Spreading the news: Environmental Health News says we can learn from saving eagles, to save honeybees now

July 5, 2015

Environmental Health News invites repostings of this story, with attribution and links back to EHN’s original story.

It’s a good article. Can’t improve on it much, so let’s save time and pass it directly.

Can we learn from the success in saving the bald eagle from extinction, to save our domestic bee industry and native American pollinators?

Unintended consequences

How a law that failed to protect eagles could offer a lesson to save honeybees

June 6, 2015

By Peter Dykstra
Environmental Health News

Spraying DDT on a beach

Historic photo from EPA

The Bald Eagle Protection Act, signed into law 75 years ago on June 8, 1940, was well-intended. A multi-pronged assault on the raptors was taking its toll — habitat loss, lead-shot poisoning, and bounty-hunting by ranchers and fishermen all contributed to a growing threat. (Click here to see how this played out in Alaska.)

Congress passed, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed, the act to outlaw the “taking” of eagles and their eggs, disruption of their nests, or sale or possession of eagle feathers or parts.

It didn’t work. Bald eagle populations accelerated their decline, for reasons that Congress, wildlife officials, and FDR couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Throughout the late 1930’s Swiss chemist Paul Müller labored to find the right mix of synthetic chemicals to control moths. Not only did dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane do the trick, but Müller’s lab work found it was effective against lice, houseflies, beetles, and the dreaded mosquito. Müller’s employers, J.R. Geigy AG, applied for the first DDT permit about two months before the Eagle Act passed.

Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame

Swiss chemist Paul Muller, of A. G. Geigy corporation; the man who discovered DDT kills.  Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame

The rest is natural and human history. Cheap to produce and an effective defense against lice-borne typhus and mosquito-borne malaria, DDT quickly became a fixture in farm fields, living rooms, and World War II battle theaters. Müller became a science rock star, garnering a Nobel in 1948 and — wait for it — membership in the Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame in 2004.

But bald eagles continued to decline. So did hummingbirds, robins, ospreys, pelicans and peregrine falcons. Years of science, met with serious blowback from the chemical industry, eventually proved that DDT was thinning birds’ eggshells, not to mention causing impacts in fish, humans, and other mammals. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring drew international attention to the threat, and in the U.S., DDT was outlawed on the last day of 1972. Bald eagles, ospreys, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons have all since staged remarkable comebacks from the Endangered Species list.

Which brings us to today’s threat to other ecologically priceless wildlife — pollinators. Honeybee populations have been in freefall for more than a decade. Like the threats to eagles, the potential causes are multiple: loss of habitat and native plants, parasites, and a mix of insecticides and fungicides. Newest, and most notable among the suspects, are neonicotinoid pesticides. Like DDT, neonics were developed in the 1980’s and 1990’s and welcomed as a step forward, since they were thought to be effective on insect pests but relatively benign on non-target wildlife and ecosystems. Today they are a billion-dollar agricultural product, ubiquitous on common crops like corn and soybeans.

But mounting evidence shows that neonicotinoids may be part of the frontal assault on bees and other pollinators. In 2013, the European Union banned the use of three of the most contentious types of neonicotinoids, citing a clear and immediate risk.

In 2014, President Obama ordered the creation of a federal pollinator strategy. Its first draft came out last month, calling for everything from creating bee-friendly habitat to further study on neonics and other agricultural chemicals. The first edition of the strategy, issued in May, outlines a multi-year process for re-examining use of neonics.

If the EPA and other federal agencies concur with other studies on the potential harm of neonicotinoids, the U.S. will issue assessments for neonics in 2016 and 2017, and may or may not take action until 2018 to 2020. All of this will take place under a new president who may or may not take interest in protecting bees.

That timetable may work. Or not. Or, with a president with little more than a year left in office and a hostile Congress, it may be a moot point.

But perhaps a more important point is that in 1940, the President and Congress took action on the known threats to eagles. They didn’t know about the chemical risk from DDT. If neonics are as big a threat as the science suggests, the current president and Congress won’t have ignorance as an excuse for waiting.


EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

Prior to the 20th century, all eagles, including bald eagles were regarded as pest predators and pest carrion eaters.  Populations of the birds plunged between 1492 and 1900.  The first eagle protection law in 1918 did little to stop the decline in eagle populations.  A harder-toothed anti-hunting law in 1941 helped, as discussed above. Anti-environmentalists often seize on these historic facts to claim that DDT was not to blame for the failure of the eagles to recover after 1941.  But recovery of the birds started as soon as DDT was banned.  Fecundity of bald eagle populations rose in direct proportion to the drop in residual DDT and DDT breakdown products in the flesh and fat of eagles.

In Silent Spring Rachel Carson provided 53 pages of notes and citations to science journals, documenting the dangers and the unknowns of DDT and a variety of other chemicals. The book was published in 1962.  It is a tribute to Carson’s meticulous research that every study she pulled from is still accurate today. Later research only supported her conclusions, or in the case of bird damage and eggshell thinning, provided documentation of even more and greater harms.

Do we learn from history?


Fly your flag today, July 4, 2015

July 4, 2015

Follow the example of the young Gerald Ford.

1929: #President Gerald R Ford Jr holding flag with Eagle Scout Guard of Honor Mackinac Island State Park #Michigan. Tweet from America's Gallery

1929: #President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. holding flag with Eagle Scout Guard of Honor, Mackinac Island State Park, #Michigan. Tweet from America’s Gallery

Flags up in the morning, down at sunset.

Have a good, safe and joyful Fourth of July.


How could John Adams be so wrong about the Fourth of July?

July 2, 2015

“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

Surely John Adams knew that July 4 would be Independence Day, didn’t he?

In writing to his wife Abigail on July 3, John Adams committed one of those grand errors even he would laugh at afterward. We’ll forgive him when the fireworks start firing.

1776 filled the calendar with dates deserving of remembrance and even celebration. John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts to the Second Continental Congress, wrote home to his wife Abigail that future generations would celebrate July 2, the date the Congress voted to approve Richard Henry Lee’s resolution declaring independence from Britain for 13 of the British colonies in America.

Continental congress DSC_0607

Scene of the crime — Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Second Continental congress approved the resolution to declare the colonies independent from Britain – (Photo credit: diablodale)

Two days later, that same Congress approved the wording of the document Thomas Jefferson had drafted to announce Lee’s resolution to the world.

Today, we celebrate the date of the document Jefferson wrote, and Richard Henry Lee is often a reduced to a footnote, if not erased from history altogether.

Who can predict the future?

(You know, of course, that Adams and Jefferson both died 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826. In the 50 intervening years, Adams and Jefferson were comrades in arms and diplomacy in Europe, officers of the new government in America, opposing candidates for the presidency, President and Vice President, ex-President and President, bitter enemies, then long-distance friends writing almost daily about how to make a great new nation. Read David McCullough‘s version of the story, if you can find it.)

(Yes, this is mostly an encore post.)

More, and Related articles:

The Lee Resolution.

The Lee Resolution, passed by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776 – Wikipedia image (Wait a minute: Are those numbers added correctly? What are they?)

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Madison, Clay and Huxley: June 29 is a day of passings

June 29, 2015

Three great historical figures passed on June 29 — and I’ll wager there are others, but I stumbled on these three in the past day.

  • James Madison, Father of the Constitution, and our fourth president
  • Henry Clay, who many including himself thought should have been president
  • Thomas Huxley, the scientist perhaps best known for his spirited defense of evolution theory and Charles Darwin against an ungrateful Bishop Samuel Wilberforce

Historian Michael Beschloss noted Madison’s passing:

Madison was born in 1751.

Henry Clay falls into that history between the founding and the Civil War, when he won the name “the Great Compromiser” for his ability to put together agreements and laws that patched things up for a while — holding the south in the union, but not giving in to expansions of slavery, for example.  Clay wanted to preserve the union, but he wanted full support from citizens in all corners of the nation. He wrote words perhaps relevant to political contretemps of today:

I implore, as the best blessing which Heaven can bestow upon me upon earth, that if the direful and sad event of the dissolution of the Union shall happen, I may not survive to behold the sad and heart-rending spectacle.

