Capital Press | Capital Press Sun, 29 May 2016 00:41:48 -0400 en Capital Press | Protecting crops naturally Thu, 26 May 2016 13:22:36 -0400 Tim Hearden ORLAND, Calif. — As a youngster growing up in Ohio, Dani Lightle had little to do with agriculture.

She was a science enthusiast at an early age — an interest her parents encouraged. They would buy her books on insects, and she’d go into the backyard and find each one, she said.

“I was pretty far removed” from farming, Lightle said of her childhood in Copley, Ohio, a suburb of Akron.

But now Lightle, 30, a University of California Cooperative Extension orchard crop adviser, is undertaking scientific research that could be crucial for much of California’s $54 billion agriculture industry.

Having earned a doctorate in entomology from Oregon State University in 2013, Lightle is working on several projects to help plants and trees naturally ward off pests and disease, including developing resistant rootstocks and studying the behavior of insects.

“Coming out of undergrad, I was very interested in managing invasive species,” said Lightle, who honed her knowledge by working in a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Oregon after earning her bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Wooster in Ohio in 2007.

While taking a class at Wooster, “I was struck with how important it is to control invasives,” she said.

Finding natural means of controlling invasive pests and tree and plant diseases will be critical for agriculture in California, which accounts for about half of all U.S.-grown nuts, fruit and vegetables.

Each year, invasive insects and diseases cost the Golden State’s farmers about $3 billion in control costs and crop and export losses, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

“It’s a lot,” Lightle said. “It obviously varies year by year, but there are a lot of costs associated with a pest, including the cost to control it.”

Moreover, tighter regulations are being placed on the chemicals that growers use to treat for pests and disease, increasing the need for Lightle and other researchers to find natural alternatives. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering banning the use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used on some 60 California crops, including tree nuts, oranges and grapes.

Lightle became interested in a cooperative extension career while in graduate school, she said.

“I liked the interaction with growers,” she said. “I liked sharing information with them and making the language accessible to them.”

After earning her Ph.D., she rode across the country by motorcycle and randomly applied for jobs. She ended up in Orland, in the heart of the Sacramento Valley’s almond, walnut, olive and prune country. She started in February 2014.

“I’m heading into my third California summer,” she said.

In the last five years, Lightle has authored or co-authored seven peer-reviewed scholarly articles on raspberry viruses brought on by aphids and other insects. Other non-peer-reviewed articles she’s written deal with such topics as navel orangeworm in walnuts, olive fly activity and a pathogenic bacterium associated with California olives.

Many of her research projects are long-term. She and other researchers are several years into a germplasm breeding process they hope will lead to new walnut varieties that are resistant to nematodes and phytophthora.

“It’s definitely not instant results,” she said. “Very few things are instant results.”

Even short-term projects such as examining flight patterns of insects must be done over several years because conditions change each year, Lightle said.

“Nothing is instant,” she said. However, most growers “have a handle on the fact that it takes time to get results,” she said.

She and other Sacramento Valley advisers are developing an online resource for orchardists that will include pest updates, evapotranspiration reports for irrigation management and a calendar of upcoming workshops.

Lightle said she enjoys meeting with growers and says she learns something new in every conversation.

“I don’t think you’d do this job or last very long if you didn’t enjoy going out and talking with growers,” she said. “One of the really important aspects of this job in the early years is building those relationships and networks so they know they can call on me if they need something.”

Lightle said such measures as breeding disease-resistant rootstocks have “always been a first line of defense” in farming for thousands of years.”

“Research-wise, I’m really hoping to pursue strategies that make a difference in growers’ practices and production,” she said. “That’s really what takes a while.”

Dani Lightle

Age: 30

Residence: Orland, Calif.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, biology, the College of Wooster, 2007; doctorate, entomology, Oregon State University, 2013

Family: Husband, Lars Estrem; daughter, Cora


Recharging Idaho’s economic future Fri, 27 May 2016 15:25:13 -0400 John O’Connell BOISE — Wesley Hipke’s job is to ensure that Idaho has an ample groundwater supply for years to come, thereby protecting the state’s economic future.

As recharge program manager with the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Hipke, 54, identifies prime locations for conducting managed recharge — injecting surface water into the ground to reverse aquifer declines — and develops the infrastructure needed to increase the state’s recharge capacity.

Hipke’s program works closely with irrigators, paying canal companies “wheeling fees” to run recharge water through their unlined canals, or to spill it into porous basins. The state also covers or shares costs of work on canals to facilitate recharge.

“My primary goal is developing a program where we keep as much water as we can in the State of Idaho,” Hipke said, adding that water recharged during peak stream flows ultimately returns to the surface when it’s used by irrigators.

Hipke, who helped manage recharge during his 19 years with the Arizona Department of Water Resources before taking a job with a Boise consulting firm, assumed his current position in January 2015. He believes Idaho has been arguably the most progressive state in embracing recharge in time to reverse a trend of aquifer declines.

Idaho recently committed to averaging 250,000 acre-feet of annual recharge by 2020 on the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer — a volume roughly equal to the annual rate of groundwater decline.

But Hipke explained the state is already laying the groundwork to well exceed its lofty goal, pursuing additional recharge water rights and constantly researching to lengthen its list of potential recharge infrastructure projects.

The state has a water right to recharge up to 1,200 cubic feet per second in the ESPA. The right remains in priority throughout winter below Minidoka Dam, and Idaho is two years into a winter recharge program in the lower valley, which recharged 75,000 acre-feet in its first year and 66,000 acre-feet last winter.

Idaho will have the capacity to recharge up to 230 cfs of its water right throughout the ESPA after current infrastructure projects are completed, and Hipke expects to boost the capacity to 735 cfs within the next two years.

“To hit that 1,200, it’s going to take developing new projects,” Hipke said. “We’re already starting to look at those and seeing where we can add sites and diversity to use that full amount.”

Hipke said Idaho has additional recharge water rights pending, which would have 1998 priority dates, totaling 6,569 cfs in the lower ESPA and 7,334 cfs in the upper valley.

The Idaho Water Board recently approved $10.4 million for Fiscal Year 2017 recharge efforts on the ESPA, including $7.5 million toward developing new infrastructure and $1 million toward investigating more potential recharge sites.

Lynn Tominaga, executive director of Idaho Ground Water Appropriators Inc., said his organization likely wouldn’t have reached a settlement to the Surface Water Coalition’s 2005 delivery call last summer if not for the state’s commitment to recharge.

“It’s the first time the state has ever done water management planning dealing with infrastructure,” Tominaga said. “The water has been available in years past (for recharge), but we never had places to put it in those high-flow years.”

The Water Board also approved $200,000 toward studying the potential for conducting recharge in the Treasure Valley, looking to expand the effort into additional aquifers.

Wesley Hipke

Age: 54

Occupation: Recharge program manager with the Idaho Department of Water Resources

Innovation: Identifying the best locations for Idaho to develop managed aquifer recharge infrastructure now and into the future.

