IBI Watch 7/14/13

14 07 2013

Preserve or Destroy? //ibiwatchnaturebanner1.jpg

Here are two recent Minnesota-based “inconvenient nature” situations that differ only in scale. But the contrary outcomes can teach us much, if only we are willing to learn.

These are bee stories. Regular readers of this blog and almost any newspaper or environmental site know that our buzzing, pollinating partners are in deep trouble. A variety of factors have conspired to dramatically reduce populations of wild and commercial bees. Read more about the decline – called colony collapse disorder. The chemical elephant in the room of course is the “magic” neonicotinoid pesticides, but that is not the main point here. That would be this – regardless of cause, bees, essential pollinators for the world’s food supply, are in deep distress, possibly a death spiral. You would think we would be taking special steps to preserve the remaining bees. You would think.

When a swarm of bees took over two oak trees in downtown St. Paul the other day, the St. Paul Fire Department had just the right fear-driven response – kill the little buggers, all 30,000 of them. Flame retardant foam does a fine job of exterminating, apparently. Can you think of a more human-centric way to handle such a situation?

Fortunately, it is not just a raving tree hugger like me who thinks there has to be a better way. Though I think the Green Girls are being entirely too “Minnesota Nice” about this, you can see the alternative in this short piece – call in the beekeepers.

But I did mention two bee stories. Fortunately for the troubled bee population, St. Michael resident and IBI Watch reader Mario Ruberto had a better idea. When a swarm commandeered a bush on his property on June 17, he naturally first thought of the safety of his young children.

Bee Swarm 1

The idea of an exterminator did cross his mind – as it did for his neighbor – but then he remembered the plight of the honeybees. He dug for resources (google-seaching “beekeepers” and his ZIP code), and found the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association. This group works closely with the University of Minnesota, and manages the beehive at the State Fair.

Bee Swarm 2

Beekeeper Jerome Rossi – shown here – came to Mario’s house free of charge (compared to the typical exterminator charge of about $350). He collected the bees in a box, and took them away to thrive in more suitable surroundings.

Bee Swarm 3

Not a drop of flame retardant foam, or a dead bee, in sight.

Hats off to Mario Ruberto, who kept his kids safe while doing his part to preserve not just endangered nature, but a hugely valuable resource. It’s easy to see these two situations as isolated incidents and in the grand scheme of things, a hive or two will not make a huge difference. But considering the rapid, documented decline of bees, it is clear that every beekeeper’s rescue – vs. a fire department’s extermination – will help build our future. Preserve or destroy? The choice should be easy.

Waiting for Godot’s Butterflies

At my house, we continue to note the virtual absence of honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies in our native gardens this year. In fact, we have seen a single monarch (despite our dozens of milkweed plants), and not one swallowtail. And note – our place is ordinarily a riot of these critters.

Bees’ value to agriculture is widely recognized, and concern apparent (though not yet enough to do something about it), but what about the butterflies? Is this just an esthetic worry that we nature buffs should just forget about and shut up? I think not. First, butterflies do their part in pollination as well. Also, monarchs, with their remarkable annual migration, are seen by naturalists as a “marker” species, measuring the health of ecosystems.

That’s one of the points made in this MPR story that I found both sad and infuriating. Sad because the subject, Dave Kust – obviously a well-informed and well-intentioned fellow – is flummoxed by the complete lack of monarchs on his property. Hard to educate about them – as Kust has enjoyed doing for many years – when they are completely absent. Infuriating because, as you probably guessed, there is nary a mention of the chemical-induced crisis here, and precious little mention of the huge factor in the monarch’s decline. That would be the familiar one-two punch of habitat destruction (in Mexico’s wintering mountains) and the increasingly unstable climate. We can speculate all we want about droughts on the migration path if that helps us pretend that this is a natural dip and recovery is just around the corner. But what is needed is facing and dealing with the real problems, before it is too late.

Climate Foolishness and Facts

Let’s start with a little pignorant (pretend-ignorant) entertainment. The message of this Motley Fool blog post is simple – climate change is not a problem, and if it is a problem, it is not caused by the 90 million tons of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere every single day. So, let’s go on investing in those fossil fuels, boys and girls!

And now, back to reality. Pick your angle. Massive Antarctic icebergs melting? Check. Carbon dioxide turning oceans into acid baths? Certainly. Marshall Islands soon to be former islands? Naturally, or maybe not so naturally. Megafires? Sure.

This would make any fool, motley or otherwise, want to invest in more fossil fuel energy. For everyone else, there are other options. Of course, it’s hard to see it happening without carbon paying its fair share.

Deliberate Inequality

It’s tempting to think that the booming prosperity for those at the very top is somehow an unintended consequence of sweeping change, like globalization. Tempting, but wrong, says Robert Reich – here in a clever cartoon essay.

The Jobs Picture

It’s one thing to look at numbers – how many jobs in different fields, earnings comparisons, etc. But the old saw about a picture trumping words comes into play here. A very interesting graphic from NPR’s Planet Money plots job gains and losses and wage levels. Some of the comparisons may surprise.

Grow Your Own

Good ideas here, for maximizing the harvest from minimal space.

Justice Not Served

The Zimmerman acquittal in Florida is sadly not very surprising. Florida after all is the state that gave us the tainted presidency of George W Bush, and that, more recently, has led the charge on ALEC-driven “stand your ground” laws – basically “stay out of jail free” cards for vigilantes. I will leave more detailed comments and context to “Rant” blogger Tom Degan. And a closing comment from moviemaker Michael Moore: “Had a gun-toting Trayvon Martin stalked an unarmed George Zimmerman, and then shot him to death… DO I EVEN NEED TO COMPLETE THIS SENTENCE?

“Saving the world requires saving democracy. That requires well-informed citizens. Conservation, environment, poverty, community, education, family, health, economy- these combine to make one quest: liberty and justice for all. Whether one’s special emphasis is global warming or child welfare, the cause is the same cause. And justice comes from the same place being human comes from: compassion.” – Carl Safina

Contributed links or media to this posting – Glenn Gilbert, Allyson Harper, Mario Ruberto

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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2 responses

15 07 2013
GreenHearted

Re Safina’s quote, “Saving the world requires saving democracy.” Right about now, I’d go for a compassionate dictator who understood the climate change emergency! Just sayin’.

May Trayvon’s family find peace somewhere, somehow, sometime.

21 07 2013
IBI Watch 7/21/13 | IBI Watch

[…] as that story mentioned a large loss of bees in Oregon recently, so I wrote about a needless extermination of bees in downtown St. Paul (and a local resident who took a decidedly more hopeful approach). And here is […]

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