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Bonnie Blodgett: The problem with honeybees, super-foragers



Bonnie Blodgett: My friend prevailed over the preservationists and the result shimmers

I’m indebted to one of my recent Airbnb guests, who lives in Lanesboro, for bringing me up to speed on turkeys. Yes, wild turkeys.

These magical (to my eye) creatures now roaming our streets as if they owned them and without a care in the world, I rank among the best innovations of recent decades.

Bonnie Blodgett

Turns out that turkeys were forcibly removed from Minnesota in the previous century. Farmers didn’t like them. They were regarded the same way timber wolves were, but instead of being hunted down, they were rounded up and then “removed.”

The politically correct term for their wholesale slaughter is “extirpated.” In the 1970s, a few brave naturalists wondered if it might not be wise to bring them back. I’ll save a discussion of the practical pros and cons for those for whom there are cons. As for me, I couldn’t be happier, and couldn’t care less if the turkeys are a brazen affront to the sort of person who dislikes wild things making spectacles of themselves, especially if such spectacles result in traffic jams and the odd fender-bender, or a bit of a mess below the tree branch on which the birds camped out for the night.

That their manure is jam-packed with organic soil nutrients is an argument that would not move certain people whose horror of you-know-what, thankfully, doesn’t discriminate. Whether human or canine or avian, it’s all equally godawful!

Being a gardener, poop is just the opposite to me. But it isn’t poop that puts a grin on my face whenever a wild turkey crosses my path.

Anyway, the program to bring them back has been, by most accounts, wildly successful. The birds have done very little wrong and the vast majority of the humans I query on the topic are just as starstruck as I am.

It’s not just that they’re wild. It’s that they’re gorgeous.

In fact, the turkeys’ languid beauty (their deliberate way of walking reminds me of a runway model) is the only point of contention in my household, which consists of me, my dog and five extremely attractive chickens who are understandably miffed by my comments (when made within earshot of them) regarding the wild turkeys’ superior enchantments.

Sorry, girls, but YOU don’t stop traffic. They do.

So, getting back to gardening …

Latin names can be tricky, at least for me.

In my last column, I put “Whitespire” birch tree in the wrong species by calling it a paper birch. The tree’s white bark may look like paper, but it’s a gray birch (Betula populifolia).

That I grow three of them makes my error all the more egregious, not to mention downright insulting to my trees.

But wait. It gets worse.

First, though, I should mention that the mistake appeared in a column about a landscape design that relies mostly on native plants.

I will blame blundering fingers, not my aging brain, for the misspelling of the Latin name for the non-native Korean Feather Reed Grass. It’s Calamagrostis, not Calamafrostis … despite the decidedly frosty look of the grass when its airy plumes are at their height of splendor.

I did get the species name right: “Karl Forster x acutifolia.”

But alas, the honey locust I called Gleditsia tracanthus is actually “G. triacanthos.”

And yes, I grow G. triacanthos, too, the very same cultivar I mentioned in the column, “Sunburst.”

The man who spotted these errors happens to be a regular (and mostly appreciative) reader and a taxonomy freak. He kindly offered some fascinating insights into the issues I mentioned regarding native plants.

In sum, he observed that not all natives play nice with others, just as not all non-natives do. Native locusts, for instance, can be just as invasive in their own habitat as European buckthorn.

That said, the natural world would be a lot better off had humans not tried to reorganize it, digging up plants “discovered” in strange lands and planting them among native populations as if this wouldn’t have any negative consequences.

Turns out it’s just as bad as putting tigers in zoos. But whereas zoos are going the way of the coal-mining industry, there’s no way plants can be packed up and sent back home. The tiger is outta that zoo. Just as the world has become a human melting pot, so it is with plants.

And just as new plants destabilize native plant communities, so also do human immigrants. And in much the same way. They compete with natives for scarce resources.

Plants and people and wild turkeys aren’t the only natives threatened from time to time by non-natives. Insects are, too. All living things are.

