Friday, September 22, 2023

Book-banning zeal almost closed this library; it would have been the first in the nation

The Dayton Library will remain open after initiative
was barred. (Photo by Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times)

Many public libraries are facing increasing pressure to remove targeted books from shelves or even more extreme measures, such as asking voters to close the library, which almost happened to Dayton Library in Columbia County, Washington. "The library —  which was on the verge of becoming the first library in the country to shutter over disputes about what books it offers — will remain open," reports David Gutman of The Seattle Times, "after a Columbia County court Wednesday barred an initiative to close the library from appearing on the November ballot."

The Dayton Library is the only library in Columbia County, pop. 4,000, and the town of Dayton, where the conflict has wrangled residents for over a year, is "a one-stoplight farming town where wheat prices are displayed on Main Street," Gutman writes. "The library's opponents, led by Jessica Ruffcorn, a mother of two and the leader of the movement to shut the library. . . objected to the placement of books concerning gender, sexuality and race in the kids and young adult sections of the library. Initially, the complaints centered on one book, What's the T?: The Guide to All Things Trans and/or Nonbinary, but they quickly spread to a dozen others and now well over 100 books. . . . All the contested books are found in 'hundreds if not thousands of libraries across the country,' according to the Washington Libraries Association."

Columbia County, Washington
In response, two Columbia County residents and Neighbors United for Progress filed a lawsuit against Jessica Ruffcorn to prevent the issue from appearing on the ballot. Gutman reports the filing said: "The initiative seeks to punish every single person in Columbia County by shuttering the Library in its entirety and depriving the community of its many vital resources. The loss of the Library would result in a loss of access to information, the loss of history, a decline in public resources, and the loss of one of the most beautiful buildings in the County."

If the initiative passed, "all of the library's books and materials would have been moved to the state library near Olympia, and the library's building and other property would return to the city of Dayton, which, prior to the formation of the rural library district, had been unable to fund the library," Gutman notes. "Columbia County Superior Court Commissioner Julie Karl ruled for the library's supporters, barring the county from placing the initiative on the November ballot. The initiative, Karl said from the bench. . .was unconstitutional, procedurally invalid and the signature gathering was marred by 'potential criminal acts.'"

Suicide isn't just a cause of death for teenagers and adults; younger children also commit suicide

Children ages 5-11 also commit suicide.
(Photo by Lukas Metz, Unsplash)
As children enter their new classrooms and routines this fall, it's an excellent time to remember to monitor their mental health. And while many people might not realize it, young children are also at risk to commit suicide. "Suicide ranks as either the seventh- or eighth-leading cause of death among children ages 5 to 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recent studies," reports Cheryl Platzman Weinstock of CBS News. "And numbers show the rates among younger kids appear to have increased in the past decade, especially among Black boys."

Paul Lipkin, a pediatrician at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, told Weinstock, "Historically, we thought that suicide is a problem of teens and adults, but younger children are expressing similar thoughts that may have been ignored before." Weinstock reports, "This has many experts calling for lowering the screening age for suicide ideation in children and moving to develop more effective early suicide risk detection and targeted prevention strategies. The broad approach includes pediatricians, teachers, and parents working with children at a young age to build their resilience and identify and manage their stress."

Weinstock writes, "Studies have found that young children gain an understanding about death and killing oneself from TV or other media, discussions with other children, or exposure to death from a family or community loss. . . . It is quite likely the 136 reported suicides from 2001 to 2021 among 5- to 9-year-olds were an undercount." Margaret Warner, a CDC epidemiologist, told Weinstock: "If we are missing deaths or don't have all the information leading to them, we can't properly develop programs to prevent future deaths." Weinstock adds, "That's why there's also an ongoing national effort by coroners and medical examiners to improve the quality and consistency of pediatric death investigations."

What parents can do now is be aware and observant. Lisa Horowitz, a pediatric psychologist and staff scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, told Weinstock: "It's never too early to start a conversation with kids about recognizing mental health distress and doing what we can do to help them have better coping strategies and foster resilience. . . . I don't want people to panic but just want them to be vigilant about their children."

Will lab-grown chicken ever be able to compete? A perilous, steep climb faces the industry.

Upside Foods cell cultivators (Photo by Carolyn Fong,
The Washington Post)
Plant-based meat had hype and money and then fizzled. Now, lab-grown chicken offers a different method for a more humane, environmentally conscious meat; however, the industry faces a steep climb to feed millions, reports Tim Carman of The Washington Post. "Proponents say cell-cultivated chicken, beef and the like could dramatically cut back the amount of land and water that goes into producing the meat that will feed a growing population along with its growing appetite for animal proteins. . . . Cultivated meat could eliminate the inhumane treatment of animals raised for food. . . They could even reduce the 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every year by the livestock industry, representing 14.5 percent of all human-related greenhouse gas emissions."