Hometown: Boise

Education: Bachelor of science in geology from University of Nebraska, and master’s degree in geology from Wichita State University

Family; Wife, Rebecca; son, Ethan, 15; stepson, Joseph, 37; stepdaughter, Amber, 36

Researcher predicts cold hardiness zone shift Fri, 27 May 2016 14:04:06 -0400 John O’Connell MOSCOW, Idaho — Researcher Lauren Parker predicts a time when the almond orchards of California could expand northward into Oregon and the fruit farms and specialty crops common in Western Idaho may also thrive in the state’s eastern region.

Based on the average of 20 predictive climate models, Parker, a University of Idaho doctoral student, has calculated how climate change might affect winter hardiness zones throughout the U.S. by the year 2050.

Parker emphasizes winter hardiness is but one factor in determining the agronomic viability of raising a crop in a given region, along with considerations such as market demand and water availability.

But when considering winter hardiness alone, her map of the U.S. a few decades into the future shows widespread potential for farmers to introduce new crops into their rotations without fear of winter kill.

However, the warmer zones will also benefit pests and weeds, she said.

“Across the country, these coldest temperatures are going to be warming in the future, and that results in an upward shift in the hardiness zones,” Parker said, adding that when she started the project she was surprised to learn that other researchers hadn’t already modeled hardiness zone changes.

Her paper, funded with USDA’s Regional Approaches to Climate Change grant, was published in a recent edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Parker’s research focused on the potential expansion of the growing area of three crops — almonds, oranges and kiwis — predicting a much broader footprint in each case. She’s preparing a more in-depth look at the potential to raise almonds beyond California’s Central Valley, factoring in other production-related considerations.

Parker explained that zones range from 1 in cold regions to 13 in the hottest areas, with each zone’s coldest temperature 10 degrees apart. Zones are further subdivided into “A” or “B” areas, representing 5-degree differences.

Her model shows the inland Northwest would shift from 6A to 7A, and Twin Falls County, Idaho, should shift from 6B to 7B — more like current growing conditions in the Nampa area.

The greatest changes are predicted in the Upper Midwest, which could move up a zone and a half.

Cathy Wilson, the Idaho Wheat Commission’s research collaboration director, believes market opportunities play a greater role in crop choices, and drive breeding efforts that can also expand growing zones for crops. She said water availability will also limit crop choices.

“While we’ve been in a warmer cycle over the last 10 years, whether or not that will continue is based on models that may or may not actually happen,” Wilson said.

Parker’s adviser, UI climatology professor John Abatzoglou, has conducted research showing the coldest nights of winter have warmed 3 to 4 degrees during the past 45 years across the Northwest.

He said a student’s previous research finds climate change should also reduce the prevalence of false springs, which result in premature blossoms that are killed by frost, in most of the U.S.

In the case of wheat, which has been a primary focus of UI’s recent climate research, Abatzoglou said winter wheat should mature faster with warmer weather.

“There might be opportunities and risks (of climate change),” Abatzoglou said. “Thinking of novel crops might be one of those opportunities.”

Vinegar company fined for spill in Washington river Fri, 27 May 2016 13:42:55 -0400 Don Jenkins Fleischmann’s Vinegar Co. has been fined $10,000 for spilling concentrated vinegar on March 4 into the White River in Pierce County, according to the state Department of Ecology.

The 10,000-gallon spill was caused by a faulty valve at the company’s Sumner manufacturing plant, according to DOE. The company has replaced the valve, the agency said.

The river was high at the time of the spill, minimizing the environmental effects, according to DOE. There were no reports of dead fish.

Efforts to obtain a comment from the California-based company were unsuccessful.

The vinegar that spilled was twice as strong as household vinegar. The company reported the spill the day it occurred.

DOE has authority to issue a $10,000 fine for each violation. In deciding to levy the full amount, the agency considered the Sumner plant’s history, a DOE spokeswoman said.

Fleischmann’s was fined a total of $24,000 in 2014 by DOE. The company was fined $4,000 for spilling about 2,000 pounds of concentrated vinegar onto the ground and another $19,000 for violations found in follow-up inspections.

The vinegar spilled when corroded steel hoops on a 49,000-gallon wooden storage tank failed. The vinegar was contained in two stormwater ponds. DOE learned about the spill from an anonymous tip.

Fleischmann’s can appeal the latest fine to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

According to the company website, Fleischmann’s is the world’s largest industrial vinegar producer and has manufacturing plants across the country.

U.S. farms hiring more workers, survey shows Fri, 27 May 2016 13:38:43 -0400 Dan Wheat U.S. farms are hiring more workers and paying them more, according to a USDA report.

In April, farms employed 2 percent more workers than a year earlier, the report showed. In January, the number of workers was 6 percent more than a year earlier.

The farm labor report for the first half of 2016 was released May 19 by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. It showed 703,000 people were employed directly on farms and ranches the week of April 10-16 and 582,000 were employed Jan. 10-16.

Those numbers include field and livestock workers, supervisors, managers and office staff but do not include people working for farm labor contractors, said Teresa Varner, NASS labor statistician in Washington, D.C.

Farm employment has ups and downs and the report was normal in the number of employees and their wages, she said.

The largest percentage increase in the number of workers during April was in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio at 31 percent. Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington also had increases.

The largest decrease during the same period was in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, down 23 percent. Lesser decreases were seen in North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa and Missouri.

Farm operators paid workers an average of $12.75 per hour in the April 2016 reference week, up 4 percent from 2015. Field workers received an average of $12 per hour, up 6 percent. Livestock workers earned $12.01, up 4 percent.

Laborers worked an average of 40.4 hours in the April 2016 reference week compared with 39.9 hours a year earlier.

Farm workers received an average of $12.83 per hour in the January 2016 week, up 2 percent from 2015. Field workers were paid $11.84, up 4 percent and livestock workers, at $12.02, were up 3 percent.

The survey is conducted twice a year. The sample is about 13,000 farms and ranches of $1,000 or more in sales in all states except Alaska.

Ranchers say outgoing Idaho Cattle Association leader will be greatly missed Fri, 27 May 2016 13:07:06 -0400 Sean Ellis BOISE — Cattle industry leaders say Wyatt Prescott, who led the Idaho Cattle Association as executive vice president for six years, will be sorely missed.

Prescott recently announced he is stepping down from that position.

“Most people in the industry consider Wyatt to be one of the best (ICA executive vice presidents) ever,” said Leadore rancher Carl Lufkin. “He has done an outstanding job during his tenure there. I don’t know how we’ll ever replace him, in my opinion.”

“Wyatt has done so much for us it’s hard to single out one thing,” said Rogerson rancher Jared Brackett. “He did a lot of things well. We will definitely miss him.”

Brackett, Lufkin and Leadore rancher Carl Ellsworth, all past ICA presidents, said one of Prescott’s greatest achievements was greatly increasing membership by proving to ranchers that they were getting something in return for their dues.

