Archive for February, 2020

  • Blog
  • February 28th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


The Missouri legislature is considering HJR 100 which would if installed in the state constitution give the authority to oversee any agency regulation to what amounts to a super regulatory panel called the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR for short). In essence, it would mean that all fish, wildlife and forestry regulations would be subject to tinkering by this political entity. It would strip the Conservation Commission from its present authority to create regulations, an authority  which voters installed in the state constitution 83 years ago.


The bill currently is in legislative limbo after a public hearing heavily attended by conservationists outraged at the legislature’s blatant attempt to destroy the state’s fish wildlife and forestry program. HJR 100’s sponsor, Representative Robert Ross a Republican from the heart of the Ozarks, also sponsored a resolution inviting Donald Trump to deliver the State of the Union address from the Missouri capitol. That didn’t work out but perhaps Ross can persuade the Disney Corporation to send Goofy next year.


Legislators have been sharpshooting at conservation’s constitutional autonomy ever since 1936 and it has become an almost annual exercise in political banditry by greedy legislators to overturn it, eternally miffed because they can’t get their avaricious mitts on conservation money and rulemaking. Placing the authority to distribute conservation money without political interference has been vital and effective and replacing that authority with nonprofessional conservation managers is, on the face of it, destructive and without benefit to the common good of the state’s almost universal affection for a clean and diverse outdoors.


I wrote the following article in 2006 for the Missouri Conservationist magazine as a memoir of my involvement with the effort to pass a 1/8 cent sales tax constitutionally dedicated to fish, wildlife and forestry conservation. And other than updating a few spots, it seems as applicable and timely today as it was 14 years ago and, for that matter, 83 years ago when, by initiative petition, voters approved constitutional autonomy for the Conservation Commission, ensuring its financial independence from legislative tampering.


So here is what I wrote:


It was the longest night of my life. It lasted seven years. In the small hours of the morning, when even the best news doesn’t seem that great, we waited for final election results. Talk had dwindled to a minimum, mostly discouraged.


“I thought we’d lost it,” said Ed Stegner, who then was the executive secretary of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. He was one of the many who had given their heart and soul to the 1976 Conservation Sales Tax Campaign that began in 1969.


For me, passage of the Design for Conservation (the name of the program that the tax would pay for) was the end of the toughest half dozen years of what would be more than 20 years with the Department of Conservation.


The pressure began almost the day I started working at the Conservation Department in 1969. I had joined what then was the Information Section.“Have you heard about the Leopold Report?” asked fellow writer and editor Mark Sullivan. “You’d better bone up on it—you’ll be involved.”


That was an understatement. In the next half decade, along with many others in and outside of the Department, the campaign to realize a new conservation program would become almost an obsession with us. It was not a job; it was a calling.


The Department had been studied for a year by three consultants, with the fee paid by the Edward K. Love Foundation of St. Louis. The consultants were Starker Leopold, Irving Fox and Charley Callison.


Starker Leopold was the son of Aldo Leopold, considered the greatest philosopher/conservationist ever. Starker had deep ties to the Department. He’d been a graduate wildlife student in Missouri and had done turkey research on Caney Mountain Conservation Area. Irving Fox was a water resources expert from Wisconsin. The third team member, Charley Callison, was the executive vice president of the National Audubon Society and one of Missouri’s own. They looked at what the Department was doing in fish, wildlife and forestry conservation—and, more importantly, what it should be doing.


The trio concluded that while the Department had done an exemplary job of providing for hunters and anglers, it had neglected the majority of Missourians who didn’t hunt or fish. It was, the study concluded, a lack of money, not a lack of desire. And the flip side was that hunting and fishing areas were being used for many activities other than those two things, but the people doing the using were paying none of the upkeep.


The Leopold team concluded there was an obligation to provide and manage areas for everyone, but no money to do it. So, a conservation program for the future needed to find a funding source and then develop a program that offered something for everyone. It sounded like pie in the sky.


But there still were pioneers of the 1930s petition campaign that had given Missouri conservation its constitutional protection. There was also a new breed of younger, but no less dedicated conservationists. They believed that Missourians had faith in the program they’d created in the Depression days and would support a giant leap forward.


Conservation Department Director Carl Noren recognized that conservation in Missouri was stalled without additional funding. Every division and section wanted to do far more but had no money or staff to do it. The education program was small. A Natural History Division didn’t even exist. Compared to other outdoor states, Missouri was public land-poor.  Conservation agents literally qualified for food stamps. Missouri, with a history of cherishing conservation, dating to the 1936 constitutional amendment, was running way behind.


But you can’t just ask people to trust you with their money. You have to tell them where the money will go. That’s where the dreamers became planners. My boss, Jim Keefe, was among the handful of thinkers and wordsmiths. He’d been editor of the Conservationist since 1957, and his monthly column was the essence of the Department’s direction and philosophy.


The September 1971 issue of the Conservationist contained the text of the Leopold Report and the Department’s proposals in response. We called it “Challenge and Response.” The Leopold study provided guidelines, which were that people, especially urban people, needed places to go and Missouri didn’t have enough public land.