“On the Compromise Resolutions,”
speech before the U.S. Senate,
February 5 and 6, 1850,
The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay (Littleton, Colorado: Fred B. Rothman, 1987), 2: 664.

Henry Clay died June 29, 1852, perhaps within weeks of this photo:

Henry Clay, photo by Mathew B. Brady between 1850 and 1852; Library of Congress archives.

Henry Clay, photo by Mathew B. Brady between 1850 and 1852; Library of Congress archives.

There’s a longer article on Clay’s amazing life and achievements at LOC’s “Today in History.” The Library of Congress also gives a brief summary of Clay’s history:

Republican Senator from Kentucky, 1806-1807, 1810-1811; Congressman, 1811-1814, 1815-1821, 1823-1825; U.S. Secretary of State, 1825-1829; Whig Senator, 1831-1842, 1849-1852; Democratic Republican candidate for President, 1824; National Republican candidate for President, 1832; Whig candidate for President, 1844.

Clay was born in 1777.

Thomas Huxley’s passing, on June 29, 1895, earns a spot on the calendar of events at Smithsonian.com

Thomas Henry Huxley, a British biologist and firm believer in evolution, dies at age 70. The greatest defender of Darwinism in Britain, he once said,

“The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence.”

Thomas Henry Huxley, in an 1871 drawing by Carlo Pellegrini for Vanity Fair.

Thomas Henry Huxley, in an 1871 drawing by Carlo Pellegrini for Vanity Fair.

Huxley’s quote is one more indictment of people affected by the Dunning Kruger effect, something I just became aware of yesterday.  Yes, I need to source it better.

Upon reading Darwin’s big book, Origin of Species, Huxley wrote Darwin on November 23, 1859, one week after the book was published:

I finished your book yesterday. . . Since I read Von Baer’s Essays nine years ago no work on Natural History Science I have met with has made so great an impression on me & I do most heartily thank you for the great store of new views you have given me. . .
As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite. . .
I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you. . . And as to the curs which will bark and yelp — you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead —
I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness

  • Letter of T. H. Huxley to Charles Darwin, November 23, 1859, regarding the Origin of Species

Huxley, born in 1825, lived 70 great years in science.

Who else died on June 29 whom we should remember?


Wind power ready for its closeup?

June 27, 2015

Climate Progress used this photo in a Tweet touting Denmark’s wind power progress:

Denmark sets world record for wind power production http://thkpr.gs/3608898   (No other photo information in Tweet)

Denmark sets world record for wind power production http://thkpr.gs/3608898 (Photo credit: flickr/Vattenfall)

Awesome photograph, a 21st century version of those photos of men, machines, bridges and other industrial objects admired for their symmetry and sharp shadows from the 1920s and 1930s. I would guess it was captured by an airplane passenger passing over the at-sea windfarms springing up around Europe’s Atlantic Coast, off the coast of Denmark, if Climate Progress editors were careful.

Scientifically, the photo shows what happens when windmills reduce the air pressure downwind of the blades — condensation can suddenly become visible.  Condensation trails from windmills (won’t that vex the hell out of chemtrails tinfoil hatters?).

The photo illustrates what should be good news:

Denmark has been long been a pioneer in wind power, having installed its first turbines in the mid-1970s when oil shocks sent the import-dependent nation on a quest for energy security. Thirty-seven years later, the country has set a new world record for wind production by getting 39.1 percent of its overall electricity from wind in 2014. This puts the Northern European nation well on track to meet its 2020 goal of getting 50 percent of its power from renewables.

The news of Denmark’s feat adds to the national records the U.K. and Germany set for 2014 and further establishes Europe as a leader in the wind power industry. This is especially true when it comes to offshore resources, as countries like Scotland, England, and Denmark build out their offshore wind farms. Wind generated enough electricity to power just over 25 percent of U.K. homes in 2014 — a 15 percent increase from 2013. In December, Germany generated more wind power, 8.9 terawatt-hours, than in any previous month.

