environment

Global warming drives global warning

Bill Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, has spent a large part of his career studying the interplay between predators, prey and plant life in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Marchers Push for Climate Change Action

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EUGENE, Ore. — Eugene was just one city participating in a worldwide call to action, pushing to combat climate change.

Hundreds of people packed into the Free Speech Plaza Sunday to raise awareness about climate change.

“We need to work to stabilize the climate to a level that we can mitigate some of the worst impacts on humans, try to protect the food that we eat, the air that we breathe, water we drink, to avoid ecosystem clashes, a concern for many of us,” says 350 Eugene Board Member Zach Mulholland.

People attending the event say everyone should do their part to help the environment. Organizers say this year’s rally and march attracted around 500 people of all ages.

“Bee-Friendly” Plants May Harm Bees

BEE KILLEUGENE, Ore. — A new report finds so-called “bee-friendly” plants may actually be harming bees.

Researchers found that home garden plants sold at Lowes, Walmart and Home Depot have been pretreated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees.

The study was released by Friends of the Bees and allies, including Beyond Toxics. Researchers found 51 percent of garden plant samples purchased at top garden retailers in 18 cities in the U.S. and Canada contained neonicotinoid pesticides. Some of the flowers contained neonic levels high enough to kill bees, and 40 percent of the positive samples contained two or more neonics.

The pesticides are a key contributor to recent bee declines. Bees and other pollinators are essential for two thirds of the food crops we eat every day, and they’re on a decline in countries around the world.

Researchers say these pesticides don’t break down quickly so the plants could be toxic to bees for years. To be safe, gardeners are advised to buy organic plants.

Students Compete in Solar Car Challenge

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EUGENE, Ore. — The sunshine is bringing people out of the house, and for middle school students all over Lane County, it’s also driving their fun.

On Saturday, EWEB hosted its 17th annual Solar Challenge at Cal Young Middle School in Eugene. Teachers were given EWEB-donated supplies and for a month, taught about solar power and related topics.

The students are then challenged to build their own solar-powered cars. Hundreds of middle school students from Lane County participated in the event, which EWEB hopes inspires kids to learn more about science.

“They get a ton out of this. They get an experience with science that’s hands-on and fun. They learn a lot of scientific concepts by actually doing things instead of reading about them in textbooks,” says EWEB Grant Coordinator Tim Whitley.

Prizes were handed out to the top two finishers in the multiple categories they had.

Hundreds of Trees Planted Near Beltline

FRIENDS OF TREESEugene, Ore. — Dozens of people came out on Saturday to help beautify an empty stretch of land in west Eugene that hundreds of people drive by every day.

About 100 volunteers turned out for the event, coordinated by Friends with Trees. They planted 211 new trees and shrubs on the land, which runs along the Beltline and Roosevelt and is owned by ODOT.

Coordinators say the new plants will help filter the water that runs into the nearby Amazon Creek, and will eventually provide shade for the multi-purpose path there.

Although Friends of Trees has had a very successful relationship with ODOT in Portland for many years, today’s event was the first time the nonprofit has partnered with ODOT in Lane County. Volunteers say the response has been positive.

“This is a highly visible site and we hope that people will see this and be really happy,” says Erik Burke, Eugene Chapter Director at Friends of Trees.

Burke said several people who drove by had been honking and giving volunteers the thumbs up.

Saturday’s event was just phase one of the project. If it goes well, the nonprofit hopes to plant even more in the area, so it will be plush with native trees.

Refuge may allow elk hunting

Half a century ago, when the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis was established to protect migratory waterfowl, sightings of Roosevelt elk were a rare occurrence in the Willamette Valley.

In recent years, however, the majestic animals have made quite a comeback on the valley floor. In the last decade, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife estimates, the population has mushroomed from 100 to at least 600 individuals.

The biggest herd in the region makes its home on the Finley Wildlife Refuge, where an estimated 200-plus elk have become a major draw for visitors — and a growing problem for neighboring landowners.

State and federal wildlife managers say the animals cause extensive damage when they periodically wander off the 6,000-acre refuge, eating or trampling crops and knocking down fences that stand in their way.

Now, to reduce the damage, ODFW and Finley biologists are floating a plan to reduce the herd by opening the refuge to elk hunting for the first time.

If approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the plan would allow a three-month hunting season for antlerless elk (cows and “spikes,” or yearling bulls) in the late summer and early fall.

Five permits would be issued to Willamette Valley elk tag holders each month from August through October for a total take of up to 15 elk, and only bowhunting would be allowed the first year.

“We have a goal to reduce the size of the elk herd by 20 percent over five years,” said Jock Beall, the refuge biologist at Finley.

The plan is being welcomed by most area farmers and duck-hunting clubs, which plant corn to attract waterfowl.

But the idea is not without controversy. A large number of Finley’s 100,000 annual visitors come to the refuge to watch or photograph wildlife. To them, the elk are rock stars.