Back before modern technology radically reduced the size of our planet, while simultaneously growing human population and human appetites, ecosystems evolved pretty much as closed systems.

By that I mean the living things within the ecosystem maintained a balance through what evolutionary biologists call predator-prey. The unique conditions for life in a particular place — weather mostly — dictated what lived and died there. Alpines evolved in cold places and tropicals in the Tropics.

It seems a day doesn’t go by without news of some ecosystem gone haywire, resulting in anything from a species extinction to a natural disaster.

Efforts to restore the balance are often thwarted by competing human interests, or by disinformation, or both.

There is consternation on all fronts about the decline in bee populations. As usual, this decline is not as simple as it seems. Yes, all bees, being tiny creatures, are threatened by chemicals that were intended to kill pests and ended up doing a lot of collateral damage with their own unintended effects, much as drones kill innocent civilians along with “known terrorists,” thus creating more terrorists.

It wasn’t until humans themselves, we who caused the non-native problem in the first place, felt endangered (our health, that is) that forces rallied around a fix.

Not only are manmade chemicals bad for human health, so is a decline in bee populations. We need them to pollinate our food crops.

Enter yet another complication. The food industry’s most important pollinating bee is not native. It is European. Any efforts to save it from extinction endanger other (native) bees.

What’s good for honeybees is bad for native bees including bumblebees, such as the doomed rusty patch.

That’s because, just as with plants, non-natives often lack natural predators when introduced into a new ecosystem and destroy the balance by preying on the vulnerabilities of existing species who do have natural predators.

In other words, if no species is designed to identify a honeybee as “dinner,” the honeybee will be a stronger competitor for whatever nectar is available than those who must deal with multiple threats.

The honeybee itself has become one of those threats.

“Honeybees are super-foraging machines and they are literally taking the pollen out of the mouths of other bees and other pollinators,” Stephen Buchmann, a pollination ecologist specializing in bees and an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona, told Yale Environment 360. “They have huge extraction efficiency — with the waggle dance and how quickly they can mobilize — and they can very quickly take down the standing stock of pollen and nectar.”

Beekeepers who make honey (a nice reward for saving honeybees) are now being accused of profiting at the expense of the bees that were always here.

Meanwhile, the headlines are full of honeybee colony collapse because the peril they face is a greater IMMEDIATE peril to us.

Just because there’s an industry that depends on one sort of bee, a non-native at that, to enable such human foods as almonds to be grown in quantities far larger than they do in their natural habitats, does that mean its bees should be given special treatment, too?

I ran into U of M bee expert Marla Spivak recently and put the question to her. She heaved a deep sigh and directed me to her website, where I did find a brief reference to this problem.

So, if the world’s leading authority on bees is flummoxed, it’s hardly surprising that those whose livelihood depends on honeybees are angry at the “tree-hugging types” who side with natives.

Spivak would have us focus not on consequences, bad as they are, but on solutions that address the root causes of all this destabilization.

She believes that our agricultural system needs to change, from the bottom up. We can no longer rely on chemical fertilizers and pest-killers applied in massive quantities to monoculture crops to feed our world. The future is with small-scale and self-sufficient farming, gardening and living … if, that is, there is to BE a future for our extraordinary, priceless, one-in-a-billion planet.

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Instant contributors: Broncos’ 2021 draft class stepping into big roles as rookies



Instant contributors: Broncos’ 2021 draft class stepping into big roles as rookies

Entering Sunday night’s game at Kansas City, the Broncos’ 2021 draft class has combined to play 1,921 offensive/defensive snaps. A look at each player:

Pat Surtain II

Round (pick): First (ninth).

Position: Cornerback.

Games/Starts: 11/10.

Defensive snaps: 612.

About Surtain: Tied for team lead in pass break-ups (11), second in interceptions (three) and fourth in tackles (37). … At least one pass break-up in 10 of 11 games. … Entered starting lineup in Week 2 when Ronald Darby (hamstring) was injured. … Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after two fourth-quarter interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) in last week’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Javonte Williams

Round (pick): Second (35th).