A big source of the surge of Denmark’s wind production this year came from the addition of around 100 new offshore wind turbines. In January of 2014, the peninsular country got just over 61 percent of its power from wind. This is more than three times the overall production of 10 years ago, when wind only made up 18.8 percent of the energy supply. The country has a long-term goal of being fossil fuel-free by 2050.

Anti-greens, and rational conservationists, see trouble though. Anti-greens holler that the windmills “kill birds,” as if the coal power plants the windmills displace do less environmental damage.  They will bring this up in every discussion of alternative energy sources, and in every discussion of working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to decrease pollution and damage from climate change.  I suppose they want us to throw up our hands and give up on conservation.  (Industry agents like CFACT have no compunction against giving half-truths on these issues.)

Conservationists, like Chris Clarke, see the dangers.  Bird kills do occur at wind farms, in greater numbers than any conservationist is comfortable with.  Off-shore wind farms could hammer migrating populations of songbirds and other migratory fowl, in addition to the sea-dwelling birds.  Few solid studies on bird damage exist.  We are particularly the dark about the songbirds, who migrate in enormous avian clouds at night.  An article in Nature sums up issues:

Wind turbines kill far fewer birds in general each year than do many other causes linked to humans, including domestic cats and collisions with glass windows. But wind power has a disproportionate effect on certain species that are already struggling for survival, such as the precarious US population of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos canadensis).

“The troubling issue with wind development is that we’re seeing a growing number of birds of conservation concern being killed by wind turbines,” says Albert Manville, a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Arlington, Virginia.

It is good news that wind power can replace fossil fuels. But industrial-sized enterprises inherently create environmental problems. Our policy makers need to be alert to the issues involved, and create incentives for development of alternative energy sources that will prevent our falling into the rut of industrial development that comes at enormous costs pushed to future generations.

Who is looking out for the birds? Can there be anyone who argues we should give up on climate change because of problems from alternative energy, really?

Chris Clarke tells us the problems, that we need accurate, relevant information, and we don’t have a methodical process to get it:

The issue of eagles being harmed by wind turbines in the U.S. is a huge topic, to put it mildly. And yet a paper documenting two eagle mortalities at a wind turbine facility in the last 20 years is “conceptually novel” enough to merit publication in a prestigious wildlife science journal.

Put it this way: The scientific community has more information on deaths among marine mammals, which spend much of their time in places it’s hard for us to get to, than it does about injuries and deaths to rather conspicuous birds in industrial facilities. Hell, we have better, more solid data on planets outside our solar system than we do on eagle mortalities at wind energy plants in California.

One could ask the rhetorical question “why is that the case,” but it’s almost a waste of time: it’s because wind energy companies would strongly prefer that data never gets released to the public.

And that’s what peer-reviewed journals are, for all their abstruse language and incomprehensible math and absurd paywalls: public information. Once that data gets analyzed and put in context by independent biologists, it becomes available to us all.

[USGS research ecologist Jeffrey] Lovich puts it this way:

Minimizing wildlife mortality at wind farms is a major goal of conservation, although research on how best to do that is in short supply. Compiling and publishing accurate data on mortality of Golden Eagles over time is an important first step in efforts to protect these iconic birds.

And doing so in the clear light of day is crucial if we in the public are ever to make scientifically sound decisions about our energy policy, regardless of whether we put windpower or wildlife first.

Who will provide that information? Who will even ask for it? If we can’t get consensus on whether we should save humanity’s home on Earth, how can we get consensus on asking the questions about how to go about it, and how to learn how to do it?


Key part of Burwell decision: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets”

June 25, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell.  The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks (who is the artist?)

U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell. The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks. [Continued search for credit information on this image turned up this caption; artist is Dana Verkouteren of Associated Press] “This courtroom artist rendering shows Michael Carvin, lead attorney for the petitioners, right, speaking before the Supreme Court in March. King v. Burwell, a major test of the Affordable Care Act, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

In all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Burwell case today, you’d be lucky to learn what the Court actually said.