What's the catch? "To date, the two companies approved in the United States to sell cultivated meat can grow only hundreds of thousands of pounds per year, a microscopic fraction of the hundreds of millions of metric tons of meat produced annually around the world," Carman reports. "In the near future, dozens of other tech companies hope to join Good Meat and Upside, but even if they do, critics and industry executives say it's no sure bet that cell-cultured meat can ever scale up and compete, in quantity or price, with traditional animal agriculture."

Industry obstacles include a financial and scientific balancing act, persuading the public to eat vat-grown meat and building a "never been done before" market to a competitive scale. Josh Tetrick, co-founder and chief executive of Eat Just, which includes the cell-cultivated division Good Meat, told Carman, "My want is sometime, hopefully before I die, where the majority of meat that is produced in a given day is cultivated, not slaughtered. I think that is a massive challenge. I think it's highly uncertain. I think that it requires tens of millions of dollars in capital. It will require innovative new approaches to production that we and other companies haven't thought of yet."

For now, there is precious little cell-cultured chicken available to purchase. "At Bar Crenn in San Francisco, once a month, chef Dominique Crenn features an approximately one-ounce portion of Upside chicken as part of her six-course, $150 tasting menu," Carman writes. "The Upside bird at Bar Crenn is composed of 99 percent chicken cells: It's a dense, meaty nugget. . . . The resulting chicken is undeniable: It tastes like the kind of bird that once was common in America before the poultry industry sacrificed flavor for rapid growth. It may be the most chicken-y chicken I've tasted in a long time."

Feeding the country is a big challenge no matter who "grows" the meat. "Whether Upside, Good Meat and other companies can fix the problems of industrial animal agriculture is an open question. For years, the cultivated-meat industry has been an object of great hope — and substantial doubt," Carman writes. "It's a tension that has played out between company executives who promise that the era of guilt-free meat is just around the corner and critics who say that the industry will never compete with large-scale animal agriculture."

Delving into rural homelessness, an anthropologist's new book takes an in-depth look at this often-hidden issue

Families on the Edge was published August 15.
(Photo from MIT Press via The Daily Yonder)
Homelessness looks different depending on where you live. In the case of rural homelessness, it's often hidden, complex and surprisingly prevalent. Author and researcher Elizabeth Carpenter-Song is a medical and psychological anthropologist who has studied homelessness for more than a decade. Her new book Families on the Edge: Experiences of Homelessness and Care in Rural New England is an "ethnographic study of housing insecurity in an under-studied region," reports Olivia Weeks of The Daily Yonder. A condensed version of Weeks' question-and-answer interview with Carpenter-Song is shared below.

What are the most important differences in experiences of rural and urban homelessness?
Homelessness in urban areas of the U.S. is much more visible. In many American cities, it is common to see and interact with people who may be unhoused. . . . In our rural towns and villages in New England, there are encampments of unhoused people, but these tend to be out of sight. People experiencing homelessness in rural areas . . . may camp in the woods, sleep in cars, or double-up with friends or family for periods of time.

In the context of families, which was the focus of my research, parents go to great lengths to avoid literal homelessness with their kids and, as a result, move frequently between different settings to access shelter. In rural areas, challenges related to housing are compounded by transportation challenges when people move to more remote towns to gain access to more affordable housing. But, this places people at risk of being isolated from support networks and creates challenges for finding employment and meeting basic needs within small rural towns.

Are there any commonalities that might seem surprising to an outsider?
The main commonality between experiences of homelessness in rural and urban areas is that homelessness is a housing problem. As a society, we are now experiencing the consequences of decades of underinvestment in affordable housing. Runaway real estate valuations and high costs of living, coupled with a lack of adequate housing stock, have created a common scenario across the U.S. in which safe and affordable housing is out of reach for more and more people.

You outline this problem in the book in which, as housing gets cheaper in your subject area, it inevitably gets further from crucial services and opportunities. Are there any good models for reversing that trend? Do you know of any small towns that have become more walkable or developed more reliable public transportation networks?
This is one of the big challenges we face in rural areas. In the book, I advocate for increasing housing density closer to town centers to mitigate transportation challenges and create more opportunities for accessing services and being integrated in the community. In the region I write about, the towns of Lebanon, New Hampshire and White River Junction, Vermont, are good examples of efforts to have mixed-use residential and commercial space, greater housing density, walkable downtown areas, and access to the local free bus service.

It is important to note that these two towns are relatively larger than many of the small villages in rural New England and are proximate to the major centers of employment in the region. Yet, I think these two settings can still serve as useful examples of how to create vibrant and accessible town centers in a rural region.

