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California Vineyards Use Owls Instead of Pesticides

California Vineyards Use Owls Instead of Pesticides


Winemakers must pay close attention to their soil, the rain, the heat, and the sunlight. But rodents like gophers and mice can wreak havoc on a vineyard. Rather than turning to rodenticides to deter pests, graduate students at Humboldt State University in California are testing a more natural approach by using owls.


The experiment is part of a long-term research study under the direction of professor Matt Johnson of the university’s Department of Wildlife. The current cohort, including students Laura Echávez, Samantha Chavez, and Jaime Carlino, has placed around 300 owl nest boxes sporadically through vineyards in Napa Valley. They are documenting the impact of relying on owls to deter and remove pests rather than rodenticides.

The researchers have surveyed 75 wineries in Napa Valley, and four-fifths now use the owl nest boxes and notice a difference in rodent control. The barn owls have a four-month nesting season, during which they spend about one-third of their time hunting in the fields. A family of barn owls may eat as many as 1,000 rodents during the nesting season or around 3,400 in a single year.

So far, the graduate students have found that the barn owls in vineyards are reducing the number of gophers, but not mice. They are also evaluating the owls’ impact on voles, but that is inconclusive at this time.

Barn Owls: The Secret Saviors of Napa Valley’s Vineyards

But the most important part of the study is whether or not the presence of these owls has led to a decrease in the use of rodenticides in Napa Valley. As of January 2021, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation placed tougher limits on rodenticide use, which can kill birds and other animals that eat rodents poisoned by the rodenticides. These pesticides lead to gruesome deaths via internal bleeding for the rodents that ingest them.

The researchers say that most of the vintners in their study no longer use the rodenticides since adding nest boxes to their properties. But whether relying on owls is reducing pesticide use in Napa Valley isn’t certain. One recent study found that of farmers growing wine grapes in Napa Valley, about 80% use nest boxes and about 21% use rodenticides.

“Whether the use of barn owl boxes caused that reduction in rodenticides is, of course, not proven,” Johnson told Bay Nature. “Nonetheless, this result is encouraging.”

Farmers have been using owls and other raptors to hunt rodents for centuries, but modern chemical pesticides have taken precedence over natural methods in recent times. In an effort to leave less of a negative impact on the environment, farmers around the world are reverting back to relying on raptors to control pests, rather than toxic pesticides. Nest boxes are popping up in agricultural fields across the U.S., Malaysia, Kenya and Israel to help naturally remove rodents that destroy crops.

In Napa Valley, nest boxes aren’t the only tactic for creating more sustainable farmland. Wine grape growers are also trying to minimize water usage and tilling. They’re also planting perennial grasses between rows of grapes, as this may reduce soil erosion and improve nutrient and carbon cycling.

Still, there’s a long way to go in improving sustainable agriculture, including in the wine industry. Napa Valley has over 40,000 acres of vineyards, and only 3,800 acres are certified organic. With the increasing use of nest boxes, there’s hope that farmers will rely on these more natural methods over the rodenticides.

Source:

Paige Bennett at EcoWatch



On the Web This Week, 24 October

On the Web This Week, 24 October

On the web this week, Sri Lanka attempts to deal with its human-elephant relationship, scuba diving grandmothers discover an unexpected sea snake population, and a mysterious oil spill off the coast of Brazil.

Picture credit: Rachel Nuwer

“Sri Lanka has the highest level of human-elephant conflict in the world,” says Prithiviraj Fernando, chairman of the Centre for Conservation and Research in Tissamaharama. “Wherever there are people and elephants, there’s conflict.”

For more than 70 years, Sri Lanka has attempted to solve the problem by moving elephants to national parks. According to the government’s approach, the world’s second-largest land animal belongs in protected areas surrounded by electric fencing, while people belong everywhere else.

Picture credit: Claire Goiran/UNC

A group of snorkelling grandmothers who swim up to 3km five days a week have uncovered a large population of venomous sea snakes in a bay in Noumea where scientists once believed they were rare. Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University were studying a small harmless species known as the turtle‐headed sea snake located in the Baie des Citrons, but would occasionally encounter the 1.5 metre-long venomous greater sea snake, also known as the olive-headed sea snake.

Goiran and Shine believed the greater sea snake was an anomaly in the popular swimming bay as it had only been spotted about six times over 15 years. From 2013, they decided to take a closer look at the greater sea snake to better understand its importance to the bay’s ecosystem.

Picture credit: Antonello Veneri / AFP

It washed ashore in early September, thick globs of oil that appeared from out of nowhere and defied explanation. In the weeks since, the mysterious sludge — 600 tons, the largest spill in Brazil’s history — has tarred more than 1,600 kilometres of shoreline, polluted some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and killed all sorts of marine life.

But despite the time that has passed — and the damage done – the most important questions remain unanswered. Where is the oil coming from? And how can it be stopped?

Picture credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Coca-Cola was found for the second year in a row to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic trash conducted by the Break Free From Plastic global movement. The giant soda company was responsible for more plastic litter than the next top three polluters combined.

Reaffirming the importance of sustainable environmental practices, Stellenbosch Wine Routes this week signed the Porto Protocol, committing the leading wine route in South Africa to an accelerated contribution towards climate change mitigation.

Launched by former US President Barack Obama in 2018, the Porto Protocol is a global sustainable initiative signed by companies across numerous industries. These have pledged to play their part in employing and sharing sustainable environmental practices to combat climate change.

Picture credit: Farmer’s Weekly

Urban agriculture has a major role to play in providing healthy, affordable and accessible food to poor urban households in South Africa, according to Prof Juaneé Cilliers, chair of the Urban and Regional Planning Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University.

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Continuing from last week, is part two in a six-part documentary series on global cities and the development of urban networks as the emerging geography of connectivity in an age of globalization. In this part we look at the historical development of urban centers from ancient times through to the industrial revolution. Produced by: https://systemsinnovation.io

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