Daily Archives: November 25, 2014

Kansas Riverkeeper job announcement

Are you looking for an exciting career in the outdoors?  Friends of the Kaw is hiring a qualified, highly motivated individual to fill the position of the Kansas RIVERKEEPER. The position requires a love of the outdoors; an ability to educate the public on water quality issues; and strong organizational skills. The Kansas RIVERKEEPER is primarily responsible for developing and implementing programs that remove pollution from the waters of the KansasRiver basin, block new sources of pollution, and provide education on water quality issues and best practices. Please follow this link for the full job announcement. Please submit resumes by Monday, December 15, 2014.

The current Kansas Riverkeeper, Laura Calwell, will be on the job until the appropriate candidate is hired and trained.

Western Kansas streams endangered because of low aquifer levels

By Karen Dillon

Lawrence Journal-World

Western Kansas has lost many of its major perennial streams because farmers have pumped extreme amounts of water from the Ogallala Aquifer, water experts were told November 25th.

Jim Butler, geohydrology section chief with the Kansas Geological Survey, spoke at the Big 12 Universities Water Workshop at KansasUniversity about the dire situation with the Ogallala Aquifer.

Butler put up a slide with a newly released map showing that more than 60 percent of the aquifer, the state’s major water supply for irrigation, has been depleted. Some in the audience gasped as they saw big swaths of red on the map, signaling depletion.

“This pumping has obviously had an impact on the western third of Kansas,” Butler said. “It’s also caused collateral damage on our ecosystem health — especially our perennial streams.”

The aquifer lies beneath eight states including Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, and is one of the largest groundwater resources in the world. But it’s in trouble because farmers have been over-pumping water to grow crops in semi-arid climates.

About 25 percent of the water used in the United States is from the aquifer, Butler said. About 95 percent of groundwater pumped in Kansas is used to irrigate crops.

Butler said many western Kansas streams used to be fed by the aquifer because its water table was higher than the streams. But the aquifer’s water table has dropped below the stream beds, three feet or more, and no longer can supply water to the streams, creating dry beds almost year around.

Using photographs of the Arkansas River, which used to be a major Kansas river near Larned, Butler was able to effectively demonstrate the problem.

One photo showed what the stream looks like today — dry and rocky.

“This is a very dispiriting sight,” Butler said. “It’s a tremendous loss to our ecosystem. The decreased well yields are not the only impacts.”

Butler said Kansas has three rivers classified as navigable, including the Arkansas River.

“Obviously to navigate this, you’ll use the ATV mode,” he said, pointing to the photo.

Since 1945, Kansas has been warning farmers that they were depleting the Ogallala, but the heavy irrigation continued despite several studies and task force reports. Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed another task force. The state hopes its recommendations will persuade farmers to reduce water use.

Butler said that simple solutions can work. For example, if farmers in northwest Kansas had pumped 22 percent less water over the past several years by using different techniques such as no-till to grow crops, water levels would have remained stable in the short term.

“If we cut back we can buy some time in the system in western Kansas to find solutions,” Butler said. “It’s all about buying time.”

Kansas High Plains Aquifer — Saturated Thickness, Percent Change

Kansas High Plains Aquifer — Saturated Thickness, Percent Change

Thank the birds and the bees for your holiday table

By Cynthia Palmer

American Bird Conservancy

A beekeeper grabs dead bees during a demonstration against the use of bee-killing pesticides in front of the ministry in Sofia, Bulgaria, on April 22, 2013. Beekeepers gathered to protest and to call for a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are hazardous to bees. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

A beekeeper grabs dead bees during a demonstration against the use of bee-killing pesticides
in front of the ministry in Sofia, Bulgaria, on April 22, 2013. Beekeepers gathered to protest
and to call for a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are hazardous to bees.
(Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Rooted in gratitude for a good harvest, Thanksgiving is a day of togetherness and feasting for many Americans. It is a time to wipe the dust off Grandma’s delicious recipe cards or to head to the Deli Fresh grocery aisles for savory string beans and pumpkin pie. For many, Thanksgiving is the purest and most important holiday of all, unblemished by the commercialism that threatens to tarnish Christmas and other celebrations.

Behind the scenes, however, the cornucopia of foods for which we give thanks is now under siege, in part due to a new and insidious class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics.” First introduced in the U.S. in 1994, the neonics quickly became the most widely used insecticides on Earth, applied to two-thirds of the world’s croplands. Virtually all the corn in this country is grown from neonic-coated seeds, as are many grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Unfortunately, these neonic insecticides are killing bees, butterflies, birds, and quite possibly bats and other wildlife. As such, they are a direct threat to our Thanksgiving meal, wiping out the tiny buzzing “field hands” that pollinate hundreds of crops—roughly one-third of the foods we eat. Pollinators play an essential role in our Thanksgiving celebrations—from the squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and other vegetables to the nuts, pumpkin desserts, apple pies, and cranberry sauce.

Even minute amounts of neonics are enough to kill the bees. The neonic coating on a single corn seed can kill over 80,000 bees. Bees that don’t succumb immediately face other effects: reduced memory and navigation, immune problems, developmental shortcomings, and diminished foraging ability. These impairments are as good as death to the parent colony.

Concerned about the impacts on bees, in 2013 American Bird Conservancy reviewed 200 studies, including 2,800 pages of industry research obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Our assessment concludes that the neonics are lethal to birds as well. A single corn kernel coated with a neonic can kill a songbird. And as little as 1/10th of a coated seed per day during the egg-laying season can impair reproduction.

