Tag Archives: decline

Minnesota’s model: State sets broadest limits on chemicals blamed for bee declines

The governor of Minnesota has ordered the broadest restrictions yet in a U.S. state on the use of agricultural pesticides that have been blamed for hurting bees.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order that requires farmers to verify that they face “an imminent threat of significant crop loss” before using the chemicals, called neonicotinoids.

Details of how farmers would prove their need have not yet been determined.

Minnesota, the country’s third-largest soybean producer, carried out a special review of neonicotinoids that prompted the new limits, the first U.S. state to do so.

Honey bees have been in serious decline in the United States for three decades, threatening billions of dollars in crops. In recent years, their death rate has become economically unsustainable, according to the U.S. government.

A survey of more than 20,000 honey beekeepers conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and released in May showed there were 2.59 million or 8 percent fewer honey bee colonies on January 1, 2016 than the 2.82 million a year earlier for beekeeper operations with five or more colonies.

Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans.

“Minnesota just became the national leader in protecting pollinators,” said Lex Horan, an organizer for Pesticide Action Network, a U.S. activist group.

EU LED THE WAY

Restrictions on neonicotinoids come two years after the European Union limited use of the chemicals, made and sold by companies including Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, after research pointed to the risks for bees.

Neonicotinoids are used worldwide in a range of crops and have been shown in lab-based studies to be harmful to certain species of bee, notably commercial honeybees and bumblebees.

The chemicals can be sprayed on crops to fight insects, but it is more common for U.S. farmers to plant seeds treated with neonicotinoids to keep pests, such as aphids, off crops.

State officials said they want Minnesota lawmakers to grant them the authority to regulate the sale and use of such seeds, a power that now lies with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Removing the pesticides would leave farmers more dependent on a smaller number of chemicals to control bugs, said Seth Naeve, an extension soybean agronomist for the University of Minnesota, thereby making it more likely that pests would develop resistance to those chemicals.

“We’re concerned about losing tools and a lack of flexibility to address issues,” said David Kee, director of research for Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

Farmers said they hoped other U.S. states would not follow Minnesota’s lead.

Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the governor was “restricting the ability of farmers to use all the tools the EPA has said they can use.”

“I don’t think that we’re aware of any other state that’s going to start taking away tools from farmers,” Schlegel said.

Reporting by Tom Polansek.

Wisconsin editorial roundup: on college costs, drone bans and union declines

Higher ed proposals will help, but much more is needed to hold down college cost

Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 31

A key Assembly committee just endorsed a package of modest yet worthy bills to make college more affordable.

The full Legislature should approve them, understanding much more must be done so students aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

The bills, which cleared the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities last week, would give a larger tax break to thousands of people paying back student loans. Lifting a $2,500 cap on a tax deduction for borrowers won’t save them a lot, but it will save some.

The bills also would provide more financial help to technical college students, including “emergency grants” for unexpected expenses, such as car repairs. That could prevent some students from quitting classes when trouble strikes.

The bills will connect more students to internships for real-life experience.

One of the most important measures the committee advanced would require colleges to provide students with better information about the debt they’re taking on. A financial reality check should persuade more students to streamline their course loads or work more hours at part-time jobs to borrow less.

Good counseling is a must, too, so fewer students go down academic paths only to find out — after considerable time and expense — it’s not for them.

Republicans have supported the bills, as do UW and technical college officials. Democrats voted against them at committee, saying the legislation didn’t go far enough. We get the point. But the bills represent progress. They deserve bipartisan support.

Gov. Scott Walker’s tuition freeze, in place since 2013, has saved students a lot of money. But the freeze was coupled in the latest state budget with a $250 million cut in state aid to UW System schools.

Wisconsin is one of the few states reducing aid to higher education, which isn’t a path to prosperity. Wisconsin needs to invest in its colleges to compete in a global economy and secure more good-paying jobs.

