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WSU’s Green Times: Monarchs, honey bees, dairy footprints, food economy

Posted by | September 24, 2014

Wanted: Monarch butterflies, last seen heading south

Researchers at Washington State University are calling upon the public throughout the western U.S. to report sightings of tagged monarch butterflies that are making their way from Washington State to as far south as Mexico.

Monarch butterfly tagged with WSU email address. (Photo by David James, WSU).
Monarch butterfly tagged with WSU email address. (Photo by David James, WSU).

WSU entomologist David James has released close to 1,500 butterflies so far with plans to release up to 1,000 more by early October. Each butterfly has a small circular sticker attached to a wing. He wants to know where butterflies from the Pacific Northwest go for overwintering.

“We are beginning to get reports of people seeing them but we’d like to alert more people to be on the watch for them in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona,” James said.

The butterflies released from Washington generally head to California but James believes they may get all the way to Mexico based on previous reported sightings of butterflies tagged with his email address. In 2012 one of James’ butterflies was reported from Utah, off course from California destinations but along the way to Mexico.

The insects head south to spend winter in warmer areas before making a return migration in spring. The tagged butterflies will live for up to 8 months.

Monarchs rely on milkweed plants for laying their eggs and providing food for their young. The larvae, or caterpillars, feed on the leaves of the milkweed plants until they turn into chrysalids, later emerging as the familiar orange and black butterfly.

“As well as providing potential data points, these releases are making a significant contribution to the conservation of this American icon,” James said.

In the last 20 years, monarch butterfly populations are thought to have declined by more than 90 percent. This is due to loss of habitat. The application of herbicides is thought to have drastically reduced the amount of milkweed available to monarchs in Midwestern corn and soybean fields.

“We also have a milkweed problem in western U.S. too with road authorities in California and Oregon in particular routinely spraying most roadside vegetation including milkweed,” James said.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower of Sweet Briar College filed a legal petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies in late August.

With the help of inmates at the Walla Walla Penitentiary who help rear, tag and release the butterflies, James and the butterfly enthusiasts who spot the colorful creatures are helping to solve a butterfly mystery.

To learn more about James’ work with monarch butterflies watch this video and read this article

Report sightings to and visit the Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest Facebook page for updates:

-Sylvia Kantor

Tim Lawrence with honey bees. Photo by Brandon Hopkins, WSU.
Tim Lawrence with honey bees.
Photo by Brandon Hopkins, WSU.

Paging Dr. Bee

The bees are sick.

Pollinator populations have been in serious decline for many years. The causes range from insecticides to mites to diseases. But much research still needs to be completed to understand the threats bees are facing.

Dr. Tim Lawrence is the Coupeville-based director for Washington State University Extension in Island County. He’s also an authority on honeybees. He has an undergraduate degree in bee science and has worked in all aspects of the industry including pollination, honey and queen production.

Recently Lawrence has focused his experience and scientific prowess to studying the impact that humans have on honeybees and other pollinators.

Read the full Tacoma News Tribune story here.


Dairy waste biorefineries: An innovative way to further reduce greenhouse gases on dairies in Washington State

Holstein dairy cattle. Courtesy USDA-ARS.
Holstein dairy cattle. Courtesy USDA-ARS.

Understanding the effect the dairy industry has on climate change has led the state to leverage its many public research institutions and agencies including Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources to help dairy farmers better manage and mitigate GHG emissions on large scale dairies also known as concentrated animals feeding operations (CAFOs).

One way farmers in Washington State have reduced their carbon footprint from dairy operations is through the use of anaerobic digestion (AD) technology to capture and divert CH4 emissions resulting from manure management practices. Though AD is typically adopted on dairies to better manage waste and produce saleable renewable energy, an added benefit is that it reduces CH4 emissions from manure management practices. Read more…


Community food assessment offers insights for growing Whatcom County food economy

A new online food system assessment tool aims to increase collaboration and improve public understanding of the local Whatcom County food system. The 2014 Community Food Assessment (CFA) website includes data about food system trends and indicators related to land, water, production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste in region.

CFA“In order for our community to be productive in improving the food system, we need to know what is going on in all areas of the system and consider how challenges can be overcome as a whole,” says Colleen Burrows, Agriculture Special Projects Coordinator at WSU Whatcom County Extension.

Highlights of the website include snapshots of current food system challenges, collaborative projects, and future opportunities. The site also presents indicators that track changes to the local food system over time. A comprehensive listing of relevant organizations and resources including local, state and national data, tools, and reports are also included.

“It’s so valuable for organizations like ours working within the food system to be connected and aware of what partners are working on, and what resources are out there, so we’re not duplicating efforts,” says Mardi Solomon, with the Whatcom Farm-to-School support team. “The hope is that organizations and businesses can utilize this tool within their work, so we can grow together in a coordinated fashion.”

The tool offers a user-friendly way to explore the different areas of the food system and includes updates to the comprehensive 2011 Whatcom CFA. An accompanying report includes information based on interviews with key stakeholders about current gaps and challenges, as well as significant recent developments and collaborations.

The initial 2011 CFA for Whatcom County was prepared by WSU Whatcom County Extension staff, and the 2014 CFA update was collaboratively carried out by members of the Whatcom Food Network Steering Committee.

The CFA website can be accessed at