pollinating insects.

Caster passed the idea along to his boss at the Florida State Department of Transportation (DOT), who looked at him as if he were crazy. Even in the best of circumstances, highways are notorious for fragmenting habitat, spreading pollution, causing roadkills, and otherwise disrupting the natural world. Highways are where insects go to be splattered on windshields. “You expect the DOT to do research on bees?” she told him. “Get real.”

Instead, Caster walked her through the reasoning behind the proposal from University ofFlorida entomologist Jaret C. Daniels: The population of feral honeybees has dropped more than 50 percent nationwide over the past half-century. Pathogens, pesticides, and habitat loss have also decimated native pollinating insect species. But in Florida, agriculture is the second-biggest contributor to the state economy, after tourism, and roughly 100 valuable crops depend on pollinators. Florida DOT not only manages 186,000 acres, about 0.5 percent of Florida’s total area, but its land, says Caster, is “next door to, or one property away from, almost every farm in the state.”

Caster’s bosses all eventually signed onto the proposal, a decision no doubt made easier because the state is now also actively promoting highway wildflower tourism. A $90,000 study to determine how changes in the DOT mowing regimen might benefit roadside pollinator populations is now underway.

In most places, the public may still largely want their highway margins “to be either tidy or flowery,” as a roadside biodiversity report for Scottish Natural Heritage put it early this year. They are not looking for Darwin’s “entangled bank.” But in countries around the world, ecologists, and transportation engineers are increasingly joining in an improbable alliance to turn roadsides and other travel conduits into functional habitat.

In France, highway stormwater runoff ponds have become critical amphibian habitat. In the U.S. Midwest, naturalized roadsides have become prairie corridors and nesting grounds. Hawaii has developed an elaborate program to keep invasive plants from spreading along roads. And, inFlorida, researchers are now testing a sophisticated new system to alert motorists to black bears and endangered Florida panthers on the Tamiami Trail.

Designing roads with nature in mind isn’t entirely new. Planners of many early highways, like New York’s 

Bronx River Parkway

 in 1907, intended them to look like naturalized countryside. But the emphasis was on scenic value. Interest in roadsides as habitat for native plants and wildlife began to develop in the 1980s and 90s, particularly in northern Europe. The British government, for instance, designed a section of roadside along the M40 east of Oxford as a travel corridor for invertebrates between two protected woodlands. By 1994, 25 butterfly species had colonized the corridor, notably including the rare black hairstreak.

But the pioneering roadside experiments undertaken then have now developed into a movement, encouraged in part by landscape ecologist Richard T.T. Forman’s 2002 book Road Ecology: Science and Solutions. There’s now also an International Conference on Ecology and Transportation. (It meets later this month in ScottsdaleArizona.)

Why the renewed interest in roadside habitat now? It is one way to respond to the loss of both species and natural spaces as the landscape has become more urbanized and as the expansion and intensification of agriculture have eliminated many old pockets of habitat.

The sides of highways are, in some cases, the only place left to live. In northern Europe, for instance, up to 90 percent of the natural ponds and wetlands have disappeared over the past century. But in France, by law, there are stormwater ponds every two kilometers along highways, and by default they have become a partial substitute — though a somewhat problematic one due to roadkill and other factors. When researchers last year surveyed 58 such highway ponds, they found that they had become home for numerous amphibian species, including one that is now rare in nature.

In Iowa, where there’s little left of the original prairie habitat, farmers who used to set land aside under the federal Conservation Reserve Program have instead withdrawn more than 1.5 million acres since 2008 to plant wall-to-wall corn and try to cash in on the market for ethanol. That makes roadsides “the last refuge, the last vestige of hope” for ground-nesting birds like quail, pheasants, meadowlarks, and bobolinks, as well as for many butterflies and other insect species, says Rebecca Kauten, manager of the integrated roadside vegetation management program at the University ofNorthern Iowa.

The tripling of herbicide use in agriculture since the introduction of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans has also eliminated milkweed and other native species that used to live in U.S. farm fields. That’s caused monarch butterfly populations to crash, says University of Kansas insectecologist Orley Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch. One way to partially compensate would be for highway authorities to plant roadsides with milkweed — notably in AlabamaIdahoIllinoisTexas,West Virginia, and Minnesota, all of which have named monarchs their state butterfly.

