Decline of crop pollinators, moose population among projects advanced
The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) agreed on Wednesday to recommend $28.9 million worth of environmental projects to the state Legislature. The projects range from addressing the decline of bee colonies in the state to investigating the damage to Minnesota loons caused by the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
LCCMR Co-Chair Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, who is chair of the House Environment Finance Committee, said she’s pleased with the geographic reach of the recommendations.
“One of its attributes is it’s very balanced. We have stuff on the North Shore, the [U of M] campus in Morris, down in Martin County and everything in between,” Wagenius said.
The 17-member LCCMR unanimously passed the recommendations. State lawmakers will still need to approve and can amend the LCCMR bill during the 2014 legislative session.
The money is derived from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is supported by proceeds from the Minnesota Lottery. The LCCMR initially received $111.5 million in requests.
Concern about pollinators like honeybees and butterflies was the most high-profile issue for the LCCMR during several weeks of hearings leading up to Wednesday’s vote.
“We did really concentrate on pollinators and prairies,” said LCCMR Co-Chair Nancy Gibson. “That was a theme.”
The largest pollinator request came from University of Minnesota entomologist Marla Spivak. Spivak has been one of the leading experts on the problem of large-scale bee deaths in Minnesota. Of her $1.7 million request, the LCCMR recommended funding $864,000.
In presenting her proposal last month to the LCCMR, Spivak brought along a beekeeper from Ottertail who described the decline in his bee colonies and the impact on his business over the past 20 years. Spivak said there’s a need for a new professor and post-doctoral position at the U of M to collect data and find ways to sustain bee populations. The proposal also seeks to improve grasslands for the purposes of providing nectar and pollen for pollinators.
“Our goal is to increase more natural ecosystems,” Spivak told Capitol Report last month. “If we can increase flowering habitats, that will provide nutritional support for our pollinators — our bees in particular.”
The LCCMR funding recommendations come after state lawmakers passed a pollinator habitat bill in the 2013 legislative session. The legislation requires the DNR to factor in bee habitat as it manages state lands. It also approved $300,000 for the biennium to be spent out of the state Department of Agriculture’s pesticide regulatory fund to help restore habitat for pollinators. The LCCMR directed Spivak to seek funding for parts of her proposal that weren’t included in their recommendations from the Agriculture department’s pollinator funding.
The LCCMR’s pollinator recommendations also address the issue of insecticides as a reason for bee deaths. The panel recommended $326,000 in funding for a proposal by the University of Minnesota’s Vera Krischik to study neonicotinoid insecticides that are used in farming and on residential lawns, which find their way into the plants that bees pollinate. Krischik’s proposal will be making its second appearance in the LCCMR bill. In 2012, it proved to be controversial and was stripped from the bill.
The other pollinator recommendations from the LCCMR are: $370,000 to the DNR to do surveys of wild bees in prairie and grassland habitat, $100,000 to Pheasants Forever for its Minnesota Pollinator Partnership, $615,000 to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for its Bee Discovery Center, and $625,000 to the Minnesota Zoo for prairie butterfly conservation, research and breeding.
Moose decline, migratory species to be examined
Bees aren’t the only species that the LCCMR is concerned about this year. Proposals to figure out why moose populations are rapidly declining in northern Minnesota are also included in the LCCMR’s recommendations. The DNR is recommended to receive $600,000 to study moose decline and air temperature in northeastern Minnesota. There’s also $300,000 for the University of Minnesota to study how forest conditions affect moose diet and survival.
Gibson said the air temperature study will provide information that addresses the question of whether moose are disappearing because of climate change.
“We’re still starting to tackle the moose issue,” Gibson said. “The air temperature one from the DNR got a little more money [than the U of M proposal]. I think that’s what is going to tell us about global climate change. I think that will give us some definitive science behind it.”
An LCCMR recommendation that could have legal consequences looks at how Minnesota loons and pelicans have been affected by British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Loons that are born in Minnesota migrate south and return in the spring three years later. Gibson said there’s already been LCCMR funding that’s indicated that loons were exposed to oil and toxic chemicals that were used to disperse the oil. The LCCMR so far has funded three years of study that has revealed the loons and pelicans were exposed to oil and dispersants that could result in reproduction problems and population declines. The LCCMR’s $260,000 recommendation will pay for two more years of monitoring.
“The ones that were down there during the BP oil spill have had a lot of exposure. … They are really picking up not only some of the oil but the dispersants that they put in the water. Those dispersants are incredibly toxic,” Gibson said.
The information from the first phase of the LCCMR funding has assisted in court proceedings brought by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service against BP. Minnesota has been admitted as a party to the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) process and could receive a multi-million dollar settlement.
“Because of this really good research, there’s a good likelihood that BP is going to have to pay the state of Minnesota some funding to compensate for our loss of wildlife,” Gibson said.
The issue of invasive species persists in this year’s LCCMR recommendations, with $2.2 million in total funding earmarked to address aquatic and terrestrial species issues. Some lesser-known pests are getting some attention, including the mountain pine beetle and the brown marmorated stink bug.
The ongoing issue of the threat of Asian carp entering Minnesota waters also received some attention from the LCCMR.
Peter Sorenson, who runs the Aquatic Invasive Research Center at the University of Minnesota, is recommended to receive $463,000 to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find ways to modify locks and dams in Hastings and Winona to prevent Asian carp from entering the Minnesota, St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.