October 6, 2015

Bumble bee may become first added to endangered species list

Rusty patched bumble bee, photo by Sarina Jepsen

Rusty patched bumble bee, photo by Sarina Jepsen

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to declare the rusty patched bumble bee an endangered species. The bee once flourished in Nebraska and would be the first bee to make the list and gain federal protection.

Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for The Xerces Society, says this type of bee has vanished from 87% of its historic range and where it still exists, its populations are as much as 95% smaller than they were just a few decades ago.

“Protecting this bee could take a wide variety of forms, from restoring habitat for the species to protecting it from diseases,” Jepsen says. “One of the concerns about this species in particular is that the cause of its decline may be from diseases from commercial bumble bees or rather, managed pollinators.”

There are as many as 4,000 species of native bees in the United States and many of them are threatened. Jepsen says many people don’t realize how important bees are to our food supply and to the economy of an agricultural state like Nebraska.

“Together, all of our pollinators provide pollination services to agriculture that are estimated to be worth $3-billion annually,” Jepsen says. “That, of course, includes our managed honey bees that we’re very familiar with as well as many other species of native bumble bees.”

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the decline in monarch butterfly populations and Nebraskans are being urged to plant certain plants, like milkweeds, to help that insect, which is also a vital pollinator.

“Planting hedgerows and flowering plants that bloom all throughout the year is a great thing to do for monarchs as well as bumble bees,” Jepsen says. “Avoiding using insecticides or being very careful about what types you use and how much you use will also help this bee.”

Earlier this year, the White House released a strategy to protect native bees, honey bees and monarch butterflies. Jepsen says the national attention being given to pollinators has been great for native pollinator conservation.

The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators is focused on protecting, restoring and enhancing their habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a year-long review to determine if an Endangered Species Act listing is warranted for the rusty patched bumble bee. A decision is expected in September of 2016.

The Xerces Society is a non-profit conservation group, based in Portland, Oregon.


Polluted Norfolk power company site may get federal clean-up dollars

EPA-logoThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is nominating a polluted site in northeast Nebraska to be put on its Superfund list, potentially putting it in line for federal clean-up dollars.

The EPA’s Region Seven spokesman Chris Whitley says the Iowa-Nebraska Light & Power Company site is located in Norfolk, where the soil and groundwater have been contaminated for decades.

“This one goes back to probably our grandparents’ day when it was used as a manufactured gas plant location,” Whitley says, “when it was used to convert coal gas and other products into energy.”

Whitley says the site in Norfolk is one of several nationwide that have raised environmental concerns.

“The contaminants there are basically the remnants of the old activity that was involved in manufacturing gas,” Whitley says, “different types of contaminants, volatile organic compounds. Benzene is a name of a contaminant that listeners may be familiar with.”

Part of the property is owned by Black Hills/Nebraska Gas Utility Company and the rest is owned by the Nebraska Public Power District.

The Superfund program has a national priority list, what Whitley calls “the worst of the worst” polluted sites that are slated for clean-up.

The State of Nebraska has expressed support for placing the site on the list.

There will be a 60-day comment period during which the public can speak out about this. Visit the EPA’s website to offer a comment.

Moon saves the best for last with rare event

EclipseA lot of Nebraskans took in the night sky last night; an unusual combination of factors making the viewing of the moon a rare and spectacular event.

Planetarium Department chairman Ken Trantham with the University of Nebraska-Kearney confirms it is extremely rare to see a super blood moon lunar eclipse.

“Just a very rare set of circumstances in which you have the lunar eclipse at the same time as the moon happens to be closest in its orbit to the earth and so it looks a little bit bigger, that’s why we call it a super moon,” Trantham tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KXPN. “And, the red color actually comes from filtered sunlight through the earth’s atmosphere shining on the moon.”

A full moon in September is spectacular enough. The Harvest Moon occurs, because it is closest to the autumnal equinox. As a “super moon,” the moon shines about 30% brighter and is 14% larger than normal. We won’t see a moon like that again for nearly 20 years.

It was the final performance of a moon which has put on quite a show over the past year or so; the final of four total lunar eclipses. The next total lunar eclipse visible in Nebraska will be in January of 2018. We won’t see another combination like last night until 2032.

Trantham says the red tint added luster to the night sky.

“Kind of like seeing sunsets around the world,” according to Trantham. “For the same reason that a sunset is red, that light just kind of skims the earth’s surface and then that’s why we see red on the moon when this happens.”

Many Nebraskans went to planetariums to view the event, though it was easily visible to the naked eye.

Brent Weithorn, KXPN, contributed to this article.

Deadline looms for state conservation program

Irrigation(Farm_Bureau)IINebraska farmers and ranchers are being encouraged to sign up for a state environmental program.

Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Craig Derickson says the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) has an October 16th sign-up deadline.

Derickson says EQIP is their most popular program and this year 300,000 acres were enrolled.

“We have a nice array of conservation practices available to both farmers and ranchers,” Derickson tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX. “Particularly, the ranchers have shown a strong interest in fencing and livestock water pipelines and tanks and windbreaks and so, we have a lot of good conservation work that we can do through the EQIP program.”

Field offices will evaluate and rank applications. Those who qualify will be notified early next year.

EQIP is voluntary. It provides financial and technical help to install conservation practices. More than one million acres is currently under contract in Nebraska.

If interested, farmers and ranchers should visit their local NRCS field office and complete an application.

Jerry Oster, WNAX, contributed to this report.

Clean Power Plan means higher energy costs

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan means big changes for coal-fired power plants throughout the country and more expensive energy costs for consumers. Attorney Terry Jarrett is a former member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and says the EPA expects all states to cut carbon emissions by 32% by 2030 but that is just an average.

Jarrett says, “Each state has its own targets. States in the Midwest are especially hard hit and are above the average in having to cut emissions. Nebraska has to cut emissions by 40%.”

Jarrett says the final rule is not final but several states are already fighting back. He says several indicated they will not participate in this plan and will sue. He says Nebraska officials have expressed concern about this plan.

Jarrett says, “Your utility bills will go up. I have seen studies for Nebraska that show that it can go up as much as 30% because of this power plan. This will be a real drain on our economy. Manufacturers especially that run on very tight profit margins in the Midwest will be looking at moving their operations overseas.” He says this will also have a negative impact on the railroad and mining industries in our country.

China, India and Asia continue to build new coal-fired plants. Jarrett says China is putting a new coal plant on-line every 7 to 10 days and those do not use the same environmental controls that we use here. He says the coal plants in the United States are the cleanest in the world.