The dreamers, as inventive as they were, ran smack into hardheaded realists among citizen conservationists. “Yes,” they said. “all well and good, but we want dollar signs attached to these ideas.” The result was The Citizens’ Committee for Conservation, an invaluable group that provided the feedback necessary to learn not just what the Leopold study experts thought the Department should be doing, but also what the people of Missouri thought should be done. We put figures to the ideas and called it the Design for Conservation. But it all depended on money.


The first try was in 1972, a petition for a soft drink tax. The petition drive gathered the most signatures ever on a citizen initiative. But none counted because conservationists proved better at taking care of outdoor resources than they did at drafting a petition. The proposal lost a court challenge because it lacked the simple words, “Be it hereby enacted….”


It was like being Santa Claus and getting stuck in a narrow chimney, managing to struggle free, then dropping the gifts down the chimney… only to see them burn up because someone forgot to put out the fire. The Citizens’ Committee, both young and old, took a deep breath and decided to try it again, this time with a valid petition and a different funding source— a general sales tax.


No one person deserves more credit than Doris “Dink” Keefe, Jim Keefe’s wife. Mother and homemaker her entire life, she decided that someone needed to organize the petition drive. It was light years from anything she’d ever done, but she volunteered full time, unpaid, for a year at the Conservation Federation office, organizing petitions. There were thousands of signatures to check in nine congressional districts.  After the first debacle—leaving out four words—the second try had to be meticulously checked, and Dink was the checker. There were no phony signatures, nor mistakes. She made sure.


Charlie and Libby Schwartz put pictures and sound to my script for a movie called Design for Conservation that showed to groups all over the state. Carl Noren and Ed Stegner traveled many miles together, speaking to any group of any size. Carl would outline the plan, the Design, and Stegner would explain that a vote for the tax would ensure the plan.


We traveled the state talking about the Design. Everyone knows now that the one-eighth cent sales tax for conservation passed, but until those wee hours in early November 1976, we didn’t. We stirred restlessly at the Ramada Inn in Jefferson City, a television set muttering in the background with election news. Local druggist and hunter Jim Whaley showed me a pair of English double-barreled shotguns that had bluing deep enough to go swimming in. Lovely as they were, I couldn’t concentrate on anything but that television set with its talking heads and updated vote totals.


Hour after hour it looked grim, but this was such a great program and Missouri such a conservation- oriented state that I couldn’t believe what we’d worked so hard for could fail. A political consultant and friend of conservation had told Ed Stegner that the more voters who turned out, the more likely it was our tax would fail. It was a record turnout, and the governor, now retired Senator Kit Bond, lost his bid for re-election (he would win a second term four years later). He had been a staunch friend of Missouri’s outdoors for his four years in office.


There was so much at stake. The entire future of Missouri’s conservation program rested on what the voters decided that night. I doubt we would have tried a third petition drive, no matter that “third time is a charm” is supposed to be true. It started to turn from dark to daylight, but gradually the votes in favor of the tax climbed, and finally it was over. We had won.


So many dreams were part of the Design for Conservation; so many now-legendary conservationists had contributed their wisdom. Most have since died, but their names and faces are as close to me as those of my family: Jim and Doris “Dink” Keefe, Mike Milonski, Charlie Schwartz, Carl Noren. All are now gone. They have been named to the Conservation Hall of Fame, along with Ted Scott, chairman of The Citizens’ Committee. Ed Stegner is gone as is Libby Schwartzwho died on her 101st birthday.  Few remain among the living handful of those who thought it out and made it happen. The effort included folks from every corner of the state. Many carried petitions. Others spoke to any group that would listen. Most important, they voted.


When the word finally came, conservation had won. Missourians had decided to tax themselves to ensure the diversity and health of Missouri’s woods, waters and wildlife. It was and is a landmark effort, envied by every other state agency, and still is unique in its constitutional authority.  The conservation sales tax has endured for 44 years and has brought Missourians an extensive program as well as new places to hunt, fish, hike, birdwatch and whatever else folks do outdoors.


What sold the Design was reaching potential “yes” voters with a twofold message: first, that they should tax themselves to protect Missouri’s natural resources for their children and grandchildren, and second, that they should do it for themselves. It was an appeal both to altruism and self-interest.


It took people with a rare combination of foresight and luck to get it before the public, and it took a voting public with an even more rare confidence in one of its governmental agencies to make it happen.


The sun was coming up when I finally fell asleep. My last thought before I drifted off was We won, we really won…and then I amended it: No—Missouri won. It still is winning, 44 years later.


A postscript: contact your local state representative and senator by phone or email to register opposition to HJR 100. Contact information can be found online at


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  • Blog
  • February 21st, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


It has been 58 years since my late and dear friend, Mitch Jayne, brought to life one of the last, if not the last Osage Indian in a memorable book titled “Old Fish Hawk.” Mitch, born in North Missouri, emigrated to the Ozarks of southern Missouri where, basically, he spent the rest of his life— as a one room school teacher in the waning days of an old life that depended on the bounty of the steep oak and hickory forested hills (“them hills ain’t so high, but the hollers sure are deep,” said the old timers).