Lufkin said ICA membership has almost doubled, to more than 1,000, during Prescott’s tenure.

“Wyatt’s people skills and his job quality has brought a lot of confidence back to membership,” Ellsworth said.

Prescott helped create the ICA’s annual grass futurity, a fundraising contest that pulls in about $40,000 a year for the group that is used to provide scholarships.

“He was the brainchild behind that,” Brackett said.

Prescott said he is leaving his ICA position to get his family, which includes wife, Christie, and their two young children, closer to his own ranching roots.

“My end goal is to get my family closer to the land and the cattle, which is how I grew up,” he said.

Prescott will also contract with the University of Idaho to help complete and then manage the Rock Creek Ranch project. The 10,000-acre ranch in Blaine County is owned by the Nature Conservancy and Wood River Land Trust.

The goal is for the ranch to have a memorandum of understanding with UI that will allow cattle-related research to be conducted there.

Lufkin said Prescott was instrumental in helping formulate that plan. “I know he’ll do a great job there.”

“We’re hopeful there will be some research and data come out of there that will really help the industry, especially on the sage grouse issue,” he said.

Prescott said he will continue to be involved in policy development issues on behalf of agriculture during Idaho’s legislative sessions.

He said one of the highlights of his time at ICA was getting “to work with and be on the best operations in the state of Idaho. I got to learn from the best of the best and that’s been a real pleasure.”

“Getting to know this network of people that make up Idaho’s cattle industry is like no other opportunity you could ever have,” he said. “It’s been a real honor.”

Oregon boarding school will host firefighters this summer Fri, 27 May 2016 12:52:15 -0400 Eric Mortenson BURNS, Ore. — If wildfires erupt in the dry range and timber of southeast Oregon or southwest Idaho again this summer, firefighters will have a ready-made place to rest, shower, eat and stage for suppression work.

Crane Union High School, one of a handful of public boarding schools in the U.S., signed a contract to allow Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service firefighters to use its facilities. Firefighters will be able to sleep in the school’s dorms, shower, eat in the cafeteria and even shoot hoops in the school gym, Crane Union Superintendent Matt Hawley said. Firefighters will be able to park trucks, tanker and dozers on the school grounds, as well. Usually, crews live in tents while staging to fight fires.

The contract pays for use of the facilities for a minimum of 14 days, even if crews don’t stage there, Hawley said. The district will be compensated for any additional days of use beyond the initial two weeks, he said.

Like most small school districts, Crane Union could use the money, Hawley said.

“We’ve lost population out here so this is a partnership that benefits both entities,” he said. “It generates some revenue.”

The school will be available to firefighters from June 10 to Aug. 6, after which the district needs to get ready for the 2016-17 school year.

In a news release, the BLM said the staging area will put teams and equipment in a strategic location to fight fires in Southeast Oregon, Southwest Idaho and Northern Nevada. Public safety remains the top priority, but crews also will be pre-positioned to protect sage grouse habitat in the Burns and Vale BLM districts and nearby communities, BLM Fire Operations Specialist Sam DeLongsaid in a prepared statement.

Crane Union is 30 miles east of Burns. The district has 54 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and 52 students in grades nine through 12. Boarding is available for the high school aged students, and 28 students lived in the dorm this past year. The high school draws from elementary schools in a 10,000 square mile area, Superintendent Hawley said. Of the 28 boarders, 10 come from families in which the parents also were boarding school students, he said.

Bastian new VP for industry relations at United Dairymen of Idaho Fri, 27 May 2016 10:03:10 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas United Dairymen of Idaho has hired Eric Bastian as the organization’s new vice president of industry relations to serve as a link between Idaho’s dairy farm families, dairy food processors and regional research universities.

“Eric brings an unmatched passion for the importance of product innovation and research to the success of dairy food and ingredient sales,” United Dairymen of Idaho CEO Karianne Fallow said in a press release on Thursday.

“His experience and expertise in dairy food science and his knowledge of dairy food processing and university research systems will complement our goals of inspiring trust and building demand for the dairy industry,” she said.

Before joining UDI, Bastian served as vice president of research and development for Glanbia Nutritionals and Glanbia Foods, where he built a world-class team of dairy food researchers and innovation experts, according to UDI.

Prior to his role at Glanbia, he was instrumental in building the Midwest Dairy Research Center at the University of Minnesota, where he led a research team focused on milk protein and enzyme chemistry, processed cheese functionality and milk protein fractionation.

Bastian was born in central Utah and raised on a dairy farm. He earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science and a master’s degree and doctorate in nutrition and food sciences at Utah State University.

He spent one year as a research fellow with the Danish Government Research Institute for the Dairy Industry in Hillerod, Denmark. Subsequently, he returned to post-doctoral work at Utah State University, which he completed in 1992.

“I am passionate about dairy food science, product innovation and building a strong, sustainable workforce of future dairy scientists in the Northwest,” Bastian said.

“By working directly for our dairy farm families, I can correlate their investment in research with real results that bring them value,” he said.

WSU crop tour reviews weed needs Fri, 27 May 2016 09:52:05 -0400 Matw Weaver A Washington State University field day will provide a closer look at the weed pressures researchers are observing.

WSU’s Weed Science tour begins at 12:30 p.m. June 8 at the university’s plant pathology farm on Whelan Road in Pullman.

The tour will examine plots managed by weed science associate professor Ian Burke. This year’s studies include spring wheat, spring canola, grass and broadleaf weed control in winter wheat and herbicide options in pulse crops that growers might find familiar.

“What was once old is new again,” said weed science professor Drew Lyon. “We’re looking at some pyridate in post-emergence for weed control.”

The chemical used to be sold for use on chickpeas under the trade name Tough. The active ingredient is owned by a Belgian company looking to bring back use in the United States, Lyon said.

“It’s a post-emergence broadleaf weed control for chickpeas, and we really don’t have very many options like that for chickpeas right now,” Lyon said.

The tour includes several new products by various agricultural chemical companies.

Other hot topics include herbicide resistance in Italian ryegrass, downy brome and mayweed chamomile.

Burke is looking at plant populations and row-spacing for canola to find ways to combat resistance other than chemicals, such as a competitive crop and different rotations.

“I don’t know that chemicals themselves are going to solve the herbicide resistance issues,” Lyon said.

Lyon hopes for 60 to 80 people to attend.

The tour includes time for farmers to ask questions of researchers, consultants and chemical company representatives, Lyon said.

“It’s a nice event because it allows a lot of good interaction between several groups,” he said. “We get to learn what some of the issues and problems are, growers get to see some things that aren’t on the market yet. ... It’s just a nice little meeting to share ideas, get out and actually see what some of this stuff looks like out in the field.”

For more information, contact Lyon at 509-335-2961 or

Portland daily grain report Fri, 27 May 2016 09:22:18 -0400 Portland, Ore., Friday, May 27, 2016

USDA Market News

All Bids in dollars per bushel. Bids are limited and not fully established in early trading.

