Friday, November 18, 2016

In defense of the uneducated

It seemed that during this last election cycle and the aftermath that followed, the national press, pollsters, and pundits took too much delight in classifying certain sectors of our population as “non-college educated” or “uneducated”.

Rather than being used, and only sparingly, as a demographic category, it instead became a common and dismissive qualifier, a way of looking at the 60 percent of all Americans who don’t hold a college degree.

You could read between the lines – that is, if you weren’t smacked in the face by the outright accusations – that the uneducated were dupes and rubes and, because they lacked a diploma, were unable to make sound decisions about who should represent them in Washington.

Well, I hate to break it to those who think 4 years in a university grants them unprecedented knowledge and understanding, but those who don’t have a degree can be in many cases smarter, better off and better people than those who do.

I can say this unequivocally because almost all of the people in my life are “uneducated”.

I work in a workplace of 200 people where fewer than 10 of us graduated from college. Yet, somehow, despite being an “uneducated” environment, the company and those families are all succeeding. That’s because our ranks are filled by men and women who understand the physical and mental work and ingenuity needed to make the things that consumers desire. They do magic, using science, technology, skill, brain and brawns to transform little plastic beads into mammoth products. We have general laborers, technical personnel and tradesmen here whose breadth of knowledge, intelligence and critical thinking skills would shame most people with degrees.

I am friends with electricians, plumbers, repairmen and first responders who never went to college but still possess incredible amounts of skills  -- whether learned by experience or via certificate programs (which the elite still consider to show a lack of education). Yet somehow, they bring services and safety to the highly-educated who couldn’t repair a faucet, replace an outlet, change their oil or fight a fire to save their lives.    

I live in a community the economy of which is driven by agriculture. Most of the farmers don’t have degrees, but like my guys and gals at the plant, they have a Renaissance Man’s understanding of equipment, science, and economics. They know what it takes to transform seeds into a healthy harvest, or how to grow calves into living, breathing milk machines. They are working 24/7 and lovingly running their farms better than most people run their businesses and their lives. 

I was raised and loved by an extended family who, for the most part, don’t have college degrees. Somehow, those “uneducated” mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles raised wonderful high-character families, held excellent jobs, and made an impact in their communities. I am who I am because of who they are and I’m grateful for that and how I’ve turned out.

So, remember, dear media folk and political observers, before going off blasting the “uneducated”, calm yourself down, throw away your vicious, ugly, stereotyping and consider who they are. They are your families, friends, neighbors and coworkers, people who despite their alleged lack of knowledge have the brains that we as an advanced society need to put food in our markets, produce the goods we want and need, fix and build our homes and cars, save our lives, and raise our families and put love in their hearts and our communities.

The “educated” sure could learn a lot from them.           

From the 21 November 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: What to get the nature lover for Christmas

Trying to figure out what to get an outdoors enthusiast for Christmas can be a daunting task, especially if the shopper really isn’t an outdoorsy person. So, for the past 3 years, this column has offered some shopping ideas to the friends and families of nature lovers. With Black Friday just a week away, it’s as good a time as any to offer my suggestions.

Stealth Cam trail camera

It’s long been a stereotype in outdoors circles -- especially in manufacturers’ and outfitters’ advertising campaigns -- that trail cameras (also known as “game cameras”) are solely for hunters who use the devices to track deer movement on their favorite hunting grounds.

That overlooks the value and fun that a trail camera can bring non-hunters. EVERY nature lover should have a trail camera (or two or three) because it gives you some great insight into not only animal movements but also the very presence of animals that you never thought could be found in your yard or woodlot.

Trail cameras record what happens under two scenarios: One, at night, which is when an entirely different world of nature takes place and, two, when you are not around, which tends to give wildlife carte blanche to move about freely.

You will be amazed at what they show. My trail cameras in the Southern Tier have photographed everything from bears and coyotes to porcupines and fishers to owls and hawks. They are also great for detective work. If you have pests tearing up your yard or deer shredding your trees in the fall, set up a camera to see what’s causing the ruckus. Just this past week I put one in my yard to see what sort of deer has been destroying my saplings every night with rubs – it’s a nice 8-point buck!