Mitch found celebrity as a member of the fabled bluegrass band, the Dillards, equally famous as the Darling family on the old Andy Griffith television show. Mitch saw his book brought to movie theaters as a feature, oddly filmed in Canada, many miles from the Ozarks setting of the plot. But if the setting was not authentic, the main character, Old Fish Hawk, a remnant Native American, actually was an Indian— Will Sampson, a Creek Indian from Oklahoma (who also portrayed a memorable character in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”).


Old Fish Hawk adroitly deals with a black bear that kills his dog, and then rids the backwoods neighborhood of a savage wild boar. Perhaps Mitch was having a bit of porcine prescience when he wrote the book because a half-century later the Ozarks not only has black bears, which were virtually absent in the nineteen sixties, but also the rugged hills today are plagued by, not one, but altogether too damn many feral hogs. Aside from occasional garbage can plunderers, bears have not become a problem in the Ozarks or elsewhere in Missouri, but feral hogs are a major threat to the rural environment, especially South of the Missouri River. Maybe not wild boars but the legacy of those frighteningly ferocious old world animals are the forebears (or forepigs?) of today’s rampaging hog herds. Often called “Russian” boars, the animals actually are Eurasian and once were native to Britain, so we can’t blame the Russians for the current foreseen porcine plague.


The problem is not confined to the Ozarks—feral hogs are increasingly prevalent in other states as well. As an introduced species they rank right up there with starlings, English sparrows, and other immigrant critters far less welcome to environmentalists than human immigrants are to Donald J “send ‘em back” Trump. Feral hogs occur in 38 states with populations on the rise. Texas, not only can lay claim to bigness in many things, it also leads in feral hog population with an estimated 2,600,000 of the estimated 45,000,000 feral piggies nationwide.


So far, efforts to control the expansion of feral hogs are complicated by the fact that the pigs are prolific, control methods are difficult, and uncooperative hunters, eager to add wild pig to their life list of trophy kills, have actually released fresh stock into the woods. Pigs enjoy sex about as much, if not more than their human counterparts, and give the fabled prolific bunny rabbit a run for its money when it comes to reproductive success. Given that a sow can have one or two litters a year, and that some of the up to half a dozen piglets will be females also capable of breeding the overall population is exponential, an explosion potentially capable of becoming an environmental disaster.


A few years back, an Ozark fishing guide, supplementing his summertime income by guiding hunters, offered to take me on a wild pig hunt. The idea was initially exciting—the opportunity to shoot an historic and fabled game animal that, at the time, I knew nothing about. I knew there were feral hogs in the Ozarks, but not that they were a problem. I didn’t take the guy up on his offer, and found later that he had been arrested and fined for poaching. I suspect perhaps he was among those backwoods types who encouraged pig prolificacy as a moneymaking venture and the hell with whatever damage it causes to the environment.


Wild boar hunting dates back almost to the moment when man, in his eternal search for food, began experimenting with ways to reduce wildlife to table fare. By the Middle Ages, boar hunting was elevated  almost to the equivalent of intrepid knights battling mythical dragons.


Given the once prevalent situation of open range in backcountry America, the introduction of Eurasian swine was akin to inviting the Russian mafia, bent on seduction, into the local debutant’s ball. After generations of injudicious crossbreeding between local piggies and their brawny and uncouth invaders, the result was what we have today—a feral hog.  As a bit of porcine trivia, a group of feral hogs is known as a sounder. Pigs are intelligent animals—probably close to the intellectual level of dogs. They definitely are smart enough to realize that when some hunter fatally shoots one among the sounder, it’s time to move on and become elusive. That’s why hunting or indiscriminate shooting is not an effective population control method.


Pigs, like humans are omnivores, eating anything that doesn’t eat them first. And, in feral hogs, that includes farm crops, food needed by resident wildlife, and even fawns or other small animals unfortunate enough to get in the way of foraging pigs. A sounder of feral hogs is the swine equivalent of a battalion of Roto-Rooters, leaving in its wake a ravaged countryside.


Wildlife introductions into the United States have not been notably successful. Florida is battling the unwelcome addition of pythons to its wildlife roster, and many large rivers are becoming clogged with Asian carp. Any introduced species inevitably competes with resident wildlife for food and housing—not to mention the possibility of introducing disease. And what fisherman wants feral hogs drinking from and wallowing in his favorite trout stream? For that matter what woodland hunter—deer, turkeys, squirrels or other wildlife dependent on nuts and other forest food for survival—welcomes feral hogs as competitors with native game? And certainly no farmer tolerates a sounder of feral hogs rooting up crops or eating the plants that are intended for people food or for sustaining domestic animals. Even if feral hogs don’t directly destroy crops, their rooting for anything edible turns topsoil into Erosion City.


Missouri conservationists have gotten proactive on feral hogs, forming what they call the Missouri Feral Hog Elimination Partnership—a group of agencies and organizations that are as they say “dedicated to the elimination of feral hogs from the state”  about 30 of the state’s 114 counties now are infested with feral hogs to the tune of “tens of thousands.”


Rather than shooting random hogs, the Conservation Department as the lead agency, recommends and practices trapping hogs and so far in what it calls Area One the group eliminated nearly 1000 feral hogs in 2017 and 18. The Department reports “once all known feral hogs are eliminated from the area, staff will monitor the area to ensure no hogs were missed and no hogs are illegally released.” The pig plan has closed most public land to feral hog hunting, and helps private landowners in hogicide on their own land. “It will take support and cooperation from all Missouri landowners to eliminate feral hogs from the state,” says the Department’s annual report.