A new proposal suggests better ways to choose state birds -- beyond the usual cardinals and meadowlarks

Northern Cardinal is the state bird for seven states from Illinois to North
Carolina. (Photo by Brian Stahls, Macaulay Library via Cornell Lab)

U.S. abounds with birds -- cranes, cardinals, chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, eagles,  hummingbirds. There are so many native birds species (more than 700) one wonders if Mother Nature didn't know when to stop. And yet, with all that variety, many states have chosen the same birds to represent their regions. "We love cardinals, mockingbirds, and meadowlarks, too — but do these three species have to represent 18 separate states? Matt Smith and Marc Devokaitis ask in their "Modest Proposal" for Cornell Lab. "We turned to eBird to find alternative state birds with data to back them up.

Every single scrub-jay in the world lives in Florida.
(Photo by Tyler Ficker, Macaulay Library via Cornell Lab)
"As it happens, the eBird Status and Trends project provides a great, scientifically grounded basis for finding unique connections between states and the birds that live there," Smith and Devokaitis write. "This data can help pinpoint a well-suited bird for each state or province by showing which regions host globally significant populations of certain species. The best candidates for these new, scientifically informed suggestions are species with rock-solid claims. For example, Florida hosts 100% of the global population of the endemic Florida scrub jay—isn't that a good reason to nominate it as the state bird?"
Red knots visit Delaware in the spring. (Joe Austin
Photos, Alamy, via The New York Times)

The analysis also considered breeding season statistics "such as the proportion of a bird’s global population that’s found in a state or its population density," Smith and Devokaitis add. "In cases where no species had an especially strong claim during the breeding season, migratory and overwintering populations were considered. Delaware, with its famous springtime concentrations of Red Knots, is an excellent example.

The Black Rosy-Finch might be a better fit for Wyoming.
(Photo by Christopher Gilbert, Macaulay Library via Cornell Lab)

The Western Meadowlark is a colorful member of the blackbird family living across western and central North America. "Its cheerful song rings out across its territory," Smith and
Devokaitis write. "Six states share the Western Meadowlark as their state bird, but eBird suggests these other species are also worth a moment of consideration: Lesser Prairie-Chicken for Kansas; the tiny, thick-billed Longspur for Montana (60% of the global population breeds there); Greater Prairie-Chicken for Nebraska; Marsh Wren for North Dakota; Hermit Warbler for Oregon; the delicately pink-tinged Black Rosy-Finch is an incredibly hardy, high-elevation species. It’s a great candidate to represent Wyoming, where 63% of the global population breeds."

Are you curious to see which bird could be better suited for your state? Click here to see all the picks and consider a few of your favorites.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

With fewer rural hospitals providing obstetric care, freestanding midwife-led birth centers offer one solution

Without rural maternity care, giving birth is more dangerous.
(Photo by Carlo Navarro, Unsplash)
The number of rural hospitals with labor and delivery care has shrunk as financially strapped hospitals shed services, leaving women to find alternative care closer to home. "One solution gaining ground across the U.S. is freestanding midwife-led birth centers, but those also often rely on nearby hospitals when serious complications arise," reports Claire Rush and Laura Ungar of The Associated Press. "The closures have worsened so-called 'maternity care deserts'—counties with no hospitals or birth centers that offer obstetric care and no OB providers. More than two million women of childbearing age live in such areas, the majority of which are rural."

Less maternity care means having children is more dangerous. "One study showed rural residents have a 9% greater probability of facing life-threatening complications or even death from pregnancy and birth compared to those in urban areas — and having less access to care plays a part," AP reports. "The American Hospital Association says at least 89 obstetric units closed in rural hospitals between 2015 and 2019. More have shuttered since." The main reasons for ending obstetric services include medical labor shortages, lower birth rates, low reimbursements and poor profit margins.

"A lack of money was the major reason why Henry County Medical Center in Paris, Tennessee, closed its OB unit," Rush and Ungar explain. "CEO John Tucker told AP that it was a necessary financial step to save the hospital, which has been struggling for a decade. The percentage of births there covered by Medicaid — 70% — far exceeded the national average of 42%. Tennessee’s Medicaid program paid the hospital about $1,700 per delivery for each mom, a fraction of what the hospital needed, Tucker said. . . . Private insurance pays hospitals more — the median topped $16,000 for cesarean sections in Oregon in 2021. State data shows that’s more than five times what Medicaid doles out."

In Summertown, Tennessee, pop. 900, a new freestanding birthing center is a solution: At The Farm Midwifery Center led by midwife Corina Fitch, where women receive group and individual prenatal care. AP reports, "Some states and communities are taking steps to create more freestanding birth centers. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont recently signed legislation that will license such centers and allow them to operate as an alternative for low-risk pregnancies. . . . Alecia McGregor, who studies health policy and politics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, called midwife-led birth centers 'a major sort of contender among the possible solutions' to the maternity care crisis."