“Elk are a charismatic species,” Beall acknowledged. “(Visitors) like them and they like the viewing, and they think (the hunt) will change the opportunity or decrease the opportunity to view them.”

You can count Ricardo Small among that group.

A retired Arizona real estate appraiser who now spends most of the year in the mid-valley, he’s a regular at Finley. From his perspective, any damage the elk may be doing on private property shouldn’t be the refuge’s problem.

“The elk are a major magnet for visitors, and there is no information I can find in any Fish & Wildlife report to indicate the elk are doing any damage to resources on the refuge,” Small pointed out.

“My position is there’s no reason to open up the refuge to elk hunting. Let them open up their land to hunting — but I guess that’s not palatable to the private landowners.”

As recently as 1989, there were only about 20 elk on the Finley National Wildlife Refuge. A decade later the tally had jumped to 100, and last year the Finley herd numbered 163 animals.

A second herd of 38 elk has taken up residence since then, according to Beall, and there’s another group of 10 to 15 bachelor bulls that hangs around the fringes of the two established herds.

There’s plenty of forage and tree cover on the refuge, and because hunting currently is not allowed at Finley, it provides a safe haven for the animals during the valley elk season, which runs from August through March.

It’s good habitat for Roosevelt elk, the largest North American subspecies, which can weigh in at half a ton and stand 5 feet tall at the shoulder. In fact, the biggest Roosevelt bull on record was taken just south of the refuge boundary in 2002. The taxidermied trophy is now on display at Cabela’s sporting goods store in Springfield.

Even though the refuge proposal would not allow hunting of mature bulls (which tend to be targeted by off-refuge hunters and are underrepresented in the Finley herd), some wildlife lovers fear any hunting would make Finley’s elk skittish.

“I oppose the plan mainly because of what it would do to the recreational aspect — viewing elk on the refuge,” said Phil Hays, another refuge regular, in an email to the Gazette-Times.

“The (environmental assessment) specifically states that hunting causes elk to remain hidden during the day, and they come out to feed at night,” he added. “The refuge is open dawn to dusk. Seems to me that hunting will make the already elusive herd less visible to visitors at the refuge.”

ODFW biologist Steven Marx, who served as a consultant on the management proposal, says he can undrestand that point of view. But he added that his agency has a responsibility to do something about the “chronic damage” caused by elk in the area.

“A lot of times it’s difficult to appreciate the problem until it’s on your property,” Marx said.

“The goal is not to eliminate the elk, it’s to manage them at a level compatible with local land use.”

Finley already takes criticism from farmers who suffer crop damage from the thousands of migrating Canada geese that winter in the Willamette Valley, roosting on refuge ponds by night and hammering nearby grass seed fields by day.

The rapidly growing elk population is quickly becoming another sore point for neighboring landowners, and refuge managers see the hunting proposal in part as a way to show they care and are willing to take steps to keep the problem from growing worse.

“Part of it is to show we are trying to be responsive,” Beall said.

“(And) some of it is meant to be preventative — so we don’t wait to see how much damage there will be if we have 300 elk.”

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at [email protected] or 541-758-9529.


Groups call for buffer zones in pesticide use

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Aerial spraying of pesticides, or “crop dusting,” is a practice dating back to 1906.

Several public advocacy groups held a rally today against pesticides at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza during the Saturday Market. Pitchfork Rebellion, an anti-pesticide group from the Triangle Lake area organized “Occupy This! Rally for Pesticide Justice and Jobs!” The event called for banning aerial spraying of pesticides near homes and schools, creating a buffer zone to protect people’s health.

The rally began with a performance by local reggae/jam band Sol Seed, followed by a spoken word protest performance calling for a “pure organic Oregon.”

Then “Day,” a resident of the Triangle Lake area, took to the stage. Day is one of several residents of Triangle Lake who has been documented to have the pesticides 2,4-D and atrazine in his urine. 2,4-D, or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, is a major ingredient in Agent Orange, one of the chemicals used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War. A professional analysis of four public streams near Day’s and other residents’ homes found these pesticides in all of the streams.

Several environmental groups held a rally today against pesticides at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza during the Saturday Market.

Day said,

“We’re just a bunch of hillbillies from Triangle Lake tired of getting hit by pesticides everyday.”

Studies by numerous organizations, from the EPA to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to public universities, have documented the effects of human consumption of pesticides. Pesticides can cause damage to the human nervous system, reproductive system and other organs, developmental and behavioral abnormalities, disruption of hormone function as well as immune dysfunction.

Day introduced Roy Key, a professional forester of over 40 years. Key said he was there to talk about the dangers of pesticide poisoning in Lane County.

“I’ve been in the forest business for 40 years. I’ve managed forests without herbicides or pesticides. You don’t need those substances to manage the forest.”

Key compared pesticide use to his experience in the Vietnam War.