Mike Bowdenchuk, from Texas’s wildlife agency, told Missouri lawmakers bluntly, “you can’t hunt your way out of this problem.” He said Texas had tried the hunting solution but only encouraged a hunting industry and the state now has millions of the destructive animals that caused an estimated $89,000,000 in damage in 2019 alone. He said “Allowing people to hunt them, putting a meat market in there and not regulating the movement of pigs allowed us to go from a few thousand pigs to 2,600,000 to 3,000,000 pigs. That’s a train wreck.”


Almost predictably, a relative newcomer to the Missouri House of Representatives, Chris Dinkins, representing a Southeast Ozark district, has become the champion of the feral hog hunters by introducing a bill that would decimate the state’s landmark conservation sales tax which finances what is universally acknowledged as the finest conservation program in the nation. The tax, constitutionally dedicated and insulated from legislative interference, passed in 1976 after a successful initiative petition drive put it on the ballot, much to the consternation of the state’s perennially greedy legislators who resent any money they can’t finagle.


Since the passage of the sales tax, the money has financed programs too numerous to list here but all to the benefit of Missouri’s outdoor oriented and enthusiastic citizenry. There have been numerous attempts by the legislature to overturn the will of the people, but all have failed. But you never know—in an era of political upheaval anything is possible. That a small group of special interest hog hunters, of whom my poaching lawbreaker of years back likely is symptomatic, could overturn nearly half a century of the country’s best and most progressive wildlife program seems impossible…. But even the possibility is frightening. All conservation groups, as well as other interested agencies agree that trapping is the key to elimination of feral hogs and that hog hunting is a highway to hog hell.


Mississippi State University has detailed instructions for building various hog traps, ranging from box and wire cage enclosures to larger ones intended to trap sounders. The drawback to a box trap or wire trap is that it is single piggy intended and both time and labor intensive. The obvious advantage to a sounder trap is that it captures several piggies at once and Mississippi State is sympathetic enough to include instructions on how to approach the trapped animals without traumatizing them and then how to send them to hog heaven “humanely”. The Mississippians even include instructions on type of ammunition and gun to use, as well as where to place a lethal bullet—and caution that you shouldn’t poke the gun into the enclosure where an aggressive or panicked animal can jostle the gun so that you wind up shooting yourself or a fellow trapper. Good advice all around.


Museums specializing in antiquities showcase weapons intended in medieval times to dispatch Eurasian boars which can be as formidable as any of the fabled dangerous animals of Africa. A true Eurasian (Russian if you prefer) boar has a hide that is almost impervious to any small caliber bullet or anything but the keenest arrow, as well as a pair of tusks fully capable of disemboweling anyone or anything foolish enough to get too close. In the Middle Ages, boar hunting consisted of boar hounds driving the animal to bay after which hunters on foot would use lances or mounted hunters swords to kill the beast. It was a sport mostly confined to the nobility, so cherished that kings and princes forbade peasants from fencing their cropfields to keep marauding hogs out. Today, one Internet site recommends fencing your garden plot, either with or without electricity, with a fence at least three feet high to prevent agile piggies from invading. I can’t even keep box turtles from somehow finding a way through the fence around our garden. I can’t imagine that a determined hog wouldn’t find a garden fence a minor inconvenience en route to a dinner appointment.  Favored boar hounds sometimes were clad in suits of armor to save them from goring by an enraged boar. Today one of the most effective’s feral hog hunting hounds is (are you ready for this?) The dachshund.


Once a feral hog has been dispatched to piggy paradise, the question becomes what to do with the body. One suggested remedy is simply to leave it where it drops, relying on scavengers to pick over the remains until nothing is left. But there are obvious drawbacks to this solution— dead hogs are less than aromatic, the family dog is every bit as attracted by defunct  hog as is the local coyote or buzzard. A second solution, favored by animal control folks is to bury the carcass. Labor-intensive, but effective as long as scavengers don’t dig it up.  One recommendation is for composting, although I think I would have second thoughts about snacking on root vegetables raised on dead hog compost soil. Or, you can call a dead animal disposal operation to give you that out of sight out of mind feeling.


People talk about “being in hog heaven.” But, as far as the state of Missouri is concerned it’s more like “being in hog hell.” Some folks actually eat feral hogs, ignoring the possibility of disease such as trichinosis (cooking to an internal temperature of 160° supposedly kills potential pathogens). Suckling piglet might well be a delicacy, but references say that cooking old boar both smells and tastes pretty rank. I think I’d rather leave a defunct feral hog as a scavenger smorgasbord or find a couple of shovels and a willing helper to inter the defunct porker.




I commented to representative Dinkins by email concluding , “stay out of conservation areas where you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about and where you have no business being.” I did not mean she has no business being in the legislature although we probably can argue about that point too, but that she has no business claiming expertise over conservationists with long experience in combating the feral hog situation.


