Daily Archives: August 9, 2015

Senator Jerry Moran requests Lesser Prairie-chicken be removed from ‘threatened’ list


Congressional delegation has tried several times to end listing


By Justin Wingerter

Topeka Capitol-Journal


Kansas politicians have tried several legislative tactics to end the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as “threatened.”


On Tuesday, August 4, Sen. Jerry Moran tried asking nicely.


In a letter to USFWS Director Dan Ashe, the freshman Republican senator asked that the bird be removed from its listing under the Endangered Species Act in the wake of a recent report suggesting the species is rebounding.


A recent aerial survey by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Association found an estimated 29,162 lesser prairie-chickens, an increase from 19,643 in 2013 and 23,363 in 2014. The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the “threatened” listing last year was the result of a steep decline in the bird’s population in recent years. Five states are home to the lesser prairie-chicken: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.


“Strong evidence exists indicating the dramatic rise in the lesser prairie-chicken’s population can primarily be accounted for by increased rainfall in the habitat area,” Moran wrote.


Moran also touted conservation efforts by local officials in the lesser prairie-chicken’s habitat area for the population rebound.


“These locally driven plans were put in place with landowner input to help conserve the bird in a sensible, voluntary manner,” the senator wrote. “Unfortunately, the plans were not given the opportunity to prove effectiveness because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in to list the bird as a threatened species.”


Moran asked Ashe whether the USFWS intends to reconsider its listing of the lesser prairie-chicken after seeing the improved population figures. He also asked if the agency recognizes the role the drought of 2013 and 2014 had on the bird’s population.


The Kansas congressional delegation has tried several times to pass amendments or bills barring enforcement of the “threatened” listing.


Most recently, the state’s U.S. House delegation helped pass an amendment to the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 2822, on July 7. That bill could be voted on after Congress returns from its August recess in early September.


In June the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a Moran amendment that would bar enforcement of the listing, attaching it to a $30 billion measure to fund the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency.


A similar amendment offered by Moran was rejected in January when the senator attempted to attach it to legislation to expedite construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Is age old prairie the answer to agriculture’s problems?


By Ken Roseboro


An innovative project is using an age-old ecosystem to help solve problems resulting from modern agriculture. A team of scientists at Iowa State University is reintroducing strips of native prairie into Iowa’s farms as a way to reduce soil erosion, prevent fertilizer pollution of waterways, and create new habitats for wildlife, insects, and pollinators.
“Think Outside the Box”. The idea for the project arose out of discussions among agriculture experts at Iowa State who were becoming concerned about negative environmental impacts of industrial agriculture in Iowa, particularly with reduced water quality and loss of wildlife habitats.
“We were looking for something to do to address those concerns without impacting the profitability of agriculture,” says Lisa Schulte Moore, ISU associate professor of natural resource ecology and management. “We tried to think outside the box.”
Their idea was to reintroduce the once predominant ecosystem of Iowa-prairie-into Iowa’s farms, which are dominated by corn and soybean production.
Until the mid-1800s, Iowa’s landscape was dominated by prairie spreading across 85 percent of the state. But with the introduction of agriculture in the mid-19th century, Iowa’s prairie gave way to the plow and today just 0.1 percent of Iowa’s native prairie remains.
The ISU team, which included experts in agronomy, agricultural engineering, entomology, and ecology, chose the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa to conduct the prairie experiment. The 3,600-acre refuge contains the largest reconstructed prairie in Iowa.
Reduced soil loss and fertilizer runoff, increased wildlife. The project, titled STRIPS (Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips), began in 2007. Prairie strips were planted along with corn and soybeans on the refuge, particularly on slopes near watersheds, areas where water collects.