Position: Running back.

Games/starts: 11/0.

Offensive snaps: 332.

About Williams: Second on team in rushing attempts (117), yards (568) and touchdowns (two). … Ranks 19th in NFL in rushing yards and 25th in carries. … Thirteen explosive rushes (gain of at least 12 yards), including carries of 20 (two), 30 (two), 31 and 49 yards. … One 100-yard game (111 in win at Dallas).

Quinn Meinerz

Round (pick): Third (98th).

Position: Right guard.

Games/starts: 9/3.

Offensive snaps: 247.

About Meinerz: Started last two games at right guard since Graham Glasgow’s season-ending broken leg, getting booked for one pass-rush disruption and two “bad” run plays. … From Division III to NFL is a big leap and Meinerz has answered challenge, showing power and athleticism.

Baron Browning

Round (pick): Third (105th).

Position: Inside linebacker.

Games/starts: 9/4.

Defensive snaps: 221.

About Browning: Limited by leg injury in training camp, used early part of regular season to play catch-up (four snaps in first seven games). … All 22 of his tackles have been in the last four games.

Caden Sterns

Round (pick): Fifth (152nd).

Position: Safety.

Games/starts: 11/1.

Defensive snaps: 194.

About Sterns: Thirteen tackles, two interceptions and two sacks. … Played primarily dime (sixth defensive back) role, but started for injured Kareem Jackson against Chargers (one pass break-up). … Interceptions against Jets and Cowboys, two sacks against Baltimore.

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Suspect’s parents charged in Michigan school shooting



Suspect’s parents charged in Michigan school shooting

PONTIAC, Mich. — A prosecutor in Michigan filed involuntary manslaughter charges Friday against the parents of a boy who is accused of killing four students at Oxford High School, after saying earlier that their actions went “far beyond negligence.”

Jennifer and James Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Under Michigan law, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be pursued if prosecutors believe someone contributed to a situation where harm or death was high. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

“The parents were the only individuals in the position to know the access to weapons,” Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said Thursday. The gun “seems to have been just freely available to that individual.”

Ethan Crumbley, 15, has been charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder, attempted murder and terrorism, for the shooting Tuesday at Oxford High School in Oakland County, roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit.

Four students were killed and seven more people were injured. Three were in hospitals in stable condition.

The semi-automatic gun was purchased legally by Crumbley’s father last week, according to investigators.

Parents in the U.S. are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, according to experts.

There’s no Michigan law that requires gun owners keep weapons locked away from children. McDonald, however, suggested there’s more to build a case on.

“All I can say at this point is those actions on mom and dad’s behalf go far beyond negligence,” she told WJR-AM. “We obviously are prosecuting the shooter to the fullest extent. … There are other individuals who should be held accountable.”

Later at a news conference, McDonald said she hoped to have an announcement “in the next 24 hours.” She had firmly signaled that Crumbley’s parents were under scrutiny when she filed charges against their son Wednesday.

Sheriff Mike Bouchard disclosed Wednesday that the parents met with school officials about their son’s classroom behavior, just a few hours before the shooting.

McDonald said information about what had troubled the school “will most likely come to light soon.”

Crumbley stayed in school Tuesday and later emerged from a bathroom with a gun, firing at students in the hallway, police said.

The superintendent for the district late Thursday posted a YouTube video where he said the teenager was called to the office before the shooting but “no discipline was warranted.”

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Fact check: Did Kyle Rittenhouse really sue LeBron James for defamation?



Fact check: Did Kyle Rittenhouse really sue LeBron James for defamation?

Kyle Rittenhouse did not sue LeBron James for defamation. Here are details about that and other untrue claims this week.

CLAIM: Federal magistrate approved Kyle Rittenhouse’s $110 Million defamation suit against LeBron James.