The United States, with about 4 million miles of highways, has generally lagged behind European efforts to naturalize roadsides. Belgium, for instance, now has most of its major highway roadsides planted for conservation, and according to a planner at the Department of Nature, Environment, and Energy, it’s one easy way, and sometimes the only way, to put people back in touch with the natural world. Similar efforts in the U.S. have faltered, partly because there’s no central agency promoting such programs.

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides funds to states for roadside enhancement, but that can mean anything from sound barriers to decorative plantings: “Arizonadoes a pretty good job, with lots of natural grasses and cactus,” said an FHWA spokesman. Iowa has also been a leader in protecting roadside habitat, with a program that times mowing to the natural cycles of ground-nesting birds and other species.

Decisions often get made at the county level, where political patronage often drives the investment in mowers and fuel contracts, according to Monarch Watch’s Taylor. Even though mowing less frequently would simultaneously save tax dollars and benefit the environment, “there’s institutional resistance,” he says. “The guy who runs the highway department wants to defend his fiefdom and keep his little army of mowers.”

The Great Recession has begun to change that mentality by forcing cuts in mowing budgets.Virginia, for instance, found it could save $20 million in 2009 by cutting its roadside mowing in half. But budget pressures also affect programs to develop naturalized roadsides — Minnesota, for example, recently cut $50,000 for its roadside seed-purchasing program.

Resistance may also arise because managing roadsides for biodiversity is much more complicated than managing them for safety. In France, for instance, the same stormwater ponds that now harbor amphibians also typically collect heavy metals, petroleum products, salts, pesticides, and other runoff. That means they may function as a biological sink — a death trap, over the long term — for the very species they attract. Amphibians are 80 percent of the roadkill in some European countries, and heavy traffic has made some populations extinct. Last year, a dozen European nations formed a coalition to develop ways of providing more appropriate freshwater habitat and reducing road mortality.

The idea of attracting wildlife to roads also raises the specter of more accidents for motorists. But in the case of deer, some studies suggest that reduced mowing may actually discourage the animals from using roadsides, because there’s not as much fresh grazing. In Arizona, highway planners choosing native species for roadsides avoid what they call “ice cream species” that might attract elk.

The pressure to make those kinds of nuanced choices will undoubtedly increase, as undeveloped real estate becomes more precious and as new research makes the benefits more apparent. Soybeans, for instance, are a self-pollinating crop. But in Australia and Brazil, studies have recently found that having honeybees nearby increases yields by as much as 50 percent, for reasons that remain open to debate.

At Iowa State University, research by entomologist Matt O’Neal has demonstrated that it’s possible to get the same sort of bump from native pollinators and other beneficial insects living in strips of vegetation just 10 to 50 feet wide. O’Neal’s group has tested a Michigan State University list of tallgrass prairie plants and provided Iowa farmers with a list of a dozen native plant species — like pinnate coneflowers, meadow zisia, and swamp milkweed — that are “best bets” for attracting pollinators.

And where will Iowa farmers plant these precious vegetative strips? The sides of the road may be the only place left.

Streams Surveys being Conducted Through August



Stream Survey and Assessment Program provides vital information about native aquatic species

Crew members from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) Stream Survey and Assessment Program are traveling across the state this summer to collect information regarding the health of Kansas’ flowing waters. From May through August, a team of biologists, stream ecologists and numerous volunteers will visit 45 sites in nearly 20 different counties to study a vast array of aquatic life. Primary survey sites this summer include the Saline andSmoky Hill River basins.

Since 1994, KDWPT has been surveying and assessing streams to establish and maintain an inventory of the fish, mussels and other aquatic invertebrates found in Kansas’ 12 river basins. The results and samples from each site are used to help manage native aquatic communities, including threatened and endangered species and species in need of conservation.

“Native species are good indicators of the overall health and vitality of our land,” said ecologist and program coordinator Mark VanScoyoc. “The fish we catch for recreational purposes out of our reservoirs, lakes, and ponds can be raised in a hatchery and released, but this is not the case for many native stream species at this time. It’s only prudent to realize that what is good for our aquatic species is going to be good for us as well.”

For more information on this program, visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “Services/Stream Assessment and Monitoring Program.”