April 19, 2014

Pest spotted in Colorado may endanger Nebraska walnut trees

Walnut Twig Beetle

Walnut Twig Beetle

While Nebraskans are being warned about the emerald ash borer that destroys ash trees, yet another invading insect is causing a stir as it could threaten our walnut trees.

Entomologist Robin Pruisner says a pest called the walnut twig beetle is now confirmed in neighboring Colorado, but it hasn’t yet been spotted in Nebraska.

“Research is ongoing on how to protect walnut trees,” Pruisner says. “We just don’t have a lot of answers. This is even newer than the emerald ash borer at this point in time.”

The walnut twig beetle carries what’s known as “thousand canker disease,” which is deadly to black walnut trees. There’s been no way found to reverse the disease or to kill the beetle without also killing the trees.

“The geosmithia pathogen is actually very common in our environment and this is just kind of a new cousin of that,” Pruisner says. “The walnut twig beetle is native to the southwest United States and down into Mexico.”

For many years, the beetle was only found in states like Arizona, California and New Mexico. Now, the rice grain-sized pest is being found well beyond the southwest, in states as far away as Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee — and next-door to Nebraska in Colorado.

Iowa is one of the nation’s largest producers of black walnut, prized for its grain and color,¬†and Pruisner suspects the insects are moving such great distances because people are enabling them to hitch long rides, perhaps right through Nebraska on Interstate 80.

“Aunt Sally out in Colorado has a walnut tree that dies in her backyard but Cousin Ed in Iowa would like to make a coffee table out of it,” Pruisner says. “This is the kind of thing that people throw in the back of their truck and they drive to Iowa and they could be inadvertently bringing along with it thousand canker of walnut.”

One way to stop the spread is to only use local firewood in campfires.



New scam involves “phishing” texts to your cell phone

Nebraskans, particularly in the Siouxland area, are being warned about bogus text messages that claim to be from Wells Fargo Bank, directing people to go to a phony website and enter their account information.

Angie Kaipust, spokeswoman for the bank in Sioux City, says it’s a “phishing” scam.

Kaipust says, “What these fraudsters do is they send a message to a wide audience, including customers and non-customers, and they’re hoping someone’s going to click on the link and give their personal financial information.”

She says there’s a course of action you should follow: “If you get a suspicious message, whether it’s a text message, a voice message or email and they’re asking for your personal financial information, delete it and don’t respond to it.”

After you delete the message, she says it’s a good idea to contact your bank and ensure your account hasn’t been compromised.

“Cardholders are protected by our zero liability protection,” she says. “That means you’re not liable for any unauthorized transactions that are made when you promptly report it to us.”

The bank already has that information on its customers, she reminds, so they wouldn’t be asking for it.


USDA chief says all FSA offices will stay open, for now

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency will evaluate its network of Farm Service Agency offices, but does not plan to close any of those offices this year. There are about 80 FSA offices in Nebraska.

“We need to modernize our system and there are a couple of reasons for that,” Vilsack says. “Number one: we have 20 percent fewer workers than we did several years ago. The budget that I’m working with at USDA is now $1 billion less than it was when I became secretary in terms of the operating budget, so with a 20 percent reduction in workforce, you obviously have to realign where folks work and what they do.”

As of today, 30 Farm Service Agency offices do not have an employee assigned to work there and over a hundred other FSA offices have just one full-time employee.

“So what we are suggesting is, over time, fewer offices but better offices,” Vilsack says. “We’re doing right now a work study to try to determine exactly where the work is being done, to make sure that we have adequate people doing the work that needs to be done and then in 2015 we will probably suggest a realignment of some of the offices and a strengthening of those offices with additional investments.”

The realignment could create a three-tiered system, with central offices where supervisors are stationed, branch offices with more employees and satellite offices were farmers could set up appointments for face-to-face meetings with Farm Service Agency staff.

Vilsack says with future upgrades to the agency’s computer systems, farmers may be able to access their records electronically.

“If they have access to broadband, they’ll be able to access their records from home,” Vilsack says. “That will change the relationship they have with FSA offices.”

There are more than 2,300 Farm Service Agency offices around the country and those offices serve as the primary distribution point for all federal farm programs.

Vilsack served two terms as Iowa’s governor and became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in January of 2009.


A single organ donor can help to save eight other lives

Nebraskans are being encouraged to sign up to be organ donors and to let their loved ones know they’ve done so and why.

Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the U-S Department of Health and Human Services, says it’s easy — and important — to register to become an organ, eye and tissue donor.

“Over 120,000 people are on waiting lists hoping for a chance at life-saving organ donation,” Dr. Koh says. “Nearly 2,000 of them are kids and tragically, every day in our country, some 18 people die on those waiting lists hoping for organ donation.”

This week, 445 Nebraskans are on waiting lists for transplants. Last year, 107 Nebraskans received transplants.

While you may have checked the box to become an organ donor the last time you renewed your driver’s license, Koh says that’s not enough.

“The actual decision to donate is often made by a family member at the bedside about to lose a loved one,” Koh says. “That’s why it’s critically important for that family member to know what your intentions are. That’s why these discussions can be very sensitive when these decisions are not known ahead of time.”

Of the 445 Nebraskans on the transplant waiting list, more than 200 need a new kidney and another 169 need a new liver.

“These are issues that are effecting every state, every community and the numbers of people on waiting lists are only going up over time, not down, which is very, very troubling,” Koh says. “That’s why everybody needs to be informed and be told that they can make a difference.”

One donor, Koh says, can save as many as eight lives and help as many as 50 more people through corneal and tissue donations.

Learn more about the Nebraska Organ Recovery System at http://www.nedonation.org



Celebrity unicycling family brings unusual act to O’Neill

ChampionsThe South Dakota family that entertained millions on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” program last year with a unicycling basketball show is stopping in Nebraska this week.

Bruce Crevier, his wife Diane, and their 12 children comprise Champions Forever Ministries and they’ve performed in 35 countries while perched and pedaling far above the basketball court.

“Basically, we do a basketball show and we incorporate ball-handling moves and also unicycles and a high-energy format that gets the attention of our audience,” Crevier says, “and then we share a message about what it means to be a champion in the game of life.”

Most of the family’s appearances are in schools as they like to do what Crevier calls “preventative maintenance,” encouraging kids to make the right choices.

“I’ve been in over 500 prisons doing my basketball show, as a visitor of course,” he laughs. “I’ve seen a lot of people that have made a lot of the wrong choices. Sometimes, you think you’ll never end up there but the fact of the matter is, a lot of people can end up there and do end up there.” That’s why they try to reach young people when they’re still in their formative years, he says.

Crevier holds four Guinness world records, including one for spinning 21 basketballs simultaneously.

“I also hold the world’s record for spinning one basketball for the longest time without stopping which was a long time,” Crevier says. “I ended up spinning it for 22 hours and 12 minutes. My finger and my arms were very sore.”

An appearance by the Champions Forever basketball show is planned for Friday at the Nebraska Health Banquet in O’Neill. Learn more at: www.championsforever.com