The ABC report also looks at aquatic insects, which are critical to avian aerial insectivores such as swifts, swallows, and nighthawks whose populations are now in decline. We conclude that the levels of these chemicals in our waterways are already high enough to kill the aquatic invertebrate life on which so many birds depend.

These findings are buttressed by the strikingly high levels of neonics found in a new review of surface water data from nine countries, and also by a recent study by Dutch researchers, published in the journal Nature, which noted that the higher the concentration of the pesticide in the surface water, the greater the decline in bird populations. A 2014 meta-analysis by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides evaluates 800 peer-reviewed studies and confirms this spiral of unintended consequences.

Seed Tech Revolution

Neonics are part of a revolution in seed technology that has transformed American agriculture in recent years. Giant agribusiness companies including Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta control the commercial biotech market for seeds. They coat the seeds in neonics and embed them with genetically engineered (GE) traits such as immunity to Roundup herbicide, enabling farmers to use large amounts of weed-killers without harming their crops.

The companies maintain strict licensing agreements controlling the use of their coated, GE-impregnated seeds. For many crops such as corn and canola, it can be near impossible to find untreated seeds on the market. Attempts to clean and re-use seeds from prior years are landing farmers in court facing battalions of industry lawyers.

In encrusting our seeds in systemic insecticides, the chemical and seed conglomerates are transforming the way agriculture is done in this country. Neonic seed treatments are a pre-emptive strike; we are blanketing our lands with chemicals even when there is no pest to be found within 100 miles. This is a damaging reversal from integrated pest management, the approach to agriculture that says you monitor for pests, do all you can to prevent pest outbreaks, and apply conventional chemicals only as a last resort.

What is really quite extraordinary is that—despite the enormous scale on which they are used—there is scant evidence that neonics are actually increasing agricultural productivity. The EPA released its own analysis of soybean production on Oct. 16, concluding that “there is no increase in soybean yield using most neonicotinoid seed treatments when compared to using no pest control at all.”

The EPA review confirms what we have been telling the agency all year: that despite the enormous scale on which they are used, neonic seed coatings are not increasing agricultural yields. Scientific studies on corn, canola, and other crops show similar results, as documented by a recent Center for Food Safety assessment of independent peer-reviewed efficacy studies. The farmers pay for the costly treated seeds; the beekeepers bring home dead hives; and the birds, butterflies, and other wildlife die. The only benefit is to the handful of multinational biotech conglomerates, which accrue enormous profits.

Equally absurd is that, even though neonics are applied to hundreds of millions of acres in the U.S.—up to 95 percent of those lands via coated seeds—the EPA fails to require any registration of neonic seed treatments, or any enforcement in cases of misuse. EPA misinterprets its 1988 “treated article exemption,” 40 CFR § 152.25(a), to overlook the fundamental definition of a “treated article”: the pesticidal effects must not extend in significant ways beyond the article itself.

In the case of coated seeds, typically only 5 or 10 percent of the active ingredient is absorbed by the plant. The rest either blows away as dust during mechanized planting—killing the bees directly—or washes into the soil and ultimately the groundwater. EPA’s failure to require stringent testing and approval protocols for neonic seed coatings is a significant loophole, while its failure to track use and impacts helps perpetuate the myth that these chemicals can be used safely.

Birds don’t take a holiday and nor do bees. Their protection demands that we do away with policies that allow excessive use of ineffective and dangerous pesticides. Closer to home, as we prepare for our celebrations, let’s help save our pollinators by choosing carefully what we put in our shopping baskets and on our plates. We can help grow the market for sustainable, healthy, pesticide-free agriculture and help shrink the market for chemical intensive, neonic-contaminated products.

And as we give thanks for the bounty on our tables this Thanksgiving, let’s remember the birds and bees that made it all possible.

Cynthia Palmer is the director of pesticides science and regulation for the American Bird Conservancy in Washington, D.C.

Enter the BirdSpotter Photo Contest

Your backyard bird images could win great prizes!

Gary Mueller of Missouri submitted this photo of a Lego feeder that was the Judge's Choice during the first week of the contest.

Gary Mueller of Missouri submitted this photo of a Lego feeder that was the Judge’s Choice during the first week of the contest.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdSpotter photo contest is underway! The contest is sponsored by Vanguard and offers weekly prizes for the photos that receive the most votes on the contest website. Special “Judge’s Choice” photos are also recognized.

BirdSpotter is being run through the Project FeederWatch citizen-science project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. FeederWatch participants keep track of their feeder birds from November through April and report what they see online. This information helps scientists learn more about the changes in bird distribution and population numbers in North America over time.

Each Wednesday from now through February 11, 2015, a new BirdSpotter photo theme will be posted, such as “birdbaths” or “chickadees only.” You can upload one entry per week and then vote for your favorite photo. The winners will be announced on Monday morning. Each weekly winner receives a prize pack from Vanguard that includes binoculars, plus gifts from the Cornell Lab.

Voting for the top three photos from among all the weekly winners begins February 18. The grand prize winner receives Vanguard binoculars, scope, tripod, and backpack as well as more prizes from the Cornell Lab including a Charlie Harper print.

See full contest rules and the list of prizes on the contest website. You don’t have to be a Project FeederWatch participant to enter—but if you do sign up for the project you’ll be joining tens of thousands of other FeederWatchers who report their feeder visitors to help scientists learn more about our favorite backyard birds. Visit www.FeederWatch.org.