 I received the following gracious (sarcasm intended) reply: “Unfortunately, you did not leave your phone number for a discussion with your comment so I suppose I must respond on here. As the old saying goes, “Follow the Money”.  I guess that also applies in this case too seeing MDC buttered your bread for so many years. As to your statement, “where you have no business being.” I am a Representative of the people. The people I represent have a different view than you and I plan to continue to represent the people that elected me. When they go to the cemetery and see their loved ones grave destroyed they do not think MDC is so wonderful. When their livelihood and their ability to provide for their family is at stake, they do not think MDC is doing such a wonderful job. So until you come to my district and see and talk with the people, I respectfully request that you keep your biased opinion to yourself and I will continue to work for the people who sent me to do just that.”


I doubt that those who voted her into office were exclusively hog hunters.  I can’t even begin to analyze her loopy justification that she represents her constituents (who, according to her, have loved ones all apparently buried in one grave). And it’s all the fault of the Conservation Department. I worked 21 years for the Department; she has represented her district for two. And the Conservation Department, proposed by citizen initiative and affirmed by all the state’s voters, has existed for 83 years. Do the math.


Forgive me if I consider this just another attempt by a Missouri legislator to overturn the will of the people of all the state who created the Department funding and independence by initiative petition in 1936 and again in 1976 specifically to put wildlife management in the hands of professional wildlife managers and insulate it from the uninformed and ignorant grasp of  greedy legislators.







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  • Blog
  • February 14th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


I was maybe 6 years old, it was a pitch black night, cold in winter time, no time for a runty little kid to be out way past bedtime. But I was with the big men, mere shadows in the night, our path lit by a coal oil lantern (that’s kerosene for you city folk) —those being the days before rural electrification brought artificial lighting to the gullied hills of Chariton County, Missouri. We (they) were on a time-honored mission in rural Missouri. We were going into the nearby woods to cut down a bee tree and rob the resident bee colony of its winter food.  I may rot in hell for that environmental crime, but what did any of us know at the time?


After they had cut down the tree, someone handed me a small chunk of honeycomb and I can remember vividly the incredible sweetness of the honey there in the frigid winter night. Although refined cane sugar long since had become available to those whose idea of formal dress was a clean pair of Big Smith overalls, honey still, as it had been in pioneer times when it was the only available sweetener, still was a cherished accompaniment to the morning’s scratch made biscuits.


Missouri and the then territory of Iowa once nearly went to war over bee trees, the so-called Honey War of the early eighteen hundreds. A Missourian cut down some bee trees in territory disputed between the two political entities and both sides bristled at one another on another wintry night but ultimately stood down from armed conflict and today the border fight has been long settled, but the fight over honeybees is just beginning.


The little insects with the fiery butt ends today are the most prominent of all the pollinating insects in the United States, although they are immigrants, brought to this country by other immigrants—sorry, Donald Trump– yet another example of how immigrants have benefited our nation. Without pollination, the food crops we depend on for survival would wither. If you took sperm laden man out of the equation, leaving only women to populate the planet, you’d probably have a better society for a while, but it takes two to create and maintain civilization. That is equally true of plants which rely on insects carrying pollen from male to female vegetation to raise the veggies, fruit, and other food products that sustain us.


The Environmental Protection Agency which we all know as the EPA has been a mixed blessing ever since its creation in the early 1970s during the Richard Nixon administration. Under the Trump administration, the EPA has become a joke agency mostly dedicated to undoing what over the years it developed as some notable environmental protections.  All too often it has been become the fox in the chickenhouse with a political hack administrator who has seemed more interested in protecting the polluters than the environment. 


                The EPA currently is hanging fire on a ban of the pesticide clothianidin which the EPA approved for use on plants in 2003 even though its own scientists objected.  In brief, clothianidin is accused of causing “colony collapse,” an epidemic that has resulted in more than 30 percent of honeybee colonies to die off each year since 2006.  Europe’s leading food safety organization, the European Food Safety Authority equivalent of the EPA, has termed the pesticide an unacceptable danger to honeybees.


                And in case you’re tempted to reply, “Who cares,” the quick answer is “you’d better.”  Without bees to pollinate crops that provide just about every vegetable and fruit food humans eat, it would be a hungry time a’comin’.  Not to mention the incredible economic tangle that would result if corn and other crops lose their source of pollination.


                 Honeybees are the most efficient pollinators that exists.  Wind will scatter pollen, but it’s fickle and indiscriminate.  Bees are specific, flying from one blossom to another, with the precious pollen clinging to their legs. 


The threat is not just pesticides that kill pollinating insects; it also is herbicides that kill the flowering plants where bees and other pollinating insects gather pollen. Once we had a thriving colony of butterfly weed, a beautiful orange blossom milkweed beloved by butterflies and other insects. We have never sprayed anything anywhere close to those plants, but over the years they have dwindled to a single plant. A partial solution is to buy and plant butterfly weed and other native plants from nurseries that specialize in native plants, shrubs and trees.


Honey bees expanded to North America with human-assisted migration during the 17th century. Many Europeans fleeing wars, poverty, land laws or religious persecution brought extensive beekeeping skills to the United States during the next two centuries. Meanwhile, English colonists took bees to New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania, completing human-assisted migration of Apis mellifera around the globe.


Beekeeping became commercially viable during the 19th century with four inventions: the moveable-frame hive, the smoker, the comb foundation maker, and the honey extractor. These inventions still support commercial apiculture. A fifth invention, a queen grafting tool, allows beekeepers to control genetic lines.



