Tuesday, December 19, 2006

BARC-National Agricultural Research Center Alliance NARAB

Henry A. Wallace Beltsville National Agricultural Research Center continues to need our support. This just in from a local newspaper. The members of the new Alliance hope to gather in January 2007 for a formal organizational meeting and follow that with a congressional delegation tour and get-together. If you have comments that you want to address to me personally please write me at chairman@behnkes.net or respond to this post.

Gazette Newspapers

County residents, scientists push for research center

Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006
by Dennis Carter
Staff Writer
A collection of Prince George’s County residents and former scientists is looking to grab the ear of local and national decision makers as the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) continues to face budgetary struggles.
BARC, which is hailed as the largest and most diverse agricultural research facility in the world, has been forced to make staff cuts in recent years to compensate for small budget increases that have not kept up with the rate of inflation and pension plans, among other costs.
BARC is offering buyouts and early retirements to 160 employees after the 2007 federal budget included $9 million in cuts, including the closure of the fruit and phytonutrients lab, which searches for compounds in fruits and vegetables that could protect against heart disease and cancer. BARC employs about 1,300 people.
BARC’s current budget is about $130 million, said director Phyllis Johnson, who has headed the facility for a decade.
Johnson said the buyouts would allow BARC to focus funding for the facility’s most vital programs in coming years.
‘‘We have to live within our means,” she said. ‘‘We will deal with the resources we’ve been given.”
Last fall, longtime Beltsville residents such as Jim Butcher and Karen Coakley, president of the Beltsville Citizens Association, joined former scientists and Prince George’s business owners to form the National Agricultural Research Alliance — Beltsville (NARAB).
While group members said the alliance is in its early stages, they hope to lobby county, state and national politicians to ensure BARC is a viable, functioning research center.
‘‘We need to talk with decision makers so we can get BARC back up to speed again,” said Butcher, a Beltsville resident for more than 40 years.
Butcher said he would serve as a liaison between NARAB and Friends for Agricultural Research Beltsville, a group of local residents concerned about the state of BARC.
John Peter Thompson, chairman of Behnkes nurseries who grew up in Beltsville, said NARAB would ‘‘educate” power brokers to inform them of the importance of BARC research.
With a budget that grows at about 2.7 percent annually, Thompson said BARC has not been able to keep up with rising costs in many areas since the mid-1990s.
‘‘It’s a slow withering of the vine,” said Thompson, adding that no political party should take the blame for BARC’s struggles, since both parties have occupied the White House over the last 10 years. ‘‘This isn’t how you run things. [BARC] is something that should not be allowed to wither.”
Having a national research center on the outskirts of one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, Thompson said, is critical for scientists who come to Beltsville to work.
‘‘There are world class scientists and world class universities all around [the area],” he said, pointing out that a rich population of researchers can promote ‘‘interdisciplinary conversation.”
‘‘When [a scientist] needs a piece of equipment, it can found in this area,” he said.
Wanda Plumer, a NARAB member and director of business development retention and expansion for the Prince George’s Development Corporation, said BARC’s impact on the local economy — bringing college-educated people to the area — should not be overlooked by county residents.
Attracting broader attention would be a key in growing the alliance, Plumer said.
‘‘Because of BARC’s national significance, we’d like to see membership go beyond just local members.”
E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.
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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Invasive Assateague Horses?

The horses of Assateague are in the news (Wash. Post 16 Dec 06). Too many horses that must eat whatever grows on the island are laying waste to the vegetation. Piping plover (Charadrius melodus) and sea-beach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus), native to the barrier islands, are among the many animals and plants that are threatened by mass over consumption by the horses. They are part of a complex system which ultimately provides the food source for the “wild” horses. The horses, of course, are the reason there is interest among the general public, who most likely are unaware of the native plants. The horses are part of American culture, and are not part of the pre-colonial ecosystem. They are, dare I write this, an invasive species.

No one within the National Park Service is suggesting removing the horses, but they are attempting to control the population pressure. The control of population is a cost to society, which because of the iconic nature of the horses, we shall find a way to bear. The Park Service will have to either weed out some horses or initiate an integrated pest management strategy balancing the need to continue the tradition while maintaining the ecosystem. If the horse population is allowed to grow unchecked, the island will soon be unable to supply the food needs of the animals, and we will be left with a herd of “wild” horse which we would have to feed and water, living on a barren desert isle.