Even with the governor’s tuition freeze, the cost of higher education is a much heavier load than it used to be. At UW-Madison, for example, students pay twice as much today for tuition, housing and related expenses — nearly $25,000 — than their peers did three decades ago, when adjusted for inflation.

And the erosion of state aid has forced UW to draw down its reserves. That’s not all bad, since they were high. But our universities need some reserves for stability, just like a private company.

The next state budget should prioritize younger generations, rather than handing out still more tax cuts.

Democrats have prioritized legislation allowing students to refinance their education loans. That’s a needed change Republicans should embrace.

More private donations for tuition are helping pay for college. And schools such as Madison Area Technical College are striving to make two years of instruction free for lower-income students.

But bigger ideas are needed. Leaders should explore a “pay it forward” model where students get free college, then pay a percentage of their salaries after graduation to offset the cost.

Universities must aggressively pursue technology to deliver instruction more efficiently.

The current system of higher and higher cost for young people can’t continue.

Decline of unions isn’t good news for Wisconsin

The Capital Times, Jan. 30

There undoubtedly was some high-fiving among Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators and their corporate campaign contributors over the news that union membership has plummeted in Wisconsin over the past two years and is now far below the national average.

That may be good news for plutocrats, but it’s terrible news for working people and Wisconsin’s middle class.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that just 8.3 percent of workers in the state now belong to a union, which is down from 11.7 percent in 2014. Nationwide roughly 11.1 percent of working people belong to an organized labor union.

The big drop in union membership — estimated to be roughly 83,000 workers in little more than year — helps explain why Wisconsin’s economic recovery continues to trail the rest of the country. The figures are even more stark when compared to 2010, the year Scott Walker was first elected governor. More than 14 percent of Wisconsin workers belonged to unions then.

Unions may not be the be-all and end-all, but they’ve historically strengthened the country’s middle class, winning wage hikes and benefits for workers so they could support their families and share in the nation’s wealth, and making sure employers provided safe and healthy workplaces. Unions never did represent a majority of American workers, but they provided the benchmarks that nonunion employers used to keep their workers happy so they wouldn’t be tempted to form unions themselves.

It’s not coincidental that the biggest gains in the middle class occurred during the heyday of unions. And it’s also not coincidental that the middle class has suffered in recent years as union membership has eroded. The result has been an alarming increase in the gap between the rich and poor.

That’s been a particular problem here in Wisconsin. A Pew Charitable Trust report from last March showed Wisconsin with the largest decline among the 50 states in the number of middle class families. In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin families fell into the category of middle class, but that was down to 48.9 percent in 2013. The real median household income in our state had fallen 14.7 percent during that time.

While the drop in union membership has coincided with lower wages and fewer benefits, the upper classes have done well.

So we shouldn’t be happy that unions have taken big hits as a result of the Republicans’ attacks on public employees and teachers and the enactment of a right-to-work law, which hampers private unions.

No, we should be sad for the economic health of Wisconsin and worried about its future.

Regulate drones, but don’t ban them

The Journal Times of Racine, Jan. 30

“Star Wars” might be big at the box office, but drone wars are cropping up all over the country, including Wisconsin.

The latest initiative to drive the electronic beasts from the sky comes from Madison where Republican legislators are pushing a bill to fine people who fly a drone over a state correctional institution $5,000.

According to news reports the legislation follows a series of cases in which smugglers flew drugs, pornography and other contraband over prison walls. Last summer, according to an Associated Press report, a drone dropped a package of marijuana, heroin and tobacco into a prison yard in Ohio, triggering a fight among inmates. Other such instances have cropped up in Oklahoma, Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina.

We have previously called for regulations of drones, so we were all ready to jump on the bandwagon and back the legislative effort headed by state Sen. Richard Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, to stop this potential airborne crime wave.

Then we read a story that in Denver legislators rejected an ordinance to curb private drone use —for the third straight time.

It even rejected a watered-down version that would have banned only drones used to deliver contraband to prisons after opponents pointed out that prison contraband delivery is already a crime by any means.

