Opinion: Infrastructure for Insects: Congress Should Invest in Bees and Butterflies: The new #infrastructure bill would fund new habitat for pollinators — and help people and wildlife in the process — The Revelatory

Monarch butterfly. Photo: Jim Hudgins/USFWS

From The Revelatory (Malia Libby):

The insect world’s version of the ultramarathon is now taking place across the United States. Monarch butterflies have started their journey to the groves where they’ll spend the winter. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains have a long trip to the California coast before them, while eastern monarchs have a hefty 3,000-mile trek to the forests of Mexico.

Despite their hardy nature, monarchs have suffered severe population losses. In the past several decades the eastern population has declined 80%, while its western counterpart has fared even more poorly. In the West, monarchs are at less than 0.1% of the population they had in the 1980s. Last year’s winter count fell short of just 2,000 butterflies. These numbers reflect a very real threat of extinction for this iconic species.

But there’s hope, and it comes from an unexpected place: the Biden administration’s infrastructure agenda.

In addition to supporting traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, the current version of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act in Congress contains funding for pollinator-friendly roadsides, as well as provisions to revegetate areas devastated by invasive species.

Throughout the United States, there are 10 million acres of prime space for habitat along roadsides. Why not use it to rebuild populations for butterflies and bees? That’s the opportunity before us, and the infrastructure bill would provide $2 million annually to relevant agencies for pollinator-friendly plantings. Grants of up to $150,000 would go toward much-needed projects for “planting and seeding of native, locally appropriate grasses and wildflowers, including milkweed.” Other techniques to protect pollinators detailed in the bill — yes, it’s that thorough — are as simple as reducing mowing frequency, timing mowing to avoid disturbing pollinators, and using pesticides more judiciously.

Roadside milkweed. Photo: Katie McVey/USFWS

None of these concepts are new. Earlier this year, similar language appeared in the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act of 2021, a bill introduced by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore). Several years before that, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued best management practices for this type of roadside habitat. On a more local level, nine state departments of transportation — including those in California, Iowa and Florida — have led the way on these common-sense projects.

Another piece of the infrastructure bill would provide $50 million annually in grants to eliminate, control and prevent invasive plants, which throw native ecosystems out of balance. The Invasive Plant Elimination Program would prioritize funding to revegetation programs utilizing native plants and wildflowers, including pollinator-friendly species. This strategy offers a boon to pollinators and other wildlife in these healing ecosystems.

And they need the help. America’s pollinators face an imperiled future due to decades of exposure to toxic pesticides, disappearing habitat and a changing climate. In addition to monarchs, one report found that more than half of native bee species in North America are in decline, including the rusty patched bumblebee. We need infrastructure that prioritizes these creatures.

Smooth coneflower growing under transmission lines. Photo: Caroline S. Krom, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NC Sandhills Safe Harbor Coordinator

If we’re wise, we’ll invest in pollinator habitats for several reasons. First, given that insect pollinators contribute tens of billions of dollars of value to our agriculture, it makes economic sense to ensure they’re abundant and healthy themselves. Roadside habitats near farms can increase pollination services and boost crop yields while reducing crop pests in the process.

Second, losing pollinators — especially native species — can have permanent ecological repercussions. Tremors in the web of life caused by the extinction of our pollinators affect animals that depend on them for food and nearly 90% of all flowering plants, including those that have co-evolved with these pollinators.

Third, losing monarch butterflies and other pollinators would make our lives less rich and less beautiful.

Endangered mission blue butterfly (Icaricia icarioides missionensis). Photo: Stuart Weiss/USFWS

Congress can help. While building roads and a more robust infrastructure system, Congress should also vote for the bill so we can build roadside habitats and increase the resiliency of pollinator populations. Providing diverse, healthy habitat will meet a long-neglected need for the thousands of native pollinators in the country. Along the way, it will help put these vital insects to work — for nature’s benefit and for our own.

The work to save our pollinators will not end with the infrastructure bill, but with this added to the protections already in place, we can halt the monarch’s flutter toward extinction.

The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or its employees.

Monarch butterfly on milkweed in Mrs. Gulch’s landscape July 17, 2021.