If the horses were not present on the island, the land managers would be fighting a host of other potential exotic invaders, which would have a smaller feature on the science page of the newspaper. The exotic non native is the reason for the destruction on the island and the reason for the information to appear on the front page, rather than buried, if lucky, in the back hinterlands of the local paper.

But there is one further twist that presents itself: Deer, specifically, eastern white-tailed deer. We in suburbia, who attempt to garden understand the feeding habits of deer. First plants to go are five hundred dollar hostas, followed by almost all natives, followed pretty much by everything else. After they have eliminated all edible flora except for truly hardy and prolific invasives such as English ivy, the family car’s bumper is on the dinner schedule. Deer lovers, of course, react to gun-toting gardeners with suspicion and outrage, without considering the effect on the woodlands if gardeners stopped continuously refurbishing and replenishing the beloved deer herds’ supplemental food supply.

The deer, which are native, and the horses, which are not, together outline starkly the problem; too many or too much of something, out of control and out of balance, may result in the destruction of all, as we know it at the time. The process of life will compensate, as will be seen, if the deer are not checked, or the horses managed, for at some point, we will be unable or unwilling to pay the price or the piper to feed the animals and the herd will starve until such time as it is either reduced in number or eliminated.

It must be noted that by casual acquaintance to the federal definition, deer are not invasive, but rather a nuisance and I suppose that the horses at this point are technically invasive, but that is another essay.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Invasives Attack Prince George's County

Maryland has the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), here in my county of Prince George’s. As a county, we were on the border of the discovery of the northern snakehead (Channa argus) in Maryland, and see signs of the advance guard of fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and the onslaught of kudzu (Pueraria montana var.lobata). In unintentional commemoration as a portal for invasive species, we celebrate as our county tree, the Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford').

Now, we face the elimination of every ash tree within 12,000 acres of our county in a desperate hope that we can throw back the invader. At risk are some six million ash trees in the Baltimore metropolitan area, a statistic not including Washington and Northern Virginia. So now the county is quarantined. How did this happen?

“The insect was first detected in Maryland in 2003 after a Michigan nurseryman broke quarantine in that state and shipped infested trees into a Prince George’s County nursery. After 3 years of work, officials believed the insect was eradicated from Maryland. In August 2006, the same experts found evidence that the emerald ash borer is still in the county. The quarantine is in place because of the recent detection.” is part of the answer, supplied by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Agencies of the State of Maryland walk through the woods and neighborhoods and spray death marks onto any and all ash trees they can find in a rush against the life cycle of the pest. And of course dazed citizens wake to find that thir trees will be cut down at no direct cost to them whether they want it or not, in order that the few may sacrifice to protect the greater good.

In addition, the following goods are included in the quarantine: “…, all hardwood firewood (non-coniferous)• ash (Fraxinus spp.) products including nursery stock, green lumber, and other ash material living, dead, cut, or fallen, including logs, stumps, roots, branches.• uncomposted ash chips and bark larger than one inch in diameter in two dimensions”, and of course all stages of the borer itself.

A positive side of life in Prince George’s County is that we are home to BARC and its systematics programs. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Beltsville, MD confirmed the identification of the emerald ash borer.

An invasive species, exotic and non-native is currently destroying the forests of the mid- west, and Maryland is creating a fire break of sorts to contain and throw back the invader before it cause economic and environmental harm. I have heard some say that what does it matter that we loose one species of a tree, for there are plenty more. But already we have lost the native elm and chestnut, and the native dogwood is under attack from a foreign invader. Because the damage is so large, and fits better in a long term valuation horizon, the public has a hard time understanding the decision that is perceived to be a wanton arbitrary destruction of nature or personal property in their neighborhood. This is a subset of the infamous “not-in-my-backyard thinking.

The tireless defenders of Maryland’s agriculture and natural areas work on to stave off the approaching destruction. A suggestion from the public to use weapons of mass destruction (pesticides) is a non starter given the extent of the problem and the life cycle of the pest. So tree eradication is the best defense. The movement of firewood from campsites to home fires is suspected of being a major contributor to the problem, and checking every car seems highly improbable, so education is the major tool.

Getting the word out early, and responding quickly; these are the new watch-words for invasive species control.