“It’s really not a necessary bill,” said Vic Moss, owner of a suburban Denver photography business and a drone enthusiast, according to an AP report.

We would suspect that Wisconsin has similar prohibitions on sending contraband into a prison.

Disturbing, as well, is a provision in Gudex’s proposed legislation that would allow local municipalities and counties to establish areas where drones cannot be flown and to set fines of up to $2,500 for violations. We have no idea where that would go.

California bans paparazzi from using drones on private land, Arkansas bans drone voyeurism and News Hampshire bans their use for hunting, trapping and fishing.

We have previously endorsed the need for regulation of drones in order to make sure our skies are safe for air travel.

But we have also suggested that the current Federal Aviation Administration regulations that prohibit drone flights within five miles of an airport are too stringent. That rule essentially makes the entire city of Racine a no-fly zone.

Moreover, there are potentially many good uses for drones — from the delivery system posed by Amazon or their use in spotting forest fires to use by insurance companies in checking damage to roofs or other property _ and even to detecting potato diseases by flying them over fields to find stressed out plants. And, of course, hobbyists love them.

While air safety is important for commercial and private planes and there are other legitimate concerns for things like privacy and individual rights, the stampede of proposed regulations and bans should slow down until reasonable plans can be made.

Drones are not inherently evil and they need a little air space.

Made available via The AP.

Coalition seeks U.S. endangered species protection for elephants

A coalition of wildlife groups has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist African elephants from threatened to endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Since the African elephant was originally listed as threatened in 1978, the species’ population has declined by about 60 percent, primarily due to poaching for the ivory trade. Habitat destruction and unsustainable trophy hunting also contributed to the decline. Scientists say elephant mortality is outpacing the natural birth rate, fixing the species in a pattern of ongoing decline.

The coalition includes the International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and The Fund for Animals.

“African elephants are in very real danger of disappearing from the wild,” said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for IFAW. “U.S. policy for elephants needs an update to reflect the current crisis and declining status of the species. As one of the world’s largest ivory markets and home to many elephant trophy hunters, the U.S. can end our contribution to the slaughter with an endangered listing.”

He added, “It is the best tool in our domestic policy toolkit to stop our role in elephant deaths and bring global awareness to the crisis.”

The coalition, in a news statement, said the current regulations for African elephants under the threatened listing fail to adequately protect the species from unsustainable trade. An endangered listing would institute restrictions on both domestic and international trade in African elephant parts — including ivory, hunting trophies, skins and other products — and would expand public oversight of such activities.

It is generally prohibited to engage in the import of or interstate commerce in endangered species and their parts, except in limited circumstances that clearly benefit the species, such as for scientific purposes. An analysis in the petition shows that between 2003 and 2012, parts from about 50,000 elephants crossed borders worldwide in legal trade, including over 40,280 whose ivory and tusks were legally traded, and over 10,240 elephants whose parts were imported as trophies into the United States.

The uplisting petition comes at a significant milestone. One year ago, the White House announced a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, which called for new rules to restrict the domestic ivory trade.  The Petitioners will continue to support the Fish & Wildlife Service’s efforts to implement the National Strategy.

“Now is not the time to give up on these iconic, majestic creatures,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for Humane Society International. “The United States has a chance to shutter one of the world’s largest elephant ivory, skin and trophy markets. The positive potential impact of an endangered listing cannot be overstated.”

State of the birds: Common birds in steep decline

As part of the 2014 State of the Birds Report, a team of scientists with the North American Bird Conservation Initiative identified 33 common bird species in steep decline.

Long-term monitoring surveys show the birds on this list are rapidly declining throughout their range and have lost more than half their global population over the past 40 years.

The report stressed that a massive population can collapse in a relative brief period. The passenger pigeon population went from 2-3 billion birds to none in the wild in just 40 years.

