Pheasants are seeing a population boom


pheasant
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Elyse Gabor | September 5, 2022

Recent population surveys show that Iowa’s pheasant population has grown exponentially. This was caused by a lack of snowfall and mild winter conditions.  

According to Todd Bogenschutz, wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “If hunters enjoyed last year, they should enjoy this year.” 

Over the years, the population of the birds has drastically decreased. It became so low that hunters were able to shoot hens. This is now illegal as hens are vital for increasing the population numbers.  

The decrease in population was likely caused by loss of habitat, especially in hay acres. Numbers have shrunk to half of what they were 30 years ago. The decline is also caused by the weather and harsh winters with many inches of snowfall. However, due to the moderate winter this past year, the birds are experiencing a population boom.  

Pheasant hunting season opens in late October.  

The 2022 Bird Flu May Be Less Impactful than 2015, According to Vilsack


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Josie Taylor | April 7, 2022

The effects of the deadly and highly contagious bird flu outbreaks in the United States are expected to be less than those of 2015, when more than 50 million birds were culled, according to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

“In terms of the nature of the outbreaks, the size of the operations that have been impacted, the number of states that are dealing with backyard operations as opposed to commercial-sized operations, would strongly suggest that when this is all said and done it’s going to be significantly less than what we experienced in 2014-15,” Vilsack said on Tuesday in a call with reporters. 

Vilsack said stricter security measures at poultry facilities and heightened containment efforts after virus detections have reduced the potential for infections and the risk of transporting the virus from one facility to another

Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, is not as confident because it is still early in the migration season. Carson said no site-to-site infections have been detected in Iowa.  

Company in Le Mars fined $17,000 for fish kills


Dead fish
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Elyse Gabor | April 5, 2022

According to the DNR, Nor-Am Cold Storage has been fined $17,000 for causing two fish kills.
Based out of Le Mars, the company has polluted a creek nearby with ammonia-laden water. This has occurred twice in the past four years.

The leaks occurred when the refrigeration units on the company’s rooftop were serviced. While performing the tasks, anhydrous ammonia was used as a refrigerant. The ammonia-laden water leaked from a bucket and made its way to a city storm sewer.

The first contamination was discovered in May 2018 when citizens nearby could smell ammonia. The DNR reported that over 20 pounds of ammonia ran into the creek and sewer. The next day, about 50 dead, small fish were reported. Nor-Am spent hours pumping the water out of the creek to prevent the contamination from reaching the Floyd River. The company then agreed to pay a $7,000 fine.

Another fish kill in Le Mars was reported in September 2021. DNR environmental specialist Jacob Simonsen said there were around 20 dead fish near the creek. Soon after, Nor-Am reported that another ammonia leak had occurred just three days before. This time, around four pounds of ammonia had been leaked. The company must report any possible leaks to the DNR but failed to do so due to an unknown reason. However, the company agreed to pay a fine of $10,000 for the leak and is believed to write a plan to the DNR in hopes of stopping future pollution.

Unknown amount of manure leaked from Iowa dairy farm into


Cows in barn
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Elyse Gabor | March 22, 2022

According to the Iowa DNR, workers at Black Soil Dairy, located near Granville, observed manure water flowing from a barn and into a sewer drain. Unaware that the contamination would flow into a nearby creek, they did nothing to stop the leak. The dairy owner noticed the overflow and stopped it a few days after it had begun. The amount of escaped manure is unknown. 

The farm, which houses 4,500 dairy cows, has a flush flume system that helps clear manure from its three barns. The system utilizes fast flowing liquid to transfer waste across the width of a barn. A clog in the system caused the overflow due to sand. 

The DNR investigated the overflow and noticed that manure traveled five miles down from the dairy farm. This creek is home to little fish like minnows and chubs, which were harmed due to the pollution. Jennifer Christian, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR, said that the leak was significant enough to cause a fish kill. The overflow’s overall impact on the environment is unknown as ice was covering some of the creek. 

Flock of turkeys in Buena Vista County test positive for bird flu


Turkey
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Elyse Gabor | March 15, 2022

Tests confirmed that a flock of 50,000 turkeys was infected with the bird flu early last week. According to the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the highly contagious and deadly disease caused the turkeys to be slaughtered in Buena Vista County. The virus was likely to have come from wild birds migrating through the state. 

This was the second time the disease had affected birds in a week. The first outbreak was detected in Pottawattamie Country in a small backyard flock of chickens and ducks. Poultry facilities near the Buena Vista site are being watched as well as 37 backyard flocks. 

The turkeys will be buried near the Buena Vista site to reduce the spread of the disease. 

Iowa State’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig warned that it is a time of caution, saying, “It is critically important that livestock producers and their veterinarians closely monitor the health of their animals.” 

The last outbreak occurred in 2015, causing the slaughter of more than 30 million birds in the state. Naig said that in order to avoid a similar scenario, it is essential to have early detections and swift responses. 

