Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bullfrog Battles

The Pender Island Farmers Institute and the Pender Island Conservancy are working together to initiate an American Bullfrog education campaign and eradication project on Pender Island with the assistance of Stan Orchard, a conservation biologist who’s company works almost exclusively on bullfrog eradication and control efforts in the greater Victoria area. Stan and his assistant have made a preliminary visit over two nights to survey and remove bullfrogs from some Pender Island ponds. In an interview with The Islands Independent, Stan Orchard said Pender Island is a good candidate for eradication which he estimates could take about five years. He believes it is possible because of the surrounding salt water so reintroduction could only occur if humans brought them back or if all sources are not found. It is hard to estimate the total cost of such a project, based on the experiences of other communities in the Victoria area. This could actually cost much more than initially estimated, since the bullfrogs have spread over a large area of North Pender since their introduction into a residential pond about fifteen years ago.
Stan Orchard and assistant catching a bullfrog on Pender

The American bullfrog is native to the east coast of the US, Ontario and Quebec and harvesting is restricted in some states because they taste so good. They are a common and popular part of the landscape in their home range. Bullfrogs came to British Columbia as a food source back in the early 1930's. After frog farm ventures failed, many bullfrogs were released. In later years bullfrogs were also part of classroom projects and could be sourced through garden supply outlets for residential ponds and water features. They were brought to some Gulf Islands, notably Lasqueti in the1930's for farming, to Salt Spring and more recently to Pender Island for a residential pond in the mid 1990's.

There are concerns that native amphibians are being reduced in numbers by the giant frogs, either through predation, competition for habitat, or by the introduction of disease. The large adults will eat anything that crosses their path and fits into their mouth, like birds, rodents, ducklings. This concern led to a research project studying the effect of the American Bullfrog on the native Pacific tree frog and the red-legged frog in Victoria area ponds by Dr. Purnima Govindarajulu while she was a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria. Through her research, she found that although American bullfrogs have been in the Victoria area since the 1930s-1960s, they exploded in numbers since the 1990's because of changes to the landscape that favoured the bullfrog. This included the alterations of wetlands to permanent ponds by agriculture and also by beavers, and the popularity of residential ponds, coupled with the loss of habitat for our native species. She recognizes that most eradication efforts after bullfrog introduction have not been successful, so she recommends education and prevention, and the enhancement of habitat for native frogs as a long term plan.

Dr. Govindarajulu  is now an amphibian/reptile/small mammal specialist with the Terrestrial Conservation Science Section of the BC Ministry of Environment. Through interviews with other amphibian specialists worldwide, she has reinforced her view that large scale eradication is very long term, very expensive and labour intensive. The scientific literature supports this, especially if bullfrogs are established and have spread in an area. In an interview with The Islands Independent, Dr. Govindarajulu emphasized that she is not against bullfrog control and says that communities and individuals need to determine what they are trying to achieve, whether it be to improve the conservation benefits for native species or the reduction of noise. Early removal of adult bullfrogs in April and May will certainly help in controlling noise and reducing the adult predation on native frogs, but there is also a balancing act with the removal of the primary predator of the juvenile bullfrogs

Work in BC is ongoing, with projects in the Okanagan and the Fraser Valley, looking at both eradication programs and range extension. Work on habitat restoration and long term landscape level projects are needed. It is known that if ponds dry up, bullfrogs can’t breed, so Dr. Govindarajulu recommends the construction and enhancement of temporary ponds as refuge habitat for native species. She recommends that property owners should take a site specific approach to control bullfrogs while enhancing native frogs. This could include draining ponds at the end of summer, increase plantings around ponds, fencing off irrigation ponds, as some examples. We need to also recognize that there are some predators that can help with bullfrog control, notably dragonflies, mink, otter, raccoons, herons, kingfishers and bullfrogs themselves. Bullfrogs are often described as tasting like chicken, which could make them a nutritious target for the racoons and mink in the Gulf Island, notorious lovers of all things chicken flavoured.

Beavers may be responsible for range expansion and can create habitat for both bullfrogs and native amphibians. In the Merville area, bullfrogs are in the ponds but with the adjacent intact forests, the native frogs have also persisted. In such a dry climate as the Gulf Islands many people have dug ponds - for livestock watering and irrigation, for water collection during the wetter winter months, accidentally creating an ideal habitat for the bullfrogs.

