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An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Eco-Beat

Recycling

Electronic waste collection a success

The city of Rio Rancho’s recent electronic waste collection was a tremendous success, with 518 TVs and 105,460 pounds of e-waste collected.

Sponsored by the city’s Keep Rio Rancho Beautiful Division (KRRB), the collection was held in August and more than seven hundred residents participated. Items that could be recycled included computers, scanners, monitors, printers, VCRs, digital phones, DVD players, copiers, fax machines, televisions, cell phones, microwaves, rechargeable batteries, DVDs, CDs, and videotapes.

“This collection represented a twenty-three percent increase in the amount of e-waste collected as compared to a similar event held last spring,” said Barry Conant, program specialist for KRRB. “These results are an indication of our residents’ strong desire to be good stewards of their environment and community.”

The next KRRB-sponsored recycling event will take place on Saturday, November 7, 2009 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the Rio Rancho Wal-Mart parking lot at 901 Unser Boulevard.

For more information about KRRB and upcoming events, please call (505) 896-8729 or visit the city’s website, http://www.ci.rio-rancho.nm.us and click on KRRB’s Kerby Coyote mascot icon/link found on the main home page.


Goats

EarthTalk®
Enlisting goats to prevent wildfires

—Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I heard that goats are being used to prevent some of those catastrophic fires that seem to happen increasingly. What’s the story with that?

—Ali B., New Canaan, CT

As wildfires consume parts of California larger than some smaller states, everyone is talking about how we can prevent such disasters from getting going in the first place. One novel approach is to enlist goats. Not as firefighters—although their surefootedness and determination would probably serve them well in such situations—but as grazers to keep the forest underbrush clear of the tinder-like grasses, bushes, and small trees that allow flames to jump to the higher forest canopy and get further spread by the wind.

“Goats help prevent forest fires…by eating the dry stuff before the fire season strikes,” says Lani Malmberg, owner of Colorado-based Ewe4ic (pronounced “u-for-ik”) Ecological Services, which uses goats to gradually and naturally remove weeds and return lands to a healthier, more natural state.

Goats have been called in for fire mitigation purposes across parts of California, Arizona, and other drought-prone parts of the western U.S. In the Oakland and Berkeley hills regions of California’s Bay Area, where the combined effects of drought and a bark beetle infestation have killed thousands of acres of trees, public agencies and residents have enlisted the help of goat herds to suppress weeds and keep down the fire risk in the process for what remains of the area’s forest cover.

“The goat clearance scheme is one of the key reasons the Bay Area hasn’t had a recurrence of a catastrophic fire in decades,” says Tom Klatt, former manager of the Office of Emergency Preparedness at UC Berkeley and the author of UC Berkeley’s 2007 Fire Mitigation Program Annual Report.

Other earth-minded land managers are going goat as well. The Nature Conservancy recently hired goats to keep dry grasses and other tinder-like plant matter down at its Hassayampa River Preserve in Arizona, where the constant threat of summer fires haunts nearby homeowners while endangering the integrity of the area’s unique and fragile riparian ecosystem.

Using goats to control forest brush may seem like a novel idea, but it’s really been around as long as grazing animals have roamed the planet looking for nourishment. But with ever-increasing human development, wild grazers are fewer and farther between. The problem is exacerbated by our building our homes so close to (and sometimes within) forested areas that naturally burn occasionally. Efforts to then suppress all forest fires—even naturally occurring undergrowth burns—to protect these homes have led to “tinderbox” conditions ripe for those large destructive fires that spread for hundreds of miles, blown by the wind from treetop to treetop.

Grazing goats are also used in other endeavors. “Goats can be utilized as an effective bio-control agent to reduce weed populations to economically acceptable levels,” says Malmberg, adding that weeding with goats requires no pesticides or herbicides and generates zero greenhouse gas or other harmful emissions.


We can help bees by cleaning up our act

— Jodi Peterson, Writers on the Range

Over the last four years, millions of the West’s workers have vanished. No, they’re not immigrants deported back to Mexico. Rather, they’re honeybees, and no one’s sure where they’ve gone. Scientists have been baffled by the large-scale disappearances, but now there’s finally some good news: Recent research has identified at least three of the major contributors to what’s known as “colony collapse disorder.”

Honeybees pollinate nearly one-third of the food we eat, from almonds to avocados, cherries to celery, and their work adds about $15 billion to the annual value of U.S. agriculture, according to a congressional study. But in Western states from California to Montana, thousands of hives have gone quiet. They contain larvae and honey but very few adult bees, and that decline bodes ill for our food supply. In China, hive collapse has forced some farmers to start pollinating fruit trees -- by hand -- with brushes.

So far, there are still enough honeybees to go around, at least on a small scale. The gnarled apple tree in my backyard, for instance, is loaded with ripening fruit, thanks to the honeybees who visited it earlier this spring. But it’s a different story for commercial growers with hundreds of acres of monoculture crops. Other pollinators, like native bees and wasps, can’t meet the demands of servicing, say, 500 acres of almonds in bloom. So almond ranchers rent honeybees from nomadic beekeepers who haul hundreds of hives from farm to farm, all the way from North Dakota to California, then back again. With the scarcity of healthy bees, the cost of renting a single hive for a few weeks is now as much as $200, up from just $40 a few years ago.

