Friday, August 16, 2019

The Trump Administration’s Plan Bee

Over the past 15 years, there has been a precipitous decline in honey bee populations. Most apiaries have seen their bee colonies decrease in size by 30 to 90 percent.

This past winter alone represented the greatest loss of bees since 2006 with a nearly 40 percent decline nationally. 25 percent had once been the maximum rate of mortality in northern states that had significant cold-weather die-offs.

Unfortunately, it’s not just a winter thing anymore. This century’s losses have been occurring everywhere and anytime -- during the spring and summer when temperatures are perfect and food is plentiful.

Scientists and beekeepers chalk it up to colony collapse disorder, a large umbrella of diagnoses that covers everything from parasitic mites to deadly pesticides.

It was determined in 2011 by independent studies released in prominent journals like Science and Nature that a primary cause of honey bee deaths was the family of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. In 2012, those findings were affirmed just across the border by Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs which discovered that 70 percent of the dead bees across the province showed exposure to neonicotinoids.

This nerve agent had been used in increasing abundance on corn since 2005 after entering the market in the 1990s (as recently as 2015 it was used on most all commercial corn in the United States). That timeline of pervasiveness aligns perfectly with the sudden decline in bee populations.

Produced by Bayer, Syngenta and Valent, neonicotinoids are applied directly to the seed and thus become a part of the adult plant, including the nectar and pollen upon which the bees feed. The chemical doesn’t kill bees outright, but it seriously impairs their development and behavior, which accounts for the inability of the bees to feed properly, maintain their colonies and replenish them through adequate reproduction. 

In response to this, in 2018, Canada announced a ban on the 2 of the 3 most popular forms of neonicotinoids used there. A gradual phase-in of the new standards won’t begin until 2021.  

A more powerful means of suppression happened in the European Union. There, neonicotinoids have been banned since 2018, which had followed moratorium in place since 2013.

It’s a different story here. There hasn’t been a similar sense of urgency.

Even though federal studies link neonicotinoids to colony collapse, including a report released by the USDA and EPA in 2013, the government didn’t plan to make any serious inroads until a major, multi-year study on the impact of neonicotinoids was made available from the EPA in 2018.

As out an outcome of that study and many more, the Trump Administration announced a ban of 12 neonicotinoids in May.

It was a win, but it was not big enough: Two of the substances made by Bayer aren’t even used in the States and 47 products containing the compound can still be used here (Fortunately, those nearly 4 dozen poisons have to be re-registered by 2022, so there’s still some time for beekeepers, farmers and environmentalists to have their say.)     

While the Trump Administration had made some progress that President Obama’s couldn’t with neonicotinoids (Obama’s ban on them on wildlife refuges only hardly addressed the larger problem) it’s still one step forward, two steps back with Trump and honey bees.

In early July, the Department of Agriculture announced it was suspending its collection of data regarding honey bee colonies, a critical report that allowed the USDA, beekeepers, and scientists to compare quarterly losses, additions, and movements and to analyze the data on a state-by-state basis. Without that data, we don’t know if bees are dying off or rebounding.

Then, weeks later, the Environmental Protection Agency rescinded a ban on bee-killing Sulfoxaflor saying it has a lower environmental impact because it disappears from the environment faster than neonicotinoids. Never mind that it still spends time in the environment and still has an impact.  

The indifference and laissez-faire attitudes expressed by Trump -- and Obama before him -- to the plight of bees is a national security issue. Without bees we would suffer significant losses in food supply and we’d have to get many fruits and vegetables from other countries.

That’s because bees do a lot more than make honey.

If bees were wiped out, or something close to it, fruits and vegetables wouldn’t get the pollination they need. Estimates show that the total loss of crops would exceed $20 billion per year. Just consider the 30 million bushels of apples produced here in New York every year. And then, on the other side of the country, there’s California’s almond crop which yields 80 percent of the worldwide almond production and is 90 percent dependent on bees (a rate of bee need identical to that required by cherries and blueberries).

It may be asking a lot for an administration that has loosened many environmental standards, but the Trump needs to deliver a Plan B for their Plan Bee. We need to have the tools to study their populations and we need the laws in place to prevent their poisoning and mitigate their population declines.

Without bees, our agricultural economy would be a mess and consumers wouldn’t be able to get the affordable, domestically-grown nourishment we need.

From the 19 August 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News   

Friday, August 2, 2019

Understanding New York’s gun storage law

Last Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law new standards for gun storage.

The revised law amends section 265.45 of the penal law to provide that anyone who owns or has custody of a rifle, shotgun, or firearm and resides with anyone under 16 years of age – or will be visited by a child of the same age range -- shall not store or otherwise leave that weapon out of his or her immediate possession or control without having first securely locked the gun in a safe or rendered it incapable of being fired by using a trigger guard or similar means.

The author of the original bill, Democratic Senator Liz Krueger, said the bill addressed what she saw as flaws in the SAFE Act regarding storage and it was inspired by 12-year old Nicholas Naumkin, who, in 2010, was shot in the head by his 12-year-old friend at the friend's home while they were playing with a gun that the friend’s father owned. Nicholas died the following day.