There are literally hundreds of trail cameras to choose from on the market. Almost all do the same thing nowadays: they take photos or videos -- triggered by motion detectors -- that are put on SD cards that you can then transfer to your home computer. Some extravagant versions will broadcast to the internet while others will film Hollywood-quality footage. Most of the modern trail cameras have forgone the blinding white flashes and now use imperceptible infrared flashes.

If I had to suggest one to you, I would tell you to buy the P12 camera produced by Stealth Cam. It is among the more-affordable of the cameras out there and it can be purchased for just under $60 on websites like It is the camera that I use. It is easy-to-use and incredibly energy efficient – I’ve leave my cameras in the mountaintops of Allegany County where they get more than a year of good use out of 8 AA batteries, even under some adverse (read “cold”) weather conditions. To think, just 10 or 12 years ago, a good camera would get 3 weeks, if you were lucky, out of 6 C batteries.

There are a variety of pre-sets on the camera which will allow you to take individual pictures, a series of pulse photos, or video. The P12 will take decent 6 megapixel photos, some of which are shown here.

A Field Guide to Bird Songs

If the $60 camera is out of your budget, how about the $15 “A Field Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern and Central North America”?

This is not really a field guide per se, but rather a CD put out by Peterson Field Guides. It does what bird books can’t – it allows you to hear actual recordings of birds, because that is a critical tool in finding and identifying birds in the field.

The disc features the songs of 267 species of birds found east of the Rockies. It looks at all birds, not just songbirds. It is perfect for the beginner and the experienced birder alike. I keep a copy in my truck and listen to it regularly to keep my birding skills at a high level.

From the 17 November 2016 All WNY News

Friday, November 11, 2016

Rural America is relevant again

In December of 2012, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered a harsh message to those of us who live in farm country.

In a Washington, DC speech to leaders of ag-intense states, he pointedly said, “rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country.”

Vilsack railed against farmers and rural lawmakers who had embraced so-called wedge issues such as regulation, even going so far as to criticize the fight against the Obama Administration’s proposal to remove minors from almost all work on the farm (a fight farm families won in large part because of this column).

The Democrat appointee said that conservative chorus of rural America would only be drowned out in the future because 50 percent of rural counties had lost population in the previous four years and that was causing them to be overlooked by the nation as a whole as the country’s population continued its ongoing shift to cities, suburbs and exurbs.

Now, fast forward four years. Those alleged irrelevant whiners are now very relevant again, and their whines were obviously a well-defined call for a mandate that manifested itself in a shocking victory by Donald Trump, overcoming the electoral efforts of the urbanites who had previously overwhelmed them. 

Across the breadbasket of this country, in places where people work with their hands to ensure the rest of the nation has food, lumber, minerals and energy, his message to bring glory back to their much-maligned roles, industries and communities resonated with them. On average, in predominantly rural counties across the union he trounced Hillary Clinton 2-to-1.

In states that Clinton thought she had in the bag, the rural folk pushed Trump over the top. Farm communities and small towns in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin posted 57%, 71%, and 63% wins, respectively, for the Republican. 

Their relevance is made obvious when one looks at the Electoral College map – the nation was a vast sea of red, except for the population centers on the west coast and in the northeast.

It’s a shocking change in fortunes: Those who had been forgotten, even mistreated, for so long now have someone who seems to genuinely care for them and vice versa.

That was apparent in the campaign’s discussions about their well-being. The poverty rates are much higher in rural America than in metropolitan areas, yet they don’t receive the press or the dollars. Trump obviously knows that and righting that wrong through economic development was an important part of his message and the concerns shared with him at his countless rallies. If he holds true to his promises, we could see resurgence in energy sectors ruined by his predecessor, as well as the development of smaller manufacturing facilities and job shops, and the critical economy-inspiring high-speed broadband networks that leaders always speak of but do little about.