Bids for grains delivered to Portland, Oregon in dollars per bushel.

In early trading July futures trended mixed, 1.00 lower to 3.00 cents per bushel higher compared to Thursday’s closes.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for May delivery for ordinary protein were not available in early trading. Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 percent protein were not available in early trading as most exporters were not issuing bids for nearby.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for May delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for May delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during May trended higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during May trended higher in early trading compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

May NA

Jun 5.2000-5.3425

Jul 5.2000-5.3425

Aug NC 5.2000-5.3200

Sep NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

May NA

Jun 5.3200-5.4425

Jul 5.3200-5.4425

Aug NC 5.3000-5.3975

Sep 5.3200-5.4975

US 1 White Club Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

May NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

May NA

US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat - (Exporter bids-falling numbers of 300 or


Ordinary protein 5.1475-5.4075

11 pct protein 5.3375-5.4875

11.5 pct protein

May 5.3775-5.5275

Jun 5.3775-5.5275

Jul 5.3775-5.5275

Aug NC 5.4375-5.5375

Sep 5.5375

12 pct protein 5.3975-5.5575

13 pct protein 5.4375-5.6175

US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat (with a minimum of 300 falling numbers, a maximum

of 0.5 part per million vomitoxin, and a maximum of one percent total damage)

13 pct protein 5.9150-6.1850

14 pct protein

May 6.2350-6.3850

Jun 6.2350-6.3850

Jul 6.2350-6.3850

Aug NC 6.2025-6.4025

Sep 6.2025-6.4025

15 pct protein 6.4350-6.5450

16 pct protein 6.5450-6.7050

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

May 4.9150-4.9550

Jun 4.9150-4.9950

Jul 4.9850-5.0150

Aug/Sep 4.9125-5.0325

Oct/Nov 4.9423-5.0023

Dec 4.9623-5.0023

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

May 11.3000-11.3300

Jun 11.3500

Jul 11.4000-11.4900

Aug 11.3775-11.5075

Sep 11.2900-11.4900

Oct/Nov 11.5300-11.5600

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.9200

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Apr 2016

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges NA

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 5.2700

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.4800

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.2700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Nevada’s oldest known tree lives on in stories of its death Fri, 27 May 2016 09:07:16 -0400 HENRY BREANLas Vegas Review-Journal LAS VEGAS (AP) — On the fourth floor of a research facility at the University of Arizona, the remnants of a famous Nevada tree anchors a display on one of modern science’s most notorious blunders.

Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research calls it the Currey Tree after Donald Currey, the researcher at the center of the controversy. But most people know the beloved bristlecone pine by another name: Prometheus.

Currey was a graduate student in the summer of 1964 when he came to eastern Nevada’s Snake Mountains to study ancient trees and prehistoric climate change, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

During his fieldwork, he persuaded the U.S. Forest Service to cut down a large bristlecone near the tree line on Wheeler Peak so he could count its rings and chart its history.

Currey’s casualty turned out to be approximately 4,900 years old, making it the oldest known tree on Earth at the time.

“The cutting of the so-called oldest tree in the world just dismayed people, and it was a major learning episode,” said Gretchen Baker, ecologist for Great Basin National Park.

The incident prompted tighter restrictions on the destruction of old trees and contributed to the eventual creation of the national park 300 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Currey would go on to a distinguished career in geography, where he was known among academics for his extensive research on the relics of ancient Lake Bonneville in the eastern Great Basin region. But Prometheus would haunt him until his death in 2004.

His story has taken on an almost mythic quality — one fueled by the tree’s dizzying age and the folly of killing it to learn how long it had lived.

According to some accounts, the first man the Forest Service brought in to do the job took one look at the tree and refused to start his chainsaw, delaying the job until the next day so another crew could be found.

Several of those involved in the tree’s dissection are said to have later died under unusual circumstances.

“There’s enough mystery to keep people interested,” Baker said.

But there’s no mystery to why the lab at the University of Arizona ended up with a piece of Prometheus.

“That is the pre-eminent tree-dating lab in the country,” Baker said. “They have done a lot of the age-dating on bristlecones throughout the West.”

In 2013, researchers there took a fresh look at Currey’s tree and determined it to be older than previously thought, something on the order of 5,000 years.

“No other bristlecones, living or dead, are known to have reached this age,” according to the display beneath the lab’s cross section of Prometheus.

Another piece of the tree is on display at the main visitor center at Great Basin National Park; a third slab of the wood decorates the aptly named Bristlecone Convention Center in Ely.

Ed Spear, the convention center’s executive director, said the tree has been there for decades, though it spent a few years in the lobby of Ely’s Hotel Nevada.

He said they get inquiries about it “pretty regularly,” including the occasional call from outside the country.

Spear is happy to tell people what he knows and defend the tree’s honor when necessary. Like when people bring up much older “clonal colonies” of plants, including a ring of creosote bushes in the California desert that’s said to be 11,700 years old.

“If it’s a clone, it’s not older. It’s a copy,” Spear said.

The stump and part of the trunk of Prometheus can still be found high on the rocky slope of Wheeler Peak, about a mile from the park’s Bristlecone Trail.

Baker said she hasn’t been there in a while, but she knows people who go every year and “leave prayer offerings” on the stump.

You have to know where to look. The spot doesn’t appear on any park maps, and there are no signs or trails leading to it. Park officials don’t advertise the exact location because they want to protect what’s left from vandals and souvenir hunters.

“And it’s not an easy place to get to,” Baker said.

Though she’s heard the tale of Prometheus dozens of times now, Baker said she loves to hear new versions of it, especially from a skilled storyteller in the proper mountain setting.

“It’s a great drama,” she said. “It’s like one of those campfire stories that keeps getting better.”

Washington cherry growers have good export opportunities Fri, 27 May 2016 09:02:17 -0400 Dan Wheat RICHLAND, Wash. — Washington cherry growers have good opportunity for exports after California fell short of its export norm.

California finished cherry sales over the Memorial Day weekend of a crop cut in half by rain damage. That and a strong dollar diminishing foreign buying power held California cherry exports this season to about 25 percent of the crop, B.J. Thurlby, Northwest Cherry Growers president in Yakima, said at the Five State Cherry Commission meeting in Richland, May 25. In the past, California has exported 50 percent, he said.

“Washington should have good opportunity for exports,” Thurlby said.

Early California districts around Bakersfield usually have a high percentage of exports with the Brooks variety, but rain reduced quality and kept exports down, said Tate Mathison, sales desk director at Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee. The company’s subsidiary, Chinchiolo Stemilt California, in Stockton, picks, packs and markets California cherries.

The Pacific Northwest, chiefly Washington, exported 5.9 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries, 30.7 percent of its crop, in 2015. The estimated gross wholesale value was $284.5 million, according to Northwest Cherry Growers 2015 annual report.

With domestic sales, the crop totaled 19.3 million boxes worth $826.7 million.

Canada was the top export market at 1.9 million boxes valued at $91.7 million. China with Hong Kong was second at 1.7 million boxes for $86.9 million.

Other top markets: South Korea, 761,000 boxes; Taiwan, 406,000; Mexico, 238,000; Japan, 233,000; Australia, 145,000; and United Kingdom, 119,425.

Northwest Cherry Growers budgets $1.7 million on export promotions and the priorities are China, Korea, Southeast Asia and Mexico, said Keith Hu, Northwest Cherry Growers international program director.

Japan, Taiwan, the UK, Europe, Australia and Brazil are not great priorities because of exchange rates, poor economies and the “timing of our product this year,” Hu said.

Taiwan is a “problematic” market because of lack of buying power, minimum residue levels of pesticides and its maturity as a market, he said.

“We have over 3,200 retail stores in the world committed to promoting Northwest cherries,” Hu said.

Roadblocks are strength of the U.S. dollar, global economic slowdown and price pressure from Turkish cherries “overflowing” into Western Europe and China, he said.

“We could have a short window of opportunity in Europe this year. Three shippers have plans to go in. We haven’t finalized European promotions yet,” Hu said.

Feds reject request to lift Snake River fall chinook ESA listing Fri, 27 May 2016 08:59:31 -0400 KEITH RIDLER BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The first attempt to delist one of the 13 species of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act has been denied by federal authorities.

The decision made public Thursday by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries cites concerns Snake River fall chinook wouldn’t remain viable without continued protections.

An Alaska commercial fishing advocacy group called Chinook Futures Coalition requested the delisting in January 2015.

The group is concerned that protected Snake River fall chinook limit quotas for king salmon because of incidental catching of the protected Snake River fish that travel to waters off Alaska.

Federal officials listed Snake River fall chinook as threatened in 1992 following declines, partly attributed to habitat loss due to dams.

Interstate highway becomes butterfly flyway Fri, 27 May 2016 08:57:29 -0400 DAVID PITT DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Soon, passengers zipping along Interstate 35 will see a lusher refuge and more food for bees and butterflies in the hopes of helping the insects boost their declining populations, six states and the Federal Highway Administration announced Thursday.

That 1,500-mile stretch of road from northern Minnesota to southern Texas is a flyway for monarch butterflies that migrate between Mexico and Canada, and is surrounded by acres of public land that can serve as friendly territory for the bees and butterflies that pollinate the plants that produce much of the nation’s food, such as fruits and vegetables.

But the monarch butterfly has lost population in recent years, which researchers say is due in part to shrinking stands of milkweed, on which butterflies feed and lay eggs. And last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40 percent of honeybee colonies in part due to pesticide use, habitat loss and parasites.

The agreement signed Thursday by officials from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas and the federal government is meant to improve the habitat and develop a branding campaign to informally name the interstate the Monarch Highway.

The agreement forms what it calls “a cooperative and coordinated effort to establish best practices and promote public awareness of the monarch butterfly and other pollinator conservation.”

“We’ve actually found in Minnesota that restoring prairie along the interstate is not only good for the environment but it helps reduce our maintenance costs,” said Charles Zelle, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Natural prairie grasses and flowers that provide foraging habitat and places to breed, nest and overwinter also don’t have to be mowed as often and help prevent erosion on steep banks, he said.

The transportation agencies will share seed mixes and roadside management practices that promote the best habitats for pollinating insects while making sure the roadside areas are still safe for drivers, Zelle said.

The federal government’s involvement stems from an executive memo issued by President Barack Obama in June 2014 directing agencies to create a federal strategy to promote pollinator health. A task force last year set a goal of restoring or enhancing 7 million acres of land over the next five years through federal actions and public/private partnerships.

Roads have long played a role in food production, initially helping farmers distribute food from farms to markets, Federal Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox said Thursday.

“I’d like to think the pollinator thing were doing now is kind of the final chapter in that cycle where we are now officially helping food get produced,” he said.

Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico declined from an estimated 1 billion in the 1990s to around 33 million by 2014, according to a U.S. Forest Service report released last year. The decline is attributed in part to loss of natural habitat including the milkweed plant in the countryside and deforestation in Mexico and California where they winter.

Honey bee pollination contributes an estimated $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, the White House said.

The agreement was signed in Des Moines at a meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, nonprofit, nonpartisan trade group.

Poultry returning to Pennsylvania fairs, farm show, after ban Fri, 27 May 2016 08:12:38 -0400 HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A year-long poultry ban at state fairs in Pennsylvania is about to be ended.

The state Department of Agriculture said Thursday the poultry suspension will be lifted on Wednesday for the state’s 109 county fairs and the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Chickens, ducks and other poultry were barred in May 2015 as a precaution to protect the state’s poultry industry against the threat of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza killed tens of millions of birds last year. The virus spreads when domestic poultry come in contact with wild birds that carry the disease.

Poultry exhibits now must test negative for the virus at least 30 days before the fair.

State officials say the ban will be reinstated if Pennsylvania has a positive case.

Researchers seek deadly fungus to protect salamanders Fri, 27 May 2016 08:11:24 -0400 MICHAEL CASEY SUNDERLAND, Vt. (AP) — Holding a sandwich bag containing a squirming, Eastern red-spotted newt, Evan Grant inspects its shiny skin for signs of a killer.

If he finds what he’s looking for, a gruesome fate awaits the amphibian. Ulcers would cover its body, eating away the skin and killing it outright or leaving it vulnerable to infection. Breathing would come with difficulty, and the lizard-like creature couldn’t absorb through its skin the water and minerals it needs.

Death would follow, not just for the specimen Grant holds at a pond in Vermont, but for any salamander afflicted by a fungus that has ravaged its brethren in parts of Europe. There’s no sign it has yet reached North America, home to 190 of the world’s 655 salamander species, but scientists aren’t taking chances.

Fearing the fungus could reach the United States through the pet trade, Grant and an army of fellow wildlife biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey, the lead federal agency in the fight, are checking salamanders nationwide. The goal is to take samples from 10,000 salamanders — including red-spotted newts from Maine and New Hampshire down to Virginia and over to Louisiana; Pacific newts in California and Oregon; and the flatwoods salamander in Florida, among others.

“We have the highest biodiversity of salamanders in the world,” said David Hoskins, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s fish and aquatic conservation program. “We were concerned that once the fungus reaches the United States — if it was introduced into wild populations — it could become established and spread and potentially wipe out important species of salamanders.”

They may be small, hard to spot and overlooked compared with tigers and polar bears. But salamanders are critical indicators of environmental health, and their roles in wetlands, lakes and forests are critical in controlling insect populations and providing food for other animals. Anything that harms them stands to harm other species.

The USGS hasn’t yet found the fungus in any of the nearly 1,000 salamanders it has sampled across the country. But there are many more salamanders than biologists looking for them.

Researchers believe the fungus, related to one that has decimated frog populations around the world, likely arrived about seven years ago in Europe through the pet trade and was released in the wild when captive animals escaped or were abandoned. It has since been found in captive populations of fire salamanders, Europe’s best-known species, in the United Kingdom and Germany. There have also been outbreaks in wild populations in Belgium.

Wherever the fungus has been found, the end result is not good. In the Netherlands, the fungus has wiped out almost all fire salamanders.

The loss of what’s known as a “sentinel species” — the proverbial canary in the coal mine — could “disrupt the equilibrium of the ecosystems” across Europe, said An Martel, a Belgian professor who discovered the fungus on salamanders in the Netherlands.

“Very few animals are left,” Martel said. “It has had a huge impact. The populations where the fungus is present are almost gone. We don’t find any salamanders anymore.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose role is regulating the trade in amphibians and other species, in January prohibited 201 salamander species from being imported or traded across state lines, which should put a dent in a pet industry that saw 2.5 million salamanders imported between 2004 and 2014.

The move aims to get ahead of the fungus and avert the problems that came with combating the frog fungus, which wiped out several species before action plans started, Hoskins said.

At the pond in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, the shoreline teeming with red-spotted newts, Grant and colleague Adrianne Brand trapped as many as 30 in small nets or wire traps resting on the lake bottom.

The pair measured the newts, recorded sex ratios and looked for signs of the fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, commonly called Bsal. Then they swabbed the creatures’ hands and underside for any evidence of Bsal and put the samples in a test tube for freezing and shipment to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, for analysis.

If the fungus is found, the response would depend on the location and the likelihood of it spreading; it could include limiting access to certain spots as well as quarantining or treating sick salamanders.

“For salamander diversity, I would hope not to find it,” Brand said. “But it is an interesting scientific issue. We have a chance to learn a lot. If it is a problem, we have a lot to learn about being on the forefront of disease.”

Kings County won’t appeal California high-speed rail ruling Fri, 27 May 2016 08:48:59 -0400 JULIET WILLIAMS SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Kings County officials have opted not to appeal a judge’s ruling against Central Valley landowners in their ongoing lawsuit against California’s high-speed rail project, clearing another legal hurdle to the bullet train.

The county’s attorney, Colleen Carlson, said Thursday that county supervisors voted 4-0 this week against appealing a Sacramento County Superior Court judge’s March ruling that found the $64 billion system does not violate promises made to the voters who approved it, allowing planning and financing to proceed.

Judge Michael Kenny said the 2008 ballot initiative specified only that the state could issue bonds to construct a high-speed rail system and did not prevent modifications to the plan voters were given.

But he agreed with Central Valley landowners and the county that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has not proven the rail system will be financially viable or can meet the travel times voters were promised.

He said the system continues to evolve so it is premature for the court to intervene.

Opponents had sought to block the state from spending money on the project.

“We feel like it accomplishes what we intended it to,” Carlson said. “They have to comply with everything laid out not only in that decision, but in the initiative. ... Essentially, that’s what it said.”

Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, noted that the authority has always contended it is complying with the voter initiative, which authorized the state to sell up to $10 billion in bonds for high-speed rail and connector projects.

“I think their decision to not appeal the outcome is a sign that the reality and the progress of high-speed rail in the Central Valley and across the state is becoming more real and apparent,” she said Thursday.

Still, beyond the voter-approved financing, money and political support for what would be the nation’s first high-speed rail project has lagged. California has secured another $3.2 billion in federal matching funds and the project is supposed to receive money each year from the state’s greenhouse gas emission fund, which sold only a fraction of the credits expected in an auction this month.

Nebraska pig supplier promises to investigate alleged abuses Fri, 27 May 2016 08:47:29 -0400 GRANT SCHULTE LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A national pork supplier promised Thursday to investigate abuse allegations at one of its Nebraska facilities after an animal rights group released an undercover video showing pigs with open wounds and other health problems.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund released the footage Wednesday and sent letters to the Nebraska and Illinois attorney general’s offices requesting a criminal investigation. The facility is owned by The Maschhoffs, the largest family-owned pork production business in North America, which is based in Carlyle, Illinois.

The video allegedly shows pigs with maladies such as intestinal ruptures, large open wounds and baseball-sized cysts. At one point, a person is shown slamming a piglet’s head into the floor to try to kill it. The group said its undercover investigator documented long stretches of time — up to three days — where pigs received no food, leading them to become agitated and hurting each other and themselves.

“Conscious consumers who are looking to support more responsible businesses are deceived by companies, such as The Maschhoffs, that misrepresent themselves with false idyllic words and images rather than developing a better business model,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells.

The Maschhoffs said in a statement Thursday it will act immediately to address the allegations and will cooperate with any criminal investigation. Hormel Foods, one of its largest customers, said it has suspended all sow operations at the plant and is sending auditors to see whether animal care requirements are being followed.

“As a family-owned, long-standing hog production company, we recognize our ethical obligation to provide for the wellbeing and human care of our animals as do our customers,” said Bradley Wolter, president of The Maschhoffs.

The Maschhoffs and the Animal Legal Defense Fund both declined to reveal the facility’s exact location. A spokesman for The Maschhoffs said the company didn’t want to endanger employees at the plant, and an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund said his group was concerned that its undercover investigator might be identified.

A spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson declined to comment and wouldn’t confirm whether that office has opened an investigation.

California to dismiss $1.4M fine against irrigation district Fri, 27 May 2016 08:17:48 -0400 SCOTT SMITH FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Water regulators recommend dismissing a historic $1.4 million fine issued at the height of California’s drought last summer against a group of Central Valley farmers accused of taking river water that didn’t belong to them.

It marks a sharp reversal to the first of such fines against a district with claims to water that are a century old. Entities with those rights have long enjoyed immunity from cutbacks.

In a draft order, the State Water Recourses Control Board said Thursday that its prosecutors failed to prove its case against Byron-Bethany Irrigation District.

The case should not have dragged on this long, said attorney Dan Kelly, who represented Byron-Bethany, a district that serves 160 farms east of San Francisco.

“The prosecution team certainly held this out as a test case, something that would teach everyone not to ignore the state water board,” Kelly said. “The fact that they didn’t have sufficient evidence to prove what they were alleging is troubling.”

The water board also recommended dropping a similar civil case against West Side Irrigation District, which serves farmers near Tracy. State officials had not proposed a fine for West Side.

The turn-around raises several questions, said attorney Jeanne Zolezzi, who represents West Side.

“There’s a real question whether the state board is the policeman of how much water is in the river and who should be able to take it,” said Zolezzi, noting that has historically been left to the courts to decide.

After the state issued its complaints, both districts asked for a hearing. The state’s prosecutors put on its case in March, and two state water board officials overseeing the hearing abruptly halted it before the districts could put on their cases in defense.