In the bill’s narrative, Krueger also cited older statistics from the Centers for Disease Control which said, in 2010, 116 New Yorkers under the age of 19 were killed by guns (93 were homicides, 13 were suicides and 10 were undetermined).

The new rules goes into effect 60 days after the signing, so gun owns need to be prepared in a hurry if they weren’t already.

A conviction for violating the law could result in a penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine (these are harsher punishments that came about from amendments to earlier drafts of the law). If guns are not secured when a child is visiting that home a gun owner could face a $250 fine.

It wasn’t noted in either scenario but one could likely assume that significant and/or repeated offenses could result in confiscation of firearms especially with the renewal standards now imposed on pistol permits (which we were told at their issuance were lifetime permits).

And, there’s the very real possibility of Child Protective Services possibly being involved in your lives.

So, there’s more than enough reason, beside safety, for gun owners to comply, even those who fall into the “it’s my guns, my rights and I’ll do what I want” category.

Remember, this is New York, where the second amendment is interpreted a little differently by the state. Having a cavalier approach can put you in some really serious trouble.

Many have asked about enforceability, more specifically: How would the police know if a gun wasn’t maintained in a locked manner? While sheriff’s deputies aren’t going to be doing random inspections of your home there are two things that could raise a flag: Word-of-mouth and social media.

Expect your child to say something about your firearms to peers or school personnel; it’s not out of the question to think young visitors will tell their parents they saw guns; and it’s too easy for pictures to be shared on Facebook showing guns improperly stored -- if someone has a grudge against you it’s too inviting for them to use a social media post against you (pictures don’t lie).

So, don’t think this rule can’t and won’t impact you, even if you have a strong culture of respect for guns in your family across all the generations.

My word of advice to my fellow gun owners: Comply. Not only is it the safe thing to do, it’s now the only thing to do. Don’t tempt the fates with your children and the law.

Depending on your needs, a gun safe can cost anywhere from $120 to more than $1,000. A trigger lock costs around $20. Lock-up the guns or lock the guns themselves. And, don’t forget your display guns – if you have a historic or limited-edition gun on your wall that could be fired lock the trigger on it even though you don’t consider it a live gun that you’d ever put to use.

I tell you this without the absolute guarantee this is sustainable law.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, heard in 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that safe storage laws were unconstitutional. According to the Court, there is an inherent right to self-defense which would be impeded by the implementation of storage laws (if you need a firearm you need it immediately, a criminal will never courteously wait for you to unlock it).

So, we’ll see. There’s a very real possibility the law will be struck down. But, it won’t be anytime soon. And, given Cuomo’s hatred for the current administration in Washington, he’d be certain to pull out all the stops.

From the 05 August 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Thursday, August 1, 2019

How to see the real nighttime sky

If, like me and thousands of other readers of this newspaper, you live in the rural parts of the northern half of Western New York, you’re accustomed to some spectacular nighttime views. It’s invigorating (some folks even say it’s akin to a religious experience) to marvel at the cosmos, something that so few Americans have the chance to do. Only 20 percent of our population lives in rural areas, meaning 8 of every 10 people rarely if ever see the stars, especially in the volume that we do.

But, alas, even the magnificence of what we see is nowhere near perfect. It doesn’t matter if you live in the most remote locales of Niagara, Orleans and Genesee Counties -- you’re still missing out on thousands of stars for the same reason that the city folk do: light pollution.

Look off in the horizon and you may see a glow from a nearby village or city that obscures that portion of the sky. Now, imagine countless cities and towns around us, all pouring that much light and then some into the skies. This accumulated visual noise spreads into the night, creating a glow that extends far beyond its sources. The ability to see the faintest of stars, including the dense Milky Way, is affected and what we think is a true nighttime sky really isn’t close to that at all.

That’s a result of being surrounded by being near numerous cities, small (Lockport), medium (Buffalo and Rochester) and large (Toronto). We’re within 500 miles of 46 percent of the US population and 57 percent of the Canadian population. Imagine all of the lights used to illuminate their homes, the roads they drive on and the businesses that serve them. Rarely are the lights off even in the wee hours, meaning the sky glow over populated areas is relentless. In essence, a mammoth light umbrella covers most of us in Western New York.

To see how we compare against the few dark parts of the US (specifically areas of the Great Plains and the Rockies) refer to the awesome Dark Site Finder that can be found online at The website has an interactive map that you can drag around the US and zoom in to specific communities. It shows in a varying range of colors how intense the light pollution is.

Looking at the map, you’d probably be surprised to find out that the Lake Ontario shoreline of Orleans County still can’t escape the lights emitted by Rochester and the Greater Toronto Area. The whole Northeast suffers from that same fate, we’re an absolute mess. The closest that we can get to perfection is in desolate areas located within the Adirondacks and Appalachia. Stargazers can find true dark skies within the NY’s Moose River Plains and PA’s Susquehannock State Forest, the latter of which is renowned for its celestial views facilitated by a quarter million acres of near-wilderness.

