Moistures meeting, public service commission and Lyme disease

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Finally, for the first time in three years, the moistures have met on my property, meaning that water from the surface has seeped downward far enough to come into contact with the subsurface ground water. Wet-weather springs beginning to flow indicate that the contact has occurred. One such spring supplies most of the water to my pond, and the level in the pond is rising. Both of my creeks have healthy flows, and winter chorus frogs have been chorusing on and off day and night. Before the onset of the three-year drought, these little frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) which breed in temporary accumulations of rainwater, referred to as isolated wetlands, usually began reproducing in December and reached the peak of their breeding season in January. Lately, they seem to be attempting to make up for what they missed during the droughty winters.

I thought that the recent episode of rainy weather, during which my rain gauge registered 7.5 inches, would have resulted in deletion of central-eastern Alabama from Drought Monitor’s map of droughty areas. I was mistaken. Most of the area is designated “moderately dry” on the map provided by Drought Monitor on Feb. 14. Maybe the monitors are paying attention to the chorus frogs’ warnings that more rain is needed to compensate for the insufficient precipitation we received during the past three years.

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Alabama Public Service Commission president Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioner Jerry Oden are of the opinion that “environmental extremist groups” are attempting to make a case against coal mining in Alabama. They oppose formal hearings on utility rates charged to energy consumers, which Commissioner Terry Dunn favors. Even our governor, Dr. Robert Bentley, is echoing the opinion expressed by Commissioners Cavanaugh and Oden. I suggest that if the two anti-environmental PSC commissioners and Gov. Bentley are concerned about the problem the coal mining industry is confronting, they should complain to Alabama Power Company and its parent, the Southern Company. Reportedly, they are rapidly switching from coal to natural gas to fuel their power plants because it is cheaper and cleaner-burning. Whether hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of the gas-containing shale deposits is environmentally safer than coal mining is debatable, but one benefit of gas versus coal as a fuel is undeniable. Coal-fired plants release large amounts of one of the most dangerous air pollutants, mercury, whereas virtually none is released by gas-powered plants. Gov. Bentley is a physician and reasonably should be aware of the health problems associated with mercury contamination of our environment. I have emailed PSC commissioner Terry Dunn and thanked him for his exemplary performance as a PSC commissioner. His email address is terrydunn2010@yahoo.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Lyme disease is considered the most prevalent vector-borne disease in North America, and is increasing each year. It is far more prevalent in the Northeast and Upper Midwest than anywhere else in the country. It is relatively rare in Alabama. In 2011 there were only nine confirmed and 15 probable cases. The disease is usually transmitted to humans by bites of the infected black-legged deer tick larvae, which have fed on small mammal hosts, especially forest-dwelling white-footed mice, although numerous other small mammals can serve as hosts to the larvae, as can a number of birds and lizards.

The adults feed on white-tailed deer, and conventional wisdom attributed the increase in Lyme disease to the increase in deer populations. Several investigators have proposed an alternative hypothesis, which they report in a publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 3, 2011 ed. Their research indicates that even in areas where deer populations are stable, Lyme disease continues to increase in prevalence. They conclude that the increase is the result of increasing numbers of forest-dwelling small mammals, which, in turn, is caused by a decrease in numbers of red foxes, which are the most efficient predators on small mammals.

They also conclude that the decline in red foxes is attributable to an increase in numbers of coyotes, which prey on and compete with red foxes. Inherent in this hypothesis is that coyotes are not as efficient as red foxes in suppressing important hosts of larval black-legged ticks. The researchers did not mention gray foxes in their report. Gray foxes co-exist with red foxes and, because they can climb trees, are less susceptible to being killed by coyotes. Red foxes can’t climb trees. Perhaps the researchers have reason to believe that gray foxes are less efficient than red foxes as predators on small mammal tick hosts.

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In my column in last Friday’s edition, I stated that the resurfacing of St. Rt. 14, Loachapoka Road, had been completed. That same day I found out the hard way, being stuck in traffic on the road that the project had NOT been completed. I apologize for the misinformation.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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