                If the EPA does not take immediate action to ban clothianidin, it will be several years before it reviews the pesticide again.  And several years is just about what it has taken to create an environmental catastrophe in the first place.   Given another five years or so and we could be out of honeybees. 


                Clothianidin is more and more pervasive and the only American studies as to its longterm safety are from the industry that produces it, termed by the European FSA as “deeply flawed.”  Bobwhite quail eggshell thickness was affected when the test birds were given a diet consisting of relatively large amounts of clothianidin-treated seeds.  If you remember back a half-century, we almost lost the bald eagle because of eggshell thickness problems, due to so-called “hard” pesticides.  Will clothianidin be the next insidious pesticide threatening the Midwest’s most popular game bird?


                Or is it already?


                Dan West, who owns an apple orchard near Macon, Missouri, and who also has about two dozen honeybee hives to pollinate it, is convinced that clothianidin is bad news.  And Macon County is Missouri’s largest ethanol processor and ethanol depends on corn….which is a crop where clothianidin has become endemic.  For years West has rescued bees who have taken up residence where they’re not wanted, especially in houses. Rather than exterminating the invaders, West extracts the colony and relocates it to his orchard where the newcomers not only pollinate the apple orchard but also provide honey which West sells from his store in Macon. “I’m still beekeeping and rescuing bees but not as much as I have in the past,” he says.  “Gotten wiser and don’t like heights as much either.  The beekeeping rescues have turned more to catching swarms, which is kinda of an art in itself.  Caught 12 or so last year  and have a friend who caught 22 or so.”


He says, “Easier in the long run and still a joy to see them take off and produce a full colony and maybe even some honey their first year.  Our area of North Central Missouri is still doing well in an overall sense.  The bees are still plagued by pests including mites as well as the small hive beetle. The small hive beetle although I personally have little problem with them are particularly sinister in as much as they will hide in the hive and mimic a hungry bee, getting the passing bee to feed them directly. They lay eggs in open brood and also in honey and if the colony is not strong, the colony will soon perish.”


If nothing else the threat of honeybee extermination should emphasize how historically important honey has been to mankind, both as a sweetener and as a homeopathic remedy.  Honey as medicine is almost as old as bees and human ailments. The human digestive system must convert cane or other sugar, but the bee already has done that in making honey so people with digestive disorders could benefit from honey by cutting one step out of the process. 


                Many a country kid has had a ragged cough soothed by a judicious mixture of honey and whiskey.  Which of the ingredients did the most to mellow the kid is open to debate, but in addition to kiddy cocktails, honey has been used as an ointment for rashes and burns.  Despite its long tradition the jury still is out as to whether honey really cures or ameliorates anything.  But it tastes so good!  A south Missouri bee enthusiast once discovered a bee tree filled with honey that tasted exactly like bourbon whiskey.  He theorized the bees had been feeding on residue from an Ozark moonshiner’s still.


                At the other end of the bee-honey production line, bee venom is widely used to treat arthritic pain.  Vermonter nurse assistant Reyah Carlson is an advocate of apitherapy which she used to treat Lyme disease.  “I don’t claim cures,” said Carlson, who said she had been stung 25,000 times. “In some cases, it’s ongoing treatment for life. For many diseases including multiple sclerosis and lupus, it’s a great way to keep things in check and under control.”  But some are violently reactive to insect stings to the point of death–anaphylactic shock.


Honey use in food is thousands of years old. The Egyptians flavored baked goods with honey but, disconcertingly, also used it in embalming corpses.   Many tea drinkers, including me, sweeten tea with honey, as do many others trying to wean themselves from processed sugar.  Honey is mainly fructose, about 38.5 percent and glucose, about 31.0 percent.  There are small amounts of other compounds hailed as antioxidants.  


                The late Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson proposed  legislation that President Nixon signed in 1970.  The law and several other environmental revolutions came into being in the 1970s—notably the Clean Air Act extension and a number of clean water acts.  All had their direct roots in the tumultuous 1960s when the nation, led by activist youngsters, decided enough was enough on civil rights, voter rights, and the environment, and became a force too strong to resist.


                The first Earth Day in April, 1970, was the catalyst.  Another great Senator (what ever happened to those) Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, created the Day as a way to focus attention on an environment gone haywire and 20 million Americans celebrated it.  That many voters will get Congress’s attention every time and presently there was an agency dedicated to cleaning up our fouled nest.


                It has not been an easy row to hoe.  The EPA is under direct control of the White House and thus its dedication seems to reflect the philosophy toward environment of whoever sits in the Oval Office.  Some have been notably hostile to environmental regulation and even the most liberal often have been lukewarm when it came to regulating industry or farming.


In April 2008, the Union of Concerned Scientists said that more than half of the nearly 1,600 EPA staff scientists who responded online to a detailed questionnaire reported they had experienced incidents of political interference in their work.  The EPA has repeatedly ignored scientists’ warnings and Americans’ urgings to ban some pesticide use, citing lack of evidence. It’s pretty scary when the watchdog bites the farmer rather than the fox in the chicken house.