Even if you can’t trek into those areas, you can still revel in more accessible sites that have incredibly vivid displays. Vast areas in our Southern Tier, Northern Pennsylvania, the Adirondacks and the Catskill Mountains possess only trace amounts of manmade illumination (look for the dark green and blue hues on the map) and, therefore, nighttime skies that truthfully put ours around here to shame. In them, the stars seem endless and tightly packed while the Milky Way is actually, well, milky.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience those sights on clear nights while camping and I compare the difference between them and rural Gasport’s skies to the difference between Gasport’s and that of Amherst’s retail neighborhoods; it’s really that significant.

So, if your family vacations ever take you to the aforementioned wilds, do yourself a favor and duck out to the Great Outdoors every cloudless night that you can. You’ll be amazed at the sights and you’ll get as near as possible to seeing the stars as they were when man first set foot on this continent.

From the 29 July 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, July 19, 2019

Reimaginations of the Erie Canal

A couple of weeks ago this column highlighted the importance of the Erie Canal to tourism and quality of life in the region while encouraging readers to take part the Reimagine the Erie Canal initiative. There were public listening sessions in Lockport and Brockport last week and the state’s Task Force was pleased with attendance and participation.

If you couldn’t make it to those hearings and have some ideas about how to improve and capitalize on the Canal be sure to send your comments to them, as I will. As someone who lives and works in canalside communities and spends a lot of time along the shores of the waterway, I have my own ideas on reimagining the Canal. Here are just a few of them:

Join the club.

The Adirondack 46ers is a community of men and women who have tackled all 46 high peaks in the Park. Membership is a badge of honor and something that many strive for and might never achieve. Whether or not they join the club (which has a roster of 11,000 hikers since 1918), every step along the way is special, from the people met to the wildlife encountered to the scenes seen. It’s an adventure.

Experiencing and completing the entire Canalway Trail should be celebrated the same way. The Trail is nowhere near as wild or taxing as the Adirondacks but, at nearly 400 miles in length, completing it is a major undertaking and a rewarding one at that: The well-groomed trail showcases so many wonderful communities and natural areas, showing off the people and places that make Upstate so unique.

A Canalway Trail Club in different variations (hike, bike) could prove to be quite popular and for those who don’t complete it in one week like 650 cyclists did last Sunday it will make for repeat, recurring business for the Canal economy. Like the ADK46ers, membership could be gleaned piecemeal, one stretch at a time.

Market as one.

Right now, there are state-produced websites and brochures that market the Canal as just the Canal. They are brief and don’t focus on the entire experience around the Erie Canal. Doing so is left to individual counties, cities, and towns.

For visitors sailing the system or cycling the trail that can make a full appreciation of the trip a little difficult and lacking. By having to visit dozens of websites and social media accounts -- if those communities even have them -- they will miss something interesting, for sure, and they won’t be aware of all the amenities along the way.  

The state needs to produce a large brochure, updated annually, and deeper websites that takes visitors along the entire length of the Canal and highlights the people, places, history and things to do in each community. The benefits afforded tourism could be huge.

Similar marketing models can be seen with the Niagara Wine Trail. Sure, there’s some competition (wouldn’t each winery like to sell more bottles than the next one?) but they all realize collaboration is more beneficial (making a day-long adventure out of wine tasting attracts far visitors to Niagara County than one establishment ever could).

Expand that mentality to the Canal. Rather than having villages compete against one another for the attention and dollars of tourists they will all benefit as one voice, especially with something as long and varied as the Canal. Those who a travelling aren’t here just for North Tonawanda or Rochester, they are here for the entire upstate territory.

Invest in canalside niceties.

Many people are surprised that the state gave control of the Canal system to the New York Power Authority a few years back. It’s odd that a power company is in charge of a piece of infrastructure, but there is some reward to be had.

NYPA is a public benefit corporation, a public entity that is run as a quasi-private enterprise. That means it has profits, profits that could be shared with Canal towns.  

NYPA has given out hundreds of millions to communities near Niagara Falls as a part of the Greenway funds associated with relicensing of the Niagara Power Project. A similar program could be introduced to Canal host communities. While the Canal is nowhere near as profitable as the Power Project (as a matter of fact, it doesn’t even turn a profit), power funds could be diverted into a “small” account.

Imagine if NYPA set aside $300,000 annually and towns and villages bid on grants to bring niceties specific to the Canal’s use to their port and bridge areas – benches, marketing signage, restrooms, wifi, power hook-ups for boats, etc. That would go a long ways in improving how the Canal and its communities are utilized.         

Do you have your own ideas on making the Canal better?

If so, drop a letter in the mail to the Reimagine the Erie Canal Task Force’s WNY co-chair, Bob Duffy, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, 150 State Street, Suite 400, Rochester, NY 14614.

Share your ideas. Let’s reimagine the Canal together.

From the 22 July 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News