As rural communities lose physicians, a creative "patchwork" of care can emerge

An OnMed health kiosk uses high tech, remote care.
(Photo by Arielle Zionts, KFF Health News)
Rural patients are more likely to face medical provider shortages, and these communities have to find new ways to provide care. In LaFayette, Alabama, "Terry Vester and her husband, Al, are the only primary care doctors in the town of 2,700 residents, surrounded by farms and other small communities," reports Arielle Zionts of KFF Health News. "The Vesters are in their late 60s and would like to retire soon. Terry Vester wants to spend more time with her grandson and aging parents. But she can't imagine abandoning her patients, some of whom she has cared for since they were born."

Attracting new physicians is challenging for LaFayette, which is not a wealthy town with the amenities many doctors seek. Residents have a median income of $39,077, compared to the state's $59,910. "Black residents — who make up 70% of the population — are much more likely to live in poverty than white residents," Zionts writes. "The Vesters have worked in LaFayette since the early 1980s and saw the local hospital close in 1988. The nearest emergency room is now in another town 20 minutes away along a rolling road. So are the nearest urgent care clinic and pediatrician's office."

With those barriers in mind, town residents who need medical advice have turned to "the city fire department, staffed with full-time firefighters and emergency medics," Zionts reports. "People from LaFayette regularly walk or drive themselves to the fire station to ask for help, said Fire Chief Jim Doody. He added that the station has a makeshift exam area within its small entryway, containing a bench, defibrillator machine, and cabinet filled with medical supplies. . . .This de facto walk-in clinic option isn't available in most other rural areas, where emergency medical services are often run by volunteers who aren't posted at a station all day, Doody said. But he's noticed fewer LaFayette residents relying on the fire department since a new telehealth service arrived in town."

OnMed telehealth kiosk service opened in LaFayette to meet basic medical needs. Patients can head into a computerized booth, press a button and see "a nurse practitioner appear on a large vertical video screen positioned at eye level," Zionts explains. "OnMed patients use an automated blood pressure cuff and other devices to collect their vital signs, and the data is sent to the provider treating them from a distance. Patients can also hold a stethoscope to their chest to transmit the sounds of their heart and lungs. A special camera captures internal temperatures, which can be used to diagnose infections. A hand-held camera lets providers examine problems such as rashes, irritated eyes, and swollen throats. In some states, the stations can dispense medications."

While Vester spoke positively about OnMed services, she feels "It's still important to have doctors in town," Zionts reports. "Vester plans to reach out to Alabama medical schools to let them know she's looking for doctors to take over for her and her husband."

Prices for farmland have risen in recent years, but the market is 'cooling down'

Farmland values are expected to plateau.
(Photo by Micheile Henderson, Unsplash)
Farmland prices are predicted to flatten in the future after a period of strong growth. "Headlines boasting record-breaking farmland sales and surging values gave voice to the excitement in the market last year while land prices climbed. As 2023 marches on, the experts say some of that excitement may be waning and to expect strong, but flatter prices going forward," reports Cassidy Walter of Successful Farming. Tim Koch, executive vice president of business development for Farm Credit Services of America told her: "We'll probably see some high reports of really high-quality farms that are well-located…and we might see some lower-quality farms start to back up a little bit in prices as we head toward the end of the year. But as a whole, I would anticipate that we'll see a flattening of prices throughout the remainder of the year."

Data available seems to agree with Koch's outlook. Farmers National Co.’s latest Regional Land Values Report looked at farmland sales data for high-quality farmland across 18 states. "All saw the average sale price per acre increase between June 2021 and June 2022 and from June 2022 to June 2023. However, the rate of growth between 2021 and 2022 was higher for most states than in the past year," Walter explains. Increases varied by state, with Iowa farmland gaining roughly $3,000 per acre during June 2022 to June 2023, as compared to Arkansas, which gleaned only $300 more per acre during the same time period.

Overall, experts predict a competitive, solid market for high-quality land sales. "David Whitaker, president of Realtors Land Institute, says when looking at the numbers from the past several surveys, a good way to describe the most recent one is 'steady.' He also expects steadiness over the next six months," Walters reports. He told Walters: “I think there’s enough money out there that we will hold steady. I think farmland is the asset that everybody wants and wants to keep and is willing to pay for.”

Walters adds, "While there appears to be agreement that the market is staying strong but cooling down, there is a non-negotiable caveat that several variables could send land values in an unexpected direction. . . . Experts say there is a strong connection between commodity prices and farm revenue and farmland values. Higher prices equate to farmers having more cash on hand and more interest in investing in their operations. With lower prices, expect the inverse. . . . Steve Bruere, president of Peoples Co., says rising inflation will drive land values up and it is too soon to tell if this current period of high inflation is truly over."

Emulating nature, gardeners enjoy blooms throughout winter months; it's not that hard to do

N. romieuxii, a miniature Narcissus, is an early favorite.
(Page Dickey courtesy photo via The New York Times)
As fall turns to winter, many people will long for fresh air, warm breezes and the blooming flowers of spring long before Old Man Winter releases his grasp. One solution to winter's fog is learning to force some bulbs to bloom out of season, reports Margaret Roach of The New York Times.