#CloudSeeding gains steam as #West faces worsening #drought: A 75-year-old technology is back on the map thanks to new scientific discoveries and persistent water shortages — The Washington Post

Scenes from the Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE) project, which was undertaken in Idaho’s Payette Basin in winter 2017. Credit: Joshua Aikins via Aspen Journalism

From The Washington Post (Maddie Stone):

As the first winter storms rolled through this month, a King Air C90 turboprop aircraft contracted by the hydropower company Idaho Power took to the skies over southern Idaho to make it snow.

Flying across the cloud tops, the aircraft dropped flares that burned as they descended, releasing plumes of silver iodide that caused ice crystals to form and snow to fall over the mountains.

In the spring, that snow will melt and run downstream, replenishing reservoirs, irrigating fields and potentially generating hundreds of thousands of additional megawatt hours of carbon-free hydropower for the state.

Idaho Power, a private utility serving more than half a million customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon, has used cloud seeding to pad its hydroelectric power production for nearly two decades. But over the past few years, the utility has ramped up its snow-making efforts at the behest of state officials concerned about dwindling water supplies.

This year, the western United States is in the midst of one of its worst droughts in recent memory. As of Tuesday, about one-third of the country — mainly west of the Rocky Mountains — is experiencing severe to exceptional drought. Nearly all of Idaho is under at least a severe drought.

West Drought Monitor map November 16, 2021.

Today, Idaho cost-shares the cloud seeding program, estimated to produce 1 million acre-feet of additional water annually, to the tune of about $2 million a year. In April, the state passed a bill to expand its cloud seeding efforts.

Residents of the Gem State aren’t the only ones embracing cloud seeding, a 75-year-old technology that many scientists still view with skepticism. With a recent experiment providing the first unambiguous evidence that cloud seeding can increase snowpack levels, research into artificial rainmaking is undergoing a small renaissance.

As the West experiences a historic drought and climate models point to more dry spells in the future, states are doubling down on their cloud seeding programs…

A six-year study that Wyoming conducted from 2008 to 2013 — among the most ambitious done thus far — estimated that cloud seeding can boost precipitation within seedable clouds by about 3.3 percent over the winter season. But those findings did not meet key thresholds for statistical significance, meaning scientists were unable to say for sure that the extra snowfall produced by seeded clouds wasn’t the result of chance…

Other studies have measured gains of up to 10 percent but have been similarly unable to prove that the benefits were actually due to seeding, according to Sarah Tessendorf, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) who studies cloud seeding…

In 2017, NCAR teamed up with a consortium of universities and Idaho Power to launch a first-of-its-kind experiment called SNOWIE (Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment). From January to March, the researchers used specialized aircraft to inject silver iodide into clouds over the Payette Basin north of Boise and measured the impact on snow using a suite of aerial and ground-based radar, snow gauges and models.

The results, published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, were unambiguous: Cloud seeding works. On three occasions, the researchers saw ice crystals form inside seeded clouds in the exact zigzag pattern the aircraft had flown.

The results, published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, were unambiguous: Cloud seeding works. On three occasions, the researchers saw ice crystals form inside seeded clouds in the exact zigzag pattern the aircraft had flown.

There are lots of research questions left to answer. Eighteen additional cloud seeding attempts by the SNOWIE team didn’t have a clear effect on snowfall. The program, which is funded to run for two to three more years, is now focused on teasing out any subtle effects of seeding that might have occurred during those attempts and using high-resolution computer models to better quantify cloud seeding under a range of conditions. The temperature of the clouds, the amount of supercooled liquid water inside them, and conditions like wind direction all play a role in cloud seeding’s effectiveness…

Eric Hjermstad, field operations director, Western Weather Consultants, lights a cloud seeding generator north of Silverthorne, Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water

This month, Colorado, which has conducted cloud seeding operations since the 1950s, is hoping to install ground-based silver iodide generators in the North Platte River Basin bordering Wyoming. For two winters, both states have been seeding their respective sides of the basin using aircraft…

Part of the reason that states out west are embracing cloud seeding, despite lingering uncertainties about the benefits, is that it’s cheap. Utah, which estimates that its statewide network of 165 silver iodide generators boosts snowpack by 5 to 15 percent, says the program cost works out to just $2.18 per acre-foot of water produced…

But there is an even more fundamental reason that cloud seeding is gaining popularity. “The only way to add water to the system is through cloud seeding,” Rickert said. “I do think it’s gaining support because of the dire straits we’re in with regards to drought.”

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

#Denver Museum of Nature and Science panel for the purpose of looking at how climate and agriculture intersect closer to home — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Farmers inspect dairy pasture at James Ranch in Durango, Colo.

From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Since Julie and her husband John Ott moved home to her parent’s farm, the James Ranch north of Durango, three decades ago, three other siblings have joined them on the 400-acre operation where they produce meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs and cheese that is sold through their own restaurant and market.

Demand has grown so much that they now partner with more than 50 local farms and ranches in the community as well as purchasing from Valley Roots food hub in the San Luis Valley and the Southwest Food Co-op.

Following on the heels of the much discussed United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the Institute for Science and Policy at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science convened a panel for the purpose of looking at how climate and agriculture intersect closer to home.

It was hosted in conjunction with Colorado State University System’s new Spur Campus in Denver.

The James Ranch is a model of conscientious integration of people, land and livestock. Taking a different but parallel approach is Tocabe, a two-location fast casual restaurant and market in Denver that focuses on native and indigenous foods.

Co-owner Matt Chandra said the goal was to create a pathway to the market for tribal communities in the region and beyond. His co-owner Ben Jacobs is a member of the Osage Nation of Northeast Oklahoma where the market’s bison meat is processed.

To him, doing right by the climate includes sourcing meat directly from Native American ranchers, dishing up smaller portion sizes and putting produce and vegetables at the center of the plate.

“There’s a huge consumer education piece to it. It’s about quality over quantity,” Chandra said. “It’s about the meal, memories and the impact it creates over being overly stuffed and full.” In Southeastern Colo- rado, Nicole Rosmarino believes the future lies in preserving natural ecosystems with native wildlife and vegetation.

“Bison are at the crux of restoration efforts, or at least they should be,” she said.

As founder and executive director of the Southern Plains Land Trust, she helps oversee more than 32,000 acres of shortgrass prairie. The flagship property, the Heartland Ranch, is larger than several national parks and even some countries, and continues to grow in size.

Whereas over 90 percent of the nation’s bison are managed as livestock, those on the Heartland Ranch are intended strictly to provide ecosystem services…

The preserve prohibits cultivation in perpetuity in exchange for participation in a carbon market, she explained. An estimate by an international climate standards group estimated the value of the biodiversity and climate services on their ranch at more than $8 million per year, she said.

“Every dollar we earn we allocate to acquiring more land and sequestering more carbon,” she said. “It’s a sustained and intentional effort to put dollars back in the local community, which is struggling with a poverty level three times the state average.” Climatologist Michael Mann uses the term “doomerism” to describe a feeling of irrational skepticism and futility that is becoming increasingly rampant, according to Brad Udall, a scientist and scholar with CSU since 2014.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with

“You see it from a lot of different quarters,” he said during the webinar. “We are facing challenges the likes of which humanity has never seen. But I like to think people will rise to the occasion and figure out how to work together.” Udall, who focuses on how climate impacts water resources in the West, particularly within the Colorado River basin, was previously with the University of Colorado but said he enjoyed being at CSU because of its connection to the agriculture community.

“In the water world, what gives me optimism is that people know each other now. The greenies know the ranchers now,” he said. “In this state people talk to each other and that’s where the solutions will come from.” Eugene Kelly, the deputy director of CSU’s Ag Experiment Station, echoed that observation, saying starting and having those conversations was important.

The panel, which took turns weighing in on the merits of animal agriculture, the potential for reducing water and energy use and the challenge of eliminating food waste, was overall mostly optimistic about moving forward in the wake of a global pandemic.

The James Ranch restaurant, which holds weekly dinners on Thursday nights to introduce diners to the farmers who feed them, has been like “an oasis” for many during trying times, John Ott said.