“It’s just like Agent Orange all over again. But here in Lane County.”

Key called on attendees to tell Oregon governor John Kitzhaber to stop the use of pesticides in the state near homes and schools.

Day, a resident of Triangle Lake, has been documented to have the pesticides 2,4-D and atrazine in his urine. A professional analysis of four public streams near Day’s and other residents’ homes found these and other pesticides in all of the streams.

Oregon already has a buffer zone to protect waterways and salmon species. Streamside protection rules for non-federal forest land in Oregon were adopted in 1994. All private, state and local government forest landowners or operators conducting pesticide operations near streams, lakes or wetlands must comply with these rules. In November 2011, a federal judge upheld buffer zones for pesticide use near streams and rivers. Dow Chemical Company, a leader in specialty chemicals based in Michigan, filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the Oregon rules, saying that they were too restrictive. The restrictions ban the ground spraying of three agricultural insecticides within 500 feet of waterways with salmon. They also ban aerial spraying within 1000 feet of said waterways.

While Oregon has a buffer zone for pesticide use near water, it has not adopted a buffer zone near human activity. The Oregon Department of Forestry says,

“Currently, there are no regulations in Oregon requiring a buffer zone for aerial application of herbicides near specific structures or facilities, including schools.”

There are, nonetheless, safety requirements in how pesticides are used, both in residential and forested situations:

“While pesticide use in a residential setting must abide by pesticide label safety requirements, forestry applications must follow those requirements plus additional regulations spelled out in the Oregon Forest Practices Act.”

Pesticide companies, such as Dow Chemical, argue that their products abide by these safety requirements. Concerning 2,4-D, the substance found in Triangle Lake residents, Dow Chemical has said the following:

“2,4-D is available for use in U.S. crop production today because EPA has determined, after evaluating all human health and safety considerations – including the concerns expressed by activists – that current uses (including currently authorized uses on corn) pose ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm.’ This EPA conclusion was reached only after the Agency had considered all relevant data…This regulatory conclusion is supported by mainstream health and safety experts who have thoroughly evaluated the product.”

The application of pesticides has had a long and controversial history. Dr. Patricia Muir, Professor at Oregon State University’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, says that, following World War 2,

Ingrid Edstrom, nurse practitioner at Eugene’s Infrared Breast Thermography LLC, spoke of the link between pesticides and breast cancer. “Oregon has the second highest breast cancer rate per capita in the nation,” she added.

“Chemical pesticides have become the most important consciously-applied form of pest management.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry explains this popularity according to pesticides’ cost-effectiveness:

“Many landowners see herbicides as the most cost-effective means of achieving their reforestation goals following logging or fire, or for converting neglected brush land to forests.”

The first important pesticide was DDT (otherwise known as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). Muir says,

“DDT was discovered in 1939 by a Swiss chemist Paul Muller. In its early days, it was hailed as a miracle…It was inexpensive and easy to apply. It was so effective at killing pests and thus boosting crop yields and was so inexpensive to make that its use quickly spread over the globe. In 1948, Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize for its discovery.”

As years went by, however, DDT was labeled both directly and indirectly toxic to many organisms. Most disturbingly, as Muir explains, DDT

“showed up in human breast milk at remarkably high concentrations — so high that the milk couldn’t legally be sold through interstate commerce if it were cow’s milk! [DDT] is the most widespread contaminant in human milk around the world.”

While DDT was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, other pesticides are commonly used in Oregon. The last year in which Oregon has data compiled for pesticide use is 2008. That year it was reported that 280,001 pounds of pesticides (chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion) were used in the state.

A rally attendee protests 2,4-D, one of the pesticides found in streams near Triangle Lake.

The groups that rallied today are hoping to change how those hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides are administered. They asked all attendees to fill out postcards to Governor Kitzhaber to ask for expanding pesticide buffer zones to include not just fish, but people.

Christina Hubbard, the Project Director of Forest Web, also spoke at the rally. Forest Web is a grassroots conservation organization based in Cottage Grove. Hubbard said,

“Forest Web stands in solidarity with these groups. I’ve personally been working with Day since 2007. A lot of these pople have had major clinical studies done on their urine and it is documented that they have pesticide poisoning.”

Hubbard says this rally’s message is not particularly radical.

“Really what this is about is creating a reasonable buffer zone for aerial spraying. This is common sense, to protect homes and schools.”

For more information about Oregon’s use of pesticides in agriculture, go to the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s website at http://oregon.gov/ODA/PEST/. For more information about Oregon’s use of them in forestry, go to the Oregon Department of Forestry’s website at http://www.oregon.gov/ODF/privateforests/pesticides.shtml. Websites for the groups involved in the rally are: Pitchfork Rebellion, http://pitchforkrebellion.com/; STOP, http://stop-oregon.org/; Forest Web, http://www.forestweb-cg.org/.