Page Dickey, a garden writer and designer alongside Francis Bosco Schell, a retired book editor and lifelong gardener, provides Roach with their ways of enjoying blooms. First, some bulbs are more easily convinced to bloom out of season than others. Dickey perused bulb catalogs "carefully noting any varieties whose descriptions hint at their adaptability to forcing — or being coaxed into extra-early bloom."

Bulbs also need a chill period before planting and in cooler regions that is more easily created. The cooler temperatures "trick" bulbs into thinking it's winter. White Flower Farm's website advises, "Pot the bulbs in any well-draining potting mix, water them, and set them aside in a cool dark spot for the required minimum time." Roach reports, "The goal is to put the pots in a protected place where they won't freeze, but will stay very cold — above 32 degrees, but below 50. Somewhere from 40 to 45 degrees is probably ideal."

"Dickey has learned some of what she knows by researching, but most of it by trial and error, she said, and she finds that most varieties want about 12 to 14 weeks' chill," Roach reports. "The earliest in-ground bloomers will need fewer weeks of cold when forced, before they are ready to start flowering — meaning, a crocus blooms faster than a daffodil. And because the bulbs would normally be underground, where no light reaches them, we chill our pots in darkness."

Cold frames are key to coaxing early blooms.
(Page Dickey courtesy photo via The New York Times)
The best ally for off-seasonal blooms is the "cold frame. . . . Generally, a prefabricated model will be about 18 inches tall on the highest side, its lid slanting downward to a foot or lower," Roach adds. They can be built relatively easily. "Whatever the dimensions of your cold frame, there's one caveat: Never leave the lid all the way open when pots are inside, or a storm could soak them. Also, position the frames where they can get good sun. Ideally, the low end should face south or west." Dickey goes through a process of "emulating" Mother Nature's dormant period for bulbs within the cold frames.

Once October comes, the bulbs are planted, and throughout winter, Dickey pulls pots out to warm them and beckons their blooms to come forth. Although it's a step-by-step process, none of it is hard. "Crocus and Iris reticulata will be the first pots she pulls out, in late January or so, transitioning them gradually to increasingly warmer spots indoors," Roach writes. "A few weeks later, they’ll be the first to bloom. Eventually, the latest-blooming forced pots will overlap with the start of the main bulb displays out in the garden."

Rural highways and byways can offer spectacular views in the fall -- take time to soak in the sights at these four stops

'Tis the season for troves of colored trees, exploring harvest bounty and letting crisper air fill your lungs. Wherever you roam this fall, may it be filled with the beauty only rural road trips can offer. "Traveling byways is a great way to sample local flavor and have authentic place-based experiences," reports Kim Kobersmith of The Daily Yonder. "The four trips below all lean into unique ecosystems, habitats, history, and culture, making for particularly lovely autumn destinations."

Pine Barrens National Scenic Byway: "Pine barrens are unique ecosystems with nutrient-poor sandy soil, acidic water, and fire-adapted plants, according to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. The byway traverses the Pinelands, the 1.1 million acres of pine barrens in New Jersey, the largest forested area on the eastern seaboard between the Everglades and Maine. This special place is an International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1978, Congress designated it the nation's first National Reserve to protect its unique natural and cultural resources. . . . Pine barrens is home to pygmy trees and Warren Grove Recreation Area, where one can take "a surreal walk amongst the lilliputian trees. . . eerily quiet, except for the occasional bird song and the steady susurration of the wind in the pines."

Raking cranberries at a century-old bed (Wisconsin Rapids
Area Convention photo via The Daily Yonder )

Cranberry Highway: Located in central Wisconsin, the highway is the "largest cranberry-producing region in the United States. Along with a taste of the harvest in fall, from late September through October, the century-old cranberry beds and surrounding trees are alight with seasonal color.

The drive is a self-guided agri-tour. Local stores sell everything cranberry, from sausage to hand cream, and farm-to-table restaurants incorporate the fruit in bread, cocktails, and salads."

Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway: This history byway sits at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers "leaf looking," nature exploration and rich history. "Several stops have mountainous overlooks. A fall raptor migration can be seen from the heights of Caesar's Head State Park, and the granite view at Table Rock State Park is iconic. Several waterfalls can be accessed from the drive; Wildcat Branch Falls can be viewed from a paved turnout, and a short roadside hike leads to Issaqueena Falls.

A boat trip on crystal clear Lake Jocassee leads to several streams that drop into the water. . . .The route also winds past Cowpens National Battlefield and Kings Mountain National Park, where visitor centers interpret the importance of these pivotal revolutionary-era battles. The only remaining covered bridge in South Carolina, Campbell's, is right off Route 11."