Dr. Govindrajulu has said that it is best to prevent them coming at all – as a warning to those Gulf Islands who do not yet have bullfrogs - be vigilant. If bullfrogs are introduced do something right away to get rid of them. We waited too long on Pender to make it an easy process. Now there are those who want to eradicate, and others who think we need to pick our battles carefully and plan our strategies accordingly. In a perfect world with unlimited volunteer energy and time and unlimited funds, it would still be a challenge to eradicate the island of bullfrogs. They have a head start on us. They are made to invade - their adaptation to their environment, their size, their fecundity with over 20,000 eggs laid at a time, their lack of selective taste buds with a huge mouth to eat almost anything, and their ability to move up to 5 km per year by travelling ditches and roadways gives them a big advantage. Some places outside their normal range lack enough predators to control them, and not many people in our neck of the woods have a taste for them. There is a chance with education to prevent the spread or learn how to manage frog habitats to favour the native frogs. At the very least, islands that do not have them can learn from this example.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Western Producer - A delicate balance at Grasslands National Park

Western Producer - A delicate balance at Grasslands National Park
By Karen Briere
August 4, 2011
Grass. That’s what pioneering ranchers came to southern Saskatchewan to get. That’s what Parks Canada wanted to preserve when it created a national park in the area in the 1980s. Natural prairieland of mixed grass was disappearing before the plow and conversions to tame pastures, but farming the park created friction with ranchers. Ironically, the park’s desire to protect native grasses and plants allowed non-native species to thrive. Regina reporter Karen Briere describes how Parks Canada and ranchers are now working together to create the grazing environment needed to revive the native prairie.
VAL MARIE, Sask. — Cattle are grazing in Grasslands National Park.
That’s a sight some people thought they’d never see after the park began buying land in the 1980s and grazing was viewed as a threat to preserving the mixed short-grass prairie.
The view was among several that put ranchers and park officials at odds until recently.
Work is now underway to remedy that relationship as well as the condition of park land.
“I do personally take accountability for the park missteps of the past and I want to go forward in a better manner,” said park superintendent Katherine Patterson, who has been on the job for two years.
Parks Canada had its own ideas in 1988 about what was good for the grass, and that didn’t include grazing.
Ranchers argued that grazing and disturbance were critical to healthy native prairie. The bison had done it for centuries and cattle more recently.
But for 20 years much of the grass lay idle, grazed only occasionally by wandering wildlife.
Tame species such as crested wheatgrass took over native stands as well as areas in the park that had been cultivated by its previous owners.
“This land has always been grazed by large grazers,” said Patterson. “Antelope and deer nibbling are not enough.”
In 2005, the park was given an exemption from the regulation that prohibited grazing in national parks.
The arrival of bison later that year opened the door to a plan that could eventually see more than 60 percent of the 920 sq. kilometre park grazed.
Bison were preferred over cattle because they were native to the area, said park resource conservation manager Adrian Sturch.
The original 71 head of Plains bison brought from Elk Island National Park have now grown to 240 and graze 44,000 acres in the western part of Grassland’s two blocks.
A long-term grazing experiment began in 2008 on 4,500 acres in the park’s east block and small herds were introduced in the west block.
Darcy Henderson, protected areas ecologist with Environment Canada in Saskatoon, said native prairie is healthiest when grazing occurs.
Some birds and animals find it difficult to thrive in dense grass. Species at risk such as the burrowing owl, mountain plover and McCown’s longspur need some short-cropped grass that grazers create.
Wildflowers also do better under grazing, and birds such as Sprague’s pipit, which prefer dense grass litter, do better when that litter is from native grass rather than alien species.
“For many reasons, the consequences of not grazing large areas of native prairie grasslands for long periods of time are generally negative consequences where the goal is to maintain a diversity of native plants and animals,” said Henderson.
Ranchers Glenn and Greg Kornfeld could tell you that.
They ranch along the park boundary and have watched as the grass went unused and crested wheatgrass took over.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Glenn Kornfeld.
However, they have grazed cattle in the park for the last four years and think things are changing for the better.
“Thirty years ago the government got hold of it and figured they were saving the grassland from the ranchers,” said Greg Kornfeld.
“The park is now realizing they’ve done more harm than good.”
Some of that change of heart stems from employing local ranchers and listening to what long-time residents have to say.
Doug Gillespie was opposed to the park’s creation but was one of the first to sell his land. He also sat on the local advisory committee to the park in the 1980s.
He said park officials would not listen to ranchers who had first-hand knowledge of the grass.
“Not grazing doesn’t work for native grass,” he said. “They had no idea what they were dealing with.”
The grass should be grazed, he said, at least to mitigate fire risk.
However, he acknowledged that things are changing.
“Experience is a great teacher,” Gillespie said. “They’ve gained it and they’re headed in the right direction.”
Sturch said the park service now wants grazing for ecological purposes to increase diversity of species. That may differ from ranchers’ commercial motivation but will achieve the same result — healthy native grass.
Grazing is one tool to restore the ecological integrity of prairie hurt by previous policies. Herbicides and prescribed burning are also being used to control invasive plants and litter buildup.
Sturch said the park service is becoming more flexible in its thinking and appreciates advice from people such as the Kornfeld brothers, who say they are more comfortable now that some of their ranching knowledge is being used.
Ranchers will never be able to rely on park land as a grazing source because the park does not have a mandate to commercially graze, but the recent willingness to work together can benefit everyone and everything living on the grass.
“Don’t let what happened in the last 20 years happen in the next 20,” said Jody Larson, a local rancher who also works as a program policy officer at the park.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

