Return of the Bedbugs

An old insect pest is becoming a problem again because of new approaches to pest management. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

An old insect pest is becoming a problem again because of new approaches to pest
management.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


You’ve probably heard this little bedtime gem… “Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t
let the bedbugs bite.” But, most of us have never even seen a bedbug. That might be
changing.
The bedbug is making a comeback.


Because of consumer’s health concerns, pest control
companies no
longer use insecticides that wipe out everything. That means some bugs are spared.
Cindy
Mannes is with the National Pest Management Association.


“So as a result, there might be other pests that may have been controlled 20 years
ago with a more
broad spectrum-type product that would have eliminated lots of other insect species.”


Bedbugs don’t spread diseases, but the little insect does bite, feeding on the
blood of its host.
Mannes says it only comes out at night and can hide anywhere dark, under cushions,
behind
pictures on the wall or under your covers.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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Farm Buffer Strips a Lasting Solution?

  • Tom Miller's farm in Central Illinois includes buffer strips that provide habitat and food for wildlife and keep chemicals and soil out of a nearby river. Photo by Jonathan Ahl.

Each spring, the seasonal rains and melting snow lead to millions of gallons of water entering rivers and streams around the Midwest. While that water is important for the rivers’ health, it brings with it soil, herbicides, and insecticides from farms. Programs designed to help keep soil and chemicals on the farm and out of the watershed are growing in popularity around the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl has more:

Transcript

Each spring, the seasonal rains and melting snow lead to millions of gallons of water entering
rivers and streams around the Midwest. While that water is important for the rivers’ health, it
brings with it soil, herbicides, and insecticides from farms. Programs designed to help keep soil
and chemicals on the farm and out of the watershed are growing in popularity around region. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:


It’s a cold Spring day on Tom Springer’s Farm. But the strong winds and light rain do not
dampen the spirit of Springer. He’s showing off strips of land that contain tall grasses that would
normally be farmland waiting for the Spring planting:


“What we’re doing, we’re trying to create shelter belts up against these food plots for the birds
and the wildlife to have shelter in the winter.”


Springer is referring to buffer strips. The long, narrow pieces of land that take up about one acre for
every 30 acres of this farm in Central Illinois. The strips provide food and habitat for wildlife
such as quail and pheasants. They also provide a “catch” for some of the soil and chemicals that
would otherwise end up in the nearby Mackinaw River. That’s why some groups call them filter
strips. Springer is taking part in several state and federal programs that pay him to take the land
out of production and convert it to these buffer strips. Springer says he likes having the wildlife
around and wants to help the environment. But he says the financial incentives are the essential
ingredient that makes his buffer strips a reality:


“It was getting to the point that us small-time farmers we’re going to get pushed out because of
the economics of it. So I went ahead and did this, and it’s really worked out good. It’s a different
way of farming. It really is. What I’m doing, I’m farming the wildlife. I’m farming the
conservation program.”


Depressed crop prices and growing expenses are making the buffers strips a more popular
alternative for farmers. Adding to the financial advantage are not for profit groups such as Trees
Forever and Pheasants Forever. They make contributions of time, materials, and expertise to
farmers like Springer. That makes it easier to build the strips that comply with the state and
federal subsidy programs.


Tom Miller is with Trees Forever. He says the government payments get farmers to consider the
program. But he says they stay in because they know what they’re doing is right for the
environment. Miller says farmers are learning the dangers of plowing their land right up to the
banks of rivers and streams:


“Typically in the past, it’s been whatever farmland was there they would farm up to the edge.
But I think increased awareness and education over the last ten years from local and state
agencies and non-profits helped farmers realize you can’t do that.”


Miller says his group’s Buffer Initiative and others around the Midwest are gaining momentum
and making a difference in cutting down on pollution in waterways. But not everyone believes
these buffer strips are the magic bullet to fight erosion and chemicals in the watershed:


“I would say they are necessary but they’re not sufficient.”