Ducks in the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (Fish and Wildlife Service, Mary Hyde via The Daily Yonder)

The Klamath Basin
: The basin is a "crucial migratory stop on the Pacific Flyway, hosting nearly 80% of migratory birds that pass through the region. This outdoorsy-focused trail leads to hikes, kayak-friendly lakes and wildlife drives throughout rugged southern Oregon and northern California. The 300-mile route has 47 stops, including six National Wildlife Refuges and three National Park Service sites. More than 350 species of birds have been identified in the mix of mountains, marshlands, grasslands, old-growth forests and shallow lakes that converge here.

"In northern California, large Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a migratory hotspot for snow geese and sandhill cranes. It has a visitor center, hiking and canoeing trails, and a 20-mile gravel drive open to the public for wildlife viewing. Nearby Lower Klamath Lake was the first wildlife refuge in the U.S., established in 1908."

To find a national or state scenic byway near you, search
To explore other National Wildlife Refuges this season, read

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Official guidance on gun-safety law upsets rural politicians; Democrat says bureaucrats don't understand rural America

New gun safety law doesn't fund archery programs.
(Photo by Annie Spratt, Unsplash)
In a case of unintended consequences, the first gun-safety legislation in decades is hitting some bumps. "As the law is implemented, a rift has emerged between the Biden administration and rural-state Democrats. They’re at odds over guidance issued by the Department of Education which states that a pot of federal dollars would be prohibited from going to school archery and hunting programs," reports Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico. "It also has agitated Republicans who helped negotiate the gun safety legislation." Both sides say the Education Department is misinterpreting Congress’ intent and the White House is ignoring the issue.

The conflict further separates Democrats, "now cutting at a longtime intraparty divide between Democrats from states with a long heritage of hunting and the more progressive corners of the party that back strict gun control measures," Haberkorn writes. "Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, one of the most vulnerable Democrats in a red state, has introduced a bipartisan bill to restore the funding, which he hopes will be added to a government spending bill. He said the administration 'has this one flat-out wrong' and chastised 'D.C. bureaucrats who don’t understand rural America.'"

Haberkorn reports, "The Education Department has stressed that the law doesn’t prohibit shooting or archery programs from being supported through other sources of funding. . . .  Several Democrats expressed hope that the Education Department would change its tone once lawmakers clarified what their intention was with the bill."

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), one of the chief negotiators on the gun safety bill, "acknowledged the administration is reading the letter of the text correctly but called it an unintended consequence that should be repaired," Haberkorn adds. "He said he hopes bipartisan legislation to repair the language can be included in an upcoming government funding bill."

Young heavy drinkers are more likely to carry handguns

Photo by Tom Def, Unsplash
A young person in rural America who drinks heavily is 43% more likely to carry a handgun in the following year, according to a study conducted in seven states over 15 years and published in The Journal of Rural Health.

The study defined "heavy drinking" as consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks in a row at least once in the two weeks before the question was asked of 2,002 youth, aged 12 to 26, from 12 rural communities in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Survey responses were collected annually from 2004 to 2019 starting with children who were in fifth or sixth grade, as part of the university's national Community Youth Development Study (CYDS).

Lead author Alice Ellyson, an acting assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, told The Rural Blog that no Southern states were included in the study because the Southern communities that participated in the survey consortium that helped develop the CYDS "chose not to continue as part of the community-randomized trial portion where we obtained our data for this study."

The university says, "Recent evidence suggests that rural adolescents may start carrying a handgun earlier and carry with a higher frequency and duration than their urban counterparts. Handgun-carrying is associated with bullying, physical violence, and other risk factors for violence. Understanding youth behaviors associated with carrying a firearm has significant safety implications. In 2020, suicide and homicide were among the leading causes of death among U.S. individuals ages 12-26 years. About 91% of homicides and 52% of suicides among this age group involved a firearm."

Communities That Care is a program for preventing these behaviors and their consequences in rural areas. It has no communities in Southern states, "but they would be very willing for that to change," Ellyson told The Rural Blog.

Why are so many Americans behind bars? It's complicated.

In a country known as "the land of the free," it's hard to reconcile how so many people end up behind bars. "The U.S. continues to imprison a higher percentage of its population than almost every other country. The U.S. incarcerates 530 people for every 100,000 in its population, making it one of the world's biggest jailers," reports Jeffrey Bellin for The Conversation, a platform for journalism by academics.

"As a former prosecutor and a researcher who studies the criminal justice system, I have found that understanding how the U.S. incarceration rate grew over the last few decades is the key to understanding its root causes," Bellin explains. "I think the public debate can improve if people develop a better understanding of how mass incarceration arose and its tenuous connection to crime."

Incarceration rates intertwine with spikes in serious crimes such as homicides and longer sentences, Bellin notes. "Over time, this led to today's aging prison population and many people being held long past the time they would have been released at other times in this country's history. . . . The number of people incarcerated in state prisons for homicide increased by over 300% between 1980 and 2010. . . . But the scale of the increases for other offenses, like drug crimes, is even larger – rising 1,147% over this time frame.