Trump also knows the value of farming, one of the few wealth creating sectors of our economy and the engine that ultimately drives rural America. Obama didn’t (as made apparent by Vilsack’s 2012 commentary), because agriculture was constantly under attack in his 8 years. To list just a few of the slights: his administration attempted to inhibit almost all minor labor, proposed that all farm workers get commercial drivers’ licenses, totally redefined the Clean Water Act, instituted elaborate food tracking procedures and set new standards that severely limited rural residents’ abilities to heat their homes and facilities with wood. 8 years of that was too much, and they would have gotten the same from Clinton. It’s no wonder they revolted at the polls.

Trump’s jaw-dropping upset of Clinton shows that reports of the death of the rural voice were exaggerated.  Residents of the plains, the forests, Appalachian communities, and the south were heard, and heard mightily, at the rallies and, more importantly, at the polling stations. Rural America is relevant again. Hopefully, something great comes of it.

From the 14 November 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Friday, November 4, 2016

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Oak wilt sets its sights on WNY

It seems like Western New York forests are under constant attack, in wars that they can’t win.

In the early 1900s, chestnut trees were all but exterminated from our woodlands by chestnut blight. Dutch elm disease wiped out our impressive stands of elms from the 1950s through the 1980s. Ash trees are being attacked by the emerald ash borer. And, beech trees will be totally eliminated from our forests by 2022 thanks to beech bark disease.
As our forests reel from those diseases and pests, and are forever changed, more pestilence is piled upon them. The newest of those threat being posed to WNY forests is oak wilt.

Until only recently, oak wilt was almost unheard of in New York. There was a small outbreak in Glenville in Schenectady County in 2008 that was contained and then found to have recurred in 2013, which was also contained. Then, earlier this year, some was found in Islip on Long Island.

But, an October discovery showed that the fungus is dangerously close to the Niagara Frontier. A homeowner in Canandaigua noticed that an oak tree on their property began dying with no identifiable cause. Samples from the tree were sent to the Cornell Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, where they tested positive for the fungus that causes the disease.

There is no known treatment to contain and kill the oak wilt fungus other than to remove infected trees, as well as any surrounding host oak trees. So, the Department of Environmental Conservation took down the trees in question and initiated an emergency order establishing a protective zone prohibiting the movement of oak material out of the immediate area to prevent the fungus from spreading.

The DEC is also conducting aerial and ground surveys to identify additional trees that may be infected, but it is likely too late. Since the infested tree was discovered at the end of the growing season, it makes detective work nearly impossible with all oaks doing their normal color change and leaf drop now. In the fall you can’t tell and infected tree from a healthy tree. Surveys will resume in the spring when dead trees and signs of the fungus are more apparent.

It seems like a lot of concern and work, but it’s absolutely necessary to save the forests from the spread of oak wilt. It is a serious tree disease that kills thousands of oaks each year in the midwest. It is caused by a fungus -- Ceratocystis fagacearum -- which grows in the water-conducting vessels of host trees, causing the vessels to produce gummy plugs that prevent water transport. As water movement within the tree is slowed, the tree starves to death. The leaves wilt and drop off, and eventually the tree dies.

All oaks are susceptible to oak wilt, but red oaks die much faster than white oaks. Red oaks can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months to die and they spread the disease quickly. White oaks can take years to die.

Here are some symptoms of the disease:
  • Brown coloration can develop on leaves starting at the outer edge and progressing inward toward the mid-vein of the leaf.
  • Branch dieback may be visible starting at the top of the canopy and progressing downward.
  • Leaves suddenly wilt.
  • Leaf loss during spring and summer. Leaves may fall when green or brown.
  • Fungal spore mats may develop under the bark, forming pressure pads that can raise and split the bark.