Scientists have had lots of clues to follow in this mystery. They’ve considered parasitic mites, viruses, malnutrition, pesticides, genetically modified crops, even cell phones. But even before colony collapse disorder, domestic bees, brought to this country from Europe, weren’t faring so well. Their habit of crowding into hives allows illnesses and parasites to spread easily. Modern agriculture has also been hard on those traveling hives, which account for more than half of the country’s honeybees. When crops aren’t in bloom, itinerant beekeepers feed their bees high-fructose corn syrup. Life on the road and a junk-food diet stresses the bees, and makes them more susceptible to infections of all sorts.

Now, researchers are finally homing in on the causes of colony collapse disorder – and there seem to be many. Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Illinois just discovered that sick bees have high levels of viral infections, carried by mites, that attack protein-producing ribosomes essential for good health. At Washington State University, researchers recently identified two other factors. One is a pathogen called Nosema ceranae, a microbe that impairs the bees’ ability to process their food and makes them more susceptible to other diseases. Scientists in Spain also connected the microbe with colony collapse this spring, finding that antibiotic treatment restored infected colonies to health.

Another factor the Washington scientists noted is that U.S. beekeepers use the same honeycombs for many years, allowing toxic levels of pesticide residue to build up. Traces of more than 70 different pesticides have been detected in honeycomb wax. Mark Pitcher, the president of Babe’s Honey in British Columbia, told the Victoria News that the connection to the bees’ disappearance seemed obvious: “Would you allow your youth to be raised in a totally ridiculous slum environment? No. So why did we, as beekeepers, become slum landlords?”

Some beekeepers are now sand-blasting their hive boxes, getting rid of the old honeycomb wax and repainting with nontoxic paint. Others are letting their honeybees forage only in areas where pesticides and herbicides aren’t used. In the meantime, native bees may help pick up the pollination slack: Species such as bumblebees, alfalfa leaf-cutting bees and blue orchard bees pollinate certain crops even more effectively than the exotic honeybee. The wild bees need other plants to forage on when crops aren’t in bloom, though, and habitat loss has cut into their populations. To help restore native bee habitat, The Xerces Society just got a  $500,000 federal grant for work in California and Oregon.

By cleaning up our act, perhaps we can turn the corner on the bee crisis. The solutions seem common-sense. If we stop drenching the plants that bees visit with toxic chemicals, clean up their hives and quit trucking them thousands of miles, and if we give our native bees more forage in the field, maybe we can avoid a grim future in which we, like those Chinese farmers, must tickle each apple blossom with a brush to make it bear fruit.


Heard Around the West

— Jonathan Thompson, High Country News

COLORADO

At first glance, it seemed like just another mundane story about horse massacres and the role they will play in starting the next American Revolution. Then we dug deeper and learned the details about the ex-CIA agent and his hog-tied co-worker, not to mention a duck-killing dog. Ultimately, we confronted the dark truth of the matter: This was a tale of land-use zoning.

When Trenton H. Parker, 64, of Weld County, Colo., failed to abide by a court order to clean up a bunch of old trailers on his land, he was sentenced to 90 days in the clink. Parker responded by posting a flier asking for riflemen to help him kill 24 Russian Arabian horses. He also left voice mails at the zoning department, threatening to stab said horses and bash in their skulls on the courthouse steps and other public places. (Parker described the planned massacre as a “Tea Party,” which has left us determined not to RSVP the next time we’re invited to one.)

“The first horse that we’re gonna kill is a beautiful gray stallion by the name of Independence,” Parker told the Greeley Tribune. “When we shoot him with one shot, make no mistake about it, it will be the first shot of the second American Revolution. You think I’m kidding? You just sit by and watch what happens.”

Parker, who ran in but dropped out of the race for the U.S. Senate in the late 1970s as a Colorado Republican, and who has been quoted in the tomes of conspiracy theorists, explained that the slaughter was necessary because he couldn’t feed the horses in jail. Besides, it would be a great protest of land-use regulations, or at least help to silence any neigh-sayers.

But the revolution has been delayed; Parker went to jail sooner than expected after his bond on an unrelated, earlier charge was revoked. Parker’s dog had apparently killed Parker’s co-worker’s duck, you see, and during a dispute over the matter, Parker allegedly hog-tied said co-worker. But that’s apparently another story.

ARIZONA

The cow that belonged to the aforementioned tongue didn’t fare very well except, perhaps, as carne asada. But a rather unusual pair of rattlesnakes is doing just fine after a 45-minute surgery at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tucson. The two snakes were found as one -- conjoined just below the head -- at a construction site. The Siamese-twin serpents were taken to the museum, where Dr. Jim Jarchow successfully performed the separation surgery. Museum officials told the press that they expected the snakes to live long and healthy lives.

 

     

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