Researchers began documenting benefits in 2008. “We were able to measure responses right away,” says Moore who is the STRIPS communications lead. “The prairie strips were able to slow down water moving across farm fields, which can be erosive. It also kept nutrients in the field so they didn’t become pollutants in waterways, and there were increases in wildlife, birds, and insects.”
The STRIPS team found that converting just 10 percent of a crop field into perennial prairie can reduce soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus loss by 90 percent and nitrogen loss by almost 85 percent. Soil loss, phosphorus, and nitrogen are three main causes of water pollution in Iowa. Excess nitrogen running off Midwest farms is also a leading cause of the “dead zone” that appears in the Gulf of Mexico each year. In terms of biodiversity, there was also a four-fold increase in native plant species, a doubling of bird species, and an increase of pollinators with the prairie strips.
Moore describes these as “disproportionate” benefits, meaning significant benefits can be realized by planting a just a small amount of prairie-and without impacting crop yields.
The benefits are starting to be backed by published research. A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Quality found that prairie strips can remove nitrates, which pollute waterways, from cropland runoff over long periods of time.
Moore says she and her fellow researchers are excited about the possibilities of STRIPS. “With some science projects, the results will just sit on a shelf,” she says. “But with this, we have a project where the science has legs, and it’s really exciting to be part of this.”
Strong farmer interest in STRIPS. For the next phase, the STRIPS team moved the project to farmers’ fields across Iowa to see if the benefits could be replicated. There is strong interest among farmers in the project. “They are saying ‘I feel good about this practice,'” Moore says. “Farmers are interested in keeping soil on their lands and pollutants out of waterways.”
The first on-farm STRIPS project started in 2013; that grew to nine last year and will expand to 23 this year. “This has been a good fit for a lot of farmers,” says Tim Youngquist, field coordinator for STRIPS, who works with the farmers. “They’ve known in their hearts that they want to do something to improve the land.”
Gary Guthrie, a farmer in Story County, Iowa, says he got “super excited” when he heard about the STRIPS project. “Prairie strips fit with what we want to do, building diversity with insects and bees,” he says. “I’ve seen the result of soil devastation, and that informed my decision also.” Guthrie will plant four, 30-foot-wide prairie strips this year on his 145-acre farm.
Ag and environmental groups find common ground on STRIPS

STRIPS is a rare initiative where opposite ends of the spectrum-conventional agricultural and environmental groups-find common ground. The Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Corn Growers Association along with The Nature Conservancy and Iowa Environmental Council, as well as other state and regional groups, all support the project.
What is the long-term goal of STRIPS? The project’s team will continue to document the benefits and hopefully attract more farmers, who are key to its success.
“We would like that prairie strips become a common practice on farms across the Corn Belt,” Moore says. According to one estimate, nearly one million acres of prairie strips could be planted in Iowa. Not a complete restoration but a huge improvement over 0.1 percent.
Obviously more needs to be done to address other problems with industrial agriculture, particularly with monocultures, pesticides, and GMOs. But the STRIPS project is demonstrating that sustainable solutions are available.


“We’ve got a chance to make Iowa a better place, one field at a time,” Youngquist says.
Ken Roseboro is editor of The Organic and Non-GMO Rporter. This article was reprinted with permission from The Organic & Non-GMO Reporter, February 2015.   See more at http://www.nongmoreport.com

What happens when young birds fledge and leave their nest?


By eNature


It’s happening all around us right now— young birds are leaving their nests and striking out on their own.


We at eNature have been watching the Osprey on the Chesapeake Bay fledging over the past few weeks.  When your nest if over water as most osprey do, you better be ready to fly when you take that first jump!


So how do all these young birds make the transition from fledgling to adult?


Family Style?

A lot of us think that baby birds grow up in a family that stays together and migrates south together. There are some species of birds that stay together after the nesting season, but they are rare.


Most young birds are totally on their own soon after they leave the nest. In fact, in many bird families, the parents migrate south long before their youngsters do.


The best examples of this are the families of most species of hummingbirds. The female raises her offspring until they are out of the nest and able to feed themselves. A few weeks later, she disappears. The youngsters are left alone to fatten up for their long migratory flight to a place in the tropics where they have never been before.


They linger at the natal feeding grounds for several more weeks, sucking up as much nectar, sugar water and tiny insects as possible before heading south.


What To Do For Food?

How do they know when to leave, where to go, how to get there and when they have arrived? There are lots of theories, but no one really knows for sure.  Herein lies one of the great mysteries of nature.


The same is true among juvenile ducks, warblers, vireos, flycatchers and thrushes. They are all deserted by their parents and left to find their way to some place in the South where there is food and habitat.


Juveniles of permanent residents such as chickadees, nuthatches, finches, and woodpeckers, are much better off. Though their parents no longer care for them, at least they are still in familiar surroundings.


And as for our ospreys on the Chesapeake?  The next few weeks are the moment of truth for them— they’ve got to learn to fish on their own.  According to some experts, an inability to master fishing is one of the biggest causes of mortality for young osprey.

Have you noticed your local birds fledging? There’s usually lots to see and hear when young birds are leaving the nest….