Common Pesticides are More Harmful than We Once Thought


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Josie Taylor | November 28, 2021

A new study found that pesticides are even more harmful to pollinators than previously thought. 

A study by Stuligross and colleagues tallying the detrimental impacts of a key pesticide on reproduction of a bee species adds to growing evidence that such insects, which make up the vast majority of bee species, are vulnerable to the compounds. 

Their findings suggest the harm of pesticides can accumulate over multiple generations, which could exacerbate the loss of species that provide valuable pollination for farms and ecosystems. Pesticides can harm both larva and adult bees. 

The work demonstrates that chronic pesticide poisoning can cause “meaningful and significant impacts” on bees, says Nigel Raine, a bee ecologist at the University of Guelph who was not personally involved with the study. 

Neonicotinoids pesticides which are sprayed on soil and seeds were found to be the most harmful. They affect both the memory of most bees and the ability to reproduce. Pesticides like these were found to be more harmful to these aspects than scientists had once thought. 

Pollinators are necessary to plant and crop growth. A lack of pollination will ultimately lead to a lack of food and necessary plants. 

Climate Change is Hurting Even the Ocean’s Smallest Creatures


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Josie Taylor | October 14, 2021

Nearly everything in the world will be affected by climate change. New research proves that more every day. People, animals, land and water are all hurting and on the track to hurt more if climate change continues at its current pace.

A study by an international group of researchers shows that interaction between communities of plankton – microorganisms in the ocean– will be affected by climate change in different ways depending on location. Although the effects will be different, they will all be harmful. 

Computer simulations suggested that plankton communities at the poles will be badly damaged by the rise in temperature, while in temperate zones they will suffer from a reduced flow of nutrients and in the tropics from increased salinity. Both effects will lead to harm in the plankton community. Since plankton is a microscopic organism in the ocean, it can be hard to see how this is important. However, plankton supply most of the planet’s oxygen. Their harm is everyone’s harm, especially the ocean’s. 

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, resulted from mathematical modeling based on the largest-ever inventory of marine plankton making it extremely trustworthy and important. Although this study started in 2009, results have been published more recently.

Vilsack announces $500 million in loans to increase competition in meatpacking industry


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 13, 2021

U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack announced plans to provide $500 million in loans and grants to increase competition in the meat processing industry, on Friday.

In his speech, Vilsack emphasized the negative effects of four major meatpacking companies dominating over 80% of the beef market. Noting, 89.6% of farms do not generate the majority of income for the families who own and operate them. The loans and grants are aimed to help small and medium sized packing operations expand over time. 

The announcement occurred on the same day President Biden signed an executive order which requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to add rules to the Packers and Stockyards Act in an effort to allow farmers more sway in determining prices for livestock. 

Both Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voiced cautious optimism for the efforts to address the anticompetitive practices in the livestock markets. However the United Food and Commercial Workers International, a major union for meatpacking company employees say the aid is necessary. Adding, meatpacking workers were among the most negatively impacted by COVID-19. 

Biden Plans to Restore Endangered Species Regulations Rolled back by Trump


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 23, 2021

The Biden administration announced plans to rewrite changes made to the Endangered Species Act, on Friday.

Led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the focus will be on five regulatory changes made by the Trump administration. The revisions will significantly shift rules on habitat designations and reinstate the “blanket rule,” which requires additional protections for newly classified threatened species. 

Under Trump, habitat protections were rolled back in order to reduce limits on energy industries such as oil drilling and mining. However, the weakening of regulations, such as the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, made it harder to prosecute bird and other animal deaths caused by energy development. The bird act was among more than 100 business-friendly amendments made by Trump that Biden plans to reconsider according to The Chicago Tribune

A few of the Trump administration changes have been delayed or stopped prior to implementation. One of these changes includes the one-third reduction of protected federal old-growth forest used by the spotted owl which was announced during the final days of the Trump administration. 

The reviews announced by the Biden administration will take months or years to complete, continuing a decades-old debate between Republican and Democratic approaches to environmental regulation.

Biden to Suspend Oil and Gas Leases in Alaskan Wildlife Refuge


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Elizabeth Miglin | June 2, 2021

The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to take a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the region, the Interior Department announced on Tuesday. 

The Refuge is a 1.6 million-acre stretch of tundra on Alaska’s North Slope and is home to endangered polar bears whose population have been in dramatic decline due to diminishing sea ice. The region also provides important calving habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd.

Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The opening of the coast to drilling signified the culmination of a four-decade-long effort by the oil industry to gain access to the refuge. The lease sale on January 6, 2021 resulted in 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres according to the Department of the Interior. Imposing more restrictions on development in the region or ending the leases altogether would undo a signature policy of the Trump administration. 

The suspension of the leases follows the Biden Administrations official review of the activity in the Refuge. The review found multiple defects in the Record of Decision supporting the leases, such as the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives and other legal deficiencies. The suspensions, notably, do not go as far as environmental groups might hope as they do not void the leases all together. However, the initial executive order to review the leases left open the possibility the department would establish a new environmental review process to address legal flaws in the program itself.