The draft order dismissing the cases says the water enforcement officials couldn’t explain the basis for alleging that the district took more water than they had a right to take.

State Water Board spokesman George Kostyrko said the allegations appeared to be true when they were first made at the height of California’s drought, when hundreds of farmers throughout the state were being ordered to stop taking river water.

A fair and impartial hearing process showed otherwise, he said.

“This happened during a fourth and very crucially dry year in California,” he said. “It appeared that some parties had been taking water that didn’t belong to them.”

The full State Water Resources Control Board must approve the dismissals before they become final.

Attorneys for both districts said they will seek damages and attorneys’ fees from the state in court. For Byron-Bethany, Kelly said that will be more than $1 million.

Long missing frog, turtle species making return to Yosemite Thu, 26 May 2016 08:28:17 -0400 SCOTT SMITH FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A type of frog made famous by Mark Twain will soon be hopping and swimming through California’s Yosemite National Park after a decades-long absence, officials said Wednesday.

The California red-legged frog, named for its colorful legs and belly, vanished from the park more than 40 years ago. It is the type of frog featured in Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Western pond turtles — missing from most of the park for 50 years — are also being reintroduced to Yosemite, both under a partnership with the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, officials announced.

“This is a landmark event for Yosemite National Park and a historic opportunity,” said the park’s Superintendent Don Neubacher.

The zoo has begun nurturing frogs in a permanent breeding center. Officials say they already released 2,000 tadpoles in March.

Over the next three years, thousands of tadpoles and adult frogs from the center will be transported 200 miles to be set free in the park’s lush meadows, alpine lakes and winding Merced River.

The frog disappeared from Yosemite in part because non-native, predatory bullfrogs first introduced to a reflection pond spread throughout the valley and, over time, gobbled them up, officials said.

The insatiable bullfrogs have since been eradicated from the park, clearing the way for the red-legged frog’s return, said Rob Grasso, an aquatic ecologist at Yosemite who spearheaded the project.

“Now that they’ve been removed, we know the red-legged frog will do well,” he said.

Red-legged frogs grow to 2 to 5 inches long. They are the largest native frogs in the West — known for communicating in short, soft grunts — and listed as a federally threatened species.

Hundreds of adult Western pond turtles will be moved to Yosemite Valley in the next few years. The first 10 will be released in June, fitted with radio transmitters to track them and discover their preferred habitat.

The turtles can grow to seven inches long, and park visitors may see them basking on logs or rocks. Some of the turtles still have been found in the remote Hetch Hechy area of Yosemite, but not on the valley floor.

Federal authorities are considering whether to give the turtles in California protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Park officials cite a number of mismanagement practices over a century that may have caused both species to vanish.

Rangers clearing fallen trees and other debris from the Merced River’s banks in the past may have inadvertently removed critical habitat, officials acknowledged. But rangers say improved practices have restored park conditions for both the turtle and frog to thrive.

Officials said an abundant raccoon population may also have preyed on the turtles and frogs.

This is the latest effort to restore native animals to Yosemite. State wildlife officials in 2014 reintroduced bighorn sheep to Yosemite’s backcountry after overhunting and disease spread by domesticated sheep herds wiped them out.

“Maintaining the natural balance of biodiversity in the park is important to its long-term well-being and to sustaining opportunities for visitors to experience the park as nature intended,” said Frank Dean, president of the Yosemite Conservancy, which has contributed $540,000 to the park’s aquatic animals.

Wheat growers organization names new CEO Thu, 26 May 2016 10:01:02 -0400 The National Association of Wheat Growers has chosen a new chief executive officer.

Chandler Goule, currently senior vice president of programs for the National Farmers Union, will take over as the new CEO for NAWG on July 5, the organization announced.

Goule will also become executive director of the National Wheat Foundation.

“The U.S. wheat industry is poised to reach new heights in both production and quality,” Goule said in a NAWG press release. “I am thrilled and honored to have this opportunity to work alongside our national wheat grower leaders in positioning NAWG and NWF as pre-eminent wheat advocacy and educational organizations as we begin to develop strategy for making wheat a major player in the drafting of the next farm bill.”

NAWG conducted a nationwide search for a new CEO to fill the vacancy left by Jim Palmer, who announced in April his intention to step down to spend more time with family and on his Missouri farm.

“With our industry at a critical juncture, we know that with Chandler’s guidance, NAWG will be in a great position to advocate on behalf of all wheat farmers,” NAWG president Gordon Stoner stated in the press release.

Goule holds degrees from Texas A&M and George Washington University, and was a subcommittee staff director for the House Agriculture Committee before moving to the National Farmers Union in 2009 as vice president of government relations, according to the NAWG press release. He was appointed senior vice president of NFU programs in 2014.


Bat disease continues to surprise in Washington Thu, 26 May 2016 17:41:45 -0400 Don Jenkins A Washington state wildlife veterinarian calls the so-far fruitless search for more signs of the bat disease white-nose syndrome baffling but promising.

A sick little brown bat found by hikers March 11 in a state park 30 miles east of Seattle was the first confirmed case of white-nose syndrome in the West.

Previously, the disease had been documented only as far west as eastern Nebraska.

The discovery raised concern that the fungus, deadly to insect-eating and farmer-friendly bats, had somehow leaped across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

Since then, the U.S. Geological Survey has tested dozens of live and dead bats, along with soil samples and bat guano collected in caves. The tests have not detected the virus.

“The fact we haven’t found anything else is puzzling,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Katie Haman said Wednesday. “It leaves a huge question mark. This is not the way white-nose syndrome works back east.”

White-nose syndrome was first documented in New York in 2007. By the beginning of this year, the fungus had been confirmed in 28 Eastern, Southern and Midwestern states.

In some states, discovery of the fungus in bat-dwelling caves preceded the finding of diseased bats by one or more years.

Finding a sick bat in Washington led to speculation that the fungus had been in the Northwest for several years, becoming established while going undetected.

The USGS National Wildlife Center in Madison, Wis., has so far tested nine dead and 25 live bats, along with 65 samples of soil and droppings. Haman on Wednesday sent 16 more dead bats to USGS.

“I do think it’s good news we haven’t found it,” she said. “I’m hopeful we have detected it early and are out in front of the curve.”

Scientists warn that cave explorers can spread white-nose syndrome by picking up the fungus on their clothing and equipment.

Haman said finding more samples of the disease may provide clues of how it reached Washington. “We don’t have the information to even begin theorizing,” she said.

Southern Illinois University field research last year in Midwest corn fields concluded bats prevent $1 billion a year in crop damage.

An often-repeated claim that bats annually provide agriculture with $3.7 billion worth of pest control is based on a rough calculation made in 2011 in a short paper by four scientists.

The scientists noted that Texas cotton farmers spend at least $12 per acre on pest control. The researchers multiplied 12 by the more than 309 million acres of harvested cropland reported in the 2007 U.S. agriculture census. The resulting figure, approximately $3.7 billion, has since been reported in news stories, press releases and government reports as the potential threat to agriculture.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said she could not find any assessments of actual losses to agriculture caused by white-nose syndrome.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year listed the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act because of white-nose syndrome.