Terry Kohlbuss is the director of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, a central Illinois
governmental group that has pushed for numerous water clean-up programs. He says buffer
initiatives are good programs. But he says it is only a drop in the bucket in the fight to help
bodies of water:


“But the other important source of that accelerated flow of water through the natural drainage
system is from developed areas. The solution set here is that there are probably 15 to 20 or 30
different types of programs that need to be in place to really get after this problem successfully.”


Kohlbuss says land management plans that cover all types of land will be necessary if there is
ever going to be meaningful progress in keeping soil and chemicals out of the rivers. Other
critics of the Buffer Strip program say there’s no guarantee the program will last because farmers
are reacting to the subsidies. Tom Springer says he has heard the criticism that if crop prices go
up or the payments run out, farmers will give up on conservation programs:


“I think a lot of them, if the program burns out in fifteen years, they’re talking about tearing a lot
of these out. We’ll I’m not, I’m going to leave mine in. They are on sand hills that were always
burnt up in the fall, you know. Most of the time it wouldn’t make much of a crop anyway, so we
are going to use it for conservation measures.”


Organizers of the buffer strip programs hope all of their participants will have the same point of
view as Tom Springer. Meanwhile, they continue working on finding more farmers to sign up for
the program.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.

Modified Crops Swap Genes With Weeds

Genetically modified crops are planted throughout the Midwest, but some scientists are concerned genes from these crops could escape and work their way into weedy plants. With these genes, weeds could become more vigorous and harder to kill. New research shows this can happen between closely related crops and weeds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cristina Rumbaitis-del Rio prepared this report:

Transcript

Genetically modified crops are planted throughout the Midwest, but some scientists are
concerned genes from these crops could escape and work their way into weedy plants. With
these genes, weeds could become more vigorous and harder to kill. New research shows this can
happen between closely related crops and weeds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cristina
Rumbaitis-del Rio prepared this report:


Genetically modified crops have been around for quite a while. In the U.S. last year more than 88
million acres were planted with genetically modified soybean, corn, cotton and other crops. Some
of these plants are engineered to be more resistant to herbicides, making it easier for farmers to
get rid of weeds without damaging their crop. Others are engineered to resist plant-eating insects.


But some scientists worry about the ecological effects of these crops. Allison Snow is a professor
of ecology at Ohio State University. She studies genetically modified sunflowers. Snow says she
got involved in this research when genetically modified crops were first being introduced because
she was afraid no one else was looking at the environmental effects of these crops.


“It was kind out of a fear factor for me of wanting to make sure that someone was watching to see
what the environmental effects might be.”


The sunflowers Snow studies have a gene added to them, which produces an organic insecticide
that kills insects feeding on the plants.


According to Snow, the problem with these pesticide-producing sunflowers is the insect-killing
gene can be transferred from crop sunflowers to their weedy cousins, which are often growing on
the edges of fields. Bees, flies and other insects can transfer the gene to the weeds by cross-
pollinating the plants, which are close relatives. Snow’s research shows once the gene gets into
the weed population, the weeds become insect-resistant as well.


“The new gene worked really, really well in the weeds. It protected them from the insects. And
because they were protected, they had more energy to devote to making seeds.”


Snow says the most startling result was the number of seeds these weeds were making.


“In one of our study sites, they made 55% percent more seeds per plant – just because of one
gene. Which is kind of unheard of. We’ve never seen a result like that – where one gene would
cause the whole population to suddenly start making 55% more seeds.”


The gene might make weeding a more difficult task, but Snow says she wouldn’t quite call them
“super weeds,” a term some environmentalists have used.


“We might see that the weedy sunflowers become worse weeds, I wouldn’t call them super
weeds, because to me that would imply that they have many different features instead of just one
that causes them to make more seeds. But I could imagine in the future there might be enough
traits out there that could turn a regular weed into something much more difficult to control – like
really would be a super weed.”


Snow says she will have to do more research to see if the extra seeds made by the weeds will turn
into more weeds and hardier weeds in farmer’s fields.