GM Crops Farmer to Farmer

 The following is from the website "GM Crops - Farmer to Farmer" at http://gmcropsfarmertofarmer.com/


Welcome to GM Crops - Farmer to Farmer

Micheal Hart during the filming of GM Crops Farmer to Farmer
Michael Hart on the right with a farmer from Missouri
Michael Hart, a conventional livestock family farmer, has been farming in Cornwall for nearly thirty years and has actively campaigned on behalf of family farmers for over fifteen years, travelling extensively in Europe, India, Canada and the USA.
In this short documentary he investigates the reality of farming genetically modified crops in the USA ten years after their introduction. He travels across the US interviewing farmers and other specialists about their experiences of growing GM.
During the making of the film he heard problems of the ever increasing costs of seeds and chemicals to weeds becoming resistant to herbicides.
US farmers told him that a single pass (one herbicide application) is a fallacy and concurred that three or more passes are the norm for GM crops.
As weeds have become more resistant to glyphosate there has been a sharp increase in the use of herbicide tank mixes (most of them patented and owned by the biotech companies). Astonishingly some farmers were now having to resort to hand labour to remove weeds.
Farmers have seen the costs spiral, for example, the price of seed has gone from $40 to over $100 per acre over the last few years.
Farmers referred to co-existence (the ability to grow GM crops next to non-GM and organic crops) as “unsolvable” and say that it does not work.
In summary:
  1. A huge “weed” problem.
  2. The myth of co-existence.
  3. Farmers trapped into the genetically modified biotech system.
  4. Huge price increases for seeds and sprays- well beyond the price increases farmers have received for their crops.
In short, the film shows US farmers urging great caution to be exercised by UK and European farmers in adopting this technology.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gulf Islands Bounty - how do we share our good fortune?

This summer the Gulf Islands have been just awesome. The cooler summer weather might have disappointed some, but it was great for growing grass for the sheep and cows. We rushed to get hay in between the rain showers and the fields stayed green a long time. We are already feasting from the garden and had some lovely broccoli, zucchini and salads. Our freezers are filled with lamb. On the weekend we picked our first blackberries of the season and ate huckleberries in the cool forest. On hotter afternoons we escaped to the nearby beach for a cool swim and to enjoy the beauty and peace. Some with boats enjoyed the bounty of the sea, bringing salmon home to enjoy on the barbeque. We are indeed fortunate to call the islands home, where nobody needs to go hungry. Even the bullfrogs that have spread out on the islands are edible.
As farmers, there is always the thought of food in your mind. The responsibility of producing food for the community rests on the farmer's shoulders. There is a unique food bank that is supported by farmers in Canada that donates food and resources to hungry people in developing countries. The idea for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank came from a Winnipeg businessman and philanthropist Arthur DeFehr. He came up with the idea in the 1970's after returning from a Mennonite Central Committee assignment in Bangladesh where he saw a great need for help. He had a pretty good idea that prairie farmers would be willing to help with the idea of a foodgrains bank. In the 1920's, many farmers emigrated from Russia to North America, especially in the prairies. The farmers sent food aid to people in Eastern Europe who were hungry as a result of the Russian Revolution, resulting in the formation of the Mennonite Central Committee.
The bountiful Canadian harvest in 1976 and DeFehr's idea resulted in the establishment of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank with the support of many church and farm organizations. The Foodgrains Bank operates on the Joseph Principle. Its name comes from the Old Testament leader who advised the Egyptian pharaoh to store up food in good harvest years so there would be enough in years of famine. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank formed in time to help with the Ethiopian crisis in 1984. Initially grain was shipped directly to locations of need, but today farmers donate portions of their harvest to be sold on the Canadian market and then the proceeds are donated.
Fundraising also occurs with annual auctions across Canada. The Make A Difference Sale in Abbotsford is one of three auctions held for the Foodgrains bank. Livestock producers in BC donate animals, and other businesses also donate items for the annual spring auction. Other fundraising comes from the farmers in individual and community projects. For example, four Ontario farmers seeded 160 acres with soybeans to donate to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Another church group planted potatoes in the empty cemetery plots in their community and plan to sell the potatoes for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. There are over 200 growing projects, where farmers and others get together to grow and harvest a crop for the Foodgrains Bank. Last year Canadian farmers donated $4.8 million from the sale of 19,523 tonnes of foodgrains in 2010-11, while other Canadians gave $4.3 million. The Canadian government matches donations 1:1 with the foodgrains bank.
It all adds up to providing over 1.1 million tonnes of food in 78 countries since 1983. The Foodgrains Bank used the donations, along with matching funds from CIDA, to provide $38 million of assistance for over 2 million people in 35 countries. Between emergencies like Somalia and eastern Africa, and with almost one billion people in the world not having enough to eat there is an opportunity for a community like ours to share our good fortune.
To donate, call 1-800-665-0377, or send a cheque to Box 767, Winnipeg, Man. R3C 2L4. Donations should be marked for East Africa Drought. These projects are supported by Canadian International Development Agency.