THE FACTS: No such ruling was made. Rittenhouse has not filed a defamation suit against the Los Angeles Lakers star or anyone else, his spokesperson told The Associated Press. After 18-year-old Rittenhouse was acquitted of homicide charges in connection with the shooting of three people at a protest in Wisconsin, posts emerged on social media suggesting that he had filed defamation suits against some high-profile celebrities, including James. However, the claims are “absolutely not true,” according to David Hancock, a spokesperson for Rittenhouse and his family. “No legal actions have been taken against any organization or person in particular,” Hancock told the AP. He added that Rittenhouse and his legal team are not currently discussing any plans to file any defamation lawsuits. The report appeared to have originated on a satire website. Similar claims saying Rittenhouse had filed defamation suits have circulated on social media in recent days. On Sunday, the AP reported on false claims saying he had filed lawsuits against CNN, along with Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, both hosts of “The View.” Rittenhouse fatally shot two men and injured another during protests that followed the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse, who faced charges, including first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree homicide, argued he acted in self-defense. A jury acquitted him on all charges on Nov. 19.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.


Video of first lady’s book reading manipulated to add child’s comment

CLAIM: Video captures a child yelling an expletive at Jill Biden as she begins reading a story to a group of students.

THE FACTS: The video clip was manipulated to insert audio of a child yelling a disparaging comment. It emerged Monday after the first lady sat down with a group of second grade students from Maryland to host a story time at the White House as part of the annual unveiling of holiday decorations. The altered video shows a child screaming, “Shut the f— up,” just as Biden introduces the picture book she wrote. But that comes from an unrelated video that has been shared online since at least 2019. While some people commenting on the video acknowledged that it was altered, and linked to the source of the audio, others shared the falsified video as real. The inserted audio has spread online for years, and first emerged in a video that appeared to show a young child cursing during a school graduation ceremony as adults tried to quiet the situation. It is unclear where the video was taken, but it has since become a widely-shared sound effect and has been edited into other videos, often in a comedic way. In the altered Biden video, the first lady began to introduce her 2012 book, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops,” saying: “When my son was away, my granddaughter — just like you kids — really, really missed her daddy. So I wrote this book to tell other kids, ’cause there’s lots of kids who don’t know what it’s like —.” The sound of the yelling child was then inserted at that point to make it appear a student heckled Biden mid-sentence. A video of Biden’s full remarks shows she was not interrupted and finished her sentence.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.


Ghislaine Maxwell trial audio isn’t accessible by phone line

CLAIM: Members of the public can call the phone number 844-721-7237 and enter access code 9991787 to listen to live audio of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial.

THE FACTS: The phone number is from a previous teleconference and the code is no longer active. Callers to this number who use the code will receive the message: “your access code was not recognized,” as verified through an attempt by The Associated Press. Further, there is no such telephone line to listen to the trial audio, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. As Maxwell’s trial got underway on charges she groomed underage victims to have unwanted sex with the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, social media users circulated a number of false claims related to the trial, as well as incorrect explanations for why it is not being publicly broadcast online or on TV. Among the false claims that emerged this week was the assertion that a phone number and access code published by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in October would allow callers to listen in on the proceedings. Public telephone access to in-court criminal proceedings was previously provided in some cases “due to substantial restrictions on in-person attendance” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement from the Office of the District Court Executive. The accommodation was discontinued in early November as in-person viewing was able to resume more regularly. Members of the media are not banned from the trial, either, as other social media users have falsely suggested. Reporters and members of the public are still able to watch the trial live, both in the courtroom, as well as in overflow rooms where it will be streamed for those who don’t get a seat, Judge Alison Nathan wrote in a Nov. 24 ruling. There are no other live feeds except those within the courthouse. Federal courts typically do not allow cameras like some state courts do. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to her charges and denied wrongdoing.

— Sophia Tulp


Stores can’t write off customer donations made at checkout

CLAIM: When a customer elects to donate to charity at a store’s checkout counter, the store can write off that donation on its own end-of-year taxes.