But, she might not be able to finish her research on sunflowers because the companies that make
the crop have decided not to renew her funding and won’t give her access to the sunflowers or the
genes.


“It was all about stewardship and responsibility.”


Doyle Karr is a spokesperson for pioneer hi bred, one of the companies which makes the
sunflowers. He says the company realized a few years ago there wasn’t enough demand for the
product to justify commercially producing it. As a result, he says, the company couldn’t continue
funding sunflower research, and doesn’t want to be held responsible for keeping the gene safe
while the research is being conducted.


It’s an issue of a biotech trait that we are not pursuing and not bringing to the market, and if we’re
not bringing it to the market, we can’t justify taking the responsibility of having that trait out
being worked with, with a third party.”


While some academic researchers argue the universities take on legal liability when they work
with genetically modified plants, Karr says the university’s liability is often limited by state law.
He says the company is ultimately held responsible if only by the court of public opinion.


“Should something happen with this gene that was not expected or a mistake happened – that
would ultimately come back to those who initially made the gene available.”


While this issue remains unresolved, Snow is continuing her research. Genetically modified
sunflowers are not the only crop to study. Snow is now working in Vietnam where weedy species
of rice grow naturally, and where genetically modified rice might be introduced in coming years.
She’s concerned the traits of the genetically altered rice might be transferred to the wild species
of rice, just as happened with the sunflowers.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Cristina Rumbaitis-del Rio.

Fighting Beech Bark Disease

Forestry experts throughout the Midwest have been experimenting with new ways to fight beech bark disease. The disease has already killed millions of beech trees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Ontario and Michigan. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Matt Shafer Powell has more:

Transcript

Forestry experts throughout the Great Lakes have been experimenting with new ways to fight beech bark disease. The disease has already killed millions of beech trees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Ontario and Michigan. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Matt Shafer Powell has more…


Beech bark disease is actually a deadly tag-team combination of an insect that invades a tree and a fungus that finishes it off. Michigan State University entomologist Deb McCullough is one of several scientists trying to stop the spread of the disease in Michigan…


“What we’re going to see in the forest is gonna be something like Dutch Elm disease, the biggest, oldest beech trees are most vulnerable to this insect and to the disease, and as beech bark disease moves through the state, those are the ones that are going to die out first.”


McCullough says researchers have had some limited success with injecting pesticides into infected trees. And scrubbing the trees with soapy water seems to work too. But she says such methods simply aren’t practical when you’re dealing with the millions of beech trees that inhabit the region’s forests. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Matt Shafer Powell.

West Nile Virus Marches West

  • Zoos have helped public health officials monitor the spread of the West Nile virus. Besides concerns about human health, zoos are worried about the birds in their care.

Cooler weather sweeping the Great Lakes region means the end of the mosquito season. It also means a temporary halt to the spread of West Nile virus in the area. But this past summer the virus made headway into the region much faster than experts had expected. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Cooler weather sweeping the Great Lakes region means the end of the mosquito season. It also means a temporary halt to the spread of West Nile virus in the area. But, this past summer the virus made headway into the region much faster than experts had expected. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


It’s extremely rare that West Nile virus causes severe illness in humans. But it does happen. While most people won’t even realize they’re infected, about one fourth of those infected will exhibit some mild symptoms. However, the virus can cause encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain. In very rare cases it can be fatal.


Zoos have been helpful in monitoring the spread of the disease. It was first identified here in the U.S. by the Bronx zoo in the fall of 1999 after crows started dying in the New York area. Since then, zoos across the U-S have kept watch on their birds and animals. In part to protect them and in part to help health officials track the progress of the virus.


Scientists thought the virus would slowly make its way to neighboring states. But, it’s spread much more quickly than expected. It wasn’t supposed to hit states as far west as Illinois and Wisconsin until sometime next year. But it made it even farther west with reports of it in Missouri.


Researchers have learned the virus is carried by birds such as crows, blue jays, hawks and Canada geese. Dominic Travis is a veterinary epidemiologist at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. He says since West Nile virus infects birds, experts suggested it would spread southward from New York. That’s because many birds, including some infected with the virus would travel south for the winter. Others, though, said it could spread west.


“And, the westward race won. We were fairly surprised that it came past the Michigan and western Ohio area, but we’ve been prepared because we started this surveillance system and started working with the CDC and USDA and everybody last spring for this specific eventuality.”


Travis says zoos across the Midwest started monitoring for West Nile virus this past spring. They worked with local health officials to determine if the disease had spread to birds in the area.


While birds carry the disease, mosquitoes spread it. So, officials at he Lincoln Park Zoo have been trapping mosquitoes and drawing blood from its animals, testing for West Nile virus. They’ve also been working to reduce the chance that animals will be bitten by mosquitoes. Again. Dominic Travis.


“The two strategies are try and limit the mosquito and if you can’t limit the mosquito, limit the contact.”


Most zoos are hesitant to use insecticides to kill the mosquitoes. So, instead, they try to eliminate places where they can breed. Basically, that’s anywhere a puddle of water stands for more than four days. Travis says that helps meet strategy number one, limiting the mosquito.


“So, a) if you don’t have mosquitoes, the risk is fairly low, and b) if you can’t get rid of all your mosquitoes, then you want to stop mosquitoes from biting the animals and so you do things to keep them separate. And those are –depending on the birds, the size, the situation, the zoo– those are keeping them in during mosquito feeding hours or some people have mosquito nets that they’re incorporating and so on and so forth.”


Zoos are especially worried because they’re responsible for some very rare birds, in some cases the last of a species.


At the Saint Louis Zoo, a huge outdoor flight cage and several other outdoor cages make up the zoo’s bird garden. Zookeeper Frank Fischer says outside bird exhibits are at highest risk.


“We’re making sure that, trying to make sure that none of our birds, even the birds in the outside exhibits here in the bird garden don’t contract any of that disease, say, from crows or our blue jays or birds of that type.”


While birds are most at risk of infection, they’re not the only species hit by the virus. In the U.S., as many as a dozen people have died after being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus. And even more horses have died. People and horses are considered incidental victims. That is, they don’t carry the disease and they don’t spread it. But they can be infected. A veterinarian in southwestern Illinois, Don Van Walleghen, says he’s gotten a lot of calls from worried customers, asking about West Nile virus.


“Basically, they want to know, is it here? Is it a concern for me?”


And because it’s such a recent phenomenon Van Walleghen’s customers have a lot of other questions. They bring in dead birds, wondering if their dog or cat that was playing with the bird might be infected. So far, aside from horses and people, there have been no reports of other animals, livestock or pets, being infected by West Nile virus, or spreading it.


“In humans, if you are a human bitten by a mosquito that had this disease, you could not transmit it to your kids or to anything else. So, at least that limits the disease from even being thought of as any kind of epidemic.”


But it is spreading. Experts hope that weather conditions next year are not good for mosquito production. But even a relatively normal to dry season as this past year was has not seemed to slow the spread of West Nile virus. If next year is wetter, experts say the virus could spread farther and infection rates could rise. That’s why health and agriculture experts are reminding people to work toward reducing the mosquito population next year. They recommend everything from keeping roof gutters unclogged to prevent standing water, to landscaping yards and driveways to eliminate puddles. Anything that will slow mosquito production next year will hopefully slow the spread of the West Nile virus. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Bee Keepers Struggle With Declining Markets

Its estimated that the U.S. honeybee industry generates about $8
million in annual revenue. But the industry has taken a serious
financial hit from a mite infestation. Honey bees are being killed and
honey production is down. You might think that would mean higher
prices for honey. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham reports, the price of honey has actually gone down:

Schools Test I-P-M

We usually hear about Integrated Pest Management – or I-P-M – as itrelates to agriculture. In that setting, it’s a way to help reduce oreliminate the amount of pesticides farmers use on their crops. But theconcept of I-P-M is catching on in other places too.As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports, somestates are taking Integrated Pest Management from the cornfields, righton into the classroom.