                And that brings it full cycle to clothianidin, one crop farmer’s pest control tool.  Studies show that pesticide dust released at planting time may persist in nearby fields for several years and be taken up into non-target plants, which are then foraged by bees and other insects.  Dan West says,  “Overall I’m not terribly worried about our bees here in North Central Missouri.  Even though we are a farming area and pesticides are the norm with farmers the bees seem to overall be holding their own.”


                In the seven decades or so since the end of World War II, farming has increasingly relied upon pesticides and herbicides to the detriment of native plants. Call them weeds if you want, but many of those unwanted plants are precisely what bees and other pollinators need for survival.


Some solutions? Abandon the decades old philosophy of “clean farming” which mandates that a landowner scrub his holdings of anything resembling a weed. Encourage instead leaving native plants that offer pollinators safe haven. The state of Minnesota is pioneering incentive payments to homeowners to plant their lawns with pollinators.


The late Don Christisen, prairie biologist for the Missouri Conservation Department, once got crossways with  officials in his home city of Columbia when he allowed his lawn to go unmowed. To the city, it was unsightly and an affront to their idea of beautification. Don countered by having his lawn declared a prairie research area, immune from mowing. Instead, he showcased a mini native prairie, exactly what Minnesota is proposing its landowners should do and get paid for it.


It’s encouraging that Minnesota’s pioneer program is a start toward solving the impending crisis posed by the loss of pollinating insects. If we could as a society discourage weed growth and insect invasion by chemical solution, perhaps we can, with research and dedication, reverse the problem we created and bring back an environment rich with pollinators and pollinating insects.


Maybe the little insects with the stiletto tails will persist in spite of the scary array of threats to their very existence—and, by extension, our existence.


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  • Blog
  • February 4th, 2020


By Joel M. Vance


The Kansas City Chiefs rallied in the fourth quarter Sunday night to win the Super Bowl 31-20 over the San Francisco 49ers and when they went ahead for good I let out a yell that could have been heard in Kansas City more than 100 miles distant. That game was all that is good in sports, no matter that the players are making millions of dollars and I’m not. The Chiefs lived out a Horatio Alger story, underdogs, coming from behind in super dramatic fashion to give coach Andy Reid, a beloved figure by players and fans alike, his first Super Bowl victory and all was well in the world.


And then Donald J Trump, who thinks Puerto Rico is not part of the United States and Puerto Ricans are not United States citizens, and who once promised a border wall between New Mexico and Colorado under the apparent impression that New Mexico is part of old Mexico, managed to throw dirt on the Kansas City win with this tweet: “you represented,” he told the Chiefs via Twitter, “the great state of Kansas and in fact, the entire USA, so very well. Our country is proud of you!”


Probably someone delicately pointed out to the Dolt in Chief (because you don’t want to piss off the great leader) that the Kansas City Chiefs, in fact, play in and represent the state of Missouri, not Kansas. To a Missouri sports fan, in anything concerning sports, Kansas is the arch enemy and has been since the Civil War when there was considerable bloodshed on both sides of the state line. Since then, spilled blood has largely been confined to sports venues, but the animosity remains.


Missouri reaction to Trump’s in-your-face insult to the Chiefs and Missourians in general was summed up specifically by former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill succinctly: “it’s Missouri, you stone cold idiot.” She was replaced in the Senate by Josh Hawley, a Republican lightweight butt kisser who, as far as I have seen, has yet to comment on the inexcusable gaffe by the geographically challenged  presidential dumbass. I suspect his fawning Republican devotees will ignore this unforgivable insult to the state’s beloved football team and probably will vote for the idiot once again in November, just as they did more than three years ago. For a few brief hours, Missouri was a red and white state (the colors of the Chiefs) not the politically red one, a sorry distinction it shares with Kansas.


Perhaps Trump had visions of moving Arrowhead Stadium from Metropolitan Kansas City across the state line to Kansas. After all, he once proposed moving the capital of South Korea, Seoul, when he found out how close it is to the border with North Korea. If you can move a city, why not a simple thing like a football stadium?  And this is a wizard who can with a single stroke of a Sharpie, move a hurricane one or two states inland. A little thing like the Super Bowl is simple, like his mind.


Now that football has faded into thoughts of spring training and other sporting events of the warmer days, my memories return to fleeting glimpses of my misbegotten decade as a sports editor of a small Midwestern daily newspaper. Those days will not come again and in some cases, I’ll be just as happy. There was, for example, the night when the temperature was 17° and my town, Mexico, Missouri, was playing Jefferson City, the state capital team and also the reigning state champions.


Predictably, as I tried keeping score, prowling the sidelines with numbing feet, fingers without feeling, the Jays romped over Mexico like a high school version of the frequent national champions of the day, the Oklahoma Sooners who exploded at the snap of the ball with frightening speed and ferocity. Mexico didn’t have a chance and, when I covered Oklahoma versus the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium, Missouri didn’t either.


Mexico football has improved since then; the Jays have declined somewhat in the years subsequent to the retirement of legendary coach Pete Adkins (who racked up eight state championships and405  Victories in his career at Jefferson City high school. Missouri football also enjoyed its best years in that decade from 1959 to 1969 under the leadership of another legendary coach, Dan Devine.