The DEC has asked that the public report any occurrences where an oak tree died over a short period of time, especially if it occurred between July and August. Use the toll-free Forest Health Information Line toll-free at 1-866- 640-0652. You can also reach out to your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

It is important that woodlot owners and hikers regularly inspect trees for the disease. If oak trees are eliminated from our forests, especially in the southern tier, it will remove an important food (acorns) that provides sustenance for a variety of animals from deer to bear to turkeys to squirrels.

On top of that, it will eliminate some of the most brilliant trees from our fall landscapes.

A Western New York without oak trees is a frightening thought, so be diligent while exploring the Niagara Frontier.

From the 03 November All WNY News

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Commercial property owners must inspect for Legionella

In recent weeks, Legionnaire’s disease has received plenty of coverage in this newspaper and it became a subject of much debate on WLVL’s talk show because of an outbreak in eastern Niagara County that claimed 2 lives and sickened 7 others.

Much of the conversation has focused on Eastern Niagara Hospital and the finding of high concentrations of Legionella in the facility’s cooling tower, whether or not that was the actual cause of the outbreak.

Despite the hubbub, most managers of properties that have cooling towers – which are used for heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) in apartments, hospitals, dorms, and retail outlets and in industrial applications in many factories – are unaware that since the fall of last year, all cooling towers are supposed to have recurring inspections for the disease (rules that the Hospital has been following by the way).

This came on the heels of an August 2015 outbreak of Legionnaires’ in New York City. More than 100 people were sickened and a dozen killed by the atypical pneumonia that is caused by a specific type of bacteria that got its scientific name (Legionella) and common name from an infamous outbreak that killed 29 attendees of an American Legion convention in 1976.

Cooling towers can tend to be a sort of Quixotic windmill in this cause. The Center for Disease Control issued a study (that ironically also appeared in August of last year) that said most Legionnaires’ comes from bad or old plumbing, be it through faucets, drinking fountains or showers. Misted water from a hot shower is more likely to make you sick than the vapors coming from cooling towers. Despite that, the state trained its sights on large properties and their towers.

If those cooling tower owners were doing their job prior to the 2015 regulations, Legionnaires’ was already being addressed. Almost all introduce or have an outside contractor introduce biocides and other chemical agents to their cooling towers to prevent  the growth of Legionella (which could harm residents or workers) and the build-up of algae and fungi (which will harm equipment and efficiency).

Governor Cuomo wanted to ensure those practices were being done so he required that all cooling towers be registered and inspected by September 17 of 2015. Most were not because most businesses were completely unaware of their obligations, so the expanded final rule was put into play this past July with this past September being the new primary deadline.

That extension didn’t help because most entities (especially small business) are still not in the know and a great majority remain uninspected. Only a few in the area did follow the original rules – places like Confer Plastics, GM, and the hospitals in Niagara County to name a few.

Because of that, the Niagara County Department of Health initiated an outreach program a few months ago to educate property owners on the rules and help follow through with institution. But, it’s a tough go because their lead person on this task has to drive around the county searching for unregistered cooling towers.

To satisfy the standards, cooling towers must be registered on the state’s online database indicating model, serial number, capacity, usage and more while providing a detailed history of maintenance. Then, you must have a licensed specialist conduct a culture to check for Legionnaire’s. This test must be done every 90 days thereafter in perpetuity. At that same time, property owners must conduct their own dip tests every 30 days to look for microbiological activity that might be out of the norm.

Then, managers must obtain and implement a maintenance program and plan by December 1, 2016. The plan must include a schedule for routine sampling, as well as procedures for emergency testing and disinfection to destroy Legionella bacteria. Owners must maintain a copy of the plan on the premises where a cooling tower is located, and make it available immediately upon request. The state’s rule also requires annual certification from an outside firm regarding the maintenance and cleaning of cooling towers by November 1 of every year.

If you have a cooling tower on your premises and haven’t yet registered or inspected it, you can find more information about the regulations on the state’s website at Better yet, do yourself a favor and reach out to the Niagara County Department of Health’s assistant public health engineer Gregg Mistretta at 716.439.7453. He’s a good guy who will help you navigate these important and complex rules.  

From the 07 November 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers