State of the News

Today on State of the News

Segment A: We’ll talk about this week’s metro news, including U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta‘s upcoming visit to Louisville, and the end of Kentucky’s Virtual High School program.

Segment B: Kenny Colston joins us to talk about managed care companies’ claim that they’ve fixed problems with Medicaid payments, where the dropout bill and pseudoephedrine bill stand, and the future of constables in the Commonwealth.

Then we’ll hear Graham Shelby‘s conversation with filmmaker John Paul Rice, whose latest film, Mother’s Red Dress, will be screened at the Derby City Film Festival this weekend.

Do voters like their candidates talking religion on the campaign trail? The Courier-Journal’s Peter Smith brings us up to date on religious news, including research that seeks to answer that question.

Segment C: In WFPL’s Immigrant Entrepreneurs series, we met some local immigrants who have started businesses here in Louisville. Today we’ll hear a piece from Michigan Radio about the role immigrants are playing in the economic recovery throughout the Midwest. Then will speak with Dustin Dwyer, who produced the piece, about what he learned.

Finally, we’ll hear about the tens of thousands of birds circling over Oldham County. It’s called a murmuration—when flocks of starlings come together and fly in dense formations—and it’s been happening nightly in LaGrange since late fall. Emily Hagedorn covered the story for the Courier-Journal, and she joins us to talk about why it might be happening and how residents are coping with the birds (and their byproducts).

Blog Archive Environment Blog

No More Migration?

Some bird species once commonly found in Kentucky and surrounding states are moving farther north each year, according to the Audubon Society. Take the Red-breasted Merganser, for example. This fish-eating duck, the society says, has moved its range northward over the past 40 years more than 300 miles. They’re apparently more abundant in Minnesota now than they once were here. The reason? Climate change.

Even more striking is the news from the U.S. Geological Survey that a large percentage of a sea bird population that once wintered in Mexico is now staying put in Alaska, where, apparently, it’s warm enough to stick around.  From the USGS release:

“The winter distribution of Pacific brant, a small, dark sea goose, has shifted northward from low-temperate areas such as Mexico to sub-Arctic areas as Alaska’s climate has warmed over the last four decades, according to a just-released article in Arctic.

“Until recently, nearly the entire (90 percent) population of Pacific brant wintered in Mexico, but now as many as to 30 percent are opting to spend their winters in Alaska instead, according to the U.S. Geological Survey-led study. Although records are sparse, fewer than 3,000 brant were detected wintering in Alaska before 1977, a number that has jumped to as many as 40,000 birds now. “

Who knows what kind of wider implications these shifts in range – and changes in migration patterns – could have, not only on local ecosystems, but the ecosystems in which birds play a role while on winter vacation?

Citizen scientists can help track data like this, such as the first sighting of a particular bird in your area. See my story on phenology to learn about local efforts to track species’ appearances.

Environment Local News

EPA Pesticide Ban May Help Threatened KY Bird

Bird enthusiasts will welcome the news that a pesticide toxic to the animals has been banned.  The Environmental Protection Agency used to allow a small residue of the chemical on food.  But now—carbofuran will be phased out by the end of this year.  A native Kentucky species called the Cerulean Warbler, however, may still be in danger where it winters in Central and South America because farmers continue to use carbofuran on fruit and vegetable crops the birds eat.  However, the American Bird Conservancy’s Steve Holmer believes the U.S. ban could persuade farmers across the border to stop using it—a boon for the declining population of warblers.

“Since surveys began in the 1960s, it’s declined 70 percent.  And it continues to decline at about four percent.  And you know, at that trend line, after a hundred years, there’s going to be almost none left,” Holmer says.

Holmer says Cerulean Warblers prefer the interior of dense forests.  So another reason for their sharp decline is the loss of habitat from development as well as clearing forests for mountaintop mining.

Environment Local News

Eastern Forest Song Birds Among Species in Decline

The nation’s 800 bird species are sending us a message.  That’s the news from a new report released by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.  The report combines years of observations from citizen scientists and data from government agencies and conservation organizations to form the first comprehensive picture of the state of our birds.  It found a third of species are declining, mostly because of human activities.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology head John Fitzpatrick praised the government.

“This is the first time that the U.S. government has officially embraced the idea that birds are barometers.  They’re genuine indicators not just of their own environmental health and their habitats, but the health of the broad scale environment that we humans depend on for our own economic well-being,” says Fitzpatrick.

In Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia, the American Bird Conservancy has found that several song birds are threatened because of habitat loss.  The Cerulean Warbler has lost forest habitat because of clearing for mountaintop removal mining.   And the Kentucky Warbler has taken a sharp hit for similar reasons.

Blog Archive Environment Blog

Bye, Bye Birdie?

Notice fewer visitors to your bird feeder? Can’t remember the last time you heard the call of the Kentucky Warbler? Some of the most common song birds are disappearing around the country, thanks to habitat loss.

The U.S. House subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans heard testimony Thursday on the global decline of bird populations, just as the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act is up for reauthorization. The Act provides funding for on-the-ground conservation efforts in Central and South American countries, as well as Canada’s boreal forests, where many of the United States’ most common migratory birds breed or winter.

Testimony from the National Audubon Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and more brought up some startling statistics:

  • 20 of the nation’s most common bird species have lost more than half their population over the past 40 years (that includes four species of sparrows and the Eastern Meadowlark)
  • Scientists see declines in shrub and grassland, forest, and wetland bird populations
  • They also say it’s likely that populations of the Cerulean Warbler – once a common song bird in eastern U.S. forests – will decline by more than 90% over this centuryIllustration of male and female Kentucky Warblers from a 1917 issue of the National Geographic.

So, what’s to blame for the drastic drop in populations? Habitat loss due to more consolidated and intensive farming and suburban development top the list. But here are a few other reasons:

  • Global warming: warmer temperatures, longer warm seasons, and all the attendant changes are causing changes in where birds can thrive, and how they access water and food.
  • Invasive species that like warmer climes: species that simply choke ecosystems, compete with birds’ natural forage or habitat, or prey on birds (like fire ants in the southeast) are also pushing birds over the brink.

Witnesses at the hearing offered several solutions, including increasing funding for conservation, encouraging the National Wildlife Refuge program to look into ways to connect fragmented habitats, and encouraging federal and state agencies to restore destroyed habitats, such as wetlands.

You can listen to the testimony here.