The common birds in steep decline include:

Northern Pintail

American Wigeon

Cinnamon Teal

Greater Scaup

Long-tailed duck

Scaled Quail

Northern Bobwhite

Purple Gallinule

Franklin’s Gull

Herring Gull

Black Tern

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Snowy Owl

Common Nighthawk

Chimney Swift

Loggerhead Shrike

Horned Lark

Bank Swallow

Verdin

Varied Thrush

Snow Bunting

Cape May Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Field Sparrow

Lark Bunting

Grasshopper Sparrow

Eastern Meadowlark

Rusty Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

Common Grackle

Pine Siskin

Conservationists warn of monarch butterfly decline

Conservation experts this week announced that a record low number of monarch butterflies returned this year to wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico and their annual migration is at “serious risk of disappearing.”

Monarchs, which migrate from Mexico across North America and back every year, have been in serious decline since the 1990s.

Experts believe the widespread use of glyphosate weed killer, sold as Round-Up, in connection with genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans, may be destroying once-widespread milkweed, which monarchs rely on exclusively for reproduction.

“This news raises a disturbing question that can no longer be ignored: Are our actions causing the rapidly dwindling population of monarchs?” said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We must urgently review the widespread use of glyphosate, which may be wiping out milkweed plants, essential for the Monarchs’ survival. It would be heartbreaking if we inadvertently destroyed in just a few years the millennia-old miracle of the Monarchs’ unique migration.”

The NRDC said Mexico estimated the winter population of monarchs at 33.5 million individuals. The estimate is a huge drop from a high of 1 billion in 1997 and down from a long-term average of 350 million over the last 15 years.

The decline also also epresents the ninth consecutive yearly measurement below the long-term average, according to the nonprofit enviromental group.

Gender equity progress stalls in high school sports in 2000s

Progress toward gender equity in high school sports slowed during the 2000s after a decade of increasing athletic opportunities for girls, according to a new study out this week.

The study also shows a spike in the number of high schools eliminating interscholastic sports programs for girls and boys.

The report from Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls shows that opportunities for girls in high school athletics increased from 1993-1994 and again from 1999-2000 but that it slowed during this past decade.

The report from SHARP, a collaboration of the University of Michigan and the Women’s Sports Foundation, examines high school offerings 40 years after the passage of Title IX, the landmark legislation mandating gender equality in education.

“Many believe that girls and women have finally achieved athletic equality,” said WSF CEO Kathryn Olson, noting the record participation of U.S. women in this summer’s Olympics. “However, these findings suggest that we simply aren’t there yet. In fact, we are moving farther and farther away from equality with the cutting of interscholastic sports.”

Olson continued, “It goes beyond the physical benefits of sport. Sports are an integral part of the educational experience; students who participate in sports are shown to achieve greater academic success. The decline of interscholastic athletic opportunities should be looked at as an erosion of the educational capacity.”

The report, in the conclusion, said, “A protracted retreat from the legislative mandate of Title IX unfolded across the decade. “

The Sharp Center study, titled “The Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports,” found:

• Athletic opportunities expanded across the decade, but boys’ allotment grew more than girls. By 2009-10, 53 athletic opportunities were offered for every 100 boys, compared with 41 opportunities for every 100 girls.

• By 2009-10 boys still received disproportionately more athletic opportunities than girls in all community settings — urban, suburban, towns and rural communities.

• In 2000, 8.2 percent of schools offered no sports programs, the percentage nearly doubled by 2010, rising to about 15 percent. Schools with disproportionately higher female enrollments were more likely to have dropped interscholastic sports between 2000 and 2010.

• Seven percent of public schools lost sports programs between 2000 and 2010, while less than 1 percent added sports to their curriculum. It is estimated that by the year 2020, 27 percent of U.S. public high schools would be without any interscholastic sports, translating to an estimated 3.4 million young Americans – 1,658,046 girls and 1,798,782 boys – who would not have any school-based sports activities to participate in by 2020 if the trend continues.