"Substantially reducing prison and jail populations will require a better understanding of the link between incarceration and crime. It is not simply the case that incarceration goes up because people commit crime; instead, the story is much more complicated," Bellin explains. "That is because we use incarceration for two purposes: to obtain justice on behalf of victims and to try to change people's behavior."

Bellin points out two types of cases in the nation's criminal courts. The first type involves violent crimes such as murder or sexual assault. The second type "are cases like drug offenses and weapons possession, which are not typically about obtaining justice for victims but are supposed to further policy goals like preventing drug use." Over the last several decades, courts have increased sentence years and the number of actions that can lead to prison time. The result is massive incarceration.

Is there a solution? Bellin writes, "Substantial progress at reducing the incarcerated population will require reversing both trends. First, returning sentence lengths for all offenses, including serious violent crimes, to their historical norms. And second, resisting this country's growing habit of relying on incarceration as a tool for achieving policy goals."

Flora and fauna: Terrier sniffs out turtles; mow less and pick more flowers; vultures threaten livestock; snap-pea science

Dory searches a leatherback nesting site for the exact location of eggs.

(Walt Disney World Resort courtesy photo via National Geographic)

One terrier can sniff out turtles in a single bound. She "identified 560 sea turtle nests from three species," reports Elizabeth Ann Brown of National Geographic. Named "Dory," this pup's success rate is considered "shocking. . . and could be a game changer." Dory has joined the ranks of "'conservation sniffers' who help scientists get a more complete picture of sea turtle nesting habits."

Did you know that the snap pea was invented? "You'd be forgiven for thinking that sugar snap peas have occurred naturally forever," reports Korsha Wilson of Saveur. "But this specific breed was invented by Dr. Lamborn in 1979, after years of trying to create a commercially viable snow pea with a smoother, straighter pod."

Wildflowers attract insects and butterflies. (Courtesy
photo, Natalie Gilliard via The Washington Post)
Mow. Water. Mow. Water. The cycle can take a toll on summer hours. One couple solved their mowing angst by planting a wildflower garden, reports Cathy Free of The Washington Post. "Growing a wildflower meadow or planting other alternatives to grass is part of a movement to use fewer resources, foster community relationships and help reverse the loss of insects."

Over the past few decades, the eastern monarch population "has dropped precipitously." What were once vast butterfly flocks have dwindled -- "at least somewhat connected to the loss of milkweed plants, where the butterflies lay their eggs," reports Ethan Freedman of Ambrook Research. "The benefits of new habitats planted near agricultural fields might outweigh the risk of pesticide exposure in monarch butterflies — but don't assume that's true for all insects."

Scarabaeus viette (Wikipedia)
This little six-legged creature is a hard-working farmers' helper. "The formidable dung beetle is one of many insects that help process cow pies and maintain balance in your pasture," reports Michael Johnson of Ag Week. "The presence of beetles, which eat and carve out caverns through the drying dung, means that the dung is being processed. . . . That's important on these pastures. . . . Rancher Thomas Stattelman understands that microorganisms are important. He does not use any commercial fertilizer and has not sprayed any chemical on the pastures in the last six years. He said he uses no fly control, either."

Black vultures will kill and eat newborn livestock.
(Photo by Noppadol Paothong, Mo. Dept. of Conservation)
Often considered bug and seed-eaters, many birds are actually carnivores. "Ranchers across the Great Plains are battling black vultures, a federally protected bird that has a reputation for killing newborn livestock," reports Xcaret Nuñez of KOSU in Oklahoma. "While the birds play a major ecological role, their expanding population is becoming a big nuisance for producers. . . . Black vultures aren’t an easy bird to scare away, and because they’re protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, producers can’t legally kill the scavenger bird without federal permission."

National Farmer's Day is Oct. 12; recognizes U.S. farmers for the food and fiber they produce, and role in economy

National Farmer’s Day is Oct.12, a day set aside to honor and thank U.S. farmers who spend long days planning, fertilizing, plowing, planting and harvesting our food. While only 2% of our population are farmers, that 2% feeds America and countries far beyond its borders. Farmers’ contribution to the economy extends well beyond food --  farmers keep many other industries alive, including transportation, grocery services, pharmaceuticals, forestry and fisheries.

Paying tribute to your local farmer can be as simple as a personal thank you at your local orchard or farmers market, making a donation to your local Future Farmers of America chapter, or taking out a "Thank You" ad in your community newspaper.