And the Tigers have been off and on since Coach Devine left to guide both the Green Bay Packers and Notre Dame. But not before he left me with one of the most memorable moments of my sports reporting days. I don’t remember who the opponent was, but I certainly remember what happened. Dan Devine had a sweet personality, likable and quiet until something triggered a volcanic temper that lurked, always alert, just below his otherwise calm demeanor.


I was on the sideline just at the edge of the coach’s box, the space along the field where the coach was allowed to roam freely and speak words of wisdom to the officials. One of those officials called a penalty on Missouri and that pushed Devine’s button. Clutching his ever present clipboard, Coach Devine charged onto the field apparently intent on mahem. He was pursued by a large assistant coach and corralled before he could commit officialcide. I always suspected that coach rather than being hired to supervise a component of the football team, was only there on salary to keep Devine from committing a capital crime.


Devine grudgingly turned back toward where I crouched, clutching a Speed Graphic camera, a Tyrannosaurus rex of photography, as relevant to today’s digital marvels as a model T Ford is to a Lamborghini. Devine’s expression looked remarkably like the dark green cloud that looms on the western horizon just before a funnel cloud drops down to the ground. And then, perhaps 15 feet in front of me, a frame filling moment for the 4 x 5 Speed Graphic large format, Devine spiked his clipboard, slamming it to the turf with Gallic rage. All I had to do for a front page prize-winning photograph was press the shutter release button on the camera. I didn’t. He scared the crap out of me and I missed the shot of the century.


Ah, sweet memory!


Often, during Missouri football games, I was not on the sideline but up in a pressbox, long since replaced by a modern facility, but then a rickety structure, always seeming on the verge of toppling over the back side of the stadium wall to the parking lot far below. A row of sports reporters from various newspapers around the state huddled over score books, typewriters, and telephones, depending on what form of communication with the home base they used. We were lavishly supplied with food by the University in the form of processed cheese and white bread sandwiches and warm Pepsi-Colas. I suspect today’s underpaid and overworked sports reporters eat far better than we did but, hey, it was free and no reporter I ever knew would turn down a free meal, no matter how humble it was.


I much preferred to patrol the sideline to be closer to the action although there were inherent risks— a fan, probably a diehard alum, who I think had inhaled more than a little Tiger spirit suffered a head on collision with a running back who careened out of bounds about five feet from me. The back bounced up, ready for battle once again, but the unlucky fan slept on, colder than that night when Mexico played Jefferson City. Another time, a running back sailed out of bounds and nailed an official, breaking the zebra’s leg. So I turned down stale cheese sandwiches for the perils of the sideline including the possibility of a fractured skull from a flying clipboard.


This is the same University that recently expanded seating on the South end of the stadium to the tune of $80,000,000 so more fans would have the opportunity to watch the Tigers lose. The athletic department reports that it is running in the red, so I suspect they’ll be begging for more money. I doubt that any additional funds appropriated by our bumbling legislature will go toward teacher salaries or improvement of the educational aspect of the University.


Speaking of free meals, one I cherish still was a dinner at the Mexico country club with a local sports enthusiast who had invited a famed football player to speak at a local event. I somehow got invited to dinner with Red Grange, the legendary Galloping Ghost. Without him, possibly there would be no Super Bowl today, because it was Grange who was the first college superstar to sign on to the National Football League and bring respectability to a sport which until then, had mostly resembled a parking lot riot on Saturday night at a sleazy roadhouse.

Red Grange was a college All-American halfback three years running at the University of Illinois where he lettered 18 times in four sports– baseball, track, basketball, and football. He scored 33 touchdowns eluding tacklers so deftly that he earned his nickname, the Galloping Ghost. In 2008 he was named the best college football player of all time by ESPN. He averaged more than five yards per carry, racked up 2649 total yards of offense.


Somehow the Chicago Bears convinced him to sign a professional contract and for 2 years he turned what had been poorly attended mayhem into the kind of mega attraction we see today. His 1st game drew 40,000 fans. He played only 3 years in the NFL before a knee injury, today’s ubiquitous injury, slowed him. After football, Grange appeared in movies, became a motivational speaker (which he was when I dined with him) and a sports announcer.  In 1978 he flipped the coin at Super Bowl XII. He was the first football player to appear on a Wheaties box.


When I had dinner with him he was a successful businessman, in his mid fifties, soft-spoken and gentlemanly and one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever encountered in or out of  sports. After I wrote a genuinely gushy story about our talk together, he sent me an autographed photo which I still have and  cherish.


Over the years I have interviewed and hung around with several superstar sports figures and of them all he and hockey legend Gordie Howe rank as the best. Predictably there also has been a worst, another NFL legend whom I won’t name, but who you can see in various television commercials today. I’ll stick with Red Grange who epitomized how we would like to think professional football player should act.  And Dan Devine who, over all my years, still to me is the finest football coach/human being I’ve admired.


And the Kansas City Chiefs who at least for now are the modern  personification of that epitome.


I also suspect the Chiefs would be gracious enough to honor the office of the presidency if Dumb Donnie invites the Super Bowl champs to the White House for a fast food feast instead of doing what I wish they would do and tell him to take his hamberders and shove them. Perhaps, being the ignoramus he is, he’ll invite the 49ers instead.

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