THE FACTS: Stores can’t write off a customer’s point-of-sale donations, because they don’t count as company income, according to tax policy experts. Stores are only allowed to write off their own donations, such as when a store donates a certain portion of all its proceeds to charity. A widely circulating meme, shared thousands of times this week on Facebook and Instagram, claimed that retailers ask customers to add a little more for charity when checking out in order to fund their own tax write-offs. That’s misguided, according to Renu Zaretsky, a writer at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “The only way a company can write off money is if it’s income,” Zaretsky said. “And this is not counted as income.” Rather than receiving a customer’s donation as income, the company serves as a holding agent for that money, Zaretsky said. Customers may tally up their cash register donations for their own tax returns, but stores are not allowed to claim those. However, if a company gives to a charity on its own, not through prompting a customer to give, it can write off that money, according to Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation. Checkout charity campaigns bring in millions of dollars for charitable organizations each year, but customers should know they aren’t obligated to give when prompted, according to Zaretsky. They should also know, though, that a donation option at the cash register isn’t a sign of a money-hungry organization looking to lower its tax bill.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed the report.


The World Economic Forum did not write about the omicron variant in July

CLAIM: The World Economic Forum published a story about the new coronavirus variant, now named omicron, in July 2021, months before South Africa first reported it to the World Health Organization this week.

THE FACTS: The WEF first published an article about detecting variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in July, but archived versions of the story show it did not mention omicron at that time. The article was updated in November after the WHO’s announcement, the archives show. Scientists in South Africa identified and reported the new variant, B.1.1.529, on Nov. 24, saying it was behind a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country. By Nov. 26, the WHO had declared it a “variant of concern” and given it the name “omicron.” The next day, Twitter users circulated posts linking to the WEF article, suggesting that it showed the variant was not new at all. “They’re starting to make mistakes. WHO just said that ‘Omicron’ was first reported by South Africa on 11/24/21. However, WEF reported this EXACT same ‘variant’—B.1.1.529, out of South Africa—way back in July. Oops,” reads one post that was retweeted over 3,000 times. But previous versions of the WEF article stored by the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, show that it did not mention the new variant until recently, although the forum failed to note that the article had been updated until later. An archive of the page from July 12, when the story was first published, contains no mention of the new variant. Another version archived on Sept. 22 shows the article unchanged. A version from Nov. 26, after omicron was announced, shows the article had then been updated to say “South African scientists have discovered a new COVID-19 variant” and that it is called “B.1.1.529.” The article, however, still did not note that it had been updated — retaining the July 12 timestamp — as the false claims began circulating on social media, an archived version shows. A note was added later in the day saying: “This article was last updated on 26 November 2021.”

— Associated Press reporter Karena Phan in Sacramento, Calif., contributed this report.


Photos of London Olympics don’t show prior knowledge of pandemic

CLAIM: Photos of the London Olympics opening ceremony in 2012 prove that the COVID-19 pandemic has been planned for a long time.

THE FACTS: The opening ceremony didn’t predict the COVID-19 pandemic, nor did its imagery relate in any way to the virus that would emerge and shut down the world eight years later, as a widely circulating Facebook post falsely claimed. The post shared images from the ceremony, from a scene featuring hospital beds, women in dresses and a giant, skeletal figure in a black robe with a white wand towering overhead, to falsely claim they prove the COVID-19 pandemic was premeditated. “Remember the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony, with the giant death figure holding a needle, the dancing nurses and all of the children in hospital beds?” the post read. “It’s starting to make a lot more sense now. They have had this planned for a long time.” However, the costumes and figures in the ceremony had no relationship to the COVID-19 pandemic, and predated it by years. Instead, they paid tribute to Britain’s National Health Service and to iconic British children’s literature, including the “Harry Potter” franchise and its robed villain, Voldemort. “To the strains of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a scene of children in hospital beds was overrun by literary villains including Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil, the Queen of Hearts and Voldemort, before a group of flying nannies – reminiscent of Mary Poppins – arrived from the skies to banish the nightmarish characters,” the Olympics website explains. Patients and hospital staff from a London hospital were among the performers in the spectacle, according to local press reports.

— Ali Swenson


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