Supporters of the event say where and how you shop can also help local farmers:

  • Buy fruits and vegetables from farmers markets. You may be able to meet the local farmers who grow your food while picking up the freshest produce, eggs, and meat. A farmers markets directory is here.
  • Visit pick-your-own farms. They offer everything from vegetables to apples to pumpkins. Pick-your-own flower farms are also popular in many towns. Find a pick-your-own farm in your area.
  • Consider joining a community-supported agriculture farm share next year. As a CSA member, you will receive a basket of freshly picked food every week for a true farm-to-table experience. Find a local CSA.
  • Look out for local small-town festivals. By attending everything from persimmon festivals to pawpaw festivals to garlic festivals, you’re supporting farming communities.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

She taught about race, was made to stop and now wonders how she will continue to teach with trust and 'authenticity'

Mary Wood's students reported her for a lesson on racism.
(Photo by Will Crooks, The Washington Post)

Seeking to have her all-white class understand more about racial history and identities, teacher Mary Wood of Chapin, South Carolina, had her students read a book "that dissects what it means to be Black in America. . . . Her students reported her for "[making] them ashamed to be White, violating a South Carolina proviso that forbids teachers from making students' feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress' on account of their race," reports Hannah Natanson for The Washington Post.

The book was Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, which Wood paired with educational videos. Natanson writes, "Reading Coates' book felt like 'reading hate propaganda towards white people,' one student wrote. . . . At least two parents complained. . . . Within days, school administrators ordered Wood to stop teaching the lesson. They placed a formal letter of reprimand in her file. It instructed her to keep teaching 'without discussing this issue with your students.'" Wood completed the semester "feeling defeated and betrayed — not only by her students but also by the school system that raised her. The high school Wood teaches at is the same one she attended."

Chapin is about 25 miles northwest
of Columbia, S.C.  (Wikipedia map)
A local newspaper reported Wood's censure, and the conflict spread. "At school board meetings and online Facebook groups, the citizens of wealthy, White and conservative Chapin debated whether Wood should be fired," Natanson reports. "Republican state representatives showed up to a June meeting to blast her as a lawbreaker. The next month, a county NAACP leader declared her an 'advocate for the education of all students.'"

South Carolina is one of 18 states "to restrict education on race since 2021, according to an Education Week tally. And at least half the country has passed laws that limit instruction on race, history, sex or gender identity, per a Washington Post analysis. Wood is not the first teacher to get caught in the crossfire: The Post previously reported that at least 160 educators have lost their positions since the pandemic due to political debates," Natanson adds.

Wood now wonders if she can trust her students and the system that told her to teach an authentic curriculum that helps young adults enter a challenging world. "And for Wood, teaching authentically means assigning writers like Coates—voices unfamiliar, even disconcerting, to students in her lakeside town," Natanson writes. "Because of what happened last year, though, Wood now worried anything, from the most provocative essay to the least interesting comment about her weekend, might be resisted, recorded and reported by the children she's supposed to teach."

You can do more than just observe bird migration season; resources are available to help with conservation efforts

Blue-winged Teal (Photo by Sharif Uddin, Macaulay Library via CornellLab)

As bird migration season takes flight, there are many resources for helping and enjoying birds during this magnificent phenomenon.

CornellLab offers recorded educational webinars and an interactive game with their Merlin Bird ID Trivia: Fall Migration Edition. "Can the app outperform an experienced birder and you, our audience?. . . .Our panelists share their advice on how to identify tricky birds based on calls and appearance—plus provide insights into birding during the migration season."

The American Bird Conservancy website has a plethora of information, tips and delightful photos of our feathered friends, many of whom are struggling to survive. "The great streams of migratory birds that once filled North America's skies are dwindling as habitat loss, climate change, and other threats take their toll. The declines cast doubt on the continued survival of these birds and the greatest wildlife phenomenon in the Western Hemisphere," according to the website.

To help birds year-round, these resources provide information about planning bird conservation efforts:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: This institution, part of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has all kinds of bird-related resources.
National Audubon Society: A premier national nonprofit for conservation and policy and just birding. It has a network of local and regional affiliates.

Peregrine Falcon
(Photo by Marky Mutchler)
The Great Backyard Bird Count: Join the world in connecting to birds – Feb. 16–19, 2024.
Christmas Bird Count: A long-standing tradition in many places that can give a sense of population trends. Organized by National Audubon. To find local/regional birding and conservation groups: start here. (Note: The listing for some states is incomplete.)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: The federal agency most active in bird conservation. Find a refuge near you and talk to the staff. You can also reach out to managers of your state, local and private wildlife refuges.
National Wildlife Health Center: This unit of the U.S. Geological Survey is an authoritative source on bird disease.
North American Bird Conservation Initiative: The consortium of researchers, government agencies and conservation groups that produced the 2022 report mentioned above.
Ducks Unlimited: Yes, its members do hunt ducks, but the group works very hard for conservation. Check with your local chapter and talk to them about migratory birds.
State conservation agencies: The terminology varies, but a good directory can be found here.
People who maintain local backyard bird feeders: One way to find them is to go to a hardware store where feeders and seeds are sold.