The bat ranges along the Atlantic Coast and as far west as Montana.

Defenders of Wildlife has sued USFW in federal court in Washington, D.C., claiming the bat should be given the broader protections of an endangered species. The lawsuit argues the infected bats need more forested areas to forage and roost because they emerge from hibernation in a weakened state.

The Center for Biological Diversity has cited the threat white-nose syndrome poses to bats as grounds for opposing cave exploring, mining, oil and gas drilling, and pipeline construction, according to its website.

CDFA permanently raises whey value in milk pricing Thu, 26 May 2016 17:23:24 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas California dairymen welcome a permanent increase in the whey value in milk used to manufacture cheese, but they say it still falls short of closing the gap between their price and those paid to producers in most of the country.

California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross has permanently adopted the temporary increases in the whey value she put in place last August, when she raised the former cap of $0.75 per hundredweight of milk to $2.005 per hundredweight.

Dairymen organizations, supported by the state’s three largest dairy co-ops, had proposed a permanent cap of $4, while processors backed a proposal for a cap of $1.25 not to exceed six months. A hearing panel recommended a permanent cap of $1.55.

A permanent higher cap is good news, but it won’t stem the tide of dairymen exiting the business, according to the California Dairy Campaign, one of the producer groups that have for years challenged the whey value in Class 4b pricing.

“California dairies are going out of business at an alarming rate,” said Lynne McBride, CDC executive director.

Cost of production is approaching $20 per hundredweight of milk, and producers are only being paid about $12 per hundredweight, she said.

“There’s a lot of concern among the producer community,” she said.

Losses are mounting, and even longstanding, multi-generational dairies can’t afford to stay in business, she said.

Thirty-two dairies went out of business last year, when the average mailbox milk price trailed the cost of production by $1.84 per hundredweight, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Strong global milk production, high levels of U.S. inventories and decreased export sales are challenging dairymen across the U.S. But inequitable milk pricing in California’s 4b pricing system is continuing to harm California producers in particular, dairymen contend.

“Prices paid to California dairymen are routinely the lowest of any reported milk-producing state in the nation,” McBride said.

Dairymen pin a lot of the blame on the state’s pricing of 4b milk, which accounts for 46 percent of production. That price is currently $0.92 below the average Class III price in federal orders, but has lagged Class III by as much as $3.25 in recent years — representing more than $2 billion in lost revenue since the gap began to widen in 2010, she said.

Depressed whey prices and the increase in the 4b whey value since last August has narrowed the gap, but it still exists — and that 92 cents would make a big difference in California right now, she said.

Ross’ decision to make the increase permanent will help when prices recover but given the current whey market, it won’t have any immediate impact and still doesn’t align California’s milk prices with the rest of the country, she said.

CDC continues to support ongoing efforts to establish a federal milk marketing order for California as the only way to restore long-term equity for the state’s dairy producers, she said.

Ruling hinders Oregon wind energy project Thu, 26 May 2016 16:47:34 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski A federal appeals court has dealt a serious blow to an already-struggling wind energy project in Oregon’s Harney County that would give local ranchers an economic boost.

Though the 100-megawatt wind energy project would have been built on private ranchland, the 12-mile transmission line necessary to connect turbines with the power grid would have to cross public property.

That triggered an environmental analysis that has now been deemed unlawful by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, largely due to a wintertime sighting of sage grouse in the area.

Approval for the project was originally granted by U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 2011, but the litigation by environmental groups and the dropping price of renewable energy have delayed installation of the wind turbines indefinitely.

Due to the uncertainty caused by the lawsuit, filed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Audubon Society of Portland, a power-buying agreement secured by project developer Columbia Energy Partners was canceled.

The proposal now has another impediment to overcome due to the 9th Circuit ruling, which found that BLM failed to properly examine the impact on sage grouse, a former candidate for Endangered Species Act protection.

Proponents of the wind project initially prevailed in court when U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman ruled in 2013 that BLM had complied with the National Environmental Policy Act in assessing its environmental effects.

The 9th Circuit has reversed that decision, holding that BLM wrongly concluded the wind turbine site wouldn’t be occupied by the sage grouse over winter.

Contrary to BLM’s extrapolation, the “wind-swept character” of the site that “makes it ideal for wind-energy generation” also indicated it can be used by the bird because “snow there may be blown off sagebrush and exposed for grouse to eat,” the ruling said.

A sighting of sage grouse near the site in February undermines the agency’s assumption that the area was too snowy to provide habitat for the bird, the appellate court found.

“And with the impacts on sage grouse not properly established, the BLM did not know what impacts to mitigate, or whether the mitigation proposed would be adequate to offset damage to wintering sage grouse,” the opinion said.

WSDA looks at big jump in livestock inspection fees Thu, 26 May 2016 16:35:58 -0400 Don Jenkins To erase a budget deficit, the Washington State Department of Agriculture may ask the Legislature next year to more than double fees that cattlemen and auction yards pay for livestock inspections.

The services of a brand inspector could increase from $17 to $42 an hour under a tentative fee scale the department developed.

Instead of a flat $100 per day fee, auction yards could pay inspectors by the new hourly rate, plus mileage.

In both cases, WSDA projects the fees would generate about 2 1/2 times the revenue it now receives.

The higher fees would not add services, but would pull the inspection program out of a budget hole that reached $120,373 last fall, said WSDA Assistant Director for Animal Services Lynn Briscoe.

“It’s not something we like to do,” she said. “There is that initial sticker shock.”

The state checks cattle transactions to verify ownership and to create a record for tracing an animal’s movements in case of a disease outbreak.

Inspection fees were last raised in 2006. Since then state costs have climbed, and fees in some cases recoup less than half the actual cost of performing the inspections, according to WSDA.

Every four years, producers must re-register brands and those fees boost the inspection fund. But the number of registered brands has declined to 5,335 from 8,416 over the past 20 years.

WSDA has limited authority to raise fees, so it will need permission from legislators to raise hourly inspection fees.

“In talking to producers, people kind of grumble, but the ones I’ve talked to understand the need for it,” Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jack Field said.

The Washington State Dairy Federation is waiting for the department to present a plan, said the federation’s policy director, Jay Gordon.

“I think they need to get their proposal out there and explain it,” he said. “It’s a pretty significant jump — two and a half times. It seems a little abrupt.”

Brand inspectors earn $13 to approximately $17 an hour. Their pay won’t increase if the state raises their services to $42 an hour, Briscoe said.

The fee would equal what the state spends — including wages, benefits, equipment and administration — to provide the inspector, she said.

Without fee increases, WSDA may end inspection fee waivers for small private sales and special sales by youth groups, according to the department.

Briscoe said WSDA has already trimmed program costs by holding the line on wages and using surplus vehicles and equipment.