Here are the key paragraphs of the majority’s decision (links added here), as written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

Reliance on context and structure in statutory interpretation is a “subtle business, calling for great wariness lest what professes to be mere rendering becomes creation and attempted interpretation of legislation becomes legislation itself.” Palmer v. Massachusetts, 308 U. S. 79, 83 (1939). For the reasons we have given, however, such reliance is appropriate in this case, and leads us to conclude that Section 36B allows tax credits for insurance purchased on any Exchange created under the Act. Those credits are necessary for the Federal Exchanges to function like their State Exchange counterparts, and to avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.

*    *    *

In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—“to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36B can fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.

The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is

Affirmed.

Go read the rest of the 47 pages (in the .pdf from the Supreme Court), if you wish to be well-informed.  The case probably isn’t at all what’s being reported in most venues.


June 25: Virginians fly flags to commemorate statehood, and Col. Van T. Barfoot

June 24, 2015

June 25 is Virginia Statehood Day.  The U.S. Flag Code urges Americans to fly the U.S. flag on the statehood date of their states.

Virginia is counted as the 10th state, by virtue of the Virginia ratifying convention’s having voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution on June 25, 1788 — over the strong objections of Gov. Patrick Henry, and with the skilled legislative work of James Madison.

The Constitution became effective upon the ninth state’s ratification, but Virginia, being the largest state in the union at the time, was considered a make-or-break vote.

June 25 is the last U.S. flag flying date in June 2015.

So, Virginians: Fly your U.S. flags on June 25, as Col. Van T. Barfoot did every day until his death.

From the Washington Post: Retired Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient, and his daughter Margaret Nicholls lower the flag outside Barfoot's home in the Sussex Square subdivision in Henrico County, Va., in 2009. Barfoot died March 2 [2012] at a hospital in Richmond. He was 92. (Photo by Eva Russo/AP)

From the Washington Post: “Retired Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient, and his daughter Margaret Nicholls lower the flag outside Barfoot’s home in the Sussex Square subdivision in Henrico County, Va., in 2009. Barfoot died March 2 [2012] at a hospital in Richmond. He was 92. (Photo by Eva Russo/AP)”

You may remember the story of Col. Barfoot. As a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, he flew Old Glory every day. In 2009 his Henrico County, Virginia homeowners association complained, ordered him to stop flying the U.S. flag and take down his flag pole, erected in violation of HOA “curb appeal” rules.

Col. Barfoot refused.  Eventually the public outcry, including pressure from President Barack Obama, got the HOA to back down.  Obama said Barfoot was a good example, and had earned the right to fly Old Glory.

Barfoot had a particularly compelling case to fly the flag. Barfoot was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Italy, against German troops, in 1944.  The Washington Post explained: 

Early in the war, he participated in the Army’s invasion of Italy. As his unit moved inland, the soldiers took up defensive positions near Carano.

On May 23, 1944, Col. Barfoot was ordered to lead an assault on German positions. He went out alone and crawled to within feet of a German bunker.

According to his Medal of Honor citation, he tossed a grenade inside, killing two Germans and wounding three others. He then moved to another bunker nearby and killed two more German soldiers with his submachine gun while taking three others prisoner. A third machine gun crew, watching Col. Barfoot’s methodical assault, surrendered to him. In all, 17 Germans gave themselves up to Col. Barfoot.

In retaliation, the Germans organized a counterattack on Col. Barfoot’s position, sending three tanks toward him.

Col. Barfoot grabbed a bazooka grenade launcher and stood 75 yards in front of the leading tank. His first shot stopped it in its tracks. He then killed three of the German tank crew members who had attempted to escape.

The other two tanks, witnessing the destruction, abruptly changed directions, moving away from Col. Barfoot. Returning to his platoon, he helped carry two wounded U.S. soldiers almost a mile to safety.

Commending his “Herculean efforts,” Col. Barfoot’s citation praised his “magnificent valor and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire.”

Col. Barfoot served in the Korean War and later in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. His other military decorations included the Silver Star; two awards of the Legion of Merit; the Bronze Star; three awards of the Purple Heart; and 11 awards of the Air Medal.

So, Virginians, would it inconvenience you much to fly your U.S. flags today — in honor of Col. Van T. Barfoot, as well as in honor of your state’s entry into the Union?

What do we do to deserve the loyalty and service of such men?


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